Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Luke tells us as soon as Paul mentioned the word, “Gentles,” the crown flew into a rage. The idea of ethic openness offended the Jews so much they called for Paul’s death. Anyone who with such an opinion should not live. (v22). The idea God would show favor to anyone but the Jews caused jealousy to the point of rage. They thought of themselves was so high they despised the rest of the world.
While they claimed to defend the law. They ignored it. They defended their own dignity rather than of the law itself.
They believed they were special. That is why God chose them. Their genealogy made them the favored ones. Being a Jew did have advantages. (Roman 3:1-2) But God chose the Jews for His purpose. He entrusted them with the law. But the Law condemns. It does not give life. It brings God’s righteous judgment. (Romans 4:13-15) God’s justice and righteous demands punishment for sin. (Romans 1:18) But God’s love allowed Christ to suffer our punishment. (John 3:16)
Their perceived place of honor was now in jeopardy. God had sent Paul as an apostle to the gentiles. Their place of honor was because of their obligation. God called Abraham to be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2) Instead of blessing the nations, they despised the nations.
The crowd took off their cloaks. That is their outer garments. This left their arm free. This could have been in preparation for throwing stones. They threw dust in the air. This act indicated they had heard something disturbing. Or it could be, they had nothing else to throw.
The Roman tribune realized Paul’s presence caused the mob to rise up in violence. So, he removed Paul from their sight. The tribune had no idea what was going on or why. His solution was to interrogate Paul. The interrogation would take place under torture. This was a common practice. Torture was often used to get information from prisoners who were not Roman citizens. This was especially true if the charged something like treason or sedition. The interrogation was through with a whip. The whip had leather thongs. There were pieces of metal or bone attached to the ends of each thong.
The soldiers stretched Paul out in preparation for scourging. At this point, Paul raises the right of Roman citizenship. Nothing was more heinous to Rome than abridge the liberty of the people of Rome. Valerius’ law, the law of Porcius, and of Sempronius, et. al. forbid violence to the body of the city of Rome. That is the judicial system must find a Roman citizen guilty of a crime. The supposition of a crime was insufficient. Charged with a crime was insufficient. The people of Rome i.e. a court must hand down a guilty verdict. They held this right so high that a violation must be purged. That is, anyone who did so must die.
So, when Paul claimed his Roman citizenship. The soldiers, the centurion, and the tribune’s lives were all now in jeopardy. Their reaction was no surprise. Paul’s claim was serious. It is no wonder their reaction was swift.
This also explains why the authorities in Philippi were so quick to release Paul and Silas. But it raises a question. Why did Paul wait to claim the right of citizenship in Philippi? It may have been because he could not be heard over the crowd in Philippi. Here he was inside away from the mob. (Acts 16:20-24)
There is no reason we cannot or should not use lawful means to prevent injury to ourselves or others.
The centurion tells the tribune that he, the tribune, is about to get in a boatload of trouble. Paul was claiming Roman citizenship. The tribune comes to question Paul. Roman citizenship was not common. Nor was it easy to get. How did Paul a Jew, get this honor? The tribune had obtained it. But he paid a lot of money for it. Roman citizenship brought with it privileges. The tribune had bought his. It was not uncommon to buy Roman citizenship through a bribe. Paul’s answer was sweet. He was born a citizen. He did not need to pay anything it was a birthright.
But Paul was born in Tarsus, not Rome. Tarsus was not a Roman colony. How could Paul be a Roman citizen? Rome granted citizenship to those who serve Roman well. This could be in war or some other important way. It appears Paul inherited it from his father.
A trial was now needed to resolve the matter. The legal process begun here would take the rest of Acts. It will remain unresolved at the end of the book. The legal process itself took four years of Paul’s life.
We are part of two kingdoms, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. We are citizens of both. As such Exercising the rights and privileges of one does not negate the other.