Biblical Burns
The Art of the Insult According to Scripture

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9th May 2015
“You white­washed wall!”
- Paul
Acts 23:3

Like Jesus, Paul was Jewish. He called himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews”[1]. He was even one of the Pharisees—a group of Jewish religious leaders that Jesus would regularly lambaste. So, understandably, he didn’t like Christians much—and by “didn’t like” I mean “heartily approved the murder of”.

But after a surprise visit from Jesus on the road to Damascus[2], he changed his tune a bit—and by “changed his tune” I mean “would not shut up about the good news of this Jesus guy, becoming the most influential evangelist in history, and writing a bunch of letters that now form a large chunk of the New Testament”.

It was this not-shutting-up that eventually got him dragged before the Sanhedrin—a kind of Jewish high court. When Paul begins to defend himself, claiming good conscience before God, the high priest has him struck on the mouth. Paul, never one to back down, retaliates:

“God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” (Whitewash was commonly used on mud-walls and tombs[3] to make them look nice—on the outside.)

The court is indignant: “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”

But now Paul is quick to apologise. You see, insulting the high priest was a big no-no for any Jew, even a Christian one.
   “Brothers,” Paul replies, “I did not realise that he was the high priest.”

Although, perhaps Paul’s apology contained more zing than his direct affront…

“There was nothing in the conduct of the man to betoken the dignity of his office. God’s High Priest must surely be fair and impartial. God’s High Priest would never counsel violence. The mistake, Paul would imply, was perfectly natural and excusable.”
- Marion D Shutter
A Side Note

The way that Paul gets out of the Sanhedrin trial is also genius. Read about it in Acts 23:5–11.

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