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In Acts, Paul is giving a defense before the people of Jerusalem. In verse 5 Paul says "from them I received letters to the brothers" (ESV). I've seen two understandings of this.

The first is that "them" refers to the high priest and council of letters, so that "the brothers" would refer to Jewish leaders in Damascus so that Paul would be aided in his purpose.

The second is that "them" refers to followers of the Way and that "the brothers" refers to believers in Damascus. In this view, Paul had somehow tricked the prisoners he had taken so that they wrote letters to other believers in Damascus, allowing Paul to find them easier.

This second view surprised me when I first heard it. What do you think is the correct understanding?

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I have no knowledge of Greek, but an examination of the events as they unfold is helpful:

Acts 21:17: Paul is in Jerusalem where “the brothers received us gladly”. Here “the brothers” are the Christians, including James.

Acts 21:27-35: Paul arrested in Jerusalem. The Jews had seen him with Trophimus, the Ephesian, and thought Paul had brought a Gentile into the Temple. That’s why Paul was arrested.

Acts 22:1: Paul addresses the Jewish crowds as “Brothers and fathers” because Paul is a Jew.

Acts 22:4: Paul says he was persecuting followers of “the Way” (Christians).

Acts 22:5: Paul obtained letters from the high priest, Ananias (see Acts 23:2) and the Council in Jerusalem to take to the Jewish religious leaders in Damascus. The letters were his authority to take captive the followers of “the Way” (Christians) and bring them to Jerusalem. Here “them” refers to the High Priest and the Council in Jerusalem and “the brothers” are the Jewish religious leaders in Damascus.

Acts 28:17: Paul is in Rome and then calls together the local leaders of the Jews and addresses them as “Brothers”. ESV notes say the local leaders were probably the elders of the synagogues, of which there were a number in Rome. Here “the brothers” are Jews.

Acts 28:21: The Jews tell Paul they had not received any letters from Judea about him and “none of the brothers coming here” had said anything evil about Paul. Here “the brothers” are Jews.

When Paul is speaking to the Jewish religious leaders, he addresses them as “brothers” because they are all Jews. Before his conversion, Saul was persecuting the Christians and needed letters of authority from the High Priest and Council members in Jerusalem. He took those letters to the Jewish religious leaders (his Jewish “brothers”) in the places where he was hounding Christians. No trickery needed. The first view holds up. After this, Saul becomes the Apostle Paul.

  • Good summary and good answer. +1 – user25930 Jul 11 at 21:29
  • Nice. The Acts 28:17 reference is especially useful. – blearyeye Jul 17 at 12:46

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