Chapter 24 brings us to the hearing before the Roman governor Felix and reveals much about Paul, his accusers, and the Roman leaders. But most of all it reveals the core of Paul’s mission, which doesn’t stop even when on trial for his freedom, and even his life.
24:1 Paul had already appeared before Felix and was under guard until his accusers would arrive (from 23:34-45). Though it may seem to us that five days is lengthy, it was likely a reasonable time for them to get there.
Tertullus, as a spokesman for the Jewish leaders, functions almost like a lawyer, laying out the case for his side. As “opening statements” go, it seems to be a fairly weak one, for a number of reasons. As well, it seems that Luke is giving us a summary or partial report rather than a comprehensive one (taking that cue from the phrase “[he] began to accuse”).
24:4 He starts with words of praise, which was (and still is) a common way of beginning a speech intended to curry favour with someone. The problem with this particular one is that it seems to be simple flattery and full of empty praise. From historians we understand that Felix’s leadership wasn’t full of peace and good reforms, but unrest.
24:5 Be that as it may, Tertullus uses the opening to frame his argument against Paul, that Paul is disturbing this peace that supposedly exists. Paul is a “plague”, implying that he has “infected” the people with his teaching. And he “stirs up riots”, which is less than charitable—and likely intentionally misleading—half-truth. Riots occurred, yes, but was Paul responsible for stirring them up?
This is the only time the word “Nazarenes” is used to describe Christians. It was also used once to describe Jesus (Matthew 2:23). It could be that it was used here to describe this group of people—these followers of Jesus—as a group within Judaism, just as Pharisees and Sadducees, etc. and not as a separate group, so that it could be argued that Jewish leaders had some authority over them. Characterizing Paul as a “ringleader” would advance their argument against this harmful activity.
24:6 Paul is also accused of profaning the temple, which certainly would have been a grave offense against Judaism.
(24:7) You may notice that your Bible only includes verse 7 in a footnote, and so in the main text there is no verse 7. This is because there is some debate about the inclusion of the expanded part of this text (which will appear in a footnote in your Bible), because only a few manuscripts include it. (The texts of the Bible as we have them are compiled from a huge number of different copies/manuscripts, and sometimes—as here—there are variations. The study of this topic is called textual criticism and is beyond the scope of our notes here. The bottom line of the field of textual criticism, though, is that there are no variants that are contradictions in meaning (including here - it doesn’t change the meaning at all, simply the level of detail), and so we can have confidence that what we read in the Bible is trustworthy.)
24:8 It’s an unusually (and foolishly?) confident statement to suggest that Paul will substantiate these accusations when they aren’t solid.
24:9 The whole group supports the accusations, though notably none of them adds any actual evidence.
24:10-21 Paul answers with his defense/apology. (Again, the Greek word apologia, which doesn’t mean “I’m sorry”, but means “answer/defense”. We mention this again here because we encounter this word/idea in the Bible and in places like the Book of Concord, where there’s a document called “The Apology of the Augsburg Confession”.) Simply put, he refutes all the accusations and points out the lack of any evidence (23:13). He does, however, confess (again, this doesn’t mean how we would understand it in a legal sense—an admission of wrongdoing—but in a simple sense of “I will agree with this”) that the reason he’s in this situation is his preaching of the resurrection based on the Word of God. He’s preaching even in the midst of a legal defense!
24:14 “The Way” is most properly speaking of Jesus and a bit of shorthand also for Christians as “those belonging to the Way” (e.g. Acts 9:2), that is, followers of Jesus, the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:1-6). Here agin is a connection to 24:5, where the Jews try to describe the Christians as a sect of Judaism, not something outside of it.
24:22-24 It’s interesting that Felix had (very literally translated) “more accurately knowing the things concerning the Way” and this caused him to adjourn the hearing. It seems he may have been more familiar than the Jewish leaders with the goings-on. Some commentators suppose this may have been through his Jewish wife (24:24).
24:23 Paul is placed under what we might call a sort of house arrest, officially under guard but given much more freedom than a typical prisoner would be.
24:25 As Felix hears Paul explain the way of Christianity, and some of the fruit of faith (ref. Galatians 5:16-26), he doesn’t like what he hears. It could be that he’s hearing God’s Law and resisting being brought to a place of repentance. Instead, he pushes away from it, and sends Paul away.
24:26-27 The injustice against Paul in this case is a significant one. Felix, instead of wanting to talk more to Paul about the Way, wants to talk to him so give him opportunity to offer a bribe for his release. This was illegal, but history demonstrates that leaders are often unethical. While not explicitly said, it’s clear that Paul refused to offer a bribe and instead acted honourably in the face of experiencing great dishonour. The only legally just action on Felix’ part would be to release Paul, but Luke tells us that he refused to do that so that he could curry favour from the Jews, even when he was to leave his post.