(Fesʹtus) [festal, joyful].
Governor of the Roman province of Judea after the recall of Felix to Rome. (Acts 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 55 C.E., the other as late as 60-61. Commenting on this dispute, The Encyclopædia Britannica says: “It can be said confidently that the truth is between these two extremes, for the arguments urged in each case appear less to prove one extreme than to disprove its opposite.” The year 58 C.E., as given by Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, 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. The Jewish chief priests and principal men wasted no time in requesting that Paul, in Caesarea as a leftover prisoner from Felix’s administration, be sent for, hoping 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.” (Acts 25:25) Earlier, “desiring to gain favor with the Jews,” Festus had asked if Paul would volunteer to go to Jerusalem for trial. (Acts 25:9) Paul, however, replied: “No man can hand me over to them as a favor. I appeal to Caesar!”—Acts 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.” (Acts 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!” (Acts 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.” (Acts 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.”—Acts 23:11; 26:32.
In comparison with the poor and provocative 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 the wall 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. About 62 C.E. Festus died in office and was succeeded by Albinus.