|Masaccio, "St. Paul,"|
from The Pisa Polyptych
This probably won't be of much importance or relevance to most people, especially as it really has nothing to do with the season of Advent, but I was already putting this together for a friend so I thought it wouldn't hurt to post it here. Some random soul might desperately search Google one day looking for Catholic bible commentary on Acts 23:5, and I will be there to serve him.
Except for Stern's Jewish New Testament Commentary and the IVP Commentary, all of the sources found here are Catholic. When possible, I linked to what was available online. The rest I transcribed from my personal library.
Without further ado ...
Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, New American Bible: Revised Edition (2010), Acts 23:
[23:5] Luke portrays Paul as a model of one who is obedient to the Mosaic law. Paul, because of his reverence for the law (Ex 22:27), withdraws his accusation of hypocrisy, “whitewashed wall” (cf. Mt 23:27), when he is told Ananias is the high priest.
George Leo Haydock, Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible Commentary (1859):
Ver. 5. I knew not, &c. Some think St. Paul here speaks ironically, or to signify that now he could be no longer high priest, since the Mosaic law, with its rites and ceremonies, was abolished. But St. Chrysostom rather judges that St. Paul, having been long absent from Jerusalem, might not know the person of the high priest, who was not now in the sanhedrim but in the place whither the tribune had called the council, and who did not appear with that habit, and those marks which distinguished him from others. (Witham) --- It seems rather surprising that St. Paul did not know that he was the high priest. The place which he held in the council, one would suppose, would have been sufficient to have pointed him out. The apostle's absence from Jerusalem is perhaps a sufficient reason to account for his not knowing this circumstance; especially, as the order of succession to the priesthood was at that time much confused and irregular, determined by favour of the Roman emperor, or by purchase. (Calmet) --- At all events, any difficulties we may now find in assigning a probable or true reason, are merely negative arguments; and therefore too futile to be an impeachment of the apostle's veracity. (Haydock) --- St. Cyprian supposes that St. Paul, considering the mere shadow of the name of priest, which Ananias then held, said: I knew not, brethren, that he is high priest. (Ep. lxv. 69. nu. 2.) St. Chrysostom says, that the apostle here shews the wisdom of the serpent; but that in his preaching, teaching, and patience, he used the simplicity of the dove.
Early Christian Writings, e-Catena: Compiled Allusions to the NT in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Acts 23:
Acts 23:5 - in Cyprian, Epistle LIV
-although they had begun to be sacrilegious, and impious, and bloody, the Lord having already been crucified, and had no longer retained anything of the priestly honour and authority-yet Paul, considering the name itself, however empty, and the shadow, as it were, of the priest, said, "I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy, people."
St. John Chrysostom, Homily III, I Colossians 1,15–18 — “Who is the Image of the invisible God":
304 [. . .] Do not, I pray you, think that these things are spoken from us; it is the Grace of God which worketh in the unworthy, not for our sakes, but for yours. Hear ye then what Christ saith. “If the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it.” (). And how becometh it worthy? If “they receive you” (Lc 10,8), He saith. “But if they receive you not, nor hear your words, …verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodore and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.” What boots it then, that ye receive us, and hear not the things we say? What gain is it that ye wait upon us, and give no heed to the things which are spoken to you? This will be honor to us, this the admirable service, which is profitable both to you and to us, if ye hear us. Hear also Paul saying, “I wist not, brethren, that he was High Priest.” (Ac 23,5). Hear also Christ saying, “All whatsoever they bid you observe” (Mt 23,3), that “observe and do.” Thou despisest not me, but the Priesthood; when thou seest me stripped of this, then despise me; then no more will I endure to impose commands. But so long as we sit upon this throne, so long as we have the first place, we have both the dignity and the power, even though we are unworthy. If the throne of Moses was of such reverence, that for its sake they were to be heard, much more the throne of Christ. It, we have received by succession; from it we speak; since the time that Christ hath vested in us the ministry of reconciliation. [. . .]
Grant R. Osborne, Editor, IVP New Testament Commentary, Acts 22, Conversation with a Roman Tribune; Defense Before the Sanhedrin:
Acts 22:22 - 23:11 [. . .]Paul pleads ignorance, declares the Old Testament law's requirement and in so doing subordinates himself to the authority of the Word of God. He does not speak ironically: "I didn't know he was the high priest, because he was certainly not acting like one" (contra Marshall 1980:364). Nor was his curse a simple sin of ignorance because Paul did not know from whom the command came or did not understand that he was the high priest (contra E. F. Harrison 1986:367). Rather, it was a sin of omission. Paul did not take into consideration the man's position when he made the declaration (Polhill 1992:469). Paul's prophetic curse, given in hasty anger, had violated a basic biblical precept lived out by David in his dealings with Saul. Though an officeholder dishonors the office through his conduct, one does not have liberty to dishonor him (1 Sam 24:6; 26:9-11). Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people (Ex 22:27 LXX).
How do we cope when a sophisticated cynic's punishing rejection of our integrity drives us to lash out in anger? Like Paul, we must respond in humility, quickly admitting our fault and subordinating ourselves again to the authority of God's Word. "It is not our mistakes that do us in; it's our pride that keeps us from admitting them" (Ogilvie 1983:316). [. . .]
St. Augustine, On the Mounts, 1043:
58. [. . .] For when he was smitten with the hand by order of the high priest, what he seemed to say contumeliously when he affirms, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall,” sounds like an insult to those who do not understand it; but to those who do, it is a prophecy. For a whited wall is hypocrisy, i.e. pretence holding forth the sacerdotal dignity before itself, and under this name, as under a white covering, concealing an inner and as it were sordid baseness. For what belonged to humility he wonderfully preserved, when, on its being said to him, “Revilest thou the high priest?”174 he replied, “I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, Thou shall not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.”175 And here he showed with what calmness he had spoken that which he seemed to have spoken in anger, because he answered so quickly and so mildly, which cannot be done by those who are indignant and thrown into confusion. And in that very statement he spoke the truth to those who understood him, “I wist not that he was the high priest:”176 as if he said, I know another High Priest, for whose name I bear such things, whom it is not lawful to revile, and whom ye revile, since in me it is nothing else but His name that ye hate. Thus, therefore, it is necessary for one not to boast of such things in a hypocritical way, but to be prepared in the heart itself for all things, so that he can sing that prophetic word, “My heart is prepared,177 O God, my heart is prepared.” For many have learned how to offer the other cheek, but do not know how to love him by whom they are struck. But in truth, the Lord Himself, who certainly was the first to fulfil the precepts which He taught, did not offer the other cheek to the servant of the high priest when smiting Him thereon; but, so far from that, said, “If I have spoken evil, hear witness of the evil;178 but if well, why smitest thou me?”179 Yet was He not on that account unprepared in heart, for the salvation of all, not merely to be smitten on the other cheek, but even to have His whole body crucified.
Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, Roland E. Murphy, The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968), Vol. II, pg. 207: doesn't have any commentary on vs. 5, but a line from the commentary on vs. 3 may apply:
His whole answer is ironical; he poses as the exemplar of obedience toward the Law and would not think of insulting the high priest, quoting Ex 22:27 to support his contention.
Dom Bernard Orchard, General Editor, A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (1953), pg. 1042:
5. St. Paul, who may have been looking around the Sanhedrin to see whom he could recognize, heard the high-priest's order, without knowing from whom it had come.
Reginald C. Fuller, General Editor, A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (1975), pg. 1099:
22:30 - 23:11 Paul before the Sanhedrin -- This whole scene has been impugned as an invention by Lk owing to various difficulties, of which the most serious is Paul's failure to recognize the high priest (5). The tribune could well have permitted the investigation in order to discover the rights and wrongs in the case, or even the charges. The account is clearly simplified, e.g. Paul's opening remark is impossibly truculent as it stands. The quarrel he sparks off between Pharisees and Sadducees is naively represented (6-10); but it is far from impossible that they eventually ranged themselves on one side or the other according to the differences of belief of v 8. As v 28 makes clear, the scene serves the apologetic purpose of showing that the Jews had no valid case against Paul in Roman eyes; he was being lynched for a theological difference of opinion, in which one party was in fact on his side.
Ronald Knox, A New Testament Commentary for English Readers (1954), Vol. II, pg. 55-57:
22.30 - 23.11. St Paul before the Council. [. . .] Then comes the shocked protest of verse 4; which one of his quick changes of mood, St Paul recognizes that the has made a fault in reverence, not to the man but to his office. The Rabi in him comes out instinctively, and he quotes Exodus (22.28). Did he, thereupon, catch some sardonic piece of comment, "Just like a Pharisee--knows the law by heart, and doesn't keep it"? This would account for the sudden diversion of verse 6; but verse 6 may be divided from verse 5 by a long interval of time, and of procedure.
It is just possible to see the thing happening in this wa, if we are content to recognize that the members of the Council had been convoked, at the captain's summons and under his auspices. Verse 10 will mean, not that he sent an urgent message back to the barracks, in response to which the military marched through the streets and invaded the Council-chamber. They will have "come down" from some gallery in which they had been posted for fear of violence in the ante-room. If we picture to ourselves a formal meeting of the Council in its judicial capacity, verse 5 becomes wholly inexplicable. We have no independent grounds for imagining that St Paul was short-sighted, and even if he had been, he would have been cound to recognize the high priest from the position in which he sat. The idea that "I did not know it was the high priest" means "I was not prepared to recognize him as the high priest when he talked like that" is surely fantastic. St Paul must have failed to recognize him simply because he was one of a crowd, interjecting his ill-bred demand like a common heckler. [. . .]
David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (1992), pg. 308:
2-5 Sha'ul's outburst is certainly not the behavior of a man who had heard and understood Yeshua's command to turn the other cheek (Mt 5:39). Yeshua himself, when struck, argued the injustice of it without vexation or irritation (Yn 18:22). But no claim of perfection is made for Sha'ul. Like the heroes of the Tanakh, whose failings are reported faithfully along with their victories, he is shown to be a man who has not yet achieved the goal, as he himself admits (Pp 3:12-13, 1C 9:25-27). God saves imperfect people.
I didn't know, brothers, that he was the cohen hagadol. It has been suggested that this line drips sarcasm, that Sha'ul knew perfectly well who the cohen hadadol was but means that he wasn't acting like one!
The Catholic Biblical Association, A Commentary on the New Testament (1942), pg. 399-400:
22, 30 -- 23, 11: The Sanhedrin. [. . .] 5. In this investigation conducted by the Roman tribune the High Priest may not have been conspicuous, and St. Paul may not have known him personally.
Jose Maria Casciaro, Director, The Navarre Bible: Acts of the Apostles (1998), pg. 236:
5. Many commentators think that Paul is being sarcastic here, as if to say, "I would never have thought that anyone who gave an order against the Law like that could be the high priest". Others think that the Apostle realizes that his words may have scandalized some of those present and therefore he wants to make it clear that he respects the Jewish institutions and the commandments of the Law.
I'm afraid that's all I have. There are other sites that have collections of articles on the book of Acts. You might be able to wade through these and find more information:
- Biblical Commentaries Online (see "Commentaries on the New Testament" and "Commentaries on Individual Books: The Acts")
- Theology Library: Acts of the Apostles
- NT Gateway, Luke and Acts:
- The Text This Week: General Resources for the Book of Acts
- BiblicalStudies.org.uk: Acts of the Apostles
I hope that helps!