Acts 22:1-30

When inviting the men to listen to the defense he was about to make, Paul addressed them as “brothers and fathers.” As his “brothers,” they were fellow Israelites, and he respectfully acknowledged the older ones among them as “fathers” or elders among the people. (22:1)

Hearing themselves addressed in “Hebrew” (the language of native Jewish residents in Judea and Galilee) after the din from the uproar regarding Paul had ceased, the people became even quieter. As a bilingual people, they may have expected Paul to speak to them in Greek, resulting in a greater hush among them when they heard him addressing them in their native language. (22:2)

He stressed his Jewish upbringing, speaking of himself as a Jewish man born in Tarsus of Cilicia and taught in Jerusalem “at the feet of Gamaliel.” Seated in a lower position than the rabbi who taught them, disciples or pupils were seated at his feet. Gamaliel usually has been identified as “Gamaliel the Elder,” concerning whom the Mishnah (Sota 9:15) says that, when he died, “the glory of the Law ceased and purity and abstinence died.” Among the legalistic rulings attributed to him are ones that reflect a more humane viewpoint than may be seen in that of other ancient teachers of the Torah. Gamaliel was called “Rabban,” which title was even more honorable than “Rabbi.” (22:3)

The teaching Paul received proved to be “according to the exactness of the ancestral law.” This suggests that what he learned conformed fully to the Torah as it had been transmitted from ancient times. Paul was zealous for God in his adherence to the written law and the oral Torah teaching he received as a pupil of Gamaliel, and he acknowledged that “all” of those before whom he was making his defense had such zeal to that very day. (22:3)

Paul had persecuted “this way to the death.” The “way” was the way of life as persons with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which included conduct in keeping with his example and teaching. Believing “this way” to be apostasy from the teaching of Moses and the cherished Jewish traditions, Paul had previously set out on a campaign of fierce persecution, approving of the death of believers. He had seized both men and women and handed them over bound for imprisonment. (22:4)

Both the high priest and the assembly of elders (the members of the Sanhedrin or the Jewish high court) could testify to the fact that he had been a persecutor. From “them” (literally, “of whom” [plural]), he obtained letters to the “brothers,” fellow Jews in Damascus, authorizing him to arrest believers in Jesus Christ and to bring them “bound to Jerusalem” for punishment. (22:5)

According to verses 1 and 2 of Acts 9, Paul asked the high priest for the letters. Therefore, the reference in verse 5 of chapter 22 about his having received letters from “them” may be understood as having been expressed in a generic sense. It is also possible that, besides the high priest, the Sanhedrin was involved in granting written authority to Paul. (22:5)

Although approximately twenty years had passed since he had received the letters and another high priest (possibly Caiaphas) was then in office, Paul did not doubt that high priest Ananias (23:2) and the Sanhedrin knew about his role, probably because of its having been of a prominent public nature. (22:5)

With the authorizing letters, Paul (Saul) had headed for Damascus, intent on arresting all believers in Jesus Christ and bringing them bound to Jerusalem for punishment. (22:5) About noon, when he was nearing Damascus, a bright light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard the question (in Hebrew [26:14]), “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (22:6, 7)

Saul replied, “Who are you, lord?” At the time, he did not know the one whom he called “lord” and so used the expression as a respectful manner of address. The one whom he had persecuted by acting against his disciples then identified himself, “I am Jesus the Nazarene whom you are persecuting.” (22:8)

The men who had accompanied Paul saw the bright light, but they did not hear the actual words that Jesus spoke (literally, “they did not hear the voice of the one speaking to me”). They appear to have heard the sound of a voice (9:7), but not in a manner that made it possible for them to understand anything. (22:9; see the Notes section.)

Apparently continuing to use “lord” in a respectful manner of address, Saul asked Jesus, “What shall I do, lord?” The Lord instructed him to stand up (as he had fallen to the ground) and to continue on his way to Damascus, where he would be told everything that had been assigned for him to do. (22:10; see the Notes section.)

The “glory” or the extraordinary brightness of the light that had flashed around Paul blinded him. Therefore, those with him had to lead him “by the hand” into Damascus. (22:11)

It was there in Damascus that Ananias came to see him. Paul described Ananias as a “devout man according to the law” and as having a good reputation among all his fellow Jews living in Damascus. This description of an exemplary Jewish man who lived according to the law would have been viewed favorably among those who were listening to Paul. (22:12)

When Ananias came to see Paul, he stood beside him and said, “Saul, brother, regain sight.” That “very hour,” or at that time, Paul’s vision was restored and he saw Ananias. (22:13)

At this point in his narration of events, Paul related what Ananias said to him, “The God of our fathers [ancestors] has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear the voice from his mouth [22:14], for you are to be his witness to all men regarding what you have seen and heard. [22:15] And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and wash your sins away by calling on his name.” (22:16)

The designation “God of our fathers” or ancestors identified YHWH as the God who had dealt directly with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The promise he originally made to Abraham pointed to the coming of a “seed” in their line of descent through whom people of “all the nations of the earth” would be blessed. This “seed” proved to be Jesus, the foretold Messiah or Christ. (22:14; Genesis 22:18)

God’s choosing Paul included his being commissioned as an apostle to the non-Jews. In the context of his being chosen, his coming to know God’s will would have included how, on the basis of faith in his Son and the surrender of his life for the human family, both Jews and non-Jews could be forgiven of their sins and gain an approved standing as part of God’s family of children. The “Righteous One” is the Lord Jesus Christ whose righteousness or uprightness is completely free from any flaw or taint. In keeping with his Father’s will, the resurrected Son of God revealed himself to Paul on his way to Damascus and spoke to him directly. (22:14)

The reason he came to see and hear Jesus was so that he could serve as a witness for him to people everywhere about what he had personally seen and heard. Accordingly, Paul, when proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ, could do so on the basis of firsthand knowledge. He had seen him and received from him the message that should be made known to people everywhere. (22:15)

In view of what Paul had experienced on his way to Damascus, no reason existed for him to delay in getting baptized as a disciple of Jesus Christ. By “calling on his name,” acknowledging him as his Lord and the one who died for him so that he might be forgiven of his sins, Paul had the assurance that his sins would be washed away. As a man cleansed from his sins, he would be able to serve God and Christ acceptably. (22:16)

According to his letter to the Galatians (1:15-18), Paul did not immediately return to Jerusalem from Damascus. When he did return, he, like other devout Jews, prayed at the temple. While in prayer there, he came to be in “ecstasy” or in a trance (22:17) and again saw Jesus, who told him, “Hurry and quickly leave Jerusalem, for they will not accept your testimony about me.” (22:18) Feeling that the Jews in the city would respond because of the remarkable change that had taken place in his life, Paul protested, “Lord, they know that, [from] every synagogue, I imprisoned and flogged those who believed in you. And when the blood of your witness Stephen was being spilled, I myself stood by and approved [while] guarding the garments of those who killed him.” Paul felt that, based on the persecutor he had been, the Jews in Jerusalem would be able to recognize that only overwhelming evidence could have moved him to become a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. (22:19, 20)

From a human perspective, Paul’s reasoning appeared to be sound, but Jesus Christ knew that logic would not convince Jews with a strong emotional attachment to their beliefs and that Paul’s testimony would make them hostile and more resistant to change. Jesus urged him to be on his way, adding, “because I will send you far away to the nations” (the non-Jews). (22:21)

When the Jews heard about a commission to the “nations” or non-Jews, they became furious. They believed in making proselytes among non-Jews, but the message that Paul proclaimed indicated that non-Jews could become acceptable to God through faith in Jesus Christ without having to live according to the law like Jews. The Jews from the Roman province of Asia knew that this is what Paul taught, and so his mention of the “nations” was enough to remind them of the reason for their opposition to him. Enraged, they stopped listening and began to shout, “Away with such a man from the land, for he is not fit to live!” (22:22) Besides screaming, they took off their outer garments and probably shook them violently. They also tossed dirt into the air. (22:23)

Observing that the situation had gotten out of control, the commander ordered that Paul be led into the quarters inside the Tower of Antonia and there to be submitted to scourging in order to determine why the Jews screamed against him. Apparently the commander believed that torture would force Paul to divulge the reason for their hostility. (22:24)

Scourging involved more than just a beating. The wounds that were inflicted could prove to be lethal. When soldiers had tied him in preparation for whipping, Paul asked the centurion (apparently the officer in charge) who stood there whether it was lawful to scourge a Roman citizen who had not been “condemned” or found guilty of any crime. (22:25)

At once, the centurion went to the commander, for he had given the order that Paul be scourged, and said to him, “What are you about to do? This man is a Roman [citizen].” (22:26)

The commander then went to ask Paul personally whether he was a Roman citizen. In response to Paul’s affirmative answer, he said that it had cost him a large sum of money to obtain Roman citizenship. The commander’s words may be taken to mean that he found it hard to believe that Paul would have had the needed funds to purchase Roman citizenship. Paul, however, had not bought his citizenship. Just how he came to be a Roman citizen from birth is not explained in the account. Paul’s word was accepted, for it was a capital offense for anyone falsely to claim Roman citizenship. (22:28; see the Notes section about Roman citizenship.) According to Suetonius in Lives of the Caesars, the Roman emperor Claudius “executed in the Esquiline field” men “who usurped the privileges of Roman citizenship.” (Life of Claudius, XXV, 3)

Once the commander had confirmed the status of Roman citizenship from Paul himself, the soldiers who would have carried out the scourging withdrew. Moreover, the commander became fearful, as he had violated the rights of a Roman citizen by having him bound. (22:29)

The next day the commander, wanting to know specifically what accusation the Jews had against Paul, ordered the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin to assemble. As a Roman citizen, Paul stood before the members of the Jewish high court, not as a bound prisoner, but as a man who had not been condemned of any crime. If the court had found him to be innocent, the commander would have set Paul free. If, on the other hand, the court had established that Paul had been guilty of a serious crime, the commander would have concurred with the imposition of the appropriate penalty. (22:30)


According to another manuscript reading of verse 9, those with Paul also became afraid. “And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid.” (NKJV)

In his letter to the Galatians (1:11, 12), Paul stressed that he received the message he proclaimed directly from the Lord Jesus Christ. What he was to be told in Damascus (verse 10) did not involve his commissioning as an apostle to the nations nor instruction about the message concerning the Lord Jesus Christ that he would be proclaiming. The disciple Ananias merely served as the agency the Son of God used to convey his directive to Paul and to restore his sight.

Dio Cassius, in his History (LX, xvii, 3-6), wrote that Claudius “reduced the Lycians to servitude because they had revolted and slain some Romans, and he incorporated them in the prefecture of Pamphylia. During the investigation of this affair, which was conducted in the senate, he put a question in Latin to one of the envoys who had originally been a Lycian, but had been made a Roman citizen; and when the man failed to understand what was said, he took away his citizenship, saying that it was not proper for a man to be a Roman who had no knowledge of the Romans’ language. A great many other persons unworthy of citizenship were also deprived of it, whereas he granted citizenship to others quite indiscriminately, sometimes to individuals and sometimes to whole groups. For inasmuch as Romans had the advantage over foreigners in practically all respects, many sought the franchise by personal application to the emperor, and many bought it from Messalina and the imperial freedmen. For this reason, though the privilege was at first sold only for large sums, it later became so cheapened by the facility with which it could be obtained that it came to be a common saying, that a man could become a citizen by giving the right person some bits of broken glass.”