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Bible Commentaries
Acts 25

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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In this chapter, Paul finally gets his defense on track again after what must have been a frustrating two years. Almost immediately Paul is brought before Festus. Festus would have played politics with the Jews by allowing Paul to go back to Jerusalem had it not been for Paul’s demand to "stand at Caesar’s judgment seat." It is in this chapter that Paul is first introduced to the local "royalty, " King Agrippa and his "incestuous" sister Bernice.

Verse 1

Now when Festus was come into the province, after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem.

Festus moves quickly to get his bearings and a feel for the politics of his new constituency. Although Caesarea is actually the headquarters for Festus, he realizes the city of Jerusalem is the capital and religious center of the Jews; thus, he wastes no time going to Jerusalem.

Verse 2

Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him,

These Jewish leaders waste no time in their seemingly endless pursuit of the Apostle Paul. Perhaps they think they can take advantage of Festus’ lack of experience in office.

Verse 3

And desired favour against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying wait in the way to kill him.

The utter cunning of these wily Jews is seen in this verse. In spite of the fact that it has been two years since the original confrontation with Paul, they have not abandoned their bloody plan to put Paul to death. We must wonder if the forty would-be assassins have kept their vow "not to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul" (23:12-13)? Knowing the ingenuousness of such a collection of rogues, it is doubtful if they missed a meal!

Verse 4

But Festus answered, that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself would depart shortly thither.

If Festus granted this favor to the Jews, it would have meant certain death for Paul. Possibly there is more than one reason Festus does not send Paul back to Jerusalem, but ultimately the decision must be attributed to the providential direction of God.

Verse 5

Let them therefore, said he, which among you are able, go down with me, and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him.

In a reversal that seems to be an innocent change of events, the plan of the Jews is thwarted. Instead of Paul’s going to Jerusalem, Felix mandates that those Jews who "are able" be invited to Caesarea to present their case against the apostle. We learn in verse 16 that it is Roman law that the accused must be allowed to answer their accusers "face to face."

Verse 6

And when he had tarried among them more than ten days, he went down unto Caesarea; and the next day sitting on the judgment seat commanded Paul to be brought.

Festus wraps up his business on his initial visit to Jerusalem and makes his way home to Caesarea. On the following day, Paul is brought to make his defense. We find Festus perched upon the judgment seat, which amounted to a seat on a raised platform that was reached by steps. This elevated seat was a symbol of authority then, even as now.

Verse 7

And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove.

It quickly becomes obvious that Festus does not fully appreciate the "can of worms" he is about to open. The venomous nature of Paul’s accusers is soon revealed in a libelous attack of false and baseless charges brought by the Jews.

Verse 8

While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.

Luke does not provide the details of the Jewish charges or the details of Paul’s defense but simply gives a brief summary. From the answers given by Paul, we may conclude that the charges and the defense are the same as those made before Felix in chapter twenty-four.

Verse 9

But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?

Here Festus shows his motivation as the invertebrate politician he really is. "As the accusers were not able to prove their charges, and the prisoner pleaded not guilty to every one of them, he should have been unconditionally released; but Festus, at this point, allowed his sense of justice to be biased by his desire for popularity" (McGarvey, Vol.II 243).

Coffman makes the following succinct comment:

Paul very well knew that the incompetent Festus was no match for the temple Jews who had no intention whatever of trying Paul; all they wanted was to expose him sufficiently that their assassins could kill him; after all, it must be supposed that after two years those forty conspirators were getting pretty hungry (464).

Verse 10

Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.

It becomes obvious that Festus lacks the intestinal fortitude to release Paul, although it is clear he is innocent. It must have been a shock to Festus’ ego that Paul refuses judgment by him. Paul realizes he cannot receive justice in the court of, as Coffman says, this "namby-pamby Festus" (465); therefore, Paul appeals to Caesar. It is likely Paul’s appeal is not what Festus would have preferred. This is the first case the new governor has to deal with, and now it is being taken out of his hands with Paul’s appeal to Rome. It is reasonable for Festus to fear that his Roman superiors might conclude he is unable to attend to the affairs of his governorship.

Verse 11

For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.

Paul makes it plain he is not trying to escape punishment if he is truly guilty of a crime; but rather he is trying to avoid being murdered for something he did not do. Paul’s Roman citizenship saves his life again. "Every Roman citizen had a right of appeal from lower tribunals in the empire to the final court of the emperor in Rome; and once an appeal was registered, it had the effect of stopping all further litigation and transferring the case to Rome" (Coffman 465) (see 16:37; 22:25-29).

Verse 12

Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? Unto Caesar thou shalt go.

The council mentioned here is not Paul’s Jewish accusers but rather Festus’ legal counselors. Vincent gives the following explanation of the council:

A body of men chosen by the governor himself from the principal Romans of the province. These were called assessors, sometimes friends, sometimes captains. Though a Roman citizen had the right of appeal to the emperor, a certain discretion was allowed the governors of provinces as to admitting the appeal.... In doubtful cases the governor was bound to consult with his council, and his failure to do so exposed him to censure (584).

The final decision of Festus and his counselors is that Paul will be allowed his appeal to Caesar. We are left to wonder what Festus’ true feelings are in this matter. The phrase, "unto Caesar thou shalt go, " may be a sarcastic way for Festus to let Paul know that if he thinks there is a lack of justice in Festus’ court just wait until he stands before Nero. It also could be that Festus is breathing a sigh of relief to be rid of this thorny problem.

Verse 13

And after certain days king Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus.

The visit of Agrippa and Bernice is a formal greeting from the king to welcome the new representative of Rome into office. To appreciate the character or perhaps better said, the lack of character, of this notorious pair, one might compare them to the Old Testament duo of Ahab and Jezebel. Morally speaking, Agrippa and Bernice make Ahab and Jezebel look like saints. The gross depravity and moral decadence of this brother and sister would make a modern soap opera blush. We will use the description furnished by Plumptre to supply the details:

Agrippa closes the line of the Herodian house. He was the son of the Agrippa whose tragic end is related in chapt. xii 20-23, and was but seventeen years of age at the time of his father’s death, in A.D. 44. He did not succeed to the kingdom of Judea, which was placed under the government of a procurator; but on the death of his uncle Herod, the king of Chalcis, in A.D. 48, received the sovereignty of that region from Claudius, and with it the superintendence of the Temple and the nomination of the high priests. ... In A.D. 55 Nero increased his kingdom by adding some of the cities of Galilee. He lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem, and died under Trajan (A.D. 100) at the age of seventy-three.

The history of Bernice, or Berenice ... reads like a horrible romance, or a page from the chronicles of Borgias. She was the eldest daughter of Herod Agrippa I., and was married at an early age to her uncle the king of Chalcis. Alliances of this nature were common in the Herodian house, and the Herodias of the Gospels passed from an incestuous marriage to an incestuous adultery. On his death Berenice remained for some years a widow, but dark rumours began to spread that her brother Agrippa, who had succeeded to the principality of Chalcis, and who gave her, as in the instance before us, something like queenly honours, was living with her in a yet darker form of incest, ... With a view to screening herself against these suspicions she persuaded Polemon, king of Cilicia, to take her as his queen, and to profess himself a convert to Judaism, as Azizus had done for her sister Drusilla (24:24) and accept circumcision. The ill-omened marriage did not prosper. The queen’s unbridled passions once more gained the mastery. She left her husband, and he got rid at once of her and her religion. Her powers of fascination, however, were still great, and she knew how to profit by them in the hour of her country’s ruin. Vespasian was attracted by her queenly dignity, and yet more by the magnificence of her queenly gifts. His son Titus took his place in her long list of lovers. She came as his mistress to Rome, and it was said that he had promised her marriage. This, however, was more than even the senate of the empire could tolerate, and Titus was compelled by the pressure of public opinion to dismiss her, but his grief in doing so was a matter of notoriety (164).

It is this quality of people who are the "royalty" coming to "salute" Festus and doubtless to their surprise, their black souls are about to be cut to the quick by the sharp sword that has two edges.

Verse 14

And when they had been there many days, Festus declared Paul’s cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix:

Evidently, Agrippa and Bernice find the company of Festus most entertaining as they stay on for many days. Since Agrippa is generally considered to be an expert in the customs of the Jews, Festus takes advantage of his new royal friends to discuss the case of Paul informally.

Verse 15

About whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have judgment against him.

Festus rehearses the case before Agrippa, emphasizing that the Jews want him to pass the death sentence on Paul.

Verse 16

To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.

Festus presents his own version of what happened before the Jews. He leaves the impression that he, being the representative of Rome, lays the law down in no uncertain terms to the Jews. He portrays himself as Paul’s savior, having prevented a grave miscarriage of justice. The truth is Festus is trying to play politics with the Jews and still deal with the formidable presence of the apostle, indeed a sticky situation for a weak-kneed politician.

Verse 17

Therefore, when they were come hither, without any delay on the morrow I sat on the judgment seat, and commanded the man to be brought forth.

Again, the impression is left by Festus that he dealt with the case against Paul in an expeditious manner. The truth is that all of this rush to judgment is an attempt to please the bloodthirsty Jews who are in a frenzy to put Paul to death.

Verse 18

Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed:

Here is an admission by Festus that Paul is innocent. Why is he not released?

Verse 19

But had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.

This verse shows Festus has not a clue about religion in general and Christianity in particular. Surely Agrippa must have suppressed a chuckle at the admission of this pretentious little governor who knows much about nothing.

Boles says the word "superstition" "as used here comes from the Greek ’deisidaimonias’ ... The Greeks used this word to mean ’pious, ’ or ’religious, ’ or ’superstitious’" (395) (see notes on 17:22).

Verse 20

And because I doubted of such manner of questions, I asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these matters.

Politics again enters into Festus’ account. What difference would it have made to return Paul to Jerusalem if he has already been proved innocent? If he were innocent of all charges in Caesarea, would he not have been innocent in Jerusalem? Festus wants Paul to return to Jerusalem to relieve the pressure being put upon him by the Jews. The Jews want Paul to return to Jerusalem so that they can murder him on the return trip.

Verse 21

But when Paul had appealed to be reserved unto the hearing of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I might send him to Caesar.

Festus makes an effort to pat himself on the back by stating what is his legal duty to do any way. Since Paul has appealed to Caesar, Festus has no option but to send Paul to Rome.

The title "Augustus" (literally august one) is but one of many names used to distinguish the head of the Roman Empire.

Augustus was the title conferred by the senate upon Octavius Caesar, B.C. 27, whom we commonly designate Augustus Caesar. It became afterwards the distinctive title of the reigning emperor, and, after the end of the second century, sometimes of two or even three co-emperors, and was now borne by Nero (Hervey 252).

Verse 22

Then Agrippa said unto Festus, I would also hear the man myself. To morrow, said he, thou shalt hear him.

In view of the sordid past of the Herod family, of which Agrippa and Bernice are members, it is no surprise they might have a morbid curiosity about Paul and his teaching about Jesus Christ. It was their great-grandfather who had attempted to kill Jesus as a baby by having the infants of Judaea slaughtered (Matthew 2:16). It was their father who had James the apostle executed (12:2). It was their uncle who had John the Baptist killed (Matthew 14:6-8).

Jesus has prophesied that Paul would "bear" His name before "kings" (9:15). The scene is now set for Paul to preach to the King. There is yet another bit of irony attached to this occurrence: it was some thirteen years earlier, in this same city (Caesarea), that Herod Agrippa I, the father of King Agrippa and Bernice, was smitten by "the angel of the Lord, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost" (12:23).

Verse 23

And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains, and principal men of the city, at Festus’ commandment Paul was brought forth.

And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp: From the description given by Luke, this interview with Paul has turned into quite an event. Vine defines "pomp" as being a "show or display" (Vol. III 192). With the addition of the word "great, " we can only imagine the degree of regal display that is taking place. These wayward children of Herod seem to have the same bent for royal apparel and a pompous attitude that made their father a meal for the worms (12:21-23).

and was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains: The chief captains are the chiliarchs of the Roman army. Each of these men commands a thousand Roman soldiers (see notes on 21:31).

and principal men of the city: These principal men are the social and business leaders of the city. Luke lets us know that anyone who is anybody is in attendance.

at Festus’ commandment Paul was brought forth: Luke, forever the man of few words, briefly sets the stage and then leaves us to guess at the affect the appearance of Paul has on this circus atmosphere. Lenski aids our imaginations with the following information:

This sentence is a masterpiece in its description of the scene. It depicts how the stage is gradually set, one brilliant and impressive entrance is made after another, the king and his sister with their retinue come in great pomp, then others, visitors perhaps are also present to congratulate Festus on his accession to the procuratorship, Festus, too, of course, has not only his five chiliarchs in gala uniform but also the men of highest prominence in the city–all these are presented in their most pompous array and display. What an assemblage! The great stage is set. Festus gives the order. Then follow two simple words without a modifier, which are in striking contrast with the long preamble of genitive absolutes: "there was brought in Paul." For him, for this humble apostle of Jesus Christ, for this lone, poor prisoner, this magnificent assembly of royalty, of rule, of military rank, of highest civil prominence has been arranged. Thus do imperial and royal courts assemble in all their splendor, and when the grand climax arrives, the portals swing open, and the emperor or king enters. Yes, all eyes were riveted on Paul. All had come in grand attire in order to hear this man (1012-1013).

Without question the greatest man present is the Apostle Paul. Without the need for "pomp" or regal attire, perhaps even being led in chains (26:29), this humble man of God steals the show.

Verse 24

And Festus said, King Agrippa, and all men which are here present with us, ye see this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews have dealt with me, both at Jerusalem, and also here, crying that he ought not to live any longer.

Festus’ introduction of Paul to Agrippa seems to imply a certain amount of incredulity in its tone. Festus is saying, "Look at this man. Can you believe that because of him the multitude of the Jews both in Jerusalem and also here (Caesarea) are in total pandemonium? They clamor for his blood."

Verse 25

But when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus, I have determined to send him.

Festus gives the impression he is about ready to acquit and release Paul when Paul makes his appeal to Augustus. The truth is that if Paul had not appealed to Caesar the Jewish zealots would have poured out his blood on the dusty road back to Jerusalem.

Verse 26

Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and specially before thee, O king Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write.

Festus is in a predicament. He expresses a real need before those assembled and "specially" King Agrippa for help in establishing charges against Paul. It would be unheard of to send a prisoner to Caesar without a reason for sending him. Festus dares not tell the truth: that he is too gutless to release him even after finding him innocent, or that Paul has withstood him when he attempts to get him to go up to Jerusalem and be "judged" of the Jews. Festus hopes someone can supply some reason to send Paul to "my lord."

"My Lord" is yet another title used to designate the Roman Caesars. This title has a religious connotation, indicating some of the Roman emperors considered themselves as god. This bloated ego created a type of emperor worship. "Many Christians became martyrs for refusing to utter this deifying title in worship of the emperor" (Lenski 1018). "Augustus and Tiberius had refused to let anyone address them with such a title, but Caligula and Nero permitted such an address, and even gloried in this title" (Boles 398).

Verse 27

For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.

Festus must be the crown prince of understatement. "Unreasonable" is mild compared to the reality of sending a prisoner to a pompous Caesar who thinks he is god, with no specific reason for sending him. This is not only "unreasonable, " but for Festus it would probably be fatal!

With no "crimes to lay against" Paul, Festus yields the floor to his esteemed guest, King Agrippa, in hopes of producing some new facts that may be presented to Caesar. Agrippa immediately invites Paul to "speak for thyself" (26:1).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 25". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/acts-25.html. 1993-2022.
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