1. And Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to answer for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth his hand, and answered for himself: 2. I think myself happy, O king Agrippa, because I shall answer this day before thee of all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews; 3. Seeing thou art most expert in all those customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee hear me patiently.4. My life which I have led from my youth, which was at the first in mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; 5. Who knew me before since the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most strait sect of our religion 1 lived a Pharisee.6. And now I stand subject to judgment for the hope of the promise which God made to our fathers: 7. Whereunto our twelve tribes, serving God instantly day and night, hope to come. For which hope, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.8. Why doth it seem to you a thing incredible, if God raise the dead?
2. We have declared to what end Paul was brought before that assembly, to wit, that Festus might write unto Caesar as he should be counseled by Agrippa and the rest. Therefore, he doth not use any plain or usual form of defense, but doth rather apply his speech unto doctrine. Luke useth indeed a word of excusing; yet such a one as is nothing inconvenient whensoever there is any account given of doctrine. Furthermore, because Paul knew well that Festus did set light by all that which should be taken out of the law and prophets, he turneth himself unto the king, who he hoped would be more attentive, seeing he was no stranger to the Jewish religion. And because he had hitherto spoken to deaf men, he rejoiceth now that he hath gotten a man who, for his skill and experience, can judge aright. But as he commendeth the skill and knowledge which is in Agrippa, because he is a lawful judge in those matters whereof he is to speak, so he desireth him on the other side to hear him patiently; for otherwise contempt and loathsomeness should have been less excusable in him. He calleth those points of doctrine, which were handled among the scribes, questions, who were wont to discuss religion more subtilely. By the word customs, he meaneth those rites which were common to the whole nation. Therefore, the sum is this, that king Agrippa was not ignorant either in doctrine, either in the ceremonies of the law. That which he bringeth in or concludeth, wherefore I pray thee hear me patiently, (as I said even now) doth signify that the more expert a man is in the Scripture, the more attentive must he be when the question is about religion. For that which we understand doth not trouble us so much. And it is meet that we be so careful for the worship of God, that it do not grieve us to hear those things which belong to the defining thereof, and chiefly when we have learned the principle, so that we may readily judge, if we list to take heed.
4. My life which I have led. He doth not as yet enter into the state of the cause; but because he was wrongfully accused and burdened with many crimes, lest king Agrippa should envy the cause through hatred of the person, he doth first avouch his innocency. For we know that when a sinister suspicion hath once possessed the minds of men, all their senses are so shut up that they can admit nothing. Therefore, Paul doth first drive away the clouds of an evil opinion which were gathered of false reports, that he may be heard of pure and well purged ears. By this we see that Paul was enforced by the necessity of the cause to commend his life which he had led before. But he standeth not long upon that point, but passeth over straightway unto the resurrection of the dead, when he saith that he is a Pharisee. And I think that that is called the most strait sect, not in respect of holiness of life, but because there was in it more natural sincerity of doctrine, and greater learning. For they did boast that they knew the secret meaning of the Scripture. And surely forasmuch as the Sadducees did vaunt that they did stick to the letter, they fell into filthy and gross ignorance after they had darkened the light of the Scripture. The Essenes, contenting themselves with an austere and strait kind of life, did not greatly care for doctrine. Neither doth that any whit hinder, because Christ inveigheth principally against the Pharisees, as being the worst corrupters of the Scripture (Matthew 23:13). For seeing they did challenge to themselves authority to interpret the Scripture according to the hidden and secret meaning, hence came that boldness to change and innovate, wherewith the Lord is displeased. But Paul doth not touch those inventions which they had rashly invented, and which they urged with tyrannous rigor. For it was his purpose to speak only of the resurrection of the dead. For though they had corrupted the law in many points, yet it was meet that the authority of that sect should be of more estimation in defending the sound and true faith, than of the other, which were departed farther from natural purity. Moreover, Paul speaketh only of the common judgment, which did respect the color of more subtile knowledge.
6. For the hope of the promise. He doth now descend into the cause, to wit, that he laboreth for the principal point of faith. And though he seem to have spoken generally of the resurrection, yet we may gather out of the text, that he beginneth with a farther point, and that he did comprehend those circumstances which did properly appertain unto the faith of the gospel. He complaineth that the Jews did accuse him, because he maintained the hope of the promise made to the fathers. Therefore, this was the beginning and also the issue of the matter, that the covenant which God had made with the fathers is referred unto eternal salvation. Wherefore this was the sum of the disputation, that the Jewish religion was nothing worth unless they took heed to the heavens, and did also lift up their eyes unto Christ, the author of the new life. They did boast that they were chosen from among all people of the word. But their adoption did profit them nothing, unless they did trust to the promised Mediator, and look unto the inheritance of the kingdom of God. Therefore, we must conceive much more than Luke doth plainly express. And surely his narration tendeth to no other end, save only that we may know of what things Paul intreated. But what this was, and in what words he uttered it, we cannot tell. Nevertheless, it behoveth us to gather out of a brief sum those things which appertain unto this disputation, which was freely handled before Agrippa, when Paul had free liberty granted to him to plead his own cause.
7. Whereunto our twelve tribes. Paul complaineth before Agrippa, that the state of the Church is come to that pass, that the priests set themselves against the common hope of all the faithful; as if he should say, To what end do those of our nation, who worship God carefully, and spend both days and nights in the duties of godliness, sigh in their prayers, save only that they may at length come unto eternal life? But the same is the mark whereat I aim in all my doctrine; because, when the grace of redemption is set before men, the gate of the kingdom of heaven is set open therewithal. And when I preach the author of salvation raised up from the dead, I offer the first-fruits of immortality in his person; so that the former confirmation of his doctrine was taken out of the Word of God, when he cited the promise made to the fathers. Now, in the second place, he addeth the consent of the Church. And this is the best way to maintain and avouch the opinions of faith, that the authority of God go foremost; and that then the consent of the Church come next. Though we ought therewithal wisely to make choice of the true Church, as Paul doth teach us in this place by his own example; for though he knew that the priests did pretend the visor [mask] of the Church against him, yet he doth boldly affirm, that the sincere worshippers of God are on his side, and he is content with their defense. For when he meaneth [nameth] the twelve tribes, he doth not speak generally of all those which came of Jacob according to the flesh; but he meaneth those only which did retain the true study of godliness. For it had been an unmeet thing to commend the nation generally for the fear of God, which was only in a few.
The Papists deal very disorderly in both; who, by the voices and consents of men, oppress the Word of God, and give also the name and title of the Catholic Church to a filthy rabblement of unlearned and impure men, without any color or shame. But if we will prove that we think as the true Church thinketh, we must begin with the prophets and apostles; then those must be gathered unto them whose godliness is known and manifest. If the Pope and his clergy be not on our side, we need not greatly to care. And the true affection of true religion is proved by continuance and vehemency, which was of singular force at that time, principally when the Jews were in greatest misery.
8. Why should I do not doubt but that he proved that both by reason, and also by testimonies of Scripture, which he taught concerning the resurrection and the heavenly life. But for good causes doth he call back those unto whom he speaketh unto the power of God, lest they judge thereof according to their own weak capacity. For nothing can more hardly sink into men's brains, than that men's bodies shall be restored when as they be once consumed. Therefore, seeing it is a mystery far surpassing man's wit, let the faithful remember how far the infinite power of God doth reach, and not what they themselves comprehend; as the same Paul teacheth in the third chapter to the Philippians (Philippians 3:21). For when he hath said that our vile bodies shall be made like to the glorious body of Christ, he addeth immediately, |according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.| But men are for the most part injurious to God, who will not have his arm to reach any farther than their understanding and reason can reach; so that so much as in them lieth they would desire to restrain the greatness of his works (which surpasseth heaven and earth) unto their straits. But, on the other side, Paul commandeth us to consider what God is able to do, that being lifted up above the world, we may learn to conceive the faith of the resurrection, not according to the weak capacity of our mind, but according to his omnipotency.