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Then Paul stretched forth the hand - See the notes on Acts 21:40. This was the usual posture of orators or public speakers. The ancient statues are commonly made in this way, with the right hand extended. The dress of the ancients favored this. The long and loose robe, or outer garment, was fastened usually with a hook or clasp on the right shoulder, and thus left the arm at full liberty.
And answered for himself - It cannot be supposed that Paul expected that his defense would be attended with a release from confinement, for he had himself appealed to the Roman emperor, Acts 25:11. His design in speaking before Agrippa was, doubtless:
- To vindicate his character, and obtain Agrippa’s attestation to his innocence, that thus he might allay the anger of the Jews;
- To obtain a correct representation of the case to the emperor, as Festus had desired this in order that Agrippa might enable him to make a fair statement of the case Acts 25:26-27; and,
- To defend his own conversion, and the truth of Christianity, and to preach the gospel in the hearing of Agrippa and his attendants, with a hope that their minds might be impressed by the truth, and that they might be converted to God.
I think myself happy - I esteem it a favor and a privilege to be permitted to make my defense before one acquainted with Jewish customs and opinions. His defense, on former occasions, had been before Roman magistrates, who had little acquaintance with the opinions and customs of the Jews; who were not disposed to listen to the discussion of the points of difference between him and them, and who looked upon all their controversies with contempt. See Acts 24:25. They were, therefore, little qualified to decide a question which was closely connected with the Jewish customs and doctrines; and Paul now rejoiced to know that he was before one who, from his acquaintance with the Jewish customs and belief, would be able to appreciate his arguments. Paul was not now on his trial, but he was to defend himself, or state his cause, so that Agrippa might be able to aid Festus in transmitting a true account of the case to the Roman emperor. It was his interest and duty, therefore, to defend himself as well as possible, and to put him in possession of all the facts in the case. His defense is, consequently, made up chiefly of a most eloquent statement of the facts just as they had occurred.
I shall answer - I shall be permitted to make a statement, or to defend myself.
Touching ... - Respecting.
Whereof I am accused of the Jews - By the Jews. The matters of the accusation were his being a mover of sedition, a ringleader of the Christians, and a profaner of the temple, Acts 24:5-6.
To be expert - To be skilled or well acquainted.
In all customs - Rites, institutions, laws, etc. Everything pertaining to the Mosaic ritual, etc.
And questions - Subjects of debate, and of various opinions. The inquiries which had existed between the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, etc. Paul could say this of Agrippa without falsehood or flattery. Agrippa was a Jew; he had passed much of his time in the kingdom over which he presided; and though he had spent the early part of his life chiefly at Rome, yet it was natural that he should make himself acquainted with the religion of his fathers. Paul did not know how to flatter people, but he was not unwilling to state the truth, and to commend people as far as truth would permit.
Wherefore - On this account; because you are acquainted with those customs. The Romans, who regarded those customs as superstitious, and those questions as matters to be treated with contempt, could not listen to their discussion with patience. Agrippa, who knew their real importance, would be disposed to lend to all inquiries respecting them a patient attention.
My manner of life - My opinions, principles, and conduct.
From my youth - Paul was born in Tarsus; but at an early period he had been sent to Jerusalem for the purpose of education in the school of Gamaliel, Acts 22:3.
Which was at the first - Which was from the beginning; the early part of which; the time when the opinions and habits are formed.
Know all the Jews - It is not at all improbable that Paul was distinguished in the school of Gamaliel for zeal in the Jewish religion. The fact that he was early entrusted with a commission against the Christians Acts 9:0 shows that he was known. Compare Philippians 3:4-6. He might appeal to them, therefore, in regard to the early part of his life, and, doubtless, to the very men who had been his violent accusers.
Which knew me - Who were well acquainted with me.
From the beginning - ἄνωθεν anōthen. Formerly; or from the very commencement of my career. Who were perfectly apprised of my whole course.
If they would testify - If they would bear witness to what they know.
That after the most straitest - The most rigid; the most strict, not only in regard to the written Law of God, but to the traditions of the elders. Paul himself elsewhere testifies Philippians 3:4-6 that he had enjoyed all the advantages of birth and training in the Jewish religion, and that he had early distinguished himself by his observance of its rites and customs.
Sect - Division or party.
I lived a Pharisee - I lived in accordance with the rules and doctrines of the Pharisees. See the notes on Matthew 3:7. The reasons why Paul here refers to his early life are:
(1) As he had lived during the early period of his life without crime; as his principles had been settled by the instruction of the most able of their teachers, it was to be presumed that his subsequent life had been of a similar character.
(2) As he, at that period of his life, evinced the utmost zeal for the laws and customs of his country, it was to be presumed that he would not be found opposing or reviling them at any subsequent period. From the strictness and conscientiousness of his past life, he supposed that Agrippa might argue favorably respecting his subsequent conduct. A virtuous and religious course in early life is usually a sure pledge of virtue and integrity in subsequent years.
And now I stand - I stand before the tribunal. I am arraigned.
And am judged - Am tried with reference to being judged. I am undergoing a trial on the point in which all my nation are agreed.
For the hope - On account of the hope; or because, in common with my countrymen, I had entertained this hope, and now believe in its fulfillment.
Of the promise ... - See the references in the margin. It is not quite certain whether Paul refers here to the promise of the Messiah or to the hope of the resurrection of the dead. When he stood before the Jewish Sanhedrin Acts 23:6, he said that he was called in question on account of holding the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. But it may be observed that in his view the two things were closely united. He hoped that the Messiah would come, and he hoped therefore for the resurrection of the dead. He believed that he had come, and had risen, and therefore he believed that the dead would rise. He argued the one from the other. And as he believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he had risen from the dead, and that he had thus furnished a demonstration that the dead would rise, it was evident that the subject of controversy between him and the Jews involved everything that was vital to their opinions and their hopes. See Acts 26:8.
Made of God - Made by God. See the marginal references. The promises had been made to the fathers of a Messiah to come, and that embraced the promise of a future state, or of the resurrection of the dead. It will help us to understand the stress which Paul and the other apostles laid on the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead to remember that it involved the whole doctrine of the separate existence of the soul and of a future state. The Sadducees denied all this; and when the Pharisees, the Saviour, and the apostles opposed them, they did it by showing that there would be a future state of rewards and punishments. See the argument of the Saviour with the Sadducees explained in the notes on Matthew 22:23-32.
Unto our fathers - Our ancestors, the patriarchs, etc.
Unto which promise - To the fulfillment of which promise they hope to come; that is, they hope and believe that the promise will be fulfilled, and that they will partake of its benefits.
Our twelve tribes - This was the name by which the Jews were designated. The ancient Jewish nation had hoped to come to that promise; it had been the hope and expectation of the nation. Long before the coming of the Messiah, ten of the twelve tribes had been carried captive to Assyria, and had not returned, leaving but the two tribes of Benjamin and Judah. But the name, “the twelve tribes,” as used to designate the Jewish people, would be still retained. Compare James 1:1. Paul here says that the hope referred to had been that of the Jewish nation. Except the comparatively small portion of the nation, the Sadducees, the great mass of the nation had held to the doctrine of a future state. This Agrippa would know well.
Instantly - Constantly; with intensity ἐν en ἐκτένεια ekteneia; with zeal. This was true, for, amidst all the sins of the nation, they observed with punctuality and zeal the outward forms of the worship of God.
Serving God - In the ordinances and observances of the temple. As a nation they did not serve him in their hearts, but they kept up the outward forms of religious worship.
Day and night - With unwearied zeal; with constancy and ardor, Luke 2:37. The ordinary Jewish services and sacrifices were in the morning and evening, and might be said to be performed day and night. Some of their services, as the Paschal supper, were prolonged usually until late at night. The main idea is, that they kept up the worship of God with constant and untiring zeal and devotion.
For which hope’s sake - On account of my cherishing this hope in common with the great mass of my countrymen. See Acts 23:6. If Paul could convince Agrippa that the main point of his offence was what had been the common belief of his countrymen, it would show to his satisfaction that he was innocent. And on this ground he put his defense - that he held only what the mass of the nation had believed, and that he maintained this in the only consistent and defensible manner that God had, in fact, raised up the Messiah, and had thus given assurance that the dead would rise.
Why should it be thought ... - The force of this question will be better seen by an exclamation point after why τί ti. “What! is it to be thought a thing incredible?” etc. It intimates surprise that it should be thought incredible, or implies that no reason could be given why such a doctrine should be unworthy of belief.
A thing incredible - A doctrine which cannot be credited or believed. Why should it be regarded as absurd?
With you - This is in the plural number, and it is evident that Paul here addressed, not Agrippa alone, but those who sat with him. There is no evidence that Agrippa doubled that the dead could be raised, but Festus, and those who were with him, probably did, and Paul, in the ardor of his speech, turned and addressed the entire assembly. It is very evident that we have only an outline of this argument, and there is every reason to suppose that Paul would dwell on each part of the subject at greater length than is here recorded.
That God should raise the dead - Why should it be regarded as absurd that God - who has all power, who is the creator of all, who is the author of the human frame should again restore man to life and continue his future existence? The resurrection is no more incredible than the original creation of the body, and it is attended with no greater difficulties. And as the perfections of God will be illustrated by his raising up the dead; as the future state is necessary to the purposes of justice in vindicating the just and punishing the unjust, and as God is a righteous moral governor, it should not be regarded as an absurdity that he will raise up those who have died, and bring them to judgment.
I verily thought - I indeed μὲν men supposed. Paul here commences the account of his conversion, and states the evidence on which he judged that he was called of God to do what he had done. He begins by saying that it was not because he was originally disposed to be a Christian, but that he was violently and conscientiously opposed to Jesus of Nazareth, and had been converted when in the full career of opposition to him and his cause.
With myself - I thought to myself; or, I myself thought. He had before stated the hopes and expectations of his countrymen, Acts 26:6-8. He now speaks of his own views and purposes. “For myself, I thought,” etc.
That I ought to do - That I was bound, or that it was a duty incumbent on me - δεῖν dein. “I thought that I owed it to my country, to my religion, and to my God, to oppose in every manner the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah.” We here see that Paul was conscientious, and that a man may be conscientious even when engaged in enormous wickedness. It is no evidence that one is right because he is conscientious. No small part of the crimes against human laws, and almost all the cruel persecutions against Christians, have been carried on under the plea of conscience. Paul here refers to his conscientiousness in persecution to show that it was no slight matter which could have changed his course. As he was governed in persecution by conscience, it could have been only by a force of demonstration, and by the urgency of conscience equally clear and strong, that he could ever have been induced to abandon this course and to become a friend of that Saviour whom he had thus persecuted.
Many things - As much as possible. He was not satisfied with a few things a few words, or purposes, or arguments; but he felt bound to do as much as possible to put down the new religion.
Contrary to the name ... - In opposition to Jesus himself, or to his claims to be the Messiah. The “name” is often used to denote the “person” himself, Acts 3:6.
Which thing I also did ... - Acts 8:3.
And many of the saints ... - Many Christians, Acts 8:3.
And when they were put to death - In the history of those transactions, there is no account of any Christian being put to death except Stephen, Acts 7:0. But there is no improbability in supposing that the same thing which had happened to Stephen had occurred in other cases. Stephen was the first martyr, and as he was a prominent man his case is particularly recorded.
I gave my voice - Paul was not a member of the Sanhedrin, and this does not mean that he voted, but simply that he joined in the persecution; he approved it; he assented to the putting of the saints to death. Compare Acts 22:20. The Syriac renders it, “I joined with those who condemned them.” It is evident, also, that Paul instigated them in this persecution, and urged them on to deeds of blood and cruelty.
And I punished them oft ... - See Acts 22:19.
And compelled them to blaspheme - To blaspheme the name of Jesus by denying that he was the Messiah, and by admitting that he was an impostor. This was the object which they had in view in the persecution. It was not to make them blaspheme or reproach God, but to deny that Jesus was the Messiah, and to reproach him as a deceiver and an impostor. It is not necessarily implied in the expression, “and compelled them to blaspheme,” that he succeeded in doing it, but that he endeavored to make them apostatize from the Christian religion and deny the Lord Jesus. It is certainly not impossible that a few might thus have been induced by the authority of the Sanhedrin and by the threats of Paul to do it, but it is certain that the great mass of Christians adhered firmly to their belief that Jesus was the Messiah.
And being exceedingly mad - Nothing could more forcibly express his violence against the Christians. He raged like a madman; he was so ignorant that he laid aside all appearance of reason; with the fury and violence of a maniac, he endeavored to exterminate them from the earth. None but a madman will persecute people on account of their religious opinions; and all persecutions have been conducted like this, with the violence, the fury, and the ungovernable temper of maniacs.
Unto strange cities - Unto foreign cities; cities out of Judea. The principal instance of this was his going to Damascus; but there is no evidence that he did not intend also to visit other cities out of Judea and bring the Christians there, of he found any, to Jerusalem.
See this passage explained in the notes on Acts 9:5, etc.
But rise ... - The particulars mentioned in this verse and the two following are not recorded in the account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9:0; but it is not improbable that many circumstances may have occurred which are not recorded. Paul dwells on them here at length in order particularly to show his authority for doing what he had done in preaching to the Gentiles.
To make thee a minister - A minister of the gospel; a preacher of the truth.
And a witness - See the notes on Acts 22:15.
Which thou hast seen - On the road to Damascus; that is, of the Lord Jesus, and of the fact that he was risen from the dead.
And of those things ... - Of those further manifestations of my person, purposes, and will, which I will yet make to you. It is evident from this that the Lord Jesus promised to manifest himself to Paul in his ministry, and to make to him still further displays of his will and glory. Compare Acts 22:17-18. This was done by his rescuing him from destruction and danger; by inspiration; by the growing and expanding view which Paul was permitted to take of the character and perfections of the Lord Jesus. In this we see that it is the duty of ministers to bear witness not only to the truth of religion in general, or of that which they can demonstrate by argument, but more especially of that which they experience in their own hearts, and which they understand by having themselves been the subjects of it. No man is qualified to enter the ministry who has not a personal saving view of the glory and perfections of the Lord Jesus, and who does not go to his work as a witness of those things which he has felt; and no man enters the ministry with these feelings who has not, as Paul had, a promise that he shall see still brighter displays of the perfections of the Saviour, and be permitted to advance in the knowledge of him and of his work. The highest personal consolation in this work is the promise of being admitted to ever-growing and expanding views of the glory of the Lord Jesus, and of experiencing his presence, guidance, and protection.
Delivering thee from the people - From the Jewish people. This implied that he would be persecuted by them, and that the Lord Jesus would interpose to rescue him.
And from the Gentiles - This also implied that he would be persecuted and opposed by them - a prospect which was verified by the whole course of his ministry. Yet in all he experienced, according to the promise, the support and the protection of the Lord Jesus. This was expressed in a summary manner in Luke 9:16.
Unto whom now I send thee - Acts 22:21. As the opposition of the Jews arose mainly from the fact that he had gone among the Gentiles, it was important to bring this part of his commission into full view before Agrippa, and to show that the same Saviour who had miraculously converted him had commanded him to go and preach to them.
To open their eyes - To enlighten or instruct them. Ignorance is represented by the eyes being closed, and the instruction of the gospel by the opening of the eyes. See Ephesians 1:18.
And to turn them from darkness to light - From the darkness of paganism and sin to the light and purity of the gospel. Darkness is an emblem of ignorance and of sin, and the pagan nations are often represented as sitting in darkness. Compare the Matthew 4:16 note; John 1:4-5 notes.
And from the power of Satan - From the dominion of Satan. Compare Colossians 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9. See the notes on John 12:31; John 16:11. Satan is thus represented as the prince of this world, the ruler of the darkness of this world, the prince of the power of the air, etc. The pagan world, lying in sin and superstition, is represented as under his control; and this passage teaches, doubtless, that the great mass of the people of this world are the subjects of the kingdom of Satan, and are led captive by him at his will.
Unto God - To the obedience of the one living and true God.
That they may receive forgiveness of sins - Through the merits of that Saviour who died - that thus the partition wall between the Jews and the Gentiles might be broken down, and all might be admitted to the same precious privileges of the favor and mercy of God. Compare the notes on Acts 2:38.
And inheritance - An heirship, or lot κλῆρον klēron: that they might be entitled to the privileges and favors of the children of God. See the notes on Acts 20:32.
Which are sanctified - Among the saints; the children of God. See the notes on Acts 20:32.
Whereupon - Whence ὅθεν hothen. Since the proof of his being the Messiah, of his resurrection, and of his calling me to this work, was so clear and plain, I deemed it my duty to engage without delay in the work.
I was not disobedient - I was not incredulous or unbelieving; I yielded myself to the command, and at once obeyed. See Acts 9:6; compare Galatians 1:16.
Unto the heavenly vision - To the celestial appearance, or to the vision which appeared to me from heaven. I did not doubt that this splendid appearance Acts 26:13 was from heaven, and I did not refuse to obey the command of him who thus appeared to me. He knew it was the command of God his Saviour, and he gave evidence of repentance by yielding obedience to it at once.
See Acts 9:20-23. The 20th verse contains a summary of his labors in obedience to the command of the Lord Jesus. His argument is that the Lord Jesus had from heaven commanded him to do this, and that he had done no more than to obey his injunction. The word “then” in this verse is supplied by our translators, and is not necessary to the proper explanation of the passage. It would seem from that word that he had not preached “to the Gentiles” until after he had preached “at Jerusalem and throughout all the coasts of Judea,” whereas, in fact, he had, as we have reason to believe (see the notes on Acts 9:23), before then “preached” to the Gentiles in Arabia. The statement here, in the original, is a general statement that he had preached at Damascus and at Jerusalem, and in all the coasts of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, but without specifying the exact order in which it was done.
Caught me in the temple - Acts 21:30.
And went about ... - Endeavored to put me to death.
Having therefore obtained help of God - Paul had seen and felt his danger. He had known the determined malice of the Jews, and their efforts to take his life. He had been rescued by Lysias, and had made every effort himself to avoid the danger and to save his life; and at the end of all; he traced his safety entirely to the help of God. It was not by any power of his own that he had been preserved; it was because God had interposed and rescued him. Those who have been delivered from danger, if they have just views, will delight to trace it all to God. They will recognize his hand, and will feel that whatever wisdom they may have had, or whatever may have been the kindness of their friends to them, yet that all this also is to be traced to the superintending providence of God.
Witnessing - Bearing testimony to what he had seen, according to the command of Christ, Acts 26:16.
To small - To those in humble life; to the poor, the ignorant, and the obscure. Like his Master, he did not despise them, but regarded it as his duty and privilege to preach the gospel to them.
And great - The rich and noble; to kings, princes, and governors. He had thus stood on Mars’ Hill at Athens; he had declared the same gospel before Felix, Festus, and now before Agrippa. He offered salvation to all. He passed by none because they were poor; and he was not deterred by the fear of the rich and the great from making known their sins and calling them to repeatance. What an admirable illustration of the proper duties of a minister of the gospel!
Saying none other things ... - Delivering no new doctrine, but maintaining only that the prophecies had been fulfilled. As he had done this only, there was no reason for the opposition and persecution of the Jews.
Should come - Should come to pass, or should take place. Paul here evidently means to say that the doctrine of the atonement, and of the resurrection of Christ, is taught in the Old Testament.
That Christ - That the Messiah expected by the Jews should be a suffering Messiah.
Should suffer - Should lead a painful life, and be put to death. See the notes on Acts 17:3; compare Daniel 9:27; Isaiah 53:1-12.
And that he should be the first ... - This declaration contains two points:
(1) That it was taught in the prophets that the Messiah Would rise from the dead. On this, see the proof alleged in Acts 2:24-32; Acts 13:32-37.
(2) That he would be the first that should rise. This cannot mean that the Messiah would be the first dead person who should be restored to life, for Elijah had raised the son of the Shunammite, and Jesus himself had raised Lazarus, and the widow’s son at Nain. It does not mean that he would be the first in the order of time that should rise, but first in eminence; the most distinguished, the chief, the head of those who should rise from the dead - πρῶτος ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν prōtos ex anastaseōs nekrōn. In accordance with this he is called Colossians 1:18 “the beginning, the first-born from the dead,” having among all the dead who should be raised up the pre-eminence of primogeniture, or what pertained to the first-born. In 1 Corinthians 15:20 he is called “the first fruits of them that slept. This declaration is therefore made of him by way of eminence:
- As being chief, a prince among those raised from the dead;
- As being raised by his own power John 10:18;
- As, by his rising, securing a dominion over death and the grave 1 Corinthians 15:25-26; and,
- As bringing, by his rising, life and immortality to light. He rose to return to death no more. And he thus secured an ascendency over death and the grave, and was thus, by way of eminence, first among those raised from the dead.
And should show light unto the people - To the Jews. Would be their instructor and prophet. This Moses had predicted, Deuteronomy 18:15.
And to the Gentiles - This had often been foretold by the prophets, and particularly by Isaiah, Isaiah 9:1-2; compare Matthew 4:14-16; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 42:1, Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 54:3; Isaiah 60:3, Isaiah 60:5,Isaiah 60:11; Isaiah 61:6; Isaiah 62:2; Isaiah 66:12.
Festus said with a loud voice - Amazed at the zeal of Paul. Paul doubtless evinced deep interest in the subject, and great earnestness in the delivery of his defense.
Thou art beside thyself - Thou art deranged; thou art insane. The reasons why Festus thought Paul mad were, probably:
(1) His great earnestness and excitement on the subject.
(2) His laying such stress on the gospel of the despised Jesus of Nazareth, as if it were a matter of infinite moment. Festus despised it; and he regarded it as proof of derangement that so much importance was attached to it.
(3) Festus regarded, probably, the whole story of the vision that Paul said had appeared to him as the effect of an inflamed and excited imagination, and as a proof of delirium. This is not an uncommon charge against those who are Christians, and especially when they evince unusual zeal. Sinners regard them as under the influence of delirium and fanaticism; as terrified by imaginary and superstitious fears; or as misguided by fanatical leaders. Husbands often thus think their wives to be deranged, and parents perceive their children that, and wicked people assume the ministers of the gospel to be crazy. The frivolous think it proof of derangement that others are serious, anxious, and prayerful; the rich, that others are willing to part with their property to do good; the ambitious and worldly, that others are willing to leave their country and home to go among the Gentiles to spend their lives in making known the unsearchable riches of Christ. The really sober and rational part of the world they who fear God and keep his commandments; they who believe that eternity is before them, and who strive to live for it - are thus charged with insanity by those who are really deluded, and who are thus living lives of madness and folly. The tenants of a madhouse often think all others deranged but themselves; but there is no madness so great, no delirium so awful, as to neglect the eternal interest of the soul for the sake of the pleasures and honors which this life can give.
Much learning - It is probable that Festus was acquainted with the fact that Paul was a learned man. Paul had not, while before him, manifested particularly his learning. But Festus, acquainted in some way with the fact that he was well-educated, supposed that his brain had been turned, and that the effect of it was seen by devotion to a fanatical form of religion. The tendency of long-continued and intense application to produce mental derangement is everywhere known.
Doth make thee mad - Impels, drives, or excites thee περιτρέπει peritrepei to madness.
I am not mad - I am not deranged. There are few more happy turns than what Paul gives to this accusation of Festus. He might have appealed to the course of his argument; he might have dwelt on the importance of the subject, and continued to reason; but he makes an appeal at once to Agrippa, and brings him in for a witness that he was not deranged. This would be far more likely to make an impression on the mind of Festus than anything that Paul could say in self-defense. The same reply, “I am not mad,” can be made by all Christians to the charge of derangement which the world brings against them. They have come, like the prodigal son Luke 15:17, to their right mind; and by beginning to act as if there were a God and Saviour, as if they were to die, as if there were a boundless eternity before them, they are conducting according to the dictates of reason. And as Paul appealed to Agrippa, who was not a Christian, for the reasonableness and soberness of his own views and conduct, so may all Christians appeal to sinners themselves as witnesses that they are acting as immortal beings should act. All people know that if there is an eternity, it is right to prepare for it; if there is a God, it is proper to serve him; if a Saviour died for us, we should love him; if a hell, we should avoid it; if a heaven, we should seek it. And even when they charge us with folly and derangement, we may turn at once upon them, and appeal to their own consciences, and ask them if all our anxieties, and prayers, and efforts, and self-denials are not right? One of the best ways of convicting sinners is to appeal to them just as Paul did to Agrippa. When so appealed to, they will usually acknowledge the force of the appeal, and will admit that the solicitude of Christians for their salvation is according to the dictates of reason.
Most noble Festus - This was the usual title of the Roman governor. Compare Acts 24:3.
Of truth - In accordance with the predictions of Moses and the prophets, and the facts which have occurred in the death and resurrection of the Messiah. In proof of this he appeals to Agrippa, Acts 26:26-27. Truth here stands opposed to delusion, imposture, and fraud.
And soberness - Soberness σωφροσύνη sōphrosunē, wisdom) stands opposed here to madness or derangement, and denotes “sanity of mind.” The words which I speak are those of a sane man, conscious of what he is saying, and impressed with its truth. They were the words, also, of a man who, under the charge of derangement, evinced the most perfect self-possession and command of his feelings, and who uttered sentiments deep, impressive, and worthy the attention of all mankind.
For the king - King Agrippa.
Knoweth - He had been many years in that region, and the fame of Jesus and of Paul’s conversion were probably well known to him.
These things - The things pertaining to the early persecutions of Christians; the spread of the gospel; and the remarkable conversion of Paul. Though Agrippa might not have been fully informed respecting these things, yet he had an acquaintance with Moses and the prophets; he knew the Jewish expectation respecting the Messiah; and he could not be ignorant respecting the remarkable public events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and of his having been put to death by order of Pontius Pilate on the cross.
I speak freely - I speak openly - boldly. I use no disguise; and I speak the more confidently before him, because, from his situation, he must be acquainted with the truth of what I say. Truth is always bold and free, and it is an evidence of honesty when a man is willing to declare everything without reserve before those who are qualified to detect him if he is an impostor. Such evidence of truth and honesty was given by Paul.
For I am persuaded - I am convinced; I doubt not that he is well acquainted with these things.
Are hidden from him - That he is unacquainted with them.
For this thing - The thing to which Paul had mainly referred in this defense, his own conversion to the Christian religion.
Was not done in a corner - Did not occur secretly and obscurely, but was public, and was of such a character as to attract attention. The conversion of a leading persecutor, such as Paul had been, and in the manner in which that conversion had taken place, could not but attract attention and remark; and although the Jews would endeavor as much as possible to conceal it, yet Paul might presume that it could not be entirely unknown to Agrippa.
King Agrippa - This bold personal address is an instance of Paul’s happy manner of appeal. He does it to bring in the testimony of Agrippa to meet the charge of Festus that he was deranged.
Believest thou the prophets? - The prophecies respecting the character, the sufferings, and the death of the Messiah.
I know that thou believest - Agrippa was a Jew; and, as such, he of course believed the prophets. Perhaps, too, from what Paul knew of his personal character, he might confidently affirm that he professed to be a believer. Instead, therefore, of waiting for his answer, Paul anticipated it, and said that he knew that Agrippa professed to believe all these prophecies respecting the Messiah. His design is evident. It is:
(1) To meet the charge of derangement, and to bring in the testimony of Agrippa, who well understood the subject, to the importance and the truth of what he was saying.
(2) To press on the conscience of his royal hearer the evidence of the Christian religion, and to secure, if possible, his conversion. “Since thou believest the prophecies, and since I have shown that they are fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth; that he corresponds in person, character, and work, with the prophets, it follows that his religion is true.” Paul lost no opportunity in pressing the truth on every class of people. He had such a conviction of the truth of Christianity that he was deterred by no rank, station, or office; by no fear of the rich, the great, and the learned; but everywhere urged the evidence of that religion as indisputable. In this lay the secret of no small part of his success. A man who really believes the truth will be ready to defend it. A man who truly loves religion will not be ashamed of it anywhere.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul - He could not deny that he believed the prophecies in the Old Testament. He could not deny that the argument was a strong one that they had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. He could not deny that the evidence of the miraculous interposition of God in the conversion of Paul was overwhelming; and instead, therefore, of charging him, as Festus had done, with derangement, he candidly and honestly avows the impression which the proof had made on his mind.
Almost - Except a very little - ἐν ὀλίγῳ en oligō. Thou hast nearly convinced me that Christianity is true, and persuaded me to embrace it. The arguments of Paul had been so rational; the appeal which he had made to his belief of the prophets had been so irresistible, that he had been nearly convinced of the truth of Christianity. We are to remember:
(1) That Agrippa was a Jew, and that he would look on this whole subject in a different manner from the Roman Festus.
(2) That he does not appear to have partaken of the violent passions and prejudices of the Jews who had accused Paul.
(3) Pits character, as given by Josephus, is that of a mild, candid, and ingenuous man. He had no particular hostility to Christians; he knew that they were not justly charged with sedition and crime; and he saw the conclusion to which a belief of the prophets inevitably tended. Yet, as in thousands of other cases, he was not quite persuaded to be a Christian. What was included in the “almost”; what prevented his being quite persuaded, we know not. It may have been that the evidence was not so clear to his mind as he would profess to desire; or that he was not willing to give up his sins; or that he was too proud to rank himself with the followers of Jesus of Nazareth; or that, like Felix, he was willing to defer it to a more convenient season. There is every reason to believe that he was never quite persuaded to embrace the Lord Jesus, and that he was never nearer the kingdom of heaven than at this moment. It was the crisis, the turning-point in Agrippa’s life, and in his eternal destiny; and, like thousands of others, he neglected or refused to allow the full conviction of the truth on his mind, and died in his sins.
Thou persuadest me - Thou dost convince me of the truth of the Christian religion, and persuadest me to embrace it.
To be a Christian - On the name Christian, see the notes on Acts 11:26. On this deeply interesting case we may observe:
(1) That there are many in the same situation as Agrippa- many who are almost, but not altogether, persuaded to be Christians. They are found among:
- Those who have been religiously educated;
- Those who are convinced by argument of the truth of Christianity;
- Those whose consciences are awakened, and who feel their guilt, and the necessity of some better portion than this world can furnish.
(2) Such persons are deterred from being altogether Christians by the following, among other causes:
- By the love of sin - the love of sin in general, or some particular sin which they are not willing to abandon;
- By the fear of shame, persecution, or contempt, if they become Christians;
- By the temptations of the world - its cares, vanities, and allurements- which are often presented most strongly in just this state of mind;
- By the love of office, the pride of rank and power, as in the case of Agrippa;
- By a disposition, like Felix, to delay to a more favorable time the work of religion, until life has wasted away, and death approaches, and it is too late, and the unhappy man dies almost a Christian.
(3) This state of mind is one of special interest and special danger. It is not one of safety, and it is not one that implies any certainty that the “almost Christian” will ever be saved. There is no reason to believe that Agrippa ever became fully persuaded to become a Christian. To be almost persuaded to do a thing which we ought to do, and yet not to do it, is the very position of guilt and danger. And it is no wonder that many are brought to this point - the turning-point, the crisis of life - and then lose their anxiety, and die in their sins. May the God of grace keep us from resting in being almost persuaded to be Christians! May every one who shall read this account of Agrippa be admonished by his convictions, and be alarmed by the fact that he then paused, and that his convictions there ended! And may every one resolve by the help of God to forsake every thing that prevents his becoming an entire believer, and without delay embrace the Son of God as his Saviour!
I would to God - I pray to God; I earnestly desire it of God. This shows:
(1) Paul’s intense desire that Agrippa, and all who heard him, might be saved.
(2) His steady and constant belief that none but God could incline people to become altogether Christians. Paul knew well that there was nothing that would overcome the reluctance of the human heart to be an entire Christian but the grace and mercy of God. He had addressed to his hearers the convincing arguments of religion, and he now breathed forth his earnest prayer to God that those arguments might be effectual. So prays every faithful minister of the cross.
All that hear me - Festus, and the military and civil officers who had been assembled to hear his defense, Acts 25:23.
Were both almost, and altogether ... - Paul had no higher wish for them than that they might have the faith and consolations which he himself enjoyed. He had so firm a conviction of the truth of Christianity, and had experienced so much of its supports amidst his persecutions and trials, that his highest desire for them was that they might experience the same inexpressibly pure and holy consolations. He well knew that there was neither happiness nor safety in being almost a Christian; and he desired, therefore, that they would give themselves, as he had done, entirely and altogether to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Except these bonds - These chains. This is an exceedingly happy and touching appeal. Probably Paul, when he said this, lifted up his arm with the chain attached to it. His wish was that in all respects they might partake of the effects of the gospel, except those chains. Those he did not wish them to bear. The persecutions, the unjust trials, and the imprisonments which he had been called to suffer in the cause, he did not desire them to endure. True Christians wish others to partake of the full blessings of religion. The trials which they themselves experienced from without in unjust persecutions, ridicule, and slander, they do not wish them to endure. The trials which they themselves experience from an evil heart, from corrupt passions, and from temptations, they do not wish others to experience. But even with these, religion confers infinitely more pure joy than the world can give; and even though others should be called to experience severe trials for their religion, still Christians wish that all should partake of the pure consolations which Christianity alone can furnish in this world and the world to come. Compare Mark 10:30.
This man doeth nothing worthy of death - This was the conclusion to which they had come after hearing all that the Jews had to allege against him. It was the result of the whole investigation; and we have, therefore, the concurring testimony of Claudius Lysias Acts 23:29, of Felix Acts 24:0, of Festus Acts 25:26-27, and of Agrippa, as to the innocence of Paul. More honorable and satisfactory testimony of his innocence he could not have desired. It was a full acquittal from all the charges against him; and though he was to be sent to Rome, yet he went there with every favorable prospect of being acquitted there also.
Then said Agrippa unto Festus ... - This is a full declaration of the conviction of Agrippa, before whom the cause had been heard, that Paul was innocent. It is an instance, also, where boldness and fidelity will be attended with happy results. Paul had concealed nothing of the truth. He had made a bold and faithful appeal Acts 26:27 to Agrippa himself for the truth of what he was saying. By this appeal Agrippa had not been offended. It had only served to impress him more with the innocence of Paul. It is an instance which shows that religion may be so commended to the conscience and reason of princes, kings, and judges that they will see its truth. It is an instance which shows that the most bold and faithful appeals may be made by the ministers of religion to their hearers for the truth of what they are saying. And it is a full proof that the most faithful appeals, if respectful, may be made without offending people, and with the certainty that they will feel and admit their force. All preachers should be as faithful as Paul; and whatever may be the rank and character of their auditors, they should never doubt that they have truth and God on their side, and that their message, when most bold and faithful, will commend itself to the consciences of mankind.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 26". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29