The Absurd Accusations and the Cheerful Defense

Acts 24:1-23

And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, with a certain attorney named Tertullus; and they brought charges to the governor against Paul. And after Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor, “Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation, we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing. For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him. And we wanted to  judge him by our own law. But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands, ordering his accusers to come before you. And by examining him yourself concerning all these matters, you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him.” And the Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so. And when the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded: “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense, since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. And neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot. Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me. But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men. Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings; in which they found me occupied in the temple, having been purified, without any crowd or uproar. But there were certain Jews from Asia— who ought to have been present before you, and to make accusation, if they should have anything against me. Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the Council, other than for this one statement which I shouted out while standing among them, ‘For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.’” But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.” And he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and yet have some freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him.

Fortunately, the verses struck through are not found in the earliest manuscripts, because if they were, Felix would have the ultimate case of “he said, she said” on his hands. Nevertheless, Tertullus and the high priest, do indeed indicate that they disagree with Claudius’ account. However, giving the absolute buttering-up of Felix that we see, I doubt that they would dare bring an accusation against Claudius like we see in the verses struck through. I believe, once again, that they were added later by a well meaning scribe, trying to clarify the situation but ultimately only muddied the waters. Therefore we will not consider them. What we will consider is the buttering-up of Felix.

“And after Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor, ‘Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation, we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing.'” Millennials probably don’t remember Eddie Haskell because I barely do but Tertullus is the first-century version of Eddie Haskell, using sycophantic words which are quite insincere. Have they attained much peace? Have many reforms taken effect? Are they truly thankful for the providence of Felix? Remember that the part about the commander, Claudius Lysias was added. They didn’t complain about Roman rule at all. But was any of this true? Did they actually appreciate the benevolence of Felix? Felix was as corrupt and crooked as any politician was with his amount of greed of power. Jumping ahead in the text we read, “At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him.” We will see that Felix had his concerns with Paul’s preachings but more than his concerns, he wanted a bribe, which is odd. He was a powerful man and Paul hasn’t worked in many months. Nevertheless, Felix is not known by history for his reforms but his robberies. The lawyer and the high priest were flattering Felix to try to sway him to their side. Which absolutely plays into his megalomania. Felix’s full name was Marcus Antonius Felix, from none other than Mark Anthony. His mother may have been the niece of Augustus and was probably the daughter of Mark Anthony. Despite what we read in Acts from Tertullus and the high priest, it appears that Felix was not only quite cruel, but also unusual. Nevertheless, these are from extra-biblical sources; we will stick to the Scripture, knowing that at minimum, Felix wanted a bribe.

“‘For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him. And by examining him yourself concerning all these matters, you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him.’ And the Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so.” We have read what Paul did and said, and Paul will give his defense and testify to what we have read. However, this means that the high priest, Tertullus and the people who traveled to Caesarea are lying. Again, they traveled to Caesarea, a good 24 hours of walking, to lie about Paul. Yes, they are absolutely fanatical in their wrong religion. Nevertheless Paul preached to them. The irony of their fanaticism is that they were not only wrong but actually vehemently opposed to the truth. Yet this should be no surprise. Not only has Jesus called them out for it, but he also has promised them desolation and abandonment because of their misplaced fanaticism. Rather than butter up God, they once again, butter up a Roman ruler, from the very country that is about to leave their precious temple and city in ruins and who oppresses them at this time. We remember Jesus rejected because he wouldn’t fight against Roman rule and the irony of the people present yelling, “we have no king but Caesar!” Why can’t we see the irony of them barking up the wrong tree, continually? Felix can’t deliver what they need, only God can. Over, and over, and over, and over, and over again Jesus sends prophets to Jerusalem, including himself and they killed, or sought to kill, them all, killing tthe vast majority of them. Rather than listen to the prophets, they continually seek outside help because they never appreciated God’s help. Never forget though, that Israel is a microcosm of us.

A brief history of Israel:

“Was it because there were no graves in Israel that you brought us out here to die? We need water!”

God gives them water

“We need food!”

God gives them food.

“We need better food.”

God gives them better food.

“We need leaders!”

God gives them leaders.

“We need a King!”

God gives them a king.

“We need a better King!”

God gives them a better king.

And so on and so forth until God gives them the King of kings and they reject him, rather they resorted to remaining under Roman rule. Like Paul wrote to the Romans, “God has not rejected his people, has he? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite.” God is neither racist nor antisemitic. Yet much of Israel was racist and semite-centric. They couldn’t believe that the Messiah would be for the gentiles also, even Peter struggled, although Hosea, Isaiah, David and Moses all spoke of the gentiles being accepted into Israel. But as obviously as the prophets promised this, Jesus himself repeatedly relayed this message and did this by expounding on the Old Testament tutor. Time and time again, Jesus said that they were a wicked generation and that they wouldn’t inherit the kingdom but the gentiles would along with believing Israel. Look closely at the accusations against Paul.

“For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. And he even tried to desecrate the temple.”

  • A real pest
  • Stirs up dissension among Jews
  • A ringleader of the Nazarene sect
  • Attempted to desecrate the temple

Is any of this true? While they undoubtedly perceive Paul as a pest, was he truly a pest? The Greek word used is slightly more emphatic than “pest”–more like, pestilence. Was it not their sect that pursued Paul? Paul certainly tried to persuade them, even going to great lengths, under constant threat but when they vehemently and violently opposed Paul, he would move on. Nevertheless, Paul was a bit of a tiny pest, at least in their minds, but he tried to tell the truth to them but not in Jerusalem, until they beat him. Did Paul stir up dissension? A little, no doubt but not in Jerusalem, until after they beat him–was it enough to try to kill him? As far as being a ringleader of the Nazarenes, he certainly was an integral part but Jesus was the the real ringleader. Keep this in mind, the ringleader is the exact same person who gave them their Law. Paul never desecrated, or attempted to desecrate the temple. In fact, we remember that when he was spotted at the temple by outsiders, he was purifying himself. The case against Paul is weak and loaded with unverified hearsay, plus a lie or two. Now it’s time for Paul to give his defense against an extremely weak prosecution even admitting the lies and hearsay into evidence. It’s not a surprise that Paul testified cheerfully. That, and he has really good news.

“And when the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded: ‘Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense, since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. And neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot. Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me. But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men. Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings; in which they found me occupied in the temple, having been purified, without any crowd or uproar. But there were certain Jews from Asia— who ought to have been present before you, and to make accusation, if they should have anything against me. Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the Council, other than for this one statement which I shouted out while standing among them, “For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.”’”

First, we take our vitamin E, taking the long view and remembering what we have previously read; Paul mostly avoided Jerusalem except to bring relief to the poor during the famine. We could go line by line and perceive Paul’s defense against the accusations hurled at him but we know the story well and have seen Paul defend himself, line by line. But in addition, notice that Paul brings up the very people who started this whole mess and the fact that they aren’t there to testify. Even in ancient Rome, the defendant has the right to face his accusers. And even in ancient Rome, second hand testimony is hearsay. It was quite a trial for the time.

  • Cheerfully Paul gives his defense
  • Less than two weeks prior, Paul went to Jerusalem, intent on worship (speedy trial?)
  • Didn’t discuss or give discourse and certainly didn’t cause a riot
  • The accusers of Paul are absent.
  • Paul’s only outburst came after he was thrice accosted with fists.

This should be a slam dunk for Paul, given the letter from Claudius and the lack of evidence, coupled with Paul’s testimony and that the whistleblowers don’t testify. Forget about the defendant’s right to face his accusers–if the whistleblowers truly had evidence on Paul, it would be imperative that they testify to this. Remember, Paul did not preach in Jerusalem until after he was accused by outsiders. Paul was purifying himself in the temple when Jewish people from Asia Minor saw him–they started the riot. They are the ones who accused Paul and now they are conspicuously absent. If they truly had convincing evidence, they would be there. The absence of the whistle-blowing, riot-starting, accusation-throwing people, speaks volumes to the extremely weak evidence against Paul.

Paul also points out that he is following the Law which they also follow. But Paul also adds in the prophets. I find that interesting because we don’t hear much about the high priest and the prophets. Rather, Jesus was always pointing to the prophets and even says that they were the sons of the prophets’ murderers and would kill the prophets sent to them. Paul also speaks on his conscience but the high priest relies on acts of the Law, which we have seen, he hypocritically breaks.

“But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, ‘When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.’ And he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and yet have some freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him.” It’s difficult for corrupt officials to make a decision without being bribed. Nevertheless, Felix, although having a letter from Claudius, decides to wait for him to come from Jerusalem to testify at Caesarea. Based on this statement from Felix and based on the continuing context–Felix is simply stalling. Ultimately, this works well for Paul. He is protected but has some freedoms.

We, however, treat the Bible as if it is an owner’s manual to a 2006 Toyota Corolla, especially the Pauline epistles. But the Pauline epistles are letters from Paul–some written to churches and others were written to men. Some of these letters are lost and not found in the Bible. We also remember reading in these letters that Paul sent certain men and women here, or there. In other words, even in exile, Paul was working for Christ. Which seems counter intuitive to us but we know differently, deep down, because by now, we take a long view of Scripture, considering the continuing context.

We remember that while Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he wrote to the Philippians; “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” In a similar situation, Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea does not hinder his ministry. And actually, Paul seems to be the recipient of ministry from others. Paul wasn’t going to live forever and it is a good time for others to grow in grace.

Nevertheless, Paul is kept in custody indefinitely. We will see this next time as we continue to consider the continuing context and sublime string, seeing God’s hand on all that happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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