So finally the trial starts and when Festus asked for the charges against Paul, he was pretty surprised by what he heard. None of the charges he expected were raised. Instead, he found himself in the middle of a religious debate. That’s exactly what Gallio firgued out when he heard the case, threw it out of court! Do you remember it?
Now while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews attacked Paul together and brought him before the judgment seat, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God in a way contrary to the law!” But just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of some crime or serious piece of villainy, I would have been justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews, but since it concerns points of disagreement about words and names and your own law, settle it yourselves. I will not be a judge of these things!” Then he had them forced away from the judgment seat. So they all seized Sosthenes, the president of the synagogue, and began to beat him in front of the judgment seat. Yet none of these things were of any concern to Gallio —Acts 18:12-17
The real issue had nothing to with violationing any Jewish or Roman law. Festus finally realized that this was a debate between Jews regarding their religion. Or more to the point, it was a debate about someone named Jesus and Paul’s claim that He had risen from the dead. Festus was no theologian, no student of the Jewish religion, so how was he supposed to judge this? That’s why he suggested that Paul go to trial in Jerusalem. The Jews there (perhaps now including the entire Sanhedrin) would be better judges than he would. He could still preside over the proceedings; so he would not be abandoning Paul completely.
Then there is a second surprise, every bit as great as the first. Festus never imagined Paul would refuse his suggestion. Festus tried so hard to maintain control of this situation, and once again, he has lost control. Now comes the real dilemma: Festus must send Paul to Caesar, and he didn’t dare send him to Rome without having some charge against him. This is where Agrippa and Bernice come in. They understand these kinds of things. Surely they will be able to counsel Festus regarding the proper charges to file against Paul.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts