I did some reflecting upon a text in Acts 23 this morning. Initially I thought I might right on the importance of respecting authority. However, as my investigation led onward, I discovered it was not that simple. Here is what I discovered below.

Respecting Authority or Not?

“And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”” (Acts 23:1–5)

This account is most interesting first of all because of Paul’s very tenacious rebuke, but also because of his response when discovering the one he rebuked was God’s high priest. His discovery immediately brings him to the passage in Exodus 22:28 which reads:

“You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” (Exodus 22:28)

There is debate on what this whole incident means. Some state along the lines that it is a point of irony and that Paul certainly knew who this man was but in some way was quipping back that he didn’t know because of how hypocritical this man was. In stating the law, Paul would be making it even clearer how ignorant the leader of Israel was being to him. It was apparent that he would not get a fair trial from such people.

Others take it at face value that Paul is sincerely apologizing. However, this is doubtful. It would have been an insult to the high priest either way. What I mean is that Paul is instructing him in the law better than this man was obeying it in his proceedings. The actions that follow also confirm this when the apostle is wise to bring up the resurrection and show clearly that he was in the middle of two political parties at each other’s throats on the issue. They were not concerned as much with Paul as they were with being right about everything. They certainly were not concerned with the truth in its right Spirit. Paul was. 

Therefore, the call to respect authority certainly has its place. But from Paul’s example we see there is a time to be shrewd and even to speak very rough concerning the hypocrisy of leaders.  In other places Paul speaks very respectfully to leaders, even Gentile leaders who are yet to believe in God. It seems that Paul was following his Master who also had a great disdain for those who claimed to be Jews but were really not by their hypocritical two-faced way of living. We would not err by having the same standard. Judgment begins at the household of God.