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A Commentary On Acts Of The Apostles by J. W. McGarvey


XXIV: 1. When the Jews were commanded by Lysias to present their accusation before Felix, though disappointed in their first plot, they still hoped to accomplish his destruction, and made no delay in following up the prosecution. (1) |Now, after five days, Ananias the high priest, with the elders and a certain orator named Tertullus, came down, and informed the governor against Paul.| It is most natural to count these five days from the time that Paul left Jerusalem, as that was the date at which the Jews were informed by Lysias of the transfer of the case.

2-9. The orator, Tertullus, was employed to plead the case before Felix, and the high priest and elders appeared as witnesses. (2) |And when he was called, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying: (3) Seeing that by you we have attained to great tranquility, and a prosperous administration is effected for this nation by your foresight, in every respect and in every place, we accept it, most excellent, Felix, with all thankfulness. (4) But that I may not delay you too long, I entreat you to hear us, in your clemency, a few words. (5) For we have found this man a pest, exciting sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. (6) He also attempted to profane the temple; when we seized him, and wished to judge him according to our own law. (7) But Lysias the chiliarch came, and with great violence snatched him out of our hands, (8) and commanded his accusers to come before you. From him you yourself may be able, by examination, to obtain knowledge of all these things of which we accuse him. (9) And the Jews assented, saying that these things were so.| The complimentary words with which this speech is introduced were not undeserved by Felix; for he had restored tranquility to the country, when it was disturbed, first by hordes of robbers; afterward by organized bands of Assassins, and more recently, by that Egyptian for whom Lysias at first mistook Paul. In suppressing all these disturbances, his administration had been prosperous.

The accusation against Paul, sustained by the testimony of the Jews, contained three specifications. It charged him, first, with exciting the Jews to sedition; second, with being the ringleader of the sect of Nazarenes; third, with profaning the temple. Tertullus also took occasion to vent his indignation against Lysias, for interfering by violence, as he falsely alleged against him, with the judicial proceedings of the Sanhedrim. Finally, he asserts that Felix would be able, if he would examine Lysias, to gain from his lips a knowledge of all of which they were now informing him.

10-21. (10) |Then Paul answered (the governor nodding to him to speak): Knowing that you have been for many years a judge for this nation, I do the more cheerfully defend myself: (11) for you are able to know that there are not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. (12) And neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor about the city, did they find me disputing with any one, or exciting sedition among the multitude; (13) neither are they able to prove the things of which they accuse me. (14) But this I confess to you, that according to the way which they call a sect, I so worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are in the law, and those written by the prophets, (15) having hope toward God, which they themselves also entertain, that there is to be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. (16) And in this do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offense toward God and man. (17) Now after many years, I came to present alms to my nation, and offerings, (18) in the midst of which, certain Jews from Asia found me in the temple, purified, not with a multitude, nor with tumult. (19) They ought to be here before you and accuse me, if they have any thing against me. (20) Or let these themselves say if they found any wrong in me when I was standing before the Sanhedrim, (21) except in reference to this one sentence which I uttered when standing among them, Concerning the resurrection of the dead, I am called in question by you this day.|

This speech contains a distinct reply to each specification made by Tertullus. In answer to the charge of stirring up sedition, he shows first, that it had been only twelve days since he went up to Jerusalem. As it had now been five days since he left there, and he had been in prison one day previous to leaving, his previous stay there could have been only six days, which would have afforded no sufficient time for stirring up sedition. Moreover, they could not prove that he was engaged even in disputation with any one, in the temple, in the synagogues, or in any party of the city. As to being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, he frankly confesses that he belongs to what they call a sect: yet he believes all the law and the prophets, hopes for a resurrection of the dead, and is habitually struggling to lead a conscientious life. Finally, in reference to the charge of profaning the temple, implying disrespect for the Jewish people, he declares that the very object of his visit to Jerusalem was to bear alms to the people; and that when the Jews from Asia seized him in the temple, he was purified, and engaged about alms-giving, and the offerings of the temple. In conclusion, he notes the significant fact, that those who first seized him, and knew what he was doing, were not there to testify; while he challenges those who were present to state a single act of his that was wrong, unless it were the very heinous offense of declaring that he believed, with the great mass of the Jews, in the resurrection of the dead. The last point was made, and presented in the ironical form which it bears, in order to show Felix that it was party jealousy which instigated his Sadducee prosecutors.

22. His defense, though he had no witnesses present to prove his statements, had the desired effect upon Felix. (22) |And when Felix heard these things, knowing more accurately concerning that way, he put them off, and said, When Lysias the chiliarch comes down, I will thoroughly examine the matters between you. In this decision he took Tertullus at his word; for he had already said that he could learn all about the affair by examining Lysias. But the decision is attributed to his |knowing more accurately concerning that way,| showing that he had come to the same conclusion with Lysias, that Paul was accused merely about questions of the Jewish law, and not of crime against Roman law.

23. When the Jews were dismissed, if Felix had possessed a strict regard for justice, he would have released Paul. As it was, he only relaxed the rigor of his previous confinement. (23) |And he commanded the centurion that Paul should be guarded, but have relaxation, and to forbid none of his friends to minister to him or visit him.| His confinement was now the least rigorous which was considered compatible with safe-keeping. He was under what was called the military custody, being placed in charge of a soldier, whose left arm was chained to Paul's right, and who was responsible with his own life for the safety of his prisoner. The guards were relieved at regular intervals, and the |relaxation| allowed Paul was, probably, an occasional release from the chain.

24. |Now, after some days, Felix came, with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Drusilla, according to Josephus, was a daughter of Herod Agrippa, whose persecutions of the apostles, and miserable death, we have considered in commenting on the twelfth chapter. She was a woman of remarkable beauty, the lawful wife of Azizus, king of Emesa, but was now living in adulterous intercourse with Felix. Concerning Felix, Tacitus testifies, that |with every kind of cruelty and lust, he exercised the authority of a king with the temper of a slave.|

25. Under the summons to speak concerning the faith in Christ, Paul was at liberty to choose the special topic of discourse, and did so with direct reference to the character of his hearers. (25) |And as he reasoned concerning righteousness and temperance, and judgment to come, Felix, being full of fear, answered, Go your way for this time, and when I have a convenient season, I will call for you.| The common version, |Felix trembled,| may be true, but it is claiming more for the effect of Paul's discourse than is asserted by Luke. He was |filled with fear,| which shows that Paul addressed him on these appropriate topics, not in a spirit of bravado, but in that earnest and solemn strain which alone can penetrate the heart. This feeling was the beginning necessary to a change of life; but lust and ambition smothered the kindling fires of conscience, and the common excuse of alarmed but impenitent sinners was urged to get rid of the too faithful monitor. It is a sad warning to all who thus procrastinate, that to neither Felix nor Drusilla did the season ever come which they thought convenient to listen to such preaching. Felix was soon dismissed in disgrace from his office; and Drusilla, with a son by Felix, perished in that eruption of Mount Vesuvius which ingulfed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

26, 27. True to the character which Tacitus attributes to Felix, Luke adds that (26) |Hoping also that money would be given to him by Paul, so that he would release him, he therefore sent for him the oftener, and conversed with him. (27) But after two years Felix received Portius Festus as a successor; and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul bound.| Having learned, from Paul's own lips, that he had been up to Jerusalem to bear alms from distant Churches to the poor, and knowing something, perhaps of the general liberality of the disciples toward one another, he could have no doubt, judging them according to the usage of the age, that they would be willing to purchase Paul's freedom at a high price. That it was not done, shows that the disciples had too elevated a standard of morality to buy from a corrupt judge release from even unjust and protracted imprisonment.

These two years, if we judge from the silence of history, were the most inactive of Paul's career. There are no epistles which bear this date; and though his friends and brethren had free access to him, we have no recorded effects of their interviews with him. The only moments in which he emerges into our view, from the obscurity of his prison, are those in which he appeared before his judges. We shall, on this account, contemplate his conduct on these occasions with the deeper interest.

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