Acts 25:1-27

Three days after the start of his official duties as procurator, Festus went to Jerusalem from Caesarea. Whereas Caesarea served as the official residence of the procurator, Jerusalem was the seat of the supreme Jewish authority, the Sanhedrin (the highest judicial body). Therefore, as procurator of Judea, Festus quickly made a trip to the city to meet with the Jewish leaders there. (25:1; see the Notes section about Festus.)

When Festus first met with the “chief priests” (“high priest,” according to other manuscripts) and other leaders of the Jews (doubtless members of the Sanhedrin), they informed him about the accusations against Paul. They were not satisfied that Paul continued to be in custody at Caesarea; they wanted him dead. As a “favor,” they requested that Festus transfer him to Jerusalem. They had no intention of conducting a legal proceeding but wanted an ambush to kill him on the way from Caesarea. Possibly the group of more than 40 men who had vowed to kill Paul earlier were the same ones who intended to ambush him. (23:12-15; 25:2, 3)

As an upholder of Roman law, Festus refused to grant this “favor.” He insisted that Paul would remain in Caesarea and that he himself would be going there shortly. Festus told them that men in authority from among them should come down with him to Caesarea and there present any accusations against the man. (25:4, 5)

After spending “not more than eight or ten days” in Jerusalem, Festus returned to Caesarea. Possibly eight days means eight full days, whereas ten days could refer to eight days and parts of two more days. During his stay in Jerusalem, Festus also undoubtedly would have spent time with the Roman military stationed there, getting acquainted with the commander (the chiliarch) and the centurions serving under him and discussing with them Jewish affairs in Jerusalem and Judea. He probably stayed in the palace that had been built by Herod the Great. (25:6)

The day following his return to Caesarea, he arranged to have Paul brought before him to hear the case the Jews had against him. (25:6) When Paul arrived, the Jews who had come with Festus from Jerusalem surrounded the apostle and made serious charges against him. They must have been the same charges that Tertullus had made, claiming that Paul was a menace and a threat to the existing social order. Yet they were unable to say anything to substantiate their charges. (24:5, 6; 25:7) In his own defense, Paul declared that he was guiltless of any sin against the law of the Jews, the temple, and Caesar. (25:8)

Aware of what the Jews wanted and desirous of gaining their favor in his capacity as procurator of Judea, Festus asked Paul whether he wished to be judged about these matters before him in Jerusalem. By presenting Paul with this choice, he did not need to make a decision that would have antagonized the Jews (as would have been the case if he had declared Paul guiltless and released him from custody). If Paul had agreed to go to Jerusalem, he would have been killed by the ambush, which would have pleased the Jews who were hostile to him. Although apparently not aware of their intent to have Paul ambushed on the way to Jerusalem, Festus would not have been ignorant about the reason Claudius Lysias had commanded that he be taken to Caesarea about two years earlier. (25:9)

Paul knew that the Jews had already made their decision against him and any judicial hearing before the entire Sanhedrin in the presence of Festus would not effect any change in their determination to have him condemned. Moreover, he would not have forgotten about the plot to kill him that had necessitated his transfer from Jerusalem to Caesarea. (23:1, 2, 16-24; 24:27) As Festus apparently did not want to make a decision, Paul availed himself of his right as a Roman citizen. He appealed to be able to stand before Caesar to be judged, for he had not wronged the Jews. Paul confidently declared that Festus had been able to recognize this based on what he had heard. (25:10; compare the acknowledgment to this effect that Festus made to Herod Agrippa II [verse 25].)

If he had indeed been guilty of any crime meriting the death penalty, Paul did not ask to escape being executed. In case there was no truth in the accusations the Jews had made, no man had the right to hand him (a Roman citizen) over to them as a favor. Then Paul solemnly declared, “I appeal to Caesar.” Unwittingly, the Jewish accusers had indicated that judging Paul was beyond their authority, for they had accused him of actions that would have been contrary to the interests of Caesar. (25:11)

In certain cases, an appeal to Caesar could be denied. Examples would be where individuals were actually caught in the act of robbery, piracy, or sedition. So, before responding to Paul’s appeal to be judged before Caesar, Festus first conferred with the “council” (symboúlion). The symboúlion appears to have functioned as a body of advisers to the procurator. These advisers doubtless belonged to a procurator’s court and among them must have been men who had more knowledge about the province and other matters than did Festus. After this consultation that revealed nothing for blocking the appeal, he made the final decision and said to Paul, “You have appealed to Caesar; you will go to Caesar.” (25:12, 21)

When some days had passed, Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice arrived in Caesarea on a courtesy visit to the recently appointed procurator Festus. (25:13; see the Notes section about Herod Agrippa II and Bernice.) They stayed in Caesarea for a number of days, and Festus used the opportunity to tell Agrippa about the case involving Paul. (25:14)

After informing him that Felix had left Paul “bound” or imprisoned, he related that the chief priests and elders of the Jews in Jerusalem had requested that he be condemned. (25:14, 15) Festus continued, “I replied that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand any man over as a favor before the accused faces his accusers to defend himself.” Thus Festus had made it clear that, as procurator, he would be upholding Roman law. (25:16)

When the accusers (the chief priests and Jewish elders from Jerusalem) came to Caesarea, Festus, as he went on to explain, did not delay in handling the case. The next day he sat down to render judgment and had Paul brought in. (25:17)

Festus had expected to hear serious charges, but the accusers did not present any evidence of crimes. (25:18) “They,” according to the perception of Festus, “just had disagreements about devotion to their deity and a certain Jesus who was dead but whom Paul asserted to be alive.” (25:19)

This unexpected dispute about Jewish religious views left Festus perplexed. He then referred to his own confusion about the matter as the reason for asking Paul whether he would want to go to Jerusalem and be judged there. (25:20)

Paul, however, appealed to “His Majesty” (sebastós), and so Festus had him remain in confinement at Caesarea until he would be sent to Caesar. The designation sebastós describes one who is worthy of reverence, an “august one,” and here designates “His Majesty the Emperor.” (25:21)

When Agrippa expressed his desire to hear what Paul had to say, Festus was decisive about arranging for this without delay. “Tomorrow,” he said, “you will hear him.” (25:22) The contrast between the two realms — the splendor of worldly kingdoms and the complete absence of such in the case of the one who represented the “King of kings and Lord of lords” — could not have been greater. The next day Agrippa and Bernice entered with much pomp, doubtless dressed in the finest robes and with stunning ornamentation of gold and jewels. Accompanying them into the audience hall were commanders (chiliarchs) and prominent men of Caesarea. Then, at the order of Festus, Paul was brought in as a prisoner, a state of dishonor from the standpoint of those who enjoyed imperial splendor but as a man entrusted with the greatest honor possible as an approved representative of God and of his Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords in possession of all authority in heaven and on earth. (25:23)

Addressing King Agrippa and all those assembled, Festus introduced Paul as the man against whom the Jews had shouted, in Jerusalem and then in Caesarea, that he should not continue to live. (25:24) Festus acknowledged that he had not been presented with any evidence to indicate that Paul merited death. He added, “So when he appealed to His Majesty [sebastós], I decided to send [him].” (25:25)

Without any evidence of a crime in Paul’s case, Festus faced a dilemma. “I,” he said, “have nothing definite to write to [my] lord [the emperor]. Therefore, I have brought him before you, and particularly before you, King Agrippa, that, after this hearing [anákrisis], I may have something specific to write.” The Greek term anákrisis can refer to a judicial hearing, an investigation, or a preliminary hearing. This “hearing” was not one for rendering judgment. Festus had already determined on the basis of Roman law that Paul was not guilty of any crime and had accepted his appeal to Caesar, which had transferred Paul’s case out of his own jurisdiction as procurator. Festus, however, needed to formulate a letter to set forth the accusations against Paul, and he hoped that the hearing would provide him with the needed information. “For,” as Festus concluded, “it seems unreasonable to me to send a prisoner without also stating the charges against him.” (25:26, 27)



Little is known about Festus, and there is uncertainty about the year in which he began serving as procurator of Judea. The more commonly accepted year is 58 CE. Festus faced a very difficult situation upon replacing the corrupt procurator Felix, and what is narrated in the Acts account and related by the Jewish historian Josephus indicates that he endeavored to uphold Roman law and promoted security in the region.

Josephus mentioned that, when Festus assumed his position as procurator, Judea was plagued by ruffians who carried sickle-like daggers under their garments and carried out assassinations while mingling with the crowds in the temple precincts. These assassins would then divert attention away from themselves by joining others in decrying the murders. Armed with their weapons, they would often go to the villages of their enemies, plundering them and setting them on fire. To deal with the deplorable situation, “Festus sent forces, both horsemen and footmen, to fall upon those who had been seduced by a certain impostor, who promised them deliverance and freedom from the miseries they were under, if they would but follow him as far as the wilderness. Accordingly those forces that were sent destroyed both him who had deluded them” and his followers. (Antiquities, XX, viii, 10)

In his royal palace at Jerusalem, King Agrippa II had arranged for the construction of a large dining room with an excellent view of the sacred temple area. Considering this development to have been contrary to the law that did not allow for others to observe the sacrificial arrangements at leisure, the Jews erected a wall to block his view. Although this displeased Agrippa, Festus especially was displeased and ordered that the wall be pulled down, for it prevented Roman soldiers on guard duty from seeing whether they needed to attend to any disturbances in the temple precincts at festival times. Nevertheless, he allowed the Jews to send an embassy to emperor Nero about the matter when they petitioned him for permission to do so. His consenting to their request suggests that, in administering affairs, Festus did not act in an arbitrary manner. Nero’s decision did not support Festus. To please his wife Poppea, who had intervened for the Jews, Nero decreed that the wall should not be torn down. (Antiquities, XX, viii, 11)

Herod Agrippa II

Besides Bernice, Herod Agrippa II had two other sisters, Mariamne III and Drusilla. Their father was Herod Agrippa I (the ruler who had the apostle James executed and the apostle Peter imprisoned [12:1-3]), and their mother was Cypros. (Antiquities, XVIII, v, 4) When his father died, Herod Agrippa II was living as part of the imperial household in Rome. Emperor Claudius considered making him his father’s successor but the freemen and friends of his who exercised the greatest influence on his decisions persuaded him not to do so, as Agrippa was then deemed to be too young to be entrusted with the administration of such a large kingdom. (Antiquities, XIX, ix, 2) Upon the death of his uncle Herod, the king of Chalcis, Herod Agrippa II received his uncle’s dominions from emperor Claudius. (Antiquities, XX, v, 2)

Later, Claudius granted him “the tetrarchy of Philip, and Batanea, and added thereto Trachonitis, with Abila [the capital of Abilene, a district in the area of the Anti-Lebanon mountains and here used as applying to the former tetrarchy of Lysanias].” (Antiquities, XX, vii, 1) Claudius, however, took Chalcis away from Herod Agrippa II after he had ruled over that region for four years. (Antiquities, XX, vii, 1) The successor of Claudius, emperor Nero, enlarged Agrippa’s realm, giving him Julias in Peraea (with fourteen neighboring villages), Taricheae, and Tiberias of Galilee. (Antiquities, XX, viii, 4; War, II, xiii, 2)

Agrippa unsuccessfully tried to get the Jews to avoid getting into a war with Rome. (War, II, xvi, 4) During the conflict that erupted, he sided with the Romans. At the siege of Gamala, he tried to urge the Jewish fighting men on the walls of the city to surrender, but one of the slingers hit him with a stone on his right elbow. (War, IV, i, 3)


As a young virgin, Bernice was first married to Marcus, the son of Alexander Lysimachus. After Marcus died soon thereafter, her father Herod Agrippa I gave her in marriage to his brother Herod. Herod Agrippa I also petitioned emperor Claudius to give the kingdom of Chalcis to his brother. (Antiquities, XIX, v, 1) At the time of her father’s death, Bernice, though already married, was only sixteen years old. (Antiquities, XIX, ix, 1) For a long time after the death of Herod (king of Chalcis), Bernice lived as a widow, but rumors circulated that she had an incestuous relationship with her brother Herod Agrippa II. In an effort to end the gossip, she persuaded Polemo (Polemon) the king of Cilicia to get circumcised and to marry her. Primarily because Bernice was very wealthy, Polemo agreed to do so. The marriage soon ended. “As was said,” Josephus wrote, Bernice left Polemo “with impure intentions.” Those rumored “impure intentions” were to resume an incestuous relationship with her brother. (Antiquities, XX, vii, 3)

In later years, Bernice became the mistress to Titus, who carried out the successful campaign against Jerusalem and became Roman emperor. According to Dio Cassius (LXV, 15), Bernice lived in the palace with Titus as his mistress. She expected to marry him and conducted herself “in every respect as if she were his wife.” When, however, Titus perceived that this situation displeased the Romans, he sent Bernice away.

While her personal life proved to be scandalous, Bernice, in the spring of 66 CE, at great personal risk to herself, pleaded with the Roman procurator Florus to stop the massacre of the Jews. She did not succeed in her efforts. (War, II, xv, 1) Then, with the tide turning against her and the Jews burning her palace in Jerusalem, she, like her brother, sided with Romans.