APPEAL. No provision was made in the OT for the reconsideration from a lower to a higher court of a case already tried. Exod.18.26 shows, however, that Moses provided for lower and higher courts: “The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.” In Deut.17.8-Deut.17.13 provision was made for a lower court, under certain conditions, to seek instructions as to procedure from a higher court; but the decision itself belonged to the lower court.

In NT times the Roman government allowed each synagogue to exercise discipline over Jews, but only the Romans had the power of life and death. A Roman citizen could, however, claim exemption from trial by the Jews and appeal to be tried by a Roman court. Paul did this when he said, “I appeal to Caesar!” (Acts.25.11). In such cases the litigant either pronounced the word appellō, as Paul did, or submitted the appeal in writing. In either case the presiding magistrate was under obligation to transmit the file, together with a personal report, to the competent higher magistrate.

APPEAL. In ordinary speech this might be any resort to another party for an opinion or judgment in one’s favor. A man, for example, appealed to Jesus to persuade his brother to divide an inheritance with him (Luke 12:13). The OT provided no legal process of law for such a situation. There was only a division of jurisdiction in the hearing of easy and difficult cases (Exod 18:26; Deut 17:8-13).

In the NT attention is centered on the formal and legal appeal to Caesar by the Apostle Paul. After Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem, he was transported to Caesarea where he was held by Felix the governor until Festus succeeded him. The Jews pressed charges against Paul, implying that he had acted against Caesar’s interests. Unconvinced, Festus asked Paul if he would go to Jerusalem for trial. Paul, knowing that this hostile environment might be prejudicial to his interests, appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11). Older Rom. law had provided for appeal from one magistrate to another, or to a tribune of the people. This form of appeal had later been transferred to the emperor. Paul, as a Rom. citizen, was entitled to appeal (cf. Acts 22:25 ff.). The procedure of Pliny, governor of Bithynia, is cited. In a letter to Emperor Trajan (Letters X. 96), he wrote of sending Christian citizens to Rome for a hearing in a time of persecution. According to Suetonius (Galba VII), however, when Galba was governor in Africa, he did not honor the appeal of even a Rom. citizen, but crucified him on the spot.

In the case of Paul, Festus was embarrassed. Paul had not been tried or convicted. He appeared innocent. What charges should he record for the appeal (Acts 25:25-27)? Festus laid the problem before King Agrippa who visited him at this time, and another hearing was arranged for the king. After Paul had pled his case at length, King Agrippa was so profoundly impressed that he declared Paul undeserving of sentence and said that he “could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32). But Paul’s appeal had removed the right of decision from Festus’ jurisdiction, and Paul was sent to Rome. Once made, the appeal evidently could not be revoked.


F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts (1954), 476-497, gives Paul’s case.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

In the institution of judges by Moses (Ex 18:26), the reference: "The hard cases they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves," indicates simply a distribution of cases between two courts, but gives no trace of any provision for the rehearing of any case, by a higher court, that has already been decided by a lower. In De 17:8-13, directions are given that a lower court, under certain conditions, shall ask a higher for instructions as to procedure, and shall strictly follow the order prescribed: nevertheless, the decision itself belongs to the lower court. When its sentence was once given, there was no appeal.

In the New Testament, the provision of the Roman law, for an appeal from a lower to a higher court, is clearly recognized, although the case of Paul in Ac 25 does not strictly fall within its scope. The Roman law originally gave a citizen the right of appeal to the tribune of the people, but, with the establishment of the Empire, the emperor himself assumed this function of the tribune, and became the court of last resort. The case of Paul, however, had not been tried before Festus, nor any verdict rendered, when (Ac 25:10,11) he utters the proper legal formula: "I appeal unto Caesar" (Kaisara epikaloumai). That Roman citizens could insist upon such procedure, as right, is not perfectly certain (HJP, II, 2 279). Paul evidently acted upon the suggestion of the governor himself (Ac 25:9), who seems to have been desirous of avoiding the responsibility of a case involving questions most remote from his ordinary attention. At first sight, Paul’s decision to appeal seems premature. He throws away his chance of acquittal by Festus, and acts upon the assumption that he has been already condemned. Ac 26:32 shows that the possibility of his acquittal had amounted almost to a certainty. His course is explicable only by regarding his appeal the master stroke of a great leader, who was ready to take risks. In the proposition of Festus, he grasps at what had been an object of hope long deferred.

For many years, he had been desiring and praying to get to Rome (Ac 19:21; Ro 1:11,15; 15:23,24). The Lord had just assured him (Ac 23:11), that as he had testified at Jerusalem, "so must thou bear witness also at Rome." With this promise and direction in view, he hastens toward the world’s capital and the center of the world’s influence, in the seemingly precipitate words, "I appeal," which a lower order of prudence would have deferred until he had first been condemned.