Paul, Romans and Legal Rights
As Paul addressed the mob, things went along for a short time in calm, and then he mentioned taking the Gospel to the Gentiles, and the mob went wild, demanding Paul’s murder. The Roman commander ordered Paul taken into the barracks where he ordered Paul to be interrogated.
At this point in the story, it is interesting to note that in the Roman worldview, the victim of a violent attack by a mob is arrested and interrogated, while the perpetrators of the violence are not; obviously this Paul guy did something, let’s make him tell us what he did.
Paul was to be encouraged to be forthcoming by flogging. This was the same kind of thing done to Jesus before His crucifixion; Paul was stripped naked, and his hands were tied to the top of a high post. If the post was high enough, his feet would actually have been off the ground, and then he would be struck repeatedly with a leather whip that was weighted down on the ends with bits of bone and rock that would rip his flesh apart… while being asked questions. This would have been by far the most severe torture he had ever endured up to this point, and it would likely result in lifelong injury or death if it went on long enough.
I have often been accused of having a rather odd sense of humor, and with that in mind I tell you that what happens next strikes me as one of the funniest scenes in all of Scripture; there is naked Paul tied to this post, his feet probably off the ground, and he asks a question…
“Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” (22:25b)
The centurion who was tasked with getting a confession from Paul got a bit of a shock with that innocent little question and went straight to his commander, who received a shock of his own, and went directly to Paul:
The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”
“Yes, I am,” he answered.
Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.”
“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied. (22:27-28)
The commander’s comment in 22:28 can be taken more than one way, but for me it looks like kind of an insult, as though he were saying that he had to pay a lot to become a citizen and now anybody can be a citizen. Whatever was going through his mind, Paul had the higher status, having been born a citizen. Notice that the men who were about to commit a serious crime got out of that room “immediately” and Luke tells us the commander himself was “alarmed”; this had been a close call for all concerned.
Now the Roman commander had a call to make: What was he going to do with Paul? We’ll find that out next time, in what I think is another one of the funniest scenes in Scripture…