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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Acts 25

 

 

Verse 1

Here are two defenses of Paul, one legal and formal, after which Paul appealed to Caesar, and the other formal enough, but without any legal significance. Nevertheless, we shall treat them as two separate defenses. Each is important and significant in its own right. The first of these was before the new governor Festus (Acts 25:1-12); the second was before Festus and his guests King Agrippa and his sister Bernice (Acts 25:23-27). All of the next chapter is taken up with Paul's address in the presence of royalty.

Festus therefore, having come into the province, after three days went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. (Acts 25:1)

PORCIUS FESTUS TAKES OVER

While it may be true, as Boles said, that "Festus was a better man than Felix, there being a strong contrast here between the honesty and straightforwardness of Festus and the wickedness of Felix,"[1] it is true, nevertheless, that Festus was a worse governor, affording a startling proof that a strong evil ruler is sometimes better than a good weak one. The incompetence of Festus must have been the laughingstock of the whole temple crowd in Jerusalem. He was naive, totally ignorant of the devices of the people he had come to rule, agreeable, gullible, and obsessed with such a desire for popularity that he would gladly have sacrificed an innocent man to enhance his standing with the Sanhedrinists.

It was that latter trait which, at the last, marred Felix's handling of Paul's case. As Howson declared:

Another governor of Judaea opened the prison that he might make himself popular; and Felix from the same motive riveted the chains of an innocent man. Thus the same enmity of the world against the gospel which set Barabbas free left Paul bound.[2]

Festus would fall into the same error as Felix.

Up to Jerusalem ... Although Caesarea was his capital, Festus quite properly understood that Jerusalem, as the largest city of his province and the center of the religious hierarchy of Israel, was of major concern to him; hence the trip so soon after entering into his new dominion.

[1] H. Leo Boles, Commentary on the Acts (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1953), p. 388.

[2] J. S. Howson, Life and Epistles of St. Paul (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1966), p. 614.


Verse 2

And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they besought him, asking a favor of him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem; laying a plot to kill him on the way.

The pressure of this request from the leading Jews was implicit in the fact that they were powerful enough to have "brought about the removal of Festus' predecessor";[3] and they doubtless thought they could take advantage of Festus' newness in office and his natural desire to please such an important group of his subjects.

Laying a plot to kill him ... Festus, of course, had no idea whatever of the murderous duplicity and cunning deceit of the religious apparatus in the Judean capital. He should have known that the "favor" they had asked of him was based upon some damnable scheme of their own; but Festus seems to have accepted their request as honorable. It was his jealousy for his own prerogatives which led him to deny their request, as in the next verse.

ENDNOTE:

[3] E. H. Plumptre, Ellicott's Commentary on the Holy Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 162.


Verse 4

Howbeit Festus answered, that Paul was kept in charge at Caesarea, and that he himself was about to depart thither shortly. Let them therefore, saith he, that are of power among you go down with me, and if there is anything amiss in the man, let them accuse him.

This was a mortal danger to Paul; for if Festus had honored the request of the high priest and his group to bring Paul to Jerusalem, the apostle would almost certainly have been killed. Festus would not have sent such a large escort as Lysias had sent, for he was ignorant of any danger. God, however, protected Paul, using the new governor's vanity as the motivation of his denial of the "favor" they coveted. Thus, as Wesley said: "By what invisible springs does God govern the world! Festus' care to preserve the imperial privileges was the means of preserving Paul's life."[4]

ENDNOTE:

[4] John Wesley, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House), in loco.


Verse 6

And when he had tarried among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down unto Caesarea; and on the morrow he sat on the judgment-seat, and commanded Paul to be brought.

D. PAUL'S FOURTH DEFENSE: THE SPEECH BEFORE GOVERNOR FESTUS

Commentators have lavished praise on Festus for this prompt hearing; but there is no indication that his promptness was due to anything other than the insistence of the high priestly conclave on action as soon as possible. What is in evidence here is not a new governor's anxious desire to further justice, but a servile willingness to appease Paul's bitter enemies in Jerusalem.


Verse 7

And when he was come, the Jews that had come down from Jerusalem stood round about him, bringing against him many and grievous charges which they could not prove.

The Jews that had come down ... These had evidently traveled with Festus (Acts 25:5), and no doubt had exercised every possible strategy of ingratiation and fawning cultivation of the man they hoped to manipulate. This group was headed by the high priest, an imposing figure indeed; and many a procurator could tell of the power of such a man. Significantly, the high priest just two years earlier had been Ananias; but God had already struck that "whited wall," and he had been replaced. "The high priest at this time was Ismael the son of Fabi, who had been appointed by Agrippa."[5]

Charges which they would not prove ... These are of no particular interest at this point, as it may be certainly concluded that the charges were the same as those reviewed in the last chapter, with whatever variations the priests might have used in an effort to dress up their worthless case against Paul. They were as ineffective before Festus as they had been before Felix. Luke did not bother to record them in detail; and Paul's defense is summarized (in the next verse), where it is evident that his reply was the same as before.

ENDNOTE:

[5] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1953), p. 339.


Verse 8

While Paul said in his defense, Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar, have I sinned at all.

For all their cunning, the priests overreached themselves by alleging Paul's sinning against Caesar; for Festus could hardly have let that charge be tried by them. That it was not true is evident in Festus' apparent willingness to declare Paul innocent of the charges against Caesar, if Paul would consent to be tried by the Jews on the other allegations (Acts 25:9). The Caesar mentioned here was Nero, the time being, according to Ramsay, in 59 A.D.[6]

ENDNOTE:

[6] Sir William M. Ramsay, Pictures of the Apostolical Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1959), p. 293.


Verse 9

But Festus, desiring to gain favor with the Jews, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged before me?

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.

One may feel nothing except contempt for a governor like Festus. Felix would have had far too much sense to suppose that such a proposal could end in anything except death for Paul, had it been accepted. Paul's only hope of saving his life lay in exactly what he did, appealing to Caesar.


Verse 10

But Paul said, I am standing before Caesar's judgment-seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews I have done no wrong, as thou also very well knowest. If then I am a wrong-doer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die; but if none of those things is true whereof they accuse me, no man can give me up unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.

This was absolutely the only avenue left open to Paul. The namby-pamby Festus knew he was innocent, but insisted on taking him to Jerusalem, where Paul would certainly have been murdered. "Woe unto thee, O land, when thy king is a child" (Ecclesiastes 10:16). Festus was a "child" in understanding. Paul's rebuke of this governor, in such an appeal, was fully deserved; but his abrupt appeal to Caesar must have come as a shocking surprise to Festus. Having his very first case appealed to Caesar was not exactly the way he had hoped to begin his term as governor. Still, it did get him "off the hook" with regard to those whom he sought to please in Jerusalem; and he was probably glad that Paul had appealed.

I am standing ... has the meaning of "I have been standing a long time" at Caesar's judgment-seat, Festus' tribunal; and "I ought to be judged" here, rather than before some court in Jerusalem.

I refuse not to die ... Paul meant by this that he was not appealing for the sake of avoiding punishment for a crime, but in order to prevent his being murdered. "By this appeal, he delivered himself from the injustice of a weak and temporizing judge."[7]

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. Thus, it was his Roman citizenship which saved Paul's life here.

ENDNOTE:

[7] E. H. Plumptre, op. cit., p. 163.


Verse 12

Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Thou hast appealed unto Caesar: unto Caesar shall thou go.

Conferred with the council ... This was not the group of priests, but his own legal advisers. It appears that in some cases, the governor might deny such an appeal; but Festus' legal staff at once assured him that Paul's appeal would have to be honored.

Unto Caesar thou shalt go ... Some have read a sinister note into this remark, as if Festus already knew what a beast Nero was, and that the remark here was uttered with that in mind. However, as Nero, the Caesar mentioned here, had not yet developed the character by which he is notoriously remembered in history, this view of Festus' words would appear to be wrong. In 59 A.D., Nero was ending the first five good years of his rule, called the quinquennium; and as yet there was no evidence of the outrages that came later. "There was little in A.D. 59 that gave warning of events in A.D. 64."[8]

ENDNOTE:

[8] F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1954), p. 478.


Verse 13

Now when certain days were passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea, and saluted Festus.

Agrippa the king ... In this ruler, the last of the Herodian dynasty appeared; and with his death in 100 A.D., the sordid record of the whole infamous family ended. He and his sister Bernice had another sister Drusilla (see under Acts 24:24), all of them being great-grandchildren of Herod the Great who had sought to murder the Christ in his infant cradle. We shall note these characters a bit further.

AGRIPPA AND BERNICE

Agrippa II was the son of Agrippa I who was the son of Aristobulus the son of Herod the Great by Mariamne the Maccabean princess, thus being a fourth generation of the Herods whose names figure so prominently in the New Testament. He was appointed governor of Chalcis in A.D. 48 by Claudius, but traded that position for a kingship over the tetrarchy of Philip in A.D. 54. In the great war (66 to 70 A.D.), he sided with the Romans; and after the war was confirmed in his kingdom, living until A.D. 100.

When Bernice (his sister) was only sixteen, and already twice married, first to Alexander of Alexandria and then to her uncle Herod, king of Chalcis, who died in A.D. 48, she moved in with her brother Agrippa I. Juvenal, the Roman satirist, called her "Agrippa's incestuous sister"[9] and after a brief marriage she evidently made to quiet rumors of her relationship to her brother, she again took up residence with him at Caesarea Philippi. She was later the mistress of both Vespasian and his son Titus; and the latter would have married her except for popular outrage. She and her brother were the "royalty" who heard Paul on this occasion.[10]

Thus, in these two chapters, three of the great-grandchildren of Herod the Great "adorn" the pages of the New Testament!

Saluted Festus ... Some have supposed that as "a king" Agrippa outranked Festus, but this is not the case. Wesley was correct in the comment that "The visit here was a compliment paid by the vassal king to the representative of Rome."[11] How long they stayed in Caesarea is not known, but it was evidently quite a while.

[9] Jack P. Lewis, Historical Backgrounds of Bible History (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1971), pp. 164-166.

[10] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities and Wars of the Jews, translated by William Whiston (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston), p. 594.

[11] John Wesley, op. cit., in loco.


Verse 14

And as they tarried there many days, Festus laid Paul's case before the king, saying, There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix.

It was only natural for Festus to discuss such a prisoner as Paul with his guests; and his reason for this will appear at once.


Verse 15

About whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, asking for sentence against him.

Asking for sentence against him ... This is important as showing that the Jerusalem leaders had demanded a guilty verdict of Festus; and, as Dummelow noted: "They desired from the judge partiality, not justice; and they probably offered him money."[12]

ENDNOTE:

[12] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 850.


Verse 16

To whom I answered, that it is not the custom of the Romans to give up any man, before that the accused have the accusers face to face, and have had opportunity to make his defense concerning the matter laid against him.

From this it is crystal clear that the high priests had requested a guilty verdict against Paul without the formality of any kind of hearing.


Verse 17

When therefore they were come together here, I made no delay, but on the next day sat on the judgment-seat, and commanded the man to be brought.

Festus left out of sight his purpose in all that promptness, namely, that of pleasing Paul's accusers.


Verse 18

Concerning whom, when the accusers stood up, they brought no charge of evil things as I supposed.

Here in the mouth of Felix is the verdict of innocence which he did not have the moral fiber to announce.


Verse 19

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

Pagan that he was, Festus spoke sneeringly here of "a dead Jesus, Paul said was alive," affirming by such language his skepticism and lack of concern. "In this manner a Roman magistrate could speak of the most glorious truth in the Christian religion."[13] It was not the first time, nor the last, that men in public life have proved themselves to be grossly ignorant of eternal values.

ENDNOTE:

[13] Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 344.


Verse 20

And I, being perplexed how to inquire concerning these things, asked whether he would go to Jerusalem and there be judged of these matters.

This was a misrepresentation. There was no need to inquire any further of charges that had not been proved, were in fact incapable of proof; and Festus' proposal was made solely out of a desire to please his subjects in Jerusalem. His allegation of a different motive when thus discussing the matter with his guests shows that secretly he was ashamed of what he had done.


Verse 21

But when Paul had appealed to be kept for the decision of the emperor, I commanded him to be kept until I could send him to Caesar.

The emperor ... Caesar ... Two titles given here to Nero should be noted. The first of these is actually "Augustus" (English Revised Version margin), which was the title given by the Roman Senate on January 17,27 B.C. to Gaius Caesar Octavianus (63 B.C. to A.D. 14).[14] "Augustus" also translates "Sebastos," and sometimes emperor, as in this verse. It was later applied as a title to any head of the Roman state. The same is true of "Caesar." Still a third title of Roman emperors, "Lord," is used a little later in this chapter (Acts 25:26).[15] This title of "Lord" or "Dominus" carried a divine connotation and was first used by Caligula (A.D. 12-41).[16] "Augustus and Tiberius rejected such a title and would not suffer it to be applied to them."[17] However, we may suppose that Nero would have received it gladly.

The names of these ancient Roman rulers are still continued today in the names of the months of July and August, the cities of Augusta, Augsburg, Sebastopol, etc., all being derived from them.

[14] Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago: William Benton, Publisher, 1961), Vol. 2, p. 686.

[15] Jack P. Lewis, op. cit., p. 151.

[16] Everett F. Harrison, Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 477.

[17] Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 345.


Verse 22

And Agrippa said unto Festus I also could wish to hear the man myself. Tomorrow saith he, thou shalt hear him.

I also could wish to hear him ... Agrippa and his sister must have heard many things about Jesus Christ and the faith regarding him, because it was their great-grandfather who had slaughtered the innocent children of Judaea in a vain attempt to murder the Lord in infancy; it was their father who restored the dominion of Herod the Great, seized and executed James the apostle with the sword, and imprisoned Peter who was delivered by an angel. He was the same Herod, whom the Lord slew at Caesarea in 44 A.D. It was also an uncle of theirs who had murdered John the Baptist and mocked the Lord during his Passion.Acts 9:15 and Isaiah 62:2).

The setting of this scene was Caesarea, where some thirteen years earlier Herod Agrippa I, the father of this King Agrippa, Bernice and Drusilla, suffered a divine judgment in a sudden and horrible death.

ENDNOTE:

Verse 23

So on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and they were entered into the place of hearing with the chief captains and the principal men of the city, at the command of Festus Paul was brought in.

ARRANGEMENTS ARE MADE FOR PAUL'S APPEARANCE

Great pomp ... Here is the only appearance in the New Testament of this word "pomp."[19] The touch of the eyewitness narrator is evident; and one may imagine the ostentatious display of royal apparel, military uniforms, soldiers at attention, the decorations and flags that adorned the hall of meeting, and, over all, the proud demeanor of the Roman deputy Festus, who would hardly have allowed himself to be surpassed in splendor by his royal guests.

How sad it all was. What a pity, Luke must have thought, that all that external beauty was lavished upon a weakling like Festus and his profligate guests. Little could any of them have realized that their place in history would turn almost altogether upon the important little man whom the soldiers brought chained into their presence. They did not know this, but Paul knew it; "The weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25).

Chief captains and principal men of the city ... These were the chiliarchs of the Roman garrison commanded by the governor, each of whom led a tenth of a legion or a thousand men. The plural here suggests that the military arm was a strong one. The principal men of Caesarea would have been its business and leaders.

ENDNOTE:

[19] E. H. Plumptre, op. cit., p. 165.


Verse 24

And Festus saith, King Agrippa, and all men who are here present with us, ye behold this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews made suit to me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying that he ought not to live any longer.

Both at Jerusalem and here ... is a little ambiguous, the doubt being whether it applies to the "suit" having been pressed in both places, or to "the Jews" of both places having joined in the suit. Plumptre applied it to both, saying:

It would seem from the addition "and also here," that the Jews of Caesarea had also taken part in the proceedings, and that they too had been clamoring for a capital sentence.[20]

ENDNOTE:

[20] Ibid.


Verse 25

But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death: and as he himself had appealed to the emperor I determined to send him.

Nothing worthy of death ... How quickly this public announcement would have spread through the city, and how happy Philip and all of the Christians there must have been upon hearing of the governor's verdict. What a shame that the governor had withheld it until Paul, out of concern for his life, had been forced to appeal to Caesar.


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, King Agrippa, that, after examination had, I may have somewhat to write.

No certain thing to write ... This was what was bugging the procurator. Why not write the facts, namely, (1) that having found Paul innocent, he did not have the moral guts to release him, and (2) that not having the courage to tell the Jews, he had tried to persuade Paul to go up to Jerusalem and be tried by the Sanhedrin, Festus of course looking on. One has to admit that such a truthful report would probably have provoked his immediate recall. Yes, he was in a predicament. On "my Lord" as a title of Caesar, see under Acts 25:21.


Verse 27

For it seemeth to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not withal to signify the charges against him.

Unreasonable ... What was truly unreasonable was Festus' own unconscionable delay in announcing the verdict of innocence; and it was not less unreasonable that he proposed sending Paul back to the people who were so determined to kill him. It was that latter thing, really, that forced Paul's hand and led to the appeal. This concluded the opening remarks of the governor; but instead of introducing Paul, he yielded the honor to his guest. The next chapter gives Paul's speech.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Acts 25:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/acts-25.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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