Russell H. Parks
South Bend, Indiana
I know that some in the Church of Christ have used Acts 23:1 to explain to the denominational people that one could have a good conscience and still be wrong, as long as they thought they were right. 1, too, thought along these lines until I read two articles by Brother A. L. Mott. Therefore, I will give him credit for setting me right on what I think is the correct interpretation of the said Acts 23: 1.
To say Paul was referring to his entire life in this verse, I believe is a misunderstanding of the passage. If he were referring to his entire life up until then, one would have to draw the conclusion that one could be in sin and error and still have a good conscience. This I do not believe.
In I Peter 3:16 he says, "Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ."
This will be the Christian's answer to the charges. In this way, those who bring false charges will be put to shame. It is certain the argument against the Christian's enemies, which Paul had in mind, is the Christian's good life. The good life of the Christian will refute the charges and prove them false.
It is clear to me from this verse that only the individual whose life is good can have a good conscience. If a person can have a good conscience while in sin and error, how could a good conscience be an effective answer to those who speak evil against Christians?
In Tim. 1: 15 we read, "Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned." This is the commandment or charge Timothy is to urge on the flock. The foundation is faith (v. 4). The end is love (v. 14; Titus 3:15). A pure heart is a heart purified by faith (Acts 15:9). A good conscience is a conscience cleared from guilt by the effect of sound faith in Christ (I Tim. 1: 19; 3:9).
I Tim. 1: 19 say, "Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck." In Bible times, faith was compared to a ship and good conscience to an anchor. Once the anchor was loosed, the ship floundered and was wrecked.
Timothy was talking about Christians and as we know, faith must be working to live (Jam. 2:17-26). How could a person living in sin and error have a good conscience? If he were living in sin and error, he could have no good works and his faith would he dead already.
The only explanation of Acts (23: 1) is that Paul was not speaking about his entire life but only that part of his life since becoming a Christian. He was not trying to defend his life before that for two reasons: (1) He could not. (2) The Jews thought he had been right when he was persecuting the Christians; the only charge brought against him was his life as a Christian. Therefore, that was the only part of his life he was defending. To defend himself of something he had not been accused of would have been out of context and also out of character with a person such as Paid.
In 1 Peter 3:21, I believe we are taught that baptism stands between an alien sinner and a good conscience. Hence, a good conscience is acquired by baptism into Christ. Since Paul was not baptized until after his experience on the road to Damascus, he could not have had a good conscience before that.
This is only an opinion, but I believe if you approached the study of this verse with an open mind, you would come to the same conclusion.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 12, p. 8