Felix

Overview

The Romans still have no clue how to resolve the issues Paul brought with him. While being held in prison, more than 40 Jews made an oath to assassinate Paul by luring him to a fake trial and killing him on the way. Lysias hears about this plot, and resolves instead to arrange a trial under the Cesarean governor Felix and settle this matter. Paul ends up being respectfully held in prison after the trial as Felix awaits Lysias’ arrival for an official decision. However, this short stay continues on, and two years pass with Paul in prison.

Paul’s adversaries (cf. 21:27–29) evidently agreed together not to “taste” food or drink again until Paul was dead (cf. John 16:2). Their plan was to have the chief priests and elders of Israel ask the Roman commander to return Paul to the Sanhedrin for further questioning. Assassins planned to kill him somewhere on the streets: between the Fortress of Antonia and the Hall of the Sanhedrin. These two buildings were not far apart. The plotters surely realized that Paul’s Roman guards might kill some of their number in the process.

The commander took the advice of Paul’s nephew seriously. He probably knew Ananias well enough to know that the high priest would go along with this assassination plot. The commander also realized that Paul’s enemies in Jerusalem would stop at nothing to see him dead. As long as Paul was in Jerusalem there was a danger of rioting. Consequently, Claudius prepared to send him to the Roman provincial capital with a heavy guard under cover of night. (Constable)

Given the unrest in Palestine and night attacks by robbers, a smaller contingent would not be safe in the hills of Judea at night. (Keener)

The third hour of the night was 9:00 p.m. This is the third time Paul left a city secretly at night (cf. 9:25; 17:10). Obviously Claudius Lysias did not want the assassination of a Roman citizen on his record, so he took precautions to protect Paul. Paul’s guards continued to treat him with the respect due a Roman citizen. The commander even provided horses for him to ride on.

The commander had to send a copy of the background of Paul’s case along with Paul himself. Luke wrote that what follows in the text was substantially what the “letter” contained.(Constable)

“Felix” was the governor of the Roman province of Syria, which included Judea.(Josephus)

Claudius Lysias addressed Felix politely. The commander put himself in the best light possible in view of the facts. He mentioned his “rescue” of Paul in the temple courtyard, but did not include that he almost flogged Paul. New in this letter is the mention of Paul’s arrest by the Jews, evidently the Jewish temple police. Lysias wrote that he had rescued Paul because he knew (“having learned”) that Paul was a Roman citizen, but in fact the commander only learned of Paul’s Roman citizenship after he had arrested (“rescued”) him (21:34; 22:26–27). Of particular importance is the notice that in Lysias’ judgment, Paul was not guilty of any crime (cf. John 18:38) “deserving death or imprisonment,” but his case only involved disputes (“questions”) over Jewish theology or “their Law” (cf. Gallio in 18:14–15). This was another judgment, favoring not only Paul but Christianity, by a Roman official, that Luke carefully documented (cf. 19:40; 23:9; 25:25; 26:31–32). Every Roman magistrate before whom Paul appeared (Gallio, Lysias, Felix, and Festus) declared him innocent. Undoubtedly Claudius Lysias told the Jewish leaders to go to Caesarea after Paul had left Jerusalem.

Tertullus leveled three specific charges against Paul: a personal charge (heresy), a political charge (treason), and a religious charge (sacrilege). First, he was a “pest” and a troublemaker (“fellow who stirs up dissension”) throughout 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.

… In response to Tertullus’ first charge (v. 5), Paul said that he had been in Jerusalem only “12 days,” implying he had not had time to be much of a pest.

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.

… Paul rebutted the second charge of leading a cult (v. 5), by explaining that his beliefs harmonized with the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures (“the Law and . . . the Prophets”). 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.

Third, Tertullus claimed Paul had tried to “desecrate the temple,” allegedly by attempting to bring a Gentile into its inner precincts (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 (21:28–29). Tertullus’ statement that the Jews had arrested Paul harmonized with Lysias’ report (23:27). The Jews had also tried to kill Paul on the spot (21:31–33). Probably Tertullus left that part out 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.

… In response to the third charge (v. 6), Paul replied that he had gone to Jerusalem “to worship” (v. 11). He had gone to bring money to the Jews there, and to present offerings to Yahweh (v. 17), not to stir up political trouble (cf. Gal. 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.”(Constable)

The absence of the Jews from Asia (Paul says they “ought to be here (v. 19)” for this hearing) made this case a little more complicated to resolve.

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.(Longenecker)

“Lysias” had already given his testimony in his letter to Felix (23:26–30), so Felix was stalling for Paul’s benefit.

Paul’s emphases in his interview with Felix and Drusilla were the same three things — that Jesus Christ had predicted the Holy Spirit would convict people about — that would bring them to faith. These things were: sin (“self-control”), “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. (Constable)

Background

Paul could receive visitors in the barracks where he was a prisoner, because he was a Roman citizen in protective custody. He could also summon a centurion to do certain favors for him, which he did here.

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 (vv. 5–6). Felix’s “reforms” were more like purges. Speakers of that day also usually promised to be brief, which promises then — as now — they did not always keep. (Constable)

Places

Image from bibleplaces.com

Caesarea- Josephus called [the Promontory Palace in Caesarea] a “most magnificent palace” that Herod the Great built on a promontory jutting out into the waters of Caesarea. The pool in the center was nearly Olympic in size, and was filled with fresh water. A statue once stood in the center. Paul may have been imprisoned on the grounds of this palace (Acts 23:35). (bibleplaces.com)

It was the capital of the Roman province of Judaea, the seat of the governors or procurators, and the headquarters of the Roman troops. It was the great Gentile city of Judea, with a spacious artificial harbor. (Matthew G. Easton)

People

Governor Felix- 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. Drusilla eventually died when Mt. Vesuvius erupted, along with her child by Felix. (Howson)

Felix was relieved of his position at the end of these two years because of his rash and harsh actions in a war that led to the death of many innocents. (Josephus)

Drusilla- “Drusilla” was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, who had been king over Palestine from A.D. 37–44. It was [Herod] who had authorized the death of James, the son of Zebedee (12:1–2), and had imprisoned Peter (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. (Ibid)

Key Ideas

Felix’s hesitation/rejection- Paul’s emphases in his interview with Felix and Drusilla were the same three things — that Jesus Christ had predicted the Holy Spirit would convict people about — that would bring them to faith. These things were: sin (“self-control”), “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.(Constable) Older people normally become hardened to the gospel. (McGree)

Possible Discussion Points

  • Paul has quite a few enemies that are trying to abuse the legal systems. How does Paul remain respectful and show love toward those that want him dead?
  • We probably won’t ever be in a situation quite like Paul’s, but surely we all will earn ourselves enemies in our lives. How does culture expect us to treat our enemies? How does Jesus tell us to treat our enemies, and what does it look like?
  • Like Felix, it is strangely easy for us to resist the call to repentance even when we know how important it is. Why do we so easily ignore these realities, then?

Noteworthy

  • The Jews’ oath (to not eat or drink until Paul was killed) was not as severe as it would appear, it is highly unlikely that they planned on keeping the oath till starvation. If a Jew ever broke an oath, or circumstances arose such that the oath could no longer be fulfilled, they had to offer an atonement sacrifice to make up for it. It would make sense that they would simply make the sacrifice instead of dying. However, the oath itself was still a testament to their determination.
  • This verse contains the only New Testament reference that Paul believed in both the resurrection of “the wicked” and the resurrection of “the righteous.” Nevertheless the Scriptures speak elsewhere of God raising all people to face judgment (e.g., Dan. 12:2; Matt. 25:31–33, 46; John 5:28- 29; Acts 10:42; 17:31; Rev. 20:12–15).
  • “When Paul talked to Felix and Drusilla, enslaved royalty was addressing royal slaves. (Cf. Morgan)

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