A Deeper Understanding of Acts 23:6
By James Scott Trimm
In Acts 22:30-23:10 Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin for judgment. Paul’s defense in this trial has been poorly understood in the past. In order to have a proper understanding of Paul’s defense, requires having a basic understanding of the Talmud.
Paul realizes that he has not been brought before the Pharisaic Sanhedrin, which was headed by Hillel and his descendants, but to the political Sanhedrin made up of Sadducees and Pharisees and headed by the High Priest.
In Acts 23:3 he questions the High Priest’s right to judge him, accusing him of violating Torah. In verse 4 Paul is asked why he dares to criticize the High Priest. In verse 5 Paul responds with sarcasm, saying “I did not know my brothers, that he was the Cohen”. Paul knew that Chananyah was not a valid High Priest, and this was his point in verse 5.
In Acts 23:6 Paul proclaims himself (in the present tense) to be a Pharisee and he then makes the defense “concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead, I am being judged.”
As verse 8 tells us “the Sadducees said there is no resurrection”. The Sadducees (Tzadokim) were founded by a certain Zadok. Zadok was a talmid (disciple) of Antigonus of Soko who misunderstood his teaching. Antigonus taught:
“Be not like servants who serve their master
for the sake of wages, but be like servants who serve their
master with no thought of a wage – and let the fear
of Heaven be upon you.”
The Mishna Avot of Rabbi Natan tells us how Zadok misunderstood the teachings of Antigonos:
Antigonos of Soko had two students. They would con his teachings by rote and then teach the other students… They started to question the meaning of this teaching. They asked themselves why our teachers taught this way. Is it possible that a worker could function faithfully all day long and not receive his just wage at the end of the day? [They reasoned that] if our teachers were sure that there is another world and a resurrection of the dead they would not have worded their teaching in this way. They seceded from Torah and two schismatic schools derived from them: Sadducees and Boethusians. The Sadducees were named for Zadok and the Boethusians for Boethos…
(Mishna Avot of Rabbi Natan 1:3)
Zadok misunderstood Antigonos’ teaching. He wrongly concluded that since we should no keep Torah to gain a reward, that there must not be any reward. Zadok concluded that there is no reward to be obtained in the afterlife, nor any punishment to be avoided. The Sadducees believed that there is no afterlife and no resurrection. As Josephus writes:
But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: That souls
die with the bodies….
(Josephus; Antiquities 18:2:4)
…the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection…
And as we read here in Acts:
For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection,
neither angel, nor spirit…
Now there is a Pharisaic tradition recorded in the Mishna tractate Sanhedrin which deals with which “apostate doctrines” were worthy of disfellowshipment. The Mishna passage in question reads:
All Israelites have a share in the world to come…
And these are the ones who have no part in the World to Come:
He who says, the resurrection of the dead is a teaching which is not
derived from the Torah…
The Talmud is made up the Mishna and the Gemara. In the Talmud a passage of Mishna is followed by commentary known as Gemara. In the Talmud the Gemara to m.Sanhedrin 10:1 begins at b.Sanhedrin 90a and runs through b.Sanhedrin 99a.
At around b.Sanhedrin 97a this section of Gemara transitions from a discussion of the doctrine of the resurrection (in 90a-96b) to a discussion on the timing of the coming of Messiah (in 97a-99a). This is not just a random shift, but a logical transition.
The transition point of this Gemara reads as follows:
Rabbi Nahman said to Rabbi Isaac: “Have you heard when Bar Nafle will come?”
“Who is Bar Nafle?”, he asked.
“Messiah,” he answered,
“Do you call Messiah Bar Nafle?”
“Even so,” he rejoined, “As it is written: “In that day, I will raise up the tabernacle
of David ha-nofelet [that is fallen]. (Amos 9:11)”
This Gemara defines “David” in this passage to refer to the Davidic Messiah and the “tabernacle” to refer to his physical body. Since the context of this Gemara is that of the resurrection, “raise up” in this context most certainly refers to “resurrection” This is very profound, because we have in this Gemara a reference to a “resurrection” of the physical body of Messiah being seen in Amos 9:11.
There is also evidence that this understanding of the “Tabernacle of David” in Amos 9:11-12 as being a reference to the Messiah existed by the first century. A document found among the Dead Sea Scrolls in cave 4 gives the following commentary in Amos 9:11:
“I shall raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen” (Amos 9:11).
This passage describes the fallen Branch of David,
whom He shall raise up to deliver Israel.
(Q174 III, 12-13)
This must be the reason that Ya’akov cites the verse in Acts 15:16 as having an application not only in the Millennial Kingdom, but in the very time period of the Acts 15 council. Ya’akov was well aware that the “Tabernacle of David” was a reference to the body of the Messiah, and that its being “raised up” was understood as a prophecy of a resurrection of the Messiah after he had “fallen” (died).
But now lets return to Paul’s defense before the Sanhedrin in Acts 23:6. Paul is in effect claiming m.Sanhedrin 10:1 as his defense and in doing so he is also claiming the Gemara attached to that Mishna, the doctrine of the death and resurrection of the Messiah as foretold in Amos 9:11. In fact Paul was appealing to a ruling by the Pharisaic Sanhedrin as recorded in m.San. 10:1. The result is that the political Sanhedrin falls into chaos, because on this very issue the Pharisees of the Pharisaic Sanhedrin had pronounced all Sadducees as apostates.
No doubt, if Paul had not been immediately removed from the room, he would have taken the opportunity to begin proclaiming the death and resurrection of Messiah as found in Amos 9:11 as a prophecy of Yeshua as the Messiah.
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