THE ACTS OF APOSTLES
Lesson 11: Chapters 23-25
St. Paul a Prisoner for Christ

Lord God,
In faith and love we ask you, Father, to watch over our families living together in our homes and living together in the Church universal. In your mercy and loving kindness guide us in the paths of righteousness, leaving no thought of ours unguarded, no tear unheeded, and no joy or sorrow unnoticed. Lead us, like St. Paul, to store up treasures for your heavenly kingdom through our service to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Make us a channel of Your grace to a suffering world that we, like Paul, can confess at the end of our lives that we have run the "good race" that our goal of eternal salvation is waiting for us. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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St. Augustine on the Old Covenant ritual Law: I say therefore that circumcision and other ordinances of this sort were divinely revealed to the former people through the Testament which we call Old, as types of future things, which were to be fulfilled by Christ. When this fulfillment had come, those obligations remained for the instruction of Christians, to be read simply for the understanding of the previous prophecy, but not to be performed through necessity, as if people had still to await the coming revelation of the faith that was foreshadowed by these things. [..]. Gradually, therefore, and by degrees, through the fervent preaching of the grace of Christ, by which alone believers were to know that they were justified and saved, not by those shadows of things, formerly future but now present and at hand, through the conversion of those Jews whom the presence of the Lord in the flesh and the times of the Apostles found living thus, all that activity of the shadows were to be ended.
St. Augustine, Letter 82

In 58 AD, events in the wider world are affecting the spread of Christianity. The Roman Empire is taking notice of the rise of Christianity and this will have both a positive and a negative effect on the spread of the Gospel. Many Romans will come to belief in Christ, including many men in the Roman army, but the growth of the Church and the single allegiance of Christians to Jesus Christ above the empire will begin to concern the Roman government. In Judea there is a rising tide of Jewish nationalism that will be fueled by the injustice and violence generated by a series of bad Roman governors, the first of whom is the governor Felix who will have an impact on St. Paul's life (governor 52-59 AD). And after the death of the Roman emperor Claudius in 54 AD, the edict that banned Jews and Christians from Rome was lifted and allowed both Jews and Christians to return. It was probably at this time that Aquila and Priscilla left Ephesus and returned to Rome (Rom 16:3-5). This is a new opportunity for Christian evangelism in Rome and in the western provinces of the Roman Empire.

Paul has desired to go to Rome for quite some time. From Luke's account of his travels in Acts and in Paul's letter to the Church in Rome, we know that Paul has fully evangelized the region from Jerusalem to Illyricum: that is the area within the Roman provinces of Judea, Syria-Cilicia, Galatia and Phrygia, Asia, Achaia (Greece), Macedonia and into the territory on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. The churches he and his missionary team founded are growing in numbers and new faith communities are being established in the outlying areas (Col 1:6; 4:15-17). Paul feels now is the time to turn the Gospel mission in another direction. He writes to the Christians in Rome of his intention of visiting them; however, he diplomatically denies any intention of settling there; he only intends on passing through en route to Spain and points west.

In the past, he writes, he hesitated to come to Rome because this would be to "build on the foundation of another man" (Rom 15:20), which is probably a reference to St. Peter who had first come to Rome in c. 42 AD and has returned with the lifting of Claudius' edict. Paul now plans to visit Rome, but first he is directed by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem at the end of the third missionary journey. He also has a prophetically symbolic gift from the Gentiles of Asia and Greece to deliver to the "holy ones" in Jerusalem (Acts 24:17; Rom 15:25-26). He has been warned three times that he is to face persecution and suffering in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-23; 21:4, 11), but he is committed to fulfilling God's plan for his life no matter what the cost.

Before his visit to Jerusalem, Paul asked his friends to pray he would be delivered from the "disobedient" in Judea, and that his ministry to the Gentiles and their gifts to the church would be acceptable to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (Rom 15:31). What did Paul mean by the "disobedient"? Did he mean the unbelieving Jews who refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah, or was he referring to those Jewish-Christians in the Jerusalem community who were opposed to Gentiles being accepted into the New Covenant of the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth? Paul has already experienced the tension that the Jewish-Christians feel with the inclusion into the New Covenant of so many Gentiles. Paul must have wondered if this tension will develop into more problems for him and his missionary team in Jerusalem. Paul's reception by St. James and the presbyters of Jerusalem answered that question. The church in Jerusalem believes Paul's bad reputation among the Jews is going to have a negative impact on their ability to proselytize Jews. St. James and his persbyters believe that Jewish Christians are still bound by the ritual laws, and they ask Paul, as a sign of solidarity with his Jewish brethren, to sponsor the fulfillment of a Nazirite vow of four Jewish-Christians at the Jerusalem Temple. This is a doctrine Paul does not embrace and can only see adherence to the old Law by Jewish-Christians as a division between Jewish and Gentile Christians, yet he submits to the request of the bishop who has jurisdictional power over him. It must have been a sad moment for Paul.

At this time Paul has been an apostle to the Gentiles for about 24 years and James has been the leader of the Jerusalem church since Peter left Jerusalem about 23 years earlier. Both men were completely dedicated to the apostolate and each believed he was called to it by God. Yet their missions were to two groups of people who were very different culturally, linguistically, and in their former religious traditions. Effective service to both groups meant compromise without compromising the Gospel preached by Jesus Christ and without adding any further to the division between the two groups if the Church was to survive. The event of their meeting in Acts 21:18-26 must have resulted in an inevitable sense of distance between these two holy men, who in other circumstances and in other times would have enjoyed a close working relationship. Evidence of this distance is found in the fact that James apparently makes no effort to support Paul when he is attacked by the Jews of Jerusalem.

God had already warned Paul and many who loved him that he was to suffer in Jerusalem. The warning was fulfilled when a crowd of Jew attacked Paul at the Temple about a week after his arrival. It took the intervention of the Roman tribune and his soldiers to save Paul's life. The tribune, however, needed to determine why the Jews were demanding Paul's life and so, The next day, wishing to determine the truth about why he was being accused by the Jews, he freed him and ordered the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin to convene. Then he brought Paul down and made him stand before them (Acts 22:30).

Chapter 23: St. Paul in Roman Custody

Jesus to the Sadducees on the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead: "That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called "Lord" the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."
Luke 20:37-38

Acts 23:1-11 ~ St. Paul faces the Jewish Sanhedrin
1 Paul looked intently at the Sanhedrin and said, "My brothers, I have conducted myself with a perfectly clear conscience before God to this day." 2 The high priest Ananias ordered his attendants to strike his mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, God will strike you, you whitewashed wall. Do you indeed sit in judgment upon me according to the law and yet in violation of the law order me to be struck?" 4 The attendants said, "Would you revile God's high priest?" 5 Paul answered, "Brothers, I did not realize he was the high priest. For it is written, 'You shall not curse a ruler of your people.'" 6 Paul was aware that some were Sadducees and some Pharisees, so he called out before the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead." 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the group became divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection or angels or spirits, while the Pharisees acknowledge all three. 9 A great uproar occurred, and some scribes belonging to the Pharisee party stood up and sharply argued, "We find nothing wrong with this man. Suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?" 10 The dispute was so serious that the commander, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, ordered his troops to go down and rescue him from their midst and take him into the compound. 11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, "Take courage." For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome."
Note: the pronouns "you" in verse 3 are in the singular (IBGE, vol. IV, page 396).

Paul begins his address to the Sanhedrin by identifying himself as one of them, calling them "brothers" and telling them that the conduct of his life toward God has been without fault.

Acts 23:2 ~ The high priest Ananias ordered his attendants to strike his mouth.
The reigning Jewish high priest served as the president of the Sanhedrin when it was in session; this is a fact that is well attested in the New Testament, in secular documents, and in the Jewish Talmud (Mk 15:33; Acts 5:17; 7:1; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1 [200]; Mishnah: Sanhedrin, 2:1). In response to Paul's declaration, the High Priest Ananias ordered his attendants to strike Paul across the face. This is not the same man as Annas/Ananus who was a former high priest (6-15 AD) and the father-in-law of the High Priest Caiaphas (18-36/37 AD) who condemned Jesus (Lk 3:2; Jn 18:13, 24; Acts 4:6). This Ananias was the son of Nedebaeus and reigned as high priest from 48-58/59 AD. The violent action by Ananias against Paul is certainly within his character according to his description by the Jewish priest/historian Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD), who would have known him as a member of the priestly community.'" Josephus describes him as a man who was known for his temper, his violent nature and his avarice. He gave large bribes to the Romans and Jews of influence, and he was so greedy for wealth that he confiscated the people's tithes that were meant to support ordinary priests. His evil deeds seemed to have caught up to him in 52 AD when the Roman governor of Syria accused him of being responsible for acts of violence. Ananias was sent to Rome for trial, but his years of support for Rome was rewarded when he was acquitted by the Emperor Claudius and returned to Jerusalem. His conduct after he returned was even worse than before. He left his office as high priest in 58/59 AD and continued to enjoy his wealth and influence until the beginning of the Jewish Revolt against Rome. He was hated by the Jewish nationalists for his pro-Roman politics and when the war began in 66 AD, the Jewish nationalists burned down his house. He fled but was trapped while hiding in an aqueduct on the grounds of the Herodian palace and was murdered there along with his brother Hezekiah (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.5.2 [103]; 20.6.2 [131]; 20.9.4 [213-214]; Jewish War, 2.12.6 [243]; 2.17.2 [409]; 2.17.9 [441-442]). See the chart on the Rulers of Judea for the list of high priests.

Acts 23:3a ~ Then Paul said to him, "God will strike you [singular], you [singular]whitewashed wall."
Paul's curse "God will strike you" [singular] is an echo of Deuteronomy 28:22 where the curse is against those who disobey the commandments and is expressed as "YHWH will strike you [plural]..." followed by a list of judgment/curses. According to the Mishnah, this is an appropriate form of cursing one who disregards the commandments of God (Mishnah: Sanhedrin, 4:13).
Question: Paul's accusation that the high priest is a "whitewashed wal" recalls what charge that Jesus made against the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy in Matthew chapter 23?
Answer: In Matthew 23:27 Jesus called the Scribes and Pharisees "whitewashed tombs"; he was referring to their outward show of piety while inside they were full of the sin of hypocrisy.

But it is more likely that Paul is making an allusion to the prophet Ezekiel's condemnation of the Jewish leadership in Ezekiel 13:10-12: For the reason that they led my people astray, saying, "Peace!" when there was no peace, and that, as one built a wall, they would cover it with whitewash, say then to the whitewashers: I will bring down a flooding rain; hailstones shall fall, and a stormwind shall break out. And when the wall has fallen, will you not be asked: Where is the whitewash you spread on?

Acts 23:3b ~ Do you [singular] indeed sit in judgment upon me according to the law and yet in violation of the law order me to be struck?...
Paul is accusing the high priest of hypocrisy. He has mistreated Paul as a violator of the Law before having heard the witnesses against him as is demanded by the Law (Dt 19:15-21; Mishnah: Sanhedrin, 3.6-8). Paul is outraged at this abuse of power and condemns the high priest's action by calling on God for justice. According to the Law, an accused person has the right to face his accusers and cannot be condemned unless there is testimony by two or three credible witnesses. It is the same charge St. Stephen made in Acts 7:53: You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.

Acts 23:4-5 ~ The attendants said, "Would you revile God's high priest?" 5 Paul answered, "Brothers, I did not realize he was the high priest." For it is written, "You shall not curse a ruler of your people."
This is not an apology. Paul is being facetious when he says he did not know this was the high priest. Of course he knew this was the Jewish high priest. It is the high priest who presides over the Sanhedrin, and he was high priest eight years ago when Paul attended the Council of Jerusalem and he was the high priest when Paul last visited Jerusalem after the second missionary journey. What Paul means is that this man is not acting with the dignity and justice of a high priest. Paul's statement is another criticism of the chief priest whose bad behavior makes him "unrecognizable." Then Paul quotes from Exodus 22:27, You shall revile God, nor curse the ruler of your people. Bible scholar Luke T. Johnson notes that the LXX has the plural archontes (rulers) instead of Luke's singular archonta (Johnson, page 397). Either Paul is quoting from the Hebrew text, or he is quoting from the Septuagint and instead of using the plural "the rulers" he is intentionally using the singular "a ruler:" You shall not curse a ruler of your people.

Question: Is Ananias truly the "ruler" over St. Paul's people? Is Paul accepting the high priest's authority over him?
Answer: Of course not; this man is not "a ruler" of Paul or his Christian people. The ruler of Paul's people universally is St. Peter the Apostle and Vicar of Christ, and the legitimate "ruler" of Paul's people in Jerusalem is St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem! He is not accepting the high priest's authority over him; he is rejection the high priest's authority to judge him.

Acts 23:6 ~ Paul was aware that some were Sadducees and some Pharisees, so he called out before the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead."
Paul realizes that it will be impossible for him to get a fair trial in this assembly. His fate has already been decided by them and so he makes a bold move and identifies himself as a Pharisee who believes in the resurrection of the dead.
Question: What is Paul's strategy in identifying with the Pharisees as opposed to the Sadducees and stating his belief in the resurrection of the dead? See Mt 22:23-33; Lk 20:27-40 and Acts 23:8-9.
Answer: The Pharisees like St. Paul believe in a bodily resurrection of the dead but the Sadducees do not. Jesus corrected the Sadducees in their doctrine on the resurrection. In bringing up this contentious point between the Pharisees and Sadducees, Paul is attempting to get the Pharisees on his side.

Acts 23:7-9 ~ When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the group became divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection or angels or spirits, while the Pharisees acknowledge all three. 9 A great uproar occurred, and some scribes belonging to the Pharisee party stood up and sharply argued, "We find nothing wrong with this man." Suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?
Paul's plan worked as the assembly lost track of the charges brought against him and began to argue about the doctrine of the resurrection, about angels and spirits.

Acts 23:10 ~ The dispute was so serious that the commander, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, ordered his troops to go down and rescue him from their midst and take him into the compound.
However, the council becomes as unruly as the mob that attacked Paul outside the Temple the day before. Once again the Roman tribune rescued Paul and took him to the Fortress Antonia.

Acts 23:11 ~ The following night the Lord stood by him and said, "Take courage." For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.
Once again the Lord (probably Jesus) gives St. Paul the encouragement he needs and the promise that he will indeed take the Gospel to Rome. This event is reminiscent of the vision Paul received of Christ after He became discouraged in Corinth (Acts 18:9-10).

Acts 23:12-22 ~ The Plot against Paul's Life
12 When the day came, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who formed this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, "We have bound ourselves by a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul." 15 You, together with the Sanhedrin, must now make an official request to the commander to have him bring him down to you, as though you meant to investigate his case more thoroughly. "We on our part are prepared to kill him before he arrives." 16 The son of Paul's sister, however, heard about the ambush; so he went and entered the compound and reported it to Paul. 17 Paul then called one of the centurions and requested, "Take this young man to the commander; he has something to report to him." 18 So he took him and brought him to the commander and explained, "The prisoner Paul called me and asked that I bring this young man to you; he has something to say to you." 19 The commander took him by the hand, drew him aside, and asked him privately, "What is it you have to report to me?" 20 He replied, "The Jews have conspired to ask you to bring Paul down to the Sanhedrin tomorrow, as though they meant to inquire about him more thoroughly, 21 but do not believe them. More than forty of them are lying in wait for him; they have bound themselves by oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are now ready and only wait for your consent." 22 As the commander dismissed the young man he directed him, "Tell no one that you gave me this information."

Forty Jews conspire with the high priest and the Sanhedrin to illegally murder St. Paul.
Question: Who goes to Paul to warn him about the conspiracy?
Answer: Paul's nephew warns him.

It was not uncommon for the Romans to grant access to prisoners by family and friends (see Acts 24:23; 28:17, 30; Phil 2:25; 2 Tim 1:16-17). The Roman tribune warns the young man for his own protection not to reveal that he has given information about the plot. The question that has to be asked, however, is if the young man who is Paul's nephew heard of the conspiracy, weren't there also Jewish-Christians of the church in Jerusalem who got wind of the conspiracy and if so why don't they warn Paul? Are they fearful that if they support Paul that the Jews of the city will turn against them or are they pleased to be rid of what they consider Paul's disruptive pro-Gentile influence in the Church? Were Paul's missionary friends ordered by St. James not to interfere? It would appear that the only men who care about Paul's safety are his nephew and the Roman tribune.

Acts 23:23-30 ~ The Tribute writes to the Roman Governor
23 Then he summoned two of the centurions and said, "Get two hundred soldiers ready to go to Caesarea by nine o'clock [from the third hour of the night] tonight, along with seventy horsemen and two hundred auxiliaries. 24 Provide mounts for Paul to ride and give him safe conduct to Felix the governor." 25 Then he wrote a letter with this content: 26 "Claudius Lysias to his excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man, seized by the Jews and about to be murdered by them, I rescued after intervening with my troops when I learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 I wanted to learn the reason for their accusations against him, so I brought him down to their Sanhedrin. 29 I discovered that he was accused in matters of controversial questions of their law and not of any charge deserving death or imprisonment. 30 Since it was brought to my attention that there will be a plot against the man, I am sending him to you at once, and have also notified his accusers to state their case against him before you."

The tribune makes plans to spirit Paul out of the city without giving notice to the Jews.
Question: How many soldiers does the tribune intend to send with Paul on the journey to Caesarea?
Answer: 470 soldiers.

The number seems excessive but apparently the tribune suspects if word gets out that he is moving Paul they may be attacked by armed Jews somewhere along the journey. They will be especially vulnerable to ambush traveling through valleys, narrow trails and ravines of the Judean wilderness. According to Josephus the Judean wilderness was full of brigands at this time during the governorship of Felix. The number of soldiers provides the Romans more than a ten to one advantage over the 40 armed men that they know about.

The New American Bible translators interpret the Greek text that reads "the third hour of the night" as nine o'clock in the evening. But this is may not be the hour of departure. The Roman day began at midnight with the sixth hour being the hour of dawn. Also take into consideration that at nine o'clock in the early summer people are still up and about and the Jews would realize Paul was being moved from Jerusalem when they observed such a large number of Romans leaving the city. But if the Tribune is referring to "the third hour" meaning the third night watch which began at midnight and ended at three in the morning, then most citizens of Jerusalem would be asleep and would not realize what was happening. The large number of soldiers that the Tribune has ordered to escort Paul to Caesarea shows he is not taking any chances having Paul taken out of his custody. Claudius Lysias wrote a letter to be delivered to the Roman governor, Antonius Felix, giving his reason for sending Paul to him in Caesarea.

Marcus Antonius Felix was the procurator of Judea. According to the testimony of Jewish historian Flavius Josephus he was appointed governor in 52 AD (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.[137]), and both Josephus and Roman historian Tacitus record that he was a brutal governor during his tenure as the ruler of the province of Judea. He owed his position to his influential older brother Marcus Antonius Pallus who served as a secretary to the emperor during the reigns of the Roman emperors Claudius (41-54 AD) and Nero (54-68 AD). Upon receiving Roman citizenship, Greeks took Latin names for their first two names and also kept their personal Greel names. It was the custom to take the name of the current emperor when one achieved citizenship or the name of the Roman household that granted a slave freedom. All freed slaves received Roman citizenship. This was the case for Felix and Pallus who were Greek freedmen who were given Roman citizenship. They were raised either in the household of the Emperor Claudius or more likely, as their names suggest, in household of Claudius' mother Antonia the Younger, who was a daughter of Marcus Antony by Octavian's (Emperor Augustus) sister Octavia the Younger.(1) Felix's gross immorality and cruelty coupled with his accessibility to bribes (Acts 24:26) and his severity led to unrest and increased armed resistance against the Roman occupation in Judea. He left his term as procurator in 59 AD.

Acts 23:31-35 ~ Paul is taken to Caesarea
31 So the soldiers, according to their orders, took Paul and escorted him by night to Antipatris. 32 The next day they returned to the compound, leaving the horsemen to complete the journey with him. 33 When they arrived in Caesarea they delivered the letter to the governor and presented Paul to him. 34 When he had read it and asked to what province he belonged, and learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, "I shall hear your case when your accusers arrive." Then he ordered that he be held in custody in Herod's Praetorium.

Antipatris was on the road that ran from Jerusalem to Caesarea. It was about 10 miles northeast of Joppa and 35 miles southwest of Caesarea. Josephus says that the city was founded by Herod the Great in honor of his father Antipater (Antiquities of the Jews, 13.15.1 [390]; Jewish War, 1.4.7 [99]; 4.7.1).
Question: Why would they leave the soldiers and only continue with the mounted troops?
Answer: They have already passed through the Judean wilderness where they were likely to be ambushed, and now they can make better time with only the mounted soldiers.

Question: Why would Felix ask what province Paul belonged to? See a similar question in Luke 23:6-7.
Answer: If Paul was under the jurisdiction of a Roman ruler who was within a reasonable distance, he would be sent to that ruler, but since Cilicia was so far away, Felix accepted Paul's case for judgment.

Since Claudius Lysias could not determine why the Jews were accusing Paul, Felix will send for his accusers to hear testimony from both sides. Paul was to be held in Herod's Praetorium. Herod the Great built the city of Caesarea and therefore the fortress where Roman justice was decided bore his name.

Chapter 24: Paul's Captivity in Caesarea

Acts 24:1-9 ~ Felix Hears the Formal Charges Against Paul
1 Five days later the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and an advocate, a certain Tertullus, and they presented formal charges against Paul to the governor. 2 When he was called, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, "since we have attained much peace through you, and reforms have been accomplished in this nation through your provident care, 3 we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all gratitude. 4 But in order not to detain you further, I ask you to give us a brief hearing with your customary graciousness. 5 We found this man to be a pest; he creates dissension among Jews all over the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazoreans. 6 He even tried to desecrate our temple, but we arrested him. 7 [see below]. 8 If you examine him you will be able to learn from him for yourself about everything of which we are accusing him." 9 The Jews also joined in the attack and asserted that these things were so.

Verse 7 appears in some Greek texts: And would have judged him according to our own law but the cohort commander Lysias came and violently took him out of our hands and ordered his accusers to come before you.

Tertullus is a professional orator and legal advocate who was hired to represent the Sanhedrin's case against Paul. It is not clear if he is a Jew or a Gentile convert to Judaism. He uses the first person plural in verses 3, 5, 6 and 8; however in verse 9 Luke says "the Jews also joined" as though they were in some way separate from him, perhaps ethnically. He probably speaks both Latin and Greek while the Jews do not speak Latin. Latin is, of course, the native language of the Roman Governor.
Question: What charges does Tertullus present against Paul after flattering the governor in his introduction?
Answer:

  1. He is a pest/troublemaker who creates dissension among the Jews worldwide.
  2. He is a leader of the Nazorean religious sect.
  3. He attempted to desecrate the Temple.

According to the Law, to profane the Sabbath or curse the Divine Name of God was a death penalty offense (Ex 31:14; Lev 24:11, 16) as is an apostate Jew who turns to the worship of idols (Dt 17:2-7). Other violations require excommunication. The Jews have extended the death penalty offense to include profaning the Temple and contempt for the Law of Moses, even though it is not found in the written Law (Heb 10:28).

Acts 24:10-23 ~ The Governor Invites Paul to Speak
10 Then the governor motioned to him to speak and Paul replied, "I know that you have been a judge over this nation for many years and so I am pleased to make my defense before you." 11 As you can verify, not more than twelve days have passed since I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor anywhere in the city did they find me arguing with anyone or instigating a riot among the people. 13 Nor can they prove to you the accusations they are now making against me. 14 But this I do admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors and I believe everything that is in accordance with the law and written in the prophets. 15 I have the same hope in God as they themselves have that there will be a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous. 16 Because of this, I always strive to keep my conscience clear before God and man. 17 After many years, I came to bring alms for my nation and offerings. 18 While I was so engaged, they found me, after my purification, in the Temple without a crowd or disturbance. 19 But some Jews from the province of Asia, who should be here before you to make whatever accusation they might have against me 20 or let these men themselves state what crime they discovered when I stood before the Sanhedrin, 21 unless it was my one outcry as I stood among them, that "I am on trial before you today for the resurrection of the dead." 22 Then Felix, who was accurately informed about the Way, postponed the trial, saying, "When Lysias the commander [tribune] comes down, I shall decide your case." 23 He gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that he should not prevent any of his friends from caring for his needs.

Question: How does Paul refute the charges brought against him?
Answer:

  1. He did not cause a disturbance in the city or in the Temple during the week he was in Jerusalem.
  2. They have no witnesses to back up the allegations made against him, not even the Jews from Asia who first accused him who are the only supposed "eyewitnesses."
  3. Far from profaning the Temple, he came into the Temple in a state of ritual purity according to the Laws of the Jews.
  4. He is a member of the Way and the purpose of his journey was to bring alms.
  5. The real reason he is on trial is because of his belief in the resurrection of the dead.

After several stunning denials, Paul suddenly "confesses" that he is a member of the Way (meaning the Christian community), but he worships the same God as the Jews, and he confesses his belief in the resurrection of the dead. The language of his "confession" is a profession of his faith. Paul's phrasing of the bringing of the money to Jerusalem as alms for my nation and offerings was probably to disguise the fact that the gift was for the church in Jerusalem.

Acts 24:22-23 ~ Then Felix, who was accurately informed about the Way, postponed the trial, saying, "When Lysias the commander [tribune] comes down, I shall decide your case." 23 He gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that he should not prevent any of his friends from caring for his needs.
That Felix was accurately informed about the beliefs of "the Way" demonstrates that the Romans are now seeing the Christian movement as having an important impact in Judah that requires their attention. It is interesting that Felix is postponing a verdict until he speaks with Lysias. He has more than enough evidence to dismiss the charges against Paul. He does not need the tribune since Lysias admitted in his letter that he determined that Paul was not guilty of any charge deserving death or imprisonment (Acts 23:29). Felix never sends for the tribune.

Question: What testimony that Paul gave may have encouraged Felix to keep him in custody? See Acts 24:26.
Answer: Paul's testimony that he brought a large sum of money to Jerusalem may have encouraged the governor to hope that the members of "the Way" would bribe him to release Paul.

Paul was kept under "house arrest" where he was permitted to see his friends and receive gifts for his comfort.

Acts 24:24-27 ~ Paul's Captivity in Caesarea
24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He had Paul summoned and listened to him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 But as he spoke about righteousness and self-restraint and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, "You may go for now; when I find an opportunity I shall summon you again." 26 At the same time he hoped that a bribe would be offered him by Paul, and so he sent for him very often and conversed with him. 27 Two years passed and Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. Wishing to ingratiate himself with the Jews, Felix left Paul in prison.

Felix's wife Drusilla was a Jewess princess. She was the daughter of King Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:124) and the great-granddaughter of King Herod the Great and Mariamne, the last Jewish princess of the Hasmonean kings of Judea. Herod was not Jewish but Mariamne's children by him were considered Jews. Drusilla's brother, Herod Agrippa II, gave her in marriage to Gaius Julius Azizus, the Priest-king of Emesa (modern Homs, Syria), an Aramean kingdom in the Roman Province of Syria in 49/50 AD. Azizus was a Gentile client king of the Romans, but in order to obtain this desirable Jewish princess in marriage, he consented to convert and be circumcised. A few years later, Felix was entranced by her beauty and persuaded her to commit adultery by leaving her husband and marrying him. She was about twenty-two years old when she appeared at Felix's side during St. Paul's testimony at Caesarea.(2)

Question: Why do you think Felix became uncomfortable when Paul spoke about the necessity of living a righteous and self-restrained life in order to be prepared for God's judgment?
Answer: Probably because Felix was guilty on both counts.

What Paul said was not good politics but it was good pastoral consoling. Codex Bezae, an ancient manuscript containing the text of Acts, records that Drusilla instigated the session with Paul but adds that when Felix was not responsive to Paul's message that it was her request that Paul remain in prison. Acts gives no further information about her life, but Josephus recorded that she and Felix had a son named Marcus Antonius Agrippa and a daughter named Antonia Clementiana. Drusilla, her son, and his family died in 79 AD during the destruction caused by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (see Antiquities of the Jews, 19.9.1; 20.7.1-2).

Acts 24:27 ~ Two years passed and Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. Wishing to ingratiate himself with the Jews, Felix left Paul in prison.
Paul's two years in captivity, as the ancients counted a partial year as a full year, was probably from 58-59 AD. Antonius Felix was relieved of his duties as the Roman governor by Nero in 59 AD, and was replaced by Procius (Latin pro. Pro-see-us) Festus who ruled from 59-62 AD. He was an able administrator of the province and vigorously pursued and executed the brigands and revolutionaries who infested the countryside; he died suddenly in 62 AD (see coins minted during his governorship at end of lesson).
Question: What are the three reasons Paul was probably left in prison/house arrest in Caesarea?
Answer:

  1. Felix still hoped the members of the Way would bribe him to release Paul.
  2. Felix knew it was an action that pleased the Jews.
  3. It was God's plan for Paul.

There are two questions that could be asked: Why didn t the church in Jerusalem pay the bribe to have Paul released, and what did Paul do for those two years? There is no good answer to the first question, but as for the second, Paul probably continued his mission by spreading the Gospel and teaching the Church. The faithful from Judea, Samaria, and Phoenicia were able to visit Paul and receive the same Christological teaching that is present in his surviving fourteen letters. One of those letters attributed to Paul is the letter to the Hebrews. This New Testament letter is unlike Paul's other letters. It is not addressed to any particular faith community or person. It presents itself as an address to the Jews/Hebrews, and most Bible scholars see this document as a homily instead of a letter. It is probably a homily Paul gave to the Jewish-Christians of the Jerusalem church that was then copied down and circulated among the faith communities across the Levant, Asia Minor and Greece. It may have been an address he made to the Jerusalem church that week he was in Jerusalem before he was arrested (Acts 21:27). In the address he presents Jesus as the High Priest of the heavenly Sanctuary and of the everlasting covenant (Heb 7:22-8:3, 6; 9:6-28; 10:19-29). It is a covenant, he contends, that has fulfilled and made invalid the rituals of the Old Covenant (8:7-13; 10:1-18). These are arguments that addressed his differences with the doctrine of James and the presbyters of the Jerusalem church concerning following the Old Covenant ritual laws (see the study on the Letter to the Hebrews).

Chapter 25: Paul Appeals to Caesar

 

Acts 25:1-5 ~ Festus Confers with the Sanhedrin Concerning Paul
1 Three days after his arrival in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem 2 where the chief priests and Jewish leaders presented him their formal charges against Paul. They asked him 3 as a favor to have him sent to Jerusalem, for they were plotting to kill him along the way. 4 Festus replied that Paul was being held in custody in Caesarea and that he himself would be returning there shortly. 5 He said, Let your authorities come down with me, and if this man has done something improper, let them accuse him.

After two years why are the Jews still determined to kill Paul if it wasn't that his influence in teaching about Christ was still having an impact on Jews and bringing about conversions? The answer has to be that Paul was continuing to make trouble for them by his teaching.
Question: Why do they plot to kill Paul rather than accuse him and try him in court of law?
Answer: They do not have adequate grounds to demand the death penalty for Paul.

Even though he wants good relations with the Jewish religious leaders, to his credit Festus does not immediately agree to turn Paul over to their jurisdiction. You will recall that going to Jerusalem is always called "going up" (25:9) whereas leaving Jerusalem is always called "going down" (25:5) because of the elevation of the holy city (see verses 5-6).

Acts 25:6-12 ~ Paul Appeals to Caesar
6 After spending no more than eight or ten days with them, he went down to Caesarea, and on the following day took his seat on the tribunal and ordered that Paul be brought in. 7 When he appeared, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem surrounded him and brought many serious charges against him, which they were unable to prove. 8 In defending himself Paul said, "I have committed no crime either against the Jewish law or against the Temple or against Caesar." 9 Then Festus, willing to ingratiate himself with the Jews, said to Paul in reply, "Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there stand trial before me on these charges?" 10 Paul answered, "I am standing before the tribunal of Caesar; this is where I should be tried. I have committed no crime against the Jews, as you very well know. 11 If I have committed a crime or done anything deserving death, I do not seek to escape the death penalty; but if there is no substance to the charges they are bringing against me, then no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar." 12 Then Festus, after conferring with his council, replied, "You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go."

Question: Why does Paul refuse to turn himself over to the Sanhedrin for trial? What does he do instead?
Answer: He knows he cannot get a fair trial in Jerusalem. According to his right as a Roman citizen, he asks to appeal his case to the jurisdiction of the Roman Emperor.

In this way, Paul broke the deadlock between the protective custody of the Roman governor and the plan of the chief priests to kill him. Caesar at this time is the infamous Nero Claudius Caesar Germanicus (37-68 AD) who assumed the throne after his mother, Agrippina the Younger, murdered his step-father (who was also her uncle) the emperor Claudius in 54 AD.

Acts 25:13-22 ~ Festus Discusses Paul's Case with King Agrippa
13 When a few days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea on a visit to Festus. 14 Since they spend several days there, Festus referred Paul's case to the king, saying, There is a man here left in custody by Felix. 15 When I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and demanded his condemnation. 16 I answered them that it was not Roman practice to hand over an accused person before he has faced his accusers and had the opportunity to defend himself against their charge. 17 So when they came together here, I made no delay; the next day I took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 His accusers stood around him, but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected. 19 Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus who had died but who Paul claimed was alive. 20 Since I was at a loss how to investigate this controversy, I asked if he were willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these charges. 21 And when Paul appealed that he be held in custody for the Emperor's decision, "I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar." 22 Agrippa said to Festus, "I too should like to hear this man." He replied, "Tomorrow you will hear him." Bernice (pro. Bur-nee-kay) is the short Greek form of the name Berenice (pro. Buh-ray-nee-kay); a Macedonian name meaning "bearing victory." The Latin pronunciation is Bur-nee-say.

King Herod Agrippa II and Bernice have decided to visit the new Roman governor.(3) They are the older brother and sister of Drusilla the wife of the former Roman governor Felix. All three are the Jewish great grandchildren of King Herod the Great by the Jewish princess Mariamne, and they are the children of King Herod Agrippa I who ordered St. Peter's execution but who was himself destroyed by God's divine judgment (Acts 12:20-23).(4)

How does one entertain out-of town-guests? If you have a notorious prisoner, you invite your guests to interview him. Festus tells them that Paul's accusers did come to Caesarea to accuse him, but as in the case of Gallio (Acts 18:12-17), the Romans are not interested in religious disagreements. To Festus' credit, he did not turn Paul loose only to be taken by the Jews but instead upheld Paul's right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar. King Agrippa II expresses the desire to hear Paul speak about his beliefs.

Acts 25:23-27 ~ Festus Presents Paul's Case to Herod Agrippa and Bernice
23 The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great ceremony and entered the audience hall in the company of cohort commanders and the prominent men of the city and, by command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 And Festus said, "King Agrippa and all you here present with us, look at this man about whom the whole Jewish populace petitioned me here and in Jerusalem, clamoring that he should live no longer. 25 I found, however, that he had done nothing deserving death, and so when he appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. 26 But I have nothing definite to write about him to our sovereign; therefore I have brought him before all of you, and particularly before you, King Agrippa, so that I may have something to write as a result of this investigation. 27 For it seems senseless to me to send up a prisoner without indicating the charges against him."

Question: Why is Festus at a loss to know what to write to the emperor about Paul? How does he hope King Agrippa might help?
Answer: The Romans worshiped many gods and they respected the gods of the foreign nations they conquered. It is beyond the governor's comprehension why Paul's slightly different beliefs about the God of the Jews should cause such upset. He hopes the Jewish Agrippa will be able to shed some light on the problem so he can explain it in his letter to Nero.

Question for reflection or group discussion:
Question: We often see dissention between Catholics and Protestants on questions of doctrine. We agree on the big issue of salvation through Jesus Christ alone (Acts 4:12) and the mystery of the Trinity (most mainstream Protestants), but we often alienate each other on the other issues like the communion of saints, salvation as a process instead of a one-time event, faith and works versus faith alone, Scripture alone versus Scripture and Tradition, and other issues. What can we do ensure that we have a meaningful dialogue with our Protestant brothers and sisters? What role should Scripture play in our discussions?

Question: In this lesson we have been introduced to the fourth generation of King Herod the Great's family. Each generation of his family has had a unique opportunity to become a part of God's plan for mankind's salvation. We are reminded that sin like sainthood can be passed down through the generations. What responsibilities do you have to the members of your family including your brothers and sisters, your children and your grandchildren to encourage them to come to faith and salvation through Christ Jesus? A friend told me recently that as her husband's grandmother lay dying it suddenly occurred to him to ask her if she had been baptized. When she told him that she had not to her knowledge been baptized, he immediately got some water and baptized her, pouring water across her forehead three times as he said "I baptize you the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." Suddenly she opened her eyes very wide and looking up asked him who were all those people who were smiling and looking down on her. She died shortly afterwards. Do you know who she saw? See Hebrews 12:1-2, also CCC 946-62, 1055, 1331, and 2635.

Coins from the period that Antonius Felix and Porcius Festus governed Judea:

Coin of Marcus Antonius Felix

The coins above are from the governorship of Antonius Felix:
Obverse: Greek letters NEP (Nero) with two crossed spears under two crossed shields.
Reverse: Greek letters KAI (Caesar/Kaiser); date of issue (14th year of Caesar = 54 AD) with a palm tree, the sybmol of Judea

Coins below are coins minted in the period when Porcius Festus was governor of Judea. The date of Felix's recall and replacement by Porcius Festus is disputed by historians, but a change in the provincial coinage of Judaea attested for Nero's fifth year points to 59 AD.

coin of Porcius Festus

Obverse: Greek letters NEP KWNO C (Nero Claudius Caesar) in wreath tied at the bottom with the number/date? XC.
Reverse: Latin and Greek symbols/letters KAICAPOC (Caesar/Kaiser) and Roman date VC = 5th reignal year of Caesar (Nero) under the Syrian system (September to September = year 59 AD) with a palm branch. Judea's governor was under the rule of the Legate of the Province of Syria.

Endnotes:

1. Most wealthy Roman families owned educated Greek slaves to keep their accounts or tutor their children. The Romans prided themselves on manumission, the formal freeing of worthy slaves; such freedom was often granted in the wills of their owners. And other slaves could save enough money from doing work on their won to buy their freedom. Freed slaves were always given Roman citizenship and freedmen's sons could even hope to rise to be magistrates.

2. The Romans, like the Greeks but unlike the Jews, were always monogamous. Divorce was accepted and became common among the nobility by the end of the Roman Republic, but it was more tolerated than applauded. The extended family was central to Roman law and was considered essential to the workings of Roman society and was part of informal alliances within the political system. While many of the marriages of the nobility were based on politics rather than love, love was always the Roman ideal. Livia and Octavian (Augustus Caesar) married for love, and despite his later infidelities, theirs was apparently a happy marriage.

3. Bernice had a colorful history. She was forced to marry her uncle Herod of Chalcis as young girl. After his death in 48 AD, when she was 20 years old, she lived in incest with her brother Herod Agrippa. She married Polemon, king of Cilicia but afterwards returned to her brother. Bernice became the mistress of the Roman General Titus during the Jewish revolt against Rome (in c. 70 AD). After the revolt was suppressed, Titus took her back to Rome, intending to marry her. Unfortunately, his father, the Roman Emperor Vespasian, forced him to decide between marriage to Bernice or becoming the next emperor. Unfortunately for her, it was bye-bye Bernice; Titus choose the empire over Bernice. She died in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD when she was 51 years old.

4. The family of Herod the Great has been part of the story of God's plan for mankind's salvation since the birth of Jesus:

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2013 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for Acts chapters 23-25 (* indicates Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):

23:6 993*
24:15 1038
24:16-17 1794*, 2471