This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 26:1-32. These verses record Paul’s speech to King Agrippa at Caesarea.
Paul’s speech to King Agrippa.
¶ "Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand, and made his defence:
“I think myself fortunate, king Agrippa, that I can defend myself before you this day regarding all the accusations the Jews make against me. I know you to be expert in all customs and questions common to the Jews. I therefore beg your patience in hearing me.” "(Acts 26:1-3).
1. Paul’s opening formalities. Paul makes the customary, but in this case quite genuine, compliment to the king, and the formal appeal for a hearing.
¶ "Paul continued, “King Agrippa, all the Jews know that my way of life, ever since my youth, was amid my own nation at Jerusalem. Since they have known me all this time, why don't they testify that I lived as a Pharisee, in the strictest sect of Judaism. Now here I am, standing trial for the hope of God’s promise to our fathers. Our twelve tribes, earnestly serve God day and night, in hope of attaining this promise. Yet for this very hope, king Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews! Why should any of you think it incredible that God should raise the dead?”"(Acts 26:4-8).
2. Paul addresses the Jews’ accusations. Agrippa would have read the transcript of Paul’s previous hearing. Agrippa was also grounded in a knowledge of Judaism. So Paul was on solid ground opening his defence with reference to the resurrection of the dead. Because Pharisees confessed a belief in the resurrection whilst Sadducees denied it, Paul had been able to divide and cripple the Sanhedrin by mentioning the resurrection (Acts 23:6-9). From a Roman point of view, Paul was at the same time able to point out that he was on trial not for a crime against Roman law, but merely on account of a religious dispute amongst the Jews —a matter in which Roman law had no interest so long as it didn't disturb the public peace.
3. Paul challenges his audience. Paul, ever the preacher, takes the opportunity to challenge the audience to question their own beliefs. Paul’s question has little to do with his own defence, but a lot to do with their accountability to God.
¶ Paul continued, "“King Agrippa, I truly thought to myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is exactly what I did in Jerusalem. I imprisoned many of the saints, having received authority from the chief priests. I voted to have these saints put to death. I punished the saints frequently and in every synagogue. I tried to coerce them into blasphemy. I was enraged against them, and persecuted them even in outlying cities”"(Acts 26:9-11).
4. Paul describes his former status. Paul next informed (or perhaps reminded) Agrippa that Paul himself had been a zealous persecutor of the way of Jesus. This then gave Paul an opportunity to show why he had turned completely around and was now a zealous disciple of Jesus. His explanation follows:
¶ "Paul continued, “I was on such a journey to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests. At midday, O King Agrippa, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who journeyed with me. We had all fallen to the ground when I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said, 'I am Jesus whom you persecute. But rise, and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you with the purpose of making you a minister and witness both of these things which you have seen, and of those things in which I will later appear to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, and from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among those who are made holy by faith in me.” "(Acts 26:12-18).
5. Paul describes his encounter with Jesus. This testimony by Paul was dramatic, but true in every detail. It was certain to gain the attention of the audience and to give credence to Paul’s current devotion to Jesus.
Contradictions? Paul says that he and his companions all fell to the ground (Acts 26:14), whereas Luke says that Saul fell to the ground and his companions stood speechless (Acts 9:7). Paul also says that his travelling companions did not hear the voice of Jesus who spoke to him (Acts 22:19), whereas Luke says they heard the sound (Acts 9:7). This is one of those famous “contradictions” that some people think they have discovered in the Bible. However Luke is hardly likely to write an account that contradicts Paul’s own accounts, and then quote those accounts in the same document! It is easy to reconcile these accounts: Saul and his companions all fell to the ground when the light shone, but his companions stood up before Saul did. Saul heard what Jesus said, but his companions heard only the sound, but did not hear in the sense of catching what was said.
¶ Paul continued, "Consequently, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. I proclaimed first to the people of Damascus, and also at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works appropriate for repentance. For this reason some Jews laid hold of me in the temple, and attempted to kill me. But I obtained help from God to continue to this day, witnessing to both small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses predicted: that Christ would suffer; and be the first to rise from the dead and thereby proclaim light to both the Jewish people and the Gentiles"(Acts 26:19-23).
6. Paul Summarises his mission. Paul next summarised his mission. He was guilty of no sedition against Rome, and of no crime even against Jewish law. His mission was simply to preach the resurrection of Christ which Moses and the prophets had predicted. From Agrippa’s viewpoint, Paul would be preaching his version of Judaism, which he had as much right to do as the Pharisees had to preach theirs, or the Sadducees theirs.
7. Paul summarises his message. Paul defines the basic message of his ministry: Christ should suffer, and be the first to rise from the dead and thereby proclaim light to both Jew and Gentile.
¶ "As Paul was saying this in his own defence, Festus interrupted with a loud voice: “ Paul you are beside yourself; too much learning has sent you mad.” But Paul said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak soberly and truthfully. The king knows of these matters, and I speak to him frankly, for I am sure that none of these things escape his attention. After all, this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “In a moment you will persuade me to become a Christian!” And Paul said, “I would to God, that not only you, but all who have heard me this day, would in a moment and forever be such as I am, except of course for these chains.” "(Acts 26:24-29).
8. Paul answers Festus. Festus was getting frustrated. Nothing new was coming out of this —certainly nothing that he could write in his letter to the emperor. He loudly interrupted Paul with a remark possibly designed to throw Paul off his well rehearsed track. Festus may have hoped Paul might say something that would lead to the outcome Festus was seeking.
9. Paul challenges Agrippa. Paul gave a polite answer to Festus. However Festus had turned Paul’s monologue into an opportunity for dialogue. So Paul threw out a challenge to Agrippa: “Do you believe the prophets?” Paul didn't wait for an answer, but said, “I know that you do”. This spared Agrippa from having to acknowledge that he was on different ground to Festus.
10. Paul again challenges the audience. Seeing that his defence was about to be curtailed, Paul finished on the high note of offering the gospel invitation to all.
These chains. Paul mentioned his chains not as an appeal to be set free, because he himself had made that impossible by appealing to Caesar. However perhaps Paul was pleading for his custody in Caesarea to be brought to an end and his transfer to Rome expedited.
¶ "And when Paul had said this, the king stood up, and so did the governor, and Bernice, and those who sat with them. When they had gone aside in private, they talked between themselves, saying, “This man does nothing worthy of death or even of imprisonment.” Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set at liberty, if only he had not appealed to Caesar.”"(Acts 26:30-32).
If only he had not appealed. The king stood up. This effectively brought the hearing to a close, except for a private conference among the main players. It was acknowledged that Paul had committed no crime. Festus would have to write as much to Caesar, and explain that he was unable to set Paul free, and was compelled to send him to Rome, because Paul had appealed to Caesar. This was not a good look for Festus, but there it was, and Festus had to live with it.
To Caesar. In due course, Paul was dispatched to Rome. Luke does not tells us directly whether Paul ever got his trial before Caesar, but only that he spent two years in Rome (Acts 28:31). However, we may safely assume that Paul did stand trial, because an angel said to him, "You must stand before Caesar"(Acts 27:23-24). From Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Timothy, and Titus, we can glean some details of Paul’s two years’ custody in Rome, and of his release thereafter.