Meanwhile, the progress of the trial was necessarily suspended, for the Roman courts required the personal presence of the prosecutor. It would seem that, at this time, an accused person might be thus kept in prison for an indefinite period, merely by the delay of the prosecutor to proceed with his accusation; nor need this surprise us, if we consider how harshly the law has dealt with supposed offenders, and with what indifference it has treated the rights of the accused, even in periods whose civilization was not only more advanced than that of the Roman Empire, but also imbued with the merciful spirit of Christianity.
And even when the prosecutors were present, and no ground alleged for the delay of the trial, a corrupt judge might postpone it, as Felix did, for months and years, to gratify the enemies of the prisoner. And if a provincial Governor, though responsible for such abuse of power to his master, might venture to act in this arbitrary manner, much more might the Emperor himself, who was responsible to no man.
Failure was likely
Thus we find that Tiberius was in the habit of delaying the hearing of causes, and retaining the accused in prison unheard, merely out of procrastination. So that, even after Apostle Paul's prosecutors had arrived, and though we were to suppose them anxious for the progress of the trial, it might still have been long delayed by the Emperor's caprice. But there is no reason to think that, when they came, they would have wished to press on the cause.
From what had already occurred, Paul's accusors had every reason to expect the failure of the prosecution. In fact it had already broken down at its first stage, and Festus had strongly pronounced his opinion of the innocence (Acts 25:25, 26:32) of the accused. Their hope of success at Rome must have been grounded either on influencing the Emperor's judgment by private intrigue, or on producing further evidence in support of their accusation. For both these objects, delay would be necessary.
Moreover, it was quite in accordance with the regular course of Roman jurisprudence, that the Court should grant a long suspension of the cause, on the petition of the prosecutor, that he might be allowed time to procure the attendance of witnesses from a distance. The length of time thus granted would depend upon the remoteness of the place where the alleged crimes had been committed.
We read of an interval of twelve months permitted during Nero's reign, in the case of an accusation against Suilius, for misdemeanors committed during his government of Proconsular Asia. The accusers of Apostle Paul might fairly demand a longer suspension; for they accused him of offences committed not only in Palestine (which was far more remote than Proconsular Asia from Rome), but also over the whole Empire. Their witnesses must be summoned from Judea, from Syria, from Cilicia, from Pisidia, from Macedonia.
In all cities, from Damascus to Corinth, in all countries, "from Jerusalem round about unto Illyricum," must testimony be sought to prove the seditious turbulence of the ringleader of the Nazarenes. The interval granted them for such a purpose could not be less than a year, and might well be more. Supposing it to be the shortest possible, and assuming that the prosecutors reached Rome in August A.D. 61, the first stage of the trial would be appointed to commence not before August A.D. 62. And when this period arrived, the prosecutors and the accused, with their witnesses, must have been heard on each of the charges separately (according to Nero's regulations), and sentence pronounced on the first charge before the second was entered into.
Now, the charges against Apostle Paul were divided (as we have seen) into three separate heads of accusation. Consequently the proceedings, which would of course be adjourned from time to time to suit the Emperor's convenience, may well have lasted till the beginning of 63, at which time Luke's narrative would lead us to fix their termination.
During the long delay of his trial, Apostle Paul was not reduced, as he had been at Caesarea, to a forced inactivity. On the contrary, he was permitted the freest intercourse with his friends, and was allowed to reside in a house of sufficient size to accommodate the congregation which flocked together to listen to his teaching.