Paul’s Trial Before Felix

27 May

Governors of Roman provinces were recruited from the equestrian order (Roman knights) and assumed the official title of prefect or procurator. Felix was the procurator of the province of Judea cir. 52-58 CE, but had been a slave of Claudius Caesar’s mother, Antonia. When he was freed, he took the name Antonius to honor his former master, and, probably through the influence of his brother, Pallas, who was a favored official in Claudius’ court, was sent to the eastern frontier Province of Judea to assist Cumanus, whom he later replaced in 52 CE in governing the troublesome eastern frontier. Josephus claims it was at the request of Jonathan, the Jewish high priest, that Claudius named Felix to replace Cumanus as the governor of Judea.

The Jewish authorities arrived in Caesarea five days after Paul had left Jerusalem (Acts 24:1). Their spokesman was a Jew name Tertullus who argued their case against Pau before Felix. The case against Paul took the form of two or three arguments. First, he was accused of causing civil disorder throughout the Empire, a charge very similar to that the emperor Claudius made against the Jews of Alexandria in which he claimed if they didn’t behave as responsible citizens he would regard them as “instigating a universal plague infecting the entire world,”[1] something which the governor could hardly neglect to take seriously. Secondly, and this is arguably part of the first accusation, that Paul was a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5). Finally, in Acts 24:6 Tertullus accused Paul of committing blasphemy against the Jewish faith by desecrating the Temple (a charge even Rome recognized as punishable by death[2]).

Luke’s purpose seems to be twofold. First, he seems to be showing that the crimes to which Paul stood accused, namely that of a worker of sedition against Rome and that of blasphemy against God and the Temple, were the very charges for which Jesus was also accused (cp. Luke 23:1-5 and Mark 14:61-64 & John 19:7). Secondly, Luke seems to want to show the reader that Paul, although he was never released by Rome, was treated reasonably well by the Romans and repeatedly found innocent by the gentile officials of the charges levied against him by the Jewish authorities.

Paul’s defense was that he was a good Jew. It was only 12 days since his arrival at Jerusalem (Acts 24:11),[3] so it is logically impossible for him to have been causing a civil disorder. For seven of those days Paul was under Roman protective custody, leaving only five days of freedom at Jerusalem—all of which he was found in the Temple worshiping God after the custom of his people (Acts 24:12-13, 17-18). All of Paul’s time in the Temple was spent in public view, so how could he have been doing as he had been accused? Furthermore, if there was any truth to the accusation of blasphemy, why weren’t his original accusers, the Jews from Asia, there to state their case, or the gentiles whom he was accused of bringing into the Temple brought as evidence (cp. Acts 24:18-19)? To accuse a man of a crime and fail to appear at his trial was a serious breach to Roman law.[4] Furthermore, those present before Felix, who were assembled at the command of Claudius Lysias, could not determine any wrongdoing in the Sanhedrin but only argued a point of theology (Acts 24:20). As for being a member of the Nazarene sect, Paul freely admitted, pointing out that even its doctrine of resurrection, according to which Paul worshiped God, the Jewish authorities who accused him that day allowed as part of the Jewish faith. Thus, Paul proved his innocence before Felix, completely undermining the case his accusers set before the governor and stating that the only reason he was in bonds was over Paul’s belief in the resurrection, a dispute of theology.

Paul’s Twelve Days After Arriving in Jerusalem

Day of the Week
Week #1 Week #2 Week #3
Sunday Paul in Caesarea Day 2 Paul begins the purification rites. Day 9 PENTECOST: Paul probably arrived in Caesarea late in day, since he is on horseback
Monday Paul in Caesarea Day 3 Paul still in purification rites. Day 10 Jerusalem authorities leave Jerusalem
Tuesday Paul in Caesarea Day 4 Paul still in purification rites. Day 11 Jerusalem authorities arrive at Caesarea late in the day.
Wednesday Paul in Caesarea Day 5 Paul still in purification rites, and seized by the Jewish mob. Day 12 Five days after Paul left Jerusalem, the trial begins in Caesarea.
Thursday Paul sets out for Jerusalem from Caesarea Day 6 Paul before the Sanhedrin.
Friday Paul arrives at Jerusalem and welcomed probably late in day Day 7 Plot against Paul is discovered.
Saturday Day 1 and the 6th SABBATH: Paul meets James and the elders of the Jerusalem Church. Day 8 and the 7th SABBATH: Paul sent to Caesarea (after sundown on Friday), traveling all night.

Felix adjourned the assembly until he was able to speak with Claudius Lysias personally, but in actual fact, he kept Paul in prison, hoping for a bribe to set him free (Acts 24:26). Nevertheless, Paul was treated reasonably well in that he was kept in Herod’s palace (Acts 23:35) and was permitted to have guests as was fitting for a Roman citizen against whom no crime had been proved[5] (Acts 24:23).

[1] Witherington: The Acts of the Apostles; page 707—see footnote #285 (Smallwood, Documents, pp. 99ff., no 370, lines 99-100.

[2] Josephus: Wars of the Jews 6.2.4.

[3] According to Barns’ Notes on the Bible, concerning the seven days of Acts 21:27 he says: “The Greek implies no more than that the period of the seven days was about to be accomplished, without implying that it was near the close of them when he was seized. By comparing the following places, Acts 21:18; 21:26; 22:30; 23:12, 32; 24:1, 11, it appears that the time of his seizure must have been near the beginning of those days (Doddridge).”

[4] See Appian, Rom. Hist.: Civ. Wars 3.54. “Claudius had himself worked on legislation to prevent this from happening, and shortly after this time in A.D. 61 the legislation was completed and passed.” See Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, page 713—footnote to Sherwin-White, Roman Law and Roman Society, p. 52.

[5] See F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, page 471.

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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Kingdom of God


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