(1) Then Paul stretched forth the hand.—The characteristic attitude reminds us of Acts 21:40. Here it acquires a fresh pictorial vividness from the fact that St. Paul now stood before the court as a prisoner, with one arm, probably the left, chained to the soldier who kept guard over him. (Comp. Acts 26:29.)
Because I shall answer.—Strictly, because I am about to make my defence, or apologia.
Know all the Jews.—The noun seems to be used in its more limited meaning, as including chiefly, if not exclusively, the Jews of Judæa.
Unto our fathers.—Some of the better MSS. have simply, “to the fathers.” The Received text is, perhaps, more in harmony with St. Paul’s usual manner of identifying himself with those to whom he speaks. He will claim even Agrippa as of the stock of Abraham. (Comp. in this connection the anecdote as to Agrippa I. given in Note on Acts 12:21.)
When they were put to death.—The history of the Acts records only one instance. Were there other martyrdoms besides that of Stephen, of which we know nothing? or does the Apostle speak in general terms of that single act? On the whole, the former seems the more probable alternative. He was breathing an atmosphere of “slaughter” (Acts 9:1). On this view, the language of Hebrews 12:4, “ye have not yet resisted unto blood,” must be referred to the sufferings of a later time, or. more probably, of a different region. In 1 Thessalonians 2:15, James 5:10, we have, perhaps, traces of widely extended sufferings.
I gave my voice against them.—Better, gave my vote. The words show that St. Paul, though a “young man” (see Note on Acts 7:58), must have been a member either of the Sanhedrin itself or of some tribunal with delegated authority.
Being exceedingly mad against them.—The words express, with a wonderful vividness, St. Paul’s retrospective analysis of his former state. It was not only that he acted in ignorance (1 Timothy 1:13), he might plead also the temporary insanity of fanaticism.
Even unto strange cities.—The words show that the mission to Damascus was not a solitary instance, and the persecution may well have raged in the regions of Samaria and Galilee through which the Apostle passed. (See Note on Acts 9:3.)
A minister and a witness.—The first word is the same as that which the Apostle uses of himself in 1 Corinthians 4:1.
Among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.—Better, have been sanctified; the Greek participle being in the perfect. The word, as always, expresses primarily the idea of a completed consecration rather than of a perfected holiness (Hebrews 9:13; Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 13:12); but the one thought passes naturally into the other. The last six words may be connected grammatically either with “sanctified” or with “receive.” On internal grounds the latter is, perhaps, the best construction. Faith, i.e., is theoretically connected with “forgiveness of sins,” as well as with the “inheritance,” which implies sanctification.
The heavenly vision . . .—The noun is used of Zachariah’s vision in the Temple (Luke 1:22), and again by St. Paul, in reference to this and other like manifestations (2 Corinthians 12:1). It is distinctly a “vision,” as contrasted with a “dream.”
Throughout all the coasts of Judæa, and then to the Gentiles.—The words refer, in the first instance, to the visit after St. Paul’s conversion (see Notes on Acts 9:29; Galatians 1:17-18); but the special mention of the Gentiles as following upon “the coasts (i.e., the region) of Judæa,” points to an evangelising activity in Cilicia prior to the commencement of his work at Antioch.
That they should repent . . .—The three stages of the spiritual life are accurately noted: (1) the repentance for past sins, which is more than a regret for their consequences; (2) the “turning to God,” which implies faith in Him, as far as He is known, and therefore justification; (3) the doing works meet for repentance (we note the reproduction of the Baptist’s phrase; see Note on Matthew 3:8), which are the elements of a progressive sanctification.
Witnessing both to small and great.—The English version gives the right rendering of the best supported reading. Some MSS., however, have “witnessed to by small and great;” but this, besides the want of authority, and its involving an unusual construction, is at variance with the context. It was true that St. Paul’s life was spent in bearing witness that Jesus was Christ. It was not true that he had a good report of all men. The words “small and great” were significant as spoken when he was standing before two men like Festus and Agrippa. The phrase may be noted as occurring in Acts 8:10, and again in Revelation 11:18; Revelation 13:16; Revelation 19:5; Revelation 19:18; Revelation 20:12.
The prophets and Moses.—The more natural order of “Moses and the prophets” (Luke 16:29; Luke 16:31), and the order of the words in the Greek, which the prophets said should come, and Moses, suggests the thought that the sentence would have stopped naturally at “come,” and that the name of Moses was added by an instantaneous after-thought to meet the case of those among the hearers who, like the Sadducees, placed the Pentateuch on a higher level of authority than the Prophets.
That he should be the first that should rise from the dead.—More literally, that He first by His resurrection from the dead (strictly, out of His resurrection) should show light. It was through the Resurrection only that the hopes of Simeon were fulfilled (Luke 2:32), and that light shone in on those who had been sitting as in the shadow of death. The “people” are, as almost always when the word is so used, God’s people Israel, as distinguished from the heathen.
Much learning doth make thee mad.—The Greek gives a neuter plural: Thy many writings are turning thee to madness. The word was one which was used by the Jews for the collected body of their sacred writings and traditions, as in the “letters” of John 7:15 and the “holy Scriptures” of 2 Timothy 3:15. Festus had probably heard the Law and the Prophets of Israel so described, and knew that St. Paul had with him “books and parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13), which he was continually studying. That one who had been crucified should rise from the dead and give light to the Gentiles seemed to him the very hallucination of insanity. So have men at all times thought of those who lived after a higher law than their own, whether their faith rested, as in St. Paul’s case, on an outward objective fact, or, as in Wisdom Of Solomon 5:4, on a true faith in the Unseen.
The words of truth and soberness.—The latter word was one of the favourite terms of Greek ethical writers, as having a higher meaning than the “temperance” of Acts 24:25, to express the perfect harmony of impulses and reason (Aristot. Eth. Nicom. iii. 10). Here it is contrasted with the “madness” of which Festus had spoken, looking, as he did, on the Apostle as an enthusiastic dreamer. There was doubtless a deep-lying enthusiasm in his character, but it was an enthusiasm which had its root not in madness, but in truth.
The MSS. present two readings, in a little and in a great, and in a little and in much; but this scarcely affects the interpretation of the passage.
Except these bonds.—The words show, as has been pointed out in the Note on Acts 26:29, that the prisoner was brought into court chained, after the Roman fashion, to the soldier or soldiers who kept guard over him. We cannot read the words without feeling their almost plaintive pathos. “Such as he”—pardoned, at peace with God and man, with a hope stretching beyond the grave, and an actual present participation in the powers of the eternal world—this is what he was desiring for them. If that could be effected, he would be content to remain in his bonds, and to leave them upon their thrones.
It is not without interest to note the subsequent relations between Festus and Agrippa, during the short government of the former, as showing a continuance of the same entente cordiale as that which we have seen in this chapter. Agrippa took up his abode at Jerusalem in the old palace of the Asmonean, or Maccabean, princes. It commanded a view of the city, and, from a banquet-hall which he had erected, he could look down upon the courts of the Temple and see the priests sacrificing even as he sat at meat. The Jews looked on this as a profanation, and built a wall which blocked up the view both from the king’s palace and from the portico where the Roman soldiers used to stand on guard during the festivals. This was regarded by Festus as an insult, and he ordered the wall to be pulled down. The people of Jerusalem, however, obtained leave to send an embassy to Rome. They secured the support of Poppæa, already half a proselyte, after the fashion of the time among the women of the higher class at Rome, and, by the strange irony of history, the Temple of Jehovah was rescued from profanation by the concubine of Nero (Jos. Ant. xx. 8, § 11). Agrippa continued to display the taste for building which was the hereditary characteristic of his house. Cæsarea Philippi was enlarged and named Neronias, in honour of the emperor. A vast theatre was erected at Berytus (Beyrout) and adorned with statues. The Temple was at last finished, and the 18,000 workmen who were thus thrown out of work were employed in repaving the city with marble. The stateliness of the Temple ritual was enhanced by the permission which the king gave to the Levites of the choir, in spite of the remonstrance of the priests, that they should wear a linen ephod. Once again we note the irony of history. The king who thus had the glory of completing what the founder of his dynasty had begun, bringing both structure and ritual to a perfection never before attained, saw, within ten years, the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple (Jos. Ant. xx. 8, § 7).