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Bible Commentaries
Acts 24

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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This chapter gives Paul a third opportunity to defend his preaching of Jesus Christ before the Jews. The Jews secure the talents of a smooth-tongued lawyer named Tertullus to flatter Govenor Felix with the hope Paul will be turned over to them. Of course, Paul is no novice in the arena of debate; he is more than capable of dealing with Tertullus and Felix.

Verse 1

And after five days Ananias the high priest descended with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paul.

And after five days: Whether this five days indicates the time since Paul left Jerusalem or indicates Paul has now been in Caesarea for five days is not clearly shown. It is most likely it has been five days since Paul left Jerusalem. This would be about the right amount of time for the Jews to figure out that Paul has escaped from Jerusalem to Caesarea and to make the trip there themselves. This relentless pursuit by these Jews will continue all the way to Rome.

Ananias the high priest descended with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paul: Luke introduces us to a new character, "a certain orator named Tertullus." Lenski thinks Tertullus is not unlike some of the opportunistic, ambulance-chasing lawyers of today:

Ananias had employed "one Tertullus" to act as the spokesman, advocate, prosecuting attorney, when bringing charges against Paul on behalf of his clients. These lawyers seem to have been as numerous in those days as they are in ours and looked for business over the entire empire (957).

(See 23:2 for notes on Ananias and 23:24 for notes on Felix.)

Verses 2-3

And when he was called forth, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence, We accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.

Tertullus begins his accusations against Paul with an attempt to impress Felix with flattery. With few exceptions we are certain the "very worthy deeds" ascribed to Felix come out of the imagination of this hireling lawyer rather than from the realities of history. Remember Felix is known as the one who "ruled like a king with the character of a slave, "

(see notes on 23:24).

Verse 4

Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words.

This lawyer is earning his pay. In a skillful display of concern for the valuable time of "most noble Felix, " Tertullus implies that although many more gracious words could be said, he must cut his praise short and get to the business at hand.

Verse 5

For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes:

For we have found this man a pestilent fellow: It is interesting that this noted lawyer, who will subsequently charge Paul with being a "mover of sedition, " a "ringleader" of a sect, and one who would "profane the temple, " begins his case by calling Paul a "pest." This is really the only charge for which the Jews can offer any proof. Paul has proved himself to be a "plague" to the Jews. Name-calling is usually a sign the accuser has no real proof and nothing stronger to use to attack his adversary. Such is the case here.

and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world: This statement is nothing but lawyer rhetoric in an attempt to inflame Felix. Can anyone believe that Paul, as zealous as he is, could have caused "sedition" ("a dissension, an insurrection") (Vine, Vol. III 336) "among ALL the Jews throughout the world!"

and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes: This is the only place in the Bible where the followers of Jesus are referred to as "sect of the Nazarenes." It is meant to be a derogatory term since the Jews despise Jesus of Nazareth. To designate the Lord’s church as a "sect" is an attempt to belittle the importance of the church. We would not deny that the so-called "Christian world" is divided into many sects (heresies) or denominations, but in no sense is the church of Christ a "sect" or, for that matter, a denomination.

Verse 6

Who also hath gone about to profane the temple: whom we took, and would have judged according to our law.

Who also hath gone about to profane the temple: The original charge of "polluting" the temple (21:28) has been reduced to attempting to "profane" the temple.

whom we took, and would have judged according to our law: The insinuation is that if the Roman chief captain had left the Jews alone they would have taken care of this problem themselves and not have troubled "noble Felix." It appears obvious the Jews are unaware that Felix has already been informed that Paul is a Roman citizen and that he has done nothing worthy of "bonds or death" (23:29).

Verse 7

But the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him away out of our hands,

Tertullis makes an attempt to show the Roman chief captain to be the problem in dealing with this situation. The impression given is that all was proceeding judiciously in Paul’s arrest and trial until Lysias interferes with the business of the Jewish court "with great violence." The truth of the matter is the Jews "were about to kill" Paul and would have done so had it no been for the intervention of the chief captain (21:31).

Verse 8

Commanding his accusers to come unto thee: by examining of whom thyself mayest take knowledge of all these things, whereof we accuse him.

Tertullus has now made his case against Paul without one shred of evidence. The best he has done is to brand Paul as a pest. This skillful lawyer uses one final tactic by telling Felix he will find these charges to be true if he will examine Paul. Can it be that Tertullus has presented such a powerful, airtight case that Paul will not dare to deny the charges? Tertullus may be artful in persuading men; but if he thinks his presentation of fantasies, half-truths, and concocted lies has intimidated the great Apostle Paul he has much to learn!

Verse 9

And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so.

The only corroborating testimony available for the charges of Tertullus comes from the high priest and the Jewish elders. What a sad commentary when a group of religious leaders will solemnly affirm the truth of a lie.

Verse 10

Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself:

Notice the contrast in Paul’s opening address and the empty flattery of the opening address of Tertullus. Paul simply recognizes that Felix has had considerable experience as a judge. Lenski gives this interpretation of Paul’s statement: "Any innocent man would regard himself fortunate to have his case tried by a judge of experience in the matters at issue" (966).

Verses 11-13

Because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship. 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: Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me.

Various scholars have tried much "day" counting in an effort to account for the twelve days mentioned by Paul. Regardless of the events of these days, the point Paul wants Felix to note is that he has been in Jerusalem only for a short time (twelve days). One would have to be busy indeed to stir up an insurrection against Rome, "profane the temple, " and incite the Jews all in a matter of twelve days! Paul wants Felix to know he came to Jerusalem to worship. He did not come to Jerusalem to dispute with any man anywhere at anytime.

Verse 14

But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:

But this I confess unto thee: Paul denies causing an insurrection. He also denies any disputation in the temple; but as to the charge of being a "ringleader of a sect, " he is more than happy to confess he is a Christian, a member of the Lord’s church.

that after the way which they call heresy: Paul does not confess that "the way" is a "sect"; rather he makes it plain "they call it heresy." The church as revealed in the New Testament is not a sect, division, heresy, denomination, or any other synonym that we may name that will indicate the church is a splinter from something else. "Those who hold to the true and original Scriptural teaching belong to the great body that has held this teaching through the ages; they are the church. Only those are a sect who advocate some teaching that is contrary to the Scriptures" (Lenski 970). Anyone who thinks denominationalism is of divine origin is devoid of Bible understanding and unlearned in the truth (see notes on verse 5 above and 9:2).

so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: Paul further advances his position by explaining that this "way" (Christianity) is "the way" to worship God. Not only does he declare Christianity as "the way" but also it is "the way" foreshadowed in "the law and the prophets."

This thought is further reinforced by Paul’s declaration in connection with it, namely, that Christianity is the way of worshiping which is in all things according to the law of Moses and the writings of the holy prophets. Throughout all of Paul’s epistles, as here, Paul never failed to present Christianity as fully identified with all the types and shadows of the OT, being in fact the fulfillment of all that was intended by everything in the old institution. Christians are the true Israel. Christ is the Prophet like unto Moses. Christ’s teaching is the New Covenant. And yet the New is identified in the Old (Coffman 451).

In connecting Christianity with the Old Testament, Paul avoids another charge that could have been made. He is not preaching some new, perhaps illegal religion that the Roman government would not allow; rather this is "the way"in which he worships the same God as Israel.

Verse 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 unjust.

Paul affirms he believes and entertains the same hope the Pharisees hold to, that being the "resurrection of the dead" for both the righteous and the unrighteous.

This mention of the resurrection likely runs a chill down the backs of the portion of the court who are Sadducees. But Paul will never let them forget this point of doctrine. There is more to come.

Verse 16

And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.

Paul steadfastly contends that when he was the chief adversary to the will of God and later when he showed himself as a loyal defender of the faith, all was done with a clear conscience. He thought he was doing the right thing. The lesson is obvious: one may be sincere and be sincerely wrong. Our conscience must be trained by the word of God if it is to be considered a reliable guide for our religious behavior (see notes on 23:1).

Verse 17

Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings.

Paul states his reason for being in Jerusalem is to bring "alms" and "offerings." Since the poor saints in Jerusalem are of Jewish background, it is correct for Paul to refer to them as "my nation."

Verses 18-19

Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult. Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had ought against me.

The reference here is to the events recorded in 21:26-28. It is not needful for Paul to explain all of the rituals of purification because Felix is knowledgeable about such Jewish customs. Paul’s defense is clearly stated and easily proved. He causes neither mobs nor any uproar. It is these Asian Jews, impassioned by the sight of Paul, who prompt the tumult (see notes on 21:26-31).

Where are these Asian Jews? The fact that these Jews, who are supposed to be eyewitnesses to Paul’s defamation of the temple, are not present speaks volumes. Either produce the witnesses or withdraw the charges. This is a brilliant point of defense presented by Paul. We can rest assured this Jewish court would have had their star witnesses present if they could have supplied any reliable testimony.

Verses 20-21

Or else let these same here say, if they have found any evil doing in me, while 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 by you this day.

Paul now turns his attention upon Ananias and the elders. He challenges them to speak up if they "found any evil doing in him." One might wonder if these Sanhedrinists would like to explain to "Judge" Felix that they have already tried Paul and failed to find him guilty (23:7-9)?

Paul notes the "one voice" that caused charges to be made against him. Paul says the only charge that can be brought against him is the "one voice" of the Sadducees who consider him to have done wrong in teaching the resurrection from the dead (see notes on 23:6-8).

Verse 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.

And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way: Luke states that Felix has a "more perfect knowledge of that way." Here, again, the term "way" is used to indicate Christianity. We must remember the gospel has had considerable influence in the city of Caesarea. It is here that the noble centurion Cornelius is converted (10:1). This city is the home of the evangelist Philip and his daughters (21:8). It is not unreasonable, then, to assume that Felix has had many opportunities to have been introduced to "the way."

he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter: Felix knows what he should do, but he uses a stalling tactic to put off releasing the apostle. In spite of the obvious innocence of Paul, he will remain a prisoner in Caesarea for more than two years because of the ulterior motives of this conniving governor.

Verse 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.

It is plain Felix does not consider Paul to be the dangerous insurrectionist the Jews have made him out to be. Paul is placed under a very liberal type of house arrest; whether he is chained is a matter of discussion. Boles thinks Paul is under a type of "military arrest, where the prisoner was chained to a soldier" (385). Felix allows Paul to be indulged with liberty, the visitation of friends, and the ministrations of those who would care for him like Doctor Luke.

Verse 24

And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.

How many days transpire before this meeting between Paul and Felix is left to speculation. We may assume curiosity, or perhaps the prompting of his "Jewess" wife to meet with Paul, motivates Felix.

Drusilla is a story within herself. In her sordid past of romance, adultery, and political intrigue, she would have made great tabloid fodder in our modern day. Bruce provides the following information:

Drusilla was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, and at this time (A.D. 57) was not yet twenty years old. As a small girl she had been betrothed to the crown prince of Commagene, in eastern Asia Minor, but the marriage did not take place, because the prospective bridegroom refused to embrace Judaism. Then her brother Agrippa II gave her in marriage to the king of Emesa, a petty state in Syria (modern Homs). But when she was still only sixteen, Felix, with the help of a Cypriote magician called Atomos, persuaded her to leave her husband and marry him. She thus became Felix’s third wife, and bore him a son named Agrippa, who met his death in the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 (472-473).

We are left to wonder at what conclusions Drusilla arrives during this meeting with Paul. If Drusilla remains aligned with her blood-spattered heritage, there will be no sympathy for "the faith in Christ" as preached by Paul.

It has been remarked that her father killed James, her great-uncle Herod Antipas slew the Baptist, her great-grandfather Herod the Great murdered the babes of Bethlehem in addition to his many other murders (Lenski 979).

Verse 25

And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.

And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come: Paul’s choice of a subject is calculated to strike terror in the hearts of his unrighteous, intemperate audience. For Felix, this one-time slave who now exercises the power of a king, and for this equally notorious woman who is living in open adultery as Felix’s wife, the concept of righteousness, self-control, and a day of accounting is a foreign and most disagreeable subject.

Paul gives all would-be teachers and preachers of the gospel a very important lesson in the selection of the topics he preaches to Felix and his bride. Paul could have selected a subject that would not have touched on the specific sins of his audience. He could have spoken in such ambiguous terms that no one would have really known what he was talking about or to whom he was speaking. He could have given Felix a little entertaining sermonette on positive thinking. But Paul gives Felix what he needs: an expose of his sins and a warning of impending judgment. Lenski is correct in his analysis of the situation:

From Paul we may learn how to preach so as to convert. Only one blow ever goes home through the sinner’s armor, and that is the blow of the law with the judgment to come delivered at the conscience with full force. Omit this, and conversion will not result (982).

Felix trembled: Albeit Felix is a very hardened, calloused man of the world; when his wicked soul is laid bare by the sharp "two edged" sword of God’s word, he is afraid just like wicked king Belshazzar of Daniel’s day!

Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another (Daniel 5:6).

and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee: This is the wrong answer! Felix should have yielded to his convictions, brought on by God’s word: he should have obeyed the gospel.

The terror which seized him was the beginning necessary to change of life; but lust and ambition smothered the kindling fires of conscience, and he made the common excuse of alarmed but impenitent sinners to get rid of his too faithful monitor (McGarvey, Vol. II 240-241).

We must rely upon history for the final chapter in the lives of Felix and Drusilla. Soon after this event, Felix falls upon political hard times, being eventually demoted and banished to Gaul where he dies. Drusilla perishes in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The "convenient season" never comes. By a rejection of the gospel, Felix and Drusilla seal their own fate. They destroy themselves.

One of the greatest tools of the devil is the promise of a "convenient season." He whispers into the ears of potential Christians, "Wait, you have plenty of time"; the scriptures admonish "Behold now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Verse 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.

It appears Felix has conversations with Paul on several other occasions. The apparent motive is that Paul may offer a bribe for his release. The word "communed" indicates nothing more than the thought that Felix and Paul "talked" on a familiar basis (Vincent 583).

Verse 27

But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.

But after two years: We have little information about what occurs during the two years that Luke mentions here. "These two years of imprisonment in Caesarea, if we may judge from the silence of history, were the most inactive of Paul’s career. There are no epistles which bear this date..." (McGarvey, Vol. II 242).

Porcius Festus: Luke introduces a new character in this saga of the Apostle Paul. Very little is known of the prior history of Porcius Festus, but most commentators seem to think Festus is a better man than Felix. Some even describe Festus as "honest" and "straightforward" (Boles 388). Festus is appointed governor by Nero in 59 or 60 and dies in office about two years later.

came into Felix’ room: This phrase literally means Felix is succeeded by Festus. The reason for the replacement of Felix:

The occasion was a disturbance in Caesarea between Jewish and Gentile elements of the population. The actions taken by Felix were so anti-Jewish that the Jews sent a delegation to Rome in order to complain. Rome responded by removing Felix from office (Gaertner 377).

and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure: Felix shows himself to be forever the politician. The charges against Paul have not been proved. He should have been set free; but Felix, in an effort to appease the Jews and garner their favor, keeps Paul bound. Vincent gives a revealing rendering of the literal meaning of this phrase: "to lay up thanks for himself with the Jews" (583).

left Paul bound: Paul is now the charge of Porcius Festus. What fate is in store at the hands of another Roman politician will soon be seen.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 24". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/acts-24.html. 1993-2022.
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