We continue in the trial of Paul before the Roman officials, with the interjection of king Agrippa, the Jewish king working together with Roman rulers. Remembering back to the end of chapter 25, Festus has made a show of presenting the case to Agrippa so that he can have something to put in writing when sending the case on to Rome. Agrippa has been briefed on the charges, including the fact that Festus admits that he has no reason to keep Paul other than Paul’s appeal to Rome.
26:1 Agrippa, seemingly already enough with the charges to not hear the prosecution’s case, turns to Paul’s answer. We again see the verbal form of this word apologia to indicate a defense/answer.
26:2-3 Paul begins with a strategy familiar to us by now, though in a different context. Throughout Acts we’ve seen Paul begin his preaching in different rhetorical places—in the Old Testament with Jewish people (e.g. 17:1-3) and more in cultural connections with Gentiles (e.g. 17:16-33). This is a trial, but the strategy is the same: know your audience. Paul says it’s a good thing that he can make his apologia with a Jewish leader again.
26:4-5 Paul starts with his life as a Pharisee. Though we’ve heard this before, it’s important for Paul to start there with Agrippa.
26:6-8 And immediately after setting that Jewish foundation, Paul gets to the most important point of contention, that the promise made to the people of old has been fulfilled by the resurrection of the dead. In verse 8, he emphasizes the point; remember, the Pharisees had no issue with the idea of resurrection, in contrast to the Sadducees.
26:9-12 Paul recounts his persecution of Christians. Again, he’s not proud of this but it’s an important part of his defence. He’s showing the depth of the impact that Jesus has had on his life. It’s not as if he was a “blank slate”, and coolly evaluated all the options before him (like many people today would think is the “reasonable” approach to choosing a religion). No, he was vehemently opposed to Christ and His Church, on the grounds that Jesus was a blasphemer, and therefore so were His followers.
26:13-18 Paul gives a witness to what happened to him, which we first encountered in chapter 9. Here we hear some personal detail and reflection that we didn’t get earlier. Most especially we hear about the clear purpose for which God had called Paul: so that people would be saved (verse 18).
26:19-23 Paul then recounts the results of this conversion and call: his missionary efforts and his own persecutions at the hands of the Jews. Notice his emphasis, though, on the main point again; in verses 22-23, that Jesus suffered (shorthand for his suffering, death, and burial) and rose again, and that this is all fulfillment of what God in the Old Testament (Paul says “the prophets and Moses”, which is a way of referring to what we know as the Old Testament) had said.
26:24 Festus—not Agrippa, note!—interjects. The notion of the resurrection from the dead is, in his opinion, insanity. (Not so different a reaction from many in our culture today!)
26:25-27 Paul answers and then redirects again to Agrippa, who is his main audience here. And even in the midst of making a trial defence, Paul is preaching and applying the Gospel to Agrippa personally: “do you believe?” he asks Agrippa.
26:28 Agrippa resists the call to Christian faith in Jesus, sadly, like so many others who hear and reject God’s Word.
26:29 And yet Paul is undeterred. His call is to proclaim God’s Word. His hope is that Agrippa and everyone who hears would have “ears to hear” the Gospel, to believe it, and to have their eternal life secured by Jesus.
26:30-32 After the conversation, both Festus and Agrippa agree on what Festus had already said, that Paul has done nothing deserving of death. But they go farther; neither has he done anything worthy of being imprisoned. The implication is that he’s still in custody unjustly. In verse 32 it seems that Agrippa is also implying that Festus should have set Paul free before Paul felt the need to appeal. Now that he had appealed, they have to let that play out. But there shouldn’t have been a need for that in the first place.
We’re not told whether these comments are springing from Christian faith or not. But either way, according to Jewish law Paul is innocent. But the Roman officials will let this go to appeal. As a bit of a “teaser” for the last two chapters yet to come, one wonders what Festus ended up writing to Rome, based on the fact that even after the hearing before Agrippa, there were no charges to bring.