Acts 26 takes us through familiar territory, with Paul giving once again his life-story, and explaining why he is innocent of the charges made against him by the Jews. But this time, in his presentation to King Agrippa, knowing that he has a knowledgeable and interested audience (verses 1-3), he adds some important details that summarise the significance of his life to the Christian cause.
- his Jewish background and early zeal for the law is important, partly because it makes his conversion all the more telling(verses 4-18);
- his vision of Christ on the way to Damascus took place at midday, the same time of day that St Peter had his vision that led to the admission of the gentiles to the ranks of the faithful; and
- the Christian message is nothing more than what has been foretold in the prophets and had been expected by all Jews (verses 22-23).
Then Agrippa said to Paul, Thou art free to give an account of thyself. And Paul, stretching out his hand, began his defence: 2 King Agrippa, I count myself fortunate to-day, to be defending myself against all the accusations of the Jews in thy presence. 3 No one is more familiar than thou with the customs of the Jews, and their controversies; and this makes me bold to ask thee for a patient audience.
Agrippa vero ad Paulum ait: Permittitur tibi loqui pro temetipso. Tunc Paulus extenta manu cœpit rationem reddere: 2 De omnibus quibus accusor a Judæis, rex Agrippa, æstimo me beatum apud te cum sim defensurus me hodie, 3 maxime te sciente omnia, et quæ apud Judæos sunt consuetudines et quæstiones: propter quod obsecro patienter me audias.Chrysostom (Homily 52): The Jews desisted ever since Paul exercised his right of appeal. Then also for him the theatre becomes a splendid one: with great pomp they were present...It shows that he did right in appealing to Cæsar. For if though they had no great matter to allege against him, yet those (at Jerusalem) were mad against him, with good reason may he go to Cæsar. That after examination had by you, he says, I may get somewhat to write. Observe how the matter is repeatedly put to the test. The Jews therefore may thank themselves for this vindication (of Paul), which would come to the ears of those also who were at Rome. See how they become the unwilling heralds both of their own wickedness and of Paul's virtue, even to the emperor himself: so that Paul was carried away (to Rome) with more renown than if he had gone there without bonds: for not as an impostor and a deceiver, after so many judges had acquitted him, was he now carried there. Quit therefore of all charges, among those with whom he was bred and born, and not only so, (but) thus free from all suspicion, he makes his appearance at Rome.
4 What my life was like when boyhood was over, spent from the first among my own people and in Jerusalem, all the Jews know; 5 their earliest memory of me, would they but admit it, is of one who lived according to the strictest tradition of observance we have, a Pharisee. 6 And if I stand here on my trial, it is for my hope of the promise God made to our fathers. 7 Our twelve tribes worship him ceaselessly, night and day, in the hope of attaining that promise; and this is the hope, my lord king, for which the Jews call me to account. 8 Why should it be beyond the belief of men such as thou art, that God should raise the dead?9 Well then, I thought it my duty to defy, in many ways, the name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 And that is what I did, at Jerusalem; it was I, under powers granted me by the chief priests, who shut up many of the faithful in prison; and when they were done to death, I raised my voice against them. 11 Often have I tried to force them into blaspheming, by inflicting punishment on them in one synagogue after another; nay, so unmeasured was my rage against them that I used to go to foreign cities to persecute them.
Et quidem vitam meam a juventute, quæ ab initio fuit in gente mea in Jerosolymis, noverunt omnes Judæi: 5 præscientes me ab initio (si velint testimonium perhibere) quoniam secundum certissimam sectam nostræ religionis vixi pharisæus. 6 Et nunc, in spe quæ ad patres nostros repromissionis facta est a Deo, sto judicio subjectus: 7 in quam duodecim tribus nostræ nocte ac die deservientes, sperant devenire. De qua spe accusor a Judæis, rex. 8 Quid incredibile judicatur apud vos, si Deus mortuos suscitat?9 Et ego quidem existimaveram me adversus nomen Jesu Nazareni debere multa contraria agere, 10 quod et feci Jerosolymis, et multos sanctorum ego in carceribus inclusi, a principibus sacerdotum potestate accepta: et cum occiderentur, detuli sententiam. 11 Et per omnes synagogas frequenter puniens eos, compellebam blasphemare: et amplius insaniens in eos, persequebar usque in exteras civitates.Chrys: Then he tells, how he persecuted: this also helps the proof: and he brings forward the chief priests as witnesses, and the strange cities, and that he heard Him saying to him, It is hard for you to kick against the pricks, and shows the mercifulness of God, that, though being persecuted He appeared (to men), and did that benefit not to me only, but also sent me as teacher to others: and shows also the prophecy, now come to pass, which he then heard, Delivering you from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom I send you...
I was not one of Christ's disciples: among those who fought against Him, was I. Whence also he is a witness who has a right to be believed, because he, a man who was doing numberless things, makes war on the believers, persuading them to blaspheme, stirring up all against them, cities, rulers, and by himself doing all this of his own accord, was thus suddenly changed.
12 It was on such an errand that I was making my way to Damascus, with powers delegated to me by the chief priests, 13 when, journeying at midday, I saw, my lord king, a light from heaven, surpassing the brightness of the sun, which shone about me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice which said to me, in Hebrew, Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me? This is a thankless task of thine, kicking against the goad.15 Who art thou, Lord? I asked. And the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom Saul persecutes. 16 Rise up, and stand on thy feet; I have shewn myself to thee, that I may single thee out to serve me, as the witness of this vision thou hast had, and other visions thou wilt have of me. 17 I will be thy deliverer from the hands of thy people, and of the Gentiles, to whom I am now sending thee. 18 Thou shalt open their eyes, and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive, through faith in me, remission of their sins and an inheritance among the saints.
In quibus dum irem Damascum cum potestate et permissu principum sacerdotum, 13 die media in via vidi, rex, de cælo supra splendorem solis circumfulsisse me lumen, et eos qui mecum simul erant. 14 Omnesque nos cum decidissemus in terram, audivi vocem loquentem mihi hebraica lingua: Saule, Saule, quid me persequeris? durum est tibi contra stimulum calcitrare. 15 Ego autem dixi: Quis es, domine? Dominus autem dixit: Ego sum Jesus, quem tu persequeris. 16 Sed exsurge, et sta super pedes tuos: ad hoc enim apparui tibi, ut constituam te ministrum, et testem eorum quæ vidisti, et eorum quibus apparebo tibi, 17 eripiens te de populo et gentibus, in quas nunc ego mitto te, 18 aperire oculos eorum, ut convertantur a tenebris ad lucem, et de potestate Satanæ ad Deum, ut accipiant remissionem peccatorum, et sortem inter sanctos, per fidem quæ est in me.Chrys: Then again the witnesses, those who were with him: next he shows what just cause he had to be persuaded, both from the light, and from the prophets, and from the results, and from the things which have now taken place. See accordingly, how both from the prophets, and from these particulars, he confirms the proof to them.
19 Whereupon, king Agrippa, I did not show myself disobedient to the heavenly vision. 20 First to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem, then to all the country of Judaea, then to the heathen, I preached repentance, bidding them turn to God, and so act as befits men who are penitent. 21 That is why the Jews, when they caught me in the temple, tried to murder me. 22 But, thanks to God’s help, I still stand here to-day, bearing my witness to small and great alike. Yet there is nothing in my message which goes beyond what the prophets spoke of, and Moses spoke of, as things to come; 23 a suffering Christ, and one who should shew light to his people and to the Gentiles by being the first to rise from the dead.
9 Unde, rex Agrippa, non fui incredulus cælesti visioni: 20 sed his qui sunt Damasci primum, et Jerosolymis, et in omnem regionem Judææ, et gentibus, annuntiabam, ut pœnitentiam agerent, et converterentur ad Deum, digna pœnitentiæ opera facientes. 21 Hac ex causa me Judæi, cum essem in templo, comprehensum tentabant interficere. 22 Auxilio autem adjutus Dei usque in hodiernum diem, sto, testificans minori atque majori, nihil extra dicens quam ea quæ prophetæ locuti sunt futura esse, et Moyses, 23 si passibilis Christus, si primus ex resurrectione mortuorum, lumen annuntiaturus est populo et gentibusChrys: Two arguments he lays down for the Resurrection: one, the argument from the prophets: and he does not bring forward any prophet (in particular,) but the doctrine itself as held by the Jews: the other and stronger one, the argument from the facts— (especially from this,) that Christ Himself held discourse with him...And then another argument. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? Since, if such an opinion had not existed, if they had not been brought up in these dogmas, but they were now for the first time brought in, perhaps some one might not have received the saying...
For that he may not seem to be broaching some novelty, although he had great things to say, yet he again takes refuge with the prophets, and puts this as a question for discussion. Now this had a stronger claim upon belief, as having actually come to pass: but since he alone saw (Christ), he again fetches proof of it from the prophets. And see how he does not discourse alike in the court of justice, and in the assembly (of his own people); there indeed he says, ye slew Him: but here no such thing, that he might not kindle their anger more: but he shows the same thing, by saying, Whether the Christ was to suffer. He so frees them from accusations: for the prophets, he says, say this. Therefore receive ye also the rest. Since he has mentioned the vision, he then without fear goes on to speak also of the good wrought by it...He shows the evils which possess unbelievers, Satan, darkness; the good things belonging to believers, light, God, the inheritance of the saints.
24 When Paul had proceeded so far with his defence, Festus said in a loud voice, Paul, thou art mad; they are driving thee to madness, these long studies of thine. 25 But Paul answered, No, most noble Festus, I am not mad; the message which I utter is sober truth. 26 The king knows about all this well enough; that is why I speak with such confidence in his presence. None of this, I am sure, is news to him; it was not in some secret corner that all this happened. 27 Dost thou believe the prophets, king Agrippa? I am well assured thou dost believe them. 28 At this, Agrippa said to Paul, Thou wouldst have me turn Christian with very little ado. 29 Why, said Paul, it would be my prayer to God that, whether it were with much ado or little, both thou and all those who are listening to me to-day should become just such as I am, but for these chains. 30 Then the king rose, and so did the governor, and Bernice, and all those who sat there with them. 31 When they had retired, they said to one another, This man is guilty of no fault that deserves death or imprisonment. 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, If he had not appealed to Caesar, this man might have been set at liberty.
Hæc loquente eo, et rationem reddente, Festus magna voce dixit: Insanis, Paule: multæ te litteræ ad insaniam convertunt. 25 Et Paulus: Non insanio, inquit, optime Feste, sed veritatis et sobrietatis verba loquor. 26 Scit enim de his rex, ad quem et constanter loquor: latere enim eum nihil horum arbitror. Neque enim in angulo quidquam horum gestum est. 27 Credis, rex Agrippa, prophetis? Scio quia credis. 28 Agrippa autem ad Paulum: In modico suades me christianum fieri. 29 Et Paulus: Opto apud Deum, et in modico et in magno, non tantum te, sed etiam omnes qui audiunt hodie fieri tales, qualis et ego sum, exceptis vinculis his. 30 Et exsurrexit rex, et præses, et Bernice, et qui assidebant eis. 31 Et cum secessissent, loquebantur ad invicem, dicentes: Quia nihil morte aut vinculis dignum quid fecit homo iste. 32 Agrippa autem Festo dixit: Dimitti poterat homo hic, si non appellasset Cæsarem.Chrys: He not only exhorts them to repent, but also to show forth a life worthy of admiration. And see how everywhere the Gentiles are admitted into connection with the people (Israel): for those who were present were of the Gentiles. Testifying, he says, both to great and small, that is, both to distinguished and undistinguished. This is also for the soldiers. Observe: having left the post of defendant, he took up that of teacher— and therefore also it is that Festus says to him, You are beside yourself— but then, that he may not seem to be himself the teacher, he brings in the prophets, and Moses: Whether the Christ was to suffer, whether He as the first to rise from the dead should show light both to the people, and to the Gentiles.
St John Chrysostom on divine wisdom:
Such is a soul winged with heavenly love. For if those who cherish the foul (earthly passion which men call) love, think nothing either glorious of precious, but those things alone which tend to gratify their lust, they think both glorious and honorable, and their mistress is everything to them; much more do those, who have been taken captive by this heavenly love, think nothing of the cost (τὰ ἐπιτίμια).
But if we do not understand what I am saying, it is no marvel, while we are unskilled in this Divine Wisdom. For if any one be caught with the fire of Christ's love, he becomes such as a man would become who dwelt alone upon the earth, so utterly careless is he for glory or disgrace: but just as if he dwelt alone, he would care for nothing, no more does he in this case.
As for trials, he so despises them, both scourges and imprisonments, as though the body in which he suffers these things were another's and not his own, or as though he had got a body made of adamant: while as for the sweet things of this life, he so laughs them to scorn, is so insensible to them, as we are insensible of dead bodies, being ourselves dead.
He is as far from being taken captive by any passion, as the gold refined in the fire and purified is free from alloy. For even as flies would not dart into the midst of a flame, but fly from it, so the passions dare not even to come near this man.
Would that I could bring forward examples of all this from among ourselves: but since we are at a loss for such, we must needs betake ourselves to this same Paul. Observe him then, how he felt towards the whole world. The world is crucified unto me, he says, and I unto the world Galatians 6:14: I am dead to the world, and the world is dead to me. And again: It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me....