Acts 26 – Paul as the Light to the Gentiles

In this version of the story Paul emphasizes the fact that God called him to be the “light to the gentiles” (Acts 26:16-18).   This commission is based on Isaiah 49:6.  Paul seems to have always conceived of his mission through the lens of this text, which is somewhat unique in first century Judaism.  The text appears as a part of the “servant texts” in Isaiah.  This series of four prophecies describes the “Servant of the Lord” whose suffering brings about some kind of salvation for Israel.

There seems to have been some discussion of who the servant was; recall that the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading this text in Acts 8 and the idea of a suffering, dying and rising messiah appears at several points in the book of Acts.  This is anticipated as early as Luke 2:32, Simeon’s blessing on Jesus cites Isaiah and proclaims that this salvation has come to Israel.

Paul offers a somewhat different view – the Servant who suffered is Jesus (Luke 4:18, Is 61:1), but the “Light to the Gentiles” is applied to Paul and his ministry.  Turning to God and “opening eyes” is likely a reference back to the paradigmatic miracle on Cypress, the blinding of Bar-Jesus.  Like Isaiah, both Jesus and Paul ministered to blind people, people who were in need of healing in their understanding, so that they might believe that Jesus is in fact the Messiah.  Paul is sent to preach repentance to both the Jews and the Gentiles (recalling Romans 1:16-17, to the Jew first).

Festus interrupts Paul’s speech: “You are out of your mind!”  It is possible that this means that Paul’s knowledge of esoteric doctrines find things that are not necessarily true. This may reflect the common-sense “down to earth” Roman worldview. Festus is saying that the conclusions to which Paul comes is “beyond common sense,” not that these are strange and outlandish things.

Paul states that he is speaking “true and rational words.”  This description is good Greek rhetoric, sobriety is a chief virtue in Greek philosophy. Agrippa, on the other hand, understands that Paul’s speech has a persuasive value, that he is trying to convince them both of the truth of the Gospel.  What Paul has done has “not been done in a corner,” but rather out in the open for all to hear and evaluate.  This too is a feature of good philosophy and rhetoric, those who engage in secrets and mysteries are questionable (and probably not sober and self-controlled).

5 thoughts on “Acts 26 – Paul as the Light to the Gentiles

  1. Paul was often viewed as “out of his mind” or “crazy” in his preaching of the gospel because it was a new way for believers to experience Jesus and salvation. Paul was willing to preach to anyone and everyone, no matter what their religious background was. He made his message of the gospel unique to whoever he was speaking to. When he was with Jews he preached about being justified with Christ. When he was with the Gentiles he preached the truth and acceptance that comes through Christ. He knew enough about various religious stances to be able to assure them that Christ died for them and all they had to do was accept the gift He offers through His death and resurrection. For instance, the Jews came from the background of following all of the laws perfectly in order to receive salvation, how they needed to “earn back” being right with God. Now Paul was trying to preach that Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection automatically makes them right with God. This concept was so very different from their beliefs so therefore when Paul, who was formerly a Jewish leader, came and preached this aspect it sounded crazy. Paul knew that God called him to preach to mainly the Gentile population because they had never experienced a relationship and interaction with God. This concept was knew to understanding that salvation was also for them and Christ died for all. These divides in religion are still outlandish to non-believers, but Christians need to understand their previous beliefs in order to help them understand the truth.

  2. When I read Acts 26, I found it interesting that Festus told Paul that he is “out of his mind”. I like how the blog explains this interaction by saying that what Festus meant is that Paul was saying things that were “beyond common sense”. This shows me that Festus understood what Paul was saying and just did not believe it, rather than Festus not understanding what Paul was saying and thought that he was just speaking gibberish. I also like how Paul then explains that what he is saying are “true and rational words” to prove that what he is saying does in fact make sense and he is not making stuff up. I think that this is a good thing that Paul did and that it is good that he is being open about his beliefs and stances on things. The blog says that this is “a feature of good philosophy and rhetoric”, which I agree with. I also think that it is a good thing that Paul goes around and is open about teaching people about Jesus because that is what we as Christians are called to do and it is what Paul was called to do specifically. If he had kept this knowledge of the Scripture and of Jesus to himself, he may not have been able to spread the Gospel as well as he did and help so many people become Christians. Paul made a huge difference in the history of Christianity by following Jesus, obeying Him, and being able to talk to people about what he knew.

  3. If I remember correctly, we had another blog post that had similarities between Jesus and Paul in different forms of one or another. Here in this post we see that again, how both” Paul and Jesus ministered to blind people, people who were in need of healing in their understanding..”. I never knew Paul’s ministry of bringing light to the Gentiles was found in the Old Testament, like we are seeing here in Is 61:1. It is also interesting to point out in Acs chapter 26, the words of Festus, “You are out of your mind”! I find it comical that Paul states back that he is actually speaking “true and rational words”. Sometimes as an non believers, especially someone with more philophc or “common sense” person would look at what Paul is saying and easily dismiss it. We even see that today if we have a conversation with an Atheist that believes in science and how a belief in a higher power is crazy. But what we can understand is that what Paul was saying is the truth, and yet it may be hard to understand it fully, we are not supposed to understand it, but have faith anyways. Like Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”. This reminds me that although we can only see a reflection, or looking into the water, it’s fuzzy, and not a full picture, but we know that God is at work, and we need to have faith in God’s plan for our life and the world.

  4. This blog post made me think about the many times I was told to be the light to the world but never have I understood it more until I read about Paul and how Jesus told him to go to the Gentiles. This in that period would have been insane because the Jews were God’s chosen people. For Paul, this duty would have been a doozy due to the sheer amount of Jewish individuals who were so against this movement. The scripture that comes to mind is the verse that tells us that a lamp belongs on a stand for if you put it under a basket it will not shine. This verse just reminds me that we are to witness to every individual who we come into contact with and Paul and Jesus lay that example out for us pretty clearly throughout the scriptures. We see in our lives and even in Paul’s times that being that light is never really an easy task as there is a lot of weight that comes with salvation. This weight is something that should be carried carefully and seeing what Paul goes through here in Acts 26 is very encouraging. Paul even though going through hard times carries his light for all to see and I believe that is something we can strive for.

  5. I think it’s so interesting how unique Paul’s ministry was compared to so many others in the Word. Paul definitely did have this specific calling to be a “light to the Gentiles”, which was very against the status quo at the time. (Jesus’ ministry, as Suffering Servant, was even more against the status quo, though.) For Paul to involve those who were not Jews in the Gospel was scandalous and not really known before. Especially as Paul was formerly Saul, the persecutor of Christians. Paul was also a very well-educated Jew, someone who was higher-up.
    It’s so interesting that God chose Paul of all people to preach the Good News to all people. I think it was a purposeful calling, obviously, since he had so many characteristics that labeled him as not being able to do this. His ministry broke many walls and barriers.
    Both Paul and Jesus were examples of being a true light. Jesus Christ, the son of God/God in the flesh, obviously was the Light. He is the example that Paul lives into. Paul’s ministry effectively administers this Light by reaching out to anyone and everyone, since that is what Christ has called his followers to do. Paul didn’t just preach to Jews, but to those who hadn’t heard the Gospel before; those who were outcasted from high-class society, similarly to Jesus Christ’s ministry.

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