posted on Aug, 8 2014 @ 05:01 PM
Readers of Acts may find it frustrating that Luke brings Paul to Rome and says nothing about the outcome of his case.
There’s really no reason why he should, though, because Luke is not telling the story of Paul’s life.
He’s telling the story of the gospel spreading out from Jerusalem, so the arrival in Rome is a suitable place to stop.
Church traditions don’t supply an answer, though they do suggest that Paul survived much longer.
However, I think there are enough clues in the background of the story (in Acts chs21-26) to tell us what the outcome ought to have been.
The first point which needs to be understood is that this was not a criminal trial.
Paul had not been charged with any offence under Roman law.
He had been kept in chains for other reasons.
Without knowing the technical language of Roman police procedure, it’s possible to detect a number of different types of custody.
In the first place, Paul had been found in the middle of an incipient riot around the Temple in Jerusalem, being attacked by the people around him.
Since the Roman garrison was there to maintain order, their first priority was to end a state of lawless riot by removing the cause. Therefore they
took him out of the crowd.
Their second priority was to protect a possible victim of lawless riot.
Paul might or might not be a criminal of some kind, but he would have to be dealt with in due form.
Their third priority was to find out what was happening, in order to make informed decisions about what to do next.
The quickest approach was to get the information direct from Paul, if necessary by scourging him.
However, it quickly became clear that the Jewish Sanhedrin wanted to claim Paul for proceedings in their own court, under Jewish law.
The Roman authorities were not yet convinced that releasing him to the Sanhedrin was the right thing to so,
Therefore they were obliged to keep him in their own charge while they made up their minds.
There was still a “protective” element in all this.
The tribune took Paul out of the first stormy meeting with the council, when it seemed that he might be torn apart.
When he was later informed about a plot to ambush Paul on his way to a second meeting, he sent Paul down to the governor instead, with a substantial
The matter was not going to be settled by unauthorised violence.
And I suspect that “peace-keeping” was a continuing motive as well.
There may well have been a thought running through the governor’s mind; “I can’t give this man his liberty, because then there will be more
trouble and rioting”.
However, “decision-pending custody” was the main factor that held Paul in chains for more than two years.
The nearest modern equivalent would be an extradition case.
We need to appreciate that the Empire was not run by a centralised bureaucracy from top to bottom.
The political/military bureaucracy was imposed over a whole network of local authorities which had not been abolished when the territories were
conquered, Formerly independent cities kept their councils and officers. There were still local rulers in Britain.
And the Sanhedrin evidently had some jurisdiction over the Jews, at least in the region of Syria.
Paul himself must have been acting under that authority in his days of persecuting the Christians.
So the question now facing the governor was effectively whether to hand his prisoner over to a different jurisdiction, which is the essence of an
That first meeting with the council had been the tribune’s attempt to resolve the problem.
But Paul succeeded in diverting the meeting into a tumultuous argument about resurrection, so nobody had a chance even to name any charges.
When Paul arrived in Caesarea, the governor asked him to what province he belonged, and got the answer that Paul came from Cilicia.
This was not just casual social chit-chat.
I believe this question had great legal importance, raising doubts about whether he fell under Jerusalem’s jurisdiction, and the answer may have
kept him out of Jewish hands for the next two years.
A deputation led by the High Priest came down for a formal “extradition hearing”.
The mob’s original charge that Paul had profaned the Temple had been expanded.
The spokesman now claimed that he was “a pestilential fellow”, an agitator among the Jews of the world, and a ringleader of the Nazarenes.
This may have been a tactical mistake.
The original charge was weak, because it was untrue, but at least it fell within their remit.
It could be argued that what Paul was doing in Greece and Asia Minor was well outside their legal responsibility.
When Paul spoke in answer, he confined himself to showing that he had done nothing against their laws while he was in Jerusalem, and they did not get
When Festus took over the province, the Jews tried again.
The new governor now reverted to the idea of a trial in Jerusalem, to be held in his presence.
This was getting dangerous, so Paul made his appeal to Caesar.
Festus first examined him again, in company with Agrippa, because he was having difficulty with the letter which was supposed to accompany Paul.
What exactly did the Jewish authorities want to charge him with?
Agrippa found nothing wrong with him, which would not have helped Festus finish his letter.
The book of Acts then concludes with the journey and the arrival in Rome.
Although the phrase was “appeal to Caesar”, we must not suppose that Caesar would have heard the appeal in person.
Any more than the Queen is present in person when a case is tried by Queen’s Bench.
In a large state, these things are delegated.
This was a dispute between a Roman citizen (Paul) and a party of non-citizens (the Sanhedrin), so I fancy it would have gone to the PRAETOR
PEREGRINUS, who dealt with such cases.
I need to emphasis, once again, that as far as the Roman legal system was concerned, this was not a criminal case but a dispute over jurisdiction.
The question before the court was whether Paul should be handed over to the court in Jerusalem, because that was the point on which he had
If he had lost the case, he would not have been punished by the Romans, but simply returned into Jewish hands.
That conclusion is tantamount to a proof that Paul did NOT lose his case.
It’s inconceivable that such an outcome should have been forgotten in the traditions of the church, especially since it would probably have resulted
in his death.
If Paul won his case, what was the decisive argument?
I think the key point would have been that Jerusalem’s authority over Jews, as acknowledged by the Roman state, applied only in the local area.
If I had been Paul’s lawyer, I might have argued that Paul was exempt from their jurisdiction, because
a) Paul himself was born outside their province
b) The alleged offences (being a ringleader of the Nazarenes) were taking place outside their province
c) The very ship which brought Paul to Rome as a prisoner had carried him out of their province.
Perhaps the court would have struck out the last argument, as over-ingenious and a bad precedent, and allowed Paul’s appeal on the basis of the
He would then have been released and told to go on his way (preferably not back to Palestine to cause more trouble).
So it seems to me that Paul ought to have won his case in Rome.
Mainly on the grounds that he was born in Cilicia.