Acts 24:21:

Except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day

Is Paul speaking with sarcasm here?


Paul here refers to what is described in Acts 23:6:

But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men [and] brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question


3 Answers 3


Paul is not being sarcastic. This is his legal defense. He is referring to the events you mention from chapter 23 and earlier. In 24:10ff Paul testifies to Felix the governor in his own defense. The High Priest Ananias ben Nedebaios brought some other elders and Tertullus, an orator who would be skilled in Roman legal proceedings, to bring charges against Paul (24:1). They present their accusations to Procurator Marcus Antonius Felix in verses 2-9. They accuse him of being a troublemaker (literally λοιμὸν-"plague" or "pest"), instigating riots, and attempting to desecrate the Temple.

It is also worth noting that Tertullus addresses Felix with the typical honorific for his office, "most excellent." His reference to Felix's rule as a time of peace and progress brought about by Felix's skill as an administrator is complete flattery and utter balderdash. Josephus records that Felix's rule was a time of escalating violence (War 2:253-270; Antiquities 20:141-143, 160-177 [see especially 162]). Tacitus, a Roman historian, concurs and lays the blame for the violence at Felix's feet (Annals 12.54, "Felix..., by ill-timed remedies, stimulated disloyal acts", History 5.9).

When he makes his defense, Paul says that he is aware of Felix's reputation (24:10). Paul then does not use the honorific for Felix; however, he is quite willing to address Felix's replacement by it (Acts 26:25). Paul lays the burden of proof on his accusers. He proclaims his innocence in all the events they accuse him of and tells Felix that he can find witnesses to verify Paul's side of the story. He then turns to a positive self-defense. He freely admits to being a Follower of the Way and shows how he disagrees with it being a sect.

Paul then notes that the men who accuse him of instigating the riots of 21:27-28 were not even present at the court (24:19). In principle, Roman law required eyewitnesses. Paul's case is made stronger by his accusers claiming they have found him guilty but not bringing their witnesses. Jewish law absolutely required eyewitnesses for crimes like Paul was accused of (Mishnah Sanhedrin 3:6; 4:5; 5:1; Ketuboth 2:2; Bekhorot 4:10; Rosh HaShanah 1:8; 3:3; Makkot 1:8; Eduyot 2:7, etc.; BT Rosh HaShanah 20a, 21a-22b, 25b, 23b-24a; Sanhedrin 6b, 8a, 8b-10a, 17b, 23a-23b, etc.).

24:17 "After several years I came to bring to my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings, 24:18 which I was doing when they found me in the temple, ritually purified, without a crowd or a disturbance. 24:19 But there are some Jews from the province of Asia who should be here before you and bring charges, if they have anything against me. 24:20 Or these men here should tell what crime they found me guilty of when I stood before the council, 24:21 other than this one thing I shouted out while I stood before them: 'I am on trial before you today concerning the resurrection of the dead.'"

Paul completes his defense by noting that the elders accusing him are eyewitnesses to his time before the Sanhedrin and that they should provide a list of crimes they found him guilty of then. He freely admits that his actions caused a division of the house in that trial and ended proceedings.

Paul is admitting that the only disturbance he is guilty of was the one which caused the Sanhedrin to adjourn that day.

  • Thanks for such a broad answer. "He freely admits that his actions caused a division of the house in that trial and ended proceedings" - Was that Paul's fault that Sanhedrin got divided at that point?
    – brilliant
    Jun 19, 2013 at 23:01
  • @brilliant, it was Paul's fault that the particular meeting was adjourned in dissension. But the two groups making up the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and Sadducees, had been at odds over doctrine and practice for years at this point.
    – Frank Luke
    Jun 20, 2013 at 15:03
  • Can you, please, elaborate a bit? I am a bit confused. I mean, if I a person is in the court and says something about his own beliefs to the court, and then it turns out that the court doesn't happen to see eye to eye with each other about those beliefs of his, so they began to argue, and that stops the meeting, I am a bit reluctant then to put the whole blame for this dissension on that person. In fact, I would even say that it is a case of the court not being professional enough.
    – brilliant
    Jun 20, 2013 at 17:19
  • @brilliant, Acts 23:6 "Then when Paul noticed that part of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, he shouted out in the council, "Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead!" Paul didn't merely state his beliefs. He took the opportunity to identify squarely with one side of the council and say that the charges were an attack against one of their core doctrines.
    – Frank Luke
    Jun 20, 2013 at 18:01

A bit disingenuous, perhaps, but not sarcastic. For Paul the resurrection of Christ is at the center of his message. E.g. in 1 Cor 15:3–4, he identifies the resurrection of Christ "in accordance with the Scriptures" as a matter "of first importance," and spends a chapter working out its implications.

And of course over against the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, Paul was indeed a Pharisee (and in certain respects remained one). But of course his statement is disingenuous, since many of those who opposed him were Pharisees. The opposition was not over a "general doctrine" of resurrection, of course, but specifically the resurrection of Jesus, and behind that, His significance.

But it is not sarcasm. In his view, the resurrection of Jesus is in fact the fulfillment of his lifelong Pharisaic views regarding "the hope and resurrection of the dead." It is not simply that he believes that Jesus has been raised already; he now ties the resurrection of the faithful to Jesus as firstfruits of a greater harvest (1 Cor 15:20). From his new perspective, the defense of the gospel of Jesus is the true fruition of the beliefs he held as a Pharisee, and consequently, the beliefs he still held in common with them.


Sarcastic it would be, if he he had not been taking the issue so very seriously. Paul knew that indeed he had created a tumult in the court and it was better to admit that in order to be trustworthy regarding his refutation of wrong charges against him. Another thing to consider is this: All opposers may have tried to ridicule the disciples' conviction of Christ's resurrection (along with the alleged crimes of him and his followers). So Paul made his and every faithful Jew's belief in the resurrection the crucial point of all charges against the Way, which he was defending.

Were he a little less convinced and matters a little less a question of his own living or dying (in one word: our situation), he might have been sarcastic. That is probably, why we might read it that way (myself not excluded).

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