Confinement in Caesarea

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Paul’s nephew discovers the plot to kill Paul on his way to the Sanhedrin. He reports it to one of the centurions and then to the commander, who takes immediate action and transfers the apostle to Caesarea at night (Acts 23:12-23). Through his letter to the governor, we know the name of that commander; he is Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:24-30).

Governor Felix asks Paul’s home province to determine if he has jurisdiction over his case (Acts 23:34–35). Cilicia’s capital is Tarsus, where the apostle came from (Acts 21:39). Apparently, Felix had jurisdiction over him and accepted his case (Acts 23:35).

After five days, Paul’s accusers came down from Jerusalem to bring charges against him. A lawyer named Tertullus came with the Jewish leaders (Acts 24:1). In Greek, the word translated “lawyer” (e.g., NIV) is rhetoros, which is literally translated “orator.” Evidently, the Jewish leaders hired an orator who was an expert not only in the Roman law but also in rhetoric. Tertullus presents the charges against Paul using “a standard captatio benevolentiae—flattery to secure Felix’s favor.”[1] In contrast, Paul starts his speech with the recognition of the governor’s authority and appreciation for the opportunity to defend himself. He commences, “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense” (Acts 24:10).[2] This is the beginning of Paul’s series of defense (Greek, apologia) during his confinement at Caesarea. He made three different apologias at three different times before three different groups of people.

I want to make three observations on Paul’s apologias and extract lessons from them that may be pertinent for us today.

First, in his defense before Felix, Paul underscores his shared beliefs with his Jewish audience. He worships the same God of their ancestors, he believes in the Jewish law and the Prophets, and values the hope of resurrection (Acts 24:14, 15, 21). Instead of emphasizing the differences of his beliefs with that of his Jewish audience, he celebrates their commonalities with him. He did not criticize his accusers’ ideologies, instead he stressed his common ground with them. That should be our approach with other religions and denominations. George E. Vandeman had the same approach in his book, What I Like About . . .[3] Vandeman wrote many things he liked and admired about Baptists, Catholics, Charismatics, Jews, Lutherans, Methodists.[4]

However, in spite of acknowledging the commonalities of his beliefs with those of his Jewish accusers, Paul unabashedly confessed that he is a believer of the Way (Acts 24:14). As Christians, we can do the same. Unapologetically confessing our commitment to Jesus but finding and building bridges with other religions and denominations.

Second, when Paul was before Agrippa and Festus for his defense, he could have defended himself by bringing out the wrongdoings and incestuous relationships between Agrippa and his sister Bernice,[5] but he did not do it. He did not openly rebuke Agrippa for his sin. He did not publicly expose the sin of Agrippa, instead he acknowledged his familiarity with the Jewish customs and his belief in the Old Testament prophets (Acts 26:3, 27). Paul did not defend himself by pointing out the sins of others. That is the tendency of many people; in order to cover their sins, they point out another people’s transgression. Although it is in the context of Paul ministering at Corinth, in the same vein, Ellen G. White observed:

As he endeavored to lead souls to the foot of the cross, Paul did not venture to rebuke, directly, those who were licentious, or to show how heinous was their sin in the sight of a holy God. Rather he set before them the true object of life and tried to impress upon their minds the lessons of the divine Teacher, which, if received, would lift them from worldliness and sin to purity and righteousness. He dwelt especially upon practical godliness and the holiness to which those must attain who shall be accounted worthy of a place in God’s kingdom. He longed to see the light of the gospel of Christ piercing the darkness of their minds, that they might see how offensive in the sight of God were their immoral practices. Therefore the burden of his teaching among them was Christ and Him crucified.[6]

Third, in his defense’s concluding remarks, Paul wishes that Agrippa and everyone in the audience “might become such as” he is (Acts 26:29). In other words, he challenges them to become Christians as he is. One commentary notes that Paul “challenges Agrippa and his whole audience about the value of knowing Christ and making a personal commitment to him.”[7] The Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guides states, “In his last words in that hearing, the apostle did not plead to be free, as were those listening to him. Instead, he wished they could be like him, except for the chains that bound him. Paul’s missionary zeal greatly surpassed his care for his own safety” (101).

Paul’s commitment to the gospel is admirable indeed. Instead of truly defending himself, he underscores the death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 26:23). It shows that his defense, although autobiographical in nature, was not motivated by any form of selfishness. It’s remarkably a selfless defense. For me, that is a true apologia of the gospel.

 

Ferdinand O. Regalado, PhD, is senior pastor of Edinburg Seventh-day Adventist Church located in Edinburg, Texas.

 

Photo by Rudy van der Veen on Skitterphoto

 

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[1] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 394.

[2] All Scripture references are from the English Standard Version of the Bible, unless otherwise indicated.

[3] George E. Vandeman, What I Like About… (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Association, 1986).

[4] Recently, Paul Dybdahl in his new book, Before We Call Them Strangers: What Adventists Ought to Know About Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus (Lincoln, NE: AdventSource, 2017), took the same approach but this time with Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. He showed many commonalities that Adventists have with these religions.

[5] Some ancient writers alluded to the incestuous relationship between Agrippa and Berenice (also spelled Bernice). See Keener, 398.

[6] Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles: In the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1911), 272-273.

[7] Allison Trites, “The Book of Acts,” in NLT Study Bible (Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008), 1881.

 

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