Acts chapter 23          Next chapter            Back to Bible Studies

In the first verses of this chapter we have an interesting exchange between Paul and the Sanhedrin and, in particular, the high priest. Paul makes the statement that his conscience is clear before God. After being struck, by instruction of the high priest, Paul exposes his hypocrisy by pointing out the inconsistency in his actions. It is this inconsistency, together with the statement that Paul makes regarding conscience,  that we will look at more closely in this study.

The Greek word translated ‘conscience’ is the word ‘Suneidesis’ which means ‘knowledge together with/joint knowledge’.  This differs somewhat from the idea that we generally have of conscience as being  a ‘small inner voice’ or a reminding mechanism. The Greek word brings a meaning to light that is much more complex. It speaks of two parts – one part makes us conscious of guilt as we read in Romans 2:14-15 “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” and Hebrews 10:2 “…For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins”. So, we could say that the conscience brings knowledge about guilt to our attention.  We also looked at the following scriptures which shed some light on how the conscience operates: Daniel 5:6; Psalm 40:12; John 8:9; Ezra 9:6; Genesis 42:21; 2 Samuel 24:10. We also looked at what could happen to the conscience in Jeremiah 6:15 and John 16:2-3.

The other part of the conscience as ‘together knowledge’ that we then need to consider is the source of that ‘knowledge’. Let us take a look at the latter part of the passage before us and in particular verses 12-20. This also ties up with what Paul says to the high priest in verse 3. We find that a group of 40 Jews conspire to murder Paul and in the process they co-opt the Sanhedrin into deceiving the Roman commander by asking that Paul be brought out to them for supposed further questioning. It is strange that people who clearly have the Mosaic Law as their guide (…thou shalt not kill, …thou shall not give false testimony) have no problem, first of all with striking Paul but also with a murder plot and deception of the Roman authorities. It strikes one that there is clearly nothing which tells them that it is wrong - no conscience in other words, or at least one that does not work. This is very important because it shows that the particular source of knowledge used by the conscience (in this case the Law) actually determines its functioning or lack thereof. This reminds strongly of what Paul writes about the Law in 2 Corinthians 3 regarding the ‘veil’ that covers the eyes of the Jews when the Law is read. The fact is the Law was and is still unable to change our hearts and subsequently make our behaviour consistent. What we need as the counterpart of our conscience is something that far exceeds the Law – the Spirit of the living Christ. This literally makes our consciences alive as we are guided by a living Spirit into that which pleases God.  In addition, we also receive His power to enable us.

Suneidesis is also means ‘joint knowledge’, so we also looked at some interesting imagery surrounding the parts of a kneejoint.  Consider that in a joint two bones come together, one submitting to the socket of the other.  Only together can the two parts cooperate or work together to a common end.  Only when we are “in joint” with God, can we function with Him to reach the common end which is [knowing] Himself!  Take a moment to imagine (or find a Google image) of a dislocated knee joint.  Not a pretty sight.  A website describing one-on-one military combat states that “when the knee joint is taken out, there is no stand up fight anymore or any chase.  Outside taking your enemy out [taking his life], destroying his leg [by dislocating his knee] is the only way to put him down and keep him down” (emphasis added).  This is just where Satan wants us.  He strives to “put us out of joint” with our Lord and our flesh desires to believe his lies.  We must take care, praying that we not fall into temptation, for when we are out of joint with Christ, we are down and out, unable to function as one with Him.

In the latter section of the chapter, we see that by the grace of God the plot against Paul is thwarted and he is escorted under guard to Caesarea. It is interesting to note how the Commander, in his report to Felix (verses 27-30) writes a completely different  account of what happened during Paul’s arrest to what actually happened, which we read in Acts 22: 22-29.

© 2011 Werner Schreiber

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