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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Acts 26

 

 

Verses 1-3

Acts 26:1-3. Then Agrippa said unto Paul — Agrippa was the most honourable person in the assembly, having the title of king bestowed upon him, though otherwise not superior to Festus, as only having the power of other governors under the emperor. But as Festus had opened the cause, and Agrippa, though not here superior, yet, was senior to Festus, therefore, as the mouth of the court, he intimates to Paul that liberty was given him to speak for himself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand — Chained as it was: a decent expression of his own earnestness, and proper to engage the attention of his hearers; answered for himself — Not only refuting the accusation of the Jews, but enlarging upon the faith of the gospel. I think myself happy — I consider it as no small advantage to me and my cause; King Agrippa — There is a peculiar force in thus addressing a person by name: Agrippa felt this; because I shall answer for myself before thee — Though Agrippa was not sitting as judge in this place, yet his opinion and judgment could not but have much influence with Festus. Especially because I know thee to be expert, &c. — γνωστην οντα σε, to be knowing, or skilled, which Festus was not; in all customs — In practical matters; and questions — In speculative. This word Festus had used in the absence of Paul, (Acts 25:19,) who, by the divine leading, here repeats and explains it. Agrippa had peculiar advantages for an accurate knowledge of the Jewish customs and questions, from his education under his father Herod, and his long abode at Jerusalem. Nothing can be imagined more suitable, or more graceful, than this whole discourse of Paul before Agrippa, in which the seriousness of the Christian, the boldness of the apostle, and the politeness of the gentleman and the scholar, appear in a most beautiful contrast, or rather, a most happy union.


Verses 4-7

Acts 26:4-7. My manner of life from my youth, which was at first την απαρχης, which from the beginning, that is, from the beginning of my youth; was among mine own nation at Jerusalem — He was not born among the Jews at Jerusalem, but he was bred among them. And though he had of late years been conversant with the Gentiles, which had given great offence to the Jews, yet, at his setting out in the world, he was intimately acquainted with the Jewish nation, and entirely in their interests. His education was neither foreign nor obscure; it was among his own people at Jerusalem, where religion and learning flourished; as was well known to all the Jews there, for he had made himself remarkable betimes. Who knew me from the beginning — Of my education, under that celebrated master, Gamaliel; if they would testify — But they would not, for they well knew what weight his former life must add to his present testimony; that after the most straitest — That is, the strictest, sect of our religion, I lived a Pharisee — Observing all the rules enjoined among them, respecting every thing that relates not only to the written law of God, but likewise the traditions of the fathers. And now I stand and am judged — Not for any crime that I have committed; but for the hope of the promise made unto our fathers — The promise of a resurrection to eternal life and happiness, by means of the Messiah, that is, of the resurrection of Christ; and of all the dead, in consequence of his resurrection. So the case was in reality; for unless Christ had risen, there could have been no resurrection of the dead. And it was chiefly for bearing witness to the resurrection of Christ, that the Jews still persecuted him. Unto which promise our twelve tribes — So he speaks: for a great part of the ten tribes, which had been carried captive into Assyria by Shalmaneser, (see 2 Kings 17.,) had, at various times, returned from the East (as well as the remains of the two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, from Babylon) to their own country; James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1. Instantly serving — Or worshipping God, day and night — That is, continually, or in the stated and constant performance of their morning and evening devotions, whether in the temple or in other places, in which they present their prayers; hope to come — To attain that resurrection and eternal life; that is, this is what they aim at in all their public and private worship: and by the expectation they have of it, they are animated in all their labours and sufferings for religion. For which hope’s sake — Reasonable and glorious as it is; I am accused of the Jews — The doctrine which I preach containing the fullest assurance and demonstration of a resurrection that ever was given to the world. And it is this that provokes those of mine enemies, who disbelieve it, to prosecute me with so much malice.


Verses 8-11

Acts 26:8-11. Why should it be thought a thing incredible — (It was thought so by Festus, Acts 25:19, to whom Paul answers as if he had heard him discourse;) that God — A Being of infinite perfections, and the original author of the human frame; should raise the dead — And continue their existence in a future state? Will not his Almighty power enable him to do it? and will not the honour of his moral attributes be hereby illustrated and vindicated? And if it be credible, is it not important enough to deserve the most attentive regard? I verily thought, &c. — That is, when I was a Pharisee; that I ought to do many things (which he now enumerates) contrary to the name — Destructive of the cause and religion; of Jesus of Nazareth — Or, Jesus the Nazarene, whom under that title I once impiously derided, esteeming all his pretences to be the Messiah at once false and contemptible. He now proceeds to give an account of the extraordinary scenes through which he had passed, and which had occasioned a change in his views and conduct. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem — Where many, now living, were witnesses of my rage against the Christians; and many of the saints — Persons not only innocent, but just, good, and holy; I shut up in prison φυλακαις, in prisons; having received authority from the chief priests to do it; and when they were put to death — Were condemned to die; I gave my vote against them — I joined with those who condemned them. It does not appear that Paul had any vote in the sanhedrim: and we do not certainly know that, before Paul’s conversion, any more than Stephen were put to death for Christianity, in whose condemnation there was no voting at all. But the meaning plainly is, that he instigated the people against them as much as he could, in that instance, and in others which possibly might occur, whether at Jerusalem or elsewhere, though not recorded in the New Testament. Accordingly the Syriac renders it, I joined with those that condemned them; and Grotius observes, that the original phrase, κατηνεγκα ψηφον, has evidently sometimes this general signification. And I punished them oft in every synagogue — Wherever I met with them; and — When I could possibly effect it, I compelled them to blaspheme — The name of the Lord Jesus, and openly to renounce all faith in him, and subjection to him. This was the most dreadful of all the sinful acts which he committed; and, it seems, grieved him most: and no guilt can lie heavier upon persecutors, than that of forcing men’s consciences, and triumphing over them, by putting them to the torture, and thereby compelling them to abjure their religion. How light soever they may make of such guilt, and even rejoice in the proselytes they gain by their acts of violence and cruelty, awful, sooner or later, will be the condition of all such! For if Spira, who was compelled, suffered so terribly, what will become of those who compel like Saul, but do not repent like him? And being exceedingly mad against them περισσως εμμαινομενος, beyond measure furious; I persecuted them even unto strange cities — To which some of them had fled, to avoid or escape my outrageous cruelty, pursuing and hunting out the poor refugees, and endeavouring to drive them, not only out of their country, but out of the world.


Verses 12-15

Acts 26:12-15. Whereupon, as I went to Damascus, &c. — See notes on Acts 9:3-9, and Acts 22:5-11; where the substance of this paragraph occurs, and is explained. At mid-day, O king — Most seasonably, in the height of the narration, does he thus fix the king’s attention; I saw a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun — And no marvel, for what is the brightness of the created sun to the Son of righteousness, the brightness of the Father’s glory? I heard a voice speaking in the Hebrew tongue — Paul observes this, because he was not now speaking in Hebrew: when he was, (Acts 22:7,) he did not add, in the Hebrew tongue. Christ used this tongue, both on earth and from heaven.


Verses 16-18

Acts 26:16-18. But rise and stand upon thy feet — Though thou hast persecuted me and my followers in this outrageous manner, and hast been engaged in a desperate attempt to destroy them from the face of the earth, and, by so doing, hast forfeited thy life. I am determined graciously to spare it, and to use thee hereafter as the instrument of my grace. For I have appeared unto thee — In this extraordinary manner; for this purpose, to make thee a minister — Of my gospel; and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen — Now, at this time; and of those in which I will appear unto thee — Namely, hereafter; Delivering thee from the people — The Jews; and the Gentiles, to whom — Both Jews and Gentiles; I now send thee — Paul gives them to know that the liberty he enjoyed, even in bonds, was promised to him, as well as his preaching to the Gentiles. I, denotes the authority of the sender; now, the time whence his mission was dated. For his apostleship, as well as his conversion, commenced at this moment. To open their eyes — The eyes of them who are now in a miserable state of blindness, whether Jews or Gentiles. He opens them who sends Paul, and he does it by Paul who is sent. And to turn them from darkness — From that state of ignorance and folly in which they are involved; that is, with respect to the Gentiles, to turn them from following false and blind guides, their oracles, divinations, and superstitious usages, received by tradition from their fathers, and the corrupt notions they had of their gods. And with respect to the Jews, to rescue them from their ignorance of the spirituality, extent, and obligation of the moral law, and of the shadowy, typical, and temporary nature of the Mosaic institution in general, as also from their ignorance of the spiritual and heavenly nature of the Messiah’s kingdom, and the qualifications necessary for becoming subjects of it, and of the true sense of the prophetic writings with relation to these things; to light — The light of divine knowledge and wisdom; and from the power of Satan — Who now holds them in a state of sin and guilt, weakness and wretchedness; unto God — To his love and service: for it was not sufficient for them to have their eyes opened, it was also necessary to have their hearts renewed; not enough to be turned from darkness to light, but they must be turned from sin to holiness; which, indeed, follows of course; for Satan rules by the power of darkness, and God by the convincing evidence of light. Idolaters were and are, in a special manner, under the power of Satan, paying their homage to creatures of their own fancy; to images, or imaginary beings; or to God’s creatures, not formed and given to man for any such purpose; that is, in effect, doing service to devils: but all sinners, also, are under the power of Satan, influenced by his temptations, yielding themselves captives to his will and pleasure. But converting grace rescues them from his tyranny, and brings them into subjection to God; translates them out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. Observe, reader, when gracious dispositions are as strong in the soul as corrupt and sinful dispositions had been, it is then turned from the power of Satan unto God. That they may receive forgiveness of sins — That they may be pardoned, and restored to God’s favour, which by sin they had forfeited. They are delivered from the dominion of sin, that they may be delivered from that death which is the wages of sin; not that they may merit that forgiveness, as a debt or reward, but that they may receive it as a free gift, together with the comfort arising from it; they are persuaded to lay down their arms, and return to their allegiance, that they may have the benefit of the act of indemnity passed by God in behalf of those who do so. An inheritance, or lot, among them which are sanctified — That Isaiah , 1 st, That they may be sanctified as well as justified; may be redeemed from all iniquity, Titus 2:14; cleansed from all unrighteousness, 1 John 1:9; from all unholy tempers, words, and works, purified from all pollution of the flesh and of the spirit, 2 Corinthians 7:1; and made glorious souls, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but constituted holy and without blemish, Ephesians 5:26-27; in other words, so renewed by the power of the Holy Ghost as to bear the image of the heavenly, as they had borne that of the earthly, and be made partakers of the divine nature, Titus 3:5; 2 Peter 1:4. 2d, That they may receive an inheritance among such as are thus sanctified, even the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. For this inheritance, the forgiveness of our sins and the sanctification of our nature prepare us; removing that guilt and depravity which were the chief hinderances in the way of our receiving it. As all those that shall be saved hereafter must be sanctified as well as justified here, all that receive the heavenly inheritance must be thus entitled to it and made meet for it: and none can be saints in heaven that are not first saints on earth; so we need no more to ensure our happiness in a future world, than to possess these blessings in this world. And, as is here stated, these, together with the heavenly inheritance, for which they prepare us, are received by faith in Jesus: for faith in him, and in the promises of God, made to the penitent and believing through him; the faith whereby we not only receive divine revelation in general, but the record which God hath given of his Son in particular; by which we apply to, and rely on, Christ as the Lord our righteousness and sanctification, and resign ourselves to him as the Lord our proprietor and ruler; this is that faith whereby we receive forgiveness, holiness, and eternal life, the salvation of grace here, and the salvation of glory hereafter.


Verse 19-20

Acts 26:19-20. Whereupon — Or, from that time, as οθεν may be rendered, that ever-memorable time, through the grace of God, giving me inclination and power to obey; I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision — With which he was pleased thus miraculously to favour me. But showed first unto them of Damascus — Preached first to the Jews there, to which place I was going when the vision was granted me; and afterward to those at Jerusalem, and throughout all Judea — In the country towns and villages thereof, as Christ had done; and then to the Gentiles — Wherever I came, in my various and widely-extended travels from one country to another; that they should repent — Of all their sins, internal and external; and turn to God — In heart and life; and do works meet for repentance — The repentance which they profess, and the sincerity of which can only be thus evidenced.


Verses 21-23

Acts 26:21-23. For these causes — And for no other; the Jews — Who have the same inveteracy against the gospel of Jesus that I once had; caught (seized) me in the temple, and went about (attempted) to kill me διαχειρισασθαι, to kill me with their own hands. So the word properly signifies; but, having obtained help of God — By the protection and care of his watchful providence; I continue unto this day — Am still preserved and upheld, and employ my spared life to the purposes for which it is prolonged; witnessing both to small and great — What is really a matter of infinite concern, both to the meanest and most exalted of mankind, the gospel of Christ, and the way of salvation for lost sinners through him; saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say — Advancing no new doctrine whatever; that Christ should suffer — Not only be a man, and therefore should be capable of suffering, but that, as Messiah, he should be appointed to suffer; and that his sufferings and ignominious death should not only be consistent with, but pursuant of, his undertaking. The cross of Christ was a stumbling-block to the Jews, and Paul’s preaching it was one great thing that exasperated them; but Paul adheres to that doctrine, and insists that, in preaching it, he preached the fulfilling of the Old Testament predictions; and that therefore they ought not only not to be offended at what he preached, but to believe, and embrace it with all their hearts. And that he should be the first that should rise from the dead — Namely, to an immortal life; the first that should rise to die no more, opening, as it were, the womb of the grave to all the pious dead who should rise after him, and none of whom could have risen, if he had not risen first. Accordingly, to show that the resurrection of all believers is in virtue of his resurrection, just when he rose, many dead bodies of the saints arose, and went into the holy city, Matthew 27:53. And should show light unto the people — The Jews in the first place, for he was to be the glory of his people Israel: to them he showed light by himself, and then to the Gentiles by the ministry of his apostles; for he was to be a light to lighten them who sat in darkness. In this Paul refers to his commission, Acts 26:18. He rose from the dead on purpose that he might show light to Jews and Gentiles; that he might give a convincing proof of the truth of his doctrine, and might send it with so much the greater power among both descriptions of persons. All this was foretold by the Old Testament prophets; and what was there in it that the Jews could justly be displeased at?


Verse 24

Acts 26:24. And as he thus spake for himself — And was making his defence; Festus — Astonished, it seems, to hear him represent this despised gospel of Jesus of Nazareth as a matter of such high and universal concern, and designed to be the means of illuminating both Jews and Gentiles, and thinking the vision he had related, as introductory to that assertion, quite an incredible story; said, with a loud voice — Which reached the whole auditory; Paul, thou art beside thyself — To talk of men’s rising from the dead! and of a Jew’s enlightening, not only his own nation, but the polite and learned Greeks and Romans! Nay, Festus, it is thou that art beside thyself; that strikest quite wide of the mark. And no wonder: he saw that nature did not act in Paul; but the grace that acted in him he did not see. And therefore he took all this ardour, which animated the apostle, for a mere start of learned phrensy. Much learning doth make thee mad πολλα σε γραμματα εις μανιαν περιτρεπει, much study drives thee to madness. Perhaps he might know that Paul, in his present confinement, spent a great deal of time in reading; and this was the most decent turn that could be given to such a mad charge. Doubtless, Paul had a great deal more to say in defence of the gospel which he preached, and for the honour of it, and to recommend it to the good opinion of his noble audience. He had just fallen upon a subject that was the life of the cause in which he was engaged, the death and resurrection of Jesus: and here he was in his element, his soul was animated, his mouth was opened toward them, and his heart enlarged: and it is a thousand pities that he should have been interrupted, as he now was, and not permitted to say all he designed.


Verses 25-29

Acts 26:25-29. But he said — Calmly, and with a perfect command of himself, not in the least provoked by such an invidious imputation; I am not mad, most noble Festus — A title properly belonging to a Roman propretor. How inexpressibly beautiful is this reply! How strong! yet, how decent and respectful! Madmen seldom call men by their names and titles of honour. Thus, also, Paul refutes the charge. But utter the words of truth — Confirmed in the next verse; and soberness — The very reverse of madness. And both these remain, even when the men of God act with the utmost vehemence. For the king knoweth of these things — Is not an entire stranger to them. Paul, having refuted Festus, pursues his purpose, returning naturally, and as it were step by step, from him to Agrippa. Before whom also I speak freely — Imboldened by his permission, and assured of his candour. For I am persuaded that none of these things — Of which I have been speaking; are entirely hidden from him — No, not what I have related concerning my conversion to Christianity. Agrippa could not but have heard of it, having been so long conversant among the Jews. For this thing was not done in a corner — He seems to refer not merely to one particular fact, such as his conversion and commission to preach the gospel, but to include the other great facts of Christianity; and particularly the death and resurrection of Christ, and the miraculous powers conferred on his disciples, which were all matters open and notorious, of the truth of which thousands had opportunity of being certainly and thoroughly informed. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? — He that believes these, believes Paul, yea, and Christ. The apostle now comes close to his heart. What did Agrippa feel when he heard this? I know that thou believest — Them to be written by divine inspiration, and art aware of the weight of those arguments which are derived from the authority of their testimony. Paul, it seems, knew Agrippa to be of the sect of the Pharisees: for his father, being a zealous Jew, had educated him in the Jewish religion, according to the strictest form. Here Paul lays so fast hold on the king, that he can scarcely make any resistance. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian — Paul’s doctrine, concerning Jesus of Nazareth, appeared to Agrippa so conformable to the things written concerning the Messiah, by Moses and the prophets; and his testimony concerning the appearing of Jesus to him by the way, was rendered so probable by the total alteration of his sentiments and conduct, that Agrippa declared he was almost persuaded of the truth of the things which Paul affirmed concerning Jesus, and therefore to become a Christian. The meaning of his words is not, Thou persuadest me to be almost a Christian, or, to become an almost Christian; but, as it is here expressed, Thou almost persuadest me to be a Christian, a true Christian, that is, really to embrace the religion of Christ. See here, Festus, altogether a heathen; Paul, altogether a Christian; Agrippa, halting between both. Poor Agrippa! But almost persuaded! So near the mark, and yet to fall short! Another step, and thou art within the veil. Reader, stop not with Agrippa; but go on with Paul. And Paul — Powerfully struck with so remarkable an acknowledgment, said — With great fervency of spirit, and yet with perfect decency; I would to God that not only thou, &c. — Agrippa had spoken of being a Christian, as a thing wholly in his power. Paul gently corrects his mistake; intimating that to be a Christian is the gift and the work of God; but also all that hear me this day — It was modesty in Paul not to apply directly to them all; yet he looks upon them and observes them; were both almost and altogether such as I am — Christians indeed; full of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. He speaks from a full sense of his own happiness, and an overflowing love to all. Except these bonds — For my afflictions I am willing to bear myself, till Providence shall release me from them, without desiring that any others should share with me in them. He wishes that they might all be happy Christians as he was, but not persecuted Christians; that they might taste as much as he did of the blessings that attended Christianity, but not so much of its crosses; that they might be in bonds to Christ, but not in bonds for Christ. Nothing surely could be said more tenderly, nor with better decorum.


Verses 30-32

Acts 26:30-32. And when he had thus spoken — That the impression Paul began to make upon the court might reach no further; the king rose up — Thus neglecting to yield to conviction, and losing, perhaps for ever, an unspeakably precious moment. Whether the good impressions made were ever afterward laid to heart and improved, we shall see in the day of final accounts. And the governor, and Bernice, &c. — On none of whom, it seems, Paul’s discourse had much, if any, effect. They ought, in justice, to have asked the prisoner whether he had any more to say for himself; but, it seems, they thought he had said enough to make his case clear, and with that they contented themselves. And when they were gone aside — Had withdrawn, to consult and know one another’s minds on the matter, they spoke one with another, all to the same purpose; saying, This man — As is evident by his discourse, which has all imaginable marks of candour and sincerity; doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds — They appear to speak of his whole life, and not of what happened at Jerusalem only. And could ye learn nothing more than this from his discourse? A favourable judgment of such a preacher is not all that God requires. Then Agrippa — Not in the least offended with Paul for having spoken to him so freely; said to Festus — In the hearing of the whole assembly; This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Cesar — Paul’s appeal, however, was perfectly proper at the time he made it, seeing Festus had shown an inclination to gratify the Jews by proposing to judge him in Jerusalem. And now, although Agrippa, with the consent of Festus, had declared that Paul might have been set at liberty if he had not appealed to Cesar, Paul very prudently did not withdraw his appeal, because he fore- saw that, by the solicitations and threatenings of the chief priests and elders, Festus might be constrained, contrary to his inclination, to put him to death, even as Pilate formerly had been constrained, contrary to his conscience, to put Jesus to death. He might probably foresee, too, that his visiting Rome under the character of a prisoner, would be overruled by Providence to answer some important purposes, as is evident from Philippians 1:12-20, it was. We may add further here, though this declaration of Agrippa could not obtain Paul’s deliverance, yet it might do him some service, that a testimony to his innocence was pronounced by so learned and honourable a person of the Jewish nation and religion. Festus would probably entertain a better opinion of him on this account, and would give directions to the officer who attended him to treat him with so much the greater regard. “Thus it appears that, besides the defence which Paul made from the top of the stairs to the multitude in Jerusalem, he at four different times, before the highest courts of judicature in Judea, defended the gospel, and his own conduct in preaching it, in the most public manner; namely, 1st, Before the Jewish council, consisting of the high-priests, the chief priests, the whole estate of the elders, and the scribes; who all sat as his accusers. 2d, Before Felix the Roman governor, at whose tribunal the high-priest Ananias, and the elders from Jerusalem, were likewise his accusers, and employed a Roman orator to plead against him. 3d, Before Festus, the governor, on which occasion the Jews from Jerusalem stood forth, a third time, as his accusers. 4th, Before King Agrippa, Bernice, the tribunes, and the principal persons of Cesarea, with many others, in whose presence Paul boldly asserted his own innocence, with such strength of evidence that both Agrippa and Festus declared he might have been set at liberty if he had not appealed to the emperor.” — Macknight.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 26:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/acts-26.html. 1857.

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Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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