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Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



(Acts 21:18; 23:10).

              1. Judaistic Opposition to St. Paul. The Advice of St. James.




              2. The Arrest in the Temple:

              The infuriated Jews.


                            The address of St. Paul to the multitude.




              3. St. Paul’s Defence before the Sanhedrim.






(Acts 23:11; 26).

              1. Paul sent Prisoner to Cæsarea.




              2. He appears before Felix:

              Character and administration of the Roman procurator.


                            Charges of the Jews and St. Paul’s defence.


                            Two years’ detention in Cæsarea.




              3. St. Paul and Festus:

              The new procurator. Date of his entrance into office.


                            The trial before Festus ended by appeal to Cæsar.




              4. St. Paul’s Discourse before King Agrippa.






(Acts 27–28:16).

              1. From Cæsarea to Malta:

              The voyage and shipwreck.


                            Minute accuracy of the sacred narrative.




              2. Sojourn in the Island of Malta.


              3. From Malta to Rome.


§ 1. Arrest in Jerusalem

1. Judaistic Opposition to St. Paul. When, on the day which followed his arrival in the Holy City, St. Paul appeared before the formal assembly of the ancients of the Church under the presidency of St. James, he had not, in fact he could not have, any serious misgivings about their feelings regarding his own person and doctrine. What he had so far preached to the Gentiles had formerly received their distinct approval, and if slanderous reports had during his long absence caused in their minds something like doubt or even distrust as to his actual teachings to the Gentiles he knew that a straightforward account of the marvels which God had wrought everywhere through his agency, and to which his numerous companions were ready to bear witness, would be more than sufficient to dispel at once all traces of unfriendly feeling on the part of the heads of the church of Jerusalem. In point of fact we are told in the sacred narrative that, “having related particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry, they hearing it glorified God.” But in spite, or rather because, of their friendly dispositions towards St. Paul, the leaders of the church of Jerusalem felt they should take into account the state of excitement into which his presence was sure to throw his Judaistic opponents. By many Jewish converts he had ever been more less suspected of enmity to the Mosaic Law, and the late arrival of the Asiatic Jews, who, as we have seen, had plotted against his life at Corinth, and who had since their coming to the Holy City sedulously spread the rumor that he taught the Hellenistic Jews positive disregard of the Law of Moses, had wrought powerfully upon the feelings of the thousands of Jewish converts now in Jerusalem, and “all zealous for the Law.” It seemed, therefore, highly desirable that St. Paul should do something to destroy the effect of these calumnious reports on the Christian community, and at the same time disarm the hostility of the unconverted Jews. Accordingly the heads of the Jewish Church advised him to show to all in a practical manner that he was no fanatic enemy of Mosaism. To this the Apostle readily agreed, for the particular conduct now suggested to him—that of taking part in the religious services of four Nazarites and of defraying the expenses which attended their purification—clearly involved no giving up of the great principle of Gentile freedom formerly promulgated in the Council of Jerusalem and ever since preached by him through the Roman Empire.

2. The Arrest in the Temple. What St. Paul had consented to do was usually considered highly meritorious by all the Jews, but, under the circumstances of the time, his Asiatic enemies were so bent upon his destruction that what was best calculated to appease their anger simply furnished them with the opportunity of making an attempt upon his life. Towards the end of the seven days during which he had to appear in the Temple with the four Nazarites, some of those bigots, meeting him within the sacred precincts after having seen him in the company of the Ephesian Trophimus some time before, called on others to help in arresting a great enemy of Judaism, and one who, moreover, as they affirmed, had brought Gentiles into that part of the Temple strictly forbidden to the uncircumcised. An uproar ensued, during which the Apostle, dragged out of the Inner Court, would certainly have been beaten to death had not the tribune Lysias, informed of the riot, rushed down at once from the fortress Antonia with soldiers and centurions. The tribune arrested the Apostle, whom he supposed to be an Egyptian impostor, who had lately caused a revolt, and had hitherto baffled the pursuit of the soldiers of Felix, the Roman governor. But he was soon undeceived, for St. Paul, having been scarcely conveyed to the fortress, asked of him leave to address the people, affirming that he was “a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia.”

The recorded discourse of the Apostle under such unfavorable circumstances for an address is a model of skilful pleading calculated to secure and hold long—as we are told it did—the attention of most unfriendly hearers. It is an historical retrospect of his life, in which the principal points are described so as to justify his words and conduct, but, still more, so as to please the popular fancy by setting forth every detail that could appear honorable to the Jewish Law and nation. But, of course, the mention of his mission to the Gentiles had to be made, and when made it aroused at once the fury of the mob, and in their rage they clamored for his blood, “threw off their garments, and cast dust into the air.”

Witnessing this second outbreak, of which he could not make out the cause, for he did not understand the Aramaic language used by St. Paul, the tribune ordered that he should be examined by scourging; but this was not carried out, the Apostle appealing at once to his Roman citizenship, which guaranteed exemption from such indignity.

3. St. Paul’s Defence before the Sanhedrim. The very next day Lysias, desirous to know what were the precise crimes laid to the charge of his prisoner, had him loosed and, under the guard of an escort of Roman soldiers, brought before the Sanhedrim. The president of this Jewish assembly was no other than the high priest Ananias, who belonged to the family of Annas, famous for its connection with the trial of Jesus, and who hastened to give evidence of his usual disregard of justice and of his deep-seated hatred of Christianity. Hardly had St. Paul begun his address by affirming that he had ever been faithful to his conscience, when that infamous high priest ordered his servants who stood nearest to the Apostle, to strike him on the mouth. Whereupon St. Paul indignantly replied: “God shall strike thee, thou whited wall. For sittest thou to judge me according to the Law, and contrary to the Law commandest thou me to be struck?” but being made aware that the one guilty of such unjust violence was no other than the high priest, he withdrew at once the expressions he had just used, and proceeded with his defence.

It seems that at this time the quarrel of long standing between Sadducees and Pharisees—the two principal elements of the Sanhedrim—with regard to the question of the resurrection had reached its hottest point, and St. Paul, who knew it full well, shrewdly exclaimed: “I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” His device succeeded admirably, for there arose so great a dissension in the Sanhedrim that “the tribune, fearing lest Paul should be torn in pieces by them,” ordered him to be taken from among them and brought back into the fortress.

§ 2. Imprisonment in Cæsarea

1. Paul Sent Prisoner to Cæsarea. Great indeed was the disappointment of the Asiatic enemies of St. Paul when they heard of the manner in which he had escaped condemnation by the Sanhedrim; and in their rage some of them “bound themselves under a curse, saying, that they would neither eat nor drink, till they killed Paul.” Their plan was that he should again be brought before the Sanhedrim as if to resume the inquiry so tumultuously interrupted, and that they would murder him on his way thither. But God watched over the life of one whom He destined to bear Him witness in the capital of the empire, and Paul’s nephew, having become aware of the plot, found means to convey the information without delay to the Roman commander. Whereupon Lysias took instant and absolutely sure measures for the safety of his prisoner; no fewer than 470 soldiers were to escort him that very night on the road to Cæsarea, the residence of Antonius Felix, the Roman procurator. At nine o’clock in the evening the escort started with Paul mounted on horseback, and it reached Antipatris, some 40 miles distant, in the early morning. As from hence to Cæsarea an ambuscade from the banditti who infested the district was no longer to be feared, the greater part of the escort returned to Jerusalem, while the rest hastened to deliver up the prisoner to the procurator, together with a short letter from Lysias which gave a substantially correct account of what had happened. Upon the reading of this letter Felix ascertained the province to which Paul belonged, and then promised to hear his case as soon as his accusers had come, ordering that meantime he should be kept in Herod’s palace.

2. St. Paul before Felix. Few Roman officials have left after them a worse record than Antonius Felix, the procurator of Judæa, before whose tribunal St. Paul was soon to be confronted with his enemies. It is of that brother of Pallas, the freedman of Claudius, to whose influence in Rome Felix owed his actual continuance in office, that Tacitus says in his usual pithy manner: “He wielded the sceptre of a monarch with the soul of a slave.” He rendered at first, it is true, some good service by putting down the banditti who had infested Judæa under his predecessor; but he soon proved himself “artful and perfidious, and stirred by revenge, even to the use of the assassin’s knife, a votary of pleasure, and regardless of the feelings he wounded in the pursuit of it, ostentatious and extravagant, and feeding his wasteful indulgences by peculation and extortion.”

After a few days of detention in the palace of Herod, which Felix actually used as his headquarters, St. Paul appeared before the procurator. The high priest Ananias had come down himself from Jerusalem, “with some of the ancients,” to accuse the Apostle, and they had taken with them Tertullus, a hired advocate, to argue the case in the Greek language. In an artful speech Tertullus brought three distinct charges against the accused: first, that he had “raised seditions among all the Jews throughout the world,” and was thus guilty of treason against the emperor; next, that he was a ringleader of the “sect of the Nazarenes”; lastly, that he had attempted to profane the Temple. The reply of St. Paul was a dignified answer to these charges. As the procurator could easily ascertain, the Apostle had in no way during his short sojourn of twelve days in Jerusalem provoked a sedition. He belonged indeed to the “sect” of the Nazarenes, who were considered by the Jews as heretics, but in becoming a member of it he had not given up belief in what is written “in the Law and the prophets,” and since then he had most earnestly endeavored to live up to the dictates of his conscience. His coming to the Holy City, after many years of absence, was not only natural but even laudable, because prompted by his desire of bringing alms to his nation and of carrying out religious observances. Finally, his conduct before the Sanhedrim had been irreproachable, and he challenged the present members of that assembly to gainsay that, standing before them, he had uttered but this one sentence: “Concerning the resurrection of the dead am I judged this day by you.”

This was a vigorous defence, and as Felix, who for several years had already been procurator of Judæa, had had no reason to complain of the disciples of Christ, he put the Jews off with the pretext: “When Lysias the tribune shall come down, I will hear you.” Meantime he ordered the centurion to whom he entrusted the guard of St. Paul that he should treat him with kindness, and not prevent any of his friends from visiting and ministering to him.

A few days elapsed, and, possibly at the request of his consort Drusilla, a sister of King Agrippa II., and a woman of abandoned character, Felix “sent for Paul and heard of him the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” With fearless courage, like that of John the Baptist in almost identical circumstances, the Apostle attacked the vices and crimes of the procurator, and by his warnings of the judgment to come terrified without, however, converting him. Oftentimes, it is true, during St. Paul’s two years’ detention in Cæsarea the procurator held converse with his prisoner, but it was mainly, if not solely, to give him an opportunity of offering money for his release. At the end of two years Felix was succeeded by Portius Festus in the procuratorship of Judæa.

3. St. Paul and Festus. The new procurator, though probably a freedman like his predecessor, was very different from him. He combined justice and energy, together with a natural desire to ingratiate himself with the leading men of the nation under his government, so that, notwithstanding the many causes of friction constantly at play between Jewish susceptibilities and Roman rule, he succeeded during the whole time of his administration in giving no serious offence to the Jewish leaders.

The exact date at which Festus took upon him the charge of procurator has been of late the subject-matter of a lively discussion among biblical scholars, owing to the fact that the date admitted, whatever it may be, has an important bearing upon the whole chronology of the book of the Acts, and upon early traditions concerning the work of St. Peter in Rome, the journey of St. Paul to Spain, etc. They all, indeed, agree as to the fact that Festus was the immediate successor of Felix in the procuratorship of Judæa; but, because of a remarkable contradiction between Josephus and Tacitus, they disagree as to the date when Felix entered upon and was removed from office. Many scholars, abiding by the statements of Josephus, admit that Felix became procurator only after Cumanus had been deprived of that charge in 52 A.D., and that he filled that office until 60 A.D. Other scholars, on the contrary, standing by the authority of the Roman historian, hold that Felix began his career as procurator of Judæa at the same time as Cumanus became procurator over Galilee, and that both thus continued simultaneously in office, from 48 to 52, when, because of trouble between the Samaritans and Galileans, Cumanus was banished and Felix made procurator alone over the whole province, which he then administered up to the year 55. While, therefore, the former scholars admit that Festus entered into office as late as 60 A.D., the latter affirm that he became procurator in 55 A.D.

This is indeed a difficult question of chronology and one which should not be decided very positively either way; yet a careful weighing of the arguments on both sides leads us rather to think with Baronius, Patrizi, Kellner, Ramsay, etc., that Tacitus was better informed than Josephus, and that consequently 55 A.D. is the preferable date for the entrance of Festus into office.

When Festus reached Cæsarea he hastened to pay a visit to Jerusalem to ingratiate himself with the heads of the Jewish people, and they at once thought it a favorable occasion to ask of the new procurator that Paul should be brought to Jerusalem, “laying wait to kill him in the way.” As, however, the Apostle was already in Cæsarea, whither he himself intended to return very shortly, Festus denied the request, but invited the most influential among them to go down with him and set forth their charges against St. Paul. The trial was opened eight or ten days afterwards in Cæsarea, but, as the Jews could not prove their case, the procurator, anxious to show kindness to the Jewish leaders who had accompanied him, asked Paul whether he was willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged by the Sanhedrim, in his presence. Of course the Apostle could not agree to a proposal, which, while clearly implying his innocence, practically left the decision of his case in the hands of his sworn enemies. He therefore rejected the offer of Festus, and, exercising the right of every Roman citizen, appealed to Cæsar. The appeal was admitted, the Jews dismissed, and the Apostle remanded to prison.

4. St. Paul’s Discourse before King Agrippa. Some days elapsed, after which, on the occasion of a friendly visit to the new procurator by Agrippa II., the king of the tetrarchies formerly under Philip and Lysanias, and the son of that Herod whose terrible death is recorded in the book of the Acts, St. Paul appeared before Festus, his guest King Agrippa and his wife Bernice, and a numerous gathering of tribunes and principal men of Cæsarea. At the courteous invitation of the procurator to set forth before the king his peculiar religious views and the points of divergence between him and the Jews, the Apostle delivered a long discourse covering pretty much the same ground as the address he had delivered to the people immediately after his arrest in Jerusalem two years before. He spoke of his “education according to the strictest requirements of the Jewish law”; of the sincere zeal with which he formerly persecuted the disciples of Christ “even unto foreign cities” of the vision granted to him on his way to Damascus, and of his commission to preach the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles and lastly of unceasing endeavors to carry out this commission, which had brought upon him the enmity of the Jews, though his teaching was in strict accordance with the Jewish Scriptures, and their predictions of the coming of a Messias who should suffer and rise from the dead.

All this appeared sheer nonsense to Festus, who interrupted with a loud voice: “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.” The reply of the Apostle to the procurator was simple and dignified, and followed by a powerful appeal to King Agrippa’s belief in the prophecies which were contained in the Old Testament records, and the fulfilment of which was manifest in the public life, passion and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Then Agrippa said to Paul: “In a little thou persuadest me to become a Christian,” words which have been variously considered as giving expression to sincere conviction, bitter irony or courtly jest, but which plainly told the Apostle that his words had not worked the conversion he longed for and drew from his heart this fervent exclamation: “I would to God, that both in a little and in much, not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, should become such as I also am, except these bands.”

Whereupon the king arose, satisfied with having seen and heard this great preacher of a new religion; and when alone with the Roman procurator declared openly that Paul had “done nothing worthy of death or of bands” and that he “might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed to Cæsar.”

§ 3. Journey to Rome

1. From Cæsarea to Malta. Soon after this discourse of St. Paul before King Agrippa, he and several prisoners, together with Luke and Aristarchus—who probably passed and acted as the slaves of the Apostle during the voyage delivered over to the charge of Julius, a centurion of “the band Augusta,” an expression the exact meaning of which cannot be defined in the present day. This was a courteous officer, who throughout the voyage surrounded St. Paul with special marks of regard, and this most naturally, for the Apostle was not a man already sentenced to death like the other prisoners, simply shipped to Rome for amusing the people by their death in the arena, but a Roman citizen against whom no charge had been proved.

As in the harbor of Cæsarea there was no convenient ship about to start for Rome, the centurion and his prisoners set sail on a vessel which was going on a voyage along the coasts of proconsular Asia, and which would therefore touch at places where some other ship bound for the west would most likely be found. The first stopping place was Sidon, where St. Paul was allowed to visit his friends and receive their affectionate care. At the next harbor, that of Myra, in Lycia, “they fell into the great line of the Egyptian corn-trade, and found a corn-ship of Alexandria bound for Italy; and to this vessel Julius transferred his prisoners.”| After a very slow voyage, because of the strong westerly winds which blew most of the time, they came over against Cnidus, a southwestern headland of Caria, and thence ran for the east and south coast of Crete, rounding the promontory of Salmone. Then they crept along the southern coast of Crete until they reached a place named Fair-Havens, now identified with a small bay a few miles east of Cape Matala.

As much precious time was spent at Fair-Havens waiting for favorable winds and as the season dangerous for navigation had already set in, for the great fasting day of the Atonement in September “was now past,” a council was held to decide what was to be done. St. Paul as an experienced traveller was present and was for wintering in Fair-Havens; but naturally enough, the centurion followed the opposite view of the pilot and of the captain of the ship, and set sail as soon as a gently blowing south wind gave promise of better weather. Unfortunately there soon came a sudden change in the wind: it blew violently from the north, and, striking the ship, threatened to founder her in the open sea. This, however, was avoided by scudding before the wind to the southwest, and getting under the shelter of the small island of Cauda (now Gozzo).

Thence the ship was allowed to “drift with her head to the north, steadied by a bow sail, making leeway proportionate to the power of the wind and waves on her broadside.” During the whole time of this furious storm, the particulars of which are all so graphically and so accurately described in the sacred narrative, the presence of mind of St. Paul was admirable, and his advice of the greatest value both to the centurion and to his fellow-passengers. At length, after having been tossed about for fourteen days, the ship was wrecked off the coast of Malta at a spot to which local tradition has given the name of St. Paul’s Bay, on the northeastern coast of the island; and, as the Apostle had foretold, the whole company escaped safely to land.

2. Sojourn in the Island of Malta. St. Paul’s sojourn in the island of Malta, upon the shores of which he and his companions had been flung, proved a pleasant and useful one. From the first the inhabitants treated them with great kindness, and as time went on the miracles which God granted to His Apostle rendered Paul’s influence very great, not only with the people and the centurion Julius, but also with Publius, the Roman governor of Malta, whose father he miraculously cured of a dangerous fever. That he availed himself of such favorable dispositions to preach the Gospel may naturally be presumed, but we have no positive information as to the success of his words; we are simply told that at the close of his stay the inhabitants surrounded him and his companions with marks of honor, and gratefully supplied such things as were necessary for the voyage.

3. From Malta to Rome. It was very early in the spring of 56 A.D. that, after a three months’ sojourn in Malta, the centurion Julius and those entrusted to his charge set sail in another corn-ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the island and was called the “Castor and Pollux.” After tarrying three days in Syracuse they proceeded to Rhegium (now Reggio) in the Sicilian straits, and then through the Etruscan sea to Puteoli (now Puzzuoli), the most sheltered part of the bay of Naples and the port of the Alexandrian vessels. Here the passengers were landed, and, with the kind permission of the centurion, Paul and his companions, Luke and Aristarchus, enjoyed the company of several Christians of the place.

At the end of a week, during which the news of the Apostle’s landing was sent to Rome, some 150 miles distant, Julius and his prisoners commenced their journey by land along the Appian Way. The Roman Christians, who had heard of St. Paul’s approach, went to meet him, some of them, as far as the small town of “Appii Forum,” about 43 miles from Rome, and others as far as the “Three Taverns,” a hamlet 10 miles nearer the capital of the world. This twofold mark of respect and affection from the faithful of Rome greatly touched and encouraged the Apostle of the Gentiles, who soon afterwards entered the city which he had so long desired to contemplate (March 56, A.D.).

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