Category Archives: Paul — Life of

Paul after Acts

The Biblical account of the Paul’s life ends with him in Rome: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31, ESV). Some think that he was then tried and executed but that Luke didn’t record those events because he wanted to end Acts on a triumphant note.

However writing from prison Paul told the church in Philippi and Philemon in Colossae that he hoped to visit them soon (Philippians 2:24; Philemon 22), and so he must have expected to be released. Also some of the details given in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus don’t fit into the account of his life given in Acts and suggest that he returned to Crete, Asia Minor (Turkey), and Greece after that account. Moreover tradition indicates that he visited Spain.

Here I’ll summarize what is known and surmised about Paul’s life after his stay in Rome described in the book of Acts. My main sources are “Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey,” NIV Study Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2011, pages 2028-29) and The Fourth Missionary Journey: What Happened to Paul after Acts? at The Good Book Blog, the faculty blog of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.

After being under house arrest in Rome for two years, Paul was released, possibly after appearing before Nero in fulfillment of the promise made to him in a vision by an angel that he would stand before Caesar (Acts 27:24). Both of the sources referred to above speculate that on Paul’s release he visited Spain. In his letter to the Romans written about five years earlier, he’d expressed his intention to visit Rome and Spain after delivering a gift from the churches in Greece to the church in Jerusalem (Romans 15:23-29). As well Clement, writing about A.D. 96, described Paul as “reaching the limits of the West” (1 Clement 5:7), probably referring to a place west of where Clement was (Rome). Paul likely stayed some time in Spain preaching and teaching.

Perhaps on his return from Spain Paul sailed to the island of Crete, where he ministered with Titus. However he didn’t stay long enough to follow his usual practice of appointing elders in the churches and left Titus to do so, reminding him of this in Titus 1:5, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

Subsequently Paul visited Miletus, Colossae, and Ephesus in Asia Minor. Some passages indicating or suggesting that he visited them are:

I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20).
At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you (Philemon 22; written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, to Philemon, master of Onesimus, who according to Colossians 4:9 lived in Colossae).
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith (1 Timothy 1:3).

On his way from Ephesus to Macedonia (the northern part of Greece), Paul passed through Troas, where he left his cloak and parchments with Carpus (2 Timothy 4:13). In Macedonia he probably visited the churches in Philippi (fulfilling the wish that he’d expressed in Philippians 2:24), Thessalonica, and Berea, which he’d established on his second missionary journey. From there he went on to Corinth, where he left Erastus (2 Timothy 4:20), and headed for Nicopolis, the port city on the west coast of Greece where he planned to spend the winter (Titus 3:12).

However either on his way to Nicopolis or shortly after arriving there, Paul was arrested and imprisoned in Rome again. His asking Timothy to bring his cloak and to try to get to him before winter (2 Timothy 4:13, 21) suggests that he was imprisoned just before winter set in. This time he was not in his own rented house but probably in “the dank, gloomy chamber of horrors then called the Mamertine Prison” (Charles Swindoll, Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit, Nashville, Tennessee: W Publishing Group, 2002, page 316). And this time he wasn’t released but instead was executed by beheading.

As F. F. Bruce observes in his outstanding portrayal of the life of Paul (Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977, page 446), Paul’s last words have been preserved in 2 Timothy 4:6-8:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Paul in Rome

Although the Roman governor, Festus, couldn’t find anything wrong with him, Paul feared that Festus might turn him over to the Jews to do them a favour and appealed to have his case heard before the emperor, which was his right as a Roman citizen. Unfortunately the ship on which Paul and other prisoners were being taken to Rome was wrecked off the small island of Malta, but fortunately they along with the soldiers guarding them and the crew of the ship were all able to get to shore safely.

In this article I’ll consider Luke’s record in Acts 28:11-31 of Paul’s journey from Malta to Rome and of the first two years of his stay there. I’ll divide my account into four sections: Paul’s journey to and arrival at Rome, his first meeting with the leaders of the Jews, his second meeting with them, and his life in Rome. In my next article, the last in this series on the life of Paul, I’ll summarize what is known and surmised about Paul’s life after his initial stay in Rome.

Paul’s Journey to and Arrival in Rome

After three months in Malta, its now being safe to navigate the Mediterranean Sea (and thus probably mid February), Paul and those with him set sail for Italy in a ship that had wintered in the island. Like the ship which had been shipwrecked the ship was from Alexandria in Egypt, and probably it was also a grain ship. They put in at Syracuse at the eastern end of the Sicily, the large island southeast of Italy, and stayed there three days. From there they went on to Rhegium on the southern tip of Italy and, when a south wind sprang up a day later, to Puteoli on the Bay of Naples, a major port for Roman traffic.

At Puteoli they met some Christians, showing that Christianity had not only reached Rome but other parts of Italy. Perhaps because the centurion had business there, he allowed Paul to accept their invitation to spend a week with them, undoubtedly accompanied by a guard. As well, in the journey by road from Puteoli to Rome they were met at two places, the Forum of Appius (64 kilometers from Rome) and Three Taverns (48 kilometers from Rome), by Roman Christians who had heard about them. Seeing them caused Paul to thank God and take courage. When they came to Rome, Paul was allowed to live in private quarters (a rented house, Acts 28:30) with a soldier to guard him.

Paul’s First Meeting with the Leaders of the Jews

Three days after arriving in Rome, Paul invited the “local leaders” of the Jews (probably the elders of the synagogues) to meet with him, hoping to defend himself before them and to proclaim the Gospel to them. He told them:

Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain. (Acts 28:17-20, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV. “The hope of Israel” referred to by Paul is the coming of the Messiah; see Acts 23:6; 24:15; and 26:6-8, 23.)

They replied that they hadn’t received any letters from Judea about Paul and that none of the Jews who had come from Judea to Rome had said anything evil about him. However they knew that the Christian sect which he belonged to was spoken against everywhere and they wanted to hear about its views from Paul.

Paul’s Second Meeting with the Jews

Later an even greater number of them spent a day at the place where Paul was staying. He expounded to them about the kingdom of God and about Jesus, trying to persuade them from the Old Testament that Jesus was the messianic Son of David who would lead the kingdom of God against the power of Satan (see Matthew 12:23-29). Some were convinced by what Paul said, but others would not believe. They left after Paul quoted Isaiah 6:9-10, which he attributed to the Holy Spirit’s speaking through Isaiah, to explain their failure to accept the gospel:

Go to this people, and say,
You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.

He concluded, “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:29). However his declaration doesn’t mean that he gave up on the Jews in Rome, and undoubtedly he continued to witness to them as well as to the Gentiles.

Paul’s Life in Rome

Paul spent the next two years in Rome waiting for his accusers to come from Jerusalem to press their case against him. Living in his own rented house and providing for his expenses, he welcomed “all who came to him,” which would likely have included both Jews and Gentiles, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus with boldness and without hindrance.

John Albert Bengel observes: “A victory of God’s Word. Paul at Rome is the crowning point of the Gospel, and the end of Acts…. He began at Jerusalem; he ends at Rome….Thou hast, O Church, thy form. It is thine to preserve it, and to guard thy trust” (Bengel, New Testament Word Studies, translated from the Latin by Charlton T. Lewis and Marvin R. Vincent, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1971, volume 1, page 925).

Paul Shipwrecked

Paul ended his third missionary journey by going to Jerusalem to bring an offering to the church there from the churches he’d founded on his missionary journeys. Some Jews from Asia, thinking he’d taken a Gentile into the temple, stirred up a crowd against him. He was rescued by Roman soldiers stationed near the temple and a few days later, on their commander’s learning of a plot by some fanatical Jews to assassinate Paul, taken by military escort to Caesarea, where the governor (Felix) had his headquarters. Felix couldn’t find anything wrong with Paul but, hoping for a bribe from him, kept him imprisoned. Similarly the successor to Felix, Festus, couldn’t find anything wrong with Paul but, fearing that Festus might turn him over to the Jews to do them a favour, Paul appealed to have his case heard before the emperor, which was his right as a Roman citizen.

In this article I’ll consider the part of Paul’s journey to Rome described in Acts 27:1-28:10. In summarizing and commenting on it, I’ll divide it into four parts: setting sail for Rome, the storm, the shipwreck, and Malta. The Blue Letter Bible gives a map of the complete voyage at Paul’s Journey to Rome (https://www.blueletterbible.org/images/Acts/imageDisplay/#s=maps_paul4_b).

Setting Sail for Rome

Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a Roman centurion named Julius. With them were Luke (”we”) and Aristarchus, a companion of Paul from Thessalonica. Boarding a small coastal vessel at Caesarea, they sailed northwest for ports along the southern coast of Asia Minor. At one of those ports, Myra, they transferred to a larger ship carrying Egyptian grain from Alexandria to Italy. Making slow headway against the strong northwestern wind, they took several days to reach Cnidus on the southwest tip of Asia Minor. The wind’s not allowing them to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece, they sailed south to the island of Crete and west along its south coast, using the island as a shelter from the wind.

Sailing still being difficult, they moved along the coast with difficulty, finally coming to a small bay called Fair Havens. Because of the time they’d lost, the sailing season was almost over and Paul warned them, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives” (27:10). However, the harbour’s being unsuitable to winter in, they decided to sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix, a city farther west along the coast with a larger and safer harbour for wintering in.

The Storm

Unfortunately as they sailed along the shore a raging wind called the Northeaster swept down from the hills of Crete and they had to give way to it. Driven southwest about twenty-three miles to the small island of Cauda, they managed to get to the side of it sheltered from the wind. There they hauled the lifeboat on board, reinforced the ship with cables to keep it from breaking up, and fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars called Syrtis lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. In the next three days they threw overboard some of the cargo and the ship’s spare gear. With neither the sun and the stars’ appearing for many days and the storm’s continuing to rage, they began to lose any hope of being saved. However Paul urged them to take heart, sharing with them the message which an angel had given him not to be afraid because he must stand before Caesar and God had granted him all the men with him although the ship would run aground on a island and be lost.

About midnight of the fourteenth night the sailors sensed that they were nearing land, took soundings, and found that they were. They let down four anchors to keep the ship from being wrecked against the rocks of an unknown coast in the darkness. They also lowered the lifeboat into the sea, scheming to abandon the ship in an effort to save themselves. However Paul saw through their ruse and warned the centurion and soldiers that unless the sailors stayed with the ship nobody could be saved, and the soldiers cut away the ropes of the lifeboat. At dawn Paul reminded them that none of them was to be lost and urged them to take some food to give them strength. Encouraged by his words and by his eating some bread, they ate some food and then lightened the ship by throwing the rest of the grain into the sea.

The Shipwreck

When it was day, they didn’t recognize the land but saw a bay with a beach (now called St. Paul’s Bay) and decided to try to run the ship ashore there. They cut loose the anchors, placed the rudders back in the water to steer the ship, hoisted a small sail in the front of the ship (the beam holding the main sail had probably been lost in the storm) to the wind, and aimed the ship for the beach. However they ran aground on a sandbar, where the front of the ship stuck and the back of it was broken up by the surf. The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners so that none of them could swim away and escape, but the centurion wanted to save Paul and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard and make for land and the rest to get there on planks or other pieces of the ship. All 276 of them reached shore safely.

Malta

The native people of the island where they’d landed, Malta, built a fire for them because of the rain and cold. As Paul was putting some sticks on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and bit his hand. Seeing this the islanders thought that he must be a murderer whom, although he had escaped from the sea, justice would not allow to live. However when he shook the viper off into the fire and showed no ill effects, they changed their minds and said that he must be a god.

The chief official of Malta, Publius, entertained the shipwrecked travelers for three days. His father was suffering with fever and dysentery, symptoms of an infection caused by goat’s milk called Malta fever. Paul visited him, prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him. Then the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. As a result the islanders honoured the travelers and when they were ready to sail provided them with supplies for the remainder of their journey.

Richard N. Longenecker comments: “From what Luke tells us it seems that Paul may have looked on his stay in Malta as a high point in his ministry—a time of blessing when God worked in marvelous ways, despite the shipwreck and his still being a prisoner. God seems, through the experiences at Malta, to have been refreshing Paul’s spirit after the two relatively bleak years at Caesarea and the disastrous time at sea and preparing him for his witness in Rome” (”The Acts of the Apostles” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 9 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1981, page 565).

Paul in Caesarea – 3. Paul Before Agrippa

Paul ended his third missionary journey by going to Jerusalem to bring an offering to the church there from the churches he’d founded on his missionary journeys. Some Jews from Asia, thinking he’d taken a Gentile into the temple, stirred up a crowd against him. He was rescued by Roman soldiers stationed near the temple and a few days later, on their commander’s learning of a plot by some fanatical Jews to assassinate Paul, taken by military escort to Caesarea, where the governor (Felix) had his headquarters. Felix couldn’t find anything wrong with Paul but, hoping for a bribe from him, kept him imprisoned. Similarly Festus couldn’t find anything wrong with Paul but, fearing that Festus might turn him over to the Jews to do them a favour, Paul appealed to have his case heard before the emperor, which was his right as a Roman citizen.

Some days later Agrippa II, ruler of an adjoining kingdom to the north, and his sister, Bernice, came to pay their respects to Festus. Agrippa’s being considered by Rome to be an expert on the Jewish religion, Festus laid Paul’s case before him to help him know what to write to the emperor about Paul. Agrippa told Festus that he would like to hear Paul himself, and the next day Festus had Paul brought before them (and Bernice) and the military tribunes and the important men of the city. On Festus’s introducing Paul to him and the others present, Agrippa told Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself” (Acts 26:1, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

In this article I’ll consider Paul’s speech and Festus’s and Agrippa’s response to it, as they are recorded in Acts 26. In summarizing and commenting on Paul’s speech, I’ll divide it into three parts: his life as a Pharisee, his conversion and call, and his subsequent ministry.

Paul the Pharisee

Paul opened by expressing appreciation to Agrippa for his being able to defend himself against the accusations of the Jews before someone “familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews” (26:3) and asking Agrippa to listen to him patiently. He went on to tell how he was brought up as a Pharisee and to attribute his being on trial to “his hope in the promise made by God to our fathers” (26:6). Although Paul didn’t specify what that hope involved, his going on to ask, “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” (26:8), indicates that it must have included the hope of the resurrection of the dead which was held by the Pharisees. He then acknowledged that, despite his belief in the resurrection of the dead, he had once thought that the claim by followers of Jesus that God had raised him from the dead was incredible. He went on to tell about his persecution of Christians not only in Judea but even in foreign cities.

Paul’s Conversion and Call

Paul continued, “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests” (26:12). Then he described his conversion and call.

Acts 26:13-18 Acts 9:3-19 Acts 22:6-16
13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 6 As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me.
14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew [probably Aramaic] language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
15 And I said, “Who are you, Lord?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” 8 And I answered, “Who are you, Lord?”
[15] And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles–to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” [5] And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. [However further on in the chapter Luke reports that when Barnabas took Paul to the apostles on Paul’s return to Jerusalem, he told them that Paul had seen Jesus on the road to Damascus (9:27).] [8] And he said to me, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me.
8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
Verses 10-19 describe Jesus’ appearing to Ananias and Ananias’s visiting Paul. It includes Jesus telling Ananias, “[Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” In verses 12-16 Paul describes Ananias’s visit to him. It includes Ananias’s telling Paul, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.”

The three accounts seem to differ on what happened on the road to Damascus, but the differences can be reconciled by recognizing that each account gives only some details of what happened. A comparison of the three accounts suggests that all in the group saw the light, heard a voice, and fell to the ground but that only Paul was blinded by the light, saw Jesus, and understood what he said. Also only Paul’s speech to Agrippa refers to Jesus’ quoting the Greek proverb, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads,” when he addressed Paul. Goads were sharp sticks used to prod oxen; the oxen’s kicking back would only hurt them worse.

The three accounts also seem to differ on when Paul was commissioned: Paul told Agrippa that Jesus commissioned him when he spoke to him on the road to Damascus, but the other two accounts say that Ananias told Paul that Jesus had commissioned him. Some commentators reconcile the accounts by suggesting that in speaking to Agrippa Paul merged what God told him on the road to Damascus with what Ananias subsequently told him. However it is certainly possible that Jesus commissioned Paul both directly when he spoke to him on the road to Damascus and indirectly through Ananias.

Paul’s Ministry

Paul continued, “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (26:19), and described briefly how he had declared the Gospel in Damascus, Jerusalem, and the rest of Judea, and to the Gentiles (on his missionary journeys). He then told of how the Jews had seized him in the temple and tried to kill him and asserted that he would continue to proclaim the Gospel, which he summarized as “that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim ‘light both to our people and to the Gentiles’” (26:23).

Festus’s and Felix’s Response

Festus interrupted Paul’s defence by calling out, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you mad” (26:24).

Paul responded by asserting that he wasn’t out of his mind but was speaking the truth. Then, observing that Agrippa surely knew about the events that he was talking about, Paul appealed to him, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe” (26:27), implying that if as a devout Jew Agrippa believed the prophets then he must believe the predictions that they had made about Jesus and acknowledge the truth of what Paul said.

Agrippa replied, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (26:28). The KJV translation of Agrippa’s reply, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,” is often quoted, but most Bible scholars consider the ESV rendering to be the correct translation. Paul replied, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become [a Christian] as I am—except for these chains” (26:29).

Then Agrippa, Festus, and those with them rose and withdrew, agreeing with each other that Paul hadn’t done anything that deserved death or even imprisonment. Agrippa told Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (26:32). But he had and shortly afterwards he was sent by ship to Rome. In my next articles in this series on the life of Paul I’ll consider his journey to and stay in Rome.

Paul in Caesarea – 2. Paul Before Festus

Paul ended his third missionary journey by going to Jerusalem to bring an offering to the church there from the churches he’d founded on his missionary journeys. Some Jews from Asia, thinking he’d taken a Gentile into the temple, stirred up a crowd against him. He was rescued by Roman soldiers stationed near the temple and taken to their barracks. The next day the tribune commanding the soldiers had them take Paul before the Jewish Sanhedrin so that he could find out why the Jews were angry with him and decide what to do with him. However a dispute arose there that threatened Paul’s safety and he was returned to the barracks. Then, hearing of a plot by some fanatical Jews to assassinate Paul, the tribune sent Paul under military escort to Caesarea, where the governor (Felix) had his headquarters.

In my last post in this series of articles on the life of Paul I described Paul’s appearance before Felix, which resulted in his being kept in prison but allowed some liberty. Two years later Felix was replaced by Festus. In this post I’ll describe Paul’s appearance before Festus as it is narrated in Acts 25. I’ll divide my account into three parts: the Jews’ request to Festus, Paul’s appearance before Festus, and Paul’s appearance before King Agrippa.

The Jews’ Request to Festus

Only three days after arriving in Caesarea, Festus went up to Jerusalem to meet with the leaders of the Jews. They laid out before him their case against Paul and requested him to transfer Paul to Jerusalem, their planning an ambush to kill Paul on the way, perhaps by the forty men who had planned an ambush against Paul in Acts 23:12-15. Richard N. Longenecker suggests that they may also have hoped that if the ambush failed they could arrange to have Paul tried before the Sanhedrin on the charge of profaning the temple, for which they could impose the death penalty (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing Company, “Acts,” page 545).

Festus turned down their request, explaining that Paul was being held in Caesarea and that he intended to return there shortly. He invited them to send “the men of authority among [them]” along with him and “if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him” (Acts 25:5, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

Paul’s Appearance Before Festus

The day after Festus arrived back in Caesarea, he convened court and had Paul brought before him. The Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around Paul, making against him serious charges which they couldn’t prove. Luke doesn’t specify what the charges were, but Paul’s arguing in his defence, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense” (25:8), indicates that they were similar to those which their spokesman had accused him of in his initial appearance before Felix (24:5-8): being leader of a new religious sect, profaning the temple, and stirring up riots among the Jews.

Festus didn’t know what to make of the Jews’ charges and Paul’s denials and, wanting to do the Jews a favour, asked Paul if he’d be willing to go up to Jerusalem to be tried on the charges. Although Festus specified that the trial would be before him, Paul was naturally afraid that once in Jerusalem Festus would give in to Jewish pressure to turn him over to the Sanhedrin to be tried on the charge of profaning the temple. Thus to remove the case from Festus’s hands, he exercised his right as a Roman citizen to have his case heard by the emperor by proclaiming, “I appeal to Caesar” (25:12).

Probably relieved at being provided a way to be freed of responsibility for a case which he didn’t know what to make of, Festus consulted his advisors and told Paul, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go” (25:12).

Paul’s Appearance Before King Agrippa

Some days later Agrippa II, ruler of an adjoining kingdom to the north, came to pay his respects to the new governor of Judea. With him was his sister, Bernice, who lived with him. Although Agrippa didn’t rule over Judea, the emperor had appointed him curator over the temple and Rome looked on him as an authority on the Jewish religion. Thus during his visit Festus laid Paul’s case before him. It was a straightforward explanation (25:14-21). After hearing it, Agrippa told Festus that he would like to hear Paul himself, to which Festus replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him” (25:22).

The next day Paul appeared before appeared before Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice (and the military tribunes and the important men of the city) in “the audience hall” in the palace built by Herod the Great. Festus introduced Paul to Agrippa and the others present thus:

King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him. (25:24-27)

Agrippa then told Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself” (26:1). In response Paul delivered the last and longest of his defence speeches. Recorded in Acts 26, it contains not only Paul’s defence but also a positive presentation of the Gospel. I’ll consider it in my next post in this series of articles on the life of Paul.

Paul in Caesarea – 1. Paul Before Felix

Paul ended his third missionary journey by going to Jerusalem to bring an offering to the church there from the churches he’d founded on his missionary journeys. Some Jews from Asia who’d earlier seen him in the city with a Gentile saw him in the temple and, thinking he’d taken the Gentile into the temple, stirred up a crowd against him. He was rescued by Roman soldiers stationed at the Fortress of Antonia adjacent to the temple area.

The next day the tribune commanding the soldiers brought Paul before the Jewish Sanhedrin so that he could find out why they were angry with him and decide what to do with him. A dispute arose among the Jews that threatened Paul’s safety and the tribune returned him to the barracks. Then, hearing of a plot by some fanatic Jews to assassinate Paul, the tribune sent Paul under military escort to Caesarea, where the governor (Felix) had his headquarters.

In this post I’ll describe Paul’s appearance before Felix as it is narrated in Acts 24. I’ll divide my account into three parts: the Jews’ accusation, Paul’s defence, and Felix’s response.

The Jews’ Accusation

Five days after Paul’s arrival in Caesarea–or, in light of Paul’s reference to twelve days in verse 11, after his arrest in the temple–the high priest, some elders from the Sanhedrin, and a spokesman arrived to present the Jews’ case against Paul. The seriousness with which they took the case is shown by the high priest’s (Ananias) making the trip and their bringing a spokesman (Tertullus), probably a Hellenistic Jew familiar with both Judaism and the procedures of a Roman court.

Tertullus began his presentation with flattery in order to gain the goodwill of Felix: “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 (Acts 24:2-3, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). His description of Felix bears little resemblance to the truth, Tacitus (an early Roman historian) saying that “indulging in every kind of barbarity and lust,[Felix] exercised the power of a king in the spirit of a slave” (The Histories, V,9).

Tertullus then made the following accusations against Paul, the first two general and the third specific:
1. That he “[is] a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world” (Acts 24:6). This accusation implied treason against the emperor. Although Paul didn’t rebut it directly here, he did in a later hearing, saying, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense (25:8).
2. That he “is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (24:6). This accusation identified Paul as the leader of a new and thus illegal religion. It assumed that Felix knew something about Jesus and the movement inspired by him, a correct assumption because further on Luke describes Felix as having “a rather accurate knowledge of the Way” (24:22).
3. That “[h]e even tried to profane the temple”(24:7). This was the accusation that had originally stirred up a crowd against Paul, except that Tertullus just accused Paul of trying to profane the temple but the original accusation was that he had actually profaned it by bringing a Gentile, Trophimus, into it (21:28).

The other Jews affirmed that the accusations were true, and Tertullus appealed to Felix to examine Paul regarding them.

Paul’s Defence

Invited by Felix to respond, Paul began by complimenting the governor as Tertullus had, but more briefly and honestly than Tertullus had, “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense” (24:10). He implied that Felix’s governing Judea for several years would enable him to assess the accusations against Paul and Paul’s response to them.

Then, although not having been informed of the accusations before Tertullus made them, Paul replied to each of them in turn:
1. He replied to the first accusation by observing that he’d been in Jerusalem for no more than twelve days, which provided little opportunity for him to cause trouble, and that during that time his accusers “did not find [him] disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city” (24:12).
2. He replied to the second accusation by admitting that he followed “the Way,” which his accusers called a sect, but claimed that in following it he “worship[ped] the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (24:14). Thus he affirmed that he was a faithful Jew.
He went on to observe that because of his having a hope of the resurrection, he “always [took] pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man” (24:16). That Paul considered this important is shown by his having made a similar claim before the Sanhedrin (”I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day,” 23:1). In his commentary on Acts, Ajith Fernando argues persuasively that today’s church needs to be blameless before the world in the same way, concluding, “The church, then, must rediscover the priority of holiness and look for the ways prescribed in the Scriptures to release the dynamic of the Holy Spirit who enables Christians to live holy lives. This is why Christianity is so unique. Other religions also teach us to be good, but Christianity gives us the power to become good” (The NIV Application Commentary: Acts, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998, pages 585).
3. He replied to the third accusation by explaining that after being away from Jerusalem for several years he’d come to it “to bring alms to my nation” (referring to the gift he’d brought to the church in Jerusalem from the churches which he’d founded) and “to present offerings,” and that while he was doing so his accusers had “found [him] purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult” (24:18). He went on to comment on the absence of the Jews from Asia who’d charged him with bringing a Gentile into the temple,” claiming correctly that “they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me” (24:19).

Paul closed his defence by observing that the Sanhedrin had found no wrongdoing in him when he’d appeared before it except “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’” (24:21). The resurrection’s being a doctrinal matter over which the Sanhedrin itself was divided, Paul implied that he should not be on trial.

Felix’s Response

“Having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way,” Felix put off Paul’s accusers, telling them, “When Lysias the tribune comes down I will decide your case” (24:22). We don’t know how Felix obtained his special knowledge of the Christian movement or if he ever sent for Lysias for information additional to what Lysias had given in the letter he’d sent Felix when he sent Paul to him (see 23:26-30). Felix then gave orders that Paul be kept in custody but, probably because he was a Roman citizen and hadn’t been proved guilty of any crime, given some liberty and allowed to have his friends attend to his needs.

After some days Felix and his wife, Drusilla, had Paul appear before them and speak about his faith in Christ Jesus. Drusilla was Jewish and, according to one text, had asked to see Paul and hear him speak. However as Paul talked about “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment,” Felix became alarmed and told him, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you” (24:25). In his commentary on Acts, French L. Arrington explains how Paul’s message was just what Felix needed to hear: “Righteousness requires that everyone be treated justly, but Felix had been a tyrannical, unjust ruler. He had not practiced self-control, for his marriage to Drusilla was the result of his enticing her away from her former husband….Along with all the unrepentant, Felix would stand under divine condemnation in the future judgment…” (The Acts of the Apostles, Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrikson Publishers, 1998, page 238). Apparently, although Felix had the power of life and death over him, Paul didn’t pull any punches with him but proclaimed the Gospel to him boldly.

“At the same time [Felix] thought that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him” (24:26). Roman law prohibited officials from taking bribes, but they still did it. When Paul had defended himself before Felix he’d told of his bringing “alms to my nation” (24:18), and Felix may have thought that he’d be able to get money from the friends who visited him and offer Felix a bribe for his release. However Paul didn’t do so, choosing to trust in God instead. This continued for two years, after which Felix was replaced as governor.

Paul in Jerusalem – 3. Paul Before the Sanhedrin and Transferred to Caesarea

My last post in this series of articles on the life of Paul concerned his being mobbed by a crowd at the temple because they thought he had brought Gentiles into the temple, his being rescued by Roman soldiers and, with the permission of the commander of the soldiers, his speaking to the crowd. He told them of his conversion and call, ending with, “Then the Lord [Jesus] said to me, ‘Go, I will send you far away to the Gentiles’” (Acts 22:21, ESV; all Biblical quotations are in the ESV). In this post I’ll describe the crowd’s reaction to Paul’s speech, his appearing before the Sanhedrin, a plot to kill Paul, and his being transferred to Caesarea, as they are recorded in Acts 22:22-23:35.

The Crowd’s Reaction to Paul’s Speech

On hearing Paul say, “Go, I will send you far away to the Gentiles,” the crowd broke out into anger again, upset at his implying that God’s blessings were for the Gentiles as well as for Israel. They shouted, ”Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live,” and threw off their cloaks and flung dust in the air. Fearing for the safety of his prisoner, the tribune commanding the soldiers ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks in the Fortress of Antonia, which was connected to the northern end of the temple area.

In the barracks the tribune directed that Paul be flogged with a scourge, a whip of leather thongs studded with pieces of bone or metal and fastened to a wooden handle, and interrogated on why the Jews were angry with him. The soldiers strapped Paul’s wrists together and fastened the strap high on a pole so that he could be stretched out to be flogged. Realizing what was about to happen, Paul asked the centurion in charge of the operation, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” Its being against Roman law to flog a Roman citizen, the centurion immediately went to the tribune and warned him that Paul was a Roman citizen.

The tribune came to Paul and asked if he were a Roman citizen. When Paul told him that he was, the tribune said, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum,” suggesting that Paul looked too battered and undignified to been able to buy Roman citizenship. Paul calmly replied, “But I am a citizen by birth.” We don’t know how Paul’s father or an earlier ancestor had received Roman citizenship, but perhaps he been rewarded with it for giving valuable services to the Romans (the three ways of obtaining Roman citizenship were buying it for a large amount of money, being born into a family of Roman citizens, and being rewarded with it for rendering some special service to the Romans). Alarmed at his having been about to commit a serious illegality against a Roman citizen, the tribune had Paul’s straps unbound.

Although Paul had told those urging him not to go to Jerusalem, ”I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:3), when he was actually about to be flogged he appealed to his Roman citizenship. This indicates that although we should be ready to suffer for our faith, we can appeal to the law for our protection, especially when we are attacked in a way that breaks the law. It also suggests that we should speak up for others who are treated illegally or unfairly.

Paul Before the Sanhedrin

The next day, needing to know what the Jews were accusing Paul of so that he could decide what to do with him, the tribune ordered the chief priests and the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish court, to assemble and brought Paul before them. Paul opened his defense by proclaiming, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.”

When Paul said this, the high priest, Ananias, who was known for his use of violence (and his avarice), ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Indignantly Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall [a wall whitewashed to hide its crumbling condition]! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?”

Those standing near Paul said to him, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul answered, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'” Paul’s words have been explained in many ways, including: that because of having visited Jerusalem only sporadically over the past twenty years he didn’t recognize the high priest; that because of his poor eyesight he couldn’t see that the one who had commanded that he be struck was the high priest; and that he was using sarcasm—a true high priest wouldn’t give such an order.

Then, aware that he wasn’t going to get a fair trial before Ananias and knowing that some of those before whom he was appearing were Sadducees and some were Pharisees, Paul declared, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” Sadducees rejected the resurrection of the dead (and of angels and spirits), but Pharisees accepted it although they hadn’t accepted the resurrection of Jesus. Immediately a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Some of the teachers of the Law who were Pharisees stood up and argued, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” The dispute became so violent that the tribune became frightened for Paul’s safety and ordered his soldiers to take him from them by force and return him to the barracks.

Although Paul had made his declaration in order to divide the Sanhedrin, his making it indicates the importance he placed on the resurrection, an importance which he’d expressed earlier in a letter to the Corinthians,”If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17). In my next post at Open Theism, I’ll consider the significance of the resurrection of Christ.

Undoubtedly Paul was despondent as he waited in his cell in the fortress for what would happen to him next. However the following night the Lord came to Paul and told him, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” Thus, although he was still a prisoner and surrounded by enemies, Paul was assured that he was safe.

A Plot to Kill Paul

Having failed in their earlier attempt to kill Paul, more than forty fanatic Jews took an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed him. They asked the chief priests and elders to request the tribune to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin for further questioning, their planning to ambush and kill him on his way to it. Somehow the son of Paul’s sister learned about the plot. He visited Paul in the barracks and told him about the plot, and Paul arranged for him to tell the tribune what he had discovered.

Paul Transferred to Caesarea

Not wanting to risk having a Roman citizen assassinated while in his custody, the tribune sent Paul off by night, guarded by 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen, to Caesarea, where the governor (Felix) had his headquarters in the palace which Herod the Great had built for himself. When the party reached Antipatris, a military post about halfway between Jerusalem and Caesarea, next morning, the foot soldiers returned, leaving the cavalry to escort Paul the rest of the way to Caesarea. They also brought a letter from the tribune explaining the circumstances to the governor.

On reading the letter, the governor asked Paul which province he came from and, on Paul’s telling him that he was from Cilicia, decided to keep Paul in his headquarters in Caesarea. He told Paul that he would give him a hearing when his accusers arrived, the tribune having said in his letter that he’d ordered Paul’s accusers to present their case against him to the governor.

In my next article in this series of articles on the life of Paul, I’ll describe and comment on his appearance before the governor.