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Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (here and here).

Acts 24:10-21

10 And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied:

“Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia— 19 they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. 20 Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, 21 other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’”

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Paul was on trial before Felix, the Roman governor, in Caesarea.

Last week’s entry discussed Tertullus’s attempt to smear Paul’s reputation for his clients, the Sanhedrin. He made outrageous accusations.

Now it was Paul’s turn to speak. He addressed Felix not with flattery, as Tertullus had, but by simply acknowledging Felix’s authority and that he had confidence the governor would hear him favourably. Therefore, he would make his defence ‘cheerfully’ (verse 10).

Although it seems an odd thing to say, given Felix’s corrupt nature as a governor, Paul was effectively telling him, ‘When you hear what I have to say, you will know this is a religious matter, not one of sedition against the Roman government. You have been in this region long enough to know what this dispute is about.’

Matthew Henry’s commentary offers this analysis of the message Paul conveyed to Felix (emphases mine):

1. He could say of his own knowledge that there had not formerly been any complaints against Paul. Such clamours as they raised are generally against old offenders; but, though he had long say judge there, he never had Paul brought before him till now; and therefore he was not so dangerous a criminal as he was represented to be. 2. He was well acquainted with the Jewish nation, and with their temper and spirit. He knew how bigoted they were to their own way, what furious zealots they were against all that did not comply with them, how peevish and perverse they generally were, and therefore would make allowances for that in their accusation of him, and not regard that which he had reason to think came so much from part-malice. Though he did not know him, he knew his prosecutors, and by this might guess what manner of man he was.

Paul wisely ignored Tertullus’s accusations and went on to restate his case, as he had done in Jerusalem.

He began by saying that he had arrived in Jerusalem only 12 days earlier, ‘to worship’ (verse 11). Paul stated that he did not start any disputes either in the synagogues or in the city (verse 12) — therefore, nothing of either a religious or a secular nature.

Of those 12 days, Paul had been a prisoner for six, which Felix would have known. He was saying that he would not have had a chance to organise an uprising against Jew or Roman.

Paul added that neither Tertullus or the Sanhedrin could prove any of their accusations against him (verse 13).

St Luke, the author of Acts, gave us much detail about Paul’s time in Jerusalem. Looking back in the previous chapters, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, the Church leaders there told him that he should complete his Nazirite vow with four other men and pay for all the animal sacrifices involved. This, the elders said, was necessary to placate local Jews.

When he attempted to complete the Nazirite vow with the men, a group of Jews falsely accused him of stirring up trouble in Asia Minor, probably Ephesus. This resulted in a mob physically and verbally attacking Paul.

Then, the Romans took Paul prisoner. The Roman tribune in Jerusalem, Claudius Lysias, could not get a reasoned set of accusations from the Jews, at least 40 of whom vowed to murder Paul, so he had the Apostle escorted from Jerusalem to Caesarea and effectively escalated the Apostle’s case to Felix.

Now back to Paul’s self-defence. Paul responded to Tertullus’s accusation that he was a member of a sect of Nazarenes (who did not have a good reputation) by saying that he belonged to the Way, the commonly used term for Christianity in that era. He rightly described the Way as the true worship of the Jewish God of our Fathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and correct interpretation of Scripture (verse 14).

Paul went on to say that, because he truly hoped in God, he knew there would be a final resurrection of the both the ‘just and the unjust’, Judgement Day (verse 15). For that reason, Paul said, he made sure that his conscience was clear before God and man (verse 16).

John MacArthur tells us that Paul was not only explaining the Way but was also pointing a finger at his accusers for falsely worshipping God by denying the Messiah:

“The Way” is the title of Christianity; the unsaved people used to slur the Christians by calling them “Nazarenes” or slur them by calling them “Christians,” “little Christs,” but the Christians called themselves “The Way,” members of The Way. That’s good, isn’t it?

We say, “Where did they get that name?” Well, it’s pretty obvious; there is no other way. Jesus said, “I am the way.” Peter preached, “There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Peter even uses it in II Peter 2:2. He says that “False teachers, by their pernicious ways, cause the way of truth to be evil spoken of.” So this was a title for Christianity used by Christians: The Way.

Yes, he says, “I confess to you that after the Way which they call heresy” – yeah, they call it heresy – “…so worshiped I the God of my fathers, believing all things written in the Law and in the Prophets and have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust.” You can see the High Priest saying, “Yuck! Here we go again on the resurrection,” because the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, right? That’s what started the fight in the Sanhedrin.

So you know what Paul says? “I would just like to say that it is true that I am a believer in the Way and consequently, I truly worship my God; I believe all of His revelation, including the part about resurrection,” as if to say “take that.” Who’s the real heretics? The high priests who have ceased worshiping God because there is only one way to God; Jesus said, “No man comes to the Father but by Me,” who have ceased believing all the Law and the Prophets because if you believed all the law and the prophets, you are going to have to believe in Christ because all the Law and the prophets talked about was Christ. “And who have ceased believing in the great hope of Israel, the hope of a resurrection.” They’re the heretics. It’s a pretty strong argument.

Henry makes this point about the resurrection of the dead. It was fundamental to the Jewish faith, too:

The resurrection of the dead is a fundamental article of our creed, as it was also of that of the Jewish church. It is what they themselves also allow; nay, it was the expectation of the ancient patriarchs, witness Job’s confession of his faith; but it is more clearly revealed and more fully confirmed by the gospel, and therefore those who believed it should have been thankful to the preachers of the gospel for their explications and proofs of it, instead of opposing them.

MacArthur provides scriptural citations:

The traditional hope of the Jew was the resurrection. You say, “Did the Old Testament teach a resurrection?” Of course it did! Isaiah 26:19, Job 19:26, Daniel 12:2, and elsewhere the Old Testament taught a resurrection.

I believe in my heart that Abraham believed in a resurrection, that’s why he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. I think that was ultimate faith.

Over time, MacArthur explains, the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) became the only ones that were legally binding on the Jews:

the Sadducees standing there didn’t believe in a resurrection. You say, “How did they get around it if it’s in Isaiah, Job, Daniel, etc.?” They got around it because they said this, “The only binding truth in the Old Testament is what Moses said out of the first five books. That’s it.” That’s why, when Jesus was having an argument about resurrection, He quoted Exodus 3, because He knew that was the only thing that they would adhere to. He used it by implication; the name of God being the indication of resurrection.

The Sadducees were not traditional; they were heretics. They denied that which the Old Testament taught. They were modernists. They were the aristocratic family and they were the modernists theologically. They were not traditional Jews, and I’m sure the accusers here are mostly Sadducees. The high priest was a Sadducee, and most likely the other elders were as well. So Paul says “boy, I’m the guy that believes in the truth, the resurrection of the dead, the just and the unjust.” Yes, there will be a resurrection of both. Unsaved people? Yes, they will be resurrected physically, in some form.

Then Paul moved on to discuss his purpose in going to Jerusalem. He said that he was coming with alms and offerings for his ‘nation’, meaning the Christians of that city (verse 17). Paul had collected offerings from the various Gentile churches he visited elsewhere to bring to the poor congregation in Jerusalem.

MacArthur explains the difference between alms and offerings as well as why Paul said ‘my nation’. The recipients were the Jews who believed that Christ Jesus fulfilled Holy Scripture:

And so, he said, “I came to bring alms to my nation, even offerings.” And the idea of offerings – you say, “What’s the difference between alms and offerings?” Alms is the definition of what he brought; offering is the source of what he brought.

It was the money for the needy given by the Gentiles. “They were offerings,” he said, “that I brought to give to the needy. That’s why I came.” Now, I want you to notice something interesting. He says, “After many years I came to bring alms to my nation.” You say, “Well, wait a minute. He didn’t give them to the nation. He gave them to the Christian Jews.” … The only true Jew in existence is what? The Christian Jew, the one who is a Jew not outwardly, but inwardly. And so, there’s no reason to qualify that.

You say, “Well, maybe Paul is kind of getting himself off the hook by using a generality.” Not really. Paul did not distinguish the Christian Jew from the rest, because, in his mind, a true Jew was one who believed in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and he was right. And so, he did bring to his nation these things. “I came here,” he says, “To bring alms to my nation, offerings. And there I was in the temple, minding my own business” – that’s in the white spaces between 17 and 18.

Paul went on to say that he was completing his Nazirite vow quietly in the temple when ‘Jews from Asia’ (verse 18) began shouting false accusations about him. He left that bit unspoken, but covered it by saying they are the ones who should be before Felix, not the Sanhedrin, defending their accusations (verse 19).

However, Paul said, as the Jews from Asia are not present, then the Sanhedrin should say what they think he is guilty of (verse 19), other than a robust defence of the resurrection of the dead (verse 20). That pointed the finger straight back at the Sadducees.

Henry clarifies Paul’s message:

When I was there, they could not take offence at any thing I said; for all I said was, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day (Acts 24:21), which gave no offence to any one but the Sadducees. This I hope was no crime, that I stuck to that which is the faith of the whole Jewish church, excepting those whom they themselves call heretics.”

MacArthur says that, with his statement, Paul had exonerated himself from any civil charges. In other words, this was a purely theological matter, which a Roman court did not handle:

Paul knows that that’s no criminal issue at all. That’s a theological discussion. These guys were standing right there; they had been in the council. They had nothing to say. There was no accusation given. The only thing they could say was that he had said something about the resurrection and everybody got uptight about it. That’s all. It was theological; no issue for a court. And incidentally, Felix knew this. He knew it even before Paul’s testimony, because in chapter 23:29, he got a letter from the tribune of Jerusalem, who explained it.

“Whom I perceived,” he said, “to be accused of questions of their law but having nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or bonds.” In other words, Claudius Lysias, when he sent Paul to Felix, sent this letter along, and said, “Hey Felix, this guy hasn’t done one thing to break the law. It’s a whole theological issue between the Jews.” And so, what Paul does in the last of his testimony is in verse 21. What he does is, he throws the whole case back into theology, and it’s a very wise move. Here he is as wise as a serpent.

He just throws the whole case into the theological area, and he knows from experience that a Roman judge cannot make a determination in a case or regarding Jewish theology. There is no crime, there’s no criminal act, there’s no civil crime; there’s nothing. Felix knew that, he knew the real issue. Paul just gave him the responsibility. He says, “The only thing they’ve got that hassles them is that I made a statement concerning the resurrection of the dead, and I said that’s probably the issue, that that’s the only thing that they could bring up.”

The story continues next week, turning to Felix’s spiritual health.

Next time — Acts 24:22-27

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Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 24:1-9

Paul Before Felix at Caesarea

24 And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul. And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying:

“Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. But, to detain[a] you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him.[b] By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”

The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s safe arrival in Caesarea, thanks to an impressive Roman military escort. There he lodged in an apartment in Herod’s praetorium, which Felix the Roman governor used. God achieved His goal for Paul by working through unbelievers.

Jerusalem’s Roman tribune, Claudius Lysias, had escalated Paul’s case upwards to Felix the governor, who wanted to convene members of the Sanhedrin to hear their complaint against Paul.

Five days after Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem, the high priest Ananias, accompanied by religious elders — akin to religious Supreme Court justices — and a spokesman, Tertullus, appeared before Felix in Caesarea to state their case (verse 1).

Tertullus was a slick orator for hire, a go-between between non-Romans and Roman authorities. He would charge a fee to help plead a case or to butter up Roman authorities. He could twist the truth convincingly.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

his speech (or at least an abstract of it, for it appears, by Tully’s orations, that the Roman lawyers, on such occasions, used to make long harangues) is here reported, and it is made up of flattery and falsehood; it calls evil good, and good evil.

John MacArthur tells us Tertullus was a (emphases mine):

professional case reader; a guy who could come in there and read this deal off, and figure it all out, and then could go and plead the thing. This is a man who probably was versed in legal procedure as far as Rome went. He probably spoke eloquent Latin; and, he was the guy they were going to have plead the case. It says at the end of verse 1 that, “He informed the governor.” The high priest and the other people from the Sanhedrin just stood there while Tertullus did the talking.

BibleHub says we should not make too many assumptions about Tertullus’s religious identity or nationality:

Although he bore a Roman name, he was not necessarily a Roman; Roman names were common both among Greeks and Jews, and most orators were at this time of eastern extraction. Nor is it definitely to be concluded from the manner of his speech (Acts 24:2-8) that he was a Jew; it has always been customary for lawyers to identify themselves in their pleading with their clients.

Tertullus began presenting the Sanhedrin’s case by first flattering Felix, lauding his peaceful rule, his foresight and his reforms (verses 2, 3).

In reality, that was untrue. Even Roman historians and the Jewish historian Josephus attested that Felix’s tenure was characterised by disordered violence, which he put down with too much force at times, resulting in more revolt. The Jewish Encyclopedia states:

Felix exercised, as Tacitus says, “the royal prerogative in a slavish sense, with all manner of cruelties and excesses”; it was he who excited the bitter feelings of the Jewish patriots to the highest pitch, and for this even his patron Jonathan reproached him in the end.

When Paul was there:

A fierce contest arose at that time between the Jewish and Syrian citizens of Cæsarea, and as Felix acted unjustly toward the Jews, he was recalled by Nero about 60 C. E. (“Ant.” xx. 8, §§ 7-9; “B. J.” ii. 12, § 7). At the intercession of Pallas he escaped punishment (“Ant.” l.c.).

Pallas was Felix’s brother. Both were Greek freedmen. By rights, Felix could have been severely punished for not only allowing, but possibly contributing, to local unrest. Romans in positions of authority, from governors down to prison guards, were expected to maintain order at all times. Depending on the offence, the death penalty was also in force for those who did not do their jobs properly.

He lured his second wife, Drusilla (Herod Agrippa I’s daughter), away from her then-husband:

Related to Claudius by a former marriage, Felix, immediately on entering office, alienated the affections of the Jewish princess Drusilla, sister of Agrippa II., from her husband, King Azizus of Emesa (Josephus, “Ant.” xx. 7, § 2; comp. Acts xxiv. 24).

Felix, Drusilla, their son Marcus Antonius Agrippa and daughter Antonia Clementiana returned to Rome in 58 AD. (Therefore, this episode with Paul took place around two years earlier.) His wife and son died when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. He married for a third time, although details are scarce.

Back now to Tertullus, who went on to make the Sanhedrin’s case ‘briefly’ against Paul (verse 4). He truly put himself in the Sanhedrin’s shoes rhetorically, by calling Paul ‘a plague’, one who ‘stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world‘ and a ‘ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes’ (verse 5). Well, one couldn’t get much stronger verbiage than that. Remember that Tertullus might not have believed what he was saying but that he was paid handsomely to make his clients’ case.

As Henry says, Tertullus had:

a saleable tongue (as one calls it) …

Therefore, we should not be angry with him but rather angry with the Sanhedrin:

those dignified men that had such malicious hearts as to put such words into his mouth.

Note Tertullus’s half-truths. Paul did not stir up riots; Jews were angry at his preaching the truths of the Good News. He was not a ringleader; he was a preacher and a teacher who came in peace and love wherever he went.

MacArthur explains that, even though Tertullus was talking about matters religious, he was simultaneously trying to make a case that Paul was a seditionist — a potential civil charge which might have swayed Roman opinion against the Apostle:

… there was the potential that this could stick if the right twist on the truth could be brought to bear. So they accuse him of being a man of sedition, and one who moves people to riot, and The Romans did not tolerate it. They were paranoid about revolution. They were paranoid about insurrections and riots, because they had managed to conquer; they had placed all their rulers and soldiers in these areas to keep the peace; and this is the one thing they feared.

This is why Tertullus made the Sanhedrin’s claims carefully in order to keep the case under Felix:

Now, he doesn’t name any riot. You know why? If he had named a riot in any area, it would have immediately removed the responsibility from Felix because they would have had to transfer Paul into that area to be tried under whoever had the jurisdiction over the area

So they accuse him, then, of leading sedition among all the Jews throughout the world; an accusation of treason. And it isn’t true. He was accused, of course, of creating dissention everywhere he went, but that was only because people created the dissention in response to what he was preaching.

Then, Tertullus returned to the religious aspect of the argument: the Sanhedrin prevented Paul from trying to profane the temple (verse 6), which was a bald-faced lie. Paul was completing his Nazirite vow, but the Jews were so incensed, they couldn’t think straight (Acts 21:28-29):

28 … “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.

By the way, if Trophimus had been with him, the Jews were allowed under Roman law to kill him, because he was a Gentile. Paul, a Jew, would have lived.

Eagle-eyed readers will have observed that the ESV goes from verse 6 to verse 8. Some translations have the following, which makes the narrative much clearer:

and we would have judged him according to our law. 7But the chief captain Lysias came and with great violence took him out of our hands, 8commanding his accusers to come before you.

Tertullus concluded, saying that, ‘by examining him’, Felix would find out that the Sanhedrin was telling the truth (verse 8). I thought that Tertullus meant examining Paul, but MacArthur posits that ‘him’ referred to Claudius Lysias, as we will find out later in Acts 24:

Now they say it, “And if you want to know what happened, you just ask Claudius Lysias.” You say, “Well, they told lies, though.” Sure, but Claudius Lysias wasn’t going to get in a fight with them.

And, if you look at verse 22, it says, “Felix heard these things,” etc., etc. He deferred them and said, “When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will determine your case.” It seems as though the indication of 22 is that the reference was to hearing from Claudius Lysias

And so later on, in 22, Felix says, “I’ll check with him.” You know something? He never did

The Jews present affirmed what Tertullus had said (verse 9). MacArthur says that each accuser probably presented a short statement of assent:

So, so-and-so took the stand, and then another elder – and whatever else – and they all said, “Oh, everything he says is true.” They just perjured themselves up one side and down the other, lying right through their teeth. In the name of God, “servants of God” they called themselves, “lovers of God,” “lovers of the law,” they called themselves. And here they are, blatantly lying in order to preserve their religion and to execute a man they didn’t want around.

Paul was experiencing the same type of false accusations that Jesus had. Through the ages, especially today, Christians are going through the same persecution.

MacArthur says that if believers aren’t persecuted in some way, they’re not living a godly enough life:

Now listen; this is a very, very clear illustration of what a Christian should expect. How many times have we seen that, if a Christian really lives his life in the face of an ungodly world, he’s going to make waves? Is that right? 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Yea, and all that will live godly in this present age shall suffer persecution.” If you’re going to live a godly life in the midst of an ungodly society, you’re going to get some flack. I mean, that’s expected; that’s how it will be. If you’re not getting any flack, you’re not living a godly life in the midst of an ungodly world. They can’t handle it.

Listen to what Peter said in 1 Peter 3:14. “…if you suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are you. Don’t be afraid of their terror, neither be troubled, but sanctify the Lord God always in your hearts, be ready to give an answer to every man that asks you the reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” In other words, stand up there and give an answer boldly, meekly. Listen, “Having a good conscience,” which means you can stand up there with a clear conscience and give your answer. “Whereas they speak evil of you as evildoers, they may be ashamed to falsely accuse your good manner of life in Christ.”

What is he saying? Two things. One, have a blameless life. Two, have a clear testimony and let happen what happens …

Jesus put it this way in Matthew 5. He said, “Blessed are you when men shall revile you…and speak all manner of evil against you falsely. Blessed are you.” What do you mean “blessed”? That I made enemies? Jesus made enemies.

MacArthur isn’t advocating provoking hostile arguments with people about faith — not at all — but, in life, some unscrupulous people will naturally take issue with us. That might well include fellow church members — possibly even the clergy! Look at how the Jewish leaders took against Jesus and Paul.

Next week, we’ll look at Paul’s response.

Next time — Acts 24:10-21

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 23:31-35

31 So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 And on the next day they returned to the barracks, letting the horsemen go on with him. 33 When they had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. 34 On reading the letter, he asked what province he was from. And when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.

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Last week’s entry discussed the letter that Jerusalem’s Roman tribune Claudius Lysias — whom St Luke referred to by name in Acts 23:26 — sent to the Roman governor Felix.

Claudius Lysias had moved Paul’s case up the management chain, therefore, the Apostle was no longer his responsibility.

As we read last week, the tribune ordered two of his centurions — each in charge of 100 troops — to provide Paul with horses. It is quite possible that Luke, the author of Acts, accompanied Paul on this journey to Caesarea.

Paul had a huge military escort. The full phalanx of men took him during the night to Antipatris (verse 31). BibleHub’s atlas page tells us more about Antipatris, which was halfway between Jerusalem and Caesarea (emphases mine):

It was a town built by Herod the Great, and called after his father Antipater. It is probably identical with the modern Ras el-`Ain, “fountain head,” a large mound with ruins at the source of Nahr el`Aujeh, in the plain to the Northeast of Jaffa. There are remains of a crusading castle which may be the Mirabel of those times …

It is 28 ms. n. w. of Jerusalem, has ruins, a fine spring and is on the ancient Roman road: 27 ms. a little w. of n. are the ruins of Cesarea, on the coast. Another site has been suggested at Kefr Saba, 4 ms. n. of the first mentioned place.

The following day, no doubt after a short rest period, the main body of troops returned to the barracks in Jerusalem (verse 32). Antipatris was in a calmer region characterised by the lack of tension between Romans and Jews, as it was mostly Gentile. The more armed Roman troops were needed back in the city, hence their return. Therefore, the horsemen continued escorting Paul from Antipatris to Caesarea.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

Thence the two hundred foot-soldiers, and the two hundred spearmen, returned back to Jerusalem, to their quarters in the castle; for, having conducted Paul out of danger, there needed not strong a guard, but the horsemen might serve to bring him to Cæsarea, and would do it with more expedition

John MacArthur says:

Once they got him down to Antipatris, they were in Gentile territory – pretty much. And, they felt that the 70 horsemen could handle him, so the other 400 came back to Jerusalem. And that was wise, too, because he had to have his forces where they needed to be, back in the city.

Upon arrival, the cavalry presented Paul and the letter from Claudius Lysias to the governor, Felix (verse 33). They duly returned to Jerusalem.

Felix read the brief letter and asked Paul where he was from. Paul told him he was from Cilicia (verse 34), where Tarsus was.

Felix asked Paul that question, because he wanted to be sure that he was authorised to hear the case. MacArthur explains:

he had to determine who had jurisdiction. The Romans had divided their conquered world into various provinces over which there were procurators, or governors. Cilicia and Judea were considered to be in the domain of Felix, and that’s what he wanted to determine so that he would know that he had jurisdiction. When Paul replied that he was from Cilicia, which is just north of the Judea area, he agreed that that was his jurisdiction. He says, “I will try the case,” verse 35, “…when your accusers arrive.”

Having told Paul that he would hear his case, he commanded his men to put Paul up in one of Herod Agrippa I’s apartments (verse 35). That was the Herod who suffered a divine judgement of death by worms in Acts 12. He was eaten alive. His palace — praetorium — became the governor’s residence. So, Paul was lodging in the same building as Felix.

At the beginning of Acts 23, MacArthur said that there were four themes to the chapter: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation.

Clearly, this was a time of consolation for Paul, to be accommodated in such grandeur — even if he was a prisoner.

Throughout this chapter, MacArthur — and Henry — have pointed out that God was working through unbelievers, the Romans, to deliver Paul to safety. Luke did not write of divine intervention, but it is apparent. MacArthur says:

You talk about first class; he’d had been escorted by 470 soldiers, and now he is going to room in the palace. God is taking care of him.

You can just imagine that Paul is there in the palace just praising the Lord for a promise given only a night before, and fulfilled already – the care of the Lord for His children. Do you see a miracle in the passage? Did you see a miracle anywhere? No miracle. No signs, no wonders, and no mighty deeds. Did you see God at work in His providence, ordering the circumstances, ordering the lives of the people, moving all the scenes and the characters on the stage to accomplish His will?

Beloved, this passage tells me things about God even though God isn’t mentioned. One, it tells me God is faithful. He keeps His word. Do you believe that? Peter said this in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise.” I see a faithful God. He makes a promise in verse 11, and right in the morning He carries out the fulfillment of it. Paul is 60 miles closer to the promised destination the first day, and God confirmed that promise in his heart. God is faithful.

Second, God is caring. Did you see the care of God? Did you see how He takes care of His servant? He knows how much Paul can handle. He knew that it wasn’t time now for Paul to sneak out of town, or to be dragged out of town, or to be hustled through the Judean hillsides between the robbers and all of the people that were lurking there, and the seditionists; by two or three men, sort of scared and huddled in the corner. He knew how much Paul had endured, and He knew it was time for Paul to go first class, and that’s how he went.

Henry’s commentary points out another aspect, the fact that Paul’s stay in the governor’s palace brought him in contact with many great men with whom he could share the Good News:

Paul had never affected acquaintance or society with great men, but with the disciples, wherever he came; yet Providence overrules his sufferings so as by them to give him an opportunity of witnessing to Christ before great men; and so Christ had foretold concerning his disciples, that they should be brought before rulers and kings for his sake, for a testimony against them, Mark 13:9 … There he had opportunity of acquainting himself with great men that attended the governor’s court, and, no doubt, he improved what acquaintance he got there to the best purposes.

There is a concept popular in some Protestant denominations, that of common grace. Catholics would call it natural law. Jewish people understand it as the Noahide laws. Whatever the case, divinely oriented common decency prevents our world from completely falling apart through violence and depravity. Even though we all sin, most of us — wherever we are in the world and regardless of belief or unbelief — recognise the difference between right and wrong.

How the Romans treated Paul in Acts 23 is one good biblical example of divine intervention at work in unbelievers.

Next time — Acts 24:1-9

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Acts 21:7-14

When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers[a] and stayed with them for one day. On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. 10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews[b] at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

—————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry featured Luke’s description of his and Paul’s voyage from the Dodecanese Islands and Asia Minor to Tyre. In Tyre, those in whom the Holy Spirit dwelt prophesied that Paul should not go to Jerusalem, as it was too dangerous for him.

Paul persisted, as he believed the Holy Spirit was telling him to press on towards Jerusalem. Luke, the author of Acts, continued as his companion. They arrived at Ptolemais, which was not far from Tyre. They met with the congregation there for a day (verse 7).

The next day, they continued southward on their journey and stopped in Caesarea, where they stayed with Philip the Evangelist, one of the seven original deacons described in the first six verses of Acts 6. The first martyr, Stephen, was among their number. They were Hellenic Jews.

Philip appears in Acts 8, preaching to the Samaritans. There he performed healing miracles. A sorcerer by the name of Simon Magus followed him, but then wanted to buy the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so Peter, accompanied by John, went from Jerusalem to confront him. At the end of Acts 8, Luke recounts the story of Philip baptising the Ethiopian eunuch.

Now Philip was living with his family in Caesarea, the place where Peter preached, by request, to Cornelius, the Roman centurion and first Italian saint. The Holy Spirit descended upon Cornelius, he was duly baptised and Peter stayed with him and his household for some time. One wonders if Cornelius was still there when Paul arrived. The Coptics believe that Peter made Cornelius Bishop of Caesarea after the centurion left the Roman army.

In any event, Paul and Luke stayed with Philip (verse 8). Philip fled to Samaria after Stephen had been martyred. Paul was overseeing the persecutions in Jerusalem at that time as Saul, a Pharisee. Now, years later, here Paul stands before Philip, Stephen’s friend and fellow deacon: a converted, pious, Christian — on fire for the sake of Christ Jesus and founding churches. What a transformation. Philip must have rejoiced and given heartfelt thanks for such a providential development.

Philip had four daughters, upon whom the Holy Spirit had descended, as they, too, were gifted with prophesy (verse 9). Matthew Henry says that Luke intimates they, too, might have warned Paul against going to Jerusalem (emphases mine):

This Philip had four maiden daughters, who did prophesy, Acts 21:9. It intimates that they prophesied of Paul’s troubles at Jerusalem, as others had done, and dissuaded him from going; or perhaps they prophesied for his comfort and encouragement, in reference to the difficulties that were before him.

The two men stayed with Philip and his family for some time. Henry tells us:

Paul and his company tarried many days at Cæsarea, perhaps Cornelius was yet living there, and (though Philip lodged them) yet might be many ways kind to them, and induce them to stay there. What cause Paul saw to tarry so long there, and to make so little haste at the latter end of his journey to Jerusalem, when he seemed so much in haste at the beginning of it, we cannot tell; but we are sure he did not stay either there or any where else to be idle; he measured his time by days, and numbered them.

A prophet, Agabus, went from Judea to Caesarea during this time (verse 10). Agabus made a previous appearance in Acts, specifically in Acts 11, when he travelled from Jerusalem to the new church in Antioch (Syria):

27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers[d] living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Agabus was correct.

So, now in front of Paul, he took the Apostle’s belt — some translations say ‘girdle’ — and tied it around his feet and hands, saying that the Holy Spirit said that Paul would be delivered by the Jews to the Gentiles so that he could be taken into captivity (verse 11). The reference to Gentiles here means the Romans.

Luke then says that he and the others present advised Paul against going to Jerusalem (verse 12). Apart from Luke, the people of Caesarea did not know Paul well, yet, as Henry explains, his reputation as a holy man proceeded him. They felt a great affection for him and wanted to protect him:

The great importunity which his friends used with him to dissuade him from going forward to Jerusalem, Acts 21:12. “Not only those of that place, but we that were of Paul’s company, and among the rest Luke himself, who had heard this often before, and seen Paul’s resolution notwithstanding, besought him with tears that he would not go up to Jerusalem, but steer his course some other way.” Now, 1. Here appeared a commendable affection to Paul, and a value for him, upon account of his great usefulness in the church. Good men that are very active sometimes need to be dissuaded from overworking themselves, and good men that are very bold need to be dissuaded from exposing themselves too far. The Lord is for the body, and so we must be. 2. Yet there was a mixture of infirmity, especially in those of Paul’s company, who knew he undertook this journey by divine direction, and had seen with what resolution he had before broken through the like opposition.

Paul would not be dissuaded, however. Interestingly, he asked them why they were breaking his heart by telling him not to continue to Jerusalem (verse 13). He said that he would suffer what his Lord Jesus did.

Here we have the Spirit urging Paul to continue and, at the same time via others, setting his expectations for the fate that would befall him. This combination of Sprit-led messages made Paul all the more determined to continue. John MacArthur says:

what happens here is Paul says, “I am ready” – and, you know, you could preach a whole evening on just that; that man was ready for everything. You know, there’s something about the Christian life, as Paul lived it, that I like. It’s kind of an instant readiness. I like the kind of Christian who doesn’t have to have a running start to get involved in anything. He’s ready any instant for anything. This man was ready to do whatever needed to be done, when it needed to be done

In Romans 1:15, he says he’s ready to preach in Rome. In 2 Timothy 4, he said he was ready to die. He’s ready for whatever. Readiness. Well, he says, “I’m ready to be bound” – and that, of course, would be painful and cruel – “and ready to die” – that would be an execution, probably by torture. There was no other execution in Rome than just the most torturous kinds: crucifixion or the merciful kind that Paul got, which was chopping off your head with a sword. But let’s face it, that would be an excruciation torture, just in its anticipation for most people. So, Paul said, “I’m ready to die.”

That said, Paul correctly envisaged that Jerusalem would not be the endpoint of his ministry, which, as we know, it wasn’t. He did go on to Rome, where he had always wanted to go, to be with the church there and organise it.

Henry points out that the Caesareans ended up receiving more of Paul’s time and preaching then they imagined at this juncture. It was all part of God’s plan:

These Christians at Cæsarea, if they could have foreseen the particulars of that event, the general notice of which they received with so much heaviness, would have been better reconciled to it for their own sakes; for, when Paul was made a prisoner at Jerusalem, he was presently sent to Cæsarea, the very place where he now was (Acts 23:33), and there he continued at least two years (Acts 24:27), and he was a prisoner at large, as appears (Acts 24:23), orders being given that he should have liberty to go among his friends, and his friends to come to him; so that the church at Cæsarea had much more of Paul’s company and help when he was imprisoned than they could have had if he had been at liberty. That which we oppose, as thinking it to operate much against us, may be overruled by the providence of God to work for us, which is a reason why we should follow providence, and not fear it.

Luke ends this account by saying that, as Paul was steadfast about going to Jerusalem, he and the Caesareans stopped trying to dissuade him (verse 14). Paul had a powerful personality, and, as he had prayed unceasingly with the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, everyone backed off — no doubt, reluctantly.

John MacArthur says that Acts 21 shows us Paul’s determination to do the Lord’s work according to His will:

as we come to 21 of Acts, we’re not so much exposed to a sermon on commitment as we are to a life that is committed. And I have said this in my own mind over and over again, that I see more of what Paul is from what he does than from what he says. But what makes it so powerful is that he winds up being what he talks about

Now, he says, “I have a ministry. The Lord gave me that ministry. I’m going to fulfill that ministry; I don’t care what the price is.” Now, that’s that I call commitment. Of all the words that are used, I prefer that word. But you might call it the courage of conviction, or consecration, or devotion, or dedication, or surrender, or yieldedness, or whatever other terms it comes under, it is basically the same thing.

He says, “I have an objective. God has committed to me a ministry. I’m going to see that thing to its fulfillment. And the price that I have to pay is inconsequential to the fulfillment of the objective.”

A word of caution: Paul’s ministry is an extraordinary one over which he prayed constantly. This is not to be construed as acting in a foolhardy way, thinking that God is talking to us about doing something rash. There was only one Paul, although within the communion of saints, others have also done great things and taken great risks in the Lord’s name over the past two millennia.

In that same sermon, MacArthur posits that Philip’s daughters had a big part to play in Luke’s divinely inspired composition of Acts. MacArthur also suggests that they did not prophesy on this occasion, which Henry would have countered:

So, it seems, as though, beloved, these four daughters of Philip could not be preachers – women preachers – but that what they did have was a gift of God to receive revelation from the Holy Spirit that was strategic to the life of the church.

Now you say, “Well, what kind of revelation are you talking about?”

I thought you’d ask that. It is interesting to surmise, and there is good evidence, that Luke himself – mark this – received much of the revelation of the book of Acts from these four women, and that that’s why they were placed here. That their role was not to preach in the church, but to be a vehicle of revelation, and in one case, for Luke. For Luke.

You say, “That may be why Luke put that little verse in there, because they don’t do anything.”

I mean they don’t prophesy in this passage. He just says that, and we leave them, and never hear about them before or after. Maybe Luke is putting this in as just a little hint [as to] their involvement with him.

You say, “Well, whatever makes you think they were involved with Luke?”

This: we know Luke didn’t know what he knew because he was always there, because he wasn’t always there in the book of Acts, was he? He didn’t have firsthand experience of everything. So, the Holy Spirit had to get it to him. How did the Holy Spirit get it to him? Well, the Holy Spirit used revelation. But the Holy Spirit could have used a human vehicle to give him that revelation.

Some people feel, for example, that Peter was Luke’s source for the Gospel of Luke. That God actually gave the revelation through Peter to Luke. We don’t know that. But in this case, it may have been that some of this information came to them – came to Luke through these girls.

Now, he had some time there; he had this period of time that he was there with them to get some of the information. Plus Paul, once he gets to Jerusalem, in the next couple of chapters, he becomes a prisoner, and he gets shipped back to Caesarea, and he stayed there two years. Did you know that? And the two years that he was in Caesarea, Luke would have had a great deal of time to spend with these girls.

You say, “Well, that’s all conjecture.”

Well, except for this: there was an early Church father right up against the early Church by the name of Papias. And Papias said that Philip’s daughters were commonly known as the informants on the early history of the Church. That’s a very interesting statement. In fact, the historian Eusebius, who is again a very early Church historian, quotes Papias, and gives some credence to the fact that these four daughters were used to transmit the revelation of the Holy Spirit; in some cases, that they even got the Gospel’s information, as well as the information of the book of Acts.

So, that’s a possibility. And historically, in the Church, has been agreed upon by those in the first century after the early Church.

Another interesting note that I want to draw to your attention here is the fact that these four virgins who did prophesy didn’t prophesy on this occasion. Another one came; a man came named Agabus in verse 10. And he gives the predictive prophesy of the future, which may, in a sense support the idea that these gals weren’t around to do the predicting of the future or do the preaching, but they had a very specific ministry of the Lord, and that was to be used as vehicles of revelation on the history of the Church past; we don’t know. And again I say, that’s just guessing, but at least it seems to fit together, and we must submit all of this to what we know in other Scriptures.

Food for thought — and, to me, at least, new information.

Next time — Acts 21:15-16

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