Acts 23

by David Lemmons

In Acts 23:6 the Bible tells us that Paul perceived something.  That something that Paul perceived was the divided state of the Jews before whom he was giving his defense.  Listen to Luke’s record of the event…
But when Paul perceived that the one part
were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out
in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the
son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the
dead I am called in question
To me it is certainly interesting to observe how Paul used the division that existed between these two Jewish sects to get himself out of a life-threatening situation.

It is interesting as well, from another perspective, to observe how that the division that plagued these Jews was instrumental in bringing about the defeat of attaining a common goal these two sects shared.  If we turn back to 21:28ff we find that strong accusations were made against Paul and that the entire city was in an uproar.  They actually “went about to kill him” (v. 31).  Those who served on the Sanhedrin were united in their desire to be rid of such an one as this Paul who preached about Jesus.  Had Paul not been rescued by Lysias, he would surely not have had opportunity to give any defense before this group of Jewish leaders.  At his first defense, Paul mentioned being sent to the Gentiles by the Lord and the reaction of the Jews was: “Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live” (Acts 22:22).  These Jewish leaders who sat on the Sanhedrin had a strong cementing cause that would normally have held them together: LET’S GET RID OF PAUL–THAT ONE WHO PREACHES THAT GENTILES CAN BE SAVED, but something defeated them even in the presence of such a powerfully emotional cause.  That something was the state of division that existed among themselves.

Acts 23:7 tells us there was dissension among the Pharisees and the Sadducees and that the multitude (of the Jews) was divided.  Verse 8 gives to us the cause of the division of these Jewish leaders and their followers–“For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.”  The fact is that these two sects SHOULD HAVE BEEN united.  If the word of God had been respected  and  followed  to decide this question, there would have been NO disagreement, these sects would not have existed.  The fact is that the Pharisees were correct in confessing both the resurrection and that there were spirits and angels.  Division on this point over which there should have been agreement WEAKENED their resolve and prevented them from doing that which they had a strong desire to accomplish.

Paul was able to bring up that matter over which these two sects disagreed to bring about the confusion that resulted in his life being spared.  Let us appreciate the teaching of Paul in another context that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).  It was the ideas of man (in this case, the Sadducees) that led to the division into sects of the Jews!

Can we not benefit from noticing the mischief that was caused by the divided state of these Jews?  Can we not appreciate how very foolish it is to allow man’s ideas and “think-so’s” to destroy our unity and weaken our efforts to stand strong for the Lord?  Is it not obvious to us that Satan and his angels are presently using division among God’s people to bring about his own aims?

The division that exists among God’s people today needs to be considered in the light of the use that Paul made of division in Acts 23.  He used it to inflame passions that diverted the attention of the Sanhedrin away from his case to their own differences. We simply cannot stand strong before an unbelieving world when we do not speak the same thing, as Paul urges in 1 Corinthians 1:10.  In fact, the solution to the divided state of our brethren is still the solution offered by Paul to the saints at Corinth.

On occasion I hear the idea promoted that the best way to deal with division in doctrine among us is to ignore it and pray that it will go away.  I would go along with the notion that much prayer is needed, however I must insist that the ignoring of error among us is hardly a proper pursuit.  Those who have strayed from the concept of a “thus saith the Lord” for all of our practice need to be reproved and rebuked (2 Timothy 4:2).  They need to be made aware that when they present a false and misleading view of the Lord’s church to those outside the body of Christ, they are guilty of weakening our efforts to carry the blessed gospel to a lost world!  They cause us to be in the position of the Pharisees and Sadducees before whom Paul stood.

I recently engaged in correspondence with a brother in Christ who actually refuses to acknowledge that Colossians 3:17 demands the authority of Christ for all that we do.  I don’t know how Paul could have made himself any clearer than he did make it in this text.  The arrogance and audacity of men today in dealing with the sacred text is a fruitful cause of division among us and weakens our efforts to reach those that are lost with the saving message.

I pray that my brethren will ever be mindful of the terrible MISCHIEF Satan can cause due to an acceptance of the ideas and doctrines of men, and that we will ever be vigilant to speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among us.  I pray that we will be strong in demanding a book, chapter, and verse for our practices.  There is no reason that we cannot be immensely successful so long as we maintain our UNITY!