J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on ActsActs 26
Festus having stated the case, and the assembly being
in waiting, the king assumed the presidency of the assembly.
"Then Agrippa said to Paul, You are permitted to speak for yourself.
Then Paul stretched forth his hand, and offered his defense:
(2) I think
myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall defend myself this day before
you, touching all the things of which I am accused by the Jews;
(3) especially as you are acquainted with all the customs and questions
among the Jews. Wherefore, I beseech you to hear me patiently."
must have been his left hand which he stretched forth as he began
this exordium, for his right was chained to the soldier who guarded
The compliment to Agrippa for his acquaintance with Jewish
customs and controversies was not
undeserved. [Life and Ep., vol. 2, p. 294.]
It afforded Paul unfeigned
gratification to know, that, after so many efforts to make himself
understood by such men as Lysias, Felix, and Festus, he was at
length in the presence of one who could fully understand and appreciate
After the exordium, he proceeds to state, first, his original position
among the Jews, and to show that he was still true to the chief
doctrine which he then taught.
(4) "My manner of life from my youth,
which was from the beginning among my own nation in Jerusalem, all the
(5) who knew me from the beginning, if they were willing to
testify, that, according to the strictest sect of our religion, I
lived a Pharisee.
(6) Even now, it is for the hope of the promise made by God to
the fathers, that I stand here to be judged;
(7) to which promise our
twelve tribes, by earnest worshiping night and day, hope to attain. Concerning
this hope, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews.
Is it judged a thing incredible among you, that God should raise the
The Pharisees were the least likely of all the Jewish sects to
be unfaithful to Jewish institutions. It was, therefore, much in Paul's
favor that he was able to call even his enemies to witness that from
his youth he had lived in the strict discipline of that sect. It was yet
more so, to say that he was still a firm believer in the leading doctrine
of the party, and to reiterate the assertion made on two former
occasions, that it was on account of the hope of a resurrection that
he was accused. [Before the Sanhedrim and before Felix.]
This was not the avowed cause, but it was the real
cause of their accusations; for the assumptions that Christ had risen
from the dead was the ground-work of all Jewish opposition and persecution.
He interprets the promise made by God to the fathers, by
which he doubtless means the promise, "In thee and in thy seed shall
all the families of the earth be blessed,"
as referring to the resurrection,
because that is the consummation of all the blessings of the gospel.
He exposes the inconsistency of his enemies by observing, that
it was even Jews who were accusing him of crime in demonstrating
this great hope so cherished by the twelve tribes. Then, turning from
Agrippa to the whole
multitude. [Observe the plural number of the pronoun "you."26:8.]
he asks, with an air of astonishment,
if they really deem it an incredible thing that God should raise the
dead. If not, why should he be accused of crime for declaring that
it had been done?
To still further illustrate his former standing among the Pharisees,
he describes his original relation toward the cause of Christ.
(9) "I thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to
the name of Jesus, the Nazarene,
(10) which I also did in Jerusalem.
Many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the
high priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my vote against them.
(11) And in all the synagogues I punished them often, compelling them
to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them
even to foreign cities."
With such a record as this, there was no room
to suspect him of any such bias as would render him an easy or a
willing convert to Christ. On the contrary, it must have appeared to
Agrippa, and the whole audience, most astonishing that such a change
could take place. Their curiosity to know what produced the change
must have been intense, and he proceeds to gratify it.
(12) "Whereupon, as I was going to Damascus, with authority
and commission from the high priests,
(13) at midday, O King, I saw in
the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining
around me and those who were journeying with me.
(14) And when we
had all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking to me, and saying, in
the Hebrew dialect, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard
for you to kick against the goads.
(15) And I said, Who art thou, Lord?
And he said, I am Jesus, whom you persecute.
(16) But rise and stand
upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to choose
you for a minister and a witness of the things which you have seen, and
of those in which I will appear to you;
(17) delivering you from the people
and the Gentiles, to whom I now send you
(18) to open their eyes, to
turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that
they may receive remission of sins, and inheritance among the sanctified by
faith in me."
On the supposition that Paul here spoke the truth,
Agrippa saw that no prophet of old, not even Moses himself, had a
more authoritative or unquestionable commission than he. Moreover,
the same facts, it true, demonstrated, irresistible, the resurrection and
glorification of Jesus. As to the truth of the narrative, its essential
features consisted in facts about which Paul could not be mistaken,
and his unparalleled suffering, for more than twenty years, together
with the chain even now upon his arm, bore incontestable evidence of
his sincerity. But being an honest witness, and the facts such that he
could not be mistaken, the facts themselves must be real. It is difficult
to conceive what stronger evidence the audience could have had
in favor of Jesus, or what more triumphant vindication of the change
which had taken place in Paul.
By these facts the speaker proceeds to justify his change of
position, and his subsequent career.
(19) "Whereupon, King Agrippa,
I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision;
(20) but announced, first to
those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem, and in all the country of Judea,
and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works
suitable to repentance.
(21) On account of these things the Jews seized
me in the temple, and attempted to kill me."
This is a more detailed
statement of the cause of Jewish enmity, which had been more briefly
expressed by the statement that it was concerning the hope of the resurrection
that he was accused.
Verses 22, 23
That the Jews had not succeeded, with all their mobs, and
conspiracies, and corruption of rulers, in destroying his life, was a matter
of astonishment, and Agrippa might well admit that it was owing
to the protecting providence of God.
(22) "Having, however, obtained
help from God, I have stood until this day, testifying both to small and
great, saying nothing else than those things which Moses and the prophets
did say should be,
(23) that the Christ should suffer, and that he first, by
his resurrection from the dead, should show light to the people and to the
Here he assumes that, instead of dishonoring Moses, he and
his brethren alone were teaching the things which both Moses and the
prophets had foretold; that it was required, by their writings, that the
Messiah should suffer and rise from the dead.
By the statement that Christ first showed light to the people and
the Gentiles by his resurrection, he must mean that he was the first to
bring the subject into clear light, by an actual resurrection to glory;
for there had already been some light upon it, as is proved by Paul's
previous statement in reference to the hope to which the twelve tribes
had been, in all their worship, seeking to attain.
At this point in his speech, Paul was interrupted by Festus. It
was a very strange speech in the ears of that dissolute heathen. It
presented to him a man who from his youth had lived in strict
devotion to a religion whose chief characteristic was the hope of a
from the dead; who had once persecuted to death his present
friends, but had been induced to change his course by a vision from
heaven; and who, from that moment, had been enduring stripes, imprisonment,
and constant exposure to death, in his efforts to inspire
men with his own hope of a resurrection. Such a career he could
not reconcile with those maxims of ease or of ambition which he regarded
as the highest rule of life. Moreover, he saw this strange
man, when called to answer to accusations of crime, appear to forget
himself, and attempt to convert his judges rather than to defend himself.
There was a magnanimity of soul displayed in both the past
and the present of his career, which was above the comprehension of
the sensuous politician, and which he could not reconcile with sound
reason. He seems to have forgotten where he was, and the decorum
of the occasion, so deeply was he absorbed in listening to and thinking
(24) "And as he offered these things in his defense, Festus
cried, with a loud voice, Paul, you are beside yourself. Much learning has
made you mad."
Paul saw at once, from the tone and manner of Festus, as well
as from the admission of his great learning, that the charge of insanity
was not intended as an insult; but that it was the sudden outburst of
a conviction which had just seized the mind of the perplexed and
astonished governor. His answer, therefore, was most respectful.
"But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth words
of truth and soberness."
He saw, however, that Festus was beyond the
reach of conviction; for a man who could see in the foregoing portion
of this speech only the ravings of a madman, could not easily be
reached by the argument, or touched by the pathos of the gospel.
Verses 26, 27
In Agrippa Paul had a very different hearer. His Jewish
education enabled him to appreciate Paul's arguments, and to see repeated,
in that noble self-sacrifice which was an enigma to Festus, the
heroism of the old prophets. As Paul turned away from Festus and
fixed his eye upon the king, he saw the advantage which he had over
his feelings, and determined to press it to the utmost. He continues:
(26) "For the king understands concerning these things, to whom also I
speak with freedom: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden
from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe."
With matchless skill the apostle had brought his proofs to bear
upon his principal hearer, and with the boldness which only those can
feel who are determined upon success, he pressed this direct appeal so
unexpectedly, that the king, like Festus, was surprised into a full expression
of his feelings.
(28) "Then Agrippa said to Paul, You almost
persuade me to be a Christian."
Under ordinary circumstances, such
a confession would have struck the auditory with astonishment. But
under the force of Paul's speech, there could not have been a generous
soul present that did not sympathize with Agrippa's sentiment.
Paul's reply, for propriety of wording and magnanimity of sentiment,
is not excelled in all the records of extemporaneous response:
(29) "And Paul said, I could pray to God, that not only you, but all who
hear me this day, were both almost and
altogether [The majority of recent critics condemn the rendering ofen oligo in Agrippa's remark, and Paul's response, byalmost, and of en pollo by altogether; andrender the two thus: "In alittle time you persuade me to become a Christian." "I couldpray to God, that both in a little and in much time, you weresuch as I am," etc. (Hackett.) They understand Agrippa as speakingironically, and twitting Paul for supposing him to be an easy convert.It must be admitted that the usage of these two Greek phrases isfavorable to this rendering; but Bloomfield shows that they do not necessarily require it. On the other hand, the rendering proposed involves Paul's reply in an inconsistency of phraseology: for how could Agrippa become such as he both in a little time and in much time? If, to avoid this difficulty, we render, with Conybeare (Life and Ep. in loco.),"whether soon or late," we force the conjunctionkai into a sense which is not authorized. It must beadmitted that there are philological difficulties in both the common version of the passage, and all that are proposed as substitutes, and it is not easy to decide in which the difficulties are the greatest. But I think the connection of thought and of circumstances are clearly such as I have represented above, and this determines me in favor of the common version.]
such as I am, except
It was not till he came to express a good wish for his
hearers and his jailers, a wish for that blessedness which he himself
enjoyed, that he seemed to think again of himself, and remember that
he was in chains.
The course of remark and the feeling of the audience had
now reached that painful crisis in which it was necessary either to
yield at once to the power of persuasion, or to break up the interview.
Unfortunately for the audience, and especially for Agrippa, the latter
alternative was chosen. The heart that beats beneath a royal robe is
too deeply encased in worldly cares to often or seriously entertain the
claims of such a religion as that of Jesus. A spurious religion, which
shifts its demands to suit the rank of its devotees, has been acceptable
to the great men of the nations, because it helps to soothe an aching
conscience, and is often useful in controlling the ignorant masses; but
men of rank and power are seldom willing to become altogether such
as the Apostle Paul. They turn away from too close a pressure
of the truth, as did Paul's royal auditory.
(30) "When he had said
these things, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and those
seated with them;
(31) and when they had gone aside, they conversed with
one another, saying, This man had done nothing worthy of death or of
(32) And Agrippa said to Festus, This man might have been set
at liberty, if he had not appealed to Cæsar."
The decision that he had
done nothing worthy of death or of bonds was the judgment of the
whole company, while Agrippa went further, and said that he ought,
by right, to be set at liberty. If Festus had decided thus honestly before
Paul had made his appeal, he would have been released; but as the
appeal had now been made, to Cæsar he must go. Whether Festus
now knew any better than before what to write to Cæsar, Luke leaves
to the imagination of the reader.