In Acts 23:3-5 (NIV):
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.’”
What tone was Paul intending to convey in verse 5 when he said he didn't know that the person was the high priest? I can see a couple of possibilities:
- Genuine regret: "I honestly didn't realize he was the high priest. I'm sorry, I should have kept my mouth shut."
- Sarcasm: "How was I supposed to know he was the high priest? His violation of the law means he sure wasn't acting like one!"
- Dog-whistling: "Well, if he's the high priest, then I shouldn't speak anything untrue and evil about him." (To those who support the high priest, they agree that Paul spoke evil and see his statement as an apology for his ignorance. To those who oppose the high priest, they disagree that Paul spoke evil, and thus he was highlighting the truth).
My inclination would be towards the second or third interpretation, since I am surprised that Paul would not recognize the person in charge as the high priest, given his position of authority, dress, etc. But I don't know enough about the Jewish customs of the time to fully rule out genuine regret.
What tone was Paul intending to convey in Acts 23:5?