Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 37: Acts, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Then when Festus was come into the province, after three days he went up to Jerusalem from the city of Cesarea. 2. And the high priests and chief Jews informed him of Paul, and besought him, 3. Desiring favor against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying await to kill him by the way. 4. But Festus answered, that Paul should be kept at Cesarea, and that he himself would go thither shortly. 5. Therefore, let them, saith he, which are able among you, go down with me, and if there be any fault in this man, let them accuse him. 6. And after that he had staid more than ten days among them, he went down to Cesarea; and on the morrow he sat down in the judgment-seat, and commanded Paul to be brought. 7. Who being come, those Jews which came from Jerusalem stood about him, laying many and great crimes to Paul’s charge, which they could not prove. 8. Forasmuch as he answered, That he had neither offended anything against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, neither against Caesar.
1. Then when Festus. The second action is described in this place, wherein Paul hath as hard a combat, and is in no less danger than in the first. Seeing he was left in bonds, Festus might suspect that the cause was doubtful, and so gather an unjust prejudice. But there was another thing which was cause of great danger. We know that new rulers, because they will win the favor of those who are in the provinces, use to grant them many things at their first coming; so that it was to be thought that the death of Paul should be to Festus a fine means to win favor with all. Therefore, the faith of the holy man is assailed afresh with a new trial, as if the promise had been vain whereto he had hitherto trusted; but the grace of God doth so much the more plainly show itself in delivering him, because, contrary to all hope, he is delivered out of the jaws of death. The Jews prevent the governor with their false accusations, yet they do not as yet seek to have him punished, but they do only desire that he may not be brought into any foreign court to plead his cause. They desire that ambitiously as a great benefit, which was to look to equal. How is it then that they do not obtain, save only because God doth hold the mind of Festus, so that he doth stoutly deny that which he was afterward ready to grant? And as the Lord did then hold his mind bound with the secret bridle of his providence, so when he granted him freedom of will he bound his hands, that he could not execute that which he would. Let this confidence support us in dangers, and let it also stir us up to call upon God; and let this make our minds quiet and calm, in that the Lord, in stretching forth his hand, and breaking such a strong conspiracy, did show an eternal example of his power in defending his.
5. Those, therefore. It is in the Greek word for word, [literally] Those who are mighty or able; yet he meaneth those who can conveniently. Also, we may easily conjecture, that they did object the trouble and charges, and besought the governor that he would not make weary with a superfluous journey so many of their chief men, and also certain which were very aged; but would rather (which he might easily do) command Paul to be brought by a few keepers [guards]. Therefore, lest they complain that he is burdenous unto them, he unloadeth them of this necessity, and giveth them leave to choose out from among themselves such as they will. In the mean season, he doth sufficiently declare that he doth not believe their false reports; and he professeth that he will be an upright judge, and will do nothing but according to the truth of the matter. The next sentence also is diversely read among the Grecians. For some books [manuscripts] have the same which is in the old interpreter but eight or ten days. If this reading like us, the sense shall be, that the governor came shortly after to Cesarea, lest the Jews should be importunate upon him under color of his long tarriance. The other reading, which is more usual among the Grecians, shall have another meaning; though he stayed long enough at Jerusalem to hear the matter, yet did he not hearken to their requests, who would have Paul brought thither; whence we may gather a probable conjecture, that he already knew of their laying await.
7. Many and grievous crimes. So long as Paul lived under the law, his integrity was well known and famous. Again, when he was converted to Christ, he was a singular pattern of innocence. Yet we see how he is subject to many slanders, cruel and false accusations. And this is almost always the estate of the servants of Christ, wherefore they must be the more courageous, to pass valiantly through evil report and good report; neither let them think it strange to be evil reported of where they have done good.
In the mean season, they must do their endeavor, that they may not only have a clear conscience before God, but that they may be very well able to defend themselves before men, when they have time and place. For Paul doth not fail in his cause, but courageously setteth the defense of his innocency against their false crimes. Furthermore, let us note that the wicked can never be bridled, but they will speak evil of good men, and will impudently slander them; for they resemble the nature of Satan, by whose spirit they are led. Therefore, whereas we be commanded to stop the mouth of the wicked, it must not be so taken as if he shall be free from all backbiting, 598 whosoever shall behave himself uprightly, but that our life may answer for us, and may wipe away all blots of false infamy. So we see the adversaries of Paul, though they had a favorable judge, yet their slanders were all in vain, seeing he did defend and avouch his innocency by his deeds. And yet it is likely that they wanted not false witnesses, neither were they slack in suborning them; but because the Lord giveth his servants invincible strength, so that the brightness of honesty doth drive away their vain clouds; they are ashamed, and at length they depart from the judgment-seat with this infamy, that they were false accusers. But the defense of Paul doth show what things the Jews laid principally to his charge. The first crime was ungodliness against God, that he overthrew the law and polluted the temple; the other, rebellion against Caesar and the Roman empire, because he raised tumults everywhere. He was helped by the singular grace of God to answer and refute both, who maketh the innocence of his as bright as the morning.
9. And Festus, being willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me? 10. But Paul said, I stand before Caesar’s judgment-seat, where I must be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou thyself knowest full well. 11. And if I do injury, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die; but if there be nothing of these things whereof they accuse me, no man can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar. 12. Then spake Festus with the council, and said, Hast thou appealed to Caesar? to Caesar shalt thou go.
9. And Festus. Whether Festus knew somewhat of their laying await, (which we may well conjecture) or whether he were altogether ignorant thereof, he dealeth unjustly with Paul; and we see how soon those are drawn unto all corruption which are not guided by the Spirit of God. For Festus doth not openly contemn or hate Paul; but ambition, and peradventure also desire of gain, got the upper hand, so that, for pleasing the other part, he doth unjustly bring him in danger of death; also, it is likely that he was enticed with the smell [hope] of some reward to hearken so courteously to the priests. Notwithstanding, I marvel that he giveth Paul leave to choose, and doth not rather, according to this authority, command them to carry him whether he would or no. Surely we gather that he was kept back with fear, lest he should infringe the privilege of the city of Rome, 599 which was a very odious crime. Notwithstanding, he studied craftily to persuade Paul not to refuse to be judged at Jerusalem. For he was not ignorant of that which indeed came to pass, that a citizen of Rome might lawfully appeal, so that he could then go no farther. Nevertheless, it was no thank to him that he was not delivered into the hands of murderers. 600
10. I stand at Caesar’s judgment-seat. Because Paul seeth that he is betrayed into the hands of the Jews through the ambition of the governor, he objecteth the privilege of the city of Rome. He had submitted himself modestly, if he had commanded him to do 601 that which was just and equal. Now, because the governor doth not his duty willingly, necessity compelleth the holy man to defend himself by law; and by this means the Lord delivereth him now again, even when he was almost given over into the hands of the enemies. And whereas he desireth to have his matter handled before Caesar’s judgment-seat, he doth not, therefore, make the doctrine of the gospel subject to the judgment of a profane and wicked man; but being ready to give an account of his faith everywhere, he appealeth from that court where he could no longer hope for equity. Furthermore, though the citizens of Rome did retain their privilege, yet the order was then altered, because the Caesars had taken into their own hands the judging of the people, 602 as if they would be good maintainers and patrons of common liberty.
To the Jews have I done. Because those whose consciences do accuse them, and which mistrust their matter, fly unto certain odd excuses and exceptions, Paul turneth away from himself this opinion. And surely the ministers of Christ ought to have no less care to make their innocency known than to save their life. If Paul had flatly denied to answer for himself, the enemies would have triumphed, and the doubtfulness of an evil conscience should have been objected to him to the reproach of the gospel. But now when he citeth the governor himself to be a witness of his integrity, and doth refuse no punishment if he should be found guilty, he cutteth off all occasion of slanderous reports. Therefore, he showeth that he doth not seek to save himself by turning his back, 603 but flyeth unto the fortress of a just defense, that he may there save himself from injury, seeing his adversaries have hitherto handled him unjustly; and now refusing to deal with him any longer by law, they go about to have him murdered. Neither doth Paul go behind the president’s back to tell him that he doth unjustly, in that he doth so dally with his accusers; and therewithal he doth, as it were, bridle his lust, so that he dare go no farther.
11. I appeal unto Caesar. After that he hath professed that he doth not refuse to die if he be found guilty, he freely useth such helps as he could find at the hands of men. Wherefore, if we be at any time brought into like straits, we must not be superstitious, but we may crave help of the laws and politic order. Because it is written, that magistrates are made and appointed by God to the praise of the godly (Ro 13:3; and 1Pe 2:13). Neither was Paul afraid to go to law under an unbelieving judge; for he which appealeth commenceth a new action.
Therefore, let us know that God, who hath appointed judgment-seats, doth also grant liberty to his to use the same lawfully. Therefore, those mistake Paul who think that he doth flatly condemn the Corinthians, (1Co 6:1) because they require help of the magistrate for defense of their right, seeing he reproveth in that place a manifest fault, to wit, because they could suffer no wrong, and because they were too much set upon suing one another, whereby they caused the gospel to be evil spoken of.
12. Festus having talked with the council The governors did use to have certain of the chief citizens which did attend upon them, and sat with them in judgment, that they might decree nothing without the consent of the council. Furthermore, it doth seem that Festus pronounced this with indignation, when he said interrogatively, Hast thou appealed to Caesar? to wit, because it grieved him that he could not do the Jews such a pleasure as he desired; though I leave that indifferent, because it is neither of any great importance, and it leaneth only to a conjecture.
13. And after certain days, king Agrippa and Bernice came to Cesarea to salute Festus. 14. And when they had stayed there many days, Festus rehearsed Paul’s cause to the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds of Felix: 15. About whom, when I came to Jerusalem, the high priests and elders of the Jews informed me, requiring judgment against him. 16. To whom I answered, It is not the custom of the Romans for favor to deliver any man that he should perish, before he that is accused have his accusers face to face, and have license to answer for himself, concerning the crime laid against him. 17. Therefore, when they were come hither without delay, on the morrow I sat on the judgment-seat, and commanded the man to be brought. 18. Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation concerning such things as I supposed: 19. But they had certain questions concerning their superstition (or religion) against him, and concerning one Jesus which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. 20. And because I doubted of this question, I asked him if he would go to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things. 21. And when Paul had appealed, that he might be kept unto the knowledge of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept until I might send him to Caesar.
13. And after certain days. This long narration tendeth to this end, that we may know that though the handling of the cause were broken off, yet were Paul’s bands famous; and that he was nevertheless brought out of prison, that he might make profession of his faith, and dispute touching the gospel before a famous auditory; and again, that though he were contemned, yet was he not counted a wicked person, lest the glory of Christ should be abased by his slander and reproach, yea, that he had more liberty to preach the gospel being in prison, than if he had lived free in a private house.
King Agrippa and Bernice. It is certain that this Agrippa was son to Agrippa the elder, whose filthy and detestable death was set down in the twelfth chapter. When this man was made king of Chalcis, in his uncle’s stead, after the decease of his father, he did afterward obtain a more large dominion. 604 Bernice, of whom mention is made in this place, was his own natural sister, which was first married to Herod; king of Chalcis, her uncle, and did keep herself widow a certain season after his death, yet she did not live honestly and chastely during that time; for her great familiarity with her brother Agrippa was suspected. And to the end she might not be counted an incestuous person, she married with Polemon, king of Cilicia. Notwithstanding, because she gave herself more to lust than to chastity, she forsook him. The historiographers do nowhere say that she was her brother’s wife; and Josephus, in his Life, assigned her a dominion of her own in part of Galilee. Therefore, it is to be thought that forasmuch as they were hardened in their wickedness, they dwelt together, not regarding what men did say; yet did they abstain from marriage, lest their incestuous marriage should betray and also augment their crime. Neither is it any marvel that he came for honor’s sake to salute the governor, who did reign only at the will and pleasure of another, and did depend upon the beck and favor of the Emperor of Rome, which he was to retain and nourish by means of the governor.
14. When many days. Therefore, when (after some time was spent) they wanted matter of talk, as idle men use to invent somewhat whereon they may talk, mention was made of Paul; for Luke meant to note that, when he said that after many days were idly spent, Festus told the king of a certain man which lay bound. And although he doth here both touch the malice of the priests, and also make a show of wonderful equity on his part, yet in that he shortly after cleareth the party which was accused, he condemneth himself unawares, when as he confesseth that he was enforced to appeal that he might not be carried to Jerusalem.
But when Festus commendeth the Romans, he showeth what doth beseem judges. And if nature did tell profane men thus much, that they must admit no such favor as may oppress the guiltless, how much more must judges (who have the light of the word of God) be careful to avoid all corruption.
18. They laid no such crime to his charge. I marvel why Festus doth say, that there was no such crime objected to Paul as he supposed, seeing he was accused of sedition; but we may again conjecture by this, yea, plainly know, that their accusations were so vain, that they ought not to have been brought before the judgment-seat; as if a man did utter a slanderous speech unadvisedly. For which cause he saith, that the state of the cause did consist in questions of the law. Therefore, we see that he putteth a difference between those offenses which were wont to be punished by man’s laws, and the controversy which was between Paul and the Jews; not that the religion ought to be corrupted freely, 605 or that their malapertness is tolerable, who overthrow the worship of God with their own inventions; but because the man being a Roman, cared not for Moses’ law; therefore he speaketh so disdainfully when he saith, that they did strive about their superstition; though this word δεισιδαιμονια be taken of the Grecians, as well in good as evil part; to wit, because the worshipping of false gods was common in all places. Notwithstanding, his meaning is, that he careth not what manner of religion the Jews have. And no marvel if a man which was an ethnic, [heathen] and had not learned that the rule of godliness must be fet [sought] from the mouth of God, know not how to distinguish between the pure worship of God and superstitions.
Wherefore, we must hold fast that mark whereby we may discern the one from the other, that there is no godliness but that which is grounded in the knowledge of faith, lest we grabble [grope] in darkness. Moreover, the Romans were so drunken with prosperous success, that they thought that they were more acceptable to God than any other; as at this day the Turks, by reason of their manifold victories, deride the doctrine of Christ. This was a lamentable case, that a man being an unbeliever and idolater, sitteth as judge amidst the Jews, to give judgment of the sacred oracles of God according to his ignorance, but all the fault was in Paul’s adversaries, who did not care for the majesty of God, so they might satisfy and obey their own madness. Notwithstanding, there rested nothing for Paul to do, but to clear himself of those crimes which were laid against him. So at this day, though inward brawls, which are among Christians, do defame the name of Christ and his gospel among the Turks and Jews, yet the defenders of holy doctrine are unworthily blamed, which are enforced to enter the combat.
Of one Jesus. It is not to be doubted but that Paul intreated, both gravely and with such vehemency as became him, of the resurrection of Christ; but Festus, by reason of his pride, thought it no meet matter for him to occupy his head about. He doth not, indeed, openly deride Paul, but he showeth plainly how negligently he heard him when he disputed of Christ. Whereby we see how little preaching availeth, yea, that it availeth nothing at all, unless the Spirit of God do inwardly touch the hearts of men. For the wicked do lightly pass over whatsoever is spoken, as if a man should tell them a tale of Robin Hood. 606 Wherefore, there is no cause why the carelessness of many should trouble us at this day, seeing Paul prevailed nothing with Festus. But this place doth witness that many speeches did pass in the handling of the matter, whereof Luke maketh no mention. For he had spoken nothing as yet of Christ, and yet this latter narration doth show that Paul intreated seriously before the Jews of his death and resurrection. Which could not be, but he must needs intreat of the principal points of the gospel. Therefore, I guess that Paul did so handle the matter, that when he had refuted the false accusations of the Jews, wherewith they went about to burden him before the governor, having gotten a fit occasion, he began afterward to speak freely of Christ.
22. And Agrippa said unto Festus, I would also myself hear the man. Tomorrow, saith he, thou shalt hear him. 23. And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the common hall with the chief captains, and the principal men of the city, at Festus’ commandment Paul was brought. 24. And Festus saith, King Agrippa, and all men which are present with us, ye see this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews hath called upon me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying that he ought not to live any longer. 25. Yet have I found that he hath committed nothing worthy of death, and because he hath appealed unto Augustus, I have determined to send him. 26. Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth unto you, and chiefly unto thee, O king Agrippa, that, after examination had, I may have somewhat to write. 27. For it seemeth to me an unmeet thing to send a prisoner, and not to show the crimes whereof he is accused.
22. I would also. By this we may gather that Agrippa did so desire to hear Paul, that he was ashamed to make his desire known, lest Festus should think that he came for some other end than to salute him. And it may be that not only curiosity did move him to be desirous to hear Paul, but because he did hope to profit by hearing him. Notwithstanding, we may easily gather by this how cold his desire was, because he suffered many days to pass before he showeth any sign of his desire, because he was more in love with earthly commodities, which he counted better. Neither durst he make any words; neither did he pass for uttering any speech until such time as Festus did of his own accord will him so to do. So that the holy minister of Christ is brought forth as on a stage, that a profane man may cheer up his guest, save only that Festus will be holpen with the advice of Agrippa and his company, that he may let Caesar understand how diligent he is. But the matter was turned to another end by the secret providence of God. Neither need we doubt but that such report went abroad as made much for the confirmation of the godly; and it may be also that some of the hearers were touched, and did conceive seed of faith, which did afterward bring forth fruit in due time. But admit none of them did embrace Christ sincerely and from his heart, this was no small profit, that the unskillful were appeased after that the malice of the enemies was discovered, that they might not be inflamed with such hatred against the gospel. Impiety was made ashamed, and the faithful did gather new strength, so that they were confirmed more and more in the gospel.
23. And on the morrow. Agrippa and his sister do not come like humble disciples of Christ, but they bring with them such pomp and gorgeousness as may stop their ears and blind their eyes; and it is to be thought that like haughtiness of mind was joined with that gorgeous and great pomp. No marvel, therefore, if they were not brought to obey Christ. Notwithstanding, it seemeth that Luke maketh mention of the pomp, that we might know that, in a great assembly, and before choice witnesses, whose authority was great, Paul had leave granted not only to plead his matter as a party defendant, but also to preach the gospel. For he cometh forth as in the person of a teacher, that he may set forth the name of Christ. So that the truth of God brake out of his bands, which was forthwith spread abroad everywhere with a free course; yea, it came even unto us. By this word φαντασια, Luke understandeth that which we call commonly preparation or pomp. 607 But there must other furniture be brought unto the spiritual marriage of Jesus Christ.
26. That after examination had. We cannot tell whether the governor, in acquitting Paul before them, doth seek by this policy to entice him to let his appeal fall. For it was a thing credible that he might easily be persuaded to lay away fear, and to submit himself to the judgment and discretion of a just judge, especially if Agrippa should give his friendly consent. To what end soever he did it, he condemneth himself of iniquity by his own mouth, in that he did not let a guiltless man go free whom he is now ashamed to send unto Caesar, having nothing to lay against him. This did also come to pass by the wonderful providence of God, that the Jews themselves should give a former judgment on Paul’s side. Peradventure, the governor goeth subtilely to work, that he may pick out what the king and the chief men of Cesarea do think, that if it so fall out that Paul be set at liberty, he may lay the blame on their necks. For he would not have the priests to be his enemies for nothing, upon whom a good part of Jerusalem did depend, and that was the best way that he could take in writing to Caesar to intermingle the authority of Agrippa. But the Lord (to whom it belongeth to govern events contrary to man’s expectation) had respect unto another thing, to wit, that when the clouds of false accusations were driven away, Paul might more freely avouch sound doctrine.
“Ab omni falsa obtrectatione,” from all groundless detractation.
“Jus Romanae civitatis,” the privilege of a Roman citizen.
“Quo minus sceleratis latronibus mactandum objiceret,” that he did not expose himself to be murdered by nefarious assassins.
“Si impetrasset,” if he had obtained.
“Judicium populi,” the right of judging (formerly) in the people,
“Tergiversandi,” by tergiversation.
“Impune violari.” he violated with impunity.
“Acsi quis fabulas narraret,” as if one were telling them fables.