Acts Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern
1. Agrippa said to Sha’ul, “You have permission to speak on your own behalf.” Then Sha’ul motioned with his hand and began his defense:
2. “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate that it is before you today that I am defending myself against all the charges made against me by Jews,
3. because you are so well informed about all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
Sha'ul began his defense, not in a judicial sense, for he is not being tried before Herod Agrippa II (see 25:13N). Since he has already appealed to Caesar (25:11), it is before him that he will be making a formal defense in court. Rather, Sha'ul is "defending" his whole life, his Gospel, his Lord. From Sha'ul's (and Luke's) viewpoint he is doing even more than that: he is making use of an extraordinary opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to yet another kind of audience, the ruling elite (compare Uc 21:12-15). His hearers see him as a prisoner, but he sees himself as a bringer of Good News. That Sha'ul's picture of the situation is correct is seen in the responses of Festus (v. 24) and Agrippa (w. 25-29), for they relate not to Sha'ul's guilt or innocence but to the Gospel message.
Sha'ul's speech may be outlined thus:
(1) Introduction (vv. 2-3),
(2) Sha'ul the zealous Pharisee (vv.4-8),
(3) Sha'ul the zealous persecutor of Messianic Jews (vv. 9-11).
(4) Sha'ul confronted by Yeshua the Messiah (vv. 12-18),
(5) Sha'ul the zealous preacher of Yeshua (vv. 19-20),
(6) Sha'ul's arrest by zealous unbelieving Jews (v. 21),
(7) Sha'ul focussing his own zeal on the I-thou encounter of the moment, as he offers his hearers salvation through trusting Yeshua the Messiah (vv. 22-23,25-27,29).
The pivot-point in Sha'ul's life, as well as in his speech, is part (4), his confrontation by Yeshua. The pivot in the lives of his hearers is part (7), his present proclamation of the Gospel, with its choice between obeying God or not. Sha'ul's zeal, his singleminded pursuit of his purpose in life, contrasts with the effete and indifferent dilettantism of the Roman aristocrats, as portrayed in Chapter 25 and in vv. 24-32 below.
3 By Jews: or possibly "by Judeans," who are also Jews (see 21:20N, Yn 1:19N). But not "by the Jews," as if "the Jews" were alien to Sha'ul; moreover, in the Greek there is no article before "loudaioi" here or in vv. 3,4 or 7.
Agrippa himself was a Jew (his father Agrippa I wasn't but his mother was, since his mother's mother's mother was Mariamne, the Hasmonean princess and second of King Herod the Great's ten wives; see 16:1N). The reason Sha'ul says he considers himself fortunate to be making his defense before him is that Agrippa, who is not only Jewish by birth but well informed about all the Jewish customs and controversies. will appreciate the situation. Sha'ul is talking to a landsman (Yiddish: "fellow Jew") and knows he can dispense with the sort of detailed explanations that would be necessary to get himself understood by pagans. The irony of vv. 6-7 would be lost on Festus.
Nevertheless, Sha'ul knows that he will be able to communicate with Festus and the rest of the assembly too, because when the king pays close attention they too will pay close attention (I can't help thinking of the song: "When the rebbe laughs/cries, all the Hasidim will be laughing/crying..."). Sha'ul's introduction, which is complimentary yet free of fabricated flatteries (contrast 24:2-4), sets the tone for the rest of the speech.
4. “So then! All Jews know how I lived my life from my youth on, both in my own country and in Yerushalayim.
5. They have known me for a long time; and if they are willing, they can testify that I have followed the strictest party in our religion — that is, I have lived as a Parush.
Sha'ul can take it as a given that all Jews know,... and if they are willing, they can testify about him (for evidence of this see 21:21 and possibly 28:21-22). There had not yet been an effort to expunge Sha'ul from the history of the Jewish people (see 22:3N), although, by implication, some Jews would already have refused to vouch for him.
In my own country, Cilicia — and in particular, the city of Tarsus.
In Yerushalayim, where Sha'ul had studied under Rabban Gamli'el (22:3).
I lived as a Parush, a Pharisee. The Greek verb is in the aorist tense, which implies action accomplished in the past that has effects continuing into the present. Sha'ul lived as a Pharisee in the past, and he continued doing so after he became a believer (see 23:6&N, Ga 1:14&N, Pp 3:5&N). By emphasizing, for the benefit of the gallery (Agrippa already knew it; see vv. 2-3N), that the P'rushim are the strictest party of our religion, all the more does he imply that as a Messianic Jew he remained Torah-observant (see 13:9N, 21:21N).
6. How ironic it is that I stand on trial here because of my hope in the promise made to our fathers!
7. It is the fulfillment of this very promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they resolutely carry on their acts of worship night and day; yet it is in connection with this hope, your Majesty, that I am being accused by Jews!
How ironic! An informed Jew like Agrippa can appreciate the irony; this is why Sha'ul calls his attention to it by addressing him directly. Agrippa himself may not cherish the hope of resurrection, but he knows very well that our twelve tribes do.
8. Why do you people consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
Why do you people consider it incredible that God raises the dead? There is a tendency among liberal scholars to regard Yeshua's resurrection not as an event in verifiable human history but as a subjective event in the realm of faith. This is not the Bible's approach at all. J. Warwick Montgomery writes,
'On the Areopagus [Paul] presents Christ's resurrection as the capstone of his case for the truth of the gospel (Acts 17:19-31). In 1 Corinthians 15 he blends kerygma [proclamation! with apologia [proof] by offering a list of eyewitness testimonies to the evidential fact of the resurrection. In his stand before Agrippa and Festus (Acts 26), he not only assumes that these sin-blinded sinners can evidentially arrive at the facticity of the resurrection ('Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?'). but also appeals to a common ground of evidential knowledge ('The king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner' [v. 26 below, KJV])... Christian [and Messianic Jewish] faith is not blind faith or credulity; it is grounded in fact. To talk about a real but unprovable resurrection is as foolish as to talk about suprahistorical or spiritual resurrections. They are all cop-outs — sincere, certainly, but terribly harmful in an age longing to hear the meaningful affirmation, 'He is risen.'" (Faith Founded on Fact, Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 1978, pp. 78-79).
For more, see 1С 15:2-8&NN.
9. “I used to think it was my duty to do all I could to combat the name of Yeshua from Natzeret;
F. F. Bruce paraphrases: "Pharisee though I was, and thus in theory a believer in the resurrection of the dead, 1 yet judged it incredible in this particular case, and thought il my duty to oppose such a heresy," then adds, "In later years Paul thought himself unfit to form any judgment by himself (2 Corinthians 3:5)." (Commentary on Acts. p. 442)
10. and in Yerushalayim I did so. After receiving authority from the head cohanim, I myself threw many of God’s people in prison; when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.
I cast my vote against them. This phrase, taken literally, constitutes evidence that Sha'ul was at one time a member of the Sanhedrin (see 7:58N, 8:1&N, 23:1&N; Ga 1:14&N). But the expression may be literal in a context other than the Great Sanhedrin; or it may be figurative, meaning only that he too favored punishing Yeshua's followers with death.
11. Often I went from one synagogue to another, punishing them and trying to make them blaspheme; and in my wild fury against them, I even went so far as to persecute them in cities outside the country.
Trying to make them blaspheme, thai is. trying to make them denounce Yeshua, by threatening them with death unless they recanted. See 7:59-60N on kiddush-HaShem, martyrdom for God's sake.
12. “On one such occasion, I was traveling to Dammesek with the full authority and power of the head cohanim.
13. I was on the road, and it was noon, your Majesty, when I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my traveling companions.
14. We all fell to the ground; and then I heard a voice saying to me, in Hebrew, ‘Sha’ul! Sha’ul! Why do you keep persecuting me? It’s hard on you to be kicking against the ox-goads!’
15. I said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ and the Lord answered, ‘I am Yeshua, and you are persecuting me!
I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew,... "I am Yeshua." See Mk 5:4IN on whether Hebrew or Aramaic was spoken in Yeshua's time, and Mt 1:IN on the name "Yeshua." The movement by English-speaking Messianic Jews to call the Messiah by his Hebrew name, "Yeshua," which the Savior and his friends would have used during his lifetime, instead of the more common "Jesus," has actually been denounced by a few Gentile Christians as being "separatist," "rebuilding the middle wall of partition" (Ep 2:14) between Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Community. But this verse gives more than adequate ground for the practice: if it was good enough for Yeshua to call himself "Yeshua," it is good enough for us too. It is perverse to regard adoption of Yeshua's own custom as separatist.
16. But get up, and stand on your feet! I have appeared to you to appoint you to serve and bear witness to what you have already seen of me, and to what you will see when I appear to you in the future.
Stand on your feet. The same words as used by Adonai in calling Ezekiel to service as a prophet (Ezekiel 2:1) suggest that Sha'ul too was being called to speak for God.
When I appear to you in the future. For other appearances of Yeshua to Sha'ul sec 1R:9-1O, 22:17-21, 23:11,27:23-24; 2C 12:1-9.
17. I will deliver you from the People and from the Goyim. I am sending you
The people, Greek laos, which refers to the Jews (10:2&N, 10:42&N).
18. to open their eyes; so that they will turn from darkness to light, from the power of the Adversary to God, and thus receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who have been separated for holiness by putting their trust in me.’
This is Sha'ul's third version of his encounter with Yeshua on the road to Damascus, the others being at 9:3-19 and 22:5-16. Some details in the reports differ. In Chapter 9 the light is said to have flashed around Sha'ul and his companions; in the other tellings it surrounded Sha'ul. In Chapter 9 his companions stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one; in Chapter 22 they saw light but did not hear the voice of the speaker; and here, in Chapter 26, they all fell to the ground. Each telling, having its own purpose and being directed to a particular audience, emphasizes different aspects of what happened. Here is a composite consistent with all three versions. The light surrounded both Sha'ul and his companions. They all saw the light, but only Sha'ul saw Yeshua. They all heard some sort of sound, but only Sha'ul heard distinct words. All fell to the ground, but Sha'ul's companions got up again. Understood as what it is described as being, a supernatural event, no further explanation is needed. But some who do not believe in supernatural events have attempted to "demythologize" Sha'ul's "conversion experience" as a combination of coincidences, psychotic or epileptic seizures, and embellishments. (The very term "conversion experience" subtly prejudges the matter by focussing on subjective aspects, whereas in all three reports Sha'ul emphasizes the objective.)
Phillip Goble, in his one-man play. The Rabbi From Tarsus (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1981), depicts Sha'ul in a Roman dungeon at the end of his life, with his physician and chronicler friend Luke peering down at him through a hole in the roof. Paul is dictating information for the book of Acts: "Now let me pause to clear up one thing, Luke — for the benefit of the scoffers you must refute. What exactly made me switch... not religions, but vocations, from that of persecutor to that of advocate and apostle? What was the problem, Doctor? Are the scoffers right? Was it really just a case of sunstroke? Nervous collapse? Hallucination? Guilt catharsis? 'What is truth for you, Saul, is not truth for me,' they say. 'There are natural explanations for everything.'"
(Paul reclines on the stone bench like a man talking to his psychiatrist.)
"Yes, yes, Doctor. Here is the natural explanation. One day, on the road to Damascus, while I tried to enforce the Law of Moses, piously serving my God with all my heart, I — the arrestor — was arrested... by a naive superstition. Quite naturally, a meteor just happened to blaze across the sky. At the very same time, it just happened to thunder, so that the other rabbis quite naturally did see and hear something. At the very same time — clumsy me — I just happened to fall off my horse. And at the very same time, I just happened lo hallucinate with a nightmare vision, complete with face, fire and voice, that just happened to be my enemy, who just happened to want me to go to work for him! — among people who just happened to be my enemies, the Gentiles. At the very same time, 1 just happened to have tissues form over both my eyes with a purely accidental case of coincidental cataracts."
"Yes, Doctor, there are natural explanations for everything, if one has enough bad blind faith to go his own way. (Many, like Nero, are lords of their own lives who want to go their own way, even if it may lead to hell.) But, Luke, I had to trust God, and like any other disciple, take a step of faith into the mikveh waters and into the Damascus synagogue."
Chananyah is not mentioned (contrast 9:10-17, 22:12-16), for Agrippa would not have been interested in the role played by "an observant follower of the Torah" (22:12&N).
19. “So, King Agrippa, I did not disobey the vision from heaven!
20. On the contrary, I announced first in Dammesek, then in Yerushalayim and throughout Y’hudah, and also to the Goyim, that they should turn from their sins to God and then do deeds consistent with that repentance.
That they should turn from their sins to God and then do deeds consistent with that repentance. On "turn from sins" and "repentance" (Greek metanoied and epixtrepho, corresponding to Hebrew shuv) see Mt 3:2N. Sha'ul's message was the same as that of Yochanan the immerser(Mt 3:2, 8) and Yeshua (Mk 1:15, Mt 23:3): compare Ep 2:8-10&NN, Ya 2:14-26&NN. The New Testament in general, and Sha'ul in particular, are sometimes thought to proclaim an easy and painless salvation which makes no demands on the individual. This verse shows that Sha'ul expected followers of Yeshua not merely to assent to a creed but to do good works.
21. It was because of these things that Jews seized me in the Temple and tried to kill me.
Jews. Not "the Jews" (see 26:2&N). Sha'ul is still occupied with the paradox that it is Jews, not Gentiles, who are opposing him. The usual translation, with the definite article. which is not present in the Greek text, pits Sha'ul against "the Jews" as a whole; it is therefore effectively antisemitic, even if not deliberately so (see Ro 10:4&N, 10:6-8&N).
22. However, I have had God’s help; so to this day, I stand testifying to both small and great, saying nothing but what both the prophets and Moshe said would happen —
23. that the Messiah would die, and that he, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to both the People and the Goyim.”
-23 I stand... saying nothing but what the Prophets and Moshe said would happen. Yeshua had done the same (Lk 24:25-27&N, 44-45), showing how the Tanakh pointed to himself. See Section VII of the Introduction to the JNT, which lists 54 Tanakh prophecies and their New Testament fulfillments. Sha'ul dealt particularly with two questions still raised by many Jewish hearers of the Gospel: Why must the Messiah suffer and die? and, How are the Gentiles included with the Jews as equal sharers in God's promises?
24. But just as he reached this point in his defense, Festus shouted at the top of his voice, “Sha’ul, you’re out of your mind! So much learning is driving you crazy!”
Festus could no longer contain himself. Sha'ul had not even been talking to him, but to the King, whom he had addressed no less than four times. Perhaps Festus thought Sha'ul was wasting the king's time with nonsense and felt embarrassed at having arranged the session, so that he was trying to excuse himself by pre-empting the critic's role. A more likely explanation of his interruption is that he was troubled by the Gospel message itself and attempted to blunt its impact by discrediting its proclaimer. The same tactic is often used today by hearers of the Gospel, both Jewish and Gentile, who would rather not relate seriously to it. Sha'ul's calm and measured reply (vv. 25-27) gives the lie to Festus' charge and in fact makes him sound like the crazy one!
One hears much about "deprogramming" people whose beliefs and practices, like Sha'ul's, have suddenly changed. One justification offered by deprogrammers and those who hire them is that the person being deprogrammed is out of his mind,... crazy — exactly what Festus thought of Sha'ul. It is true that sometimes transformations of belief-systems turn out for the worse. But can that justify capturing ал adult Jew whose life has noticeably improved because he has come to faith in Yeshua and subjecting him to involuntary psychological manipulation and abuse, in order to change him from being a supposedly crazy believer in the Gospel into a supposedly sane unbeliever? One such horror story is reported by the person to whom it happened, Ken Levitt, writing with Ceil Rosen, in the book Kidnapped For My Faith (Glendale, California: Bible Voice, 1978). Fortunately these ill-advised and illegal efforts usually fail, since faith is not acquired by force, and people do not trust Yeshua the Messiah because they are crazy but because they are convinced that the Gospel is true.
25. But Sha’ul said, “No, I am not ‘crazy,’ Festus, your Excellency; on the contrary, I am speaking words of truth and sanity.
26. For the king understands these matters, so to him I express myself freely, because I am sure that none of these things have been hidden from him. After all, they didn’t happen in some back alley.
Sha HI senses that the level of his discourse has been beyond Festus' spiritual capacity. Sha'ul does not have time to explain everything to him just then. Rather, aware that he wishes to be well thought of by his superiors, Sha'ul can relieve Festus' anxiety by assuring him that Agrippa will not think Sha'ul insane. (For another aspect of this verse, see v. 8N.)
In some back alley, literally, "in a corner."
27. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe!”
28. Agrippa said to Sha’ul, “In this short time, you’re trying to convince me to become Messianic?”
29. Sha’ul replied, “Whether it takes a short time or a long time, I wish to God that not only you, but also everyone hearing me today, might become just like me except for these chains!”
In short, you're trying to convince me to become Messianic (Greek Chrisiianos, usually rendered "a Christian"). See 11:26N, which explains that the word "Christian" referred to Gentile believers, since the Jewish believers were called Natzraiim (24:5&N). Agrippa's remark shows that he has become aware of Sha'ul's evangelistic purpose (see 26: IN). But his use of the word "Christianas" instead of "Natzrati" may carry a mildly twitting overtone: "you're trying to convince me to become a Gentile as well as a believer in Yeshua" — a response heard to this day from Jewish people presented with the Gospel. No Messianic Jew wants an unbelieving Jew to stop being Jewish and become a Gentile, he only wants him to trust in Yeshua. This is what Sha'ul implies in his answer: refusing to relate to Agrippa's term "Christianas," he instead points with earnest intensity to himself as an example of the kind of faith he covets for Agrippa and for all the rest of his audience.
30. Then the king got up, and with him the governor and Bernice and the others sitting with them.
31. After they had left, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing that deserves either death or prison.”
32. And Agrippa said to Festus, “If he hadn’t appealed to the Emperor, he could have been released.”
The appeal to the Emperor cannot be annulled because Festus accepted it publicly before Sha'ul's accusers.
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