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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.

———————————————————————————————————-

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

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