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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Acts 25

 

 

Verse 1

Festus succeeds Felix as Procurator of JudæaThe Jews in vain try to induce him to bring Paul to JerusalemFestus examines Paul in person, who appeals from his Tribunal to that of the Cæsar at Rome, 1-12.

Acts 25:1. Now when Festus was come into the province. The Greek word translated ‘province’ is an unusual one in the case of a division of one of the greater provincial governments: ἐ παρχί ᾳ . The term we find here was perhaps used in consequence of the importance of Judæa at that time, although it was only reckoned as a part of the imperial province of Syria. The proprætor or proconsul ruled over the greater province, the procurator over the smaller division.


Verse 2

Acts 25:2. Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul. Directly after his arrival at the seat of his new government, the procurator went up to the real capital of the province, Jerusalem, to become in some way acquainted with the national chiefs of that strange nation over whom he was placed. The majority of the older MSS., instead of ‘high priest’ read here ‘chief priests,’ including the ‘chiefs of the priestly courses,’ and not improbably those who had for a longer or shorter period filled the office themselves of high priest. If the reading ‘high priest’ be correct, the name of this high official here referred to would be Ismael the son of Plato, who had very recently been appointed to that dignity by Herod Agrippa II., in succession to that Ananias of whom we read when Paul was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrim, on the occasion when he addressed him as ‘Thou whited wall’ (Acts 23:3). ‘The chief of the Jews’ is a general expression signifying the most eminent and influential men in the nation. Several of these would naturally have a seat in the Sanhedrim; but this ‘information against Paul,’ and request that he should be tried by a Jewish tribunal, evidently proceeded from a broader area among the people than would be covered were the reference confined to the supreme council of the Sanhedrim.

The representation to Festus was evidently made as one in which the nation generally was interested. It is clear that, owing to the machinations of his sleepless enemies, a very strong hostile feeling to the great Gentile apostle had sprung up, of which this ‘information’ and ‘petition’ to the new procurator was the result.


Verse 3

Acts 25:3. And desired favour against him, that he would send for him unto Jerusalem. In Acts 25:15-16, Festus relates the particulars of this request of the Jews to King Agrippa. From the detailed account, it seems that two formal requests were made to him by the priests and influential men at Jerusalem - the first was that he should pronounce a condemnatory judgment against the prisoner Paul, who some two years before had been accused of sedition and other charges before Felix; and then, when this request was refused, on the ground that such a condemnation would be contrary to Roman procedure, they asked that the prisoner Paul might be formally tried before their national tribunal, as the crimes alleged against him had mainly to do with their sacred customs and laws.

Laying wait in the way to kill him. This was the real point of their request. Failing to persuade the Roman governor to condemn Paul, they determined, if they could induce him to send the prisoner up from Cæsarea to Jerusalem, to lay an ambuscade and to assassinate the hated Nazarene teacher. Such a shocking design could only have been deliberately planned by men of position and political weight in such a lawless age as that which immediately preceded the fatal Jewish rebellion against Rome, which terminated with the fall of the city, and the break-up of the nation. No doubt, when the request was urged, the band of Sicarii (assassins) was already hired, and the very place where the murder was to be carried out fixed upon. Josephus, their own historian, tells us how at this time the chief priests and the leading men in the nation were men who, for the most part, were infamous for their wickedness.


Verse 4

Acts 25:4. But Festus answered, that Paul should be kept at Cæsarea, and that he himself would depart shortly thither. The original Greek here somewhat changes the character of the governor’s reply to the Jewish national party. In the English the words are somewhat curt and abrupt. In the Greek, they are perfectly courteous, and even conciliatory. ‘But Festus answered that Paul was kept’ (not ‘should be kept’), that is to say, as he was in prison then, and that as he, Festus, was on the point of going down to Cæsarea himself, it was not worth while to bring the prisoner up to Jerusalem now.


Verse 5

Acts 25:5. Let them therefore, said he, which among you are able, go down with me. Bengel suggests that the expression, ‘which among you are able,’ signifies ‘those among you which are able to perform the journey.’ It is better, however, to understand the meaning to be ‘those among you which are invested with official authority.’ This best reproduces the force of the Greek words οἱ δυνατοί. Festus, in his natural desire to gratify the influential persons of the nation over whom he was placed, never forgot that the accused was a Roman citizen.

And accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him. The older MSS. read only, ‘if there be anything in him;’ in other words, if there be any real grounds upon which he, as a Roman, ought to be again formally tried.


Verse 7

Acts 25:7. 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. As Festus had signified (see Acts 25:4), he speedily went clown again to Cæsarea; and without any loss of time, on the day following his return, he summoned Paul before him. His enemies in the meantime had also arrived, and they seem to have gathered round the prisoner in the judgment-hall in a menacing manner, probably hoping to intimidate him. Without doubt the many grievous com-plaints alleged included the ‘profanation of the temple,’ but other points seem to have been urged which they were unable to prove. Treason against the state, of course, was the basis of these new charges. The Thessalonian outbreak and the old charge that the apostle had been teaching that allegiance was due to another king than Cæsar (Acts 17:6-8), were raked up, perhaps this time with witnesses; but all these things were untrue and unreal, and the Roman saw through the attempt, and listened and evidently believed Paul’s denial of any treasonable designs against the emperor. But in spite of his conviction of the prisoner’s innocence of what he naturally deemed the graver charge, he seems to have felt that in some way or another the accused had transgressed some of the regulations and laws of his own strange people, and that it would be well if he would agree (he never forgot the prisoner was a citizen of Rome) to be handed over to the national Jewish courts.


Verse 8

Acts 25:8. While he answered for himself. No doubt repeating in the main the arguments briefly reported in the first trial before the Procurator Felix (chap. Acts 24:10-21), adding, probably, an indignant denial, and one that convinced his judge respecting the alleged treason against the emperor and the state.

Some years later, perhaps five or six, it was upon this accusation of treason that Paul’s enemies no doubt finally compassed their purpose. They contrived, it has been surmised, in some way to weave round the apostle a network of suspicion that he had been connected with the disastrous fire of Rome—the fire falsely ascribed to the persecuted Christians of the imperial city. He was re-arrested, we know, in that short period of activity and missionary labour which succeeded his liberation from the Roman imprisonment, as far as we can gather, on no mere Jewish accusation of transgression against the Mosaic law and the traditional ordinances of his race. Graver charges, no doubt, were alleged. It was not a difficult matter, in those days which followed the persecution after the great fire, to bring about the condemnation of one of the hated Nazarenes, especially of one so distinguished as the great Paul, the loved and hated. The second imprisonment at Rome, we learn from his own words to Timothy (Second Epistle), was close and rigorous in character. The brave, generous teacher wrote hopeless of life, though full of joy and hope as to his future, but not here, not with his disciples and his friends. After his Second Epistle to Timothy, over the apostle’s life and work there falls a great hush, which tells too surely its own story. We hardly need the universal tradition of the Church to tell us what the end was.


Verse 9

Acts 25:9. But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of those things before me? This was a very natural proposal of the Roman governor. He felt clearly that there was no sufficient evidence to prove the charge of treason or sedition, which was really all he, as an official of the Empire, had to take cognisance of; but he wished to be popular with the leading men of his province, so he publicly asked the prisoner if he aid not think it better for him to have those charges, which exclusively related to Jewish customs and laws, investigated before an ecclesiastical tribunal like the Sanhedrim, he, the procurator, promising to be present and to hear the accusation and the defence. It is not unlikely that Festus anticipated what the reply of Paul to his proposition would be, but he wished that the odium of declining to submit to the Sanhedrim jurisdiction should be thrown on Paul, who, as Festus knew well, could plead if he chose his privileges as a citizen of Rome. As far as he was concerned, the Jewish notables would be able to see that no obstacles were thrown by him in the way of their carrying out their customs and rights.


Verse 10

Acts 25:10. Then said Paul, I stand at Cæsar’s judgment seat. And the prisoner’s reply was decisive. Paul felt that there was no hope of justice for him if he pleaded before the Sanhedrim. Perhaps he was conscious that, if he yielded, he would never stand before that august council at all; for, remembering the murderous plot he had escaped two years before, he feared the Jews, who hated him with so fierce a hate, would never suffer him to reach Jerusalem in safety. It is not improbable that he had even received warnings of the lying in wait mentioned in Acts 25:3. The procurator was the representative of the Cæsar at Rome, and the eagle of Rome was engraved on the judge’s tribunal, who pronounced sentence in the name of the reigning emperor. Syria, of which great government Judæa was a subdivision, was an imperial province, under the direct rule of the emperor. There were two kinds of provinces in the Empire—some under the nominal rule of the consuls: these were termed senatorial; some under the direct military supervision of the Cæsar: these were termed imperial. Syria, and therefore Judæa, belonged to this latter class. Tacitus, in is Annals, tells us how Nero, who was then on the throne, had published an edict which directed that Italy and the public (senatorial) provinces should address themselves to the tribunal of the consuls, and have access to the senate, but that he himself would provide for the provinces and the armies committed to the emperor.

To the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest. Literally, ‘as thou knowest too well,’ or ‘as thou knowest better’ (the Greek word in the original is a comparative) ‘than thou allowest’ The apostle’s meaning was: ‘My offence, if I have committed an offence, is against the Majesty of the Cæsar. Let him judge me, and punish me if I am really guilty. As regards the Jews, you know too well I am perfectly innocent. Why should I waive then my rights as a Roman, and submit myself to their tribunal, which only takes cognisance of crimes which I never dreamt of committing?’


Verse 11

Acts 25:11. I appeal unto Cæsar. This power of appealing to Rome was a valuable privilege of all Roman citizens, and a great safeguard against tyranny and oppression on the part of provincial magistrates. The ‘appeal to Cæsar’ (provocatio) existed under the form of an appeal to the people in Rome in early times; the Decemvirs suspended the right, but it was restored again after their deposition.

The Julian law forbade any unnecessary impediment being put in the way of a Roman citizen who had thus appealed. Some years later we read in the letters of the Proconsul Pliny how he sent to Rome, when Trajan was emperor, those Bithynian Christians who had appealed as Roman citizens to Cæsar. These appeals were heard in Rome by men of consular dignity specially appointed for this purpose. Thus Suetonius (Augustus) tells us that the Emperor Augustus assigned every year causes which came from the provinces to men of consular rank, to one of whom the business of each province was referred.

We may well suppose, too, that Paul’s determination to appeal to Cæsar was strengthened, if not suggested, by this special promise he had received (sec chap, Acts 23:11), that he should bear witness to the Lord Jesus in Rome before he died. It is likely that he felt that all these things—the bitter and ever-increasing hostility of the Jews, the disinclination of the Roman procurators in succession to cross the Sanhedrim and leading men of Jerusalem in their intense wish to get Paul into their own hands—were subservient to a plan determined in the counsels of the Most High, that he (Paul) should surely preach the gospel in Rome also. He would carry out, he thought, his Master’s will, and at all risks, even though in chains, would bear his witness to the Crucified in the imperial city; so he cried, ‘I appeal unto Cæsar.’


Verse 12

Acts 25:12. Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council. The council here referred to was not the members of the Sanhedrim then present at Cæsarea, but certain officials whom Suetonius calls consiliarii. These advisers or assessors were taken into counsel in questions of difficulty. Gloag refers to a similar case in the administration of Cumanus, when Josephus (Antiquities) tells us that the governor took counsel with his friends before he put to death a Roman soldier who had wantonly destroyed the sacred books of the Jews; and to another like incident in the life of Cestius Gallus, the Proconsul of Syria, who, on receiving contradictory reports from Florus, the Procurator of Judæa, and the rulers of Jerusalem, concerning certain disturbances among the Jews, consulted with his principal men, that is, with his council (Josephus, Wars of the Jews). In the present case the point of discussion was, Should the appeal of Paul to Cæsar be allowed or not? If the accusation against the citizen appealing were perfectly clear, as in the case of a notorious malefactor or rebel, the request to be allowed to appeal might be refused by the Roman official presiding over the court. In the present instance, however, no fair ground of refusal occurred to Festus, who proceeded to signify his consent to Paul’s request.

Hast thou appealed unto Cæsar? unto Cæsar shalt thou go. This reply of Festus to Paul, granting him, after consulting with his assessors, his request to be sent to Rome for trial, is not interrogative, as in the English Version. It simply expresses the decision of the court. Bengel sees in the curt phrase—evidently in the very words in which Festus addressed the apostle at the close of the hearing—an intention on the part of the speaker of alarming the prisoner, who had declined to comply with what was evidently the judge’s wish—viz., to waive the right of his citizenship, and to consent to be judged by the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem. Without, perhaps, quite conceding this, we cannot help suspecting that over the procurator’s face something like a smile of derision passed when he delivered his sentence: ‘Well, you have appealed to Cæsar’s court; to Cæsar’s court you shall go,’ Festus knowing well the reception, the weary delays and harsh treatment, such a prisoner would probably meet with at Rome.


Verse 13

King Herod Agrippa II. and his Sister, the Queen Bernice, come down to Cæsarea to visit the new Roman Governor Festus, who tells the King about the strange Accusation hanging over Paul the Nazarene, 13-21.

Acts 25:13. And after certain days King Agrippa and Bernice came unto Cæsarea to salute Festus. King Herod Agrippa II., son of Herod Agrippa I., who died so miserably at the Cæsarea festival, A.D. 44-45 (see chap. Acts 12:21-23),and great-grandson of Herod the Great, was the last of that famous line of Idumean princes, vassals of Rome, who played so distinguished a part in the story of Israel during the last fifty years of the existence of the Jews as a separate nationality. This Agrippa II. was only seventeen years old when his father the king died in the sudden manner above described (Acts 12). The young prince was then at Rome, and was the intimate friend of the imperial family. Claudius, the emperor, had he not been dissuaded from his purpose by his freed men and counsellors, would have at once appointed him to the royal succession in Judæa; but it was urged that he was too young to guide the destinies of that stormy province. So Cuspius Fadius was sent out as Procurator instead; but in about four years, when the young Agrippa was twenty-one years old, Claudius bestowed on him the principality of Chalcis, just then vacant owing to the death of his uncle Herod, king of that territory. With Chalcis, Claudius entrusted the young Agrippa with the presidency of the Jerusalem temple, and the power of appointing at his pleasure the high priest. This was in A.D. 49, the eighth year of his (Claudius’) reign. Later on, the emperor added to his friend’s dominions the tetrarchy of Philip and Lysanias (see Luke 3:1), and conferred on him the coveted title of king. Agrippa II., then a powerful subject monarch, fixed his residence at Cæsarea Philippi, which he enlarged greatly and beautified, and subsequently called it, in honour of the reigning emperor, Neronias. Nero, on his accession, had also shown much favour to the young Jewish sovereign, and had added to his dominions the city of Tiberias and part of Galilee.

Justice has hardly been done to this ‘last of the Herods.’ He had a difficult part to play in the stormy times which preceded the great catastrophe. He owed everything to Rome, and the reigning imperial family, and naturally was strongly attached to the Empire which had adopted him, and that family which seemed never weary of showing him kindness and consideration. This, should surely be taken into account when his Roman tastes and leanings are unfavourably criticised. Josephus writes much of him, and generally in a hostile spirit; for instance, he relates how, during the procuratorship of this very Festus, he had a long and serious quarrel with the Jews about his palace at Jerusalem. They alleged he had built it so high as to overlook the temple and sanctuary. The majority of the Jews, indeed, seemed to have looked upon him, though wrongfully, as a kind of spy set over them by the hated imperial government. But all through the bloody, terrible war which ended in the total collapse and ruin of the Jewish nationality, King Agrippa seems to have acted well and nobly, endeavouring constantly to act the part of a mediator between the Jews, bent on their own destruction, and the haughty Roman claims; at times even, in his longing to bring about a peace, he risked his life.

He died at an advanced age, having survived the fall of the city and the destruction of his nation a great many years, apparently in the third year of the Emperor Trajan, A.D. 99.

His beautiful sister Bernice, who accompanied him on this memorable visit to Cæsarea to salute the new Procurator Festus, when they met the prisoner Paul and listened to one of his marvellous ‘apologies’ for Christianity and his own work, unfortunately has earned for herself a very different place in the gallery of historical portraits of the first age of our faith. Famous for her great beauty, and apparently her commanding talents, her history, even in that dissolute and wicked age, reads, to use the graphic words of Professor Plumptre, ‘like a terrible romance or a page from the chronicles of the Borgias.’ Married at an early age to her uncle, Herod, king of Chalcis, she was left a widow comparatively young, and then came to reside with her brother, Agrippa II., whose career we have sketched above. By this period of her life she had already acquired a wide-spread evil reputation. Attracted by her beauty and wealth, Polemo, king of Cilicia, adopted the Jewish religion and made her his wife. But the princess soon deserted him, and again returned to her brother. It was after the dissolution of the second marriage of the wanton queen with Polemo that the visit to Cæsarea to salute Festus was made, on which occasion Paul made the famous defence before the brother and sister related in the next (26th) chapter of these ‘Acts,’ A.D. 61-62. In the bitter quarrels which heralded the last terrible collision between the doomed Jewish nation and the Romans, Bernice played certainly a noble and heroic part, endeavouring, as did her brother King Agrippa II., to mediate between her countrymen and the Romans. On one occasion we read how, at the risk of her life, she stood barefoot and a suppliant before the tribunal of Festus the procurator, beseeching him to spare the rebel Jews.

During the last war, however, like her brother, she ranged herself on the Roman side. The Emperor Vespasian allowed himself to be much influenced by her persuasion and counsel, and grave suspicions were excited that a too close intimacy existed between the old emperor and the princess. But the strangest and most momentous page in her dark history was her connection and friendship with the son of Vespasian, the hero Titus, who brought Bernice with him to Rome, and is said to have promised to wed her, had not a storm of public indignation at the bare notion of such an alliance for the brilliant heir to the Empire induced him at the eleventh hour to dismiss her—as Suetonius (Titus) pithily puts it: ‘Dimisit invitus invitam.’

The salutation of Festus here alluded to was no doubt a formal visit of congratulation from the Jewish prince (one of whose offices was the superintendence of the Jerusalem temple) to the new procurator of Judæa, under whose supreme authority Agrippa to a certain extent was placed. It was also important for the vassal kings to be on terms of intimacy and close friendship with the powerful Roman lieutenant commanding in the provinces of which they were nominally the sovereigns.


Verse 14

Acts 25:14. Festus declared Paul’s cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix. It has been suggested that the reason of this communication on the part of Festus, was a desire to interest his visitor by bringing under the king’s notice one who was bitterly and persistently attacked by the leading men of his nation—the Jews; but after all, it is simpler to suppose that the Roman governor was anxious to learn more of the strange man and those pretensions of his, which evidently excited among his more influential countrymen an intense hatred, in order that he might send to Rome with the prisoner who had appealed to the emperor’s tribunal, a clear and definite story of the cause. At present there is no doubt that Festus was not a little mystified as to the whole matter, and he felt that from Agrippa he would be likely to get to the bottom of the reasons of the hatred of the high priest and Sanhedrim, and the seeming obstinacy of Paul.

Agrippa, besides, was not merely a Jew, as Festus considered, by birth and education, but was also the appointed guardian of the temple, which was the scene of one of the three crimes charged against the prisoner.


Verse 15

Acts 25:15. About whom the chief priests . . . informed me, desiring to have judgment against him. The Greek word translated ‘judgment’ ( δί κην), in the most trustworthy MSS. is the stronger though unused καταδίκην, which must possess the sense of ‘condemnation’ or ‘punishment.’ It would thus seem as though the Sanhedrim authorities had so represented the matter to Festus as to leave the impression on his mind that the trial before his predecessor had resulted in the prisoner having been found guilty of at least some of the alleged crimes, but that condemnation had not been pronounced. This they now asked as a right at the hands of Festus.


Verse 16

Acts 25:16. 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. The Jews had asked (Acts 25:3) only that the accused might be brought to Jerusalem, intending, as we know, to murder him on the way by the hands of a company of hired Sicarii (assassins) whom they had hired for this purpose. The words of Festus here to King Agrippa must then relate to another and a different request of the Jews, viz. that he would at once, without any further hearing, condemn Paul to death. Probably each of these requests had been made to the new procurator, and having failed in the first, they arranged the ambuscade and asked that the trial might take place anew in Jerusalem, the scene of part of the crimes alleged.

The proud assertion which the Roman here makes to Agrippa, as far as we know, was justified in Festus case, who was reported to have been a fair ruler and a just judge.


Verse 18

Acts 25:18. Against whom, when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusations of such things as I supposed. The intenseness of feeling with which the Jews pressed Festus in the matter of the trial and condemnation of Paul, led the governor, when he heard the words ‘treason’ and ‘sedition’ mixed up with the case, to expect to find in the important prisoner some famous and well-known leader of Sicarii or Jewish rebels; but when he inquired more particularly into the details of the case, he found as regarded sedition or disloyalty to the Cæsar nothing but the vaguest rumours, and that the real points urged against him were connected with matters devoid of interest for a Roman brought up in the Materialistic school of his age. Festus, like another and still more eminent Roman official who appears in this history, ‘cared for none of these things’ (Acts 18:17).


Verse 19

Acts 25:19. But had certain questions against him of their own superstition. The English word ‘superstition,’ like the adjective used in chap. Acts 17:22, utterly fails to represent the Greek δεισιδαιμονί ας here. This word is one which may be understood in a bad sense, viz. a ‘superstition;’ but it also signifies ‘religion,’ without a shade of disrespect or slight being intended to be conveyed. In neither of these two passages is it possible to suppose anything like sarcasm or discourtesy was intended (see note on Acts 17:22). Here the courtly Festus is speaking to an exalted personage known to be a zealous Jew; and although the religion of this strange people and all connected with it was a matter of utter indifference to this true representative of Rome, yet we may be sure he would never risk offending one like King Agrippa when he spoke of the religion of his countrymen with a word of contempt. Render then simply, ‘Certain questions . . of their own religion.’

And of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. This allusion to the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, evidently tells us that in the former proceedings much had been said not recorded or even alluded to in these ‘Acts.’ But here the procurator dismisses the apparent point at issue between Paul and the Jews of the Sanhedrim, whether or no one Jesus was alive or dead, with contemptuous brevity. The strict, unfaltering accuracy of the writer of these ‘Acts,’ in recording at all such a scornful remark, is especially noteworthy. This reference of Festus to ‘Jesus’ here gives us some clue to Paul’s line of argument when he spoke in defence of himself before the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem, and again before Felix at Cæsarea. The ‘Acts’ report is of the briefest, and fails to touch upon the inner line of thought of these ‘apologies’ of the great Gentile apostle. He evidently, on those occasions, by no means confined himself to the general doctrine of the resurrection taught in all the Pharisee schools in Jerusalem and elsewhere, but dwelt earnestly on the special connection of these doctrines with the resurrection of their loved Master, the Lord Jesus. His Master’s resurrection, we know, was ever a central point of Paul’s teaching.


Verse 20

Acts 25:20. 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. Festus hardly represents here the whole truth. No doubt he did wish to be informed more fully concerning the real ground of the bitter enmity which existed between Paul and the Sanhedrim. He felt, whatever the grave point at issue was, it was one of the burning questions which was then agitating the unhappy and distracted province over which he had just been appointed ruler; and it behoved him as a wise politician to make himself acquainted as soon as possible with the varied details of this Christianity in which Paul was a leading spirit, and which was evidently so hateful to the ruling body among the Jews. This full information he felt he could only get at the centre of Jewish life, Jerusalem, the headquarters of their religion. It was therefore quite true to allege this desire of his to get perfect information as the reason which prompted him to wish to have the trial of Paul conducted by the Sanhedrim in the Holy City. But he kept in the background another powerful motive which had influenced him in his proposition to the apostle to remove the scene of trial, and to substitute Jewish for Roman forms of law in his case, viz. his own desire to acquire popularity among the Jews (see Acts 25:9).


Verse 21

Acts 25:21. 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 Cæsar. There is evidently in Festus’ words an under-current of a not unnatural displeasure at the appeal to Cæsar. He was not able to refuse permission to the ‘citizen’ Paul to appeal; still he felt it was somewhat of a slight thrown upon him, Festus, that a Roman citizen should prefer the imperial tribunal at Rome to his own. He could not help feeling, too, that it was his proposition to remove the trial to Jerusalem which had moved the prisoner to take this step. The Greek word translated ‘Augustus’ ( σεβαστοῦ) is an adjective signifying venerable (venerandus), and is the Greek equivalent for Augustus—a title of pre-eminent honour and dignity first given by the Roman senate to Octavianus (see Suetonius, Augustus). It is apparently connected with ‘augur,’ and possesses a religious signification. It soon became the royal title assumed by rather than conferred on, the emperors. Cæsar, if we examine the true meaning of the term, was in the first instance the family name answering to Plantagenet, Hohenzollern, Hapsburg, though it very soon, like Ptolemy in the royal Egyptian line, became a title of the chief magistrate of the Empire. Later in the story of Rome, Augustus was assumed as the designation of the older and superior; Cæsar, that of the younger and subordinate emperor. It is curious that of these two world-famous titles, while the higher, ‘Augustus,’ now belongs to the storied past, the lower and less distinguished has been adopted not by the Roman, but, singularly enough, by the Teutonic and Slavonic peoples, as the designation of their supreme magistrate, under the very slightly altered ‘Kaiser’ and ‘Czar.’ Plumptre calls attention to the memory of this name or title ‘Augustus’ being perpetuated in the month August, and in the names of the cities of Augsburg and Sebastopol.

I commanded him to be kept till I might tend him to Cæear. Thus intimating that he was only waiting for a fit opportunity to send the prisoner under a proper escort to Rome.


Verse 22

King Agrippa II. expresses a Desire to hear Paul himself—The Apostle is brought before the King and his Sister and the Roman Festus, 22-27.

Acts 25:22. Then Agrippa said unto Festus, I would also hear the man myself. Literally, ‘I was wishing’ ( ἐ βουλό μην). Agrippa must have heard often of Paul. Many and contradictory reports must oftentimes have been brought to this royal guardian of the temple—the last guardian!—some representing the great Nazarene preacher as unworthy to live, others extolling him as one of the noblest and most devoted of men. He had long been wishing to see him and hear him for himself. At length the opportunity offered itself.


Verse 23

Acts 25:23. And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp. The account here reads as the description of one who had witnessed the events of that day so memorable in early Christian annals. The splendour of the procession and the glittering appearance of the court, crowded with those royal and princely personages and their retinue, Roman and Jewish guards, the Sanhedrim officials, the stately garb of the high priest and his fellows, the heads of the hierarchy of Israel, must have been very striking; all honour on this occasion was evidently shown to King Agrippa II., the last Jew who legally bore the proud royal title; the same city, some eighteen years before, had witnessed a still more stately scene, a pomp more truly royal, when the father of this king, Herod, was stricken by the angel of the Lord as a punishment for his pride, because, we read, ‘he gave not God the glory’ (Acts 12:23). The word translated ‘pomp’ ( φαντσία), in Polybius, Plutarch, and later Greek writers, is frequently used in this sense. The earlier signification of the term was simply ‘appearance,’ a lively image in the mind, as it has been described.

With the chief captains. That is, the principal officers of the Roman garrison of Cæsarea, the headquarters of the army of Judæa. We have here one of the direct and perhaps one of the earliest fulfilments of the prophecy of the Lord Jesus to His servants, ‘Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them’ (Matthew 10:18).


Verse 24

Acts 25:24. King Agrippa... 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. The expression here, ‘all the multitude,’ is a strange one; but Festus believed, and with some reason, that the feeling against Paul among the Jews was a very general one. Certainly it existed to a great extent among the influential men who guided the destinies of the unhappy people in these last years of their existence as a nation. ‘And all here’ speaks for the unanimity of the Cæsarean Jews in this matter with their Jerusalem brethren. Of the words ‘have dealt with me’ perhaps ‘made petition to me,’ represent the meaning of the original Greek closer; another rendering suggested is, ‘held communication with me.’ It is a general and inclusive term, and comprehends the ‘information and request’ of Acts 25:2-3, and the judicial proceedings related in Acts 25:7.


Verse 26

Acts 25:26. Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. It was the rule in these cases of appeal from the provincial magistrate to the supreme court at Rome, to transmit a detailed account of the crime alleged, and also a full report of any legal proceedings which had taken place in connection with it. Such a report was called ‘literæ dimissoriæ.’ Festus was thoroughly perplexed in the case of Paul. It is quite clear his own feelings led him to look on his prisoner as innocent, but the reiterated and urgent pressure for his condemnation on the part of the supreme council led him to suspect that there was more in the accusation than met the eye, and that only one conversant with the internal condition of the distracted country could possibly grasp the real significance of Paul’s guilt. So, before writing his official report to send with the prisoner to the capital, Festus welcomes the assistance of one so well versed in Jewish religious and political matter as King Agrippa. The expression, ‘to write unto my lord’ ( τῷ κυρί ῳ), is a proof (one of very many) of the historical accuracy of the compiler of these ‘Acts.’ A few years earlier, such a title used to the Cæsar at Rome would have been a mistake. The earlier emperors, Augustus, Tiberius, and Nero, refused this appellation. Augustus, writes Suetonius (Augustus), always abhorred the title ‘lord’ as ill-omened. He would not even allow his children or grandchildren, in jest or earnest, so to address him. Even Tiberius was equally averse to the adulatory title. Caligula was the first, apparently, who permitted it. Herod Agrippa, we know, used it to Claudius; and from the time of Domitian it became a recognised portion of their ordinary appellation. Pliny addressed the Emperor Trajan as ‘my lord Trajan.’ We first find it on the coins of Antoninus Pius. It was henceforth customary to address the emperors as deities. Thus we read such sentences as this, ‘Edictum Domini Deique nostri.’

I have brought him . . . specially before thee, O King Agrippa. Stier (Words of the Apostles) writes on this standing and pleading before Agrippa: ‘Yet more and more complete must the giving of witness be in these parts before the martyr sets out for Rome. In Jerusalem the long-suffering of the Lord towards the rejecters of the gospel was now exhausted. In Antioch, where the president of Syria resided, the new mother Church of Jewish and Gentile Christians was flourishing; here in Cæsarea, the dwelling of the procurator (of Judæa), the testimony which had begun in the house of Cornelius the centurion had now risen upward, till it comes before the brilliant assembly of all the local authorities, in the presence of the last king of the Jews.’


Verse 27

Acts 25:27. For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him. Festus hoped, and not without reason, that the examination before so great a man as Agrippa—one, too, who was so well versed in the difficult question of Jewish law and tradition—would elicit fresh facts hitherto kept in the background. At all events, by listening to the proceedings, the Roman official felt he personally would become better acquainted with the secret history of the whole affair, and more competent to write a clear and definite report to the authorities at home. This report evidently weighed much on Festus’ mind. He had newly come into office, and he was aware that a confused, contradictory statement might seriously injure him at Rome. There is also no doubt but that he was a fair and just man on the whole, wishful to do his duty and to make his office as acceptable as possible among the Jews, who he knew hated the dominion of Rome. This is the character of the man left us by Josephus.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 25:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/acts-25.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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