(Fesʹtus) [from Lat., Festal; Joyful].
Governor of the Roman province of Judea after the recall of Felix to Rome. (Ac 24:27) The year of this change in governors is not definitely known; the only sources of information are the Bible and Josephus, and neither sheds light on the appointment by Nero. There are two schools of critics, one arguing for the arrival of Porcius Festus in Judea as early as 54 C.E., the other as late as 61. Historians tend to favor a time between 58 and 61 C.E. The year 58 C.E., as given by Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible (p. 342), seems to be the most likely date of Festus’ accession as governor of Judea.
Three days after Festus arrived in Caesarea he journeyed to Jerusalem, evidently to familiarize himself with the problems of the people he was to govern. Paul was in Caesarea, left over as a prisoner from the administration of Felix. The Jewish chief priests and principal men wasted no time in requesting that he be brought to Jerusalem, as they hoped to ambush him and kill him on the way. Instead, Festus decided on a retrial for Paul and ordered the accusers to appear before his judgment seat in Caesarea. After the “trial” Festus was convinced of Paul’s innocence and later confessed to King Agrippa II: “I perceived he had committed nothing deserving of death.” (Ac 25:25) Earlier, “desiring to gain favor with the Jews,” Festus had asked if Paul would volunteer to go to Jerusalem for trial. (Ac 25:9) Paul, however, replied: “No man can hand me over to them as a favor. I appeal to Caesar!”—Ac 25:11.
Now Festus was faced with a new problem. In explaining to Agrippa that he had this prisoner to send to Rome, yet had no charges to lay against him, Festus observed: “It seems unreasonable to me to send a prisoner and not also to signify the charges against him.” (Ac 25:27) Agrippa offered to hear Paul himself with a view to resolving the problem. In his defense, Paul made such an eloquent and stirring speech that Festus was moved to exclaim: “You are going mad, Paul! Great learning is driving you into madness!” (Ac 26:24) Paul then turned to Agrippa with a strong appeal, eliciting Agrippa’s remark: “In a short time you would persuade me to become a Christian.” (Ac 26:28) Later Agrippa said to Festus: “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.” This decision was entirely providential, for the Lord beforehand had disclosed to Paul: “Be of good courage! . . . you must also bear witness in Rome.”—Ac 23:11; 26:32.
In comparison with the oppressive administration of Felix, that of Festus is rated as being generally favorable. He suppressed the terrorist bandits known as the Assassins, or Sicarii (dagger men), and in other ways tried to uphold Roman law. One ruling of Festus, however, was reversed on appeal to Rome. Agrippa built his dining room overlooking the sacred temple area, whereupon the Jews constructed a wall to obstruct the view. Festus ordered that the wall be removed on the grounds that it blocked out the view of the soldiers, but when the case was appealed to Rome the wall was allowed to stand. Festus died in office and was succeeded by Albinus.