Examples from Paul’s Trial and Defense
During trials in Jerusalem and Caesarea after his return from Ephesus, Paul demonstrated respect for Jewish laws and custom and for constituted authority. Also, he invoked his civil rights several times to win protection under the law.
BASIS FOR RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY As Paul explained in his letter to the Romans several years later [Romans 13:1–7], and Peter in his epistle [1 Peter 2:13-18], respect for authority is part of God’s mandate and a key aspect of Christian responsibilities to society. People in authority positions (such as president or prime minister, king or queen, governor, clergy, teacher, supervisor, parents, or any person in a position of leadership) help to preserve and propagate natural order and are God’s channels for protecting the good elements of society from the bad. Therefore, we honor God when we respect human authorities.
TWO-PART BIBLE STUDY In this two-part bible study, we discuss Paul’s trial in Jerusalem and Caesarea and subsequent transfer to Rome, to highlight interactions with his Jewish accusers and the Roman authorities and his invoking his rights of citizenship as part of his defense. The current discussion builds on the discussion of his Jerusalem trials in Part 1. Here, we discuss the trials in Caesarea and his transfer to Rome, where he preached the gospel as he did previously in Jerusalem, thereby fulfilling God’s promise to him regarding the trials.
Paul Transferred to Caesarea
ENTITLED TO PROTECTION UNDER ROMAN LAW A nephew of Paul became aware of a Jewish plot to kill him [Acts 23:12–22]. In the plot, the chief priests and elders were to petition the Roman commander to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin for a second trial. However, a group of forty men would wait in ambush to kill him while on his way to the Sanhedrin. Paul directed the information to the Roman commander, recognizing the commander had authority to protect him against the plot. The commander transferred Paul to the authority of Governor Felix in Caesarea, the seat of government [Acts 23:23–35]. The transfer occurred overnight under heavy guard. In his transfer report to the governor, the commander stated that Paul was entitled to protection under the law because he was a Roman citizen; also, fellow Jews wanted to kill him but had no charge against him that could justify a death sentence or imprisonment.
TRIALS IN CAESAREA Jewish leaders from Jerusalem appeared before Governor Felix and tried to make a case against Paul. They stated he was a troublemaker, stirred up riots among Jews, ringleader of the Nazarene sect, and tried to desecrate the temple. Paul responded that he was in Jerusalem to worship and give gifts to the poor but did not argue with anyone at the temple or stir up any crowd in the synagogue or anywhere in the city. He denied the accusation that he tried to desecrate the temple by reminding them he was ceremonially clean when they found him. Paul’s compliance with Jewish customary purification rites, as he stated in the trial, was another evidence of his respect for civil responsibilities. Governor Felix did not find Paul in violation of any law or custom. However, he retained him in custody but with more freedom to interact with friends [Acts 24:23].
APPEAL TO CAESAR After Porcius Festus replaced Felix as governor, he convened the court in Caesarea to continue Paul’s trial. At the trial, Governor Festus appeared to lean toward granting a request of the Jews that the case be transferred back to Jerusalem. To defend against the threat of being transferred to Jerusalem where there had been a plot on his life, Paul invoked his civil rights and appealed his case to Emperor Caesar. The appeal to Caesar meant he would have to be taken to Rome to continue the trial before Caesar [Acts 25:1–12]. Asserting his civil rights by appealing to Caesar in essence signifies Paul’s respect for the authority of Caesar. The appeal triggered a sequence of events that would lead to fulfilling God’s promise to him: “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” [Acts 23:11].
Paul in Rome
After he arrived in Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself with one soldier guard. He met with Jewish leaders after three days, first to inform them about his case and a second time to preach the gospel. Thereafter, he lived in Rome for two years. He lived in his own rented house, interacted with people freely, and preached the gospel boldly without hindrance [Acts 28:16–31]. Neither his case nor the appeal to Caesar was mentioned again in the biblical account. Based on the account, the only important aspect of his transfer to Rome is he extended his ministry there and, hence, fulfilled God’s promise that he will preach the gospel in Rome as he did in Jerusalem.
Summary of Paul’s Actions
In Respect for Civil Rights and Responsibilities
Through his trials in Jerusalem and Caesarea and his subsequent transfer to Rome, Paul demonstrated respect for civil rights and responsibilities. Here we summarize the things he did that showed him to be respectful of civil rights and responsibilities.
CUSTOMARY PURIFICATION RITES After he returned to Jerusalem from Ephesus, Paul underwent customary purification as required by Jewish custom [Acts 21:26]. The custom is based on God’s instruction to Moses [Numbers 19:11–22] carried through several generations as part of Jewish worship.
RESPECT FOR HIGH PRIEST During his trial before the Sanhedrin, Paul withdrew from a confrontation with Ananias when he was informed that Ananias was the high priest [Acts 23:1–5].
RESPECT FOR ROMAN COMMANDER In recognition of the authority of the Roman commander, Paul requested permission from him to address the crowd in Jerusalem [Acts 21:37–40], was obedient to him while in his custody, and referred his nephew to the commander to report information regarding a plot on Paul’s life [Acts 23:16–22].
RESPECT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS Paul invoked his rights as a Roman citizen to defend himself against a flogging order [Acts 22:24–29] and appeal his case to Emperor Caesar [Acts 25:9–12].
RESPECT FOR EMPEROR CAESAR Paul recognized Caesar’s authority as the final arbiter for any dispute in all territory under Roman rule. By appealing to Caesar [Acts 25:9–12], he showed respect for Caesar’s authority to protect his civil rights from those that sought through the trials to take away his rights.
RESPECT FOR JEWISH COMMUNITY IN ROME Three days after he arrived in Rome, Paul convened a meeting of Jewish community leaders in Rome to inform them about his case and explain the basis for his appeal to Caesar. He told them the following [Acts 28:17–20].
- Their people arrested him in Jerusalem and handed him over to Roman authorities, although he did nothing against Jews or the customs of their ancestors.
- The Roman authorities wanted to release him because he was not guilty of any crime deserving death, but the Jews objected.
- Therefore, he was compelled to appeal to Caesar. His appeal to Caesar certainly was not the result of any intention to bring charges against his own people.
- He decided to meet with them to let them know he was in custody because of his belief in the hope of Israel
They replied that they had not heard anything bad or received any letter from Judea about him. However, they asked him to tell them his views because they had heard a lot said about the followers of Jesus. Therefore, they setup another meeting to hear the gospel from him.