Paul Before Festus

PORCIUS FESTUS. In A.D. 59, Felix was recalled to Rome to give an account of his behavior in other affairs and Festus became the new procurator (governor). Nothing is known of Festus’ life prior to his appointment. According to Josephus, Festus is a welcomed contrast to his vicious predecessor as well as to the equally corrupt Albinus who succeeded him in the procuratorship.

TRIAL BEFORE FESTUS (ACTS 25:1-12). Three days after his arrival, he went to Jerusalem where the chief priests and Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. Eleven days later court was convened and the Jews brought many serious charges against Paul, which they could not prove.

The Jews from Jerusalem falsely charged Paul with sedition, sectarianism and sacrilege and he presented his defense against these charges. The absence of evidence speaks loudly and shows the importance of Paul’s balanced life: be right; speak right; and think right.

Felix was a procrastinator; Fetus was the governor who wanted what was expedient, which is possibly worse. He is derelict in his duty here as was Felix, as was Pilate. Festus suggested another trial in Jerusalem, something that was quite unthinkable to Paul.

Paul knew the risk of assassination there, and he could foresee further delays. His imprisonment had already lasted two years. Paul knew that he must reach his ultimate goal, Rome. If he had to go to Rome as a prisoner, so be it. So he decided to exercise his right of appeal to the supreme court of the Roman Empire; the Emperor himself in Rome. “I appeal to Caesar.” After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared, “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

Only if the Roman citizen was a murderer, a pirate or a bandit caught in the act was the appeal invalid. In all other cases, the local procedure had to be adhered to and the claimant had to be dispatched to Rome for the personal decision of the Emperor.

Paul’s appeal to Caesar would not have been as risky as a few years later since Nero was still sane. Suetonius wrote:

Nero started off with a parade of virtue; giving Claudius a lavish funeral . . . As a further guarantee of his virtuous intentions, he promised to model his rule on the principles laid down by Augustus, and never missed an opportunity of being generous or merciful, or of showing what a good companion he was.

A favorable hearing before Caesar might win Christianity recognition in the Empire. Certainly, Paul experienced the benevolent neutrality of Roman law in the decision of Gallio, proconsul of Achaia seven or eight years earlier.

The apostle knew that God was controlling his every step to Rome (Acts 23:11). Paul would use the law to his advantage. In addition, he taught that Christians are not to be revolutionaries; that citizens are to be submissive to the laws that exist within the government (Romans 13:1-7). He had no reason to fear the sword since he had done nothing wrong. The Roman government was ordained of God, so Paul appealed to a divine institution.

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