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In Acts 26, Paul offered his defense before Festus and Agrippa. Afterwards, they both realize that he's innocent. From verses 30 - 32,

The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”

Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Why couldn't they set him free "on the spot"? Why were they obligated to send him to Caesar even after they were evidently convinced of his innocence, rather than just freeing him themselves?

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  • Shouldn't vv32 answer itself? Jan 21, 2023 at 5:00
  • @VincentWong No, that's what I'm asking about; why did the fact that he appealed to Caesar mean that they couldn't free him? Wouldn't them just freeing him preempt the whole issue of his appeal? Presumably if they were willing to free him themselves, Paul wouldn't press the issue of his appeal to Caesar. Jan 21, 2023 at 5:38
  • I think Paul was intentionally file his appeal to Caesar, which I will give my opinion in an answer subsequently. Jan 21, 2023 at 21:23

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I suggest two answers; politics and law. In the first place, they feared the event of ch21 vv30-31 on a larger scale, with wide-spread politcal disturbances, and they would prefer not to cope with it. The Romans were pragmatists, not idealists. Abstract justice was less important than keeping order in a volatile population.

Let us run through the Jewish efforts to get hold of and/or kill Paul. Ch21 v27-36, the attempt to lynch Paul on the spot, which got him into what was originally "protective custody" or "let's isolate the apparent cause of the trouble until we find out what's happening" custody. Ch22 vv1-22, the renewed danger of riot when Paul spoke to the crowd. Ch23 v10, when Paul spoke in front of the counci, the dissension became violent. The tribune feared that they were about to tear Paul to pieces and took him away again. Ch23 vv12-35, the plot against Paul's life, which was evaded by having him taken away to Caesarea. The fact that he was already being held in a Roman barracks was not thought to be sufficient protection.

Besides which, the local Jewish authorities, who needed to be placated, were making legal demands concerning him. Even though there was never any suggestion that he could be charged under Roman law, legal procedure presumably prevented him from being released until the legal claims of the Sanhedrin concerning their rights over Paul had been settled one way or another. Ch24 vv1-2, the first formal accusation, making charges relating to Jewish law, not Roman law. Ch25 vv1-3, the request that Paul be sent to Jerusalem. They privately hoped for a chance to kill him on the way there. Failing that, they must have been hoping for a chance to get him tried by the Sanhedrin, or at least a trial under Festus held in an environment hostile to Paul. Festus agreed to that last option, and that's what Paul was appealing against (ch25 v11).The fact that Paul had already appealed to Caesar had set a legal process in motion, which would have to be followed through to the end. It was now in the paperwork, which a legalistic society cannot ignore. And if Paul had simply abandoned his appeal against the option of being tried in Jerusalem, he would have been tried in Jerusalem.

The narrative in ch25 and ch26 shows that Paul's appearance in front of Festus and Agrippa was not a formal legal hearing. Festus states frankly (ch25 v26) that he doesn't know what to say in the documentation which he must send to Rome along with Paul, and he wants Agrippa's advice. In the circumstances, Agrippa's verdict has the status of a private opinion and Paul could not have been released on it.Though it might have helped him win his freedom at the hearings in Rome.

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  • Useful answer but I suggest changing your terminology about "Jewish efforts to get hold of and/or kill Paul." At the time in question the entire Jerusalem Church were practicing Jews who were "zealous for the law" acc to Acts 21. Paul himself appealed to his judges on the basis that this was an internal controversy between Sadducees who denied the resurrection and Pharisees (of whom he is one, he says) who affirm it. "Jewish efforts" tends to paint Jews generally as anti-Christian, which acc to Paul himself was not the case. Jan 21, 2023 at 22:45
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    The distinction is between Jews and Romans. From the viewpoint of the Roman authorities (whose motives we are considering), the efforts were being made by the Jews. Jan 21, 2023 at 22:50
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Paul said to Porcius Festus, the Roman procurator, in Acts 25:

11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them [Jewish authority]. I appeal to Caesar.”

Some Jews had plotted to kill him. Paul sensed that they would try again. He figured that the safer place for him was under the protection of the Roman authority.

12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”

13 Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus.

Festus was interested in Agrippa's opinion on the case, he said to him:

27 "it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.”

That was the purpose from Festus' point of view.

King Agrippa was also interested in the case and held a hearing. In the end, Acts 26:

30 the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Why didn't Agrippa release Paul?

  1. It wasn't Agrippa's jurisdiction/authority. His input was only advisory to Festus.
  2. Festus had the authority and gave Paul a choice and Paul already appealed to Caesar.

Ellicott:

(32) This man might have been set at liberty . . .—The decision to which Agrippa came showed the wisdom of the line which St. Paul had taken. The matter could not be hushed up nor got rid of. The authorities could not now free themselves from responsibility for the safe custody of the prisoner, and, by releasing him, expose his life to the conspiracies of the Jews; and thus the Apostle at last gained that safe journey to the imperial city which had for many years been the great desire of his heart.

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  • I upvoted this on the basis of your points 1 and 2 as the reasons why they didn't release Paul. However I don't see a basis for the statement "Jewish authority had plotted to kill him." Acts 21:27ff indicates it was Jews from Asia, not Jewish officials in Jerusalem, who heard Paul preach there and whipped up a mob after he unexpectedly appeared at the Temple. Jan 22, 2023 at 18:09
  • Good point. I modified. Thanks :)
    – user35953
    Jan 22, 2023 at 18:22
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Paul appealed to Caesar, in exchanged another option to be judged in Jerusalem, to escape a plot of being killed in transit. The story can be read in Acts 25:1-12. Detail as per Tony Chan's answer that I don't want to repeat.

In my opinion, Paul did not make this decision to avoid being killed. He was not afraid of death. In Philippians 1:21-23, he had this touching words of himself;

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!

23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; (NIV)

So what was his intention to appeal to Caesar? It was because he wanted to bring the Gospel to Rome.

Not long ago before Paul was arrest in Jerusalem, he wrote the epistle of Rome in Corinth. In the letter he wrote;

1:11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—

1:13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. (NIV)

and the prominent verses Romans 1:16-17

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (NIV)

The obstacle that Paul mentioned in 1:13, was obviously the Jews who against his preaching. Therefore Paul might come up with a plan, as a Roman citizen, he had the right to appeal to Caesar, and would be escorted by the Romans soldiers, avoiding any further obstacle by the Jews, and that he could be in Rome finally.

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