Paul’s Personal Defense – Acts 26
Read the Passage: Acts 26
Acts 26 records the fifth of six times that Paul defends himself in the book of Acts while under Roman arrest. Recall Paul was arrested in Acts 21, while in Jerusalem concluding his third missions journey. At this time, Paul had been a Christian for roughly 20 years and had completed three mission journeys over a 10-year period. Paul’s arrest marked the beginning of his fourth missions journey, which would lead Paul to Rome. The six times Paul defended himself were: before commander Claudius Lysias and the Jewish mob in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 22:1–21), before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 22:30–23:10), before Governor Felix in Caesarea (cf. Acts 24:10–21), before Governor Festus in Caesarea (cf. Acts 25:1–12), before King Agrippa in Caesarea (cf. Acts 26:1–32), and before Jews in Rome (cf. Acts 28:17–19). Note Paul would be under arrest for ~5 years.
At Acts 25:13, King Agrippa arrived in Caesarea in order to greet the new governor, Festus. Agrippa is known in history as Herod Agrippa II, as he is the son of Herod Agrippa I, who killed the apostle James and imprisoned Peter (cf. Acts 12:1). Note there are six Herods in Scripture. Agrippa desired to hear Paul, as he was familiar with the Jewish faith and happenings (cf. Acts 26:3, 26). Acts 26:2–11 records Paul’s initial self-defense before Agrippa. Interestingly, Paul’s defense was not to engage in theological debate, to give biblical exegesis, or even to make legal arguments. Rather, Paul gave his testimony before Agrippa, which is what Jesus had commissioned him to do (cf. Acts 19:21; 20:24; 23:11). Biographically, Paul’s defense in this passage is interesting for several reasons, including the indication that Paul may have been a former member of the Sanhedrin (cf. Acts 26:10).
For the third and final time in this book, Acts 26:12–18 gives details of Paul’s conversion experience (cf. Acts 9:1–19; 22:6–21). Paul’s previous account of his salvation was made before the Jerusalem mob, while this present account was given before King Agrippa. Note the unique emphases in each of these accounts. In speaking before the Jews, Paul notes his traveling companions did not hear Jesus’ voice (cf. Acts 22:10), mentions being blinded (cf. Acts 22:11), reviews his visit from Ananias (cf. Acts 22:12–16), and recounts his ensuing trip to Jerusalem and further commissioning by Jesus (cf. Acts 22:17–21). In addressing Agrippa, Paul emphasizes his being sent to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 26:17), as well as the fact that the gospel entails being delivered from darkness, overcoming the power of Satan, receiving forgiveness, and obtaining an inheritance (cf. Acts 26:18).
In Acts 26:19–23 Paul gives details about his post-conversion life, as well as continuing to emphasize the content of the gospel. In a similar verse to Acts 1:8, Paul tells Agrippa that he had obediently shared the gospel “in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:20a). Paul then summarizes the gospel message before the King, saying that men “should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance” (Acts 26:20b). Further, it is evident that Paul is customizing his gospel witness before King Agrippa, as he says that the persecution he was experiencing from the Jews was on account of his preaching the fulfillment of the message of the Old Testament (cf. Acts 26:22–23). Given Agrippa’s knowledge of the Scriptures, Paul’s claim here was that he was merely a preacher of biblical themes, not a heretic (cf. Ps. 22; Isa. 53).
Acts 26:24–32 contains the conclusion of Paul’s self-defense before Governor Festus and King Agrippa. At Acts 26:24 Festus accuses Paul of being insane on account of his belief that Jesus was risen from the dead. In response, Paul noted, as he’d done earlier (cf. Acts 26:8), that the gospel is both true and reasonable (cf. Acts 26:25). This is especially true, claimed Paul, if one accepts the message of the Old Testament prophets, as did King Agrippa. While Paul’s question about Agrippa’s beliefs certainly put the King in an awkward position (cf. Acts 26:27), it seems Paul’s intent here was likely not to publicly embarrass Agrippa, but to push the King toward a gospel decision. Agrippa, however, managed to evade a direct answer to Paul’s question (cf. Acts 26:28). In concluding this narrative, Luke reports that both Festus and Agrippa decided that Paul was innocent.
- What is the significance of Jesus’ appearance to Paul, during his imprisonment, at Acts 23:11? What affect would Christ’s words of encouragement have had upon Paul?
- How would you react if you were imprisoned because of your faith? What are some common themes among the six times Paul defends himself in Acts 22–28?
- What are the non-negotiable aspects of a gospel presentation? What are the benefits of sharing the gospel via one’s personal testimony?
- How can we explain the different emphases in Paul’s accounts of his conversion before the Jews (cf. Acts 22:6–21) and before Agrippa (cf. Acts 26:12–18)?
- If both Festus and Agrippa concluded that Paul was innocent of crimes deserving of death and chains, why was Paul not released?