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Bible Commentaries
Acts 26

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Introduction

This chapter chronicles what must have been a most exciting day for the Apostle Paul. This day holds the prospect of converting a king! Once again Paul gives the details of his life, including his conversion, and then he makes an appeal to Agrippa to follow his lead and become a Christian himself.

Verse 1

Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:

Festus has turned the control of these proceedings over to Agrippa, who desires to get to the heart of the controversy by allowing Paul to speak in his own defense.

Paul steps up to begin his fifth defense. With a distinctive sweep of his hand, Paul begins his narrative. This motion of the hand, so characteristic of Paul, must have been a compelling gesture that quiets the crowd and demands their attention. At least Luke is so impressed by this gesture that he mentions it on numerous occasions (13:16; 21:40).

Verse 2

I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:

"Happy" indeed! Paul must have been thrilled with the opportunity to preach the gospel to this young Jewish king and his sister. These two represent the Herods, a lineage of rulers who have made every effort to destroy Christianity (see notes on 25:22).

It should be noted that Paul has already been found innocent of any crimes against Rome (25:25); therefore, his only problem is the accusations of the Jews.

Verse 3

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

This statement that Paul recognizes Agrippa as "expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews" is not intended as mere flattery but rather a recognition that Agrippa is knowledgeable ("Literally, a knower") (Vincent 586) of the Law. "Agrippa had been brought up in the Jewish faith, and on this account had been entrusted by the emperor with the oversight of religious affairs in Jerusalem, while Judea was under Roman procurators" (McGarvey, Vol. II, 250). Unlike dealing with pagans such as Felix and Festus to whom all Jewish customs are new and strange, Paul now speaks to one who knows and understands the Jews.

Verse 4

My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;

This verse reminds us that Paul (Saul of Tarsus) gained a notable reputation as a young Jewish scholar and later as a zealous persecutor of the church. This reputation is likely to have been known by Agrippa.

Verse 5

Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

It is apparent that some of Paul’s most bitter enemies are those who have known him from his youth. We can understand the utter resentment of these former friends; they look upon him as a traitor to the Jewish faith.

The "sect of the Pharisee" is the "straitest" of all the Jewish sects. Synonymous with the word "straitest" are such words as most rigid, strictest, and as Vine says, "the superlative degree of accurate or exact" (Vol. IV 79). (For additional information on Pharisee, see notes on 5:34.)

Verses 6-7

And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.

Free from the need to defend himself for offenses against Rome, Paul launches into the preaching of the gospel of Christ. He reminds Agrippa of the hope held by the Jews pertaining to the coming of a Messiah, a promised Savior coming to redeem fallen mankind from sin. Paul’s logic is this: Why am I being "accused" by the Jews for preaching a "hope" long looked forward to by all Jews ("our twelve tribes")?

I am being accused by Jews, O king! The very thing is almost incredible although, alas, true. Think of it. "Jews" are accusing one of their own race for holding to the hope that has ever lifted their nation above paganism (Lenski 1029)!

Verse 8

Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?

Here Paul attempts to rally Agrippa to his side by mention of the resurrection of the dead. Paul gives Agrippa’s faith in the resurrection credibility before this audience of pagans by clarifying that the king is not hearing anything incredible, nor is his belief some new "superstition"; rather Agrippa is holding to the supreme hope of all Israel. We must remember it is the sect of the Sadducees who deny the resurrection. It is also the Sadducees who have been largely responsible for the pursuit and persecution of Paul (see notes on 4:1 and 23:6-7).

Verse 9

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

Paul claims yet a closer alliance with Agrippa when he admits that, in spite of a clear conscience, he had at one time rigorously persecuted the cause of Jesus. McGarvey gives the following interpretation of the statement:

... this information must have caused Agrippa to say within himself: Why, the man was once on the same side with my family, and he showed the same zeal to suppress the cause of the Nazarene as did my father, my uncle, and my grandfather. It was intended to have this effect, and also to start within the astonished young man the question: How did this persecutor come to undergo so great a change (Vol. II 252-253)?

For the benefit of all today, we see by Paul’s admission that it is possible to be religious, to have a clear conscience, to feel right about it, and still to be so very wrong. "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12). One should always be willing to check "the way" that he is in. (For additional notes on conscience, see 23:1.)

Verse 10

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

It must have been difficult for the apostle to use the term "saints" in reference to the brethren he is guilty of persecuting (see notes on 9:13).

There is considerable discussion as to the meaning of the statement, "I gave my voice (vote) against them." Various scholars think this statement indicates Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin. This possibility opens up additional speculation that as a member of this court Paul would have been by necessity a married man. This writer agrees with Barnes, Lenski, and McGarvey that Paul was not a member of the Sanhedrin. Rather he was given the "authority and commission" (26:12) by this court to represent them in the binding and murder of the "saints" (see notes on 9:2; 22:4-5).

Verse 11

And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.

Paul continues to recite details of his rabid attack upon Christians. He "compelled" these poor saints to "blaspheme" the name of Jesus. Whether Paul was successful in getting these "saints" to revile Jesus as their Lord and Savior is left to speculation. It would make this extreme persecution all right if we could believe it involved only the loss of life and not the loss of a single soul.

By the mention of "strange cities, " it becomes evident that Paul’s murderous fervor was not confined to the cities of Jerusalem and Damascus. His madness knew no bounds.

Verses 12-16

Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;

Even the casual reader can feel the raw emotions felt by Paul as he recounts this event that happened years before, yet is as fresh on his memory as yesterday. The authenticity of this happening is confirmed by the fact that this is the third time the event has been rehearsed; and, with the exception of incidental bits of information, the account is exactly the same (for more detail, see notes on 9:2-6; 22:5-10).

Verse 17

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

This is the promise Jesus makes to Paul that he will protect him from the dangers threatened by the people (the Jews) and from the threats of the Gentiles. This promise of providential care surely buoyed the courage of Paul throughout his hazardous career. Simply put, it is the will of God to preserve the life of Paul until his work is finished.

Verse 18

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

The events leading up to and the results of Paul’s own conversion have been noted; now he states his mission: to turn men from their sins.

To open their eyes: This is the first necessity for the gospel preacher: to make men aware of the jeopardy in which sin has placed them.

and to turn them from darkness to light: Secondly, the preacher must call those who have become used to the dark "into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

and from the power of Satan unto God: Thirdly, the preacher must inspire the sinner to break loose from the grasp of Satan and turn to God.

that they may receive forgiveness of sins: The ultimate goal of the gospel preacher is to cause sinful men to turn from their sinful condition and, through obedience to God, "receive forgiveness of sins."

and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me: Eternal life in the bliss of heaven is the inheritance promised to those "which are sanctified by faith" in Jesus. The reader need not make the mistake many in the denominational world have made by believing this verse teaches salvation by "faith only." This verse teaches no more than the fact that the "remission of sins" is available only to those who find the means of this remission through faith in Jesus Christ. (For details on salvation by faith, see notes on 10:43.)

Verse 19

Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:

This is Paul’s way of expressing the idea, "O king would you expect that I would be disobedient to a heavenly vision?

Verse 20

But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.

Paul states he has worked to carry out the purpose for which he was converted and the mission given him by the heavenly vision. He is careful to state that he went first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Paul’s message calls for faith in Jesus, repentance from sins, obedience to baptism, and the continuation of living a holy life.

Verse 21

For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.

Paul has made a masterful presentation of his case. There is no doubt that at least Agrippa gets the point of Paul’s reasoning: In his ministry Paul is carrying out the direct instruction of God. If the Jews oppose him in this divine work, they are the ones in the wrong.

Verse 22

Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:

It is the obvious intention of God to preserve the life of Paul until he has accomplished the goals set forth for him. God’s providence is seen repeatedly in Paul’s many deliverances from harm (see verse 17). Lenski agrees:

It was due to the help of God alone that those Jews did not accomplish what they tried, to murder Paul. ... Since these foes were thirsting for Paul’s blood, he would have perished if he had been left alone (1045).

Paul lays the responsibility for his violent and illegal arrest upon the Jews with the explanation that he was only obeying God by preaching that Jesus, the promised Messiah, had come as Moses and the prophets had prophesied He would.

Verse 23

That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.

Moses and the prophets had foretold the coming of Christ: that He would suffer and die and that He would rise from the dead (Psalms 22; Isaiah 53). The very purpose of this suffering Saviour was that He might be the "light of the world" (John 8:12).

It should be noted that Jesus is the "first" to rise from the dead in the sense that He is the first to have power over death. Those raised from the dead in both the Old Testament and the New Testament die again with one wonderful exception: Jesus!

Verse 24

And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.

Poor ignorant, pagan Festus has all of this talk of rising from the dead that he can stand. We can guess that the intensity of Paul’s presentation, the ring of conviction, and the undeniable truth thus presented lie heavily upon this entire audience; but it is Festus who, with an uncontrollable burst of pent-up energy, calls a halt to a proceeding that his carnal mind does not understand. "Festus had advertised his ignorance at the beginning of the hearing; but in this interruption, he headlined it" (Coffman 484).

Festus accuses Paul of being "mad" because of his "much learning." "Mad is from the Greek ’mainei, ’ which means ’raving’" (Boles 408). This type of accusation is not confined to the preachers of the first century; those lacking in spiritual discernment today are still prone to "raving" if they come up short on a scriptural response.

Verse 25

But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.

Festus loses his composure in the heat of the moment but not so with the apostle. With a grace of character that comes from a close relationship with Jesus Christ, Paul, in a quiet, respectful voice, denies the charge of "most noble Festus."

Verse 26

For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.

Paul continues his artful persuasion of Agrippa by once again calling upon him as a witness. Paul knows Agrippa is aware of the things he has taught. The events surrounding the life, trial, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are well known by the Jews, especially one of the status of King Agrippa."These things were not done in a corner."

The 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 (Coffman 484-485).

Verse 27

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

Paul has reached the point in his sermon where the truth has been presented, objections have been answered, and now it is time to call for obedience. Anyone who has had much experience in attempting to win souls has been at this point; the moment of decision has arrived. The next move is left to the prospect for salvation. Paul’s question leaves Agrippa in a dilemma. If he answers in the affirmative, it is certain his pagan friends will ridicule him; and yet Agrippa must have given some clue that he is at the point of being convicted by the word of God. At least this seems to have been the impression gained by Paul. Paul knows that Agrippa "believed the prophets."

Verse 28

Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

There is much discussion among scholars as to the meaning of the phrase, "almost thou persuadest me."The Greek will not support this translation."En oligio’ does not mean ’almost, ’ but it is not clear as to what it does mean" (Boles 409). There are two possibilities: the phrase could indicate "time," as "in a little time," or it could mean "effort" as "with little effort." Thus, Agrippa is saying, "In short time or with little effort you are persuading me to become a Christian."There are others who believe the statement, made by Agrippa, can be disregarded altogether because it is spoken in sarcasm or derision. We were not there to hear the tone or the inflections in the voice of Agrippa, but there is no reason to believe Agrippa is showing contempt for the words of Paul. To the contrary, the next verse will show that Paul at least thinks there is a possibility for the conversion of Agrippa.

Although we have no record that Agrippa ever did become a Christian, the thoughts expressed in this verse indicate he knows more about the gospel of Christ than many so-called Christians do today. Look at what Agrippa knows:

1. Agrippa is a "believer" as verified by Paul; yet Agrippa knows he is not a Christian. Being a believer only will not save anyone.

2. When Agrippa says "thou persuadest," it shows he knows the apostle is doing the persuading. Many today think to become a Christian they must be persuaded by a visitation of the Holy Spirit, some better-felt-than-told experience, or a small still voice.

3. When Agrippa says "persuadest me," he knows Paul is attempting to persuade him to become a Christian. Paul is not persuading God to save him. Many today believe it is necessary to persuade God to save them; hence, we have the sinner’s prayer, prayer benches, and "praying through" in an effort to beg God to save them.

4. When Agrippa says "to become," he knows what he is then will have to change. He has to become something else. Many today think God will save them without a change in their lives.

5. When Agrippa says "a Christian," he knows Paul is persuading him to become a disciple of Christ, pure and simple. Today men want us to become denominational, nondenominational, un-denominational. They want us to be an "ist," an "ic" or an "ism." What is wrong with just being a Christian?

(For addition notes on the name "Christian", see 11:26.)

Verse 29

And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.

This verse verifies the fact that Paul sees some glimmer of hope for the conversion of Agrippa. Whether it takes little or much time, little or much effort, it is Paul’s prayer that Agrippa and everyone else in the assembly will become a Christian as he is, except for his bonds. Paul is in bonds, perhaps even in chains as he speaks, but Paul’s bonds are only physical; Agrippa and his heathen cronies are in the bonds of ignorance, sin, and eternal death.

Verses 30-32

And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them: And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds. Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.

The pregnant moment has passed: the meeting is over: Agrippa has avoided a direct answer to Paul’s invitation. It is back to business as usual. What is to be done with Paul? He is obviously innocent of all charges; but because of his successful appeal to Caesar, Paul is soon to be on ship, bound for Rome.

We are left to wonder how many times this Jewish king rehearses the events of this dramatic audience with the Apostle Paul. Surely he never forgets Paul’s force of conviction as he preaches Jesus the crucified and risen Savior in a way that he instinctively knows is the truth. Agrippa must now face the eternal horror of standing in judgment, "almost a Christian!"

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 26". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/acts-26.html. 1993-2022.
 
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