July 11, 2016


Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe



Topic #IV: The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts Chapters 12-28)            


Subtopic F: Paul in Caesarea (Acts 23:23-Acts 26:32)                                     



         Lesson: IV.F.4: Paul Before Festus (Acts 25:1-27)                                                                         



We have seen the Apostle Paul as he appeared before Felix and then in a private interview with Felix and his wife Drusilla.  And apparently there were other meetings we know nothing about.  Now he will appear before Festus (Felix’s replacement), and later he will appear before Agrippa.  I am sure that he rejoiced in the opportunity given him to testify before these high political figures of the Roman Empire.  Remember that when the Lord Jesus had apprehended Paul on the Damascus road, He had said, “. . .  He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and Kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).  Paul is moving according to God’s plan and program.

Each time Paul tells about what the Lord Jesus had done for him, he tells it with a great deal of conviction and enthusiasm.  Paul witnesses a good confession of Jesus Christ.  Although Felix trembled as he listened, the rascality and cupidity and covetousness of this man triumphed.  He had his chance.  He sent for Paul many times but he wanted a bribe, not salvation.

Those two years that Paul languished in prison are silent years in the life of Paul.  Perhaps he was exasperated by it all.  We don’t know.  We do know that the hand of God was discernible in all this, and His purposes were carried out.

Josephus’s portrait of Porcius Festus is much more positive than his portrait of Felix.  Festus was an efficient and mostly just administrator; he also corrected disturbances and caught many of the revolutionaries.  Josephus also indicates that Festus died in office, apparently having served in Judea only a year or two.  A Roman administrator might struggle to balance the interests of justice for an individual and political sensitivity to the local elites, especially if there was a potential for unrest. Luke will make the point that Christians must follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

This chapter of Acts functions mainly as a transition.  Luke is setting the scene for Paul’s climactic speech before Agrippa in chapter 26. As he does so, he strengthens two themes important to his history: (a) the controversies regarding Paul and the Christian Way are a thoroughly Jewish matter, and (b) the legal structure and personnel of the Roman Empire are functioning at this time as instruments of divine providence.

Notice, the first section (vs. 1-12) is crucial because in it Paul appeals to Caesar, sets the direction for the remainder of the book, and shows how the apostle reached Rome.



1 Now when Festus was come into the province, after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem.

“Now when Festus was come into the province, after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem.” It appears from this that Festus stayed for three days in Caesarea. It doesn’t say that he met with Felix at that time, but I believe he did if for no other reason than it was the right thing to do—protocol.

Festus’s residence would be in Caesarea (the capitol of his province), but it was politically appropriate to visit the local authorities centered in Jerusalem.  Festus went “from Caesarea to Jerusalem”; from the seat of the Roman government in Judea to the center of Jewish religious leadership.  Though it was not necessary, it was politically expedient for the new governor to confer with the high priest and the Sanhedrin, and vice versa.

2 Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him,

3 And desired favour against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying wait in the way to kill him.

4 But Festus answered, that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself would depart shortly thither.

5 Let them therefore, said he, which among you are able, go down with me, and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him.

“Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him.”(2) Relations between Felix and the Jewish authorities had been strained, because of Felix’s incompetent administration of the province.  Festus inherited from Felix a province seething with factions, intrigue, discontent, and insurgency.  A new governor, however, meant a new chance to introduce agendas previously deferred, and Paul’s case was one of those. The enemies of Paul didn’t waste any time getting to the new governor to try to get a judgment against Paul. 

“The chief of the Jews”(2)—the influential Jews of the city—are called elders in 25:15: about whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the ELDERS of the Jews informed me, asking for sentence against him.”  They are therefore the same official group that has made up the opposition to Jesus and His followers [saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the ELDERS and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up” (Luke 9:22; see also 20:1; Acts 4:23; 23:14; 25:15)].  They continue to be the villains in the story, and Rome continues to be the protector of Christians.

“And desired favour against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying wait in the way to kill him.”(3) Paul’s enemies in Jerusalem wanted him moved; giving as the reason the frequent assaults by revolutionaries throughout the country that could result in him being freed.  But that is not the real reason.  They knew their case was so weak that the only way they could rid themselves of him was by ambush while he was being transferred from Caesarea to Jerusalem.  Members of the priestly aristocracy would not necessarily appear to have sponsored the violence against Paul (as violent as the agendas of some of them were reported to be, according to Josephus and other early Jewish sources).  Festus would be eager to correct the bad relationship of the previous administration; hence, he would probably try to accommodate local politics.  That would be one of the reasons for his moving the issue up on the docket, and that does not breach protocol.

I don’t know whether Festus was actually aware of their plan to ambush the party and kill Paul.  I think he was, but it doesn’t really say that he knew about it.  However, he refused to agree to their demands and requested instead that they come to Caesarea to bring charges; and that would put an end to their evil plans.

“But Festus answered, that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself would depart shortly thither.”(4) It seems that Festus understood Paul’s situation.  I’m of the opinion that Felix told him about Paul’s imprisonment, and I think he explained the circumstances (v. 1).  I’m sure he told Festus that he had brought him to Caesarea to protect him from being put to death by the Jews.  So when Festus gets word from the Jews that they want Paul in Jerusalem, he could have said something like, “Oh, I will bring him up here.  I’m going back to Caesarea myself.  I’m not going to stay here in Jerusalem.” Here is another Roman who preferred Caesarea to Jerusalem.

“Let them therefore, said he, which among you are [6]able, go down with me, and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him.”(5) The town clerk at Ephesus had a similar attitude (19:38-41). Could Festus have found out about the Jew’s plan to ambush and kill Paul if he were returned to Jerusalem for trial (v. 3)? We don’t know, but it’s possible.

Luke has confidence in the orderly procedure of Roman courts, a confidence he wants to commend to his readers.  For Luke, the way forward for the church in his own situation at the end of the first century is to fit into the Roman world as loyal citizens, trusting in the validity of Roman justice.  See the differing perspectives in 1 Peter and Revelation, written slightly later and under different circumstances, which also deal with the proper conduct of Christians under Roman rule.


6 And when he had tarried among them more than ten days, he went down unto Caesarea; and the next day sitting on the judgment seat commanded Paul to be brought.

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.

“Sitting on the judgment seat”(6) means (1) that he sat on a bema, a raised ‘judgment seat’ where one in a position of judicial authority would sit to render his verdict in a court case he had overseen, and (2) that this is an official hearing.

“The Jews . . . laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove.”(7) Paul is again called upon to defend himself against the accusations of the Jews; which they could not substantiate. It’s a repeat of the scene with Felix; however it provides an opportunity to present the gospel to Festus.

A case could be reopened based on new evidence, but it would be thrown out if no such evidence were presented.  Ancients often claimed (often rightly) that their legal opponents offered no proof.  A speaker often summarized and then refuted the opponent’s charges; like a court recorder, Luke summarizes Paul’s response here.  The accusations concerning Jewish law and the temple (21:28) would be relevant to a Roman magistrate only if Paul had violated the sanctity of the temple (21:28), a charge that had not been confirmed.  An implication of treason against Caesar, however, would be fatal.  Changing charges in the midst of a case was illegal, but with a new governor, Paul’s enemies have started the case anew.

8 While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.

“While he answered for himself” has been translated as “Paul said in his defense,” by the ASV.  Paul’s case is presented as a model for the Christian situation in Luke’s own time, and the defense is that the Christian faith is not against the Jewish law, the Jewish temple, or the Roman emperor, i.e., that it is perfectly legal from the perspective of both Jewish and Roman law.

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 these things before me?

“But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure (favor).History reports that Festus was a fairer and more cooperative governor than most who ruled Judea; he undoubtedly wishes to bring about a good relationship with the regional officials.  Luke knows, however,that law is not always administered fairly, that local politics and corrupt officials hinder the just administration of the law.  Nonetheless, Luke’s story advocates the view that when Jews and Romans judge Christians fairly by their own laws, Christians are vindicated.  The story of Paul illustrates, both to Luke’s Christian readers and the Roman authorities to whom he hopes to appeal (Luke 1:3), that Christians are only harassed and persecuted when Roman justice is perverted by plots (23:12-22; 25:3), bribes (24:26), and misunderstandings (21:27-34).  These factors, and not Jewish or Roman law, are the causes of Paul’s continuing imprisonment.  This Festus is another scoundrel.  Paul is not only in the midst of a gang of thieves, he is in the midst of a bunch of scoundrels.

“Festus . . . answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things [7]before me?”: Though the governor has authority to make such decisions—whether or not to send Paul to Jerusalem—Paul throughout his trials is presented by Luke as a fascinating person respected and consulted by the Roman authorities—“And he gave order to the centurion that he [Paul] should be kept in charge, and should have indulgence; and not to forbid any of his friends to minister unto him” (24:23; see also 23:17). Festus had changed his mind on this (vs. 4-5); apparently feeling this would be a suitable compromise with which to placate “the Jews.” Also he was realizing he did not know how to handle this kind of religious case (v.  20).


10 Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar's judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.

11 For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.

Paul, addressing Festus, who is seated on the bema seat said, “I stand at Caesar's judgment seat” (i.e., thy judgment seat, O Festus); ‘where I ought to be judged’(10) (and not before a Jewish Court, like the Sanhedrin).  This is a compliment paid to Festus, that Paul considered any judgment rendered by Festus to carry the same weight as those rendered by Caesar himself. (Was Paul stroking his ego?)

“Then said Paul . . . [3]I appeal unto Caesar.”(10) There are some people who think that Paul made a mistake here, that he should never have appealed to Caesar.  They think he should simply have let his case rest with Festus.  Dear reader, don’t you see that Festus was going to use Paul for his own political ends?  Festus was going to take Paul back to Jerusalem.  It was at Jerusalem that he had had to be rescued from a plot against his life, and it seemed foolish to risk such danger again.  Perhaps Festus was receiving bribes from the Jews who had come from Jerusalem.  I am reluctant to criticize Paul.  I don’t think that he made a mistake here.  Paul was a Roman citizen and he exercised his rights as a citizen, which was the normal and the right thing for him to do. 

Paul would have nothing to do with this switch of venues for several reasons: (1) the journey from Caesarea to Jerusalem would be dangerous.  The 40 Jews who two years before (24:27) had taken an oath to murder Paul (23:13-14) would probably have gotten out of their oath by then—the rabbis did not consider a vow binding if it was a sin against life—but they would still want to kill Paul.  (2) The possibility of a fair trial in Jerusalem was remote.  (3) He had already languished as a prisoner in Caesarea for some two years. Going back to Jerusalem would have surely meant death for him.  He doesn’t purposely make himself a martyr.  In fact, he did what he could to avoid martyrdom. (The charges were serious enough to demand a death penalty, if the accusations were true.)

“I stand at Caesar's judgment seat.”(10) Paul reminded Festus that he is standing in an official court of Caesar, where he ought to be tried, not in Jerusalem before the Jewish religious court, with its bias against the Way of Jesus, and where, he sensed, he would be sentenced to death on the charge of polluting the temple.

“Where I ought to be judged.”(10) In this case, Paul the Roman citizen has the right to say where he will be tried, but most citizens of Paul’s and Luke’s day could not. They were at the mercy of the local Roman and Jewish officials.

“I appeal unto Caesar.”(11) The emperor was Nero, who ruled 54-68 [1]CE.  This is not a personal appeal, but a legal action analogous to appealing to the Supreme Court in the legal system of the United States.  In the story line of Acts, however, the legal basis for Paul’s appeal is unclear.  Normally the appeal was made after a verdict had been reached in a local court, but Paul’s uncertain legal situation has not yet resulted in a verdict.  Some scholars of Roman law argue that Roman citizens had the right to appeal to the emperor when a change of venue for their case was proposed, as here.  However, Nero normally delegated the hearing and judging of cases to others.  Later, the governor Piney in Bithynia executed many Christians but sent those who were citizens to Rome for trial.  Noncitizen provincials had no automatic right to appeal a governor’s decision (except to accuse the governor of extortion or a capital charge).  Defendants often expressed a willingness to die if found guilty as a way to emphasize their innocence or their indignation at the charge.  The current emperor to whom Paul appeals is Nero; he was still under the more positive influences, he had not yet become notoriously immoral or begun to persecute Christians.  Luke is not interested in the precision of legal details, but in the general picture he wishes to project: Rome is the protector of Christians from the arbitrary intrigues of local Jewish and Roman officials.  There is definitely some irony in Paul’s circumstances—in the light of the prophecy of Agabus that the Jews will deliver Paul into the hands of the Gentiles—for repeatedly it was the Jews who tried to pry Paul out of the hands of the Roman authorities! 

You will remember that two years before this the Lord had appeared to Paul and had promised him a trip to Rome: “. . . the Lord said, Be of good cheer: for as thou hast testified concerning me at Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome” (Acts 23:11).  That’s what is taking place.  He went to Rome by the will of God.  He was in chains—but the Lord hadn’t told him how he would get to Rome.  This was God’s method for him.  When Paul wrote to the Romans, he told them that he was praying to be able to come to Rome and he asked them to pray that he might be able to come (Romans 1:9-10; 15:30-32).  I believe he went to Rome by the will of God.  I don’t think that Paul made a mistake here.

12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go.

“Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council.” A Roman judge normally had a consillium, or council, with whom to confer; because a governor might not be learned in the law, it was important for him to have some advisers who were, although he was ultimately free to disregard their council. Festus has reason to comply with Paul’s request.  Under ordinary circumstances, appeals were granted.  Moreover, in any case the political implications of dismissing an appeal to Caesar were unpleasant (a critic could ultimately accuse the governor of usurping imperial privileges), whereas the benefits of sending Paul to Rome frees Festus from having to disappoint the Jerusalem leaders if his own judicial conclusions are different from theirs.  Although many Roman governors of Judea ignored inconvenient rules, Festus is the one governor of Judea in this period that Josephus presents as most faithful in carrying out Roman policies.

“Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go.” Festus is forced to concur with Paul at this point.  He cannot prevent Paul from going to Rome to the court of Caesar. 


Now that he has made a decision, the plot of the remaining story of Acts is set, and the concluding chapters will describe Paul’s journey to Rome.  In the concluding scene of Acts, Paul is in the capital of the empire “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus with all boldness and without hindrance” (28:31).  This is the goal to which the whole story is directed.




VERSES 13-27

Note, in this section Luke sets up Paul’s fifth and last [2]apologetic speech, the climactic address before King Agrippa in 26:2-29;  Paul has stood as a Christian witness before synagogues and governors, and now he will stand before a king, fulfilling the predictions of Luke 12:12 and Acts 9:15-16.  The Roman governor will have the accused appear before Herod, just as had happened in the Lukan account of Jesus’ trial (23:6-12), another Jesus/Paul parallel in the “Pauline passion story” (20:22; 21:1).

Some argue that Luke did not necessarily have inside information concerning the conversation between Festus and Agrippa II, since he could safely infer its substance from the outcome (25:26); ancient historians could make such inferences and shape them as understandable narrative.


13 And after certain days king Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus.

Festus had just come into office as the new governor; so the king comes over for a visit.  I have a notion these politicians work together.  They all belong to the same party.

“King Agrippa and Bernice.” The king is Herod Agrippa II, son of the [9]Herod Agrippa I, who appeared in 12:1-2, 20-23 and thus brother of the Drusilla of 24:24.   At his father’s death (Herod the Great—the Herod who killed the babies of Bethlehem.), he had been only 17, but was made “king” of a small territory northeast of Galilee.  He served the Romans well and territories were gradually added to his kingdom until they included not only parts of Lebanon and the area northeast of the Sea of Galley, but most of Palestine except for Judea and Samaria, which were still under direct Roman control.  Though actually subject to the Romans, he was something of a peer of the new Roman governor to the south and pays him a royal courtesy call.  He was the last Judean king, ruling until the war of 66-70 brought an end to any kind of Jewish rule in Palestine.  Bernice was his sister, who had been married to her uncle, after whose death she came to live with her brother.  There was much gossip about the apparently incestuous relationship.  Luke is silent about all this (contrast his treatment of another Herod, which recounts John the Baptist’s condemnation of his illegal marriage (Luke 3:19-20).

Bernice later became the mistress of the Roman general Titus, who besieged Jerusalem.  Though he was 15 years her junior, he promised to make her empress once he became emperor.  Anti-Jewish public opinion, however, ultimately forced him to renege on the promise, so she finally left Rome brokenhearted.  Jewish aristocrats who sided with Rome during the war (like Josephus, at least after his capture) portrayed Agrippa II and his sister very favorably and they remained alive when Luke was writing.

14 And when they had been there many days, Festus declared Paul's cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix:

15 About whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the [4]chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have judgment against him.

16 To whom I answered, 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.

“And when they had been there many days.”(14) Agrippa and Bernice stayed there quite a long time.  Dr. Luke calls it “many days.”

“Festus declared Paul's cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix.”(14) Finally they ran out of things to talk about.  Even a king and a governor can run out of things to talk about.  When there was a lull in the conversation, Festus said, “Oh, by the way, I should tell you about a prisoner that we have here.  It’s a rather odd, unusual case.  His name is Paul and he was arrested and brought down here by Felix.  Felix left him for me.  I’d like you to hear him.”

“To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before . . . he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and . . . answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.”(16) It would seem that the delegation from Jerusalem had the insolence to ask him to have the prisoner executed even without a trial.

Here is a good example of an extensive speech composed by Luke himself, but narrated as though a verbatim account.  (Otherwise the interpreter must imagine that verbatim records were made of the conversations between Festus and Agrippa, and that Luke somehow gained access to these.) The speech expresses what Luke considers to be appropriate on the occasion and would be edifying for his readers.

I’d like to call your attention to this.  We sometimes think that Roman law was not just because we have seen how it went awry in the case of the Lord Jesus and also in the case of the apostle Paul.  However this was not because of the law but because of the crooked politicians.  We still operate under the principle of Roman law: that no man is to be sentenced until he has been brought into the presence of his accusers and his crime proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

17 Therefore, when they were come hither, without any delay on the morrow I sat on the judgment seat, and commanded the man to be brought forth.

18 Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed:

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

“Without any delay”(17) is literally a legal technical term; “postponement.” Luke’s report of Paul’s trials uses other forensic technical terminology (such as “send up” in verse 21, a technical term for the transfer of a prisoner to a higher jurisdiction, and “cast my vote against them” in 26:10).  Luke will also use a sophisticated nautical vocabulary in his recounting of Paul’s sea voyage in 27:1-28:14, but neither the one nor the other is evidence that the author was a lawyer or a sea captain.  Similarly, his somewhat sophisticated “medical language” is not evidence that he was a Physician.  The sophisticated vocabulary in all such cases shows that the author is well educated, but indicates nothing about his vocation or profession (3:7).

“But had certain questions against him of their own [8]superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.”(19) Luke again shows the Roman impression that Christianity was part of Judaism and thus should be accorded legal toleration.  Festus frankly confessed he was incapable of handling the case (v 20).  Specifically he did not understand Paul’s insistence on the resurrection of Christ (v. 19).

And of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.”(19) The issue is always the same; it is the Resurrection.  We see from this that Paul had witnessed to the resurrection of Jesus Christ so that Festus knew about it.  Luke here lets the reader see how Christian faith in the resurrection of Jesus appears to a cultivated Roman.  The comment also shows that the “generic” assertions of the resurrection in the preceding defenses included the specific affirmation of the resurrection of Jesus (23:6; 24:21).

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.

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 Caesar.

22 Then Agrippa said unto Festus, I would also hear the man myself. To morrow, said he, thou shalt hear him.

“And because I doubted of such manner of questions.”(20) Luke is at a loss regarding how to investigate these questions.  He pictures the Roman governor in an awkward situation, holding as a Roman prisoner one who is guilty of no infraction of Roman law, but is involved only in Jewish religious disputes.  Luke thus sends a message to perspective Roman readers; don’t arrest Christians, or you will find yourself in an embarrassing legal situation.

Actually, Festus was in a sort of hot seat here.  The charge against Paul was sedition and for that he should die, but he had committed no crimes.  Now Paul has appealed to Caesar.  What are you going to do with a prisoner like that?  So he asked Agrippa to help him out.

“But when Paul had appealed to be reserved unto the hearing of Augustus.”(21) “Augustus,” meaning “reverend” or “worshipped one,” though originally a family name had by now become an official title of the Emperor.

“I would also hear the man myself.”(22)This clause can also be translated “I have been wanting to hear . . .” which would make the parallel to Herod Antipas role in Jesus’ trial clearer (Luke 23:8; thus another parallel between the passion stories of Jesus and Paul (20:22; 21:1).  This would also suggest that in each case the motive was a matter of curiosity rather than a quest for truth (24:25). I’m of the opinion that Agrippa had previously heard about Paul and was actually anxious to hear him speak. He wanted to know more about the charges and he wanted to hear what Paul would have to say.  So they arrange for a meeting.

As a newcomer, Festus would naturally want the counsel of Agrippa, who knew Judaism but was more sympathetic to Roman interests than the priestly aristocracy was proving to be.  Agrippa had a good Greek education, and Festus might have gravitated to him as one of the few local people with whom he could discuss such matters.  Festus follows Agrippa’s advice, and he doesn’t need to worry about Jerusalem aristocrats complaints against his recommendation being conveyed to Caesar’s tribunal (25:26).

It is interesting to see how this meeting was arranged by a king and a governor.  Yet all the while they were actually fulfilling prophecy even though they were unaware of this.  Paul is to appear before kings as the Lord had said.

23 And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the [5]place of hearing, with the chief captains, and principal men of the city, at Festus' commandment Paul was brought forth.

What a scene this was!  Wherever did a preacher have a greater audience than this man?  The setting is dramatic with great pomp and ceremony, which was characteristic of royal families, including Jewish ones.  “The chief captains” may have been as many as five tribunes, Roman commanders of the five cohorts stationed in Caesarea (Given the political mobility of those in this office, Lysias might no longer be there.).

“Paul was brought forth.”Paul appears in chains before this grand company of rulers and kings and tribunes and important local officials—both Jews and Romans.  Early descriptions of Paul portray him as short, course, and physically unimpressive.  Luke undoubtedly was contrasting the lowly prisoner Paul in the [5]audience room with Agrippa and Bernice, the high-ranking officers, and the leading men of the city.  Because five cohorts (each cohort had 1000 soldiers) were stationed at Caesarea, five high-ranking officers were there (literally “commanders of a thousand”; 21:31).  The leading men of the city and the five high-ranking officers would act as a council to provide support for Festus, should he decide to call upon them. 

Festus is asking Agrippa to help him frame the charge against Paul that would send him to Caesar.

24 And Festus said, King Agrippa, and all men which are here present with us, 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.

25 But when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus, I have determined to send him.

26 Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and specially before thee, O king Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write.

27 For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.

Luke has allowed the story to change from a dispute between “some Jews of Asia” and Paul over their misunderstanding of his presence in the temple (21:27-33) to an issue between Jews as such and Christians as such.

“I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death”;(25) though this is what “the multitude of the Jews”(24)clamor for.  Once again the responsible Roman official declares the Christian missionary to be innocent of breaking any Roman law (17:35-39; 18:12-16; 23:29; 26:32; see the multiple declarations of Jesus’ innocence by the Roman governor and centurion, Luke 23:1-22, 47).

“Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord.”  “Lord”(26) was a common title for the emperor (Nero) by this period.  Romans, unlike Greeks, would not yet be using it as a divine title.  Festus thinks of Agrippa, as a Romanized Jew and as both unbiased and competent to give Festus advice.

“For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.”(27) A governor would not dare to send a case to the emperor’s court frivolously; Festus needs to provide a document explaining the prior inquiry (a cover letter).  The charge against Paul is political, but all the evidence involves Jewish religion, which would be incomprehensible to Roman procurators.  Agrippa II is the first official competent in both Roman and Jewish law to hear Paul’s defense; he will therefore supply the evaluation for Festus’s letter to Nero.  If this Jewish king does not think Paul guilty, Festus has protected himself against complaints from Jerusalem’s aristocratic priests.

In the next chapter, Paul uses this opportunity to preach one of the greatest Sermons ever recorded.




Additional Notes


[1] CE refers to Common Era and is used in place of A.D. The dates are the same i.e., 2009 AD is 2009 CE.

[2]Apologetics (from Greek ἀπολογία, "speaking in defense") is the discipline of defending a position (often religious) through the systematic use of information. Early Christian writers (c. 120–220) who defended their faith against critics and recommended their faith to outsiders were called apologists. In modern usage the term 'apologetics' is largely identified with debates over religion and theology in the USA. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

[3] The right of appeal to the supreme power, in case of life and death, was secured by an ancient law called “an appeal to the people” and was available to every Roman citizen, and continued under the empire.

[4] Chief priests.  By this time the new high priest Ishmael had been appointed by Herod Agrippa II, but Ananias, the former high priest, was still around.

[5] Place of hearing.  Also translated “the audience room.” Probably just an auditorium in the palace, not the judgment hall, for this was not a trial—the decision from the trial had already been made (25:12).

[6] Able is used here for “influential.”

[7] Before me.  Festus made the proposal that Paul should be tried by the Sanhedrin and that he should be present to see that it was a fair trial.

[8] Superstition is translated “religion” in the RV.

[9] Herod Agrippa I killed James and imprisoned Peter.