In Acts 26 Paul re-tells his story to Festus, the new Roman governor. While there are a few differences, the story of Paul’s conversion is fairly consistent. He had persecuted followers of the Way until he met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, whey he was commissioned to be the “light to the Gentiles.”
Festus interrupts Paul’s speech: “You are out of your mind!” (v. 24) The Greek verb (μαίνομαι) has the sense of going too far with something, or even speech which appears crazy to an outsider (such as the reaction of outsiders to tongues in 1 Cor 14:23). 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” (v. 25) This description is good Greek rhetoric, sobriety is a chief virtue in Greek philosophy. The noun Paul chooses refers to the “exercise of care and intelligence appropriate to circumstances” (BDAG). The noun Paul uses (σωφροσύνη) has the sense of a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence, as opposed to someone who has crazy visions which he over-interprets to mean far more than it does. Paul is not dreaming up some fairy tale, his conclusions are based on some rational thought and some very real evidence.
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).
To me, this is one of the most applicable sections of Acts – Paul’s faith is described by a Roman as “crazy” for believing what he does, but Paul says that he is “rational.” I am deeply troubled by many Christians who reject reasonable thought based on evidence as a basis for Christian faith. Too many prefer to call emphasize a “relationship with Jesus” rather than rational claims of truth about the nature of reality. Christianity, as Paul is describing it here in Acts 26, is rational and reasonable. Christianity, as presented in the media, or as practiced by many Americans, is irrational. Paul would be ashamed of most of what passes for Christianity in contemporary evangelicalism.
I think that it is time to remember that God gave us minds and equipped us to think. If we did that, what would change?