Rome’s legal system (upon which the American is modeled) allowed for an appeal to be made to a higher court – Caesar – if a lower authority made a ruling which was not in accord with Roman Law. As Paul was a Roman citizen, he had access to these rights. People like Peter or the other apostles, who were not citizens, did not have these rights, and could not appeal anything that was done to them.
Paul invoked his right of appeal, even though no judgment had been rendered, because he saw that Festus was willing to send him back to Jerusalem to be tried in the court of the unbelieving Jews who were against him. Also, he knew from the Spirit that he was supposed to go to Rome to bear witness (Act 23:11).
Now Festus had a problem. Because here was a prisoner, who had been kept imprisoned for over two years, yet there was no cheirographon against him. The cheirographon is so important! If you will recall, in Roman culture, it was the list of charges, or crimes the prisoner was thought to have committed, for which he was in chains. There could be no imprisonment, sentence passed, or carried out without the cheirographon. In Roman Law, a man had to be accused of something against Roman Law in order for the court to proceed further.
We see the Roman commander in Jerusalem take several actions in order to determine Paul’s crimes for the cheirographon, in Acts 21:33-34, and Acts 22:24 and 30. In Acts 24, Felix as Roman governor of the province also heard him before his accusers in order to determine what his crimes were for the cheirographon. But since no determination was ever made, Paul remained under guard, in Roman thinking, for his own safety, until something could be discovered, for there had been a plot to kill him — in opposition to Roman Law, a plot to execute a sentence against a Roman citizen outside of Roman Law.
Now in this chapter, Paul was heard before Festus twice, once before his accusers, and once with King Agrippa. The purpose of these hearings was to determine what would be written on Paul’s cheirographon, what his crime against Roman Law was, as we can see from verses 26-27.
King Agrippa, by the way, was the last of the line of the Herodians, who had been kings in Judea before the Romans took over. He was Herod the Great’s great- grandson. The Herodians were ethnic Edomites who had been forced to convert to Judaism when the Maccabees reigned in Israel. So they were Hellenized Jews, Jews who lived like Greeks, according to the Greek culture that Alexander the Great’s empire brought to all the lands he conquered.
The Romans often kept the native kings on the throne of the lands they conquered, as long as that king was subject to Rome. In Judea’s case, because it was a tinderbox of opposition against Rome, there was a Roman governor also who ruled in Rome’s interest and rendered judgment in accord with Roman Law.
Now, all this detail about the cheirographon might be mind numbing, but just tuck this info and these chapters in Acts away in the back of your brain, because this is not the last time we will encounter the cheirographon in Scripture.
For further reading:
colossians 2, that which has been nailed to the cross (the cheirographon)