“And so, King Agrippa, I obeyed that vision from heaven. I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do. Some Jews arrested me in the Temple for preaching this, and they tried to kill me. But God has protected me right up to this present time so I can testify to everyone, from the least to the greatest. I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike.”Acts 26:19-23
Festus’ Reaction and Paul’s Response
Suddenly, Festus shouted, “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy!”
But Paul replied, “I am not insane, Most Excellent Festus. What I am saying is the sober truth. And King Agrippa knows about these things. I speak boldly, for I am sure these events are all familiar to him, for they were not done in a corner!Acts 26:24-26
Final Comments to Agrippa
King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do—”
Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?”
Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.”
Then the king, the governor, Bernice, and all the others stood and left. As they went out, they talked it over and agreed, “This man hasn’t done anything to deserve death or imprisonment.”
And Agrippa said to Festus, “He could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar.”Acts 26:27-32
Who are the “small and great” when it seems all those invited to the hearing were “great”?
This was a question which came from a very observant reader. Indeed in verse 22 Luke records that Paul said of his testimony he was testifying to everyone, from the least to the greatest. Yet we were told in Acts 25:23 that this court consisted of Felix and Agrippa (Proconsul and King) along with Bernice, military officers and prominent men of the city. The reader who sent this question in has shown great powers of observation. What then does it mean in verse 22 when Paul says I testify to everyone from the least to the greatest? I don’t believe this comment is specifically limited to those gathered in this particular auditorium in Caesarea. Rather I think that Paul is referring to all those he has stood before over the time he has been testifying to what happen to him on the road to Damascus. This has been an ongoing theme of Paul’s testimony to whomever he spoke. The term “to small and great alike” is a Semitic expression which is all inclusive. So I think in this case Paul is just simply saying to whoever I witness, God has protected me so I can testify to anyone of high position or commoners. It makes me think of Peter who had difficulty testifying to the servant girl around the fire at the time of Jesus’ arrest. Paul is saying he was not afraid to testify to anyone. He was not necessarily indicating the small and the great gathered before him during this hearing before Festus and Agrippa. As you so rightly point out, on this occasion they were all great (supposedly – including Luke).
What is the reason for Festus’ outburst?
Felix’s sudden shout proclaiming Paul was crazy I am sure was prompted by Paul’s reference to the words of the prophets and Moses which spoke of the Messiah rising from the dead. This did not accord with Roman thought and so it was hard for Festus to accept at face value. Paul doesn’t specifically address the matter of Jesus’ resurrection or seek to give proof of it. He does that in 1 Corinthians 15 but not here before Festus. It is very interesting that Paul deflects Felix’s response by passing the baton of his defence on the subject of resurrection from the dead to Agrippa, who was the other Jew in the midst of the hearing. He assured Festus he was speaking the sober truth and leaves the matter to Agrippa to explain to Festus. Although I am not sure that Agrippa would have been able to give a strong defence of the resurrection theme through the Old Testament. All records concerning Agrippa do not depict him as a man skilled in the Jewish Scriptures. The way Paul has expressed his defence has been in language which would have been understandable to a Jew but would have been interpreted as the babbling of a mad man to a Roman. The use of the word [sophrosune] is an interesting choice words. The word has links to [sophos] wisdom but is strongly expressing rationality, soundness of mind, being in possession of all of your faculties. It is the antithesis of drunkedness, demonization and madness which is associated with incomprehensible babbling.
Was Paul disrespectful to Festus? After he is the one who will decide in the end not Agrippa.
No not at all. But rather he leaves Agrippa to explain to Festus further should he want to know more.
Has Paul lost perspective in the midst of his passion and zeal?
No, not at all. I am sure it was Paul’s passion and zeal that carried the argument. Both king and Roman governor could see the passion of this man before them and could determine that his life was changed as a result of the encounter on the road to Damascus.
Now we come to Paul’s rather more personal comment to Agrippa. “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do—”
- Did Agrippa really believe the prophets? Was this more schmooze?
- Did Agrippa come close to believing?
These are good questions. Many have tried to make these words mean more than they do over the years. Is this an indication that King Agrippa was on the verge of accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour? I don’t believe so. Others might disagree. Are the words indication that Agrippa was strongly considering adopting a Christian viewpoint of Jesus being the Messiah? I don’t think so. How could Paul have known that in the midst of the hearing without talking to him on a more personal, one to one basis? It was not like the frequent meetings he had with Felix. There was no interaction between them in this hearing. I think this was an orator’s technique Paul used, or a way of boxing Agrippa into a corner. If he believed the Jewish TANAKH then he ought to accept that Jesus was indeed the fulfilment of Messiah. Paul can’t be suggesting that Agrippa accepted Jesus was the Messiah as the Christians saw Him. Rather he must have been arguing that if Agrippa thought about what he knew of the TANAKH he would have to come to the conclusion that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. In other words, Paul’s argument was sound.
Agrippa, after some thought, said to Paul, “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?”
What exactly did Agrippa mean by that statement? There is much debate over this statement. Does this mean Agrippa interpreted Paul’s comments as trying to make him a Christian? Or merely trying to persuade him by his oratory skills? Did he feel backed into a corner? The meaning of this statement is uncertain. Agrippa is not likely to have interpreted “Christian” in the same way we do. It is quite possible that Agrippa meant “Christian” as a derogatory term, that he was sneering at the idea he might become a Christian – a follower of the Way. The literal Greek means “In a little you are persuading me to make (or do) a Christian.” I.e. make Festus a Christian or that Agrippa himself turn around and do the things that a Christian would. I.e. put being a Christian into action. It could even have the connotation “You rapidly persuade me to play (do) Christian?” The statement is most likely a retort to what Agrippa thinks is Paul’s intent or an incredulous questioning of Paul’s thinking that he could succeed with such a thought is so short a time.
Are you trying to make me a Christian?
So you think you can make a Christian of me.
The element in Greek “in a short time” could also be interpreted as “with so few words” or “with such little effort”. I.e. “Come on, it’s going to take more than that to make me a Christian.”
Paul’s last statement seems to be very courageous.
It was indeed. “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.” Speed aside, yes I pray that you and everyone here would become like me, without the chains. I imagine at this point that Paul finished as he began with a gesture with his hands. Likely as not lifting his hands to display his shackles. Interesting isn’t it that Paul starts and finishes by lifting his hands to display his chains. Roman citizens were not to be chained even when they were deemed prisoners. Paul appears to be highlighting the injustice of his situation.
Why didn’t Festus and Agrippa just let Paul go?
Everything points to that fact he had done nothing deserving death or IMPRISONMENT! They agreed! It is true that both dignitaries hearing Paul’s case agreed that he hadn’t done anything to deserve death or imprisonment. Why then could they not have pronounced him innocent and let him go? Simply because Paul’s appeal as a Roman citizen to Caesar pre-determined the outcome. This case was to be taken out of their ( local authority) and was to be referred to Caesar in Rome. Remember Festus was not being asked to try the case there in Caesarea. He was merely holding this hearing in order to determine what he should put in the report for the Emperor. Why would Paul have appealed to Caesar if it meant he could have been set free at the end of this hearing? I think Paul was smart enough to know that he needed to be removed from the Roman Province of Judea. To remain there a freeman would have put him in constant danger from the Sanhedrin’s assassins. Paul has also be told by God that he will witness to Him in Rome. This was God’s way of getting Paul to Rome and having the occupying forces take care of the costs and the logistics.
Next Gem we will begin our dissection of Acts Chapter 27.
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.Scott R Jones
Whether a Christian is relevant, is determined by the gap between their life & message!Brian Houston
Give us a Christianity that helps us LIVE. We can all DIE without assistance!Rick Godwin
Being a Christian is not cutting yourself off from real life, it is entering into it more fully. It is a journey into the heart of how things really are.Ian Vail
Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.Charles Spurgeon