Acts 26:20
But showed first to them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) But shewed . . .—The verb is in the tense which sums up a long-continued activity, and stands in the Greek after the enumeration of those to whom the Apostle preached: But first to them of Damascus . . . and to the Gentiles I went on showing . . .

Throughout all the coasts of Judæa, and then to the Gentiles.—The words refer, in the first instance, to the visit after St. Paul’s conversion (see Notes on Acts 9:29; Galatians 1:17-18); but the special mention of the Gentiles as following upon “the coasts (i.e., the region) of Judæa,” points to an evangelising activity in Cilicia prior to the commencement of his work at Antioch.

That they should repent . . .—The three stages of the spiritual life are accurately noted: (1) the repentance for past sins, which is more than a regret for their consequences; (2) the “turning to God,” which implies faith in Him, as far as He is known, and therefore justification; (3) the doing works meet for repentance (we note the reproduction of the Baptist’s phrase; see Note on Matthew 3:8), which are the elements of a progressive sanctification.

Acts

‘BEFORE GOVERNORS AND KINGS’

Acts 26:19 - Acts 26:32
.

Festus was no model of a righteous judge, but he had got hold of the truth as to Paul, and saw that what he contemptuously called ‘certain questions of their own superstition,’ and especially his assertion of the Resurrection, were the real crimes of the Apostle in Jewish eyes. But the fatal wish to curry favour warped his course, and led him to propose a removal of the ‘venue’ to Jerusalem. Paul knew that to return thither would seal his death-warrant, and was therefore driven to appeal to Rome.

That took the case out of Festus’s jurisdiction. So that the hearing before Agrippa was an entertainment, got up for the king’s diversion, when other amusements had been exhausted, rather than a regular judicial proceeding. Paul was examined ‘to make a Roman holiday.’ Festus’s speech {Acts 25:24 - Acts 25:27} tries to put on a colour of desire to ascertain more clearly the charges, but that is a very thin pretext. Agrippa had said that he would like ‘to hear the man,’ and so the performance was got up ‘by request.’ Not a very sympathetic audience fronted Paul that day. A king and his sister, a Roman governor, and all the elite of Caesarean society, ready to take their cue from the faces of these three, did not daunt Paul. The man who had seen Jesus on the Damascus road could face ‘small and great.’

The portion of his address included in the passage touches substantially the same points as did his previous ‘apologies.’ We may note how strongly he puts the force that impelled him on his course, and lays bare the secret of his life. ‘I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision’; then the possibility of disobedience was open after he had heard Christ ask, ‘Why persecutest thou Me?’ and had received commands from His mouth. Then, too, the essential character of the charge against him was that, instead of kicking against the owner’s goad, he had bowed his neck to his yoke, and that his obstinate will had melted. Then, too, the ‘light above the brightness of the sun’ still shone round him, and his whole life was one long act of obedience.

We note also how he sums up his work in Acts 26:20, representing his mission to the Gentiles as but the last term in a continuous widening of his field, from Damascus to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to Judaea {a phase of his activity not otherwise known to us, and for which, with our present records, it is difficult to find a place}, from Judaea to the Gentiles. Step by step he had been led afield, and at each step the ‘heavenly vision’ had shone before him.

How superbly, too, Paul overleaps the distinction of Jew and Gentile, which disappeared to him in the unity of the broad message, which was the same to every man. Repentance, turning to God, works worthy of repentance, are as needful for Jew as for Gentile, and as open to Gentile as to Jew. What but universal can such a message be? To limit it would be to mutilate it.

We note, too, the calmness with which he lays his finger on the real cause of Jewish hate, which Festus had already found out. He does not condescend to rebut the charge of treason, which he had already repelled, and which nobody in his audience believed. He is neither afraid nor angry, as he quietly points to the deadly malice which had no ground but his message.

We further note the triumphant confidence in God and assurance of His help in all the past, so that, like some strong tower after the most crashing blows of the battering-ram, he still ‘stands.’ ‘His steps had wellnigh slipped,’ when foe after foe stormed against him, but ‘Thy mercy, O Lord, held me up.’

Finally, Paul gathers himself together, to leave as his last word the mighty sentence in which he condenses his whole teaching, in its aspect of witness-bearing, in its universal destination and identity to the poorest and to loftily placed men and women, such as sat languidly looking at him now, in its perfect concord with the earlier revelation, and in its threefold contents, that it was the message of the Christ who suffered, who rose from the dead, who was the Light of the world. Surely the promise was fulfilled to him, and it was ‘given him in that hour what he should speak.’

The rustle in the crowd was scarcely over, when the strong masterful voice of the governor rasped out the coarse taunt, which, according to one reading, was made coarser {and more lifelike} by repetition, ‘Thou art mad, Paul; thou art mad.’ So did a hard ‘practical man’ think of that strain of lofty conviction, and of that story of the appearance of the Christ. To be in earnest about wealth or power or science or pleasure is not madness, so the world thinks; but to be in earnest about religion, one’s own soul, or other people’s, is. Which was the saner, Paul, who ‘counted all things but dung that he might win Christ,’ or Festus, who counted keeping his governorship, and making all that he could out of it, the one thing worth living for? Who is the madman, he who looks up and sees Jesus, and bows before Him for lifelong service, or he who looks up and says, ‘I see nothing up there; I keep my eyes on the main chance down here’? It would be a saner and a happier world if there were more of us mad after Paul’s fashion.

Paul’s unruffled calm and dignity brushed aside the rude exclamation with a simple affirmation that his words were true in themselves, and spoken by one who had full command over his faculties; and then he turned away from Festus, who understood nothing, to Agrippa, who, at any rate, did understand a little. Indeed, Festus has to take the second place throughout, and it may have been the ignoring of him that nettled him. For all his courtesy to Agrippa, he knew that the latter was but a vassal king, and may have chafed at Paul’s addressing him exclusively.

The Apostle has finished his defence, and now he towers above the petty dignitaries before him, and goes straight at the conscience of the king. Festus had dismissed the Resurrection of ‘one Jesus’ as unimportant: Paul asserted it, the Jews denied it. It was not worth while to ask which was right. The man was dead, that was agreed. If Paul said He was alive after death, that was only another proof of madness, and a Roman governor had more weighty things to occupy him than investigating such obscure and absurd trifles. But Agrippa, though not himself a Jew, knew enough of the history of the last twenty years to have heard about the Resurrection and the rise of the Church. No doubt he would have been ready to admit his knowledge, but Paul shows a disposition to come to closer quarters by his swift thrust, ‘Believest thou the prophets?’ and the confident answer which the questioner gives.

What was the Apostle bringing these two things-the publicity given to the facts of Christ’s life, and the belief in the prophets- together for? Obviously, if Agrippa said Yes, then the next question would be, ‘Believest thou the Christ, whose life and death and resurrection thou knowest, and who has fulfilled the prophets thereby?’ That would have been a hard question for the king to answer. His conscience begins to be uncomfortable, and his dignity is wounded by this extremely rude person, who ventures to talk to him as if he were a mere common man. He has no better answer ready than a sarcasm; not a very forcible one, betraying, however, his penetration into, and his dislike of, and his embarrassment at, Paul’s drift. His ironical words are no confession of being ‘almost persuaded,’ but a taunt. ‘And do you really suppose that it is so easy a matter to turn me-the great Me, a Herod, a king,’ and he might have added, a sensual bad man, ‘into a Christian?’

Paul met the sarcastic jest with deep earnestness, which must have hushed the audience of sycophants ready to laugh with the king, and evidently touched him and Festus. His whole soul ran over in yearning desire for the salvation of them all. He took no notice of the gibe in the word Christian, nor of the levity of Agrippa. He showed that purest love fills his heart, that he has found the treasure which enriches the poorest and adds blessedness to the highest. So peaceful and blessed is he, a prisoner, that he can wish nothing better for any than to be like him in his faith. He hints his willingness to take any pains and undergo any troubles for such an end; and, with almost a smile, he looks at his chains, and adds, ‘except these bonds.’

Did Festus wince a little at the mention of these, which ought not to have been on his wrists? At all events, the entertainment had taken rather too serious a turn for the taste of any of the three,-Festus, Agrippa, or Bernice. If this strange man was going to shake their consciences in that fashion, it was high time to end what was, after all, as far as the rendering of justice was concerned, something like a farce.

So with a rustle, and amid the obeisances of the courtiers, the three rose, and, followed by the principal people, went through the form of deliberation. There was only one conclusion to be come to. He was perfectly innocent. So Agrippa solemnly pronounced, what had been known before, that he had done nothing worthy of death or bonds, though he had ‘these bonds’ on his arms; and salved the injustice of keeping an innocent man in custody by throwing all the blame on Paul himself for appealing to Csesar. But the person to blame was Festus, who had forced Paul to appeal in order to save his life.26:12-23 Paul was made a Christian by Divine power; by a revelation of Christ both to him and in him; when in the full career of his sin. He was made a minister by Divine authority: the same Jesus who appeared to him in that glorious light, ordered him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. A world that sits in darkness must be enlightened; those must be brought to know the things that belong to their everlasting peace, who are yet ignorant of them. A world that lies in wickedness must be sanctified and reformed; it is not enough for them to have their eyes opened, they must have their hearts renewed; not enough to be turned from darkness to light, but they must be turned from the power of Satan unto God. All who are turned from sin to God, are not only pardoned, but have a grant of a rich inheritance. The forgiveness of sins makes way for this. None can be happy who are not holy; and to be saints in heaven we must be first saints on earth. We are made holy, and saved by faith in Christ; by which we rely upon Christ as the Lord our Righteousness, and give up ourselves to him as the Lord our Ruler; by this we receive the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and eternal life. The cross of Christ was a stumbling-block to the Jews, and they were in a rage at Paul's preaching the fulfilling of the Old Testament predictions. Christ should be the first that should rise from the dead; the Head or principal One. Also, it was foretold by the prophets, that the Gentiles should be brought to the knowledge of God by the Messiah; and what in this could the Jews justly be displeased at? Thus the true convert can give a reason of his hope, and a good account of the change manifest in him. Yet for going about and calling on men thus to repent and to be converted, vast numbers have been blamed and persecuted.See Acts 9:20-23. The 20th verse contains a summary of his labors in obedience to the command of the Lord Jesus. His argument is that the Lord Jesus had from heaven commanded him to do this, and that he had done no more than to obey his injunction. The word "then" in this verse is supplied by our translators, and is not necessary to the proper explanation of the passage. It would seem from that word that he had not preached "to the Gentiles" until after he had preached "at Jerusalem and throughout all the coasts of Judea," whereas, in fact, he had, as we have reason to believe (see the notes on Acts 9:23), before then "preached" to the Gentiles in Arabia. The statement here, in the original, is a general statement that he had preached at Damascus and at Jerusalem, and in all the coasts of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, but without specifying the exact order in which it was done. 20. showed … to them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem—omitting Arabia; because, beginning with the Jews, his object was to mention first the places where his former hatred of the name of Christ was best known: the mention of the Gentiles, so unpalatable to his audience, is reserved to the last.

repent and return to God, and do works meet for repentance—a brief description of conversion and its proper fruits, suggested, probably, by the Baptist's teaching (Lu 3:7, 8).

Showed first unto them of Damascus; nigh unto which place he was first converted, taking the first opportunity to preach Christ: out of the abundance of his heart his mouth speaking.

And turn to God: as sin is a turning from God, so repentance is a turning (or rather returning) unto God.

Do works meet for repentance; such as became a true penitent; for as we must show our faith by our works, Jam 2:18, so we must show our repentance by our works also: for to say we are grieved for sin, and we hate sin, and yet to live in it, is but to deceive ourselves, and (what in us lay) to mock God. But showed first unto them of Damascus,.... The Jews at Damascus to whom the apostle first preached; see Acts 9:20.

and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea; observing the order of his mission, Acts 26:17 though it was not until after he had been in Arabia, and had returned to Damascus, that he went to Jerusalem, and preached there; see Galatians 1:17 compared with Acts 9:28.

and then to the Gentiles; as at Antioch in Pisidia, at Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra in Lycaonia; and at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea in Macedonia; and in many places in Greece and Asia, as at Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and others, as this history shows; and indeed he preached the Gospel from Jerusalem round about to Illyricum;

that they should repent; that is, that they should repent of their sins; of sin in general, as it is committed against God, is a transgression of his law, and as it is in itself exceeding sinful, and in its effects dreadful; and of particular sins, such as men have been more especially addicted to, and of which the Jews and Gentiles, the apostle was sent unto, and to whom he preached, had been guilty: as the former of their will worship, and following the commandments and traditions of men, thereby making void the law of God; of their rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah; of their persecution of his apostles, ministers, and people; and of their trust in, and dependence upon, their own righteousness for justification: and the latter of their immoralities, superstition, and idolatry; and both not of the outward gross actions of life only, but of inward sins and lusts: and repentance of each of these lies in a different sentiment of them; in a detestation and abhorrence of them; in shame and confusion on account of them; in self-reflections upon them, and humiliation for them; in an ingenuous acknowledgment of them, and turning from them: and this is not a national repentance which the ministers of the Gospel are to show to men the necessity of; though this is not unworthy of them, when there is a call in Providence to it, and the state of things require it; much less a legal one, but an evangelical repentance; which has along with it faith in Christ Jesus, dealing with his blood and righteousness for the remission of their sins, and their justification before God; and which springs from, and is encouraged and heightened by, a sense of the love of God: and now this being a part of the Gospel ministry, does not suppose it to be in the power of men to repent of themselves, since no man, whilst he remains insensible of the evil nature of sin, and the hardness of his heart continues, which none but God can remove, can repent; and when he becomes truly sensible, he then prays to God to give him repentance, and to turn him: nor does it at all contradict its being a blessing of the covenant, a gift of Christ, and a grace of the Spirit of God; nor does it suggest, that the preaching of the word is sufficient of itself to produce it; the contrary of which the ministry of John the Baptist, of Christ, and of his apostles, declares; but the design of its being insisted on in the Gospel ministry, is to show that men are sinners, and in such a state and condition, that they are in need of repentance, and that without it they must perish; and the rather this is to be quietly inculcated, since true repentance is unto life, is the beginning and evidence of spiritual life, and issues in eternal life; and since there is a close connection between that and salvation, and that without it there is no salvation. It follows,

and turn to God; this is to be understood, not of the first work of conversion, which is God's work, and not man's act, and in which man is passive, and which is before repentance, whereas this follows upon it; though the ministers of the word have a concern with this; to bring about this is the design and use of their ministrations; their business is to show the nature of conversion, what it is, and wherein it lies; to rectify mistakes about it, and to observe the necessity of it: but here is designed a turning to God, in consequence of the grace of first conversion; by an acknowledgment and confession of sin to God, by an application to him for pardoning grace and mercy, by a trust and dependence on him for righteousness, life, and salvation, and by obedience to his commands and ordinances. It intends a turning of the Jews from their evil principles and practices, from the traditions of their elders to the law of God, the Gospel of Christ, and the ordinances of it, and of the Gentiles, from their idols to the worship of the true and living God:

and do works meet for repentance the same with "fruits meet for repentance", Matthew 3:8. And such as are particularly mentioned in 2 Corinthians 7:11 they are they which are the reverse of the evil actions they have been guilty of, and which are properly good works. And they are they which are done according to the will of God declared in his word, this is a requisite of a good work; what is not according to the word of God is not a good work, nor can it be any evidence of repentance; and they are also such as spring from love to God, for if they are done through fear of punishment, or for sinister and selfish ends, they show repentance to be a mere legal one: and they are such as are done in faith, in the name and strength of Christ, and to the glory of God by him. All external good works are designed, which show that the inward repentance professed, and that the outward change made in religion and worship, are genuine and sincere: the doctrines of internal repentance and outward worship, and all good works, are parts of the Gospel ministry, and to be insisted on in their proper places.

But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 26:20. ἀλλὰ τοῖς ἐν Δ.: “both to them of Damascus first, and at Jerusalem,” reading τε (see critical note) after πρῶτον, thus closely connecting Damascus and Jerusalem as the scenes of Paul’s first activity, cf. Acts 9:20; Acts 9:28.—εἰς πᾶσάν τε τὴν χώραν τῆς Ἰ., see critical note. If we read accusative simply without εἰς= accusative of space marking the extension of the preaching. Blass solves the difficulty by regarding εἰς = ἐν, ut sæpe. The statement seems to contradict Galatians 1:22, and there is no mention of such a widely extended preaching at this time in Acts. It has therefore been held by some that reference is made to the preaching at the time of Saul’s carrying relief with Barnabas from Antioch to Jerusalem, Acts 11:30, Acts 12:25 (Zöckler and Rendall), while others refer the passage to Rome Acts 15:10 (Weiss), and others combine Acts 11:29-30, Acts 15:3 = Romans 15:10. Ramsay, St. Paul, p. 382, regards the statement as so directly contradictory to all other authorities that he practically follows Blass in [402] text, and reads εἰς πᾶσαν χώραν Ἰουδαίοις τε καὶ τοῖς ἔθνεσι, “in every land to both Jews and Gentiles”. The text he regards as not Lucan and hardly Greek, see also Blass, in loco; ἡ χώρα τῆς Ἰουδαίας ought to be τῶν Ἰουδ., as in Acts 10:39, etc. But see in defence of reading in T.R. as against Blass, and the reference of the words to the journeys in Acts 11:30, Acts 15:3, Wendt, in loco (1899). The general meaning given to the words by Blass is at all events in accordance with the view of the speech as a summary, and not as an account in detail, of the Apostle’s work (C. and H., p. 620). Dr. Farrar, St. Paul, i., 228, ingeniously supposes that Paul may have preached on his way from Damascus to Jerusalem in the guest chambers of the Jewish synagogues, so that he may not have come into contact with any Christian communities, and he would thus explain Galatians 1:22.—ἀπήγγελλον: imperfect, denoting continuous preaching; here only of preaching the Gospel, but cf. Acts 17:30 W.H[403], where God announces to men everywhere to repent, μετανοεῖν, a striking similarity in language with Paul’s words here (cf. 1 John 1:2-3).—ἐπιστρέφειν, cf. for the expression Acts 14:15, and see above on Acts 26:18.—ἄξια τῆς μετανοίας ἔργα: “worthy of their repentance,” R.V. margin, i.e., of the repentance which they profess. In the Gospels καρπούς, καρπόν, here ἔργα, but cf. Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 5:11, Colossians 1:10, Titus 3:8, and ἀξίους with genitive rei, more frequent in St. Luke and St. Paul than in any other N.T. writers.—πράσσοντας: used in N.T. sometimes of good, sometimes of evil, actions; in classical Greek ποιεῖν is more frequent de inhonestis, cf. Xen., Mem., iii., 9, 4, see Grimm, sub v.

[402]
R(omana), in Blass, a first rough copy of St. Luke.

[403] Westcott and Hort’s The New Testament in Greek: Critical Text and Notes.20. but shewed [R. V. declared] The word signifies the delivery of a message. Saul was henceforth God’s evangelist.

and at Jerusalem] Cp. Acts 9:29. Here he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians, so that they went about to kill him.

and throughout all the coasts of Judæa] Of this ministration we are only told, Acts 9:30, that the brethren finding Saul in danger in Jerusalem, brought him to Cæsarea, and thence sent him to Tarsus. But as we see in the history of Felix (cp. Acts 23:34, note) that Cilicia was sometimes reckoned as a part of the province of Judæa, the preaching in Cilicia may be included in the expression “country of Judæa.” And we may feel sure that Paul, wherever he might be, never laid aside the character which Christ’s mission had imposed upon him.

and do works meet for repentance] Rev. Ver., more literally and better, “doing works worthy of repentance” or “worthy of their repentance.” For the works were to be a sign of their repentance and turning unto God; the means whereby the reality of their sorrow, and the earnestness of their desire, was to be shewn.Acts 26:20. Μετανοεῖν, that they should repent) This more appertains to the Jews.—ἐπιστρέφειν, turn) This more appertains to the Gentiles. For to turn to the Lord Christ is said in this book especially of the Hebrews: ch. Acts 11:21, note: to turn to God is said of the Gentiles: ch. Acts 14:15, Acts 15:3; Acts 15:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:9.Verse 20. - Declared for showed, A.V.; both to them of Damascus first for first unto them of Damascus, A.V. and T.R.; country for coasts, A.V.; also for then, A.V.; doing for and do, A.V.; worthy of for meet for, A.V. Them of Damascus first, etc. He enumerates his evangelical labors in the order in which they took place: at Damascus first, as related in Acts 9:19-22; then at Jerusalem, as in Acts 9:26-29; and then those on a larger and wider scale, among the Jews of Palestine and the heathen in all the countries which he visited. Throughout all the country of Judaea. This does not allude to any preaching in the land of Judaea at the time of his first visit to Jerusalem (Acts 9:25), because he says in Galatians 1:22, that at that time, viz. before he went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, he was still "unknown by face unto the Churches of Judaea." But he had opportunities later of preaching in Judaea. For instance, the language of Acts 11:29 suggests that such an opportunity may have arisen when Paul and Barnabas carried up the alms of the Christians at Antioch "unto the brethren that dwelt in Judaea." Another opportunity he manifestly had when he passed with Barnabas through Phoenicia and Samaria to Jerusalem, as related in Acts 15:3. Another, when he went from Caesarea to Jerusalem, as related in Acts 18:22. Again, there was room for working among the Jews in Palestine while he was staying at Caesarea "many days," and journeying to Jerusalem, as we read in Acts 21:10, 15. So that there is no contradiction whatever between the statement in this verse and that in Galatians 1:22. The clauses in this verse are two:

(1) "both to them at Damascus, and at Jerusalem first;" and

(2) "and throughout all Judaea, and to the Gentiles."
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