Acts Chapter 23, 24, 25: Sadducees and Pharisees conspire against Paul, Brought before Felix

Nov 23rd, 2009 | By | Category: Acts, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Acts Chapter 23, 24, 25: Sadducees and Pharisees conspire against Paul, Brought before Felix

Acts 23:1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

Acts 23:2 And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.

Acts 23:3 Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?

Paul stated that he had “lived in all good conscience before God” up to the present. When Ananias commanded that Paul be smitten on the mouth, Paul called him a “whited wall” and said his actions were contrary to the Law, which stipulated that the person being beaten had to be lying down (Deut. 25:1,2). Also, Paul’s testimony should have been heard first, and perhaps it was, for this is an abbreviated account. Paul was smitten in spite of the presence of the Roman authority. He continued to speak strongly to Ananias, saying, “God shall smite thee,”and it is likely that the high priest was subsequently smitten by God.

Comment: Reprint No. 4486 states, “Within two years Ananias was deposed, within six years he met a horrible death, his own son being associated with his assassins, who drew him from his hiding place in a sewer and slew him.”

Acts 23:4 And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest?

Acts 23:5 Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.

Acts 23:6 But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

If Paul had known that Ananias was the high priest, he would not have spoken evil of the ruler, and he quoted a Scripture to that effect (Exod. 22:28). Then, staying calm, he used a clever stratagem; namely, he wisely introduced the subject of the resurrection to cause a reaction between the Sadducees and the Pharisees and thus have an opportunity to expound further on Scripture. Even though both groups were opposed to him, a dissension now occurred between them.

Q: What is the principle in regard to the end of the age? Is it that we have to be careful not to condemn an individual but that we can condemn a class?

A: Yes, that principle will apply at the end of the age. We may criticize the clerical element as a class but not personally as individuals. Or we can criticize the accusation or charge.

Comment: One reason Paul did not recognize the high priest may have been his poor eyesight.

Acts 23:7 And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.

Acts 23:8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.

Acts 23:9 And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees’ part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.

Dissension occurred. Under this circumstance, Paul did not pursue the course of Jesus, who was meek as a lamb. Paul had been taken into custody for questioning but was not yet imprisoned, so he was trying to justify his innocence.

Comment: It seems as if the Sadducees and the Pharisees were given to disputation among themselves, for the dissension erupted so readily.

Reply: Supposedly, it is quite a revelation to go to the Knesset and hear what happens when a vote comes up. The way the members talk to each other is very disconcerting. Similarly, the English Parliament is renowned for shouting, and fist fights have even broken out. At present, Israel has the same kind of parliamentary government.

Comment: Despite the differences between them, the Sadducees and the Pharisees had the common goal of persecuting Christians.

Reply: The principle is the same with the nominal religious world today. There are some serious differences between Catholic and Protestant doctrine, but with the two sides trying to get together on an ecumenical basis, they are in strong agreement on the common foe: supposed cults who do not believe in the Trinity.

The Sadducees, who did not believe in a resurrection, also did not believe in either an “angel” or a “spirit.” In other words, they did not believe in either a materialized visible angel or an invisible spirit being (including Satan).

Acts 23:10 And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.

Acts 23:11 And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.

Acts 23:12 And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.

Acts 23:13 And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.

Fearing that violence would be done to Paul personally, the chief (Roman) captain commanded the soldiers to bring him into the castle. Over and over, Paul stirred up a hornets’ nest in preaching the gospel. More than 40 Jews vowed not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul.

However, Jesus assured Paul that he would not lose his life at this time but would live to testify in Rome.

Acts 23:14 And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.

Acts 23:15 Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you tomorrow, as though ye would inquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.

The more than 40 Jews who were planning the surprise attack thought they would succeed in killing Paul in an ambush en route to the hearing the next day.

Acts 23:16 And when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul.

Acts 23:17 Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him.

Acts 23:18 So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee.

No doubt Paul’s nephew, a “young man,” was amidst the multitude that had assembled and thus overheard the plot to ambush and slay Paul. A family member could get in to see a prisoner, so the nephew went and told Paul about the conspiracy. Paul asked a centurion to take the nephew to the chief captain.

Acts 23:19 Then the chief captain took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him, What is that thou hast to tell me?

Acts 23:20 And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul tomorrow into the council, as though they would inquire somewhat of him more perfectly.

Acts 23:21 But do not thou yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee.

Paul’s nephew spoke privately to the chief captain. Since Roman justice was strict, the Romans would not have wanted an uncondemned man to be killed without due process of law. Hence the nephew knew that his information would help Paul if it could be told.

What a clever strategy of the Jews to pretend they wanted to inquire further of Paul about something that was not clear! However, their ruse was frustrated by God’s providence.

Acts 23:22 So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast shown these things to me.

Acts 23:23 And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night;

Acts 23:24 And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor.

Since a centurion was in charge of 100 men, two centurions were in charge of 200 men. Quite a guard was ordered! Two centurions, 200 men, 200 “spearmen,” and 70 horsemen took Paul “at the third hour of the night,” which was probably 3 a.m. Paul was put on a beast to assure safe passage to Felix, the governor, and it is likely that his beast rode in the middle of the group for further protection. Of course Felix had more authority than the chief captain.

From a natural standpoint, it was necessary for this large number of men to accompany Paul, for if the 40 Jews realized Paul was being taken away, they could stage a surprise attack. The Jews’ only purpose was to kill Paul, so after slaying him, they would desist and scatter with their mission accomplished.

Acts 23:25 And he wrote a letter after this manner:

Acts 23:26 Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting.

Acts 23:27 This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman.

Acts 23:28 And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council:

Acts 23:29 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.

Acts 23:30 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.

As was characteristic of Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts for Paul, specific details were recorded. The charge against Paul was a religious question regarding the Mosaic Law and was, therefore, not a charge worthy of death or bonds under Roman law.

The chief captain, whose name was Claudius Lysias, wrote how the Jews had accused Paul and “laid wait” for him. Evidently, the chief captain contacted the Jews who had been conniving to assassinate Paul, telling them to bring formal charges (if they felt they had any) before Felix, the governor. The short letter may have been recorded word for word because the Romans were noted for their brevity of speech. “Farewell” marked the end of the letter. Incidentally, the Gospel of Mark, written for the Apostle Peter, was set forth in an abbreviated form to appeal to the Romans.

Acts 23:31 Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris.

Acts 23:32 On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle:

The 70 horsemen went on with Paul, and the other Romans returned to the castle in Jerusalem.

Acts 23:33 Who, when they came to Caesarea, and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him.

Acts 23:34 And when the governor had read the letter, he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia;

Acts 23:35 I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s judgment hall.

Evidently, the journey to Felix in Caesarea took two days, and the mass of protection was needed for only the first day. Thus the bulk of the contingent returned to the castle after one day, and the cavalry continued on with Paul to the governor. Felix read the letter and agreed to hear Paul’s case, as the chief captain had suggested. Therefore, he intended to wait until the representation from the Jewish priesthood could get to Caesarea.

Acts 24:1 And after five days Ananias the high priest descended with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paul.

Acts 24:2 And when he was called forth, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence,

Acts 24:3 We accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.

What persistence to chase Paul—and with the best prosecuting attorney they could find to represent their cause! Ananias and the elders brought Tertullus to present the matter in the most favorable light from the Jewish standpoint. And what hypocrisy for Tertullus to so flatter Felix! “We accept it [the providence of Felix] always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.”

We can see how Jews who read the New Testament get the feeling of anti-Semitism. They find fault particularly with the Gospel of John, which uses the term “the Jews” many more times than the other Gospels.

Acts 24:4 Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words.

Acts 24:5 For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes:

Acts 24:6 Who also hath gone about to profane the temple: whom we took, and would have judged according to our law.

Notice how Tertullus slid into the accusation. He was saying, “We do not want to burden you with a long discussion because your time is valuable. Therefore, we beseech you for a little dispensation of your clemency to hear this matter. The charge is that we have found Paul to be ‘a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.’” The hatred and the concern of Paul’s enemies show the influence he had. His reputation for preaching the gospel was known in the civilized world of that time.

Acts 24:7 But the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him away out of our hands,

Acts 24:8 Commanding his accusers to come unto thee: by examining of whom thyself mayest take knowledge of all these things, whereof we accuse him.

Acts 24:9 And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so.

False witnesses (“the Jews”) assented that the accusations against Paul were true. Tertullus and the others resented the chief captain, Lysias, for helping Paul. (When the chief captain learned of the conspiracy to assassinate Paul, he thwarted it by sending Paul to Felix by night.) The Jews themselves had been violent, so Lysias and his men had to be violent in order to rescue Paul and restore order. No doubt there were some broken bones and teeth as a result.

Acts 24:10 Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself:

Acts 24:11 Because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship.

Acts 24:12 And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city:

Acts 24:13 Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me.

Acts 24:14 But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:

Acts 24:15 And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.

Acts 24:16 And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.

Acts 24:17 Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings.

Acts 24:18 Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult.

Acts 24:19 Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had aught against me.

Acts 24:20 Or else let these same here say, if they have found any evil doing in me, while I stood before the council,

Acts 24:21 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 this day.

Paul gave his defense. As a Roman citizen, he demanded a fair trial. He reminded Felix that there were no creditable witnesses of the original incident that sparked the accusation and resulted in his being taken into custody the first time. Paul admitted that when he had an opportunity to speak subsequently, the subject of the resurrection caused a tumult. He said that he had merely mentioned his hope in the resurrection, and the Jews disputed among themselves. Paul was trying to show that the charge was foolish and that the responsibility for the uproar lay with the Jews. Notice how he described the resurrection; namely, he believed in “a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.”

Paul said that the accusation arose in a twelve-day period. It took two days for him to get to Felix and five days for Ananias, the elders, and Tertullus to arrive in Caesarea. That left only five days of the twelve. Paul was trying to show that the great tumult was very recent. He voiced his innocency by asking (paraphrased), “Can you find anything in this short period of time where I did something so terrible?” When he went into the Temple for the rite of purification, he was not sermonizing on the Temple grounds and discussing doctrinal truths but was quietly and reverentially worshipping God when the Jews apprehended him. The charge against him was false, and the responsibility for the tumult lay with the Jews themselves. Thus Paul again voiced his innocency, saying he worshipped the God of his fathers.

In other words, he respected the Jewish religion and believed all the things written in the Law and the prophets (the Old Testament). Paul was not teaching heretical views because his views were based on Scripture.

Comment: The feet members at the end of the age can reply as Paul did: “We are speaking according to the Holy Scriptures.”

Reply: Another similarity is that a religious element brought the charge against Paul.

Paul said his purpose in going to Jerusalem was to bring alms to help alleviate the suffering of some of the populace and to give donations to the Temple treasury. He came on a mission and not to stir up trouble. He was quietly worshipping God and taking a temporary Nazarite vow when all of the tumult first arose. It would have been very easy to verify what he was saying.

Acts 24:22 And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter.

Acts 24:23 And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.

Acts 24:24 And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.

Felix delayed a final decision until Lysias came to Caesarea. (Felix wanted finer details from Lysias in order to ascertain the truthfulness of the charge that was laid against Paul.)

Meanwhile, Paul had “liberty”; that is, he was kept in liberal confinement, being unbound and allowed to walk around, and friends could visit him. His circumstances could be considered a “prison house arrest.” Since Felix’s wife Drusilla was providentially Jewish, the governor was somewhat acquainted with the Jewish Law.

Acts 24:25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.

Acts 24:26 He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.

Acts 24:27 But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room: and Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.

Felix wanted Paul to pay a bribe for his freedom. The stalemate situation continued for two years.

Acts 25:1 Now when Festus was come into the province, after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem.

Acts 25:2 Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him,

Acts 25:3 And desired favour against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying wait in the way to kill him.

Acts 25:4 But Festus answered, that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself would depart shortly thither.

Acts 25:5 Let them therefore, said he, which among you are able, go down with me, and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him.

Ananias was still high priest. The opposition was persistent, pressing for a trial once again.

When Festus arrived in Jerusalem, the high priest and other chief Jews informed him about Paul, but Festus did not comply with the Jews’ request to have Paul brought there from Caesarea. Again Jews were planning to ambush and kill Paul (they were “laying wait in the way”). The first attempt to ambush him was frustrated, and now so was the second.

Acts 25:6 And when he had tarried among them more than ten days, he went down unto Caesarea; and the next day sitting on the judgment seat commanded Paul to be brought.

Acts 25:7 And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove.

Acts 25:8 While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.

Acts 25:9 But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?

Imagine the great pressure and flattery that would have been exerted on Festus by the Jews to prejudice him if Paul had gone up to Jerusalem. When Paul was brought before Festus in Caesarea, the Jews could not prove any of the charges. Moreover, Paul denied the charges, saying he had not gone against the Law or led a riot in the Temple or opposed Caesar.

Notice that Luke’s method of recording these events was to bring in a lot of detail. For instance, Festus ascended to Jerusalem and went down to Caesarea (Acts 25:1,6). Jerusalem was situated at a higher level (an altitude of about 2,400 feet), whereas Caesarea was at sea level.

Also, Luke mentioned names that are recorded in history books. The purpose of the detail was to establish the authenticity of the Christian religion. The definitiveness of Luke’s writing is helpful because it furnishes time periods such as which Caesar was on the throne and sometimes even the year of a reign. The Book of Acts is a historical record of what happened to Paul: his missionary journeys and the persecutions he received.

Festus was willing to please the Jews. However, because he was a person of authority, he did not want to be pushed. Even though he would have liked to honor the request of the Jews to bring Paul to Jerusalem, he felt that acceding to their request would vitiate his authority. But he kept their request in mind, and then he made the suggestion to have the trial in Jerusalem. Felix, too, had wanted to please the Jews (Acts 24:27).

Acts 25:10 Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.

Acts 25:11 For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.

Acts 25:12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go.

Acts 25:13 And after certain days king Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus.

Paul requested that he be judged by Caesar. Every Roman citizen, especially one in a foreign land, had the right  to a trial in Italy, and therefore, his request could not be denied. Thus Paul sidestepped going to Jerusalem. He said he was willing to die if he had done anything worthy of death. Also, he knew he still had a mission to accomplish, and the indication at the time of his commission in Damascus was that he should go to Rome and even appear before Caesar (Acts 9:15). Now King Agrippa providentially arrived in Caesarea with his wife Bernice, who was Jewish.

Acts 25:14 And when they had been there many days, Festus declared Paul’s cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix:

Acts 25:15 About whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have judgment against him.

Acts 25:16 To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.

Acts 25:17 Therefore, when they were come hither, without any delay on the morrow I sat on the judgment seat, and commanded the man to be brought forth.

Acts 25:18 Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed:

Acts 25:19 But had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.

Acts 25:20 And because I doubted of such manner of questions, I asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these matters.

Acts 25:21 But when Paul had appealed to be reserved unto the hearing of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I might send him to Caesar.

Acts 25:22 Then Agrippa said unto Festus, I would also hear the man myself. Tomorrow, said he, thou shalt hear him.

Festus gave a synopsis of what had transpired with Paul, the various accusations, etc. In reading this account, we get the feeling that had Paul assented to go to Jerusalem, Festus would have done something similar to what Pilate had tried to do. Knowing that Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate wanted Herod to take up the momentum of the trial and relieve him of that responsibility. But Herod had other things in mind and returned Jesus to Pilate.

Comment: Roman law said that a man must be faced by his accuser (verse 16). Pagan Rome had better laws than Papal Rome. Under Papal Rome, many were put to death without ever knowing who accused them.

Reply: And often they did not even know the accusation.

King Agrippa had more authority and jurisdiction than either Felix or Festus, but all were accountable to Rome. The Roman authority replaced Felix with Festus. For Festus to give deference to King Agrippa was a matter of professional courtesy. Although Augustus Caesar had long since died, it was customary to attach to the current emperor’s name the name of a past Roman emperor who had a good reputation. King Agrippa wanted an audience with Paul, and Festus replied, “Yes, you can come tomorrow.”

Bernice and Drusilla , both Jews and wives of Agrippa and Felix, respectively, were known for notorious escapades (Acts 24:24). Because there were Christian Jews in the households of the Roman rulers (maids, butlers, confidants, etc.), the rulers knew a little about Christianity and also about the customs of the Jews by reason of contact.

Acts 25:23 And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains, and principal men of the city, at Festus’ commandment Paul was brought forth.

Acts 25:24 And Festus said, King Agrippa, and all men which are here present with us, ye see this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews have dealt with me, both at Jerusalem, and also here, crying that he ought not to live any longer.

Acts 25:25 But when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus, I have determined to send him.

King Agrippa came to the hearing with regalia, pomp, and ceremony to impress Festus with his authority.

Acts 25:26 Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and specially before thee, O king Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write.

Acts 25:27 For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.

Festus wanted King Agrippa to get a concrete charge against Paul, for it was “unreasonable” to send a prisoner to Rome without listing crimes against him. Festus was saying, “See if you can extract some information or sense from this nonsense.”

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