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Paul's Address Before King Agrippa
Summary —Agrippa's Knowledge of the Law and the Jews. Paul's Early Career and Hatred of Christ. The Great Doctrine of the Resurrection. The Manifestation of the Risen Lord to Paul Near Damascus. Paul's Preaching of the Suffering Christ. The Interruption of Festus and the Reply. Paul's Personal Appeal to Agrippa. The Decision That Paul Had Done Nothing Worthy of Bonds.
1. Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Not Agrippa, but Festus had the authority in the province, but this meeting was arranged in order that Agrippa might investigate the case and assist Festus in formulating the charges (see 25:26, 27); hence the king calls upon Paul to speak.
2, 3. I think myself happy, king Agrippa. Agrippa had been brought up in the Jewish religion, professed to be a steadfast Jew, was the legal guardian of the temple, and hence was well versed in all the Jewish customs. He was therefore competent to be a judge of an accusation of treason to the religion and law of their forefathers. Paul felt it a privilege to defend himself before one who was prepared to decide whether his preaching was contrary to Moses and the prophets, or, on the other hand, a fulfillment of them.
4–8. My manner of life from my youth. He appeals to his life to show that it had been consistent with the law. The Jews all knew that he had been educated and had lived a Pharisee, the strictest of Jewish sects. It was not because of a departure from the faith of his fathers that he was accused, but he was judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto the fathers. That glorious promise, running through all the Jewish Scriptures, was that the Messiah should come. For examples of the promise, see Gen. 22:18; 49:10; Deut. 18:15–19; Isa. 9:6, 7. Paul not only believed in Moses and the prophets, but believed that the promise God made to them was fulfilled. Unto which promise. This promise was the hope of Israel. The twelve tribes, in their constant, never-ceasing service of God, were simulated by the hope that they would enjoy the fulfillment of the promise. Our twelve tribes. Paul, like James (Jas. 1:1), speaks of the twelve tribes as having the same glorious hope. Since the Captivity, the tribal existence of the ten northern tribes had not been preserved, but descendants of all the tribes were mingled in the Jewish nation. Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin, John the Baptist of Levi, Joseph and Mary of Judah, Anna (Luke 2:36) of the tribe of Asher. Why should it be thought incredible with you? This hope of Israel involved the resurrection of Christ. This Moses and the prophets taught. His countrymen accepted Moses and the prophets, but denied the resurrection as a thing incredible. It was for this hope's sake, of a risen Redeemer, that he was called in question. There was no doubt much said which our record does not preserve, as we have only the outlines of addresses.
9–11. I verily thought with myself. Next, in order to show his zeal for Judaism, he describes his course as a persecutor. He was thoroughly conscientious then in opposing Christ. For his course as a persecutor, see 7:58; 9:1, 2; 22:4. I gave my voice against them. “Vote,” in the Revision. This has been held to indicate that he was a member of the Sanhedrim. This would hardly be doubted were it not that tradition declares that the members of the Sanhedrim had to be married and fathers of a family. Hence, some have held that Paul was a member of some lesser court appointed by the Sanhedrim to try the Christians. I punished them oft in every synagogue. “All the synagogues” (Revision). Scourging was a not uncommon punishment in the synagogue (Matt. 10:17; 23:34). Compelled them to blaspheme. Terrified them into denying Jesus. Even unto strange cities. Of these Damascus was one. That he was a terrible persecutor, “exceedingly mad,” raging, even fanatical cannot be doubted from his own account.
12–18. As I went to Damascus. Compare 9:1–9. This is the third account of Paul's conversion, the first being in chapter 9, and the second in 22:4–16. There are a few new details given here: (1) The over-powering glory of the Lord is specially dwelt upon here; (2) we are here told that the voice heard was in the Hebrew tongue (he was now speaking Greek to King Agrippa). This fact that he here states is remarkable. Bengel says: “The Hebrew tongue, Christ's language when on earth; his language, too, when he spoke from heaven.” It was in the Aramaic, a Hebrew dialect, that the Savior taught when on earth, and it is a significant circumstance that Paul heard his voice in the same tongue to which Peter, James and John had listened. Not only is this true, but critics hold that the Hebraisms are so prominent in the Book of Revelation as to indicate that the revelations there recorded were made in Hebrew, and afterward translated by John into Greek. See Howson on Acts, p. 546. The proverb, It is hard for thee to kick against the goad, is here added. The mission of Paul to the Gentiles is described as being a part of the Lord's communication. I have appeared for this purpose. In order that he might be a minister and a witness. It was needful that the apostle of the Gentiles should see Christ. He must be a witness that the Lord had risen. He was chosen for this work before conversion, because he was honest, deeply conscientious, and possessed the great qualities that were needful to fit him for the most important work ever assigned to man.
19–20. I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision. He could still have disobeyed. His will was free, but he could only act in good conscience by obeying Christ. He not only was baptized by Ananias in Damascus, but, after some preparation, he began to preach, first in Damascus (9:27), and then at Jerusalem, where he disputed against the Grecians (9:28, 29). Just when he preached throughout the coasts of Judea we are not informed. Hackett thinks it was when he came up with help at the time of the famine (11:30). That they should repent. He preached more than a theory; he preached a new life.
21–23. For these causes the Jews caught me. Because he obeyed and preached Christ. I continue to this day. By the divine help. That had protected him, because he was doing God's work, and he was enabled to witness to all ranks. Both to small and great. What he witnessed was only what Moses and the prophets had said should come, viz.: That Christ should suffer, rise, shew light to the people, and to the Gentiles. In these things he had the support of Moses and the prophets, and for these things he was accused. He was not at variance with Moses and the law, but preached their meaning.
24–26. Paul, thou art beside thyself. The earnestness and fervor of Paul were so strange to Festus, his doctrine of the resurrection so novel, his manner so sincere, and his testimony so startling, that the Roman could only explain it by a mental delusion. The display of such vast knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures to Agrippa convinced him that intense study resulted in derangement. It must not be forgotten that Festus had just come into his position, and knew little of Paul. I am not mad, most noble Festus. The courteous answer shows the mistake of Festus, a mistake due to his ignorance of the subject. The king knoweth. The facts that he had cited in his discourse were well known to the king, viz., the predictions of the prophets, the hope of a Messiah, the death of Jesus, and the spread of the congregations of those who believed that he was a risen Lord.
27–30. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? The king professed to believe them. Yet those very prophets, as Paul had shown, testified to all the facts of the career of Jesus of Nazareth and his claims to Messiahship. This personal appeal deeply moved the king, as his reply shows. Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. The Revision changes the translation somewhat, but I have little doubt but that the Common Version gives the idea. The king, like Felix (24:25), was deeply moved; the fact that he and Festus decided (verse 32) that Paul was not a transgressors show that they were favorably impressed; it was no occasion for an ironical answer, and Paul took the remark as in earnest, and added still another appeal. Chrysostom, Luther, Beza, Bengel and Howson take this view. Paul said, I would to God, etc. His reply is courteous, but of intense earnestness, a last effort to save souls that were deeply stirred. He would that king and governor, all, Jew and Gentile, shared his hope of a glorious inheritance, and were, like himself, at peace with God;—such as he, save these bonds. It is probable that his chains were then hanging upon his arms, and that he indicated them by a gesture.
31, 32. When they had gone aside. Retired for private conference. Their decision was that Paul had done nothing justifying his imprisonment. The accusations of the Jews were groundless. This man might have been set at liberty. His innocence was clear, but after the appeal to Cæsar, the case belonged to the higher courts, and Festus had no more power to clear than to condemn. It was God's will that Paul should be carried to Rome. There was work for him to do in the capital of the world (see 23:11).
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