Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Paul answers for himself before Agrippa, to whom he pays a true compliment, in order to secure a favorable hearing, Act 26:1-3; gives an account of his education from his youth up, Act 26:4, Act 26:5; shows that the Jews persecuted him for his maintaining the hope of the resurrection, Act 26:6-8; states his persecution of the Christians, Act 26:9-11; gives an account of his miraculous conversion, Act 26:12-16; and of his call to the ministry, Act 26:16-18. His obedience to that call, and his success in preaching the doctrine of Christ crucified, Act 26:19-23. While he is thus speaking, Festus interrupts him, and declares him to be mad through his abundant learning, Act 26:24; which charge he modestly refutes with inimitable address, and appeals to King Agrippa for the truth and correctness of his speech, Act 26:25-27. On which, Agrippa confesses himself almost converted to Christianity, Act 26:28. Paul's affectionate and elegant address to him on this declaration, Act 26:29. The council breaks up, and they all pronounce him innocent, Act 26:30-32.
Then Paul stretched forth the hand - This act, as we have already seen on Act 21:40, was merely to gain attention; it was no rhetorical flourish, nor designed for one. From knowing, partly by descriptions, and partly by ancient statues, how orators and others who address a concourse of people stood, we can easily conceive the attitude of St. Paul. When the right hand was stretched out, the left remained under the cloak, which being thrown off the right shoulder, to give the arm the fuller liberty, it then rested on the left: under these circumstances, the hand could be stretched out gracefully, but was confined to no one attitude, though the third and fourth fingers were generally clenched.
I think myself happy - As if he had said, This is a peculiarly fortunate circumstance in my favor, that I am called to make my defense before a judge so intelligent, and so well acquainted with the laws and customs of our country. It may be necessary just to observe that this Agrippa was king of Trachonitis, a region which lay on the north of Palestine, on the east side of Jordan, and south of Damascus. For his possessions, see on Act 25:13 (note).
My manner of life, etc. - The apostle means to state that, though born in Tarsus, he had a regular Jewish education, having been sent up to Jerusalem for that purpose; but at what age does not appear; probably about twelve, for at this age the male children were probably brought to the annual solemnities. See on Luk 2:41 (note).
After the most straitest sect - That is, the Pharisees; who were reputed the strictest in their doctrines, and in their moral practices, of all the sects then among the Jews. The sects were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.
For the hope of the promise - This does not appear to mean, the hope of the Messiah, as some have imagined, but the hope of the resurrection of the dead, to which the apostle referred in Act 23:6 (note), where he says to the Jewish council, (from which the Roman governor took him), of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question: see the notes there. And here he says, I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise, etc., and to which, he says, Act 26:7, the twelve tribes hope to come. The Messiah had come, and was gone again, as Paul well knew; and what is here meant is something which the Jews hoped to come to, or attain; not what was to come to them; and this singular observation excludes the Messiah from being meant. It was the resurrection of all men from the dead which Paul's words signified; and this the Jews had been taught to hope for, by many passages in the Old Testament. I shall only add, that when, in the next verse, this hope of the promise is mentioned as what the Jews did then hope, καταντηοαι, to come to, it is the very same word which Paul, in Phi 3:11, uses to express the same thing: If by any means, (says he) καταντησω, I might attain to, the resurrection of the dead. Bp. Pearce.
That God should raise the dead? - As Agrippa believed in the true God, and knew that one of his attributes was omnipotence, he could not believe that the resurrection of the dead was an impossible thing; and to this belief of his the apostle appeals; and the more especially, because the Sadducees denied the doctrine of the resurrection, though they professed to believe in the same God. Two attributes of God stood pledged to produce this resurrection: his truth, on which his promise was founded; and his power, by which the thing could be easily affected, as that power is unlimited.
Some of the best critics think this verse should be read thus: What! should it be thought a thing incredible with you, if God should raise the dead?
Many of the saints - From what is said in this verse, it seems that Paul, before his conversion, was invested with much power: he imprisoned the Christians; punished many in various synagogues; compelled them to blaspheme - to renounce, and, perhaps, to execrate Christ, in order to save their lives; and gave his voice, exerted all his influence and authority, against them, in order that they might be put to death; and from this it would seem that there were other persons put to death besides St. Stephen, though their names are not mentioned.
Being exceedingly mad against them - Only a madman will persecute another because of his differing from him in religious opinion; and the fiercest persecutor is he who should be deemed the most furious madman.
Unto strange cities - Places out of the jurisdiction of the Jews, such as Damascus, which he immediately mentions.
Whereupon as I went to Damascus - See the whole account of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus explained at large, in the notes on Act 9:2 (note), etc.
But rise, etc. - The particulars mentioned here, and in the two following verses, are not given in Act 9:1-9, nor in Act 22:6-11, where he gives an account of his conversion. He has detailed the different circumstances of that important event, as he saw it necessary; and perhaps there were several others which then took place, that he had no opportunity of mentioning, because there was nothing in succeeding occurrences which rendered it necessary to produce them.
To make thee a minister - Ὑπηρετην, An under-rower; that is, one who is under the guidance and authority of another; an assistant, or servant. So Paul was to act solely under the authority of Jesus Christ; and tug hard at the oar, in order to bring the vessel, through the tempestuous ocean, to the safe harbour. See the concluding observations on John 6 (note).
And a witness - Μαρτυρα, A martyr. Though this word literally means a witness, yet we apply it only to such persons as have borne testimony to the truth of God at the hazard and expense of their lives. In this sense, also, ancient history states St. Paul to have been a witness; for it is said he was beheaded at Rome, by the command of Nero.
In the which I will appear - Here Christ gives him to understand that he should have farther communications from himself; and this may refer either to those interpositions of Divine Providence by which he was so often rescued from destruction, or to those encouragements which he received in dreams, visions, trances, etc., or to that general inspiration under which he was enabled to apprehend and reveal the secret things of God, for the edification of the Church. To all of which may be added that astonishing power by which he was so often enabled to work miracles for the confirmation of the truth.
Delivering thee from the people - From the Jews - and from the Gentiles, put here in opposition to the Jews; and both meaning mankind at large, wheresoever the providence of God might send him. But he was to be delivered from the malice of the Jews, that he might be sent with salvation to the Gentiles.
To open their eyes - To be the instrument of informing their understanding in the things of God.
To turn them from darkness to light - From heathenism and superstition to the knowledge and worship of the true God.
From the power of Satan unto God - Της εξουσιας του Σατανα, From the authority and domination of Satan; for as the kingdom of darkness is his kingdom, so those who live in this darkness are under his dominion; and he has authority and right over them. The blessed Gospel of Christ is the means of bringing the soul from this state of spiritual darkness and wretchedness to the light and liberty of the children of God; and thus they are brought from under the power and authority of Satan, to be under the power and authority of God.
That they may receive forgiveness of sins - That all their sins may be pardoned, and their souls sanctified; for nothing less is implied in the phrase, αφεσις ἁμαρτιων, which signifies the taking away or removal of sins.
And inheritance - By remission of sins, i.e. the removal of the guilt and pollution of sin, they become children of God; and, if children, then heirs; for the children of the heavenly family shall alone possess the heavenly estate. And as the inheritance is said to be among them that are Sanctified, this is a farther proof that αφεσις ἁμαρτιων signifies, not only the forgiveness of sins, but also the purification of the heart.
By faith that is in me - By believing on Christ Jesus, as dying for their offenses, and rising again for their justification. Thus we see that not only this salvation comes through Christ, but that it is to be received by faith; and, consequently, neither by the merit of works, nor by that of suffering.
I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision - This, O Agrippa, was the cause of my conversion from my prejudices and mal-practices against the doctrine of Christ. The vision was from heaven; I received it as such, and began to preach the faith which I had before persecuted.
But showed first unto them of Damascus - He appears to have preached at Damascus, and in the neighboring parts of Arabia Deserta, for about three years; and afterwards he went up to Jerusalem. See Gal 1:17, Gal 1:18; and see the note on Act 9:23.
That they should repent - Be deeply humbled for their past iniquities, and turn to God as their Judge and Savior, avoiding all idolatry and all sin; and thus do works meet for repentance; that is, show by their conduct that they had contrite hearts, and that they sincerely sought salvation from God alone. For the meaning of the word repentance, see the note on Mat 3:2.
For these causes the Jews - went about to kill me - These causes may be reduced to four heads: -
1. He had maintained the resurrection of the dead.
2. The resurrection of Christ, whom they had crucified and slain.
3. That this Jesus was the promised Messiah.
4. He had offered salvation to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. He does not mention the accusation of having defiled the temple, nor of disloyalty to the Roman government; probably, because his adversaries had abandoned these charges at his preceding trial before Festus: see Act 25:8; and see Calmet.
Having - obtained help of God - According to the gracious promise made to him: see Act 26:17.
Witnessing both to small and great - Preaching before kings, rulers, priests, and peasants; fearing no evil, though ever surrounded with evils; nor slackening in my duty, notwithstanding the opposition I have met with both from Jews and Gentiles. And these continual interpositions of God show me that I have not mistaken my call, and encourage me to go forward in my work.
That Christ should suffer - That the Christ, or Messiah, should suffer. This, though fully revealed in the prophets, the prejudices of the Jews would not permit them to receive: they expected their Messiah to be a glorious secular prince; and, to reconcile the fifty-third of Isaiah with their system, they formed the childish notion of two Messiahs - Messiah ben David, who should reign, conquer, and triumph; and Messiah ben Ephraim, who should suffer and be put to death. A distinction which has not the smallest foundation in the whole Bible.
As the apostle says he preached none other things than those which Moses and the prophets said should come, therefore he understood that both Moses and the prophets spoke of the resurrection of the dead, as well as of the passion and resurrection of Christ. If this be so, the favourite system of a learned bishop cannot be true; viz. that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul was unknown to the ancient Jews.
That he should be the first that should rise from the dead - That is, that he should be the first who should rise from the dead so as to die no more; and to give, in his own person, the proof of the resurrection of the human body, no more to return under the empire of death. In no other sense can Jesus Christ be said to be the first that rose again from the dead; for Elisha raised the son of the Shunammite. A dead man, put into the sepulchre of the Prophet Elisha, was restored to life as soon as he touched the prophet's bones. Christ himself had raised the widow's son at Nain; and he had also raised Lazarus, and several others. All these died again; but the human nature of our Lord was raised from the dead, and can die no more. Thus he was the first who rose again from the dead to return no more into the empire of death.
And should show light unto the people - Should give the true knowledge of the law and the prophets to the Jews; for these are meant by the term people, as in Act 26:17. And to the Gentiles, who had no revelation, and who sat in the valley of the shadow of death: these also, through Christ, should be brought to the knowledge of the truth, and be made a glorious Church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. That the Messiah should be the light both of the Jews and Gentiles, the prophets had clearly foretold: see Isa 60:1 : Arise and shine, or be illuminated, for thy Light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. And again, Isa 49:6 : I will give thee for a Light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth. With such sayings as these Agrippa was well acquainted, from his education as a Jew.
Paul, thou art beside thyself - "Thou art mad, Paul!" "Thy great learning hath turned thee into a madman." As we sometimes say, thou art cracked, and thy brain is turned. By the τα πολλα γραμματα it is likely that Festus meant no more than this, that Paul had got such a vast variety of knowledge, that his brain was overcharged with it: for, in this speech, Paul makes no particular show of what we call learning; for he quotes none of their celebrated authors, as he did on other occasions; see Act 17:28. But he here spoke of spiritual things, of which Festus, as a Roman heathen, could have no conception; and this would lead him to conclude that Paul was actually deranged. This is not an uncommon case with many professing Christianity; who, when a man speaks on experimental religion, on the life of God in the soul of man - of the knowledge of salvation, by the remission of sins - of the witness of the Spirit, etc., etc., things essential to that Christianity by which the soul is saved, are ready to cry out, Thou art mad: he is an enthusiast: that is, a religious madman; one who is not worthy to be regarded; and yet, strange to tell, these very persons who thus cry out are surprised that Festus should have supposed that Paul was beside himself!
I am not mad, most noble Festus - This most sensible, appropriate, and modest answer, was the fullest proof he could give of his sound sense and discretion. The title, ΚρατιϚε, most noble, or most excellent, which he gives to Festus, shows at once that he was far above indulging any sentiment of anger or displeasure at Festus, though he had called him a madman; and it shows farther that, with the strictest conscientiousness, even an apostle may give titles of respect to men in power, which taken literally, imply much more than the persons deserve to whom they are applied. ΚρατιϚος, which implies most excellent, was merely a title which belonged to the office of Festus. St. Paul hereby acknowledges him as the governor; while, perhaps, moral excellence of any kind could with no propriety be attributed to him.
Speak forth the words of truth and soberness - Αληθειας και σωφροσυνης, Words of truth and of mental soundness. The very terms used by the apostle would at once convince Festus that he was mistaken. The σωφροσυνη of the apostle was elegantly opposed to the μανια of the governor: the one signifying mental derangement, the other mental sanity. Never was an answer, on the spur of the moment, more happily conceived.
Before whom also I speak freely - This is a farther judicious apology for himself and his discourse. As if he had said: Conscious that the king understands all these subjects well, being fully versed in the law and the prophets, I have used the utmost freedom of speech, and have mentioned the tenets of my religion in their own appropriate terms.
This thing was not done in a corner - The preaching, miracles, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, were most public and notorious; and of them Agrippa could not be ignorant; and indeed it appears, from his own answer, that he was not, but was now more fully persuaded of the truth than ever, and almost led to embrace Christianity.
Believest thou the prophets? - Having made his elegant compliment and vindication to Festus, he turns to Agrippa; and, with this strong appeal to his religious feeling, says, Believest thou the prophets? and immediately anticipates his reply, and, with great address, speaks for him, I know that thou believest. The inference from this belief necessarily was: "As thou believest the prophets, and I have proved that the prophets have spoken about Christ, as suffering and, triumphing over death, and that all they say of the Messiah has been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, then thou must acknowledge that my doctrine is true."
Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian - Εν ολιγῳ με πειθεις ΧριϚιανον γενεσθαι. This declaration was almost the necessary consequence of the apostle's reasoning, and Agrippa's faith. If he believed the prophets, see Act 26:22, Act 26:23, and believed that Paul's application of their words to Christ Jesus was correct, he must acknowledge the truth of the Christian religion; but he might choose whether he would embrace and confess this truth, or not. However, the sudden appeal to his religious faith extorts from him the declaration, Thou hast nearly persuaded me to embrace Christianity. How it could have entered into the mind of any man, who carefully considered the circumstances of the case, to suppose that these words of Agrippa are spoken ironically, is to me unaccountable. Every circumstance in the case proves them to have been the genuine effusion of a heart persuaded of the truth; and only prevented from fully acknowledging it by secular considerations.
I would to God, etc. - Ευξαιμην αν τῳ Θεῳ, και εν ολιγῳ και εν πολλῳ - So fully am I persuaded of the infinite excellence of Christianity, and so truly happy am I in possession of it, that I most ardently wish that not only thou, but this whole council, were not only almost, but altogether, such as I am, these Chains excepted. Thus, while his heart glows with affection for their best interests, he wishes that they might enjoy all his blessings, if possible, without being obliged to bear any cross on the account. His holding up his chain, which was probably now detached from the soldier's arm, and wrapped about his own, must have made a powerful impression on the minds of his audience. Indeed, it appears they could bear the scene no longer; the king was overwhelmed, and rose up instantly, and so did the rest of the council, and went immediately aside; and, after a very short conference among themselves, they unanimously pronounced him innocent; and his last word, των δεσμων, Bonds! and the action with which it was accompanied, had made such a deep impression upon their hearts that they conclude their judgment with that very identical word δεσμων. Would to God, says the apostle, that all who hear me this day were altogether such as I am, except these Bonds! The whole council say - This man hath done nothing worthy of death nor of Bonds! Δεσμων, Bonds, is echoed by them from the last words of the apostle; as we may plainly perceive that, seeing such an innocent and eminent man suffering such indignity had made a deep impression upon their hearts. Alas! why should such a man be in B-O-N-D-S!
Then said Agrippa, etc. - The king himself, who had participated in the strongest emotions on the occasion, feels himself prompted to wish the apostle's immediate liberation; but this was now rendered impracticable, because he had appealed to Caesar; the appeal was no doubt registered, and the business must now proceed to a full hearing. Bp. Pearce conjectures, with great probability, that Agrippa, on his return to Rome, represented Paul's case so favourably to the emperor, or his ministers of state, that he was soon set at liberty there, as may be concluded from Act 28:30, that he dwelt two whole years in his own hired place; and to the same cause it seems to have been owing that Julius, who had the care of Paul as a prisoner in the ship, treated him courteously; see Act 27:3, Act 27:43. And the same may be gathered from Act 28:14, Act 28:16. So that this defense of the apostle before Agrippa, Bernice, Festus, etc., was ultimately serviceable to his important cause.
1. The conversion of Saul was a wonderful work of the Spirit of God; and, as we have already seen, a strong proof of the truth of Christianity; and the apostle himself frequently appeals to it as such.
2. His mission to the Gentiles was as extraordinary as the calling of the Gentiles itself. Every thing is supernatural in a work of grace; for, because nature cannot produce the effects, the grace of God, which implies the co-operation of his omniscience, omnipotence, and endless mercy, undertakes to perform the otherwise impossible task.
3. From the commission of St. Paul, we see the state in which the Gentile world was, previously to the preaching of the Gospel.
1. Their eyes are represented as closed; their understanding was darkened; and they had no right apprehension of spiritual or eternal things.
2. They were in a state of darkness; living without the knowledge of the true God, in a region where nothing but ignorance prevailed.
3. They were under the dominion and authority of Satan; they were his vassals, and he claimed them as his right.
4. They were in a state of guiltiness; living, in almost every respect, in opposition to the dictates even of nature itself.
5. They were polluted; not only irregular and abominable in their lives, but also impure and unholy in their hearts. Thus far their state.
Behold what the grace of the Gospel is to do for these Gentiles, in order to redeem them from this state: -
1. It opens their eyes; gives them an understanding, whereby they may discern the truth; and, without this illumination from above, the truth of God can never be properly apprehended.
2. It turns them from the darkness to the light; a fine metaphor, taken from the act of a blind man, who is continually turning his eyes towards the light, and rolling his eyes upwards towards the sun, and in all directions, that he may collect as many of the scattered rays as he can, in order to form distinct vision. In this way the Gentiles appeared to be, in vain, searching after the light, till the Gospel came, and turned their eyes to the Sun of righteousness.
3. They are brought from under the bondage and slavery of sin and Satan, to be put under the obedience of Jesus Christ. So that Christ and his grace as truly and as fully rule and govern them as sin and Satan did formerly. This is a proof that the change is not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord.
4. He pardons their sin, so that they are no longer liable to endless perdition.
5. He sanctifies their nature, so that they are capable of loving and serving him fervently with pure hearts; and are thus rendered fit for the enjoyment of the inheritance among the saints in light.
Such a salvation, from such a bondage, does the Gospel of Christ offer to the Gentiles - to a lost world. It is with extreme difficulty that any person can be persuaded that he needs a similar work of grace on his heart to that which was necessary for the conversion of the Gentiles. We may rest assured that no man is a Christian merely by birth or education. If Christianity implies the life of God in the soul of man - the remission of sins - the thorough purification of the heart, producing that holiness without which none can see the Lord, then it is evident that God alone can do this work, and that neither birth nor education can bestow it. By birth, every man is sinful; by practice, every man is a transgressor; for all have sinned. God alone, by faith in Christ Jesus, can save the sinner from his sins. Reader, has God saved thee from this state of wretchedness, and brought thee "into the glorious liberty of his children?" Let thy conscience answer for itself.