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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.

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).

CrayCraySo 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?

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).

JesusBoyfriendTo 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?

As soon as Paul arrives in Caesarea, prominent Jews from Jerusalem approach Festus for a “favor,” to release Paul to their custody.  What we know about Festus is generally good, especially when compared to Felix.  He dealt quickly with two separate messianic movements (Antiq. 20.8.10).  Unfortunately, Festus died after less than two years in office (A. D. 61-62) and his replacement Albinius was not an able administrator at all.

Porcius FestusWhen he arrives in Judea, Festus finds himself it a difficult situation politically.  He needs the help of the “ruling Jews” to manage the province of Judea. The elite of Jerusalem included the former high priests and other Herodians.  They were, by and large, interested in power and wealth (as most politicians are). There is a certain irony here, since these men do not represent a very large segment of the population on Judea in the mid first century! They are but one small splinter group of many at the time.  Festus buys very little influence over the people of Judea if he does do this elite group a “favor.”

The language of their request points to a formal alliance.  If Festus expects to have the support of the local elite, then he needs to hand Paul over to them for justice rather than release him.  It is quite remarkable that there is still a plot afoot to assassinate Paul (25:3). It has been two years since Paul’s alleged offense yet there is still a faction which considers him guilty of desecrating the Temple.  While this seems extreme, remember that bringing a Gentile into the court of the (Jewish) men was nearly as bad as the blasphemy committed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  That act of desecration was a major factor in the Maccabean revolt.  These enemies of Paul are burning with the same Zeal for the Law Paul had in Acts 9 when he traveled to Damascus to arrest followers of the Way.

Festus sees that there is nothing about Paul that requires punishment.  In fact, these are not even real accusations being made against Paul!   Paul’s accusers are not present, therefore the very basis of a case against him in Roman law is missing.  This was Paul’s point in his defense before Felix (his accusers are the Asian Jews, who disappear when the action moves to Caesarea).

Luke only briefly comments on Paul’s defense before Festus, although he adds the claim that Paul has neither offended the Temple or Caesar.  This is the first time that Paul has emphasized that he is not guilty of anything under Roman law.  Paul clearly realizes that his only chance at justice is to rely upon his citizenship.

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).

Agrippa II was the great-grandson of Herod the Great and son of Herod Agrippa, show died in Acts 12.   Agrippa II was raised in the court at Rome, and was a favorite of the Emperor Claudius.  His father died when he was 17, too young to take over management of the provinces of Palestine.  Like the others in the Herodian line, he sought to gain favor from Rome. He was given the title King in 53, and was the Jewish responsible authority.  He was the “custodian of the Temple Treasure”, meaning he had the right to appoint the high priest.

Agrippa was known to have been sensitive to Judaism, even to the point of debating points of law with the rabbis (Anitq., 20.179, 194-196).  But he was also very pro-Roman, having been raised in the Imperial court itself.  When the rebellion began, more he and Bernice sought to stop the rebels, knowing that Rome would not tolerate a rebellion in a minor province.  He is, therefore, the highest ranking political authority in Palestine.  It is appropriate that he present himself before the new Roman procurator Festus.  What is more, he provides Festus with the information he needs in order to write a report explaining Paul’s case to Rome.

Bernice is Agrippa’s sister, also the sister of Drusilla, Felix’ wife. Bernice had been married twice and was now a widow living in her brother’s court.  Rumors were that they were having an incestuous affair.  To stop this rumor, she married for a third time, but quickly returned to her brother. Later she will move to Rome and was the mistress of Titus.  Titus might have married her if not for strong anti-Jewish prejudices in Rome.

I had a major hard drive failure and have been more or less offline for the better part of two weeks.  I did have everything backed up, fortunately.  I highly recommend SyncToy 2.0 and an external hard drive.  The following several posts are attempts at “catch up,”  I’ll be finishing up the text of Acts this Sunday night.  I plan on spending a week on the early church in Rome, them exploring James and Peter as alternatives to Pauline Christianity in the mid-first century the following weeks.

And now to Festus….

As soon as Paul arrives in Caesarea, prominent Jews from Jerusalem approach Festus for a “favor,” to release Paul to their custody.  What we know about Festus is generally good, especially when compared to Felix.  He dealt quickly with two separate messianic movements (Antiq. 20.8.10).  Unfortunately, Festus died after less than two years in office (A. D. 61-62) and his replacement Albinius was not an able administrator at all.

Festus finds himself it a difficult situation politically.  He needs the help of the “ruling Jews” to manage the province of Judea. The elite of Jerusalem included the former high priests and other Herodians.  They were, by and large, interested in power and wealth (as most politicians are). There is a certain irony here, since these men do not represent a very large segment of the population on Judea in the mid first century! They are but one small splinter group of many at the time; Festus buys very little influence if he does do them this “favor.”

The language of their request points to a formal alliance, if Festus expects to have the support of the local elite, then he needs to hand Paul over to them for justice rather than release him.  Festus sees that there is nothing about Paul that requires punishment; in fact, there are not real accusations being made against Paul!   Paul’s accusers are not present, therefore the very basis of a case against him in Roman law is missing.  This was Paul’s point in his defense before Felix (his accusers are the Asian Jews, who disappear when the action moves to Caesarea).

Luke only briefly comments on Paul’s defense, adding for the first time that he has neither offended the Temple or Caesar.  This is the first time that Paul has emphasized that he is not guilty of anything under Roman law.  Paul clearly realizes that his only chance at justice is to rely upon his citizenship.

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Christian Theology

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