Five days after Paul’s arrival in Caesarea, the high priest Ananias and a number of elders came to present their case against Paul to Felix, the Roman procurator. As their representative, a certain Tertullus accompanied them. The name “Tertullus” is a diminutive form of the Latin “Tertius.” His function is identified by the Greek word rhétor, which basically means “orator” or “public speaker.” In this context, however, it designates an advocate. The role of Tertullus was comparable to that of a prosecuting attorney. His Latin name would not preclude his having been a Jew, and it would appear likely that prominent Jewish elders would have wanted a fellow Jew to represent them. The skill Tertullus had in expressing himself, presumably in Greek (as that is also the language in which Paul evidently would have spoken on this occasion [21:37]), suggests that he may have been a Hellenist. (24:1)
Upon being called to present the case against Paul, Tertullus started with expressions of flattery that had little basis in reality. He lauded Felix for the great “peace” the people had come to enjoy and the reforms that had been put in place for the Jewish nation on account of his foresight. (24:2; see the Notes section.)
This flattering praise contrasts sharply with the evaluation of the Roman historian Tacitus who described Felix as a man who “practiced every kind of cruelty and lust, wielding the power of king with all the instincts of a slave.” (Histories, V, ix) “Felix, who had for some time been governor of Judaea,” wrote Tacitus in Book XII of his Annals, “thought that he could do any evil act with impunity.” The Jewish historian Josephus related how Felix responded to exhortation to improve in the way he governed, revealing that he neither promoted peace nor instituted desirable reforms. The high priest Jonathan often admonished him to govern “the Jewish affairs better than he did, lest he should himself have complaints made against him by the multitude.” On account of this, Felix determined to rid himself of Jonathan, “for,” as Josephus observed, “such continual admonitions are grievous to those who are disposed to act unjustly.” By promising Doras (one of Jonathan’s closest friends) a large sum of money, Felix gained his cooperation to carry out an assassination plot. Doras arranged for certain ruffians, with daggers concealed under their garments, to go to Jerusalem, “as if they were going to worship God.” Then, while in the midst of the multitude, they killed Jonathan. (Antiquities, XX, viii, 5)
Tertullus claimed that always and everywhere the Jews had received the benefits from “his Excellency Felix with all gratitude” or “with the utmost thankfulness.” (24:3) While heaping such inordinate praise on Felix, Tertullus courteously assured him that he would be brief in stating the case against Paul, saying, “But in order not to hinder you more [possibly with the implication of detaining him from carrying out his important administrative duties], I entreat you to hear us briefly with your [customary] indulgence.” (24:4) He maintained that the Jews had found Paul to be a “pest” (loimós), a man who “incited seditions among all the Jews throughout the world,” a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes,” and a man who even “tried to profane the temple.” (24:5, 6)
The Greek word loimós describes someone who is regarded as being extremely troublesome, a menace, or a public enemy. In representing Paul as an agitator or seditionist, Tertullus apparently aimed to make the apostle appear as a danger to Rome, for the Jews in the whole Greco-Roman world were being affected by his activity. The nature of his sedition is linked to his being a prominent leader of the sect of the Nazarenes, which “sect” would have been known by Felix as identifying Jews who believed Jesus from Nazareth to be the Messiah. So the intent of Tertullus seemingly would have been to get Felix to associate Paul with the political Messianic movements that had often been troublesome to the authority of Rome. The accusation about Paul’s trying to defile the temple made him out to be one who revolted against an established arrangement of worship that had the recognition and, therefore, protection of Roman authority. (24:5, 6, 22; regarding “sect,” see the Notes section.)
Tertullus concluded the accusation with the words, “and whom we seized,” implying that Paul had been rightly arrested when, in reality, certain Jews from Asia Minor had incited mob action against him. (24:6) Although missing in the oldest extant manuscripts, an expanded text in numerous manuscripts represents Claudius Lysias as having interfered with a proper Jewish judicial proceeding. “We seized him, and wanted to judge him according to our law. But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands, commanding his accusers to come to you.” (24:6-8, NKJV; see the Notes section.)
Tertullus maintained that, by questioning Paul personally, Felix would be able to find out everything about the accusations. The implication was that Felix would recognize that the Jews had a valid case against the apostle. (24:8) The Jewish delegation joined in the attack against Paul, asserting that everything Tertullus had said was true. (24:9)
Felix nodded to Paul, giving him the opportunity to speak. The apostle acknowledged that Felix had been serving as judge to the Jewish nation for “many years” and, therefore, he gladly spoke in his own defense before him. According to Tacitus (Annals, Book XII), Felix first functioned jointly as procurator with Cumanus and later held this position alone. In a general sense, therefore, Felix could be regarded as having served the nation as judge for “many years.” (24:10)
When saying that he was pleased to make his defense before him, Paul indicated that he was innocent and trusted that Felix would concur. “Not more than twelve days” earlier, as Felix would have been able to verify, Paul had gone up to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. (24:10, 11) The Jews did not find him wrangling with anyone in the temple precincts nor stirring up a crowd, neither in the synagogues nor in the city. (24:12) His accusers could not prove any of the charges they had made against him. (24:13)
While categorically denying the false charge about being a public enemy who stirred up the people, Paul did acknowledge his adherence to “the way” (the way of life that centered on Jesus Christ and his teaching and example), which his accusers called a “sect.” According to this “way,” Paul worshiped the God to whom the Jewish forefathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) were devoted, and he believed everything contained in the “law” (the Torah) and the writings of the prophets. (24:14)
Paul shared the same hope in God, specifically that of the Jewish elders who were Pharisees, that the dead, both the righteous and the unrighteous, would be resurrected. As a firm believer in the resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous, he was concerned about having God’s approval as an upright person and thus would not have been a man who caused trouble among those who had the same faith. (24:15; see the Notes section.) Paul always applied himself to be in possession of a clear conscience before God and men. (24:16)
His reason for coming to Jerusalem after quite a number of years was to bring alms to the Jewish people and to present offerings. The prime purpose had been to bring a contribution for poor fellow Jewish believers, and so Paul could say that he came “to bring alms to [his] nation.” (Romans 15:25-28) His coming to present offerings does not appear to have been part of his original plan. On the advice of James and elders from the community of Christ’s disciples in Jerusalem, however, he did choose to follow through in caring for the expense of the offerings to be made by four men who had been under a Nazarite vow. From that standpoint, Paul could speak of having come to present offerings. (21:23-26; 24:17)
While Paul was in the temple precincts attending to matters involving the offerings for the four men who had taken a Nazarite vow (21:23, 24, 26-28), he had cleansed himself ceremonially and was not with a crowd. He did not create any kind of disturbance. What certain Jews from the Roman province of Asia then did is not included in the quoted words of Paul. They were the ones who had created the uproar. (21:27, 28; 24:18)
These Jews, as Paul continued, should have been the ones to appear before Felix and make whatever accusations they had against him. (24:19) As far as the Jewish accusers then present, they should state what evidence of wrongdoing they found when he appeared before the Sanhedrin. Though not framed as a question, Paul made the point about whether his crime could have been his crying out in their midst, “Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged by you today!” (24:20, 21; see the Notes section.)
Felix was well-informed about “the way,” which doubtless included his knowing that Jews who believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah and followed his teaching often were the object of hostility. They were an unpopular and hated minority. Therefore, Felix did not want to make a decision to set Paul free. He told the high priest and the delegation of Jewish elders, “When Lysias the chiliarch comes down, I will evaluate [diaginósko] the matters relating to you.” The Greek verb diaginósko refers to a careful consideration of the facts or of a matter in order to render judgment or to make a decision. It may be that Felix wanted to give the impression that he needed to hear what Lysias had to say before he could render his verdict. The concluding three words of the Greek text are tá kath’ hymás, which can literally be rendered “the matters relating to you” and have commonly been translated “your case” (NAB, NCV, NJB, NRSV, REB). In the Greek text, the word “you” is plural, applying specifically to the accusers who, through Tertullus, had presented their case against Paul. (24:22)
Felix ordered the centurion to keep Paul in custody but apparently free from certain kinds of restrictions associated with tight security. The centurion was not to hinder him from having his “own,” which would have included friends and relatives, visit him and attend to any of his needs. (24:23)
The account does not relate from where, “after some days,” Felix arrived with his wife Drusilla, a Jewess. At that time, he sent for Paul and listened to him speak about the “faith in Christ Jesus” or the message concerning him. (24:24)
Drusilla, the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I (the ruler who had the apostle James executed and the apostle Peter imprisoned [12:2, 3]) was promised in marriage to Epiphanes, prince of Commagena, before she was six years old (her age at her father’s death). (Josephus, Antiquities, XIX, ix, 1; XX, vii, 1) The marriage did not take place, for Epiphanes, although he had promised Herod Agrippa I that he would get circumcised, refused to do so. Herod Agrippa II then gave his teenage sister in marriage to Azizus, king of Emesa, who did agree to get circumcised. The marriage did not last long. Struck by her beauty, Felix fell in love with her and sent a Jew named Simon to her with the proposal that she leave her husband and marry him, promising that, “if she would not refuse him, he would make her a happy woman.” Regarding Drusilla’s reason for accepting the proposal of Felix, Josephus continued, “Accordingly she acted ill, and because she was desirous to avoid her sister Bernice’s envy, for she was very ill treated by her on account of her beauty, was prevailed upon to transgress the laws of her forefathers, and to marry Felix.” (Antiquities, XX, vii, 1, 2) According to Suetonius (Lives of the Caesars, Life of Claudius, XXVIII), Drusilla would have been Felix’s third wife.
When sharing the message about Jesus Christ, Paul included matters involving personal accountability. He spoke about righteousness, uprightness, or justice, self-control, and future judgment. This frightened Felix who had made himself guilty of many injustices and had failed to live uprightly. His life had been unbridled, and the way in which he had maneuvered Drusilla to be his wife was dishonorable. Therefore, the message about a coming judgment would have been very disturbing to him. He then dismissed Paul, telling him that he would send for him when he had the opportunity. (24:25)
Thereafter Felix often called Paul and conversed with him, doing so for an ulterior motive. He hoped that Paul would give him money, bribing him to be released. (24:26; see the Notes section.)
After about two years, Porcius Festus succeeded Felix as procurator. Wanting to have the favor of the Jews, Felix did not free Paul. (24:27) His leaving Paul bound or in confinement, however, did not change the unfavorable view the Jews had of Felix. The principal ones of the Jewish community in Caesarea traveled to Rome to accuse him of wrongdoing. If it had not been for the intervention of his brother Pallas, whom the Roman emperor Nero highly favored, Felix would have been severely punished. (Antiquities, XX, viii, 9)
In verse 2, the New King James Version reads, “Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight.” The rendering “prosperity” (instead of “reforms”) is based on the reading of manuscripts that contain a form of katórthoma instead of a form of diórthoma. Neither desirable reforms nor prosperity, however, marked the period during which Felix governed.
In itself, the Greek word haíresis, translated “sect” (in verse 5), does not have the negative sense that is commonly associated with the English word. The Greek expression basically designated a group that adhered to certain distinctive beliefs (for example, the “sect of the Pharisees” [15:5] or the “sect of the Sadducees” ([5:17]). Tertullus, however, appears to have used the term to represent Paul as being a leader of a heretical Jewish sect, as is also suggested by the apostle’s words in verse 14.
Modern translations commonly omit verse 7 completely and the expanded text of verses 6 and 8. This is because the absence of the words in the oldest extant manuscripts is difficult to explain if they were indeed original.
In verse 15, Paul spoke of them in a general way as believing in the resurrection. Any Sadducees among them would not have shared this faith, but the Pharisees and other Jews usually did.
In verse 20, numerous manuscripts add “in me” after “found,” but these words are missing in the oldest extant manuscripts.
The point about the resurrection (in verse 21) is not expressed in the identical words found in verse 6 of chapter 23. This should be expected, for it is common when individuals refer to something they said in the past to convey the basic thought rather than to repeat the exact words.
In verse 26, the words “that he might release him” (NKJV) are not found in the oldest extant manuscripts.