Conflict in Jerusalem

His third missionary journey completed, Paul arrived in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost and was greeted warmly by James and the Jerusalem brethren.

Below, Jerusalem's Old City from the Mount of Olives

Jerusalem old city from the northeast

Paul turned over the relief aid he had collected from the Asian and European churches and told the leaders about the many Gentiles who had been converted. The leaders were thrilled by his account. They, too, told Paul of the thousands of Jewish converts in Palestine. But among the group were some legalistic members (called "Judaizers" in Acts) who still carried on their campaign against Paul. They accused him of forsaking the law of Moses by not requiring new converts to be circumcised.

The church leaders knew the matter had been settled before Paul set out on his second missionary journey. But, to appease them, they asked Paul to pay for the Temple sacrifices of four Jewish Christians who had taken a Nazarite vow (see right column and Numbers 6) and purify himself with them.

Below, model of the Temple in the 1st century at the Israel Museum; square towers of the Antonia Fortress ("barracks" in Acts) beyond

first century jerusalem temple

Paul diplomatically agreed. But, when he had nearly completed the week-long ritual, disaster struck. A group of Jewish pilgrims from Ephesus recognized Paul in the Temple courts and publicly accused him of attacking the Jews, the Law and the Temple. Paul, they said, had defiled the Temple by bringing Greeks into the inner courts of the Temple, an offense punishable by death. This was prominently stated on thirteen stone slabs around the Temple courts, some with inscriptions in Hebrew, some in Greek (below, the only intact stone, in Greek).

warning inscription from Jeusalem temple

"Let no Gentile enter within the balustrade and enclosure surrounding the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will be personally responsible for his consequent death."

The accusation against Paul was false. His accusers had previously seen him in the city with Trophimus, an Ephesian Gentile, and only assumed Paul had accompanied him beyond the Court of Gentiles where non-Jews were not allowed. But mob mentality drove them and they were well on their way to stoning Paul when the disturbance was overheard by Roman troops stationed in the Antonia Fortress (structure with square towers, photo above) overlooking the Temple from its northwest corner. The commander and his troops ran out of the Antonia, seized Paul and carried him up the fortress' steps. Just inside the fortress gate, Paul addressed the commander in Greek, surprising the him, since he had assumed Paul was the same troublesome pseudo-prophet from Egypt who earlier had gathered 4,000 followers in the desert and marched on Jerusalem. Paul set the commander straight and asked permission to address the crowd. Permission was granted.

With the stairs of the Antonia as his pulpit, Paul recounted his background as a Jew growing up in Tarsus and his education under the rabbi Gamaliel. He also detailed his conversion on the road to Damascus and related how Jesus had told him to leave Jerusalem and testify "to the Gentiles."

"The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, 'Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!'"

Below, view from above of the Temple courts. Non-Jews were not permitted to enter these enclosed areas, each progressively more restrictive: Court of the Women (all Jews, male and female, were permitted), Court of Israelites (exclusively for Jewish men), Court of Priests (reserved for Levite priests who performed sacrifices).

Jerusalem Temple model

The Roman commander ordered Paul inside the Antonia for scourging. Paul then pulled out his trump card, the "passport" or papers he carried verifying his Roman citizenship. He said to the commander standing there,

"Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?"

The alarmed commander confirmed Paul's claim of citizenship. The next day he released Paul and ordered the chief priests and the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul before them. A violent uproar ensued. The commander, fearing for Paul's life, sent him with an armed escort to Caesarea, 60 miles to the north, a two-day trip, for a hearing before the Roman governor Felix.



Trials in Caesarea