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Paul Before Agrippa December 21, 2016

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Acts 25:23-26:32.

Summary: In this passage, Festus brought Paul before Agrippa, Bernice and several dignitaries. He solicited the assistance of Agrippa in presenting the case against Paul in the requisite letter to Caesar. Agrippa then called on Paul to present his defense; he responded by asserting that:

  • he was entirely zealous for God before his conversion experience
  • he demonstrated that zeal by persecuting Christians
  • Jesus of Nazareth appeared to him on the road to Damascus
  • Jesus then commissioned him as His apostle to the Gentiles
  • he fulfilled that commission by preaching the Gospel message
  • the salient point of the Gospel message is the truth of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

At that point, Festus interjected and asserted that Paul was insane. Yet Paul deflected that comment and attempted to persuade Agrippa that the story of Jesus of Nazareth was the logical conclusion of the Old Testament. While Agrippa did not concur with Paul’s argument, he – and the other dignitaries – concluded that Paul had not broken any Roman laws.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus completely reshaped his worldview. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 10 of chapter 26:

The facts themselves proved how zealously he fought against Christ, until a greater force stopped him and made him go in the opposite direction. Furthermore, his adversaries were witnesses of his vehemence; so it was quite certain that he had changed suddenly, for the priests would never have commissioned him as they did if he had not been vigorous in inflicting cruelty. He had to be very bold to satisfy their fury.

We know from Acts 9:19b-31 that the Jews completely rejected Paul’s initial presentation of the Gospel message after his conversion experience. Did any of them make a genuine effort to comprehend his conversion experience – or did they immediately dismiss it as the hallucination of a madman? Did the Pharisees – who did believe in the resurrection of the dead – nevertheless dismiss his account because they viewed Jesus of Nazareth as a criminal and a heretic? Did they believe that Paul had been afflicted by a lying spirit? Did they question any of Paul’s companions from his journey to Damascus – and if so, what did they learn from them?

In verses 24 and 25 of chapter 26, we see that Paul and Festus had a brief exchange regarding the rationality of the Gospel message. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 24:

Although the things Paul was quoting from the Law and the Prophets had no trace of madness but were thoroughly rational, Festus called it all madness, because he rejected what he did not understand…That was why he could not bear to pay attention to what Paul said, lest he make him mad too.

It is evident that Festus’ main concern with the Gospel message centered on the assertion that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead. It is important to stress the incredible nature of that event; indeed, one cannot minimize how difficult it is for an unbeliever to accept it – especially since it contradicts the laws of science. In light of this difficulty, I am reminded of John Lennox’s discussion of miracles – especially his assertion that the universe is not a closed system. If we can accept the possibility of God supernaturally intervening in the world at certain points in time, then we can accept the possibility of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is evident that Festus believed that the universe is a closed system, while Paul believed that it is not. The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways to help us believe in the possibility of miracles…

In verses 27 and 28 of chapter 26, we see that Paul and Agrippa also had a brief exchange regarding the rationality of the Gospel message. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 28:

Commentators explain the Greek in different ways. Valla thought it should be translated, “You almost make me a Christian.” Erasmus translates it, “to a small extent.” The translation “in such a short time” is perfectly appropriate, as if Agrippa had said, “You will make me a Christian in a moment.”

What were Agrippa’s thoughts and emotions as he listened to Paul’s presentation of the Gospel message? Did he see the connection between 1) the teachings concerning the Messiah in the Old Testament and 2) the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth? Did he have a nagging sense that Paul was correct – or did his love of worldly things blind him to the truth? Did Agrippa ever come to believe the Gospel message? Did Paul’s eloquent presentation of the Gospel message eventually lead to the conversion of the other dignitaries in attendance?

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