Paul remains a prisoner for two years, while Felix continually delays the conclusion of the trial. According to Luke, he refuses to decide the case in order to gain favor with the Jews. However, conditions change when he is replaced by Porcius Festus.
Felix was indeed replaced by Porcius Festus. According to Josephus, Felix was recalled to Rome under indictment because of his brutal intervention in a riot between Jews and gentiles in the city of Caesarea. He was prosecuted for his actions by some of the Jews involved.
Josephus also states that those Jews were not supported in their prosecution by the Sadducean hierarchy in Jerusalem, who supported Felix instead. Thus Luke’s statement that Felix left Paul a prisoner in order to gain favor with the Jewish leadership appears in a new light.
This passage does present one historical difficulty. According to Josephus, Felix was brought to Rome for trial, but escaped punishment because of the political influence of his brother Pallas. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, Pallas was removed from power by the Emperor Nero in 55 AD, which would be the year before Paul’s Judean trial. Some scholars argue that this means that Felix must have returned to Rome before his brother’s removal from office, which proves that Luke’s chronology of events is wrong.
Other scholars argue that though Pallas was removed from office before Paul’s trial, this does not mean that his political influence came to an end. Pallas was executed by Nero in 62 AD, or several years after Paul’s Judean trial. This suggests that Pallas still possessed enough political influence for Nero to want to get rid of him. Although out of office by the time of Felix’s recall, Pallas could still have provided political assistance to his brother. Thus the claim that a contradiction exists between Luke and Tacitus is not proven.
Bruce, F. F. The Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1951, pages 428-429.
Rapske, B. The Book of Acts and Paul in Roman Custody. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994, page 321.