"The essence of prophecy is to give the message confirmed by Jesus." Rev. 19:10 NLT fn 10


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Did Paul Lie Twice Before A Court and Commit

Four Major Sins in Acts 23:1-5?


Does Paul ever lie?

We have Paul's own admission of a deliberate lie in Romans 3:7 and the use of guile (deception) in 2 Cor. 12:16 to advance his gospel.

However, beyond Paul making an admission of lying or deceit for such purposes, do we ever find Paul lying in court which means he bore "false witness" as prohibited in the Law?   

This is clearly bad fruit, if proven, because Jesus says a "false witness" is contrary to the way to "eternal life." (Matt 15:18-19 - Jesus' answer how to have eternal life includes Jesus saying obey the commandments, listing among them not to bear "false witness.")


Why Does It Matter If Paul Lies In Court?


Paul says we should trust his words as based upon revelation from the "Lord" (presumably Jesus) to Paul. See for example 1 Cor. 11:23 as explained in Tuck's Commentary here


However, Paul never actually quotes any revelation from "Jesus" to support any teaching Paul is delivering. So Paul says we should trust his teachings anyway as inspired from the "Lord" despite missing a key component to deliver such a "message." You must quote Jesus.

Why is that crucial?


Because Yahweh invested Jesus with a unique authority that by-passed the normal requirement that a prophet had to quote YHWH to be accepted. Without quoting YHWH one could not be a prophet. However, YHWH spoke over Jesus'  head in front of multiple witnesses "Listen to Him!" and "This is my beloved son who pleases me greatly." See Mark 9:7; Matt 17:5. See also Luke 3:22; Matt 3:16


Yahweh did so to invoke remembrance of Deut 18:15-19 where YHWH said He will send "The Prophet" whose every word would be from YHWH, andYHWH then says this is why we must "listen to him." Peter had heard that voice from heaven "Listen to Him." Thus, in Peter's  second major sermon, Peter quotes Deut 18:15-19 in Acts 3:22-23.  Peter leads 5,000 to believe Jesus is "The Prophet," insisting that we must "obey him" or be "destroyed" from among God's people for disobeying "The Prophet."


For more detail on the unique status of Jesus' words over those who cannot or will not quote YHWH as a source, see our article Jesus' Words Only Principle Proven from Deut 18:15-19


Paul asks us to accept he has revelations from "the Lord" without quoting Jesus or Yahweh in his epistles to support any of Paul's teachings. Paul clearly explains why he does not do so -- he was ordered not to repeat the "Lord's" words heard in a revelation in the "third heaven."


For when Paul says he is teaching based upon "revelation" from the "Lord," Paul says he received them when taken up to the "third heaven." Paul then explains why we should not to be surprised Paul does not quote Jesus for his teachings. Paul was "not permitted" to "tell"about them per  2 Cor. 12:4 in the NIV, or was advised that it was "unlawful to" repeat them in the ASV -- what he heard said in that third heaven.  This prohibition explains why Paul never quotes a revelation from Jesus for any of Paul's teachings in his epistles. (For more on the question about when Paul ever quotes Jesus in his epistles, see NOTE after END for this article.)


As a result of these claims by Paul that his teachings are based upon private "revelations" which he is "not permitted" to repeat, Paul is claiming to be a prophet of the "Lord" but in only that highly constrained sense.


If there is any doubt Paul is claiming to be a prophet, let's remember most of Christianity today takes all Paul's words at face value as if Jesus revealed them to him despite Paul never quoting Jesus for any of Paul's teachings. These passages cited above about revelations "unlawful" to repeat are the major proofs offered that we must accept Paul as a prophet.


Hence, we have a duty from Jesus to test Paul's fruits because Paul like any other would-be prophet of things heard in "heaven" -- even if not quoted -- must be tested by "fruits" as Jesus instructed in Matthew 7:15-16. There Jesus says "beware the false prophets" whom you can recognize by "their fruits."


Bearing "false witness" is a bad fruit. See Matt 15:18-19 where Jesus says the way to eternal life includes not bearing a "false witness."


Does Paul Bear False Witness Not Once, But Twice in Court?


Paul in Acts 23:1 is testifying in front of the Sanhedrin Court. The High Priest is present. After cursing the High Priest, Paul in Acts 23:4-5 acknowledges he was subject to Exodus 22:28 -- “you shall not...curse a ruler of your people.” Paul had cursed the High Priest by saying “God will smite you.”  (Acts 23:3.) 


Paul also vulgarly reviled the High Priest by calling him a “urinal wall” (Acts 23:3)  It is typically translated as "whited wall" - causing us to miss how actually vulgar was Paul's insult.


As to the proper translation, even as mainstream a source as you can find admits it. The Bible Study.org website shamelessly explains in "Who did Paul curse" in Acts 23 that Paul's reference to a whited wall meant a "designated area where the public could urinate." It explains "the Hebrew word koniao [adopted in Greek] translated as whitened [in Acts 23:3] actually refers to spreading lime dust which is still used in outdoor toilets." Bible Study.org concludes Paul is thus "referring to someone as a wall upon which the public could urinate....."


But it was not just "someone" but rather was the High Priest. Such is the way Paul's misdeeds are softened so subtly by "explanations."


Thereafter, the interchange went like this according to Luke who was 



Those standing near Paul said: "How dare you insult the High Priest?" Paul replied: "Brothers I did not realize he was the High Priest, for it is written 'Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.'" (Acts 23:4-5 NIV.)


Paul's reviling and cursing of the High Priest was because the High Priest ordered Paul slapped because he thought Paul lied when Paul said he has “lived in all good conscience before God till this day." (Acts 23:1.)

So had Paul lived without deliberate sin up to that "day" -- the meaning of saying that he lived "in all good conscience to that day"? 

No, and by Paul's own admission, for elsewhere Paul admits: 

“I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.” (1 Tim. 1:13 NASB.)


One of those "violent aggressions" by Paul was against people whom he participated in unlawfully executing without a proper trial. This is in Acts 8 at the stoning of Stephen. In a hearing before a Governor at Caesarea, Paul testifies in Acts 22:20 that he gave "consent" to the murder of Stephen, and held the garments of those physicaly murdering Stephen. 

Another prior violent agression of Paul which the High Priest likely knew personally about was Paul's pre-Damascus Road violent attack on James the Just  - the Bishop of Jerusalem and brother of Jesus. Paul in response to James's preaching from the Temple pinnacle had rushed up to the pinnacle and threw James down from the temple pinnacle, seriously injuring him. James never had a proper trial, as the Law mandates. 

Paul cannot claim ignorance that executions or attempted executions without a proper trial are unlawful. Illicit deliberate killing is murder.


And what about Paul having been a blasphemer?


First, you may wonder how Paul can believe he was a "blasphemer" - guilty of the unpardonable sin, yet be saved? It was because Paul believed grace meant "you could be justified of all things you could not be justified by the Law" (Acts 13:39.) Only blasphemy was the sin which could never be justified under the Law, making it the unpardonable sin, as Jesus taught. See Paul Contradicts Jesus that Blasphemy was Pardonable. Thus, Paul came to think just accepting Jesus' atonement, burial and resurrection wiped this clean. See 1 Cor. 15:1-4 ("steadfastly holding in mind" the "death" and "burial" and "resurrection" of Christ shall "save you.") Hence, Paul shamelessly claims he was "justified" of a sin that the Law said you could never be justified over.  But it would be a lie to say that he had "lived in all good conscience" in his entire life up to that point.


There is even a second obvious lie by Paul in Acts 23, but one which Luke could not detect. Paul said he was not guilty of violating Exodus 22:28 because he did not know the High Priest was talking. However, the High Priest in a courtroom setting is known

(a) by His distinctive dress that he was commanded to wear outside at all times by a command in the Bible (see link) and

(b) by his seating position. 

One of the most obvious distinctions is the High Priest's dress included a band of gold on his forehead with the words written in Hebrew "Holiness to the Lord" and which he "shall wear always." (Exodus 28:36-38 KJV.) The High Priest could thus never leave his home without putting this extremely distinctive head-dress on his forehead. For a picture, see this link.


Paul's testimony before the Sanhedrin Court that he did not knowingly curse the High Priest is necessarily false. For Paul told Luke that prior to this Courtroom scene that he went to the "High Priest" for letters to arrest Christians (Acts 9:1-2 KJV). Also in Court another time, Paul likewise testified in Acts 26:10  (ISV, Weymouth) that the "High Priests" engaged Paul for his persecutions of Christians. So how how could Paul be directly hired by the High Priest (Acts 9:12), and by his succesors (Acts 26:10) but not recognize the uniquely singular head dress of the High Priest which Paul could recognize solely by reading Exodus 28:36-38?


Alternatively, if you believe Paul is constantly inspired, then Paul knew by the Holy Spirit it was the High Priest, and then lied about it. So either Paul is not always inspired yet clearly knowingly lied, or Paul was inspired at all times, and lied to the High Priest anyway not only that Paul had never knowingly sinned to this point in his life, but also that Paul did not recognize this was the High Priest before reviling and cursing the High Priest.


Either way, the episode discredits Paul as a voice for Christians to listen to. Jesus tells us that those who wish us to accept themselves as prophets (as Paul does), we know to reject if their fruit is evil. See Matthew 7:15-21. Lying in Court -- bearing false witness -- is obviously evil fruit.


Conclusion: Two Big Lies and Two Other Major Sins of Paul in Acts 23


Hence, there are two lies by Paul in Acts 23. His court testimony:


[1] he never had deliberately sinned before: and


[2] Paul did not know it was the High Priest speaking.


These lies were especially egregious as bearing a false witness in court as Paul was speaking to the Sanhedrin court in obvious testimony. 


Furthermore, lest we forget, the second consequence of proving Paul lied  is this means Paul knowingly violated Exodus 22:28 by cursing the High Priest. Another major sin, as Paul admits a knowing violation of that law was a major sin.


Second, Paul also knowingly violated Exodus 22:28 by "speaking evil" of the High Priest as a urinal wall. Paul construed the meaning of Exodus 22:28 in Acts 23:4-5 as prohibiting "speaking evil" of someone. Something so vulgar is certainly evil. Another major sin.


Thus, there are actually four major sins in one passage including two lies in court testimony.


These were all extremely bad and vulgar fruit of a disgusting quality for those among us who believe the Holy Spirit can never talk this way from a truly born-again believer. 


Then why did Luke record them?


Because ironically, Luke as a Gentile would never be the wiser, for the lies of Paul could only be known had Luke known of Exodus 28:36-38 KJV that Paul had to know from his time as a student of Gamaliel and his personal encounters with the High Priest that only the High Priest wore this gold band on his forehead "Holiness to the Lord." Luke obviously did not know that gold band on the High Priest was unique. Thus, Luke gullibly reported the truth of what he heard in Court, assuming Paul would never bear false witness in Court. 





Paul gives one exception right after his "third-heaven" account that said he was not permitted to repeat the words revealed in the third heaven.

This exception does not reflect a teaching for us but only was a private message for Paul. For Paul quotes the "Lord" only once in his epistles  talking to Paul when the "Lord" told him he would leave Paul subject to an "Angel of Satan" for his own good -- to teach Paul to be humble, and thus the Lord" said he would leave Paul subject to the stinger in his flesh from this "Angel of Satan" (2 Cor 12:7 Mounce "angelos Satanas"). Paul's Lord says this is because the "grace" given Paul to that point was enough. See 2 Cor. 12:7-9 NIV.

Most Paulinists are repulsed by this passage in 2 Cor. 12, and claim it cannot mean what it implies -- that the true Lord Jesus left Paul under the dominion of Satan. See discussion in our article: Was Paul A True Messenger of Jesus'  Words? 


Related Cross-References.


Paul's Further Lies in Same Sanhedrin Testimony That He was On Trial over Belief in Resurrecton - Acts 26:6-8.   


Comments on This Article.


(I promised to post non-hateful comments even if I do not agree with them. Thus, what is posted below are varied and different takes on the same subject matter.)


Professor Barrie Wilson (author of How Jesus Became a Christian, and the newly released In Search Of Messiah). (August 4, 2020)


Hi Doug,

 You can take your analysis further.


 1. We can test the account of Paul in the Book of Acts versus what Paul

says in his genuine letters. That establishes that Acts' Paul is not Paul's

Paul. It's interesting that Acts is the one book of the Bible we can

fact-check. That analysis shows that the Book of Acts cannot be relied

on for accurate information about Paul. It is a mythologized Paul.


 2. Then, once we have the base -- Paul's 7 genuine letters -- the analysis

can proceed further, to show that Paul's positions are at variance from

those who knew the historical Jesus. He never had the benefit of a 3 year

mentoring process as did the original disciples. And Paul had the

temerity to call them agents of Satan. So who lies?


 3. There are more mythologized Pauls -- e.g. the Paul in the Pastoral

Epistles. The Paul in Acts of Thecla. People in the 2nd century CE

wanted a heroic Paul and they created one.


 I think the more that people come to see how different Paul is from

Jesus, the more the teachings of the latter stand out. On my website

(www.barriewilson.com) I have a section called Early

Christianity--Explorations. This probes in detail Paul vs Jesus. It's

message is in keeping with yours.


 Meanwhile I have a new book that's being released this week in the

USA and Canada. I've attached some information about it. I'm sure

you'd agree with much of it (not all, I imagine) and especially

the last chapter.


All the best and thanks for contacting me.

 Barrie  (August 4, 2020)