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Bible read me 1The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 26:30-32

30 Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed (E)to Caesar.”

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Last week’s entry was about Paul’s earnest attempt to convert Herod Agrippa II, the last of the Herods.

The Roman governor Festus and Agrippa did not give Paul any more time to speak. Agrippa rose, then Festus, then Agrippa’s sister Bernice, then the other dignitaries gathered there (verse 30). Matthew Henry posits that Agrippa was close to conversion but, like Festus’s predecessor Felix, backed off. As with Felix, that was the last of the matter. Felix had visibly trembled. We don’t know what happened with Agrippa. He probably did not want to wrestle with a guilty conscience, either. More’s the pity.

Festus and Agrippa remarked on Paul’s innocence (verse 31).

Agrippa said that if Paul had not appealed to Rome for trial he would have been set free (verse 32).

However, one must ask whether Nero — ‘Caesar’ — even knew about Paul, his imprisonment or his innocence.

John MacArthur says that he probably did not know (emphases mine):

They could have let him go. There wasn’t any reason to appeal to Caesar now. There wasn’t any case. Caesar hadn’t heard a word about it. There hadn’t even been a letter written, but they hide behind the appeal of Paul. Oh, too bad. Boy, we could have let him go if he hadn’t appealed to Rome. Opportunistic fool, coward! How stupid. You see how a man – even though he has the gospel directed right at him – unless he activates his will, is lost? You say, “What – what hindered, what hindered Agrippa? What hindered Festus?” I mean he was innocent. Why would they – why would they push this case hiding behind this phony deal about he appealed to Rome.

Personally, I do not think either man cared about Paul. According to their reasoning, if he wanted to plead his case as a Roman citizen in Rome, that was his right. They probably thought he had been prisoner in Judea long enough and they wanted rid of him. In addition, the Jews had wanted to kill Paul for two years. He was likely seen as being too much trouble.

MacArthur thinks it was a question of the two rulers’ egos:

Because the most important thing to them was popularity, right? I’ll tell you what hindered them. One, popular, big egos. Two, immorality hindered Agrippa. He was a – he was absolutely vile, self-centeredness, unbelief, pride, ignorance, indifference, all the same old things that hinder other people.

He says that Paul was not bothered:

But you know something. It didn’t discourage Paul. He had some people who believed and some people who cursed him, but he didn’t change did he? When he got to Rome, remember what he did the first thing he got there? He started preaching Jesus again.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, at this point in history, the Romans had not yet begun putting Christians to death, therefore, Paul was innocent of any crime:

After this, Nero made a law for the putting of those to death who professed the Christian religion, but as yet there was no law of that kind among the Romans, and therefore no transgression; and this judgment of theirs is a testimony against that wicked law which Nero made not long after this, that Paul, the most active zealous Christian that ever was, was adjudged, even by those that were no friends to his way, to have done nothing worthy of death, or of bonds.

Contrary to MacArthur, Henry states that some historians believe that as soon as a prisoner appealed to Rome, he had to be sent there for trial, yet, Henry did not think this was relevant in Paul’s situation. Yet, he says that Agrippa and Festus likely used it as an excuse:

Some think that by the Roman law this was true, that, when a prisoner had appealed to the supreme court, the inferior courts could no more discharge him than they could condemn him; and we suppose the law was so, if the prosecutors joined issue upon the appeal, and consented to it. But it does not appear that in Paul’s case the prosecutors did so; he was forced to do it, to screen himself from their fury, when he saw the governor did not take the care he ought to have done for his protection. And therefore others think that Agrippa and Festus, being unwilling to disoblige the Jews by setting him at liberty, made this serve for an excuse of their continuing him in custody, when they themselves knew they might have justified the discharging of him.

Henry was clearly troubled by Paul’s request to be tried in Rome, wondering if it was a case of acting in haste and repenting at leisure. He offers this analysis:

And now I cannot tell, (1.) Whether Paul repented of his having appealed to Cæsar, and wished he had not done it, blaming himself for it as a rash thing, now he saw that was the only thing that hindered his discharge. He had reason perhaps to reflect upon it with regret, and to charge himself with imprudence and impatience in it, and some distrust of the divine protection. He had better have appealed to God than to Cæsar. It confirms what Solomon says (Ecclesiastes 6:12), Who knows what is good for man in this life? What we think is for our welfare often proves to be a trap; such short-sighted creatures are we, and so ill-advised in leaning, as we do, to our own understanding. Or, (2.) Whether, notwithstanding this, he was satisfied in what he had done, and was easy in his reflections upon it. His appealing to Cæsar was lawful, and what became a Roman citizen, and would help to make his cause considerable; and forasmuch as when he did it it appeared to him, as the case then stood, to be for the best, though afterwards it appeared otherwise, he did not vex himself with any self-reproach in the matter, but believed there was a providence in it, and it would issue well at last. And besides, he was told in a vision that he must bear witness to Christ at Rome, Acts 23:11. And it is all one to him whether he goes thither a prisoner or at his liberty; he knows the counsel of the Lord shall stand, and says, Let it stand. The will of the Lord be done.

Luke, the author of Acts, sailed with Paul to Rome. Acts 27 is all about that dramatic journey.

Next time — Acts 27:1-8

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