Paul and Agrippa
In Acts 26, Paul stands before King Agrippa II, who encourages him to "speak for himself," i.e., in his own defense. Paul presents his best arguments to Agrippa (and Festus). In 26:28 Agrippa interrupts him by saying, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian" (NKJV). Is that true? Did Paul "almost persuade" the king to become a Christian?
From a grammatical standpoint, scholars aren't exactly sure how to translate Agrippa's response. Some choices include:
- "In a little thou persuadest me a Christian to become." (Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Baker)
- New American Standard — "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian."
- NRSV — "Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?"
- NIV — "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?"
The two Greek words in question are (1) en oligo, "in a short time," which can be either temporal or not; (2) the verb, peitho, which could mean "persuade" or "trying to persuade," i.e., "playing a role." Since Agrippa was, in fact, not persuaded, most scholars prefer to translate the first one non-temporally, and the second as "playing the part." The sense, then, would be that Agrippa was toying with Paul and not being serious, even though Paul's response suggests he was being completely serious with Agrippa.
The verse comes in the context of Paul's speech. After telling his story, Paul said he was only testifying to what the prophets and Moses had said about the Messiah needing to suffer and being the first to rise from the dead. This statement brought a shout from Festus, who said, "Paul, you are out of your mind!" Turning aside from Festus, Paul then addressed Agrippa directly. He was certain that the king would know what he had been talking about, for the king knew the prophets. Paul asked the king, point blank, "Do you believe the prophets?" and answering for him, "I know you do." This put Agrippa in an awkward situation. If he said, "yes," that the prophets had, indeed, predicted a suffering Messiah and Paul was witnessing to that now, then he would basically be accepting the fundamental basis of Christianity. On the other hand, if he said, "no," then his standing and influence with the Jewish authorities would suffer because he would be denying the veracity of the prophets.
In Agrippa's eyes, it was a clever ploy on Paul's part, but Agrippa had no intention of falling for it. At this point, he interrupted Paul with his enigmatic line. He was probably saying something to the effect that he wasn't ready to play the part of a Christian, whether in common banter or in a serious manner. There is no implication that if Paul tried a little harder or had a little longer to talk, he would have converted him. There is no indication that Agrippa was at all serious about exploring Christianity, and he never said anything that might be construed as a confession of faith. He did not set up the audience with Paul—Festus did. Festus inherited Paul's unresolved case from Felix. He wanted Agrippa to advise him on what should be included in the letter that Festus would need to send to the Emperor to explain why he was sending Paul to stand before him.
Despite Agrippa's sidestepping of the issue, Paul was obviously sincere. He was willing to preach the faith to anyone who would listen and would have liked nothing more than to convert Agrippa on the spot. The result of the audience with Paul is that both Festus and Agrippa agreed that Paul was innocent – they said, "This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment." Agrippa's final statement was that if Paul had not appealed to Caesar, he could have been set free. As it is, the letter was written and Paul was sent via ship to Rome.