Was Agrippa nearly ready to obey the gospel when he said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,” or was he simply shocked that Paul appeared to be trying to convert him? The American Standard version of the verse on which this question is based reads, “And Agrippa said unto Paul, With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian” (Acts 26:28).
If you read the King James alone, and read the sentence as a statement of fact you could easily get the idea that Agrippa was on the verge of obeying Christ. This is the evident understanding that probably inspired the lyrics to the song, “Almost Persuaded.”
Reading the American Standard Version, and reading the verse as if Agrippa was surprised and possibly shocked, raises a question as to whether Agrippa was ready to obey, or simply astounded that Paul would even try, or give the appearance of trying, to convert him. The sentence could have very well been intended as Agrippa’s question to Paul. Punctuation marks in our English translations of the New Testament come from the translators and not the manuscripts and other textual materials we have.
That Agrippa put his words in the form of a surprised question appear to be nearer the facts in the case. If the king were on the brink of obeying, is it not a little odd that Paul did not go ahead and urge him to do something about it? Paul wrote later, “Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men...” (2 Cor. 5:11a). Surely Paul would not have let such a golden moment pass without continuing his persuasion of this great man.
There are other ways of looking at the sentence. Was Agrippa making some kind of a humorous response to Paul? When Paul replied he said, “I would to God that whether with little or with much, not thou only, but also all that hear me this day, might become such as I am except these bonds” (verse 29). It is not difficult to imagine Agrippa making this statement and with a chuckle and turn to those in his court with a look of superiority on his face. Nor is it difficult to imagine Paul returning the humor of his statement and smilingly hold up the chains that bound him for all to see.
Agrippa expressed his irony and actually scoffed at Paul. Verses 26 and 27 form the basis for Agrippa’s response. Paul had just affirmed that all that had happened was widely known, even having come to the king’s knowledge. All “these things” of verse 26 include Paul’s preaching and activities throughout the empire. His preaching was based on the promises of the Prophets of God and his activities were designed to spread the gospel of Christ. He preached a risen Christ, ascended to the right hand of God. And he had asked and answered a question for Agrippa. “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.”
This may not have sat well with the king. A.T. Robertson once observed, “There is nothing more intimidating to a man of culture than finding himself unable to answer an argument.” This could have proved difficult for Agrippa causing him to scoff, “Are you with such silly little efforts trying to convert me and make me become a Christian!” Others have viewed this as Agrippa finding a diplomatic way to change the subject or to end the exchange with Paul.
Brother J.W. McGarvey wrote: “The remark show that Agrippa saw very clearly the aim of the apostle. It is to his credit, being a Herod, that he did not take offense at an obvious attempt of the kind. It was evidently embarrassing to him; but while he turned it off in this cool manner, he evidently regarded Paul with a respect far beyond that ever entertained for an apostle by any of his ancestors.” (New Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, page 258).
Brother McGarvey may have been too polite and generous with Agrippa. The king gives all appearances of being upset at the attempt of Paul “with but little persuasion.” J. Rawson Lumby gave this paraphrase. “It is as though he said, ‘You are supposing that I accept these words of the prophets in the same sense as you do, and you are a fool for your pains to that with so little trouble and in so short a space you could win me over to your side. And such a side! To be a Christian’.” (Cambridge Greek New Testament).
In any event, the evidence is sorely lacking that Agrippa was nearly ready to be baptized into Christ and take his place along with Paul and the others. The passage does show us that the gospel was made available to people from all walks of life, from the pauper to the prince. “And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.” (Isaiah 62:2).
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