Paul: “I’ve always been a Pharisee”
- 26:1 King Agrippa told Paul, “You can go ahead and tell us what you have to say for yourself.” Paul, gesturing with a hand, started his defense.
- 26:2 “I feel fortunate, King Agrippa, to have a chance to present my case to you.
- 26:3 I’m fortunate because you understand Jews. You know our customs. You know what gets us upset with each other. So I ask you to please listen patiently.
- 26:4 Jewish leaders know my story. They know it all the way back to my childhood. They know I’ve been a Jew all my life. And they know I grew up in Jerusalem.
- 26:5 If you made them take an oath to tell nothing but the truth, they would admit that I’ve always been a Pharisee. There’s no branch of the Jewish religion stricter than Pharisees.
- 26:6 Now I stand here on trial because I believe God has kept a promise he made long ago to our ancestors.
- 26:7 It’s a promise our people have been waiting to see fulfilled—Jews in all 12 tribes of Israel. It’s the reason we have devoted ourselves to God and have worshiped him day and night. Your Majesty, I’m on trial because I believe God kept his promise.
Paul: “Why is it so hard to believe in the resurrection?”
- 26:8 Why do so many of you find it hard to believe that God raises the dead?
- 26:9 I used to think I should do whatever I could to silence people linked to Jesus of Nazareth. Violence included.
- 26:10 I did it in Jerusalem. I didn’t just arrest a bunch of saintly souls and lock them up in prison. When it came time to vote on their execution, I voted for the death penalty.
- 26:11 I punished many of them right there in the synagogues where they worshiped. I’d try to bully them into saying something I now realize would have been blasphemous to them.1 I grew so violently angry that I hunted down these people. I even chased them into other countries.
- 26:12 I made one of those trips to Damascus. On that mission I carried with me a written affidavit giving me power authorized by the top priests.
- 26:13 About noon, Your Majesty, while I was on the road I saw a light from the sky. It was brighter than the sun, and it lit up everything around me including the people who were traveling with me.
- 26:14 We all dropped to the ground. That’s when I heard a voice talking to me in the Hebrew language.2 ‘Saul.3 Saul. Why are you persecuting me? You can’t keep fighting me like this.’4
- 26:15 I said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ The Lord said, ‘I’m Jesus, the one you’re persecuting.
Paul’s assignment from Jesus
- 26:16 But I want you to get up. Stand on your feet right now. I have come to you for a reason. I’m here to give you a job. You’re going to work for me, and you’re going to tell people about me. I want you to tell them that you have seen me today. And I want you to tell them what I’ll show you in the days to come.
- 26:17 I’ll keep you safe from your fellow Jews and from the non-Jews. I’m sending you especially to the non-Jews
- 26:18 because I want you to open their eyes. Bring them out of the darkness and into the light. Steer them away from the attraction to Satan; point them toward God. Help them find forgiveness for the sins they committed. And help them find a home among the people who put their faith in me and are devoted to me.’
- 26:19 As you can see, King Agrippa, I did as I was told to do in the heavenly vision.
- 26:20 The people in Damascus were the first to hear my story. Later I told my story to people in Jerusalem and then to folks all over the region of Judea. I told non-Jews, too, so they could repent, rejecting their sinful way of living and then start living the kind of life that shows they’ve changed.
- 26:21 This is why the Jews arrested me in the Temple and tried to kill me.
- 26:22 With God’s help, I have told my story to influential people and to common folks. Everything I have said is what the prophets and Moses said first—what I’m reporting is what they said would happen.
- 26:23 Those writings show that the Messiah would suffer, die, and rise from the dead to bring spiritual light to everyone—Jews as well as non-Jews.”
Festus: “Paul, you’re crazy”
- 26:24 Festus interrupted, yelling, “You’re crazy, Paul! You’ve crammed so much education into your head that you’ve gone out of your mind!”
- 26:25 Paul said, “I haven’t lost my mind, Honorable Festus. What I’m saying is true. And it makes sense
- 26:26 when you know the background, like the king does. He knows what I’m talking about. That’s why I feel as free to speak boldly. Everything I’ve described has been done out in the open for the world to see.
- 26:27 King Agrippa, do you believe what the prophets wrote? I know you do.”
- 26:28 Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you really think you can turn me into a Christian so quickly?"
- 26:29 Paul answered, “Whether quick or slow, I wish to God above that you and everyone else listening to me today would become just like me—except for the chains.”
- 26:30 The king stood up. So did the governor and Bernice and everyone sitting with them.
- 26:31 After the crowd filed out of the room they talked among themselves. They said, “This man hasn’t done anything worthy of death or even imprisonment.”
- 26:32 Agrippa said to Festus, “You could have freed this man if he had not appealed his case to Caesar.”
Perhaps Paul tried to get Christians to curse Jesus or admit the stories about his resurrection were lies.
Or in the Hebrew “dialect,” which would have been Aramaic, a language many Jews spoke at the time.
Saul is the Hebrew version of the Greek name of Paul.
A more literal translation: “It’s hard for you to kick against the goads.” A goad is a stick used to prod a horse or an ox forward. When a horse kicked against the goads, it was trying to resist doing the job it was supposed to do. If someone tries to get us to say something we don’t want to say, we might tell them, “Don’t goad me.”
Paul makes his case in more detail here, when he’s talking to King Agrippa, than he did when he talked to either of the two judges: Felix and Festus. Or maybe the story was just reported in more detail this time. Either way, why do you think we get more detail here than we did before?
Paul said he was a Pharisee and that “There’s no branch of the Jewish religion stricter than Pharisees” (26:5). Paul wasn’t just the equivalent of a tradition-loving, rule-keeping fundamentalist today. His brand of religion was so strict that it would have taken the fun out of “fundamentalist.” Pharisees had hundreds of rules beyond those in their Bible. But they expected everyone to keep those rules, just like some ministers today expect their church members to obey all the committee-made rules in the church manual. What’s the point? Why do you think Paul added this detail about himself and the Pharisees?
Paul said, “Why do so many of you find it hard to believe that God raises the dead?” (26:8). That might seem like a sharp deviation in the flow of the story. Does it seem that way to you?
Paul describes himself as a pretty nasty guy. He apparently bullied Christians into saying blasphemous things about Jesus (26:11). He hunted believers down, arrested them, threw them in prison, and even voted for their execution (26:10-11). If he is trying to defend himself from getting executed, why would he say these nasty things about himself?
In this version of Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, we get more detail and more dialogue between him and Jesus. Does the inconsistency bother you when you compare the story here with the same stories in Acts 9 and 22?
At the end of his speech, Paul said, “Everything I have said is what the prophets and Moses said first—what I’m reporting is what they said would happen” (26:22). There’s no indication that Paul backed that up with examples from his Bible, as he did earlier when he visited the city of Thessalonica (Acts 17:3). What do you make of that? Do you think he skipped it for a reason? Or maybe Paul did give examples, but the writer simply didn’t mention this part of Paul’s defense.
Paul could have been freed “if he had not appealed his case to Caesar” (26:32). How do you feel about that? Do you feel sad that he wasn’t released? Or do you feel glad that he gets to take the story to Rome, although at the risk of death along the way and execution after he gets there?
As we near the end of Paul’s story in the book of Acts, we have read a fair amount of info about him. What do you think of him? Do you like him? Could he be your friend? Or would you rather keep him at the acquaintance level?
LIFE APPLICATION. Acts 26 reports an impassioned defense of Paul’s ministry. He’s defending what he did and he’s explaining why he did it. In what ways do Christians today do the same thing?