Paul Escorted to Caesarea, Part 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on Acts)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

28 And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council:

Lysias’s account of the hearing in the Sanhedrin was less biased. One wonders how he could have understood what was going on, since the whole proceeding was no doubt conducted in Aramaic. He probably arranged for an interpreter, which was the usual practice in such circumstances.

29 Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.

He certainly learned enough from the proceeding to realize that the whole debate involved “questions about their religious law” and not any infraction of Roman law—it was not a case for a civil tribunal. His official report to Felix flatly stated that “there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment.” The picture would not change. It was the conclusion reached by all the Roman officials right up to Paul’s appeal to Caesar.

Acts 23:29 is another of Luke’s “official statements” from Roman officials, proving that Christians were not considered criminals. The officials in Philippi had almost apologized to Paul (Acts 16:35-40), and Gallio in Corinth had refused to try him (Acts 18:14-15). In Ephesus, the town clerk told 25,000 people that the Christians were innocent of any crime (Acts 19:40), and now the Roman captain from the temple fortress was writing the same thing. Later, Festus (Acts 25:24-25) and Herod Agrippa (Acts 26:31-32) would also affirm that Paul should have been set free. Even the Jewish leaders in Rome had to confess that they had had no official news against Paul (Acts 28:21).

30 And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell.

The final part of Lysias’s letter related the immediate circumstances leading to his transfer of Paul—the ambush plot. The Tribune added the further note that he had ordered Paul’s accusers to prepare their case for presentation before Felix. At the writing of the letter, he would not yet have done this but surely waited until Paul was at a safe distance from Jerusalem.

Luke would not have known the contents of Lysias’s letter, but it may have been read aloud at Paul’s trial, with Luke present. It should be noted that missing from the letter was any mention of his preparing to have Paul flogged.

31 Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris.

Verse 31 resumes the narrative, noting that the soldiers carried out Lysias’s orders as commanded (v. 23). The new information is that they took Paul to Antipatris on the first leg of the journey; Luke implies that they reached the town that same night. This must have been an all-night forced march for that many people to cover that much ground in that short a time. Troops were able and trained to undertake all-night marches when necessary, as Josephus and other ancient historians testify. When military discipline was properly observed, soldiers exercised daily, and were drilled regularly with forced marches of 20 miles at 4 miles an hour; sometimes the drills were closer to 5 miles per hour.

Antipatris was a military station rebuilt and fortified by Herod the Great and named for his father Antipater. It marked the border between Judea and Samaria and lay about thirty-five miles from Jerusalem, or somewhat more than half the distance from Jerusalem to Caesarea. It was a natural stopping place for troops making a two-day journey, but it was a rather long march for foot soldiers to make without a stopover.

32 On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle:

Some interpreters suggest that the reference to the foot soldiers returning to the barracks should be placed earlier than the arrival at Antipatris. The picture would then be that the foot soldiers returned to Jerusalem at some point along the way to Antipatris where they had reached a safe distance from the city, leaving the others to go on to Antipatris and the next day to Caesarea. The second leg of the journey, from Antipatris to Caesarea was a distance of about twenty-five miles through open, mainly Gentile, country (the Plain of Sharon). But of course, the possibility still remains that the whole party was mounted. With the return of the 400 troops, this would also solve the problem of the heavy reduction of the Jerusalem garrison. However that may have been, it was the cavalry that accompanied Paul the next day for the twenty-five miles to the governor’s headquarters at Caesarea, where they handed over to Felix both their prisoner and Lysias’s official letter.

33 Who, when they came to Caesarea and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him.

Claudius Felix, procurator of Judea from A.D. 52-59, plays a major role in the following chapter of acts. Knowledge of his background and of general conditions during his administration throws significant light on the Acts narrative. Felix owed his high position to his brother Pallas, who had considerable influence in the court of the emperor Claudius. Both brothers were freedmen of the imperial family; Felix being a freedman of the Emperor’s mother, Antonia. The high procuratorial office granted Felix was something almost unheard of for a former slave and was doubtless secured through his brother’s influence in the imperial court. That it was considered with disdain in some Roman circles is reflected in Tacitus’s judgment that Felix “wielded royal power with the instincts of a slave”. He was known for indulging in every lust. The reference to “royal power” could be related to either his administration or to his family life. His administration was marked by the rising tide of Jewish nationalism with many insurrections, both political and religious. All were brutally suppressed by the procurator. He tended to be arbitrary in his dispensing of justice and totally lacking in understanding of or sympathy for the Jews. This only heightened the anti-Roman feelings of the Jews and proliferated the freedom movements. Felix’s ambitions and pretentious nature was nowhere demonstrated more clearly than in his marriages. He had three wives. All were princesses. The first was the granddaughter of Anthony and Cleopatra. The third was Drusilla, the daughter of Agrippa I (see 24:24). Felix’s administrative ineptitude was bound to catch up with him sooner or later, and he was finally removed from office for his total mismanagement of a dispute between the Jews and Gentiles of Caesarea (24:27).

The letter was probably carried by one of the centurions that Lysias placed in charge of the troops. The other would have returned to Jerusalem with the foot soldiers. The empire (except perhaps for Egypt) had no postal service except for official government business; most people send letters via persons who were traveling, or (for official imperial business) by the Roman military’s imperial post.

The question I have, and perhaps you may be thinking the same thing, “Where is James, the elders, and the Jerusalem church at this time?” Did they have a sigh of relief that Paul was gone at last? Who could guarantee that the fanatical zealots, out for Paul’s blood, might not turn now in rage on the church? It would surely be best; to sit quietly and refrain from championing Paul and drawing unwanted attention to themselves. And as for Paul’s Gentile companions, well, it would be best, too, if they slipped away from Jerusalem to Caesarea, perhaps (where indeed we again see Luke and Aristarchus later); or maybe they should simply go back home to their own countries.

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