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Bible Commentaries
Acts 26

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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The first twenty-three verses give Paul’s address, outlined by Bruce thus:

i. The complimentary exordium (Acts 26:2 f).

ii. His Pharisaic heritage (Acts 26:4 f).

iii. His former persecuting zeal (Acts 26:9 f).

iv. His vision on Damascus road (Acts 26:12 f).

v. His lifelong obedience to vision (Acts 26:19 f).

vi. His arrest (Acts 26:21).

vii. His teaching (Acts 26:21-23).(F1)

The rest of the chapter gives Festus’ interruption and the exchange between Paul and King Agrippa (Acts 26:24-29), also the conclusion of the meeting (Acts 26:30-32).

Verse 1

And Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth his hand, and made his defense.


Thou art permitted … Ramsay thought that "In the examination Agrippa, as a king, took precedence and conducted the proceedings,"(F2) but such a view appears incorrect. As a vassal king, Aprippa was in town to honor the all-powerful deputy of Caesar, whose "five resident cohorts of the Imperial Army under his command"(F3) spoke eloquently of the dread authority on the Tiber. Thus, as Hervey said, "It was by the courtesy of Festus that Agrippa thus took the chief place." That this is true appears from the fact that Agrippa, with like courtesy, does not say, "I permit thee to speak," but gives the permission impersonally, "Thou art permitted, etc."

Paul stretched forth his hand … This characteristic gesture of the great apostle is frequently mentioned, and there must have been something quite unusual about it. Did he make this with the arm that was encumbered by a chain? What dramatic authority of this gesture so impressed Luke that he so frequently spoke of it? Somehow, the power and nobility of that sweeping movement of the apostle’s arm comes through for all who read this after so many centuries.

Verse 2

I think myself happy, king Agrippa, that I am to make my defence before thee this day touching all the things whereof I am accused by the Jews.

I think myself happy … The privilege of addressing a king and the governor was one that Paul appreciated; and, since he had already been cleared of all charges of sinning against Caesar, he could confine himself strictly to things pertaining to the gospel, which things alone were the cause of the hatred he had encountered.

Accused by the Jews … "The Jews" would have the meaning of "the whole nation of the Jews," and that is neither what Paul said nor meant. Alexander Campbell translated this expression simply as "Jews," both here and in Acts 26:7, as having in both passages the meaning of "certain Jews."(F4)

Verse 3

Especially because thou art expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.

Especially … Not only was Paul glad for the opportunity of addressing a man who, unlike Festus, was knowledgeable of the Jewish religion, the Holy Scriptures and the prophecies which foretold the Messiah; but also, the chance to speak to these terminal representatives of the Herodian kings must have thrilled Paul’s heart; but, over and beyond all this, he hoped for an opportunity to open the young king’s heart to the truth.

Hear me patiently … Paul made no promise of brevity, as had Tertullus (Acts 24:4), the inference being that he would speak at length, which it may be assumed he did. This entire chapter may be read aloud in less than five minutes; and when it is considered that Paul certainly must have spoken for at least half an hour, the brevity of the Scriptural record is apparent.

Verse 4

My manner of life then from my youth up, which was from the beginning among mine own nation and at Jerusalem, know all the Jews.

Barnes stressed the great likelihood of Paul’s having been "distinguished in the school of Gamaliel for zeal in the Jewish religion,"(F5) for the same was attested by his receiving a commission against the Christians (Acts 9:1). It may then be deduced that some of Paul’s bitterest accusers had known him during his school days and as the young persecutor.

Verse 5

Having knowledge of me from the first, if they be willing to testify, that after the straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

Paul does not here disclaim being still a Pharisee, "because it was for the chief hope of the Pharisees that he was now accused."(F6)

The straitest sect … This was a proper description of the Pharisees’ beliefs, which stressed the utmost compliance with the law of Moses.

Verse 6

And now I stand here to be judged for the hope of the promise of God unto our fathers.

The promise … Without any doubt this refers to the Messiah, the promised Saviour who would take away the sin of the world. The relationship of the coming of the Holy One to the Pharisees’ belief lay in their faith in the resurrection of the dead. That belief in the resurrection was the foundation upon which the primitive church received the resurrection of Christ, the same event being that which declared him "Son of God with power" (Romans 1:4). See my Commentary on Romans, p. 8. By stressing this common ground between the Pharisees and the Christians, i.e., the belief in the resurrection of the dead, Paul hoped to enlist on behalf of the truth any good will that might have remained among the Jews.

Verse 7

Unto which promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. And concerning this hope I am accused by the Jews, O king!

Twelve tribes … Despite the widespread opinion to the effect that the ten northern tribes "disappeared," there is no doubt that "A great part of the ten tribes had at various times returned to their country,"(F7) Anna, for example, having been of the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36).

Concerning this hope … refers to the hope of the resurrection of the dead as proved by the resurrection of Christ. In fact Paul made our Lord’s resurrection to be the only sure proof of that hope; and, as Milligan said, "He taught that the hope of Israel was to be found only in and through Jesus of Nazareth!"(F8) This, of course, infuriated many of the Jews; but this seemed to Paul an incredible behavior on their part.

Accused by the Jews … Here again, the proper rendition would be "accused by Jews," that is, some Jews (see under Acts 26:2). Harrison agreed with Campbell on this, rendering it "by Jews." Paul’s meaning was given by him thus: "It is an utterly amazing thing that Jews who have hope in the resurrection should accuse Paul for entertaining the same hope."(F9) MacGreggor renders this, "Jews, of all people!"(F10)

Verse 8

Why is it judged incredible with you, if God doth raise the dead?

This identified Paul’s principal accusers as being the Sadducees who denied the resurrection; and his affirmation that Jesus had risen from the dead further identified them as murderers of the Son of God. Their hatred, therefore, "was principally instigated by his preaching the resurrection, and preaching it through Christ."(F11)

Lange, Hackett, Howson, and other able scholars give what is thought to be a better rendition of this verse, as follows: "What! Is it judged incredible, etc.?"(F12) This avoids the categorical declaration that Paul’s hearers made such a judgment, although of course Festus certainly did so.

Verse 9

I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

Having already shown that he was one with Agrippa in the hope of the resurrection which he supposedly held, Paul here moved to find further common ground with him, as having been, like Agrippa’s whole family, a persecutor of the church.

I verily thought … means that Paul truly believed, "proving that a man may be conscientious even when engaged in enormous wickedness."(F13)

With myself … "All thinking with self is self-centered … It is only when we center our thinking in Christ that we think correctly."(F14)

Here, as McGarvey said, it is clear that "Paul thought he was doing God service; but this must not prevent us from interpreting the remark about kicking against the goad as referring to the goadings of conscience."(F15)

Verse 10

And this I also did in Jerusalem: and I both shut up many of the saints in prison, having received authority from the chief priests, and when they were put to death I gave my vote against them.

Many of the saints … Although Paul had avoided calling the Christians "saints" when he spoke in Jerusalem, here before an unbiased audience he did so, "in order to bear witness for Christ and his church."(F16)

They were put to death … indicates that many more Christians lost their lives through Saul’s activities than would be supposed from the mention of Stephen only in the New Testament.

I gave my vote against them … There is no way that this can mean merely that "I approved." "The Greek here means, `I cast down my pebble,’ … They literally cast their pebbles into the urn, white for acquittal, black for condemnation."(F17) Despite the fact of Barnes and others denying that Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin,(F18) strong agreement is felt here with Boles, Hervey and Dummelow who declared that this clause is equivalent to: "I was one of those who in the Sanhedrin voted for their death."(F19) From the fact of Paul’s being in all probability a member of the Sanhedrin (Howson concluded that he was also a married man.(F20) The silence of the New Testament on that proves nothing, for Paul’s "suffering the loss of all things for Christ" (Philippians 3:8) might well have included his being forsaken by his wife.

Verse 11

And punishing them oftentimes in all the synagogues, I strove to make them blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto foreign cities.

The English Revised Version (1885) is superior to the KJV text which seems to say that some of the Christians were caused to blaspheme; "but the tense of the Greek word indicates that Paul failed in this";(F21) he only attempted to cause them to commit such a sin.

Even unto foreign cities … is quite a revealing phrase, indicating a much more extensive range of Saul’s persecution, which obviously included operations against the church in many places besides Damascus. Again, the brevity of the sacred narrative is noted.

Verses 12-16

Whereupon as I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them that journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the goad. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But arise, and stand upon thy feet: for to this end have I appeared unto thee, to appoint thee a minister and a witness both of the things wherein thou hast seen me, and of the things wherein I will appear unto thee.

It was a midday (Acts 26:13).

Both in Acts 9 and Acts 22, there were given accounts of Saul’s conversion; and all that is said in those chapters is applicable here. A number of interesting supplemental bits of information, however, are visible in this account of it. We are indebted to Boles for this summary of additional information derived from this third account:

The light was brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13).

The light enveloped the whole company (Acts 26:13).

The whole company fell to the earth (Acts 26:14).

Jesus spoke in Hebrew (Acts 26:14).

He said, "It is hard for thee to kick against the goad" (Acts 26:14).

There is a fuller account of what Jesus said (Acts 26:16; Acts 26:18).(F22)

Regarding the last of these additions, it appears that some of the things told Paul by Ananias were also spoken to Paul directly from heaven, by the Lord. This would account for the full and immediate trust which Paul placed in Ananias’ words. He knew they were also the words of the Lord.

Some scholars suppose that here, Paul merely blended into one account the words of both Ananias and the Lord; which, as both were truly "from the Lord," might actually have been the case.(F23) We do not know.

Hard for thee to kick against the goad … This is allegedly a Gentile proverb not in use among the Jews; but there is no reason thus to limit the prevalence of it. Every agricultural country on earth has either this or a similar proverb, and certainly nobody had to explain it to Paul. As the Lord was sending Paul to the Gentile nations, it was appropriate that such a Gentile proverb should have been used.

Many commentators on Acts have expressed sentiments similar to those of Boles, who said, "The variations in the three accounts impress us with the truthfulness of the narrative."(F24) The variations are so natural and spontaneous as to place the stamp of validity upon all three narrations.

Of the things wherein I will appear unto thee … This is a promise by the Lord of repeated appearances to Paul, as in Acts 18:9 f; Acts 22:17 f; and Acts 23:11 f.

Verse 17

Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom I send thee.

This verse was the Lord’s solemn promise to Paul that he would be protected, not only from "the people," meaning the Jews, but from "the Gentiles" as well. Paul was repeatedly endangered from both sources. Only by such assurance could a man have acted with the courage Paul displayed throughout his career.

Verse 18

To open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in me.

Remission of sins … That men should receive this blessing was the principal burden of apostolic preaching, the great need of humanity having ever been that of reconciliation with God and the restoration of fellowship with the Eternal. In a vital sense, this is the only blessing that matters. With remission of sins, all of the hardships of life, all of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, all of the disappointments and sufferings, all of life’s frustrations and sorrows, resolve at last in eternal glory for the redeemed; but without remission of sins, the most favored and successful life, the most powerful and famous, the most affluent and popular, must inevitably resolve into a hopeless grave and a resurrection to everlasting shame and contempt. "Remission" is one of the great New Testament words.

Sanctified by faith in me … This, like so many references involving "faith" in the English Revised Version (1885), is an erroneous rendition. As Alexander Campbell noted, it should be translated: "Sanctified by the faith respecting me."(F25) The most conspicuous fault of the English Revised Version (1885) lies in this very sector, notwithstanding the fact that it is still the best version that we have, and, as Bruce said, "the best" for purposes of accurate study. For other similar mistranslations, see my Commentary on Romans, pp. 109ff.

What Paul was affirming in this expression was not the popular heresy that people are saved by "faith only," but that the remission of their sins is available by means of "the faith regarding" Christ, i.e., through Christianity.

Verses 19-20

Wherefore, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: both to them of Damascus first, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the country of Judaea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance.

I was not disobedient … This has the effect of saying: O king, you could not expect me to have violated a voice from heaven.

Damascus first, and at Jerusalem … Paul’s words here are not exactly clear; because, as was evident in our studies of Romans, Paul’s use of the word "first" does not always denote a chronological order, but has the meaning of "the first thing I want to mention." See my Commentary on Romans, p. 14. In view of this, one may only smile at the radical critics who, evidently not being in on this little characteristic of Paul’s, come up with shouts of "contradiction." MacGreggor, while admitting the unusual construction of the Greek (a typically Pauline touch), nevertheless gives the typically knee-jerk response of the radical critic, affirming a contradiction of Galatians 1:22,(F26) in which place Paul said that when Galatians was written he was still unknown by face to the churches of Judaea.

It is therefore certain, then, that Paul did not use the word "first" here in any chronological sense at all. Incidentally, this little Pauline trait of so using the word "first" reminds one of that tiny "M" on the Morgan dollar, certifying absolutely the name of the designer. This verse here confirms absolutely the Pauline authorship of this address, removing one of the crutches of liberalism which likes to suppose that Luke composed this speech and put it in Paul’s mouth. Never! In a thousand years, Luke would never have come up with a wild-card "first" like that of Paul here and elsewhere in his epistles.

Gentiles should repent and turn to God … This is exactly the statement of God’s redemptive plan for believers, as given in Acts 3:19; and here, as there, it means "repent and be baptized." See under Acts 3:19. As William Barclay observed (discussing what believers should do), "The first demand was the demand for repentance … the second demand was the demand for baptism."(F27) Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; and here, are all confirmations of this.

Doing works worthy of repentance … Such a plank as this in the platform of God’s will would have a special pertinence to Agrippa and Bernice. As Root said, "The dissolute Agrippa needed to be told, `Live as men who have repented should’ (Goodspeed)."(F28)

Verse 21

For this cause the Jews seized me in the temple, and assayed to kill me.

The Jews … means, in a sense, their nation; as represented by its highest authorities.

Verses 22-23

Having therefore obtained the help that is from God, I stand unto this day testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses did say should come; how that the Christ must suffer, and how that he first by the resurrection of the dead should proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles.

Help that is from God … In view of the marvelous deliverances Paul had already received, protecting him against the skill and cunning of his powerful enemies, even his foes must have been willing to admit that God had helped him.

Nothing but what the prophets and Moses did say should come … MacGreggor noted that the Jews refused to receive Isaiah 53 as Messianic, therefore denying that the Christ was prophetically represented as a sufferer,(F29) which is of course true; but in this very blindness to what their prophets so emphatically foretold lay the secret of their rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. As to the question whether or not the prophecies of Isaiah, and others, actually foretold Jesus’ suffering, Christ taught that they did; Stephen affirmed it; Paul believed it; the primitive church accepted it; and any Christian may read it for himself in the glorious chapter of Isaiah 53.

This insistence of Paul that the new institution was, indeed and truth, fully identified with that divine institution set forth typically and prophetically in the Old Testament is evident in all of his writings. See full study of this in my Commentary on Romans, pp. 6ff.

He first by the resurrection … There is a genuine sense in which Christ’s resurrection was first, despite instances of raising dead in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. As Milligan said, "He was the first that rose above the power of death. Lazarus died again."(F30) Hervey cautioned against a misunderstanding of this verse, saying:

Christ was the first to rise, and he will be followed by them that are his. But it is not true to say that he was the first to give light to Jews and Gentiles and will be followed by others doing the same.(F31)

Verse 24

And as he thus made his defence, Festus saith with a loud voice, Paul, thou art mad; thy much learning is turning thee mad.

As Walker declared: "Festus had advertised his ignorance at the beginning of the hearing; but in this interruption, he headlined it."(F32) There is no light to the blind, no music to the deaf; and "This poor fool thought that because he could not understand Paul’s sermon, no one could."(F33)

With a loud voice … is "another detail, revealing the eyewitness of the scene described."(F34)

By this loud cry charging Paul with madness, Festus betrayed the total lack of spiritual discernment which is always the mark of the carnal man. A typically cynical subaltern of Rome, he decided to break up a meeting with which he had no sympathy at all. It must have been a great shock to him that his royal guests were getting the message, and that they were deeply and favorably impressed with it.

Verse 25

But Paul saith, I am not mad, most excellent Festus; but speak forth words of truth and soberness.

I am not mad … Paul was the sanest man in the hall where he spoke, with the exception of Luke; and his quiet, firm denial bore the stamp of truth. Wesley exclaimed:

How inexpressibly beautiful is this reply! how strong! yet how decent and respectful. Madmen do not call men by their names and titles of honor. Thus, Paul refuted the charge.(F35)

Verse 26

For the king knoweth of these things, unto whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him; for this hath not been done in a corner.

This was not done in a corner … That earthquake which accompanied the Son of God in his visitation of our planet is still sending shock waves around the earth. The fact of his birth split human history into B.C. and A.D.; his crucifixion bruised the head of Satan himself; his resurrection brought life and immortality to light through the gospel; his teachings monitor the deeds and thoughts of all men; and his word shall judge the living and the dead at the Last Day. Done in a corner? Yes, in a little corner of the universe known as the Planet Earth; but that earth can never forget him, or get rid of him. As some of the Sadducees and Pharisees were able to see while he was among them: "The world is gone after him" (John 12:19).

Verse 27

King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.

Agrippa was doubtless embarrassed by this question. His pagan host would laugh at him if he replied in the affirmative; and yet there is a possibility that he came very near to doing so. At least Paul seems to have thought so.

Verse 28

And Agrippa said unto Paul, With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian.

The KJV is a far better rendition than this, the word "fain" being nowhere in the Greek. All the scholars admit that the text is difficult to translate; and the diverse renditions prove conclusively that they simply do not know how to translate it. Note the following examples:

Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian (KJV).

You are trying to make me play the Christian (Bruce).

In brief, you are trying to persuade me to make a Christian out of me (Williams).

In a short time you are persuading me to become a Christian (RSV).

In a little you are persuaded to make me a Christian (The Codex Alexandrinus).

In brief, you are confident that you can make me a Christian (Weymouth).

You are in a hurry to persuade me and make a Christian of me (Goodspeed).

Much more of this and you will make me a Christian (Phillips).

In a short while, thou wouldest persuade me to become a Christian (Douay Version).

It will be seen from the above that scholarship does not know how to translate Agrippa’s remark. None of the renditions above equals the vigor of the KJV, unless it is the Douay; and therefore we shall construe the words as having essentially the meaning assigned in those two historic versions. Paul’s reply to Agrippa, in fact, confirms those versions as having properly translated the passage.

Verse 29

And Paul said, I would to God, that whether with little or much, not thou only, but also all that hear me this day, might become such as I am, except these bonds.

Paul’s reply shows that he believed Agrippa’s response was that of one half-converted, hence the insistence of this appeal. The very use of the honored and holy word "Christian" by such a one as Agrippa is in itself weighty. (See dissertation on this word under Acts 11:26.) One should be on guard against the allegations of a certain class of writers who speak of this word as did MacGreggor: "The word Christian on Agrippa’s lips would certainly be a sneer; his reply cannot imply that Paul is on the verge of converting him."(F36) On the other hand, that is exactly what the words do imply. And as for the word "Christian" ever having been a term of contempt for the followers of Jesus, this is one of the most fallacious conceits that ever fogged the minds of students of God’s word. There is no historical evidence that "Christian" was ever used with an unfavorable connotation. It is amazing that a class of scholars always screaming about "hard evidence" will themselves accept the proposition regarding "Christian" without any evidence at all!

Verse 30

And the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them:

If the king had not been deeply moved and "almost persuaded" by Paul, would he not have risen when Festus tried to break up the assembly with that loud cry? Of course he would have. The very fact that he kept on sitting there shows that he wanted no part of Festus’ rejection of what Paul was saying. Courtesy demanded that no one leave until the king did so; therefore Paul was enabled to continue somewhat even after Festus’ interruption.

Verse 31

And when they had withdrawn, they spake one to another, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.

Thus, in succession, through five defenses, the verdict has been in favor of Paul’s innocence, without exception.

Verse 32

And Agrippa said unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.

Thus a Herod testifies to the innocence and sincerity of the apostle Paul; and, although there is no evidence that Agrippa was ever any more than half-persuaded to be a Christian, this favorable verdict from him is nevertheless of great significance.

This writer does not hesitate to find in this wholesome verdict rendered by Agrippa II the reason for the providential blessing of God which attended this ruler’s life. He was confirmed in his kingdom after the Jewish war and lived on until the year 100 A.D. (see under Acts 25:13).

By contrast look at those officials who either persecuted Paul or denied him justice:

Ananias "the whited wall" was out of office in two years, and murdered by his own people within a decade.

Felix was recalled within two years; and he and his family perished in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Drusilla perished with her husband Felix and her son in the same eruption.

Bernice fell into public disgrace in Rome.

Festus died within two years of denying Paul justice.

The Sanhedrin was destroyed forever by the Jewish War ending with the sack of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, only about a decade after the events related in these chapters.

Nero (who later executed Paul) died wretchedly, and in disgrace. On and on the list might go; but Herod Agrippa II alone continued until the second century. He alone fearlessly gave an unequivocal verdict of Paul’s innocence. See any connection? This writer thinks that he does!

In further pursuit of this theme, reference is made to the writings of Lactantius,(F37) who devoted twenty pages to the record of the judgments, punishments, disasters, miseries and sudden death which came upon the great heathen persecutors of Christianity, giving in detail all the horrors that befell such men as Nero, Domitian, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian, Diocletian etc. All of this was in direct and circumstantial fulfillment of what Jesus assuredly promised his apostles:

And shall not God avenge his elect? (Luke 18:7). History answers that God did indeed do so. We conclude this line of thought with the words of Dummelow:

The words of Jesus’ prophecy (Luke 18:7) were literally fulfilled in the calamities which overtook the Jews and the chief heathen persecutors of the Christians.(F38)

Here is concluded the record of Paul’s five defenses made in Jerusalem and Caesarea; and with his appeal to Caesar, his case was transferred to Rome. This involved him in a long and dangerous voyage which was unfolded by Luke in the next two chapters.

The thing that stands out in all of Paul’s defenses was the speaker’s innocence and sincerity in preaching the unsearchable riches of the crucified and risen Saviour.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Acts 26". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/acts-26.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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