Acts 26
Calvin's Commentaries
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:

1. And Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to answer for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth his hand, and answered for himself: 2. I think myself happy, O king Agrippa, because I shall answer this day before thee of all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews; 3. Seeing thou art most expert in all those customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee hear me patiently. 4. My life which I have led from my youth, which was at the first in mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; 5. Who knew me before since the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most strait sect of our religion 1 lived a Pharisee. 6. And now I stand subject to judgment for the hope of the promise which God made to our fathers: 7. Whereunto our twelve tribes, serving God instantly day and night, hope to come. For which hope, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. 8. Why doth it seem to you a thing incredible, if God raise the dead?

2. We have declared to what end Paul was brought before that assembly, to wit, that Festus might write unto Caesar as he should be counseled by Agrippa and the rest. Therefore, he doth not use any plain or usual form of defense, but doth rather apply his speech unto doctrine. Luke useth indeed a word of excusing; yet such a one as is nothing inconvenient whensoever there is any account given of doctrine. Furthermore, because Paul knew well that Festus did set light by all that which should be taken out of the law and prophets, he turneth himself unto the king, who he hoped would be more attentive, seeing he was no stranger to the Jewish religion. And because he had hitherto spoken to deaf men, he rejoiceth now that he hath gotten a man who, for his skill and experience, can judge aright. But as he commendeth the skill and knowledge which is in Agrippa, because he is a lawful judge in those matters whereof he is to speak, so he desireth him on the other side to hear him patiently; for otherwise contempt and loathsomeness should have been less excusable in him. He calleth those points of doctrine, which were handled among the scribes, questions, who were wont to discuss religion more subtilely. By the word customs, he meaneth those rites which were common to the whole nation. Therefore, the sum is this, that king Agrippa was not ignorant either in doctrine, either in the ceremonies of the law. That which he bringeth in or concludeth, [608] wherefore I pray thee hear me patiently, (as I said even now) doth signify that the more expert a man is in the Scripture, the more attentive must he be when the question is about religion. For that which we understand doth not trouble us so much. And it is meet that we be so careful for the worship of God, that it do not grieve us to hear those things which belong to the defining thereof, and chiefly when we have learned the principle, [609] so that we may readily judge, if we list to take heed.

4. My life which I have led. He doth not as yet enter into the state of the cause; but because he was wrongfully accused and burdened with many crimes, lest king Agrippa should envy the cause [610] through hatred of the person, he doth first avouch his innocency. For we know that when a sinister suspicion hath once possessed the minds of men, all their senses are so shut up that they can admit nothing. Therefore, Paul doth first drive away the clouds of an evil opinion which were gathered of false reports, that he may be heard of pure and well purged ears. By this we see that Paul was enforced by the necessity of the cause to commend his life which he had led before. But he standeth not long upon that point, but passeth over straightway unto the resurrection of the dead, when he saith that he is a Pharisee. And I think that that is called the most strait sect, not in respect of holiness of life, but because there was in it more natural sincerity of doctrine, and greater learning. For they did boast that they knew the secret meaning of the Scripture. And surely forasmuch as the Sadducees did vaunt that they did stick to the letter, they fell into filthy and gross ignorance after they had darkened the light of the Scripture. The Essenes, contenting themselves with an austere and strait kind of life, did not greatly care for doctrine. Neither doth that any whit hinder, because Christ inveigheth principally against the Pharisees, as being the worst corrupters of the Scripture (Matthew 23:13). For seeing they did challenge to themselves authority to interpret the Scripture according to the hidden and secret meaning, hence came that boldness to change and innovate, wherewith the Lord is displeased. But Paul doth not touch those inventions which they had rashly invented, and which they urged with tyrannous rigor. For it was his purpose to speak only of the resurrection of the dead. For though they had corrupted the law in many points, yet it was meet that the authority of that sect should be of more estimation in defending the sound and true faith, than of the other, which were departed farther from natural purity. Moreover, Paul speaketh only of the common judgment, which did respect the color of more subtile knowledge.

6. For the hope of the promise. He doth now descend into the cause, to wit, that he laboreth for the principal point of faith. And though he seem to have spoken generally of the resurrection, yet we may gather out of the text, that he beginneth with a farther point, and that he did comprehend those circumstances which did properly appertain unto the faith of the gospel. He complaineth that the Jews did accuse him, because he maintained the hope of the promise made to the fathers. Therefore, this was the beginning and also the issue of the matter, that the covenant which God had made with the fathers is referred unto eternal salvation. Wherefore this was the sum of the disputation, that the Jewish religion was nothing worth unless they took heed to the heavens, and did also lift up their eyes unto Christ, the author of the new life. They did boast that they were chosen from among all people of the word. But their adoption did profit them nothing, unless they did trust to the promised Mediator, and look unto the inheritance of the kingdom of God. Therefore, we must conceive much more than Luke doth plainly express. And surely his narration tendeth to no other end, save only that we may know of what things Paul intreated. But what this was, and in what words he uttered it, we cannot tell. Nevertheless, it behoveth us to gather out of a brief sum those things which appertain unto this disputation, which was freely handled before Agrippa, when Paul had free liberty granted to him to plead his own cause.

7. Whereunto our twelve tribes. Paul complaineth before Agrippa, that the state of the Church is come to that pass, that the priests set themselves against the common hope of all the faithful; as if he should say, To what end do those of our nation, who worship God carefully, and spend both days and nights in the duties of godliness, sigh in their prayers, save only that they may at length come unto eternal life? But the same is the mark whereat I aim in all my doctrine; because, when the grace of redemption is set before men, the gate of the kingdom of heaven is set open therewithal. And when I preach the author of salvation raised up from the dead, I offer the first-fruits of immortality in his person; so that the former confirmation of his doctrine was taken out of the Word of God, when he cited the promise made to the fathers. Now, in the second place, he addeth the consent of the Church. And this is the best way to maintain and avouch the opinions of faith, that the authority of God go foremost; and that then the consent of the Church come next. Though we ought therewithal wisely to make choice of the true Church, as Paul doth teach us in this place by his own example; for though he knew that the priests did pretend the visor [mask] of the Church against him, yet he doth boldly affirm, that the sincere worshippers of God are on his side, and he is content with their defense. For when he meaneth [nameth] the twelve tribes, he doth not speak generally of all those which came of Jacob according to the flesh; but he meaneth those only which did retain the true study of godliness. For it had been an unmeet thing to commend the nation generally for the fear of God, which was only in a few.

The Papists deal very disorderly in both; who, by the voices and consents of men, oppress the Word of God, and give also the name and title of the Catholic Church to a filthy rabblement of unlearned and impure men, without any color or shame. But if we will prove that we think as the true Church thinketh, we must begin with the prophets and apostles; then those must be gathered unto them whose godliness is known and manifest. If the Pope and his clergy be not on our side, we need not greatly to care. And the true affection of true religion is proved by continuance and vehemency, which was of singular force at that time, principally when the Jews were in greatest misery.

8. Why should I do not doubt but that he proved that both by reason, and also by testimonies of Scripture, which he taught concerning the resurrection and the heavenly life. But for good causes doth he call back those unto whom he speaketh unto the power of God, lest they judge thereof according to their own weak capacity. For nothing can more hardly sink into men's brains, than that men's bodies shall be restored when as they be once consumed. [611] Therefore, seeing it is a mystery far surpassing man's wit, let the faithful remember how far the infinite power of God doth reach, and not what they themselves comprehend; as the same Paul teacheth in the third chapter to the Philippians (Philippians 3:21). For when he hath said that our vile bodies shall be made like to the glorious body of Christ, he addeth immediately, "according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself." But men are for the most part injurious [612] to God, who will not have his arm to reach any farther than their understanding and reason can reach; so that so much as in them lieth they would desire to restrain the greatness of his works (which surpasseth heaven and earth) unto their straits. [613] But, on the other side, Paul commandeth us to consider what God is able to do, that being lifted up above the world, we may learn to conceive the faith of the resurrection, not according to the weak capacity of our mind, but according to his omnipotency.


[608] "Illatio ista," the inference.

[609] "Ne praasertim ubi jam principiis imbuti sumus," and especially when we have already been imbued with the principles.

[610] "Causae sit infensus," be prejudiced against the cause.

[611] "Ubi in nihilum redacta fuerint," after being reduced to nothing.

[612] "Maligni... et injurii," malignant and injurious,

[613] "Ad suas angustias," to their narrow capacity.

I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:
Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.
My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;
Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers:
Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.
Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?
I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

9. And I verily thought that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10. Which thing I also did at Jerusalem; and I shut up many of the saints in prison, having received power from the high priests; and when they were put to death, I gave sentence. 11. And punishing them oftentimes throughout all synagogues, I enforced them to blaspheme; and being yet more mad upon them, I did persecute them even into strange cities. 12. And as I went to Damascus for this intent, with authority and commission from the high priests, 13. At midday, king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, passing the brightness of the sun, shine round about me and those which journeyed with me. 14. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 15. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? But he said unto me, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. 16. But rise, and stand up upon thy feet: for to this end did I appear unto thee, that I may make thee a minister and witness both of those things which thou hast seen, and also of those things wherein I will appear unto thee; 17. Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, 18. That thou mayest open their eyes, that they may be converted from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by the faith which is in me.

9. And I truly. If Paul had not spoken more things than those which Luke hath hitherto recited, his speech had not hanged well together. [614] Whence we prove that which was said before, that after that he had spoken of the covenant of God, he intreated of the grace and office of Christ, as the matter required. And he repeateth the history of his conversion for this cause, not only that he may remove from himself all suspicion of lightness, but that he may testify that God had called him, and that he was even enforced by a commandment coming from heaven. For, seeing that he was, contrary to his expectation, suddenly made a sheep of a wolf, such a violent change is of no small importance to purchase credit to his doctrine.

Therefore, he amplifieth that his heat and vehement desire which he had to punish [615] the members of Christ, and also that stubbornness whereunto he was wholly given over. If he had been nousled [brought] up in the faith of Christ from his youth, or if he had been taught by some man, he should have embraced it willingly and without resistance, he himself should have been sure of his calling, but it should not have been so well known to others. But now, seeing that being inflamed with obstinate and immoderate fury, being moved with no occasion, neither persuaded by mortal man, he changeth his mind, it appeareth that he was tamed and brought under by the hand of God.

Therefore, this contrariety is of great weight, [616] in that he saith that he was so puffed up with pride, that he thought he should get the victory of Christ, whereby he teacheth that he was nothing less than made [617] a disciple of Christ through his own industry. The name of Jesus of Nazareth is taken in this place for the whole profession of the gospel, which Paul sought to extinguish, by making war ignorantly against God, as we may see. [618]

10. Which thing I did. He proveth by his very facts with what force of zeal he was carried away to strive against Christ, until greater force did pull him back, and made him go the quite contrary way. Furthermore, his adversaries were witnesses of this his vehemency, so that it was most certain that he was suddenly changed; and undoubtedly the priests would never have put him in any such office, unless he had behaved himself courageously in exercising cruelty; and it was meet that he should be very courageous who should satisfy their fury. This is also to be noted, that Paul was not ashamed to confess how sore he had offended against God, so that that might turn to the glory of Christ. It was to him undoubtedly reproachful, to have been carried away with blind zeal, so that he enforced those to blaspheme which did desire to serve God; to have troubled the good and simple diversely; to have given sentence of the shedding of innocent blood; finally, to have lifted up his horns even unto heaven, until he was thrown down. But he doth not spare his own estimation, but doth willingly utter his own shame, that the mercy of God may the more plainly appear thereby.

Wherefore, there could no sinister suspicion rest in his speech, seeing that (without having any respect of himself) he saith, that he did utterly offend [619] in those things whereby he got the praise of all the people. Therefore, he condemneth his very zeal of madness, which others did honor.

Whereby it appeareth how filthy the ambition of those men is, who are ashamed simply to confess, if they have offended through ignorance or error. For although they do not altogether excuse the same, yet they go about to lessen or paint these things, for which they ought humbly with sorrow and tears to crave pardon. But though Paul might have retained the fame of a courageous man, yet he confesseth he was a madman. For the participle which Luke useth importeth thus much, that he compelled many to blaspheme. By this we know that there was great corruption even in the very first fruits of believers, seeing that having first professed themselves to be disciples of Christ, and being afterwards discouraged with fear or stripes, they did not only deny him, but also spake evil of his blessed name. Though the very denial itself containeth an horrible blasphemy.

13. At midday, O king. The narration tendeth to this end, that king Agrippa may understand that it was no vain visure or ghost, neither was it any such trance as brought him into some madness, so that he was destitute of judgment. [620] For though he fell to the earth for fear, yet he heareth a plain voice; he asketh who it was that spake; he understandeth the answer which was made, which are signs that he was not beside himself. Hereupon it followeth that he did not rashly change his mind, but did godlily and holily obey the heavenly oracle, lest he should of set purpose proceed to strive against God.

16. But rise. Christ did throw down Paul that he might humble him; now he lifteth him up, and biddeth him be of good courage. And even we are daily thrown down by his voice to this end, that we may be taught to be modest; but look whom he throweth down, he doth raise the same again gently. And this is no small consolation, when Christ saith that he appeared to him not as a revenger to plague him [621] for his madness, for those stripes which he had unjustly and cruelly given, for his bloody sentences, or for that trouble wherewith he had troubled the saints, for his wicked resisting of the gospel, but as a merciful Lord, intending to use his industry, and to call him to an honorable ministry. For he made him a witness of those things which he saw, and which he should afterward see. This vision was worthy to be recorded, by which he learned that Christ reigneth in heaven, that he might no longer proudly contemn him, but acknowledge that he is the Son of God, and the promised Redeemer; he had other revelations afterward, as he saith in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, and 12th chapter (2 Corinthians 12:1).

17. Delivering thee. He is armed in this place against all fear, which was prepared for him; and also he is prepared to bear the cross; notwithstanding, seeing he addeth immediately that Paul should come to lighten the blind, to reconcile those to God which were estranged from him, and to restore salvation to those which were lost; it is a marvel why he doth not also promise that they shall on the other side receive him joyfully, who shall by means of him receive such and so great benefits. But the unthankfulness of the world is noted out unto us in this place, because the ministers of eternal salvation are far otherwise rewarded, as frantic men do rail upon their physicians. And Paul is admonished, that whithersoever he shall come, a great part of those to whom he shall study to do good shall hate him, and seek his overthrow. And he saith plainly, that he is appointed to be a witness both to Jews and Gentiles, lest that turn to his reproach, because he made the gospel common to both alike. For the Jews had conceived such deadly hatred against him for this cause, because it grieved them that the Gentiles should be made their fellows. And though they made a show that this did proceed of zeal, because they would not have the covenant which God made with the posterity of Abraham profaned, by being translated unto strangers, yet mere ambition did prick them forward, because they alone would be excellent, all other being underlings. But in the person of one man, all godly teachers are encouraged to do their duty, that they be not hindered or kept back with the malice of men from offering the grace of God unto miserable men, though they be unworthy.

18. That thou mayest open their eyes. Paul, in taking to himself that which is proper to God, doth seem to exalt himself too high. For we know that it is the Holy Ghost alone which doth lighten the eyes. We know that Christ is the only Redeemer which doth deliver us from the tyranny of Satan. We know that it is God alone who, having put away our sins, doth adopt us unto the inheritance of the saints. But this is a common thing, that God doth translate unto his ministers that honor which is due to himself alone, not that he may take any thing from himself, but that he may commend that mighty working of his Spirit which he doth show forth in them. For he doth not send them to work, that they may be dead instruments, or, as it were, stage-players; but that he may work mightily by their hand. But it dependeth upon the secret power of his Spirit that their preaching is effectual, who worketh all things in all men, and which only giveth the increase.

Therefore, teachers are sent, not to utter their words in vain in the air, or to beat the ears only with a vain sound, but to bring lively light to the blind, to fashion again men's hearts unto the righteousness of God, and to ratify the grace of salvation which is gotten by the death of Christ. But they do none of all these, save only inasmuch as God worketh by them, that their labor may not be in vain, that all the praise may be his, as the effect cometh from him.

And, therefore, we must note, that so often as the Scripture doth extol the external ministry so honorably, we must not separate it from the Spirit, which quickeneth the same even as the soul doth the body. For it teacheth in other places how little man's industry can do of itself. For they must plant and water, but it is God alone which giveth the increase (1 Corinthians 11:6). But because many are hindered by their own ignorance and malice, that they cannot reap such fruit of the gospel as they ought, we must note this description, which setteth before our eyes briefly and plentifully that incomparable treasure. Therefore, this is the drift of the gospel, that being delivered from blindness of mind, we may be made partakers of the heavenly light; that being delivered from the thraldom of Satan, we may be turned to God; that having free forgiveness of sins, we may be made partakers of the inheritance among the saints. Those which will rightly profit in the gospel must direct all their senses to this end; for what good shall the continual preaching thereof do us, if we know not the true use thereof? Also, the way and means to attain to salvation is described to us, all men boast that they be desirous of salvation, but few consider how God will save them.

Therefore, this place, wherein the means is prettily comprehended, is, as it were, a key to open the gate of heaven. Furthermore, we must know that all mankind is naturally deprived of those good things which Christ saith we have by believing the gospel; so that it followeth that all are blind, because they be lightened by faith; that all are the bond-slaves of Satan, because they are set free by faith from his tyranny; that all men are the enemies of God, and subject to eternal death, because they receive remission of sins by faith. So that nothing is more miserable than we, if we be without Christ, and without his faith, whereby it appeareth how little, yea, that nothing is left for the free will of men's merits. As touching every part, this lightening is referred unto the knowledge of God, because all our quickness of sight is mere vanity and thick darkness, until he appear unto us by his truth. That reacheth farther which followeth afterward: To be turned from darkness to light; for that is when we are renewed in the spirit of our mind.

Therefore, in my judgment, this member, and that which followeth, express both one thing, to be turned from the power of Satan unto God. For that renewing which Paul declareth more largely in the second chapter to the Ephesians, (Ephesians 2:10, and Ephesians 4:23) is expressed in divers forms of speech. Remission of sins followeth next, whereby God doth freely reconcile us to himself, so that we need not doubt but that God will be favorable and merciful to us. At length, the furnishing and filling of all things is put in the last place; to wit, the inheritance of eternal life. Some do read it falsely in one text, among those who are sanctified by faith, because this word is extended unto the whole period. Therefore, the meaning thereof is, that by faith we come unto the possession of all those good things which are offered by the gospel. And faith is properly directed unto Christ because all the parts of our salvation are included in him. Neither doth the gospel command us to seek the same anywhere else save only in him.


[614] "Abrupta esset," would have been abrupt.

[615] "Nocendi," to persecute

[616] "Magnum ergo pondus habet ista antithesis," there is a great force, therefore, in the antithesis.

[617] "Nihil minus... quam factum," that he was by no means made.

[618] "Hoc modo," in this way.

[619] "Ultro sibi in crimen imputat," voluntarily charges upon himself as criminal.

[620] "Quae mentis sanitatem vel judicium illi eriperet," as deprived him of his sober senses, or the power of judging.

[621] "Qui poenam exigat," to punish him.

Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.
And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.
Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;
Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:

19. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision: 20. But I preached first to those which are at Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and through every region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, and be turned unto God, doing works which become those which repent. 21. For this cause the Jews, having caught me in the temple, went about to kill me. 22. Therefore, seeing I have obtained help of God, I stand until this present day, testifying both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses said should come to pass: 23. Whether Christ should suffer, whether he should be the first that should rise from the dead, to show light to the people, and to the Gentiles.

19. He declareth now briefly to what end he rehearsed the history of his conversion; to wit, that Agrippa and the rest might understand that he had God for his author of all those things which the Jews condemned of sacrilege and apostacy. He speaketh to Agrippa by name, because he knew that Festus and the Romans knew not what an heavenly vision meant. Now, it appeareth that there is nothing in the very sum of his doctrine which dissenteth from the law and the prophets; whereby the oracle doth win greater credit, whereby Paul was commanded to teach nothing but that which was agreeable to the Scripture. Conversion, or turning unto God, is joined with repentance, not as some peculiar thing, but that we may know what it is to repent. Like as, also, on the contrary, the corruption of men and their frowardness [622] is nothing else but an estranging from God. And because repentance is an inward thing, and placed in the affection of the heart, Paul requireth, in the second place, such works as may make the same known, according to that exhortation of John the Baptist: "Bring forth fruits meet for repentance," (Matthew 3:8). Now, forasmuch as the gospel calleth all those which are Christ's unto repentance, it followeth that all men are naturally corrupt, and that they have need to be changed. In like sort, this place teacheth that these men do unskillfully pervert the gospel which separate the grace of Christ from repentance.

21. They went about to kill me. He complaineth in this place of the iniquity of his adversaries, that it may thereby appear that their cause and conscience were both evil. [623] For if Paul had offended they might have gone to law with him; and even there should they have stand [stood] in better state, seeing they did far pass him both in favor and authority. Therefore, their madness doth testify that they are destitute of reason. Whereas Paul saith that he was saved by the help of God, it maketh for the confirmation of his doctrine. For how is it that he reacheth out his hand to help him, save only because he acknowledged his minister, and because he will defend the cause which he alloweth [approveth?]. Moreover, this ought to have encouraged him to go forward so much the more boldly in his office, in that he was thus holpen by God. For it had been a point of an unthankful man to withdraw himself from him which had holpen him. By which example we be taught, that so often as we be delivered from danger, the Lord doth not therefore prolong our days that we may afterward live idly, but that we may do our duty cheerfully, and be ready to die every hour to his glory, who hath reserved us to himself. And yet Paul did not forget how much he was indebted to the chief captain; but in this place he commendeth the help of God, that he may show that it became him to spend all the rest of his course in his service by whom he was delivered, though that came to pass, and were done through the industry and by the hand of man.

Testifying both to small and great. We have said elsewhere that it is more to testify than to teach, as if there were some solemn contestation made between God and men, that the gospel may have his [its] majesty. And he saith that he is a witness both to great and small, that king Agrippa may perceive that this doth appertain even to him; and that when the gospel is offered even to every simple man, that doth no whit hinder but that it may ascend even unto the throne of princes. For Christ doth gather all men into his bosom with one and the same embracing, that those who lay before in the dunghill, and are now extolled unto so great honor, may rejoice in his free goodness; and that those who are placed in high degree of honor may willingly humble themselves, and not grudge to have some of the base and contemptible multitude for their brethren, that they may be made the children of God. So in the first chapter to the Romans, he saith that he is indebted both to the fools and to the wise, lest the Romans should be kept back with the confidence which they might repose in their wisdom from submitting themselves to his doctrine. By this let us learn that it is not in the teacher's will to make choice of his hearers, and that they do no less injury to God than defraud men of their right, whosoever they be which restrain their labor unto great men, whom God doth join with those which are small. It were too cold to restrain this unto ages. [624] Wherefore, I do not doubt but that Paul taketh away the exception which used to be between the noble and ignoble, because he was neither afraid of the dignity of the one, neither did he loathe the baseness of the other, but did show himself a faithful teacher to both alike.

Saying no other thing. First, this is worth the noting, that Paul, to the end he may bring in fit and substantial witnesses of his doctrine, doth not take the same from among men, but he citeth Moses and the prophets, to whom the Lord had granted undoubted authority. And surely this is one principle to be observed, when we will teach soundly, to utter nothing but that which did proceed out of the mouth of God. Secondly, this is worth the noting, that these were the principal points of the disputation which Luke doth now touch; that this was the proper office of Christ, by his death to make satisfaction for the sins of the world, by his resurrection to purchase righteousness and life for men; and that the fruit of his death and resurrection is common both to Jews and Gentiles. But forasmuch as there is no manifest and (as they say) literal testimony extant in the law concerning the death and resurrection of Christ, undoubtedly they had some doctrine delivered by hand from the fathers, out of which they did learn to refer all figures unto Christ. And as the prophets, which did prophesy more plainly of Christ, had their doctrine from that fountain, so they made the men of their time believe that they delivered unto them no new thing, or which did dissent from Moses. And now Paul did either not finish his apology, or else he gathered more evident testimonies of all those things wherein he professed Moses and the prophets to be his authors.

The first of those which. There were some other whose resurrection went before Christ's in time; namely, if we admit that the saints of whom the Evangelists speak (Matthew 27:52) did come out of their graves before Christ, which may likewise be said of the taking up of Enoch and Elias (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11). But he calleth him in this place the first; as in another place the first fruits of those which rise again (1 Corinthians 15:23). Therefore, this word doth rather note out the cause than the order of time, because, when Christ did rise again, he became the conqueror of death and Lord of life, that he might reign forever, and make those who are his partakers of [his own] blessed immortality. Under this word light, he comprehendeth whatsoever doth pertain unto perfect felicity, as by darkness is meant death and all manner of misery. And I do not doubt but that Paul alluded unto the sayings of the prophets,

"The people which walked in darkness saw great light," (Isaiah 9:2).

And again,

"Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall be seen upon thee," (Isaiah 60:2).


"Behold, those which are in darkness shall see light," (Isaiah 42:16).


"I have made thee a light of the Gentiles," (Isaiah 49:6).

And it appeareth by many oracles that the light of life should come out of Judea, and should be spread abroad among the Gentiles.


[622] "Pravitas," depravity.

[623] "Malam causam ipsos agere mala conscientia," that they pleaded a bad cause with a bad conscience.

[624] "Ad aetates hoc restringere," to confine this to periods of time.

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.
For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.
Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:
That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.

24. And as Paul answered for himself, Festus saith with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. 25. And Paul said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and sobriety. 26. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom I also speak freely: for I think that none of these things are hidden from him; for this was not done in a corner. 27. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. 28. And Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou briefly persuadest me to become a Christian. 29. And Paul saith, Would to God that not only thou, but also all which hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. 30. And when he had thus spoken, the king arose, and the governor, and Bernice, and those which sat with them. 31. And when they were gone apart, they talked together between themselves, saying, This man doth nothing worthy of death or bonds. 32. Then Agrippa said to Festus, This man might have been loosed, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.

24. Festus said with a loud voice. This outcry which Festus doth make doth show how much the truth of God prevaileth with the reprobate; to wit, though it be never so plain and evident, yet is it trodden under foot by their pride. For though those things which Paul had alleged out of the law and prophets had nothing in them which was anything like to madness, but were grounded in good reason, yet he doth attribute the same to madness, not because he seeth any absurdity, but because he refuseth those things which he doth not understand. Nothing was more foolish or more unsavory than the superstitions of the Gentiles, so that their high priests were for good causes ashamed to utter their mysteries, whose folly was more than ridiculous.

Festus doth grant that there was learning packed [625] in Paul's speech; nevertheless, because the gospel is hidden from the unbelievers, whose minds Satan hath blinded, (2 Corinthians 4:3) he thinketh that he is a brain-sick fellow which handleth matters intricately. So that though he cannot mock and openly contemn him, yet he is so far from being moved or inwardly touched, that he counteth him a man which is frenzy [frenzied] and of mad curiosity. And this is the cause that he cannot away to mark what he saith, lest he make him mad also; as many at this day fly from the word of God, lest they drown themselves in a labyrinth. And they think that we be mad because we move questions concerning hidden matters, and so become troublesome both to ourselves and also to others. Wherefore, being admonished by this example, let us beg of God that he will show us the light of his doctrine, and that he will therewithal give us a taste thereof, lest through obscurity and hardness it become unsavory, and at length proud loathsomeness break out into blasphemy.

25. I am not mad. Paul is not angry, neither doth he sharply reprehend Festus for his blasphemous speech; yea, he speaketh unto him with great submission. [626] For it was no place for reprehension, and it became him to pardon the ignorance of the man, seeing he did not set himself face to face against God. Also, he had respect unto his person [office]. For though he were unworthy of honor, yet was he in authority. And yet for all that he doth not therefore give place to his blasphemy, but he defendeth the glory of the word of God. Whereby we do also see, that not caring for himself, he did only take thought for his doctrine. For he doth not vaunt of his wit; [627] he doth not labor in defense of his wisdom; but he is content with this defense alone, that he teacheth nothing but that which is true and sober.

Furthermore, [the] truth is set against [628] all manner [of] fallacies and fraud: sobriety against all manner [of] frivolous speculations and thorny subtilties, which are only seeds of contention. Paul doth, indeed, refute Festus' error; yet we may gather by this, which is the best manner of teaching, to wit, that which is not only clean from all fallacies and deceit, but also doth not make the minds of men drunk with vain questions, and doth not nourish foolish curiosity, nor an intemperate desire to know more than is meet, but is moderate and good for sound edification.

26. For the king hnoweth of these things. He turneth himself unto Agrippa, in whom there was more hope. And, first, he saith that he knew the history of the things; but he calleth him straightway back to the law and the prophets. For it was to small end for him to know the thing which was done, unless he did know that those things which had been spoken before of Christ were fulfilled in the person of Jesus which was crucified. And whereas Paul doth not doubt of Agrippa's faith, he doth it not so much to praise him, as that he may put the Scripture out of all question, lest he be enforced to stand upon the very principles. Therefore, his meaning is, that the Scripture is of sufficient credit of itself, so that it is not lawful for a man that is a Jew to diminish any jot of the authority thereof. And yet Paul doth not flatter him; for though he did not reverence the Scripture as became a godly man, yet he had this rudiment from his childhood, that he was persuaded that nothing is contained therein besides the oracles of God. As the common sort of men, though they do not greatly care for the word of God, yet they acknowledge and confess generally and confusedly that it is the word of God, so that they are letted with some reverence either to reject or to despise the same.

28. And Agrippa said unto Paul. The apostle prevailed thus far at least, that he wrung out of king Agrippa a confession, though it were not voluntary, as those use to yield who can no longer resist the truth, or, at least, to show some token of assent. Agrippa's meaning is, that he will not willingly become a Christian; yea, that he will not be one at all; and yet that he is not able to gainsay, but that he is drawn after a sort against his will. Whereby it appeareth how great the pride of man's nature is until it be brought under to obey by the Spirit of God.

Interpreters expound this, en oligo diversely. Valla thought that it ought to be translated thus, Thou dost almost make me a Christian. Erasmus doth translate it a little. The old interpreter dealeth more plainly [629] in a little; because, translating it word for word, he left it to the readers to judge at their pleasure. And surely it may be fitly referred unto the time, as if Agrippa had said, Thou wilt make me a Christian straightway, or in one moment. If any man object that Paul's answer doth not agree thereto, we may quickly answer; for seeing the speech was doubtful, Paul doth fitly apply that unto the thing which was spoken of the time. Therefore, seeing Agrippa did mean that he was almost made a Christian in a small time, Paul addeth that he doth desire that as well he as his companions might rise from small beginnings, and profit more and more; and yet I do not mislike that that en oligo doth signify as much as almost. This answer doth testify with what zeal, to spread abroad the glory of Christ, this holy man's breast was inflamed, when as he doth patiently suffer those bonds wherewith the governor had bound him, and doth desire that he might escape the deadly snares of Satan, and to have both him and also his partners to be partakers with him of the same grace, being in the mean season content with his troublesome and reproachful condition. We must note that he doth not wish it simply, but from God, as it is he which draweth us unto his Son; because, unless he teach us inwardly by his Spirit, the outward doctrine shall always wax cold.

Except these bonds. It is certain that Paul's bonds were not so hard, ne [nor] yet did they cause him such sorrow, wherein he did oftentimes rejoice, and which he doth mention for honor's sake, as being the badge of his embassage, (Galatians 6:17), but he hath respect to those to whom he wisheth faith without trouble or cross. For those who did not as yet believe in Christ were far from that affection to be ready to strive for the gospel. And surely it behoveth all the godly to have this gentleness and meekness, that they patiently bear their own cross, and that they wish well to others, and study so much as in them lieth to ease them of all trouble, and that they do in no case envy their quietness and mirth. This courtesy [630] is far contrary to the bitterness of those who take comfort in wishing that other men were in their misery.

31. They spake together. In that Paul is acquitted by the judgment of them all, it turned to the great renown of the gospel. And when Festus agreeth to the rest he condemneth himself, seeing he had brought Paul into such straits through his unjust dealing, by bringing him in danger of his life under color of changing the place. And though it seemeth that the appeal did hinder [631] the holy man, yet because this was the only way to escape death, he is content, and doth not seek to get out of that snare; not only because the matter was not even now safe and sound, [632] but because he was admonished in the vision that he was also called by God to Rome (Acts 23:11).


[625] "Reconditam eruditionem," recondite erudition.

[626] "Honorifice eum corrpellat," addresses him in terms of honour.

[627] "Acumen," acuteness.

[628] "Opponitur," is opposed to.

[629] "Simplicius," more simply.

[630] "Humanitas et moderatio," humanity and moderation.

[631] "Damnosa esse," was injurious to.

[632] "Res jam non erat integra," matters were no longer entire.

But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.
For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them:
And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.
Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.
John Calvin's Commentaries
Text Courtesy of Christian Classics Etherial Library.

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