For the Love of God, Volume 2/January 24
From Gospel Translations
Genesis 25; Matthew 24; Esther 1; Acts 24
IN THE TRIAL OF PAUL BEFORE FELIX (Acts 24), the governor comes across as a man in authority who has no moral vision authorizing him to take decisive action. He is, in short, a moral wimp. He also represents the many powerful people who are disturbed by the Gospel, and at some deep level know that it is true, yet who never become Christians. Note:
(1) Judging by his approach and oratory, Tertullus is an orator trained in the Greek tradition and thus well able to represent the Jewish leaders in this quintessentially Hellenistic setting. The charge against Paul of temple desecration (24:6) is serious, punishable by death. When Tertullus encourages Felix to “examine” Paul (24:8), he means more than that Felix should ask a few probing questions. Roman “examination” of a prisoner was open-ended beating until the prisoner “confessed.” Roman officers did not have the right to “examine” a Roman citizen like Paul, but a governor like Felix could doubtless manage to waive the rules now and then.
(2) Paul’s response, no less courteous than that of Tertullus, denies the charge of temple desecration (24:12-13, 17-18) and provides a plausible explanation of the uproar by describing the actions of “some Jews from the province of Asia” (24:19). Paul also seizes the opportunity to acknowledge that he is a follower of “the Way”—a delightful expression referring to first-century Christianity, bearing, perhaps, multiple allusions. Christianity is more than a belief system; it is a way of living. Moreover, it provides a way to God, a way to be forgiven and accepted by the living God—and that Way is Jesus himself (as John 14:6 explicitly avers). ( 3) Paul insists that he believes “everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets” (24:14). This expression does not make the Law the final arbiter, yet nevertheless insists that the “everything” Paul believes agrees with the Law. The Law is thus a critical test that points to the “everything” Paul believes, but it is not the substance of everything he believes. Compare Matthew 5:17-20; Romans 3:21 (see meditation for January 31).
(4) And Felix? Owing to his Jewish wife Drusilla (24:24), he has some acquaintance with “the Way” (24:22). Yet here he ducks a decision between justice and his desire to placate Paul’s opponents, appealing to the need to hear from Lysias the commander. It is all pretense. He enjoys talking with Paul, and even trembles before his message, but always dismisses the apostle at the critical moment. For two years he is torn between a desire to repent and a desire for a bribe. In eternity, how will Felix assess those two years?