William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:Acts Chapter 26
Luke sets the scene vividly before us. The king, whose opinion the governor sought, and who himself was desirous of hearing, gives courteous leave, and the prisoner enters on his defence with out-stretched hand. Orators no doubt used the same action to engage the ear of their countrymen, rhetoricians in their schools; but Paul's heart went out thus in desire over souls about to hear that message from God which, in whatever manner put, is the turning-point of salvation or perdition to all in contact with it. No doubt the soul is beyond all price for everyone in view of such everlasting issues. Yet it was no light thing even for the apostle to confront, without his seeking it but at their own desire, the great ones of the earth with all that swelled their train.
'And Agrippa said to Paul, It is permitted thee to speak for1 thyself. Then Paul stretched out his hand and entered on his defence. Touching all things of which I am accused by Jews, king Agrippa, I count myself happy that I am to make my defence before thee today,2 especially as thou art skilled in all customs and questions that are among Jews. Wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.
'My manner of life then from my youth which was from the beginning among my nation and3 at Jerusalem know all Jews, knowing me before from the outset, if they be willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand to be judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers, unto which our twelve tribes earnestly serving night and day hope to arrive. And concerning this hope I am accused by4 Jews, O king4. Why is it judged incredible with you if God raiseth dead [men]?' (vers. 1-8).
1 Here and elsewhere in these verses occur several readings scarce affecting a version.
2 Beza alone adopted εἰδώς (in his edition of 1582 and afterwards) 'in uno codice peruetusto - certainly an error, for the three cursives that give it are comparatively modern. Had he known ἐπιοστάμενος there would have been better reason, as AC, et al., have it. But either is a gloss.
3 ABEgr., et al.
4 των and Ἀγρίππα omitted by the best authorities τῶν by almost all.
It may be a small matter, yet it is well to avoid the mistake of confounding the apostle's act here with what he did in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:16), or what Alexander did in the tumultuous assembly at Ephesus (Acts 19:33). This was 'beckoning with the hand', quite different in character and aim from stretching it forth, here too with a chain. What a witness of the world's enmity to God's infinite grace in Christ! For, to say nothing of his loving labours, wherein had His servant done wrong? He was sharing the sufferings of Christ.
It will be observed that the apostle graciously passes by the various calumnies of the Jews which had been put forward by their venal orator and the unscrupulous men who supported his charges. He expresses his satisfaction at having to speak before one so exceptionally competent as the king in all the ways and controversies of Jews, as he does not fail even in this acknowledgment to preface it with an allusion to such accusations coming from Jews, not 'the' Jews.
In this connection there is no article in the text of verses 2, 3, as there should be none in verses 4 and 7, though in verse 4 there is much conflict among the MSS. (even the best uncials), and only Lachmann, and Alford, Tregelles, with Westcott and Hort, follow BCpm. E, et al., here, against the rest in omitting the article. Nor is it to be wondered at that Tischendorf who had dropped it in his later editions up to the seventh, went back in his eighth to that of his earlier issues in 1841 and both of 1842. The fact is that the sense required in this phrase here seems without example in the New Testament, where in other cases πάντες οἱ Ἰουδῖιοι is the correct form, and the article, as far as I have noticed, could not be omitted without damage. Here there is a distinct and unusual peculiarity; for 'all the Jews' are not meant, but all Jews knowing Paul before from the outset. This accordingly requires πάντες Ἰουδαῖοι προγινῶσκωντές με ἄνωθεν.
All Greek Testament students know of course the late Dean Alford's note on verse 2, which seems a long-standing reproach to scholars and ought to have been repudiated far and wide: for I cannot doubt there must be not a few besides the late Bishop of Durham, who are aware of the fallacy. 'There is no force in Meyer's observation that by the article before Ἰουδαίων, Paul wishes to express that the charges were made by some, not by all of the Jews. That omission is the one so often overlooked by the German critics (e.g., Stier also here), after a preposition. See Middl. ch. vi. ? 1, and compare κατὰ Ἰουδαιόυς in the next verse, of which the above cannot be said' (Greek Test. ii.. 276, fifth ed. 1865).
Now it is admitted that the celebrated German expositor's remark is imperfect, even though in many cases true. The omission of the article is due here and everywhere to presenting the word or combination of words characteristically, whilst the use of the article presents it as an object before the mind. There may be a very few exceptions, but these only prove that the rule is otherwise universal. And prepositions are in no way an exception, though they admit freely of serving to define the characteristic design of the anarthrous construction, which has been overlooked by English scholars quite as much perhaps as German. This is exactly one of the great defects of Bishop Middleton's able treatise, which has for effect the making imaginary exceptions as numerous as the rule. This of itself ought to have indicated failure in generalization. John iv. 9 is a plain illustration of the principle: not only πῶς σὺ Ἰουδαῖος ὤν which every one sees, but Ἰυοδαῖοι Σαμαρείταις where the article for either would be out of place if the object were, as it certainly is, to mark both characteristically.
It is no question of 'some' no doubt. And the article might have been with truth prefixed to both; but the meaning would have been altered. The two peoples would then stand contrasted as objects, not characteristically as they are now. Compare for this a selection from the book of the Acts: Acts 2:5; Act 2:7; Act 2:9-11; Acts 11:19; Acts 14:1; Act 14:5; Act 14:19; Acts 18:4; Acts 19:10; Act 19:17; Acts 20:21; Acts 25:10. Again, any intelligent examination of the Greek Testament cannot fail to convince that the preposition makes no difference whatever. The article is or is not used with the word in question like every other, in accordance with its principle of insertion or omission.
Thus in Matthew 28:15 character is the point, and therefore it is παρὰ Ιουδαίοις. In John 4:22 the Jews are the object, and hence it is ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων: so in John 10:19, and John 11:54, ἐν τοίς Ἰουδαιονς; in John 11:19, ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων; in John 18:38, πρὸς τοὺς Ἰουδαοίυς. It is really a total oversight of the nice shades of thought in the Greek language to conceive that there is the least laxity or exception after prepositions. Perhaps the notion is due to the difficulty of always representing the distinction in English, which sometimes compels us to use our definite article where there is none in Greek. But this is no right reason to deny that there is invariably an intended difference. Weigh Acts 23:8 where we have Σαδδουκαῖοι and Φαριοαῖοι without the article, though there is no preposition. If οἱ had been prefixed to each, it would have been true; but the absence of the article makes them characteristic, however hard it may be to express it in English.
And there is an analogous difference in the cases before us, alike when with or without prepositions. 'I am accused by Jews' in verses 2 and 7 is far more forcible than if the article had been inserted. It was not lost on Agrippa or Festus or the Jews that heard it. Of all men Jews were the last to have accused Paul for proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection that is from among the dead. Sadduceanism had alas! withered up their old faith. As a fact too, which may have weighed with Meyer and Stier, the Pharisees diverged in Acts 23 from the dominant faction which persecuted Paul. The preposition clearly gives no licence, (ὑπό) Jews, not the Jews, being meant. Nor is it otherwise with κατὰ Ιουδαίους, however confidently urged. Doubtless 'according to the Jews' would have been true in fact but it is stated characteristically, and here again as 'Jews', not 'the Jews' is the force intended, so it is evident once more that the preposition does not really affect the question. The article is inserted or omitted with prepositions on its own principle. Lastly, to be correct, πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι would require οἱ προγινώσκοντές qualifying the subject, πάντες Ἰουδαῖοι προγινώσκοντές is correct as it is given; for it means only all such Jews as previously knew Paul from the outset. In a word it is characteristic and therefore anarthrous. Not only is πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι the more usual expression, but quite distinct in sense; for it means the whole Jewish people as a known, definite and complete object, whereas the phrase here means all Jews qualified by the peculiar and described knowledge of Paul.
Returning from this digression, we may note that the apostle begs for a patient hearing from one so skilled as Agrippa, and dwells (vers. 4, 5) on his known early life under strict Pharisaic belief and discipline 'among my nation and at Jerusalem', as all Jews cognisant from its outset could testify if willing.
But the question, he insists, for which he stood for judgment was the hope of the promise made by God unto our fathers (ver. 6), unto which our twelve tribes earnestly serving, day and night, hope to arrive (ver. 7). How strange and flagrant that, of all men, Jews should lay accusation against him for that hope! Certainly his testimony to the risen Jesus did not weaken faith in the promise of the Messiah or in the resurrection of the dead. Yet the whole nation in their public and earnest service of God night and day bore witness of their hope of attaining to that promise. Why is it judged incredible if God raises dead men? The prisoner assuredly did believe what the service of the chosen nation confessed night and day. Were Jews then gainsayers of their own boasted faith?
The apostle returns from argument to the account of his own life, from which he had turned aside for a moment.
'I therefore thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus the Nazarene; which things I also did in Jerusalem; and I both shut up many of the saints in prisons, having received the authority from the chief priests, and I railed against [them] when they were put to death; and throughout all the synagogues, often punishing I was compelling them to blaspheme, and being exceedingly mad against them I was pursuing them even as far as to the outside cities' (vers. 9-11).
We have repeated allusions in the Epistles to Paul's life before conversion. Thus to the Galatians he wrote, 'For ye have heard of my manner of life at one time in Judaism that beyond bounds I was persecuting the church and ravaging it, and was advancing in Judaism beyond many of mine own age in my race, being more exceedingly' a zealot of my ancestral traditions' (Galatians 1:13-14). To the Philippians his language is, 'As to law a Pharisee, as to zeal persecuting the church, as to righteousness that is in law found blameless' (Php 3:5-6). Lastly, to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:13) he says, 'Though formerly a blasphemer, and a persecutor and an insulter; but I obtained mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief.'
Here he lets us see how unsafe a guide conscience is for the natural man, no matter what may be his religious helps. He considered it his duty to oppose the name of Jesus and zealously persecute all who called on Him. Nor does God accept such a plea. He had sent His Son with adequate proof of His Messiahship for all who would compare His written word with the facts of Jesus the Nazarene: prophecy accomplished, miracles wrought not only by Himself but by His servants, and of a character quite peculiar, yet harmonizing with a teaching altogether unexampled; and a moral power of holy life ending in a death of deepest shame on the cross, which He ever held out as not man's sin only, but God's grace as the ransom for sinners, to the reality of which all sacrifices pointed from Abel downward. Paul therefore had acted ignorantly in unbelief, as do others who refuse all revelation or misuse one part to reject another still fuller and more glorious.
The greater the religious zeal in such a state of unbelief, the farther it carries the devotee from the present testimony of God. Hence it was that Paul gave himself up with all his soul to opposing the faith of Jesus as the Christ in Jerusalem, which he would feel was outraged by His claims. Here, before Agrippa, he does not hesitate to confess to his own shame that he shut up 'many of the saints' in prisons. To the Jews he had employed the more vague expression, 'this Way' (Acts 22:4); as Luke in the history spoke of 'the disciples of the Lord' (Acts 9:1). How little he so thought when he received the requisite authority from the chief priests! Nor was it only imprisoning. When it was a question of putting them to death, had he not given an adverse vote? Notably it was so in Stephen's case, as this Book records. Had he not visited all the synagogues, often punishing souls and forcing out blasphemy if possible? And had he not in his excessive madness pursued them even into cities outside the land?
But a mighty change was at hand. Not a hint of relenting appears here or elsewhere, not one emotion of pity for the victims, not a trace of self-judgment or hesitation in his own course. Who verified so conspicuously the Lord's own words? 'They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the hour cometh that whosoever killeth you shall think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do, because they have not known the Father nor Me' (John 16:2-3). This is the new revelation of the Messiah come and rejected; and on that rejection bringing to light the Father and the Son, wholly unknown to those who in their zeal for the law broke out into hatred and persecution of what was beyond them and condemned their unbelief.
'On which [business] when proceeding unto Damascus with authority and commission of the chief-priests, at midday on the road I saw, O king a light above the brightness of the sun shining round me and those that were proceeding with me. And when we all fell to the earth, I heard a voice saying unto me in the Hebrew language, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? [It is] hard for thee to kick against goads. And I said, Who art Thou Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest' (vers. 12-15).
Never was sovereign grace so signally demonstrated. I do not speak of the wonder. But now evidently the Lord was giving a typical case, in the letter it would seem for the Jews by and by, in spirit for the Christian now. For what could more completely prove that Christ is all to him that believes? To a man up to that moment blinded by his legal zeal against the grace of God in Christ, that very Christ reveals Himself, sweeping into nothingness all that a Jew boasted of and rested in, and identifying Himself in the glory of God with the One Who died, between two crucified robbers, the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
On earth Messiah is to be set God's King on His holy hill of Zion. This is the decree. Judgment will surely silence all that oppose, be they kings or nations, rulers or peoples. Their rage is as vain as all their imaginations to the contrary. Execution of judgment will make all plain to every eye. Then will Messiah ask and receive the nations for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. Then will He break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. It will be no longer as now grace preached, but the kingdom established by divine power seen and felt beyond question; and the kings of the earth will be wise, and the judges instructed, serving Jehovah with fear and rejoicing with trembling (Psalm 2).
Now Christ sits in heaven on the Father's throne, and has a new object of love and a new testimony carried on here below by the Holy Spirit suited to His glory on high and that object of love is the church which is His body. This mystery is great, as it must be, for we speak about Christ and about the church; concurrently with which goes forth the gospel of God's grace to every creature under heaven, all distinctions of Jew and Gentile vanishing meanwhile.
Paul was called to be a minister, both of the church and of the gospel, as he says himself in Colossians 1:23-25. And the special manner of his conversion was exactly suited in the wisdom and goodness of God to this ministry. For it was not only unmistakable grace in its deepest character, but from heavenly glory entirely above the distinctions so important on earth. And Paul alone was there personally favoured, though the truth of it was to act most powerfully on souls all over the earth. This may help to show the immense importance of what the apostle recounted that day, in substance recorded now for the third time in the brief Book of the Acts.
Impossible to doubt that a divine person speaks out from the brightness beyond that of the sun at midday. If all were prostrate and heard but a sound, Paul could not mistake the voice of His lips, saying to him (and in the Hebrew language), 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?' How overwhelming, yet how blessed, to hear in answer to his question of astonishment, 'I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest'! Thus even from the starting-point he heard the truth that the saints are one with Him. To persecute them is to persecute Jesus.
Doubtless the blessed apostle had revelations of the Lord, and from Him, not a few afterwards; and the bearings of the mystery, as well as its consequences were made known to him by the Spirit. It is, however, full of interest to learn that the germ of all was planted in him, as we see here, from the moment that grace wrought in his soul and brought him into God's marvellous light. He obeyed the truth immediately. It is hard to kick against goads, on the one hand; and on the other the Lord had drawn his heart into the love of the truth, whatever it might cost.
He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, which thenceforth gave its impress to his life, his faith, and his testimony. 'And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that He is the Son of God.' He was Messiah, but far more; eternally the Son; now exalted and given to be Head to the church in the heavenly places; universal Lord to the glory of God the Father, in virtue of Whose name all things shall bow; as indeed He is our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Henceforth Saul could and did say, 'For me to live is Christ'.
The decisive words, 'I am Jesus,' were uttered to one who could not doubt the utterer was the Lord; nor this only, but 'I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest', the germ of that mystery (and it is a great one) which the astonished hearer was to develop beyond all others, even of the apostles. Thereon follows what is of the deepest interest.
'But rise up and stand on thy feet; for to this end I appeared to thee, to appoint thee a servant and a witness both of what thou hast seen and of those things wherein I shall appear to thee, taking thee out from the people and from the Gentiles unto whom I send thee, to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness unto light and the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive remission of sins and inheritance among those that are sanctified by faith that is in Me. Whence, king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but reported both to those in Damascus first, and in Jerusalem, and through all the country of JudÂ?a and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance. On account of these things the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to slay me. Having therefore obtained help that is from God I stand unto this day, witnessing both to small and great saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said should come, whether Christ should suffer, whether He first by resurrection of [the] dead should announce light both to the people and to the Gentiles (vers. 16-23).
Such a vision to such an end stamped on Paul the apostolic title in its highest character. It was from heaven in the power of resurrection life and ascension glory; and this not only by one determining act, but with the guarantee of all that was to be made known from him personally in the future. We should not know from this account that he was blind for three days and that Ananias was sent directly by the Lord to heal as well as baptize him. Nor have we particulars of his testimony either in Damascus or in Jerusalem, any more than of his going away into Arabia. Each fact is set forth where it was called for; all was stated not only with truthfulness but according to holy and divine design, as is invariably the case in scripture. The Lord led either Luke or Paul according to His will to say what was fitting. Here the apostle gives summarily what was of moment for his audience, and for all that should read and weigh the words afterwards.
It was not only to convert and save him that the Lord had spoken to Saul of Tarsus. He was to arise and stand on his feet; for the Lord had appeared to him to appoint him a servant (ὑπηρέτην) and a witness both of what he then saw and of those things in which He was to appear to him. A work lay before him of immense magnitude and unprecedented character. And the Lord's revelations then and afterwards were of all moment. He was to be a typical servant too, though his own calling might be unique; for no such appearing of the Lord was to be the portion of those who should follow in the faith and footsteps of Paul.
Verse 17 is not well given by either the Revisers or the Authorized Version. Though the word may bear 'delivering', as it often signifies, its simpler meaning of 'taking out' is far more suitable to the context and the truth intended and verified in the apostle's career. It is admitted on all hands that the Lord's taking Saul out from the people (or the Jews) is suitable, but De Wette and Meyer allege that it does not chime in with the Gentiles. This seems quite a mistake. Separation from both is most appropriate to characterize his position, and there is no need to extend 'unto whom I send thee' beyond the latter. He was to be apostle of Gentiles or uncircumcision, and as such magnifies his function in Romans 11:13-14. The 'I' is emphatic, and the adverb 'now' only added by inferior witnesses.
The difficulty these scholars feel is owing to their ignorance of Christian position, and even of Christianity according to scripture. For the Jew believing in Christ is not levelled down to a Gentile, nor yet is the believing Gentile raised up to that of the Jew; but the Holy Spirit unites both to Christ in heavenly glory, while at the same time the gospel of grace goes forth indiscriminately, but to the Gentile practically, as the once favoured nation is given up to temporary blindness in God's just judgment. Never was there a more striking representative of both than the apostle, minister of the church and minister of the gospel (Colossians 1:23-25). Stier has only noticed half the beauty of the contrast; for if Peter declares himself a witness of the sufferings of Christ and a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed', Paul was a witness of the glory of Christ and a partaker of His sufferings; and it is him we are called to imitate, though we only by faith see Christ glorified. To share His sufferings is the Christian's and the believer's moral glory.
Then follows in verse 18 a vivid description of Paul's work among the Gentiles: 'to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness unto light and the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive remission of sins and inheritance among those that are sanctified by faith that is in Me'. Doubtless Jews needed these operations of grace no less really than the nations; but in the latter case the necessity was far more conspicuous, besotted as they were not only in shameless immorality but by gross superstitions which darkened and demoralized them more than if they had had no religion at all. If, as the Jews say, it was reserved for the Messiah to open the eyes of the blind literally, here we see how He sent His apostle to do the work not physically alone but, morally. And this was manifested by Gentiles, when they heard the call of the Lord, turning from darkness into light, and (defining yet more their sources) from the power of Satan unto God, followed by the great characteristic privileges of the gospel, the reception of remission of sins and allotment among the sanctified by faith in Christ. For there was now a new, deeper, fuller sanctification, not fleshly or by ordinance merely as Israel's was; but living and genuine by believing on Christ, the permanent result of an accomplished separation to God from the Christian's starting-point.
The effect of such an announcement of sovereign grace, not only for Paul himself but in his mission, was immediate and Immense 'Whence, king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but reported both to those in Damascus first, and in Jerusalem, and through all the country of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance' (vers. 19, 20). Undoubtedly, it had been not only rebellion, but madness and destruction to have slighted such a vision and call; but this voucher the apostle gave, which nothing but self-willed folly could evade or escape, a life of unequalled sufferings as well as labours in bearing witness of its truth - truth so all-important to every child of man. Hence his burning zeal in reporting to all near or far off that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance. For as the ground of the gospel consists of a Person revealed and facts accomplished (not merely a promise as of old), no call to believe can be agreeable to man's heart, and grace only can effect aught vital or acceptable, the conscience being bad and the will estranged from God, yea enmity against Him.
There are doctrines infinitely deeper elsewhere, and beyond comparison nearer to man's heart, to say nothing of their essential furtherance of God's glory. But all the doctrines flow from Christ and His work, and a renewed child can rest confidingly in both and be drawn out in wonder love and praise, as well as in a life of devotedness and self-sacrifice. This, however, never can be apart from repentance and turning to God. As surely as there is the faith of God's elect there is a divinely wrought repentance, which through the confidence which Christ inspires wins the soul to God in self-abhorrence and earnest pursuit of His will, doing works worthy of repentance.
It would be incredible if it were not the most certain fact that a faith and life so formed are abominable in Jewish eyes. 'On account of these things the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to slay me' (ver. 21). But none of these things swerved or even moved the blessed apostle, save to sorrow over them. 'Having therefore obtained help that is from God, I stand unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying nothing but what Moses and the prophets said should come, whether Christ should suffer, whether he first by resurrection of [the] dead should announce light both to the people and to the Gentiles' (vers. 22, 23).
It is not that the Jews erred in looking for a glorious kingdom of Messiah, of which Israel should be the centre on earth, but that the law and the prophets were clear that the Messiah should suffer and die as a sacrifice, as well as in rejection by man and even Israel, and thus risen from the dead bong in blessing of grace and mercy to faith before the glory be revealed publicly. For it needs no reasoning to prove that the suffering and death cannot be after the glory; 'but first must He suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.' 'Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?' So Christ, beginning from Moses and all the prophets, interpreted in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27).
The truth was fairly set before the king. The prophets and Moses had told out what was now accomplished in the Christ that Paul preached. If their testimony was divine, He Who had suffered and risen from the dead is their sure fulfilment, however much may remain. The question whether the Christ should suffer, and whether He first by rising from death should proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles can admit of no answer but the most distinct affirmation. The Messiah to suffer, die, rise, and so shed light on man universally, is the surest force of the law and the prophets. This alone gives meaning to sacrifices, this explains the cleansing of the defiled. No doubt there is the kingdom to come, and the judgment of the world as well as of the dead, but the basis even of all the rest lay in the dead and risen Messiah, the object of faith for salvation to every believer, Jew or Gentile. Here, however, the apostle does not go beyond present facts.
'And as he thus defended himself, Festus saith with a loud voice, Paul, thou art mad, much learning doth turn thee to madness. But Paul saith, I am not mad, most excellent Festus, but speak forth words of truth and soberness. For the king is cognizant of these things, unto whom also I speak with openness; for I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him, for this hath not been done in a corner. Believest thou, king Agrippa, the prophets? I know that thou believest. And Agrippa [said] unto Paul, With little [pains] thou art persuading1 to make me a Christian. And Paul [said], I would to God that both with little and with great [pains]2 not thou only but also all that hear me this day should become as I too am, except these bonds. And 3the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them; and when they had retired, they spoke one to another, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or bonds. And Agrippa said to Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar' (vers. 24-32).
1 A reads πείθῃ, 'thou art persuading thyself', which Alford adopts, but BEHLP, et al, support πείθεις as in the Text. Rec. Only instead of γενέσθαι AB and four cursives with several ancient versions sustain ποιῆσαι.
2 μεγάλω AB, six cursives, and almost all the ancient versions instead of πολλῳ, as in most copies followed by the Text. Rec.
3 The Text. Rec. adds 'when he said these things' with the mass, contrary to the most ancient and best copies. The ancient text gives the impression of an abrupt closure on Agrippa's part; the addition takes it away.
Festus, ignorant of God and His word and bewildered to the highest degree by the assertion of Messiah's resurrection, forgot the gravity of the occasion and of his own office, and branded the apostle as a madman, though softening the term by imputing it to his much reading. Calm in the sense of God's presence and of the truth which alone gives true freedom, Paul shows the only moral elevation discernible in that splendid throng, and so with real courtesy rebuts the senseless charge with words bearing the stamp of the 'truth' he testified, and of the 'sobriety' in which he laid all before others.
Love gives a single eye. With that keen discernment which characterized him, he turns from the benighted heathen who saw nothing beyond the present life and therefore saw it only as a question of power and pleasure and fame, an utter degradation for the undying soul, consistent only in shutting out the light of the truth and even the warning of conscience not wholly ignorant of sin. From the heathen he turns to the Jewish king who, immoral though he was, knew what altogether condemned himself as well as the glorious visions of which Messiah is the centre in Holy Writ. 'For the king', said he, 'is cognizant of these things, unto whom also I speak with openness, for I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him: for this hath not been done in a corner.' It was notorious that no man living was more interested in or familiar with all that affected the Jews than the younger Herod Agrippa. But how little such acquaintance with facts avails, unless the Holy Spirit bring the word of God home to an exercised conscience! unless a soul bow to God in the overwhelming sense of its own sin and ruin, yet clinging to the hope of mercy in Him! Still to one that owned scripture as divine the apostle could speak as he could not with the same degree of freedom to another who denied and scorned it.
Therefore he turns in the most unexpected way with an appeal to the king's conscience: 'King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.' Surprised out of his imperturbable self-complacency, and endeavouring to cover his confusion by a jest the king replies for it is no answer, 'With little pains thou art persuading to make me a Christian.' Thus appears to be the sense if we take into account the critical reading μεγάλῳ in what follows. Were the Received Text justified which gives πόλλῳ, 'much', this rendering could hardly stand, for the more natural force would then be 'in a little while', distinguished from 'much time'
It is plain that Agrippa had no answer to what had been shown from scripture and the gospel facts. It is equally plain that the conclusion was irresistible, which he strove to parry. The truth is no question of reasoning but of faith in the testimony of God: only there is no root save in the conscience that owns sin and looks to God's grace in spite of it. And Christ and His work on the cross give the troubled soul confidence; because God sent His Son into the world for the twofold blessing, blessings equally needed by the sinner and flowing from God Himself, that we should live through Christ, and that He should die a propitiation for us. Faith in God's testimony of His love Who therefore gave His Son receives these infinite blessings in Christ. But it is not mere mind that makes the discovery; and if it were, it could avail nothing. It is only to the babe, to the broken in heart? to the consciously ruined sinner, that the truth comes from God. For He is calling souls to the knowledge of Himself, not training theologians. It is salvation made known in Christ, not religious science which the world builds up for itself out of it.
So the apostle takes up the king's word to escape further parley, and takes it up with a love and dignity suited to the Holy Spirit that dwelt in him. It is the simple but deep utterance of a heart supremely happy in the Saviour, and in the assurance of grace in Him that could embrace not Agrippa only but all that composed his audience that day, What mercy to man! What goodness of God! What inexhaustible power and fullness in the name of Jesus! Even in the most general form such an ardent wish of blessing had been much. But the more clearly we regard his words the wonder grows. 'I would to God that both with little and with great pains not thou only but also all that hear me this day should become as I too am, except these bonds.'
This largeness of heart suits admirably Paul who made known God's righteousness unto all and upon all those that believe. This readiness to take all pains is in keeping with the debtor both to Greeks and barbarians, both to wise and to foolish, who working night and day not to burden any, preached the gospel to all. But the perfect happiness of his soul flows over when he wishes to God for them that they might be as he too was. What! the man who had been beaten for dead, and in prison for years, known to be innocent by successive governors, yet chained to a soldier night and day to please a people whom these governors despised and hated. Yes, this is the man who wishes for them all, by little pains and by great as the case might be, that they might not be forgiven or saved only, good a wish as this is, but far far more, that they might become even as he, filled with the conscious joy of being blessed with Christ and enjoying the present cloudless favour of God. Indeed nothing less is normal Christianity. Yet he adds, 'except these bonds': this he could not, did not, wish for one of them. Truly it was a soul that kept itself in the dove of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
Was there one heart that responded, one conscience pierced? We know not, but only that forthwith the court retired, yet owned that the prisoner's cause deserved neither death nor bonds. Agrippa especially, and he was the most competent to speak, declared that he might have been set at liberty but for his appeal to Caesar. How little the king knew God's purpose or ways! Paul, as he suffered with Christ, was called in due time to suffer for Him. In due time he was to have his wish to become conformed to the death of Christ (Php 3:9-11).
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:
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.
My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;
Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers:
Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.
Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?
I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: 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.
And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.
Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
But rise, and stand upon thy feet: 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;
Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.
Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:
That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.
But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.
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.
King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
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.
And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them:
And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.
Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.