Acts 25 Bible Commentary

McGarvey and Pendleton

(Read all of Acts 25)
Verses 1-5.   The long imprisonment of Paul seems not in the least to have moderated the hatred of his enemies; but upon the change of governorship they renewed their efforts for his destruction. (1) "Now when Festus had come into the province, after three days he went up from Cæsarea to Jerusalem. (2) And the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him, (3) requesting as a favor against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, preparing an ambush to kill him on the way. (4) But Festus answered that Paul should be kept in Cæsarea, and that he himself would shortly depart thither. (5) Let the influential men among you, said he, go down with me, and if there is any thing wrong in this man, accuse him." He further told them, as we learn from his speech to Agrippa,{1} that it was contrary to Roman law to condemn a man to death before he had an opportunity for defense, face to face with his accusers. All this shows that Festus was, at this time, disposed to see justice done. He, of course, knew nothing of the plot to waylay Paul: for they kept this purpose concealed, while they professed another.

Verses 6-8.   He made no delay in granting them the promised hearing. (6) "And when he had remained among them not more than ten days, he went down to Cæsarea, and the next day sat upon his judgment seat, and commanded Paul to be brought. (7) And when he arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around, bringing many and heavy charges against Paul, which they were not able to prove: (8) while he answered in defense, Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Cæsar have I at all offended." The specifications embraced in this defense are the same as in the defense against the speech of Tertullus before Felix, showing that the charges were still the same. Being a "ringleader of the sect of Nazarenes" was his sin against the law; the false imputation of taking Greeks into the temple, his sin against that holy place; and the excitement of sedition among the Jews, his sin against Cæsar. In the last specification, reference was had to the mobs which the Jews were in the habit of exciting against him, whose crimes were thus charged upon him.

Verse 9.   The accusers not being able to prove their charges, and the prisoner having plead not guilty to each specification, he should have been unconditionally released. But Festus, notwithstanding the fairness of his answer to their demands in Jerusalem, was now disposed to yield to the clamor of the Jews. (9) "But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem, there to be judged concerning these things before me?" It is possible that Festus still knew nothing of the plot to murder Paul by the roadside; but he knew that the Jews desired his death, and he here exhibited a willingness to give them the opportunity which they desired.

Verses 10, 11.   The purpose of the Jews was well understood by Paul. He remembered the purpose of the similar request preferred before Claudius Lysias, and perceived that his only safety was in frustrating their present attempt. Fortunately, the very imprisonment which exposed him to danger also furnished the means of his safety. (10) "Then Paul said, I am standing at Cæsar's judgment-seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself very well know. (11) If I am a wrong-doer, and have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die. But if there is nothing in these things of which they accuse me, no man is able to deliver me up to them. I APPEAL TO CÆSAR." This appeal every Roman citizen had the right to make, and it required a transfer of the case to the imperial court in Rome. The statement, "I stand at Cæsar's judgment-seat," was intended to justify him in refusing to be taken for trial away from Cæsarea, which was the appointed capital of the province where the courts were properly held.

His appeal to Cæsar, like his communication to Lysias, which secured his rescue in Jerusalem, is claimed as a sanction of military power. But, like that, it is only a demand made upon the military power which was holding him in unjust confinement, not to add to this injustice the crime of yielding him up to assassination. It is not an appeal from a free man to military power for protection; neither was there any necessity for the use of violence in granting his request on either occasion.

Verse 12.   This appeal put an end to the trial, as it did to the murderous hopes of Paul's enemies. (12) "Then Festus, having conferred with his council, answered, You have appealed to Cæsar; to Cæsar you shall go." The conference with his advisers was probably in reference to Paul's right to make the appeal; for he would hardly have dared, if the right was unquestioned, to hesitate about allowing it. His answer indicates some irritation under the severe rebuke of Paul's last speech.

Verse 13.   The custom of extending congratulations to men newly inducted into high office, which has prevailed in every age of the world, led to the next important incidents of Paul's confinement in Cæsarea. (13) "Now when some days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice came to Cæsarea to salute Festus." This Agrippa was the son of the Herod who murdered the Apostle James. He was, at this time, king of Chalcis, but afterward of Galilee.{2} Bernice was his sister. She had been married to her uncle, Herod, former king of Chalcis, but he had died, and she was still a widow. She afterward married Polemo, king of Cilicia.{3} Like nearly all the Herod family, both male and female, she was licentious and ambitious. But she and Agrippa, being Jews by birth, were better able to understand Paul's case than Festus.

Verses 14-21.   Festus knew that the charges against Paul had reference to the Jewish law; but he still had not a sufficient understanding of the case to report it intelligibly to the emperor, as he now had to do, under Paul's appeal. He determined, therefore, to obtain the benefit of Agrippa's more familiar acquaintance with Jewish affairs. (14) "And when they had passed many days there, Festus set forth before the king the facts concerning Paul, saying, There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix, (15) concerning whom, when I was in Jerusalem, the high priests and elders of the Jews informed me, demanding judgment against him. (16) To whom I answered, that it is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man up to death before the accused has the accusers face to face, and has an opportunity for defense concerning the accusation. (17) Then they came hither, and I, making no delay, sat on the judgment-seat the next day, and commanded the man to be brought: (18) concerning whom, when the accusers stood up, they brought no charge of such things as I supposed. (19) But they had against him certain questions concerning their own demon-worship, and concerning a certain Jesus who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. (20) And I, being perplexed in the dispute about this matter, asked if he wished to go to Jerusalem, and there be judged concerning these things. (21) But Paul made an appeal to be kept for the examination of Augustus, and I commanded him to be kept till I shall send him to Cæsar." From this speech it appears that the perplexity of Festus was not so much in reference to the main issue between the Jews and Paul, as in reference to the bearing which the case had upon Roman law. He discovered that the main issue between the parties had reference to that "Jesus who had died, and whom Paul affirmed to be alive." This Jesus being claimed by Paul as an object of worship, he supposed it was an instance of that demon-worship, or worship of dead men deified, which was common among the Greeks and Romans. It is for this reason that he characterizes all their charges against him as "certain questions concerning their demon-worship." By overlooking the exact mental status of the speaker, and the etymological force of the term deisideimonia, commentators have failed to give it the proper meaning both here and in chapter xvii: 22.

Verse 22.   It is not probable that this was the first time that Agrippa had heard either of Paul or of Jesus. No doubt he had heard much of both, and had some curiosity to hear more. The singular circumstances which now surrounded Paul added much to his curiosity, and afforded the means of gratifying it. (22) "Then Agrippa said to Festus, I wish to hear the man myself. To-morrow, said he, you shall hear him."

Verses 23-27.   (23) "On the next day, therefore, Agrippa and Bernice having come with much pomp, and entered into the audience-chamber, with the chiliarchs and the prominent men of the city, at the command of Festus Paul was brought forth. (24) Then Festus said, King Agrippa, and all men who are here present with us, you see the man concerning whom all the multitude of the Jews have dealt with me, both in Jerusalem and here, crying out that he ought not to live any longer. (25) Now I perceived that he had done nothing worthy of death; but he himself having appealed to Cæsar, I determined to send him, (26) concerning whom I have nothing certain to write to my lord. Wherefore, I have brought him before you, and especially before thee, King Agrippa, that, after examination had, I may have something to write. (27) For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not to designate the charges against him." Festus belonged to one peculiar class of men, who found it difficult to decide how to treat Christians. The bigoted Jews, whose national prejudices were assailed by the new preachers, were prompt to decide that "they ought not to live any longer." The blind devotees of heathen worship, like those in Philippi and Ephesus, were of the same opinion; especially when the new doctrine came into conflict with their worldly interests. The firm friend of impartial justice, such as Gallio, could easily see that they were unjustly persecuted. But to the skeptical politician, like Festus, who regarded all religion as a mere superstitious homage paid to dead heroes, and who aimed to so administer government as to be popular with the most powerful class of his subjects, it was a more difficult question. He saw clearly that Paul was guilty of nothing worthy of death or of bonds; therefore, he would not consent that the Jews should kill him; yet he was equally unwilling to offend them by releasing him. He was incapable, from his worldly and selfish nature, of appreciating Paul's noble devotion to the good of humanity, and equally unable to understand the enmity of the Jews toward him. He must now, of necessity, send him to the emperor, but he confessed that he had no good reason to give the emperor for doing so, and was about to do an unreasonable act. In this predicament it was quite natural that he should call for the advice of Agrippa.

      {1} Verse 16.
      {2} Jos. Ant. xx: 7, 1; and 8, 4.
      {3} Jos. Ant. xix: 9, 1; xx: 7, 3.