Acts 24

1. Now after five days Ananias the high priest came down with the elders and a certain orator named Tertullus. These gave evidence to the governor against Paul.

Paul remains a prisoner in the Praetorium for five days, while the Sanhedrin and their cronies back in Jerusalem learn of Claudius’ actions to foil their plot and determine their new strategy for how to deal with Paul. Finally, Ananias the high priest himself, along with certain elders, comes down from Jerusalem to Caesarea. These elders, in Greek presbuteros, were simply representative men. In this case, they were probably the leading men of the Sanhedrin who had the authority to represent the rest of the council in this matter.

Now the high priest and elders bring with them a man whom the Scriptures describe as an orator named Tertullus. This will make more sense to us if we understand the way that trials worked in their culture. This comes from the Greek way of doing trials, in which great emphasis was placed upon the oratorical skills of those arguing the two sides of the matter. The arguments of what we would call “lawyers” on both sides were crafted to be masterful works of oratory, and were created as much to be elegant speeches as they were to actually argue the case. Thus instead of experts in law to help in a trial, one was more likely to hire one who was an expert at speaking. This is what the high priest and his cronies have done. They have hired a man known for his great speaking skills, hoping that he will dazzle the governor into agreeing with them due to his excellent oratorical presentation. Tertullus’ name means “Triple-Hardened,” a name which would be most appropriate for many who make their living in the field of law, yet who have no scruples about lying and twisting the truth in order to win a case.

2. And when he was called upon, Tertullus began his accusation, saying: “Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight,

When the time in the trial comes for the accusation to make their case, Tertullus is called upon to present their complaint against Paul. We can see that he begins his accusation against him with what could be frankly called shameless flattery of Felix. This was probably standard procedure in the Roman Empire, as it was supposed to be an attempt to get the governor on your side from the start. In fact, it might even be said that it was expected, so that it would be almost an insult to the one presiding over the trial not to flatter him. We will see how the Holy Spirit through Paul handles this phase of the trial, but for now we are examining the flattering statements of Tertullus.

First of all, Tertullus claims that through Felix they are enjoying great peace. This seems quite fanciful, as in the years leading up to the final revolt of Israel against Rome and the ensuing destruction of the city of Jerusalem, the situation in Israel was anything but peaceful. Still, since Felix was supposed to be the peacekeeper, it certainly must have made him feel good to hear Tertullus claim that he was succeeding, even if that was not actually the case. Then, he claims that prosperity is being brought to Israel by Felix’s foresight. Again, this seems very doubtful, since Israel was very impoverished at this time, and the only ones who really were prosperous were the rich and powerful religious leaders. If anything, Felix was simply aiding in the oppression and impoverishment of the people of Israel. Nevertheless, claiming such a thing is again flattering to Felix.

3. we accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.

Tertullus continues his flattery, and this too seems very doubtful. The common man on the street in Israel was certainly far from accepting of the Roman rule, certainly not in all places and with all thankfulness. Even the leaders like the Sanhedrin, though they were more accepting of the Roman rule than others may have been since they were personally wealthy and benefitting from it, were more than willing to switch sides for or against Rome depending upon which stance might benefit them at the moment. So they were less than accepting, and far from thankful. Nevertheless, Tertullus is again flattering Felix very strongly, although the governor must have been aware of the complete falsehood of these words.

4. Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us.

Tertullus now claims he does not want to be tedious to Felix. He seems to be implying that Felix must be so aware already of the great things that Tertullus has claimed are true of him that it will be a weariness to him to hear what is already so manifestly true. So Tertullus moves on from his flattery, and begs Tertullus to hear a few words from them, begging his courtesy. Tertullus is feigning great humility before Felix, though it is doubtful that any of the proud men whom he was speaking for were really very humble before the Roman governor.

5. For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

Tertullus presents their accusation against Paul in very broad terms. He claims Paul is a plague. That sounds bad, certainly, but it is not a very detailed accusation. Then, he calls him a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world. Of course, that would sound bad to a Roman, for they wanted peace and quietness in their empire, but Tertullus makes no attempt to explain how exactly Paul had done this. We know Paul did cause division among the Jews regarding those who believed in Jesus Christ and those who did not. However, this had nothing to do with anything against Rome. In fact, it was always Paul’s enemies who were stirring up riots and suchlike.

Finally, he calls Paul a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. The Jews would not use the name “Christians,” since that was the Greek form of the word “Messiah,” Whom they still hoped would come, though they denied He was Jesus Christ. No doubt they instructed Tertullus to call them this instead. They get this name for the sect that follows the Lord Jesus Christ from the town in which our Lord grew up. Since His enemies were reluctant to name Him, it seems they had gone from calling Him “Jesus of Nazareth” to simply “the Nazarene,” and now Tertullus refers to the Lord’s followers as the sect of the Nazarenes.

Since it was Paul, and not his “sect,” that was on trial before Felix, this too was a dubious charge. He implies that being a member of that “sect” was a bad thing, but he offers no real proof of this.

6. He even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him, and wanted to judge him according to our law.

Tertullus continues his accusation against Paul, at last coming to what the real issue had been. He accuses Paul of profaning the temple. Again, the book of Acts makes it clear that Paul did not, in fact, do this, as his accusers only assumed that he had brought Trophimus the Ephesian with him into the temple, since they had seen him with Paul in the city. However, Tertullus assumes that the alleged profanation of the temple was true, and so he relates, quite factually, how they seized Paul. However, his assertion that they wanted to judge him according to their law is incorrect. Their law did not allow executing someone upon suspicion without proof. Most who had been about to execute Paul probably believed that he was a Greek who had entered the temple, which would have been grounds for immediate death. However, Paul was not a Greek, and there was no evidence that he had actually brought anyone improperly into the temple. There were only a lot of assumptions. Killing Paul on grounds like this would not have been according to the law.

7. But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands,

Tertullus now describes the entrance of Lysias the chiliarch. His description of this is just as fanciful as Lysias’ own description was in his letter to Felix. Lysias claimed that he had learned Paul was a Roman, and came charging to his rescue, which was not true. Tertullus claims that Lysias interrupted their lawful proceedings and “with great violence” took Paul out of their hands. Lysias had done nothing of the kind. When the mob beating Paul saw the Roman commander coming, they got out of the way, and Lysias took Paul without violence. Tertullus is saying things the way he wants them to be here.

The Romans generally allowed the Jews great leeway in carrying out their own, religious laws. A violation of their laws was perhaps the only time Rome allowed them to carry out their own executions. Tertullus is claiming that their rights were trampled on by not being allowed to execute Paul when they wanted to according to their law. The problem with this argument is that, as Lysias found out when he took Paul before the Sanhedrin, they really could not prove that Paul had done anything contrary to their law at all.

8. commanding his accusers to come to you. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him.”

Tertullus continues his complaint against Lysias. His contention is that Lysias violently took Paul away from them and refused to allow them to carry out their version of justice upon him, instead telling them that they would have to come before Felix. Tertullus is making the religious leaders and the element of the Israelites who were against Paul and Christ out to be the wronged party here.

Tertullus’ argument seems far too brief, not to mention incomplete, without the second half of verse 6, verse 7, and the first half of verse 8. These verses are all found in the Syriac. We would argue that the Nestle text commonly used in our day is incomplete here, and that these verses belong in the original. If taking a portion out leaves a hole, then it is probably best to leave it in.

Tertullus concludes by leaving this on Felix. He encourages him to examine Paul himself. He implies that if Felix is intelligent, he will find that everything they have accused Paul of is factual. Of course this was an attempt to manipulate Felix, for an examination of Paul would reveal no such thing, as Paul was not guilty of the things Tertullus has been accusing him of.

9. And the Jews also assented, maintaining that these things were so.

The Jews all assent to what Tertullus has said. They may not be great orators like he is, but they help out by giving their voices in assent to what he has said, maintaining that all he has accused Paul of is true.

Notice here that the word “Jews” is used in the typical way it is often used in the land of Israel. That is, it refers to what in verse 1 was called “the high priest…with the elders.” Those in the land called the rich and powerful class, especially the religious leaders, “the Jews.” This was similar to our expression speaking of a “real American.” By saying this, we do not mean that everyone else is a fake American. A “real American” is someone who is a true patriot, one who stands up for American ideals, and perhaps who is even willing to die for his country. This is what we mean when we speak of a “real American.” So a “Jew” to them was what they commonly viewed as the ultimate example of what a Jew should be: these religious leaders who kept the law so studiously and zealously. Sadly, as we know from studying the New Testament, these religious leaders were not so much the sterling example of Jewishness that the common people thought them to be.

10. Then Paul, after the governor had nodded to him to speak, answered: “Inasmuch as I know that you have been for many years a judge of this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself,

The accusation having ended their argument, the governor now nods to Paul, who is going to be speaking for himself. Now, Paul is to offer the expected flattery to start his address. We see that what he does offer, by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, is complimentary, factual, and a challenge to Felix all at the same time. Paul factually points out that Felix has indeed been a judge of Israel for many years. Felix had been the governor for about seven years at this time. Paul implies that in this period of his authority over the land, he has learned well the ways of the land, which will enable him to judge rightly in this case, which is complimentary. Yet this is also a challenge. Felix is experienced enough to see his way to the bottom of this matter, and he should act according to the knowledge he has gained by experience to bring about justice in this case. Thus the Spirit masterfully both offers the expected compliments, and yet at the same time puts the ball in Felix’ court to live up to what he is capable of. Felix must have realized the fawning insincerity of Tertullus’ exaggerated compliments. Yet the compliment the Spirit gives him is one he has to live up to, and thus was more likely to strike home.

11. because you may ascertain that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem to worship.

The Spirit too through Paul expresses confidence that Felix will be able to ascertain the truth of this matter, and learn that it is only twelve days since Paul went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem in order to worship there.

12. And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city.

Paul points out that his conduct in Jerusalem was entirely worshipful, in concert with the fact that that is what he had gone there to do. His accusers had not found him in the temple disputing with anyone and making a ruckus. They had not discovered him inciting the crowd. Since the crowd was incited, Paul is implying here quite truthfully that it was in fact his enemies who had incited a near riot. His conduct, Paul concludes, had been good not only in the temple, but also in both the synagogues he had visited and in the city at large wherever he had traveled. During his entire stay in the city, he had done nothing wrong.

13. Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me.

Paul also points out that they cannot prove the things of which they are now accusing him. By this, he implies that there is no proof, since he had not done the things they were accusing him of at all. The Spirit thus masterfully points out the weakness of Tertullus’ argument. His accusation consisted of lots of general or even specific charges, but lacked real proof for any of them.

14. But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.

There is one thing that Paul is willing to confess to, however. That is that according to the Way which they call a sect, so does he worship the God of his fathers. We recognize here the word “Way,” which in John 14:6, the Lord Jesus Christ applied to Himself when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Paul follows this Way, and it is this he refers to in making this statement.

Paul mentions that they call this Way a “sect.” The word here, as in verse 5, is hairesin, from which we get our English word “heresy.” The old King James says, “after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers.” We can relate to this, for certainly there are many today who would call anyone who does not worship God exactly as they do a “heretic.” Yet none of us should be afraid of this word, for this is exactly what they called Paul, and we are in good company if we are called this as well. The reality is that we worship the God of the Bible, and if believing what we find there makes us heretics, then so be it.

Finally, Paul asserts that he believes all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. By this, he means the whole of the Old Testament. This is an important lesson for us today, for there are some today who wish to call themselves Christians and yet who do not feel any obligation to believe everything that is written in the Old Testament. In fact, they seem to remain in the New Testament more or less on principle, and consider it a good thing if one ignores the Old Testament as much as possible. This is not good. Paul is our example, and his witness by the Spirit is that he believed all things that he found written there. If we wish to be Godly, we had best do the same.