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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Acts 25

Verse 1


(1) After three days he ascended . . .—Better, he went up. (See Note on Acts 24:1.)

Verse 2

(2) Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews . . .—Some of the best MSS. give the plural, “the chief priests.” It is clear that they hoped to take advantage of the newness of Festus to his office. He was likely enough, they thought, to accept their statements and to yield to the pressure of those who had shown themselves powerful enough to bring about his predecessor’s recall. And they have not forgotten their old tactics. Once again priests and scribes are ready to avail themselves of the weapon of the assassin. Possibly Festus had heard from Felix or Lysias, or others, of the former plot, and took care to be on his guard against this, and so the conspirators were again baffled.

Verse 5

(5) Let them . . . which among you are able.—The adjective is probably used, as in 1 Corinthians 1:26, Revelation 6:15, in the sense of “powerful,” “chief,” rather than as specifically referring to their being able to accuse the man of whom they had complained. What Festus demanded was that the charges against St. Paul should be supported by the leaders and representatives of the people, and not by a hired rhetorician like Tertullus.

If there be any wickedness in him.—The better MSS. give simply, “if there be anything,” practically, i.e., anything worth inquiring into.

Verse 7

(7) Many and grievous complaints.—These were, we may well believe, of the same nature as those on which Tertullus had harangued. The line of St. Paul’s defence indicates the three counts of the indictment. He had broken, it was alleged, the law of Israel, which Rome recognised as the religion of the province, and was therefore subject to the spiritual jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin; he had profaned the Temple; he was a disturber of the peace of the empire, and taught that there was another king than Nero.

Verse 9

(9) Willing to do the Jews a pleasure.—See Note on Acts 24:27. The invitation was in itself plausible enough. It practically admitted that there was no evidence on the last head of the accusation of which he, as procurator, need take cognizance. It offered the prisoner a trial before his own national tribunal, with the presence of the procurator as a check upon violence and injustice. It is manifest from St. Paul’s answer that this was practically what Festus meant. The proposed trial would, he says, not be before Caesar’s judgment seat, and he, for his part, preferred the secular to the ecclesiastical tribunal.

Verse 10

(10) I stand at Cæsar’s judgment seat.—The Greek verb is given in a peculiar form, which carries with it the meaning of, I am standing, and have stood all along . . . He, as a Roman citizen, claimed the right to be tried by a Roman court, and finding that the procurator had shown a bias which left little hope of a fair trial, exercised the right which attached to his citizenship, and appealed to the highest court of all, that of the emperor himself. This interpretation seems every way more rational than that which paraphrases St. Paul’s words thus: “I stand already in mind and purpose before the emperor’s court, for God has shown me by a special revelation that I am to preach the gospel at Rome, and my trial there is accordingly part of the divinely ordered course of things which cannot be altered.” Whatever influence the promise of Acts 23:11 may have had on the Apostle’s conduct, it is scarcely probable that he would have referred to it in this way in giving his reason for appealing to Cæsar.

As thou very well knowest.—We have, as in Acts 24:22, the comparative of the adverb. Festus knew this too well to need any further proof. He had heard the random charges, and had seen the worthlessness of the evidence.

Verse 11

(11) No man may deliver me unto them.—Literally, no man may give me up to them as a favour. The words show that he saw through the simulated fairness of the procurator, and did not shrink from showing that he did so.

I appeal unto Cæsar.—The history of this right of appeal affords a singular illustration of the manner in which the republic had been transformed into a despotic monarchy. Theoretically the emperor was but the imperator, or commander-in-chief of the armies of the state, appointed by the senate, and acting under its direction. Consuls were still elected every year, and went through the shadowy functions of their office. Many of the provinces (see Notes on Acts 13:7; Acts 18:12), were directly under the control of the senate, and were accordingly governed by proconsuls. But Augustus had contrived to concentrate in himself all the powers that in the days of the republic had checked and balanced the exercise of individual authority. He was supreme pontiff, and as such regulated the religion of the state; permanent censor, and as such could give or recall the privileges of citizenship at his pleasure. The Tribunicia potestas, which had originally been conferred on the tribunes of the plebs so that they might protect members of their order who appealed to them against the injustice of patrician magistrates, was attached to his office. As such he became the final Court of Appeal from all subordinate tribunals, and so, by a subtle artifice, what had been intended as a safeguard to freedom became the instrument of a centralised tyranny. With this aspect of the matter St. Paul had, of course, nothing to do. It was enough for him that by this appeal he delivered himself from the injustice of a weak and temporising judge, and made his long-delayed journey to Rome a matter of moral certainty.

Verse 12

(12) Hast thou appealed unto Cæsar? unto Cæsar shalt thou go.—There is obviously something like a sneer in the procurator’s acceptance of St. Paul’s decision. He knew, it may be, better than the Apostle to what kind of judge the latter was appealing, what long delays there would be before the cause was heard, how little chance there was of a righteous judgment at last.

Verse 13

(13) King Agrippa and Bernice.—Each of the characters thus brought on the scene has a somewhat memorable history. (1) The former closes the line of the Herodian house. He was the son of the Agrippa whose tragic end is related in Acts 12:20-23, 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 Judæa, 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. Four years later he received the tetrarchies that had been governed by his great-uncles Philip and Lysanias (Luke 3:1), with the title of king. In A.D. 55 Nero increased his kingdom by adding some of the cities of Galilee (Jos. Ant. xix. 9, § 1; xx. 1, § 3; 8, § 5). He lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem, and died under Trajan (A.D. 100) at the age of seventy-three. (2) The history of Bernice, or Berenice (the name seems to have been a Macedonian form of Pherenice) reads like a horrible romance, or a page from the chronicles of the 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. (See Note on Matthew 14:1.) 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, and was reproducing in Judæa the vices of which his father’s friend, Caligula, had set so terrible an example (Sueton. Calig. c. 24). 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 (see Note on Acts 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, out his grief in doing so was matter of notoriety, “Dimisit invitus invitam” (Sueton. Titus, c. 7 Tacit. Hist. ii. 81; Jos. Ant. xx. 7, § 3). The whole story furnished Juvenal with a picture of depravity which stands almost as a pendent to that of Messalina (Sat. vi. 155–9).

To salute Festus.—This visit was probably, as the word indicates, of the nature of a formal recognition of the new procurator on his arrival in the province.

Verse 14

(14) Festus declared Paul’s cause unto the king.—The matter seems to have come in, as it were, in the course of conversation. Festus probably thought that Agrippa, who knew all about the Jews and their religion, could throw some light on the peculiar position of his prisoner, who, though a Jew, and professing the utmost reverence for the Law and the Temple, was yet accused and denounced by his compatriots.

Verse 16

(16) To whom I answered . . .—The facts of the case are stated with fair accuracy, but there is a certain measure of ostentation in the way in which Festus speaks of “the manner of the Romans.” It was, perhaps, natural that a procurator just entering on his term of office, should announce, as with a flourish of trumpets, that he at least was going to be rigidly impartial in his administration of justice. It is fair to state that, as far as we know, his conduct was not inconsistent with his profession.

To deliver any man . . .—The use of the same verb as that which St. Paul had used in Acts 25:16 shows that the arrow shot at a venture had hit the mark. Festus is eager to repel the charge. The words “to die” (literally, unto destruction) are not found in the best MSS., and seem to have been added by way of explanation. The language of the procurator is strictly official. The accused and the accusers are to stand face to face, and the former is to have an opening for his apologia, or defence, in answer to the indictment.

Verse 19

(19) Certain questions against him of their own superstition.—The word is of the same import as that used by St. Paul in Acts 17:22 (where see Note), and the use here shows its comparatively neutral character. Festus was speaking to a Jewish king, and would not knowingly have used an offensive term. He falls back, accordingly, upon one which an outsider might use of any local religion which he did not himself accept. What follows shows that he looked on St. Paul as not merely affirming, with other Pharisees, the general doctrine of a resurrection, but as connecting it with the specific witness that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Verse 20

(20) Because I doubted of such manner of questions.—Better, I, being perplexed as to the inquiry about these things. The word implies more than mere doubt, and his perplexity is his justification for bringing the matter before a prince who, being a Jew, might be a better judge of the point at issue.

Verse 21

(21) Unto the hearing of Augustus.—The title is the Greek equivalent, as seen in the name Sebaste (= Augusta) given to Samaria, for the epithet which, like our “his majesty,” had become a kind of official title of the Roman emperor. It had first been given by the Senate to Octavianus (Sueton. Aug. c. 7), and was adopted by his successors. As connected with “augur, it had originally, like Sebastos, a religious connotation. The month of August, dedicated to the first emperor as July had been dedicated to Julius, and the names of Augsburg and Sebastopol, arc interesting as perpetuating its memory. The word for “hearing” (the same as our medical term diagnosis) corresponds rather to our thorough investigation.

Verse 22

(22) I would also hear the man myself.—Better, I also was myself wishing; the phrase implying that the wish was not now formed for the first time.

Verse 23

(23) When Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp.—The description may be noted as probably coming from one who had been an eye-witness of the stately parade, and was able to report with precision all that had passed. The fact was the first fulfilment of the promise that the Apostle was to bear His witness before “kings” as well as rulers (Acts 9:15). The Greek word for “pomp” (more literally, show) is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. There is an almost tragic pathos in the thought, which must have been present to the mind of the historian, and perhaps, also, to that of others, that this display of the pride of state was exhibited in the very city that had witnessed the terrible chastisement of a like display in his father. The vice was inherited: the lesson had not been learnt.

The chief captains.—Literally, chiliarchs, as in Acts 21:31.

Verse 24

(24) Have dealt with me.—The general term, “held communication with me,” is chosen to cover the proposal of Acts 25:2-3, as well as the direct accusation of Acts 25:7. It would seem from the addition, “and also here,” that the Jews of Cæsarea had also taken part in the proceedings, and that they too had been clamouring for a capital sentence.

Verse 25

(25) When I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death.—The words should be noted as an emphatic declaration on the part of Festus that the accusers had failed to sustain their indictment. But a procurator transmitting a case to the supreme court of the emperor was bound to send a formal report as to the matter out of which the appeal arose, and it was on this point that the “perplexed” ruler desired the advice and co-operation of Agrippa.

Verse 26

(26) To write unto my lord.—The Greek corresponds to the title of “Dominus,” which, though declined by Augustus and Tiberius (Sueton. Octav. c. 53; Tiber. c. 27), had been assumed by Caligula and Nero. The first of the emperors had rejected it as an “accursed and ill-omened title,” and had not allowed it to be used even by his children or grand-children, either seriously or in play. The name “Augustus,” with its religious associations, was enough for him.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Acts 25". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.