by Al Maxey

Issue #282 ------- January 4, 2007
When an apostle seeks to win a soul,
he appeals to understanding, not to
imagination, for he knows that his task
is not to create something, but to call
aloud to that which is slumbering
within the depths of the heart.

Maria Montessori {1870-1952}

Almost Thou Persuadest Me
An Analysis of Agrippa's Assertion
to the Apostle Paul in Acts 26:28

Marcus Julius Agrippa, perhaps more commonly known to us as Herod Agrippa II, was born in 27 A.D. and was just a toddler when Jesus the Messiah shed His precious blood upon that old rugged cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. He was the son of Herod Agrippa I and Cypros, who was the daughter of Phasael (the son of Herod the Great's brother) and Salampsio (Herod the Great's daughter). Further, he was the grandson of Aristobulus, and the great-grandson of Herod the Great. As you can see, it was a rather tight-knit family; a lot of familial interbreeding. He was the brother of three sisters: Mariamne, Drusilla, and Bernice (more properly: Berenice or Pherenika -- Veronica in Latin).

It was his father, Herod Agrippa I, who had the apostle James executed [Acts 12:1-2] and then cast the apostle Peter into prison [Acts 12:3]. He died a gruesome death in 44 A.D., which is described in Acts 12:20-23. It was his great-grandfather, Herod the Great, who spoke to the magi from the east when they came seeking the Christ-child, and it was also he who ordered the slaughter of all baby boys under the age of two. It was one of his uncles, Herod Antipas, who ordered the death of John the Baptist, and to whom Pontius Pilate sent Jesus just prior to His crucifixion. It should further be noted that the entire Herod family were Idumeans -- i.e., they were descended from Abraham and Isaac, but through Esau rather than through Jacob. They saw themselves as part of God's covenant with Abraham, but they had not gone into Egypt with Jacob, nor had they been part of the group led out of Egyptian bondage by Moses, nor part of the group entering the promised land some 40 years later. Thus, there was always somewhat of a state of tension between the descendants of Jacob and Esau, even though both were descendants of Abraham and Isaac. The Herods also tended to side with Rome, rather than with the Jewish people, in social and political matters (and quite often even in religious matters). They were notorious opportunists. As a result, most Jews had little regard for them, although there was a small Jewish sect known as the Herodians, who tended to be rather enamored with the power, prestige and position of these Herods.

As was previously noted, Agrippa II's father (Herod Agrippa I) died in 44 A.D., leaving the Herodian throne vacant. Emperor Claudius, who happened to think quite highly of Agrippa II, wanted to appoint him king in his father's place, but was persuaded by several of his trusted advisors that the young Agrippa (who was only 17) was simply too young to effectively administer the territory. Therefore, Palestine became a Roman province and was administered by a provincial governor (Cuspius Fadus being appointed to be the first of several procurators of Palestine). In 50 A.D., at the age of only 23, Claudius appointed Agrippa II the king of Chalcis (a small kingdom to the NE of Judea) in the place of his recently deceased uncle. Three years later several other tetrarchies were given to Agrippa, thus expanding his rule. Nero became the emperor in 54 A.D. and shortly thereafter expanded the territory of Agrippa even further. As king over these Jewish territories, Agrippa had the responsibility as curator of the temple, "with power to depose and appoint the high priest and the responsibility of preserving the temple's treasury and priestly vestments" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 548]. During his reign he appointed seven high priests.

The private life of Agrippa, however, was far from admirable. Indeed, it was scandalous. Although the Jewish Talmud alludes to him having two wives, there is really no solid historical evidence that Agrippa ever married or fathered any children. This may well have been due to his continuous incestuous relationship with his sister Bernice. Josephus, in his Antiquities, and Juvenal, in his Satires, both spoke at length about this ongoing scandal. "Rumors of their incestuous relationship flourished in both Rome and Palestine" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 548]. "This incestuous relationship became the common chatter in Rome" [ISBE, vol. 2, p. 697]. Bernice was also no saint. Following the death of her husband (who was also her uncle), she moved in with her brother Agrippa. Over the years that followed she would bounce back and forth between Agrippa and Titus, the son of Emperor Vespasian. Bernice was the mistress of Titus (which Tacitus declared "a public scandal"), but she was cast aside in 79 A.D. when Titus finally became emperor of the Roman Empire. She and Agrippa then returned to their relationship and faded from history. Most historians feel he died in the third year of the reign of Trajan -- 100 A.D. His death marked the end of the dynasty of the Herods.

Paul Before Agrippa & Bernice

The year was 59 A.D. The apostle Paul had completed all three of his missionary journeys, and following a serious encounter with the Jews in the city of Jerusalem now found himself imprisoned in the city of Caesarea. He had earlier appeared before Felix and his wife Drusilla (who was a Jewess), but "wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned" [Acts 24:27]. Two years went by. Felix was then succeeded by Porcius Festus, to whom the Jews wasted no time in appealing their case. They wanted Paul released and sent to Jerusalem, planning to "set an ambush to kill him on the way" [Acts 25:3]. Festus did not fall for this scheme, however, and invited "the influential men among you" to appear before him in Caesarea and present their case against Paul [vs. 5]. The Jews did just that, "bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove" [vs. 7]. Festus, "wishing to do the Jews a favor," asked Paul, "Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these charges?" [vs. 9]. Paul replied, "I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you also very well know. If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar" [vs. 10-11]. After conferring with his council of advisors, Festus declared, "You have appealed unto Caesar, unto Caesar you shall go" [vs. 12].

Several days later, "King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus" [Acts 25:13]. It was the accepted custom of the day for the king to pay a visit to any newly appointed Roman official over one of his provinces. Since Festus had recently replaced Felix as governor, this was a formal courtesy call by the king and his "consort." Festus, however, quickly took advantage of the opportunity to seek the advice of Agrippa. "And while they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul's case before the king" [vs. 14]. Festus then reviews the entire situation for Agrippa [vs. 14-21]. Festus, not being a Jew, found the whole squabble between the Jews and Paul quite perplexing. "They began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting; but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive" [vs. 18-19]. Festus admitted that he was "at a loss how to investigate such matters" [vs. 20]. Agrippa, however, being quite knowledgeable of all things Jewish, perhaps could provide counsel to the governor. Thus, he laid the case before the king. Agrippa was intrigued and asked to hear Paul for himself, to which Festus readily agreed [vs. 22].

"The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in" [Acts 25:23]. Governor Festus introduced the case to those assembled [vs. 24-27] and King Agrippa said to Paul, "You are permitted to speak for yourself" [Acts 26:1]. Paul then makes an eloquent and impassioned defense [vs. 2-23], one well worth further study and reflection (but we shall leave that for another day). One can almost visualize, as Paul was speaking, how the countenance of Festus became more and more puzzled. Paul's defense of his faith meant absolutely nothing to the governor; indeed, it all appeared to be little more than the ravings and rantings of a lunatic. Finally, unable to control himself any longer, "Festus said in a loud voice, 'Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad!'" [vs. 24].

I am very much impressed with Paul's show of restraint and respect in dealing with such an outburst. Human nature being what it is, the temptation would be strong in many of us (myself included) to respond in kind. Instead, Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of truth and rationality" [vs. 25]. I am further impressed that Paul recognized in Festus one who was quite clearly not amenable, due to his closed mind, to any further consideration or conversation. Thus, after a brief, respectful response to this man, Paul once again focused his full attention upon King Agrippa, who had the entire time been listening quietly. Perhaps Paul believed, by such outward display of attention, that there was before him a chance to plant a seed within the heart of this king. After all, had not the risen Jesus told Ananias that this Saul of Tarsus would "bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel" [Acts 9:15]? Was this the moment for which the Lord had destined and commissioned him? Paul could only hope, and thus he preached the gospel with boldness.

Agrippa's Assertion

An even greater hush must have fallen over those gathered within the audience chamber as Paul confronted the king with a very pointed question -- "King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets?" [Acts 26:27]. In an even bolder move, the apostle Paul, who stood there bound with chains, a lowly prisoner, answers for the king: "I know that you do" [vs. 27]. Just prior to this question, Paul had pointed out to the king that none of what he was proclaiming about Jesus "had been done in a corner;" the king knew about them, therefore, leaving Paul "persuaded that none of these things have escaped his notice" [vs. 26]. Agrippa was, after all, an expert on the customs, laws and teachings of the Jewish people. He himself was a descendant of the venerated Abraham and Isaac. Yes, Herod Agrippa II knew the many prophecies of the prophets of God concerning the Messiah. Did he believe them? Paul was convinced that he did, although it should be noted that Agrippa himself never acknowledged such. Quite often it was simply not "politically correct" or advisable to publicly acknowledge such convictions, especially given the feelings of Rome and the more radical Jewish leaders with regard to those who were embracing the teachings of this dead man named Jesus. "Many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God" [John 12:42-43]. Certainly, Herod believed the prophecies of a coming Messiah. It was this belief that Paul affirmed for him.

But, was Jesus that Messiah; the one of whom the Old Covenant prophets prophesied? Did Agrippa's belief extend that far? Some feel a hint of an answer may be perceived in the response of Agrippa to the apostle Paul. "Then Agrippa said unto Paul, 'Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian'" [Acts 26:28, King James Version]. "The KJV's translation of Agrippa's reply to Paul has become one of the most famous quotations in history. Countless sermons have been preached on it and a gospel hymn inspired by it" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 554-555]. The hymn, of course, is Almost Persuaded, written by P. P. Bliss (1838-1876), who also wrote such memorable classics as "I Gave My Life For Thee," "It Is Well With My Soul" (for which he wrote the music), "I Will Sing Of My Redeemer," "Wonderful Words Of Life," "Let The Lower Lights Be Burning," "More Holiness Give Me," and countless others. For centuries preachers have been using this statement by Herod Agrippa II as motivation for trying to urge those "near unto becoming a Christian" to take that next step which would bring them into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian!" These words from the KJV are familiar to our ears. We've heard them countless times. "Nevertheless, it is not what Agrippa said" [ibid, p. 555]. Dr. Charles Ellicott concurs: "At the cost of giving up a familiar and impressive text, it must be admitted that the Greek words cannot possibly bear the meaning which is thus put upon them" [Ellicott, vol. 7, p. 169]. "An investigation of the usage of the Greek phrase en oligo shows that it was never used in the sense of 'almost'" [ISBE, vol. 1, p. 97]. "In Acts 26:28 the Greek en oligo does not mean 'almost'" [ibid].

Dr. Paul Kretzmann observes, "Agrippa would not permit himself to yield, but retorted: With but little persuasion thou wouldst fain make me a Christian?! He wanted to indicate, whether in irony or in cold indifference, that he simply could not be made a Christian so easily as all that" [Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 1, p. 665]. "Agrippa's words, accordingly, are the expression, not of a half-belief, but of a cynical sneer" [Ellicott, vol. 7, p. 169]. Ellicott continues, "It was evasive as well as derisive" [ibid]. "Paul's direct question embarrassed Agrippa. He had his reputation to maintain before Festus and the other dignitaries. Whatever he may have thought about Paul's message personally, he was too worldly-wise to commit himself in public to what others thought was madness. So he parried Paul's question with his own clever, though rather inane, one: 'Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?'" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 554].

King Herod Agrippa II was a survivor; he knew what it took to maintain his position. Acknowledging before the governor and numerous other high court officials that he was on the verge of embracing the teachings of a dead, self-proclaimed Messiah, the teaching about which the governor had just implied was "madness," would have been tantamount to political suicide for Herod Agrippa. "He was not going to be maneuvered into anything like that!" [Dr. F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, p. 496]. In fact, "Agrippa was not minded even to appear to lend support to Paul's case" [ibid, p. 495]. "So he turned Paul's appeal aside with a smile" [ibid]. Here was a man who for many, many years had manipulated his way into power, and into the good graces of the Roman Empire. He was also having a long-standing incestuous affair with his own sister, who was sitting right next to him as Paul spoke. How logical is it to assume that in the course of a few minutes, and with a few select words, Paul was going to cause this man to suddenly, and publicly, confess faith in Jesus as the Messiah? Although some have made such radical transformations in their lives, such cases are extremely rare. Not even Paul himself turned his life over to Jesus that quickly, but fasted for 72 hours in the city of Damascus, having been struck blind on the way there, before embracing his Lord. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever, either biblically or extra-biblically, that Agrippa ever embraced the Christian faith. Had he in fact confessed in public that day that he was on the very brink of accepting Christ, this would have been headline news throughout the empire. Not a word was ever mentioned. Thus, it is only logical to assume that the KJV has greatly misled us by their wording. "Almost thou persuadest me" makes for good sermons and good hymns, but it is simply not based in fact or reality.


Again, Paul showed great restraint and great respect in his response to this high government official. He said, "I would to God, that whether in a short or a long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains" [Acts 26:29]. Although standing there shackled, Paul was, in fact, the only free man in the chamber. He was free in Christ, a state which he longed for all others, even Agrippa, to experience as well. Whether such freedom was embraced after one sermon or many, whether in a short time or a long time, was no real concern to Paul. God, after all, was in charge of the timing. Paul merely wanted to see the lost brought to a saving relationship with Jesus. It was for this cause he was willing to expend his life. Oh, that more of us could say the same!

After Paul's response to Agrippa, "the king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. They left the room, and while talking with one another, they said, 'This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.' Agrippa said to Festus, 'This man could have been set free, if he had not appealed to Caesar'" [Acts 26:30-32]. But, Paul had appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar he went. He remained in Rome under house arrest [Acts 28:16, 30] until about 63 A.D. During those years he wrote the Prison Epistles. He was released for a time, during which he very likely visited Spain. He was arrested again, imprisoned in Rome, and wrote 2 Timothy just weeks or months before his execution. Early in 67 A.D. Paul was beheaded at the direction of the Roman Emperor. Among the very last words he ever wrote are these beloved, immortal thoughts: "The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" [2 Tim. 4:6-8]. Paul would have loved for Agrippa to be in that number who rejoice at His appearing. Will he be? We don't know. Will you receive that crown? Will I? That is the far more pressing question. Dear Lord, may it be so for each of us.

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From a New Reader in Australia:

Al, I have just read your discussion of John 3:5 -- Born of Water and Spirit [Reflections #212]. I was needing to explain to a new Christian just what "water" meant in this passage, and was unsure myself. So, I thank you for your detailed explanation. I would love to subscribe to your weekly Reflections.

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Al, I just received one of your Reflections from my sister in New Mexico. I am impressed with your work! Please add me to your mailing list for your weekly studies. Thank you, and God bless.

From a Reader in West Virginia:

Dear Brother Al, You mentioned in one of your articles a while back about a sermon on DVD by Rick Atchley titled "Learning Division." Well, I got a copy of that DVD, and after watching it have sent for one hundred more. I am giving them out to those I believe are truth seekers, and am also giving some out to those who may not be (as I want them to think about it anyway). Al, thank you so much for your stance, and for keeping up with as much of the brotherhood "issues" as you can. My prayers are full of thanks for you and your work, Al. Keep it up!

From a Reader in Indiana:

Bro. Al, I teach a class at a Christian Church here in Indianapolis, Indiana that is an overview of the Bible. As part of this, I like to give a lesson on the history of the "400 years of silence" before I start the New Testament. I just happened to stumble upon your writings on that period of history -- The Silent Centuries -- and I enjoyed them very much. May I please have your permission to copy the section on the Maccabean Revolt to hand out to my class? Thank you!

From a Reader in Kansas:

Bro. Al, I am very concerned that the Memphis School of Preaching would condone such activity as you recently described occurring in your town from one of its graduates!! Do they even broach the topic of grace in their production of "pontificating pulpit-pounding patternistic preachers," or will they forever remain locked within their own small-minded world? I pray for your continued success in fighting back the darkness of narrow-mindedness. Light rules! Also, enclosed is a check for your 2006 Reflections CD. Thank you for your fine work.

From a Reader in Oregon:

Bro. Al, I'm catching up after a very busy holiday and just wanted to thank you again for all that you are doing in the Kingdom. Your last Reflections article, "Keyboards for Jesus," was an excellent work, and you are making excellent use of your own keyboard. I also read the article, Jesus and Legalism, to which you referred us, that was written by Daniel H. Coe, Sr. (the self-proclaimed spokesman for the legalists and patternists). You were very right, Al -- my jaw is still on the ground. What an absolute slaughtering of the words of Jesus in order to justify a rather sad view of one's own self. While that little article is a truly sad commentary on that whole mindset, it may actually wake some up to where that mindset, if consistently applied, must inevitably lead. I just wonder if Coe's fellow patternists on the Contending for the Faith web site will lay low on this one, or if they will blindly applaud him!! Thank you again for being the man you are. We will be praying for you and the brethren there as you deal with a new adversary in your area. He will only make you stronger.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Well, you were right, Bro. Al ... I had to have my wife's help to pick my jaw off the floor! Great day in the morning!! This guy is a nut!! And what's really interesting is that no one even replied to his post. He is basically just talking to himself. Also, according to one of his posts to the Contending for the Faith web site, he only has three people attending the church he has started there. Tells you a lot about this fellow, huh?! I personally despise people like him -- self-proclaimed preachers who do nothing but divide and destroy the Body Jesus prayed, bled and died for. Be very careful of this man, brother!! Satan has sent him to test you, and to lead gullible folks away from the grace and truth of God's Word which you preach. Be watchful.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Dear Al, I just read the post from Daniel Coe. You were right! My jaw did drop to the floor! I will keep you in my prayers as this lion lurks about seeking whom he may devour. Keep the faith, brother Al, and, as has already been mentioned, stay on the high road; that is where our Lord is, and He will provide comfort for you as you endure this assault.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Bro. Al, You are so right! I can not believe this! How any rational person can twist the Scriptures to this extent and still call himself a "preacher" is way beyond me! While I realize that a command of Greek and Hebrew is not essential, one should at least be literate if he is going to be effective in teaching the Gospel! Bro. Al, you really do have a problem on your hands in having to deal with this guy, for he's obviously way beyond rational thought! Every soul that he has meeting with him needs to receive copies of your Reflections to counter the poison he is spreading in your area!

From a Minister in Kansas:

Bro. Al, One Cup man here. I can't believe what I just read!! The article on the Contending for the Faith site by Daniel Coe was one of the most ridiculous articles I've ever read!! This brother doesn't have a clue as to what Jesus was actually trying to teach the Pharisees of His day. Al, be very careful in your dealings with this man. A few years back I encountered a brother with a similar mindset, and after a discussion of a biblical topic upon which we did not agree, he became so angry that he almost physically attacked me, calling me a "false teacher." Fortunately, others were present and were able to restrain him. May God deliver us from such men!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Dear Al, You are right!!! That article by Daniel Coe was amazing in how closed-minded his reading and interpreting of the Scriptures was. For God to open his eyes and soften his heart would take a miracle. I honestly don't think anyone other than Him will ever affect this man. Bro. Al, thank you for sharing your research and your insights into God's Word with us. You're helping many people have a fresh look at what God had to say to us through His Word. God bless you!

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

My Dear Bro. Maxey, Thank you for putting me on your mailing list for Reflections. I am looking forward to them. I have read your writings with joy in my heart to know that someone besides myself and a very few others have the will and courage to speak out in such plain words regarding the problems that the One Cup faction is so deeply buried in. I recently published my book titled The Dark Side Of Fellowship With God's Remedy (by Ralph Mustard) -- you can order my book from your local bookstore, or you can get it directly from the publisher: I have about two chapters in the book on exactly what you have been discussing in your Reflections. Brother Al, I spent 38 years preaching for the One Cup brotherhood. I am almost 87 years old, and this book will give you a picture of my ministry in the One Cup group. May God continue to pour out His blessings upon you and your work!!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Bro. Al, Happy New Year!! Reading your Reflections this past year has helped me grow in knowledge and understanding. Thank you for reaching out to so many people like us who love the Lord and all of His children. Al, you have provided the support we needed to move forward in the faith and not be weighed down by our legalistic past. Thank you again for your wonderful ministry. May God bless you over and over this new year! As for that guy from Memphis School of Preaching who moved into your town, stay away from him! Radical Christianity is no less dangerous than radical Islam. Anyone who exhibits such a lack of basic logical thinking, as that man exhibited in his article "Jesus and Legalism," is surely unstable.

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