Does "All" Mean "All" in Acts 26:29?

April 19, 2012

In Caesarea, at his final defense before he was taken to be tried before Caesar in Rome, Paul testified before King Agrippa, Bernice, the chief captains, the principal men of the city, and the governor, Festus (Acts 25:23-26:32).He concluded his testimony before them by saying, “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” (26:29). Does all mean all in this statement?

Several commentators believe that Paul desired that his entire audience would become Christians. Bock remarks:

In verse 29 Paul’s reply is that whether it takes a short or a long time . . . , he would pray that all who are listening to him might become a Christian as he is, with one exception, namely, that they not share his chains of imprisonment. The reference to prayer indicates that Paul desires to intercede on behalf of all the audience to become Christians. . . . The reply clearly expresses his heart.

—Darrell L. Bock, Acts in ECNT, 723

Polhill comments:

His real prayer was that not just Agrippa but everyone in the audience room would become a Christian believer. At this point Paul may have made several gestures, turning and directly addressing all in the room.

—John B. Polhill, Acts in NAC, 509

Peterson says:

Paul expresses his desire to Agrippa in very personal terms . . . In so doing, he consciously widens his appeal to everyone present. Previously, he acknowledged that many in his audience might be skeptical about talk of resurrection of the dead (v. 8). However, just as in Athens he preached about ‘Jesus and the resurrection’ to Jews and Gentiles alike (17:18), so now he addresses all together.

—David G. Peterson, Acts in PNTC, 676.

In agreement with the views of these scholars, taking Paul’s use of all to mean the totality of his hearers on this occasion seems clearly to be the only natural reading of the text.

Given the composition of his audience on this occasion, Paul’s statement is thus striking because we do not read of any previous evangelistic encounters that he had had with authority figures and other prominent people that would have given him hope that all his present audience might become Christians (see Acts 17:32-34 for an example of an encounter with authorities that did not result in the salvation of his entire audience). Even so, Paul still desired that they would.

We should learn from Paul’s example here that in spite of our previous negative experiences and regardless of the seemingly unlikely-to-become-Christians composition of an audience whom we are evangelizing, we should desire that they all would become Christians.

Rajesh

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