Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 38

by | Oct. 09, 2003

Sunday School

Howard W. Hunter on Paul's hearing before Agrippa:

During his imprisonment, Paul was given a hearing before Agrippa. Festus introduced the prisoner, and before the distinguished tribunal, Paul gave his most famous apology. His defense is one of the classics of history. He related his life and how he had persecuted the saints because of their Christian beliefs. Then followed the thrilling and dramatic story of the happenings on the way to Damascus when he saw the light and heard the voice, and how he was commanded of the Lord to go to the Gentiles to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light that they might receive forgiveness of their sins and be sanctified by faith.

(Elder Howard W. Hunter, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1960, 6.)

Michael Middleton compares Paul, Christ, and Joseph Smith:

Like many of the Lord's elect, Paul was required to seal his testimony with his blood (D&C 135:3). From his own inspired words we learn, "For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator" (Hebrews 9:16). His blood joined that of the martyred multitude whose altar John saw; his voice, now roaring like a lion, joined those that cry with a loud voice, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10).

Paul's trial and his execution trace the pattern established by the Savior and followed by many others who have laid down their lives for Christ. Like the Savior (Matthew 12:14), Lehi (1 Nephi 1:20), Zenos (Helaman 8:19), Ezias (Helaman 8:20), Isaiah, and countless others, Paul found his life in peril because of his teachings (Acts 9:23). Luke records that more than forty Jews banded together and plotted to kill Paul; they bound themselves with an oath that they would neither eat nor drink until they had accomplished their evil design (Acts 23:12-15). Because of Paul's rabbinical training (Acts 22:3; 26:5), his testimony that Jesus, whom they had crucified, was indeed the long- awaited Messiah must have been especially piercing and repugnant to the Jewish authorities. Paul could have declared in the words of Jesus, "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin" (John 15:22). Both the Savior and Paul were protected from their enemies at times when their lives were in peril (John 8:59; 10:31-39; Acts 9:23-25). Like Abinadi, they testified of the truth while in the midst of their enemies but were preserved by God until they had delivered the message they were sent forth to give (Mosiah 13:2-3).

Calling Joseph Smith and Paul "parallel prophets," Richard Lloyd Anderson pointed out that both "predicted safety in earlier persecutions, but . . . accurately predicted their own deaths." Paul wrote to Timothy, "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand" (2 Timothy 4:6). Joseph, who had borrowed Foxe's Book of Martyrs from the Edward Stevenson family and used the Urim and Thummim to examine the lives of the early Christian martyrs, stated, "I must seal my testimony to this generation with my blood."

Paul and Joseph Smith each proclaimed their innocence and blamelessness before their martyrdom. Headed toward Jerusalem, "not knowing the things that [would] befall [him] there," Paul stated, "Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men" (Acts 20:22, 26). Riding toward Carthage, Joseph declared, "I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer's morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men" (D&C 135:4).

Paul endured many persecutions as he approached the time of his martyrdom; there are a number of notable parallels between his life and the Savior's. Like the Savior, Paul was smitten by the Jews with the high priest present (John 18:22; Acts 23:2). Like the Christ, Paul was arraigned before both Jewish and Roman tribunals; both the Savior and his apostle were arraigned three times before Roman rulers as the Jews sought the death sentence their own jurisdictions could not provide. The absence of credible witnesses against them during their trials showed both Christ and Paul to have been falsely accused (Mark 14:55-56; Acts 25:7). And, like Pilate, Agrippa was "almost persuaded" (Acts 26:28) and would have freed Paul had it not been for the Jews and his consideration of Caesar (John 19:12; Acts 26:32). Although Paul was not crucified, he was stoned and left for dead outside the city. Like Christ, who was slain outside the city gate and, though placed in a tomb, did not see corruption (Psalm 16:10), Paul also arose and continued his ministry (Acts 14:19-20).

For thirty years following Paul's conversion, the Savior repeatedly showed him the "great things he must suffer for [Christ's] name's sake" (Acts 9:16). Paul's sufferings as a minister of Christ were varied, protracted, and intense (2 Corinthians 11:23-29), yet he endured, even unto martyrdom. His motto was ever, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

(Michael W. Middleton, "Paul among the Prophets," in The Apostle Paul, His Life and His Testimony: The 23d Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994], 126-127.)

Robert J. Matthews on the final chapters of Acts:

Acts 19-21. The third mission begins at Antioch and covers the area of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia (Greece). Paul's missionary methods are the same as before. Being a strong leader, he visits the synagogues and reasons with the Jews, testifying that Jesus is the Christ. He writes epistles to branches of the Church he has earlier visited-most of which he originally organized; he calls many missionaries into service and transfers them from place to place. (Such methods are recommended in latter-day revelation as examples in guiding the Lord's church in our present dispensation—see D&C 84:106-8.) Paul's greatest success is among the Gentiles, although there is considerable opposition and persecution from both Jews and Gentiles. The third mission covers a distance of at least 3,500 miles and occupies three and a half years and more.

Among the notable experiences on the third mission are: (1) rebaptizing twelve men at Ephesus who thought they were members of the Church but had been "baptized" by someone without proper priesthood authority (Acts 19:1-7) (2 raising Eutychus from the dead at Troas when he fell asleep about midnight during Paul's long sermon, and fell three flights to the ground-after reviving him, Paul continued to preach until daybreak (Acts 20:7-12) (3 Paul's warning to the elders from Ephesus that an apostasy would come in their church after his departure (Acts 20:17-38).

The third mission ends at Jerusalem, when Paul visits the Brethren and reports his success among the Gentiles. They rejoice

at his ministry but counsel him to be seen at the temple with some Jewish brethren, so that the Jews of the city will see that he is an "orderly" person and "keepest the law" (Acts 21: 17-24). Paul conforms to the wishes of the Brethren and all goes well for about a week until some Jews from Asia recognize him at the temple, and they raise such a commotion that Paul is arrested by the Roman officers as a protection, because the Jews are about to kill him. The soldiers bind Paul with two chains, and put him on the stairs overlooking the temple area, from which he addresses the angry mob in the Hebrew (or Aramaic) language. The King James Version uses the word Hebrew, but it is generally understood that ever since the return from Babylon the Jews in Palestine spoke Aramaic (which is similar to Hebrew) as their common tongue.

Acts 22. From the stairs Paul eloquently tells of his early life as a Jew, then as a persecutor of the Christians, then of his vision of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, followed by his subsequent unceasing labors as a disciple of the Christ whom he once opposed. He affirms that this same Jesus, who is both Lord and Christ, had commanded him to preach to the Gentiles. When he says these things to the already angry mob at the temple courtyard they became even more exercised because he makes Jesus a divine being, and also because he says that the command to preach to the Gentiles was from God. Such ideas they consider blasphemy, and they shout, "Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live" (Acts 22:22).

Paul is again rescued by the Roman soldiers and this time is put in prison. The Romans do not know what Paul has done that has made the Jews so angry, so the next day he is brought before the Jewish high court known as the Sanhedrin, consisting of seventy members or judges and a high priest, to be examined formally by them.

Acts 23. Paul stands on trial before the highest court of the Jewish nation. At this instant he must have reflected on the fact that nearly twenty-five years before, at the time of his vision on the Damascus road, the Lord Jesus said that he would proclaim the name of Christ "before Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel" (Acts 9:15). Since that day he has had many experiences before mobs, magistrates, and lesser rulers. Now he stands before the all-important Jewish high court.

Paul's discourse is much shorter on this occasion than the one he had given the day before to the mob. He probably intended to make a longer presentation on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but two things happen in this closed, private meeting that precipitate a short session. First, as he begins to speak to the court he says: "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." The court does not accept this self-evaluation. Here stands the man that the Jews see as a traitor to their religion, an enemy to the law of Moses, and a threat to the religion of their fathers. To hear him speak of his "good conscience" agitates the high priest so much that he commands that Paul be smitten on the mouth. Paul doesn't take this silently, and retaliates with a bold accusation: "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" Those in attendance are so shocked at Paul's words that they ask: "Revilest thou God's high priest?" Paul replies: "I wist [knew] not, brethren, that he was the high priest."

It is difficult to believe that Paul really didn't know that the man was the high priest, if for no other reason than that the high priest was the regular presiding officer of the court and sat in a conspicuous place of honor in front of the other judges, who were seated in a half-circle. Paul's reply may have been a form of sarcasm. Perhaps what he really meant was something such as: "Oh, is he the high priest? How is one to know? I would not have guessed it from his illegal actions." This episode at the very start of the session was of itself an unsettling influence.

The second disruptive occurrence follows soon afterward, when Paul, seeing that one part of the council consists of Sadducees and the other of Pharisees, senses an opportunity to pit the judges against one another. He cries out, "Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question" (Acts 23:6). This declaration is especially provocative because the Sadducees and Pharisees are often suspicious of each other on doctrinal grounds and differed markedly on the subject of resurrection. Paul knows this, and his words have the desired effect: The meeting is thrown into confusion. Luke's description of the event is sufficiently expressive as to need no further explanation:

And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.

For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.

And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.

And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle. (Acts 23:7-10.)

Paul may not have wanted to entirely end the session so abruptly. Possibly all he wanted was to gain the favor of the Pharisees, who he hoped would see him as a brother and give him an opportunity to declare the gospel of Christ and obtain a favorable verdict of the court. Whatever his intention, the session was soon over and Paul was rescued again by the Roman soldiers and imprisoned.

Acts 24-25. The Roman governor, Felix, keeps Paul in prison, first at Jerusalem and then at Caesarea for two years, hoping that Paul will give him money for his release (Acts 24). In the meantime Felix is replaced by Festus. Paul appeals to Festus to be sent to Rome, to Caesar's court, because he feels that he cannot get a fair trial in Jerusalem, or Caesarea, or anywhere in Palestine because of the strong Jewish influence, and also because of the Roman officials' willingness to please the Jews. Paul insists that he has broken no law of the Empire, or of the Jews, and rightly should not be judged in a Jewish court. Because he is a Roman citizen, Paul has a strong case for appealing to Rome. Festus is willing that Paul be sent to Caesar, but a problem exists: He has no official crime to charge Paul with that would be admissible in a Roman court. Since King Agrippa (Herod Agrippa II, great- grandson of Herod the Great) is in Caesarea, Festus tells him about Paul, and that he is at that very time in prison, but there is no legitimate accusation against him. Agrippa desires to hear Paul himself, and a meeting is arranged for the following day. (Acts 25.)

Acts 26. Paul's discourse to King Agrippa, Festus, and other dignitaries at Ceasarea is one of the great events of the New Testament and of all religious literature. Though he is a prisoner shackled in iron chains, he is magnificent in bearing and composure. As is his custom, he begins his discourse with diplomacy and with background information to establish a common bond with his hearers. He acknowledges that Agrippa is an expert in the things of the Jews and asks that the king hear him patiently. Paul reviews his early life in Jerusalem as a Pharisee and says that he ought to be accepted by the Jews, since he has only taught what the prophets also taught. Since the topic of resurrection is a point of conflict between Paul and the Jews, and between Paul and the Gentiles also, he asks Agrippa: "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead?" (Acts 26:8.) Paul then reviews his conversion on the road to Damascus, his personal conversation and interview with the resurrected Jesus, and his diligence since that time in fulfilling the Lord's command to him to testify of Jesus Christ and the resurrection to both Jews and Gentiles.

One of the most dramatic moments of his defense comes immediately after mentioning the resurrection of the dead. Festus loudly interrupts and says: "Paul, thou art beside thyself: much learning doth make thee mad" (Acts 26:24). "Beside thyself" literally means, "you are out of your mind." Paul, with firm dignity replies: "I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things." (Acts 26:25-26.)

Then, addressing the king, Paul says forcibly:

King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.

Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. (Acts 26:27-29.)

As an aftermath of the defense, Festus and Agrippa discuss the matter and say that Paul has done nothing worthy of death or bonds, but since he has appealed to Caesar, he must go to Rome.

Acts 27-28. In a perilous journey, hampered by storm and shipwreck, Paul and others sail to Rome aboard a cargo ship laden with wheat from Egypt. After arriving in Rome he spends two years in a house awaiting trial. Since there is no great charge against him, Paul is optimistic of eventual acquittal. He is given freedom to have visitors but is guarded constantly by a soldier. In Rome, Paul preaches to both Jews and Gentiles that Jesus is the Christ.

Here ends the book of Acts as contained in our present New Testament. It seems that there ought to be more, as the story is unfinished. From his epistles we learn that Paul fully expected to be released soon, and that he would again visit the branches of the Church. It appears that he may have been tried twice, being released after the first time but then later being imprisoned again (see 2 Tim. 4:16-17). Paul's last epistle, 2 Timothy, does not share the expectation of release from prison that his earlier epistles did, but depicts Paul reconciled to an approaching martyrdom. Yet he is completely confident that his salvation is assured (see 2 Tim. 4:6, 7, 16 and compare with Philip. 2:23-24).

Tradition has it that Paul was beheaded outside of the city of Rome, on the Appian Way, sometime around A.D. 66-67, during a time of Roman persecution against the Christians.

Paul's three major missionary journeys and the trip to Rome are chronicled in the book of Acts. The dates and distances shown below are estimates, since precise information is not given in the scriptures. The arrangement of the epistles is likewise an estimate, based on information within the epistles, and is especially subjective with regard to the later epistles.

For maximum learning it would be advantageous to consult the maps in the supplementary sections of a Bible and trace each of these journeys, noting the cities in sequence.

(Robert J. Matthews, Behold the Messiah [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994], 317.)

Bruce R. McConkie on Paul's final days:

Falsely imprisoned, with no specific or substantial charge against him, Paul declines to go willingly back to Jerusalem, back to stand in jeopardy before the fanatical mob which had caused the crucifixion of his Lord. Instead, Roman citizen that he was, he appeals unto Caesar. And Caesar's Procurator decrees that unto Caesar shall Christ's apostle bow.

But why? Why all this imprisonment? Why these repeated mock-like-trials before one ruler after another—all to no avail as far as freeing the innocent Paul is concerned. Why does not the Lord send an angel to deliver his apostle, as he did when Peter was imprisoned by Herod? (Acts 12:1-19.)

Clearly it is the design of Deity to use Paul's imprisonment as the means of taking the testimony of Jesus to the great and the mighty of the world. The gospel is for the poor and for the privileged. It is to be "proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers." (D. & C. 1:23.) What matters it that Augustus sits amid Roman might and splendor, with the power of life and death over millions of people, yet his hope, if any, of peace here and eternal life hereafter, is in the hands of the prisoner of Christ who, though in bonds, has eternal power from on high. How better could the witness of the truth be borne to Felix, Festus, Agrippa, and Augustus, with all their court retinues forced to give ear? Compare Acts 11:19- 26.

Acts 25 11. Festus] Porcius Festus succeeded Felix as Procurator of Judea in about 58 A. D.

Acts 25 2-3. How intense is the hatred and bitterness of the Jews! Two years after Paul's arrest in Jerusalem, they are still plotting to kill him. Had his message been false or his success slight, Satan would long since have found other enterprises for these Jews whose self-adopted mission was to fight against God.

Acts 25 99. Festus, seeking to placate the Jews, is here suggesting that Paul go to Jerusalem and be tried before the Sanhedrin with the Roman Procurator present (to assure fair play!). The predestined result of such a procedure—as Paul and Festus and the Jews well knew—would have been the conviction and death of Paul.

13-22. That Paul's bonds were the result of religious bigotry and superstitution and were without legal warrant is shown clearly by Festus' recitation to King Agrippa.

25:24. King Agrippa] Herod Agrippa II, the last of the Herodian dynasty, an expert in Jewish affairs and also a vicious and dissolute man.

25. Nothing worthy of death] Then why not release him, as a just and impartial ruler would have done? But no, it is Satan himself who governs the persecution of the saints. And Lucifer will not relent in his evil course until he is bound by a power which even he cannot resist.

27. After two years of imprisonment, the legal charges against Paul had not so much as been determined.

8. It is just as easy to believe in a resurrection as in a creation, to believe that man will live again as to believe that he now lives; resurrection is no more of a riddle than is existence itself; mortal men, by their own power of reason, cannot explain how either of them come to be.

13-15. Speaking of the "bitter persecution and reviling" heaped upon him, Joseph Smith says: "I have thought since, that I felt much like Paul, when he made his defense before King Agrippa, and related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light, and heard a voice; but still there were but few who believed him; some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise. So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen?" (Jos. Smith 2:23-25.)

15-18. How providential it is that Luke here recounts, for the third time in his record of the Acts of the Apostles, the account of Paul's first vision. For now, from Paul's own lips, we learn the very words spoken by the Lord Jesus in calling the Apostle to stand as a witness of eternal truth to all men and to the Gentiles in particular. And the divine commission summarizes perfectly the procedures involved and the blessings resulting from the proclamation of the gospel of peace to the world.

16. A minister and a witness] One without the other does not suffice. No man can be a true minister without also being a personal witness of the divinity of the Lord; and every witness carries the commission to minister to his fellowmen. See Acts 10:36-43.

17. From the day of his first contact with spiritual reality, Paul knew he was destined to be a minister to the Gentiles. See Acts 10:21-35; 13:42-49.

18. A perfect summary of what happens when a person is converted to the truth.

20. Repent . . . and do works meet for repentance] Good works always attend repentance; obedience to God's laws is part of turning from sin to righteousness. Those who truly repent, first turn from evil, then affirmatively work the works of righteousness.

22. Witnessing] See Acts 10: 36-43. 24. To the spiritually illiterate, accounts of visions and miracles are as the rantings of diseased minds.

(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 199-203.)

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