Festus [Fĕs'tus]—joyful, festal, prosperous. Porcius Festus was a Roman governor of Judea in the reign of Nero (Acts 24:27; 25; 26:24, 32).
Felix, seeking to court the favor of the Jews, left Paul in prison, thinking that the Jews would compensate him for such a favor. This act was an investment in iniquity. But the Jewish complaints against Felix led to his recall by Nero, so Paul passed into the hands of Festus, Felix’successor. Festus, not knowing much about Jewish matters, brought the question of Paul’s imprisonment before Agrippa who was conversant with many aspects of the Jewish religion. It perplexed Festus to know that Paul, a Jew with the utmost reverence for the Law and the worship of the Temple, was yet hated by his compatriots.
Agrippa agreed to hear Paul for himself, so we come to the apostle’s masterly defense before the king and Bernice. With a wonderful vividness Paul gave a retrospective analysis of his former life and then a sketch of his present sacrificial witness to Christ as the risen, glorified Son of God. Such was the impact of Paul’s remarkable appeal that Festus, the Roman governor, forgot the usual dignity of his office and burst out into a loud laugh of scorn saying: “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.”
With characteristic calmness and with a firm control of his natural impulses so that no unguarded utterance might escape his lips, Paul answered Festus in all courtesy: “I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” In his incomparable Bible Characters, Alexander Whyte says that a single word will sometimes immortalize a man. “What will you give me?” was all Judas said. So with one word Festus is as well known to us as if a whole chapter had been written about him. He said Paul was mad.
But the uncontrolled and unbecoming outburst of Festus did not stagger Paul. Did they not say of his Master, for whom he had suffered much “He is beside Himself”? The apostle counted it a privilege to share his Master’s madness. Later on, he wrote about being a fool for His sake. He knew that no man is a true Christian who is not the world’s fool (1 Cor. 3:18; 4:10; 2 Cor. 11:23). All around us are those who have never been borne along by the enthusiasm of God, who deem the spiritual man to be mad (Hos. 9:7).