Paul delivers a speech before Agrippa and Festus, in Caesarea. Paul recounts his testimony on the road to Damascus. Festus reacts and calls him crazy. Does Paul want to convert him? Agrippa and Festus conclude that Paul is innocent, but he had appealed to Caesar, so the trials go on.
As I write in every introduction:
The translation and commentary are mine, just so I can learn. I also offer quick word studies. If you would like to see the verses in many translations, please go to biblegateway.com. And if you would like to study Greek with a short lexicon, go to biblehub.com, and click on the interlinear tab.
At the end of each passage and this post, I offer observations for discipleship. How can we apply these truths to our lives?
Links are provided for further study.
Agrippa’s Invitation and Paul’s Opening (Acts 26:1-3)
1 Agrippa said to Paul, “It is permitted to you to speak for yourself.” Then Paul extended his hand and began his defense. 2 “Regarding everything of which I am accused by the Jews, King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate that I am about to give my defense to you today, 3 particularly since you are knowledgeable about everything touching the customs and disputed points by Jews. Therefore I ask for your patience to listen to me.
Agrippa uses good Greek, which I translated literally. Other translations just have “You have permission” (NIV) or “you are permitted to speak” (NAS).
Commentators all agree that Paul’s Greek is also advanced, indicating his education (v. 24).
“extended”: this was not a gesture to quiet the crowd, as would happen in the open air. Rather, it was a gesture of respect for the august leaders gathered there. Don’t be afraid to show respect for people in authority—a good lesson for me.
Paul was the right man for these trials. (1) He was a Roman citizen. (2) He knew Greek fluently. (3) He probably knew some Latin. (3) He was born in Tarsus, Cilicia, which was a cultural center, where he could get good education. (4) He knew Hebrew and Aramaic and could therefore withstand the attacks from the Jerusalem establishment. (5) He was raised, spiritually, in Jerusalem and knew temple Judaism and other parts of the Torah. (6) He was brilliant and could put together some deep thoughts and strong arguments, by God’s wisdom and the Spirit’s power, in his public speaking. (7) He had a successful track record of seeing God works miracles through him, to confirm the gospel. (8) He often debated with pagan Greeks and devout Jews, so he was a trained and expert public speaker in a hostile environment. He had written out his thoughts in his letters. Writing is important to clarify one’s mind. (9) He often exposited Scripture in public, so he knew the arguments for the Messiahship of Jesus and the counter-arguments and could refute the counter-arguments. (10) Most importantly, he had a radical transformation on the Road to Damascus. He saw the risen and vindicated Jesus. (11) Jesus gave him apostolic authority.
You can google Agrippa II online and find out about how he acquired his knowledge of Judaism. “knowledgeable” could be translated as “expert.”
“patience”: it could be translated as “longspirited,” for the first half is makro-, which means “long” or “big,” and the second half of the word is thum– (pronounced thoom), and in really old Greek, long before the NT was written, it meant the heroic spirit and heart of a Greek warrior. Paul was not going to condense his speech this time, as he did before Felix (Acts 24:10-21). However, we will never know for sure that we have heard everything Paul said, even though I get the impression that Luke was there in the hall or got the speech from someone who was there, immediately afterwards.
GrowApp for Acts 26:1-3
A.. In v. 1, I listed Paul’s qualifications to go through these trials. You do not have his qualifications, but God has still equipped you, tailored just for you. What are your own giftings to sustain you through trials? Do you have a story of how God changed your life?
Hope of Promised Resurrection (Acts 26:4-23)
4 “And so all the Jews know my way of life from youth which I had from the beginning among my people and in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time back, if they wish to attest to this, that according to the strictest faction of our religious practice I lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now for the hope of the promise made by God to our forefathers I stand on trial. 7 For this promise our twelve tribes earnestly serve night and day and hope to attain it. Concerning this hope, king, I am accused by the Jews. 8 Why is it judged nonbelievable by you that God raises the dead?
9 “And so then I thought myself obligated to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth, 10 which I did in Jerusalem; and I locked up many of God’s sanctified people in prison, after receiving authority from the chief priests. I also voted that they be put to death. 11 And in every synagogue I often punished them and tried to force them to blaspheme. Being extremely enraged, I persecuted them even in foreign cities.
12 “In these circumstances, I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13 in the middle of the day along the road, king, I saw from heaven a light brighter than the sun, shining around me and those traveling with me. 14 After all of us were knocked to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is difficult for you to kick against the goads!’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand to your feet! For this reason I appeared to you, to select you to be a servant and witness to the things you see about me and of the things I shall show you, 17 rescuing you from the Jewish people and the Gentiles, to whom I shall send you, 18 to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and from the authority of Satan to God, so they might receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those sanctified by faith, which is in me.
19 From then on, King Agrippa, I have not been disobedient to the heavenly vision. 20 Instead, first to those in Damascus and also in Jerusalem, and throughout Judea, and among the Gentiles I have announced repentance and turning to God and doing works worthy of repentance. 21 For these things the Jews arrested me in the temple and tried to kill me.
22 “Therefore, when I obtained help from God to this very day, I have stood testifying both to the small and great. Nothing I have been saying is outside of what both the prophets and Moses have spoken of what was going to happen: 23 that the Messiah must suffer, be the first of the resurrection of the dead, and he was going to proclaim light to his own people and the Gentiles.”
Paul got his early education in Tarsus, Cilicia in southern Asia Minor (now Turkey), where he learned classical Greek, as we see in the Greek for know in v. 4. Please don’t skip over or sneer at a good education (“Thank God I didn’t go to cemetery—I mean seminary!”). Yes, sometimes seminary can squeeze the life right out of you, but you can survive a good seminary. Nowadays they online courses. But you have to have the discipline to read books. Do you? In addition to the Spirit’s power moving in him, Paul was deeply and highly educated. Both the Spirit’s charismatic power in your ministry and your extended education will make your ministry last.
“have known” is really “foreknown” in Greek, and maybe it is best to translate it “previously knew me” or “have previously known me”
“Pharisee”: for what they believe, go back to Acts 23:8. You can google information about them online.
These verses in the OT the restoration of Israel in terms of the resurrection:
“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
2 After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence. (Hos. 6:1-2, NIV)
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’” (Ezek. 37:11-14, NIV)
8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken. (Is. 25:8, NIV)
But your dead will live, Lord;
their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust
wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead. (Is. 26:19, NIV)
“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Dan. 12:1-2, NIV)
Only Jesus the Messiah can fulfill those verses, and he did with his own resurrection and ascension. Now his light is going to all the world, both to Jews and Gentiles.
Next, these verses proclaim the renewed Davidic kingdom promised to Israel, which is eternal and free from corruption:
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. (Is. 9:6-7, NIV)
11 In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush,[b] from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean.
12 He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth. (Is. 11:11-12, NIV)
5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David[a] a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
6 In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior. (Jer. 23:5-6, NIV)
24 “‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’” (Ezek. 37:24-28, NIV)
Likewise, on Jesus the Messiah can fulfill those verses, beginning with his resurrection and ascension and then at his Second Coming, when everything will be put right.
The noun is elpis (pronounced ehl-peace and used 53 times). The verb hope is elpizō, (pronounced ehl-pee-zoh and used 31 times), and “The most important sense of this verb is the firm conviction that because of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, we can have confidence as we face the future … The sense of confident expectation is used when the NT writers speak about hoping in God” (Mounce, p. 340). For the noun: “The majority of the NT writers invest elpis, “hope,” with the nuance of ‘confident expectation,’ or ‘solid assurance’” (ibid). For this hope see Acts 23:6; 24:15; 28:20.
“forefathers”: it may be limited to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but why not Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon, and any other number of believers? They showed the way for us in how to respond to God and his ways. They had relationships with him.
“promise”: it is the noun epanggelia (pronounced eh-pong-geh-lee-ah), and it is used 52 times in the NT (and our word angel¸ meaning ‘messenger,’ is in it).
Let’s study this word more closely.
It primarily means that promises made to the patriarchs recorded in the OT are now fulfilled in Yeshua ha-Meshiach or Jesus the Messiah (here and Acts 7:17). Abraham was promised many descendants (Gal. 3:14-29). David received the promise of a special descendant fulfilled in Jesus (Acts 13:22-23). Paul goes on to say the Jesus’s resurrection is proof of the good news that he preaches (Acts 13:32-33). John proclaims that the promise is connected to eternal life—which is begun to be lived down here and then never ending in heaven (1 John 2:25). All the promises in the OT are ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20).
Another use of promise in the NT is the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Luke 24:49, Jesus tells the disciples that he is sending the “promise of the Father” to them (Acts 1:4). And it is fulfilled in Acts 2:1-4, where the Holy Spirit descends on the 120 in the upper room. Peter tells his audience that this is the promise of the Father (Acts 2:33). Paul links the promise of the Holy Spirit to the blessing of Abraham (Gal. 3:14). And believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit of the promise (Eph. 1:13).
Still another use of the word promise is that it forms the foundation of righteous living. Paul appeals for purity on God’s promises (2 Cor. 7:1). Children are told to honor their parents because the Fifth Commandment has a promise in it (Eph. 6:2; Exod. 20:12). Paul writes to Timothy that godliness is profitable both in this life and the next because of the promise of life (1 Tim. 4:8). The author of Hebrews encourages believers to persevere (hang in there) because of God’s promises (Heb. 4:1; 10:36). Don’t doubt, Peter says, that God will keep his promise of the second coming, even though some mock (2 Pet. 3:4, 9) (Mounce, pp. 541-42).
“serve”: it is the verb latreuō (pronounced lah-true-oh), and it is related to serving, which can encompass worship (Acts 7:7, 42). But sometimes it is best to translate it as serving (Acts 24:14; 26:7). It is optional—up to you. Interpret it both ways: worship and serve. Jews had morning and evening sacrifices. They prayed during those times (and no doubt at other times as well).
“promise”: we just discussed this noun in v. 6.
“hope”: see v. 6 for a deeper look.
Paul finally tells his audience what the hope is. He had been building up to it: the resurrection.
The Greek adjective for “nonbelievable” is apistos, and the a– in front is the negation, while the stem pist– (pronounced peaced). Most translations are right to have “incredible,” which really just means “nonbelievable.” Paul is saying to all of the audience, who believed in some divine being or beings that God can do anything, so it should not surprise them that he can raise dead people back to life, with just a “blink” or a “whisper.” It is no struggle for him.
Here are the basics about resurrection in the New Testament:
1.. It was prophesied in the OT (Ps. 16:3-11; Is. 55:3; Jnh. 1:17)
2.. Jesus predicted it before his death (Mark 8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:33-34; John 2:19-22)
3.. It happened in history (Matt. 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-8; John 20:1-8)
4.. Power used to resurrect Jesus:
a.. Power of God (Acts 2:24; Eph. 1:19-20; Col. 2:12)
b.. Christ’s own power (John 10:18)
c.. Jesus is the resurrection (John 11:25-26)
d.. Power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:11; 1 Pet. 3:18)
5.. Nature of Christ’s resurrection
a.. The same body that died was raised (Luke 24:39-40; John 20:27)
b.. It was a physical body
(1)) He ate (Luke 24:41-43; John 21:12-13; Acts 10:40-41)
(2)) He could be touched (John 20:27; 1 John 1:1)
(3)) It was a gloried body (1 Cor. 15:42-44; Phil. 3:21)
(4)) He passed through locked door (John 20:19, 26)
(5)) He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9)
c.. It was also a transformed and glorified body
And for a review of the basics, please click on this post:
You can also go to youtube to find out the evidence for it. Look for Gary Habermas or Mike Licona.
For a table of his appearances and other facts, please see:
Polhill is an excellent commentator and summarizes Paul in those two verses:
The hope was shared by all “Twelve Tribes”—all of Israel. What was inconceivable for Paul was that the Jews, who so fervently prayed for God’s fulfillment of the promises, would accuse him precisely because of his conviction that they had indeed now been realized in Christ. At first addressing the king (v. 7), he now turned to the whole crowd in the audience chamber and raised the question why any of them would find it unbelievable that God should raise the dead. (comment on vv. 7-8)
“name”: this noun stands in for the person—a living, real person. You carry your father’s name. If he is dysfunctional, his name is a disadvantage. If he is functional and impacting society for the better, then his name is an advantage. In Jesus’s case, he has the highest status in the universe, under the Father (Col. 1:15-20). He is exalted above every principality and power (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). His character is perfection itself. His authority and power are absolute, under the Father. In his name you are seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Now down here on earth you walk and live as an ambassador in his name, in his stead, for he is no longer living on earth, so you have to represent him down here. We are his ambassadors who stand in for his name (2 Cor. 5:20). The good news is that he did not leave you without power and authority. He gave you his. Now you represent him in his name—his person, power and authority. Therefore under his authority you have his full authority to preach the gospel and set people free from bondages and satanic spirits and heal them of diseases.
God’s sanctified people is usually translated as “saints,” from the Greek for “holy ones.” It is not a separate class of people who are called saints, though I concede that some people advance farther in Christ than the rest of us. “God’s sanctified people” does not mean that they have achieved moral perfection, but they are going through the process of being made holy. Sanctification literally means “the process (-ion) of making (fic-) holy (sancti-).” It’s a process.
In any case, “saints” or “holy ones” are sound alternative translations, if you’re not comfortable with my wording.
“voted”: It was “a pebble used in voting: a black one for conviction, a white one for acquittal, a voting-pebble, used in cases of injuries and in other circumstances” (BDAG, considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT).
“tried to force”: this is in the imperfect tense, and sometimes this tense is translated as “tried,” but not as if Paul (Saul) was successful! He wasn’t!
He tried, no doubt, to get them to call Jesus accursed.
Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:3, NIV)
Paul conversion story is repeated in Acts 9 and 22. Marshall is right: “Something of Luke’s literary ability may be seen in the way in which he varies the details of the story so that it comes over freshly to the reader each time” (comment on 26:12).
You can read my attempt at harmonizing the three accounts in Acts 22:9:
Also see Acts 9:3-6:
Historians at that time varied their stories about the same character, without batting an eye. No problem for them. We should not allow postmodern hyper-critics to upset us when they turn molehills into mountains. Don’t allow your faith to be brittle.
“get up and stand to your feet!”: these commands teach us that Jesus is not always meek and mild, when lives are at stake. Remember, however, that Paul (Saul) was a very stubborn man, and Jesus had to talk to him like this. He may talk to you more gently (or not).
Jesus is the Suffering Servant. This is important to know because this is the basis of Paul’s belief and preaching. Jesus was the Suffering Messiah, whom God raised up from the dead and vindicated him by seating him at the right hand of himself (God).
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
5 This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them. (Is. 42:1-7, 16, NIV)
Here is Bruce’s long summary of Paul’s basic preaching:
As the Servant [in Isa. 42:1-7] was to open the eyes of the blind and turn their darkness into light, so Paul was summoned to continue his healing ministry. The terms of his commission remained in his mind ever after; they are echoed in the words in which he reminds Christians of Colossae how God the Father “has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light, … has delivered us from the domination of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in who we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:12-14). For these words sum up the blessing which, in the heavenly vision, he was charged to communicate to all who placed their faith in Christ, not only Jews, but Gentiles as well. That believing Gentiles were to have an equal and rightful share in the heritage of God’s holy people was a feature of the gospel which it was for Paul’s peculiar mission to proclaim and put into effect through his ministry (cf. Gal. 1:16; Eph. 2:19; 3:1-10). (comment on vv. 16-18)
Jesus fulfilled the mission of the suffering Servant, and now Paul (and, by extension, we too) carry on the mission of shining the light of the gospel of the kingdom to the whole world.
“reason”: it could be translated as “purpose.” You have a purpose and reason for your existence. It is different from Paul’s (thankfully because he had it rough!), but God still has something for you to do. Find your purpose.
“select”: it comes from the interesting verb procheirizō (pronounced pro-khay-ree-zoh), combining the prefix pro– (before, in front of) and cheir– (hand), so it could be translated literally as “prehandpicked.” Originally and literally, people voted by raising (stretching out) their hand. In any case, God reached down his hand and anointed Paul to fulfill a mission. Yes, God has prehandpicked you also to do good works that he has appointed beforehand that you should do (Eph. 2:10).
Some theologians focus on words such as this and grind it into dust. They say that God prehandpicks some, but not everyone. However, God wants everyone to be saved and come to repentance (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Yet some simply resist God’s call and can resist it throughout their lives. Human freewill is God’s gift to humanity, and freewill is strong. Humans cannot strut into God’s kingdom without a call in some form (even a dream) and a drawing by the Spirit towards God, but they have enough freewill to say no to the sovereign God of the universe.
A sound alternative translation of “prehandpicked” is “appointed.”
“servant”: it comes from the Greek noun hupēretēs (pronounced hoo-pay-ray-tayss) and also means “assistant” or “helper.” It comes from the Greek prefix hupo– (under) and ēretēs (rower), so it properly means “under-rower.” Picture the three-tiered Greek triremes, and the rowers in the bottom tiers. Paul rowed, while Jesus captained the ship. The same is true for you. He is the pilot, you’re just a sailor. You may take the wheel to steer, but don’t be surprised if he has to take back the wheel after a few minutes.
“witness”: it is the standard noun martus (pronounced mahr-tooss, and yes we get our word martyr from it). You are called to testify before the court of public opinion. And it means you speak about what you have seen and heard.
“rescuing”: it could be translated as “lifting or raising you out of.” God reaches down and lifts you up out of your troubles. Meditate on Ps. 23, which says goodness and mercy follows you every day of your life. He will see you through the valley of the shadow of death, if he does not lift you up out of trouble. His hand will be under you.
These are remarkable word of salvation spoken by Jesus himself. He knows, sitting on his heavenly throne, that God is expanding the kingdom of God from small Israel to all the kingdoms of the world. They sound like John’s Gospel, which comes later than the three Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).
Darkness = Satan’s authority and dominion
Light = God’s authority and dominion
One of God’s attributes is light.
See my posts about Satan in the area of systematic theology:
“authority”: it is exousia (pronounced ex-oo-see-ah), and it means, depending on the context: “right to act,” “freedom of choice,” “power, capability, might, power, authority, absolute power”; “power or authority exercised by rulers by virtue of their offices; official power; domain or jurisdiction, spiritual powers.” Satan has a certain jurisdiction over the planet and mostly over people’s lives. It is difficult to discern when the mind of humankind in a human kingdom is acting, and when the Satanic kingdom is pushing this human kingdom. Yes, yes, it is easy to see extreme examples (communists and Nazis killing millions), but Satan has subtler ways to get through to humanity. So whenever we see death and destruction, then we can be sure Satan is pushing (John 10:10).
“receive”: it comes from the Greek verb lambanō (pronounced lahm-bah-noh), and its basic meaning is indeed to take or receive, but it has an active ingredient. You got to reach out for it.
“forgiveness”: it comes from the Greek noun aphesis (pronounced ah-feh-seess), which means “release” or “cancellation” or “pardon” or “forgiveness.” Let’s look at a more formal definition of its verb, which is aphiēmi (pronounced ah-fee-ay-mee), and BDAG defines it with the basic meaning of letting go: (1) “dismiss or release someone or something from a place or one’s presence, let go, send away”; (2) “to release from legal or moral obligations or consequence, cancel, remit, pardon”; (3) “to move away with implication of causing a separation, leave, depart”; (4) “to leave something continue or remain in its place … let someone have something” (Matt. 4:20; 5:24; 22:22; Mark 1:18; Luke 10:30; John 14:18); (5) “leave it to someone to do something, let, let go, allow, tolerate.” The Shorter Lexicon adds “forgive.” In sum, God lets go, dismisses, releases, sends away, cancels, pardons, and forgives our sins. His work is full and final. Don’t go backwards or dwell on it. Please, please read Ps. 103:10, and 12; Mic. 7:19.
Please read these verses for how forgiving God is:
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Ps. 103:10-12, ESV)
And these great verses are from Micah:
18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
19 He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea. (Mic. 7:18-19, ESV)
Please see my post about forgiveness:
“sins”: it comes from the Greek word hamartia. A deep study reveals that it means a “departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness” (BDAG, p. 50). It can also mean a “destructive evil power” (ibid., p. 51). In other words, sin has a life of its own. Be careful! In older Greek of the classical world, it originally meant to “miss the mark” or target. Sin destroys, and that’s why God hates it, and so should we. The good news: God promises us forgiveness when we repent.
“sanctified”: it is the verb hagiazō, and it means to “make holy” or very awkwardly “holy-ize” or “holy-fy” because Greek can add the suffix -ize to a noun and make it a verb (so can we, as in “modern” and “modernize.” Paul’s theology of salvation and sanctification from his epistles works out like this: (1) salvation comes by the born-again experience, which is produced by the Spirit. This happens instantly. (2) Salvation, in a package deal, must include God declaring you to be righteous and holy. If he did not do this, then we could never achieve the right level of holiness and righteousness by our own efforts and works to make it into God’s pure presence when we die. (3) After we are saved and declared holy and righteous (the process is logical, rather than chronological), the Spirit breaks sin’s dominion and power and control over our lives so that we can embark on the long, daily journey that every believer is sent on, by the leadership of the Spirit. This third step is called sanctification.
Salvation and sanctification are linked, but distinct. Don’t confuse the two, or you will work yourself to death—to an early grave, because you can never do enough to be holy enough.
“faith”: the noun is pistis (pronounced peace-teace), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
Let’s discuss the noun, faith, more deeply. These comments apply to the verb, as well: pisteuō (pronounced pea-stew-oh). It is the language of the kingdom of God. It is how God expects us to relate to him. It is the opposite of doubt, which is manifested in whining and complaining and fear. Instead, faith is, first, a gift that God has distributed to everyone (Rom. 12:3). Second, it is directional (Rom. 10:9-11; Acts 20:21). We cannot rightly have faith in faith. It must be faith in God through Christ. Third, faith in Christ is different from faith in one’s ability to follow God on one’s own. It is different from keeping hundreds of religious laws and rules. This is one of Luke’s main themes in Acts, culminating in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and Paul’s ministry for the rest of Acts. Faith in Jesus over faith in law keeping. Fourth, there is faith as a set of beliefs and doctrines, which are built on Scripture (Acts 6:7). Fifth, there is also a surge of faith that is poured out and transmitted through the Spirit when people need it most (1 Cor. 12:9). It is one of the nine charismata or manifestations of grace (1 Cor 12:7-11). Sixth, one can build faith and starve doubt by feasting on Scripture and the words about Christ (Rom. 10:17).
“in me”: faith is directional. Place your faith in Jesus. Once again, these are remarkable words from the Lord Jesus himself.
“not … disobedient”: The phrasing is known as a litotes (pronounced lih-toh-tees), or an understatement that expresses the affirmative by a negative! Luke likes litotes: Acts 12:18; 14:17, 28; 15:2; 17:4, 12, 27; 19:11, 23; 20:12; 21:39; 26:19; 27:20; 28:2.
“repent”: The first word “repentance” is actually a verb. It is the verb metanoeō (pronounced meh-tah-noh-eh-oh), and “to repent” literally means “changed mind.” And it goes deeper than mental assent or agreement. Another word for repent is the Greek stem streph– (including the prefixes ana-, epi-, and hupo-), which means physically “to turn” (see Luke 2:20, 43, 45). That reality-concept is all about new life. One turns around 180 degrees, going from the direction of death to the new direction of life.
“repentance”: the second word is the noun metanoia (pronounced meh-tah-noi-ah), which also literally means “change of mind”; however, throughout the New Testament, it means more than that. It means regret and turning around and going in the other direction, and it must bear fruit (Matt. 3:8; Acts 20:21; 2 Cor. 7:9-10; Heb. 6:6). It is a radical life change, as we see in the clause “doing works worthy of repentance.” See the final application for a close look.
However, warning! Heb. 6:1-2 tells us that repentance is an elementary teaching:
1 Therefore leaving the message about the elementary principle about Christ, let us carry on to maturity, not again laying the foundation of repentance from dead works and faith in God and 2 of the teaching about baptisms and the laying on of hands and the resurrection of the dead and eternal punishment (Heb. 6:1-2, my tentative translation).
“The elementary principle about Christ,” which is a literal translation, but it could also be “leaving the basic teaching about Christ.”
In any case, the main idea is about the Jesus we teach to little children. Or the phrase in Heb. 6:1 could mean calling adults and the youth to enter the kingdom of God for the first time. Repent! Follow Jesus! Yes, it is wonderful as a foundation, but we must move on to Christ’s deeper teachings. In our context today, we should teach repentance to an audience where there may be the unrepentant and unconverted, but let’s not harangue the church with constant calls for them to repent. They need mature teachings. Too many fiery preachers never allow their churches to grow, but shriek about fire and brimstone (eternal punishment). Happily, this seems to be changing, and preachers bring up repentance, but also realize that there are many other doctrines in Scripture.
Here in this context, “doing works worthy of repentance” corresponds to Paul’s epistles. In each of them, he talks about the ethical dimension of the Christian walk—how we should live. We can’t just keep repenting every Sunday and then going back to our old way of life. 2 Pet. 2:22 says that a dog returns to its vomit. Human mammals who are redeemed and saved should not do that.
Conversion and salvation transform one’s inner life and moral conduct. Salvation cannot remain only in the heart. Jesus is both Savior and Lord. He is the Lord of your mind and your behavior—your ethics.
As seen in the very last section in Acts 26, Paul is proclaiming his innocence. He did not break any law, whether Roman or Jewish. His arrest and near-death manhandling was unjust.
“tried to kill me”: it comes from the Greek verb diacheirizō (pronounced dee-ah-khay-ree-zoh), and it has the word hand (cheir-) in it, and it usually means “manage,” “have in hand,” “conduct,” or “administer.” But in the verb form here, translators have “kill.” I first translated it as “mistreated” as in “roughed him up.” But I backed away and went with “kill.” In any case, his being roughed up to the point of killing him is in view here. In Acts 5:30 the verb no doubt means “kill.”
“help”: You need help and care from God. This noun epikouria (pronounced eh-pea-koo-ree-ah), appears only here in the NT, but it is related to the philosophical movement Epicureans, who can be looked up online. In any case, in some contexts and forms it can be an ally, an assister, a bodyguard of troops, defender and protector.
“small and great”: Paul was now testifying before the great, but he also preached the gospel to the little people.
Paul is speaking before Agrippa, who was familiar with the basics of Judaism, and so Paul has to drive home the point that his message is not outlandish or outside the Bible. Keep your teaching biblical.
“what was going to happen”: Paul condenses time here because the prophets and Moses saw the events in the next verse hundreds of years before they happened. We tend to compress time as well. So be careful. God’s timeline is not the same as yours.
The four Gospels, written after this speech, culminate in the suffering and death and resurrection of the Messiah. Clearly, then, these events were extremely important for the earliest church. They are our source of life.
“first of the resurrection”: Paul says that Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). In other words, Christ leads the way to our own eventual and inevitable resurrection. His resurrection guarantees ours.
See v. 8 for a closer look at biblical resurrection.
“light”: he ushered in his new kingdom, and it is a kingdom of light or revelation to his own people and to the Gentiles—that’s the rest of humanity. It’s a remarkable statement because connects the dots. Jesus was not going to proclaim his message within the confines of Israel. His mission is now global.
Also see v. 18 for more links.
This verse forms the basis of early Christian preaching: (1) the Messiah must suffer; (2) he was the first to rise from the dead (the “firstfruits”); (3) the light of his ascension would be proclaimed to Jews and Gentiles. This three-part message matches Paul’s epistles, like 1 Cor. 2:1-2, 8; Gal. 2:19-20; Col. 1:12-14; 1 Cor. 15:20-23; Gal. 1:16; Eph. 2:19; 3:1-10).
As usual, I like how Bock summarizes Paul’s speech:
Paul the defendant teaches us that evangelism is not about results but about faithfully delivering the message. It is like being a paperboy. The paper arrives at the front door because the witness brings it. But to enjoy the benefit of the paper, the person at home must open the door, read the news, and understand it. Paul shows us that the message can be naturally brought forth in a variety of settings and circumstances. He also demonstrates that the personal nature of that story is often the most compelling. Paul makes clear that the results are God’s business; we are merely the means of delivery. (p. 725)
GrowApp for Acts 26:5-23
A.. Paul faced dangerous enemies, yet he stood strong. How do you stand strong in your walk with God? What do you do practically and routinely?
B.. Paul preached repentance and the works that flow out of repentance. (Don’t get the sequence reversed: good works and then repentance). Has God called you to accomplish good works tailored for you? What are they? Have you obeyed God and done them?
C.. Paul faced his enemies with personal integrity. How do you maintain your integrity? How does it strengthen you to face a hostile world?
D.. Paul faced his enemies with personal courage. How do you get courage, during your tough times?
Festus and Agrippa React (Acts 26:24-32)
24 While making his defense, Festus shouted at him loudly, “You’re crazy, Paul! Your great education is making you crazy!” 25 Paul said, “I am not crazy, your Excellency Festus, but I utter prophetic words of truth and clear-thinking. 26 For the king understands these matters, to whom I have been boldly speaking, for I am persuaded he has not missed anything, for this has not happened in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.” 28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you persuade me to act the Christian so easily?” 29 Paul said, “I would pray to God, whether in a little or great while, not only you but also everyone hearing me today would become as I am, such as it is, apart from these chains.”
30 The king, the governor, and Bernice and those seated with them stood up 31 and when they left, spoke to each other saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving death or chains.” 32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been released, if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
“you’re crazy!” it translates the Greek verb mainomai (pronounced my-noh-my or some Greeks back then said may-noh-may), and our word mania is related to it. It means to be mad (crazy) or out of one’s mind.
“making you”: it could be translated as “driving you” or “turning you.” It is used only here in the NT, and “turning around” is the more literal translation.
“great education”: By today’s standard, Paul had his PhD in Old Testament Studies, and he was working on another doctorate in Missiology, and still another one in New Testament Studies!
Paul’s great education led him to believe in the power of God—in the resurrection. It did not make him crazy. As noted, yes, get a good education, but don’t let it squeeze the supernatural side of life out of you. When your thinking begins with an anti-supernatural belief—as we see among modern intellectuals—it is difficult to change your mind and accept God’s miracles. God may have to work a miracle—your salvation or your grandmother’s healing, for example—to open your mind up.
I really like Polhill’s paraphrase:
“You are out of your mind, Paul,” he blurted out. “All your learning, all your searching of the Scriptures, has lifted you out of the real world” (comment on vv. 24-25).
“utter prophetic words”: the reason for my expanded translation comes from the verb apophthengomai (pronounced ah-poh-f’then-goh-my), which is used only three times in the NT, twice in Acts 2:4, 14 and here in v. 25. It can mean in certain contexts to speak out and declare under inspiration (BDAG, p. 125). Even the great conservative scholar F. F. Bruce says the term means “a weighty and oracular utterance” and references 1 Chron. 25:1 in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible in the 3rd century BC). It is impossible to imagine a more powerful “weighty and oracular utterance” that the Holy Spirit himself inspiring the 120 in Acts 2:1-13. Here it means Paul often spoke prophetically when he proclaimed the gospel.
“clear-thinking”: it comes from the Greek noun sōphrosunē (pronounced soh-froh-soo-nay), and it is used only three times in the NT: here, and 1 Tim. 2:9, 17. But in larger Greek literature it means “soundness of mind, moderation, discretion; moderation in desires, self-control, temperance, chastity, sobriety.” Sound education should lead to these virtues, not hedonism (intense search for pleasure).
“boldly”: This comes from one Greek verb parrēsiazomai (pronounced pah-rray-see-ah-zoh-my), and it combines boldness and speech. Please, please, don’t shrink away when you encounter opposition. Jesus was bold when the Pharisees and teachers of the law challenged him. He answered their questions and challenged them right back (Mark 2:6; 2:16; 7:1-5; 8:31; 9:14; 10:33; 11:18, 27-28; 14:1, etc.). People over-interpret his silence before his accusers during his trial (Matt. 27:12-14; Mark 14:60-61; 15:4-5; John 19:8-9). These interpreters don’t take into account that he was destined to give up his life, although he could have asked the Father for twelve legions of angels (Matt. 26:53).
If you find yourself timid before opposition, you can pray every day for the inner strength and anointing and power to stand and not to flag or fold during satanic and broken human attacks. I pray this almost every day, and it works!
You know the Spirit is flowing through you when you have boldness. God has not given you a spirit of fear or timidity (2 Tim. 1:7).
“corner”: the gospel had been going forth in Paul’s (known) world, and no doubt he had heard reports about its progress (cf. Rom. 1:8). Remember Apollos (Acts 18:24)? He was born in Alexandria, Egypt, the education capital of the Mediterranean world, surpassing Athens. Somehow the gospel reached him in that large city. Or it could have touched him while on his travels, but it is a sure thing that he returned to his home city eventually and proclaimed the gospel, though no record of this return survived. Regardless, the gospel was not hidden away, but going public and worldwide.
“The phrase not done in a corner … repurposes a common proverb sometimes applied negatively to philosophers who withdrew from public life. Rome viewed secretive meetings as subversive, and some outsiders criticized monotheistic faiths as attested by only an obscure region. But while the secrets of the kingdom were initially revealed to a select group (Luke 8:10; Mark 4:11), all will be revealed (Luke 8:17)” (Keener, p. 589).
“Act the Christian!” it comes from the one main verb for “doing” or “making,” and the word for “Christian.” So the word, first used in Antioch (Acts 11:26), was gaining in popularity and becoming well known. As for “act,” most translations have “become” or some synonym. So Agrippa was on the verge of converting to Christ—or was he? “‘Christian’ was not yet a term of endearment” (Keener, p. 590).
“believe”: It is used twice here. The verb is pisteuō (pronounced pea-stew-oh or pih-stew-oh), and it is used 241 times. It means to “believe, be convinced of something.” In a more specific definition it goes in a direction: “to have faith in Christ or God” (Mounce p. 61). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
See v. 24 for more comments.
“so easily”: it could be translated “in a little while,” but I like Culy’s and Parson’s suggestion and went with it. It could even be translated as “with such little (material) you’re persuading me?”
I like the logical conundrum that Marshal describes for Agrippa:
But Agrippa realized what he would be letting himself in for if he gave an affirmative answer to Paul’s question. If he confessed belief in the prophets, the obvious follow-up would be, “Surely then you accept that Jesus is the Messiah? On the other hand, to deny that he believed in the prophets would be unthinkable for a loyal Jew. So he answers: ‘In a short time you think to make me a Christian!’ The reply is lighthearted, but not ironic. It is Agrippa’s attempt to get out of the logical trap in which he is in danger of being caught. (comment on v. 28)
I don’t know whether Agrippa’s reply was lighthearted—I doubt it—because he felt conviction, but Paul did boldly corner him. Paul was anointed and effective, even in difficult circumstances There is a lesson in there for all of us.
Paul wished that everyone would become like him, except for the chains he was wearing, by converting to Christ. Paul gestured when he said “these chains.”
It was important for Luke to portray Paul as innocent—and Luke was not making it up. Paul really did nothing deserving death. Unjust accusations are painful. But in Christ you can overcome each one. Just seek God. He will sustain you.
Paul was destined to go to Rome, and he is about to get there, despite a massive storm and near-fatal snakebite, in the next two chapters.
Polhill holds up Paul as our example of being a good witness, before a difficult, even hostile, audience:
Paul gave an object lesson in bold witness at this point. Most Christians would have trouble even witnessing to a king, but to persist when once put off is remarkable. Paul failed to be daunted for a minute by the king’s reply. He left the invitation open. Playing on Agrippa’s words, he indicated that the timing of the decision made little difference to him, whether long or short. His real prayer was that not just Agrippa but everyone in the audience room would become a Christian believer. (comment on v. 29)
Now that is boldness.
GrowApp for Acts 26:24-32
A.. Paul’s gospel message struck home in the rulers’ heart. Have you ever shared your faith and story and have it hit home in your listener? Share your story.
B.. When did the gospel strike home in your heart? How did you react? Receptive or resistant?
Observations for Discipleship
Paul says in v. 20: “I have announced repentance and turning to God and doing works worthy of repentance.”
John the Baptist said: “Produce therefore fruit worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8).
The same adjective “worthy” (axios) was used in John’s preaching and Paul’s words, and it means “in keeping with” or “corresponding to” repentance. I used the old concept of “worthy.”
Matt. 3:7 says that Sadducees and Pharisees came out to see him. Saul / Paul was a Pharisee. Could it be that Saul / Paul went out to the Jordan River and heard John say that?
Paul’s letters support his practical side of requiring deeds matching repentance, which means the radical change that repentance brings about. He writes theology and then the last few chapters explain how to live before God.
The Epistle to the Ephesians is a powerful example. The first three chapters explain how much God loves you and who you are in Christ. Then the last three chapters teach the practical, daily living in Christ and walking out God’s love. You must do works worthy of your initial repentance.
There is an ethical side to the Christian life. Be sure you find out what the rules are, by reading the NT and looking for writers incorporating moral law both from the OT and from Spirit-inspired logic and reasoning, because moral law is also a gift from God. Then you can rise above the ordinary and do the extraordinary.
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.
Bruce, F. F. Acts. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1988. (I also used his earlier work Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Commentary, Eerdmans, 1951, 1952, 1990, 3rd ed.).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger. United Bible Society, 2014.
Keener, Craig, S. Acts. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge UP, 2020.
Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.
Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Tyndale, 1980.
Parsons, Mikeal C. and Martin M. Culy. Acts. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor, UP, 2003.
Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 2009.
Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. Vol. 26. Broadman and Holman, 1992.
Schnabel, Eckhard, J. Acts. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2012. (I borrowed from his theology in application for some of my GrowApp questions, pp. 968-72).