Paul Before Agrippa Part 1 of 6 (series: Lessons on Acts)
by John Lowe
July 31, 2016
The Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe
Lesson: IV.F.5: Paul Before Agrippa (Acts 26:1-32)
1 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:
With regard to both its form and its content, we have here the high point of the speeches of Acts. It is the most polished of all the speeches, adorned with rare words and marked by an elaborate, even grandiose, style. The credit for this must go largely to Luke and yet Paul still makes himself heard. As for content—at Antioch, we had his gospel for Jews (13:16-41), at Miletus his message for Christians (20:18-35), but here we have his Good News for all the world, proclaimed out of his own experience of God’s grace.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. As guest of honor, it fell to Agrippa to invite Paul to speak, and it was to him especially that Paul addressed his remarks (2, 13, 19, 27).
Having received Agrippa’s permission to speak, Paul acknowledged it with a 3hand salute, one that showed his respect and recognition of Agrippa’s rank. He gave the man his title, too—“king.” Paul was a great believer in respecting constituted authority and in rendering honor where honor was due (Romans 13:1-7). A man holding the position might be a scoundrel and his private life a scandal, but Paul acknowledged the office and recognized that “the powers that be are ordained of God.” Insolence toward those in authority, civil disobedience, and disrespect toward governing officials were as foreign to Paul as they are to the Bible.
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.
“Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews.” This is the third time Paul’s conversion experience is recorded in the book of Acts, which gives us some idea of the importance attached to it by the Holy Spirit. It is the second time Paul himself tells the story. His testimony is not as much from the heart as it is carefully reasoned. Paul begins by speaking of his countrymen (Jews), and then talks about his conversion, and finishes up with his cause. He was pleased to be able to state his case to such an imposing group, so he probably had spent lots of time in prayer and preparation.
He explains why he was particularly pleased to be able to state his case to King Agrippa. Of all the high officials residing in the country, nobody knew better than the king the history, principals, and passions that motivated the Jewish people. Paul described Agrippa as an expert on those matters. Of all government officials in the country, Agrippa could be expected to appreciate that Israel’s messianic hope had found its answer in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that the message Paul preached (no matter how hostile entrenched official opposition might be) was no strange cultish aberration but the consummation of Israel’s noblest and most deeply embedded ideals. Luke again emphasizes that Christianity is to be judged not as a new religion but as a particular community within Judaism (9:1-19; 18:13; 21:39; 23:6; 24:5, 14). Festus might not be able to understand that, but Agrippa could.
“Wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.” Paul did not promise to be brief. The occasion was too important for some hop, skip, and jump approach. The king and the court needed to know the deep issues involved in the gospel message that had caused such a stir among the Jews. Paul, therefore, pleaded for the king to be patient.
No doubt what we have here in acts 26 is Luke’s summary of Paul’s actual speech, which in all probability was considerably longer at the time it was given.
4 My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;
Paul begins the third narration of his conversion with the words, “My manner of life from my youth.” Evidently, the young Saul of Tarsus had made a name for himself in Jerusalem even as a youth, long before he had become famous in other ways. He had made his mark. In the first place, he had come from a well-to-do and influential family. As a disciple of Gamaliel, he had attended the most prestigious rabbinical college in the world of his day, and there his natural talents, intellectual abilities, his courage, independence, force of character, and personal charm made their irrefutable mark. It would not take a person like Paul long to be taken note of as a young man of promise. Like his new-found Master and Lord, Saul of Tarsus as a youth, in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions (Luke 2:46), would doubtless cause all who heard him to be astonished at his understanding and answers.
So, one way or another, everyone knew who he was. Paul assumed that his past was known to the Jews, but for the sake of his present audience, he touched briefly on its most important points. He had been brought up in his own country; literally among his own “nation.” This might have been a reference to Tarsus, but in view of 422:3, is more likely to have meant Judea, with “at Jerusalem” adding a more precise definition. He had lived as a Pharisee, the strictest sect of the Jewish religion (26:5). His purpose for stating this was to establish his credentials as a Jew (which was clearly impeccable) and then to suggest that there was no disharmony between his Jewish upbringing and his present Christian belief.
5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
When writing from Rome to his friends at Philippi, Paul gave his own summary of what that meant. He said, “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, and Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisees; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6). Everyone knew he was a “Pharisee,” the kind of Pharisee who went up to the temple to pray and who “stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give ties of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12). Everyone who knew Paul, knew this about him, he was a committed Pharisee (See Matthew 23 for a description of the Pharisee.).
“After the most straitest (straightest) sect of our religion I lived a Pharisees,” said Paul, and to that he might add “for a long time.” He was a well-respected Pharisee, and like Nicodemus, he was a master in Israel but lived in total ignorance of his need to be born again. Everyone knew what he was. He had won the approval of the most stringent religious sect of his day. He had been a committed Jew, Judaistic to the core.
6 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.
In other words, his accusation was no accusation at all. All 12 tribes of Israel were united in having a distinctive hope that set them apart from all mankind. The word Paul used for the “12 tribes” is used only here and it is in the singular, which shows that Paul regarded the 12 tribes as one nation.
And what was that great hope that so distinguished the Jewish people, the hope that was intended to make Jews a nation of missionaries to all other nations? It was the hope, preserved in their sacred Scriptures, that God would send a Savior into the world to redeem people from the power, penalty, and presence of sin. Again Luke emphasizes the continuity between Judaism and Christianity (Luke 1:5-23; 28:21-52). The reference to the 12 tribes also evokes the hope of Israel that included the restoration of the 5“lost tribes."
Israel’s hope, the world’s hope, lay in the promise of a coming Kinsman-Redeemer to be mankind’s Savior and Lord. In the New Testament the word hope is picked up, magnified, and centered in the Lord Jesus, whose second coming is now the “blessed hope” of the church “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13)..
The great hope of Israel had come. That is the point Paul now makes. Jesus had been born in Bethlehem as foretold. He had fulfilled the Scriptures. He had been betrayed and crucified and buried. He had risen again—all as foretold. He was God over all, blessed for evermore.