Related: Was Paul literally predicting that God would strike Ananias?

From Acts 23:1-5 (NIV):

1 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” 2 At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”

4 Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”

5 Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”

Did Paul actually not realize that he was the High Priest, and is his expression of regret sincere? Is he being sarcastic here?

  • What evidence do you have for suggesting insincerity or (undue) sarcasm ?
    – Nigel J
    Mar 9, 2018 at 2:10
  • @NigelJ I recall reading that theory suggested as a possible interpretation (I believe it was in John MacArthur's study Bible - he didn't agree with it I don't think, just mentioned it as a possibility). Mar 9, 2018 at 3:45
  • 2
    This is a perfectly reasonable question IMO; I don't see how it's any more "opinion based" than most of the exegetical questions here. @Nigel -- although I'm not defending it, here's one argument to that effect. Sarcasm/irony aren't necessarily to be equated with malicious intent
    – Susan
    Mar 9, 2018 at 4:39
  • I wondered whether Paul was intentionally using the same word Jesus used in Matthew 23:27. Same Greek word, used only in these two places.
    – WGroleau
    Apr 3, 2023 at 17:22
  • To add to the confusion: "the high priest" may not be a reference to the current officer... such as the title President so-and-so used for US presidents. Was he the same person as as Annas in the gospels... or as Anan in Jewish sources? Apr 3, 2023 at 17:35

2 Answers 2



The name Ananias in the Bible The name Ananias occurs 11 times in the New Testament (SEE FULL CONCORDANCE) and covers three separate men:

  1. The husband of Sapphira (Acts 5:1).....

  2. Ananias of Damascus, whom Jesus sent to meet Saul of Tarshish (later the apostle Paul).....

  3. The high priest Ananias who heard Paul, ordered him struck on the mouth after his first statement, and Paul reminded him in no small terms that this violated the Law (Deuteronomy 25:2). When someone reminded Paul that he shouldn't speak ill of the high priest, Paul submitted that he didn't know that he was either a high priest or a ruler of the people. This was obviously still part of Paul's previous observation that Ananias was a white-washed wall because (1) everybody knew who the high priest was, and (2) in case someone didn't know, the high priest came with an elaborate uniform. Paul basically stated that he didn't recognize the authority of the Sanhedrin.

Josephus speaks of this high priest as Ananias son of Nebedeu(s), and tells us that he had been instated by Herod (Ant.5.2), and at some point in his career was sent in chains to Claudius Caesar to explain what he might have had to do with a Samaritan uprising, which was caused by the plundering of Samaritan towns by Jews (6.2).


It is more probable that Paul was sincere than that he was sarcastic in saying that he did not realize the identity of the high priest. Contrary to the opinion given in another answer, everyone did not know what the high priest looked like, and he likely wore his ornate priestly vestments only when acting in his sacerdotal capacity at Temple ceremonies. Here, he most probably appeared in his everyday dress, in response to a hastily called meeting of the council summoned by a Roman official. (Acts 22:28-30)

We should also consider Paul's general attitude toward authority. In Romans, Paul wrote:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

It could be argued that Paul was not referring to Jewish authority here, but this hard to reconcile with the fact that the Sanhedrin meeting was called by the Roman tribune, and in matters of Jewish law, the council was indeed the governing authority. Finally, he begins his comment by addressing his hearers as "Brothers," an address designed to elicit unity of spirit, not one likely to preface a sarcastic "doubling down" of an insult.

These things considered, I conclude that Paul was telling the simple truth when he apologized for insulting the high priest in this case.

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