Acts 26:19-23 — Paul’s Ministry

19 “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,

20 but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.

21 For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me .

22 Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come —

23 that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”

showed (v.20) — tense indicates continuous action

In the apostle’s brief account of the carrying out of his commission it should be noted that the word “then” in verse 20 is supplied by the translators in the Authorized Version; it is not contained in the original. Albert Barnes comments on this:

“It would seem from that word [then] 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 … before then “preached” to the Gentiles in Arabia”

While Barnes does not prove even in his notes on Acts 9, that Paul preached in Arabia, his general argument is correct. For one thing, after his return to Jerusalem from Damascus (Galatians 1:17-18) he “came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia” (Galatians 1:21) apparently in connection with his journey to Tarsus (cf. Acts 9:29-30). Evidently this was the occasion of the founding of Gentile churches there, for later we find letters being sent along with Paul and others, to the Gentile believers there, to confirm them in grace (Acts 15:23-27). Now all this time, Paul himself tells us, he “was still unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ” (Galatians 1:22). He could not, therefore, have preached “thoughout all the coasts of Judea” before going to the Gentiles. his ministry in Judea more probably too place at the time when the Gentiles at Antioch sent financial “relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea” (Acts 11:29-30) or else on one of his subsequent visits to that region. — Acts Dispensationally Considered, by C.R. Stam, pages 140-141.

would suffer (v.23) = destined to suffer

the first to rise from the dead (v.23) — But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

Paul thus argued before Agrippa that his Christianity was the logical and necessary sequel to his past, because that which was the central hope of Hebraism had been fulfilled in One Who demonstrated His Messiahship by His actual resurrection from among the dead. Here was no labored argument, no attempt to define the doctrine of the resurrection, but rather an almost cold and dispassionate, clear and unyielding testimony, of a personal experience, the avowal of the fact that he had met the Jesus they had murdered, alive; and that he could do no other than follow His call. — The Acts of the Apostles, by G. Campbell Morgan, page 524.

Extreme dispensationalists, seeking to prove that Paul did preach a kingdom message during his early ministry, have often cited Acts 26:22 to prove their point. Does this not prove, they argue, that Paul could not have proclaimed the mystery before Acts 28? Does he not say he had proclaimed nothing which the prophets and Moses had not already foretold?

The trouble is that our extremist friends have quoted only half his statement. The first part of his statement, in verse 22, is clearly qualified by the remainder, in verse 23.

In other words, the facts that Christ should suffer, rise from the dead and show light to Israel and the Gentiles, were nothing but what the prophets and Moses had already predicted. Why then should the Jews so bitterly oppose Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles? This alone was Paul’s argument. — Stam, pages 143-145.

What do I make of all this? If the “then” in verse 20 was inserted by translators, I think any issue disappears, especially as it then lines up with what Paul says in Galatians.

Some have an issue with Paul’s preaching of repentance in verse 20. But repentance simply means “a change of mind” and that is, of course, necessary if one is to turn from depending on one’s self to dependence on God for salvation. He doesn’t say the “works befitting repentance” are necessary for salvation. He just says that he preached to both Jews and Gentiles that they should behave in a way consistent with their change of mind.

The other issue, regarding verses 22 and 23 as I’ve quoted from Stam, are pretty obvious to me. There isn’t even a sentence break between the two verses. If the guy who broke the Bible in to verses hadn’t split them at that point, there would be no issue.

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