26 “Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 And desiring to know the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. 30 And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”
This letter was written by a Roman Tribune, or in Greek “χιλίαρχος.” This word, in our modern world, means something like “commanding officer,” or even “general.” This is what Louw-Nida writes in one of the most authoritative New Testament Greek Lexicons:
55.15 χιλίαρχος, ου m: a military officer, normally in command of a thousand soldiers—‘commanding officer, general, chiliarch.’
Another important Lexicon known as BDAG gives its literal translation:
χιλίαρχος, ου, ὁ and χιλιάρχης, ου, ὁ (χίλιοι, ἄρχω; Aeschyl., X.+; ins, pap, LXX; Jos., Ant. 7, 368; 12, 301; loanw. in rabb.) lit. ‘leader of a thousand soldiers’,
Apparently, Claudius Lysias, the writer of this letter was a very prominent military leader in the Roman Empire. That explains how he could have special access to the governor. This letter was addressed to Marcus Antonius Felix who was the governor of Judea from AD 52-58.
Let’s now focus our attention to the letter itself. Claudius Lysias was reporting to Governor Felix the reason he sent Paul to Caesarea. In that report Claudius included a brief background about his involvement with the matter. As a military man, Claudius was very effective and efficient. His message was quite short. He chose only what was necessary to report to Felix. If we are to divide the main part of the letter into three sections, then we would get v. 27 as the first section, vv. 28-29 as the second section, and v. 30 as the last section.
In verse 27 Claudius gave account of how he first got involved with the matter. Verse 28-29 explained his investigation further that got him tangled with the Jews in Jerusalem. And in verse 30 Claudius gave Felix the reason why he transferred Paul to Caesarea. In reading the letter carefully, we will find that Claudius’ report was quite accurate on the last two sections, but not on the first section. In other words, Claudius was not being honest in verse 27 as to what actually happened.
Now, I want to focus our attention on verse 27. I shall uncover Claudius’ dishonesty in his reporting of how he dealt with the matter in the beginning. The question I shall try to answer is why Claudius inaccurately reported the first section. Let’s now take a look closer at verse 27:
27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen.
This is a pretty accurate translation of the Greek:
27 Τὸν ἄνδρα τοῦτον συλλημφθέντα ὑπὸ τῶν Ἰουδαίων καὶ μέλλοντα ἀναιρεῖσθαι ὑπʼ αὐτῶν ἐπιστὰς σὺν τῷ στρατεύματι ἐξειλάμην μαθὼν ὅτι Ῥωμαῖός ἐστιν.
Now, the first part of verse 27 is quite succinct and accurate. Paul was about to be killed by the Jews. Some Jews from Asia incited the people in the temple and then seized him as well as beating him. Acts 21:27-36 recorded the detail of the event:
27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!”
True that Paul was beaten and was almost killed. True that the Tribune rescued Paul from the hands of the unruly mob in Jerusalem. But Luke gave a different account as to what motivated the Tribune to rescue Paul.
In Claudius’ letter, he mentioned that he rescued Paul after he learned that Paul was a Roman citizen. Luke, on the other hand, recorded that the Claudius came right after he heard about an uproar in Jerusalem. From this I see that according to Luke’s report, Claudius was merely doing his duty as the military person in charge in Jerusalem for security. There was no other motive mentioned by Luke on why Claudius intervened. I trust Luke for sure, because he was led by the Holy Spirit to give account of what actually happened. However, Claudius added his motive of rescuing Paul in his letter. The thing with Claudius finding out that Paul was a Roman citizen did not occur until after Paul addressed the crowd in Hebrew (Acts 22:1-21).
Claudius would have made a terrible mistake had Paul not said anything about his citizenship. In Acts 22:22-29, Luke writes a detailed account of what event led to Claudius finding out Paul’s citizenship:
22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.
Claudius already made a mistake when he ordered Paul to be chained as written in Acts 21:33: “33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains.” Having learned that Paul was a Roman citizen, he became afraid because he already judged based on appearance without first finding out thoroughly who Paul was. But this learning did not come before he decided to rescue Paul. Therefore his knowledge of Paul’s citizenship could not be his motive to rescue him. Claudius learned about Paul’s citizenship a bit too late. He broke the cardinal rule of investigation.
Why then Claudius depicted an inaccurate account in the first section of the main part of his letter? As I reflected upon it, I arrived at two conclusions. The first reason was fear of punishment. Rome would not take Claudius’ mistake lightly. Paul had a similar incident in Philippi. In Acts 16:35-39, Luke writes:
35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city.
Treating a Roman citizen badly without a thorough investigation was simply unacceptable. Those officers could have lost their status and be punished by Rome by death. John Calvin commented on Acts 16:38 saying:
This is the cause that they do carelessly pass over that which was objected concerning injury done by them, only they are afraid of the officers of the Romans, and lest they should be beheaded for violating the liberty in the body of a citizen. They knew that this was death if any of the chief governors [prefects] should commit it, then what should become of the officers of one free city?
Like the magistrates in Philippi, Claudius too was afraid that he would be sentenced to death for treating a Roman citizen unjustly. In his fear, it was only reasonable for him to cover up his unjust treatment of Paul, not to mention his unprofessional way of handling the case. Fear drove him to be dishonest. But I found out that fear was not his only motive to lie to Governor Felix.
His other motive was not driven by fear, but by his desire to gain favor from Felix, and eventually from Rome. If Claudius could appear before a higher ranking official as this diligent, meticulous, smart, wise, and responsible officer, then his career might take off. The case with Paul was an opportunity for him to be noticed by Rome. He wanted a promotion. So he showed himself to Felix as this exemplary officer who protected the rights of Roman citizens from harm. But he did it a very subtle way. He did not brag about it on and on and on. But instead he maintained his letter short and only added a simple clause “having learned that he was a Roman citizen” and tweaked the timeline purposefully.
If Claudius came clean to Felix about what actually happened, he would have gotten himself into trouble. Besides, his heroic act of saving a Roman citizen would have just been seen as accidental. An accidental act lacks in value and certainly in honor. But a purposeful act adds value and honor exponentially. Claudius purposefully inserted such clause and tweaked the timeline in order to make himself looked intentional in rescuing Paul due to his Roman citizenship. With that cunning manipulation, Claudius gained two islands in one row. According to the worldly standard, what Claudius did was very smart.
But according to the biblical standard, what Claudius did was dishonest. And if we are honest, we too are often as dishonest as Claudius. We make use of inaccurate information and ride it in order to give ourselves an advantage. There have been many cases where some dishonest professors would take their students’ works and claim those works as theirs. These professors did so little or nothing whatsoever to the research and writing, but yet they got the fame and honor that should have been credited to their students. Brian Martin, Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong in Australia, observed in his journal article:
Some academic supervisors take undue credit for the work of their research students, causing damage to their careers and morale. Students should consider whether to acquiesce, leave, complain or resist. Students should be prepared for supervisor tactics of cover-up, devaluation, reinterpretation, official channels, and intimidation. Options for addressing exploitation include prevention, negotiation, building support, and exposure.
Fran was a PhD student in a research team. She became highly productive but was distressed that she had to share credit with non-contributors. Her supervisor put his name on every paper, even when she had done 90% of the work, and often her supervisor added one or two other names. In one case she had never heard of her nominal co-author.
Peter, a PhD student, made a discovery, which he eagerly shared with his supervisor. Six months later, his excitement turned to dismay and disgust when he spotted a recent article. His supervisor had published the results without even mentioning Peter's role.
Selena was preparing a postdoc application and obtained some useful feedback from her supervisor. She was startled, however, when he told her that he had put in a grant application in exactly the same area, with the same plan and hypotheses, in collaboration with a colleague. He had never before done research in this area.
Jim was a data collection assistant for a professor at an elite university. Jim's degree was from a lower status university, and the professor refused to write him a reference for undertaking an advanced degree at a more prestigious one. After 10 months, the professor asked Jim to analyse the data and write a paper for a conference that Jim would present as his own. However, when the professor saw the high quality of Jim's paper, he demanded to be listed as the author.
There are many more cases of this sort we can find in our modern world. There are many parents in this world who have the heart to exploit their kids. The internet will spew out plenty of examples of parents exploiting their kids. There are many household names being listed as “child star” who were exploited greatly by their parents. Many of them ran into trouble and became dependent on drugs or alcohol.
Sin has asserted control over our lives. Under the control of sin, humans become the master of exploitation. We exploit the earth and never give credit to the Creator. We exploit our body and we never honor the artist who designed our body. We even exploit our whole self, but we fail to acknowledge God who is the rightful owner of man. Matthew 22:15-22 records an amazing teaching of Jesus:
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
In verse 21 Jesus answered the trap question with a deep theological teaching concerning the constitution of our being. Ingrained within us is the image of God. No riches in the whole universe can buy this image of God. And we owe it to God. We belong to God through and through, and therefore it is only right to dedicate our entire being to our Creator. If we are supposed to pay taxes to the ruler just because the ruler’s inscription is on the coin, how much more then are we supposed to honor God since His image is inscribed in us.
As followers of Christ we are called to be honest, and in this case, to give credit where it is due. Claudius dishonestly reported the event of Paul’s arrest so he could gain credit to help his career further. Led by the Holy Spirit, Luke straightened the story out. Now the entire world knows that Claudius’ letter was a misrepresentation of the real event. This story teaches us that what is done in secret does not go unnoticed. The eyes of God see clearly every single thing that happens in this universe. True that not every dishonesty is exposed for the world to see in the end. But the very least that happens is that the Spirit of God touches our conscience and thus tells us of our dishonesty. It will continue to bother us until we properly respond to it by repentance or by silencing our conscience. When we repent, our conscience continues to function as it should. But when we silence our conscience, we are damaging it. With our conscience being damaged, we lose our humanity piece by piece. The more we damage our conscience, the more we become less human. Until we can’t differentiate anymore between true and false, good and evil.
The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.
 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 549.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1084.
 Martin, Brian. Countering Supervisor Exploitation in Journal of Scholarly Publishing, Vol. 45, No. 1, October 2013, pp. 74-86. Accessed on May 9, 2018 from the website: http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/13jsp.html#_edn1