Monday of the 21st week after Trinity: Acts 26:1-23.
26:1 – This is Agrippa II, the brother of Mariamne and Berenice, and the last of the Herodian dynasty.
26:3 – Paul calls Agrippa γνωστής. This should not be translated “expert”, as though Agrippa were a professor of Torah or a rabbi or something. It simply means that as the ruler of Judaea, he had first-hand knowledge of Jewish affairs, and would be able to make a fair judgment of Paul’s claims to be a faithful Jew.
26:4-5 – Jews constituted a collegium within the Roman empire, which meant that they had the right to practiced their own religion. This is a status distinct from a religio licita to which any inhabitant of the Roman empire might choose to adhere: only Jews could lawfully practice Judaism; it was effectively marginalized. As for Christianity, it had no official status, and was thus simply illegal, unless, as Paul argues, it is really Judaism-come-into-its-own.
26:6 – Paul’s use of the resurrection (“the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers”) as the distinctive belief of faithful Jews occurs in several other of his speeches in Acts.
26:14 – The language of Jesus’ rebuke of Saul on the road to Damascus (“hard to kick against the goads”) may connect it with the story of Balaam, whose donkey resisted him as his way was reckless before God. Saul, like Balaam, is stopped on the way to do evil to the people of God, and made to do good instead.
26:22-23 – An excellent summary statement of Pharisaic Judaism’s eschatology: Moses and the prophets have predicted that…
1. The Messiah would suffer.
2. That he would be the first to rise from the dead. (Resurrection goes with the Messiah.)
3. Jewish repentance and restoration (“light”, what NT Wright would probably call “return from exile”) is to be followed by proclamation to the Gentiles.
Of course, the major difference between Paul’s new, Christian eschatology, and his former, Pharisaic understanding of these things is the fact that The Resurrection, capital T, capital R, has happened in Jesus, so that the new age has burst in upon the present, rather than waiting for Israel to repent first. (Peter’s sermon in Acts 3 contains interesting eschatological assumptions about resurrection, Israel’s repentance, and the second coming of the Messiah. My friend Tim Gallant has suggested that Israel’s repentance and the general resurrection are also linked in Romans 11:15.)