Paul Before Felix

By Mike Willis

The book of Acts records Paul’s journey to Jerusalem during which he brought funds gathered in Galatia, Achaia and Macedonia to relieve the poor among the saints (1 Cor. I6:1-2; 2 Cor. 8-9; Rom. 15:26). When Paul arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren told him of the sentiment among the Christians against Paul because, they were told, he taught Jews to forsake the law of Moses and not to circumcise their children (Acts 21:21). To offset this prejudice against the apostle, the brethren recommended that Paul participate in a purification vow with several other Jewish Christians.

On the seventh day of the purification ceremonies, some Jews from Asia recognized Paul and created a tumult against him charging that he had defiled the holy place by bringing a Gentile into the Temple. This was a lie based on pure assumption; the Asian Jews had seen Trophimus, a Gentile companion of Paul, with him in the city and had assumed that he had taken him into the Temple. However, they proceeded to take him outside the Temple to stone him to death.

Claudius Lysias, the Roman chief captain of the Tower of Antonio (a fortress in the Temple area), rushed down to break up the scene. He saved Paul from being stoned to death. The next day, Paul was tried before the Sanhedrin. During the trial, Paul said, “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question” (Acts 23:6). This confession of belief in the resurrection caused a division between the Sadducees and Pharisees on the council; the uproar became so great that Claudius Lysias had Paul taken back into the prison for safe-keeping.

The next day, the Jews plotted the murder of Paul. Claudius Lysias learned of the plot and had Paul transferred to Caesarea there Felix, the procurator of Judea (the same position which Pontius Pilate had held some years before) lived. Five days later the Jews went to Caesarea to place charges against Paul. Paul successfully defended himself. Nevertheless, Felix left him in jail for an extended period of time for no just reason.

During the course of Paul’s imprisonment, Felix called for the apostle to hear from him concerning the faith in Christ (Acts 24:24). Paul reasoned with him of righteousness, temperance and the judgement to come. Felix trembled. Nevertheless, he said, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” (Acts 24:25).

Who Was This Felix?

Fortunately, we can learn more about Felix from secular sources. The secular historians add to our information about Felix. Felix was the household slave of Antonia, Claudius Caesar’s mother; he was granted his freedom by Claudius and took Antonius as his forename.

Claudius made a policy of employing such court servants in his administration. Felix was even the brother of the Minister of the Treasury, Pallas, and the husband of a Roman princess descended from Antony and Cleopatra; he therefore had the ear of the central government and a place in higher diplomatic circles (Bo Reicke, The New Testament Era, p. 206).

As a ruler, Felix left somewhat to be desired. Disorders in Palestine mushroomed under his administration. His leadership antagonized Jewish leaders and was, to some degree, responsible for the organizing of the Sicarii (Jewish assassins who were political zealots). “His countryman Tacitus (Hist. v. 9) describes him as using `the powers of a king with the disposition of a slave’ and says (Ann. xii. 54) `he deemed that he might perpetrate any ill deeds with impunity”‘ (G.P. Gould, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, James Hastings, editor, Vol. I, p. 405). (Note: because of these historical comments, compare Tertullus’ hypocritical remarks about Felix’ rule in Acts 23:2-5.)

Felix, you will recall, had married a Roman princess who was the descendent of Antony and Cleopatra. Yet, when we meet him in Acts 24:24, he is married to Drusilla. When Felix arrived in Caesarea, he was able to conclude another favorable marriage, this time with the beautiful Jewish princess Drusilla (Acts 24:24). Agrippa II allowed his sister to marry the Roman without the usual requirement of circumcision, a sign that he considered the match very advantageous. All this established friendly relationships between the Romans and the Jews in the first two years of Felix’ procuratorship.

Nevertheless, this marriage was one quite contrary to the, law of God. Drusilla had been previously married to Azizus, king of Emesa. Shortly afterward, she was induced to desert her husband by Felix, who employed a Gyprian sorcerer, Simon by name, to carry out his purpose.

Hence, when Paul stepped in the presence of Felix and Drusilla, he stood before two sinners who were living together in a marriage relationship which was displeasing to God. He was able to address two people who had obviously lived a life of hedonism, doing whatever pleased them.

Paul’s Sermon

What would Paul preach to Felix and Drusilla? There are a number of evangelists who would have preached about the love of God, the beauty of two people from such diverse backgrounds living together with love, how that Jews, Romans and Christians all worshiped the same God, or some other innocuous sermon similar to that. However, the scriptures related that Paul reasoned with Felix and Drusilla about “righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come.”

1. Righteousness. The word dikaiosune can refer to “that divine arrangement. by which God leads men to a state acceptable to him” or “integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness, correctness in thinking, feeling, and acting” (Thayer, p. 149). No doubt, Thayer is correct in applying this second definition to Acts 24:25 (based on its close relationship to “self-control”). Hence, Paul addressed Felix and Drusilla about the need for moral purity.

Other comments in the Pauline epistles reflect the kind of teaching which Paul did with reference to moral issues. Study some of Paul’s writings about morality:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, or idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21).

No doubt, the teaching which Paul did on this occasion was somewhat similar to this. The demand of God for purity of life does not exclude the rich and politically somewhat of this world. The lives of Felix and Drusilla, who were openly living in an adulterous relationship, were’ sinful before God and Paul did not hesitate to preach about God’s demand for purity in life to such people as this.

2. Temperance. The word “temperance” has gone through such an evolution in the English language that a better word can be used to translate egkrateias. “Temperance” became so associated with the Women’s Temperance Union that it is practically synonymous with “abstinence from alcohol.” Originally, the word meant “self-restraint in conduct, expression, indulgence of the appetites, etc.” Egkrateia means “self-control . . . the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites” (Thayer, pp. 166-167). The English word “self-control” in today’s usage more neatly reproduces the meaning of the original Greek word.

Paul was, therefore, teaching Felix and Drusilla that God requires man to control his passions. This is a lesson needed as much today as at any time in man’s history. Our society has been teaching us, through song and direct doctrinal philosophy, that “if it feels good, do it.” The philosophy of hedonism is that man should practice whatever gives him pleasure. The doctrine of self-control runs counter to that. It teaches that the law of God imposes some restrictions upon man’s conduct which must be recognized and obeyed. Specifically, Felix and Drusilla must control their passions of a sexual nature (i.e., they must break off their adulterous relationship) and any other passion which was causing them to act contrary to God’s revealed law.

3. The Judgment To Come. After revealing that God’s law demands moral purity, Paul confronted Felix and Drusilla with the fact that there is a judgment day coming. Paul preached that “there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15). He preached,

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).

In speaking of the righteous judgment of God, Paul revealed that God

will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God (Rom. 2:6-11).

“The judgment day is coming,” Paul told Felix. In explaining the nature of the judgment of God, Paul certainly must have mentioned heaven and hell, the respective eternal abodes of the righteous and the wicked.

Felix’s Reaction

The first reaction of Felix was recorded by Luke when he wrote, “Felix trembled.” The discussion about the judgment day, the eternal separation of the righteous and the wicked, scared Felix. Felix was thoroughly convicted of his sin. He knew what his present relationship with god was and it caused him to tremble. However, being scared is not the same as being saved.

The second reaction of Felix was this statement to Paul: “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” Felix postponed obeying the gospel. His was not the reaction of a man who was patiently counting the cost of following Jesus. Rather, his was the reaction of a man who makes his decision to say “no” to Jesus by saying “sometime later.” The fact of the matter is that Felix was not willing to practice the self-control necessary to live a righteous life to be pleasing to God. This is seen by two separate points from Luke’s narrative: (1) Though Felix knew somewhat about Christianity (Acts 24:22), enough to know the prejudice of Judaism against Christianity, he nevertheless refused to grant Paul his freedom by declaring him innocent of the charges placed against him. Rather, he said that he would wait until Lysias came to Caesarea so that he could hear more about the matter. Although it only took the Jewish accusers of Paul five days to come to Caesarea to place their charges against Paul, Lysias could not be brought from Jerusalem to Caesarea for a more thorough examination of Paul in two full years! Hence, Felix did not want to act contrary to Jewish desires in granting Paul his freedom; instead, when he left office, he left Paul in prison as a favor to the Jews (Acts 24:27).

(2) Felix was a man willing to take and anxious to receive a bribe. Luke stated, “He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him” (Acts 24:26). Remembering the statement that Paul had made about bringing alms to his nation (Acts 24:17), Felix supposed that Paul had access to money and made it apparent that he wanted to be bribed in order to give Paul his freedom. Hence, Paul’s sermon about righteousness and self-control left no permanent impact upon Felix. His statement, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee,” was not the statement of a man wishing to obey the gospel at some later time in life; it was the statement of one wishing to get rid of the preacher) or the time being.


Felix is one of several cases of non-conversion recorded in the Bible. I should hope that each of us can profit from a study of his mistakes. Dear friend, if you have been thinking about becoming a Christian, do not postpone your obedience to the gospel. There will never be a “convenient season” for any sinners; Satan never did make it easy for a man to renounce his sins and obey the Lord. Rather, the web of sin will just become more and more wrapped around you. Consequently, resolve in your heart to break away from sin this day and begin to serve the Savior.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 48, pp. 771-773
December 6, 1979