Paul saved from torture

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This commotion at Jerusalem's temple, after Paul's speech, threw Lysias (the leader of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem) into new perplexity (Acts 22:22 - 23). He had not been able to understand the Apostle's Hebrew speech. When he saw its results, however, he concluded that his prisoner must be guilty of some enormous crime. He ordered Paul therefore to be taken immediately from the stairs into the barracks and to be examined by torture so that a confession could be elicited (verse 24).

Whatever instruments of torture were necessary for this kind of scrutiny of Paul would be in readiness within a Roman fortress. It was not long before the body of the Apostle was stretched out like that of a common malefactor to receive lashes (scouraging). Such torture would be undertaken by the officer standing by to whom Lysias had entrusted the superintendence of this harsh examination.

Thus Apostle Paul was on the verge of adding another suffering and disgrace to that long catalogue of afflictions, which he had enumerated in the last letter he wrote to Corinth, before his recent visit to that city (2Corinthians 11:23 - 25).

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Five times scourged by the Jews, once beaten with rods at Philippi, and twice on other unknown occasions, the apostle Paul had indeed been "in stripes above measure." And now he was in a Roman barrack, among rude soldiers, with a similar indignity in prospect.


Saint Paul by Ribera
Saint Paul
Jusepe de Ribera, 1632

It then occurred to Paul to rescue himself, and at the same time gained a vantage-ground for the Gospel, by that appeal to his rights as a Roman citizen under which he had before sheltered his sacred cause at Philippi. He said these few words to the centurion who stood by, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?" (Acts 22:25, HBFV).

The magic of the Roman law produced its effect in a moment. The centurion immediately reported the words to his commanding officer, and said significantly, "Do you realize what you are about to do? For this man is a Roman." (Acts 22:26). Lysias was both astonished and alarmed. He knew full well that no man would dare to assume the right of citizenship if it did not really belong to him and he hastened in person to his prisoner.

A hurried dialogue took place, from which it appeared, not only that Apostle Paul was indeed a Roman citizen, but that he held this privilege under circumstances far more honorable than his interrogator. While Claudius Lysias had purchased the right of citizenship for "a great sum," Paul was free-born.

And when the chief captain came up, he said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman?" And he said, "Yes."

And the chief captain answered, "With a great sum of money I bought this citizenship." And Paul said, "But indeed, I was born free." (Acts 22:27 - 28, HBFV).

Orders were instantly given for the removal of the instruments of torture. Those who had been about to conduct the examination retired. Lysias was compelled to keep the Apostle still in custody for he was ignorant of the nature of his offence.

Keeping the apostle in custody, evidently, was the only sure method of saving Paul from destruction by the Jews. The Roman officer, however, was full of alarm, for in his treatment of the prisoner, and threat of torture, he had already been guilty of a flagrant violation of the Roman law.

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