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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Porcius Festus being appointed governor of Judea, instead of Felix, the Jews beseech him to have Paul brought up to Jerusalem, that he might be tried there; they lying in wait to kill him on the way, Acts 25:1-3. Festus refuses, and desires those who could prove any thing against him, to go with him to Caesarea, Acts 25:4, Acts 25:5. Festus, having tarried at Jerusalem about ten days, returns to Caesarea, and the next day Paul is brought to his trial, and the Jews of Jerusalem bring many groundless charges against him, against which he defends himself, Acts 25:6-8. In order to please the Jews, Festus asks Paul if he be willing to go up to Jerusalem, and be tried there, Acts 25:9. Paul refuses, and appeals to Caesar, and Festus admits the appeal, Acts 25:10-13. King Agrippa, and Bernice his wife, come to Caesarea to visit Festus, and are informed by him of the accusations against Paul, his late trial, and his appeal from them to Caesar, Acts 25:14-21. Agrippa desires to hear Paul; and a hearing is appointed for the following day, Acts 25:22. Agrippa, Bernice, the principal officers and chief men of the city being assembled, Paul is brought forth, Acts 25:23. Festus opens the business with generally stating the accusations against Paul, his trial on these accusations, the groundless and frivolous nature of the charges, his own conviction of his innocence, and his desire that the matter might be heard by the king himself, that he might have something specifically to write to the emperor, to whom he was about to send Paul, agreeably to his appeal, Acts 25:24-27.
1Now when Festus was come into the province, after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem.
Now when Festus was come into the province - By the province is meant Judea; for, after the death of Herod Agrippa, Claudius thought it imprudent to trust the government in the hands of his son Agrippa, who was then but seventeen years of age; therefore Cuspius Fadus was sent to be procurator. And when afterwards Claudius had given to Agrippa the tetrarchate of Philip, that of Batanea and Abila, he nevertheless kept the province of Judea more immediately in his own hands, and governed it by procurators sent from Rome. Joseph. Ant. lib. xx. cap. 7, sec. 1. Felix being removed, Porcius Festus is sent in his place; and having come to Caesarea, where the Roman governor generally had his residence, after he had tarried three days, he went up to Jerusalem, to acquaint himself with the nature and complexion of the ecclesiastical government of the Jews; no doubt, for the purpose of the better administration of justice among them.
2Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him,
The high priest - informed him against Paul - They supposed that as Felix, to please them, on the resignation of his government, had left Paul bound, so Festus, on the assumption of it, would, to please them, deliver him into their hand; but, as they wished this to be done under the color of justice, they exhibited a number of charges against Paul, which they hoped would appear to Festus a sufficient reason why a new trial should be granted; and he be sent to Jerusalem to take this trial. Their motive is mentioned in the succeeding verse.
3And desired favour against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying wait in the way to kill him.
4But Festus answered, that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself would depart shortly thither.
Festus answered, that Paul should be kept at Caesarea - It is truly astonishing that Festus should refuse this favor to the heads of the Jewish nation, which, to those who were not in the secret, must appear so very reasonable; and especially as, on his coming to the government, it might be considered an act that was likely to make him popular; and he could have no interest in denying their request. But God had told Paul that he should testify of him at Rome; and he disposed the heart of Festus to act as he did; and thus disappointed the malice of the Jews, and fulfilled his own gracious design.
He - would depart shortly - So had the providence of God disposed matters that Festus was obliged to return speedily to Caesarea; and thus had not time to preside in such a trial at Jerusalem. And this reason must appear sufficient to the Jews; and especially as he gave them all liberty to come and appear against him, who were able to prove the alleged charges.
5Let them therefore, said he, which among you are able, go down with me, and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him.
Let them - which among you are able - Οἱ δυνατοι, Those who have authority; for so is this word often used by good Greek authors, and by Josephus. Festus seems to have said: "I have heard clamours from the multitude relative to this man; but on such clamours no accusation should be founded: yourselves have only the voice of the multitude as the foundation of the request which you now make. I cannot take up accusations which may affect the life of a Roman citizen on such pretenses. Are there any respectable men among you; men in office and authority, whose character is a pledge for the truth of their depositions, who can prove any thing against him? If so, let these come down to Caesarea, and the cause shall be tried before me; and thus we shall know whether he be a malefactor or not."
6And 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.
When he had tarried - more than ten days - The strangeness of this mode of expression suggests the thought that our printed text is not quite correct in this place; and this suspicion is confirmed by an examination of MSS. and versions: ἡμερας ου πλειους οκτω η δεκα, Not more than Eight Or ten days, is the reading of ABC, several others of great respectability, with the Coptic, Armenian, and Vulgate. Griesbach admits this reading into the text: and of it Professor White says, Lectio indubie genuina: "This is doubtless the genuine reading."
7And 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.
The Jews - laid many and grievous complaints against Paul - As they must have perceived that the Roman governors would not intermeddle with questions of their law, etc., they no doubt invented some new charges, such as sedition, treason, etc., in order to render the mind of the governor evil affected towards Paul; but their malicious designs were defeated, for assertion would not go for proof before a Roman tribunal: this court required proof, and the blood-thirsty persecutors of the apostle could produce none.
8While 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 - In this instance St. Luke gives only a general account, both of the accusations and of St. Paul's defense. But, from the words in this verse, the charges appear to have been threefold:
1. That he had broken the law.
2. That he had defiled the temple.
3. That he dealt in treasonable practices: to all of which he no doubt answered particularly; though we have nothing farther here than this, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.
9But 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?
Willing to do the Jews a pleasure - This was merely to please them, and conciliate their esteem; for he knew that, as Paul was a Roman citizen, he could not oblige him to take a new trial at Jerusalem.
10Then 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.
I stand at Caesar's judgment seat - Every procurator represented the person of the emperor in the province over which he presided; and, as the seat of government was at Caesarea, and Paul was now before the tribunal on which the emperor's representative sat, he could say, with the strictest propriety, that he stood before Caesar's judgment seat, where, as a freeman of Rome, he should be tried.
As thou very well knowest - The record of this trial before Felix was undoubtedly left for the inspection of Festus; for, as he left the prisoner to his successor, he must also leave the charges against him, and the trial which he had undergone. Besides, Festus must be assured of his innocence, from the trial through which he had just now passed.
11For 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.
For if I be an offender - If it can be proved that I have broken the laws, so as to expose me to capital punishment, I do not wish to save my life by subterfuges; I am before the only competent tribunal; here my business should be ultimately decided.
No man may deliver me unto them - The words of the apostle are very strong and appropriate. The Jews asked as a favor, χαριν, from Festus, that he would send Paul to Jerusalem, Acts 25:3. Festus, willing to do the Jews χαριν, this favor, asked Paul if he would go to Jerusalem, and there be judged, Acts 25:9. Paul says, I have done nothing amiss, either against the Jews or against Caesar; therefore no man με δυναται αυτοις χαρισασθαι, can make a Present of me to them; that is, favor them so far as to put my life into their hands, and thus gratify them by my death. Festus, in his address to Agrippa, Acts 25:16, admits this, and uses the same form of speech: It is not the custom of the Romans, χαριζεσθαι, gratuitously to give up any one, etc. Much of the beauty of this passage is lost by not attending to the original words. See on Acts 25:16 (note).
I appeal unto Caesar - A freeman of Rome, who had been tried for a crime, and sentence passed on him, had a right to appeal to the emperor, if he conceived the sentence to be unjust; but, even before the sentence was pronounced, he had the privilege of an appeal, in criminal cases, if he conceived that the judge was doing any thing contrary to the laws. Ante sententiam appellari potest in criminali negotio, si judex contra leges hoc faciat. - Grotius.
An appeal to the emperor was highly respected. The Julian law condemned those magistrates, and others having authority, as violaters of the public peace, who had put to death, tortured, scourged, imprisoned, or condemned any Roman citizen who had appealed to Caesar. Lege Julia de vi publica damnatur, qui aliqua potestate praeditus, Civem Romanum ad Imperatorem appellantem necarit, necarive jusserit, torserit, verberauerit, condemnaverit, in publica vincula duci jusserit. Pauli Recept. Sent. lib. v. t. 26.
This law was so very sacred and imperative, that, in the persecution under Trajan, Pliny would not attempt to put to death Roman citizens who were proved to have turned Christians; hence, in his letter to Trajan, lib. x. Ephesians 97, he says, Fuerunt alii similis amentiae, quos, quia cives Romani erant, annotavi in urbem remittendos. 'There were others guilty of similar folly, whom, finding them to be Roman citizens, I have determined to send to the city." Very likely these had appealed to Caesar.
12Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go.
Conferred with the council - From this circumstance, we may learn that the appeal of Paul to Caesar was conditional; else Festus could not have deliberated with his council whether it should be granted; for he had no power to refuse to admit such an appeal. We may, therefore, understand Paul thus: "I now stand before a tribunal where I ought to be judged; if thou refuse to hear and try this cause, rather than go to Jerusalem, I appeal to Caesar." Festus, therefore, consulted with the council, whether he should proceed to try the cause, or send Paul to Rome; and it appears that the majority were of opinion that he should be sent to Caesar.
Hast thou appealed unto Caesar, etc. - Rather, Thou hast appealed unto Caesar, and to Caesar thou shalt go. The Jews were disappointed of their hope; and Festus got his hand creditably drawn out of a business with which he was likely to have been greatly embarrassed.
13And after certain days king Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus.
King Agrippa - This was the son of Herod Agrippa, who is mentioned Acts 12:1. Upon the death of his father's youngest brother, Herod, he succeeded him in the kingdom of Chalcis, by the favor of the Emperor Claudius: Jos. Antiq. lib. xx. cap. 4, s. 2; and Bell. lib. ii. cap. 12, s. 1. Afterwards, Claudius removed him from that kingdom to a larger one, giving him the tetrarchy of Philip, which contained Trachonitis, Batanea, and Gaulonitis. He gave him, likewise, the tetrarchy of Lysanias, and the province which Varus had governed. Jos. Antiq. lib. xx. cap. 6, s. 1; Bell. lib. ii. cap. 19, s. 8. Nero made a farther addition, and gave him four cities, Abila, Julias in Peraea, Tarichaea and Tiberias in Galilee: Jos. Antiq. lib. xx. cap. 7, s. 4; Bell. lib. ii. cap 13, s. 2. Claudius gave him the power of appointing the high priest among the Jews; Joseph. Antiq. lib. xx. cap. 1, s. 3; and instances of his exercising this power may be seen in Joseph. Antiq. lib. xx. cap. 7, s. 8, 11. This king was strongly attached to the Romans, and did every thing in his power to prevent the Jews from rebelling against them; and, when he could not prevail, he united his troops to those of Titus, and assisted in the siege of Jerusalem: he survived the ruin of his country several years. See Bishop Pearce and Calmet.
Bernice, or, as she is sometimes called, Berenice, was sister of this Agrippa, and of the Drusilla mentioned Acts 24:24 : She was at first married to her uncle Herod, king of Chalcis, Jos. Antiq. lib. xix. cap. 9, s. 1; and, on his death, went to live with her brother Agrippa, with whom she was violently suspected to lead an incestuous life. Juvenal, as usual, mentions this in the broadest manner - Sat. vi. ver. 155: -
Deinde adamas notissimus, et Berenices
In digito factus pretiosior: hunc dedit olim
Barbarus incestae, dedit hunc Agrippa sorori.
"Next, a most valuable diamond, rendered more precious by being put on the finger of Berenice; a barbarian gave it to this incestuous woman formerly; and Agrippa gave this to his sister."
Josephus mentions the report of her having criminal conversation with her brother Agrippa, φημης επισχουσης, ὁτι τἀδελφῳ συνῃει. To shield herself from this scandal, she persuaded Polemo, king of Cilicia, to embrace the Jewish religion, and marry her; this he was induced to do on account of her great riches; but she soon left him, and he revolted to heathenism: see Jos. Antiq. lib. xx. cap. 7, s. 3. After this, she lived often with her brother, and her life was by no means creditable; she had, however, address to ingratiate herself with Titus Vespasian, and there were even rumors of her becoming empress - propterque insignem reginae Berenices amorem, cui etiam nuptias pollicitus ferebatur. - Suet. in Vit. Titi. Which was prevented by the murmurs of the Roman people: Berenicen statim ab urbe dimisit, invitus invitam. - Ibid. Tacitus also, Hist. lib. ii. cap. 1, speaks of her love intrigue with Titus. From all accounts she must have been a woman of great address; and, upon the whole, an exceptionable character.
14And 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:
Declared Paul's cause unto the king - Festus knew that Agrippa was better acquainted with such matters than he was; and he wished, in some sort, to make him a party in this business.
15About whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have judgment against him.
Desiring to have judgment against him - Instead of δικην, judgment, καταδικην, condemnation, sentence of death, is the reading of ABC, and several others, which is probably genuine. This is evidently the meaning of the place, whichever reading we prefer. Nothing could satisfy these men but the death of the apostle. It was not justice they wanted, but his destruction.
16To 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.
It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die - Χαριζεσθαι τινα ανθρωπον, To Make a Present of any man; gratuitously to give up the life of any man, through favor or caprice. Here is a reference to the subject discussed on Acts 25:11.
Before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, etc. - For this righteous procedure the Roman laws were celebrated over the civilized world. Appian, in his Hist. Roman., says: ου πατριον σφισιν ακριτους καταδικαζεσθαι. It is not their custom to condemn men before they have been heard. And Philo De Praesid. Rom., says: τοτε γαρ κοινους ἑαυτους παρεχοντες δικαϚας εξ ισου, και των κατηγορων και απολογουμενων ακουομενοι, μηδενος ακριτου προκαταγινωσκειν αξιουντες, εβραβευον ουτε προς εχθραν, ουτε προς χαριν, αλλα προς την φυσιν της αληθειας, τα δοξαντα ειναι δικαια. "For then, by giving sentence in common, and hearing impartially both plaintiff and defendant, not thinking it right to condemn any person unheard, they decided as appeared to them to be just; without either enmity or favor, but according to the merits of the case." See Bp. Pearce. England can boast such laws, not only in her statute books, but in constant operation in all her courts of justice. Even the king himself, were he so inclined, could not imprison nor punish a man without the regular procedure of the law; and twelve honest men, before whom the evidence has been adduced, the case argued, and the law laid down and explained, are ultimately to judge whether the man be guilty or not guilty. Here, in this favored country, are no arbitrary imprisonments - no Bastiles - no lettres de cachet. Lex facit Regem: the law makes the king, says Bracton, and the king is the grand executor and guardian of the laws - laws, in the eyes of which the character, property, and life of every subject are sacred.
17Therefore, 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.
18Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed:
They brought none accusation of such things as I supposed - It was natural for Festus, at the first view of things, to suppose that Paul must be guilty of some very atrocious crime. When he found that he had been twice snatched from the hands of the Jews; that he had been brought to Caesarea, as a prisoner, two years before; that he had been tried once before the Sanhedrin, and once before the governor of the province; that he had now lain two years in bonds; and that the high priest and all the heads of the Jewish nation had united in accusing him, and whose condemnation they loudly demanded; when, I say, he considered all this, it was natural for him to suppose the apostle to be some flagitious wretch; but when he had tried the case, and heard their accusations and his defense, how surprised was he to find that scarcely any thing that amounted to a crime was laid to his charge; and that nothing that was laid to his charge could be proved!
19But had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.
Questions - of their own superstition - Περι της ιδιας δειδιδαιμονιας; Questions concerning their own religion. Superstition meant something as bad among the Romans as it does among us; and is it likely that Festus, only a procurator, should thus speak to Agrippa, a King, concerning his own religion? He could not have done so without offering the highest insult. The word δεισιδαιμονια must therefore simply mean religion - the national creed, and the national worship, as I have at large proved it to mean, in the observations at the end of Acts 17:34.
And of one Jesus, which was dead, etc. - In this way does this poor heathen speak of the death and resurrection of Christ! There are many who profess Christianity that do not appear to be much farther enlightened.
20And because I doubted of such manner of questions, I asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these matters.
I doubted of such manner of questions - Such as, whether he had broken their law, defiled their temple; or whether this Jesus, who was dead, was again raised to life.
21But 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.
Unto the hearing of Augustus - Εις την του ΣεβαϚου διαγνωσιν; To the discrimination of the emperor. For, although σεβαϚος is usually translated Augustus, and the Roman emperors generally assumed this epithet, which signifies no more than the venerable, the august, get here it seems to be used merely to express the emperor, without any reference to any of his attributes or titles.
22Then Agrippa said unto Festus, I would also hear the man myself. To morrow, said he, thou shalt hear him.
I would also hear the man myself - A spirit of curiosity, similar to that of Herod, Luke 23:8.
As Herod, the father of this Agrippa, had been so active an instrument in endeavoring to destroy Christianity, having killed James, and was about to have put Peter to death also, had not God sent him to his own place, there is no doubt that Agrippa had heard much about Christianity; and as to St. Paul, his conversion was so very remarkable that his name, in connection with Christianity, was known, not only throughout Judea, but through all Asia Minor and Greece. Agrippa, therefore might naturally wish to see and hear a man of whom he had heard so much.
23And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains, and principal men of the city, at Festus' commandment Paul was brought forth.
With great pomp - Μετα πολλης φαντασιας; With much phantasy, great splendor, great parade, superb attendance or splendid retinue: in this sense the Greek word is used by the best writers. Wetstein has very justly remarked, that these children of Herod the Great made this pompous appearance in that very city where, a few years before, their father, for his Pride, was smitten of God, and eaten up by worms! How seldom do the living lay any of God's judgments to heart!
The place of hearing - A sort of audience chamber, in the palace of Festus. This was not a trial of Paul; there were no Jews present to accuse him, and he could not be tried but at Rome, as he had appealed to Caesar. These grandees wished to hear the man speak of his religion, and in his own defense, through a principle of curiosity.
24And 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.
25But 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.
26Of 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.
I have no certain thing to write - Nothing alleged against him has been substantiated.
Unto my Lord - The title Κυριος, Dominus, Lord, both Augustus and Tiberius had absolutely refused; and forbade, even by public edicts, the application of it to themselves. Tiberius himself was accustomed to say that he was lord only of his slaves, emperor or general of the troops, and prince of the senate. See Suetonius, in his life of this prince. The succeeding emperors were not so modest; they affected the title. Nero, the then emperor, would have it; and Pliny the younger is continually giving it to Trajan in his letters.
27For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.
For it seemeth to me unreasonable, etc. - Every reader must feel the awkward situation in which Festus stood. He was about to send a prisoner to Rome, to appear before Nero, though he had not one charge to support against him; and yet he must be sent, for he had appealed to Caesar. He hoped therefore that Agrippa, who was of the Jewish religion, would be able to discern more particularly the merits of this case; and might, after hearing Paul, direct him how to draw up those letters, which, on sending the prisoner, must be transmitted to the emperor.
This chapter ends as exceptionably as the twenty-first. It should have begun at Acts 25:13, and have been continued to the end of the twenty-sixth chapter, or both chapters have been united in one.
1. From St. Paul's appeal to Caesar, we see that it is lawful to avail ourselves, even in the cause of God, of those civil privileges with which his mercy has blessed us. It is often better to fall into the hands of the heathen than into the hands of those who, from mistaken views of religion, have their hearts filled with bitter persecuting zeal. Those who can murder a man, pretendedly for God's sake, because he does not think exactly with them on ceremonial or speculative points of divinity, have no portion of that religion which came down from God.
2. The Jews endeavored by every means to deny the resurrection of our Lord; and it seems to have been one part of their accusation against Paul, that he asserted that the man, Jesus, whom they had crucified, was risen from the dead. On this subject, a pious writer observes: "What a train of errors and miseries does one single instance of deceit draw after it; and what a judgment upon those, who, by corrupting the guards of the sepulchre, the witnesses of the resurrection of our Lord, have kept the whole nation in infidelity!" Thus it often happens in the world that one bad counsel, one single lie or calumny, once established, is the source of infinite evils.
3. The grand maxim of the Roman law and government, to condemn no man unheard, and to confront the accusers with the accused, should be a sacred maxim with every magistrate and minister, and among all private Christians. How many harsh judgments and uncharitable censures would this prevent! Conscientiously practised in all Christian societies, detraction, calumny, tale-bearing, whispering, backbiting, misunderstandings, with every unbrotherly affection, would necessarily be banished from the Church of God.