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Now when Festus was come - See the notes on Acts 24:27.
Into the province - The province of Judea; for Judea at that time was a Roman province.
After three days - Having remained three days at Caesarea.
He ascended - This was the usual language in describing a journey to Jerusalem. Thus, the English people speak of going up to London, because it is the capital. See the notes on Acts 15:1.
To Jerusalem - The governors of Judea at this time usually resided at Caesarea; but as Jerusalem had been the former capital; as it was still the seat of the religious solemni ties; as the Sanhedrin held its meetings there; and as the great, and rich, and learned men, and the priests resided there, it is evident that a full knowledge of the state of the province could be obtained only there. Festus, therefore, having entered upon the duties of his office, early went to Jerusalem to make himself acquainted with the affairs of the nation.
Then the high priest - The high priest at this time was Ismael, the son of Fabi. He had been promoted to that office by Agrippa (Josephus, Antiq., book 20, chapter 8, section 8). It is probable, however, that the person here intended was Ananias, who had been high priest, and who would retain the name. See the notes on Acts 23:2. Some mss. read “high priests” here in the plural number, and this reading is approved by Mill and Griesbach. There is, however, no improbability in supposing that the high priest Ismael might have been also as much enraged against Paul as the others.
Informed him against Paul - Informed him of the accusation against him, and doubtless endeavored to prejudice the mind of Festus against him. They thus showed their unrelenting disposition. It might have been supposed that after two years this unjust prosecution would be abandoned and forgotten. But malice does not thus forget its object, and the spirit of persecution is not thus satisfied. It is evident that there was here every probability that injustice would be done to Paul, and that the mind of Festus would be biased against him. He was a stranger to Paul, and to the embittered feelings of the Jewish character. He would wish to conciliate their favor upon entering into the duties of his office. A strong representation, therefore, made by the chief men of the nation, would be likely to prejudice him violently against Paul, and to unfit him for the exercise of impartial justice.
And desired favour against him - Desired the favor of Festus, that they might accomplish their wicked purpose on Paul.
Would send for him to Jerusalem - Probably under a pretence that he might be tried by the Sanhedrin; or perhaps they wished Festus to hear the cause there, and to decide it while he was at Jerusalem. Their real motive is immediately stated.
Laying wait in the way to kill him - That is, they would lie in wait, or they would employ a band of Sicarii, or assassins, to take his life on the journey. See the notes on Acts 21:38; Acts 23:12. It is altogether probable that if this request had been granted, Paul would have been killed. But God had promised him that he should bear witness to the truth at Rome Acts 23:11, and his providence was remarkable in thus influencing the mind of the Roman governor, and defeating the plans of the Jewish council.
But Festus answered ... - What induced Festus to refuse their request is not known. It is probable, however, that he was apprised that Paul was a Roman citizen, and that his case could not come before the Jewish Sanhedrin, but must be heard by himself. As Caesarea was also at that time the residence of the Roman governor, and the place of holding the courts, and as Paul was lodged there safely, there did not appear to be any sufficient reason for removing him to Jerusalem for trial. Festus, however, granted them all that they could reasonably ask, and assured them that he should have a speedy trial.
Which among you are able - Enjoy all the advantages of just trial, and exhibit your accusations with all the learning and talent in your power. This was all that they could reasonably ask at his hands.
More than ten days - See the margin. The Syriac reads it, “eight or ten.” The Vulgate, “not more than eight or ten.” The Coptic, “eight or ten.” Griesbach supposes this to be the true reading, and has admitted it into the text.
Sitting in the judgment seat - On the tribunal; or holding a court for the trial of Paul.
Commanded Paul to be brought - To be brought up for trial. He had been secured, but was placed in the care of a soldier, who was commanded to let him have all the freedom that was consistent with his security.
Grievous complaints - Heavy accusations. Doubtless the same with which they had charged him before Felix, Acts 24:5-6. Compare Acts 25:19.
Which they could not prove - Acts 24:13, Acts 24:19.
While he answered ... - See this answer more at length in Acts 24:10-21. As the accusations against him were the same now as then, he made to them the same reply.
But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure - Desirous of securing their favor, as he had just entered on his administration. Compare Acts 24:27. In this he evinced rather a desire of popularity than an inclination to do justice. Had he been disposed to do right at once, he would have immediately discharged Paul. Festus perceived that the case was one that did not come fairly within the jurisdiction of a Roman magistrate; that it pertained solely to the customs and questions among the Jews Acts 25:18-20; and he therefore proposed that the case should be tried before him at Jerusalem. It is remarkable, however, that he had such a sense of justice and law as not to suffer the case to go out of his own hands. He proposed still to hear the cause, but asked Paul whether he was willing that it should be tried at Jerusalem. As the question which he asked Paul was one on which he was at liberty to take his own course, and as Paul had no reason to expect that his going to Jerusalem would facilitate the cause of justice, it is not remarkable that he declined the offer, as perhaps Festus supposed he would.
Then said Paul ... - The reasons why Paul declined the proposal to be tried at Jerusalem are obvious. He had experienced so much violent persecution from his countrymen, and their minds were so full of prejudice, misconception, and enmity, that he had neither justice nor favor to hope at them hands. He knew, too, that they had formerly plotted against his life, and that he had been removed to Caesarea for the purpose of safety. It would be madness and folly to throw himself again into their hands, or to give them another opportunity to form a plan against his life. As he was, therefore, under no obligation to return to Jerusalem, and as Festus did not propose it because it could be supposed that justice would be promoted by it, but to gratify the Jews, Paul prudently declined the proposal, and appealed to the Roman emperor.
I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat - The Roman emperors after Julius Caesar were all called “Caesar”; thus, Augustus Caesar, Claudius Caesar, etc., as all the kings of Egypt were called “Pharaoh,” though they each had his proper name, as Pharaoh Necho, etc. The emperor at this time (60 a.d.) was Nero, one of the most cruel and impious men that ever sat on a throne. It was under him that Paul was afterward beheaded. When Paul says, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat,” he means to say that he regarded the tribunal before which he then stood, and on which Festus sat, as really the judgment seat of Caesar. The procurator, or governor, held his commission from the Roman emperor, and it was, in fact, his tribunal. The reason why Paul made this declaration may be thus expressed: “I am a Roman citizen. I have a right to justice. I am under no obligation to put myself again in the hands of the Jews. I have a right to a fair and impartial trial; and I claim the protection and privileges which all Roman citizens have before their tribunals - the right of a fair and just trial.” It was, therefore, a severe rebuke of Festus for proposing to depart from the known justice of the Roman laws, and, for the sake of popularity, proposing to him to put himself in the hands of his enemies.
Where I ought to be judged - Where I have a right to demand and expect justice. I have a right to be tried where courts are usually held, and according to all the forms of equity which are usually observed.
Have I done no wrong - I have not injured their persons, property, character, or religion. This was a bold appeal, which his consciousness of innocence and the whole course of proceedings enabled him to make without the possibility of their gainsaying it.
As thou very well knowest - Festus knew, probably, that Paul had been tried by Felix, and that nothing was proved against him. He had now seen the spirit of the Jews, and the cause why they arraigned him. He had given Paul a trial, and had called on the Jews to adduce their “able” men to accuse him, and after all nothing had been proved against him. Festus knew, therefore, that he was innocent. This abundantly appears also from his own confession, Acts 25:18-19. As he knew this, and as Festus was proposing to depart from the regular course of justice for the sake of popularity, it was proper for Paul to use the strong language of rebuke, and to claim what he knew Festus did not dare to deny him, the protection of the Roman laws. Conscious innocence may be bold; and Christians have a right to insist on impartial justice and the protection of the laws. Alas! how many magistrates there have been like Festus, who, when Christians have been arraigned before them, have been fully satisfied of their innocence, but who, for the sake of popularity, have departed from all the rules of law and all the claims of justice.
For if I be an offender - If I have injured the Jews so as to deserve death. If it can be proved that I have done injury to anyone.
I refuse not to die - I have no wish to escape justice. I do not wish to evade the laws, or to take advantage of any circumstances to screen me from just punishment. Paul’s whole course showed that this was the noble spirit which actuated him. No true Christian wishes to escape from the laws. He will honor them, and not seek to evade them. But, like other people, he has rights; and he may and should insist that justice should be done.
No man may deliver me unto them - No man shall be allowed to do it. This bold and confident declaration Paul could make, because he knew what the law required, and he knew that Festus would not dare to deliver him up contrary to the law. Boldness is not incompatible with Christianity; and innocence, when its rights are invaded, is always bold. Jesus firmly asserted his rights when on trial John 18:23, and no man is under obligation to submit to be trampled on by an unjust tribunal in violation of the laws.
I appeal unto Caesar - I appeal to the man emperor, and carry my cause directly before him. By the Valerian, Porcian, and Sempronian laws, it had been enacted that if any magistrate should be about to beat, or to put to death any Roman citizen, the accused could appeal to the Roman people, and this appeal carried the cause to Rome. The law was so far changed under the emperors that the cause should be carried before the emperor instead of the people. Every citizen had the right of this appeal; and when it was made, the accused was sent to Rome for trial. Thus, Pliny Eph. 10, 97 says that those Christians who were accused, and who, being Roman citizens, appealed to Caesar, he sent to Rome to be tried. The reason why Paul made this appeal was that he saw that justice would not be done him by the Roman governor. He had been tried by Felix, and justice had been denied him, and he was detained a prisoner in violation of law, to gratify the Jews; he had now been tried by Festus, and saw that he was pursuing the same course; and he resolved, therefore, to assert his rights, and remove the cause far from Jerusalem, and from the prejudiced people in that city, at once to Rome. It was in this mysterious way that Paul’s long-cherished desire to see the Roman church, and to preach the gospel there, was to be gratified. Compare notes on Romans 1:9-11. For this he had prayed long Romans 1:10; Romans 15:23-24, and now at length this purpose was to be fulfilled. God answers prayer, but it is often in a way which we little anticipate. He so orders the train of events; he so places us amidst a pressure of circumstances, that the desire is granted in a way Which we could never have anticipated, but which shows in the best manner that he is a hearer of prayer.
When he had conferred with the council - With his associate judges, or with those who were his counselors in the administration of justice. They were made up of the chief persons, probably military as well as civil, who were about him, and who were his assistants in the administration of the affairs of the province.
Unto Caesar shalt thou go - He was willing in this way to rid himself of the trial, and of the vexation attending it. He did not dare to deliver him to the Jews in violation of the Roman laws, and he was not willing to do justice to Paul, and thus make himself unpopular with the Jews. He was, therefore, probably rejoiced at the opportunity of thus freeing himself from all the trouble in the case in a manner against which none could object.
After certain days, king Agrippa - This Agrippa was the son of Herod Agrippa Acts 12:1, and great-grandson of Herod the Great. His mother’s name was Cypros (Josephus, Jewish Wars, book 2, chapter 11, section 6). When his father died he was at Rome with the Emperor Claudius. Josephus says that the emperor was inclined to bestow upon him all his father’s dominions, but was dissuaded by his ministers. The reason of this was, that it was thought imprudent to bestow so large a kingdom on so young a man, and one so inexperienced. Accordingly, Claudius sent Cuspius Fadus to be procurator of Judea and of the entire kingdom (Josephus, Antiq., book 19, chapter 9, section 2). When Herod, the brother of his father, Agrippa the Great, died in the eighth year of the reign of Claudius, his kingdom - the kingdom of Chalcis - was bestowed by Claudius on Agrippa (Josephus, Antiq., book 20, chapter 5, section 2). Afterward, he bestowed on him the tetrarchy of Philip and Batanea, and added to it Trachonitis with Abila (Antiq., book 20, chapter 7, section 1). After the death of Claudius, Nero, his successor, added to his dominions Julias in Perea and a part of Galilee. Agrippa had been brought up at Rome, and was strongly attached to the Romans. When the troubles commenced in Judea which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem, he did all that he could to preserve peace and order, but in vain. He afterward joined his troops with those of the Romans, and assisted them at the destruction of Jerusalem. After the captivity of that city he went to Rome with his sister Bernice, where he ended his days. He died at the age of seventy years, about 90 a.d. His manner of living with his sister gave occasion to reports respecting him very little to his advantage.
And Bernice - She was sister of Agrippa. She had been married to Herod, king of Chalcis, her own uncle by her father’s side. After his death she proposed to Polemon, king of Pontus and part of Cilicia, that if he would become circumcised she would marry him. He complied, but she did not continue long with him. After she left him she returned to her brother Agrippa, with whom she lived in a manner such as to excite scandal. Josephus directly charges her with incest with her brother Agrippa (Antiq., book 20, chapter 7, section 3).
To salute Festus - To show him respect as the governor of Judea.
Festus declared Paul’s cause - He did this, probably, because Agrippa, being a Jew, would be supposed to he interested in the case. It was natural that this trial should be a topic of conversation, and perhaps Festus might be disposed to ask what was proper to be done in such cases.
Left in bonds - Greek: “a prisoner” - δέσμιος desmios. He was left in custody, probably in the keeping of a soldier, Acts 24:23, Acts 24:27.
About whom ... - See Acts 25:1-5.
To have judgment against him - To have him condemned.
It is not the manner ... - He here states the reasons which he gave the Jews for not delivering Paul into their hands. In Acts 25:4-5, we have an account of the fact that he would not accede to the requests of the Jews; and he here states that the reason of his refusal was that it was contrary to the Roman law. Appian, in his Roman History, says, “It is not their custom to condemn men before they are heard.” Philo (DePraesi. Rom.) says the same thing. In Tacitus (History, ii.) it is said, “A defendant is not to be prohibited from adducing all things by which his innocence may be established.” It was for this that the equity of the Roman jurisprudence was celebrated throughout the world. We may remark that it is a subject of sincere gratitude to the God of our nation that this privilege is enjoyed in the highest perfection in this land. It is a right which every man has: to be heard; to know the charges against him; to be confronted with the witnesses; to make his defense; and to be tried by the laws, and not by the passions and caprices of people. In this respect our jurisprudence surpasses all that Rome ever enjoyed, and is not inferior to that of the most favored nation of the earth.
To deliver - To give him up as a favor χαρίζεσθαι charizesthai to popular clamor and caprice. Yet our Saviour, in violation of the Roman laws, was thus given up by Pilate, Matthew 27:18-25.
Have the accusers face to face - That he may know who they are and hear their accusations. Nothing contributes more to justice than this. Tyrants permit people to be accused without knowing who the accusers are, and without an opportunity of meeting the charges. It is one great principle of modern jurisprudence that the accused may know the accusers, and be permitted to confront the witnesses, and to adduce all the testimony possible in his own defense.
And have licence - Greek: “place of apology” - may have the liberty of defending himself.
Therefore when they were come hither ... - See Acts 25:6.
None accusation ... - No charge as I expected of a breach of the peace; of a violation of the Roman law; of atrocious crime. It was natural that Festus should suppose that they would accuse Paul of some such offence. He had been arraigned before Felix; had been two years in custody; and the Jews were exceedingly violent against him. All this, Festus would presume, must have arisen from some flagrant and open violation of the laws.
But had certain questions - Certain inquiries, or litigated and disputed subjects; certain points of dispute in which they differed - ζητήματα τινα zētēmata tina.
Of their own superstition - δεισιδαιμονίας deisidaimonias. This word properly denotes “the worship or fear of demons”; but it was applied by the Greeks and Romans to the worship of their gods. It is the same word which is used in Acts 17:22, where it is used in a good sense. See the notes on that place. There are two reasons for thinking that Festus used the word here in a good sense, and not in the sense in which we use the word “superstition”:
(1) It was the word by which the worship of the Greeks and Romans, and, therefore, of Festus himself, was denoted, and he would naturally use it in a similar sense in applying it to the Jews. He would describe their worship in such language as he was accustomed to use when speaking of religion.
(2) He knew that Agrippa was a Jew. Festus would not probably speak of the religion of his royal guest as superstition, but would speak of it with respect. He meant, therefore, to say simply that they had certain inquiries about their own religion, but accused him of no crime against the Roman laws.
And of one Jesus, which was dead - Greek: “of one dead Jesus.” It is evident that Festus had no belief that Jesus had been raised up, and in this he would expect that Agrippa would concur with him. Paul had admitted that Jesus had been put to death, but he maintained that he had been raised from the dead. As Festus did not believe this, he spoke of it with the utmost contempt. “They had a dispute about one dead Jesus, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.” In this manner a Roman magistrate could speak of this glorious truth of the Christian religion, and this shows the spirit with which the great mass of philosophers and statesmen regarded its doctrines.
And because I doubted of such manner of questions - See the margin. Because I hesitated about the right way of disposing of them; because I was ignorant of their nature and bearing, I proposed to go to Jerusalem, that the matter might be there more fully investigated. It is obvious, that if Paul was not found guilty of any violation of the laws, he should have been at once discharged. Some interpreters understand this as affirming that he was not satisfied about the question of Paul’s innocence, or certain whether he ought to be set at liberty or not.
But when he had appealed - Acts 25:11.
To be reserved - To be kept; not to be tried at Jerusalem, but to be sent to Rome for trial.
Unto the hearing - Margin, “the judgment.” That Augustus might hear and decide the cause.
Of Augustus - The reigning emperor at this time was Nero. The name Augustus Σεβαστός Sebastos properly denotes “what is venerable, or worthy of honor and reverence.” It was first applied to Caesar Octavianus, who was the Roman emperor in the time when our Saviour was born, and who is usually nailed Augustus Caesar. But the title continued to be used of his successors in office, as denoting the veneration or reverence which was due to the rank of emperor.
Then Agrippa said ... - Agrippa doubtless had heard much of the fame of Jesus, and of the new sect of Christians, and probably he was induced by mere curiosity to hear what Paul could say in explanation and defense of Christianity. This wish of Agrippa gave occasion to the noblest defense which was ever made before any tribunal, and to as splendid eloquence as can be found in any language. See Acts 26:23.
With great pomp - Greek: “with much phantasy” φαντασίας phantasias; with much show, parade, and splendor. It was an occasion on which he could exhibit much of the splendor of royalty, and he chose to do it.
Into the place of hearing - The court-room, or the place where the judges heard and tried causes.
With the chief captains - Greek: the chiliarchs; the commanders of 1,000 men. It means here that the military officers were assembled. “The principal men of the city.” The civil officers, or the men of reputation and influence.
Have dealt with me - Have appeared before me, desiring me to try him. They have urged me to condemn him.
Crying ... - Compare Acts 22:22. They had sought that he should be put to death.
Of whom - Respecting his character, opinions, and manner of life; and respecting the charges against him.
No certain thing - Nothing definite and well established. They had not accused Paul of any crime against the Roman laws; and Festus professes himself too ignorant of the customs of the Jews to inform the emperor distinctly of the nature of the charges and the subject of trial.
Unto my lord - To the emperor - to Caesar. This name Lord the Emperors Augustus and Tiberius had rejected, and would not suffer it to be applied to them. Suetonius (Life of Augustus, v. 53) says “the appellation of Lord he always abhorred as abominable and execrable.” See also Suetonius’ Life of Tiberius, v. 27. The emperors that succeeded them, however, admitted the title, and suffered themselves to be called by this name. Nothing would be more satisfactory to Nero, the reigning emperor, than this title.
I might have somewhat to write - As Agrippa was a Jew, and was acquainted with the customs and doctrine of the Jews, Festus supposed that, after hearing Paul, he would be able to inform him of the exact nature of these charges, so that he could present the case intelligibly to the emperor.
For it seemeth to me unreasonable - Festus felt that he was placed in an embarrassing situation. He was about to send a prisoner to Rome who had been tried by himself, and who had appealed from his jurisdiction, and yet he was ignorant of the charges against him, and of the nature of his offences, if any had been committed. When prisoners were thus sent to Rome to be tried before the emperor, it would be proper that the charges should be all specified, and the evidence stated by which they were supported, Yet Festus could do neither, and it is not wonderful that he felt himself perplexed and embarrassed, and that he was glad to avail himself of the desire which Agrippa had expressed to hear Paul, that he might be able to specify the charges against him.
Withal - Also; at the same time.
To signify - To specify, or make them know. In concluding this chapter, we may observe:
(1) That in the case of Agrippa, we have an instance of the reasons which induce many people to hear the gospel. He had no belief in it; he had no concern for its truth or its promises; but he was led by curiosity to desire to hear a minister of the gospel of Christ. Curiosity thus draws multitudes to the sanctuary. In many instances they remain unaffected and unconcerned. They listen, and are unmoved, and die in their sins. In other instances, like Agrippa, they are almost persuaded to be Christians, Acts 26:28. But, like him, they resist the appeals, and die uninterested in the plan of salvation. In some instances they are converted, and their curiosity, like that of Zacchaeus, is made the means of their embracing the Saviour, Luke 19:1-9. Whatever may be the motive which induces people to desire to hear, it is the duty of the ministry cheerfully and thankfully, like Paul, to state the truth, and to defend the Christian religion.
(2) In Festus we have a specimen of the manner in which the great, and the rich, and the proud usually regard Christianity. They esteem it to be a subject in which they have no interest a question about “one dead Jesus,” whom Christians affirm to be alive. Whether he be alive or not; whether Christianity be true or false, they suppose is a question which does not pertain to them. Strange that it did not occur to Festus that if he was alive, his religion was true; and that it was possible that it might be from God. And strange that the people of this world regard the Christian religion as a subject in which they have no personal interest, but as one concerning which Christians only should inquire, and in which they alone should feel any concern.
(3) In Paul we have the example of a man unlike both Festus and Agrippa. He felt a deep interest in the subject a subject which pertained as much to them as to him. He was willing not only to look at it, but to stake his life, his reputation, his all, on its truth. He was willing to defend it everywhere, and before any class of people. At the same time that he urged his rights as a Roman citizen, yet it was mainly that he might preach the gospel. At the same time that he was anxious to secure justice to himself, yet his chief anxiety was to declare the truth of God. Before any tribunal; before any class of people; in the presence of princes, nobles, and kings, of Romans and of Jews, he was ready to pour forth irresistible eloquence and argument in defense of the truth. Who would not rather be Paul than either Festus or Agrippa? Who would not rather be a prisoner. like him, than invested with authority like Festus, or clothed in splendor like Agrippa? And who would not rather be a believer of the gospel like Paul, than, like them, to be cold contemners or neglecters of the God that made them, and of the Saviour that died and rose again?
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 25". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26