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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Acts 26

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XXVI.

Paul, in the presence of Agrippa, declareth his life from his childhood, and how miraculously he was converted, and called to his apostleship. Festus chargeth him with madness, whereunto, he answereth modestly. Agrippa is almost persuaded to be a Christian. The whole company pronounce him innocent.

Anno Domini 63.


Verse 1

Acts 26:1. Paul stretched forth the hand, Elsner shews this to have been esteemed at that time a very decent expression of earnestness in one who spoke in public; though some of the most illustrious Greek orators in earlier ages, as Pericles, Themistocles, Aristides, thought it a point of modesty to avoid it. But this was the effect of a false taste; and it is certain, that the prince of orators, Demosthenes, often made use of this gesture.


Verse 3

Acts 26:3. Because I know thee to be expert Agrippa must have had great advantages for an accurateacquaintance with the Jewish customs, from his education under his father Herod Agrippa, and from his long residence at Jerusalem; and agreeably to this, by the permission of the emperor, he had the direction of the sacred treasure, &c. See on ch. Acts 25:13.


Verse 4

Acts 26:4. Which was at the first, &c.— Doddridge reads this, Which from the beginning (of my youth) was spent among those of mine own nation, &c. Probably he had in his childhood been brought up in the school of Tarsus, and there formed an acquaintance with Greek and Roman authors, till he entered on a kind of academical course under the celebrated Gamaliel, about the fifteenth or sixteenth year of his age, when he came to Jerusalem, and was there educated from the beginning of his youth.


Verse 5

Acts 26:5. After the most straitest sect The strictest sect. So Josephus, in a variety of places, calls the sect of the Pharisees, almost in the very words which the apostle uses. They were in many respects stricter than the Essenes. It appears from the gospels, that many rigorous severities were used by them. Compare Luke 18:11-12. Matthew 23:25-28. We are told, among other instances of their rigour, that many of them used to sleep on narrow planks, that, falling down from them, they might soon be awakened to prayer; and that others lay on gravel, and placed thorns so near them, that they could not turn without being pricked by them. See Witsius's Meletem. 100: i, sect. 15.


Verse 7

Acts 26:7. Unto which promise, &c.— Great numbers of the ten tribes returned with the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin from the Babylonish captivity, Ezra 6:16-17; Ezra 8:35. Luke 2:36 and many of them who did not return to the land of Canaan, did nevertheless entertain hopes of the coming of the Messiah, and of a resurrection and future state of happiness. See the note on Luke 20:38.


Verse 8

Acts 26:8. Why should it be thought a thing incredible, &c.— Beza, with the Greek scholiast, would place a mark of interrogation after the word τι, and read it, What? is it thought incredible, &c.? which is indeed well suited to the animated manner of St. Paul's speaking.


Verse 10

Acts 26:10. I gave my voice against them. St. Paul had no vote in the sanhedrim, nor do we certainly know that he was personally concerned in the death of any except Stephen, 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 any other that might occur, whether at Jerusalem or elsewhere; which, as we hinted on ch. Acts 22:4 might perhaps be more than are recorded. Accordingly the Syriac renders it, I joined with those who condemned them.


Verse 11

Acts 26:11. Compelled them to blaspheme; A known passage in Pliny, lib. 10: ep. 97 proves that the Heathen persecutors obliged Christians who fell under their trial, not only to renounce Christ, but also to curse him; and it appears from this passage, that the Jews imposed the like test upon them. See ch. Acts 22:19.


Verse 12

Acts 26:12. Whereupon That is, In this view as I was going to Damascus, &c.


Verse 14

Acts 26:14. To kick against the pricks. Or, Against the goad.


Verse 17

Acts 26:17. Delivering thee from the people, &c.— "And thou shalt experience my gracious presence with thee, delivering thee from the rage and malice of the Jewish people; and also from the dangers which thou shalt encounter among the Gentiles, to whom I now send thee."


Verse 18

Acts 26:18. To turn them That they may turn, seems to be the sense of the original, which may properly be rendered thus, without the need of any supplement; and this will best agree with the construction, and with the sense in which the word επιστρεψαι is generally used in other places. See Acts 26:20 ch. Acts 9:35, Acts 11:21, Acts 15:19.


Verse 21

Acts 26:21. The Jews—went about to kill me. The proper import of the word διαχειρισασθαι is, to kill with their own hands; which was with peculiar propriety used here, as there was reason to apprehend that St. Paul would have been actuallypulled to pieces in another assembly, which was, as it seems, less numerous and less violent than that which seized him in the temple. See ch. Acts 23:10.


Verse 22

Acts 26:22. Having therefore obtained help of God, &c.— "I impute it therefore to an extraordinary providence that I am yet alive, and publicly declare it with all thankfulness, that it is by having obtained help from God that I continue until this day; and I endeavour to employ my life to the purposes for which it is prolonged, resolutely and courageously testifying, both to small and great, as what is really a matter of the greatest concern both to the meanest and the most exalted of mankind, the way of salvation by Christ Jesus my Lord, &c."


Verse 24

Acts 26:24. Paul, thou art beside thyself; Thou art distracted, much study drives thee to madness. Perhaps Festus might know that St. Paul, in his present confinement, spent a great deal of time in reading; and this was the most discreet turn which could have been given to such a charge. Besides, it would appear quite absurd to Festus to hear St. Paul talk of a resurrection from the dead accomplished in Jesus as the first-fruits; or pretend that a person should come from the Jews, whom he looked upon as a barbarous nation, who should enlighten not only his own nation, but even the Gentiles too, and, among the rest, the polite and learned Romans and Greeks. This, in conjunction with what St. Paul had said of the manner in which it was revealed to him, would naturally lead such a half-thinker as Festus appears to have been, to conclude roundly thathe was a visionary enthusiast. Besides, religious topics to men of rank and fortune among the Heathens, were what they ever avoided; and thus it happened, that when St. Paul pleaded his cause before Festus, as well as before Felix, thoughhis discourse was altogether to the purpose, yet because it turned upon religious subjects, it presently tired the judges, and they would hear no more of it.


Verse 25

Acts 26:25. But he said, I am not mad, &c.— This answer, in this connection, appears inexpressiblybeautiful; when great and good men, who meet with rude and insolent treatment in the defence of the gospel, (which is often the case,) behave with such moderation, it proves a great accession of strength to the Christian cause. The word σωφροσυνη, soberness, is with the strictest exactness opposed to μανια, madness.


Verse 28

Acts 26:28. Almost thou persuadest me, &c.— There can be no doubt that these words were delivered in the most serious manner by Agrippa. It plainly appears by St. Paul's answer, and from the sense in which he there uses εν ολιγω, almost, in opposition to εν πολλω, altogether, that he understood him to mean seriously that he was almost persuaded, and consequently that he did indeed mean so. To explain the words as if he had meant, thou persuadest me to be almost a Christian, or to become an almost Christian, that is, a hypocritical professor, is quite foreign to the purpose; nor could Agrippa have any temptation to be so.


Verse 29

Acts 26:29. And Paul said, I would to God, &c.— "When I consider this apostle (says that great enemy of Christianity himself—Lord Shaftesbury,) as appearing either before the witty Athenians, or the Roman court of Judicature, in the presence of their great men and ladies, I see how handsomely he accommodates himself to the apprehensions and temper of those politer people, &c." St. Paul is thought to have had his chain now wrapped about his own arm, and that he was not chained to a soldier while he stood before this grand and numerous audience.


Verse 32

Acts 26:32. This man might have been set at liberty, if, &c.— Though this declaration of Agrippa would not secure St. 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 upon this account, and would give directions to the officer who attended him, to treat him with so much the greater regard. Though it might seem in this view an unhappy circumstance, that St. Paul had made his appeal to Caesar; yet as it was, at the time when he made it, the properest method he could take for his own security, he would have reason to reflect upon it with satisfaction; and especially, (as we before observed,) as his visiting Rome under the character of a prisoner, was overruled by an extraordinary providence to answer some important purposes. See Philippians 1:12; Philippians 1:30.

Inferences drawn from St. Paul's appearance before Agrippa. The incident before us is another unanswerable accomplishment of our blessed Redeemer's promise, that when his disciples should be brought before governors and kings for his sake, it should be given them in that hour what they should speak, Matthew 10:18-19. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine what could have been said more suitable, or more graceful, than this discourse of St. Paul before Agrippa; a discourse, in which the seriousness and spirituality 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 in the most happy union.

There was no appearance of flattery, in the apostle's congratulating himself upon having an opportunity to speak before one skilled in the manners and records of the Jews; for the more they had been attended to, with the greater advantage would the cause of Christianity have appeared. Nor could there be any arrogance in his insisting upon the strictness of his former life; since those things which were once gain to him, he had long before counted loss for Christ, Philippians 3:7. The excellency of the end which inspired him was proportionable to the manner in which he was impressed with it: and well may they serve God instantly day and night, who have the hope of a happy resurrection before them: nor is the hope presumptuous and vain, since it is founded on the promise of God. Why should it seem incredible with any, that he who gave life, should restore it?—that God should raise the dead?

It was this expectation which supported the Christians while Saul breathed out threatenings and slaughter against them, (ch. Acts 9:1.) while, mad with profane and impious rage against Jesus of Nazareth, he compelled them to blaspheme, and persecuted them even to strange cities. What keen remorse must a conduct like this occasion him, when he came to know what he did, and to see how gracious and condescending a Lord he had been persecuting in his members! No wonder, when he took so kind a method to reclaim him, that it left so deep an impression on his memory and his heart. Indeed, the whole unparalleled narration is so pleasant and instructive, that we may well bear to read it a hundred times; nay, and rejoice in it, as so many instructive circumstances are added to those which were before advanced. Comp. ch. Acts 9:2-16 and Acts 22:5-16.

What can be more affecting than the view which our Lord here gives us of the state in which the gospel found mankind, in comparison with that into which it was intended to bring them? Its sacred ministry, we see, was calculated to open their eyes, before spiritually blinded; to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God; thus to enable them to receive the remission of their sins, and an inheritance among the saints in light. Wonderful scheme of divine goodness! Happy the men who are employed in promoting it! Let the profane world, like Festus, call their zeal madness, and account for it in a less decent and candid manner than this heathen ruler himself did: still would these be found the words of truth and sobriety; and the God of truth and wisdom will still approve them as such, when all the wisdom of the world shall appear foolishness and infatuation.

God grant that none of us may rest in being almost persuaded to become Christians! When convictions begin to open upon the benighted soul, let us follow the divine ray whithersoever it leads, and not be disobedient to the heavenly vision. God grant that all who shall read or hear the remarkable discourse before us, may be not only almost, but altogether prevailed upon to be what they profess—to become Christians indeed; and so attain to a temper like that of the blessed apostle, even though his bonds were not to be excepted! The religious joy which such a disposition must introduce, would render even heavier chains than his, light and tolerable; chains, which would quickly be transformed into ornaments of glory, and which shall deck the faithful soul in the presence of God, with a lustre infinitely superior to what the diadem of Agrippa, or the robes of Festus, could display.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, As Agrippa was the principal personage in that assembly, to whom Festus had particularly addressed himself, he signified to St. Paul, who waited the order of his superiors, that he was permitted to speak for himself. Glad of the opportunity to vindicate the glorious cause of God and truth, while he apologized for himself, with dignity stretching out his hand, the great apostle, with conscious uprightness and unaffected simplicity, began,

1. With the satisfaction that he felt on the occasion now given him of answering before so able and candid a judge. I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee, concerning the charges laid against me by my countrymen, especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently, whilst I endeavour, without art or disguise, to relate the principles which have influenced my conduct from the first day until now.

2. He freely appeals to the Jews themselves, who knew his manner of life from his youth up, that he had been educated at Jerusalem, under the most celebrated of their doctors, had early embraced the principles of Pharisaism, and, according to their most rigid interpretations, had conformed to all the rites Mosaical or traditionary; and observed with most conscientious regard the commandments of the law, blameless in all his conversation. So that it was neither ignorance, prejudice, loose principles, nor immoral conduct, which could be urged as a reason for the change wrought upon him.

3. He declares freely the cause of his present bonds. It was for holding the hope of the promise made of God unto the fathers, of a resurrection to eternal life and glory through the divine Messiah, who had appeared in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and by his rising from the dead had fully proved his own glorious character, and secured the resurrection to glory of all his faithful saints. Unto which promise, not only he, but all the truly religious of the twelve tribes, hoped to come, labouring with fervency and constancy, day and night in their prayers, to arrive at the possession of the blessings promised through the Messiah. And for this hope's sake he was accused, for preaching this Messiah, the salvation which was in him, and a resurrection to everlasting blessedness through faith in his name. So that, instead of being an apostate from the fundamental articles of the Jewish faith, according to the malicious accusations of his persecutors, he maintained them with all his might and diligence. Nor did he urge any thing absurd or unreasonable when he asserted the resurrection of Jesus, as the first-fruits of his saints: for why should it be thought a thing incredible, that God should raise the dead? Is any thing beyond God's power? and ought we not implicitly to credit his promise? Note; (1.) All our hopes toward God are founded on his promises. (2.) They who would come to the possession of the eternal blessedness, are called upon to serve God day and bight in ceaseless and importunate prayer.

4. He owns the inveterate prejudices against Christianity under which he formerly lay. I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, supposing it a duty that I owed to God and my brethren, to suppress by every means the doctrine and pretensions of one who appeared so despicable: which thing I also did in Jerusalem, being most zealous against his disciples; and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and, when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them, justifying the most bloody measures, and testifying my fullest approbation of these horrid executions: and I punished them oft in every synagogue, with restless eagerness pursuing them, and compelled them through the dread of scourgings, infamy, or death, to blaspheme that holy name whereby they were called; and being exceedingly mad against them, to find many of them obstinate in their faith, and to see the number of the disciples increase in spite of all this load of oppression, I persecuted them even unto strange cities, longing, if possible, to extirpate the very Christian name. If he was now therefore a preacher and a sufferer for that faith which once he so furiously persecuted, it could arise only from the deepest conviction; and his conversion was itself a proof of the truth of Christianity. Note; (1.) It is possible for those who seem most confident that they are in the right, and are most violent in support of their opinions, to be most dangerously deceived. I doubt not that many to this hour persecute the truth, and think they do God service. (2.) Nothing will lie heavier on the awakened conscience, than the remembrance of former injuries done to the souls of men, the effects of which perhaps are now irreparable.

2nd, The apostle, having related his former life and conversation, proceeds to account for the amazing change which had been wrought in him.

1. He declares the manner of his conversion. As he approached Damascus to execute the high-priest's commission—at mid-day, a light, brighter than the sun, darted from heaven upon him and his companions; and, when in consternation they were fallen together to the earth, a voice of majesty addressed him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks: these mad attempts to wound me in my members, must be attended with ruin to thy own soul. Terrified with this interrogation, when he replied, Who art thou Lord? the voice answered, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. That despised Nazarene, whom he branded as an impostor, now demonstrated to him his divine power and glory with such evidence, as in a moment bore down all his prejudices, and struck him to the heart with horror, shame, and remorse.

2. He who had laid him in the dust, with infinite condescension raised him up, and invested him with that commission under which he now acted. He said, Rise, and stand upon thy feet; for I have appeared unto thee, not to destroy thee, as thou hast deserved, but 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 to thee, giving thee farther discoveries of my mind and will, and directions for thy conduct, and, amid all the dangers to which hereafter for my name's sake thou mayest be exposed, delivering thee from the

Jewish people, and from the Gentiles unto whom now I send thee with an apostolic commission to publish the glad tidings of salvation, to open their eyes, through a divine illumination attending thy preaching; to turn them from the darkness of superstition, idolatry, ignorance, and error, to the saving light and knowledge of the grace which is in Jesus Christ, and from the power of Satan who now reigns in their hearts, unto God, converting their souls from the dominion of sin to the love and service of the holy, ever-blessed God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, through me the great Redeemer of lost souls, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me, prepared, if faithful, for the eternal mansions of blessedness, through that divine faith which worketh by love, and purifies the souls of all my faithful people. Note. (1.) The whole world lieth in darkness and wickedness, until the light of the spirit of God, and the power of divine grace, be shed abroad in the heart. (2.) The great end of the Christian ministry is in order to the conversion of men's souls to God. They are not sent of him, who are never made use of by him to this blessed end, and neither know nor expect such fruit of their labours. (3.) Forgiveness of sins through the blood of the atonement, is the great foundation, on which repentance toward God can be effectually preached. We must believe that he is a pardoning God, before we can have any hope of returning to his favour. (4.) There can be no true sanctification, but what flows from faith which worketh by love. (5.) Our title to glory is not of debt, but of grace. Jesus hath purchased it for us, and freely bestows it upon his faithful people. (6.) Though the gift be free, we must experience a meetness for it by the power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We must be sanctified, before we can be glorified.

3. Borne down by such irresistible evidence, he could not hesitate a moment. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision; but, instantly becoming a convert to the truth, I shewed first unto them of Damascus, and then at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, according to the orders given me, that they should repent and turn to God, deeply convinced of their guilt and danger, filled with self-abhorrence, and in simplicity desiring to renounce their sins, while they drew near to a throne of grace through a crucified Jesus; and do works meet for repentance, to evince the genuine conversion of their hearts to God. Note; Unless our fruits prove the truth of the grace which is in us, we deceive ourselves, if we think that we are real converts.

4. His indefatigable labours and zeal in preaching these benevolent and infinitely momentous doctrines, were the only causes of provocation given to his unbelieving brethren, who, obstinate against his testimony, and exasperated at his preaching, seized him in the temple, and would, in a tumultuous manner, if he had not been rescued, have pulled him in pieces on the spot. Let the impartial judge, if he had deserved such treatment.

5. Not intimidated by his past dangers, and having, according to the divine promise, obtained help of God, he steadfastly persevered, supported and encouraged by the spirit's inward assistances, and the gracious interpositions of the Lord's providence in his behalf; witnessing both to small and great, without respect to persons, or fear of man, that great salvation which is brought to light by the gospel, and most clearly revealed through the death and resurrection of Jesus; saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: that Christ should suffer, and not be a temporal conqueror, but devoted to death for the sins of the world; and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, to die no more; and, as the first fruits of them that slept, should quicken all his faithful saints to a glorious immortality by his power at the last day; and should shew light unto the people and to the Gentiles, diffusing the knowledge of his great salvation, not only among his ancient people the Jews, but extending his grace to the ends of the earth, and sending out the light of his gospel as the light of his sun, to all nations, tongues, and languages, who are freely called to partake of all the blessings and privileges of his kingdom.

3rdly, While St. Paul, warmed by the glorious subject on which he had entered, was proceeding to display the great truths of his Redeemer's person, offices, and character, he is,

1. Interrupted by Festus. Unable to hear with patience what he, a heathen, counted so absurd as the resurrection of a dead man, and so strange as this miraculous conversion, he said aloud, Paul, thou art beside thyself: much learning doth make thee mad. He looked upon St. Paul with an air of disdain, as rather to be pitied as a lunatic, than condemned as a criminal. Perhaps the warmth which St. Paul expressed, as he advanced in his speech, made Festus think that his imagination was overheated with the intenseness of his application. Note; It is no unusual thing for those who never knew the light of truth, and the zeal of warm affection for a Redeemer, to stamp those who appear fervent in his cause as enthusiasts or madmen.

2. St. Paul's reply was a sufficient proof of the falseness of this invidious imputation. I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness, matters of infinite importance, and supported by the most substantial evidence. He does not resent the suggestion of the governor, but by the meekness of his reply proves the unruffled serenity of his own mind; and, referring himself to Agrippa, he adds, For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely, he being conversant in the writings of Moses and the prophets, where the sufferings and resurrection of the Messiah are foretold; and has heard how they have been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; he must have been long ago told of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of my singular conversion; for this thing was not done in a corner, but publicly known, and attested by unexceptionable witnesses; many of whom have sealed, and many more are ready to seal, their testimony with their blood.

3. Turning then from Festus to Agrippa, in the most affecting and pathetic manner he applied himself to the conscience of his royal auditor. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I knew that thou believest. He cannot entertain a suspicion to the contrary; and with confidence expresses his assurance of the king's belief of the inspired writings of the Old Testament; paying him the greatest compliment, while he presses on him the most important truths.

4. Agrippa is nearly staggered with this close application, and, struck with the polite yet serious address of the apostle, replies, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian: so much reason and evidence appeared in St. Paul's discourse, that, were it not for a regard to his dignity and temporal interests, he could become, he thought, a convert to Christianity. Note; Many, unable to stand before the evidence of truth, are almost persuaded; but the world holds them in fetters, and they will not pursue their own convictions.

5. With inimitable address, where the piety of the Christian was blended with the politeness of the Roman, St. Paul replied; 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. He wished him and them all the happiness which himself enjoyed in Christ, and exemption from all the ignominy and sufferings to which for the sake of Jesus he was exposed.

6. The king hereupon arose, unable perhaps any longer to stand against the powerful evidence of truth, and afraid of some more moving strokes on his conscience: the governor and Bernice followed him, with the rest of the principal persons. And as they retired together, and talked of St. Paul's case and his defence, they perfectly agreed that this man, however great the clamour was against him, had done nothing worthy of death or of bonds: so clear was the innocence of the apostle. Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Cesar.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Acts 26:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/acts-26.html. 1801-1803.

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Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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