Was Paul a legal citizen...or not?

After completing his third mission trip, Paul returns to Jerusalem.  When Paul arrived in Tyre he was warned of the danger in Jerusalem.  “…Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” (Acts 21: 4)  Paul went anyway.  We should no construe this to mean that he went against the Word of God.  I think we should read this as, don’t go to Jerusalem unless you are prepared to face the trouble ahead.  When Paul wrote to the Philippians he said, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” (Philippians 1: 12-14).

Paul goes to Jerusalem and is greeted warmly by the brethren there, but we start to see trouble on the horizon.  Notice the Jews misrepresent what Paul was teaching. (Acts 21: 21)   Later, some of the Jews see Paul at the temple.  They began to stir the people against him.  They made false statements against Paul; “…this is the man that teaches all men everywhere against our people and our laws and this place.” (Acts 21: 28)  Paul was also accused of bringing Gentiles in to the temple.  At the temple grounds, the inner most court was called the Court of Israel.  This is where Jewish men could offer their sacrifices.  Only priests could enter the temple, and only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies.  The second court was the Court of Women.  Jewish families could go there.   The outer court was called the Court of the Gentiles where anyone wishing to worship God could go.  Gentiles could no venture beyond this court.  Archeologists discovered an inscription reading, ‘Whoever is caught (inside the temple grounds) will have himself to blame for his death which will follow’.

The mob was stirred into a frenzy and Paul was in real danger.  Near the temple, the Romans had built a fortress known as ‘Fortress Antonia’.  Thanks to the proximity of this fortress, Paul was rescued by the Romans.  Wanting to know what was going on, the commander of the Roman soldiers asked Paul to speak to him in Greek.  This is one of those subtle Bible consistencies.  Why ask Paul to speak in Greek?  Later in the chapter (Acts 22: 27-28) we discover the commander was not a born Roman.  The situation was tense, and obviously, the commanders Latin must not have been very good!  Paul asked for permission to address the crowd.  When he spoke to them in Hebrew, they settled down, but when Paul mentioned ‘gentiles’, the word Jews despised, they once again became agitated.  The Roman commander took Paul aside.  He decided to flog and interrogate him, but Paul revealed he was a Roman citizen.   It may seem strange that anyone would take Paul’s word on his citizenship.  This is something he probably wouldn’t lie about as the punishment for falsely claiming citizenship was death.  Since Paul was from Tarsus his citizenship would be recorded there and easily discovered,  “Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately.  The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.” (Acts 22: 29).   (HISTORICAL NOTE:  By the end of the first century Roman citizenship had become common and widespread.  Only in the middle of the first century would Roman citizenship have carried such weight.) The commander than decided to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin.

(Part 8, next blog)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Porte

Originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, Dan is a graduate of Otterbein College (now University). He graduated with a degree in education. From time to time Dan still substitute teaches. His interest in history led him to investigate the historical accuracy of the Bible. This, in turn, led to a full investigation of Apologetics.

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