The following two passages, one from the Gospel of John and the other from the Acts of the Apostles, relate to a somewhat similar incident which happened in the life of Jesus and the life of Paul, the Evangelist.
Gospel of John chapter 18
19 The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.
20 Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.
21 Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.
22 And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?
23 Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?
The passage shows how the ‘High Priest’ Annas interrogated Jesus about his doctrine and his disciples and how Jesus was not inclined to provide Annas the details. I feel that Jesus was indifferent to the authority of Annas, however Jesus told Annas: why Annas wanted Jesus to furnish the details whereas Annas could ask the persons who had heard Jesus. Jesus further states that He had not said anything in secret and had openly preached and as such the public would be better witnesses – rather disinterested factual witnesses rather than asking the very person who had been arrayed as an accused before the High Priest – (Annas had been a High Priest earlier), but at that point it has been historically accepted that it was Joseph Caiaphas who was the High Priest. When Jesus answered thus, one of those officers struck Jesus and asked Jesus if that was the proper way of addressing the High Priest.
Jesus, brilliantly answered that rhetorical question implying: no sentence before conviction!
Let us advert to the passage which refers to a similar incident in the life of Paul, who had also been brought before the then High Priest Ananias.
Paul opens, as usual, with his self exculpatory defence, which infuriates the High Priest. In fact Paul opens his defence more as a person who had led a life of good conscience before God. Immediately, the High Priest Ananias directs an officer to strike Paul in his mouth.
Here, it is the High Priest Himself who directed the officer to strike – was it because of the contempt that the High Priest had for a person who, not so long ago, had been obtaining warrants from the same office of the High Priest to arrest and produce followers of Jesus? May be, but no direct evidence is available on that.
Paul immediately reacts and uttered almost impulsively that the High Priest was ‘whited sepulchre’. In fact immediately Paul accuses the High Priest of an inconsistency: that the High Priest who was to judge by the law, was ordering an executive to strike him on his mouth, which was inflicting a punishment without convicting him of an offence.
Paul, when called upon to defend himself, instead of pleading guilty or defending himself against the charges, Paul opens his defence by stating how he was faultless – a certification which is to be given by the High Priest and not by the individual. Read the following passage:
Acts of the Apostles chapter 23
1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.
2 And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.
3 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?
4 And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest?
5 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.
Please read verse 5 above. Paul states that he didn’t know that the instructions to smite came from the High Priest and launched on a self reminder as to how one should not speak evil of the rulers! Paul was not to indulge in self certification and it was that usurpation which probably infuriated the High Priest.
Paul, unlike Jesus, did not want the High Priest to rely on third party independent witnesses, but relied on his own assertions to convince the Council, which Paul thought was the Jury. Paul tried to convince the jury (the council members) by his oration and self certification; and in fact when he realised that the council consisted of Pharisees and Sadducees, Paul takes advantage of his Pharisaical past to his advantage.
Jesus, on the other hand, does neither defend Himself nor does He launch on convincing the Sanhedrin! Jesus’ Supreme indifference is born out of the unshakable belief that: When all my hairs are numbered, why bother to answer these wilful mortals! He neither answered the High Priest nor did He get the members converted into a Jury and persuade them of his innocence – He requests the High Priest to call for witnesses, who were contemporaneous to the sermons He preached earlier, and not the wilful gathering there!
This is where God is distinguished from a mere man! Jesus tells Annas to call for contemporaneous witnesses to His teachings, whereas Paul indulges in self justification of his own ‘righteousness’ – the expression of one’s own ego partially alloyed with faith in God!
(Some of my readers have informed me that i am harsh in my assessment of Paul- surely Not. What Paul has done, at that point in time, is incomparable with any other human effort for the spread of the name of Jesus. But like any mortal, he had his failings. Merely because we notice those failings, we are none the better, nor can i ever be presumptuous enough to even entertain a thought that because i critique on Shakespeare’s plays, i could write a better play.)