Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Acts 25

Verses 1-3

Acts 25:1-3. When Festus was come into the province — And had taken possession of the government; after three days he ascended from Cesarea — The usual residence of the Roman governors; to Jerusalem — The capital city; probably, both that he might gratify his curiosity in the sight of so celebrated a place, and also that he might there, as at the fountain-head, inform himself of the present state of their public affairs. Then the high- priest, &c., informed him against Paul — In so long a time their rage was nothing cooled: so much louder a call had Paul to the Gentiles. And besought him — That he would not (as, it is probable, they pretended Lysias and Felix had done) obstruct the course of public justice against one whom they knew to be so notorious an offender; and desired favour against him — Requested of him, as a peculiar favour; that he would send for him to Jerusalem — To be judged there; laying wait, &c. — Secretly purposing to lay an ambush of desperate wretches for him, who they knew would readily undertake to intercept and kill him by the way. “The high- priests, about this time, were, according to the account Josephus gives of them, such monsters of rapine, tyranny, and cruelty, that it is not to be wondered such a design should have been favoured by him who now bore the office. Josephus also mentions a great number of assassins at this time, called sicarii, or poniarders, from the weapons they carried, by whom many innocent persons were murdered.”

Verse 4-5

Acts 25:4-5. But Festus — Knowing their design; answered, that Paul should be kept at Cesarea — So Festus’s care to preserve the imperial privileges was the means of preserving Paul’s life! By what invisible springs does God govern the world! With what silence, and yet with what wisdom and energy! Nevertheless, Festus was willing to do them the justice of hearing what they had to say against Paul, if they would go down with him to Cesarea, and appear against him there. Let them, said he, which among you are able — Who are best able to undertake the journey, and to manage the cause; go down with me, and accuse this man — In my hearing: or, let those go and give in their evidence that are competent witnesses, and are able to prove any thing criminal upon him; if there be any wickedness in him — For which he ought to be punished according to the Roman laws. So he does not pass sentence before he hears the cause, nor take it for granted that there was wickedness in him till it should be proved upon him, and he had been heard in his own defence.

Verses 6-8

Acts 25:6-8. And when he had tarried there more than ten days — A short time for a new governor to stay at such a city as Jerusalem; he went down to Cesarea — As he had said, several of the Jews attending him, as being determined to lose no time, but to prosecute the affair in the most strenuous manner they possibly could; and the next day sitting in the judgment-seat — As the governor used to do, when any cause of consequence was brought before him; commanded Paul to be brought — And make his appearance. And the Jews, standing round about — An expression which intimates that there were many of them; laid many and grievous complaints against Paul — Doubtless like those which Tertullus had formerly advanced before Felix; which they could not prove — By proper witnesses. When many accusations against any one are heaped, frequently not one of them is true. While he answered, Neither against the law of the Jews, &c. — I openly deny their charge in every branch of it, and challenge them to make it out by proper evidence in any instance, or in any degree. To a general charge a general answer was sufficient.

Verses 9-12

Acts 25:9-12. But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure — To ingratiate himself with them by a popular action, at the beginning of his government; to gratify the prosecutors rather than the prisoner, as far as he could go with safety against one that was a citizen of Rome; answered Paul, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem and there be judged? — Festus could have ordered this without asking Paul. But God secretly overruled the whole, that he might have an occasion of appealing to Rome. In suffering times the prudence of the Lord’s people is tried as well as their patience. Being sent forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, they have need to be wise as serpents. Then said Paul — Apprehensive of the attempt which might be made upon his life in his journey, or in the city itself; I stand at Cesar’s judgment-seat — For all the courts of the Roman governors were held in the name of the emperor, and by commission from him; where — As a Roman citizen; I ought to be judged — And I insist upon my privilege of having my cause decided there; to the Jews have I done no wrong — In any respect whatever; as thou very well knowest — As thou must have perceived clearly by what has this day been examined before thee. Or, Festus might know that Paul had done the Jews no wrong, from the relation Felix had made unto him, as also from such as were present with Felix when Paul’s cause was heard. Thus it very well becomes those that are innocent to plead their innocence, and to insist upon it; it is a debt we owe to our own good name, not only not to bear false witness against ourselves, but to maintain our own integrity against those who bear false witness against us. For if I be an offender, &c. — If I have injured the Jews, and my fault be such as by law deserves death, I ask no favour; I refuse not to die — But will willingly accept the punishment of mine iniquity. But if — As I know in my own conscience, and as thou, from the course of this trial, hast the greatest reason to believe; there be none of these things — That is, that these things, whereof they accuse me — Have had no existence, and that their accusations proceed from malice, and are founded on falsehood; no man may deliver me unto them — Nor can, without palpable injustice. He expresses himself modestly, but his meaning is, Thou canst not deliver me to them; it being a governor’s business, as much to protect the innocent, as to punish the guilty. I appeal unto Cesar — Which any Roman citizen might do before sentence was passed. Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council — It was customary for a considerable number of persons of distinction to attend the Roman governors into the provinces. These constituted a kind of council, with whom they frequently advised; answered — Having called in the prisoner; Hast thou appealed unto Cesar? unto Cesar shalt thou go — For how desirous soever I am to oblige the people of my province, I will never allow myself, upon any occasion, to violate the privileges of a Roman citizen. Festus, therefore, gave proper orders for conveying him to Rome as soon as possible, that he might be there presented before the emperor himself; and, in the mean time, Paul was remanded to his confinement, and his accusers returned to Jerusalem a second time, with the mortification of not having been able to accomplish their purpose against him.

Verse 13

Acts 25:13. And after certain days, &c. — We have here the preparation that was made for another hearing of Paul before King Agrippa, not in order to his giving judgment upon him, but in order to his giving advice concerning him, or rather, only to gratify his curiosity. Christ had said concerning his disciples, and particularly concerning his apostles, that they should be brought before governors and kings, and here we find his prediction accomplished. The preceding verses inform us of Paul’s being brought before Festus the governor, and the following of his being brought before Agrippa the king, for a testimony to both. King Agrippa and Bernice — His sister, with whom he lived in a scandalous familiarity; came to Cesarea to salute Festus — To congratulate him on his arrival in the province. The prince, here mentioned, was the son of Herod Agrippa, mentioned Acts 12:1, (where see the note,) and grandson of Aristobulus, the son of Herod the Great. As he was but seventeen years of age when his father died, the Emperor Claudius did not think proper to appoint him king of Judea in the room of his father, but made it a Roman province; however, on the death of his uncle, Herod Antipas, (of whom see note on Matthew 14:1,) he made him king of Chalcis, which, after he had governed it four years, he exchanged for a greater kingdom, and gave him the tetrarchies of Philip and Lysanias, to which Nero afterward added part of Galilee, with several towns in Peræa. Of Bernice’s incestuous commerce with this Agrippa, Juvenal speaks, Sat. 6. ver. 155, as well as Josephus, Antiq., lib. 20. cap. 7. It is certain this lady had first been married to her own uncle, Herod, king of Chalcis; after whose death, on the report of her scandalous familiarity with her brother Agrippa, she married Polemon, king of Cilicia, whom she soon forsook, though he had submitted to circumcision to obtain the alliance. This was also the person whom Titus Vespasian so passionately loved, and whom he would have made empress, had not the clamours of the Roman people prevented it.

Verses 14-16

Acts 25:14-16. When they had been there many days — Among other subjects of discourse which occurred, Festus declared Paul’s cause unto the king — For, as the crime of which he was accused related wholly to the Jewish religion, in which the king was very knowing, Festus wished to have his opinion upon it; and for that purpose began telling him that Felix had left Paul in bonds, and that the chief priests and elders at Jerusalem had applied to him, desiring judgment against him — As upon a previous conviction falsely pretended. To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans — When a crime is charged upon a person; to deliver any man to be put to death before he who is accused have the accusers — Openly produced to give their evidence against him; face to face, and he have also license to answer for himself — To make his defence; concerning the crime laid against him — How excellent a rule, to condemn no one unheard! A rule which, as it is common to all nations, (courts of inquisition only excepted,) so it ought to direct our proceedings in all affairs, not only in public but private life.

Verse 18-19

Acts 25:18-19. Against whom, when the accusers stood up — And offered what they had to say; they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed — From the general clamour they had made against him, as a seditious and dangerous person, they would have done. He had inferred, from the eagerness of their prosecution, and their urging the matter thus upon the Roman governors, one after another, 1st, That they had something to accuse him of, which was dangerous either to private property or to the public peace. Such were the outcries against the primitive Christians: so loud, so fierce, that the standers by, who judged of them by those outcries, could not but conclude that they were the worst of men; and, indeed, to represent them as such was the design of that clamour, as it was of that against our Saviour. 2d, That they had something to accuse him of that was cognizable in the Roman courts, and of which the governor was properly the judge; as Gallio expected, Acts 18:14. Otherwise it was absurd and ridiculous to trouble him with it. But had certain questions — Disputable matters; against him of their own superstition — Or religion rather; for, as Agrippa was a Jew, and now came to pay a visit of respect to Festus on his arrival at his province, it is improbable that he would use so rude a word as one that properly signified superstition: so that this text affords a further argument that the word δεισιδαιμονια will admit a milder interpretation, as has been observed on Acts 17:22; and of one Jesus — Thus does Festus speak of him to whom every knee shall bow; which was dead — Or had been dead; whom Paul — Unaccountably; affirmed to be alive — Though, at the same time, he acknowledged that he had been crucified at Jerusalem, and expired on the cross. And was this a doubtful question? But why, O Festus, didst thou doubt concerning it? Only because thou didst not search into the evidence of it. Otherwise that evidence might have opened to thee till it had grown up into full conviction; and thy illustrious prisoner had led thee into the glorious liberty of the children of God!

Verse 20-21

Acts 25:20-21. And because I doubted of such manner of questions — Whether they were dangerous to the state and punishable, and whether I was a competent judge of them; I asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem — I proposed that the cause should be adjourned to the Jewish courts, as best able to take cognizance of an affair of this nature. But when Paul appealed to Augustus — Being apprehensive, as I plainly perceived, of some clandestine attempt upon his life; I commanded him to be kept — Under confinement as before; till I might send him to Cesar — By some convenient opportunity.

Verse 22

Acts 25:22. Then Agrippa said, I would also hear the man myself — That I may learn from his own mouth what it is that he maintains, and on what principles he proceeds. This demand the king made because he was well acquainted with the religious tenets, disputes, and expectations of the Jews, and because many wonderful things had been reported to him concerning Jesus and his disciples, and he had heard of Paul, and knew of what vast concern this question was which Festus made so light of; namely, whether Jesus was alive or not. Many great men think it below them to take cognizance of the matters of religion, except they can hear of them while they sit in judgment with authority, and act in character, like themselves. Agrippa would not, on any account, have gone to a synagogue, or religious meeting, to hear Paul preach, no more than Herod to hear Jesus; and yet they were both glad to have these persons brought before them, but only to satisfy their curiosity. To-morrow, said he, thou shalt hear him — There was a gracious providence in this for the encouragement of Paul, who seemed buried alive in his imprisonment, and deprived of almost all opportunities of doing good. We know not that any of his epistles were written during his confinement at Cesarea. What opportunity he had of doing good to his friends that visited him, or perhaps to a little congregation of them, that might assemble to hear him every Lord’s day, was but a low and narrow sphere of usefulness: so that he seemed to be thrown by as a broken vessel, in which there was no pleasure; but he has now an opportunity of preaching Christ to a great congregation, and that of great ones. Felix heard him in private concerning the faith in Christ; but Agrippa and Festus agree that he shall be heard in public. And we have reason to think that his sermon, contained in the next chapter, though it might not be so instrumental as some other of his sermons for the conversion of individual persons, yet redounded as much to the honour of Christ and Christianity as any sermon he ever preached.

Verses 23-27

Acts 25:23-27. On the morrow, &c. — Festus, accordingly, performed his promise to the king; and when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp — Of apparel, attendants, guards, &c.; Greek, μετα πολλης φαντασιας, with great show, or splendour. But all this pomp and show was far outshone by the real glory of the poor prisoner at the bar. What was the honour of their fine clothes, compared with his wisdom, grace, and holiness; his courage and constancy in suffering for Christ? His bonds in so good a cause were more glorious than their chains of gold, and his guards than their equipage. Who would be fond of worldly pomp, that here sees so bad a woman loaded with it, and so good a man loaded with the reverse of it? And was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains, χιλιαρχοις, the tribunes, and principal men of the city — Men of the greatest note and eminence, that is, the chief officers, both military and civil; at Festus’s commandment Paul was brought forth — Before this splendid audience. Then Festus said — Festus, rising up, made an elegant speech to the assembly, in which he declared that at the former trial no crime had been proved against the prisoner; but that as he had appealed to Cesar, he had brought him forth, that, after a second examination, he might have something more certain to write to the emperor concerning the crimes laid to the prisoner’s charge. For, says he, it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner — Especially so far as Rome; and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him — That the matter may be prepared as much as possible, and put in readiness, for the emperor’s determination.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 25". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.