Acts 23:23-24:27 Paul’s Case Before Felix, The Governor.
The conspiracy led to Paul’s case being transferred to a higher court, and because it was under the jurisdiction of Rome, Paul was given government protection to travel to Caesarea, to have his case heard by the governor himself (vv. 23-24). Luke, as a good historian, employs the letter which accompanied Paul (vv. 25-26). In this letter the local commander spells out the reasons for transferring Paul for a hearing with the governor, making note that it was because Paul was a Roman citizen (v. 27). He explained to the governor that it was the religious council of the Jews which desired a death sentence, that it did not concern matters of civil Roman law (vv. 28-29). Finally, he informs the governor that these Jews had intended to take the law into their own hands as vigilantes, thinking that they could conspire to murder Paul without the commander’s knowledge (v. 30). Having been delivered, all that awaited was the summoning of Paul’s accusers (vv. 31-35).
Five days later the high priest and his cohorts arrive. However, it is interesting that they thought they now needed an orator. The Greek for ‘orator’ refers to a “forensic advocate” (Strong’s), a lawyer who had some gifts in the area of speaking and presenting a case in a court of law (24:1). The emphasis is on skilful speech, unlike the word used in I John 2:1, which refers to the Lord as our comforter. The goal of the former is to present a polished case, to win by force of argument. The latter is certainly an advocate as well, but the goal is to defend and vindicate, and thus to provide comfort to the accused. One may wonder if this distinction might have been in Paul’s mind when he wrote the following. “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:1-2 Cf. vv. 4-5, 13).
First, Tertullus butter’s up the governor, sucking up to the boss of the man they had formed a conspiracy against (v. 2). They then lied again, for if they truly did respect Felix, the governor, they would not have planned a conspiracy, taking the law into their own hands, going completely around and over the duly constituted civil authorities. He begins his accusation by continuing to ingratiate himself to the governor (v. 3). Apparently this orator was skilled in the practice of flattery. He then suggests that this case should not even have come to him, that unlike the governor, they did not want to waste his time (v. 4). He accused Paul of creating dissension among the Jews, when dissension over the issue of the resurrection was already there. Also, for some reason he also assumes that calling him a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” will somehow register with the governor (v. 5).
Furthermore, they further seek to cast aspersions against the local governor, by saying that all they wanted to do was judge Paul according to their own law, not mentioning that based on their interpretation this meant execution (v. 6). If this was not enough, they further sully the name and reputation of the commander, by saying that it was he who acted with violence in guarding Paul and delivering him to the governor (v. 7). Added to this was the requirement that Paul be able to face his accusers, because the commander also commanded his accusers appear before the governor (v. 8). This was the “evidence” (v. 1), which the orator presented in their accusation, to which his accusers agreed (v. 9). Paul’s response is quite different. He knows that the governor is actually aware of the truth, and is able to judge his case accordingly (v. 10). Paul doesn’t need a skilled orator, and as Luke shows, no amount of polished speech can gloss over flattery and lies.
Speaking for himself, Paul reminds the governor that by their standards, there has been no delay in treating his case, if not in fact being conducted in haste (v. 11). In other words, they could hardly wait to kill him. Paul notes that they could produce no proof that in his time in Jerusalem he had caused the dissension of which they accused him of doing, nor of the other things they accused him of. (vv. 12-13). The dispute was over whether Jesus was the Anointed One of which the scriptures spoke (v. 14). Furthermore, Paul argued, as part of this message, that the resurrection was an essential part of this religion, and that Christ himself had risen from the dead (v. 15). On these truths Paul declares his conscience to be clear (v. 16). Since the matter at hand was strictly a religious one, Paul argued that his accusers should have brought their case sooner, because Paul had not changed his message from the time he first arrived in Jerusalem for this purpose (17-21).
Luke makes note of the point that Felix had “more accurate knowledge of the Way” (v. 22). This could be in contrast with everyone else involved in Paul’s case. He also did a very prudent thing by delaying Paul’s case until the commander arrived. Far from being in prison, Paul was given government protection, being more like house arrest, with freedom for any of his friends to be with him (v. 23). It may be that because Felix’s wife was Jewish that this accounted for him knowing something about the issues involved (v. 24). However, he apparently wanted to know more because he invited Paul to speak with him, and Paul spoke to him “about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” (v. 25). Yet, given what we know Paul taught about these matters elsewhere, it is not surprising that Felix was afraid and sent Paul back to his house. However, that fear did not appear to help him, because Luke informs us that he was also hoping for a bribe from Paul to secure his deliverance (v. 26).
What appeared as a course of wisdom and prudence had, after two years, proved to be procrastination on Felix’s part. He didn’t receive the bribe he had hoped for from Paul, but “wanting to do the Jews a favour, left Paul bound” (v. 27). Was this decision based on the fact that his wife was Jewish, or did they perhaps promise him gifts or bribes? He couldn’t give the apostate Jews what they wanted, because it was his job to uphold the standards of the Roman empire. In any case, he did not deal with Paul’s case, because he had to know that he would arrive at the same conclusion as the commander, that Paul was not guilty of anything concerning the civil code. So for two years this goes on, until Porcius Festus succeeds Felix, and ultimately Paul appeals his case to Caesar. From one perspective this was for Paul a great injustice. However, from another perspective, it did give Paul the opportunity to continue to preach and teach, and this under government protection. Such is providence.