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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Acts 24

 

 

Verse 1

The Trial of St, Paul at Cæsarea before FelixTertullus, on the part of the Sanhedrim, accuses the Apostle, 1-9.

Acts 24:1. And after five days Ananias the high priest descended with the elders. That is to say, five days after Paul’s departure with the armed escort from Jerusalem. Roman usage required that a case referred to the higher tribunal like this should be proceeded with as soon as possible. The high priest himself came in person with some of the sanhedrists, as the case was of great importance to the Sadducee party. ‘Descended,’ more intelligibly rendered ‘came down,’ the usual expression when a journey from the high land on which the old capital was built to the low coast district of Cæsarea is spoken of.

And with a certain orator named Tertullus. The ‘orator’ or rhetorician was an advocate acquainted with the forms of Roman law, employed by the Sanhedrim to conduct their cases in the governor’s court at Cæsarea; the Latin term is ‘orator forensis’ or ‘causidicus.’ There were many of these men practising in the provincial governors’ courts, some of them thus training themselves for the more important contentions of the Forum in Rome (see Cicero’s oration for Cœlius). It has been urged that this address of Tertullus was spoken in the Latin tongue, as originally Latin appears to have been insisted on as the language of the law courts throughout the Empire. But from a passage in Dio Cassius, it seems that under the emperors Greek was permitted, if more convenient to be used, even in Rome itself. It is most improbable that Latin could have been used in a provincial court of Judæa; we may therefore conclude with some certainty that the language used on this occasion was Greek. The alleged Latinisms of the speech of Tertullus sprang naturally from the forms of procedure and certain of the technical terms being originally derived from Rome. The name Tertullus is a common one, being a diminutive of Tertius; Tertullianus, the famous Christian lawyer and writer (A.D. 190-200) in North Africa, is another form of the same name as Tertius or Tertullus. Ewald conjectures this lawyer, employed by the Sanhedrim, was one of the Jerusalem synagogue of the Libertines, mentioned in chap. Acts 6:9, A.D. 33-34.


Verse 2

Acts 24:2. Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness. The counsel for the Sanhedrim appears to have commenced his address before the court of Felix with the most exaggerated flattery of the procurator; yet at the bottom of his fulsome compliments, it could not be denied there was a substratum of truth. Felix, during his long and burdensome administration, had at least distinguished himself by his strong measures to put down brigandage and deeds of violence in Judæa, and had waged ceaseless warfare against those wandering bands of Sicarii (assassins) which had begun to infest the country. Tacitus, no friend to Felix or his government, relates how, on the occasion of a bitter quarrel between Felix and the governor of Galilee, V. Cumanus, the procurator of Judæa was supported by the president of Syria, Quadratus, and quietness was restored to the province (‘quies Provinciae reddita,’ Ann. xii. 54). ‘As to the number of robbers whom he caused to be crucified, and of those whom he brought to be punished, they were a multitude not to be enumerated’ (Wars of the Jews, Josephus). Yet, on the other hand, this cruel and ambitious man kept in his pay a number of Sicarii himself, fanning instead of really quelling the seditious spirit then everywhere abroad. On one occasion, for instance, the hired assassins of Felix murdered in the temple, at the instigation of their employer, Jonathan the reigning high priest, once the friend of the Romans. It was this infamous governor to whom the advocate of the Sanhedrim was pleased to address such false honeyed words, in the hope of gaining his favourable attention to his accusation of Paul.

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And that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation. Rather ‘reforms’ or ‘improvements, according to the reading of the more trustworthy MSS. There was absolutely no ground for this statement of Tertullus; within two years of this time, Felix was accused by the Jews of bad government, and the accusation supported by such undeniable proof that he was recalled from his province to Rome, and only escaped punishment through the influence of his brother Pallas, which, though waning, was still powerful at the court of the Cæsar.

By thy providence. Tua providentia, Providentia Cæsaris, is a common inscription on the coins of the emperors. It was a skilful and delicate piece of flattery, to weave this well-known phrase of imperial adulation into his words of praise on this occasion.


Verse 3

Acts 24:3. We accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix. ‘Not only here in thy presence and at this moment do we acknowledge our deep debt of gratitude as a nation to thee; but also at all times and in all places do we speak in grateful terms of thee,’—thus adding to the gross words of flattery already used, a most transparent falsehood. The name of Felix was among Jews everywhere a byword for cruelty, lust, and greed.


Verse 4

Acts 24:4. Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee. It were as though the advocate saw signs of impatience in the unrighteous judge before him. Felix, who was with all his faults an able man, could not avoid discerning the shameless nature of the lying words of the unprincipled plausible orator.

I pray thee that thou wouldest hear me of thy clemency. One falsehood more did Tertullus think proper to introduce into his harangue. The ‘clemency’ of Felix, to which as a well-known characteristic feature of the governor’s conduct he alluded, was perhaps the last point he ought to have dwelt on in that cruel selfish life.


Verse 5

Acts 24:5. For we have found this man a pestilent fellow. The Greek word rendered ‘a pestilent fellow,’ literally signifies ‘a plague or pestilence.’ But it is used by Demosthenes, as here, to designate a designing, dangerous person.

A mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world. The ‘world’ here means the Roman orbis terrarum, in other words, ‘the Roman Empire,’ which, in the days of Paul, embraced so vast an area in the East as well as the West. This charge of teaching sedition was no new one. The Jews of Thessalonica, when they arrested Jason and other friends of Paul, accused the apostle and his companions of being ‘those who had turned the world upside down .... doing things contrary to the decrees of Cæsar, saying that there is another king, Jesus’ (see chap. Acts 17:6-7). It was the same accusation which had in old days worked upon Pilate when the Master stood before him. The jealous Roman governors were always ready to give ear to any information respecting alleged treason against the Majesty of the state.

And a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. This was really in the eyes of the Jews the offence which Paul had committed. It was here urged by the Sanhedrim advocate Tertullus, before a Roman tribunal, as an offence against the laws of the Empire, inasmuch as the prisoner was an acknowledged chief of a worship not licensed and approved by the slate, and an introducer of strange gods.

This is the only passage in the New Testament where the word ‘Nazarenes’ is used to denote ‘the Christians.’ We know it was the ordinary Jewish appellation by which the disciples of Jesus were then known. They (the Jews) could not of course use the ordinary term ‘Christians,’ by which name the disciples of Jesus were known among Pagans. ‘Christ’ was to every Jew a sacred name, and to these blinded ones still remained a title unappropriated. They were eager to call ‘the Crucified Lord’ the Nazarene, the citizen of a nameless city; and they chose the dishonoured title as the heritage of those who called Him Master and Lord, styling them ‘Nazarenes.’ The name is still used as the designation of the Christians by Jews and Mohammedans.


Verse 6

Acts 24:6. Who also hath gone about to profane the temple. More literally, ‘who even tried to profane.’ It is noticeable that here the error of the tumultuous Jews, who, when they saw Paul in the temple, at once accused Him of having profaned the holy building by the introduction of a Gentile into the sacred enclosure, is corrected. Here the careful lawyer modifies the original accusation, and merely states the prisoner had attempted to profane the Jerusalem temple—an offence which the Jews might punish with death, even in the event of the transgressor being a Roman citizen. There were thus three distinct grave charges brought against the accused Paul by the Sanhedrim: (1) that he was one that excited seditions in different parts of the Empire; (2) that, as a leader of the Nazarene sect, he was an introducer of strange gods, a teacher of an unlawful religion; (3) that he had attempted to profane the Jerusalem temple—an offence which, by the direct permission of the Roman government, was punishable by the Jews with death.

And would have judged. . . . Acts 24:8. Commanding his accusers to come unto thee. This whole passage, parts of Acts 24:6-8, according to the strict rules of criticism, must be expunged from our New Testament. The critical evidence for and against the words is as follows: The passage is omitted in five out of the six of the great Greek (uncial) MSS., upon which we rely here for our text of the Acts,—the exception being Codex E of the sixth or seventh century,—and in most of the versions, the Syriac being the exception. Still, the fact that Codex E, the famous MS. of the Acts of Archbishop Laud (belonging to the sixth century), now in the Bodleian library, Oxford, contains it, as do also those more ancient Syriac versions, and that Chrysostom quotes it, inclines us to the opinion it was very likely a later and comparatively speaking little-heeded addition of the author (St. Luke) to his original writings. Perhaps Dean Alford’s compromise, by which he prints the disputed words, but encloses them in a bracket [ ... J thus, is the fairest and best solution of an acknowledged difficulty. There is no doctrinal gain or loss by the omission or retention of the passage: a better sense certainly is gained by retaining the words as we find them in our English Version; so that, as Meyer justly observes, if they are genuine, it is difficult to see why any one should have left them out.

We would have judged,’ or better, ‘we wished to judge.’ This hardly agrees with the statement of chap. Acts 21:31, ‘and as they went about to kill him;’ or with chap. Acts 26:21, ‘the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.’ Still, the unfair, untruthful gloss with which the advocate covers the transaction, well agrees with the general false tone of his whole speech.


Verse 7

Acts 24:7. But the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him away out of our hands. Here again Tertullus misstates the facts. When the Roman soldiers came on the scene, the Jews evidently at once released Paul without further violence: ‘When they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul’ (chap. Acts 21:32). The Sanhedrim council were extremely bitter against Claudius Lysias, and the intention evidently of their advocate’s words here (if we admit them as genuine), was to insinuate that all was going on in order and in strict conformity to the law, until the commander in the castle of Antonia violently and oppressively interfered.


Verse 8

Acts 24:8. By examining of whom thyself mayest take knowledge of all these things, whereof we accuse him. If the disputed words are left in the text as in our English Version, then ‘of whom’ refers of course to Claudius Lysias. Some have supposed that Tertullus suggested questions by torture should be applied; but this is most doubtful, for both Claudius Lysias and Paul were Roman citizens. If, however, we omit the words in accordance with the ordinary rules of criticism, then ‘of whom’ must refer to St. Paul.


Verse 9

Acts 24:9. And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so. The rendering of the better authenticated reading, συνεπέ θεντο instead of συνέ θεντο, would be: ‘And the Jews also assailed him (or them);’ that is, they joined their voices to their advocate’s in his charges against Paul, and probably against Claudius Lysias also, bearing their testimony to the truth of the facts as alleged in court by Tertullus.


Verse 10

Paul’s Defence against the Sanhedrim’s Accusation before Felix; Procurator Judæa, 10-21.

Acts 24:10. Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered. Paul’s defence was a strange contrast to the lying flatteries and the distorted accusations which made up the speech of the Sanhedrim advocate Tertullus. He prefaces his masterly address by a few graceful, well-chosen words of courtesy to the Roman official presiding over the court, in which he simply expresses his contentment at having to defend himself before a judge who had had such ample opportunities of making himself acquainted with the condition of the Jewish nation and its varied schools of thought: in the present instance, he added, the task of the judge would be an easy one; for only twelve days had elapsed since he, Paul, had arrived at Jerusalem as a pilgrim, and in that time he had certainly engaged in no dispute ox argument which could possibly stir up sedition. The prisoner then passed to the second charge, the being a ‘Nazarene ringleader.’ He certainly did belong to that sect, but he worshipped no strange Gods. His God was the God of his fathers; his creed, the creed of the great bulk of the Jewish nation, a religion acknowledged and sanctioned by Roman law—the central point of which creed was the belief in the resurrection of the dead, in which belief, surely, his accusers shared.

From this he turned to the third and last charge pressed against him, ‘the profanation of the temple,’ Far from having profaned that sacred house, his very object in coming to Jerusalem was, after distributing the alms he had collected in far lands for the poor of his people, to perform certain holy rites enjoined on pilgrims in connection with the temple; and it was in the carrying of these out in the temple, that some foreign Jews from Asia seized him and accused him of profanity. Where were these men who had brought such strange meaningless charges against him? Surely they ought to have been present in person. If they, the real accusers, however, have for some unknown reason not chosen to present themselves, let these, pointing to the Sanhedrim representatives, say plainly what evil they have found me doing or saying, except that one assertion of mine respecting the resurrection of the dead.

Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation. We know Felix had been procurator since A.D. 51-52; he had therefore been ‘judge’ now six or seven years, a comparatively long period at a time when these higher magistrates were changed and shifted so constantly. It is, however, probable that he had held office among the Jewish people for even a much longer time, for Tacitus speaks of him as governor of Samaria when Cumanus was Procurator of Judæa. If this were the case, it would give him some four years more experience of Jewish manners and customs.

I do the more cheerfully answer for myself. Paul felt at least his judge had had, during his long years of office, ample opportunities of becoming acquainted with the character of the leaders of the Jews, with their jealousies and narrowness, and with the peculiarities of the people generally. Possibly, too, in the background the apostle felt that Felix knew something, from his long residence in the province, of the Christians, and of their harmless, blameless lives; and how unlikely it was that one of their leaders should ever wish to stir up sedition.


Verse 11

Acts 24:11. Because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet. But twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship. The ‘twelve days’ are best reckoned thus:—

1st Day.—Arrival at Jerusalem; meeting with James, the Lord’s brother, the head of the Christian Church at Jerusalem.

2d Day.—Levitical purification, and first visit to the temple as a Nazarite pilgrim.

3d, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th Days.—The period of the Nazarite ceremonies and offerings, closed with the attack on Paul by Asian pilgrims, and his subsequent arrest by Claudius Lysias.

8th Day.—The apostle is arraigned before the Sanhedrim.

9th Day.—In the castle of Antonia; the assassination plot; Paul leaves Jerusalem for Cæsarea, guarded by the military escort.

10th Day.—The party arrives at Antipatris.

11th Day.—The prisoner is delivered over to Felix in Cæsarea.

12th Day.—At Cæsarea; in the judgment hall of Herod.

13th Day.—Paul appears before the court of Felix.

This computation would allow for the statement of Acts 24:1 : ‘After five days, Ananias the high priest descended with the elders;’ and also for Paul’s: ‘Twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship.’ A good deal of time has been spent, we might even say wasted, in the calculation of these days, and how they were to be reckoned so as to justify the various notes as to time scattered up and down the narrative. These calculations, it should be remembered, are always rough ones—now part of a day is reckoned, now it is omitted. Nothing depends really on the exact harmony of such a recital. Like the other small chronological and geographical alleged discrepancies in these Acts, it is only the cavilling, hostile spirit seeking to find errors where none really exist, which finds difficulties in this noble and faithful record of the laying the foundation stories of Christianity. Paul prefaces his defence by stating his object in coming up to Jerusalem: it was to worship, and yet he was charged with profanity; but with this part of the accusation he proposed to deal later. He touches at first the point more likely to affect a Roman judge, the charge of stirring up sedition.


Verse 12

Acts 24:12. And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city. He urges that this accusation of exciting sedition was simply incapable of proof. He takes carefully each of the places of public resort, and disposes of them one by one, challenging his adversaries to traverse, if they can, his statement. Nowhere had he publicly disputed with the hope of exciting a tumult—not in the crowded temple courts, nor in the more retired and quiet synagogue meeting; nor had he gone preaching and speaking ‘up and down’ [for this is the literal translation of the Greek κατά here] the streets of the capital.


Verse 14

Acts 24:14. But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers. More accurately rendered, ‘after the way which they call a sect.’ The word translated ‘heresy’ ( αἵρεσιν) is represented by ‘sect’ in Acts 24:5. Paul here defends himself against the second accusation, ‘the being a ringleader of the Nazarene sect.’ He boldly and gladly at once proclaims, as a long line of glorious confessors have done since his day, that he is a Christian; but he adds, Christian or Nazarene though he be, he is a worshipper of no strange gods, but his God is the God of his Jewish fathers. For fidelity to this worship surely he deserves no punishment at the hands of the government, for the Jewish religion was countenanced and protected by Rome. Though a Nazarene, he was still a Jew.

Believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. Yes, he asserted he was a true Jew, believing all the glorious promises written in the Law and Prophets. In this faith of his he followed out the words of the Master: ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the Law and the Prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil’ (Matthew 5:17). In other words, Paul denied that in becoming a Christian or a Nazarene he had in any way apostatized from the faith of his fathers. Christianity to him was but the fulfilment of Judaism.


Verse 15

Acts 24:15. And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust. That is to say, his belief in the Law and the Prophets gave him a hope founded on God, because His word and the promises contained in the Law and the Prophets furnish the only grounds for such a hope. The hope was, as he went on to say, that there would surely be a resurrection. Nor was he singular in holding this certain expectation. These, he said, pointing to members of the Sanhedrim in the court, and to the other Jews present—these hold it with me. Such an appeal tells us that the dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Sanhedrim alluded to in chap, Acts 23:7 had been speedily arranged, and that both parties had agreed together to compass the destruction of the famous Gentile missionary. Paul with justice refers to the belief in the resurrection as the general belief of the Jewish nation, the sceptical opinions of the Sadducees influencing only a very few, comparatively speaking. ‘The Sadducees,’ writes Josephus, ‘were able to persuade none but the rich; the Pharisees had the multitude on their side’ (Antiquities). Thus he explained to Felix his faith was the faith of the people, the faith of his fathers; and the devout hope of the resurrection which he and his brother Nazarenes put forward so prominently, and which evidently was a deep offence to some of the more prominent members of the great Jewish council—the devout hope of the resurrection was, after all, entertained in the hearts of the majority of the Jewish people. ‘Hast thou, asks Lange here, ‘this hope? If the Spirit has not yet imparted it to thee, pause not until thou art assured of thy blessed resurrection; pause not, for there can be nothing more awful than to die without the hope of the resurrection.’

Lange has also an exhaustive note on the devout hope of the resurrection being the ancient heritage of the Jewish race: ‘The hope of the resurrection is established on a doctrine, the glory of which did not arise for the first time in the New Testament. This golden thread of eternal life passes, on the contrary, through the whole of the Old Testament.

‘The Creator who animated the dust of the ground with His breath, the covenantal God who made an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:7) with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is not a God of the dead, but of the living. That hope was a source of comfort to Job (Job 19:25-27); Isaiah (Acts 26:19) foretold it; Daniel (Acts 12:2) bore witness to it.

‘It is, however, true that this hope first acquired a firm foundation, and was endowed with life and productive power through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’


Verse 16

Acts 24:16. And herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men. ‘Herein;’ that is, ‘for this reason,’ because of his belief in the future resurrection; or, in other words, because he held the doctrine of the resurrection of the just and unjust, not as a mere speculative doctrine, but as a grave and awful reality. The rule of his life was to struggle to keep himself from sin. Plumptre strikingly notices here ‘that these words of Paul must have been almost as bitter to Felix as to Ananias, but he has at all events the decency to listen in silence.’

Paul’s belief—this is above all things most noteworthy—was anything but a merely speculative, it was a real and living faith. He lived, or rather tried to live, as though he believed, and taught others to do the same. The Greek word rendered ‘do I exercise myself’ ( ἀ σκῶ), tells us of the restless, ceaseless warfare within waged by this true gallant soldier of Christ to keep his conscience, not only in the sight of men, but before the unseen majesty of God, white and pure.


Verse 17

Acts 24:17. Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings. The Greek word πλειό νων, translated ‘many,’ rather signifies ‘several.’ Some four years had elapsed since the apostle’s last visit to the Holy City (chap, Acts 18:22). The ‘alms’ here alluded to were those sums of money Paul and his companions (notably Titus the Gentile) had been collecting for a long time past with vast pains in the churches of Macedonia and Achaia for the relief of the impoverished church of Jerusalem. Here, and here only in this casual way, do we find a mention of this generous work of which we hear so much in the epistles of St. Paul written in this period of his life. Paley (Horæ Paulina) calls attention to this as to one of the more striking of those ‘undesigned coincidences’ which exist between the ‘Epistles’ and the ‘Acts,’ and which furnish us with an independent but at the same time most powerful proof of the credibility of the New Testament writers. The ‘offerings’ ( προσφορά ς) which he also came to bring were for the temple and its services: they included the usual sacrifices customary at the feast of Pentecost, and also those special contributions which were part of the Nazarite’s vow (chap. Acts 21:23-26). Paul is here replying to the third charge alleged by the advocate Tertullus, viz. that he attempted to profane the temple; so he mentions what brought him at that Pentecost feast to Jerusalem—a strange purpose indeed for one intending to do dishonour to the holy house on Mount Zion! He came to show his love to his people, the suffering Jewish Christians of the Holy City, bringing them alms painfully and wearily gathered from many a poor and struggling foreign Gentile congregation, and at the same time to worship in the ancient temple of his God, while he laid his offerings before its altars at the season of the time-honoured Pentecost festival.


Verse 18

Acts 24:18. Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude nor with tumult. ‘Whereupon;’ literally, ‘in which,’ in the midst of which occupations certain Jews from Asia found me.’ The reading of the greater number of the more trustworthy MSS. here is ἐν αἷς instead of the received text ἐ ν οἷς. This feminine form of the relative pronoun agrees with προσφορας, offerings; and thus the meaning of Paul’s words was as follows: ‘These busybody strangers from Asia [Ephesus] found me in the temple certainly, but, far from profaning it, positively engaged in performing the rites and ceremonies which belonged to the fulfilment of a Nazarite’s vow.’

There is another slight variation here in the reading of the more trustworthy authorities, viz. these older MSS. insert after τινές (certain), δί (and or but). Now, slight as this variation seems, it necessitates a different rendering of the whole clause, which must run thus: ‘In the midst of which occupations they’ (that is, the Jews) ‘found me purified’ (as a Nazarite) ‘in the temple, neither with multitude nor with tumult; but certain Jews from Asia.’ Here a verb is wanting to make the sense perfect. It was no doubt this want of a verb to complete the sentence which induced many MSS. (though not the majority) to leave out δί, and thus make ‘certain Jews’ the subject of εὗρον (found).

The explanation of the omission is found, no doubt, in the speaker’s earnestness, Luke having given us the very words (and no more) of this remarkable defence. Some verb is required, suggests Dr. Hackett: ‘But certain Jews from Asia stirred up the tumult,’ Acts 24:19. ‘Who ought now to he here.’


Verse 19

Acts 24:19. Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had ought against me. This was happily urged by the apostle, as it was the Roman custom not to judge a prisoner on any charge unless the accusers were present. Paul urges that his accusers really were not the Sanhedrim nor the Jews then in court, but certain foreign pilgrims from Ephesus (Asia). These we hear nothing of now; they had doubtless tarried behind in Jerusalem, or had already set out on their return journey.


Verse 20

Acts 24:20. Or eke let these same here say if they have found any evil doing in me, while I stood before the council. Paul well knew that the Sanhedrim had no proof at all that he had committed any of the crimes alleged against him. The first charge, ‘sedition,’ was merely on hearsay evidence, the offspring of vague reports from a distance. The second charge, that he was an introducer of strange gods, the teacher of an unlawful religion, he had clearly disproved, having shown that to all intents and purposes he was an earnest and devout Jew. The third and gravest of the three charges the Sanhedrim had only cognisance of second hand. The alleged profanation of the temple, which Paul indignantly denied, was borne testimony to by witnesses none of whom were present in Cæsarea. No; there was only one true explanation of the wrath of the moving spirits in the great Jewish council. With that he proceeds to deal.


Verse 21

Acts 24:21. Except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day. Paul well knew that many in the Sanhedrim, and the majority in the nation, would sympathise with him here. These words of his, he was aware, had been the occasion of a violent dissension in the great council; but he knew, with reference to his views and teaching on this all-important doctrine, the heart of the people of Israel was on his side. Wordsworth Well summarizes this masterly defence of Paul:—‘They have charged me with profaning the temple. But the fact is, I came from a distance to Jerusalem to worship in the temple; and to bring alms of charity, and also offerings of piety, as a Nazarite; and they themselves found me in the temple, engaged in a holy service, proving my respect for the temple; and they who accuse me of profaning it were guilty of profanation, in abetting those who seized me when there employed in a religious act, of which they prevented the completion.’


Verse 22

Paul is remanded, and remains imprisoned at Cæsarea, 22, 23.

Acts 24:22. And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter. There is little doubt but that Felix would have liberated the prisoner after hearing his defence, had not the same motives—fear of the Jews—influenced him at this juncture which induced him two years later, when he was removed from his office, still to leave Paul bound. The tyrannical, venal magistrate had too good reason to dread the enmity of the people over whom he was placed as a governor, and hoped by such weak concessions to prevent complaints being lodged against him at Rome. The procurator, after hearing publicly the accusation and the prisoner’s defence, as he could not possibly gratify the powerful Jewish party by condemning him, endeavoured to conciliate them by remanding the prisoner until such time when he should obtain further details respecting the case. Felix was by no means ignorant of the Nazarene’s story. During the years he had held office in Judæa and Samaria, he must have had frequent opportunities of becoming acquainted with many of the tenets of the rapidly growing brotherhood, and must, too, have seen sufficient of their lives to convince himself that the peace of the Empire was not likely to be endangered by any plots they would devise. At Cæsarea, his present residence, under his very eyes, lived one of the oldest and most venerated Nazarene leaders—Philip the deacon and evangelist. Round this eminent and devoted man, in the last quarter of a century, doubtless had gathered a large and influential Christian community, which included such men even as the Roman centurion Cornelius. From his Jewish wife, the Princess Brasilia, and her followers and friends, the procurator could hardly fail to have heard frequently of the Christian or Nazarene community growing up in the midst of the ‘chosen people.’ He therefore may well be said to possess ‘a more perfect knowledge of that way’ than men like the advocate Tertullus supposed. Here, as in chap. Acts 9:2, Acts 19:9; Acts 19:23, Acts 22:4, occurs the famous term which, in the early days of the faith, was evidently used familiarly as a synonym for the disciples of Christ—‘the way.’ We have discussed the expression, and suggested how it probably first originated in the words of the Master, when He spoke of Himself as the ‘Way,’ as He was also ‘the Truth and the Life;’ while in those first struggling years the term ‘Christian’ was obviously refused to the brotherhood of the Lord Jesus by the unbelieving Jews, and the title ‘Nazarene’ was scornfully used by them as a name of reproach. The ‘way,’ that ‘way,’ was not unlikely a common designation among themselves and the Jews, as implying on the one hand no doctrinal assertions respecting Messiah, or on the other hand as conveying no reproach. Of Lysias the chief captain, and his coming down, we hear nothing further. It was evidently a courteous meaningless expression of Felix, and nothing more. He had heard the story from both sides, and was well acquainted with the so-called Nazarene sect, and required no further information of Paul’s innocence of the charge alleged; he was evidently fully convinced, but it suited his purposes to detain him in captivity.


Verse 23

Acts 24:23. And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him. There were three descriptions of imprisonment or custody among the Romans—(1) Imprisonment in the common prison, custodia publica. We have an instance of this at Philippi, when Paul and Silas were arrested there. (2) Military arrest, custodia militaris, when the prisoner was bound or chained to the soldier who guarded him. This appears to have been the form of captivity to which the apostle was relegated during his long Roman confinement. (3) Free custody, custodia libera. In this last the arrested was usually released on bail. In some cases the accused, if an illustrious person, was entrusted to the care of a magistrate. Paul remained at Cæsarea evidently under military arrest, the conditions of which were clearly relaxed,—the word rendered ‘indulgence’ ( ἄνεσιν) plainly indicates this,—though watched by a soldier, and possibly chained to him. Free access to him was also accorded to his friends. An ulterior motive, which we shall notice presently, seems to have suggested this last relaxation in the case of persons wishing to visit him.


Verse 24

Paul’s Interviews during his long Imprisonment at Cæsarea with the Procurator Felix and his wife, the Princess Drusilla, 24-27.

Acts 24:24. And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Brasilia, which was a Jewess. The Princess Drusilla occupied no unimportant position among the women of the middle of the first century of the Christian era. She was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I., who ended a brilliant and showy life in that miserable way at Cæsarea depicted in the twelfth chapter of these ‘Acts,’ and sister to Herod Agrippa II. and the still more notorious Princess Bernice. Her name Drusilla—borne also by a sister of Caligula, the emperor with whom these younger ‘Herods’ were closely intimate—is a diminutive of Drusus. Endowed, like her sister Bernice, whose name was a name of shame even in the careless and profligate Roman society of that age, with the often dangerous gift of extreme beauty, she was married at a very early age to Azizus, king of Emesa, who became a proselyte, but left him, and still very young was married again to the Procurator Felix. Their son Agrippa perished, Josephus relates, in an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Dr. Plumptre has made an interesting suggestion to account for the special interest this dissolute princess evidently felt in the case of the accused Christian prisoner Paul. She must have heard of the death of James and of the imprisonment of Peter in her girlhood; and she may have connected her father’s tragic end at the games of Cæsarea with the part he had taken in persecuting the very sect to which the prisoner now in custody in her husband’s palace belonged. She evidently showed, from being present with Felix at one, probably at more of the examinations, that she was desirous of hearing more of that ‘way’ with which her royal house had been mysteriously brought into contact.


Verse 25

Acts 24:25. And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled. The subjects upon which Paul seems to have spoken when summoned before Felix and Drusilla, on first thoughts appear to us somewhat strange. No doubt they were very different to the themes the governor and his wife expected to have heard dwelt upon by the imprisoned Nazarene leader, he hoping probably, as a politician, to learn more of the relations existing between the sect in which Paul was so distinguished a leader, and the dominant Jewish schools of thought; and the Jewish princess expecting doubtless to hear from the lips of the Christian preacher something of the teaching, and perhaps new details respecting the death, of the Founder of his faith. One in the position of Drusilla had, too, no doubt heard strange rumours of the visions of Paul. She would hear from his own lips what had convinced one who, in early life, had been so famous a Pharisee—what had determined a man with the bright onlooks of the young Saul to throw in his lot with a despised and persecuted sect.

But both Felix and Drusilla were disappointed. The Christian teacher apparently never touched on the ‘evidences of his faith,’ said nothing of his own life—nothing in connection with his own experience of shame at the hands of men, or of surpassing glory at the hands of God. With that marvellous power none seem to have been possessed like the inspired Paul, he spoke of ‘life’ rather than of ‘doctrine,’ with evidently special reference to the brilliant but mistaken lives of the pair who, surrounded with all the majesty of the ensign of the great Empire, sat in royal state, while he stood a friendless, poor-clad prisoner before them.

It is doubtful if many besides the personal attendants were present at this hearing or hearings of the accused. Most likely Paul gave Luke a very short description of what took place. The three famous words rendered ‘righteousness,’ ‘temperance,’ and ‘judgment to come,’ were without doubt Paul’s own expressions. Luke took them down from his master’s lips. Our English translation very poorly represents the Greek original ‘of righteousness ( περὶ δικαιοσύ νης) or ‘justice,’ a word embracing those varied duties which every upright citizen owes to another, how much more one set over his fellows as a judge! Such a reminder, couched in the burning words of a Paul, must indeed have struck home to the heart of the unscrupulous covetous Roman satrap, who only looked upon his high office as a source of gain to himself. ‘Temperance.’ ἐ γκρατεί ας, is very inadequately Englished by ‘temperance.’ The Greek word has a far broader significance; it denotes especially ‘self-control,’ the power of conquering one’s own passions and lusts. The virtue was not unknown even in the story of Pagan Rome; and Felix’ companion, the Jewess Drusilla, would call up before her mind many a fair example set by noble Hebrew matrons in the old days of Israel, an example she had never tried to follow! ‘Judgment to come.’ No doubt this theme was especially brought into prominence owing to the fact of the ‘resurrection of the dead,’ both of the just and unjust, forming so central a feature in Paul’s teaching, and also because it was the subject of part of his defence when he was tried before the Sanhedrim, and before Felix (Acts 24:15, and chap, Acts 23:6; Acts 23:8). We can picture Paul’s oratory on these momentous occasions, speaking his Master’s words before two such perfect representatives of the old world—the man, the heir of Pagan tradition, the unjust judge, the selfish ruler, the evil example to all that luxurious society in which he reigned as chief, living for the day, utterly careless of the future—thoroughly and earnestly carrying out the Pagan teachers’ cheerless advice, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ The woman, a fair specimen of the Jewess of the last age of Jerusalem, when the people loved with a strange passionate fervour the doctrine and ritual of Moses and his interpreters, but allowed neither doctrine nor ritual to touch or affect the inner life. The characters of Caiaphas and Annas, and of the sisters Drusilla and Bernice, were the natural outcome of the teaching of the Rabbinic schools so sternly condemned by the Lord Jesus.

We can well imagine from what armoury Paul had drawn those weapons which pierced the triple-guarded breast of the selfish and courtly Roman voluptuary, and left him quivering with a nameless terror. No doubt among those precious parchments we read of in his last sad words to Timothy not many years later (2 Timothy 4:13), were records written by the older apostles, men who had been with the Lord during the days of His earthly teaching—memories of the Divine words uttered in those solemn hours of communion, and many of which we now possess, most precious gems, set in the gold of the gospel setting. No doubt, too, in his frequent intercourse in past years with Barnabas, with men like Philip, in his rarer meetings with the holy Twelve, had Paul heard, not once nor twice, the treasured words of Jesus, the Master’s solemn teaching as to the true meaning of righteousness, the glorious beauty of chastity and self-conquest, His many-coloured pictures of the awful judgment morning. And when, moved by the Holy Spirit, he repeated to the Roman governor these words of the Risen One, whom he (Paul) had beheld, not as the others had seen Him in His poor earth dress, but once more clothed with His glory robes, and girt with the light of heaven, Felix, trained in a school which taught its scholars to believe in nothing, to hope for nothing, to dread nothing—Felix the Epicurean, the atheist, the selfish scoffer at truth and honour, at innocence and purity, as he listened to the Nazarene’s definition of justice and self-conquest, as he gazed on his picture of the future judgment of the just and the unjust, with Drusilla the Herodian princess by his side—Felix, we read, trembled.

And answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee. But the alarm caused by Paul’s burning words of truth had no permanent effect, at least not then; the only effect they appear to have had was, that he sent away Paul. ‘He does not resent,’ well writes a recent commentator, ‘his plainness of speech; he shows a certain measure of respect for him; but he postpones acting till a more convenient season, and so becomes a type of the millions whose spiritual life is ruined by a like procrastination. Nothing that we know of him gives us any ground for thinking that the convenient season ever came.’ Singularly enough, after two years, Felix, accused by the Jewish people, was summoned to Rome to give an account of his Judæan stewardship to the emperor. Thus, by the providence of God, he was once more in the same city with Paul. Did he then avail himself of that ‘convenient season’? The recording angel alone knows.


Verse 26

Acts 24:26. He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him. The greed and rapacity of so many of these great lieutenants of the Cæsar in distant provinces of the Empire, is well exemplified in this episode in the government of the Procurator Felix. These men looked upon the great trusts committed to their charge as simply mines of wealth for them to work as best they could for their own advantage. Anything could be purchased at their hands, even immunity from the penalties of crime. What a picture of provincial government in the days of the early Cæsars! The sacred historian by no means painted for us here the darkest picture we possess of these venal governors; for instance, Josephus tells us of one Albinus, a successor of Felix in Judæa, who, on his departure from the province, freed all those prisoners who gave him money; by which means, as the historian quaintly remarks, the prisons were certainly emptied, but the country was filled with robbers (see also Tacitus and Suetonius, who give us similar accounts of these corrupt and selfish rulers). So common an offence did this receiving bribes from a prisoner or his friends appear to be among the higher officials of the Empire, that a special law was framed, expressly forbidding a judge to receive pay in any form for the arrest, acquittal, or condemnation of any individual (‘Lex Julia de repetundis’). There is no doubt that, in the case of the apostle, the Roman governor had heard with interest that the special object of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem on this occasion was the distribution among the Jewish poor of sums of money collected in Macedonia and Achaia. This led the rapacious procurator to suspect that the prisoner, if not a wealthy man himself had the command over considerable amounts. He was also well aware of the devoted love which existed between the members of this strange new sect, and had heard that Paul was one of their most distinguished leaders; these circumstances gave him good ground for hoping a substantial bribe would in the end be offered for the life and liberty of the accused.

In after times this offering money by way of a bribe to the Roman officials, to procure liberty to live as a Christian, or in the event of arrest and imprisonment to secure an acquittal, was no uncommon occurrence. Some century and a half later, Tertullian in North Africa, when deploring this custom, reminds his readers how Paul behaved when in danger and in prison, when a gift of money to his unrighteous judge would have saved him (De Fuga in Persecutione; see also Cyprian of Carthage’s remarks in his Epistle (third century) denouncing the ‘Libellatici,’ those who purchased permission to be Christians).


Verse 27

Acts 24:27. But after two years. It was in the summer or autumn of A.D. 60 that Felix was recalled to Rome. Two years he seems to have been from time to time in company with St. Paul; but the words of the apostle as far as we know, made no impression on that cold, hard heart. Did they, in the providence of God, meet again in Rome? On the ‘two years,’ Wordsworth strikingly comments: ‘Even Felix had two full years of God’s long-suffering; “Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down”‘ (Luke 13:8-9).

Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room. We know nothing of the previous history of the procurator, whose memory has been preserved owing to his meeting with Paul, whom he found languishing a prisoner in Cæsarea. Neither Tacitus nor Suetonius mention him in their histories. Josephus, however, tells us that he governed his stormy province with a wise, firm rule, putting down the Sicarii (assassins), and other predatory companies, who were then harassing Judæa. The Jewish historian finds no fault with this Festus: he seems to have been both just and upright. His rule was unfortunately prematurely cut short by death, before he had completed his second year of office. He was succeeded by Albinus, another corrupt and evil governor (A.D. 62).

And Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound. Felix was recalled owing to grave complaints made against him at headquarters. He was only acquitted through the influence of his brother Pallas at the imperial court of Rome. Leaving his province, then, under a cloud, he was base enough to endeavour to conciliate his enemies among the Jews, by leaving behind him in their power an innocent man whom he knew they hated. The conduct of Felix in this matter was followed by Albinus, who, two years later, filled Felix’ office. When he heard that Gessius Floras had been appointed to succeed him, in order to conciliate the Jews, he liberated most of the state prisoners at Jerusalem (Josephus, Antiquities).

It has been asked, How was it allowed by the overruling providence of the Most High, that, in the busy, successful life of the apostle, two years at this most eventful period of the early Church’s history should have been thus spent by St. Paul in seclusion at Cæsarea? At Rome, during the long captivity, there was the great and growing church to influence and to assist in organising; but what was there to do at Cæsarea, a comparatively unimportant military station, where surely the presence of an apostolical man like Philip was amply sufficient for the work there? It is at first thought strange, too, that none of the ‘Pauline Epistles’ appear to have been written during the long Cæsarean captivity. Now, on several occasions in his writings, Paul makes mention of ‘My Gospel.’ Several of the most venerated of the fathers (Irenæus, Origen, Jerome) tell us Paul was accustomed to mention the Gospel of Luke as a work written by him. Is it not more than probable, that this pause in his life’s restless labours was used by him to re-cast—possibly to set in order, and to add to—‘memories’ which he had already collected of the ‘Life of Lives,’—‘memories’ which he had already frequently used in his preaching and teaching. Where could a more favourable spot be found than Cæsarea?—than that quiet prison there, to which we are aware his friends had ready access? Philip, we know, lived at Cæsarea; it was, besides, near the Holy City, in the vicinity too of those places made for ever sacred by the presence and acts of the Master. May we not in all reverence suggest, that there,—in that prison-room of the palace of Herod and Felix, with an impassive Roman legionary (perhaps chained to him) watching him, and listening puzzled and wondering,—the Virgin Mother herself, under the guardianship of the beloved apostle, came and visited the famous servant of her Divine Son, and dictated to him, for his Gospel, that wondrous story in the picturesque Aramaic-coloured Greek so different to the other chapters, which forms the introduction (chap. Acts 1:5-26 and it) to what we call the ‘Gospel according to St. Luke’?

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 24:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/acts-24.html. 1879-90.

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