Acts 25 – Who was Festus?

As soon as Paul arrives in Caesarea, prominent Jews from Jerusalem approach Festus for a “favor,” to release Paul to their custody.  What we know about Festus is generally good, especially when compared to Felix.  He dealt quickly with two separate messianic movements (Antiq. 20.8.10).  Unfortunately, Festus died after less than two years in office (A. D. 61-62) and his replacement Albinius was not an able administrator at all.

Porcius FestusWhen he arrives in Judea, Festus finds himself it a difficult situation politically.  He needs the help of the “ruling Jews” to manage the province of Judea. The elite of Jerusalem included the former high priests and other Herodians.  They were, by and large, interested in power and wealth (as most politicians are). There is a certain irony here, since these men do not represent a very large segment of the population on Judea in the mid first century! They are but one small splinter group of many at the time.  Festus buys very little influence over the people of Judea if he does do this elite group a “favor.”

The language of their request points to a formal alliance.  If Festus expects to have the support of the local elite, then he needs to hand Paul over to them for justice rather than release him.  It is quite remarkable that there is still a plot afoot to assassinate Paul (25:3). It has been two years since Paul’s alleged offense yet there is still a faction which considers him guilty of desecrating the Temple.  While this seems extreme, remember that bringing a Gentile into the court of the (Jewish) men was nearly as bad as the blasphemy committed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  That act of desecration was a major factor in the Maccabean revolt.  These enemies of Paul are burning with the same Zeal for the Law Paul had in Acts 9 when he traveled to Damascus to arrest followers of the Way.

Festus sees that there is nothing about Paul that requires punishment.  In fact, these are not even real accusations being made against Paul!   Paul’s accusers are not present, therefore the very basis of a case against him in Roman law is missing.  This was Paul’s point in his defense before Felix (his accusers are the Asian Jews, who disappear when the action moves to Caesarea).

Luke only briefly comments on Paul’s defense before Festus, although he adds the claim that Paul has neither offended the Temple or Caesar.  This is the first time that Paul has emphasized that he is not guilty of anything under Roman law.  Paul clearly realizes that his only chance at justice is to rely upon his citizenship.

13 thoughts on “Acts 25 – Who was Festus?

  1. The fact of the matter is that Paul has committed no crime, this is apparent through his own declaration of innocence, but also through Festus. This is because as the post states, “Festus sees that there is nothing about Paul that requires punishment,” but instead he sees the allegations as something that are false and have no merit. Festus’s perspective is displayed through his conversation with Agrippa, as he describes Paul and the accusations against him. This is because he says that Paul’s accusers did not speak of the crimes he had expected but instead they spoke of matters such as Paul teaching a dead man was alive (Acts 25:19). Festus was confused, indicating that he did not see the criminal nature of the accusations that the Jews brought against Paul. Furthermore, Festus did not believe that it would be appropriate to hand over Paul to the Jews solely based on these accusations because every Roman had the opportunity to face their accusers. In addition, Paul truly believed that he had committed no crime, adamantly saying, “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish Law or against the temple or against Caesar” (Acts 25:8). Paul’ s confidence in his own innocence is blatantly displayed through his declaration that he would gladly die if he has done anything to deserve to die (Acts 25:11), because he is so confident that the accusations from the Jews are false. In turn, Paul appeals to Caesar, implementing his right as a Roman Citizen to have a fair trial. So once again because of Paul’s citizenship he has the ability to stand up against his accusers and even the people in power. His Roman rights are displayed when he says to Festus, “I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well” (Acts 25:8). This is because Paul is standing up against not only the Jews for making false accusations against him, but he is also standing up against Festus for even entertaining these accusations. So though Festus may have very well known that Paul was innocent (implying this through his conversation with Agrippa) he did not completely dismiss the allegations of the Jews; possibly because “he needed the help of the ruling Jews to manage the province of Judea.”

  2. Paul’s citizenship has saved him multiple times as he goes about his ministry. In fact, his citizen was one of his greatest assets to his ministry because he must be treated with legal fairness when the Jew are trying to throw him under a bus. So in dealing with men such as Felix and Festus, he is not a problem that can be wiped under the rug. In most cases, a Jewish man under these accusations would have been handed over for execution or imprisonment, but he is saved through his citizenship. It is clear that Roman citizens where considered to be superior to any other peoples, and in the very least they were granted more rights. The Roman governors and officials had to treat him fairly due to that one thing. This is why, that despite Paul’s solid defense for being freed using logic and the legal system, he uses his citizenship as his strongest tool and ally. There was no quicker and easier way to earning Paul’s release at this point. Unfortunately for Paul, the Jews did not care about this, and wanted Paul dead at all costs. But fortunately for Paul, Felix and Festus are strong in their stand for fellow Romans.

  3. Phil: The accusation vs Paul was a lie, right? I can’t believe that he would not have brought a gentile into the prohibited area.

    • I think was a lie, yes. Paul would not bring a Gentile into the Temple, but he was known to have arrived in Jerusalem with Gentiles and clearly claimed to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. So it strikes me as a very plausible lie, one the zealous crowd was ready to believe.

  4. P. Long mentions that Festus is generally good compared to Felix. Having said that, he still has some intent to do a favor for the Jews as Paul is being tried. “Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul’ “Are you willing to go to Jerusalem and stand…” (Acts 25:9). Doing this would give him persay ‘brownie points’ with the Jews, which in the long run is beneficial to him as a ruler. Of course it’s Paul’s Roman citizenship that originally saves his life in Acts 22 where the centurion brings Paul to the commander after he had flogged him. But, what ultimately saves his life is his obedience to God. Neither Felix, Festus, nor King Agrippa could find anything wrong with Paul’s behavior in Jerusalem and from that point forward. It’s evident that the accusation brought against Paul by the Jews were false otherwise one of these men would have been able to see through the deception of Paul. Also, although this may sound conservative, if Paul really did bring a Gentile into the Temple, he then would have been lying in his defense or Luke was incorrect about what had happened. If it weren’t for Paul’s obedience to God, it is possible his Roman citizenship would not have saved his life in the long run.

  5. The Jews really wanted Paul to die (Acts 25:3). They went to Festus to ask him for custody of Paul. Festus is put in a tough situation. He wants to please the Jews because they are an influential group of the city. Acts 25:9 says that he was “…wishing to do the Jews a favor…” Festus does not know why these people what to kill Paul. Before the Roman law, he has not done anything wrong. Because Festus was feeling pressure from the Jews, he was willing to comply with their wishes. However, he knows that if he pleases them, then others will have little respect for Festus’ authority. These Jews were determined to have Paul arrested and put to death. Dr. Long says, “These enemies of Paul are burning with the same Zeal for the Law Paul had in Acts 9 when he traveled to Damascus to arrest followers of the Way” (“Paul Before Festus” article). These Jews made many charges against Paul that they could not prove (Acts 25:7). The only way for Paul to survive these false accusations is for him to claim that he is a Roman citizen and has done nothing wrong (Acts 25:8).

  6. Festus is put in an awkward position and suddenly has a weight to carry. On one hand, he could accuse Paul of the same things the Jews are claiming and win the favor of the Jews. But on the other hand, he knows that Paul did not do anything wrong so it would be morally wrong to accuse him of anything. Festus in this situation needs to find his own integrity and decide if he is going to do what is moral and ethical despite what people are saying.

  7. This is not the first time where Paul’s citizenship is able to save him from being put in jail, and this time he even had someone who was on his side, kind of. Festus was not able to find anything to accuse Paul for, yet it was a difficult decision for him to make because he wanted to please the people. But it is clear in Acts 25 that Festus’s conscious gets the best of him and he ends up releasing Paul from custody after the King too was not able to find anything against him. Since he was unable to find anything that Paul did wrong, he had no reason to keep him locked up. His morals played a role in this and allows Paul to see the king and to have him make the decision. Paul had to rely on his citizenship to help him get out of this sticky situation.

  8. it would seem that Festus is a man who was somewhat backed into a corner. he arrived on the scene in the worst time possible for new management to be happening. if he wants to have any ability to control the people he is in charge of he needs to be willing to give the Jewish leadership what they want. but oddly he doesn’t do that even though it would gain favor and be to his overall benefit. luckily for him Paul was a Roman citizen and so he could simply default to treating him as such and avoid some of the headache. overall he makes a decision that tough for him and is not the one that is going to get him praise in fact it is one that will only cause strife for him.

  9. It was interesting reading about Festus in Acts 25 because this isn’t the first time that we see Paul is being saved from jail. Festus is put into a tight spot where he is sort of thrown right into a messy situation and has to find a way out of it. He can either give the crowd what they want and accuse Paul of doing the same things that he is accused for. But we also have to remember that Festus sees nothing wrong for what Paul is doing. And Festus is trying his best to win the people over for a new position. It would be a very tough situation to be in, I wouldn’t necessarily know what to do in this case either!

  10. We read at the beginning of the blog that Festus had a pretty good track record overall especially if we are comparing him to Felix. This is why it brings me to the first point I want to make, which was the fact that, for Festus to get some support from the local elite he had to hand over Paul. Even though we know through Acts 25 that Festus clearly knew that there were no real accusations against Paul in the first place, and as we read more into the chapter we see Festus’ real side which is a man of honesty. Festus could have turned over Paul completely. He could have taken the accusations and forced them even more, but instead he states in Acts 25: 26-27, “But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.” I find it quite incredible that he is standing in front of a king, defending Paul whom he did not know much of, yet defending him like a true friend. Festus could have taken the route of dishonesty, cruelty, and pride like Felix did, but instead, he remained honest and loyal even to a man (Paul) whom he hardly knew. I do not know about you, but reading this story of honesty and loyalty leaves me amazed.

  11. I think Fetus was in an odd situation and he had to carry the burden that was given to him. But he could do the same thing with Paul because he wanted the Jews to be in his Favor and to have power over them. Everyone knew that Paul didn’t really want to mess up so it would be kind of bold to just accuse Paul so easily. I just feel like Fetus need to find his own sense of direction and do what God wanted him to do.

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