Today we are studying Acts 24:1-27. As you can see in verse one, five days after Paul arrived in Caesarea, a delegation representing the Sanhedrin, headed by Ananias the high priest, came to Caesarea to make their case against Paul. They brought with them a lawyer named Tertullus who spoke on their behalf at the trial.
The word translated “attorney” (NRSV) or “lawyer” (NIV) in respect to Tertullus originally meant “orator. It gradually came to mean a lawyer in a secular sense. This is worth pointing out, because in the Gospels, the word “lawyer” usually refers to certain Pharisees who specialized in interpreting the Mosaic Law. They were religious lawyers, theologians, not lawyers in a secular sense. Tertullus was a secular lawyer hired to prosecute Paul.
In verse two Tertullus begins his prosecution with a traditional, expected compliment of the judge, in this case Felix, in order to gain his good will. However Tertullus goes beyond the traditional compliment to unbridled flattery. He credits Felix with producing peace in the region and with instituting reforms that benefited all the people, neither of which were true. In fact, the area had not been at peace, because of the many agitators and messianic pretenders. And Felix had dealt with these in such brutal fashion that no one but a flatterer would call the results peace. In addition, Felix instituted no known reforms that benefited the people. Notice that Tertullus also promises to be brief, which was another aspect of the traditional opening statement of a lawyer.
Then in verses 5-7 Tertullus brings three charges against Paul. First, he accuses Paul of being “a pestilent fellow, an agitator among the Jews all around the world.” Now this was a more serious charge than it might appear to be on the surface. The word “pestilent” wasn’t the problem. It simply was an insult that Tertullus threw at Paul. It metaphorically labeled Paul as a disease carrier. But the word translated “agitator” was a different matter. That term carried political weight, because it placed Paul in the category of an insurrectionist or revolutionary, the very kind of person that Felix had been violently dealing with. And notice that Tertullus charges that Paul has been doing this all around the Roman world.
Second, Tertullus accuses Paul of being “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” This is interesting because it is the only instance in the New Testament where Christians are called Nazarenes. Of course the name would have originated from the fact that Jesus was from Nazareth. And the name would have rubbed off on his followers because of their association with him. Obviously, the name did not catch on, even to the degree that the name, “the Way” did. This charge is a bit of a mystery, because it is not known why Tertullus thought it would have a negative effect on Felix. Paul was a ringleader among the Christians, but there is no evidence that being a Christian leader was a punishable offence under Roman law.
Third, Tertullus accuses Paul of trying to profane the temple. This accusation was based on what happened at the temple the day of Paul’s arrest. We read about it back in 21:27-32. Paul was at the temple undergoing a purification ritual when some Jews from Asia, who earlier had seen Paul in the city with a Gentile from Asia, assumed that he had taken the Gentile into the temple. So they seized Paul and shouted to all within earshot that he done this terrible thing, causing a near riot. That was when Lysias, the Roman tribune, saved Paul’s life by arresting him. Of course Paul had not taken a Gentile into the temple, nor profaned it in any other way. But now, in this trail before Felix, Tertullus brings up the false charge once again.
You will notice in both the NRSV and the NIV that there is no verse seven. Both translations have placed a statement from the so-called Western text in a footnote rather than in the main text. This is because there is a question about the reliability of the Western reading. At any rate, the Western text adds, beginning at the end of verse six, “and we would have judged him according to our law. But the chief captain Lysias came and with great violence took him out of our hands, commanding his accusers to come before you.”
Whether or not this statement originally was part of what Luke wrote, I believe it still helps us to understand what Tertullus wanted to accomplish with the third accusation. Let’s assume for the moment that it was originally part of Acts. To begin, Tertullus was lying about what happened. First of all, Paul was not going to be judged according to Jewish law. They were in the process of beating him to death. Therefore it was not Lysias who was violent, but those who were beating Paul.
I believe Tertullus was making a legal point with this third charge. As we have noted several times in previous lessons, the Romans had given the Jews, via the Sanhedrin, control over their religious matters. So there was a subtle charge here against Claudius Lysias. Tertullus was implying that Lysias had improperly interfered with a Jewish religious matter, and Paul never should have been brought to Felix.
In verses 10-21 we see that as soon as the governor motioned for Paul to speak, he launched into his defense. Paul, like Tertullus, opened with the traditional compliment to the judge, but it was quite simple compared with that of Tertullus. Paul merely acknowledged Felix’s long service as a judge over the area. In Paul’s mind, that experience with Judaism would gave Felix considerable ability to make a fair judgment, and I believe Felix grasped that.
In his defense Paul refutes each charge. In response to the first charge (vv. 11-13), he denies that he is an insurrectionist. He had not disputed with anyone in the temple; he had not stirred anyone up in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city; indeed he had come to Jerusalem to worship at the Feast of Pentecost, only 12 days prior to this trial. In other words he hadn’t been in Jerusalem long enough to foment an insurrection. But more importantly, they have brought no proof of their charges against him.
Paul’s answer to the second charge (vv.14-16) is simple enough. He admits that he is a follower of the Way, but denies that there is anything unusual in that. And then he gives his personal testimony. He declares that he believes the same things that other Jews believe, and he offers four points of proof. One, he believes in the same God as his fellow Jews. Two, he believes what is written in the law and the prophets, as do most Jews. Three, he holds to hope in the resurrection, which most of his fellow Jews did. And four, he lives his life in such a way that he can have a clear conscience.
An interesting and significant part of what Paul said here easily can be missed. Notice in verse 15 that he indicates a belief that there will a resurrection of the unrighteous as well as the righteous. This is the only place that Paul says that, though it is articulated in other places in scripture (cf. Dan. 12:2; Jn. 5:28-29; Rev. 20:12-14).
Paul answers the third charge (vv. 17-21) that he profaned the temple by stating the facts of the situation. He was at the temple offering sacrifices. We learned earlier that he was completing a rite of purification. He was causing no crowd to gather, or any disturbance of any kind, when some Jews from Asia, whom he says parenthetically should be at the trail if they have anything against him, began the trouble. That the Asian Jews were not present was a serious matter. Since they are not present, then those who are present should produce proof of any crimes of which the Sanhedrin convicted him. Of course they could not do that, because the Sanhedrin had not convicted Paul of anything other than speaking inappropriately to the high priest. Paul concludes his testimony by declaring the he was on trial because of his belief in resurrection of the dead.
In verses 22-23 we see that Felix ended the trial with a promise to continue it when Lysias arrived. Apparently he wanted to hear the testimony of Lysias on the matter, which was a wise thing to do. And verse 26 tells us that hat Felix also was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe.
A few days later Felix interviewed Paul informally, and Paul was able to testify to Felix and his wife Drusilla about Jesus. Paul also talked about justice, self-control, and the coming judgment. Felix became frightened by the talk of judgment, and he ended the interview. This state of affairs went on for two years. Felix talked with Paul fairly frequently, but never continued his trial. Finally after two years, Porcius Festus succeeded Felix as governor, and Felix left Paul in prison.