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?

19 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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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).

  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.

  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.

  8. Paul’s defense before Festus and Agrippa is truly a model for ministry in a post-modern world. He knows and understands his audience and where they come from. He is not only speaking to a Roman official who may not know a lot about the Old Testament and Jewish law, but he is also speaking to Agrippa who had a reputation as a pious Jew (Polhill, p. 2140). Just this understanding of who we are speaking to is a model to live by. We must not just assume people know things about Jesus and the Bible, but be able to ask questions and see where they are at if we do not already know.

    Paul’s defense also shows how instant his walk was with Christ after his encounter on the road to Demascus. He shares about his obedience to the ‘heavenly vision’ and in Damascus starts telling people about Christ. Sharing our testimony is a powerful and important component of sharing the gospel with someone. People relate to stories. Our testimonies, just like Paul’s, can be a powerful tool in sharing the gospel. When we can share the gospel in a way the listener can understand it is easier for them to grasp. Many times I have been around people who talk way above my head about anything, and it makes me not want to be a part of the conversation or it may just seem strange to me what they are talking about. However, if those same people were able to relate what they were talking about in a way that I could understand, then the conversation would be different.

  9. In Paul’s defense that he presents to King Agrippa, he seemed to have said some things that were disturbing and “outlandish” to Festus. Could it just be that Festus was positively taken aback by the testimony of Paul? It is evident that Paul’s way of presenting the gospel is often offensive, positively radical, and quite oftentimes bold. When Festus said, “your great learning is driving you out of your mind” (verse 24), it seems as though the answer to this question would be that Festus is clearly disturbed and possibly annoyed at Paul’s consistent disturbance of the peace (pax Romana). I find that Paul is very rational in his presentation of the gospel, but his boldness is often offensive (that is simply just how the gospel is – offensive). Paul’s boldness is very applicable to the modern world of ministry. No matter if people say that we may be out of our mind for how much and the way in which we present the gospel, we may in fact seem that we have “lost our minds”. This is probably only said to distract and discourage any individual (Paul specifically) in presenting the gospel. Jesus is the Messiah, and that is a fact. People are often offended, and that is also a fact. In this short interaction with Festus, Paul provides yet another example of a positive way in demonstrating the gospel.

  10. There is an interesting contrast between Festus’ reaction and Agrippa’s reaction. While Festus reacts with a certain ridicule, Agrippa understands what Paul is saying and takes it in with composure. Most of Paul’s claims are rational considering the worldview it comes from. The argument being hinged on a resurrected Messiah commissioning Paul is consistent with the prophetic Scripture that belongs to the Jewish worldview. So, an individual from that background can accept it or reject it, but they cannot consider it insane in the grounds of being unreasonable, since much of their story is based on events with similar “unreasonable” occurrences. Someone outside of that worldview could possibly be persuaded by it, if they keep an open mind, but the most likely reaction will be incredulity because of their worldview having greater influence by observing the natural order of things and having little familiarity with the Judaic worldview. We see these responses on Agrippa and Festus, respectively. Today, Agrippa can easily be personified by the all the “good” people that grew up in a culture heavily influenced Christianity or even other theocratic worldviews, while Festus can be personified by the everyone who emphasizes science and reason (sometimes in opposition to religion, especially Christianity). I find it to be difficult to make a defense in such way as model for ministry. I believe it could have fruit on a more individual level, but on a large scale and as pattern procedure for ministry it would probably yield the same results as it did for Paul. Not to deny the opportunity moments like these create to allow for God’s work in each individual heart. But perhaps even Paul would have a more culturally relevant approach for this day and age (1 Cor. 9:20-23). Besides, much of Paul’s argument revolves around defending his apostleship and calling directly from the mouth of Jesus. Most Christians do not have the same experience of life to present the same defense.

  11. The true treasure of this passage is the implication that the natural byproduct of a great deal of study is madness. The idea that one day you could be studying for finals when suddenly, pop, you’ve lost it is a grand and comical one. Though in a more serious note. This does demonstrate that Festus can recognize that Paul must have acquired a great deal of knowledge to produce the sort of defense that he has brought before them. This by itself demonstrates that a display of knowledge on its own is not all that it takes to persuade others. Paul does demonstrate his understanding of his audience here, and his understanding of the rhetoric that guides their thinking, but this ultimately doesn’t not prevent his point of view from coming across as madness to them. If there is a nugget of application to be gained here for modern ministry and evangelism it is that one can have an airtight, intellectual, and logical appeal to the gospel, and still fall short in reaching others. This is not necessarily the fault of the evangelist, just as this scene does not demonstrate a fault in Paul.

  12. To be a Christian, sometimes you have to be a little crazy. To the outside world, Paul may have been acting out of sorts and could have been perceived as crazy by the culture of his time. When you’re actually countercultural in basically everything you do, it’s no surprise that you’d be perceived this way. Paul was clearing speaking what God told him to speak, and while Festus was basically losing and yelling at Paul, Paul remained calm. The reality is that Paul wasn’t being the crazy one, Festus was showing his true colors by being crazy and not able to control his temper. Despite all the challenges Paul went through, especially recounting all the challenges Paul faced up until this point, it’s important to notice one thing: the gospel was always being preached. Paul never gave up, he never threw in the towel. I can imagine that if I were Paul, in prison, being beaten, constantly attacked by mobs, I’d want to throw in the towel. But he did not. And that is something admirable to me, that even in the direst of circumstances, even when crazy Festus was yelling at him, Paul preached the truth. So truthfully, Paul was not crazy here.

  13. It is really funny that Festus jumps to the conclusion that Paul is out his mind. I think this is really interesting, and in some ways can see where he was coming from. How easy is it to, if we don’t understand a concept or idea, want to put it off as meaning nothing or as too confusing for anyone to understand? It is often very hard to admit that you don’t know or understand something, and it is also very easy to make excuses for why you do not understand instead of taking the time to study and learn the knowledge more thoroughly. I think to some extent this is what Festus is doing. Agrippa on the other hand seemed to have no problem understanding what Paul was talking about, he just seemed more inconvenienced. To some extent I think I have a fear that people in my life will take the gospel message more like Festus. I remember in high school there were many people I wanted to share the gospel out right with, but was nervous or scared that they would brush it off, laugh, or call me crazy or stupid. I admire Paul’s courage and rhetoric here. As Long points out “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.” Paul is able to speak the words of the gospel as he needs to. He can effectively communicate the message of the messiah, and is not at all phased at being called a crazy old man who is out of his mind.

  14. It might seem kind of funny that Festus reacted the way that he did, by instantly believing that Paul was out of his mind for what he was saying. However, it also makes sense that he would react that way. Festus never saw Jesus being resurrected, or in a vision like Paul did. It seems like Festus was closed off to the idea of the resurrection of Christ and did not want to even try to comprehend it, because it was such a radical concept.
    As Christians, we believe in a God that none of us have physically seen before. Our faith in Jesus is radical and can be seen as crazy by the world, because we have faith in Him even though we have not seen him. In John 20:29, Jesus states, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” (NIV).
    From a Christian perspective, I do not believe that Paul was crazy, because he was telling the truth about the vision from heaven that he experienced. He also explained to Festus and King Agrippa that he was “saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen – that Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and the Gentiles” (Acts 26:23). A Christian perspective would understand that Paul was completely rational in his thinking, because he was telling the truth. From a perspective of people who are not Christians, on contrary, it would make sense that they would view Paul as being crazy or out of his mind, because they don’t believe it is possible that Jesus could be resurrected from the dead.

  15. If I was Festus I would of reacted the same way. Paul preaching something that was not from the Old Testament and not backing down would make it seem like he was out of his mind. He was so convinced that he was right that he would not accept Paul’s teachings. As a Christian I hope that I am not so closed minded and not willing to hear what others say. I need to be open yet sure about my faith. I think that in this postmodern world that we live in we have lost the value of argument. It has become a bad thing and if you argue nobody learns from it. But Paul talked and argued Philosophy with people. People today are hungry for the truth. People do not know what to believe except for themselves. Having them prove God through thought and logical reason is what is going to help convert these people. I have seen many students at Grace take philosophy and want to keep digging like that. That is what is very cool about thought. All you need to do is think.

  16. During Paul’s ministry he had gone through many terrible things, but through it all he continued to spread the Gospel as much as he could. When Paul was before Festus and Agrippa, he presented what he believed in. With that being said, this is why Festus believed Paul was speaking “out of his mind”. Festus thought that Paul was out of his mind, as many people probably thought, but that did not stop Paul from sharing what he believed. Paul brought forth the Gospel in a way that would relate and make sense to Festus which is believe we should do more today. We have to relate the Gospel to the people we want to share it to because that is the only way that they can understand or that will make sense to them. Even is we are sharing to non-believers we must continue and be open to the idea they think we are crazy, but this may spike their interest to dig deeper which is the goal. Today we are easily discouraged if someone is not opened to hearing the Gospel, but we must continue to push through that just as Paul did. Paul was full of hope and courage which we as believers can look to if we are needing an extra push to keep going.

  17. Looking at Paul’s ministry, I think a lot of people who believed in something different would think that he was out of his mind. Christianity is believing in God and the sacrifice Jesus made for us, and a lot of people would believe that to be “out of sort”. This story just screams encouragement to all Christians in my opinion. Even though someone called out against the truth, Paul still stood up for himself for God’s sake. He did not care about his own reputation because he was just trying to be a disciple. This is something I am sure a lot of people can relate to – trying so hard to preach the gospel but not a lot of people hearing the truth. All we need to be is messengers of God’s truth and word, and what happens after that in other peoples heart is up to God.

  18. After Festus heard what Paul had to say on trial, it would seem reasonable to think Paul was crazy. After all, Festus did not see Jesus raised from the dead. The claims that Paul were making would not have come across as believable…but that is where faith comes in. This passage has parallels to Christians today. We might not be on trial necessarily, but as we share the Gospel and live a life pleasing to God, we most likely come across as crazy or “out of our minds.” To be someone who goes against the cultural norms and does not fit in with the world would seem crazy to people who do not have the faith we do. The differing responses between Festus and Agrippa also can be related to today. When we spread the Gospel, some might think we are “out of our minds” while others may be more intrigued of what we have to say and want to hear more. Some will not believe, and some will. Afterall, we are to be the messengers of the Gospel. Ultimately, after we share, it will be how God works in the hearts of others and if the people follow that work if they will believe and have faith.

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