Military commander of the Roman garrison at Jerusalem when the apostle Paul last visited there, about 56 C.E. As a military commander (chiliarch), Claudius Lysias had 1,000 men under his command. His Greek name “Lysias” suggests that he was a Greek by birth. Probably he acquired Roman citizenship for a large sum of money during the reign of Claudius, at which time, as was customary among those procuring citizenship, he adopted the name of the ruling emperor, “Claudius.” (Acts 22:28; 23:26) According to the Roman historian Dio Cassius (c. 150-235 C.E.), early in the reign of Emperor Claudius Roman citizenship was often sold for large sums.
Claudius Lysias figures in the account of Acts because of his dealings with the apostle Paul. He and the soldiers and army officers with him rescued Paul from death at the hands of a rioting mob. Taking hold of Paul, Claudius Lysias directed that the apostle be bound and, when unable, because of the tumult, to ascertain through inquiry the nature of the accusation against him, commanded that the apostle be brought to the soldiers’ quarters located in the fortress of Antonia.—Acts 21:30-34.
Claudius Lysias mistakenly concluded that Paul was the Egyptian who had previously stirred up sedition and led the 4,000 “dagger men” into the wilderness. But, upon learning otherwise, he granted the apostle’s request to address the crowd from the steps, likely those of the fortress. When violence started anew immediately after Paul’s mentioning his commission to go to the nations, Claudius Lysias ordered that he be brought inside the soldiers’ quarters and closely examined under scourging.—Acts 21:35-40; 22:21-24.
On receiving report that Paul was a Roman and then making personal inquiry, Claudius Lysias became afraid because of having violated the rights of a Roman by having him bound. (Acts 22:25-29) His acceptance of Paul’s claim to Roman citizenship on the basis of the apostle’s own statement can be better understood when considering that there was little likelihood of a person falsely claiming Roman citizenship rights, as such a thing would render the one doing so liable to capital punishment. Says the historian Suetonius in his The Twelve Caesars, under the account of Claudius, page 197, paragraph 2, of the book translated by Robert Graves: “It now became illegal for foreigners to adopt the names of Roman families, and any who usurped the rights of Roman citizens were executed on the slopes of the Esquiline Hill.”
Still desiring to arrive at the truth concerning the accusation against Paul, Claudius Lysias commanded the Sanhedrin to assemble. On that occasion Paul’s introducing the subject of the resurrection resulted in such dissension among the members of the Sanhedrin that Claudius Lysias, fearing that Paul would be pulled to pieces by them, ordered soldiers to snatch the apostle out of their midst.—Acts 22:30; 23:6-10.
Later, upon learning from Paul’s own nephew of a Jewish plot to kill the apostle, Claudius Lysias summoned two of his army officers and commanded them to get ready two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to leave for Caesarea at about 9 p.m. in order to take Paul to Governor Felix. (Acts 23:16-24) In compliance with Roman law, he also sent a statement of the case to Governor Felix. This letter was, however, not altogether factual. Although acknowledging Paul’s innocence, Claudius Lysias gave the impression that he rescued Paul because of having learned that the apostle was a Roman, whereas in reality he had violated Paul’s citizenship rights by having him bound and even ordering that he be examined under scourgings.—Acts 23:26-30.
The very fact that Claudius Lysias represented himself in the most favorable light as a protector of a Roman citizen argues for the genuineness of the letter. Insofar as Luke’s knowledge of the letter’s contents is concerned, it may be that the letter itself was read at the time Paul’s case was heard, and the apostle may even have received a copy of it after his appeal to Caesar.