Paul in Festus’ Court

02 Jun

Festus remained in Jerusalem about ten days before returning to Caesarea. He arrived there with an assembly of the Jewish ruling class. On the following day Festus sent for Paul and put him before his court. Luke says Paul was surrounded by men accusing him of wrongdoing (Acts 25:7), but none of them offered any proof to support what they claimed Paul had done. Once again, Luke shows that those who opposed Paul did so without merit, reminding us of the words of Jesus: “They hated me without cause” (John 15:25).

The court of Festus was officially convened (Acts 25:6). This was not a preliminary hearing, for Luke’s language signifies the beginning of formal proceedings against Paul.[1] Luke doesn’t tell us what the accusations against Paul had entailed, and only gives us the briefest of summaries of Paul’s defense. However, we can draw from what Paul claims in his own defense, that he was accused of breaking Jewish law, desecrating the Temple and, at the very least, breaking Roman law. However, there is reason to believe the last charge was against Caesar, himself. We can, therefore, conclude that Luke means to say that the Judean envoy continued to accuse Paul of the crimes mentioned in Acts 21:28 and 24:5-6. However, the mention of Caesar is new and may represent the Jewish authorities attempt to submit a new charge against Paul (cp. Act 25:5), which seems to be the implication of Festus’ demand at Jerusalem.

The charges against Paul are all theological points, even the one concerning Caesar, but that one is meant to be political. Much has been claimed from biblical critics concerning the naiveté of Festus in his new office as governor of Judea, but Paul doesn’t share those assumptions (Acts 25:10). Paul’s defense included the mention of the resurrection of Jesus (cp. Acts 25:19). Luke has used Paul’s speeches to elucidate the connection of the hope of Israel to the Messianic movement and how this relates to Roman law. Whether we consider Paul’s imprisonment at Philippi or his banishment from Thessalonica, or even his trial before Gallio at Corinth and the accusations made against him at Ephesus, in every case the seditions were begun by others, the Jewish synagogue leaders or other religious or secular commercial interests. Paul was repeatedly shown as a man peacefully going about his own business, and none of those accusations made against him were ever shown to have any merit. On the contrary, Luke shows that Pilate considered Jesus own statement that he was King of the Jews to be politically innocuous (Luke 23:3-4), which, if compared with John’s Gospel, makes it evident that Jesus’ disciples were not to rise up against Caesar (cp. John 18:33-38).

According to Paul, Festus was perfectly able to discern the whole matter before him (Acts 25:10). Perhaps Paul even reminded Festus of these things, including Pilate’s decision concerning Jesus, before he (Festus) ascended to Jerusalem, if, in fact, he had a private meeting with Paul. Nevertheless, in the face of obstinate religious zeal and as political expediency would have it, Festus decided to do a favor for the Jewish authorities and have Paul retried there, promising Paul that Rome would oversea the proceedings (Acts 25:9). However, Paul was very aware of his legal rights and could not depend upon Festus to be fair. Once one begins to compromise one’s sense of justice, it is difficult to know where it would all stop. Paul appealed to Caesar.

One might at first believe that Festus could have rejected Paul’s appeal, but, if he did and did so in error, it would be at the jeopardy of his own life or career.[2] Even if one would try to argue Paul’s crimes against Rome were of an ordinary sort, it is difficult to understand why the accusations wouldn’t be considered treasonous. If treason is an accusation, how could such a matter be judicially decided in Jerusalem? Therefore, after he conferred with his own council, Festus officially decided Paul would appear before Caesar.

[1] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 647.

[2] See Witherington: The Acts of the Apostles, page 725; “Anyone invested with authority who puts to death or orders to be put to death, tortures, scourges, condemns, or directs a Roman citizen who first appealed to the people, and now has appealed to the Emperor, to be placed in chains, shall be condemned under the Lex Julia relating to public violence. The punishment of this crime is death, where the parties are of inferior station; deportation to an island where they are of superior station” (Paulus, Sent. 5.26.1; Digest 48.6-7).

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Posted by on June 2, 2013 in Kingdom of God, Paul in bonds


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