Acts 23:5—Did Paul lie when he said he didn’t know the high priest?

Problem: The high priest Ananias commanded that Paul be struck on the mouth. Paul rebuked him for doing so, and those who stood by condemned Paul for reviling the high priest. Paul responded by claiming, “I did not know ... that he was the high priest” (Acts 23:5). But this is highly unlikely, since Paul himself was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and worked closely with him before his conversion (Acts 9:1–3).

Solution: There are several views taken on this passage. Some suggest that Paul may have not known the high priest personally, even though he was previously a member of the Jewish Council. Others claim that Paul may have had poor vision (perhaps his “thorn in the flesh”) and not been able to see him clearly. Still others believe that Paul could have been lying to get himself out of a bad situation. Apostles sinned too (cf. Gal. 2:11–13). In this case, Acts is simply giving us a true record of Paul’s sin.

It seems more plausible, however, to take Paul’s statement as sarcastic but not false. In this case, his statement, “I did not know ... he was the high priest,” could be translated something like this: “This is the high priest of God’s Law? I would never have known it by his unlawful command to strike me!”

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.