Good morning! We are nearly done with the travels and travails of Paul, as well as the entire book of Acts altogether. But today in Acts 24-26 we read about his continued captivity in Caesarea, trying to prove his innocence against the false charges brought against him. What most captures the moral imagination in these chapters is the way Paul, by standing firm to his identity and experience, withstands the opposition that tries to throw everything at him. The favor he receives from Roman rulers also goes a long way toward helping him survive years in captivity.
In a purely historical sense, Acts gives us a glimpse into a part of the ancient world we would scarcely know otherwise. Official histories record the lives and exploits of Caesars, but this is a rare account that gives clues to how people endured prison thousands of years ago. Paul experiences the brutal conditions of imprisonment, including having to rely on followers for food (since that was not provided by his captors). In a world without “due process” expectations, Paul learns what it’s like to be kept indefinitely, passed along from one administration to another as a favor to his enemies. This corruption extends his imprisonment for years, as the powers that be dither in making their decisions and hope that he’ll offer a bribe. The whole time, Paul lives in jeopardy of sudden death, because if the wrong powerful person takes a disliking to him, Paul could suffer the same fate as John the Baptist, notwithstanding his Roman citizenship.
When we start to think of the misery in such prisons, remember that Paul was one of the “lucky” ones in Caesarea. At least he was of interest to the superiors of the prison guards, so they wouldn’t molest him. Here’s where his Roman citizenship would come in handy—it gave him relative freedom from harassment. Several chapters ago, when the guards were about to torture him, Paul declared his birthright Roman citizenship and was spared. (How does one prove such citizenship? There were no passports or Social Security numbers at the time!) This and his relatively benign charge meant that he had more freedom than other prisoners to move about at will, and to engage in near-equal conversations with Felix, Festus and King Agrippa.
It isn’t circumstance alone that gives Paul these advantages, however. He has the power to stand his ground and make a case for his innocence. What’s more, Paul seizes the unusual access that imprisonment affords him with the Roman rulers, and boldly shares his testimony with them in the face of his accusers. I admire the poise and chutzpah with which Paul steps into the openings given him by indifferent rulers, even using the occasion of a legal defense to try and persuade the entire royal court to become Christian. While Paul does not choose such prolonged imprisonment, he makes the most of what each day brings, trusting that God can use even these constrained conditions to work some good. His privileges are put to good use in daily endeavors to influence the hearts and minds of those in power. In this Paul sets an example for all who live through challenging times, prison or not. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Acts 27-28. Thanks for reading!