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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 24

 

 


Verse 1

‘And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with certain elders, and with an orator, one Tertullus, and they informed the governor against Paul.’

The importance attached to Paul comes out in that the High Priest came in person together with some leading elders and with a trained advocate in order to charge Paul. And there they laid the case against him. ‘After five days.’ See Acts 24:11. This will be calculated from when the trouble first began. Note that Luke is able to give the name of the advocate.

After arriving in Jerusalem Paul had met with the church, immediately spent a few days of purifying, and had five days earlier been initially arrested by the Romans, making ‘twelve days’ in all.


Verse 2-3

‘And when he was called, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, “Seeing that by you we enjoy much peace, and that by the providence evils are corrected for this nation, we accept it in all ways and in all places, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness.” ’

It may be that the arrogant High Priest, who may well have despised Felix, thought that by using Tertullus he could impress him by the use of a professional, and blind him with science so that he would yield the case rather than look foolish. But he was to learn that Felix, while a rogue, was no fool.

The case presented by Tertullus is so clearly artificial and flattering that it is obviously the work of a trained advocate who is seeking to win over the judge and present the best case, and Felix would have recognised this. He was a brutal man and it is doubtful if flatteries would impress him. He knew quite well what the people thought about him, and he knew Ananias the High Priest. They were two of a kind, this high-bred Jew and this bumped up ex-slave.

First we have the flattery, which is aimed at winning over the judge. To hear it you would have thought that Palestine was enjoying unprecedented peace, instead of being ever on the brink of violence and in a ferment of hatred, with Felix one of the most unpopular procurators to date.

‘We enjoy much peace.’ Palestine had never been a more dangerous place except at time of war, although it is true that Felix did seek to exterminate what he saw as brigands. But they were often religious enthusiasts, and while the High Priest would have had as little patience with them as he had, many of the people saw a number of them as patriots.

‘By the providence.’ A carefully chosen word which can fit in with whatever Felix believes. Possibly Roma or whichever god Felix happened to believe in. Or perhaps Felix’s own providence. Whichever way it is, Palestine are lucky to have such a ruler!

‘Evils are corrected for this nation, we accept it in all ways and in all places, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness.” ’ He is sure that Felix, who is so adept at correcting all evils in the nation, and to whom they are all so grateful, will now also deal with the one he is about to describe.


Verse 4

“But, that I be not further tedious to you, I entreat you to hear us of your clemency a few words.”

He then assures Felix that his case will not take too long (we probably only have the gist of it) for he does not want to bore him. But he hopes that nevertheless he will listen to him patiently as he will only be saying ‘a few words’. (Felix probably knew from this that he was in for a long, boring peroration).


Verse 5

“For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of insurrections among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, who moreover attempted to profane the temple. On whom also we laid hold.”

He then paints the blackest possible picture of Paul. He is the worst kind of man, a deliberate troublemaker, a scourge of the Empire, an international insurgent, whose aim is to destabilise the world, and he is the ringleader of the strange sect called the Nazarenes, whom everyone knows are themselves simply troublemakers. And what is more in the course of all this he has also sought to profane the Jewish Temple. He is thus worthy of death three times over! Nevertheless, let the procurator note, fierce fellow that he was, they had managed to lay hold of him.


Verse 7-8

“From whom you will be able, by examining him yourself, to take knowledge of all these things of which we accuse him.”

And Felix will only have to examine him in the right way in order to discover that all this is true. If he failed, all would know whose fault it was.


Verse 9

‘And the Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that these things were so.’

Then the words of Tertullus were backed up by ‘the Jews’, that is the Jewish party who had come with him. They too assured Felix that these things were so. So there was a goodly audience, and an important one, to hear Paul’s defence.


Verse 10

‘And when the governor had beckoned to him to speak, Paul answered,’

The governor then turned to Paul and beckoned him to speak and give his defence.


Verses 10-12

Paul too recognises the need to win the judges confidence. So he states how gladly he makes his defence in front of such an experienced and knowledgeable judge. ‘Many years.’ Prior to being procurator Felix had been an administrator in the area.

Then he informs him that he can soon if he wishes discover the facts, and that is that Paul had come to Jerusalem in order to worship God and had only been in Jerusalem twelve days, and that he had done no disputing or ‘rousing up’ in either the Temple, or the synagogues, or the city. So the claims were simply untrue. And it would not take long to make enquiries and prove it.


Verse 13

“Nor can they prove to you the things of which they now accuse me.”

Nor could his accusers bring any proof that the things which they accused him of were true. It was a case of words without evidence. Not a single genuine witness had been produced. Their case was all generalities and accusations, an short on facts.


Verse 14-15

“But this I confess to you, that after the Way which they call a sect, so serve I the God of our fathers, believing all things which are according to the law, and which are written in the prophets, having hope toward God, which these also themselves look for, that there will be a resurrection both of the just and unjust.”

However, one thing he would admit to and that was that he belonged to ‘the Way’, which they scornfully called a sect. But this did not make him a bad Jew for in ‘the Way’ he served the God of his fathers believing all that was according to the Law of Moses and what was written in the prophets. So really they were not a sect at all. And as a result of his belief he had ‘hope towards God’, a hope similar to his accusers as a whole (the Jews, though not the Sadducees), that there will be a resurrection of the just and unjust (see Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; Ezekiel 37:12; John 5:29).

Once again he makes clear that any real disagreement is about what they taught, especially the doctrine of the resurrection, and seeks to win to his side those of the opponents who believe in the resurrection. For Luke, with his readers in mind, this continual reference to the resurrection is important. It is central to the Christian message. Paul is here precisely because of the truth of the resurrection.


Verse 16

“In this I also exercise myself to have a conscience void of offence toward God and men always.”

‘This’ either refers to ‘the Way’, or signifies a general ‘all this I am talking about’. Either way it is because of these things that he behaves according to his conscience, seeking to have a conscience void of offence towards God and men. That being so the claims of his opponents are ridiculous. This also emphasises that being a member of ‘the Way’ results in men living conscience controlled lives.


Verse 17-18

“Now after some years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings, among which they found me purified in the temple, with no crowd, nor yet with tumult.”

And what had brought him to Jerusalem? Why, he had come bringing charitable gifts to his nation, and offerings, which is why he was found in the Temple with his offerings, having gone through a process of purification, with no crowd with him and no tumult being caused. Does this sound like someone who wished to profane the Temple? All this could be verified from any who were present.

‘To my nation.’ He saw the church as the true nation of Israel (Matthew 21:43). But there was probably no restriction put on the gift and the Christians would hardly have withheld help from needy fellow-Jews.


Verse 18-19

In fact the source of the accusations against him were certain Jews from Asia. It was they who, as his original accusers, should have been there if they really had anything to accuse him of (that was the law). But they were not there. The whole case was trumped up.

Roman law in fact imposed heavy penalties on accusers who abandoned their charges (destitutio), thus their absence suggested that they recognised that they had nothing against him that would stand up in a Roman court of law


Verse 20

“Or else let these men themselves declare what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, ‘Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question before you this day.’ ”

And if these men had found any wrongdoing in him when he stood before the Sanhedrin, let them now declare what it was. Indeed the only matter that had really been discussed in the council about which they could accuse him as being in the wrong was the question of the resurrection. For he himself had stated before the council, ‘Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question before you this day.’ This was the only ‘wrongdoing’ of which he could be accused. So all their accusations were generalisations and falsehoods.

Some consider that Paul is here admitting that he should not have made that statement which had put the council in an uproar. But it is equally likely that he is simply saying sarcastically that this was the only thing that they could accuse him of, something which was, of course, not criminal at all, and of course was true.


Verse 22

‘But Felix, having more exact knowledge concerning the Way, deferred them, saying, “When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will determine your matter.”

Having listened to all this, and having more exact knowledge about the Way, (so that he knew that some of the accusations were lies), Felix decided that he did not have enough to go on and deferred a decision declaring that he would wait for Lysias the chief captain to come to Caesarea. Then he would pass his verdict. This may well have been because he was afraid that if he released Paul this might produce even worse enemies than he had already. His knowledge of the Way might have included knowing that sometimes rows did break out because of it. But it would seem that he really had no intention of bring Lysias to Caesarea (otherwise he could have been there within a couple of days or so).


Verse 23

‘And he gave order to the centurion that he should be kept in charge, and should have indulgence, and not to forbid any of his friends to minister to him.’

So he gave orders to the centurion that Paul should be held in charge, but with a great deal of indulgence given to him so that there should be no limit on his friends ‘ministering to him’. It was normal for prisoners to be fed and provided for by their friends, so Luke clearly saw the courtesy extended to Paul as something extra, as giving him considerable leeway.

This would mean that under the protection of Rome Paul could see any brethren who wished to come to see him and could teach them to his heart’s content. He was still in a position in complete safety to proclaim the word. At this time when there was so much trouble in Caesarea this would have been invaluable to the church there. People could have been popping in and out to see Paul all day and every day. It is therefore difficult to see why some see Paul as ‘inactive’ at this time. He was probably as active as ever in the preaching of the word.

Meanwhile any further trial was in suspense. The Sanhedrin felt thwarted but knew their man and therefore that they would probably not get any further with him, and were not over concerned as long as Paul was not released. And Felix intended to do nothing at all. By keeping Paul in ‘friendly detention’ he was preventing ferment and yet frustrating Ananias, which he probably enjoyed.


Verse 24

‘But after certain days, Felix came with Drusilla, his wife, who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus.’

Meanwhile Felix had been discussing Paul and his teaching with his wife and brought her with him one day, to a place to which he also called Paul to be brought, so that he could hear him concerning ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’. His wife was a Jewess, and about nineteen years old, but we will remember that she had deserted her husband to marry Felix.


Verse 25

‘And as he reasoned of righteousness, and self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was terrified, and answered, “Go your way for this time, and when I have a convenient season, I will call you to me.” ’

When asked to expound the truth about ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’ Paul did not dampen his message down so as not to cause offence. He knew the facts about Felix, and about his wife. He knew them for what they were. Felix possibly expected an interesting discourse on the resurrection, but he got more than he bargained for, for Paul spoke of righteousness, that is of righteous living and God’s righteousness and how no man is righteous before God and the question of how a person could be righteous with God and of how Christ could provide that righteousness. He also spoke of ‘self-control’. The word indicates especially self-control with regard to sexual matters. It has been translated chastity. In other words he went right to the heart of their own relationship, and the sin that had been involved. He pulled no punches, and no doubt informed them what Jesus had taught on the matter. He was seeking to convince of sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11). He laid them bare in the eyes of God. And he spoke of judgment to come, and the One Who would be Judge (John 5:22; John 5:26-27). He faced them both with the fact that there was a resurrection of the just and the unjust and that they must then give account of themselves to God. Thus they needed to be ready for it (compare Acts 17:30-31).

Luke adds, ‘Felix was terrified’. To terrify a man like Felix required straight preaching and conviction by the Holy Spirit. He and his wife had been made to face up to their sins and their future consequences if they did not repent. But sadly Felix sent him away without making any commitment, saying that he would discuss the matter at a more convenient time. Neither he nor his wife appear to have responded to his message, and seemingly his wife had no further interest in following it up.


Verse 26

‘He hoped withal that money would be given to him by Paul, which was why also he sent for him the more often, and communed with him.’

Felix, however, did follow it up. He had no intention of releasing Paul, or of bringing him to trial, and over the course of two years he sent for him and talked with him more often. But he made no commitment, and Luke comments that his real reason for seeing Paul so often was because he hoped that Paul would try to bribe him to release him. This interesting comment confirms to us that Luke did not look at everything with an unthinking optimism. He could discern between what was genuine, and what was the result of ulterior motives.

It is not surprising that Felix thought that Paul’s family were wealthy. After all he had been born a free Roman citizen, so his family must have been distinguished. Whether of course they were still on good terms with Paul is another question. Sometimes we get the impression in his letters that they were not. Or Felix may have been impressed by the numbers of visitors who came to see Paul, and have thought that they would be able to raise a sufficient bribe. It may have been hints dropped in this direction that convinced Luke of its truth.

Had Paul been too perturbed about his situation he could always have appealed to Caesar. So it may well be that he recognised that God had given him a base from which he could work while guarded in perfect safety.

This also confirms that Felix knew that Paul was innocent, and that he was only holding him in order to obtain financial gain. He was being totally unscrupulous. But we may surmise that meanwhile Paul had considerable freedom, in so far as that was possible for someone ‘in charge’. The church in Caesarea no doubt benefited abundantly. It may well have been as profitable a time spiritually for him and for them as his two years in Corinth, (in Acts Luke regularly leaves the hint of opportunity and then does not give any detail) and have greatly benefited his health. And all the time he was kept in safety in Herod’s palace. The Jews could not touch him there. Luke was probably meanwhile collecting material for his Gospel.


Verse 27

‘But when two years were fulfilled, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and desiring to gain favour with the Jews, Felix left Paul in bonds.’

So time passed by until two years were up. And then Felix was called back to Rome and replaced. He continued to reveal the kind of man he was to the end. Being recalled by Nero he deliberately left Paul in custody, and removing the liberty that he had given him put him in bonds (so he had not been previously tied up), so as to try to pacify the Jews over his own bad behaviour towards them (described above). He was mean-minded and mean-spirited to the end.

But Luke has made it quite clear that this was all in the will of God. God was continuing to fulfil his purpose through Paul. By now it was c 59/60 AD.

What a sad picture we have in Felix. The slave who had risen to freedom, rising through favouritism, brutal and lascivious but at some stage learning of ‘the Way’ and being intrigued. It stirred something in his brutal soul and he wondered whether there could be anything there for him. Could he through it obtain a greater freedom? And then he was brought into contact with Paul and he sought to learn more of Jesus Christ and of the Way. And as he heard from him of righteousness, and self-control and judgment, his own sin and unrighteousness were brought home to him, together with the fear of judgment to come. And he was ‘filled with fear’. He was faced up with the claims of Christ, crucified and risen. But he delayed and procrastinated, leaving it for a ‘more convenient season’. It was attractive but he must have time to think, and it was not convenient at present. And then suddenly it was too late. Still he heard the same message but greed had now taken over, and he no longer saw Paul as the herald of what he had heard of so long ago, he no longer considered the Way, but he saw him as a means of gaining more wealth through bribery. Instead of hope dancing before his eyes there was money. Now when he saw Paul it was not ‘meaning to life’ he was seeking but ‘Mammon’. And finally, because his sin had continued to grow and harden his heart and mind, when at last he said farewell to Paul he mean-spiritedly had him put in chains and left him there to his enemies. His opportunity had gone. The love of Christ had still reached out to him, but it was now unnoticed. His heart was irreparably hardened. All he could now think of was how to get out of the trouble that his sin had got him into, while leaving to his fate the man who had so lovingly and so continually sought to reveal to him the truth.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 24:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/acts-24.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 29th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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