Foy E. Wallace, Jr.
“Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26: 28.)
The life and experiences of Paul have been summed up in four epigrams: The persistent persecutor; the praying penitent; the powerful preacher; the patient prisoner. The last-named view of Paul the prisoner—furnishes the present scene.
Paul before Agrippa–what a dramatic setting! A Jewish prisoner preaching to a Roman king! And more than dramatic is the fact that the king was moved by the power of the prisoner’s appeal, and voiced his conviction with the exclamation that must have thrilled the audience room: “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”
It is the contention of some that this unusual and unexpected declaration of Agrippa was an outburst of derision. But the circumstances do not even suggest, and certainly do not justify, such a conclusion. In the climax of argument and eloquence Paul had made his appeal to Agrippa direct and personal. “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets?” Not waiting for the king’s reply, Paul answered his own question:“I know that thou believest.” Surely Paul was not making a grand-stand play for the psychological effect on his hearers. Paul was not that kind of preacher. He must have seen conviction written upon the king’s countenance. The answer to his question was in the king’s face. Paul knew that Agrippa believed. And in the fervor of conviction the king confessed his faith. Accepting the king’s confession of faith at face value, which is an added proof of its sincerity, Paul answered with pathos: “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all them that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.”
The name “Christian” was divinely given. “And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings [or nations] thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.” (Isa. 62:2.) The language of the prophet is too clear to admit of a doubt. It was not until the Gentiles had received the gospel, and the special apostle to the Gentiles, Saul of Tarsus, had been called and sent as “a chosen vessel” to bear the name of Christ to them, that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”(Acts 11:26.) To remove all doubt that the giving of the name “Christian” at Antioch was the name and occasion foretold by the prophets, we have but to refer to the speech of James in the conference at Jerusalem, in the fifteenth chapter of Acts. It was in behalf of these Gentile Christians at Antioch that Paul and Barnabas sought the counsel of the elders and apostles at Jerusalem. Addressing them, James said:“Brethren, hearken unto me. Simeon hath declared how that God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called.” (Acts 15:14-17.) It was these same Gentile disciples who “were called Christians first in Antioch.” Isaiah said that the “mouth of the Lord” would name them; Amos said that God would “call upon” them his name. And James, the apostle at Jerusalem, said that when these Antiochian Gentiles were called “Christians,” it was in agreement with the “words of the prophets.” What further proof is necessary that the name was of divine origin and calling?
But that proof may be superabundant and the gainsayer convicted, we further observe that the name “Christian” was divinely accepted.
Peter accepted it. “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf [or in this name].” (1 Pet. 4:15, 16.) Would Peter sanction a name given in derision and record such for the comfort and consolation of Christ’s followers in their sufferings through all ages ?
Paul accepted it. When Agrippa said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,” Paul promptly espoused the name, announced himself to be, and exhorted his hearers to become, what Agrippa fain would be. Do you think Paul would countenance a human name, originating in the black hearts of the enemies of Christ, while urging the divine claims of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, upon his royal audience?
Disciples of Christ were called “Nazarenes,” “Galileans,” and “sect” by their enemies, but where did any apostle sanction or accept such epithets of derision? The fact that the name “Christian” was divinely accepted is of itself proof that it was divinely given.