Was Ananias the High Priest or Not?
Tom: Thanks, Gary. You are listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage everyone who desires to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him. If you’re new to our program, we are all about exhorting people to read the Bible. After all, God created us, and He hasn’t left us without instructions as to how we are to live our lives. He’s given us His Word, which could rightly be called the Manufacturer’s Handbook, which claims to be able to make us wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus and that everything found in the handbook is inspired of God and will profit and equip us to do the things God wants.
However, not everyone agrees, and some have made special efforts to discredit the Bible and undermine faith in God’s Word. So we’re using Dave Hunt’s book In Defense of the Faith as a source of questions that deal with such criticism.
Dave, I’m going to jump right in with the first question. “In Acts 23, Luke tells us that Paul was brought before a council of the leading rabbis. Paul calls the presiding priest a “whited wall.” When he is rebuked for that, he apologizes and gives the excuse that he didn’t realize Ananias was the high priest. This reads like badly written fiction. Paul was supposedly an ex-rabbi. The high priest must have been wearing his robes and in charge of the proceedings. How then could Paul have been so stupid as not to know who the high priest was? Can you believe this scenario? And if not this, then how much else that Paul wrote?”
Dave: Well I don’t remember who that questioner was. First of all, Paul didn’t write this. These are minor points. Secondly, I don’t think he was ever a rabbi. He may have been, but he certainly knew the high priest. He grew up at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the rabbis, and, in fact, a few chapters earlier here in the Book of Acts, he is on his way to Damascus with authority from the high priest to arrest Christians!
So, this is a good point, and, Tom, I must confess that I had not noticed this, and I don’t think many other Christians have noticed it. The atheists and skeptics and critics—those who are determined to destroy the Bible, because if, for example, if the Bible is really telling us what Jesus said, and Jesus really was a historical person, and He really did say that He was God, and that He would judge all mankind, that He would rise from the dead, that He would come again: “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man cometh to the Father but by me.” Now, if that’s historical, and this is a historical man, and he made statements like that—well you have three choices: he was either a liar, or a lunatic, or who he claimed to be, and there’s no way to escape it.
There are other things in the Bible, of course, that men would like to escape, and the best way to do it is to discredit the Bible and say it’s not God’s Word. And they have been through the Bible with a microscope, and this is an obvious problem that I confess I had never noticed it until it came to my attention by the atheists.
Tom: Dave, let me read these verses for our listeners. This is Acts:23:1-5: “And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, ‘Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.’ And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, ‘God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?’ And they that stood by said, ‘Revilest thou God's high priest?’ Then said Paul, ‘I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.’”
Dave: “I wist not . . . ” Old English, King James—it means “I didn’t realize.” So now we have a problem. Paul, a few chapters earlier, has authority from the chief priests, from the priests and the rabbis, to go to Damascus to arrest Christians, and now he’s standing right before the high priest—he’s in his high priestly robes—and Paul doesn’t know he’s the high priest. I mean, this is . . . what is this? A joke? So you would say, “Well, this had to be written centuries later by somebody who didn’t know what he was talking about.” In fact (I love the Bible.), you have a number of these things in here that the Holy Spirit puts in to let the critics chortle a bit and enjoy their fun, but when you dig a bit deeper you find out that in fact this is really evidence of the authenticity of the Bible! Someone couldn’t have put this in centuries later or even fifty years later.
Well, in this particular case, Josephus comes to our rescue as he does on a number of occasions, because . . .
Tom: Josephus the historian.
Dave: Right, a Jew, a historian—and he witnessed the fall of Jerusalem and writes about it.
Tom: But basically a secular writer.
Dave: Oh yes, uh-huh.
Tom: And historian.
Dave: Yeah, and he tells us that Ananias, the high priest, had been deposed. I don’t remember the details of why he had been put out of office, but for some impropriety. His successor had been murdered. Now Ananias had unlawfully taken the post again of high priest! Now you understand what Paul is saying. “Oh, high priest? I didn’t realize he was the high priest. This guy is the high priest, is he? Really?” I love Paul! “God will smite you, you whited wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law and command me to be smitten contrary to the law?” Paul knew his rights under the law. Well you couldn’t have put that in many years later. This is . . .
Tom: Well, you wouldn’t want to if you were trying to make something seem right or sound right or not have any problems with it.
Dave: Right. Probably if you put it in there a century later, you wouldn’t know what the solution was. Well, it’s just one of those many things in the Bible. Can I point out just a couple of others before we go on? I think you want to move on to the next question.
Tom: No, no that’s fine.
Dave: Let’s go back to chapter 13, for example. Because there are a number of these things. Go to chapter 13:7: “ . . . which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man,” and so forth. This was actually the island of Cyprus, and the word in the Greek is anthypatos, and, here again, the skeptics jumped on that. And they said that there was no evidence that the deputy, the head of this island, was ever given that title. It was a title only belonging to a man of proconsular dignity. So, here’s a problem—another “mistake” in the Bible. Well, what do you know? The archaeologists dug a little bit deeper, and they found a coin that was minted in the reign of Claudius Caesar, which showed that indeed he was anthypatos. Again, it’s something you couldn’t have put in if you had written this centuries later. Let me just point out one more.
Tom: Well, Dave, let me . . . I want to quote from a source, Mark Hopkins.
Dave: Yes, tell them who Mark Hopkins was.
Tom: Well, he was . . .
Dave: Johns Hopkins University—named after him.
Tom: We have a quote from President James Garfield, who declared that his idea of a college would be “a log with a student at one end and Mark Hopkins at the other.”
Dave: Right. He was a very brilliant guy, and he knew his facts. Okay, so what did he have to say about this situation?
Tom: Well, in his book Evidences, he writes, “Luke gives Sergius Paulus a title belonging only to a man of proconsular dignity, and it had been doubted . . .”
Dave: Luke being the author of the Book of Acts, right?
Tom: Right. “. . . and it had been doubted whether the governor of Cyprus had that dignity. A coin, however, has been found [as you mentioned] struck in the reign of Claudius Caesar, the very reign in which Paul visited Cyprus. And under Proclus, who succeeded Sergius Paulus, on which the very title applied by Luke is given to Proclus. Luke speaks of Philippi . . .” (Is that another one you wanted to get into?)
Dave: Well I was going to mention that.
Tom: Well, go ahead.
Dave: Well, that’s in chapter 16. Again, let me read the verse: Acts:16:12, “And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony . . . .” And here the word is kolonia, and it doesn’t mean just an ordinary colony, but it means a colony of special Roman status and, once again, the critics jumped on that one. They said, “No, no, Philippi never had that dignity.”
So, what do you know? We found a medal that showed that Julius Caesar had conferred that honor upon them.
Tom: Dave, that brings us to our next question, and I think Mark Hopkins is going to help us out again later, but let’s get to the question first: “If the Bible is true, and Christianity was founded by Christ, as it states, then shouldn’t there be at least some confirmation in writings of non-Christian contemporaries? In fact, there is none. How do you account for that? How could Christianity have the impact that the New Testament claims for it and have been completely overlooked by all the writers of those times?”
Dave: Well, Tom, whoever wrote that or said it (and again, I can’t remember that. This book came out a few years ago, although these are eternal questions that have been asked) but, just didn’t know what he or she was talking about. Because it simply isn’t true that there are no other records. Now, in fact, there are a remarkable number of records considering how long ago this was, you know? We’re talking nearly 2,000 years ago. Now, God has preserved His Word, and the Christians certainly preserved the Bible. They are recopying it and recopying it and quoting it in letters and so forth to one another.
But that there should be other records—certainly there are! Let me just quote Josephus. He says (and this is such a powerful quote that Josephus has been criticized. Some people said, “Well, he must have been a closet Christian.” No, he wasn’t. And as you said, he was simply a historian and a Jew, not a Christian! Then they said, “Well, Christians must have written this in later.” No, that’s not true, because we have too many copies of this, and you couldn’t have changed this. Furthermore, they had copies in the library in Rome. They even had a statue honoring Josephus in Rome. He became a Roman citizen, this Jewish man, and the Roman Empire testified—I mean the Roman government, and it’s library, and so forth, and the statue they put up, [all] testify to the validity of what Josephus said. Then it would have been—look, we can turn this card on the other side and say, “Well, how come if what Josephus said wasn’t true, how come we don’t have some record of critics?” And we don’t.
But anyway, let me just give you a brief quote from Josephus. By the way, he confirms everything that the New Testament says about the sects of the Jews, the Herods, Pilate, the division of the provinces, about Felix and Drusilla, Bernice, Herod’s strange death recorded in the Book of Acts, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and so forth. But listen to what he said: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. [That’s an interesting point.] He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion . . . ,” and you remember the critics for years tried to say Pilate never existed, because he had offended Caesar, and Caesar had struck out any record of this man. He tried to destroy it all. You remember, we were in Caesarea By the Sea, and there was this big stone about four feet high and two-and-a-half feet wide . . .
Tom: From an amphitheater.
Dave: Right, and it had on it an inscription about Pilate, which is rather interesting because it seems that in destroying all evidence of Pilate, this stone was just the right size for a seat in an amphitheater, and some guy, instead of cutting out a new stone, he used this and put the inscription underneath so you couldn’t see it.
Tom: Well, very practical.
Dave: Right. An earthquake comes and overturns it, and there it is! Anyway, Josephus talked about Pilate: “And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principle men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first, did not forsake him. For he appeared to them alive again the third day as the divine prophets had foretold these and 10,000 other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.”
Now you can see from that quote why the critics have tried to discredit it. But you can’t.
Tom: Yes, it is an amazing quote. Dave, I think another reason that we have to hold this to be true on the part of Josephus is because later—not in this same section—later he talks about James, the brother of Jesus, and his death. So it calls him the Christ. (Not James, but Jesus obviously.)
Dave: What Josephus says in every other respect is accurate. We get a lot of our information about the destruction of Jerusalem from Josephus. I think he said about 1.2 million Jews were killed at this time. It was a horrible holocaust.
Tom: Mm-hmm, but certainly Josephus wasn’t the only one, and even those that objected to or were in opposition to Jesus . . .
Tom: For example, we mentioned Mark Hopkins in his book The Evidences. Let me quote a little bit more from that book. He writes: “The Talmud (it’s a compilation of oral rabbinic traditions, which dated from around AD 200)
Dave: Certainly not secret Christians.
Tom: No! He says, “. . . speaks of Christ and of several of the disciples by name, of his crucifixion, that he performed many and great miracles,” but it imputes His power to the magic arts which He allegedly learned in Egypt.
Dave: But we’ve got a record of Jesus and His miracles.
Tom: And they are referring to Him!
Tom: So, obviously, He’s a historic figure from somebody who is taking an oppositional position.
Tom: Then we have Tacitus. He’s a Roman historian who lived around 55 AD-117.
Dave: And again, he was not friendly to Christians.
Tom: No, Hopkins writes, “Governed Asia—Tacitus governed Asia as proconsul between 112 and 113. He tells us that “Christ was put to death by Pontius Pilate under Tiberius as a malefactor [a bad guy]. That the people called Christians derived their name from him, that the superstition arose in Judea and spread to Rome, where only about thirty years after the death of Christ, the Christians were very numerous, and that the Christians were subjected to contempt and the most dreadful sufferings. Some were crucified while others, being daubed over with combustible materials, were set up as lights in the nighttime . . . [This is horrific!], and they were thus burnt to death.”
Dave: Nero certainly did that.
Tom: “This account was confirmed by Suetonius and by Martial and Juvenal [a Roman poet].” Plenty of evidence, as you said and, Dave, I like the point that you made. Sometimes Christians are intimidated because somebody comes out and says, “Hey, look, there’s no evidence for this,” or “This person said this,” or “These church fathers did this,” or whatever, but they don’t check it out. Or they don’t at least say, “Fine, produce your evidence.”
Dave: God has not left us without witnesses—and it’s a good point, because we go not by the opinions of men. I mean, what do the opinions of men matter? I don’t care what fancy robes or fancy hats they wear, or what palaces they live in, or how long their church has been in existence, how large it is—say, in the case of Joseph Smith, claiming that he got the golden plates and that he had these revelations and so forth. It doesn’t matter. We have God’s Word in Scripture, the Bible, and we have so much evidence—internal evidence—and we’ve been over it before: forty different men, over a period of 1,600 years wrote this. Most of them didn’t know one another, came from different times, different cultures, and this book hangs together from Genesis to Revelation! And it is so interwoven, so intricate, in the relationship, for example, between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the fulfillment in the New of what was foretold in the Old!
And then we have the prophecies of what would happen to the Jews, for example, and it has happened. We have the prophecies of the Messiah. The very day—it gives you the date that He would ride into Jerusalem on that little donkey. And just the details that we have—there’s nothing like that in the Hindu Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, anywhere.
So, look, if we don’t have God’s Word, forget it! Let’s just shut everything down. If God has not spoken, and we don’t know how to understand what He said, and we can’t know what He means and what He desires for us as human beings, and how we could possibly be reconciled to Him, you know, then what’s the point of listening to human opinions? Human opinions mean nothing! God is the Creator of this universe. One day, we will give an account to Him. So, we need to know for sure what God has said. We’ve talked about that a lot.
Tom: Yeah. And, Dave, I just want to add that, you know, we look at creation—we’ve been over this on numbers of programs. We look at complexity that is far and away beyond our capacity . . . I mean it’s so wonderful, but it’s unimaginable to us. It’s just beyond us. But nevertheless, it’s an incredible . . . take one human cell, for example. It’s more complex than anything man has ever, will ever, be able to put together. Now, do we think that a God who created all of this is just going to leave us over to our opinions? Oh, well, we’ll kind of figure it out. We’ll kind of get an idea . . .
Dave: Or that He doesn’t have any opinions, He doesn’t have any standards—He just goes by, you know, whatever we come up with. That’s going to be okay? You can’t even play a game without a referee, you know. You have to have rules.
Tom: Dave, that made me think of something. I remember you telling me a long time ago—or, it wasn’t just for me—whether you were speaking, or I was paying attention—you said, “Take the Apocrypha, for example. Those books, which are accepted by the Roman Catholic Church as part of the Canon of Scripture . . .
Dave: They didn’t originally. That came much later.
Tom: It came much later. But take those—which . . . the Apocrypha were written sometime after 500 BC. Now you said, “Just read them, and see if they seem to be like the other books that you’ve read.” And this last couple of weeks ago, I was reading through the book of Judith, because we’re going to be dealing with that in a program, and I’m thinking, “This doesn’t sound like the Bible.” And, I mean, I have read them before, but I did it with that in mind. Does this—is this the way God has spoken to us by the prophets, by these forty men that you have mentioned, who penned the scriptures through God’s hand?
Dave: It would remind you of the Qur’an. I’m sorry—I don’t want to offend Muslims, but when I read the Qur’an . . .
Tom: I think of the Book of Mormon. It just doesn’t hold together. The phraseology, the intent of the individuals involved—it’s not scripture. I’m surprised that I could recognize that, because I didn’t think, you know, I didn’t think, Well, I don’t know if I could do that. But it was very obvious.
Dave: Well, let’s take 1st and 2nd Maccabees, from which the Catholic Church gets prayers for the dead. Those books themselves say there is no prophet among the people, and God was not speaking to His people, so how could Maccabees be inspired? It just doesn’t come up to the standards of the Word of God.