Chiasm in Paul’s Defence Before Felix

Paul’s defence of his ministry before the governor Felix against the accusations of the Jewish establishment (Acts 24.10–21) is predicated on the reality of the resurrection. Here’s the text of his defence:

A. Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defence.

B. You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city.

C. Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me.

But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.

C′. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.

B′. Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult.

A′. But some Jews from Asia – they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’

The first half of the chiasm is any old defence: essentially, ‘there is no evidence for a charge against me’. At the middle of the chiasm is the crux of his own defence, innocence applied to Paul personally. The second half of the chiasm has, toward the end of every part, reference to God, sanctity and judgement.

Paul pleads his case upon the fact that he worships, believes and hopes in the true God who is Judge of all. The middle premise of his argument’s implicit syllogism, which we find in the second half of the chiasm, is that the resurrection has vindicated him (‘resurrection of both the just and the unjust’; ‘clear conscience toward both God and men’; ‘purified in the temple’; ‘I am on trial about the resurrection of the dead’). The conclusion Paul makes, of course, is that he is innocent before God and man.

Resurrection, then, is the source of vindication that gives a man a clear conscience and purification in the Lord’s sanctuary. Paul here (or Luke in his retelling of Paul’s words) does not attempt to explain what resurrection he means, Christ’s or everyone else’s – although I’ll add here that because both the just and the unjust will be raised, this clearly refers to bodily resurrection. Although the final resurrection of all the dead is clearly part of his argument, this is not totally distinct from Christ’s resurrection, the very matter of Paul’s defence before the Jews before he was sent to Felix (Acts 23.6).

We ought, then, to link the judgement of the final resurrection of the just and the unjust, at the Last Day, with the vindication of Christ in his resurrection as the firstfruits of the new creation. How does Paul, and how do we, establish our basis for innocence on the fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead? That is, how does Christ’s resurrection make the persevering believer innocent?

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