Acts 26:5
Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most strait sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(5) After the most straitest sect.—Better, most rigid, or most precise. The Greek does not contain anything answering to the double superlative of the English. The word for “sect” is the same as that used in Acts 24:5, and translated “heresy” in Acts 24:14.

26:1-11 Christianity teaches us to give a reason of the hope that is in us, and also to give honour to whom honour is due, without flattery or fear of man. Agrippa was well versed in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, therefore could the better judge as to the controversy about Jesus being the Messiah. Surely ministers may expect, when they preach the faith of Christ, to be heard patiently. Paul professes that he still kept to all the good in which he was first educated and trained up. See here what his religion was. He was a moralist, a man of virtue, and had not learned the arts of the crafty, covetous Pharisees; he was not chargeable with any open vice and profaneness. He was sound in the faith. He always had a holy regard for the ancient promise made of God unto the fathers, and built his hope upon it. The apostle knew very well that all this would not justify him before God, yet he knew it was for his reputation among the Jews, and an argument that he was not such a man as they represented him to be. Though he counted this but loss, that he might win Christ, yet he mentioned it when it might serve to honour Christ. See here what Paul's religion is; he has not such zeal for the ceremonial law as he had in his youth; the sacrifices and offerings appointed by that, are done away by the great Sacrifice which they typified. Of the ceremonial cleansings he makes no conscience, and thinks the Levitical priesthood is done away in the priesthood of Christ; but, as to the main principles of his religion, he is as zealous as ever. Christ and heaven, are the two great doctrines of the gospel; that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. These are the matter of the promise made unto the fathers. The temple service, or continual course of religious duties, day and night, was kept up as the profession of faith in the promise of eternal life, and in expectation of it. The prospect of eternal life should engage us to be diligent and stedfast in all religious exercises. Yet the Sadducees hated Paul for preaching the resurrection; and the other Jews joined them, because he testified that Jesus was risen, and was the promised Redeemer of Israel. Many things are thought to be beyond belief, only because the infinite nature and perfections of Him that has revealed, performed, or promised them, are overlooked. Paul acknowledged, that while he continued a Pharisee, he was a bitter enemy to Christianity. This was his character and manner of life in the beginning of his time; and there was every thing to hinder his being a Christian. Those who have been most strict in their conduct before conversion, will afterwards see abundant reason for humbling themselves, even on account of things which they then thought ought to have been done.Which knew me - Who were well acquainted with me.

From the beginning - ἄνωθεν anōthen. Formerly; or from the very commencement of my career. Who were perfectly apprised of my whole course.

If they would testify - If they would bear witness to what they know.

That after the most straitest - The most rigid; the most strict, not only in regard to the written Law of God, but to the traditions of the elders. Paul himself elsewhere testifies Philippians 3:4-6 that he had enjoyed all the advantages of birth and training in the Jewish religion, and that he had early distinguished himself by his observance of its rites and customs.

Sect - Division or party.

I lived a Pharisee - I lived in accordance with the rules and doctrines of the Pharisees. See the notes on Matthew 3:7. The reasons why Paul here refers to his early life are:

(1) As he had lived during the early period of his life without crime; as his principles had been settled by the instruction of the most able of their teachers, it was to be presumed that his subsequent life had been of a similar character.

(2) as he, at that period of his life, evinced the utmost zeal for the laws and customs of his country, it was to be presumed that he would not be found opposing or reviling them at any subsequent period. From the strictness and conscientiousness of his past life, he supposed that Agrippa might argue favorably respecting his subsequent conduct. A virtuous and religious course in early life is usually a sure pledge of virtue and integrity in subsequent years.

5. if they would—"were willing to"

testify—but this, of course, they were not, it being a strong point in his favor.

after the most straitest—"the strictest."

sect—as the Pharisees confessedly were. This was said to meet the charge, that as a Hellenistic Jew he had contracted among the heathen lax ideas of Jewish peculiarities.

This heresy, sect, opinion, or way of the Pharisees, St. Paul rigthly commends, if we consider it comparatively with the other sects of the Sadducees and Essenes: he had called this before, Acts 22:3, the most exact manner of the law of the fathers; for it is certain it was more learned and strict, and came nigher to the truth in many things, than the other did. Which knew me from the beginning,.... From his youth, from his first coming to Jerusalem:

if they would testify; what they know, and speak out the truth of things, they must say,

that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee; there were three sects of religion among the Jews, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes; the first of these was the most exact, and came nearest to the truth of doctrine, and was the strictest as to outward holiness of life and conversation, and of this sect the apostle was; and according to it he lived, and that in such a manner, as not to be charged with any notorious crime; and indeed in his own, and very likely in the opinion of others, he was then blameless. See Gill on Matthew 3:7.

(Essenes: A Jewish sect, who, according to the description of Josephus, combine the ascetic virtues of the Pythagoreans and the Stoics with a spiritual knowledge of the divine law. It seems probable that the same name signifies "seer", or "the silent, the mysterious". As a sect the Essenes were distinguished by an aspiration after the ideal purity rather than by any special code of doctrines. There were isolated communities of the Essenes, which were regulated by strict rules, and analogous to those of the monastic institutions of a later date. All things were held in common, without distinction of property; and special provision was made for the relief of the poor. Self-denial, temperance and labour--especially agricultural--were the marks of the outward life of the Essenes; purity and divine communication the objects of aspiration. Slavery, war and commerce were alike forbidden. Their best known settlements were on the north west shore of the Dead Sea. J.B. Smith one volume Bible Dictionary.)

Which {a} knew me from {b} the beginning, if they would testify, that after the {c} most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

(a) That I was, and where, and how I lived.

(b) That my parents were Pharisees.

(c) The sect of the Pharisees was the most exquisite amongst all the sects of the Jews, for it was better than all the rest.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 26:5. προγιν. με: knowing me beforehand, i.e., ἄνωθεν, from the beginning of my public education in Jerusalem. προγ.: twice elsewhere by Paul, Romans 8:29; Romans 11:2, also in 1 Peter 1:20, 2 Peter 3:17. For ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς and ἅνωθεν cf. Luke 1:2-3, and for the former also 2 Thessalonians 2:13.—ἀκριβ.: “the straitest sect,” R.V., on the double accusative in A.V. see Humphry, Commentary on R.V. For this classical form, the only instance of a superlative in -τατος in N.T., see especially Blass, u. s., cf. Acts 26:4; on the term in its close connection with Pharisaism cf. Jos., B.J., i., 5, 2; Ant., xvii., 2, 4, and references above on Acts 22:3. Their “straitness” included not only observance and interpretation of the Mosaic law, but also of the whole παράδοσις τῶν πρεσβυτέρων.—αἵρεσιγ, see on Acts 5:17, the word in the sense of “a sect” was rightly applied to the exclusiveness of Pharisaism as in the N.T., cf. Acts 15:5, and in Jos., cf. Vita, 38.—θρησκείας: “cultus religionis, potissimum externus,” Grimm, so here and in the other places where it occurs in N.T., Colossians 2:18, Jam 1:26-27; twice in Wisdom, Wis 14:18; Wis 14:27, of the worship of idols; in Sir 22:5 the reading is doubtful; in 4Ma 5:6; 4Ma 5:13, of the religion of the Jews. The instances of its use both in Philo and Josephus show that it was plainly, distinguished from εὐσεβεία and ὁσιότης. Thus it is contrasted with the latter by Philo, Quod det. potiori insid., c. 7: θρησκείαν ἀντὶ ὁσιότητος ἡγούμενος; and in Josephus it is frequently used of the public worship of God, worship in its external aspect, cf. Ant., ix., 13, 3; xii., 5, 4; v., 10, 1; xii., 6, 2. It was therefore a very natural word for St. Paul to use, and it is not necessary to suppose that he did so merely for the sake of Festus and the Romans (Blass), although the word was used of one mode of worship when contrasted with another; see further Hatch, Essays in B.G., p. 55; Trench, Synonyms, i., p. 200, and Mayor on Jam 1:26.—φαρισαῖος: emphatic at the end, expressing the “straitest sect” by name, cf. Galatians 1:14, Php 3:5-6.5. which knew me from the beginnings if they would testify] Better (with Rev. Ver.) “having knowledge of me from the first, if they be willing to testify.” The word for “from the first” is the same which St Luke uses (Luke 1:3) to indicate his perfect understanding of the Gospel story “from the very first.” When we remember that the early part of his Gospel can hardly have been gathered from anybody but the Virgin Mary, who alone could know many of the details, we may well think that the word implies that St Paul had been known from his very childhood. The rest of the sentence seems to intimate that there were some among those who were now his accusers who could give evidence about his previous years if they were so minded.

the most straitest] There is nothing in the Greek to warrant the double superlative. Read “straitest.”

sect] The word is that which is rendered “heresy” by the A. V. in Acts 24:14. Everywhere else in the Acts it is sect. In the Epistles, where the plural only occurs, it is “heresies.”

our religion] The word refers more especially to the outward ceremonials of worship, such as those by which the Pharisees were specially distinguished.Acts 26:5. Προγινώσκοντες) knowing me, before that I speak.—ἐὰν θέλωσι, if they be willing) But they were unwilling [to testify], because they were sensible that in the conversion of Paul, even in respect to his previous life, there is the most effectual argument for the truth of the Christian faith.Verse 5. - Having knowledge of me from the first for which knew me from the beginning, A.V.; be willing to for would, A.V.; how that for that, A.V.; straitest for most straitest, A.V. Straitest (ἀκριβεστάτην); see Acts 22:3; Acts 18:26, etc. Sect (αἵρεσις); see Acts 24:14, note. He does not disclaim being still a Pharisee. On the contrary, in the next verse (ver. 6) he declares, as he had done in Acts 23:6, that it was for the chief hope of the Pharisees that he was now accused. He tries to enlist all the good feeling that yet remained among the Jews on his side.
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