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Bible Commentaries
Acts 26

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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3. Ministry in Caesarea 23:33-26:32

Paul’s ministry in Caesarea was from prison. Luke devoted about three chapters to Paul’s ministry in Caesarea primarily to reemphasize the legality of Christianity as various Roman officials scrutinized it and to repeat major themes in Paul’s addresses.

Verses 23-32

Paul’s defense before Agrippa 25:23-26:32

This is the longest of Paul’s five defenses. It centers on the gospel with an evangelistic appeal rather than on the charges against Paul. This emphasis harmonizes with Luke’s evangelistic purpose in Luke and Acts and is a fitting climax to that purpose. It also documents God’s faithfulness in allowing Paul to witness before kings (cf. Acts 9:15).

"Inherent in Luke’s account are at least three apologetic themes: (1) Paul’s relations with the Roman provincial government in Judea did not end in dissonance but with an acknowledgment of his innocence (cf. Acts 25:25; Acts 26:31); (2) even though the Jewish high priests and Sanhedrin opposed Paul, the Jewish king who in Rome’s eyes outranked them agreed with a verdict of innocence (cf. Acts 26:32); and (3) Paul’s innocence was demonstrated not only before Roman and Jewish rulers but also publicly before ’the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city’ (Acts 25:23)." [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p. 550.]

Verse 1

Paul apparently stretched out his hand assuming the pose of an orator. The phrase "stretched out his hand" in Greek differs from the similar ones in Acts 13:16 and Acts 21:40. This defense is Paul’s fullest, most formal, and climactic of all the ones Luke recorded in Acts (cf. Acts 22:1-21; Acts 23:1-6; Acts 24:10-21; Acts 25:8; Acts 25:10-11). It is quite similar to the one he delivered from the steps of the Antonia Fortress (Acts 22:1-21), but he selected his words here carefully to appeal to Agrippa and the other Romans present. [Note: See Witherington, pp. 735-36.]

Verses 1-23

Paul’s speech to the dignitaries 26:1-23

Paul was not on trial here. When he had appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11), he had guaranteed that his next trial would be before the emperor. This was just a hearing designed to acquaint Agrippa with Paul’s case so Agrippa could give Festus help in understanding it and communicating it to the emperor.

"This testimony of Paul is not a defense of himself. It is a declaration of the gospel with the evident purpose of winning Agrippa and the others present to Christ. This is a dramatic scene, and this chapter is one of the greatest pieces of literature, either secular or inspired. . . .

"There is a consummate passion filling the soul of the apostle as he speaks. I think this is his masterpiece. His message on Mars’ Hill is great, but it does not compare at all to this message." [Note: McGee, 4:624, 626.]

The Lord had told Paul that he would bear His name before the Gentiles and kings (Acts 9:15). Jesus had also told His disciples that before the Tribulation enemies would deliver them to prison and bring them before kings and governors for His name’s sake. This, He said, would lead to an opportunity for their testimony (Luke 21:12-13). This is exactly what happened to Paul, and he used this opportunity to give his testimony, as this chapter records. [Note: See Alister E. McGrath, "Apologetics to the Romans," Bibliotheca Sacra 155:620 (October-December 1998):391.]

Verses 2-3

Paul began with a customary introduction in which he complemented the king sincerely and urged him to listen patiently. He did not promise a short defense (cf. Acts 24:2-4; Acts 24:10).

"This was just the kind of situation Paul had longed for during two bleak years in prison-viz., a knowledgeable judge and a not inherently antagonistic audience before whom he could not only make his defense but also proclaim his message." [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p. 551.]

Verses 4-7

The essence of the controversy surrounding Paul’s ministry and teaching, he explained, was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel, namely, salvation through a Messiah. This promise included personal spiritual salvation as well as national deliverance and blessing that the Hebrew prophets had predicted. The agent of this salvation would be a Savior whom God would anoint and who would arise from the dead. Paul’s conclusions concerning that Savior were the basis for the Jews’ antagonism against him.

Paul said that it was because of his Jewish heritage, not in spite of it, that he believed and preached what he did. The Jewish hope finds fulfillment in the Christian gospel. It was, therefore, ironic that the Jews, of all people, should have charged him with disloyalty.

"Paul is arguing that he has been consistent in his loyalty to the Jewish hope, whereas Acts 26:7-8 imply that his opponents are strangely inconsistent; what the people earnestly desire, the focus of their hope, is rejected when it arrives." [Note: Tannehill, 2:318.]

When Paul referred to his nation (Acts 26:4), he may have had the province of Cilicia or the Jewish community in Tarsus in mind. Personal maintenance of ritual purity and strict tithing marked the lives of Pharisees primarily (Acts 26:5). Paul’s mention of the 12 tribes of Israel (Acts 26:7) shows that he did not believe that 10 of the tribes became lost, as some cults today claim, for example, Herbert W. Armstrong’s teachings, and British Israelism (cf. Acts 2:9; Matthew 19:28; Luke 2:36; Luke 22:30; James 1:1; Revelation 7:4; Revelation 21:12).

Verse 8

Paul’s reference to the resurrection was appropriate because Jesus’ identification as the Messiah depended on His resurrection. None of Paul’s hearers could reasonably doubt the resurrection of the dead since God had raised Jesus from the dead. Furthermore, why could not an all-powerful God raise the dead?

Verses 9-11

As a Pharisaic Jew, Paul had opposed the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. He had disbelieved in the resurrection of Jesus who did not seem to fit the scriptural image of that Savior. "Cast my vote" (Acts 26:10) may be metaphorical (cf. Acts 8:1; Acts 22:20) or, less likely, literal. There is no evidence that Paul was ever a member of the Sanhedrin, but he could have voted to punish Christians in lower courts such as the ones that existed in local synagogues. Paul tried to force Christians to blaspheme by getting them to say that Jesus was not the Christ or by getting them to curse Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3). He was so zealous for his errant belief that he even pursued Christians to foreign cities to persecute them.

"The great Christians have never been afraid to point to themselves as living and walking examples of the power of Christ. The gospel to them was not a form of words; it was not a form of intellectual belief; it was a power unto salvation. It is true that a man can never change himself; but it is also gloriously true that what he cannot do, Jesus Christ can do for him." [Note: Barclay, pp. 193-94.]

Verses 12-14

Luke recorded that Paul added two new bits of information that he had not mentioned in his previous testimonies (Acts 26:14). On the Damascus road all of his companions had fallen to the ground as a result of the bright light. This shows that the event was real and not a vision that Paul had. Also, the Lord had spoken to him in Aramaic, probably to confirm to Paul that the One addressing him was the God of the Jews.

Goads were sharp sticks used to drive cattle. The figure of kicking against goads was and is a common rural metaphor that describes opposing the inevitable (like "banging your head against a wall"). Such action only hurts the one doing it, not the object of his hostility. This was the case in Paul’s antagonism to God that his persecution of Christians expressed.

"In the Greek world this was a well-known expression for opposition to deity (cf. Euripides Bacchanals 794-95; Aeschylus Prometheus Bound 324-25; Agamemnon 1624; Pindar Pythia 2.94-95; Terence Phormio 1.2.27). Paul may have picked it up in Tarsus or during his missionary journeys. He used it here to show his Greek-oriented audience the implications of the question ’Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ Lest he be misunderstood as proclaiming only a Galilean prophet he had formerly opposed, he pointed out to his hearers what was obvious to any Jew: correction by a voice from heaven meant opposition to God himself. So he used a current expression familiar to Agrippa and the others . . ." [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," pp. 552-53. See also idem, Paul . . ., pp. 98-101.]

Paul related his conversion experience on this occasion very graphically, and he stressed the significance of these events.

Verses 15-17

Paul brought Jesus’ words on the Damascus road (cf. Acts 9:5-6; Acts 22:8; Acts 22:10), His instructions through Ananias (cf. Acts 22:14-15), and His command in Paul’s Jerusalem vision (cf. Acts 22:18-21) together here. He did so to summarize and to stress the divine commission that Jesus Christ gave him concerning his particular mission in life (cf. Jeremiah 1:7-8; Ezekiel 2:1; Ezekiel 2:3). His reference to being sent to Gentiles would have drawn a favorable reaction from his Gentile audience.

"Paul’s language here becomes noticeably more biblical; he sees his call as a commission to become one of God’s prophets like Ezekiel or Jeremiah and to share the role of the Servant of Yahweh." [Note: Neil, p. 244.]

Verse 18

This verse recalls the divine commission of Messiah (cf. Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 42:6-7; Isaiah 42:16). It is one of the best summary statements of not only Paul’s mission but also the mission of every believer (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Colossians 1:12-14). Paul was to do for others what God had done for him, and so should we. The sanctification in view is positional; God sets a person apart for a special purpose before and when he or she trusts Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:4).

Paul had gone to Damascus as the apostle (i.e., sent one) of the Sanhedrin. He returned as the apostle of Jesus Christ. [Note: Barclay, pp. 194-95.]

Verses 19-20

We should probably understand Acts 26:20 as a general description of Paul’s ministry rather than as a strictly chronological reference in view of Acts 9:20-30 and Galatians 1:18-24.

"Repent" again means essentially to change the mind. Note the distinction between repenting and performing deeds appropriate to repentance that Paul made in Acts 26:20.

"What is repentance? It is a complete change of attitude. It is a right-about-face. Here is a man who is going on living in open, flagrant sin, and he does not care anything about the things of God and is totally indifferent to the claims of righteousness. But laid hold of by the Spirit of God, that man suddenly comes face to face with his sins in the presence of God, and he turns right-about-face and comes to the God he has been spurning and to the Christ he has been rejecting and he confesses his sins and puts his trust in the Savior. All this is involved in repentance.

"Here is another man. He is not living in open sin, but he has been living a very religious life. He has been very self-righteous. He has been thoroughly satisfied that because of his own goodness and because of his punctilious attention to his religious duties, God will accept him and eventually take him to be with Himself. But suddenly he is brought to realize that all his own righteousnesses are as filthy rags, that nothing he can do will make him fit for God’s presence, and he faces this honestly before God. For him too there is a change of attitude. He turns away from all confidence in self, the flesh, his religion, and cries: ’In my hand no price I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.’ This is repentance. It is a right-about-face." [Note: Ironside, Lectures on . . ., pp. 613-14.]

"Faith in Jesus is where the process ends, but to get there, a person changes his or her mind about sin and God and turns to God to receive the offer of salvation through Jesus. So each of these terms ("repent," "turn," "believe") is adequate for expressing the offer of the gospel, since Paul used each of them." [Note: Bock, Acts, p. 719.]

Verse 21

"For this reason" refers to Paul’s preaching to Gentiles (Acts 26:20). Paul did not explain here exactly what he preached to the Gentiles, namely, that they could obtain salvation simply by faith in Christ. This message is what infuriated the Jews and led to Paul’s arrest. Nevertheless Paul did give his hearers enough information about Jesus Christ so they could believe in Him.

Verses 22-23

God had stood by Paul and had helped him, as He had promised (Acts 26:22; cf Acts 26:17). Paul preached a message thoroughly in harmony with Israel’s faith (cf. Acts 3:18; Acts 17:3). Acts 26:23 may be Luke’s condensation of Paul’s exposition of many Old Testament messianic prophecies that Jesus fulfilled (e.g., Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 53:10; Isaiah 60:3). Many of the Jews rejected the ideas of a suffering Messiah, His resurrection from the dead, and direct ministry to Gentiles, but Paul found support for these in the Old Testament.

"Here in substance is the Gospel that Paul preached and that believers ought always to proclaim, ’that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1204.]

Verse 24

Paul’s knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures impressed Festus, added confirmation that Paul probably said more than Luke chose to record here. The Greek words ta polla . . . grammata, translated "great learning" (lit. the many writings), indicate that it was Paul’s knowledge of the Scriptures that impressed Festus, not his general knowledge. However the governor did not understand the significance of Paul’s beliefs. To him they seemed incomprehensible. He concluded that Paul was a zealous obscurantist and a bit crazy to risk his life defending such foolish ideas. The Romans did not believe in the resurrection of the body, just the immortality of the soul (cf. Acts 17:32; Acts 25:19). [Note: Bock, Acts, p. 722.] So belief in resurrection would have seemed like insanity to Festus.

"Festus’ comment sounds like an interruption while Paul is still in full spate, but in fact the speech has reached its conclusion." [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p. 398.]

"Down through the ages Festus’s response has been echoed by men and women too trapped by the natural to be open to the supernatural, too confined by the ’practical’ to care about life everlasting." [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p. 554.]

Some of Jesus’ accusers also thought that He was mad. People sometimes think that we are mad when we explain the gospel to them and urge them to believe in the Lord.

Verses 24-29

Paul’s appeal to Agrippa 26:24-29

Verses 25-27

Paul asserted that what Festus called madness was true and reasonable. What had not been done in a corner (Acts 26:26) was the fulfillment of prophecy by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the preaching of the gospel. Jesus’ ministry was well known in Palestine. "Done in a corner" was another Greek idiom of the day. [Note: Ibid.] If Agrippa believed the prophets, Paul believed he could not help concluding that Jesus fulfilled what they predicted. Paul was backing the king into a corner with what had not been done in a corner. All of this was beyond Festus, but Agrippa knew the issues, and Paul was aiming his presentation of the gospel at him primarily. The accused had now become the accuser.

Verse 28

Agrippa was now on the spot. If he agreed with Paul or even appeared to agree, he would have lost face with Festus as well as the rest of the Romans present. Festus had just said he thought Paul was mad. On the other hand, if Agrippa said he did not believe the prophets, his influence over his Jewish hearers and subjects would have been damaged greatly. Consequently Agrippa replied noncommittally, "You are trying to make a Christian out of me in such a short interview!" His response does not mean that he was on the verge of becoming a Christian, as the AV translation implies: "Almost thou persuadest me to become a Christian."

"The reply is light-hearted, but not ironic." [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p. 407.]

Verse 29

Paul responded to the king very politely but firmly. He wished that all his hearers, not just Agrippa, might become Christians. Paul’s reference to his chains may have been literal-he may have been wearing chains as he spoke-or perhaps metaphorical-he may have been referring to his condition as a prisoner. I am not aware of any evidence that Agrippa ever became a Christian.

"The speech before King Agrippa is more than a defense speech. It begins as a defense speech (cf. Acts 26:1), and it develops aspects of previous defense speeches, but its functions are broader. It combines themes from the defense speeches with themes from the earlier narrative, reaching back to the missions of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles, and fashions these into a summary statement of Paul’s place in the unfolding purpose of God. Then Paul continues his mission before our eyes as his review of his past message becomes present proclamation, ending with a missionary appeal to King Agrippa." [Note: Tannehill, 2:316.]

Verses 30-32

The verdict of Agrippa 26:30-32

By rising to his feet Agrippa signaled the end of the hearing. Everyone else rose out of respect for him. Luke implied that everyone present concurred that Paul was completely innocent. This had previously been the verdict of the Pharisees (Acts 23:9), Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:29), and Festus (Acts 25:25). Now Agrippa, a Roman ruler with Jewish blood in his veins who was sympathetic to the Jews, voiced the same opinion (Acts 26:32). In Agrippa’s opinion Paul did not even need to be in prison, much less die for what he had done.

"The effect of the scene as a whole is to emphasize the uprightness of Roman legal proceedings over against the partiality and injustice of the Jews, and to show that, when measured by Roman law, Paul’s behavior appeared to be free from any guilt; mad he might appear to be, but not a criminal. There is tremendous emphasis on the climax: ’This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’" [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p. 386.]

"It may finally be asked whether Luke was justified in devoting so much of his limited space to Paul’s examinations before the various tribunals of Rome. Paul’s case, it should be remembered, was a test case. If he was finally acquitted, and the Pastoral Epistles are solid evidence that he was, Luke’s final purpose is clear." [Note: Blaiklock, p. 186.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 26". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/acts-26.html. 2012.
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