In our last essay we studied Acts 22:30-23:11 in which we saw Paul’s defense against the Sanhedrin. In this essay we are studying a plot against Paul’s life (23:12-30) and Paul’s transfer to Caesarea (23:31-35). As we have seen in previous lessons, the Asian Jews who originally stirred things up at the temple failed in their attempt to kill Paul that day. Then the Sanhedrin failed to convict Paul of anything when the Roman tribune brought him before them. We see in verses 12-15 that that the next morning a group of more than forty Jews, all of whom wanted Paul dead, conspired to kill him. Indeed they took an oath not to eat or drink until they had accomplished their goal. We are not told who these people were, but some at least were sicarii. Sicarii were Jewish zealots who were willing to assassinate people for political ends. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, reports that Ananias, the corrupt high priest, occasionally used sicarii to accomplish his ends.
The conspirators enlisted the chief priests and elders, that is, the Sanhedrin, in their plot. They requested that the Sanhedrin ask the tribune to bring Paul back before the council for further examination. Their plan was to kill Paul while he was on the way back to the Sanhedrin. The idea seen in verse 15 that the assassins would kill Paul on the way to the Sanhedrin rather than after he arrived there was intended to deflect any suspicion from the Sanhedrin if the plot failed. They simply could deny any knowledge of the plot.
Verses 16-22 are interesting for several reasons. First is the mention of Paul’s nephew. Up to this point we have known nothing about Paul’s family. Indeed this is the only place in the New Testament where his family is mentioned. Here we learn that he had at least one sister and a nephew. Scholars have debated whether or not Paul ever married. Some have suggested that he must have been married, because he advanced so far so quickly in Judaism. To begin with, it was very rare for any Jewish man not to marry. And it was thought that a single man never would have advanced religiously the way Paul did. These facts have led to speculation that Paul had married, but his wife had died. We never will know one way or the other until we get to heaven.
A second reason why this paragraph is interesting is the way the Romans treated Paul as a prisoner. They treated him with respect by allowing him to receive visitors. And both the centurion and the tribune paid attention to what Paul and the nephew had to say.
Third, It is interesting that the nephew had access to information about the plot. Unanswerable questions about the nephew immediately arise. Why was he in Jerusalem in the first place? Had he come to Jerusalem to study as Paul himself had done as a youth? Was his mother, Paul sister, living in Jerusalem? How in the world did he learn about the plans for an attempted assassination? As Luke has done so often regarding other questions, he leaved us in the dark regarding these questions.
In any case, the nephew learned about the plot, and he went to the barracks to tell Paul. Paul in turn told the centurion who told the tribune. The tribune interviewed the nephew and learned the whole story of the planned assassination. The he dismissed the nephew with an order not to tell anyone that he had informed the tribune.
In verses 23-25 we see that the tribune believed Paul’s nephew. Therefore he took immediate action. He summoned two centurions and told them to prepare a detail of soldiers to take Paul to Caesarea where he would be safe. They were to be ready to move out by 9:000 Pm that evening.
Some scholars question the number of soldiers committed to the task. They object that it is an excessive number. But as so often is the case, it is impossible to prove.
In verses 26-30 we see that the tribune wrote a letter to Felix, the provincial governor, that he sent to Caesarea along with the prisoner. In the letter’s salutation, we finally learn the name of the tribune. His name was Claudius Lysias. There is nothing unusual in the letter. Claudius simply lays out what happened from the time of Paul’s arrest at the temple to the time when he decided to send Paul to Felix.
A question frequently asked is how Luke could have gotten access to the contents of the letter. It has been suggested that the letter may have been read aloud at Paul’s hearing before Felix. That is possible, but there is no way to know.
In verses 31-35 we see that the soldiers left for Caesarea at 9:00 PM as directed. They marched overnight all the way to Antipatris, which was about half way to Caesarea. That would have been a very taxing march for foot soldiers. After a rest at Antipatris, the horsemen took Paul the rest of the way, and the foot soldiers returned to Jerusalem. Once at Caesarea, the centurions handed over the letter and Paul to Felix the governor.
Felix read the letter and interviewed Paul in a preliminary way to establish whether or not Paul’s case was within his jurisdiction. Since Paul was from Celicia, Felix knew that the case belonged to him. So he told Paul that he would hear Paul’s case when his accusers arrived. Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in “Herod’s headquarters.”
Herod’s headquarters was the magnificent palace that Herod the Great had built for himself. When the Romans decided to rule the area with Roman governors instead of vassal kings, they took over the palace as a residence for the governors. Thus Paul was imprisoned not in a dingy jail, but as a Roman citizen in the palace. He was “under guard,” but with the consideration that a Roman citizen deserved.
Now then, Felix who was governor of Judea from AD 52-59, had a very interesting background. His mother had been a slave of the mother of the emperor Claudius, which means that Felix and his siblings had been slaves as well. But they were freed from slavery, and the brother of Felix, Pellas, actually became influential at the court of Claudius. It was that influence that led to the appointment of Felix as procurator of Judea.