For the Love of God, Volume 2/January 26

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Genesis 27; Matthew 26; Esther 3; Acts 26

IN ACTS 26, LUKE PROVIDES THE third account in this book of Paul’s conversion (compare Acts 9 and 22). Each has a different aim, of course. Here Paul is defending himself before the Roman Governor Porcius Festus and Herod Agrippa II of Galilee. Important highlights include the following:

(1) As in earlier defenses, Paul stresses his continuity with his past in conservative Judaism: he shares with unconverted Jews a “hope” for what God promised to their fathers and an anticipation of the final resurrection (e.g., 24:15; 26:6-7).

(2) Paul’s remarkable rhetorical question in 26:8 therefore accomplishes several things at once. He asks: “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” To Jews who are in the court, the question establishes Paul’s agreement at this point with the Pharisaic strand of Jewish tradition. Implicitly, it also hints that if they have a category for God raising the dead at the end, why should it be thought so impossible that God raised Jesus from the dead in anticipation of the end? To a man like King Agrippa, well acquainted with Jewish beliefs, the question was reinforcing categories with which he was already familiar. To a man like Festus, the question aimed at lessening the skepticism of his sophisticated pagan background. To people with naturalistic outlooks today, the same question remains a challenge: dismissal of the category of resurrection stems from an earlier dismissal of the God of the Bible. Granted the God of the Bible, why is the category of resurrection so difficult?

(3) Paul addresses himself primarily to King Agrippa (26:2, 13, 19), that is, to the ruler most familiar with the Jewish heritage and the Bible. For his part, Festus acknowledges he is at sea (25:26-27); and for all that he recognizes Paul’s learning, he judges Paul’s claims so bizarre that they only demonstrate he must be insane (26:24). Had Paul addressed himself most immediately to Festus, perhaps he would have used an approach like that in Acts 17:16-31, the Mars Hill address.

(4) Paul’s direct appeal to King Agrippa (26:25-29) is openly evangelistic and wonderfully direct while remaining perfectly respectful. Paul’s “defense” is not at all defensive; his address reads more like an evangelistic offensive attack than the plea of a frightened or cowed prisoner. Yet just as his “defense” is not defensive, so this “offense” never becomes offensive.

(5) Both Festus and Agrippa perceive that, whatever they make of him, Paul has done nothing worthy of death or imprisonment (26:31). Had this taken place before the events of 25:1-12, Paul would have been released. As it is, appeals to Caesar cannot be undone, so in God’s providence Paul is transported to Rome.

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