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5. Paul’s Fourth Defence that before Agrippa , Acts 26:1-32 .
1. Agrippa said As highest in rank as well as referee by the procurator, Agrippa is president of the occasion.
A proper understanding of this noble piece of Christian oratory requires the reader to note two things:
1. This is not properly a judicial trial, as said note Acts 25:23.
2. The charge against Paul, and to which he replies is this: He has infringed that Roman law which requires upon pain of death that every man shall adhere to his own national religion. To show himself not guilty of this charge, Paul maintains that his is in fact the true Judaism. He first shows how strict a Jew he originally was, and how persecuting he was of the followers of Jesus, (Acts 26:4-11;) next how he was converted and commissioned (like Moses) by the visible Shekinah, and the audible voice from above, (Acts 26:12-21;) and third, that all this is but the continuity of the Old Testament religion, inasmuch as it, as a whole, is embraced in the prophets and even in Moses, (Acts 26:22-29;) and this true identity, we may say by the way, of Christianity with true and primitive Mosaism is the gist of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The whole tone of Paul’s mind in the speech appears buoyant and elastic, exhibiting both in his artistic argument, his rounded periods, and in his prompt and masterly replies, a temperament and character raised by the occasion to the height of its demand.
Speak for thyself To show that he may be reported to Cesar as innocent of all wrong.
CHRISTIANITY AMONG THE GENTILES. From Chapter Acts 13:1, to End of Acts.
Through the remainder of his work Luke’s subject is the evangelization of the Gentiles, and his hero is Paul. His field is western Asia and Europe; his terminal point is Rome, and the work is the laying the foundation of modern Christendom. At every point, even at Rome, Luke is careful to note the Gospel offer to the Jews, and how the main share reject, and a remnant only is saved. And thus it appears that Luke’s steadily maintained object is to describe the transfer of the kingdom of God from one people to all peoples.
I. PAUL’S FIRST MISSION From Antioch, through Cyprus, into Asia, as far as Lystra and Derbe, thence back to Antioch, Acts 13:1 Acts 14:28.
2. Happy, king Agrippa A conciliatory, yet strictly truthful exordium. (See notes on Acts 24:2; Acts 24:10.) Doubtless Paul felt a genuine relief in stating his case, not to an obtuse and unintelligent pagan, but to one possessed of insight enough to penetrate its real merits, yet without the bigotry of the Sanhedrists.
5. If they would testify Which as enemies it is not certain that they would have the magnanimity to do.
Most straitest A double superlative retained from the old English of the first translator, Tyndale.
6. And now In accordance with and springing from this deep Judaism.
I stand A phrase of manly firmness.
Promise Namely, of the Messiah.
7. Unto which promise That is, unto the fulfilment of which promise.
Twelve tribes A single word, δωδεκαφυλον , the twelve-tribedom. From the time of the rending of the robe of Jeroboam into twelve parts by the prophet Ahijah, and the fulfilment of its symbol in the separation of the ten tribes (1 Kings 11:29-39) from the two, there never was a united yet distinct twelve-tribedom restored. The truth seems to be, first, that a remnant was left of the ten in Northern Palestine; and second, that no distinct traces of a distinct ten tribes are to be found anywhere else. In the time of Paul tribe divisions existed in much confusion, and after the destruction of Jerusalem pedigrees were lost, and the authentic distinctions of hereditary tribeship were obliterated. Yet Israelites still loved to view themselves, ideally at least, as the twelve tribes. James, who of all the apostles may be supposed to have retained the strongest Jewish feeling, addressed his epistle to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, (Acts 1:1.)
Serving God With prayers, and sacrifices and good works.
Day and night Like the prophetess Anna, (Luke 2:37.) Reversing the order of clauses, we may paraphrase the sentence thus: Our twelve tribes, worshipping intensely day and night, hope to come to the fulfilled promise of the Messiah.
Hope’s sake… accused It was touching this Messianic hope (supposed by him to be fulfilled in Jesus) that Paul was accused by the Jews.
10. I also did The apostle paints his sad behaviour with a copious accumulation of particulars. Perhaps a true interpretation would reduce some of his indignant and eloquent self-condemnations as hyperboles.
Saints By this striking word here Paul asserts to Agrippa the holy character of his victims, and aggravates his own misdoing.
They… death The plural perhaps for the singular, as it is doubtful whether any person suffered death besides Stephen.
Voice The Greek word signifies the pebble, which (before the invention of the modern paper) was anciently used for voting. Some have inferred from this that young Saul was a member of the Sanhedrin; erroneously, for he was not of sufficient age. Others suppose that his vote was given in the informal consultations that took place. More probably it is a metaphorical use of the word, as we would use the word suffrage to indicate one’s support of a movement.
11. Strange cities Damascus; the plural again for the singular.
11. Strange cities Damascus; the plural again for the singular.
12. Whereupon The description of the Christophany which follows is far more vivid and abounding in individual touches and rounded periods than either of the parallel passages.
14. In the Hebrew tongue A new circumstance, showing both the particularity of the apostle’s own memory, and indicating that Jesus acknowledged his Israelite brotherhood even in commissioning his apostle to the Gentiles.
16. Stand upon thy feet The proper position for receiving the highest commission ever bestowed on man.
A witness (See note on Luke 1:2.)
Hast seen Namely, this wonderful manifestation of Christ, as proof of the divinity of his Gospel.
I will appear This was the first of many personal appearances of Jesus to him, as if his guardian angel were the Angel of the covenant. The other apostles had been under the tutelage of the terrene Jesus; this apostle of the risen Jesus.
16-18. Paul gives in rich clauses the great commission he received. Lechler, sustained by Alford, strangely maintains that Paul attributes to Jesus here words not spoken by him, but by Ananias. The words of Ananias, in Acts 22:14-15, bear but slender resemblance to these of Jesus. They justify no supposition either that Jesus spoke not these words complete, or that Ananias spoke not just the words recorded as his. The supposition that both were uttered implies no tame repetition. The obvious truth appears to be that Ananias was inspired to utter a brief confirmatory witness of the reality of the full commission given by Jesus to Paul.
17. The people The Jewish people.
18. To open The contents of his high office are now unfolded in a rich succession of beautiful clauses. Compare for beauty the prophetic commission of the Messiah himself, Luke 4:18-19.
That they may receive This that, equivalent to in order that, depends upon open and turn.
Sanctified Among the saints of Acts 26:10. (See note.)
By faith… in me Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith in Christ is here received from Christ himself. As Christ sets himself forth as Saviour of the world, so the world can be saved only by committing itself in good faith to him. And in the fulness of this faith in Christ is included the very fulness of obedience to Christ in every holy work.
19. Not disobedient His new faith acted forth in works. In this his will was free to obey or to disobey, like Jonah, the order of Jehovah. The overwhelming light and power of Christ’s appearance were, indeed, irresistible, an “irresistible grace;” but the engaging with full faith in Christ to perform the duties and sufferings of his apostolate was a true act of the free will.
21. Went about Undertook.
22. Help A military term signifying the aid a warrior receives from auxiliary or allied forces. The warrior was the apostle; the enemy the Jews; the auxiliary was God.
Witnessing According to his apostolic office. (See note on Acts 26:16.)
Small and great Whether of rank, stature, or age.
Prophets and Moses Hence Christianity is true Old Testament religion, and Paul has not by forsaking his national religion incurred the penalty of death.
23. That Literally, if, or whether. It was questioned by the Jews, and upon it he gave his testimony.
Christ The English reader often loses the true force of passages in the New Testament by forgetting that Christ is not a proper name, but a title the MESSIAH, the Messiah of Jewish national hope and pride. (See note on Matthew 1:1.)
Should suffer Rather, could suffer.
First Not indeed the first resuscitated from death, for Lazarus and others were thus revived and died again; but the first of the universal organic and complete resurrection, not only from death, but from mortality.
24. Loud voice Filling the audience room with its imperious tones.
Mad Become a monomaniac by poring over old manuscripts. The words for much learning are many writings, and often, by implication, much erudition. Plainly what suggests to Festus the idea of Paul’s half-crazed condition was his having a vision of a man who had risen from the dead, and thence having asserted a resurrection. And what suggested to Festus the cause of this monomania, namely, many manuscripts, was the fact that Paul drew the authority for both his vision and his doctrines from the Old Testament records. To say, as some do, that he saw Paul reading old parchments is not proved, yet may have been additionally true. To say with Dr. Hackett that Festus had heard that Paul was a scholar is to go still farther for a hypothetical solution when we have a clear one on the face of the record before us. Festus could not but know, at least, that Moses was held the lawgiver of the Jews, not only more ancient than Solon or Romulus, but a thousand years earlier than Homer himself. He knew that the prophets were the body of old Jewish literature. He saw that Paul had deeply read these musty records, and was deducing the risen Jesus from their pages. What, then, did he infer but that Paul had pored over the old archives until their conceptions had shaped themselves in his brain to a monomaniac day-dream about a dead man’s living and appearing in celestial splendour before his eyes? It was a most natural thought to a secular military Roman after the model of Pilate and Festus.
25. Most noble His civil title.
Truth In itself.
Soberness Sanity in the individual. A reply at once most respectful and most firm.
26. The king This king had been called by Festus himself as referee, and Paul, therefore, very reasonably refers to him.
Knoweth of these things Understands the facts of Jesus’ history.
A corner Not in some obscure place, but in Jerusalem.
27. Believest… prophets As an educated and sincere Jew his reply to this direct appeal must have been affirmative, and so would sustain the value of these many manuscripts which Festus had impeached.
I know A masterly oratorical answer to his own question. Agrippa had refused both his sisters to royal suitors until the kings had consented to be circumcised.
28. Almost It is now wisely agreed among scholars that the Greek εν ολιγω , literally, in little, cannot signify almost. This fact, indeed, destroys the fitness of the passage as a text for such sermons as Dr. Samuel Clarke and Mr. Wesley have preached upon it. And commentators have greatly differed about its meaning, according as they have supplied the noun implied after the adjective little. There are three supposable nouns, implying either time, instrument, or amount, and each of these three have had their advocates. Time, as Wetstein shows, is most frequently implied in the phrase in classic authors, and that fact has misled some commentators into an error. In little time thou persuadest me, besides making a jejune sense, requires persuade to be the future. Nor can the same meaning reappear in the phrase in Paul’s reply without the utmost awkwardness. Supplying instrument as understood, Thou persuadest me with little means or effort, has less philological support and no more plausibility. The third implication, namely, amount, we have not the slightest doubt is the true. Indeed, the word little, without any supplied complement, implies amount. The same phrase is used by Paul in Ephesians 3:3, and signifies neither time nor instrument, but amount, namely, of writing. The meaning then clearly is, In slight degree do you persuade me to be a Christian. And this meaning, as we shall show, is required in Paul’s response. Did Agrippa speak this ironically and negatively, or affirmatively? The latter meaning would be, You do in a small degree persuade me to be a Christian. The former would mean, But slightly [that is, not at all ] do you persuade me to be a Christian. This last is the true construction. And Paul’s response is, I wish you were not only slightly, but largely, that is, entirely, a Christian. There is no reason to suppose that this word Christian, on Agrippa’s lips, was other than the most respectful. Had he meant disparagement he would have used, as Tertullus did, the current contemptuous epithet, Nazarene, Acts 24:5. On the contrary, Christian embodies the highest human title known to the Jews, Messiah. The adjective was formed according to a regular philology, and had a beauty and dignity, not only which every follower of Jesus could accept, but which a Jewish king could hardly bestow otherwise than respectfully. Agrippa did give Paul a negative, but not a discourteous reply.
29. Not only thou, but all Were not only in little, but in much such as I am. Such is the literal Greek. But the true Greek text is not εν πολλω , in much, but in μεγαλω , in great. Paul’s meaning then is, I wish you were a Christian not merely in a little degree, but in a great entirely.
Except these bonds How delicate a reproof of the men who were consciously holding him bound with undeserved chains. Dr. Hackett quotes a very appropriate passage from Tacitus concerning a Roman named Vibius Serenus, who was prosecuted before the Senate by his son. “The indicted father and his indicting son were brought into the Senate. Recently recalled from exile, and bound with a chain, while his son was making the plea, the father, with undaunted spirit, turning toward his son, shook his chain and invoked the vengeance of the gods.” Thus terminates this rare encounter. The prisoner was master of the field, and of the king. The latter made a quiet retreat.
30. Rose up There is some appearance of abruptness in this breaking up, but more probably it was a regular adjournment because the plea was closed. Judged as an intellectual performance, this speech must ever rank among the master-pieces of oratory.
King… governor… Bernice, and they In the order of honour.
31. They were gone aside Not Agrippa and Festus alone; for it was after a consultation by this they that Agrippa gave his conclusion to Festus. Perhaps Festus’ assessors went to make up the they.
32. He had not appealed In the opinion of Agrippa then not only was Paul innocent, but a Jew might become a Christian without going out of the limits of a true Judaism. Herein he condemned his own father for the execution of the apostle James.
If Paul’s appeal to Cesar was the only obstacle to his liberation, why did they not give Paul notice to that effect, allow him to withdraw his appeal, and then release him? Probably, from regard to the prosecuting Jews, Festus preferred to get rid of him by sending him to Rome.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Acts 26". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30