Faith of a mustard seed

“After some days Felix came and his wife Drusilla, who is a Jewess; and he sent for Paul and heard him speak upon faith in Christ Jesus.” (Acts 24:22-24). Another look at the 13th occurrence of ‘pistis/faith’ in Acts.

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

Unless otherwise indicated, I consistently use the Revised Standard Version as my translation of choice. The verses that follow (25-27) are now from the Anchor Bible and read this way: “But when he spoke about righteousness, temperance and (God’s) judgement to come, Felix was conscience-smitten and exclaimed: “You may go for the time being! When I have more time, I will call you.” At the same time he hoped that Paul would give him money, so he had him summoned very often, and talked with him. But when two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and as Felix wished to do the Jews a favor, he left Paul in prison.”

The word of faith came previously in this study when looking at the Matthew 23:23 text of “The Woes Against the Pharisees” where Jesus warns them of their neglect of the “weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith;”. There, justice is ‘krisis’ which we discovered was only used by Jesus and is in all translations consistently rendered ‘justice’.

In this text of Acts, Luke/Paul has also found the undergirding factor of ‘justice’ (RSV) in his message of ‘faith in Christ Jesus’ being spoken to his captor, Felix. The word used here is ‘dikaiosunes’ which has at it’s root ‘dike(i)/law’ and has the sense of ‘right’ as a state of existence— ‘being right’; to include both the fear of God and good will to (hu)men. It is both observance of law and fulfillment of duty. It is ‘doing what is right’ not merely in the legal sense but also in the political, in the ethical and above all in the religious. It is one of the ‘Four Cardinal Virtues’ and has a major place in the Ethics branch of Philosophy. It must also be borne in mind that ‘righteousness’ implies relationship.

When Paul reached the point in his ‘faith in Christ Jesus’ statement to his Captor Felix where he began to talk about ‘righteous justice’, the word says that Felix was “conscience-smitten” and sent Paul back to his cell. But not without expecting Paul to make payment for his release. (I am so tempted to contemporary commentary on ‘the cost of injustice’, but I’ll leave it to the ‘conscience-smitten’).

Just a quick note here that this discussion takes on magnanimous proportions when scholars approach it in the context of Paul’s own writings. His ‘new understanding’ of faith calls into question the relationship of righteousness to law. Not only did the Jews (to include the Governor’s wife) have a problem with his ‘new thinking about law’, but for the final two years of his governance, Felix detains Paul summoning him “very often” for conversations; leaving him in prison when he leaves office.

As a child I overheard my grandmother say to one of my uncles “you need to get right.” He said “with God?” Can’t begin to tell you what it was all about but, I keep seeing and hearing ‘Ole School’, and I need to hear some ‘Ole Church’. Those ‘ole songs said it best: ‘Get right with God, and do it now, Get right with God, he will show you how. Down at the Cross, where he shed his blood. Get right with God. Get right, get right with God.’

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