Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
Ac 24:1-27. Paul, Accused by a Professional Pleader before Felix, Makes His Defense, and Is Remanded for a Further Hearing. At a Private Interview Felix Trembles under Paul's Preaching, but Keeps Him Prisoner for Two Years, When He Was Succeeded by Festus.
1. after five days—or, on the fifth day from their departure from Jerusalem.
Ananias … with the elders—a deputation of the Sanhedrim.
a certain orator—one of those Roman advocates who trained themselves for the higher practice of the metropolis by practicing in the provinces, where the Latin language, employed in the courts, was but imperfectly understood and Roman forms were not familiar.
informed … against Paul—"laid information," that is, put in the charges.
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,
2-4. Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, &c.—In this fulsome flattery there was a semblance of truth: nothing more. Felix acted with a degree of vigor and success in suppressing lawless violence [Josephus, Antiquities, 20.8.4; confirmed by Tacitus, Annals, 12.54].
by thy providence—a phrase applied to the administration of the emperors.
We accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.
Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words.
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:
5-8. a pestilent fellow—a plague, or pest.
and a mover of sedition among all the Jews—by exciting disturbances among them.
throughout the world—(See on Lu 2:1). This was the first charge; and true only in the sense explained on Ac 16:20.
a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes—the second charge; and true enough.
Who also hath gone about to profane the temple: whom we took, and would have judged according to our law.
6. hath gone about—attempted.
to profane the temple—the third charge; and entirely false.
we … would have judged according to our law.
But the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him away out of our hands,
7. But … Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him out of our hands—a wilful falsehood and calumnious charge against a public officer. He had commanded the Sanhedrim to meet for no other purpose than to "judge him according to their law"; and only when, instead of doing so, they fell to disputing among themselves, and the prisoner was in danger of being "pulled in pieces of them" (Ac 23:10)—or as his own letter says "killed of them" (Ac 23:27)—did he rescue him, as was his duty, "by force" out of their hands.
Commanding his accusers to come unto thee: by examining of whom thyself mayest take knowledge of all these things, whereof we accuse him.
8. Commanding his accusers to come unto thee—Here they insinuate that, instead of troubling Felix with the case, he ought to have left it to be dealt with by the Jewish tribunal; in which case his life would soon have been taken.
by examining whom—Lysias, as would seem (Ac 24:22).
thyself mayest, &c.—referring all, as if with confidence, to Felix.
And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so.
9. the Jews assented, &c.—See on Ac 23:15.
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:
10. thou hast been many years a judge to this nation—He had been in this province for six or seven years, and in Galilee for a longer period. Paul uses no flattery, but simply expresses his satisfaction at having to plead before one whose long official experience of Jewish matters would enable him the better to understand and appreciate what he had to say.
Because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship.
11. thou mayest understand—canst easily learn.
that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem—namely, 1. The day of his arrival in Jerusalem (Ac 21:15-17); 2. The interview with James (Ac 21:18-26); 3. The assumption of the vow (Ac 21:26); 4, 5, 6. Continuance of the vow, interrupted by the arrest (Ac 21:27, &c.); 7. Arrest of Paul (Ac 21:27); 8. Paul before the Sanhedrim (Ac 22:30; 23:1-10); 9. Conspiracy of the Jews and defeat of it (Ac 23:12-24), and despatch of Paul from Jerusalem on the evening of the same day (Ac 23:23, 31); 10, 11, 12, 13. The remaining period referred to (Ac 24:1) [Meyer]. This short period is mentioned to show how unlikely it was that he should have had time to do what was charged against him.
for to worship—a very different purpose from that imputed to him.
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:
12, 13. they neither found me … Neither can they prove the things, &c.—After specifying several particulars, he challenges proof of any one of the charges brought against him. So much for the charge of sedition.
Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me.
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:
14, 15. But this I confess to thee—in which Felix would see no crime.
that after the way they call heresy—literally, and better, "a sect."
so worship I the God of my fathers—the ancestral God. Two arguments are contained here: (1) Our nation is divided into what they call sects—the sect of the Pharisees, and that of the Sadducees—all the difference between them and me is, that I belong to neither of these, but to another sect, or religious section of the nation, which from its Head they call Nazarenes: for this reason, and this alone, am I hated. (2) The Roman law allows every nation to worship its own deities; I claim protection under that law, worshipping the God of my ancestors, even as they, only of a different sect of the common religion.
believing all, &c.—Here, disowning all opinions at variance with the Old Testament Scriptures, he challenges for the Gospel which he preached the authority of the God of their fathers. So much for the charge of heresy.
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.
15. And have hope … as they themselves … allow, that there shall be a resurrection, &c.—This appeal to the faith of his accusers shows that they were chiefly of the Pharisees, and that the favor of that party, to which he owed in some measure his safety at the recent council (Ac 23:6-9), had been quite momentary.
And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.
16. And herein—On this account, accordingly; that is, looking forward to that awful day (compare 2Co 5:10).
I exercise myself—The "I" here is emphatic; "Whatever they do, this is my study."
to have always a conscience void of offence, &c.—See Ac 23:1; 2Co 1:12; 2:17, &c.; that is, "These are the great principles of my life and conduct—how different from turbulence and sectarianism!"
Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings.
17. Now after many—several
years absence from Jerusalem—I came to bring alms to my of Macedonia and Greece, which he had taken such pains to gather. This only allusion in the Acts to what is dwelt upon so frequently in his own Epistles (Ro 15:25, 26; 1Co 16:1-4; 2Co 8:1-4), throws a beautiful light on the truth of this History. (See Paley's Horæ Paulinæ).
and offerings—connected with his Jewish vow: see Ac 24:18.
Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult.
18-21. found me purified in the temple—not polluting it, therefore, by my own presence, and neither gathering a crowd nor raising a stir: If then these Asiatic Jews have any charge to bring against me in justification of their arrest of me, why are they not here to substantiate it?
Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had ought against me.
Or else let these same here say, if they have found any evil doing in me, while I stood before the council,
20. Or else let these … here say—"Or, passing from all that preceded my trial, let those of the Sanhedrim here present say if I was guilty of aught there." No doubt his hasty speech to the high priest might occur to them, but the provocation to it on his own part was more than they would be willing to recall.
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.
21. Except … this one voice … Touching the resurrection, &c.—This would recall to the Pharisees present their own inconsistency, in befriending him then and now accusing him.
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.
22, 23. having more perfect knowledge of that—"the"
way—(See on Ac 19:23; and Ac 24:14).
When Lysias … shall come … I will how, &c.—Felix might have dismissed the case as a tissue of unsupported charges. But if from his interest in the matter he really wished to have the presence of Lysias and others involved, a brief delay was not unworthy of him as a judge. Certainly, so far as recorded, neither Lysias nor any other parties appeared again in the case. Ac 24:23, however, seems to show that at that time his prepossessions in favor of Paul were strong.
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.
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.
24, 25. Felix … with his wife Drusilla … a Jewess—This beautiful but infamous woman was the third daughter of Herod Agrippa I, who was eaten of worms (see on Ac 12:1), and a sister of Agrippa II, before whom Paul pleaded, Ac 26:1, &c. She was "given in marriage to Azizus, king of the Emesenes, who had consented to be circumcised for the sake of the alliance. But this marriage was soon dissolved, after this manner: When Festus was procurator of Judea, he saw her, and being captivated with her beauty, persuaded her to desert her husband, transgress the laws of her country, and marry himself" [Josephus, Antiquities, 20.7.1,2]. Such was this "wife" of Felix.
he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ—Perceiving from what he had heard on the trial that the new sect which was creating such a stir was represented by its own advocates as but a particular development of the Jewish faith, he probably wished to gratify the curiosity of his Jewish wife, as well as his own, by a more particular account of it from this distinguished champion. And no doubt Paul would so far humor this desire as to present to them the great leading features of the Gospel. But from Ac 24:25 it is evident that his discourse took an entirely practical turn, suited to the life which his two auditors were notoriously leading.
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.
25. And as he reasoned of righteousness—with reference to the public character of Felix.
temperance—with reference to his immoral life.
and judgment to come—when he would be called to an awful account for both.
Felix trembled—and no wonder. For, on the testimony of Tacitus, the Roman Annalist [Annals, 9; 12.54], he ruled with a mixture of cruelty, lust, and servility, and relying on the influence of his brother Pallas at court, he thought himself at liberty to commit every sort of crime with impunity. How noble the fidelity and courage which dared to treat of such topics in such a presence, and what withering power must have been in those appeals which made even a Felix to tremble!
Go thy way for this time; and when I have a convenient season I will call for thee—Alas for Felix! This was his golden opportunity, but—like multitudes still—he missed it. Convenient seasons in abundance he found to call for Paul, but never again to "hear him concerning the faith in Christ," and writhe under the terrors of the wrath to come. Even in those moments of terror he had no thought of submission to the Cross or a change of life. The Word discerned the thoughts and intents of his heart, but that heart even then clung to its idols; even as Herod, who "did many things and heard John gladly," but in his best moments was enslaved to his lusts. How many Felixes have appeared from age to age!
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.
26. He hoped … that money should have been given him … wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him—Bribery in a judge was punishable by the Roman law, but the spirit of a slave (to use the words of Tacitus) was in all his acts, and his communing with Paul"—as if he cared for either him or his message—simply added hypocrisy to meanness. The position in life of Paul's Christian visitors might beget the hope of extracting something from them for the release of their champion; but the apostle would rather lie in prison than stoop to this!
But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix' room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.
27. after two years—What a trial to this burning missionary of Christ, to suffer such a tedious period of inaction! How mysterious it would seem! But this repose would be medicine to his spirit; he would not, and could not, be entirely inactive, so long as he was able by pen and message to communicate with the churches; and he would doubtless learn the salutary truth that even he was not essential to his Master's cause. That Luke wrote his Gospel during this period, under the apostle's superintendence, is the not unlikely conjecture of able critics.
Porcius Festus—Little is known of him. He died a few years after this [Josephus, Antiquities, 20.8.9-9.1].
came into Felix' room—He was recalled, on accusations against him by the Jews of Cæsarea, and only acquitted through the intercession of his brother at court [Josephus, Antiquities, 20.8,10].
Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure—"to earn the thanks of the Jews," which he did not.
left Paul bound—(Ac 26:29)—which does not seem to have been till then.