Acts 24 – Who was Felix?

In Acts 24 Paul is transferred to the governor Felix for protection from the Jews. Although he is twice called “most excellent Felix” (23:26, 24:2), Felix is well known as a particularly bad governor of Judea. As Keener observes, although Luke does not paint a flattering picture of Felix, he is more flattering toward the governor than any other ancient writer (Acts, 3:3328).

His full name was likely Marcus Antonius Felix. He was appointed as governor of Judea about A.D. 52 by the emperor Claudius. Felix and his brother Pallas were freed slaves of Claudius’ mother Antonia. Both were  favorites of Claudius. a favorite in the court, this lead Felix to believe that he could do as he pleased. That Claudius would appoint freedman to posts such as this was considered unusual by Roman standards (Seutonius, Claud. 28). Since he was a freed slave, Tacitus thought his “servile nature” explained his inability to rule well (Hist. 5.9).

Antonius_FelixFelix had a reputation for cruelty, he suppressed many of the bandits that had risen in Judea, but he did so by extreme violence. He made a deal with one of the leaders, promising safe passage,  then captured him. When the Egyptian rallied people in the desert, Felix attack, killing four hundred followers. Later he paid the sicarri, the knife-wielding assassins, to take kill the high priest Jonathan who had complained to Rome about Felix, hoping for a better governor (Antiq. 20.163, JW 2.256).

Antiquities 20.164–165 Certain of those robbers went up to the city, as if they were going to worship God, while they had daggers under their garments; and, by thus mingling themselves among the multitude, they slew Jonathan; (165) and as this murder was never avenged, the robbers went up with the greatest security at the festivals after this time; and having weapons concealed in like manner as before, and mingling themselves among the multitude, they slew certain of their own enemies, and were subservient to other men for money; and slew others not only in remote parts of the city, but in the temple itself also; for they had the boldness to murder men there, without thinking of the impiety of which they were guilty.

Like the other Roman governors of Judea, he was anti-Semitic, although this might be better to describe Felix as “Roman-centric.”  Nevertheless, this assassination is one of the factors which led to the Jewish Revolt.

Felix was married to Drusilla, the daughter of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 24:24). Only six years old when her father died in 44, Julia Drusilla was originally betrothed to Epiphanes, the son of the king of Commagene (between Cappadocia and Syria), on the condition he convert to Judaism (including circumcision).  When he was unwilling to do so, she was married to Azizus, the Syrian king of Emesa (about A.D. 53) at the age of 14. She was reputed to be very beautiful (Antiq. 20.142) as was her sister Bernice (Agrippa II’s wife), who was jealous of her younger sister.  Felix persuaded her to leave her husband and marry him, although he refused to convert. She and Felix had a son, Agrippa, who died in A.D. 79 in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (Antiq. 20.144).

Felix persuaded Drusilla, then about 20, to leave her husband and marry him. There is no indication that he was forced to be circumcised, perhaps this was her father’s will not her own.   Felix also married the granddaughter of Anthony and Cleopatra (Seutonius, Claud. 28). Felix and Drusilla had a son, Agrippa, who died in 79 in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (Antiq. 20.144.), and it is at least possible that Drusilla was with her son at the time.

Felix’ mismanagement of the territory of Judea was one of the factors leading to the revolution in A.D. 66.  Acts portrays him as treating Paul fairly and finds nothing which merits punishment. However, for political reasons he is unwilling to challenge the Jewish authorities by simply releasing him. Like politicians of all ages, Felix simply did nothing and left the matter to his successor, Festus.

 

Bibliography: D. C. Braund, “Felix” ABD 2:783; Schürer HJP² 1:460-466.

20 thoughts on “Acts 24 – Who was Felix?

  1. As I read though chapter 24 and the post, I first thought that it was odd that Felix did not do more with Paul. He seems a little bit of a slim-ball, having a “reputation for cruelty, ”persuaded Drusilla to leave her husband for him and “hoped that money would be given him by Paul” (P.Long, Paul and Felix, Acts 24:26). However despite his persona, Felix does seem to teat Paul respectfully, “he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs” (Acts 24:23).

    It was the last sentence of P.Longs post that made it all makes sense to me, “Like politicians of all ages.” That is exactly why he acted the way he did. We know that he tactful because; he had “a rather accurate knowledge of the way” (Acts 24:22). He knew that if he had dealt with Paul harshly he would have many others to answer to. Right away, instead of giving a judgment, he says that he will deal with the issue when “Lysias the tribune comes down” to keep peace and appease all parties for the time being. This reminds me a lot of how Gamaliel acted in Acts 5, “take care what you are about to do with these men…so in present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail” (Acts 5:35-39). This is not exactly what Felix did, but he was wise in the way of not acting quickly because he did not want rioting and trouble on his hands, shoving off the responsibility onto someone else.

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    • Hilary, great job on your discussion post this week. I thought you and P Longs thoughts on Felix acting the way he did due to politics was very insightful. I also, liked how you tied it with another similar story/situation. After, reading I too thought of a time a similar situation occurred. It reminded me of when Pilate ‘washed his hands’ of crucifying Jesus. Matthew 27:24 “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead, an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” Felix, like Pilate, was trying to keep the peace because they saw it as the best overall option for the people. It is interesting that such a similar situation happened here. Felix and Pilate both saw nothing wrong yet both did not release Jesus or Paul because they did not want upset the people. Do you think this is simply a coincidence, or something more? It’s hard to say. Although I believe all scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), can one say the two go hand in hand? Maybe P Long could help us out with that question.

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  2. It always intrigues me when we put the scriptures in the political context of the day. The life and rule of Felix provides some real insight into the oppression that the Christian community was enduring. In Felix’s case, his focus on Roman superiority has made him cruel and indifferent towards other ethnic groups. So in persecuting the Christians for saying that they have a king who was going to come back and set up his kingdom, he felt justified in persecuting them. He had to hate the thought of the kingdom of God, because it would dethrone him and put Jews (an inferior race in his mind) above him. We can see this same mentality in Herod in the time of Jesus, when he killed all of those babies to prevent this Jewish king who was born (Jesus in Matthew 2:16) from ruling. Paul is very fortunate then, that Felix does not treat Paul unfairly, and that he can not even find fault. Felix’s ethnocentrism alone could have given reason to imprison or treat Paul very poorly, but God is faithful to Paul and delivers him from a situation that could have gone very poorly for Paul.

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  3. I like what Christ points out in his post, “Roman citizenship means a lot in this world, so wouldn’t Felix want to make an effort to come to a conclusion instead of shrugging Paul’s case off like the case of a random person.” This is great point. Felix is indeed aware of Paul’s citizenship, as the commander who arrested Paul, Claudius Lysias, mentioned it in his letter to the governor (Acts 23:27-30). When might be missed in the passage is Acts 24:26, “At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.” For all the talk about wanting to make a decision, Felix was really interested in one thing: money. This passage is clear, Felix held onto Paul because he figured, “this guy might get sick of being in prison and try to buy his way out.”

    Another reason could be that Felix only saw Paul as a disturbance. For Roman provincial governors, maintaining order was essential. Most likely, Felix viewed Paul, although not guilty, as causing disturbances because of the disagreements between him and the Jews. Rather than deal with more problems, Felix might have just thought it simpler to eliminate the perceived catalyst, which was Paul. Either way, Felix did not seem to interested in justice, but more interested in protecting his position as governor.

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  4. As Nick said in his post, Felix resembles Pontious. Both of these leaders did have a chance to stand up for the men being accused and decided to put the decisions in the hands of others. This could have been for a couple reasons, say Pontius had stood up for Jesus, telling the people to get lost and not to accuse Jesus of doing wrong. Our lives would have been completely different… obviously. Had Felix really taken a more harsher route with his punishment with Paul, what ministries would have suffered. We all know that God could have stepped in at any point in time in both Jesus’ and Paul’s. I may be pointing out the obvious but it is just what I am talking about so get use to it. 🙂
    Just because it is a hard story to believe doesn’t mean it is false or not accurate. If that were the case we would have to question everything in the Bible. I know Chris is not questioning the Bible, I am answering his questions however. Just because we cannot explain it doesn’t mean God cannot do it. There are many things that I cannot comprehend, take God’s love for me, it is amazing and I really wonder why He does love me but He does and I am cool with it.

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  5. This part of the Bible has so much application past just what Paul was facing. “Felix is well known from history as a particular bad governor of Judea.” (Long). This can be used for Christians who think they are getting gthe raw end of the deal or have a boss that just doesn’t understand and is in it only for the money. God always has a plan and places all positions of authority in place for his purpose. Authority is always given by God so Paul, and that Christian with the bad coach, can look at their situation and think “Man, this is rough I got a bad person calling the shots and making decisions or me, where is the way out?” Or they can realize that God has the true authority and is using everything for his good and trust him that the outcome will reflect God’s glory and show who is really in power over everything.
    “No one but a citizen of Rome really counted for much in the ancient world!” I also find it interesting that this part of the blog was in there because Paul actually was a roman citizen and at this point, everyone who held him captive knew it. Even Paul’s citizenship status could not get him out of facing a cruel authority figure who had a reputation for looking out only for himself.
    However, the last part of the blog reveals God as the true authority figure in Paul’s life and in all Christian’s lives. “For all of this he treats Paul fairly and finds nothing which merits punishment — although he is unwilling to challenge the Jewish authorities by simply releasing him” Felix, horrible reputation and all, gave Paul a fair shake at his trial and his trial was based only on the facts of the case not many external factors.
    I love what Dan said in his post that best summarizes what is going on in the blog and in all of the Bible. He said “Just because we cannot explain it doesn’t mean God cannot do it”. God is in control, sometimes he uses not righteous leaders to remind everyone that he has the final say.

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  6. As it has already been mentioned in previous posts, Felix does nothing to defend Paul. There are some questions resulting from Felix’s actions. I wonder why Felix allowed Paul to make his defense. It seems that Felix had already made the decision on Pauls case by silently dismissing it. Felix decree’s Pauls punishment but the fact that he goes and speaks with Paul on multiple occasions is rather interesting. (24:23-26) It is almost as if the Jews control what is going on in the city (including governmental matters. Would Felix have defended Paul if the Jews were less adament in their actions to convict Paul? Also Felix has some much power (being that he is the governor) yet he leaves Paul in prison to appease the Jews. (24:27b) If I was the governor of a particular state (michigan for example) I would take my people’s thoughts into consideration but I would make the final decision on the matter whether the people agreed with it or not. And I could do that only by my status as governor. However, I agree with Chris in saying that this event (with all of its questions) does not lessen the authority of Scripture in any way.

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    • “If I was the governor of a particular state (michigan for example) I would take my people’s thoughts into consideration but I would make the final decision on the matter whether the people agree”, this is a great point, if Felix was the governor of Michigan. Romans, on the other hand, thought of themselves as so superior to the conquered people that they rarely took into consideration local thoughts and opinions. In fact, Jews probably more deference from the Romans than most captured people.

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  7. Who was Felix. I would agree that comparing him to a modern politician that simply is passive in their duties. It is interesting that Felix is title, “most excellent”. He is known to be a pin head of a governor. Judging by what we know about him, the man was cruel, and cunning, and as the text implies, he may be susceptible to flattery, and was feared by the people. This governor was nothing like Gallio, who displayed integrity. However, it seems that Felix does not deal harshly with Paul, rather just pushes the case to the successor. In the mean time, Felix seeks to receive a bribe from Paul. I think we can say that God is clearly at work in Paul’s circumstances. When you follow the environment that enters, we see God providing protection and provision in ever way. God uses just people like Gallio, and corrupt people like Felix to further the gospel.

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  8. It’s always interesting to learn about characters like Felix. With being a governor and involved in the political scene, It would have been hard not to have believed the “sliminess” in his romantic life. It is important to note as Dr. Long mentioned, that “Romans, on the other hand, thought of themselves as so superior to the conquered people that they rarely took into consideration local thoughts and opinions”. This is important as to understand how he viewed his role as a governing official. The idea of having superior authority would have more than likely lead Felix to have persuaded Drusilla to leave her husband who have converted to Judaism while Felix didn’t see the need to become circumcised. A lot of the previous posts above me, compare Felix with Pilate. This was because both me had the opportunity stand up for those being accused of wrong doing and decided to put the decision of what to do in the hands of others. I would agree with those statements.

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  9. In Acts 24, we see Felix a governor, he was a well-known man. Luke himself tells of Felix, but in a particularly nicer way than other writers. He was empowered by the emperor Claudius, who believed in him because of his background. Felix was a freed slave and because of this Claudius believed he had a connection with the people and leadership skills. This in my opinion looking on the outside, was not a great idea and would be a gamble. Most politicians have a little bit of education to prove for themselves. So, Claudius, most have seen something special in him. This situation, however, was not the case as he held a reputation for cruelty and mistreatment. On several occasions, Felix proved this reputation. Felix has a lot of family drama. His wife had been pursuing other men and navigated through relationships, before meeting Felix, and eventually leaving her husband to be with him. They even had a son, Agrippa. Besides the family history and difficulties there, Felix also leads Judea into a revolution. Paul had a decent relationship with Felix and did not run into any major issues. This could have been for multiple reasons and just the acknowledgment of who Paul was and his supporters. I appreciated Professor Longs last sentence, “Like Politicians of all ages, Felix simply did nothing and left the matter to his successor, Festus.” Most politics do not get resolved in the time they rule, they go in make some mistakes and another person has to clean it up after.

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  10. The Bible weaving secular history into its pages is something that I find to be really cool. It is always really interesting to find out historic facts that you would have not otherwise know about, through the Bible or other avenues and resources. One point I think is interesting and slightly humorous that Long points it out too, is that politicians throughout the ages, are still all the same. “Like politicians of all ages, Felix simply did nothing and left the matter to his successor, Festus” (Long). It does not seem to matter the time, the country, the culture, or the technology, politicians will always be politicians. One thing I find fascinating about the Roman culture is how much was tolerated on the legal end of the religious and Jewish culture by them at that time. Although I suppose that in some way, religion always has some effect on state, time and time again it is the religious leaders that are bringing up matters to the Roman government. This is seen in Jesus’ time as well as Paul. We are given insight into Felix’s character as well, when in Acts 24:26, Felix, “At some time hoped that money would be given to him by Paul”. This seems to show how little he cares about the actually religious matter, merely that he was hoping for a bribe. After an unsuccessful attempt, he left Paul for the next governor to deal with. It is kind of cool to note however Felix had a Jewish wife, I wonder if this made him feel more inclined to help out the Jew by leaving Paul in prison.

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  11. I found it very fascinating that certain individuals talked about Felix in a very high-up way when on the other hand he used extreme violence. I found it ironic in Acts 24:2 where it states, “Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix.” I would not call murdering people, a characteristic of a peaceful person. It is also interesting in the fact that “Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way” (Acts 24:22) did the opposite of how God calls us to live our lives and one of those ways is to love others, but instead he used extreme violence that contradicted the way of peace that God calls us to promote. Professor Long made a good point in his blog where he stated, “Felix and his brother Pallas have freed slaves of Claudius’ mother Antonia. Both were favorites of Claudius; a favorite in the court, this led Felix to believe that he could do as he pleased.” The last part is key when talking about how Felix believed he could do as he pleased. That most likely led to pride which was likely a big indicator of his violence. He most likely had individuals that pushed back on his ideas and he wanted nothing of it. In his mind, it was either his way or the highway. This lesson of pride is something we should be applying to our own lives and challenging ourselves, by knowing that pride makes us do crazy things; things that are against God’s plan.

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  12. When I was learning about Felix in Acts 24, it was a whole new topic for me since I never had read about him before! I agree with Long when he states, “Acts portrays him as treating Paul fairly and finds nothing which merits punishment” (para 8). When I read Acts 24, I perceived Felix as someone who clearly acted like a typical politician, and only did things to improve his image and try to gain wealth. Polhill even goes as far as to say, “He [Felix] was somewhat inept and had his share of weaknesses” (p.2136). This is especially exemplified in verses 26 and 27 which, in summary, state, “…he hoped that money would be given to him by Paul… and desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison…” (p.2137). I would agree that from the surface, Felix’s faults seem to be that he is selfish, greedy, and lazy, which are all true. These “faults” would seem to be what causes so much destruction when it comes to his “mismanagement” of Judea, allowing them to overrule any logical decision-making. I would not have known about the messes Felix made by just reading the surface-level “overview” of Felix that is presented in Acts 24. Again, I do see that he is selfish and irresponsible, so it would make sense that it would cause negative effects on Judea as a whole. His actions overall would lead to a revolution, as Long stated, all because Felix wanted everything for his own gain and really did not care how it affected the people of Judea, Paul, and Festus.

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  13. I had no idea that Felix was a freed slave! That is so cool and it does make me wonder if it did contribute to his “inability to rule well” because if he hadn’t been brought up especially under education that would’ve enabled him to be a good ruler then it makes sense that he would struggle (Phillip Long)
    I find it interesting that Luke “was more flattering towards the governor than any other writer” (Phillip Long). I wonder if he was following the verse that Paul quotes about “you shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people” because even though he was known for his cruelty, Luke still puts him in a fairly positive light (Acts 23:5, ESV).
    I wonder if his cruelty was one of the reasons why he was so concerned about the coming judgement that Paul talked about during one of their meetings (Acts 24:25, ESV). It’s amazing to me that even this cruel man would understand that Paul was innocent, and I think that goes back to the point that we are never too far gone for God to redeem us. A final thing that I wonder about Felix was how he had such an accurate knowledge of the Way (Acts 24:22, ESV). Polhill hints that since his wife, Drusilla, was Jewish that the knowledge may have come from her (2137). Even so, I wonder if his wife ever converted to Christianity due to her background and knowledge of it.

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  14. When we read Acts 24 we are introduced to the Roman governor Felix. When we first read Acts 24 Felix doesn’t necessarily give a bad reputation. He ordered that while Paul was in prison that he could have some liberty and that his friends could attend to his needs. However, he was actually well known for being a bad governor of Judea. “Felix had a reputation for cruelty, he suppressed many of the bandits that had risen in Judea, but he did so by extreme violence” (Long). He also persuaded Drusilla to leave her husband and marry him. Most ancient writers did not give a flattering or positive picture of Felix. Luke was the most flattering towards the governor when he wrote about him in the book of Acts than any other ancient writer (Long). While it does say in Acts 24 that Felix did those things for Paul he also left him in prison as a favor to the Jews and left the decision up to his successor Festus. Festus took over after Felix was “removed from office in AD 60 for failing to deal properly with a dispute between the Jews and Gentiles in Caesarea” (Polhill, 2137). Considering Felix’s reputation one might wonder or be surprised by the fact that he did not do more to Paul than leave him in prison let alone allow him advantages in prison.

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  15. However despite his persona, Felix does seem to treat Paul respectfully, “he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs” (Acts 24:23).

    Hilary, I agree with you when you say that Felix seems like a slime-ball. He seems very lazy and always looking for how he can make a gain out of this. Now with this quote from above I disagree that he seems respectful. I think there is something else behind this. He either will get punished for not keeping these rights for a Roman citizen or he does this because he does not have to do them. I believe that as the governor he would just tell someone else to keep watch of Paul. There is little to no effort for him there. I picture this guy a little like the governor of laketown from the hobbit. Wanting his people to like him but always keeping the riches to himself. Juts like he tried to obtain favor of the Jews while also trying to get a bribe from Paul.

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  16. Looking at Acts 24, it is apparent that Felix is everything that this article listed. Now knowing all these things about him, it makes sense why he handled the situation of Paul in prison the way that he did. After listening to the accusers and Paul speak, he chose to keep Paul in prison and was expecting a bribe from Paul. Everything seemed to be done on his time and no one else mattered. Acts 24:27 states, “When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison” (ESV). Felix probably knew beforehand that he wanted to side with the Jews and do them a favor, but he decided to do it on his own time. When the time came down to figuring out what to do, he gave the decision to Festus. This just shows that he has a lot of power that he doesn’t really deserve in my opinion.

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