Paul and Not Speaking Ill of the High Priest


Salvete, omnes.

At one point, as I recall, when the Apostle Paul is brought before the Jewish High Priest, he calls him a “white-washed wall”, then, when he realizes that this was, in fact, the High Priest, he quickly takes it back, seemingly auoting a law (possibly Exodus 22:28?) wherein it apparently says that not to speak ill/curse the leaders of your people.

First of all, in what context is, exactly, the Exodus verse? After all, is it not unlawful/immoral to speak ill of/curse/disrespect anyone, not *just the leaders of a people? Why, then, in this passage, are the rulers of the people specified? If this passage is speaking generally ofnever saying a negative word about a ruler, be it to criticize (even harshly) or otherwise, does this apply to us today. Even if our leaders do something wrong, are we not at all to criticize?

And, what of the NT passage in which this seems to arise? Is Paul saying here that it would have been all right to criticize other people as he did, calling them a “white-wahsed wall” and the like, but not if the person is the leader of the people? Again, this seems at least a little inconsistent. Or, was Paul here perhaps indeed backhandedly criticizing the High Priest, in a sense saying that “I criticize you because you are not acting like the leader of our people/you are not acting as you should as carrying out God’s law”? Or, rather, is Paul actually being too legalistic here, thinking that it is OK to criticize anyone else but not the leader of the people because that is prohibited by the Old Law? If this latter is the case, why does our author choose to include it here? After all, authors usually have reasons for excluding/including material, oftentimes more than just simply reporting events, do they not?

Really not quite clear about the meaning of either of the passages I’ve mentioned and would appreciate your/others insight on this.



So the full scenario was:

And Paul, looking intently at the council, said, “Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience up to this day.” 2 And the high priest Anani′as commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God shall 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?” 4 Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

6 But when Paul perceived that one part were Sad′ducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead I am on trial.” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sad′ducees; and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sad′ducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9 Then a great clamor arose; and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome.”

One of the first things that comes to mind is that it might be a reference to what Jesus had said earlier, a small part of which is this part, but it’s sandwiched between a whole lot of very fierce oratory:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Remember in Acts 20, Paul quotes Jesus as having said, “It is better to give than to receive,” which isn’t recorded anywhere else in Scripture, so he seems to be fond of quoting Jesus, even though he never seemed to have heard his preaching during his earthly life.

You have the bit in Exodus, of course-- it’s just a little snippet of its own, sandwiched between a rule about returning collateral and a rule about harvest-offerings–

“You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.

but it reminds me of the exhortation that Catholics are under, to never attack a priest. If you see one/know of one doing wrong, it’s important to pray for them, or perhaps some fraternal correction, but with love, charity, and respect for what he represents.

James mentioned something pertinent–

Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor?


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