Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Jesse Lyman Hurlbut

The Speech on the Stairs

Acts xxi: 17 to xxii: 29.

dropcap image HEN Paul and his friends came to Jerusalem, they met with the church in that city, and gave the money which had been gathered among the Gentiles to help those of the Jewish believers in Christ who were poor. The Apostle James, the Lord's brother, who was at the head of the church in Jerusalem, gave to Paul and his friends a glad welcome, and praised God for the good work wrought among the Gentiles.

About a week after Paul had come to Jerusalem, he was worshipping in the Temple, when some Jews from the lands around Ephesus saw him. They at once stirred up a crowd, and took hold of Paul, crying out:

"Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people, and against our law, and against this Temple. Besides, he has brought Gentiles into the Temple, and thus has made the holy house unclean!"

They had seen with Paul, walking in the city, one of his friends from Ephesus who was not a Jew, and they started the false report that Paul had taken him into the Temple. When the Jews set up this cry against Paul, all the city was stirred up, and a great crowd gathered around Paul. They dragged Paul out of the Temple into the outer court, and were about to kill him, in their rage.

But in the castle on the north of the Temple was a Roman guard of soldiers, a thousand men under the command of an officer, whom we should call a colonel, but who they called "the chief captain." Word came to this officer that all Jerusalem was in a riot, and that a wild mob had seized the Temple. He called out companies of soldiers and their centurions, or captains, and rushed quickly into the Temple and into the midst of the crowd who were beating and trampling upon Paul. The chief captain took Paul from their hands, and, thinking that he must have done something very wicked to call forth such a riot, ordered him to be fastened with two chains.

Then he asked who this man was and what he had done. All began to answer at once, some shouting one thing and some another, and as the chief captain could understand nothing in the confusion, he commanded the soldiers to take him into the castle. The crowd made a rush to seize Paul and take him away from the soldiers, but they carried him through the throng and up the stone steps that led into the castle, while all around, at the foot of the stairs, was the multitude of angry Jews, crying out, "Away with him! Kill him!"

Just as they reached the platform at the door of the castle, Paul in a quiet manner, spoke to the chief captain in his own language, which was the Greek tongue. He said, "May I say something to you?" The officer was surprised, and he answered Paul, "Do you know Greek? Are you not that man from Egypt who some time ago rose up against the rulers, and let out into the wilderness four thousand men who were murderers?"

But Paul said, "I am a Jew, of Tarsus in Cilicia. I belong to no mean city. I pray you, give me leave to speak to the people."

The chief captain thought that if this man should speak to the people he might learn something about him, so he gave him leave. Then Paul, standing on the stairs, beckoned with his hand to the crowd to show that he wished to speak. Soon everybody became quiet, for all wanted to hear; and then Paul began to speak to the people. But he did not speak in Greek, as he had spoken to the chief captain. He spoke in the Hebrew tongue, their own language, which they loved to hear. And when they heard him speak in Hebrew, their own tongue, they were all the more ready to listen to him. And this was what Paul said:

"Brethren and fathers, hear the words that I speak to you. I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of the wise teacher Gamaliel, and taught in a strict way in the law of our fathers; and I was earnest for God, as all of you are this day. And I was a bitter enemy of the way of Christ, binding and putting in prison both men and women who believed in Jesus. The high-priest himself knows this, and all the council of the elders; for they gave me letters to our people in Damascus. And I went on a journey to that place to bring in chains from Damascus to Jerusalem those who followed Jesus, to punish them.

"And it came to pass as I made my journey and drew nigh to Damascus, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are thou fighting against me and doing me harm?' And I answered, 'Who art thou, Lord?' And he said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are trying to destroy!'

"Those who were with me saw the light, but they did not hear the voice that spoke to me. And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Rise up, and go into Damascus, and it shall be told thee what things are given to thee to do.'

"When I stood up I could not see, from the glory of that light, and I was led by the hands of those who were with me into Damascus. And a man named Ananias, a man who worshipped God and kept the law, of whom all the Jews in the city spoke well, came to me, and standing by me, said 'Brother Saul, receive thy sight.'

"And in that very hour I looked up and saw him. And he said to me, 'The God of our fathers hath chosen thee to know his will, and to see the Holy One, and to hear his voice. For thou shalt speak in his name to all men, telling them what thou hast seen and heard.'

"And afterward, when I came back to Jerusalem, and was praying in the Temple, I saw the Lord again, and he spoke to me, 'Go forth, and I will send thee far hence to the Gentiles.' "

The Jews listened to Paul quietly until he spoke that word "Gentiles," which roused up all their wrath. They began to cry out, "Away with such a fellow from the earth! It is not fit that he should live!"

And as they flung off their garments, and threw dust into the air in their rage, the chief captain ordered that Paul should be taken into the castle and beaten with rods until he should tell what dreadful thing he had done to arouse such anger. For the chief captain, not knowing the Jews' language, had not understood what Paul had said.

They took Paul into the castle, and were tying him up to beat him, when Paul said to the centurion who stood by, "Have you any right to beat a Roman citizen who has not been tried before a judge?"

When the centurion heard this he went in haste to the chief captain, and said to him, "Take care what you do to that man, for he is a Roman citizen!"

Then the chief captain came and said to Paul, "Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?"

And Paul answered, "Yes, I am."

The chief captain said, "I bought this right to be a citizen with a great sum of money."

And Paul said to him, "But I am a free-born citizen."

When those who were about to beat Paul knew that he was a Roman citizen, they went away from him in haste, and the chief captain was afraid, because he had bound Paul; for no one might place a chain on a Roman citizen until he had been tried before a Roman judge.

They took Paul into the castle, but were careful not to do him any harm.