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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Acts 26

 

 

Introduction

Verse 1

Acts 26:1. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. On this occasion Agrippa, invested with the royal dignity, although only a subject monarch, sat in the president’s place during the hearing. He opens the proceedings; but it is noteworthy to observe that the king does not say, ‘I permit thee to speak’ ( ἐ πιτρέ πω), but, ‘Thou art permitted;’ literally, ‘It is permitted thee’ ( ἐπιτπεται σοι), thus courteously remembering the presence of the Roman procurator, to whom really the power in Cæsarea and Jerusalem belonged. The prisoner Paul, it must not be forgotten, on this occasion was not pleading before his judges: the appeal to Cæsar, which had been allowed, had removed him from all provincial jurisdiction; he was simply here asked to give an account of the Nazarene or Christian faith, and to state what was the point at issue between him and the supreme council of the Sanhedrim, by whom he was considered unworthy to live.

Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself. This was a usual gesture on the part of the speaker, especially of one accustomed to address masses of men and public assemblies. Here the effect must have been impressive—the hand was chained. ‘He answered’ with arguments not dissimilar at first sight to those used by him when he was arrested in the temple and he spoke to the Jews from the steps leading to the Antonia Tower. On both occasions he rehearses the marvellous story of the Divine appearance which led to his conversion to the faith of Jesus; but now he relates the history not with the view of asserting his own innocence of any of the charges alleged against him, but to show the grounds upon which he delivered his solemn message. He claims to be still a true, loyal Jew, for that the Christianity which he taught was but the realisation of the hopes set forth in the Old Testament prophets. Mr. Humphry well summarises the leading differences between the two speeches of the apostle in the following terms:—On the steps of Antonia ‘he addressed the infuriated populace, and made his defence against the charges, with which he was hotly pressed, of profaning the temple and apostatising from the Mosaic law. He now passes by these accusations, and addressing himself to a more intelligent and dispassionate hearer, he takes the highest ground, and holds himself up as the apostle and messenger of God. With this view, therefore, he paints in more striking colours the awful scene of his conversion, and repeats more minutely that heavenly call which was impossible for him to disobey, and in obeying which, though he incurred the displeasure of his countrymen, he continued to receive the Divine support’(Acts 26:22).


Verses 1-23

Paul’s Defence of Christianity before King Agrippa, his Sister, and the Procurator Festus, 1-23.

This famous apologia of St. Paul consists of four divisions. The first, Acts 26:2-3, consists of a few courteous words addressed to the distinguished prince before whom he was summoned to plead his cause and that of his brethren in the faith. In the second, Acts 26:4-8, the apostle, after glancing at certain portions of his own early career, breaks at once into the all-important subject of the promised Messiah. In the third, Acts 26:9-18, he relates the story of that wondrous episode in his own life which induced him to become a Christian; and then in the fourth division, Acts 26:19-23, he comes back to his own work—the preaching that a suffering Messiah had come, had died, and had risen again.

Here, as in the case of the other speeches and addresses in these ‘Acts,’ we must remember we have only the barest skeleton of the original ‘apology’ of Paul. Only once or twice, perhaps, in this speech so briefly reported by the compiler of the history, do we possess the very words used, when perhaps some marked emphasis on the part of the speaker, or the exceeding importance of the utterances themselves, left an indelible impress on the memory of the reporter, who, when he came to record this memorable passage in the life-story of Paul, was moved by the Holy Spirit to write them down. Among these, most likely, some of the bitter self-accusations of Acts 26:11, and especially the words spoken by that Radiant One from heaven (Acts 26:14; Acts 26:16-18).

The ‘Apologia.’

After congratulating himself that on this occasion he was about to speak before one not only high in office and in dignity, but also thoroughly versed in all Jewish customs and questions, Paul proceeded to state exactly how it stood with him—viz., that he, though well known as first a student and then a rigid professor of the strictest school of Pharisaism, was positively persecuted because he held and taught what really all the Pharisee school held and taught, viz. the hope of a resurrection from the dead. Was not this the grand hope to which all the elaborate symbolism—the temple service, which never rested day or night—pointed? [The hope and expectation of the resurrection and the endless life was the crown of all the Messianic teaching of the Old Testament.] After what must have been a stately and magnificent exordium, which must, with its convincing arguments [many of which we can find now in the Epistle to the Hebrews] and passionate earnestness, have brought conviction home to many a Pharisee heart in that brilliant assembly;—then of a sudden the inspired apostle changed his style and subject, and told the listening audience the wondrous story of the meeting on the Damascus road, and the effect on himself of the sight of the blinding glory of the cloud; the low passionate voice of the speaker, as he repeated the words his God had spoken to him that morning by the way, must have thrilled king and Sanhedrist as they bent forward to catch the awful sayings which had moved Saul, the learned and admired Pharisee, to throw up his brilliant career, and to cast his lot in with the despised Nazarene. He concluded the strange recital with, ‘Well, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision; and now I am standing before you, hunted down by all these my countrymen, because I obeyed the voice of the Eternal, and preached in many a city, to congregations composed of Gentiles as well as Jews, the truth I had come to learn, that the Messiah of the prophets and Moses could only be a suffering Messiah, that He must die, must rise again, the first-born of a new and deathless race—a race to be made up of Gentiles as well as Jews.’ At this point he was interrupted by the Roman governor Festus.


Verse 2

First Division of Paul’s ‘Apologia’Introductory Address to King Agrippa, 2, 3.

Acts 26:2. 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. This was no mere flattery. Paul says not one word in praise of the young sovereign: he simply with courtesy prefaces his earnest and impassioned words with expressing his satisfaction that he is permitted thus publicly to plead the cause of his Master’s holy religion before one so thoroughly conversant as was Agrippa in all the hopes and onlooks of the Jews. The accusations which were made against him (the prisoner Paul) all had reference to these hopes and onlooks, and no one but a learned Jew could possibly understand the charges made against him, or the defence he was about to make.


Verse 3

Acts 26:3. Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews. Agrippa II., singularly enough, was especially fitted to act as judge in such a cause as that of Paul, accused of treason to the religion and sacred law of his forefathers; for he was not merely a ruler of Jewish lands, and the appointed guardian of the Jerusalem temple, but was also in religion, professedly at least, a Jew. His father, Herod Agrippa I., was famous for his rigid observance of all Jewish customs and rites, and prided himself upon his connection with the chosen people. The young sovereign himself was well versed in the law and the prophets, and even in the more abstruse traditions of the Fathers. The rabbinic writers speak of him as having attained a more than ordinary knowledge of these matters, as having even excelled in a knowledge of the law, and, as it has been well urged by Dr. Hackett, ‘as the traditions which these rabbinic writers follow, who thus speak of King Agrippa II., could not have flowed from this passage, it confirms the representation here by an unexpected agreement.’


Verse 4

Second Division of ‘Apologia’Paul refers to his well-known early life, and his fame as a PhariseeHe has never swerved from his old Belief—He touches on its central Tenets, 4-8.

Acts 26:4. My manner of life from my youth, which was at first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews. He proceeds now to state how long the Jews had known him—from his early youth; when they had learned to know him—‘at Jerusalem;’ and also what they knew of him—that he was a Pharisee, living the strictest of lives. He appeals, thus, to all the Jews. This general term included specially the Jews dwelling in Jerusalem and Judæa, and the members of the Sanhedrim—these, in fact were his accusers on the present occasion; but the position which Saul the Pharisee once occupied as the well-known inquisitor of the Sanhedrim, was no doubt well known to all the nation, even to those Jews dwelling in distant countries. In Acts 22:3, we read how he had been brought up in Jerusalem. Thus it would seem that Saul, when still a youth, went from Tarsus to complete his education in the Holy City, in the school of the famous Rabbi Gamaliel.


Verse 5

Acts 26:5. Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. He speaks here of what was evidently a common knowledge, viz. those details above referred to of his early bringing up. The grave and dignified members of the Sanhedrim, some of whom were doubtless present in that great assembly that morning, could, if they pleased, bow their heads in acquiescence to what he was stating to King Agrippa, but he does not seem to have expected this from them; but, at all events, there was no denial of his words. So he proceeded, ‘After the most straitest sect of our religion;’ that is, ‘After the most rigid school of our religion.’ Josephus, in his Wars of the Jews, bears witness to the Pharisees’ reputation in his days for their religious life and strict observance of the law: ‘The Pharisees are a Jewish Sect who seem to be more religious than others, and who appear to interpret the law more strictly;’ and in other places he alludes to them as looked upon as most skilled in the exact application of the law.


Verse 6

Acts 26:6. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers. In other words, Paul said: ‘I, who am well known as one trained in the severe and rigid Pharisee school, stand accused, because I press home to men the hope of the resurrection, in which hope the Pharisees themselves share—a hope which is taught in the sacred Scriptures, which record the promise made to our fathers—a hope which the temple services, which cease not day nor night, symbolise and ever keep in mind.’ The hope of the promise made of God unto the Fathers included more than the expectation of a Divine Messiah; it embraced the hope of a resurrection and of a future glorified life.


Verse 7

Acts 26:7. Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. Before discussing the deeply interesting and important questions suggested by these few words, which represent, no doubt, a long and elaborate portion of this ‘Apology’ of St. Paul’s, we will quote the comment of Professor Plumptre on the words ‘our twelve tribes,’ who are here represented as waiting for the ‘promise:’ ‘It will be noted that St. Paul, like St. James (James 1:1), assumes the twelve tribes to be all alike sharers in the same hope of Israel, and ignores the legend so often repeated and revived, that the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel, after they had been carried away by Shalmaneser, had wandered far away, and were to be found under some strange disguises, in far-off regions of the world. The earliest appearance of the fable is in the apocryphal 2Es_13:40-46, where they are said to have gone to “a country where never mankind dwelt, that they might there keep the statutes which they never kept in their own land.” The apostle, on the contrary, represents the whole body of the twelve tribes as alike serving God (with the special service of worship) day and night.’

In addition to the above-quoted contribution to the much-vexed question respecting the fate of the ten tribes of Israel, it is worthy of note to remember that the words of Ezra 6:17; Ezra 8:35, clearly indicate that many of the ‘lost’ ten tribes must have returned with Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites (Ezra 1:5-11), to the old loved Land of Promise.

Whether or no the descendants of the lost portions of the ten northern tribes have been preserved a separate people in order one day to swell the ranks of that miraculously preserved nation, known in all lands still as Jews, is uncertain. This much however is clear, and perhaps in the discussions which constantly take place respecting the lost tribes is too much left out of sight, that although the present Jews are largely, possibly mostly, made up of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, still vast numbers of the descendants of the tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel, we see from the above passage of Ezra, must be reckoned among the Jews of our day. This fact was certainly recognised by both Paul and James some eighteen centuries ago. It is therefore inaccurate to speak, as is usually the practice, of the lost ten tribes. Now the promise to which all the twelve tribes of Israel hoped to come, as has been already explained above, was eternal life with God; and the attainment of this eternal life, the orthodox Jew was conscious, was bound up with the work and office of the coming Messiah. Paul, carefully trained in this orthodox Jewish school by one of its most famous and, popular teachers, the Rabbi Gamaliel, held this belief firmly from his student days; but Paul had subsequently arrived at a further stage of the common belief than had the Pharisees who now thirsted for his destruction: he had already come to the accomplishment of the hope to which they with their services and sacrifices were earnestly looking on to. In the Crucified and Risen Jesus of Nazareth, Paul knew that the beginning of the promise was reached, that the long-looked-for hope was accomplished, and that eternal life with God had begun for himself and all who recognised this Jesus as Messiah. Had He not vanquished death? Was He not the first-born of the new race who, through the gates of death, had entered into life?

The words, ‘instantly serving God day and night,’ refer to the elaborate and never-intermitted service of worship and sacrifice, with its symbolism ever pointing to another and a higher life—ever pointing, too, to the sacrifice on the cross, which won for men their access to this higher life. They failed to read aright the awful lesson taught by their perpetual sacrifices, that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. For the strange expression ‘day and night,’ compare Psalms 134:1, ‘Bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord, which by night stand in the house of the Lord.’


Verse 8

Acts 26:8. Why should it he thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? First, on the punctuation of this verse. Some MSS. write the words, ‘What? Is it to be thought incredible with you if God should raise the dead?’ The majority, however, of the later critical expositors consider that the rendering given in our English Bible, as above, is more suited to the calm dignity of the apostle’s manner and style on this memorable occasion. Besides, Meyer calls attention to the fact that τί alone in the sense of ‘what’ is never used, but that the expression would be τί γάρ, τί οὖν or τί δέ

Much in the original ‘apology’ of Paul is here evidently omitted. We must remember that the barest outline or sketch-plan of the original is all that we possess in these ‘Acts.’ The connection here apparently is as follows:—He has been speaking of the ‘Hope’ which Israel cherished—the centre of their religious worship. ‘Well, King Agrippa, it is in connection with this “Hope” that I am accused, that I stand a prisoner here, because I say the “Hope” is now accomplished. . . . And they are quite right when they assume I believe it to have been accomplished in the Crucified and Risen Jesus of Nazareth, the suffering and triumphant Messiah of the prophets. These my brother Jews will not believe in this resurrection, though I have seen Him and heard His voice, and so has many another. Why will they not believe? Is it then with than, with you, King Agrippa, a thing incredible that God should raise the dead? Has this strange marvel been unknown in the past history of our race?’ He referred to such incidents as 1 Kings 17:17-23; 2 Kings 4:18-37; 2 Kings 13:21.


Verse 9

Third Division of the ‘Apologia’Paul relates the strange Incident in his life which induced him, a Pharisee Teacher, for ever to throw in his lot with the despised Nazarenes—The crucified Nazarene Himself appeared to him, surrounded with an unearthly GloryHe tells Agrippa what the Being, who crossed his path on that solemn day, commanded him to do, 9-18.

Acts 26:9. I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Paul now changes his tone of indignant and passionate expostulation, and proceeds to speak of his life in the period immediately preceding the Vision of the Damascus road, which drove him at once to forsake his many friends, to abandon his brilliant career, to throw away his loved pursuits, and to associate himself with the men and women he had hitherto scorned and persecuted—the Vision which changed the proud Pharisee leader into the despised Nazarene outcast. The train of thought in Paul’s mind seems to have been as follows: He was here addressing a brilliant assembly made up of Herodian princes, Jewish priests and rabbis, and Roman officials and soldiers; and these, with a few exceptions among the Pharisee members of the Sanhedrim who were present, were disbelievers not merely in the fact that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth had risen, but in the general doctrine of a resurrection from the dead. King Agrippa, who presided that day at Cæsarea, was no doubt at heart a Sadducee—one who sympathised with the Sadducean high priest, whom he probably himself had nominated to his high dignity. To this Agrippa, and the other notables sitting by his side, the Gentile apostle spoke these words. He, like them, had been an unbeliever in the crucified Nazarene, and had not, like the Roman Festus and his predecessors, and probably King Agrippa, contented himself with looking on the Nazarene sect with contemptuous indifference, but had persecuted these defenceless ones to the death. Now God in His mercy had changed his (Paul’s) heart; why should He not now touch the hearts of those listening to him? I, Paul, in that state of mind in which I then was, deemed it my solemn duty to do all that was in my power to stamp out the memory of the name of the Crucified.


Verse 10

Acts 26:10. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem. Probably referring here especially to his share in the martyrdom of Stephen, when ‘the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul’ (Acts 7:58); when Saul was consenting unto his death (Acts 8:1); and also to his conduct shortly after, when, ‘As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women, committed them to prison’ (Acts 8:3). All these things took place in the Holy City.

And many of the saints did I shut up in prison. The term ‘saints’ ( τῶ ν ἁ γί ων) used here in such a place seems at first sight remarkable. When recounting these scenes of his early life to the Jews at Jerusalem (Acts 22:4-5), he speaks of the men and women he had caused to be bound and delivered into prison some of whom he had ‘persecuted unto the death.’ But he carefully avoided this loving title. Before the Jews he shrank from using any expression of reverential admiration which might arouse his angry countrymen’s wrath against the sect of whom they were already so unreasonably jealous; but now, speaking before men of the world like Agrippa and Festus, he gives these noble martyrs, long since in Paradise, a title of honour which aggravated his own guilt as their persecutor. Indeed, as it has been well remarked, the confident, bold tone of the whole of this speech sounds less like the words of a prisoner defending himself, than of a fearless advocate pleading before a tribunal.

And when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. This refers to the ‘great persecution’ mentioned in chap. Acts 8:1-4, in which Saul the Pharisee of Tarsus appears to have been the most prominent actor: ‘As for Saul, he made havoc of the church’ (Acts 26:3); ‘And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord’ (Acts 9:1). The ‘Acts’ story only mentions one public execution in this bitter persecution; but the words used here, ‘when they were put to death;’ the expression of chap. Acts 22:4 : ‘I persecuted this way onto the death;’ and the opening sentence of chap. 9: ‘And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord,’ lead us decidedly to conclude that many besides Stephen, in that first trial season, witnessed unto death, and through pain and agony .passed to their rest in the Paradise of God.

In several places in the Epistles we find traces of the memory of some bitter and terrible persecutions, of which this very early one, when Paul played the part of chief inquisitor, was perhaps the severest and most fatal, bee Hebrews 12:4, where those to whom the epistle is addressed are appealed to as having ‘not yet resisted unto blood.’ See, too, 1 Thessalonians 2:15; James 5:10.

The word ‘voice’ in the sentence, ‘I gave my voice against them,’ would be rendered more accurately by ‘vote’ ( ψῆ φον). This was a small black or white stone or pebble which was used for voting, as in the ballot. For condemnation, usually a black stone was put into the voting urn; for acquittal, a white one.

This assertion by Paul of his having voted for the death of certain of the ‘saints’ in the early Church, has been taken as a proof of his having been, in his Pharisee days, a member of the supreme council of the Sanhedrim. This is possible, but is by no means certain; for the words here used by him may have referred to his having been in past days a member of some important tribunal acting under the direction of the supreme council. Though possible, it is certainly very doubtful if the young man Saul ever had a seat in the Sanhedrim, for—(a) granting the most extended conception of the expression ‘young man,’ the age of Saul would hardly have warranted his occupying a seat in that grave assembly of elders; (b) tradition positively declares that one of the necessary qualifications of a member of the great Jewish council was that he should be married and have a family, as it was supposed that one who was a father himself would be more inclined to temper justice with mercy. There is certainly nothing in Paul’s known life which would lead us to suppose that the missionary apostle was ever married.


Verse 11

Acts 26:11. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme. This alludes, no doubt, not only to the many synagogues in Jerusalem (see chap. Acts 6:9, and note), but also to the synagogues situated in the many different places whither he was sent by the Sanhedrim in his work of persecution. It was on his way to visit the synagogues in one of these distant places (Damascus) that the Lord met him by the way, and changed His persecutor into His servant. On the words, ‘I punished them oft in every synagogue,’ Hackett quotes an instructive passage from Biscoe respecting punishment being inflicted in the synagogue: ‘The chief rulers of the synagogues, being also the judges of the people in many cases, especially those which regarded religion, chose to give sentence against offenders and see their sentence executed in the synagogue. Persons were always scourged in the presence of the judges. For, punishment being designed in terrorem, what more likely to strike the mind with awe, and deter men from falling into like errors, than to have it executed in their religious assemblies and in the face of the congregation? Our Lord foretold that His disciples should be scourged in the synagogues (Matthew 10:17; Matthew 23:34); and we learn here that Paul was an instrument in fulfilling this prediction, having beaten them that believed in every synagogue. Another and even darker memory is here evoked by the great apostle as he tells the story of his past. The dead saints; these, though he knew it not then, he had helped in the morning of their battle to win their crown. But here was a thought of unspeakable sadness: there were some weaker brothers, some timid sisters; these his harsh words and cruel deeds had compelled to blaspheme that glorious name by which they were called. This is evidently the meaning of Paul’s words here. Some would try and explain away the sorrowful thoughts suggested by this “memory,” by supposing that all Saul did was to try to induce them to deny the faith they once said they loved; but it would be very hazardous to conclude that, among the many of different sexes, of varied ranks and ages, none swerved from their fidelity to Christ. The words of the Proconsul Pliny to his master the Emperor Trajan, in the first quarter of the next century, tell us that the same means which Saul the Pharisee had used to compel the followers of Christ to blaspheme, were soon used by Gentile persecutors: “There were some who denied that they were, or ever had been, Christians: these, before me, called upon the gods and thy image [he is writing to Trajan]; which image, along with those of the gods, I had ordered to be brought for this purpose. They offered to them incense and wine, besides which they reviled Christ—none of which things, it is said, those who are indeed Christians can be compelled to do. These I thought might be allowed to go free.”’

Being exceedingly mad against them. No language seems too strong for the brave Christian advocate to use concerning himself and his former conduct towards those men and women, whose brother and fellow-believer he now professed himself to be. How he once detested these poor persecuted saints, how he loathed their cause! His whole life was devoted to the work of stamping out this strange devotion to One who had been crucified, and who these deluded men and women affirmed had risen again. What now had changed the life purpose of this young enthusiastic Pharisee? We can fancy a hush falling over the brilliant assembly, as Paul, after winding up this portion of his speech with the words telling of his journeying forth to strange cities to hunt down these believers on Jesus of Nazareth, being exceedingly mad against them, paused doubtless for an instant before telling King Agrippa, and Festus, and Bernice what had changed him.

Even unto strange cities. He had done the Sanhedrim’s work well and thoroughly in the ‘home’ district, and as far even as foreign cities, writes the compiler of the ‘Acts.’ Among these, Damascus is specially singled out for mention, for it was the last on the inquisitor’s list which was visited; and there the bitter persecution, as far as Saul was concerned, was only planned, but was never carried out.


Verse 12

Acts 26:12. Whereupon, as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests. This is the third account contained in the ‘Acts’ of St. Paul’s conversion (see the general remarks and comment on chap. Acts 9:3-18). Of these three, the first is woven into the general history of the first days of the faith; the second is an abbreviated report of Paul’s speech on the occasion of the tumult in the temple, and was spoken from the stair leading from the temple court into the castle of Antonia (chap. 22). This is the third, and it occurs in the argument of his defence of Christianity before Agrippa and Festus at Cæsarea. It contains four noticeable details which do not appear in the two other accounts of the appearance of the risen Lord: (1) The overpowering glory of the light is here dwelt upon in a special manner. We are told how it exceeded even the brightness of an oriental sun at noon. The brightness was so awful, that all, including Saul, fell to the ground prostrate through fear. (2) The voice, we are told here, spoke to Saul in the Hebrew tongue [in one of the other narratives of the appearance, this could not have been referred to; for Paul, on the steps leading to Antonia, spoke to the people in the Hebrew language. Here, however, before Agrippa and Festus, of course he spoke Greek]. (3) The addition of the proverb so well known in classical literature, ‘It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.’ These words must be struck out of the text of the account of the appearance in chap, 9, as they only occur in one of the ancient authorities. (4) The mission of Paul to the Gentiles is here alluded to as forming part of this first communication of the Lord from heaven to the man chosen to be the servant of the Most High (see notes on this further). The other accounts of the conversion are silent as to this most important part of the command of the blessed One when He appeared to Paul on the way to Damascus. Thus the four special additions here made are—(1) the reference to the unearthly glory of the light and its effect; (2) the mention of the language (Hebrew) in which the Lord spake; (3) the quotation of the Heathen proverb; (4) the command respecting his mission to the Gentiles. See the notes on chap. Acts 9:3-8 and chap. Acts 22:6-10, where, especially in the first narrative, the varied circumstances related in each of the accounts are discussed at length.


Verse 13

Acts 26:13. A light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. It has just been mentioned that this blaze of glory suddenly shone round the Pharisee and his company at midday. The comparison, then, of the strange great light he remembered so well, was made with the splendour of an eastern noonday sun. Bathed, so to speak, in this glorious sea of light, Saul saw the form of Him that had been crucified and had risen again. May we not say without temerity, that, as he gazed, the relentless foe of the Nazarene and His hated sect saw, on that transfigured form, some of the marks of the Passion which he had so often derided and spoken of as the well-earned guerdon of a false impostor, that he saw those well-known marks we know the risen Lord still bore (John 20:27)—the print of the nails, and the scar of the spear (see note on Acts 9:3)?


Verse 14

Acts 26:14. And when we were all fallen to the earth. See note on Acts 9:7, where the apparent discrepancy between the two accounts is discussed.

I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue. On the use of the Hebrew tongue on this solemn occasion, see the Excursus at the end of this chapter.

It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. This proverb, well known in classical writers, is discussed at length in an Excursus which follows chapter 9. Although these words are omitted in the account of the appearance on the Damascus road by the writer of the ‘Acts’ in chap. Acts 9:5, and must therefore in that place be expunged from the text, here there is no shadow of doubt that the words formed part of Paul’s own account of the ‘appearance.’ Later scribes, as they copied MSS. of the ‘Acts,’ finding them here, no doubt inserted them in the passage of the ninth chapter, which relates the Lord’s words to Saul.


Verse 16

Acts 26:16. But rise, and stand upon thy feet. These words introduce a portion of the interview passed over in the two other accounts of the ‘appearance.’ Commentators have been apparently somewhat perplexed here, owing to the similarity of the words of the glorified Lord which follow here with the commands given to Ananias to deliver to Saul, as reported in the narrative of chap. Acts 9:15-16. It is most improbable that Paul here ‘condenses into one, various sayings of our Lord to him at different times, in visions and by Ananias’ (Dean Alford). Nor does it seem likely, when we consider the extraordinary solemnity of the scene which Paul is here describing to King Agrippa, and the overwhelming influence which it had upon his whole subsequent life, that the apostle is here simply summarising the words of Ananias spoken to him three days later, treating those words as sayings of God addressed to him. It is far more reasonable to take the account here given by Paul in its natural obvious sense, and to regard the words of the Lord which immediately follow here in this and the two following verses as positively uttered on this momentous occasion. They, in fact, explained to the amazed and awe-struck Pharisee the reason of the blinding ,glory and the awful voice which had arrested him and his company on his entrance into Damascus. Nor is it at all improbable that the substance of this communication was repeated again to him by Ananias, or was pressed upon him in a vision; for it told him, in fact, what it was the Lord wished to be the one great object of his life—the guiding the Gentiles, those peoples who had so long sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, into light.

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. The words were reassuring; the awe-struck man might arise without fear. The Divine One, whom, not knowing, he had opposed with so intense a purpose, cherished no feeling of wrath against him; on the contrary, He had chosen him out of all the sons of men for a great work; or, in Dr. Hackett’s words, ‘The object of the vision was to summon him to a new and exalted sphere of effort.’ Saul the Pharisee was to bear witness not only of the present sublime scene, in which the Crucified appeared surrounded with a glory too bright for mortal eyes to gaze into; but he was to be a witness also to tell out to the world, to Jew and Gentile, to high-born and low-born, the story of future revelations which would be made to him in coming days. Notably these future revelations referred in the first instance to those special appearances of the Lord to Paul in visions, trances, or ecstasies, such as are chronicled in chap. Acts 22:17-21, when he fell into a trance as he was praying in the temple, and in the Second Epistle to the Corinthian Church, Acts 12:1-5; but the reference to ‘those things in the which I will appear to thee,’ of which things Paul was to be the witness, really was to those great summaries of Divine truth which Paul the apostle put out in after days, in the form of epistles to the Gentile churches—those Divine handbooks to Christian doctrine and Christian life. It was really in these lonely hours, perhaps in the still eventide or quiet night, after the day’s hard toil spent in the workrooms of men like Aquila the tentmaker, that God indeed appeared to Paul and guided his thoughts. It was of these appearances in after years that Paul was to be the witness—not only to Roman governors and Jewish kings, not only to the dwellers under the far-reaching power of the imperial Rome of that day; but he was to be the witness, though perhaps he failed then to realise it, to nations yet unborn, in lands still undiscovered.

The form of the Lord’s words to Saul, telling him to be a witness of what he was then seeing, and also to be witness of what he would afterwards come to the knowledge of, is not unlike another charge given by the same glorified and risen Saviour to a brother apostle of St. Paul: ‘Write the things, said the Son of man, speaking as a King in all the Majesty of heaven, to John in his lonely watch at Patmos, ‘write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter’ (Revelation 1:19).

It is remarkable that Paul, the last called, the one admitted into the fellowship of the holy Twelve after no little anxious thought, the one always looked on by a portion of the early Church with doubt and suspicion, should have been the apostle commissioned to be the witness of the glory of Christ. In the midst of all his sufferings and bitter persecutions, endured at the hands especially of his own countrymen, often cruelly misunderstood, forsaken, and deserted not once or twice in that restless, brave life of his, by his own friends and converts, this thought must have been ever present to the mind of the tried servant of Jesus Christ. It was his one great comfort, joy, and support, this blessed memory of the noontide meeting outside the Damascus gates, when he was witness of the glory of Christ.


Verse 17

Acts 26:17. Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee. The memory of these words of the Son of God armed the apostle of the future against all the terrors which awaited him, and at the same time prepared him to bear his heavy cross.

It was no doubt that, trusting in this promise, Paul was comparatively careless in the midst of the most urgent perils which threatened his liberty and even his life. Strong in the conviction—for had he not heard that Divine One, on whose radiant glory he for a brief minute or two once gazed, say it?—that he had a mighty work to work, and that while engaged in it—like Elisha the man of God of old—he too would be encompassed with a heavenly guard so that no human hand raised against him should ever do him mortal injury;—it was no doubt that, strong in the conviction that the arm of the Lord was ever stretched out between him and death, he resisted the repeated warnings of his dearest friends—many of them endowed with the gift of prophecy—who tried to dissuade him from this dangerous journey to Jerusalem which had resulted in this present captivity and its many fearful dangers, and which brought him in the end to preach his Master’s gospel at Rome. How often in that strange harassed life of his, so touchingly painted in his own glowing words in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10, must this sure promise of his Messiah reigning from His glory-throne in heaven have come up and cheered him with a voice not of this world!


Verse 18

Acts 26:18. To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light. The beautiful words of Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah and His peculiar work, seem to ring in our ears as we read these words of the glorified Redeemer. Read now in the light which the history of eighteen centuries of the struggles of Christianity flings over the old Hebrew prophecies, one marvels at the strange blindness which came over the Jewish people when their Messiah visited them, and which induced them to hinder in every possible way His blessed work among men. The two great features in Jesus Christ’s life and work which shocked His own people and drove them into fierce rebellion, were—(1) In His life, He presented, the true image of a suffering Messiah. (2) In His work, begun by Himself and faithfully carried on by His disciples, He showed that the kingdom of the future was not intended to be confined to the old chosen race, nor to the old Holy Land, but that the chosen race of the future was to be made up of all mankind, and the Holy Land of the future was to consist of all the countries of the world. And this is exactly what their own prophets, in clear language, all foretold. The Isaiah prophecy, which is here so faithfully reproduced in the form of a charge to Saul from the glorified Jesus, will be found in Isaiah 42:6-16, where the Messiah is especially mentioned as given for a light of the Gentiles.

The exact correspondence between the prophecy of Isaiah and the command of Jesus to Paul will be best seen from a glance at the prophecy and command when set side by side:

Isaiah 42

Jesus’ Command to Paul, Acts 26

‘I the Lord . . . will give thee’ (My servant Messiah) . . . ‘for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house . . .

Isaiah 42:16. I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not, and I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them . . . . These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.’

Acts 26:16. I have appeared to thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness . . . .

Acts 26:17. Delivering thee . . . from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee.

Acts 26:18. To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light.’

With what weighty force must all this have struck Paul during those two to three years’ solitary study in Arabia which succeeded the ‘Damascus journey’ and came before his active ministry!

And from the power of Satan unto God. The glorified King was still considering the case of the Gentiles, among whom Saul’s life-work lay. He here regards all that elaborate system of idolatry which among the Pagan nations represented religious worship, and which in so many cases encouraged and even taught the vilest profligacy, as belonging to the realm of Satan.

That they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith which is in me. The purpose and end of Saul’s life-work is here sketched out. The peoples who had hitherto sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, were to be guided into a knowledge of their state, of their slavery to sin, of the impossibility of their being able to help or redeem themselves, of their utter hopelessness as regards the future. Their eyes were to be opened. This was the first step. The second was to tell them of the one fountain where all sin and un-cleanness might be washed away—a fountain open to Gentile as well as Jew; they were to be told how to turn from Satan to God. The third step was to show what would be the result of this opening the blind eyes and this seeing their real state, and of their turning to God. Forgiveness of all sin would follow, and they would win a place among the sanctified, a home in one of the many mansions of the redeemed and restored.

The closing words tell us that these blessed results were to be produced by faith, in its highest, truest sense of loving trust, entire child-like confidence in Jesus the Crucified and Risen.


Verse 19

Fourth and Concluding Division of the ‘Apologia’ of PaulAfter the Appearance of the Crucified to him, he at once obeyed His Voice, and went about everywhere to proclaim His Message, not merely to JewsFor this reason the Jews sought his Life; but he kept on, helped with unearthly Help, unto that very day, telling out to all, that the Words of the old Hebrew Prophets respecting a Suffering Messiah had been fulfilled in the Crucified Jesus of Nazareth, 19-23.

Acts 26:19. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision. In other words, being convinced by such a Divine intimation that my old life was the life of one fighting against the will and purpose of the God of my fathers, I at once obeyed the solemn commands of Him who deigned to appear to me that day outside Damascus.

Commentators well call attention here to Paul’s emphatic testimony respecting the freedom of the human will. This was clearly taught in the old Hebrew Scriptures in such grave and momentous passages as, ‘See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; .... But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear’ (Deuteronomy 30:15-17); and here Paul, in his declaration that he was not disobedient to the heavenly will, intimates that it would have been possible for him to refrain from obeying that will and to resist it. The words of the famous proverb quoted by the glorified Lord, imply the same truth. The ox may, if he please, kick against the goad, though the result of such an opposition would have been simply pain and suffering to the animal. Divine grace, we must remember, is never irresistible; it is an awful thought that a time may come in the life of every man and woman, when the last promptings of the Spirit of the Lord may be quenched.


Verse 20

Acts 26:20. But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judæa, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God. It is noticeable that the verb in the original Greek, here rendered ‘showed first,’ is the imperfect, and implies a continuing activity: ‘I kept on showing.’ The course of that long restless activity of his, from the moment of his seeing the Lord by the way, until that very morning when he stood before King Agrippa and spoke these things, is here very briefly in these few words sketched out: ‘From that day have I kept on telling out His message—yes, in Damascus and Jerusalem, throughout all the old land of the Jews, away among the isles of the unnumbered Gentiles.’ In his short enumeration, the circle of his work is ever widening—at first in Damascus, among the synagogues and the few Christians there in those very early days of the faith; then on the broader and more public stage of the Holy City Jerusalem; the circle widens, and the delivery of the message is carried on throughout all the coasts of Judæa. All of a sudden the area is indefinitely increased as the memory of the many congregations of distant Galatia, of remote Lycaonia, of storied Greece, of populous and luxurious Asia, surged up in the apostle’s mind; and he adds those broad inclusive words, ‘and then to the Gentiles,’—to the heathen world.

We have no difficulty in tracing in the ‘Acts’ and ‘Epistles’ the story of his preaching at Damascus and Jerusalem. We know from Barnabas’ testimony, that he preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus (chap. Acts 9:27); and that in Jerusalem, too, he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians (chap. Acts 9:28-29); but we have some difficulty in exactly fixing the date of the preaching throughout all the coast of Judæa. Dr. Hackett suggests that this part of the work of Paul was carried on when he went to the Holy Land at the time of the famine (see chap. Acts 11:30), or while he was at Jerusalem, between his first and second mission to the Heathen (see chap, Acts 18:22).

The fourth and greatest of his labours here alluded to among the Gentiles, includes all his missionary toils in Asia Minor and Greece.

And do works meet for repentance. Here Paul, as was his custom always in his teaching, is careful to show that his theology was something more than a creed; it was a life. It was by no means enough that the Jew should profess sorrow for the past, for his rejection of the risen Messiah—not sufficient that the Pagan should desert the altars of his many gods for the simple, earnest worship of the Christian in their ‘upper room,’ if they did not at the same time change their way of living. It is the gravest of all mistakes to suppose that the great apostle of faith ever omitted to press home to his converts the necessity of living the religion they confessed with their lips. With Paul, faith meant the loving, childlike trust in the Fatherhood of God, who, to redeem us and to restore us to our lost home, spared not His own Son. And this loving trust in the mind of Paul would ever show itself in acts and words and thoughts which that Father would look on, and when He looked could love. The expression, ‘works meet for repentance,’ is a strange one, and apparently was one of John the Baptist’s favourite sayings (see Matthew 3:8). Very probably Paul had been among the rapt listeners of that gallant and devoted spirit who played among the Jews, in the last sad period of their history, the part the monk Savonarola played hundreds of years later among the Christians of the dying Christianity of Italy, and who received at the hands of his fellow-countrymen a like guerdon with John. If Paul had not been himself a hearer of the Baptist, he of course was well acquainted with his preaching (we know many Pharisees came to his baptism, Matthew 3:7); and such a frequent expression as this, no doubt, was graven with an iron pen for ever on the tablets of St. Paul’s heart.


Verse 21

Acts 26:21. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. That is first because he, Saul, once the determined relentless enemy of the ‘crucified Nazarene,’ now obeyed His voice, and went about everywhere delivering the message of the ‘Crucified’ with power; and secondly, because he delivered the message indifferently to the hated Gentiles as to the favoured Jews, thereby proclaiming that in Messiah’s kingdom there would be no difference between the children of Israel and the children born in the darkness of the isles of the Gentiles.


Verse 22

Acts 26:22. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day. Never without Divine protection had he stood alive before that brilliant court and King Agrippa. Had not the invincible guards of the great King stood around him these past years, that frail life of his would have been long since sacrificed. The memories of Lystra and the rain of cruel stones, the guerdon of his kindly deeds done there; the persecutions of Philippi, of Corinth, and of Beraea; the danger in the theatre of Ephesus, and the later deadly perils he had escaped at Jerusalem,—the thoughts which crowded round him when he penned the fourth and eleventh chapters of the second Corinthian letter (see chap. Acts 4:7-12 and Acts 11:23-27),—prompted this expression of sure trust, of calm, unruffled confidence in the arm of the Lord stretched ever out before him to guard and keep His faithful servant. Paul seemed ever to hear the rustle of the Almighty wings as they moved in solemn guardianship above his head.

Witnessing both to small and great. Rank, not age, is here meant. It is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Christianity that, as regards the future life, it ignores all present class distinctions. That there will be degrees in glory in the eternal kingdom is more than probable, just as there are, we know, grades in the hierarchy of heaven. Thrones, principalities, archangels, angels, with a stammering tongue faintly express our conception of these. But the teaching of Christ as expounded by His chosen servants, such as James, and John, and Paul, shows us that to win this prize of our high calling all stand equally well—the learned and unlearned, high-born and low-born, bond and free, rich and poor. The great teachers of Christianity of the first days, while specially careful, even anxious to avoid disturbing class privileges here on earth, at the same time taught that all these distinctions in society were merely temporary, enduring at most only during the short space of human life; and that in the timeless existence which was to succeed this vanishing and uncertain earth-life, entirely new conditions would regulate position and work in the City of God. This was a glorious onlook for the slave, and for all the heavy-laden, sorely-tried sons and daughters of men, and one that urged individual generosity and self-denial, while it forbade discontent and repining. So Paul tells the magnificent Jewish king and his haughty sister, that during that long career of restless work he had with equal alacrity and patient care spoken to the poorest slave and proudest noble.

The phrase is one often used in the New Testament. See chap. Acts 8:10; Revelation 11:18; Revelation 13:16; Revelation 19:5; Revelation 19:18; Revelation 20:12.

Saying none other things than those which the Prophets and Moses did say should come. Before delivering the message which the One who appeared to him on the Damascus road had entrusted to him, Paul was in the habit of simply relating the well-known story of the arrest, trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. He then out of the Old Testament Scriptures showed that this was exactly what Moses and the prophets had foretold of the coming Messiah, viz. that He should suffer, die, and rise from the dead. Paul in his argument used none of the traditions and expository additions which had long been growing round the law and the prophets, but simply for his grand purpose quoted the words of the old inspired men, and they were enough.


Verse 23

Acts 26:23. That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people and unto the Gentiles. In other words, ‘Protected by a Divine and invisible Guardian, I have gone about, bearing my message to the powerful and humble alike, using as my storehouse of argument only the books of Moses and the prophets, urging that Messiah, as one of the very conditions of His office, would be capable of suffering—ay more, that (after enduring the greatest sufferings of which mortals are capable) He should be the first in the domain of the resurrection, the first-born from the dead; and then should not only show light unto the people, but should be a Light to lighten the Gentiles.’ Paul is here giving a summary of the usual arguments he made use of in his preaching respecting the long-expected Messiah. Now the three great questions at issue between the Jew and the Christian were touched upon by him here:—1. This expected One of Moses and the Prophets was not only a triumphant—such as the Jews loved to dwell on—but a suffering Messiah. 2. This One so long looked for was to be the first-begotten from the dead, the second Adam—the One who (as Lange well puts it) should begin a series of developments of life and resurrection for the benefit of mankind. This grand idea is developed by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20 ff. and 1 Corinthians 15:45 ff., and in Romans 5:17-18. 3. The Messiah, when He came, should be the Herald of life and light not only to the Jew, but to the despised Gentile.

Now these three several points, Paul, when he spoke before King Agrippa, without doubt proved by reference to those special Old Testament Scriptures which with a strange power supported his view—the Christian view—of Messiah, somewhat in the way in which he had argued in the Antioch sermon, very briefly reported in Acts 13:27-35. It was to these elaborate quotations which Festus especially referred (Acts 26:24) when he interrupted Paul with the ejaculation, ‘Why, much learning has surely turned your brain!’

The Jewish nation, trodden down during so many hopeless years first of captivity in the far East, then of grinding oppression in their own land, looked on with a passionate eagerness to the advent of the promised King Messiah, of whom their prophets wrote; watching for the triumphant King of the Great Prophet: ‘Who is this that cometh from Edom . . . glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength?’ and the voice of Messiah made answer: ‘I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save . . . the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of mine redeemed is come’ (Isaiah 63:1-4). This is what they fixed their hungry, expectant gaze upon, and forgot the other picture, which painted the same Messiah with the marred form and visage, without form or comeliness, with no beauty, despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; wounded for others ‘transgressions and bruised for others’ iniquities; cut off out of the land of the living; stricken for the transgression of His people; making His grave with the wicked (Isaiah 52:14; Isaiah 53:2; Isaiah 53:5; Isaiah 53:8-9).

We must remember how reluctant the very disciples of Jesus were to entertain any other thoughts concerning their beloved Master than those coloured with the rich hues of glory and triumph. See, for instance, Matthew 16:22. Never until all was accomplished did even His own receive into their heart the idea of a crucified Messiah.

It was indeed for them then, in those last sad days of their national life, ‘a hard saying,’ though to us now all seems so clear, and the prophecies read in the light of the Passion of Jesus so transparent.


Verse 24

The Procurator Festus interrupts Paul—The Apostle’s Reply to Festus, and Appeal to AgrippaThe Dialogue between Agrippa and Paul—The King and Governor decide that, had not the Prisoner appealed to Cæsar, he might have been set at liberty, 24-32.

Acts 26:24. And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. Paul apparently had, at this point of his address, completed the main argument, which he wished to put before Agrippa, on the real identity of his belief with that held by all orthodox Jews, and had pointed out where the Christian and the Jew were at issue; and had shown that the groundwork of the Christian belief—not only in those points which they held in common with the Pharisee, but also in the points in which they were at variance—was the sacred law and the prophets. The Jews would find foretold in their Holy Scriptures every detail in the articles of the Christian faith which Paul taught. We, of course, possess no clue to suggest to us what would have been the conclusion of the apology. So far Festus had listened with respectful attention while the accused Hebrew spoke before his royal guest; but when the eloquent and impassioned apostle came to this part of his defence, and dwelt at length with intense fervour on the resurrection of a Man whom Festus’ predecessor Pilate had crucified,—and the Roman heard him discourse with marvellous and winning eloquence—as without doubt Paul did here—on the wondrous results which this stupendous fact, the resurrection of a crucified malefactor, would surely accomplish in all parts of the great world known or unknown to the Romans, he could contain himself no longer, but interrupted him; crying out loudly, ‘Paul, thou art beside thyself!’

Mr. Humphry, commenting on Festus’ interruption here, writes: ‘He (Festus) was unable to comprehend the earnestness of St. Paul, so unlike the indifference with which religious and moral subjects were regarded by the upper classes at Rome. His self-love suggested to him that one who presented such a contrast to his own apathy must be mad. The convenient hypothesis that much learning had produced this result, may have occurred to him on hearing Paul quote prophecies in proof of his assertions.’


Verse 25

Acts 26:25. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. But the Roman governor’s accusation of madness was effectively refuted by the calm, courteous words with which the prisoner at once replied to the interruption. The Roman must have listened with some pain, and probably with not a little regret for his sneer, to these last words of that earnest, pleading voice, no longer burning with enthusiasm, but sad and convincing with their quiet, gentle composure: ‘No, most noble Festus, I am not mad. The words which excite your indignation are not the outcome of a wild, ill-balanced enthusiasm, not the fancies of the disordered intellect of a half-mad zealot, as you seem to think; they are the expression of truth, of calm, deliberate judgment.’ Then turning again towards the silent Jewish king, whom he had been specially addressing until the loud exclamation of the incredulous Roman interrupted him, ‘The king will bear me witness that my words have been no wild utterances of a visionary enthusiast.’


Verse 26

Acts 26:26. 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. ‘The Jewish king sitting on that throne, before whom I am now telling out my wondrous story, he knows whether what I have been quoting from the Hebrews’ sacred books is to be found there or no. He can tell you if my words relate merely a wild dream of my own, for he knows what has been the people’s hope for many a long century—yes, the king, if he will, may tell you too how this central figure of my narrative is no mere phantom I have raised. Well must our King Agrippa know the circumstances of the death of Jesus which took place at Jerusalem in the busy paschal week some thirty years ago, for this thing was not done in a corner. Well is the king aware that now for many years are there countless congregations of our countrymen in the Holy City, here in Cæsarea, scattered over Judæa and Syria, even as far as Italy,—no small and obscure sect now,—who live and die in the firm belief that this crucified Jesus has risen from the dead, just as I aver. No; I am not mad, most noble Festus.’


Verse 27

Acts 26:27. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Paul made this appeal, not without reason, to the Jewish sovereign, who, like his father, ostentatiously avowed his belief in Judaism, and was a zealous professor of the faith; thinking, perhaps, thus to win popularity among the people, and so to make up for any defects in his title to pure Jewish descent. There is however no reason to doubt the sincerity of the belief of Agrippa I. or his son; they seem to have been outwardly, at all events, zealous Jews, and well versed in the sacred traditions of the nation. Among Agrippa’s many titles of honour was one he doubtless prized very highly: he was the official guardian of the great Jerusalem temple. This appeal of St. Paul to him, ‘Dost thou believe the prophets?’ could not fail at once to strike a chord in Agrippa’s heart. It was those very prophets in which he believed, which testified in so strange, so marvellous a way, to the truth of the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to the Messiah-ship. King Agrippa was evidently deeply moved, for he quickly answered Paul.


Verse 28

Acts 26:28. Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. Modern commentators very generally, on the ground that no clear instance has been adduced of the Greek word ἐ ν ὀ λί γῳ signifying ‘almost,’ give up this ancient, time-honoured rendering, and translate the king’s reply either—(a) With but little persuasion thou wouldest induce me to be a Christian; (b) In a little time thou persuadest me to be a Christian; in other words, ‘If thou goest on speaking as thou art doing, thou wilt soon persuade me to become a Christian.’ Now both (a) and (b) suppose that the words were spoken in irony; but this is very unlike what we should expect. The address of Paul on this occasion would never have called out a sarcastic reply from Agrippa. It would be quite at variance with the whole tenor of the scene. It is clear from what took place immediately after, the Jewish king and Roman governor were moved deeply, and that both of them were glad to be rid of the responsibility either of condemning or acquitting a man whom they felt was in very truth one of earth’s great ones, and wholly innocent of the charge of sedition and treason.

One cannot help calling to mind a somewhat similar but far more momentous scene, when a famous predecessor of Festus, moved too by the transparent innocence of the accused before him, ‘washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person. See ye to it’ (Matthew 27:24). Irony here seems utterly out of place, and simply inconceivable.

In his reply, too, Paul evidently accepted the words of Agrippa as spoken in earnest. He saw no tinge of irony or even of playful courtesy in the king’s reply. To him it was all terribly real. To him the Jewish sovereign was a soul just grasping with feeble uncertain hand the rope of safety which would save it from eternal death, but letting it slip through his weak nerveless fingers. To win that perishing soul, he made a last brave attempt in his reply (see Acts 26:29). That earnest loving appeal never surely would have been made to one who could dismiss with cruel scornful sarcasm such a defence as had been spoken that day by the prisoner Paul in the Cæsarean judgment-hall.

Considering the laxity which then confessedly existed in the forms of the Greek language used by the many peoples who had adopted Greek as the medium of their intercourse, and that in this so-called Alexandrian or Hellenistic Greek the use of prepositions especially had undergone considerable modifications owing to the orientalisms which naturally among these eastern nations had crept into the language adopted as the general vehicle of communication in the populous countries which fringed the Mediterranean seaboards, we prefer—as the exegetical difficulties attending the adoption of either of the renderings (a) or (b) above suggested are so great—to retain the old translation of the English Version, ‘Almost (propemodum) thou persuadest me to be a Christian.’ Among the distinguished scholars and expositors who thus (in the sense of ‘almost’) understand the exclamation of Agrippa, must be reckoned the famous Greek commentator and writer Chrysostom. In later times, Luther, Castalio, Beza, Grotius, Bengel, Stier, understand the words of the original in the same sense as our English Version.

Moved already by the splendid eloquence and the weighty argument of Paul, the words of the apostle appealing to the king’s known reverence for the words of the Hebrew prophets—a reputation greatly affected by these last princes of the Herodian dynasty—elicited from Agrippa the memorable exclamation, ‘Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,’ thus publicly testifying his admiration for Paul, and his conviction of his innocence of the charges alleged against him—a conviction repeated in the decision arrived at by himself and the Roman governor together shortly after (see Acts 26:31); at the same time, however, he cautiously avoided committing himself decidedly to the opinions of a sect which he was aware was generally unpopular among the leading Jews.

From this use of the term ‘Christian’ by the king, it would seem that the appellation had now become one generally used in speaking of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.


Verse 29

Acts 26:29. 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. There is a slight difference in the reading of the older MSS. here in the Greek words translated ‘altogether,’ but this hardly affects the interpretation of the passage. The prisoner apostle’s reply to the king’s words, told Agrippa and the rest of that brilliant and strangely assorted company present that day in the judgment hall of Cæsarea, how intense were his convictions, for his earnest passionate desire was that king and governor, Jew and Roman, might share with him in that glorious inheritance which the Master whom he, Paul, served so loyally, had purchased for all who would accept His gentle yoke and light burden. But in Paul’s words there is a ring of sorrow: ‘Almost,’ which he re-echoes, seemed to him a poor result to have achieved, a barren success indeed. He felt he had awakened in that worldly man some admiration, perhaps a pitying admiration, for himself, some sympathy for his cause; but he did not feel he had won another soldier of Christ.

The exquisite courtesy of the great missionary perhaps is nowhere made more manifest than in the concluding sentence, ‘such as I am, except these bonds.’ He would have Agrippa a fellow-citizen with him in the city of God, a brother heir in his glorious hopes, but without the chain, and the sorrow, and the persecution which in his, Paul’s case had accompanied his profession of Christianity. ‘Suchashe,’ beautifully writes Plumptre, ‘pardoned, at peace with God and man, with a hope stretching beyond the grave, and an actual present participation in the power of the eternal world—this is what he was desiring for them. If that could be effected, he would be content to remain in his bonds, and to leave them upon their thrones.’


Verse 30

Acts 26:30. And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them. Thus arising and leaving the court in order of their precedence. Such an exact detail evidently proceeds from one who had been an eye-witness of this day’s proceedings. ‘They that sat with them’ were the council of the Procurator.


Verse 31

Acts 26:31. And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds. The second of these public expressions of opinion on the part of such exalted personages as Agrippa and Festus, respecting Paul’s complete innocence of the really grave charge of promoting sedition and of exciting the peoples of the Empire against the ruling powers, was an important memorandum in the history of the great Gentile apostle, who, we know, eventually was condemned and put to death on a similar false charge.

It tells us how groundless were the accusations made against him by those Jews whose dearest interest he, for the sake of his brother men, was compelled to attack—tells us how blameless, how perfectly unselfish, was the whole tenor of that generous brave life.

We need not suppose that this defence of Paul, and that unanimous expression of goodwill he obtained from those distinguished persons who listened to him that day in the Cæsarean court, were without effect upon the after history of the apostle. Although, as the appeal to the emperor had been formally lodged, it was no longer in the power of any provincial official, however exalted, to acquit or to free, any more than to condemn and to punish the prisoner who had thus appealed to Rome; still, as Festus had arranged this hearing before Agrippa with a view to procure satisfactory material to enable him to make an exhaustive report to the minister at Rome, he no doubt wrote such a favourable view of the prisoner’s case as eventually brought about his acquittal and freedom from his first Roman imprisonment (On the wearisome delays which frequently postponed for a lengthened period the hearing of these provincial appeals, see Excursus C, in the Chapter Comments for Acts 26)

The favourable report of Festus, too, certainly procured him kindly treatment after his arrival in the capital (he was allowed to dwell in his own hired house and even to receive large numbers of friends and pupils there, chap. Acts 28:17-23; Acts 28:30-31).

Another result of Paul’s great defence of Christianity before King Agrippa II. and the Procurator Festus, was, that from this time a kindly feeling seems to have sprung up in the king’s heart towards that strange Nazarene sect which he tells us himself he once almost was persuaded to join. Stier, in his Words of the Apostles, calls attention to the fact of this Agrippa at the outbreak of the great Jewish war, some eight or nine years after the scene at Cæsarea, protecting the Christians, giving them succour, and receiving them kindly into his territory.


Verse 32

Acts 26:32. Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Cæsar. On first thought, it would seem as though this appeal of the apostle was a disastrous step for him to have taken. But on looking deeper into that busy life-story of his, we see how, in the providence of God, the appeal which prolonged the imprisonment assisted the work of the great missionary. Had he been free at this juncture, it is a question whether he would not have fallen a victim to the murderous plots of his relentless enemies at Jerusalem, who we know had bands of Sicarii (assassins) in their pay to carry out their violent schemes. As it was, he was conducted safely to Rome, the city he had been so long anxious to visit. The very circumstances of his arrival as an imperial prisoner, probably from their publicity, assisted him in his work of telling out his Master’s message; so all things worked together for the glory of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 26:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/acts-26.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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