If an appeal be, as it properly is, a petition for the removal of a case that has been decided for rehearing and review and final decision by a higher court, we find no such instance either in the Old Testament or the New Testament.
In the institution of judges by Moses (Exodus 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 Deuteronomy 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 Acts 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 (Acts 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 (Acts 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.
Acts 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 (Acts 19:21; Romans 1:11,15; 15:23,24). The Lord had just assured him (Acts 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.
H. E. Jacobs