Acts 24

Religious rancour is prompt and indefatigable. Disappointed of its prey by lawless violence, it loses no time in availing itself of legal processes, where unscrupulous abuse may succeed, even if the judge were not venal but only disposed, like human nature in general, to take the popular side against the righteous and godly.

‘And after five days came down the high priest Ananias with certain265 elders and an orator, one Tertullus, and they [the which] laid an information before the governor against Paul. And when he was called, Tertullus began to accuse, saying, Seeing that by thee we enjoy great peace, and by thy providence reforms266 are made for this nation, we accept [it] every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. But that I be not further tedious to thee, I entreat thee to hear us briefly in thy clemency. For we found this man a pest, and moving imsurrections267 among all the Jews throughout the world [inhabited earth], and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, who also attempted to profane the temple; whom we also seized (and would have judged according to our law. But Lysias the commander [or chiliarch] came and with great violence took [him] away from our hands, commanding his accusers to come unto thee); from whom thou wilt be able, by examining, thyself to take knowledge of all these things of which we accuse him. And the Jews joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so’ (vers. 1-9).

The importance attached to the trial is evident from the going down of the high priest so great a distance and with so little delay, though we may well receive the more ancient witnesses which speak only of certain elders, instead of the Sanhedrim as a whole as in the Received Text. But the more modern copies in this case present without doubt the more difficult reading. Had the authorities been reversed, the critics would probably have regarded τινῶν as a softened correction of τῶν.

The orator from his name (a diminutive of Tertius like many others so formed in Latin) seems to have been one of the young Romans or Italians found wherever there was a court of justice in the provinces, and the Jews in all probability employed him as being versed in the methods of procedure before the governor. Certainly his opening is as servile as his statement is false and scurrilous. The flattery of Felix is in flagrant contrast with the grave censure of the historian Tacitus (Annales xii. 54, Historia v. 9, as naturally referred to), while there was enough in the vigorous putting down of plotters and rebels to give some semblance of reason. What the alleged ameliorations or good measures were does not appear. Josephus does not differ from the Romans in an evil report of Felix, who only escaped condemnation for his misgovernment in Syria through the influence of his brother Pallas with Nero.

‘Providence’ is given here, rather than ‘forethought’, as it was apparently borrowed from the application of the more high-sounding term, common on the imperial coins, as Eckhel shows in his ‘Doctrina Vet. Num.’ passim.

Having thus and yet more grossly sought to conciliate the governor, Tertullus after verse 4 turns to the calumniating of Paul. He represents the apostle not merely by the vague but most injurious appellation of a pest or pestilent fellow, but more definitely as moving seditions among all the Jews throughout the world, notoriously open to such mischievous excitement beyond all others through their untoward circumstances as well as their presence everywhere since their dispersion. Next, he taxes Paul as an heresiarch, or rather sectarian chief, employing (here only in the New Testament) against the Christians that name of contempt which they fixed on their Master — ‘a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.’ Lastly, he renews the old accusation of profaning the temple: the unfounded rumour which had originally set on the Jews to slay Paul in Jerusalem.

The bracketed passage in verses 6-8 may be questioned fairly. It is omitted by the witnesses of chief value, and consequently is not received by the Editors, Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, nor by Mill and Bengel before them. Alford writes undecidedly. Undoubtedly the variations are great in the manuscripts which have the substance. De Wette represents a class of men usually bold: but here it is admitted that it is hardly to be supposed that Tertullus should have said so little, or that Luke should have omitted if he said more; and again it is plain that to stop at the seizure of Paul by the Jews, without explaining how he got rid of them and came into the custody of Lysias before being taken to Caesarea, leaves the speech remarkably abrupt. But Alford sees in verse 22 a strong argument for the genuineness of the words in debate, because γαῤ οὗ, if the words be inserted, refer, naturally to Lysias, and we find Felix there putting off the final hearing and decision till the arrival of Lysias. If the words are not genuine, γαῤ οὗ would rather refer to Paul which the Dean considers unlikely. Others on the contrary allow that at an anacrisis, or first hearing, this is quite correct, and altogether independent of torture, which in the case of a Roman was of course illegal. More might be added in evidence of the uncertainty which hangs over the bracketed words; but it seems unedifying to say more, if one cannot adduce proof enough to clear up the question either way. Abridgment is at least a rare fault in the copyists, who were more prone to venture on insertions in order to ease the sense when it seemed obscure.

It is sad to see how contemptible the Jewish party, high priest and elders. made themselves, even in Roman eyes, through spite against the gospel (ver 9). There they all were not only assenting to the base servility and downright falsehood of Tertullus (indeed they had instructed him), but now they joined in his attack against all truth and justice. And so the Lord had forewarned His followers. ‘Remember the word that I said unto you, A servant is not greater than his lord. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for My name’s sake; because they know not Him that sent Me’ (John 15:20, 21). Yes, there is the secret. The people who claimed to be His witnesses, and were so responsibly knew Him not, and proved it by rejecting Him Who is the image of the invisible God, the true and faithful Witness, His only and beloved Son. Hence their enmity against a servant of His, who made their consciences feel the truth they could not overthrow and would not believe or confess. Deadly hatred ensues: the way of Cain against the accepted and righteous Abel, which stops not short of death. Therefore the Lord went on to say in John 16:2, 3, ‘They shall put you out of the synagogues, yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do, because they have not known the Father nor me.

It has been not otherwise in Christendom, and from the same source. Men have gone back to Jewish elements (now no better than Gentile idols as the apostle tells us in Gal. 4:1-9), and lost all true knowledge of the Father and the Son, as well as of every gospel privilege and blessing. This has ever led to enmity against those who abide in the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. For man is at bottom the same everywhere and at all times. But far be it from the Christian to glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to him, and he unto the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God (Gal. 6:14-16).

The defence of the apostle is characterized by straightforward truth and courteous dignity, as the accusation had been by servility to the governor and abuse of the accused. It is noticed, on the one hand, as the Jews joined in their venal advocate’s assault, affirming that his falsehoods were fact (ver. 9), that, on the other (ver. 10), there was no haste to reply till the governor gave the sign to that effect.

‘And when the governor beckoned him to speak, Paul answered, Knowing that since many years thou art judge to this nation, I 268 cheerfully make my defence: as thou canst ascertain269 that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship at Jerusalem; and neither in the temple did they find me discoursing with anyone or making a tumult of a crowd, nor in the synagogues, nor throughout the city. Neither can they prove to thee270 the things of which they now accuse me. But this I confess to thee, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I serve the God of the fathers believing all things that are according to the law and that are written in the prophets, having hope toward God, which these also themselves look for, that a resurrection271 is to be of both just and unjust. Herein also do I exercise myself to have a conscience without offence toward God and men continually. Now after several years I arrived to bring alms unto-my nation and offerings; in which they found me purified in the temple, not with crowd nor yet with tumult but272 certain Jews from Asia, who ought to have been present before thee, and to have accused, if they had aught against me. Or let these themselves say what273 wrong they found in me when I stood before the council [other] than for this one voice that I cried out standing among them, Touching the resurrection of [the] dead I am judged this day before you’ (vers. 10-21).

The length of time that Felix had passed in official relation to the Jews was a plain matter of fact, of which the apostle justly availed himself. Their feeling, habits, and prejudices were thus necessarily more familiar than to a new procurator. On this circumstance the apostle grounds his cheerfulness in making his plea. Flattery is wholly absent.

As to himself, it was so brief a space since he went up to Jerusalem that his course there could easily be traced. And when he did go — but twelve days before, it was ‘to worship’, the very reverse of moving sedition or other pestilent conduct, least of all to profane the temple. On the contrary he brought ‘alms to his nation, and offerings’. Could anything be more opposed, either to riot, or to profanation? He was at liberty to discourse if he had judged meet, but in point of fact ‘neither in the temple did they find me discoursing with any one, or making a tumult of a crowd’, common as this was in a people so zealous and so excitable, ‘nor in the synagogues’, numerous as they were, ‘nor throughout the city’. What could be less like an agitator? ‘Neither can they prove to thee the things whereof they now accuse me.’ More than this distinct challenge, or at best denial, of the vague and general calumny the apostle does not allege. The facts stated, of which the evidence was easy and ample, refuted the talk of Tertullus.

But far from denying what was said of ‘the sect’ (ver. 5), he avows it openly. ‘But this I confess to thee, that according to the Way which they call sect, so I serve the [or, our] fathers’ God.’ This was of moment for the governor. Tolerant as the Romans were toward the religious convictions of the nations they ruled, they were stern in disallowing innovations, especially such as tended to stir up civil discord. The apostle accordingly prefers here, as on two other occasions not quite similar, to depart from the usual phrase, and says πατρώῶ θεῳ rather than τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν as KÂhnÂl and others have noticed. As the heathen, without God themselves, called the Christians godless or Atheists, because they had no idols, so the Jews called the church ‘a sect’. Yet was it the only institution on earth that could not be a sect while true to Christ. The apostle goes farther however, and confesses his faith in all things according to the law and in the things written in the prophets. There is no hesitation in declaring boldly his faith in all the ancient oracles before the high priest and the Sadducean party, who notoriously slighted the prophets, as they had no real reverence for the law. If any Pharisees were in alliance with them as ‘elders’ of Israel, what a position in confederating with infidels against a more thorough believer than themselves!

Further, there is nothing left indistinct here. For the apostle adds, ‘having hope toward God, which they themselves also look for, that a resurrection is to be of both just and unjust.’ This could hardly have been said if there had not been then present Pharisees who confessed the resurrection of the dead. They must therefore have made up their difference with the heterodox Sadducees in their eagerness to put down and punish Paul. The tendency among the Jews seems to have been to regard resurrection as the privilege of the righteous simply, which would be sure to degenerate into the reward of Israel in the kingdom of Messiah. But the apostle, guided of the Holy Spirit, shows its universal character ‘of both just and unjust’.

So this was to be inferred even from a book so ancient as that of Job, which was of the deeper interest in this respect as evidence of the faith of Gentile believers before the law. Yet it is certain that in Job 14:12 Job speaks of man’s resurrection (i.e., of man, as such) when the heavens are no more and eternity begins, contradistinguished from the rising of the righteous like himself, to enjoy their hope when the Kinsman-Redeemer shall stand on the earth, which is clearly for the kingdom. Naturally the resurrection of the just, the resurrection from among the dead, the better resurrection, and other kindred phrases, are more frequent as a cheer and incentive to saints in present suffering; but John 5:28, 29, and Rev. 20:4-6, 12, 13, give doctrinally and prophetically the twofold resurrection, severed by a thousand years, to which Paul here alludes as that which had roused so much feeling on the part of his Sadducean adversaries.

Nor this only, for he lets them know by the way that on himself the hope of resurrection was most influential practically. ‘In this [Therefore, or Accordingly] I also exercise myself to have a conscience without offence toward God and men continually.’ Here not only were the Jews, but Christians for the most part are, weak indeed, rising in faith but little beyond thoughtful heathen who reason on the immortality of the soul. No doubt the God-inbreathed soul, the inner man, is immortal; but as this is no security against sin, so neither does it involve immunity from judgment. Indeed it is rather the ground why sinful man, alone of beings on the earth, has moral responsibility, from which he cannot disengage himself; for, if he refuse life eternal in the Son, he must be judged by Him at the last, as Scripture abundantly testifies. The believer of course needs no such awful measure to vindicate the rights of Christ, but, what is far better, honours Him now in the day that follows His cross, honours Him not by that tremendous and irresistible constraint, but with a ready mind as the One Who for him died and rose that he might live no longer to himself but to Christ.

People may reason, as alas! not a few in Christendom have not been ashamed to do, that the blessing of the soul is of a more spiritual nature and that any hope associated with the resurrection of the body is external. But they are beguiled of the enemy in thus preferring their own thoughts to God’s word which insists on the fullest blessing for the soul now, even salvation in the richest way, but on resurrection or change at Christ’s coming as our proper hope. Then only shall we be like Him when the body of humiliation is conformed to the body of His glory. It is this hope which gives power in the Spirit to mortify our members on the earth, instead of indulging the common dream of present ease and honour here before the soul goes to heaven for its glory. Never does Scripture so speak It does declare the superior blessedness of departing to be with Christ, as compared with remaining here. But it never stops short of Christ’s coming for our everlasting and glorious change as the true hope which purifies us meanwhile on the earth.

The apostle next states that after a lapse of several years he arrived bringing alms to his nation, and offerings. Was this the action of a seditious pestilent man? ‘In which [business of the offerings] they found me purified in the temple, not with crowd nor yet with tumult.’ Was this again profaning the temple? ‘But certain Jews from Asia’ — they were the true culprits in the matter. It was they whose guilty rashness imputed the false charge. For the four men under the vow were not Greeks, but Jews; and with these only was Paul associated in the temple at the instance of James. Why were these Asiatic Jews not here face to face, as Roman law required? ‘Who ought,’ as the apostle here quietly adds, ‘to have been present before thee, and to have accused, if they had anything against me. Or let these themselves (the Jews then present) say what wrong they found in me when I stood before the council, [other] than for this one voice which I cried out among them, Touching the resurrection of [the] dead I am judged this day before you.’

It was irrefragably and solely the Jews themselves who made the riot (stirred up by the blunder about those brethren from Asia), who were not there to be convicted that day, as Felix could not but see. Even though the witnesses were not present, those actually there were challenged to state any wrong whatever done by the apostle, unless it was his putting forward the great truth of the resurrection: as really embarrassing to the Pharisee elders now as before; for they assuredly would regard such a cry as true and right, and in no way a fault. But ‘evil communications corrupt good manners’; and those who at first felt sympathy for the truth at stake, now give their support to the enemy against the great representative of the gospel, even when they all were convicted of the grossest mistake, and of unfounded calumny. So hard is it for men engaged in a campaign, above all a religious one, to stop short of glaring injustice when arrayed on an evil side. When men are right, they can afford to be gracious. Wrongdoers and malicious men add turbulence also.

The procurator had more now to help him than his considerable experience of the Jews in the past. He had just heard an eminently and transparently truthful reply of Paul to the speech of Tertullus. He could well enough have decided on the merits of it, had it pleased him. But he was a governor as well as judge, and had to do with a people ever refractory. Policy dictated his course, not justice, as too often happens in this world, to say nothing of the heathenism of the Romans and the unscrupulousness of Felix in particular. Bright the day, when judgment shall return to righteousness. Even now’ though Christianity has raised the moral standard of men in certain respects, we are far from that state when a King shall reign in righteousness, and princes rule in judgment.

Nor does the gospel indeed propose any such present amelioration of the world. It is the proclamation of grace to the ungodly in the name of Jesus, which shows us the heavens opened for all that believe made one with Him glorified above. The Christian is called therefore to glory in nothing but the cross of Christ, whereby he is crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to him. There is no common ground therefore possible between the world and the Christian if consistent. For the world adjudged to a death of guilt and shame and suffering Him Whom the Christian confesses as the Lord of glory, alone righteous, holy and true. The world would cease to be the world if in deed and in truth it confessed Him. Not only so: the Christian sees in the cross not only the world’s misjudgment of the only worthy One, but God’s judgment of himself as only and altogether evil before Him, but that evil laid on Christ to be not only judged but effaced righteously. And he sees further the unbelieving world judged with its prince, though the inevitable and irreversible sentence be not executed till the Lord Jesus appear in His glory, and we too along with Him in the same glory, Thus separation from the world is alone according to truth for the Christian, as the world abides the sure object of divine vengeance. ‘Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?’

It was this that made Felix unjust toward Paul, as it had decided Pilate to let the Lord Jesus suffer. ‘But Felix, having more accurate knowledge concerning the Way, adjourned them, saying, When Lysias the commander [or, chiliarch] is come down, I will determine your matter. And he ordered the centurion that he should be kept in charge and should have indulgence, and not to hinder any of his friends from ministering to him’ (vers. 22, 23). The latitude allowed indicated not obscurely the mind of the unjust judge, if he had chosen to judge according to his convictions. But we learn also how God took care of His servant, and, while granting him to suffer for Christ’s sake, assuaged the captivity through the judge himself, not on His servant’s petition. Truly all things work together for good to them that love God, Who is honoured by their faith.

‘And after certain days Felix, having arrived with Drusilla his wife being a Jewess, sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned concerning righteousness and temperance and the judgment to come, Felix became terrified and answered, For the present go, and when I get a convenient season, I will send for thee, hoping at the same time that money would be given him by Paul; wherefore also he sent for him the oftener and communed with him. But when two years were fulfilled, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and Felix, willing to gain favour with the Jews, left Paul in bonds’ (vers. 24-27).

The essence of unbelief is that, even if God be owned in word or theory He is in fact wholly excluded. And so it was evident in the next incident, where Felix with the beautiful wife of Azizus, king of the Emesenes, whom he had seduced and taken as ‘his own’, had the apostle before them to hear of the faith in Christ. Little was the guilty Roman prepared for the many sides of the truth, which the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven turns to deal with the hearer as he is. Paul discoursed, not on the prophets as with Jews, nor on the resurrection as with Athenians, nor on the cross even as at Corinth, but about righteousness, and self-control, and the coming judgment. A bad woman, they say, is more shameless than a bad man. Certainly if Drusilla knew more than Felix, she appears to have felt less. The inspiring Spirit records the alarm of the man, not of the woman. But it was no more than a passing terror. There was no repentance toward God; else he would not have got rid of the searching, yet saving, word of the gospel; he would not have been content to wait for a ‘more convenient season’, which never really comes.

But a baser motive rises up to prompt frequent interviews afterward — that love of money which is a root of all evil. Therefore was it Paul’s lot to remain a prisoner for two years of enforced separation from those active and free and wide labours of love so precious to his spirit, because Christ filled him to overflowing. But the same Christ strengthened him to accept his bonds patiently, as Felix fully proved his depravity. Indeed, Felix was only screened from the just punishment of his manifold atrocities by the influence of his brother with the emperor.

265 τινῶν ABE, et al.

266 διορθωμάτων the more ancient reading, rather than κατορθωμάτων as in the Text. Rec.

267 The plural form is best attested, though Dean Alford will have it to be a correction.

268 ‘The more’ is not sustained by the best copies (ABE, et al.).

269 ‘To know fully’, ‘recognize’, or ‘ascertain’, is the preferable reading (ABE, et al.).

270 ‘To thee’ is omitted wrongly in the Text. Rec.

271 The best MSS. (ABC et al.) omit νεκρῶν ‘of dead’.

272 ‘But’ is in verse 18 read by the better authorities, as in verse 16 it should be omitted.

273 ‘What’, not ‘if’, is right.