Jerusalem To Rome

The Acts of the Apostles

By Charles Fremont Sitterly


Advance from the Capital of the Province to that of the Empire A. D. 44 To A. D. 62

Chapter 24

The Arraignment before Felix, the Procurator



Five days later Ananias, the High Priest, came down with some elders and an advocate by the name of Tertullus, and they presented the case to the Governor against Paul. So Paul was summoned and Tertullus opened the case for the prosecution.

“We owe it to you, most noble Felix,” he said, “that we are enjoying profound peace. Moreover, we owe it to your foresight that this nation is constantly securing reforms, and we acknowledge them with deep gratitude in all particulars and everywhere. However, not to detain you further, I crave that you will hear a brief statement from us with your wonted clemency. For, to speak plainly, we have found this man here a real pest and a disturber of the peace among all the Jews the world over and ringleader of the Nazarene heretics. Why, even our Temple he attempted to desecrate, but we apprehended him. Now, if you will examine him yourself, you will be able to find out the facts about all these charges which we allege against him.”

The Jews also kept joining in, declaring that these were the facts.

Then Paul, at a nod from the Governor to speak, made his answer.  


The High Priest paid Paul a great compliment by making this journey of nearly seventy miles to press the case in person. But we recall the fact that the issue involved was partly personal. He brought quite a retinue of elders and others, among them a Roman pleader of oratorical gifts, to present the case in due civil form. Tertullus began by a great flourish of barefaced flattery in true court fashion. When he reached the case he alleged three charges: First, that of sedition—a strong count if only it were half true; second, that of heresy—not so serious before a Roman court; religious sects were too common to be occasions of serious inquiry, especially in the eastern provinces; third, that of profanation of the Temple—this, again, if properly pleaded and proved, could be a matter of great embarrassment to the defense. For evidence, he presented the unanimous testimony of the interested parties bringing the case, and failed to refer to any other as necessary. Paul, being a born advocate and a genius for legal pleading, makes his own defense. He never appears to be concerned in any way about properly or effectively putting his cases into persuasive form either before ecclesiastical or civil courts, and there is no record of his ever failing to more than match his accusers.  

Paragraph 2. PAUL’S ADDRESS BEFORE FELIX. Verses 10-21.

“As I well know that for many years you have administered justice to this nation, I am the more willing to make my own defense, for you can easily learn that it is not over ten days since I went up to Jerusalem to worship, and they never found me either arguing with any-one in the Temple or gathering a crowd in the synagogue or about the city. Nor can they substantiate by proof the charges they are now laying against me. I do, however, confess this fact to you, that I worship the God of our Fathers, according to a way which they call heresy. But I believe everything that is in accord with the law and written in the prophets; I have the same hope in God which these themselves also accept—that there is going to be a resurrection both of the just and of the unjust. On this account I also earnestly try to keep a clear conscience at all times before God and man.

“Now, after several years absence, I came back to bring charitable gifts to my nation and make offerings. In presenting these they found me purified in the Temple. I was neither involved in any mob nor uproar, but the real occasion was some Jews from the Province Asia who ought to have been here before you and made their charge, if they had anything against me, or else let these men here say what wrong they found me guilty of, when I stood before the Sanhedrin, except it was because of this one utterance which J made as I stood among them and said, ‘It is about the resurrection of the dead that I am being tried before you to-day.’ ”  


The Procurator indicates that Paul may speak. He too speaks in complimentary terms of introduction but with respect for facts. Proceeding to specific answer to the charges of Tertullus, he asserts that he has been in the country for less than two weeks and that all of that time has been spent in going to Jerusalem to observe the national feast. of Pentecost. As for sedition, he had not even once spoken in public nor held any discussion either in synagogues or Temple courts. Where is the evidence to the contrary?

Replying to the charge of heresy, Paul admits that on strictly technical grounds he is a Nazarene, but he is not aware that this is any crime nor misdemeanor. He and his fellow believers of the new Way, as it is known, hold even more closely than orthodox Jews to the sanctity of the divine oracles, both law and prophets, and are convinced that what these hold out as the hope of Israel has come to fulfillment.

As to profanation, that were plainly impossible in his case, who, after an enforced absence of years, so longed for the advantage of again enjoying worship in the Temple that he had been preparing for months to reach there. At the same time one who so desired to show respect for his people and the Temple service that he had brought large sums of money for charitable gifts and offerings, could not be indifferent to the sanctities of that Holy Place. Why, at the very moment of his arrest he was in process of fulfilling acts of purification in connection with Nazarite vows, when some Jews from Asia, mistaking one of his company for a Gentile, charged him with favoring and abetting this crime. Again he asks for the evidence. “Why are not witnesses of these alleged facts present?”

The fact is that not even in the examination the day following in Jerusalem was one of these charges substantiated.

“The only basis of all this inquiry and prosecution is an utterance I made in clear terms of my belief in the resurrection of the dead and final judgment of the just and unjust.”

Nothing on record shows Paul’s art and capacity before a court of inquiry like this defense. Its very brevity and restraint, its open candor and quiet consciousness of utter innocence, and its masterly and pointed reply to each specification simply leave nothing for the prosecution to stand on.



Then Felix adjourned the case, for he had a very satisfactory understanding about the Way, and he said,

“When Lysias the Commander comes down, I will give my decision in your case.”’

He gave orders to the centurion to hold Paul in custody, but to grant him some liberty, and to prevent none of his personal friends from rendering any kindness to him.

Now, some days later, Felix came over with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He summoned Paul and heard him tell of faith in Christ Jesus, but while he was arguing about morality, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix, stirred with alarm, said:

“For the present you may retire. When I can spare a convenient moment I will send for you again.”

At the same time he was hoping that Paul would give him a bribe; for this reason he used to send for him more frequently and talk with him. When, however, two full years had passed Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and as he was anxious to gain favor with the Jews, Felix left Paul still a prisoner.  


Felix was one of the least noble of all the ignoble rulers that cursed Palestine during the days of the Czsars, but he had a shrewd and level head. He knew the Way if he did not walk in it, and he knew a great man when he saw him, and he rather liked to see him frequently. He adjourned the case, reserving decision until he had heard anything which Lysias might wish to present. Thus he saved the face of Ananias and the elders. Of course Lysias was never summoned, and as far as Lysias was concerned the case was over.

Paul strongly appealed to Felix, and he favored him with unusual attention. First, he ordered him to be shown every license in keeping with his formal imprisonment. His friends—and they were many and influential in Caesarea—were to be allowed free access to him, and in case he were outwardly treated as a prisoner of state, going chained to his guard, he might go about the city at will. Soon the Procurator, whose wife, Drusilla, was a Jewess, paid Paul a sort of semi-social visit at the palace of Herod. They wished to hear about this new faith—especially no doubt about the cures and miracles which were reputed to be a part of its proof. Drusilla’s father, Herod Agrippa I, had been favored by Rome with power beyond his predecessors of that house, and yet had perished miserably, as we have seen at the end of chapter xii, right here in this palace. Though Felix was over sixty, Drusilla was still young in years, but, like him, needed all the curative attentions available, and quite possibly they were not a little interested in the fact that Paul had as close companion a well-reputed physician of Greek training.

Paul saw beneath the surface and with exquisite tact yet ruthless plainness diagnosed the cases while Luke looked on and took notes. This new faith in Christ, who was verily the Jewish Messiah, as he first proved, was one of self-sacrifice. This was the key to His character as they would remember—one whole life of sacrifice, even to crucifixion—but it was the proof of His uniqueness and, indeed, divinity. No other god laid aside his power in order to save men by serving them. And that Jesus was God abundant proofs were given, chiefly His resurrection after death. Now His nation as a whole found it difficult, because of their failure rightly to understand their own Prophets, to accept Christ’s claims to Messianic power before they had rejected and slain Him, but thousands of them since He rose again had come to see their error and had repented and had been forgiven, and had come to receive a joy and sense of peace in their hearts which lifted them above every physical ill, which flooded their Scriptures with the deepest meaning, and which made their lives under any and all conditions but a preparation for that Kingdom which is to be spiritual and eternal and in which every believer—Hebrew, Roman, Greek, even barbarian—was to share in intimate fellowship with his Sovereign Lord. No doubt Paul told of his own erroneous views and the experience which made him slave of Jesus Christ. Felix was deeply stirred; even Drusilla liked the preacher’s fervor. Paul now tries to turn their interest inward—right living, standards of integrity in keeping with law as such, Mosaic or Roman; continence, self-control; the untried method and real root of happiness —giving to others instead of always seeking good for oneself. This last was so peculiar to Jesus that to learn it was at once to lift the life into the most intimate understanding of His mission and the new Way. Then, finally, it was deeply true, nothing could be surer: this Christ was God, His will must prevail; the laws of equity laid by Moses should at last be laid alongside every life and justice and judgment be meted out; the throne had to be maintained or the universe would sink into night. Sin must be overthrown and would be overthrown. There was to be resurrection both of the just and unjust and a judgment, when the thoughts and intents of all hearts should be disclosed.

Felix shuddered. He drew his cloak about his shoulders. He found himself almost in a chill. Drusilla never blanched, but she was ready to withdraw. The Procurator thanked the prisoner and promised to have him over at his court and hear him further. Luke says he kept his promise, sending often and becoming almost intimate with Paul, not, however, from the best of motives, until suddenly he is cited to a judgment which ends his career. He failed to release Paul, thinking thereby to soften the censures which his Jewish accusers now heaped upon him.