And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul. And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying:
“Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”
The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so.
And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied:
“Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia— they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’”
But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.” Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs.
After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Paul was in prison in Caesarea for 5 days before his accusers arrived. They arrived in short order. They did not take their time. The Tribune took to Caesarea without warning. And it took Paul two days to arrive. Paul’s accusers tried to impress Felix with their rapid response.
Ananias, the high priest, part of the Sanhedrin, and a man name Tertullus came together. It very irregular for the high priest to make such a journey. This showed the animus he had towards Paul.
As an orator, Tertullus was a kind of lawyer. Trying to find out more about Tertullus sent me down an interesting path. I am not convinced it had a lot of value but I will share the more interesting parts. Some claim Tertullus was a Jew because he referred to the Jewish law as “our” law in verse 6. This is questionable. The end of verse 6 through the first part of verse 8 does not appear in the more reliable manuscripts.
“and we wanted to judge him according to our law. But Lysias the commanding officer came and took him out of our hands with a great deal of violence, ordering those who accused him to come before you.” (v6b-8a)
It appears a scribe added this later to make it more clear. That is why neither the ESV nor NET includes these words.
It looks like Tertullus is derived from the Latin tertius. This means “third.” So I conclude Tertullus was not a Jew but a Gentile. Verse 9 supports this. There Luke identifies the Jews separate from Tertullus. This is not definitive. Luke may have written, “The Jews also joined in the charge” meaning the rest.
If I am correct, It is very ironic. They stopped Paul in the Temple because of his association with Gentiles. Now the high priest turns to a gentile lawyer. They tried to kill Paul by force, then deceit. Now they try persuasion through legal means. The truth would not accomplish their goal.
Tertullus charged Paul was a chronic troublemaker. The ESV translates it plague. The KJV and ASV translate it “pestilent fellow”. The NET says “troublemaker.” It boils down to this. Tertullus claimed Paul was the source of riots and uprisings throughout the empire. It was the type of charge that would get a Roman ruler’s attention. In fact, this was a crime worthy of death.
And Tertullus spoke a partial truth. Many places Paul traveled there was a stir. But the violence was not because of Paul. It was because Jews followed him around. They were the ones stirring up violence. It was the same as saying “It Paul’s fault I started a riot.”
Tertullus said Paul was ready to defile the temple but we stopped him. You may think this was a trivial accusation to Felix. Why would Felix, a Roman ruler, care? He cared nothing for the Temple. The Temple was only a source of grief for him. And that was the point. Tertullus was accusing Paul of irritating what was already a sore spot for Felix. “But no worries Felix. We’re on your side. We stopped him before he caused a major uprising. You’re welcome.”
Tertullus told Felix Paul was a member of a sect of the Nazarenes. In fact, Tertullus pointed out Paul was one of the leaders. Christians were often identified as Nazarenes. This is because they followed Jesus of Nazareth. Calling someone a Nazarene was a term of contempt. (John 1:46)
Tertullus concluded with, “Ask him yourself.” He knew Paul would not deny Christ. All the Jews that were with him joined in with agreement.
Felix nodded to Paul to answer the charges.
Paul denied the charges. He was not ashamed of the gospel. Nor was he afraid of the cross. But this was not the time to make a confession of faith.
It would be easy to draw the wrong conclusions about Felix from this text. Both Tertullus and Paul praise Felix. His wisdom brought peace to the nation. It would be reasonable to conclude Felix was a good and wise ruler. He was not.
Felix’s administration was known for corruption and cruelty. Felix was the procurator of Judea. Felix was Antonius Felix. He was a freedman of Antonia. Freedmen were slaves who either won or earned their freedom. Antonia was the mother of Emperor Claudius. Felix became a procurator of Palestine in A.D. 52/53. His administration was notorious for its corruption, cynicism, and cruelty. According to Tacitus, Felix “reveled in cruelty and lust, and wielded the power of a king with the mind of a slave.”
The praise Tertullus and Paul gave Felix were mere formalities. Plus it is unwise to insult the man who will rule on your case. Luke tells us in verse 26 Felix was hoping someone would pay him off.
Paul’s defense was the charges were an internal religious matter. In other words, Paul argued this was a religious dispute rather than a political one. So Rome did not need to concern itself with it.
Paul’s defense started by pointing out Tertullus claimed Paul to be part of a sect. That is, Paul was a heretic. This was a religious claim.
Paul answered the charge by asserting he was a Jew. Judaism was a religion protected by Rome. He followed the God of “our fathers” according to the Way. He believed everything in the Law and the Prophets. He was following the customs of the Jews.
The Jews had charged Paul with impiety and polluting the temple. Paul showed Felix his opponents’ motives were evil.
Their assaults were based on the fact Paul believed in the resurrection. But Paul pointed out his accusers also believed in the resurrection. This was not heretical. Paul’s accusers also confessed their belief in the resurrection of the just and the unjust.
Paul’s mention of hope set up his appeal to the resurrection of the dead. Paul ignored the internal Jewish dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection. Paul was a Pharisee. The Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead.
This is the only mention of the resurrection of the unrighteous in Acts. But the idea is compatible with the idea of Jesus as the judge of both the living and the dead (Act 10:42; Act 17:31).
Paul told Felix he always strove to live a righteous life before men and God. In fact, he was making an attempt to do good works when they seized him in the temple. He was bringing money and aid those who needed it.
Paul said he was in the temple minding his own business. In fact, no one would have known he was there if it were not for some Jews from Asia. And oh by the way, where are they? They were the ones to initiate this ruckus. Paul’s defense was masterful. He pointed out all the evidence was hearsay. There were no first-hand accounts. Neither Felix nor Paul could cross-examine those who were there at the time.
Paul did not desecrate the Temple. He was devoted. They found him ion the temple ritually pure. He was not arguing with anyone. He did not argue with anyone either inside or outside the temple.
Paul concludes his remarks by stating the obvious. All Felix heard were accusations. His accusers had given no evidence. They ha not proven their case.
I think Felix was taken back. Paul’s point that no evidence was presented self-evident. There had to be more to this. He could not believe they would bring him only accusations with no evidence. So he decided not to decide. He would wait for the tribune Lysias arrived.
Either Lysias never arrived or something else happened. Paul remained in jail for 2 years. Felix knew the accusations were false. But we had a political problem. Releasing Paul could cause a riot. But Paul was a Roman citizen. False imprisonment of a Roman citizen was a serious crime. Felix found a compromise. He gave Paul some liberty. I am not sure what that meant. I may have meant Paul was not allowed to leave. But could wander around with a Roman guard. It was like having a personal bodyguard.
A few days after the trail Felix along with his wife Dusilla sent for Paul. Dusilla was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I. She was also the sister of Herod Agrippa II. She was about 20 years old at this time. She had married the kind of a small region in Syria. But she divorced him to marry Felix at 16, This was her second marriage and Felix third. She probably died along with her son Agrippa in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius at Pompeii, a.d. 79.
Paul remained in prison until Felix was replaced with Festus. Festus was from a noble Roman family. While Felix had been evil, Festus was wise and honorable.