A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 24:1-27. Paul before Felix.
At the end of the previous chapter Felix, having read the letter from Claudius Lysias, sent to Jerusalem for Paul’s accusers and meanwhile kept him in custody in Caesarea. *Five days later*, dating presumably from Paul’s arrival, *the high priest Ananias* responded to the procurator’s summons and *went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus*. As soon as the court convened, *they brought their charges against Paul before the governor* (1). Whether they made their accusations in speech or in writing we are not told, but after the procurator had received them, *Paul was called in* and *Tertullus presented his case before Felix* (2a), or ‘opened for the prosecution’ (JB).
a). The prosecution by Tertullus (24:2b-9).
As a trained and experienced professional lawyer, Tertullus began with what was called a *captatio benevolentiae*, that is, an endeavour to capture the judge’s good will. Traditionally, it was complimentary to the point of hypocrisy and often included a promise of brevity, but on this occasion it descended to ‘almost nauseating flattery’. For Tertullus expressed gratitude for the ‘peace’ Felix had secured and the ‘reforms’ he had introduced, whereas in reality he had put down several insurrections with such barbarous brutality that he had earned for himself the horror, not the thanks, of the Jewish population. Here are Tertullus’ words: ‘*We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly’* (2b-4).
Tertullus went on to enumerate three charges against Paul. First, *we have found this man to be a troublemaker* (‘a perfect pest’, NEB, JB), *stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world* (5a). This was a serious accusation because of its political overtones. There were many Jewish agitators at that time, Messianic pretenders who threatened the very ‘peace’ which Tertullus had attributed to Felix.
Secondly, Tertullus continued, Paul *is a ring leader of the Nazarene sect* (5b). The word *hairesis* meant ‘sect, party, school’ and was applied to both the Sadducees (5:17) and the Pharisees (15:5; 26:5) as traditions within Judaism. It is in this sense that it is now used of Christians. It had not yet come to mean ‘heresy’, although its use in this chapter (5, 14) and its recurrence in 28:22 ‘incline towards’ the rendering ‘heretical sect’ (BAGD).
The third charge against Paul was that he *even tried to desecrate the temple* (6), a reference to the belief that he had brought Trophimus the Ephesian within the prohibited precinct (21:29), This was a particularly damaging and dangerous accusation, because the Romans had given the Jews wide powers in dealing with offences against their temple. *So we seized him*, said Tertullus in a dishonest euphemism for the Jews’ attempt to lynch him (21:30-31), The Western reading then adds verses 6b-8a, which AV and JB include in their text but NIV relegates to the margin: ‘and wanted to judge him according our law. But the commander, Lysias, came and with the use of much force snatched him from our hands and ordered his accusers to come before you’. The effect of this addition is to complete the reversal of the facts, attributing the violence to Lysias instead of to the Jewish crowd, as the orderly arrest had been ascribed to the crowd instead of to Lysias.
Tertullus concluded his prosecution with a direct appeal to Felix: *By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him* (8). When he had finished, *the Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true* (9).
Tomorrow: Acts 24:10-21. The defence by Paul.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts: Becoming a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.