26 May 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 24: 22-27. c). The adjournment by Felix.
*Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way* (perhaps through his Jewish wife, Drusilla), adjourned the proceedings. He found himself on the horns of a dilemma. He could not convict Paul, since Lysias the tribune had found no fault in him (23:29), nor had the Sanhedrin (23:9), nor had Tertullus been able to substantiate his charges. On the other hand, Felix was unwilling to release Paul, partly because he hoped for a bribe (26) and partly because he wanted to curry favour with the Jews (27). The only other option was to postpone his verdict on the pretext that he needed the tribune’s advice: *When Lysias the commander comes, I will decide your case* (22). Meanwhile, Felix *ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs* (23). The Romans had different degrees of imprisonment. Because Paul was a Roman citizen, who had not been convicted of an offence, Felix issued instructions that he should be given *custodia libera*, in which, although he was never left unguarded, his friends enjoyed free access to him. We may guess that Luke visited him, and Philip the evangelist with his four daughters who lived in Caesarea (21:8-9), together with others who were members of the local church.
There was to be no further public hearing for two years (27). During this period, however, Felix conducted a kind of private investigation of his own. The Western text ascribes the initiative to his wife Drusilla, ‘who asked to see Paul and hear the word’. ‘Wishing therefore to satisfy her’, Felix summoned Paul. Drusilla was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, whose opposition and death Luke has described earlier (12:1-23). She was therefore the sister of King Agrippa II and of Bernice, to whom Luke will introduce us in the next chapters (25:13, 23; 26:30). She had a reputation of ravishing youthful beauty, on account of which Felix, with the aid of a Cypriot magician, had seduced her from her rightful husband and secured her for himself. She was, in fact, his third wife. The lax morals of Felix and Drusilla help to explain the topics on which Paul spoke to them.
In general Paul focused on *Faith in Christ Jesus* (24). Since Drusilla was a Jewess, he must have rehearsed the facts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and deployed his customary arguments that this Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ of Scripture. He will also have presented Jesus not only as a figure of history and the fulfilment of prophecy, but also as the Saviour and Lord in whom Felix as well as Drusilla should put their trust. Paul never proclaimed the good news in a vacuum, however, but always in a context, the personal context of his hearers. So he went on to discourse *on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come* (25). Most commentators relate ‘righteousness’ or ‘justice’ to the well known cruelty and oppression of which Felix was guilty, and ‘self-control’ to the unbridled lust which had drawn and united him to Drusilla, while ‘judgement to come’ would be the inevitable penalty for their injustice and immorality. And this may be correct. But it seems to me possible that the *dikaiosyne* (‘righteousness’) of which Paul spoke was precisely that ‘righteousness from God’ or divine act of justification which he had elaborated in his Letter to the Romans. In this case the three topics of conversation were what are sometimes called the ‘three tenses of salvation’, namely how to be justified or pronounced righteous by God, how to overcome temptation and gain self-mastery, and how to escape the awful final judgment of God. It is not surprising that, as these solemn subjects were opened up and pressed home, *Felix was afraid* (‘alarmed’, RSV, NEB) and declared that he had had enough for the time being.
During the succeeding months, however, Felix (though now, it seems, without Drusilla) *sent for him frequently and talked with him* (26). Luke is explicit that he hoped for a bribe, a practice as common as it was illegal. Ramsay even argued from the heavy expenses Paul must have paid for the purification rites (21:23), the long lawsuit, the appeal to Caesar and his rented accommodation in Rome (28:30), in addition to Felix’s hope for a bribe, that the apostle must recently have inherited some family property. At all events, the governor’s greed (for which he also had a reputation) was aroused. It would be cynical to suppose, however, that Felix’s only motive was to hold Paul to ransom. I think he knew that Paul had something more precious than money, something which money cannot buy. If his conscience had been aroused by Paul’s teaching, then he must have been seeking forgiveness and peace. Certainly the release of Felix from sin meant more to Paul than his own release from prison. But unfortunately there is no evidence that Felix ever capitulated to Christ and was redeemed. On the contrary, when Porcius Festus succeeded to the procuratorship, Felix still *left Paul in prison* (27), even beyond the two-year period which was ‘the maximum duration of preventative custody’, in order to win the Jew’s favour, which means that ‘he not only coveted money, but also glory’.
Tomorrow: Acts 25:1-22. 2). Paul before Festus.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.