Saturday, March 2, 2013

Become A Christian? (part 2 of 3)

Though Paul’s message and its context would most likely not have been unfamiliar to Agrippa, it may very well have been so for Festus.  So he “exclaimed loudly, ‘You have lost your mind, Paul!  Your great learning is driving you insane!’” (26:24b)  Not only does this serve to point out that Paul had a reputation as a learned and well-studied man, which says something for the persuasive power of the case for the Resurrection of Jesus and of the Gospel message itself, but it also points out that all of this talk of the hope in God’s promise, the resurrection of the dead, and of the messiah, was completely lost on this Roman governor.  He was not able to operate inside a 1st century Jewish mindset that was familiar with all of these terms.  Unfortunately, this is not unlike those in the present time that too often suffer from the same malady in their attempts to correctly approach and understand the message of the New Testament. 

Nevertheless, and undaunted by Festus’ insistence (and attempt at shaming Paul---ironic, as Paul appears to be wholly unconcerned with the honor and shame paradigm and struggle as it related to himself following his Damascus experience) Paul replies, “I have not lost my mind, most excellent Festus” (the use of which could make one think about the “most excellent Theophilus” to whom Luke & Acts are addressed, and thus providing an idea as to the status of the recipient of Luke’s two-part series), “but am speaking true and rational words” (26:25). 

Likewise, keeping in mind that Acts was a literary narrative that was designed to be read as a unit that is consistently and continually building on itself, Paul’s insistence on the fact that his words are both “true and rational” points to the “many convincing proofs” of the third verse of the first chapter of Acts.  The words used for “convincing proofs” imply evidence that could be presented in a courtroom setting as irrefutable proof of the facts of a case.  True and rational indeed.

Paul goes on to add, “For the king knows about these things, and I am speaking freely to him, because I cannot believe that any of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner” (26:26).  So not only is Agrippa familiar with the terminology and substance of the things about which Paul is speaking, but Paul implies that Agrippa is also aware of what happened to Jesus, what is being said about Him, and about the violent vendetta that is being pursued against His ever-increasing band of followers and confessors. 

Paul continues and says, “Do you believe the prophets, King Agrippa?  I know that you believe” (26:27).  This would have been standard rhetorical practice in that day, and it works to successfully put Agrippa on the spot.  With this reference to the prophets and Agrippa’s presumed belief in what has been written, it seems that Paul might have some inside information about Agrippa’s stance concerning the claims being made about Jesus.  Agrippa, perhaps taken aback by what Paul has said, defensively and perhaps even nervously replies, “In such a short time are you persuading me to become a Christian?” (26:28) 

This is quite the interesting statement/question that emanates from Paul, and it carries with it some dramatic implications.  This is not about whether Paul was trying to get Agrippa to confess Jesus and so be saved, or to have a personal religious experience, or to convert to a new religion.  This use of “Christian” by Agrippa would probably have caused Festus to perk up his ears.  Christian?  This word was not used to identify someone’s religion or set of privately held beliefs in the hope of the afterlife.  This word was used in a political context.  In that day, the term would identify a person’s loyalties.  It could be a dangerous association. 

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