This Is Madness!

26 Jun

One of the most often used criticisms of Christianity today is that our trust in the validity of the Scriptures is a clear expression of our ignorance of reality. Anyone who is claims to be Christian and pursues a career in science is viewed with suspicion—after all isn’t a Christian scientist an oxymoron? Like jumbo-shrimp the two words simply don’t go together. Centuries ago nearly all the great universities of the west were run and financed by Christians, yet today we’re seen as a bunch of coneheads who are simply irrelevant when it comes to education or politics.[1] Perhaps it may come as a surprise that this attitude of being out of touch with reality can also be found in the 1st century CE among the movers and shakers of the times.

As Paul was speaking before the court and especially to King Agrippa, Festus, the court’s moderator, interrupted Paul saying he had obviously become mad. All his studies had taken its toll, and he had become totally impractical. All this philosophizing had driven him crazy, for who in his right mind would antagonize a whole nation over such unsubstantiated and trivial matters (Acts 26:24)? Who has ever risen from the dead? The mere thought is ridiculous—today Hollywood makes a bundle promoting the idea as a zombie-fantasy.

Yet, Paul was very serious, indeed, and appealed to King Agrippa to back up his (Paul’s) statement both concerning the Scriptures and the controversial events in recent history that they predicted. The foundation of Paul’s testimony was well known among the Jews; Messianic Judaism wasn’t born in secrecy and known only by a few. The whole nation of the Jews was aware of what had occurred 28 years previous.

“You believe the prophets, don’t you, Your Majesty?” Paul asked, but this is the problem with truth that is not well spoken of among the political and educated elite—it is difficult to gain support from those who could offer it, because they do not wish to risk their own reputations by subjecting themselves to the possible ridicule of their peers. Agrippa was clearly embarrassed with Paul’s appeal. Although he didn’t appear able to fault Paul’s logic in his use of the Scriptures, he was not about to express agreement in the face of Festus’ remark.

The king responded with great concern to neither put his orthodoxy in jeopardy by denying the prophets nor would he publicly show any support for Paul’s understanding of the Scriptures. He dodged everything by stating what amounts to Paul wanted him to play the Christian[2] (Acts 26:28), which term was used at this time only by Romans who had investigated the Messianic sect and those privy to their understanding of it, which though viewed as harmless to Caesar, wasn’t held in high esteem. It was a derogatory term, and we didn’t begin to use it of ourselves until later in the 2nd century CE. We referred to ourselves in Paul’s day as followers of the Way.

With this, Agrippa, Bernice and the Roman upper class audience who listened to Paul arose from their seats and moved to a more private area where they noted that Paul was innocent of any crime against the state or Judaism and should have been set free, had he not appealed to Caesar (Acts 26:30-32). So, Luke has Paul found innocent of all charges for the third time (before Felix, Festus and Agrippa), again paralleling Jesus’ own trials, twice before Pilate (Luke 23:4, 14, 22), and once before Herod (Luke 23:15).

[1] I don’t mean to imply that all the loud-mouth-ignorance that passes itself off as Christianity should be taken seriously, but if the truth were known, loud-mouth-ignorance can be found in every station in life, including atheism. But, the fact that I have to mention this in defense of Christianity should say something of the modern caricature.

[2] See F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, page 496; Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, page 440. See also the Septuagint’s translation of a similar phrase in 1Kings 21:7.

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Posted by on June 26, 2013 in Gospel, Kingdom of God, Paul in chains


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