Acts 26:24-25 – Has Paul Lost His Mind?

In his defense before Festus, Paul offers a his view on the Servant in Isaiah: The Servant is Jesus, who suffered for our sins (Luke 4:18, Is 61:1). 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.

King Agrippa; Berenice;  Proconsul Festus

But the “Light to the Gentiles” in Acts 26 refers to Paul and his ministry. This is a rather bold statement since it might appear the Servant is the light to the Gentiles. Luke 2:32 has already applied Isaiah 42:6 to Jesus, but here Paul sees his ministry as a participation in Jesus’ messianic office as delivering the “light to the Gentiles.”

Paul describes salvation as “turning to God” and “opening eyes,” are both drawn from Isaiah 42:6, but may allude back to the paradigmatic miracle on Cypress, the blinding of Bar-Jesus (13:4-11).  Like Isaiah, both Jesus and Paul ministered to blind people, both literal and spiritual blindness. The disciples, for example, were in need of healing in their understanding, so 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 (σωφροσύνη) 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, which 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).

So Paul sees himself as engaged in messianic ministry (although he is a servant of Messiah Jesus; Paul does not see himself as a messiah!) This claim is rational, based on evidence and is both truthful and rational. Festus recognizes Paul’s “great learning” but thinks Paul has gone out of his mind-the opposite of rational. The Greek μανία can refer to madness or even delirium. This was an accusation against a political or philosophical opponent, or as BDAG says, “eccentric or bizarre behavior in word or action.”

For a Roman official like Festus, Paul presents strange ideas in rational manner, and he is impressed but unconvinced. To what extent can Paul claim to be rational in his arguments that Jesus is the Messiah or that he has been called by God to this particular mission? Is there a way to use Paul’s defense before Agrippa and Festus as a model for ministry in a post-modern world?

8 thoughts on “Acts 26:24-25 – Has Paul Lost His Mind?

  1. Based on the explanation of this post, Paul is giving an example of what he teaches the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 5:13. He is “out of his mind” for Christ. As we can see in so many instances of Christ’s life and mission, he is very passionate about the gospel and bringing it to everyone he is able to. In this matter Paul is exuding much passion for Festus and Agrippa to understand what he is saying and believe themselves that Jesus was their savior too. As we read later in this passage he blatantly tries to persuade Agrippa, since he sees he is close to belief.

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  2. You use the term “eccentric or bizarre behavior in word or action.” and I would say this fits Paul and reaching the post modern culture. In a culture that is always seeking new and exciting things, something genuine and not commercialized we have Paul doing things that are foreign to Roman people and Jewish people and everyone really. Paul worked to our guess 6 days a week as a Jewish man that was odd and lazy to a Romans way of life, he ate with the gentiles that was odd to the Jewish peoples life, he preached and reached out to gentiles the lowest of the low and cursed a man blinding him that was odd to everyone. Paul was not a insane man, if you study how he did things you can see careful planning and a willingness to go where God wants him. This is a great model because its not a model at all, its obedience to God to do his will in any moment, time, place, and with anyone whom he deems there to hear the message, and sometimes he used words.

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  3. To what extent can Paul claim to be rational in his arguments that Jesus is the Messiah or that he has been called by God to this particular mission? Is there a way to use Paul’s defense before Agrippa and Festus as a model for ministry in a post-modern world?

    I am not sure how Paul could be any more rational in his arguments that Jesus is the Messiah or even how he was called by God for the mission. Paul was already living his life as a radical believer in the Messiah and was driven to bring more people to “The Way”. I believe that God was speaking through Paul and was giving him the words to say. As he speaks with King Agrippa and Festus, he goes about his defense in a way that it seems like he is just defending himself but in reality his sharing his testimony and ministering to these men of high standing. Festus does not know of the things that Paul is speaking of so he feels that Paul has “lost his mind” or isn’t “down to earth” like P. Long’s post mentioned. King Agrippa on the other hand knows of the Jewish customs and controversies, which, the death and resurrection would have been one of the great controversies. Because Agrippa knows of these things already, I believe Paul felt he was able to speak more freely, not that he wouldn’t have spoke freely in the first place. Paul’s passion drives him to be bold in his faith, even when standing trial before the men who could ultimately end his life. As Christians today, I would argue that we are presented with so many opportunities to be bold in our faith but we lack the passion behind it. It could be different if we heard an audible voice like the great men and women in the Bible. But instead of the audible voice of God we have his written word telling us the truths and giving us our mission as Christians. We should still have the same passion and fire for the mission that we are given, being bold in our faith and living it out in our everyday lives, EVEN when trials and temptations come. God knew and was present every step of the way with Paul and he promises us he’ll be there too.

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  4. I think Paul’s persuasive speech is an excellent example for ministry in the context of today’s world. True, he presents to someone who might think that his ideas are completely off the wall, simply for entertainment, but I would suggest that there are many in this post-modern culture who would feel as Festus did. Paul’s model of ministry is to boldly speak his mind, but not in a way that did not relate to Festus’ way of thinking. How often does ministry today lean too much into culture to share the relevance of the Gospel, while in other areas leaning way too far back? As Paul stated in Galatians 2:20 – …”I am crucified with Christ…” – so should be our view of ministry. Using reasonable, but persuasive speech, we should not shy away from sharing the Gospel, but stay away from argumentatively and bitterly striving to win the debate instead of the soul.

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  5. While Paul’s message before Agrippa is certainly useful as a template for modern ministry, the response of Festus may also be a sort of template for the response of hard-hearted unbelievers to the Word of God. Festus accused Paul of being insane, or irrational, yet Paul was calmly and logically making his speech, while Festus was rudely interrupting and yelling. It seems sort of ironic that one who felt confident in accusing Paul of lunacy was less controlled in his speech than the one he was accusing.

    This seems to parallel the way that many “logical” unbelievers respond to the preaching of the gospel, even today. Because Christianity makes claims that seem impossible, and bases its worldview on principles which an unbelieving world denies, Christianity is believed to be sentimental, empty, and ultimately profitless, compared with the “rational” unbelievers who put their faith in the science of things rather than the person of God.

    Scripture is full of examples of this ironic dichotomy, but Paul himself hits the nail on the head when he describes this situation in I Corinthians 1. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (I Corinthians 1:18,25,27).

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  6. No matter what Paul went through, he always found a way to spread the gospel to those who would listen. Paul presented what he believed to Festus and Agrippa. Festus thought that Paul was “out of his mind” for speaking the way that he did. He tried to present the gospel to Festus in a way that he could relate to. Festus may have thought Paul was insane but that did not stop Paul from sharing what he believed. I think that as Christians, we should try to spread the gospel to those who may not believe and if they think we are crazy, then continue to share it with those who are open to hearing it. Just because someone may not be open to hearing the gospel does not mean that you should stop trying. Instead of letting that break your confidence, I think we should strive to have the same boldness and courage that Paul had in hopes that people would come to know who Christ is. We can only reach the ears of those who hear, but it is God who reaches their hearts.

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  7. Something that has really stood out to me when studying about Paul is how dedicated and how he was persistent in getting his message across. Paul was determined that no matter what he went through or what may have stood in his way, he was going to spread the gospel to whoever he could whenever he could. Something that Jessica said about Paul that really stood out to me was “He is “out of his mind” for Christ” (Turnbough 2015). Looking at and thinking back about everything that Paul went through, it would have been easy for someone to easily give up or lose faith in Christ. However, Paul did the exact opposite. Whenever something came his way, he continued to share the gospel and keep his faith in Christ. In the modern world, there are times when things get too hard for us and we decide to quit or give up because that is the easy thing to do when things are not going your way.

    I am reminded of an event in my life from last year. Last year we had a basketball game against Northwood University and we were getting our butt kicked. We were down 30 points in the first half at one point. Being down 30, it would have been easy for us to give up and continue getting our butts kicked. However, we decided to play harder and not give up, and we came back all the way from 30 points down and we won. In Paul case, it was a different situation but the concept was the same. When things did not go Paul’s way he could have just quit but he decided to not let anything stop him from pulling him away from God or keeping him from sharing the gospel. When thinking about this, 1st Corinthians 9:16 comes to mind. Is says, “For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” I think that every Christian had the mindset like Paul then the gospel would reach and be spread as far as it could.

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