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FELIX (Gr. Phēlix, happy). Born Antonius Claudius, a Greek subject, he was made a freedman by Claudius, the emperor from a.d. 41 to 54, and given the surname Felix, probably in congratulation. He and his brother Pallas were favorites of Claudius and later of Nero (54-68), and so Felix evidently thought that he could do as he pleased. Tacitus said of him that “he revelled in cruelty and lust, and wielded the power of a king with the mind of a slave.” His very title of “procurator” hints at his fiscal duties of procuring funds for Rome, which he seems to have accomplished with all sorts of tyranny. He began his career as procurator of Judea by seducing Drusilla, the sister of Agrippa II and wife of the king of Emesa (modern Homs), and marrying her. Because she was Jewish (at least in part), he learned much of Jewish life and customs.

Felix appears in the biblical account only in Acts.23.24-Acts.25.14. He was susceptible to flattery, as the speech of Tertullus shows, and also to conviction of sin, as is shown by his terror when Paul reasoned before him about “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come” (Acts.24.25). His conviction faded; he procrastinated; and he held Paul for about two years (c. 58-60), hoping that Paul “would offer him a bribe” for his freedom (Acts.24.26). He was then replaced by Festus, a far better man.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

fe’-liks, an-to’-ni-us (Phelix, from Latin felix, "happy"): A Roman procurator of Judea, appointed in succession to Cumanus by the emperor Claudius. The event which led to the introduction of Felix into the narrative of Ac was the riot at Jerusalem (Ac 21:27). There Paul, being attacked at the instigation of the Asiatic Jews for alleged false teaching and profanation of the temple, was rescued with difficulty by Lysias the chief captain. But Lysias, finding that Paul was a Roman citizen, and that therefore the secret plots against the life of his captive might entail serious consequences upon himself, and finding also that Paul was charged on religious rather than on political grounds, sent him on to Felix at Caesarea for trial (Ac 21:31-23:34). On his arrival, Paul was presented to Felix and was then detained for five days in the judgment hall of Herod, till his accusers should also reach Caesarea (Ac 23:33-35). The trial was begun, but after hearing the evidence of Tertullus (see Tertullus) and the speech of Paul in his own defense, Felix deferred judgment (Ac 24:1-22). The excuse he gave for delay was the non-appearance of Lysias, but his real reason was in order to obtain bribes for the release of Paul. He therefore treated his prisoner at first with leniency, and pretended along with Drusilla to take interest in his teaching. But these attempts to induce Paul to purchase his freedom failed ignominiously; Paul sought favor of neither Felix nor Drusilla, and made the frequent interviews which he had with them an opportunity for preaching to them concerning righteousness and temperance and the final judgment. The case dragged on for two years till Felix, upon his retirement, "desiring to gain favor with the Jews .... left Paul in bonds" (Ac 24:27). According to the Bezan text, the continued imprisonment of Paul was due to the desire of Felix to please Drusilla.

Felix was the brother of Pallas, who was the infamous favorite of Claudius, and who, according to Tacitus (Annals xiii. 14), fell into disgrace in 55 AD. Tacitus implies that Felix was joint procurator of Judea, along with Cumanus, before being appointed to the sole command, but Josephus is silent as to this. Both Tacitus and Josephus refer to his succeeding Cumanus, Josephus stating that it was at the instigation of Jonathan the high priest. There is some doubt as to the chronology of Felix’ tenure of office. Harnack and Blass, following Eusebius and Jerome, place his accession in 51 AD, and the imprisonment of Paul in 54-56 AD; but most modern commentators incline to the dates 52 AD and 56-58 AD. These latter interpret the statement of Paul, "Thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation" (Ac 24:10), as referring to some judicial office, not necessarily that of co-procurator (see Tacitus), previously held by Felix in the time of Cumanus, and argue that this earlier connection of Felix with Judea supplied a reason for the advocacy by Jonathan of Felix’ claims to the procuratorship on the deposition of Gumanus. The testimony of Ac as to the evil character of Felix is fully corroborated by the writings of Josephus (BJ, II, xiii). Although he suppressed the robbers and murderers who infested Judea, and among them the "Egyptian" to whom Lysias refers (Ac 21:38), yet "he himself was more hurtful than them all." When occasion offered, he did not hesitate to employ the sicarii (see Assassins) for his own ends. Trading upon the influence of his brother at court, his cruelty and rapacity knew no bounds, and during his rule revolts became continuous, and marked a distinct stage in that seditious movement which culminated in the outbreak of 70 AD (so Schurer). His leaving Paul in bonds was but a final instance of one who sacrificed duty and justice for the sake of his Own unscrupulous selfishness. For more detailed information as to dates, etc., compare Knowling (Expos Greek Test., II, 477 ff).