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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Acts 24

 

 

Verse 1

Acts 24:1. After five days, Ananias — Who would spare no trouble on the occasion; descended — To Cesarea, seventy miles from Jerusalem; with several of the elders — Members of the sanhedrim. It seems the commander of the horsemen, who brought Paul to Cesarea, was ordered, on his return, to inform the high-priest and elders at Jerusalem of the day which the governor should fix for hearing their accusation, and for trying the prisoner. With a certain orator named Tertullus — Whose business it was to open the cause, and to harangue the governor in the most agreeable manner that he could; who — That is, all who, as the word οιτινες implies, not referring to Tertullus only, but to the high-priest and elders also; informed the governor against Paul — Advanced a general accusation against him, on which they desired to be more particularly heard.


Verse 2-3

Acts 24:2-3. And when he — Paul; was called forth — To hear the charge preferred against him, and make his defence; Tertullus began to accuse him — In an oration, almost every word of which was false; the accusation of Paul; the encomium on the government of Felix; and the declaration of a lawful intention in what they had done and attempted. Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness — Thus this orator, to induce the governor to give countenance to their cause, and to punish Paul as the disturber of the public peace, compliments him on the wisdom and vigour of his administration; but in so doing he is guilty of using the most barefaced flattery; for although Felix had repressed the Sicarii, and other robbers, he was himself a great oppressor of the nation, by the cruelty and injustice of his administration, all historians agreeing, that he was a man of so bad a character, that his government was a plague to all the provinces over which he presided. And as for Judea, its state under him was so far from being what Tertullus here represents, that Josephus (besides what he says of the barbarous and cowardly assassination of Jonathan the high-priest by his means) declares, that the Jews accused him before Nero of insufferable oppressions, and had certainly ruined him if his brother Pallas had not interposed in his favour. (Antiq., Acts 20:8.) And that very worthy deeds — Greek, κατορθωματων γινομενον, illustrious deeds; are done unto this nation — The whole Jewish nation; by thy providence — The continual care and vigilance of thy prudent administration. See here, reader; 1st, The unhappiness of great men who have their services magnified beyond measure, and are seldom or never faithfully told of their faults; in consequence of which they are encouraged and hardened in evil. 2d, The policy of bad men; who flatter princes in what they do amiss, to draw them in to act still worse. The bishops of Rome obtained their exorbitant power, and have been assisted in persecuting the servants of Christ, by flattering and caressing usurpers and tyrants, and making them such tools of their malice, as the high-priest, by his compliments, designed to make Felix here! We accept it always, and in all places — Everywhere and at all times we embrace it; most noble Felix with all thankfulness — If it had been true, that Felix was such a governor, it would have been just that they should have thus accepted his good offices, with all thankfulness. The benefits which we enjoy by government, especially when administered by wise and good governors, is what we ought to be thankful for both to God and man; this is part of the honour due to magistrates, to acknowledge the quietness we enjoy under their protection, and the worthy deeds done by their prudence.


Verses 4-9

Acts 24:4-9. Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious ινα δε μη επι πλειον σε εγκοπτω, that I may not trouble thee any further, by trespassing either on thy patience or modesty. The eloquence of Tertullus was as bad as his cause; a lame introduction, a lame transition, and a lame conclusion! Did not God confound the orator’s language? I pray that thou wouldest hear — What we have to offer; of thy clemency — With thy usual candour and well-known goodness. For we have found this man a pestilent fellow — Or rather, a pestilence, or plague, as λοιμος signifies; a man infecting others with pernicious principles, and spreading mischief wherever he comes; and a mover of sedition among all the Jews — Rendering them disaffected to the government, and exciting them to rise in rebellion against it; and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes — A term of reproach, which, it seems, was given to the disciples of Christ even at that early period. Who also hath gone about to profane the temple

By bringing heathen into it. “Tertullus artfully mentions this, as the most express fact he had to charge upon him, as he knew that the Romans allowed the Jews a power of executing, even without forms of law, any person who should be found in such an act of profanation; and he seems to have intended to make a merit of their moderation, that they intended, nevertheless, fairly to have tried him, and not to have destroyed him on the spot, as Lysias had justly charged them with attempting to do. And it is observable, that Tertullus nowhere expressly avows so much as a design to have put Paul to death, though it was undoubtedly intended.” — Doddridge. Thus, after a fawning preface, Tertullus prefers charges against Paul, for which there was not the shadow of a foundation, except that he was a leading person among the Nazarenes, or Christians. For that he had moved the Jews to sedition against the government, or that he went about to profane the temple, was utterly false; (see Acts 21:28;) and so it was also, that they took him to judge him according to their law; for they took him by violence, and drew him out of the temple, and went about to kill him without any judicial process. In short, the whole accusation, together with the circumstances by which the orator aggravated it, were all mere fictions, of which he offered no proof whatever, only that (Acts 24:9) the Jews — Namely, the high-priest and the elders; assented, saying that these things were so.


Verses 10-13

Acts 24:10-13. Then Paul — Having heard with patient silence all the false charges preferred against him, after the governor had given him a sign to speak, answered in a speech widely different from that of Tertullus, true, modest, solid, and unaffected; forasmuch as I know, &c. — Paul would not introduce his speech by flattering Felix with notorious untruths, as the Jewish orator had done, or by paying him any fulsome compliment; yet he addresses him very respectfully, and with such a degree of ease and freedom as manifested his confidence that the governor would do him justice; that thou hast been of many (of several) years a judge of this nation — And so not unacquainted with our religious rites and customs, or with the affairs of the Christians, and temper of the Jews, my accusers, and consequently more capable of understanding and deciding a cause of this nature. There was no flattery in this; it was a plain fact; he had governed Judea six or seven years; I do the more cheerfully answer for myself — And it may be observed, his answer exactly corresponds with the three articles of Tertullus’s charge, sedition, heresy, and profanation of the temple. As to the first, he suggests that he had not been long enough at Jerusalem to form a party, and attempt an insurrection; (for it was but twelve days since he went up thither, five of which he had been at Cesarea, one or two were spent in his journey thither, and most of the rest he had been confined at Jerusalem;) and he challenges them to produce, in fact, any evidence of such practices, Acts 24:11-13. As to the second, he confesses himself to be a Christian; but maintains this to be a religion perfectly agreeable to the law and the prophets, and therefore deserving a fair reception, Acts 24:14-16. And as for profaning the temple, he observes, that he behaved there in a most peaceful and regular manner, so that his innocence had been manifest even before the sanhedrim, where the authors of the tumult did not dare to appear against him.


Verses 14-16

Acts 24:14-16. But — As to what they have alleged against me with regard to the Nazarenes; this I confess unto thee — And am not ashamed publicly to avow it in the presence of the greatest personages upon earth; that after the way which they call αιρεσιν, a sect; (so the same word is properly rendered, Acts 24:5;) so worship I the God of my fathers — And am authorized by our sacred writings so to do; believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets — On which every part of the religion which I profess is founded, and which I should not either understand or believe if I worshipped or served the God of my fathers any other way, or did not believe in and receive Jesus Christ as the true Messiah, to whom both the law and the prophets bear witness. And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow — All the Pharisees allowed it; that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust — In a public court, this was peculiarly proper to be observed. The pious Jews expected a resurrection, as Paul did, on the foundation of the promises of God, delivered by Moses and the prophets. This was a very proper defence before a Roman magistrate, who, by the laws of the empire, was bound to allow every man to worship God according to the religion of his country. And herein εν τουτω, on this account, because I believe all things written in the law and the prophets, and expect a future resurrection and an eternal state; I exercise myself — And make it the continual care and study of my life; to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward man — That so, whatever accusations are brought against me, my own heart may not condemn me, but I may always find internal support amidst all the external injuries I may receive from mankind.


Verses 17-21

Acts 24:17-21. Now after many years, &c. — They have represented me as a profane and lawless person, as if I had thrown contempt upon religion, and done them a great deal of wrong; but so far have I been from doing any thing to injure the Jews, to whom by birth I belong, or from attempting to profane the temple, as these my enemies falsely pretend, that I have given many public and important proofs of my particular regard for the good of my country, and of the veneration that I have for all that is sacred. Accordingly, after several years — Which I had spent in other parts; I came to bring alms to the poor of my nation — Which I had been collecting for them in the Gentile provinces where I had any interest; and offerings — To God, which I proposed to make by assisting some Nazarites to discharge their vow, according to the law; whereupon — At the very time when I was thus employed; certain Jews from Asia — Who raised the first outcry against me; found me purified in the temple — That is, performing such things as the law required, and in which the legal purification of Nazarites consisted; neither with multitude — Attending me; nor with tumult — Made by me; the multitude being of their own gathering together, and the tumult, if any, being made by themselves. So that there was no colour for the charge brought against him, but evidence sufficient against it. And it was very unreasonable and hard, 1st, To accuse him as an enemy to their nation, when, after long absence from Jerusalem, he came to bring alms to it, money which he had collected among his friends for the relief of the poor at Jerusalem; and, 2d, To accuse him of having profaned the temple, when he brought offerings to the temple, and was found purifying himself therein, according to the law, and that in a very quiet and orderly manner. And as to what was, perhaps, suggested to Felix, that he had brought Greeks into the temple contrary to their law, he challenges them to prove it. Those Jews of Asia, says he, who were the causes of all the tumult, confusion, and violent proceedings, ought to have been here before thee — As being the only proper witnesses of the facts, if there were any which could justify their laying violent hands upon me. These, however, were now absent, probably because they knew they could not make good their charge against him, and were conscious of having injured him by their accusation; and doubtless Felix so understood it. As for the other Jews, they could only testify on the report of others, or give hear-say evidence, which could not be sufficient in any cause or court. Or else let these same here say — Paul is willing to allow the validity of the testimony of the Jews present, about such things as they themselves had been eye or ear witnesses of, namely, of what had passed in the council when Paul was brought before it; if they have found any evil-doing in me — Any crime committed by me, or any thing done or said, for which I merit punishment. Except it be for this one voice — As if he had said, Let them object, if they can, any other fault; that I cried, standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question — Which, nevertheless, was the real truth. And, if my affirming it be a fault for which I must suffer, I acknowledge it, and there needs no other proof. But as that was one of the great articles of the national faith, he could not be blamed, either for maintaining it, or for asserting that God had given a proof of it, in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.


Verse 22-23

Acts 24:22-23. When Felix heard these things — Namely, the orator’s accusation and the prisoner’s defence; having more perfect knowledge of that way ακριβεστερον ειδως τα περι της οδου, having known more perfectly the things concerning the way, namely, the way of worship, mentioned by Paul, (Acts 24:14,) or a more perfect knowledge of Jesus and his disciples than had been given him by the high-priest, the elders, and their orator; and knowing it not to be so mischievous a thing as these accusers suggested; he deferred them — This seems to be that interpretation of the clause which best accords with the original. Beza, Grotius, and many others, however, take the meaning of the clause to be, that Felix “would take an opportunity of being more particularly informed of this sect, and of its aspect on the public tranquillity; and that when Lysias should come down and give him an account of what he had observed concerning it, as well as of the circumstances attending Paul’s apprehension, &c., he would determine the affair.” “But it seems to me evident,” says Dr. Whitby, “that the original words cannot admit of this explication, namely, that Felix deferred them that he might have a more exact knowledge of Christianity; but that, having his residence at Cesarea, where Cornelius the centurion and his friends were converted, where Philip the evangelist dwelt, and where there were many disciples, (Acts 21:8; Acts 21:16,) he had thus become acquainted with the way of Christianity.” But though Felix did not find any crime proved against Paul, yet he did not acquit him, because he was afraid of displeasing the Jews. Being, however, fully convinced (as it is evident he was) of his innocence, he ordered that he should not be confined too closely; but that his acquaintance should be allowed to visit him, or minister unto him; a liberty which we may be sure the brethren of Cesarea made good use of during his long imprisonment in that city.


Verse 24-25

Acts 24:24-25. After certain days — After Paul had been kept a few days in this gentle confinement at Cesarea, Felix, who had been absent a short time, came thither again; with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess — We learn from Josephus, that she was the daughter of Herod Agrippa, and the sister of that Agrippa who is mentioned Acts 25:13. She had been married to Azizus, king of Emessa; but Felix, struck with her great beauty, by means of a wicked Jew, named Simon, who professed himself a magician, persuaded her to abandon her husband and marry him; which she did, though Azizus had but a little before submitted to circumcision, and so embraced Judaism, as the condition required in order to his marrying her. It appears from Josephus, (Antiq, lib. 20. cap. 7,) that she was afterward, with a son she had by Felix, consumed in a terrible eruption of mount Vesuvius. He sent for Paul, &c. — Doubtless, Paul’s trial had occasioned much discourse in Cesarea, and this, it seems, had excited a desire in Drusilla to see and hear that extraordinary man; and, to gratify her curiosity as well as his own, and to learn from Paul’s own mouth what were the principles of his religion, Felix sent for him; and heard him concerning the faith in Christ — That is, heard him declare what the Christians believed concerning Jesus; namely, that he was the Christ, or Messiah, long expected by the Jews; and that he was proved to be the Christ, by God’s raising him from the dead. Moreover, being well acquainted with the character and actions of his illustrious hearers, the apostle introduced other articles of the Christian religion, well suited to their particular case; he reasoned of righteousness — That is, chiefly of justice and mercy toward men; virtues peculiarly necessary in a ruler; of temperance — Of sobriety, continence, chastity, against which Felix and his lady had greatly trespassed in their marriage; and of a judgment to come — At which the highest personages should appear, and stand upon equal terms with others, before that righteous tribunal; and at which the great and small should answer to God for their actions; the only effectual way this of preaching Christ to an unjust and lewd judge, such as Felix was. For of him the Roman historian, Tacitus, relates, “Per omnem sævitiam et libidinem jus regium servili ingenio exercuit,” he practised all cruelty and lust in his government; and from what is said above, it appears that Drusilla, though a Jewess, was not less wicked, transgressing, as Josephus observes, τα πατρια νομιμα, the laws of her country, namely, in marrying a heathen; and the laws of God, in forsaking her own husband and living in adultery with Felix. To persons so unjust, lewd, and otherwise wicked, Paul very properly discoursed on the virtues here mentioned, against which they had both so highly offended; for he knew that it would be to little purpose to address them on other subjects of Christianity, such as those of redemption and salvation through Christ, till they forsook these sins. And it was with equal propriety that he discoursed of a judgment to come, where Felix could not hope to escape unpunished, as here he did. And it is no wonder that Felix trembled, or was terrified, as εμφοβος γενομενος signifies. How happy would it have been for him had he yielded to the convictions now produced in his conscience, and been careful to pursue the views opening upon his mind! But, like thousands, he deferred the consideration of these things to a more convenient season; a season which, alas! never came. For though he heard again, he trembled and was terrified no more. Nor did he forsake his bad practices, but continued in them as long as his government lasted. In the mean time, we do not find that Drusilla, though a Jewess, was thus alarmed. She had been used to hear of a future judgment; perhaps, too, she trusted to being a daughter of Abraham, or to the expiations of the law, and so was proof against the convictions which seized on her husband, though a heathen. Let this teach us to guard against all such false dependances as tend to elude those convictions that might otherwise be produced in us by the faithful preaching of the word of God. Let us stop our ears against those messengers of Satan, who appear as angels of light, who would teach us to reconcile the hope of salvation with a corrupt heart or an unholy life. Go thy way for this time — O how will every damned soul one day lament his having neglected such a time as this! When I have a convenient season — Or, I will take some future opportunity, as Dr. Doddridge renders καιρον μεταλαβων; to call for thee. “He thought it did not become the dignity of a judge on the bench to receive even such oblique admonitions and reproofs from a prisoner, and therefore might really intend to give him a fuller audience in private. Paul must, no doubt, discern those marks of confusion that would be so apparent in his countenance, which would give him some hopes of succeeding in this important attempt for such a conversion, and, consequently, would give him spirit when he resumed the discourse. This must naturally increase in Felix a conviction of his innocence, and esteem for his virtues; yet, in spite of all, he was so far from reforming his life in general, that he would not do justice to Paul; however, the conviction might perhaps prevail so far, as to engage him to persist in his resolution of not delivering him to the Jews. How affecting an instance and illustration of the treachery of the human heart!”


Verse 26-27

Acts 24:26-27. He hoped also — A vain and evil hope! So, when he heard, his eye was not single; no marvel then that he profited nothing by all Paul’s discourses; that money would be given him by Paul — Or by the Christians, for the liberty of so able a minister: and, waiting for this, unhappy Felix fell short of the treasure of the gospel. But after two years — After Paul had been two years a prisoner at Cesarea; Porcius Festus came into Felix’s room — Succeeded him in the government of that province; and Felix — Knowing that he had, by his oppressive administration, furnished the Jews with abundant matter of accusation against him; to show them a pleasure — That is, to ingratiate himself with them, and prevent them from pursuing him with their complaints; left Paul bound — Though he was, in his own conscience, not only persuaded of his innocence, but of the worth of his character. Thus the men of the world, to gratify one another, stretch forth their hands to the things of God! Yet the wisdom of Felix did not profit him, did not satisfy the Jews at all. Their accusations followed him to Rome, and would have utterly ruined him, had not the interest of his brother Pallas prevailed to have obtained his pardon from Nero. “How much more effectually would he have consulted the peace of his own mind, and, on the whole, his temporal interest, if he had reformed his life on Paul’s admonition, and cultivated those serious impressions which were once so strongly made upon his conscience. It was during the two years of Paul’s imprisonment here, that those contentions arose between the Jews and Gentiles, as to their respective rites in Cesarea, which, after many tumults and slaughters of the Jews, were inflamed rather than appeased by the hearing at Rome, and did a great deal toward exasperating the Jewish nation to that war which ended in its utter ruin.” — Doddridge.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 24:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/acts-24.html. 1857.

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