1. Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.”
So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself:
Now Agrippa speaks up and talks to Paul directly, telling him that he is permitted to speak for himself. This was permitted in Roman trials, but this was not necessarily an official trial, but a hearing of Paul brought about at Agrippa’s request. Apparently Agrippa feels that he should let Paul know what is expected of him. Perhaps, too, he wishes to take charge a bit, reminding Festus that this interview was supposed to be for his benefit, not for Festus’ benefit.
At any rate, Paul does not waste the opportunity he is given to speak. First he stretches out his hand, which was an indication that he had something important to say. Then, he takes Agrippa up on what he said, and answers for himself.
2. “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews,
Paul now begins his oration. He think himself happy, he tells him, that he will today answer for himself before him concerning all the things he has been accused of by the Jews. Of course, by “Jews” he means the leaders among the Jews, the priests and chief men who had accused him in chapters 24 and 25.
The word for “happy” here is makarios, which is one of two words often translated “blessed” in our Bibles. It means happy (or “how happy!”) It is good that it is translated “happy” here, since the English word “blessed” is a word so vague in common usage as to have almost no meaning at all.
3. especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently.
As we saw in chapter 24, this is the point in the trial when Paul is expected to offer some sort of compliment, usually containing much flattery, to his hearers to put them in a mood to listen to him more sympathetically. As we said when commenting on chapter 24, it would have almost been a slight to the hearers not to do this. The way the Spirit has Paul go about it here is much the same as how He had him go about it in chapter 24 when he was answering before Felix.
Paul comments on the fact that Agrippa is an expert in all the customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Being only part Jewish himself and not having been brought up in these customs and questions, it is evident that Agrippa had put in a good deal of effort and study to achieve this level of expertise. Therefore, this praise was well deserved, and Agrippa knew it. Therefore, this kind of honest compliment probably made him feel much better than the typical, flattering one would have, which the hearers would typically have known to be untrue. However, there is also a challenge in this, for this being true, Agrippa should live up to this, and use his hard-won knowledge of the customs and matters of the Jews to rightfully discern the truth of Paul’s words.
4. “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know.
The manner of life he lived from when he was a youth, Paul reveals, is known by all the Jews. His life at that time was spent among his own nation at Jerusalem, so they would have had every opportunity to be well-acquainted with it.
The word “nation” here is, as usual, the word ethnos. Yet this word is often also translated “Gentile.” Imagine how foolish here it would sound if Paul said he spent his life from the beginning “among my own Gentile at Jerusalem.” This would make no sense, and would make nonsense out of the passage. The reality of the matter is that ethnos means “nation,” and should be so translated in every occurrence. It should then be determined from the context which nation or nations is meant. To make it “Gentiles” in any verse is to interpret, not to translate. Such interpretation should be left up to the reader.
5. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
Paul testifies that these men know him from the first. Yet the word here is not “first,” but the Greek word anothen, which means “from above.” Whether Paul means this as a metaphor or not is hard to say, but he seems to be saying that not only did these men know his manner of conduct because he had lived among them, but also that this knowledge was supplemented from above. God put them in mind of what Paul had been like, so that they could not deny the great change that had taken place in him when he discovered the truth that Jesus Christ is Jehovah.
If these Jews would be willing to testify to it, Paul insists, they could act as witnesses to Agrippa that Paul had lived his life according to the very strictest sect of their religion; that is, as a Pharisee. The word “sect” here is hairesis, which is variously translated as “sect” or as “heresy.” “Heresy” is often what the teaching of a sect is called by those who do not belong to that sect, so the two are not completely unrelated.
6. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers.
Paul insists that the reason he is standing where he is and being made subject to their judgment is because of his dedication to the expectation he had of the promise God had made to their ancestors. There is no doubt but that this hope, this expectation, was that they would someday be allowed to live in God’s coming kingdom on earth. Yet Agrippa well knows this, having studied these matters out, and so Paul does not need to explain this to him.
7. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews.
It was to this promise that the twelve tribes of Israel who earnestly were serving God night and day were expecting to attain. Notice here that Paul says all twelve of their tribes were doing this. The word in Greek is dodekaphulon, a single word for the twelve tribes. This shows that Paul viewed these twelve as existing as a unit at this time. Some people have developed an idea that there were ten lost tribes of Israel. These ten tribes are supposed to be the tribes of the northern kingdom, and are supposed to have disappeared somewhere long ago at the Assyrian captivity. Then, those who teach this try to find these lost tribes somewhere, like in Europe, or in Africa, or even in the United States. However, the Bible knows of no such ten lost tribes.
Here, Paul seems to know exactly where all twelve of the tribes are, and assumes that the ten tribes are earnestly serving God right along with the other two tribes even at the time he was speaking this to Agrippa. James writes a letter which in James 1:1 he addresses, “To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” Paul and James, and the Holy Spirit through them, seemed to know exactly where the ten tribes were, and that was right where the other two tribes were. They were not “lost” at all.
It was for the sake of this expectation, Paul tells King Agrippa, that he is being accused by the Jewish leaders. This has been Paul’s contention all along: that it is because of his stand for the resurrection of the dead, particularly for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that he is being accused. I do not believe that Paul was mistaken in this. This really was the contention the religious leaders had with him.
8. Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?
What we see here is a case of Paul using the Divine inspiration he was given to look into Agrippa’s mind and answer his very thoughts. King Agrippa must have known that the hope of the Jews involved their being raised from the dead in order to enjoy life in God’s future government on earth. He knew all about this, but it seems that it was this facet of their hope that seemed particularly incredible and unbelievable to him: that the dead would be raised back to life. This was something that was entirely contrary to the customary Greek way of thinking. Moreover, it is entirely contrary to the experience of all mankind, for in our experience, those who die do not ever live again, but remain dead from then on. This made the whole thing seem incredible to Agrippa, and Paul calls him on that fact here. Why should Agrippa think this incredible when in fact it was the Jew’s teaching that God raises the dead? Once you put Him into the equation, what once seemed incredible now seems not so, but rather to be entirely possible and even, if God has said it will be so, inevitable.
The Greek word rendered “incredible” here is apistos, which means literally “without faith” or “without belief.” We might put it “unbelievable.” Agrippa thought it was a thing he simply could not believe or have faith in. The reality of the matter is that many today, even many who call themselves Christians, find the concept of resurrection just as incredible as Agrippa did. They can imagine people going to heaven when they die, but the thought that men who once lived and walked this earth and yet are now dead might rise to walk the earth once again is a thing they simply cannot believe. Yet the clear teaching of the Bible is and always has been resurrection, and if we would wish to qualify as believers, we must realize that this is what we need to be believing.
9. “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Paul admits that he himself thought he must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. He honestly believed that this was his duty, as we saw earlier in our study of Acts. Therefore, he opposed His name, that is, the reputation He had among the people, trying to stamp out the followers of Jesus Christ in every place he could.
Notice the use of the name “Jesus of Nazareth” here. This was the name that His enemies loved to throw at the Lord, since Nazareth was a town with a poor reputation. Paul uses the name here to emphasize that this had been his opinion of Jesus Christ at this time, and was the name he used when he thought of Him. This is the seventh time this title occurs in Acts, and is the last time it occurs in this book.
10. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.
Paul now describes the things he had formerly done against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This also was done at Jerusalem, he tells Agrippa, so the Jews know about this as well. What he had done was shut up many of those set apart to Jesus Christ in prison. He did not do this of his own volition, he assures Agrippa, for he had received authority to do this from the chief priests. When these imprisoned saints came up for trial, Paul admits, and the decision was being made whether to execute them or not, he had consistently case his vote that they be executed. This vote was apparently literally made by casting a pebble to indicate your vote. Thus Paul admits to the full extent of his persecution against the followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.
11. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
Paul also punished the followers of Christ often and in every synagogue, which means in every community. We know that this extended far beyond Jerusalem. He admits that he had compelled some of the believers to blaspheme. How this had been accomplished he does not specify, but it would not be a bad guess that torture would be involved in such a procedure. Then, he admits that he was exceedingly enraged against the followers of Christ, so much so that he even extended his persecution beyond the land of Israel to foreign cities. His hatred for Christ and all who followed Him was indeed great! We can thank God that He got ahold of this zealous but misguided man. It is sad, however, that he ever was so misguided in the first place. Yet this is not unusual in this dark world. Praise God that someday His kingdom will come, when all who are thus deceived will receive the knowledge of the truth!
12. “While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
Paul now describes his fateful journey to Damascus for this very purpose of persecuting the believers. He had on this occasion full authority and commission from the chief priests to carry out the same persecution there as he had in other cities.
The word “commission” here is not the Greek word apostolos, which we think of as a commission, but the word epitrope, which occurs only here, and means “permission.” They had, of course, made Paul their apostle, but that is not the word Paul uses to describe it in this case.
13. at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me.
Paul continues the story for King Agrippa. He describes that at midday he saw a light from heaven that was brighter than the sun. We know that at midday the sun is at its highest and brightest, and yet it was outshone by this great light that came from God. This light shone both around Paul and around those who were making the journey with him. Certainly, this must have startled all of them to full attention!
14. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
Paul and all his companions fell to the ground, and Paul heard a voice speaking to him in the Hebrew language. The voice called his name twice, which we know the Lord did for emphasis when calling upon someone to pay close attention, like when He said “Martha, Martha,” (Luke 10:41,) “Simon, Simon,” (Luke 22:31,) or “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! (Matthew 23:37.) The name He uses is actually the Hebrew form of the name, “Saoul, Saoul.” The Greek form would be Saulos, and is the way the name usually occurs in Scripture. Only the Lord and Ananias in Acts 9 call Paul what was probably his actual given name Saoul.
Then, the Lord asked him why he was persecuting Him? Christ’s words almost seem to indicate disappointment, as if He expected to find Saul a friend, and instead found him an enemy. Then, He advises him that it is hard to kick against the goads. We have described this kicking against the goads earlier in Acts as being an activity hard to do, and that would only hurt the animal that managed it.
It is interesting to notice the new details given in this version of the story. First of all, this is the only time we read of Paul’s companions falling to the ground along with Paul. Yet since they saw the light too (Acts 22:9,) this is no great surprise, for the sudden shining of this great light must have been startling indeed. We know they did not see the Lord as Paul did (Acts 9:7,) yet even though they did not see Him, they were in His presence, and this must have affected them. This reminds us of Daniel’s companions in Daniel 10:7, “And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision; but a great terror fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves.”
Secondly, Paul reveals here that the voice spoke to him in the Hebrew dialect. This word Hebrais occurs only three times, here and in Acts 21:40 and Acts 22:2. It does mean Hebrew, and yet we know that the ancient Hebrew language had long since been lost by the people, and they now spoke the Chaldean language of Babylon (Aramaic) as the Hebrew language. This is doubtless the language the Lord spoke while on earth, and is probably also the language referred to here. Agrippa may have known of the ancient Hebrew language, but Festus almost certainly did not. Paul would have spoken of what they commonly thought of as the Hebrew tongue.
Finally, the Lord speaks here of “kicking against the goads” earlier than He did in the previous telling of the story (Acts 9:5,) when He asked it after Paul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” It may well be that the Lord asked this question, and then Paul interrupted Him with his question as to His identity. Then, after answering Paul’s question, the Lord went back to what He was saying, identifying this fact by starting up with the last sentence He said when He left off.
15. So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Paul at this point spoke up, asking the Lord this question. As I have said before, he must have had the sinking feeling at this point that Jehovah might not actually be who he thought He was. Many who have justified their wicked actions in the name of God and the Lord Jesus Christ will find this same thing true someday when they stand before Him. The Lord is not at all how wicked men imagine Him to be in their heads. He is far different, and far greater, than that!
So the Lord answers Paul, and reveals to him the truth. He is Jesus, the very One he is persecuting. This must have turned the world upside-down for Paul! Yet through God’s help he was up to it, responding to this revelation with true submission.
16. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.
Now the Lord commands him to rise up from the ground and to stand upon his feet. No doubt Paul did this, probably stumblingly and awkwardly, and yet when the Lord commanded it he had no choice. Then, the Lord starts revealing His will to him. He tells him that He has appeared to him for a purpose. That purpose is first of all to make Paul a minister. This word is sometimes translated “servant” or “officer,” and means a deputy. This is what Paul was to be, acting in the Lord’s behalf as His deputy.
Then, He is going to make Paul a witness. His testimony will involve two things. First of all, he will witness to the things which he has seen in this very revelation he is now receiving. Interestingly, that is exactly what Paul is doing here, testifying to King Agrippa, Festus, and all the others gathered here the things that had appeared to him then. Then, the Lord reveals, he will also be a witness of other things, things which the Lord had not yet revealed to him. Paul’s witness to these things would continue until after the Acts period, and would only come to an end when he would lay down his pen after finishing the writing of II Timothy, his last inspired book. Then, the testimony the Lord speaks of would be completed.
17. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you,
The Lord now gives Paul this promise: that He will keep him safe from the Jewish people. We have been seeing how this has worked out in the last few chapters, as the Lord has helped him avoid death from the hands of the murderous Jews who have been trying to ambush and kill him. The word “Jewish” does not occur in the Greek here, but there is no doubt that the Lord was referring to the corrupt leadership among the People whom He had chosen for Himself, the Israelites. The Lord also promises that He will deliver Paul from the nations to whom He is now sending him. We have seen this promise fulfilled in the book of Acts, as all the troubles Paul has run into in all his travels he has been delivered from with the help of the Lord Jesus Christ Who sent him.
The word for “send” here is apostello in Greek, and means that the Lord Jesus was commissioning Paul with His authority to go to these nations. While the word is translated “Gentiles” in the New King James, it is the word ethnon meaning “nations” that we have seen elsewhere many times in Acts. Paul was commissioned to go to many nations, but his primary task was to reach those whose ancestors were Israelites among those nations. We have seen how Paul did just that in the record we have studied in the book of Acts.
18. to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’
Now the Lord lists the things for which He is commissioning Paul. He is to open the eyes of these nations, so that they may be turned from the darkness they are in to the light of God’s truth. The word “power” here is exousia, which means authority. They will be taken out from under the authority of Satan and brought under the authority of God. Their being brought under His authority will be with a view to them receiving forgiveness of sins. This word for “forgiveness,” aphesis, is often translated “remission.” It is the word Paul used in Acts 13:38, when he told his hearers in Pisidian Antioch that through Jesus Christ was proclaimed to them the forgiveness of sins, even those for which there was no forgiveness under the law. It is the word used in Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14, telling those in Christ today that we have forgiveness of sins. Such forgiveness is a great blessing, and these nations were to receive it.
Also, they are to receive an inheritance. The ancestral Israelites who were scattered among the nations were cut off from the land of Israel, the inheritance God had given His people. However, through their faith in Christ, this situation was to be reversed. They were to have an inheritance, just like their counterparts who lived in the land. This blessing would be theirs because they would be set apart to God by their faith in the Lord Jesus.
Nathan C. Johnson