Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most strait sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
Very remarkable is the skill shown by the apostle in the adaptation of his defenses before different rulers. This Agrippa prided himself upon his Jewish knowledge, and would be quite familiar with the Jewish sects. The offences charged against St. Paul related chiefly to Jewish ceremonial and rights, so the apostle could make no answer which would influence Agrippa so certainly as the answer given in the text, "After the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee." Agrippa would know that a man born and brought up as a Pharisee was not in the least likely to offend against the customs and rites which that body so jealously preserved. Conybeare and Howson say, "Not only was Paul a Pharisee, but his fathers and teachers belonged to this sect. This is nearly all we know of St. Paul's parents. We can conceive of the apostle as born in the Pharisaic family, and as brought up from his infancy in the 'straitest sect' of the Jewish religion. His childhood was nurtured in the strictest belief, as he had before him the example of his father who prayed and walked with broad phylacteries, and were scrupulous and exact in their legal observances. He had, moreover, the memory and tradition of ancestral piety, for he tells us that he served God 'from his forefathers.' Everything, therefore, tended to prepare him to be an eminent member of that theological party to which so many of the Jews were looking for the preservation of their natural life, and extension of their natural creed." Compare St. Paul's account of himself as given in Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:5, 6. We dwell on the fact of St. Paul's Pharisaic birth, education, and sympathies, in order to show -
I. HOW THESE AFFECTED HIS RELATIONS WITH THE JEWS. He ought to have been peculiarly acceptable to the Jews. The bias of his life was wholly in favor of ceremonial Judaism. He might have been looked to as one of the noblest champions of Mosaism. He did come out as a leader of the party which persecuted the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. He had never separated himself from the Jewish rites and ordinances. To the close of life he maintained his Pharisaism. He pleaded, indeed, for liberty from ritual bonds on behalf of the Gentile converts, but he did not take the liberty for himself; so that, if the Jews had not yielded to blinding prejudice, they might have found in this Christian Pharisee the conservator of all the essentials of Mosaism. It should be clearly seen that St. Paul at once admitted the new light that came from God, and jealously conserved the old, which had also come from him. No doubt the apostle saw that the Jewish system would fade away, and give place to a spiritual religion for which simpler forms would suffice; but it was no part of his mission to hurry on the time of the passing away. His point was this - Jewish bonds must not be laid on Gentile converts. Judaism cannot be aggressive; it must keep well within its own lines and limits.
II. How ST. PAUL'S PHARISAISM BORE UPON THE CHARGES MADE AGAINST HIM. It made those charges seem ridiculous. One brought up as a zealous Pharisee insultingly defiling the sacred temple was simply absurd. Such a man could not have done such a thing. And the assumption further was that the public teachings of such a man could not be out of harmony with true Judaism. Men are true to themselves: they do not make themselves ridiculous by such open inconsistencies. St. Paul may plead in answer to all their charges, "I was, I am, a Pharisee."
III. How ST. PAUL'S PHARISAIC EDUCATION BECAME A PREPARATION FOR HIS CHRISTIAN FAITH AND LIFE. Such an education established a strong conviction concerning three things.
1. The direct ruling and intervention of Jehovah, so that, at any time, any of his servants might have direct and personal communications from him. The fathers and the prophets had received such revelations, and revelations and visions may come to men still.
2. The importance of Holy Scripture, as given by inspiration of God.
3. And the expectation of Messiah, as fulfilling Scripture prophecy and promise. It may easily be shown how those Pharisaic sentiments prepared fur
(1) the vision at Damascus;
(2) the key which that vision gave to Scripture, and especially to the figure of Messiah presented in the Scripture. Compare the difference of result if St. Paul had been by birth and education a doubting, skeptical Sadducee. True Christianity is the natural and proper outcome of true Pharisaism. Those who were loyal to the idea of the theocracy, and to the Scripture as the human expression of the Divine will and purpose, ought to have been led to a full acceptance of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God. Illustrate and impress that in a man's early years is displayed the character that is to distinguish his whole life; and that we are all greatly dependent on the tone of the influences that surround our infancy and childhood. Manhood should not, indeed, witness the mere continuance of childhood's prejudices, it should be the true and worthy development, adaptation, and application of childhood's principles. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.