Paul Before Felix: Part 4 of 4 (series: Lessons on Acts)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

16 And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men.

This time the high priest was not able to order someone to hit Paul in the mouth. Paul quietly affirmed again his rule of life—to have a clear conscience before God and man. He always tried, he said, to keep God’s law and man’s law. He would not do anything that would cause another to stumble. The expression “void to offense” comes from a verb that means to stumble. Paul’s rule of life precluded any possibility of his being guilty of the things of which he was accused.

17 Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings.

The time had come for Paul to explain exactly what he was doing in Jerusalem and why he had gone there in the first place—“to bring alms to my nation,” i.e., to do good to his fellow Jews by bringing them money and relief for the poor. This may be a reference to the collection from the Gentiles for the believers in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26). This certainly did not sound like a man coming to cause sedition and strife. No doubt Felix was astute enough to realize that Paul could produce ample witnesses of the fact that he had brought monetary aid to Jerusalem. It also kindled his curiosity. “To bring . . . my nation . . . offerings” refers back to his presence in the temple to accompany others in fulfilling their vows (21: 26).

18 Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult.
19 Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had ought against me.

Paul briefly summarized the events covered in Acts 21:27-30—his presence in the temple for purification in connection with the vows of the four Nazarites and the disturbance created by the Asian Jews. He explained that he was observing the rights of purification in the Temple when all the commotion occurred. The absence of the Asian Jews at his trial comes as no surprise. Luke already had explained that their accusations that Paul had violated the temple, was based on a totally false conclusion drawn from having seen him earlier in the city with Trophimus: “(They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)” (21:29).

He had been taken into protective custody by the Romans to save him from being torn apart by a mob incited by Asiatic Jews. He had been quietly minding his own business. Why were his real accusers not present at the trial? They ought to have been present to make their own accusations, if in fact, they had anything to say against him. It was a telling point, for Roman law was very strong against accusers who abandoned their charges. They had made themselves scarce. Obviously they knew they had nothing with which to substantiate their charge, and certainly, they had every cause to fear an impartial investigation into Paul’s activities and their riotous behavior. So much for the affair in the Temple court. He was innocent.

20 Or else let these same here say, if they have found any evil doing in me, while I stood before the council,
21 Except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you (‘before you’) this day.

Having successfully demonstrated that all of Tertullus’s accusations were totally without supporting evidence, Paul proceeded to the one genuine charge that could be brought against him. There were even “witnesses for the prosecution” present to support this charge—namely, the high priest and elders who had come with Tertullus who had been present when Paul appeared before the Sanhedrin. They could testify to the one issue that surfaced in that hearing—Paul’s belief in the resurrection of the dead: “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” (26:8). Paul now had the whole trial scene in his own control. He had the issue where he wanted it where it really was. He had broken no law—certainly no Roman law, and not even the Jewish religious law. The resurrection was the bone of contention with the Jews. And most Jews shared that conviction in principle. What separated him from his fellow Jews was that he was a follower of “the Way,” that he believed that the Messiah had come and the resurrection had begun in Christ. The stakes were high. Paul was on trial for nothing less than his Christian faith. It was essential that the Roman courts realize this was a matter of Jewish religious conviction and not a matter involving Roman law. Ananias was no doubt grateful that Paul said nothing about his slap in the face; it was not legal for a Roman citizen to be treated that way.

The Sanhedrin itself was divided on the issue of the resurrection. He had only appealed to those in the council who, he knew, would take his side on the issue. Still, his conscience would not let him overlook that this 9trick of his had caused a disturbance. The fact remained, however, the real point at issue was a theological one—the resurrection. Paul had plenty of supporters among orthodox Jews who believed in that. Again, Paul made his point very well, for that meeting in Jerusalem with the Sanhedrin had been an official inquiry into his case, and all that it established was Paul’s belief in the resurrection. (Remember the Book of Acts is a record of the early church’s witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was the first one to be raised from the dead; Acts 1:22). What then was his crime? That he believed in the resurrection? What sort of a crime was that? It was no crime at all.

Paul was not so much concerned with clearing himself—although his defense was a very able one—proving the Christian faith to be a legitimate interpretation of the Old Testament, the sacred book of the Jews, and indeed its due fulfillment. Christians, therefore, should share in the privileges of the 7religio licita granted to the Jews. The wise and effective testimony is apparent to all.

Special Notes:

1 Ananias was high priest until a.d.59. The date of this trial was most likely in a.d. 56-57.
2Evidently the Romans did grant the Jews the right to enforce their ban on Gentile access to their sacred precincts.
3 Note that both Jesus (Mark 14:57) and Stephen (Acts 6:13) were also charged with violating the temple.
4 Felix had been governor for four or five years at the time of Paul’s trial. Paul’s reference to “many years” may include the additional four years or so when Felix served in Samaria as a subordinate in Cumanus immediately prior to his becoming procurator.
5 The Jews of Paul’s day were very much divided over the idea of the resurrection. The Sadducees denied the idea altogether. Some intertestamental Jewish sources speak only of the resurrection of the just, others of a resurrection of all persons. In his epistle, Paul never explicitly referred to the resurrection of the unjust but characteristically connected resurrection with believers (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), although passages that speak of a final judgment could be construed to imply the twofold resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:10). The resurrection of both just and unjust is elsewhere clearly attested in the New Testament (John 5:28).
6Just and unjust. A general resurrection.
7 Religio licita ("permitted religion," also translated as "approved religion") is a phrase used to describe the special status of Judaism under Roman Imperial rule. Religio licita is not an official term in Roman law.
8 Tertullus was a common name in the Roman world.
9 The issue over which Paul was constantly bumping heads with the Sadducees was the ‘resurrection of the dead.’ His ‘so-called’ “trick” was bringing up the issue of resurrection when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin, knowing that it would cause an uproar.

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