The Man Who Was ‘Tutored’ by Paul

Posted on March 5, 2019

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By David Ettinger

A Fascinating Exchange
In Acts Chapters 23 and 24, we read of the apostle Paul’s trial before the Judean governor Felix. The exchange between them was fascinating. (If you cannot recall it, you may want to take a few minutes and read the account.) Just who was Felix and his wife Drusilla, and why was he so discomforted by Paul. Let’s take a look

Actor Abraham Sofaer as Paul in “Quo Vadis”

What an Opportunity!
Imagine what it would be like to have Paul as a personal teacher. What would it be like to sit hours a day just soaking in everything Paul has to say about Jesus, faith, holiness, the end-times, the second coming of Christ, and so much more?

There were at least two personalities in history who had that opportunity – Felix, the governor of Judea, and his wife Drusilla. Neither of them were believers in the Lord Jesus Christ when Paul came to them, and, to the best we can tell, neither of them became believers despite having Paul as their personal teacher.

This seems amazing, but perhaps not so much when we consider the character of these two people.

Their Background
Felix and his brother Pallas were born in Rome as slaves. To their credit, they were able to attain their freedom and make inroads in society. Pallas was so successful that he became a Roman official and was well-esteemed by Emperor Claudius. Pallas’ influence helped Felix attain the position of governor of Judea from A.D. 52 to 58. One of Felix’s predecessors was Pontius Pilate, who served in the same post from A.D. 26-36.

One of the primary responsibilities of Roman governors was to keep the peace of the provinces over which they were assigned. Felix did his job, but with far too much zeal. He was a brutal, violent man who executed his duties with fury. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Felix “thought he could commit every sort of iniquity and escape the consequences.” Tacitus also referred to Felix as “a master of cruelty and lust who exercised the powers of a king in the spirit of a slave.” Hardly words of praise!

Felix was also highly immoral. When we meet him in Acts 23, he is already on his third marriage. We don’t know much about his first two marriages, but what we know about his third marriage is plenty! At the time he met Drusilla, he was in his second marriage. This small detail, however, meant little to him as he desired the 16-year-old Jewess for himself. Not only was she just a teenager, but she, too, was married at the time. Taking advantage of his position and favor with Claudius, Felix made quick work of attaining Drusilla, ending both his and Drusilla’s marriages, and beginning a new one with her.

The Herod Clan
In marrying Drusilla (her formal name was Drusa), Felix aligned himself with the notorious Herod family; Drusilla was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I. Where have we met him before? Agrippa I is the Herod of Acts 12. He was the first to martyr one of the Apostles. We are told that, “He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also” (Acts 12:2-3). So, not only was Agrippa not a proponent of Christianity, he was also one of its earliest persecutors. Herod eventually met his end when the Lord struck him down and he was eaten by worms (12:23).

A depiction of Paul, Felix, and Drusilla

Wishing to make stronger political ties in the north, Agrippa I married off Drusilla to King Azizus of Emesa (western Syria) when she was only 15 years old. However, a year later, after meeting Felix, Drusilla was seduced by him, fled Azizus, and became Felix’s third wife.

By the time Paul was brought before them as a prisoner – on bogus charges of inciting a disturbance – Drusilla was only 19 years old. What she thought when she heard Paul speak about faith in Christ is unknown, but we have somewhat of an idea what Felix thought.

Felix Hears Paul
The first time Felix agrees to listen to Paul, we learn that, “As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you’” (Acts 24:25).

Afraid? What was Felix afraid of?

It’s possible that he feared for the peace of his province. If he were to allow Paul to go free and return to Jerusalem, he could well incite a full-fledged riot, something Rome frowned on in its provinces. To avoid this, Felix placated the Jewish leaders by keeping him locked up in his palace at Caesarea.

However, there may be another reason for Felix’s fear. Again, notice what the Bible tells us Paul “discoursed” on – “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.” Regarding the first two, we know that Felix was desperately lacking. Not a whole lot of righteousness and self-control to be found in his life! But what about the third subject Paul spoke on: judgment? Generally, those with guilty consciences – those who know they have done wrong – fear judgment. Could this be the real reason why Felix was fearful? Was he convicted about his violent and sinful ways?

Scripture also tells us that Felix was hoping Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him frequently the two years Paul was in prison (Acts 24:26). We don’t know exactly what they spoke about, but it is safe to say that Paul shared with Felix much of what we read about in his New Testament letters. Sadly, though possibly convicted over his sin and evidently intrigued enough to hear Paul on numerous occasions, Felix never moved on his conviction. Did Paul’s words get to him? Did Felix ever wrestle with his sin? We don’t know, but there is no doubt that he received a remarkable education about God, Christ, salvation, redemption, and so much more. For Felix and Drusilla, their “day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2) had come often, but they tragically let it pass each time.

READ: The Man Who Slew John the Baptist