Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes
Acts of the
Notes on Chapter 24.
Verse 1. After five days— These days are to be reckoned from the time in which Paul was apprehended at Jerusalem, and twelve days after he had arrived in that city; see Acts 24:11. Calmet reckons the days thus:-St. Luke says that Paul was apprehended at Jerusalem when the seven days of his vow were nearly ended, Acts 21:27; that is, at the end of the fifth day after his arrival. The next day, which was the sixth, he was presented before the Sanhedrin. The night following, he was taken to Antipatris. The next day, the seventh, he arrived at Caesarea. Five days afterwards, that is, the twelfth day after his arrival at Jerusalem, the high priest and the elders, with Tertullus, came down to accuse him before Felix.-But see the note on Acts 23:32.
A certain orator named Tertullus— This was probably a Roman proselyte to Judaism; yet he speaks every where as a Jew. Roman orators, advocates; etc., were found in different provinces of the Roman empire; and they, in general, spoke both the Greek and Latin languages; and, being well acquainted with the Roman laws and customs, were no doubt very useful. Luitprandus supposed that this Tertullus was the same with him who was colleague with Pliny the younger, in the consulate, in the year of Rome, 852; who is mentioned by Pliny, Epist. v. 15. Of this there is no satisfactory proof.
Verse 2. Tertullus began to accuse him— There are three parts in this oration of Tertullus:-1. The exordium. 2. The proposition. 3. The conclusion. The exordium contains the praise of Felix and his administration, merely for the purpose of conciliating his esteem, Acts 24:2-4; The proposition is contained in Acts 24:5. The narration and conclusion, in Acts 24:6-8.
By thee we enjoy great quietness— As bad a governor as Felix most certainly was, he rendered some services to Judea. The country had long been infested with robbers; and a very formidable banditti of this kind, under one Eliezar, he entirely suppressed. Joseph. Antiq. lib. xx. cap. 6; Bell. lib. ii, cap. 22. He also suppressed the sedition raised by an Egyptian impostor, who had seduced 30,000 men; see on Acts 21:38. He had also quelled a very afflictive disturbance which took place between the Syrians and the Jews of Caesarea. On this ground Tertullus said, By thee we enjoy great quietness; and illustrious deeds are done to this nation by thy prudent administration. This was all true; but, notwithstanding this, he is well known from his own historians, and from Josephus, to have been not only a very bad man, but also a very bad governor. He was mercenary, oppressive, and cruel; and of all these the Jews brought proofs to Nero, before whom they accused him; and, had it not been for the interest and influence of his brother Pallas; he had been certainly ruined.
Verse 3. We accept it always, and in all places— We have at all times a grateful sense of thy beneficent administration, and we talk of it in all places, not only before thy face, but behind thy back.
Verse 4. That I be not farther tedious unto thee— That I may neither trespass on thy time, by dwelling longer on this subject, nor on thy modesty, by thus enumerating thy beneficent deeds.
Hear us of thy clemency— Give us this farther proof of thy kindness, by hearkening to our present complaint. The whole of this exordium was artful enough, though it was lame. The orator had certainly a very bad cause, of which he endeavored to make the best. Felix was a bad man and bad governor; and yet he must praise him, to conciliate his esteem. Paul was a very good man, and nothing amiss could be proved against him; and yet he must endeavor to blacken him as much as possible, in order to please his unprincipled and wicked employers. His oration has been blamed as weak, lame, and imperfect; and yet, perhaps, few, with so bad a cause, could have made better of it.
Verse 5. For we have found this man, etc.— Here the proposition of the orator commences. He accuses Paul, ant his accusation includes four particulars:- 1. He is a pest, loimov; an exceedingly bad and wicked man. 2. He excites disturbances and seditions against the Jews. 3. He is the chief of the sect of the Nazarenes, who are a very bad people, and should not be tolerated. He has endeavored to pollute and profane the temple, and we took him in the fact.
A pestilent fellow— The word loimov, pestis-the plague or pestilence, is used by both Greek and Roman authors to signify a very bad and profligate man; we have weakened the force of the word by translating the substantive adjectively. Tertullus did not say that Paul was a pestilent fellow, but he said that he was the very pestilence itself. As in that of Martial, xi. 92: —
Non vitiosus homo es, Zoile, sed vitium.
“Thou art not a vicious man, O Zoilus, but thou art vice itself.”
The words loimov, and pestis, are thus frequently used.-See Wetstein, Bp. Pearce, and Kypke.
A mover of sedition— Instead of stasin, sedition, ABE, several others, with the Coptic, Vulgate, Chrysostom, Theophylact, and OEcumenius, read staseiv, commotions, which is probably the true reading.
Among all the Jews— Bp. Pearce contends that the words should be understood thus-one that stirreth up tumults AGAINST all the Jews; for, if they be understood otherwise, Tertullus may be considered as accusing his countrymen, as if they, at Paul’s instigation, were forward to make insurrections every where. On the contrary, he wishes to represent them as a persecuted and distressed people, by means of Paul and his Nazarenes.
A ringleader— prwtostathn. This is a military phrase, and signifies the officer who stands on the right of the first rank; the captain of the front rank of the sect of the Nazarenes; thv twn nazwraiwn airesewv, of the heresy of the Nazarenes. This word is used six times by St. Luke; viz. in this verse, and in Acts 24:14, and in Acts 5:17; 15:5; 26:5; 28:22; but in none of them does it appear necessarily to include that bad sense which we generally assign to the word heresy.-See the note on Acts 5:17, where the subject is largely considered; and see farther on Acts 24:14.
Verse 6. Hath gone about to profane the temple— This was a heavy charge, if it could have been substantiated, because the Jews were permitted by the Romans to put any person to death who profaned their temple. This charge was founded on the gross calumny mentioned, Acts 21:28, 29; for, as they had seen Trophimus, an Ephesian, with Paul in the city, they pretended that he had brought him into the temple.
Would have judged according to our law— He pretended that they would have tried the case fairly, had not the chief captain taken him violently out of their hands; whereas, had not Lysias interfered, they would have murdered him on the spot.
Verse 7. With great violence— meta pollhv biav, I rather think, means with an armed force. Tertullus intimates that Lysias interfered contrary to law, and brought soldiers to support him in his infringement on their constitution. This is what he seems to say and complain of; for the Jews were vexed with Lysias for rescuing the apostle from their hands.
Verse 8. Commanding his accusers to come, etc.— Here Tertullus closes his opening and statement of the case; and now he proceeds to call and examine his witnesses; and they were no doubt examined one by one, though St. Luke sums the whole up in one word-The Jews also assented, saying, that these things were so. Whoever considers the plan of Tertullus’s speech, will perceive that it was both judicious and artful. Let us take a view of the whole:-1. He praises Felix to conciliate his favor. 2. He generally states the great blessings of his administration. 3. He states that the Jews, throughout the whole land, felt themselves under the greatest obligations to him, and extolled his prudent and beneficent management of the public affairs every where. 4. That the prisoner before him was a very bad man; a disturber of the public peace; a demagogue of a dangerous party; and so lost to all sense of religion as to attempt to profane the temple! 5. That, though he should have been punished on the spot, yet, as they were ordered by the chief captain to appear before him, and show the reason why they had seized on Paul at Jerusalem, they were accordingly come; and, having now exhibited their charges, he would, 6. proceed to examine witnesses, who would prove all these things to the satisfaction of the governor. 7. He then called his witnesses, and their testimony confirmed and substantiated the charges. No bad cause was ever more judiciously and cunningly managed.
Verse 10. Then Paul-answered— The apostle’s defense consists of two parts:-1. The exordium, which has for its object the praise of his judge, whose qualifications to discern and decide on a question of this nature he fully allows; and expects, from this circumstance, to have a favorable hearing. 2. The tractation, which consists of two parts: I. REFUTATION: 1. of the charge of polluting the temple; 2. of stirring up sedition; 3. of being a leader of any sect who had a different worship from the God of their fathers. II. AFFIRMATION: 1. that he had lived so as to preserve a good conscience towards God, and towards men; 2. that so far from polluting the temple, he had been purified in it, and was found thus worshipping according to the law of God; 3. that what Tertullus and his companions had witnessed was perfectly false; and he defied them to produce a single proof, and appeals to those who had been witnesses of his conduct in Jerusalem, who should have been there could they have proved any thing against him.
Thou hast been of many years a judge— Cumanus and Felix were, for a time, joint governors of Judea; but, after the condemnation of Cumanus, the government fell entirely into the hands of Felix; and from Josephus we learn that this was now the sixth or seventh year of his administration, which might be called many years, when the very frequent removals of the governors of the provinces are considered. See Jos. Antiq. lib. xx. 7, and see the margin.
A judge-krithn, the same here in signification as the Hebrew fpç shophet, which means a ruler or governor. This was the title of the ancient governors of Israel.
The more cheerfully— euqumoteron, With a better heart or courage, because, as thy long residence among us has brought thee to a thorough acquaintance with our customs, I may expect a proper decision in my favor, my cause being perfectly sound.
Verse 11. There are yet but twelve days— This is his reply to their charge of sedition; the improbability of which is shown from the short time he had spent in Jerusalem, quite insufficient to organize a sedition of any kind; nor could a single proof be furnished that he had attempted to seduce any man, or unhinge any person from his allegiance by subtle disputations, either in the temple, the synagogues, or the city. So that this charge necessarily fell to the ground, self-confuted, unless they could bring substantial proof against him, which he challenges them to do.
Verse 14. That after the way which they call heresy— See the explanation of this word in the note on Acts 5:17, and see before, Acts 24:5, where what is here translated heresy, is there rendered sect. At this time the word had no bad acceptation, in reference to religious opinions. The Pharisees themselves, the most respectable body among the Jews, are called a sect; for Paul, defending himself before Agrippa, says that he lived a Pharisee according to the strictest airesin, sect, or heresy of their religion. And Josephus, who was a Pharisee, speaks, thv twn farisaiwn airesewv, of the heresy or sect of the Pharisees. LIFE, chap. xxxviii. Therefore it is evident that the word heresy had no bad meaning among the Jews; it meant simply a religious sect. Why then did they use it by way of degradation to St. Paul? This seems to have been the cause. They had already two accredited sects in the land, the Pharisees and Sadducees: the interests of each of these were pretty well balanced, and each had a part in the government, for the council, or Sanhedrin, was composed both of Sadducees and Pharisees: see Acts 23:6. They were afraid that the Christians, whom they called Nazarenes, should form a new sect, and divide the interests of both the preceding; and what they feared, that they charged them with; and, on this account, the Christians had both the Pharisees and the Sadducees for their enemies. They had charged Jesus Christ with plotting against the state, and endeavoring to raise seditions; and they charged his followers with the same. This they deemed a proper engine to bring a jealous government into action.
So worship I the God of my fathers— I bring in no new object of worship; no new religious creed. I believe all things as they profess to believe; and acknowledge the Law and the Prophets as divinely inspired books; and have never, in the smallest measure, detracted from the authority or authenticity of either.
Verse 15. And have hope toward God, etc.— I not only do not hold any thing by which the general creed of this people might be altered, in reference to the present state; but, also, I hold nothing different from their belief in reference to a future state; for, if I maintain the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, it is what themselves allow.
Verse 16. And herein do I exercise myself— And this very tenet is a pledge for my good behavior; for as I believe there will be a resurrection, both of the just and unjust, and that every man shall be judged for the deeds done in the body, so I exercise myself day and night, that I may have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men.
Toward God— In entertaining no opinion contrary to his truth; and in offering no worship contrary to his dignity, purity, and excellence.
Toward men.— In doing nothing to them that I would not, on a change of circumstances, they should do to me; and in withholding nothing by which I might comfort and serve them.
Verse 17. Now, after many years, etc.— And as a full proof that I act according to the dictates of this Divine and beneficent creed, though I have been many years absent from my own country, and my political relation to it is almost necessarily dissolved, yet, far from coming to disturb the peace of society, or to injure any person, I have brought ALMS to my nation, the fruits of my own earning and influence among a foreign people, and OFFERINGS to my God and his temple, proving hereby my attachment to my country, and my reverence for the worship of my country’s God.
Verse 18. Found me purified in the temple— And the Jews of Asia, who stirred up the persecution against me in Jerusalem, found me purified in the temple, regularly performing the religious vow into which I had entered; giving no cause for suspicion; for I made no tumult, nor had I any number of people with me, by whom I could have accomplished any seditious purpose.
Verse 20. Any evil doing in me while I stood before the council— The Jews of Asia, the most competent witnesses, though my declared enemies, and they who stirred up the persecution against me, should have been here: why are they kept back? Because they could prove nothing against me. Let these, therefore, who are here, depose, if they have found any evil in me, or proved against me, by my most virulent adversaries, when examined before them in their council at Jerusalem.
Verse 21. Except it be for this one voice— The Sadducees who belong to that council, and who deny the resurrection of the dead, may indeed blame me for professing my faith in this doctrine; but as this is a doctrine credited by the nation in general, and as there can be nothing criminal in such a belief, and there can bring no accusation against me relative to any thing else, this, of course, is the sum of all the charges to which I am called to answer before you this day.
Verse 22. And when Felix heard these things— There is considerable difficulty in this verse. Translators greatly vary concerning the sense; and the MSS. themselves read variously. Mr. Wakefield’s translation appears to be as proper as most: Now Felix, upon hearing these things, put them off by saying, When Lysias the captain is come down, after I have gained a more exact knowledge of this doctrine, I will inquire fully into your business.
Calmet’s translation is nearly to the same sense: — Felix, having heard these things, put them off to another time, saying, When I shall have acquired a more accurate knowledge of this sect, and when the tribune Lysias shall have come from Jerusalem, I will judge of your business.
And this mode of interpretation is rendered the more likely from the circumstance, that, previously to the coming down of Lysias, Felix had sent for Paul, concerning the faith of Christ; and this he appears to have done, that he might be the better qualified to judge of the business, when it should come again before him. See on Acts 24:20.
Verse 23. He commanded a centurion to keep Paul— He gave him into the custody of a captain, by whom he was most likely to be well used: and to let him have liberty; he freed him from the chains with which he was bound to the soldiers, his keepers. See on Acts 21:33. And that he should forbid none of his acquaintance, twn idiwn, of his own people, his fellow apostles, and the Christians in general, to minister or come unto him; to furnish him with any of the conveniences and comforts of life, and visit him as often as they pleased. This was an ample proof that Felix found no evil in him; and he would certainly have dismissed him but for two reasons: 1. He wanted to please the Jews, who, he knew, could depose grievous things against his administration. 2. He hoped to get money from the apostle, or his friends, as the purchase of his liberty.
Verse 24. His wife Drusilla— We have already seen that Felix was thrice married: two of his wives were named Drusilla; one was a Roman, the niece or grand-daughter of Antony and Cleopatra, mentioned by Tacitus, lib. v. cap. 9. The other, the person in the text, was a Jewess, daughter to Herod Agrippa the Great. See Acts 12:1, etc. When she was but six years of age, she was affianced to Epiphanes, son of Antiochus, king of Comagene, who had promised to embrace Judaism on her account; but, as he did not keep his word, her brother Agrippa (mentioned Acts 25:13) refused to ratify the marriage. About the year of our Lord 53, he married her to Azizus, king of the Emesenes, who received her on condition of being circumcised. Felix having seen her, fell desperately in love with her, and by means of a pretended Jewish magician, a native of Cyprus, persuaded her to leave her husband; on which Felix took her to wife. She appears, on the whole, to have been a person of indifferent character; though one of the finest women of that age. It is said that she, and a son she had by Felix, were consumed in an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. See Josephus, Antiq. lib. xx. cap. 7, and see Calmet and Rosenmuller.
Heard him concerning the faith in Christ.— For the purpose mentioned in the note on Acts 24:21, that he might be the more accurately instructed in the doctrines, views, etc., of the Christians.
Verse 25. As he reasoned of righteousness— dikaiosunhv; The
principles and requisitions of justice and right, between God and man; and between man and his fellows, in all relations and connections of life.
Temperance— egkrateiav, Chastity; self-government or moderation with regard to a man’s appetites, passions, and propensities of all kinds.
And judgment to come— krimatov tou mellontov; The day of retribution, in which the unjust, intemperate, and incontinent, must give account of all the deeds done in the body. This discourse of St. Paul was most solemnly and pointedly adapted to the state of the person to whom it was addressed. Felix was tyrannous and oppressive in his government; lived under the power of avarice and unbridled appetites; and his incontinence, intemperance, and injustice, appear fully in depriving the king of Emesa of his wife, and in his conduct towards St. Paul, and the motives by which that conduct was regulated. And as to Drusilla, who had forsaken the husband of her youth, and forgotten the covenant of her God, and become the willing companion of this bad man, she was worthy of the strongest reprehension; and Paul’s reasoning on righteousness, temperance, and judgment, was not less applicable to her than to her unprincipled paramour.
Felix trembled— “The reason of Felix’s fear,” says Bp. Pearce, “seems to have been, lest Drusilla, who was a Jewess, and knew that what she had done was against the law of Moses, might be influenced by Paul’s discourse, and Felix’s happiness with her disturbed. What is said of Felix, Acts 24:26, seems to show that he had no remorse of conscience for what he had done.” On the head of Drusilla’s scruples, he had little to fear; the king of Emesa, her husband, had been dead about three years before this; and as to Jewish scruples, she could be little affected by them: she had already acted in opposition to the Jewish law, and she is said to have turned heathen for the sake of Felix. We may therefore hope that Felix felt regret for the iniquities of his life; and that his conscience was neither so scared nor so hardened, as not to receive and retain some gracious impressions from such a discourse, delivered by the authority, and accompanied with the influence, of the Spirit of God. His frequently sending for the apostle, to speak with him in private, is a proof that he wished to receive farther instructions in a matter in which he was so deeply interested; though he certainly was not without motives of a baser kind; for he hoped to get money for the liberation of the apostle.
Go thy way for this time— His conscience had received as much terror and alarm as it was capable of bearing; and probably he wished to hide, by privacy, the confusion and dismay which, by this time, were fully evident in his countenance.
Verse 26. He hoped also that money should have been given him— Bp. Pearce asks, “How could St. Luke know this?” To which I answer: From the report of St. Paul, with whom Felix had frequent conferences, and to whom he undoubtedly expressed this wish. We may see, here, the most unprincipled avarice, in Felix, united to injustice. Paul had proved before him his innocence of the charges brought against him by the Jews. They had retired in confusion when he had finished his defense. Had Felix been influenced by the common principles of justice, Paul had been immediately discharged; but he detained him on the hope of a ransom. He saw that Paul was a respectable character; that he had opulent friends; that he was at the head of a very numerous sect, to whom he was deservedly dear; and he took it, therefore, for granted that a considerable sum of money would be given for his enlargement. Felix was a freed man of the Emperor Claudius; consequently, had once been a slave. The stream rises not above its source: the meanness of the slave is still apparent, and it is now insufferable, being added to the authority and influence of the governor. Low-bred men should never be intrusted with the administration of public affairs.
Verse 27. After two years— That is, from the time that Paul came prisoner to Caesarea.
Porcius Festus— This man was put into the government of Judea about A.D. 60, the sixth or seventh year of Nero. In the succeeding chapter we shall see the part that he took in the affairs of St. Paul.
Willing to show the Jews a pleasure— As he had not got the money which he expected, he hoped to be able to prevent the complaints of the Jews against his government, by leaving Paul, in some measure, in their hands. For it was customary for governors, etc., when they left, or were removed from a particular district or province, to do some public, beneficent act, in order to make themselves popular. But Felix gained nothing by this: the Jews pursued him with their complaints against his administration, even to the throne of the emperor. Josephus states the matter thus: “Now when Porcius Festus was sent as successor to Felix, by Nero, the principal of the Jewish inhabitants of Caesarea went up to Rome, to accuse Felix. And he certainly would have been brought to punishment, had not Nero yielded to the importunate solicitations of his brother Pallas, who was at that time in the highest reputation with the emperor.”-Antiq. lib. xx. cap. 9. Thus, like the dog in the fable, by snatching at the shadow, he lost the substance. He hoped for money from the apostle, and got none; he sought to conciliate the friendship of the Jews, and miscarried. Honesty is the best policy: he that fears God need fear nothing else. Justice and truth never deceive their possessor.