Acts 26 – The Unabridged Abridged Story of Paul

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Whoops. Turns out that during the drive home from my grandmother’s, the car got really warm.

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Today’s PassageActs 26

The last time Paul attempted to present his testimony, a hostile crowd cut him off, calling for his life before he could finish. But today he gets a fresh opportunity, as King Herod Agrippa II allows him to make his defense. But while this is Agrippa’s first time hearing the story, it’s not ours. Paul’s testimony summarizes the same events that Luke has reported so far, the same events we’ve read. However, it differs from Luke’s own account!

Before we start questioning his reliability, Luke hasn’t made a mistake. In Acts 9, he may not use exactly the same words in exactly the same order as Paul uses in today’s chapter, but that doesn’t mean he’s contradicting himself or contradicting Paul. We can correctly describe the same event in different ways, shedding light on it from different angles. Turn a coffee mug around, and you may find a handle on the other side that you couldn’t see before.

For instance, Paul reports Jesus as saying additional words during his Damascus road vision. Both Luke and Paul tell us that Jesus says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” and “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (9:4-5, 26:14-15). And in Paul’s first account before the unruly crowd at the temple, these are the only words of Christ’s that he reports (22:7-8). But as Paul recounts the event here in chapter 26, he supplies several other phrases. Jesus speaks to him as to an ornery horse or donkey, saying, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (26:14), and he elaborates at length on the objectives of Paul’s ministry, bringing light and opportunities for forgiveness and salvation to Jews and Gentiles alike.

So where did this “kick against the goads” line and the extensive rundown of Paul’s evangelistic commission come from? A goad is a staff-like tool with a pointy bit, used for directing livestock. An animal that kicked back when goaded was likely to injure itself. The Greek expression was commonly used as a metaphor for fighting against a good thing, as Paul was doing by seeking to kill Christians.

As to the phrase’s sudden appearance in Paul’s testimony, I don’t think it’s likely that Paul heard it during his Damascus Road vision and neither he nor Luke saw fit to report it until now. More probably, it may be that Paul heard it at some point during the three days he spent blind in Damascus, or he may be using a common proverb to say that Christ in effect spoke it to him through the events of the vision and his conversion.

Christ’s commission to Paul (16-18) is new content as well. And like the “kick against the goads” line, it may be Paul describing Christ’s intentions for him in his own words, not anything actually spoken to him. It may also be that in a subsequent vision, Christ conveyed this exact message to him. After all, the Damascus Road vision wasn’t the only vision of Christ that Paul experienced; just take a look at Acts 18:9-10 and 23:11. Perhaps Paul is presenting what he heard during a single actual vision or a summary of the contents of multiple visions.

Whatever the case, we needn’t expect Paul’s story to be exactly the same every time he tells it. Different ways of telling it can highlight the truths that are relevant to the circumstances of the telling. Paul notes that Agrippa, as ruler over Judea, is “an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews” (3), so he presents his story from a particularly Jewish angle. He knows his audience, and perhaps he knows it even better than the last time he tried to present his testimony and got cut off.

It’s also worth noting that this chapter contains one of the three appearances of the word “Christian” in the entire Bible. As Paul, Festus, and Agrippa converse after Paul’s testimony, Agrippa remarks, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian!” (28). Back in Acts 11:26, we saw the term “Christian” first applied to the disciples in Antioch, and apparently it’s traveled all the way back to Judea, to the point where even King Agrippa is using it. Eventually it’ll become the term of choice to refer to followers of Christ in our own day and age, but of course that’s a long way off. For now, we’ve still got to attend to Paul’s appeal to Caesar and his upcoming journey to Rome.

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