Paul Before Felix: Part 3 of 4 (series: Lessons on Acts)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

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 free 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 2apologetic 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 9Herod 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 4chief 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 8superstition, 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).

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