Acts (Part 34) - Paul Before Felix

08/19/2011 08:12


The Jews were not about to allow Paul to be forgotten. They didn’t want Felix letting him go for lace of prosecuting witnesses. Chapter 24 verse 1 tells us that Ananias and some elders arrived from Jerusalem just five days after Paul. Considering that it was at least a two-day journey, we must understand that they lost no time in hiring a Greek-speaking lawyer/orator and preparing their case before heading off to Caesarea.

Tertullus is a Roman name, but this man may have been a Jew nonetheless. However, the verse nine designation of “the Jews” as distinguished from Tertullus may indicate that he actually was a foreigner hired merely for his oratory skills. Ananias was not taking a chance that the council’s limited comfort in Greek would impede their persuasiveness. In employing Tertullus they hoped to gain the advantage of rhetorical skill in directing Felix’s mind along the path they wanted him to think.

The text tells us that Felix allowed them to present their case before Paul was brought in, after which they began the formal accusation in front of the accused. This was normal procedure in this kind of trial—almost as though the first presentation was a grand jury hearing, which then proceeded to the actual trial. We don’t read what was presented in that first private hearing before Felix because Luke was not present there and he had no friendly witnesses to relate the event to him.

When Paul is brought to the hearing the formal accusation begins. Of the eight verses involving the accusation, three of them are introduction. But what we read there is no mere flattery. Tertullus uses even his opening remarks to begin the mind manipulation of Felix. The Judean procurator’s mission or job description was first of all to maintain peace in the region, and secondly to advance Roman culture. Therefore, Tertullus begins by praising Felix for his efforts in both these areas. But the praise is worded carefully. The acknowledgement and enjoyment stressed by Tertullus are messages informing the governor that the rulers of the Jews will continue to work with him to maintain peace and cultural reform as long as they are pleasantly disposed toward him. Certainly this is impetus for Felix to rule in their favor. Continued success in his position was certainly important.     

Tertullus next stresses that the hearing needs only to be brief. Of course, an in-depth investigation could not benefit the Jews. They had no hard evidence to support their accusations. Thus, Tertullus is urging Felix to make a decision mostly based on their word and the general desire to eradicate any possible cause of unrest among the people.

After this introduction, Tertullus turns specifically to the attack. His first charge is that Paul is a leader of rebellion creating unrest and sedition across the Roman world. There was no shortage of these pockets of rebellion. Only a few years earlier, an Egyptian had led 4000 Jews from Alexandria (then, the largest Jewish community in the world) in revolt against Rome. Not only had the emperor Claudius dealt with this revolt, but he had sent a stern letter of warning to the Jewish community of Alexandria that they should not continue as a “plague” to Roman rule. Tertullus repeats the language of this letter in his description of Paul to associate him in Felix’s mind with revolution against Rome.

The next charge is that Paul desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. Although at first we might wonder why Felix would be concerned about desecrating a distinctively Jewish place of worship, we must remind ourselves that the governor’s first responsibility is to maintain peace. The desecration of the center of the Jews’ cultural, political, and religious life was indeed a matter of concern for Felix. This charge by Tertullus is two-pronged. First, he focuses the picture of Paul’s world-wide rebellion on Felix’s realm of responsibility. But second, he attempts to provide Felix with a way out of the difficulty of having to judge the situation himself.

Verse 7 is not included in some major translations (e.g., NIV, ESV) because it is not included in some of the main manuscripts of the Alexandrian family—our oldest manuscripts from which come most modern translations. However, the Western family does include verse 7 (which also spills over somewhat in verses 6 and 8). The inclusion of this verse in the HCSB and NASB is due to the clarity it provides as to Tertullus purpose in recounting Paul’s capture. In that verse, Tertullus complains that Lysias interfered in taking custody of Paul. In other words, Tertullus is claiming jurisdictional rights. They found him desecrating the temple; they apprehended him; so they should be the ones trying him according to their law. Perhaps Tertullus is hoping that Felix will simply say, “Yes, I’ve had enough of this. You take him and judge him yourself.”

And with that, Tertullus ends his accusation. He tells Felix that he should examine Paul himself, and he would soon find that the man had no real defense. This is a fine trick. Normally we would understand the burden of proof to be on the prosecution. But through vague intimation Tertullus has linked Paul with worldwide rebellion, and now positions himself with Felix and Rome while pointing a finger at Paul saying, “Go ahead and examine him. See if he can prove that he is not involved in rebellion.” The Jews join in support, providing further argument (possibly recounting the disruption during the Sanhedrin trial) of how Paul creates disturbance wherever he goes.

What a difficult position for Paul! Ananias is probably pleased, thinking Paul can only deny the charges without offering much substance. But two things are in Paul’s favor. Felix is not convinced by the accusations. He has the letter from Lysias saying there is no fault in Paul and he is also somewhat acquainted (at least more than the Jews) with the Way—what early Christianity was called. Secondly, Paul is a sharp logician. So Felix motions for Paul to bring his defense.

Paul begins with a short introduction. He sincerely remarks that he is glad Felix has been in his position for many years. Acquaintance with the Jews and their previous doctrinal disturbances would support Paul’s contention that this was not sedition but mere doctrinal difference. Notice that Paul immediately seeks to disassociate himself from the associations at which Tertullus hinted. Paul says in verse 10, “I am glad to offer my defense in what concerns me.” For some inexplicable reason most modern translations (e.g., NIV, ESV, NASB) leave out the phrase “in what concerns me.” But it is in the HCSB, and it is in the Greek. Paul’s point, of course, is that his defense will involve only charges of what he himself has done, without reference to those vague connections to the revolutionaries of the Roman world.

First, Paul addresses the first charge. His statement in verse 11 would seem unconnected to anything if we do not recognize the argument. Tertullus had associated Paul with other major revolutionaries such as the Egyptian. To develop rebellion and revolts, you need time. Paul argues that he was in Jerusalem only 12 days total. How could that possibly associate him with ringleaders of vast sedition? Twelve days does not a revolution make.

Next, he argues that when he was apprehended he was not disputing. And here instead of begging Felix to believe him (as Tertullus and the Jews had hoped), he returns the burden of proof back to the prosecution. Paul points his finger back at the Jews and says, “Neither can they provide evidence to you of what they now bring against me” (24:13).

Paul then confesses exactly what his position is. He worships the same God that his fathers did. He believes everything written in the Law and the Prophets. He has a hope in God for resurrection (as some of his non-Sadducean accusers did). And he has a clear conscience before God for all his actions.

Notice that what he here confesses includes the same points of his speech to the Jews on the day of his arrest. They interrupted his speech, and he provided the concluding point of clear conscience the next day at his Sanhedrin trial.

Next Paul turns his defense to the second charge—that of desecrating the temple. He recounts his actions and shows that he wasn’t desecrating the temple. Rather, he was bringing gifts and offerings. When they found him he was ritually purified according to temple law. This was not only not desecrating the temple, but totally opposite conduct. And, in fact, those who claimed he was desecrating the temple were not even there now before Felix to accuse him. Claudius had written into law only a few years earlier that the accusers had to face the accused. Secondhand accusations could not be brought as the Jews were attempting to do on this charge.

Finally, Paul ends his defense by completely turning the tables on Tertullus and the Jews. The Sanhedrin had already met to try Paul. They had blamed Paul for the disruption that had occurred during that trial. But now Paul asks Felix to find out from the Jews whether they had convicted him of anything at that trial. The answer was obviously no. He also asks whether there was something wrong for him defending himself at that trial by saying he had hope in the resurrection. The answer again is no. So Paul swings the burden of proof entirely back on the prosecution, and they have nothing.

Felix has heard enough. But Felix is in a difficult position. Just as Pilate found no guilt in Jesus when facing the angry rulers of the land, so also Felix finds no guilt in Paul while the Jewish rulers want him eliminated. But rather than turning Paul over to the Jews (as Pilate did with Jesus), Felix delays. He says that he will wait for more detail from Lysias (after all, Tertullus had complained about his actions in interfering). Felix doesn’t send for Lysias. He just waits for the next official need for Lysias to return to Caesarea.

During the waiting period, Felix has Paul confined, but with a great amount of latitude. Felix and his Jewish wife Drusilla call for Paul to hear about the Way. Under conviction Felix sends him away again. But more composed continues frequently to converse with him. We learn that Felix is hoping for a bribe. Perhaps Paul’s mention of bringing gifts and offering to the temple have given Felix the idea that Paul has some source of wealth. That is also probably why he doesn’t limit his friends from seeing him—friends who could possibly be delivering money for the customary bribe.

Although it is not recounted in Acts, disturbance between Greeks and Jews in Caesarea takes place around this time. Felix sides with the Gentiles, acting in violence against the Jews. The Jews complain to Rome and Nero calls Felix back to answer the charges. Felix leaves Paul in prison as a favor to the Jews, most probably because he doesn’t want the Jews to have more ammunition with which to accuse him at trial. Festus replaces Felix as procurator.