Acts Wednesday: Chapter 26, Paul’s Rhetoric


Much of what Paul relayed in this chapter feels like something we’ve heard already in Luke’s account—at one level. We learn a lot of what we already know.

But, how Paul told his story is what I want to talk about in this post. His speech follows the rules of rhetoric, the means of persuasion and proof: Ethos, Logos, Pathos.


Ethos has to do with both the character of the speaker, and of those who are listening, including opponents, and the performance of the speech itself.

With one hand raised, Paul positioned himself as a noble orator, one acquainted with logic, rhetoric, and truth. His introduction of himself was crafted to encourage trust and empathy.

  1. Paul first established Herod Agrippa II, King of Chalcis’ character and position: “you are especially familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews.” Agrippa would make a knowledgeable and just judgment, because he was intimately acquainted with the background and context.
  • Noble and trustworthy: Paul referred to Agrippa as “Excellency”
  • Educated: He appealed to Agrippa’s knowledge
  • Intelligent and trustworthy: Paul could speak to Agrippa freely, as one who not only knew exactly what Paul was talking about, but also as one with a keen mind, who would miss nothing.
  1. Then Paul quickly reviewed his own character:
  • Transparent: his life was an open book, known to all.
  • Quintissentially Jewish, he spent his life among his own people, and in Jerusalem.
  • Pure and holy, he belonged to the strictest sect of Hebrew religion, the Pharisees.
  • Enlightened, he had been like the other Judeans, out of ignorance. But now, God had opened his eyes.
  • Righteous, Paul, in keeping with his whole life’s testimony, was obedient to God’s word and God’s call.
  1. Paul cast his opponents as those who should have warmed to Christ . . . but did not.
  • Sadly, they had not come to the light as Paul had.
  • Incredibly, they seemed to disavow the resurrection of the dead (the Pharisees among those listening had to have ground their teeth in frustration, hearing Paul say that).
  • Perversely, they were seeking to kill Paul because of his obedience to God, and his proclamation as true and fulfilled what their own prophets had prophesied.

Logos has to do with the logic and reasoning employed to put forward an argument, defense, or claim.

Paul arranged his defense in such a way that it was clear he was simply obeying God’s command after having been enlightened by God and conscripted by God. Paul could hardly be faulted for that! If what God wanted of him was a problem for anyone, then their issue was not with Paul, but with God.

  1. There could be no question of Paul’s initial and identical zeal with the Sanhedrin to stamp out the sect of The Way wherever it might be found. This was irrefutable and established fact.
  2. Paul would have continued in this effort, with every fiber of his being, had not God arrested Paul, enlightened Paul, and given Paul the command to preach the gospel. As would be required in any court, there were witnesses to this stunning event. Though Luke did not record whether those witnesses had been summoned to testify on Paul’s behalf for this court trial, we do know Luke identified them earlier in his account.
  3. With the same zeal he had always been noted for, Paul continued to obey God, only now in a much more informed and more accurate way:

Testify to the things in which you have seen of me [Jesus] and to those in which I will appear to you.

I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes

— so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,

— so that they may receive forgiveness of sins

— and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me

Jesus to Paul, Acts 26:16-18 (NRSV)

  1. Paul’s message was itself a continuation of and corroboration of what the prophets—including Moses himself, greatest of all prophets—had already been saying for a thousand years and more.
  2. The proof of God’s supernatural, mighty, wonderworking power at work in Paul was being displayed before Agrippa’s very eyes in that hour.
  3. The facts of this case were uncontestable, unassailable, undeniable, and ironclad:

The Messiah must suffer,

and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light

both to our people and to the Gentiles.

Paul, Acts 26:23 (NRSV)

Pathos has to do with the emotion woven into the presentation as well as the message.

Paul’s hand gesturing towards heaven, in his heroic pose, was also partially a call to pathos, to stir up every noble and spiritual feeling, that this trial had far more to do with lofty things than the mere spiteful ire of the Sanhedrin.

Several places along the way, Paul’s speech roused strong feeling, until finally, Proconsul Festus could no longer contain himself and burst out with,

“You are out of your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you insane!”

At that point, Paul’s intense gaze shifted to take in Festus’ shocked exclamation. Again, he used rhetoric to retain control of the narrative. He was the opposite of insane, he was the sanest person in the room, one who was not swept away by dismay and rage, but rather a speaker of sober truth.

And here the moment of truth had arrived, a glistening moment, almost painful in its power and light. Paul slowly turned back to Agrippa, allowing the room’s palpable hush to gain the extra weight of gravity. Did anyone breath?

Then, in a voice that must have shook the room, yet was spoken in even tones, Paul offered eternal life to the king,


King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.

Paul to Herod Agrippa II, King of Chalcis, Acts 26:27 (NRSV)

It is heartbreaking, how the moment came . . . and went.

King Agrippa lost his nerve. I wonder if Berenice had shifted nervously, next to him. So much would change, if Agrippa said yes to God.

True to the end, Paul held out hope to all in the room, for Christ was not prejudiced, His life, His cleansing and healing, was available to all who would place their faith in Him.

The proceedings came quickly to a close after that. All three dignitaries stood, then Agrippa led the way to the exit. As they left, Luke, standing in the back, quickly jotted down what he overheard them saying to each other, as they strode through the magnificent hall’s carved doors,


“This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor.”

Overheard snippet of conversation between Agrippa and Festus, Acts 26:31-32)

Moments of truth can be like that. The opportunity is there, and then it is gone. What opportunity might God be presenting you with right now? What will you say?


[First century Roman orator | I, Sailko / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

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