A Prisoner of Rome
Chapter 31

Questions?    -    Our Newsletter
We now speak of Agrippa II who, like his father, had the title of King, though his kingdom was not identically the same. The life of the second Agrippa ranges over the last period of national Jewish history, and the first age of the Christian Church; and both his life and that of his sisters Drusilla and Berenice are curiously connected, by manifold links, with the general history of the times. This Agrippa saw the destruction of Jerusalem, and lived till the first century was closed in the old age of John, - the last of a dynasty eminent for magnificence and intrigue. Berenice concluded a life of profligacy by a criminal connection with Titus, the conqueror of Jerusalem. Drusilla became the wife of Felix, and perished with the child of that union in the eruption of Vesuvius.

We have said that the kingdom of this Agrippa was not coincident with that of his father. He was never, in fact, King of Judea. The three years during which Agrippa I. reigned at Caesarea were only an interpolation in the long series of Roman procurators who ruled Judea, from the death of Herod the Great to the final destruction of Jerusalem. The second Agrippa was only sixteen years old, and he was detained about the court of Claudius, while Cuspius Fadus was sent out to direct the provincial affairs at Caesarea. It was under the administration of Fadus that those religious movements took place, which ended in placing under the care of the Jews the sacred vestments kept in the tower of Antonia, and which gave to Herod king of Chalcis the management of the Temple and its treasury, and the appointment of the high priests. And in other respects the Jews had reason to remember his administration with gratitude; for he put down the banditti which had been the pest of the country under Agrippa; and the slavish compliment of Tertullus to Felix (Acts 24:2, 3) might have been addressed to him with truth.

When did Paul write his books?
Basic Bible Study on Paul
How long was the Apostle in prison?
How and where did Paul die?
Visit our section dedicated to Apostle Paul!

In relation to the life of this official in Judea, there are no incidents worth recording: at a later period we see him at the siege of Jerusalem in command of Roman forces under Titus: and the consequent inscriptions in his honor at Rome served to point the sarcasm of the Roman satirist. Soon after the arrival of Ventidius Cumanus to succeed him as governor in the year 48, Herod king of Chalcis died, and Agrippa II. was placed on his throne, with the same privileges in reference to the Temple and its worship which had been possessed by his uncle.

One indication of this animosity has been alluded to before, - the dreadful loss of life in the Temple which resulted from the wanton insolence of one of the soldiers in Antonia at the time of a festival. Another was the excitement which ensued after the burning of the Scriptures by the Roman troops at Beth-Horon, on the road between Jerusalem and Caesarea. An attack made by the Samaritans on some Jews who were proceeding through their country to a festival led to wider results. Appeal was made to Quadratus, governor of Syria; and Cumanus was sent to Rome to answer for his conduct to the Emperor. In the end he was deposed, and Felix, the brother of Pallas the freedman and favorite of Claudius, was (partly by the influence of Jonathan the high priest) appointed to succeed him.

The mention of this governor, who was brought into such intimate relations with Apostle Paul, demands that we should enter now more closely into details. The origin of Felix and the mode of his elevation would prepare us to expect in him such a character as that which is condensed into a few words by Tacitus, - that, "in the practice of all kinds of lust and cruelty, he exercised the power of a king with the temper of a slave." The Jews had, indeed, to thank him for some good services to their nation. He cleared various parts of the country from robbers; and he pursued and drove away that Egyptian fanatic, with whom Claudius Lysias too hastily identified Apostle Paul. But the same historian from whom we derive this information gives us a terrible illustration of his cruelty in the story of the murder of Jonathan, to whom Felix was partly indebted for his own elevation. The high priest had presumed to expostulate with the governor on some of his practices, and assassins were forthwith employed to murder him in the sanctuary of the Temple. And as this crime illustrates one part of the sentence, in which Tacitus describes his character, so we may see the other parts of it justified and elucidated in the narrative of Luke; - that which speaks of him as a voluptuary, by his union with Drusilla, whom he had enticed from her husband by aid of a magician, who is not unreasonably identified by some with Simon Magus, - and that which speaks of his servile meanness, by his trembling without repentance at the preaching of Paul, and by his detention of him in prison from the hope of a bribe. When he finally left the Apostle in bonds at Caesarea, this also (as we shall see) was done from a mean desire to conciliate those who were about to accuse him at Rome of mal-administration of the province. The final breach between him and the provincials seems to have arisen from a quarrel at Caesarea between the Jewish and Heathen population, which grew so serious, that the troops were called out into the streets, and both slaughter and plunder was the result.

The mention of this circumstance leads us to give some account of the troops quartered in Palestine, and of the general distribution of the Roman army, without some notion of which no adequate idea can be obtained of the Empire and the Provinces. Moreover, Apostle Paul is brought, about this part of his life, into such close relations with different parts of that military service, from which he draws some of his most forcible imagery, (See especially Ephesians 6:10 18; also 1Corinthians 14:8; and 2Timothy 2:3, 4) that our narrative would be incomplete without some account both of the Praetorian guards and the legionary soldiers. The latter force may be fitly described in connection with Caesarea, and we shall see that it is not out of place to allude here to the former also, though its natural association is with the city of Rome.

But the legionary soldiers, with their cavalry and auxiliaries, were not the only military force in the Empire, and, as it seems, not the only one in Judea itself. The great body of troops at Rome (as we shall see when we have followed Apostle Paul to the metropolis) were the Praetorian Guards, amounting at this period to 10, 000 men. These favored forces were entirely recruited from Italy; their pay was higher, and their time of service shorter; and, for the most part, they were not called out on foreign service. Yet there is much weight in the opinion which regards the Augustan Cohort of Acts 27:1 as a part of this Imperial Guard. Possibly it was identical with the Italic Cohort of Acts 10:1. It might well be that the same corps might be called "Italic," because its men were exclusively Italians; and "Augustan," because they were properly part of the Emperor’s guard, though some of them might occasionally be attached to the person of a provincial governor. And we observe that, while Cornelius (Acts 10:1) and Julius (Acts 27:1) are both Roman names, it is at Caesarea that each of these cohorts is said to have been stationed. As regards the Augustan cohort, if the view above given is correct, one result of it is singularly interesting; for it seems that Julius the centurion, who conducted the Apostle Paul to Rome, can be identified with a high degree of probability with Julius Priscus, who was afterwards prefect of the Praetorian Guards under the Emperor Vitellius.

Not only do we see here the residence of Roman procurators, the quarters of imperial troops, and the port by which Judea was entered from the west, but a Roman impress was ostentatiously given to every thing that belonged to Caesarea. The conspicuous object to those who approached from the sea was a temple dedicated to Caesar and to Rome: the harbor was called the "Augustan harbor:" the city itself was "Augustan Caesarea." And, finally, the foreign influence here was so great, that the Septuagint translation of the Scriptures was read in the Synagogues. There was a standing quarrel between the Greeks and the Jews, as to whether it was a Greek city or a Jewish city. The Jews appealed to the fact that it was built by a Jewish prince. The Greeks pointed to the temples and statues. This quarrel was never appeased till the great war broke out, the first act of which was the slaughter of 20,000 Jews in the streets of Caesarea.

Such was the city in which Apostle Paul was kept in detention among the Roman soldiers, till the time should come for his trial before that unscrupulous governor, whose character has been above described. His accusers were not long in arriving. The law required that causes should be heard speedily; and the Apostle’s enemies at Jerusalem were not wanting in zeal. Thus, "after five days," the high priest Ananias and certain members of the Sanhedrin appeared, with one of those advocates who practiced in the law courts of the provinces, where the forms of Roman law were imperfectly known, and the Latin language imperfectly understood. The man whose professional services were engaged on this occasion was called Tertullus. The name is Roman, and there is little doubt that he was an Italian, and spoke on this occasion in Latin. The criminal information was formally laid before the governor. The prisoner was summoned, and Tertullus brought forward the charges against him in a set speech, which we need not quote at length, He began by loading Felix with unmerited praises, and then proceeded to allege three distinct heads of accusation against Apostle Paul, - charging him, first with causing factious disturbances among all the Jews throughout the Empire (which was an offence against the Roman Government, and amounted to Majestas or treason against the Emperor), - secondly with being a ringleader of "the sect of the Nazarenes" (which involved heresy against the law of Moses), - and thirdly with an attempt to profane the Temple at Jerusalem (an offence not only against the Jewish, but also against the Roman Law, which protected the Jews in the exercise of their worship). He concluded by asserting (with serious deviations from the truth) that Lysias, the commandant of the garrison, had forcibly taken the prisoner away, when the Jews were about to judge him by their own ecclesiastical law, and had thus improperly brought the matter before Felix. The drift of this representation was evidently to persuade Felix to give up Apostle Paul to the Jewish courts, in which case his assassination would have been easily accomplished. And the Jews who were present gave a vehement assent to the statements of Tertullus, making no secret of their animosity against Apostle Paul, and asserting that these things were indeed so.

The governor now made a gesture to the prisoner to signify that he might make his defense. The Jews were silent; and the Apostle, after briefly expressing his satisfaction that he had to plead his cause before one so well acquainted with Jewish customs, refuted Tertullus step by step. He said that on his recent visit to Jerusalem at the festival (and he added that it was only "twelve days" since he had left Caesarea for that purpose), he had caused no disturbance in any part of Jerusalem, - that, as to heresy, he had never swerved from his belief in the Law and the Prophets, and that, in conformity with that belief, he held the doctrine of a resurrection, and sought to live conscientiously before the God of his fathers, - and as to the Temple, so far from profaning it, he had been found in it deliberately observing the very strictest ceremonies. The Jews of "Asia," he added, who had been his first accusers, ought to have been present as witnesses now. Those who were present knew full well that no other charge was brought home to him before the Sanhedrin, except what related to the belief that he held in common with the Pharisees. But, without further introduction, we quote Luke’s summary of his own words:—

There was all the appearance of truthfulness in Apostle Paul's words; and they harmonized entirely with the statement contained in the despatch of Claudius Lysias. Moreover, Felix had resided so long in Caesarea, where the Christian religion had been known for many years, (See Acts 13:40) and had penetrated even among the troops, that "he had a more accurate knowledge of their religion" (verse 22) than to be easily deceived by the misrepresentations of the Jews. Thus a strong impression was made on the mind of this wicked man. But his was one of those characters which are easily affected by feelings, but always drawn away from right action by the overpowering motive of self-interest. He could not make up his mind to acquit Apostle Paul. He deferred all inquiry into the case for the present. "When Lysias comes down," he said, "I will decide finally between you." Meanwhile he placed the Apostle under the charge of the centurion who had brought him to Caesarea, with directions that he should be treated with kindness and consideration. Close confinement was indeed necessary, both to keep him in safety from the Jews, and because he was not yet acquitted; but orders were given that he should have every relaxation which could be permitted in such a case, and that any of his friends should be allowed to visit him, and to minister to his comfort. We read nothing, however, of Lysias coming to Caesarea, or of any further judicial proceedings. Some few days afterwards Felix came into the audience-chamber with his wife Drusilla, and the prisoner was summoned before them. Drusilla, "being a Jewess" (verse 24), took a lively interest in what Felix told her of Paul, and was curious to hear something of this faith which had "Christ" for its object. Thus Paul had an opportunity in his bonds of preaching the Gospel, and such an opportunity as he could hardly otherwise have obtained. His audience consisted of a Roman libertine and a profligate Jewish princess: and he so preached, as a faithful Apostle must needs have preached to such hearers. In speaking of Christ, he spoke of "righteousness and temperance, and judgment to come;" and while he was so discoursing, "Felix trembled." Yet still we hear of no decisive result. "Go thy way for this time: when I have a convenient season, I will send for thee," - was the response of the conscience-stricken but impenitent sinner, - the response which the Divine Word has received ever since, when listened to in a like spirit.

We are explicitly informed why this governor shut his ears to conviction, and even neglected his official duty, and kept his prisoner in cruel suspense. "He hoped that he might receive from Paul a bribe for his liberation." He was not the only governor of Judea against whom a similar accusation is brought: and Felix, well knowing how the Christians aided one another in distress, and possibly having some information of the funds with which Apostle Paul had recently been entrusted, and ignorant of those principles which make it impossible for a true Christian to tamper by bribes with the course of law, - might naturally suppose that he had here a good prospect of enriching himself. "Hence he frequently sent for Paul, and had many conversations with him." But his hopes were unfulfilled. Paul, who was ever ready to claim the protection of the law, would not seek to evade it by dishonorable means: and the Christians, who knew how to pray for an Apostle in bonds (Acts 12), would not forget the duty of "rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s." Thus Paul remained in the Praetorium; and the suspense continued "two years."

When an accusation was brought against a Roman citizen, the magistrate, who had criminal jurisdiction in the case, appointed the time for hearing the cause, and detained the accused in custody during the interval. He was not bound to fix any definite time for the trial, but might defer it at his own arbitrary pleasure; and he might also commit the prisoner at his discretion to any of the several kinds of custody recognized by the Roman law.

It was under military custody that Apostle Paul was now placed by Felix, who "gave him in charge to the centurion, that he should be kept in custody" (Acts 24:23); but (as we have seen) he added the direction, that he should be treated with such indulgence as this kind of detention permitted. Josephus tells us that, when the severity of Agrippa’s imprisonment at Rome was mitigated, his chain was relaxed at meal times. This illustrates the nature of the alleviations which such confinement admitted; and it is obvious that the centurion might render it more or less galling, according to his inclination, or the commands he had received. The most important alleviation of Apostle Paul's imprisonment consisted in the order, which Felix added, that his friends should be allowed free access to him.

No change seems to have taken place in the outward circumstances of the Apostle when Festus came to take command of the province. He was still in confinement as before. But immediately on the accession of the new governor, the unsleeping hatred of the Jews made a fresh attempt upon his life; and the course of their proceedings presently changed the whole aspect of his case, and led to unexpected results.

When a Roman governor came to his province, - whether his character was coarse and cruel, like that of Felix, or reasonable and just, as that of Festus seems to have been, - his first step would be to make himself acquainted with the habits and prevalent feelings of the people he was come to rule, and to visit such places as might seem to be more peculiarly associated with national interests. The Jews were the most remarkable people in the whole extent of the Roman provinces; and no city was to any other people what Jerusalem was to the Jews. We are not surprised therefore to learn that "three days" after his arrival at the political metropolis, Festus "went up to Jerusalem." Here he was immediately met by an urgent request against Apostle Paul, preferred by the chief priests and leading men among the Jews, and seconded, as it seems, by a general concourse of the people, who came round him with no little vehemence and clamor. They asked as a favor (and they had good reason to hope that the new governor on his accession would not refuse it) that he would allow Apostle Paul to he brought up to Jerusalem. The plea, doubtless, was, that he should be tried again before the Sanhedrin. But the real purpose was to assassinate him on some part of the road over which he had been safely brought by the escort two years before. So bitter and so enduring was their hatred against the apostate Pharisee. The answer of Festus was dignified and just, and worthy of his office. He said that Paul was in custody at Caesarea, and that he himself was shortly to return thither (verse 4), adding that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up an uncondemned person as a mere favor (verse 16). The accused must have the accuser face to face, and full opportunity must be given for a defense (ib). Those, therefore, who were competent to undertake the task of accusers, should come down with him to Caesarea, and there prefer the accusation (verse 5).

Festus remained "eight or ten days" in Jerusalem, and then returned to Caesarea; and the accusers went down the same day. No time was lost after their arrival. The very next day Festus took his seat on the judicial tribunal, with his assessors near him (verse 12), and ordered Paul to be brought before him. "The Jews who had come down from Jerusalem" stood round, bringing various heavy accusations against him (which, however, they could not establish), and clamorously asserting that he was worthy of death. We must not suppose that the charges now brought were different in substance from those urged by Tertullus. The prosecutors were in fact the same now as then, namely, delegates from the Sanhedrin; and the prisoner was still lying under the former accusation, which had never been withdrawn. We see from what is said of Paul’s defense, that the charges were still classed under the same three heads as before; viz. Heresy, Sacrilege, and Treason. But Festus saw very plainly that the offence was really connected with the religious opinions of the Jews, instead of relating, as he at first expected, to some political movement (vverse 18, 19); and he was soon convinced that Apostle Paul had done nothing worthy of death (verse 25). Being, therefore, in perplexity (verse 20), and at the same time desirous of ingratiating himself with the provincials (verse 9), he proposed to Apostle Paul that he should go up to Jerusalem, and be tried there in his presence, or at least under his protection. But the Apostle knew full well the danger that lurked in this proposal, and, conscious of the rights which he possessed as a Roman citizen, he refused to accede to it, and said boldly to Festus, -

"But Paul said, 'I stand before the judgment seat of Caesar, where I have the right to be judged. I did nothing wrong to the Jews as you very well know. For on the one hand, if I am a wrongdoer and have done anything worthy of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is no truth in their accusations against me, no one can deliver me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.'" (Acts 25:10-11, HBFV)

Festus was probably surprised by this termination of the proceedings; but no choice was open to him. Paul had urged his prerogative as a Roman citizen, to be tried, not by the Jewish, but by the Roman law; a claim which, indeed, was already admitted by the words of Festus, who only proposed to transfer him to the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin with his own consent. He ended by availing himself of one of the most important privileges of Roman citizenship, the right of appeal. By the mere pronunciation of these potent words, "I appeal unto Caesar," he instantly removed his cause from the jurisdiction of the magistrate before whom he stood, and transferred it to the supreme tribunal of the Emperor at Rome.

Such was the state of things when Apostle Paul appealed from Festus to Caesar. If the appeal was admissible, it at once suspended all further proceedings on the part of Festus. There were, however, a few cases in which the right of appeal was disallowed; a bandit or a pirate, for example, taken in the fact, might be condemned and executed by the Proconsul, notwithstanding his appeal to the Emperor. Accordingly, we read that Festus took counsel with his Assessors, concerning the admissibility of Paul’s appeal. But no doubt could be entertained on this head; and he immediately pronounced the decision of the Court. "Thou hast appealed unto Caesar: to Caesar thou shalt be sent."

Thus the hearing of the cause, as far as Festus was concerned, had terminated. There only remained for him the office of remitting to the supreme tribunal, before which it was to be carried, his official report upon its previous progress. He was bound to forward to Rome all the acts and documents bearing upon the trial, the depositions of the witnesses on both sides, and the record of his own judgment on the case. And it was his further duty to keep the person of the accused in safe custody, and to send him to Rome for trial at the earliest opportunity.

Festus, however, was still in some perplexity. Though the appeal had been allowed, yet the information elicited on the trial was so vague, that he hardly knew what statement to insert in his despatch to the Emperor: and it seemed "a foolish thing to him to send a prisoner to Rome without at the same time specifying the charges against him" (verse 27). It happened about this time that Herod Agrippa II., King of Chalcis, with his sister Berenice, came on a complimentary visit to the new governor, and stayed "some days" at Caesarea. This prince had been familiarly acquainted from his youth with all that related to the Jewish law, and moreover was at this time (as we have seen) superintendent of the Temple, with the power of appointing the high priest. Festus took advantage of this opportunity of consulting one better informed than himself on the points in question. He recounted to Agrippa what has been summarily related above; confessing his ignorance of Jewish theology, and alluding especially to Paul’s reiterated assertion concerning "one Jesus who had died and was alive again." This cannot have been the first time that Agrippa had heard of the resurrection of Jesus, or of the Apostle Paul. His curiosity was aroused, and he expressed a wish to see the prisoner. Festus readily acceded to the request, and fixed the next day for the interview.

At the time appointed, Agrippa and Berenice came with great pomp and display, and entered into the audience-chamber, with a suite of military officers and the chief men of Caesarea; and at the command of Festus, Paul was brought before them. The proceedings were opened by a ceremonious speech from Festus himself, describing the circumstances under which the prisoner had been brought under his notice, and ending with a statement of his perplexity as to what he should write to "his Lord" the Emperor. This being concluded, Agrippa said condescendingly to Apostle Paul, that he was now permitted to speak for himself.

Here Festus broke out into a loud exclamation, expressive of ridicule and surprise. To the cold man of the world, as to the inquisitive Athenians, the doctrine of the resurrection was foolishness: and he said, "Paul, thou art mad: thy incessant study is turning thee to madness." The Apostle had alluded in his speech to writings which had a mysterious sound, to the prophets and to Moses (vverse 22, 23); and it is reason able to believe that in his imprisonment, such "books and parchments," as he afterwards wrote for in his second letter to Timothy, were brought to him by his friends. Thus Festus adopted the conclusion that he had before him a mad enthusiast, whose head had been turned by poring over strange learning. The Apostle’s reply was courteous and self-possessed, but intensely earnest.

But he said, 'I am not mad, most noble Festus, but I utter true and rational words. For the king, to whom I speak with boldness, is informed of these things. For I am convinced that none of these things are hidden from him; for this has not been done in a corner.'" (Acts 26:25-26, HBFV)

Then, turning to the Jewish voluptuary who sat beside the Governor, he made this solemn appeal to him:—

"'King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.'" (Acts 26:27, HBFV)

The King’s reply was:"Thou wilt soon persuade me to be a Christian." The words were doubtless spoken ironically and in contempt: but Paul took them as though they had been spoken in earnest, and made that noble answer, which expresses, as no other words ever expressed them, that union of enthusiastic zeal with genuine courtesy, which is the true characteristic of "a Christian."

"And Paul said, 'I wish to God that in both a little time and in much, not only you, but also all those who are listening to me this day, would become such as I am, except for these bonds.'" (Acts 26:29, HBFV)

This concluded the interview. King Agrippa had no desire to hear more; and he rose from his seat, with the Governor and Berenice and those who sat with them. As they retired, they discussed the case with one another, and agreed that Paul was guilty of nothing worthy of death or even imprisonment. Agrippa said positively to Festus, "This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed to the Emperor." But the appeal had been made. There was no retreat either for Festus or for Paul. On the new Governor’s part there was no wish to continue the procrastination of Felix; and nothing now remained but to wait for a convenient opportunity of sending his prisoner to Rome.

Previous  -  Next

List of all Sections

Maps of Paul's Missionary Journeys
All Cities Visited
Travels just after conversion
First Missionary Journey
Second Journey
Third Journey
Fourth Journey
Final Journey

The Life and Epistles of Apostle Paul
Bible Translations used

Holy Bible, a Faithful Version

© The Bible Study Site