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Bible Commentaries
Acts 24

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Paul’s defense before Felix ch. 24

"The delivery of the prisoner Paul to Caesarea marked the beginning of a two-year imprisonment in that city. During this period he stated his case, and also the case for the Christian gospel, to two provincial governors and a king, fulfilling one aspect of the Lord’s prediction about his ministry (Acts 9:15)." [Note: Kent, p. 172.]

"In his account of Paul’s defense before Felix, Luke gives almost equal space to (1) the Jewish charges against Paul (Acts 24:1-9), (2) Paul’s reply to these charges (Acts 24:10-21), and (3) Felix’s response (Acts 24:22-27). He does this, it seems, because he wants to show that despite the devious skill of the Jewish charges and the notorious cruelty and corruptibility of Felix, no other conclusions can be drawn from Paul’s appearance before him than that (1) Christianity had nothing to do with political sedition and (2) Jewish opposition to Christianity sprang from the Christian claim to legitimate fulfillment of the hopes of Judaism" [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p. 538.]

Verse 1

The heat of the Jews’ hatred of Paul is obvious from their speedy trip to Caesarea. The five days seem to describe the period from Paul’s arrest in the temple courtyard to this trial (cf. Acts 24:11; Acts 21:27). The Jews’ antagonism is also clear in that Ananias himself made the trip, and Paul’s accusers had hired a special attorney to present their case. Tertullus (a diminutive form of Tertius; Romans 16:22) was probably a Hellenistic Jew in view of his Roman name, though he could have been a Roman Gentile. "Attorney" is the translation of a Greek word that appears only here in the New Testament (rhetoros), which means a lawyer who was especially skillful in oratory.

Verses 1-9

The presentation of charges against Paul 24:1-9

Verses 2-4

Flattery of officials in formal speeches was fashionable in Paul’s day, and Tertullus heaped praise on Felix. The title "most excellent" usually applied to men who enjoyed a higher social rank than Felix. Felix was a fierce ruler and the "peace" that existed was a result of terror rather than tranquillity. Tertullus praised Felix for being a peacemaker in preparation for his charge that Paul was a disturber of the peace (Acts 24:5-6). Felix’s "reforms" were more like purges. Speakers also usually promised to be brief, which promises then as now they did not always keep.

Verse 5

Tertullus leveled three specific charges against Paul: a personal charge, a political charge, and a religious charge. First, he was a pest and a troublemaker in the Roman Empire having stirred up Jews wherever he went. This was a serious charge because Rome sought to preserve peace in the world, and Jewish uprisings were a perennial problem to Roman officials.

Second, Tertullus pictured Paul as the leader of a cult outside mainstream Judaism. The Roman Empire tolerated Judaism, but the "sect of the Nazarenes" was not a part of Judaism to the Jewish leaders. This title is a unique name for Christianity found nowhere else in the New Testament. Tertullus evidently used this name to make "the Way" sound as bad as possible.

"That [second charge] coupled Paul with Messianic movements; and the Romans knew what havoc false Messiahs could cause and how they could whip the people into hysterical risings which were only settled at the cost of blood." [Note: Barclay, p. 185.]

The first two charges gave the impression that Paul was guilty of sedition against Rome. The Jews had similarly charged Jesus with political sedition before Pilate (cf. Luke 23:2; Luke 23:5).

Verses 6-8

Third, Tertullus claimed Paul had tried to desecrate the temple, allegedly by bringing a Gentile into its inner precincts (Acts 21:28). This was a softening of the Asian Jews’ earlier charge that Paul had indeed brought Trophimus into the inner precincts of the temple (Acts 21:28-29). Tertullus’ statement that the Jews had arrested Paul harmonized with Lysias’ report (Acts 23:27). The Jews had tried to kill Paul on the spot too (Acts 21:31-33). Perhaps Tertullus did not mention that because it would have put the Jews in a very bad light. This third charge implied that Felix should put Paul to death since Rome had given the Jews the right to execute temple desecrators.

Verse 9

All of Paul’s accusers confirmed Tertullus’ charges. They undoubtedly expected Felix to dispatch Paul quickly since Felix had repeatedly crucified the leaders of uprisings for disturbing the peace of Rome. [Note: Josephus, The Wars . . ., 2:13:2-5.]

Verse 10

Paul’s complimentary introduction was sincere and truthful. Felix had had contact with the Jews in Palestine for over 10 years, first in Samaria and then in Judea. Paul’s introduction was also briefer than Tertullus’ opening statement.

"Although Tertullus is supposed to be a skilled orator, Paul demonstrates his superior skill by making use of Tertullus’ words to build his own case." [Note: Tannehill, 2:298.]

Verses 10-21

Paul’s defense before Felix 24:10-21

Verse 11

In response to Tertullus’ first charge (Acts 24:5), Paul said that since he had been in Jerusalem only 12 days he had not had time to be much of a pest.

Verses 12-13

In response to the third charge (Acts 24:6), Paul replied that he had gone to Jerusalem to worship. He had gone to bring money to the Jews there, and to present offerings to Yahweh (Acts 24:17), not to stir up political trouble (cf. Galatians 2:7-9). His accusers could not prove that he had even carried on a discussion in the temple, or in the synagogues, or even in the city, much less fomented a riot. There was, therefore, no evidence to support these two charges against him.

Verse 14

Paul rebutted the second charge of leading a cult (Acts 24:5) by explaining that his beliefs harmonized with the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures. This would have helped Felix see that the real conflict between Paul and his accusers was religious and not political, as Tertullus had made it appear.

Paul was not claiming that the church is the continuation of Israel (cf. Ephesians 2:11-22). His point was that his beliefs did not contradict anything predicted in the Old Testament.

Verse 15

Ananias was a Sadducee, and the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection (Acts 23:8). Therefore Felix would have seen that Paul and Ananias disagreed strongly on this theological point. The Jews who accompanied Ananias to Caesarea evidently included Pharisees who did believe in the resurrection. Belief in the resurrection was the theologically conservative position of the Jews as a whole.

This verse contains the only New Testament reference that Paul believed in the resurrection of the wicked as well as the resurrection of the righteous. Nevertheless the Scriptures speak elsewhere of God raising all people to face judgment (e.g., Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:31-33; Matthew 25:46; John 5:28-29; Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31; Revelation 20:12-15).

Verse 16

Since Paul believed God would resurrect him, he sought to maintain a clear conscience as he lived. Conscience is the capacity to feel guilt.

Verses 17-18

Rather than desecrating the temple (Acts 24:6) Paul said he had returned to Jerusalem to give money to the Jews there and to present worship offerings in the temple. His gift was for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Yet since Paul’s desire was that they would evangelize the unsaved Jews there, he could honestly say that he had brought alms to his nation. [Note: Adolph Harnack, The Date of the Acts and of the Synoptic Gospels, p. 74.] "Alms" refers to the collection for the poor Jewish Christians, and "offerings" to Paul’s paying the expenses of the four men who had taken a vow (Acts 21:23-26). He had completed the purification rites in an orderly manner when other Jews stirred up dissension and started a riot.

Verses 18-19

Paul pointed out that his original accusers were not present at his hearing. They should have been. Probably the Sanhedrin ruled that out because, in view of the facts, it would have been clear that there was no basis for their charges.

"Roman law imposed heavy penalties upon accusers who abandoned their charges (destitutio), and the disappearance of accusers often meant the withdrawal of a charge. Their absence, therefore, suggested that they had nothing against him that would stand up in a Roman court of law." [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p. 541.]

Verses 20-21

Paul’s present accusers could not even testify that the Sanhedrin had found him guilty when he appeared before that body. Some of them had disagreed with his belief about resurrection. Therefore, Paul concluded, he was on trial over the issue of the resurrection. This put Felix in the awkward position of having to decide a theological issue over which his Jewish subjects disagreed.

"One of the greatest things about Paul is that he speaks in his own defence with force, with vigour and sometimes with a flash of indignation-but there never emerge the accents of self-pity or of bitterness, which would have been so natural in a man whose finest actions had been so cruelly and deliberately misinterpreted and mis-stated." [Note: Barclay, p. 186.]

Verse 22

Felix probably gained his knowledge of Christianity from several sources: his current Jewish wife, who was a Herodian, and Romans and Jews from Judea and other parts of the empire. He sought to preserve the peace by delaying the trial and by separating Paul from his accusers. Lysias had already given his testimony in his letter to Felix (Acts 23:26-30), so Felix was stalling.

Verses 22-23

The conclusion of Paul’s hearing 24:22-23

Verse 23

While Paul waited for Lysias to appear in Caesarea, the apostle continued to enjoy considerable personal freedom as well as Roman protection from his Jewish enemies. Paul’s friends probably included Aristarchus, Luke, and Philip the evangelist who evidently lived in Caesarea (Acts 27:2; Acts 21:8).

Verse 24

Sometime later Felix, along with his current wife, sent for Paul. Drusilla was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I who had been king over Palestine from A.D. 37-44. It was he who had authorized the death of James, the son of Zebedee (Acts 12:1-2), and had imprisoned Peter (Acts 12:3-11). Drusilla was Felix’s third wife whom he had married when she was 16 years old. She was now (A.D. 57) 19. She had previously been the wife of Azizus, the king of Emesa, a state within Syria, but Felix broke up that marriage to get her. [Note: Ibid., p. 187.] Felix himself had been married twice before to princesses the first of which was the granddaughter of Anthony and Cleopatra. Felix used his marriages to advance his political career. The Herods were, of course, Idumeans, part Israelite and part Edomite.

Something about Paul and or his gospel seems to have fascinated Felix. Someone commented that when Paul talked to Felix and Drusilla, enslaved royalty was addressing royal slaves. [Note: Cf. Morgan, p. 405.]

Verses 24-27

Paul’s subsequent ministry to Felix 24:24-27

Verse 25

Paul’s emphases in his interview with Felix and Drusilla were those things Jesus Christ had promised the Holy Spirit would convict people of to bring them to faith. These things were sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11). Felix and Drusilla were notoriously deficient in all three of these areas. It is not surprising that Felix became uneasy. He apparently was willing to discuss theology but not personal morality and responsibility. These subjects terrified him (Gr. emphobos).

Felix’s decision to postpone making a decision about his relationship to God is a common one. Often people put off this most important decision until they cannot make it. This is probably why most people who make decisions for Christ do so when they are young. Older people normally get harder to the gospel. [Note: See McGee, 4:620-21.] We do not know if Felix ever did trust Christ; there is no evidence that he did.

Verse 26

We do not know for sure where Paul got the money Felix hoped he would give him or if he had it. Perhaps the Christians who heard of his imprisonment contributed to his support (cf. Acts 24:23; Acts 27:3). [Note: See Ramsay, St. Paul . . ., pp. 310-12.]

". . . although provincial governors were prohibited by law from taking bribes from prisoners, the practice was common and, in the case of Felix, quite in character." [Note: Neil, p. 236. Cf. Josephus, The Wars . . ., 2:14:1.]

Verse 27

The two years to which Luke referred were evidently the years of Paul’s detention in Caesarea. Felix’s superiors relieved him of his position because he had handled a conflict in Caesarea between the Jewish and Gentile residents too harshly. Too many Jews had died or been mistreated. [Note: Ibid., 2:13:7; Idem, Antiquities of . . ., 20:8:7.] His replacement, Portius Festus, served as procurator of Judea from A.D. 59-61. [Note: Bruce, Commentary on . . ., p. 474; cf. Gill, p. 25.] To appease the Jews, Felix left Paul in prison. The apostle had become a political pawn in the will of God.

It is quite likely that if Luke was with Paul at this time he used these two years to do some of the research to which he referred at the beginning of his two-part work (i.e., Luke-Acts; cf. Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). He may even have written his Gospel then and some of Acts. A minority of scholars believes that Paul wrote some or all of his Prison Epistles during his Caesarean imprisonment. One expositor believed Luke wrote the Book of Hebrews under Paul’s tutelage during this time. [Note: Morgan, p. 394.] This is quite unlikely.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 24". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/acts-24.html. 2012.
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