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Early Church History: Part 18--Paul's Detainments

Aug 16, 2007

Paul was taken by night out of Jerusalem and brought first to Antipatris (Acts 23:31), a city about 40 miles away built by Herod the Great, which he named after his father, Antipater. From there Paul was taken to Caesarea, the Roman city, where was stationed a Roman cohort that could protect him. It was also the residence of Felix.

Felix is called the "governor" in Acts 23:33. More specifically, he was the Procurator of Judea (like Pontius Pilate twenty years earlier), appointed by Claudius in 52 and retained by Nero when Claudius died in 54. When Paul arrived, he was kept in the guard room attached to King Herod's palace called in the KJV "Herod's judgment hall" (Acts 23:35).

Five days after Paul's arrival in Caesarea, Ananius the high priest arrived with his delegation to accuse Paul before Felix (24:1). Both sides presented their cases. Paul based his case again upon his belief in the resurrection of the dead--specifically of Jesus Christ--which, he said, was the fulfillment of all that Moses and the prophets had prophesied. Then 24:22 says,

"But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about The Way, put them off, saying, 'When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case'."

Why did Luke tell us about Felix's "more exact knowledge" about Christianity--then called "The Way"? How is it that a Roman would know about this teaching? Well, Felix had married Drusilla, whose brother was King Herod Agrippa II. Drusilla, Bernice, and Herod were the children of Herod Agrippa I, who had killed James and imprisoned Peter in 44 A.D. (Acts 12). After the angel assisted in Peter's prison break, Peter had fled to Caesarea. Herod had followed him and died there while being proclaimed a god (Acts 12:23).

There is little doubt that the children of Herod Agrippa I would have known something about Christianity and especially about Peter, for it had to be clear to them that God not only had done a great miracle with Peter, but had also brought about the death of their father for blasphemy and for going after Peter. Those circumstances seem to have made the biggest impression on Drusilla.

Drusilla herself first married Azizus, King of Emesa, but later she was enticed (many believe) by Simon Magus to leave him and marry Felix. As for her brother, Herod, he was too young in 44 A.D. to be made king at the death of his father. But in 50 A.D. Claudius gave him the kingdom of Colchis, since the previous king (his uncle, brother of Herod Agrippa I, also named Herod) had died two years previously. Soon afterward, however, Herod was made Tetrarch of Abilene and Trachonitis and given the title of "King."

Given his history and the manner in which his father had died, Herod Agrippa II had an interest in Christianity. He may also have known of his great-grandfather's massacre of the children in Bethlehem, attempting to prevent the coming of the Messiah.

Whatever this Herod may have known, Drusilla would also have known. So later Felix called Paul for a special interview to learn more about The Way itself. Acts 24:25-27 says,

(25) And as he was discussing righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, 'Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you'. (26) At the same time, too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him. (27) Butafter two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned."

As an open adulterer, Felix perhaps had reason to be frightened over the prospect of a future judgment. Drusilla and her child by Felix ultimately perished in the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. But Felix did not release Paul, though he knew he was innocent, because he did not want to anger the high priest and create a powerful enemy. Luke tells us that he would have done so, however, if Paul had paid him some ransom money (a bribe). But two years passed, and Paul did not come up with any cash. Felix then was replaced by Festus in June, 60 A.D.

This political event, occurring two years after Paul's arrival in Caesarea, fixes the historical date of the book of Acts. It tells us that Paul had come to Jerusalem in 57 or (at the latest) 58 A.D. Prior to that time, he had spent three years ministering in Ephesus (54-57), unless perhaps that three years did not include his fairly brief trip to Macedonia and Greece afterward--in which case Paul's missionary journey may have been closer to four years total. If that were the case, then Paul might have come to Jerusalem as late as 58 A.D.

Church historians are divided on this. But nonetheless, they are all united on the fact that Felix was replaced by Festus in 60 A.D. At that point, Paul appealed to Caesar, and Festus sent him on a ship to Rome around August of 60 A.D. Because of the shipwreck (Acts 27) Paul did not actually arrive in Rome until the following spring, having spent the winter in Malta (28:11). Paul then arrived in Rome in the spring of 61 A.D.

Paul's had to wait another two years before he could get a hearing before Nero (Acts 28:30). He was acquitted with the help of Seneca in 63 A.D. and then went to Spain and Britain to preach the Gospel, returning through Helvetia (now Switzerland) in 64 A.D. Later that year he was beheaded by Nero in Rome.

But meanwhile, getting back to the year 60 A.D., when Festus replaced Felix, in this year a great war broke out in Britain, called the Boadicean War. The previous year (59) Caradoc had been released from Rome after his seven-year exile ended. He had returned to Britain, while his children, Claudia and Linus, remained in Rome. Claudia, of course, was now seven years into her marriage with Rufus Pudens, the senator, and they had young children.

In 57 or 58, depending on where we date the end of Paul's missionary journey, Paul had already written his letter to the "Romans," from Corinth just before sailing to Jerusalem. More accurately, he wrote "to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints" (Rom. 1:7). He was writing to the British saints in Rome, intending no doubt to make the journey to Rome immediately after going to Jerusalem. But his detainment in Caesarea under Felix was longer than foreseen, while Felix was hoping for a bribe.

Because Paul wrote his letter prior to 59 A.D., when Caradoc returned to Britain, he greeted that great military conqueror under the Greek name of Andronicus, "conqueror of men" (Rom. 16:7), calling them "my kinsmen." They were kinsmen in that Caradoc was the father of Claudia, the wife of Rufus, whose mother was also Paul's mother (Rom. 16:13). Rufus was his half-brother. Thus, Paul felt a kinship with Caradoc and his family.

But Paul was unable to meet Caradoc in Rome in 61, for Caradoc had already departed for Britain two years earlier. By the time Paul arrived in Britain in 63, the land had been torn apart by the Boadicean War, in which more than 40,000 Romans perished when the British forces took London. Thus, by the time Paul preached at Ludgate Hill, where St. Paul's Cathedral now stands in his honor, the scars of war and bloodshed must have been evident everywhere.

In fact, if Paul had gone to Rome and thence to Spain and Britain according to his own schedule, he would have arrived in Britain about the time of the outbreak of the Boadicean War. But God intervened and caused Felix to detain him for two years. Then Paul was detained another two years in Rome waiting for Nero to see him.

So once again, we find that God has underlying purposes for the delays that try our patience. There is little doubt that Paul came to understand the purpose for his own detainments.


This is the eighteenth part of a series titled "Early Church History." To view all parts, click the link below.

Early Church History


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Category: Teachings

Dr. Stephen Jones


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