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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Acts 26

Verses 1-99

26:1 23 . Paul’s defence before Agrippa

1 . and answered for himself] Rev. Ver . “and made his defence.” The verb is the same as before (19:33, 24:10, 25:8) and intimates that what is coming is an apologia . St Luke here as in other places notices the gesture of the speaker.

2 . I think myself happy ] Because Agrippa was sure to understand much of the feeling imported into the case which would be entirely obscure to a Roman magistrate. Paul would thus be able to make his position clear, and get it explained through Agrippa to the Roman authorities.

because I shall answer for myself ] As in the previous verse, “that I am to make my defence.”

3 . especially because I know thee to be expert] Rev. Ver . quite correctly “especially because thou art expert.” The margin which R. V. gives “because thou art especially expert” might be accepted, but we have no reason to think that Agrippa was more than other persons of his station expert in Jewish customs.

4 . at the first ] Better (with Rev. Ver. ) “from the beginning.” The Apostle though born in Tarsus yet came early to Jerusalem for his education, and it was in the Holy City that his character was formed and his manner of life shewed itself.

among mine own nation at Jerusalem ] The oldest MSS. say “ and at Jerusalem.” This would imply that even before coming to Jerusalem, the Apostle had always dwelt among his own people, and so was not likely to be one who would undervalue Jewish privileges or offend against Jewish prejudices.

know all the Jews ] Because in the persecution of the Christians he had made himself a conspicuous character, had been in favour with the chief priests and allowed to undertake the mission to Damascus.

5 . which knew me from the beginnings if they would testify ] Better (with Rev. Ver. ) “having knowledge of me from the first, if they be willing to testify.” The word for “from the first” is the same which St Luke uses (Luke 1:3 ) to indicate his perfect understanding of the Gospel story “from the very first.” When we remember that the early part of his Gospel can hardly have been gathered from anybody but the Virgin Mary, who alone could know many of the details, we may well think that the word implies that St Paul had been known from his very childhood. The rest of the sentence seems to intimate that there were some among those who were now his accusers who could give evidence about his previous years if they were so minded.

the most straitest ] There is nothing in the Greek to warrant the double superlative. Read “straitest.”

sect ] The word is that which is rendered “heresy” by the A. V. in 24:14. Everywhere else in the Acts it is sect . In the Epistles, where the plural only occurs, it is “heresies.”

our religion ] The word refers more especially to the outward ceremonials of worship, such as those by which the Pharisees were specially distinguished.

6 . And now I stand and am judged] Rev. Ver . “And now I stand here to be judged.” The idea is “I am on my trial.”

for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers ] i.e. because I entertain the hope that the promise which God made to the patriarchs and to David shall be fulfilled to us. The “promise” must be of the Messiah and of His coming into the world as King. For this is what the ten tribes were looking for. But this in St Paul’s view embraced the doctrine of the resurrection, because that was God’s assurance to the world (Acts 17:31 ) that He who was so raised up was to be the judge of quick and dead.

7 . unto which promise ] This makes it clear that the promise was the sending of Him in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed.

our twelve tribes ] For the Jews regarded themselves as representing the whole race, and not merely the two tribes of the kingdom of Judah. And this no doubt was true. For tribal names continued to be preserved and with the people of Judah there came back many of the members of the previous captivity of Israel. Thus in the N. T. we find (Luke 2:36 ) that Anna was of the tribe of Aser, and St James addresses his Epistle (1:1.) “to the twelve tribes that are scattered abroad” and Paul himself knew that he was of the tribe of Benjamin. Cp. also 2 Chronicles 31:1 . for evidence of the existence of some of the ten tribes after the Captivity. In T. B. Berachoth 20 a Rabbi Jochanan says “I am from the root of Joseph.”

instantly serving God ] i.e. earnestly serving God (as R. V. ). The old use of the word “instantly” has disappeared, and is not very common in any writings but such as are marked by the use of Scripture phraseology, e. g . Latimer’s Sermons, Bishop Pilkington’s Works, &c.

For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa ] The two last words are omitted in many MSS., in some only the last one.

I am accused of the Jews ] Emphatically placed to mark the inconsistency of the position. The Jews accuse Paul because he looks for the promise which was made to the forefathers of the Jewish race.

8 . Why should it be thought a thing incredible … that God , &c.] More literally (with Rev. Ver. ) “Why is it judged incredible with you if God doth raise the dead.” The last clause is not to be understood hypothetically, but “If God doth, as he hath done in the case of Jesus.” So that it is equivalent to “Why should you not believe that Jesus has been raised from the dead?”

9 . contrary to the name ] i.e. to the faith of Jesus Christ, into whose name believers were to be baptized. Cp. 5:41, note. “Name” is constantly used in O. T. as the equivalent of “Godhead,” and any Jew who heard the language of such a verse as this would understand that the Christians held Jesus to be a divine Being.

of Jesus of Nazareth ] Whom we preach now as raised by God from the dead, and as the fulfiller of the promises made to the fathers.

10 . Which thing I also did in Jerusalem ] Saul must have been a most active and prominent agent in the work of persecution in Jerusalem, for we learn here that the death of Stephen was not the only one for which he had given his vote. He had also had the warrant of the chief priests for other arrests beside those he intended to make in Damascus. We can see that the slaughter of the Christians was not in all cases the result of a sudden outburst of rage at some act or speech, but that some of them were imprisoned, then subjected to a form of trial, and afterwards put to death as men condemned by law.

11 . And I punished them oft in every synagogue ] The Gk. continues with a participial construction, represented in Rev. Ver. “and punishing … in all the synagogues.” This closer representation of the original seems to add strength to the description of Saul’s former zeal as a persecutor. Of the synagogues as places where offenders were accused and punished, cp. Matthew 10:17 , Matthew 10:23 :34; Mark 13:9 ; Luke 12:11 , Luke 21:12 .

and compelled them to blaspheme ] Rev. Ver. “I strove to make them blaspheme.” The verb is that which is frequently rendered “constrain” or “compel,” but being in the imperfect tense, it seems to signify that the attempt was repeated often, and needed to be so, for it was not in some cases successful. Saul kept on with his constraint. “To blaspheme,” i.e. the name of Jesus into which they had been baptized. They were to be forced to renounce the belief in the divinity of Jesus. Cp. on blasphemy of the divine Name, Leviticus 24:11-3.24.16 .

even unto strange [ R. V. foreign] cities ] That is, cities outside the country of the Jews proper. So that, as it appears, Damascus was but one among several cities to which Saul had gone on his errand of punishment.

12 . Whereupon ] The Greek has “in which things ,” and the sense is given well by the margin of R. V. “on which errand.”

with authority ] Rev. Ver. “with the authority.” Saul was the commissioner sent by the Jewish magistrates, and at this particular time Damascus had been assigned as the district where he was to search for the Christians.

13 . at midday ] There could be no question about the supernatural character of a light which overpowered the midday glare of an Eastern sun.

14 . I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying ] The oldest MSS. have only “a voice saying unto me.” Saul alone gathered the import of what was said. His companions only heard the sound, not the words. Cp. Daniel 10:7 .

in the Hebrew tongue [ R. V. language] Which is therefore represented by a different orthography of the proper name, not “Saulos,” the usual Greek form, but “Saoul,” a transliteration of the Hebrew.

it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks [goad] This is the only place where the oldest MSS. give these words. See note on 9:5. The figure is from an ox, being driven on in his work. When restive or lazy, the driver pricks him, and in ignorance of the consequences, he kicks back, and so gets another wound. The words would imply that God had been guiding Saul towards the true light for some time before, and that this zeal for persecution was a resistance of the divine urging. It is not unusual for men who are moved to break away from old traditions at such times, by outward acts, to manifest even more zeal than before for their old opinions, as if in fear lest they should be thought to be falling away. This may have been Saul’s case, his kicking against the goads.

15 . Who art thou, Lord ] The readiness with which “Lord,” an expression of allegiance, comes to the Apostle’s lips lends probability to the notion that God’s promptings had been working in his heart before, and that the mad rage against “the Way” was an attempt to stifle them.

16 . to make [ R. V. appoint] thee a minister ] The verb is that which in 22:14 is rendered “have chosen” ( R. V. appointed), and implies a deliberate selection and appointment. Saul was “a chosen vessel” (9:15).

and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen ] Rev. Ver. “a witness both of the things wherein thou hast seen me,” with a certain amount of MS. authority, though A.V. is well supported. St Paul dwells not unfrequently in his Epistles on his having seen Jesus. Cp. 1 Corinthians 9:1 , 1 Corinthians 9:15 :8, &c., and he makes this the ground of his independence in the Apostolic work, so that he can say he is not a whit behind any of the other Apostles.

and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee ] St Paul was more favoured than the rest of the Apostles, as far as we gather from the N. T. records, with visions from God to guide and comfort him at critical points in his work. Cp. Acts 18:9 , Acts 18:23 :11; and 2 Corinthians 2:2 . It was specially important that Paul should have seen Jesus, so that he might bear independent witness to the truth of his resurrection.

17 . delivering thee ] i.e. though they may and will seize upon thee and persecute thee, yet I am with thee and will save thee from their hands. From the first the Apostle knew that in every city persecution was to be his lot.

the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee ] The best authorities (with Rev. Ver. ) omit “now.” The verb “send” Is that from which the word “Apostle” comes, and its force is “I make thee my Apostle.” In the oldest texts the I is emphatically expressed. “Thou art, as well as the rest, an Apostle chosen by me the Lord Jesus.” The mission to the Gentiles seems to have been made clear to Saul from the very first. Compare his own language Galatians 1:16 . And in Acts 9:29 his preaching appears to have been rather directed to the Greek-Jews than to the members of the Church in Jerusalem.

18 . to open their eyes, and to turn them ] More literally Rev. Ver. “that they may turn”. A sentence full of hope and promise of success. If the eyes of the Gentiles be but opened, then they will turn. In blindness the Jews often said (as Paul found) “We see,” therefore their sin remained.

them which are sanctified by faith that is in me ] Better, with Rev. Ver. , “by faith in me.” It is by their belief in Jesus that men are sanctified. And here “sanctified,” as so often “saint” in St Paul’s Epistles, is applied to those who have been set on the way of salvation, and not to those who are perfect in holiness. To that they will be brought if they persevere.

19 . I was not disobedient ] The verb should be more fully translated “I did not become disobedient.” The thought goes back to the “kicking against the pricks,” the opposition of previous times. That was at an end now. Jesus was “Lord,” and Saul’s only question “What wilt thou have me to do?”

20 . but shewed [ R. V. declared] The word signifies the delivery of a message. Saul was henceforth God’s evangelist.

and at Jerusalem ] Cp. 9:29. Here he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians, so that they went about to kill him.

and throughout all the coasts of Judæa ] Of this ministration we are only told, 9:30, that the brethren finding Saul in danger in Jerusalem, brought him to Cæsarea, and thence sent him to Tarsus. But as we see in the history of Felix (cp. 23:34, note) that Cilicia was sometimes reckoned as a part of the province of Judæa, the preaching in Cilicia may be included in the expression “country of Judæa.” And we may feel sure that Paul, wherever he might be, never laid aside the character which Christ’s mission had imposed upon him.

and do works meet for repentance] Rev. Ver ., more literally and better, “doing works worthy of repentance” or “worthy of their repentance.” For the works were to be a sign of their repentance and turning unto God; the means whereby the reality of their sorrow, and the earnestness of their desire, was to be shewn.

21 . For these causes ] Lit. “on account of these things” which the R. V. better represents by “for this cause.”

the Jews caught me [ R. V. seized me] The word implies an arrest with violence.

and went about [ R. V. assayed] to kill me ] St Paul combines the riot in the Temple with the subsequent plot before he was sent to Cæsarea. Or he may be alluding only to the violence by which he was nearly torn in pieces before the chief captain came to his rescue. The verb rendered “kill” indicates the laying violent hands on any one, and so favours the latter view.

22 . Having therefore obtained help of God [ R. V. the help that is from God.] The “therefore” implies that against such attempts the help which alone could deliver him was divine. The word for “help” means the succour of an ally, and recalls God’s promise “Surely I will be with thee.”

I continue [ R.V. stand] unto this day ] The Apostle has in mind the many attempts to cast him down which had been made by Jews, and Gentiles too, during his missionary journeys. He has been rescued in many ways, and is still there standing safe and sound through the help which God hath sent him. He does not forget human agency, but this, whatever it was, was all sent of God.

witnessing [ R. V. testifying] both to small and great ] He was now before two who would be named great, and he knew that God had declared that he should testify “before kings” (9:15).

the prophets and Moses ] i.e. the whole Old Testament Scriptures. The form of the phrase is usually “Moses and the prophets” according to the order of the O.T. books. Sometimes we have “the Law and the prophets,” and once (Luke 24:44 ) “the law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms.”

23 . that Christ should suffer ] Rev. Ver. “How that the Christ must suffer,” but giving in the margin on “How that” or “if” or “whether.” The Greek is the conjunction ordinarily rendered “if,” and the literal meaning is “If the Christ be one who has to suffer.” The original puts it as though it were a question on which there was debate among the Jews. As indeed there was. See John 12:34 . And out of the Scriptures Paul says he answered the question whether this should be so. As his answer was a positive one the sense is nearly enough represented by “that” in the A.V., but we should read “ the Christ.”

and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light ] The Rev. Ver. gives a better representation of the original thus, “and how that he first by the resurrection of the dead should proclaim .” Christ was the firstfruits of them that sleep. His resurrection was an earnest of the general resurrection. Thus life and immortality were brought to light. “Should proclaim” = “is about to proclaim,” for this is the gospel which is to be preached from generation to generation.

light unto the people, and to the Gentiles ] The best MSS. insert “both” before “unto.” The “people,” i.e. of the Jews. Christ was spoken of in like terms by the aged Simeon. “A light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.” And he could say this because in Jesus he beheld God’s “salvation.” He could “depart in peace,” being sure that “to die” was only the pledge of “to rise again.”

24 32 . Interruption by Festus. Appeal to Agrippa. Consultation and decision

24 Festus said with a loud voice ] Probably what had last fallen from Paul seemed to him little better than lunatic ravings. The Gospel of the Cross did appear as “foolishness” to the Gentile world. And this Gospel he had just heard in all its fulness: that the Christ by suffering of death and rising to life again should be the source of true enlightenment both to Jews and Gentiles.

Paul, thou art beside thyself [ R. V. mad]. As the same word is taken up in the following verse, it is better that it should be rendered alike in both places.

much learning doth make thee mad ] Lit. (with R. V. ) “doth turn thee to madness.” But there is nothing gained by construing thus, and much is lost in English vigour. “Much learning” is literally “the many writings.” As in John 7:15 , where the same word is rendered “letters,” it may mean study and learning generally. But it seems better to take it of those writings (viz. the Old Testament) to which Paul had been appealing. For as a religious literature no nation, not even the polished Greeks, had anything to place in comparison with the Sacred Books of the Jews.

25 . most noble [ R. V. excellent] Festus ] The same title of respect which is given to Felix (23:26, 24:3). As St Chrysostom remarks the Apostle now answers with gentleness, not as to the high priest (23:3).

soberness ] The word, in classical Greek, is the opposite to that “madness” unto which Festus had said Paul was turned.

26 . none of these things are hidden from him ] i.e. the history of the life and works of Jesus, of His death and resurrection, of the marvellous gifts of Pentecost, and the preaching of the Gospel since Jesus had been crucified.

for this thing was not done in a corner ] Of the truth of this we can be sure from the excitement caused both in the religious and political world by the work of Jesus during his life, by the efforts put forth to stop his teaching, which culminated in a trial in which both Jewish and Roman magistrates were consulted, and by the exclamation of the Pharisees (John 12:19 ) “The world is gone after him,” and the declaration (Acts 17:6 ) “These that have turned the world upside down.”

27 . believest thou the prophets ] Whose writings foretell these events of which I am speaking, and which have had their fulfilment in the history of Jesus of Nazareth.

I know that thou believest ] The Apostle answers his own question, for he is sure that Agrippa would not have given a different answer, seeing how anxious all his family were, in spite of their relations with Rome, to be accepted of the Jewish nation. St Paul does not imply by his words any conviction about the character of Agrippa’s faith in the Scriptures.

28 . Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian ] Rev. Ver. “With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian.” The original is “with [ or in] little (labour or time) thou art persuading me, &c.” It would seem therefore that the Rev. Ver. represents Agrippa’s words more nearly than A. V. “With little labour” or “in a little time” implies that the king despised the attempt which had been made to convince him, and mocked at the language of St Paul in so readily taking for granted that the king was in accord with him. It is as though he said “You are supposing that I accept these words of the prophets in the same sense as you do, and you are a fool for your pains, to think that with so little trouble and in so short a space you could win me over to your side. And such a side! To be a Christian.” The name had, no doubt, been given, when it was first applied (Acts 11:26 ), to the adherents of Jesus as a term of reproach, and it is likely that it had not yet won its way to be a name of credit, at all events among such men as Agrippa and his friends. For we have no reason to suppose that the king was influenced at all by Paul’s words.

29 . both almost, and altogether ] The literal rendering of the Greek is given by the Rev. Ver. “whether with little or with much,” and it is difficult to see how the sense of the A. V. can be extracted from the words. The Apostle takes up the jeer of the king in a serious tone, and replies: “I may have seemed to use little persuasion, and suddenly to have jumped at the conclusion that you accept the teaching of the prophets as I myself receive it; but whether it need little or much persuasion, or little or much time, my prayer to God is, for you and for all who listen to me that they may become such as I am, save as to my bonds.”

were … such as I am ] Better with Rev. Ver. “might become such as I am.” Paul avoids the word “Christian,” which for himself he might willingly have accepted (cp. 1 Peter 4:16 ), but which was used by the king in a mocking sense, and therefore would not have made his wish seem an acceptable one. You may call me “Christian” in mockery, my joy and hope and faith in Christ are such, that I know no better prayer for any than to wish you all the like blessings.

except these bonds ] From this it is clear, in spite of the leniency with which Paul had been at first treated by Felix, that either because his case was deemed more serious in consequence of his being left in prison so long, or because he was just now before the court as a prisoner, the Apostle had been put in chains.

30 . And when he had thus spoken ] The oldest MSS. omit these words.

they that sat with them ] i.e. the chief captains and the principal men of Cæsarea. (See 25:23.) The authorities withdrew to consult upon what they had heard.

31 . they talked between themselves ] R. V. “they spake one to another.” This is more literal and conveys better the idea that they were all of one mind about the case.

32 . might have been set at liberty ] Thus Agrippa, looking at the question from the Jewish stand-point, confirms the opinion of the Roman magistrate (cp. 25:25). So that St Paul was acquitted on all hands, and Festus may rightly be deemed guilty because he had driven an innocent man to appeal to a higher court, from fear that he would be delivered into the power of his enemies. But God was using human means for bringing the Apostle to Rome, and so fulfilling his servant’s great desire, and in such wise that he should be heard before kings in behalf of the Gospel.

if he had not appealed ] The appeal put an end to all powers of a lower court either to condemn or absolve.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Acts 26". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/acts-26.html. 1896.