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Paul Before Felix

INTRODUCTION: This study covers Paul's transfer as a Roman citizen, to Felix, the Roman governor at Caesarea. The Roman military commander at Jerusalem had determined this to be the needed course of action under the circumstances that had developed. This gave Paul an opportunity to defend himself as a Roman against the charges made by the Jews, and to remain out of the reach of the Jews, until his case was decided by the Romans. This is the third in a series about the description of Paul's conversion, and his later testimonies about that conversion. The series is not intended to cover any of his "missionary journeys."

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the Bible in Basic English (BBE).


Acts 23 "12 And when it was day, the Jews came together and put themselves under an oath that they would take no food or drink till they had put Paul to death. 13 And more than forty of them took this oath. 14 And they came to the chief priests and the rulers and said, We have taken a great oath to take no food till we have put Paul to death 15 So now, will you and the Sanhedrin make a request to the military authorities to have him sent down to you, as if you were desiring to go into the business in greater detail; and we, before ever he gets to you, will be waiting to put him to death. 16 But Paul's sister's son had word of their design, and he came into the army building and gave news of it to Paul. 17 And Paul sent for a captain and said, Take this young man to your chief, for he has news for him. 18 So he took him to the chief captain and said, Paul, the prisoner, made a request to me to take this young man to you, for he has something to say to you. 19 And the chief took him by the hand and, going on one side, said to him privately, What is it you have to say to me? 20 And he said, The Jews are in agreement together to make a request to you for Paul to be taken, on the day after this, into the Sanhedrin, to be questioned in greater detail. 21 But do not give way to them, for more than forty of them are waiting for him, having taken an oath not to take food or drink till they have put him to death: and now they are ready, waiting for your order. 22 So the chief captain let the young man go, saying to him, Do not say to anyone that you have given me word of these things."

COMMENTS: The Jews were so determined to kill Paul that some forty of them came together and made a solemn oath to kill him. They went to the chief priest and the rulers, and told them of their oath. they asked that the chief priest and the Sanhedrin make a request to question Paul further. These men would then attack him while he was on the way and kill him. Knowing that he would be escorted by armed soldiers, they needed a large group to get to Paul, but these men were also willing to lose their lives in order to kill him. We are not told how the son of Paul's sister found out about the plot, but he went to Paul with the details. He was able to see him because even though Paul was in custody, he was privileged to have visitors as a Roman citizen whose case had not yet been settled. Paul asked a captain to take his nephew to the commander because he had something to tell him. The captain apparently did not know the details, but he took Paul's nephew to the commander who took him aside in private and listened to the plot. The commander then let the nephew go, telling him not to say anything about this to anyone.


Acts 23 "23 And he sent for two captains and said, Make ready two hundred men, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen, to go to Caesarea, at the third hour of the night: 24 And get beasts so that they may put Paul on them, and take him safely to Felix, the ruler. 25 And he sent a letter in these words: 26 Claudius Lysias, to the most noble ruler, Felix, peace be with you. 27 This man was taken by the Jews, and was about to be put to death by them, when I came on them with the army and took him out of danger, having knowledge that he was a Roman. 28 And, desiring to get at the reason for their attack on him, I took him down to their Sanhedrin: 29 Then it became clear to me that it was a question of their law, and that nothing was said against him which might be a reason for prison or death. 30 And when news was given to me that a secret design was being made against the man, I sent him straight away to you, giving orders to those who are against him to make their statements before you. 31 So the armed men, as they were ordered, took Paul and came by night to Antipatris. 32 But on the day after, they sent the horsemen on with him, and went back to their place: 33 And they, when they came to Caesarea, gave the letter to the ruler, and took Paul before him. 34 And after reading it, he said, What part of the country do you come from? And, hearing that he was from Cilicia, 35 I will give hearing to your cause, he said, when those who are against you have come. And he gave orders for him to be kept in Herod's Praetorium."

COMMENTS: The commander apparently did not wait to get the request from the Jewish leaders, for he ordered a contingent of two hundred foot soldiers and seventy horsemen to take Paul to the Roman governor at Caesarea before the morning light. This was certainly an overwhelming force of soldiers to protect the Roman citizen Paul from the plot. The commander prepared a brief formal letter to explain to governor Felix why Paul was being transferred to his custody. He worded the report to his advantage by saying that he had rescued Paul from the Jews, knowing that he was a Roman. he reported that his investigation before their Sanhedrin made it clear to him that it was a question of their law, and that nothing was said against him which might be a reason for prison or death. His letter went on to state that he was sending him to Felix to save him from a plot to kill him. He also stated that he had ordered those who were against him to make their case before Felix (this would have actually happened after Paul was safely on his way). The armed escort traveled part of the way overnight, then sent the footmen back to Jerusalem and the horsemen traveled on to Caesarea. When they arrived they gave the letter to Felix and presented Paul before him. Felix read the letter and then learned from Paul that he was from the province of Cilicia. Felix said he would give Paul a hearing when his accusers arrived. He then gave orders for Paul to be kept in Herod's judgment hall.


Acts 24 "1 And after five days, the high priest, Ananias, came with certain of the rulers, and an expert talker, one Tertullus; and they made a statement to Felix against Paul. 2 And when he had been sent for, Tertullus, starting his statement, said, Because by you we are living in peace, and through your wisdom wrongs are put right for this nation, 3 In all things and in all places we are conscious of our great debt to you, most noble Felix. 4 But, so that I may not make you tired, I make a request to you of your mercy, to give hearing to a short statement. 5 For this man, in our opinion, is a cause of trouble, a maker of attacks on the government among Jews through all the empire, and a chief mover in the society of the Nazarenes: 6 Who, in addition, was attempting to make the Temple unclean: whom we took, 7 8 And from whom you will be able, by questioning him yourself, to get knowledge of all the things which we say against him. 9 And the Jews were in agreement with his statement, saying that these things were so."

COMMENTS: The high priest Ananias and some of the rulers brought a skilled orator with them to speak in their behalf before the governor, obviously hoping to present the most convincing case against Paul. The orator's name Tertullus, which is of uncertain derivation, could be translated to mean " triple-hardened." When Tertullus was given permission to address Felix, he began with flattering comments to the governor, and asked that he show mercy by listening to the brief case he would present. He characterized Paul as a troublemaker (and the Greek word could be translated as the more derogatory word plague), who made attacks on the established Jewish authority by being a leader of the sect known as the Nazarenes, and he had attempted to make the temple unclean when they apprehended him. (The BBE translation does not include verse 7 which is left blank above, wherein Tertullus said the Roman commander violently took Paul from them, and required that they appear before Felix with their charges.) Tertullus said Felix would be able to verify the charges against Paul by questioning him. The Jews were in agreement with the case presented by Tertullus.


Acts 24 "10 Then when the ruler had given him a sign to make his answer, Paul said, Because I have knowledge that you have been a judge over this nation for a number of years, I am glad to make my answer: 11 Seeing that you are able to make certain of the fact that it is not more than twelve days from the time when I came up to Jerusalem for worship; 12 And they have not seen me in argument with any man in the Temple, or working up the feelings of the people, in the Synagogues or in the town: 13 And they are not able to give facts in support of the things which they say against me now. 14 But this I will say openly to you, that I do give worship to the God of our fathers after that Way, which to them is not the true religion: but I have belief in all the things which are in the law and in the books of the prophets: 15 Hoping in God for that which they themselves are looking for, that there will be a coming back from the dead for upright men and wrongdoers. 16 And in this, I do my best at all times to have no reason for shame before God or men. 17 Now after a number of years I came to give help and offerings to my nation: 18 And having been made clean, I was in the Temple, but not with a great number of people, and not with noise: but there were certain Jews from Asia, 19 And it would have been better if they had come here to make a statement, if they have anything against me. 20 Or let these men here present say what wrongdoing was seen in me when I was before the Sanhedrin, 21 But only this one thing which I said among them in a loud voice, I am this day being judged on the question of the coming back from the dead."

COMMENTS: When Felix allowed Paul to speak, he first acknowledged that Felix had been a judge over the nation for a number of years, and he therefore was glad to present his defense: knowing that Felix could verify that it had been not more than twelve days from the time when Paul came up to Jerusalem for worship. His accusers had not seen him arguing with anyone in the Temple, or agitating the people in the Synagogues or in the city. They were not able to give facts in support of the things which they said against him. Paul had no hesitation to say openly that he did give worship to the God of their fathers after that Way, which to them was not the true religion but a heresy. Paul said he had belief in all the things which are in the law and in the books of the prophets: Hoping in God for that which they themselves were looking for, that there will be a resurrection from the dead for the just and the unjust. In this, Paul said he did his best at all times to have no reason for shame before God or men. Paul again brought up the subject of resurrection, which had divided the Sanhedrin earlier at Jerusalem.

After Paul had asserted that he had not done those things of which he was accused, but admitted that he was a member of the sect they called the Nazarenes, he began to outline why he had gone to Jerusalem. After a number of years he had gone to give alms and offerings to his nation, And having been ceremonially purified , he was in the Temple, but not with a great number of people, and not with any disorderly commotion. Paul said there were certain Jews from Asia, who should have come to Caesarea if they had accusations against him. This was to assert that those who had come to accuse him were not the same ones who had originally attacked him at jerusalem. He then turned his attention to the Jews who were present, and said they should say what offense they saw when he was before the Sanhedrin. Paul concluded that the only injustice they might accuse him of is that he said among them in a loud voice that he was being judged on the question of the resurrection from the dead.


Acts 24 "22 But Felix, who had a more detailed knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, When Lysias, the chief captain, comes down, I will give attention to your business. 23 And he gave orders to the captain to keep Paul under his control, and to let him have everything he had need of; and not to keep his friends from coming to see him. 24 But after some days, Felix came with Drusilla his wife, who was of the Jews by birth, and sent for Paul, and gave hearing to him about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And while he was talking about righteousness and self-control and the judging which was to come, Felix had great fear and said, Go away for the present, and when the right time comes I will send for you. 26 For he was hoping that Paul would give him money: so he sent for him more frequently and had talk with him. 27 But after two years Porcius Festus took the place of Felix, who, desiring to have the approval of the Jews, kept Paul in chains."

COMMENTS: Felix was well acquainted with the sect called the Way, and he deferred the Jews by telling them he would not make any decision until the commander Lysias came to him from Jerusalem. He gave orders to the captain to keep Paul in custody, but to give him some liberty, and allow his acquaintance to visit him and to meet his needs. After a few days Felix with his wife Drusilla, who was born a Jew, had Paul brought before them. He allowed Paul to talk about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became very frightened. As he sent Paul away, he said he would send for him again when he had time. Felix apparently found time to listen to Paul, because he sent for him often, but he also was hoping Paul would offer him money to set him free. This could have been an opportunity for Felix to be converted, but the offerings of the world remained more important to him. There is no indication that Felix ever called for the commander Lysias to report to him from Jerusalem. After two years of holding Paul in custody, Felix wanted to stay in the good graces of the Jews, so he did not release Paul before Festus became the next governor at Caesarea. Paul may have been protected from the Jews who wanted to kill him, but he had now been a prisoner of the Romans for two years without any final decision on his case. We have no detail of Paul's activities or thoughts during this time, other than he was often called before Felix. We do know that there were believers at Caesarea that Paul had visited as he was on his way to Jerusalem, and Felix allowed Paul to have visitors from the very beginning of his detainment.


Lord, you provided for Paul by allowing his nephew to become aware of the plot to kill him, and to bring that news to him. You also worked through the Roman commander who accepted the news from the young man, and immediately made plans to assure Paul's safety as a Roman citizen by secretly sending him with a significant armed guard to swiftly go to the Roman governor at Caesarea. I thank you Lord that these were not chance events, but you were in control all the while. When Paul arrived at Caesarea, Felix was already acquainted with the sect known as the Way, and his wife was a Jew from birth. Paul's discourse about Jesus initially frightened Felix, but he repeatedly called for him as his desire for a bribe actually worked to Paul's advantage in keeping him from the Jews for two years. There were believers at Caesarea who could visit with Paul for mutual support and encouragement. I believe Lord that all of these events were coordinated through your plan to have Paul continue to be a witness for you until he finished the course you had set for him. I want to trust you Lord for the plans you have for me, but I need an extra measure of your strength to overcome my many weaknesses in the flesh. It is hard for me to imagine how I would bear up under the types and extent of physical attacks Paul endured, and the many accusations that were made against him even though he was in very dedicated service to the cause of Christ. If the time ever comes for me to be strongly persecuted for my faith, may I depend fully upon your faithfulness to guide me in my actions and words. I feel wavering in my faith simply by minor trials such as are common to man, so I ask that you help me to stay in your word consistently and with an open heart, to more fully realize that your grace is sufficient for me, and you will never leave me or forsake me. Hallelujah to my Savior and King! Amen.

Published 13 March 2013