Acts: Chapter 26
Let’s begin by reading (Acts 26:1-11).
(Verses 1-3) “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: (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: (3) 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.”
Continuing and recapping from Acts Ch. 25, which flows into this chapter (chapters and verses are later man-made additions to the Bible), Paul is about to speak in an “auditorium” filled with “commanders and prominent men of the city” (Acts 25:23), including Governor Festus, King Agrippa II, and his sister Bernice. Festus has called this meeting (it is not a trial) for two main reasons: 1. Agrippa had heard about Paul, and wanted to meet him (Acts 25:22), 2. Paul had appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11), and Festus was required to send a letter with Paul to Caesar explaining the charges against him. Festus was unsure of what to say in the letter, so he (as a Gentile) was hoping that Agrippa, as an “expert in Jewish customs and questions” could “examine” Paul, and help him understand what Jewish laws Paul was breaking (Acts 25:26-27).
“Agrippa said to Paul, Thou art permitted to speak” – Agrippa, being a “king,” had a higher position than Festus, who was a “governor.” Therefore, it appears that Agrippa was running this meeting. (More details on Agrippa in the previous study: Acts 25:13.) Josephus, in (Antiquities xx. Ch. 1. verse 3), says Agrippa had “authority over the temple, and the money of the sacred treasure, and the choice of the High Priests.”
“Paul stretched forth his hand” – Stretching forth his hand, which was likely chained (v. 29)(Acts 12:6), Paul may have been doing something similar to what was done in (Acts 12:17, 13:16, 19:33, 21:40 – Gr. kataseio), where a signal was made with the hand to ask for quiet, and the people’s attention.
(From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “This was the usual posture of orators or public speakers. The ancient statues are commonly made in this way, with the right hand extended. The dress of the ancients favored this. The long and loose robe, or outer garment, was fastened usually with a hook or clasp on the right shoulder, and thus left the arm at full liberty.”
“I think myself happy… because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews” – (From the “Expositor’s Greek Testament”) – “he (Paul) should have feared being tried in the presence of one who knew all the facts; but this is a mark of a clear conscience, not to shrink from a judge who has an accurate knowledge of the circumstances, but even to rejoice and to call himself happy,” Chrys., Hom., lii.”
(Verses 4-5)(NASB) “So then, all Jews know my way of life since my youth, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and in Jerusalem, (5) since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.”
“from the beginning was spent among my own nation and in Jerusalem” – As we first mentioned in (Acts 22:3), “While born in Tarsus, Paul must have moved away from Tarsus to Jerusalem at a fairly early age, perhaps to be taught at the feet of Gamaliel.”
“all Jews know my way of life since my youth” – (From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “It is not at all improbable that Paul was distinguished in the school of Gamaliel for zeal in the Jewish religion. The fact that he was early entrusted with a commission against the Christians Acts 9 shows that he was known.”
“If they are willing to testify” – (From the “Benson Commentary”) – “But they would not, for they well knew what weight his former life must add to his present testimony.” This phrase would seem to indicate that there were Jews in the present gathering who knew what Paul was like before he became a Christian.
“I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion” – A few parallel verses:
(Gal 1:14)(NKJV) “And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”
(Phil 3:4-6) “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: (5) Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; (6) Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
Can you explain the meaning of anything in these parallel verses?
(Verses 6-8) “And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God, unto our fathers: (7) 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. (8) Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?”
“hope of the promise made of God, unto our fathers” – (From the “Believer’s Bible Commentary”) – “The flow of Paul’s argument here seems to be as follows: In the OT God made various covenants with the leaders of Israel, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon. The principal covenant had to do with the promise of the Messiah, His coming to deliver the nation of Israel and to reign over the earth. The patriarchs of the OT died without seeing the fulfillment of this promise. Does that mean that God would not carry out the terms of the covenants? He would most assuredly do so! But how could He do it when the fathers were already dead? The answer is, “By raising them from the dead.” Thus, in a very direct way, the apostle links the promises made to the OT saints with the resurrection of the dead.”
And, (From the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible”) – “Paul was not being judged because he had done something wrong. He had not turned against his own Jewish heritage. Instead he fervently believed in the promises God made to the nation Israel: the promise of a coming Messiah and the reestablishment of the kingdom of God. Paul did not reject the hope of salvation for Israel. Instead he saw that hope fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead confirmed to Paul that all believers would be raised from the dead to enjoy the blessings of the promised kingdom of God.”
Here are some Old Testament verses which prophesied the coming Messiah: (Gen 3:15)(Gen 12:2-3)(Gen 49:8-12)(Num 24:15-19)(Deut 18:15-18)(Ps 78:2)(Isa 7:14)(Isa 53:3)(Mic 5:2)(Zech 9:9).
As we previously mentioned in (Acts 24:15), quoting from the (“MacArthur Study Bible”) “The great hope of the Jewish people was the resurrection (Job 19:25-27; Dan. 12:2).” And, John Gill said, “The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is one of their (the Jews) thirteen articles of faith, and is a fundamental one, which he that does not believe, cannot be said to be of the Jewish religion.”
(Verses 9-11) “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. (10) 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. (11) And I punished them oft(en) in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange (foreign) cities.”
“that I ought to do” – (From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “That I was bound, or that it was a duty incumbent on me. – “I thought that I owed it to my country, to my religion, and to my God, to oppose in every manner the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah.” We here see that Paul was conscientious, and that a man may be conscientious even when engaged in enormous wickedness. It is no evidence that one is right because he is conscientious. No small part of the crimes against human laws, and almost all the cruel persecutions against Christians, have been carried on under the plea of conscience. Paul here refers to his conscientiousness in persecution to show that it was no slight matter which could have changed his course.”
“saints” – All believers in Christ are called “saints” (Acts 9:32,41)(Rom 1:7)(Rom 8:27)(Rom 12:13)(1 Cor 6:1-2)(Eph 4:11-12)(Heb 6:10). (***Note: The word “saints” [plural] is used 60 times in the NT, but “saint” [singular] is used only once.)
“I shut up in prison” – (see: Acts 8:3, Acts 22:19)
“I gave my voice” (“I cast my vote” – NKJV) (From the “MacArthur Study Bible”) – “Lit. “I threw my pebble” – a reference to the ancient custom of recording votes by means of colored pebbles. This verse may also indicate that Paul had once been a member of the Sanhedrin.”
Sharing another view, the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible” says, “Some have concluded that Paul must have been a member of the Sanhedrin at some time, since he mentions casting a vote. However, Paul was probably too young to belong to such a body of aged men or elders. Paul may have been the Sanhedrin’s chief prosecutor, urging a verdict of guilty against those Christians he hunted down in the course of his campaign of persecution.”
***Note: There is nowhere in Scripture which says that “Paul” himself was “killing Christians.”
“punished… in every synagogue” – Jesus prophesied that this would happen: (Mt 10:17)(Mt 23:34)(Mk 13:9)(Lk 12:11)(Lk 21:12).
“being exceedingly mad against them” – Paul later says this about himself during this time: (1 Tim 1:13)(NASB) “even though I was previously a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief.”
“compelled to blaspheme” – (From the “Liberty Bible Commentary”) – “A better translation would be “tried to make them blaspheme.” The tense of the Greek word indicates that Paul failed in his attempt to bring them to blasphemy, an experience which certainly would have left a marked impression upon the young Jewish inquisitor.” It is likely that “blaspheme” here primarily means that Paul was trying to get them to renounce their faith in Christ. He may also have tried to get them to “curse” Jesus.
Next, let’s read (Acts 26:12-23).
(Verses 12-14) “Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, (13) 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. (14) 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 (goads).