Questions From Readers
Did not the apostle Paul compromise his Christian faith when he said before the Sanhedrin: “I am a Pharisee”?
To understand Paul’s statement, found at Acts 23:6, we need to consider its context.
After being mobbed by Jews in Jerusalem, Paul addressed the crowd. He mentioned that he was “educated in [Jerusalem] at the feet of Gamaliel, instructed according to the strictness of the ancestral Law.” Although the crowd listened to his defense for a while, when they eventually grew wrathful, the escorting military commander took Paul to the soldiers’ quarters. When he was about to be whipped, Paul said: “Is it lawful for you men to scourge a man that is a Roman and uncondemned?”—Acts 21:27–22:29.
The following day, the commander took Paul before the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin. Paul looked intently at them and saw that the Sanhedrin was made up of Sadducees and Pharisees. He then said: “Men, brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. Over the hope of resurrection of the dead I am being judged.” As a result, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, “for Sadducees say there is neither resurrection nor angel nor spirit, but the Pharisees publicly declare them all.” Some who belonged to the party of the Pharisees contended fiercely: “We find nothing wrong in this man.”—Acts 23:6-10.
Being known as a very zealous Christian, Paul could not have convinced the Sanhedrin that he was a practicing Pharisee. The Pharisees present would have accepted no compromise or misrepresentation. So Paul’s statement about being a Pharisee must have had limitations, and the Pharisees present must have understood Paul’s words in that context.
In saying that he was being judged over the hope of the resurrection of the dead, Paul clearly meant that in this respect he was like the Pharisees. In any controversy on this topic, Paul was to be identified with the Pharisees rather than the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection.
What Paul believed as a Christian was not in conflict with the beliefs of the Pharisees on such matters as the resurrection, angels, and some points of the Law. (Philippians 3:5) So within these limits, Paul could link himself with the Pharisees, and it was within this restricted meaning that those present of the Sanhedrin understood his words. He was thus using his background to deal with the biased Jewish supreme court.
However, the greatest evidence that Paul did not compromise his faith is seen in his continuing to have Jehovah’s approval. The night after Paul made the statement in question, Jesus said: “Be of good courage! For as you have been giving a thorough witness on the things about me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.” Since Paul had God’s approval, we must conclude that Paul did not compromise his Christian faith.—Acts 23:11.