Acts 26:1-32

After receiving permission to speak from Herod Agrippa I, Paul stretched out his chained hand to indicate that he was about to make his defense. (26:1, 29) At the start, Paul mentioned that he considered himself fortunate to be able to defend himself before King Agrippa against all the accusations the Jews had made. (26:2) This was because of the king’s thorough knowledge of Jewish customs and controversies. (26:3)

On the maternal side of his ancestry, Herod Agrippa II was the great-grandson of Mariamne I of the royal Jewish priestly family (the Hasmonaean dynasty). His great-grandfather, Herod the Great, was an Edomite. The Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities, XIV, xv, 2) referred to Herod the Great as a “half Jew.” The father of Herod Agrippa II (Herod Agrippa I) was a staunch defender of the Jews and a persecutor of the followers of Jesus Christ. (Acts 12:1-3) From the way he conducted himself and the policies he followed, Herod Agrippa II, like his father, was a nominal Jew and so had firsthand knowledge about Jewish customs and controversies. Paul beseeched Agrippa to listen to him patiently. (26:3)

From the beginning of his life among his own people, which would have been in Tarsus of Cilicia, and then in the city of Jerusalem, Paul lived as a devout Pharisee. In their adherence to the Torah and the ancient Jewish traditions, the Pharisees, as Paul identified them, constituted the “strictest sect of our [Jewish] way of revering [God].” All the Jews who had previously known Paul, if they had been willing to do so, would have been able to confirm his words. (26:4, 5)

“And now,” Paul continued, “I stand on trial for the hope of the promise God made to our fathers [the forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob].” This promise related to the “seed” (or descendant of Abraham) by whom peoples of all nations would obtain blessing for themselves. (Genesis 22:18) The hope of the descendants of the patriarchs, the Israelites, was bound up with the fulfillment of this promise. All who trusted God’s promise looked forward to the coming of this “seed” (the Messiah or Christ). As the “seed” had arrived in the person of Jesus, the unique Son of God, whom he proclaimed, Paul could rightly say that he was on trial for the “hope” based on the promise God had made to the Israelite forefathers. This “hope” was then a fulfilled hope. (26:6)

The “twelve tribes” of Israel, the descendants of the patriarchs, hoped to attain the promise or to experience the fulfillment of the promise, with resultant blessing for themselves. In the first century CE, the Jewish people continued to be identified as being members of various tribes. Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin. (Philippians 3:5) Barnabas was a Levite. (Acts 4:36) The aged widow Anna was of Asher’s tribe. (Luke 2:36) The people from the various tribes of Israel demonstrated that they hoped to attain the promise by earnestly sharing in the divinely appointed arrangement for worship “day and night.” Daily, both in the morning and in the evening, the prescribed sacrifices were presented on the altar (Exodus 29:38-42), and the fire on the altar was kept burning continually. (Leviticus 6:8-13) Thus, at the temple, worship continued each day, both day and night. (26:7)

Without a direct link to the promise of God and the hope of seeing it fulfilled, this worship, as Paul’s words implied, would have been purposeless. The hope that was bound up with the daily worship of the Jewish people was the very hope for which they accused Paul as meriting condemnation. This was so because he made known the promised Messiah, the one for whose coming they had hoped. To establish Jesus’ identity as the promised Messiah or Christ, Paul proclaimed that Jesus, in fulfillment of the holy writings, had been raised from the dead. (26:7) With the resurrection of Jesus having been prominent in the message Paul proclaimed and, by implication, the rejection of Jesus’ resurrection being the basis for refusal to accept him as the promised Messiah, Paul rightly asked why those whom he addressed would consider it unbelievable that God raises the dead. (26:8)

Paul, in his own case, had at one time not believed that God had resurrected Jesus. In his state of unbelief, he felt compelled to oppose the “name of Jesus the Nazarene.” The “name” designates the person, and Jesus is thus identified as the “Nazarene” or the man from the city of Nazareth. As a persecutor of the followers of Jesus, Paul acted against the “name” or the person of Jesus. His mistreatment of Jesus’ disciples constituted the “many” things Paul did against the “name of Jesus.” (26:9)

He carried out his campaign of persecution in Jerusalem. With the authorization of the chief priests, Paul had many of the “holy ones” (followers of Jesus Christ) locked up in prison. To have them executed, he would cast his vote against them. (26:10) In “all the synagogues,” he submitted the disciples of Jesus Christ to punishment (probably beatings), trying to force them to “blaspheme.” This would have been a blaspheming of the name of Jesus and, therefore, would have signified disowning him. His aim to have them renounce Jesus, however, apparently did not succeed, for Paul only mentioned his efforts to force them to blaspheme. (26:11)

His furious raging against the followers of Jesus was so intense that he did not limit his persecution to the city of Jerusalem. He persecuted them in “outside cities,” that is, in foreign cities. An example of this was his setting out on a journey to Damascus. (26:11, 12; see the Notes section.)

With the authority and a commission from the chief priests, Paul headed to Damascus (135 miles [217 kilometers] north of Jerusalem) to persecute the followers of Jesus. (26:12) Addressing Agrippa directly, Paul continued, “[While] on the way, O king, I saw at midday a light brighter than the sun flash around me and those who traveled with me.” This particular description of the light is more specific than in the two earlier references to it. (9:3; 22:6; 26:13)

Paul and the others fell to the ground. The brilliant light at midday must have had a frightening effect on them. Possibly to shield themselves from its brightness, all of them dropped to their knees and then bent down, with their forehead touching the ground. In the earlier references to this development, no mention is made of the others as having fallen to the ground. The omission of this detail is immaterial, as all three versions of the event are in full agreement that Paul fell to the ground. (9:4; 22:7; 26:14)

While in a prostrate position on the ground, Paul heard words spoken to him in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? [It is] hard for you to kick against the goads.” A goad commonly consisted of a long pole to which a metal point or prick was attached. It was used to drive or guide draft animals. When resisting the pricking of the goad and kicking against it, an animal would be hurting itself. So, when fighting against the disciples of Jesus Christ, Paul had been making it hard for himself. His course only resulted in injury to himself, for it could never succeed in stopping the spread of the message about God’s Son. (26:14; see the Notes section.)

As Paul did not know who was speaking to him, he apparently used the term “lord” as a respectful manner of address when he asked, “Who are you, lord?” The speaker identified himself, saying, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (26:15)

He directed Paul to rise and to “stand on [his] feet,” suggestive of assuming a position of alertness so as to listen and to be ready for action. Jesus explained that he had appeared to Paul so as to appoint him to function as a servant and as a witness to the things he had seen and would come to see. What he had seen and would see in the future pertained to Jesus Christ. At this time, Paul had had a glimpse of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ and of his glory (the brilliant light). In the future, Paul would receive other revelations from him. In the capacity of a “servant” or a subordinate, Paul would be advancing the interests of the Lord Jesus Christ. As one who had seen the resurrected Son of God, he would be able to provide firsthand testimony about his resurrection and the magnificence of his highly exalted state. In the future, Paul would become the recipient of revelations that he could make known to others and thus bear witness. (26:16)

Jesus indicated to Paul that he would face opposition, for he gave him the assurance that he would deliver him from the Jewish people and from the people of the other nations to whom he would be sending him. As Paul explained to believers in the Roman province of Galatia, his being an apostle (one sent forth with a commission) had not come about by the appointment or through the agency of any man. He was chosen as an apostle by the risen Lord Jesus Christ, who is at complete oneness with his Father. Therefore, on his way to Damascus, Paul received his commission as an apostle “through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” (26:17; Galatians 1:1)

Jesus Christ also revealed what Paul would be doing in carrying out the commission that had been entrusted to him. He would be Christ’s instrument for opening the eyes of those to whom he was being sent. This opening of the eyes would refer to the presentation of the message about Jesus Christ in a manner that would allow it to be perceived in all its clarity. (26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6)

When in a state of alienation from God, individuals find themselves subject to the powers of darkness as part of the world that is under satanic control. Paul’s ministry would have as its purpose to turn people “from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.” Darkness is associated with ignorance, gloom, evil, and hatred, whereas light is linked to enlightenment, joy, goodness, and love. When heeded, the message Paul would be proclaiming would rescue people from being in a state of darkness respecting God and his will and transfer them into a realm of light, where God is known and love finds its full expression. Those who are in the “light” cease to be part of the world alienated from God but come to be children fully reconciled to him. As his obedient children, they demonstrate that they are no longer subject to the power of Satan. (26:18)

Paul would be making known that forgiveness of sins and participation in the inheritance of those who are “sanctified,” made holy, or set apart for sacred service is made possible by faith in Jesus Christ. The inheritance would include all the privileges and blessings that God’s approved children come to enjoy. Faith is the complete trust in Jesus as Lord, the unique Son of God, and his sacrificial death as the means by which one can be forgiven of sins. This faith is more than a mere belief or acknowledgment. It finds its full expression in a life that harmonizes with Jesus’ example and teaching. (26:18)

Addressing Agrippa directly, Paul said, “I did not become disobedient to the celestial sight.” The apostle promptly acted in harmony with it, recognizing that he could not possibly reject the commission that had been given to him. (26:19)

First to people in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and “all the country of Judea,” and to the non-Jewish people of other nations, Paul proclaimed that they should repent and turn to God, “performing deeds that befitted repentance.” The message he made known revealed that repenting of one’s sins and turning to God involved more than just acknowledging one’s sinful condition and regretting it. It required a changed way of life, which, in disposition, words, and actions, revealed that the past sinful course had been rejected. (26:20; see the Notes section.) It is because he had obeyed what had been revealed to him in a heavenly manifestation, proclaiming the message about repentance and doing deeds befitting repentance to Jews and non-Jews, that the Jews in the temple precincts seized him and tried to kill him. (21:28, 30, 31; 26:21)

Paul credited God with giving him the needed aid to have made it possible for him to proclaim this message or to give his testimony to both “small” (insignificant or lowly persons) and “great” (prominent ones, high officials, or rulers) until that very day or time. As to what he proclaimed, Paul added that he said nothing other than what the “prophets and Moses” had indicated about what would occur, “that the Christ would suffer, would be the first to rise from the dead,” and would “announce light to the [Jewish] people and to the nations [the non-Jews].” (26:22, 23)

The prophecy of Isaiah pointed to the suffering of the Messiah, speaking of him as being like “a lamb that is led to the slaughter” and as suffering and dying for the sins of many. On account of his pouring out “his soul” to death, God would grant him his portion among the great. To be rewarded for the surrender of his life would require his being raised from the dead. (Isaiah 53:7-12) The prophet Daniel was given the assurance that he would rise from the dead “at the end of the days.” (Daniel 12:13) As the reward of the one who was foretold to suffer for the sins of the people is not linked to the end of the days, Paul could rightly speak of the prophets as indicating that the Messiah or Christ would be the first to rise from the dead. (26:23)

The prophecy of Isaiah pointed to a time when those who had walked in darkness would see a bright light (Isaiah 9:1[2]). This proved to be so when Jesus brought comfort and hope to those who were oppressed and disadvantaged. He refreshed them spiritually, opening up to all who accepted him the dignity of being God’s children and benefiting from his guidance and loving care. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the light continued to shine through the activity of his disciples. To Jews and non-Jews, they proclaimed how individuals could cease to be in darkness and enjoy God’s favor as persons forgiven of their sins and fully reconciled to him through faith in his Son. (26:23)

In the sacred writings which the Jews attributed to Moses, mention is made of a coming ruler from the tribe of Judah to whom the peoples would be obedient (Genesis 49:10) and of a prophet like Moses whom God would raise up from among the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 18:18, 19). That future ruler, anointed one, Messiah, or Christ, proved to be Jesus, and he also was the prophet like Moses who spoke to the people the words of God, his Father. (26:22, 23)

To the Roman procurator Festus, Paul’s words, especially about the resurrection of Christ, must have sounded very strange. He interrupted, shouting, “You are insane, Paul; much learning [the plural of grámma] has driven you insane!” The plural form of the Greek word grámma means “writings” or “letters” and can refer to the study of writings and, hence, learning. (26:24)

Paul assured Festus, “I am not insane, Your Excellency [krátistos] Festus, but I am uttering words of truth and sensibleness [sophrosýne].” Paul addressed Festus in keeping with the position of procurator that he occupied. The expression krátistos is a respectful term of address and can denote “most noble” or “most excellent.” Paul’s words were not the product of a deranged mind but were true, in full harmony with reality. The Greek word sophrosýne signifies “rational” or “reasonable.” There was nothing irrational or senseless about what Paul had said, for he had adhered to verifiable facts. (26:25)

As Paul then pointed out, Agrippa, the king whom he had addressed “boldly” or “frankly,” was aware of the matters that he had mentioned. “This,” that is, events relating to Jesus, did not take place “in a corner.” Jesus’ ministry, his death, and the proclamation of his resurrection were all public, not events that occurred hidden away from view in some isolated location. (26:26)

“Do you, King Agrippa,” Paul continued, “believe the prophets? I know you believe.” Among the Jews generally, belief in the writings of the prophets was the rule, not the exception. So, as a Jew or “half Jew,” Agrippa could reasonably have been expected to believe in the prophets. Genuine belief, however, would have required his accepting the evidence in the writings of the prophets that pointed to Jesus as the promised Messiah or Christ. (26:27)

Manuscripts vary in the way they represent Agrippa’s response, and this, in part, explains the reason for numerous renderings. “With a little more of your persuasion you will make a Christian of me.” (REB) “A little more, and your arguments would make a Christian of me.” (NJB) “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” (NKJV) “You will soon persuade me to play the Christian.” (NAB) “With but [such] little persuasion you are attempting to make me a Christian.” (Wuest) “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” (NRSV) “In such a short time do you think you can talk me into being a Christian?” (CEV) Paul’s response includes the words “in little or in great,” which could mean “in a short time or in a long time”; or “with little more or much more persuasion.” (26:28, 29)

Whether relating to time or persuasion, however, is not the main aspect of Paul’s reply. He hoped to God that not only Agrippa but all who were then listening to him would come to be as he then was (a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ), with the exception of their being without the bonds or chains that he had as a prisoner. (26:29)

Agrippa stood up and so did Festus, Bernice, and those who had been seated with them. (26:30) As they were leaving the audience hall, they commented to one another that the accused man had done nothing meriting death or confinement. (26:31) To Festus, Agrippa said, “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.” With Paul’s appeal to the emperor, the case no longer remained under their judicial authority, and their evaluation of the testimony indicated that the Jewish authorities had no basis for claiming that Paul deserved to be executed. (26:32)


Verses 10 and 11 merely summarize what Paul did. Neither in the Acts account nor in any of his letters is mention made of any foreign cities where he carried out a campaign of persecution. His journey to Damascus had as its objective to persecute disciples of Jesus Christ, and there is a possibility that the reference to persecuting Jesus’ disciples “in outside cities” may be understood of Paul’s intent to take his campaign of persecution far beyond Jerusalem.

In verse 14, a number of manuscripts add that, “because of fear,” all fell down.

Elsewhere the Acts account (9:19-22, 26-29) makes reference to Paul’s activity in Damascus and Jerusalem. Neither in the book of Acts nor in any of Paul’s letters, however, does one find another comment about his preaching to people from “all the country of Judea.” (26:20) As in the case of the apostles in Jerusalem, it would have been in the temple precincts that Paul proclaimed the message about Jesus Christ and the need for repentance. This would have made it possible for him to preach to Jews from all over Judea, as they came to the temple for worship. Accordingly, his sharing the message with people from all over Judea would not have required his personally traveling to all parts of the land.