King Herod Agrippa
Paul was a prisoner who had appealed to have his case heard at Rome , by Caesar, and there were preliminary hearings underway to help the Roman Governor send a summary statement to his Emperor.
Having a Jewish expert available – King Herod Agrippa, who reigned over part of the Roman province of Judea – Governor Festus asked Paul to address the assembly and to state his case. You can read it in Acts chapter 26, verses 1-27, as it is faithfully recorded by the inspired historian Luke, at the end of which Herod Agrippa made a comment that was quite ambiguous. It is translated quite differently in different versions of the Bible as translators try to catch exactly the right meaning. Here are a few variations:
- Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28 NKJV)
- “In a short time you think to make me a Christian!” (RSV)
- “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (NIV)
- “With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian” (ASV)
- “A little more, and your arguments would make a Christian of me” (NJB)
There you have it – the translators offering a whole range of different possibilities, from protest to probability. Getting the right meaning requires that we understand a little about King Herod and his usual pattern of behaviour. He was not Jewish, but Idumean, and was ruling as king under Roman direction and control. Agrippa was by no means ignorant about the prophets and. in a general way knew about the Jewish religion. He was informed too of the facts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Almost a Believer?
Some of the translations would seem to imply that the king was on the verge of faith. It is clear, however, from his subsequent behaviour when he showed no signs of improving his lifestyle or any inclination to live in a right way that he was, in fact, sneering at the apostle’s appeal to him. His response really meant – “Do you think you can make me a Christian so easily?”
Additionally his apparent acceptance without any query of Paul’s statement is confirmed by his use of the word “Christian”. Disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). The name had by no means come into general use, but Herod knew a good deal about those who were so called. Did that knowledge make him any better? It did not! It probably dulled the edge of his curiosity. At the same time it could make him imagine he knew in advance all that Paul would have to say. It stood in the way of his accepting the truths that he thought he understood.
Is it not a fact that the ground in our minds can be pre-occupied with our own imperfect grasp of something? Superficial knowledge is often the enemy of accurate knowledge. We think we know something, but we don’t really know it at all. The first condition of knowing a thing is to know that we do not know it. We are never too old to learn. Humble realisation of that fact can help us to read the Word of God and listen to its preaching intently. We should never give only casual attention to the Word of God; it is far too important for that.
Fundamental truths will always remain of paramount importance, but they might not always appear that important. If we recognize them as fundamental, they can seem to us like blurred outlines of figures cast onto a screen when the projector is not properly focused. The blurred outline keeps us from seeing the clear-cut truth as it is in Jesus.
We need to hold fast to the plain central facts of the Gospel – our own sinfulness and helplessness, our need of our Saviour, the perfect work of Jesus Christ who died on the cross for us and the power of simple faith which leads to consecration and obedience. How can we hope that others will learn of Jesus unless they feel that we ourselves know our Lord intimately, and have the right to speak of him? We need to prove for ourselves the wonderful promises of what he does and is; we must know them to be true so that we can hand them on with confidence to others who have exactly the same need as us.
Paul had precisely this preparation, this passion and this faculty. He had found fundamental truth when he encountered the risen Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road. It completely changed his life. Once an enemy of Jesus Christ he was now his devoted follower and he was determined to try to share that understanding with others. Here are a few statements he made which illustrate how he felt about his calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ:
“I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2);
“What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. But indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7,8);
“Though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you” (1 Corinthians 9:19 -23).
King Agrippa might have been flippant in his reply to Paul’s appeal, but Paul was in deadly earnest when he said to him:
“King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe” (Acts 26:27).
He was giving the King the opportunity of a lifetime, to admit that there was real substance in the fundamental truths that Paul had outlined. For when the king brushed the opportunity aside, Paul replied like this:
Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains”.
That’s a wonderful reply when you stop and think about it. He wanted the King, in all his regal splendour, to be like him. This poor, worn-looking Jew, confronted the Tetrarch with all the pomp and circumstance of his state, and protesting that his most earnest desire was that the Tetrarch and indeed every person present, were such as himself – minus his bonds. Paul knew that he was free from the bondage of sin and death and wanted all others to share that freedom and to have the hope that he had – of an endless life in a perfect world.
That opportunity is ours when we recognize that the Bible presents it to us and asks us to “believe the prophets”. Every day as we read the Bible and think about its teaching, we are being asked to become a Christian – to shape our lives after the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Me – a Christian? Yes. You, if you choose to follow wherever Christ will lead.