Governor Felix on the take
Jewish prosecution’s case against Paul1 Paul’s accusers got to Caesarea five days later. Ananias the high priest came with some Jewish leaders and a prosecuting lawyer named Tertullus. They brought formal charges against Paul, which they presented to the governor. 2 Felix summoned Paul. When Paul arrived, Tertullus made his opening statement by accusing Paul of breaking the law.
“Thanks to you, Honorable Governor, our nation has experienced a long stretch of peace. It’s all because of your skills as a ruler and because of the reforms you had the wisdom to enact. 3 We accept these gifts you’ve given us, Honorable Governor Felix, and are grateful for them. 4 I don’t want to take up too much of your time, so I’ll get right down to the matter. I beg your kind indulgence for just a few short moments. 5 We have found this man guilty of disturbing the peace all over the Roman world. He’s a troublemaker. He whips up the Jews into rioting mobs wherever he goes. He’s the ringleader of a dangerous cult called the Nazarenes. 6 This man even tried to desecrate our temple. We caught him doing it. We arrested him. We were going to try him according to our laws. 7 But Commander Lysias violently intruded into our proceedings and took the defendant away from us. 8 Then the commander ordered us to bring our accusations to you. When you interrogate the defendant yourself, you’ll discover that he has done what we’ve accused him of doing.” 9 Jews with Tertullus added their voices to the attack. They said Paul did everything Tertullus accused him of doing.
Paul acts as his own lawyer10 Paul responded, once the governor motioned for him. “I know that you have been the judge over this nation for a good many years. I’m glad to have this opportunity to tell you my side of the story. 11 I arrived in Jerusalem no more than a dozen days ago. You can easily verify that. I went there to worship at the Temple. 12 The prosecution knows that I didn’t argue with anyone there. I didn’t stir up trouble at the Temple or in any of the synagogues throughout the city. 13 In fact, they have no proof of any kind to support their accusations. 14 I do admit this much. I’m a follower of the Way, which they call a cult. I worship the same God that our Jewish ancestors did. And I believe what is written in our Bible—everything in the books of Law and everything written in the books of the Prophets. 15 Like these men accusing me, I put my trust in God and in the hope that there is life after death—a resurrection of both the good and the bad. 16 Because of this, I do the best I can to always live with a clear conscience in my relationship with God and with people. 17 I have been away from my people for several years. When I came back, I brought gifts and donations for the poor. 18 That’s what I was doing when I was arrested. I had gone through the purification rituals that the Jewish law required for anyone who wanted to worship at the Temple. I had no crowd around me. There was no commotion. 19 The trouble started when some foreign Jews showed up. They came from the province of Asia. They should be the ones standing here accusing me if they have anything against me. 20 As for the prosecution, let them tell you what the council found me guilty of. 21 All I said to them was 'I’m on trial here because I believe that people will be raised from the dead.'”
Felix hits the pause button, adjourning the hearing22 Felix knew a lot about the movement called the Way. He said, “I’ll decide this case after I’ve had a chance to hear from Lysias, the Roman commander.” Then Felix adjourned the hearing. 23 Felix ordered the officer to keep Paul under arrest, giving him freedom to see his friends and to take care of any personal business. 24 Felix left town but came back a few days later with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. Felix sent for Paul and listened to him talk about why he believed Jesus is the Messiah. 25 Paul also talked with Felix about why it’s important to live an honorable life that God would approve—a life in which we take control of our actions. Paul also told him that people will be held accountable for their actions when it’s time for judgment. That scared Felix. He told Paul, “You can go for now. When I get a chance later, I’ll send for you.”
Bribes welcome26 What Felix really wanted from Paul was a bribe. So he sent for Paul often, talking with him. 27 Felix did that for two years—until he got replaced. Felix kept Paul in prison that long because it made the Jewish leaders happy. Porcius Festus became the next governor.
Tertullus, it seems, is a hired mouth. His job is to present the case against Paul. There’s no indication of where he stands, personally, on the matter. He represents his clients and speaks on their behalf.
Jesus came from the city of Nazareth. He was a Nazarene, and some people called his followers Nazarenes.
The last sentence in verse six, all of verse seven, and the first sentence in verse 8 are not included in some of the ancient manuscripts that many Bible experts say are most reliable. The theory is that an editor added them, possibly to fill in some of the obvious details already reported in the story.
Before people starting calling the followers of Jesus “Christians,” (see Acts 11:26), they called them followers of the Way. Some wrote of it as “the way of the Lord.” Didache (Teaching), a Christian manual written in either the first or second century, spoke of “Two Ways.” There was the way that led to life, and the way that led to death. When Jesus’ disciple, Thomas, asked how to get to where Jesus was going, so he could go, too, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 New Living Translation).
The Books of Law are the first five books in the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. They are anonymously written, but Jews taught that Moses wrote them. Sometimes “Law” refers to just the Jewish rules for living that appear in those books, especially in the Book of Deuteronomy, which is a summary of the laws.
In Roman times, Asia did not refer to the Far East. It was the territory on what is now Turkey’s west coast. It was home to one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire: Ephesus.
The officer was a centurion, commander of a unit of about 100 soldiers.
Drusilla was a gorgeous teenager at the time, according to first-century Jewish history writer Josephus. This was her second marriage. She was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, ruler of the Jewish homeland from AD 41-44. Drusilla was born in AD 38. She married her first husband in an arranged wedding when she was 14 years old. As Josephus tells it, Felix convinced her to leave her husband and marry him. Bible scholars say she was probably almost 20 years old when she met Paul, sometime before the emperor fired Felix in about AD 58 for abusing his power.
The Greek word for Messiah is Christ.
Often translated as “righteous.”
See the note for Acts 23:34-35.
Festus governed the Roman province of Judea (roughly the area of Israel) for about three years, from about AD 59-62. He had a reputation as a fair judge in disputes, according to first-century Jewish history writer Josephus.
Tertullus seems to suck up to Governor Felix by thanking him for giving the Jews “a long stretch of peace” (24:2). Actually, the Romans had been occupying the Jewish homeland for a century, and Jews were getting so fed up with the Romans that a few years after this, in AD 66, Jews would launch a war of independence against Rome. Jews would lose, big time; Jerusalem would get leveled. Do you think Tertullus was being authentic in his praise, since some Jews in positions of power got their power from Romans?
What do you think of the prosecution’s case against Paul? Was it well-presented and compelling or weaker than a fifth cup of tea off of a single teabag (Acts 24:2-8)?
When Tertullus outlined the case against Paul, what do you think he got right and what do you think he got wrong?
After reading the opening statements by the prosecution (Tertullus) and the defense (Paul), what do you think a fair judge would have done next?
What do you think most motivated Governor Felix to keep Paul in custody for two years?
- “What Felix really wanted from Paul was a bribe” (24:26).
- Felix was married to a Jew and interested in the Way, which many people treated as just another branch of the Jewish religion.
- Felix was genuinely curious about the Jewish religion and possibly considering converting to the faith of his drop-dead-gorgeous teenage wife Drusilla (see note for Acts 24:24).
- Felix’s job security rested on his ability to maintain the peace. In this Jewish homeland, he needed to keep the Jews happy. “Felix kept Paul in prison that long because it made the Jewish leaders happy” (24:27).
- Most of the above, plus Felix was a jerk.
LIFE APPLICATION. When people come at us with accusations that twist the truth, merging honest facts with nasty lies, most of us tend to get testy. Paul, however, seemed to present his defense calmly and thoroughly. When it comes to getting wrongly accused in religious matters, when is it best to speak up and when is it best to shut up?