1

In a courtroom setting and facing serious charges before King Agrippa II Paul is permitted by the king to make his defense. Luke says "Paul stretched out his hand" and began his defense:

[Act 26:1-2 CSB] 1 Agrippa said to Paul, "You have permission to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense: 2 "I consider myself fortunate, that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews,

Curious as to whether there might be something more to "stretched out his hand" than just a flourish and I found this in the Jewish Encyclopedia:

...To lay the hand on the mouth (Prov. xxx. 32) indicates silence; to "take one's soul in one's hand" (Hebr.) is the English to "take one's life in one's hand" (comp. Job xiii. 14; Judges xii. 3; I Sam. xix. 5; Ps. cxix. 109)...

Perhaps we could say that to "cover one's mouth with one's hand" is to "plead the Fifth Amendment" while to "stretch out your hand" was make a bold defense?

So I do see in Job that he speaks of "taking his life in his hands" by making his bold defense before God:

[Job 13:9-16 CSB] 9 Would it go well if he examined you? Could you deceive him as you would deceive a man? 10 Surely he would rebuke you if you secretly showed partiality. 11 Would God's majesty not terrify you? Would his dread not fall on you? 12 Your memorable sayings are proverbs of ash; your defenses are made of clay. 13 Be quiet, and I will speak. Let whatever comes happen to me. 14 I will put myself at risk and take my life in my own hands. 15 Even if he kills me, I will hope in him. I will still defend my ways before him. 16 Yes, this will result in my deliverance, for no godless person can appear before him.

Is Luke making an allusion? Might this be a kind of Hebraism that Luke is employing?

2

The Greek verbs ἐκτείνω and ὀρέγω are synonyms.1 Regarding the latter, LSJ writes,2

reach, stretch, stretch out, χεῖρʼ ὀρέγων̀ Od.17.366; εἰς οὐρανόν Il.15.371, Od.9.527; χεῖρας ἐμοὶ ὀρέγοντας in entreaty, 12.257, cf. Plu.Cam.36; μοι .. λεχέων ἐκ χεῖρας ὄρεξας Il.24.743; πρός τινα Pi.P.4.240, cf. S.OC846, etc.;

Concerning this custom in general, Layne and Tarrant remark,

We should also note that according to Hermias Socrates did not confine his attention to these two groups but stretched his hands towards everybody and urged them all toward philosophy (πᾶσι χεῖρας ὀρέγων καὶ ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν προτρεπόμενος). Interestingly, the expression χεῖρ’ ὀρέγων is Homeric—we encounter it at Il. 15.371, where Nestor prays to Zeus, and also at Il. 24.506, where the supplicant, Priam, raises his hands towards his son’s killer, Achilles, as a petition for his son’s corpse. Also relevant is the use of the expression at Od. 9.257 where the notorious Cyclops Polyphemus addresses a formal prayer to his father, Poseidon, asking him to punish Odysseus. Finally, I should also mention the use of the expression at Od. 17.366, where Odysseus, dressed in rags, imitates a beggar by stretching out his hands. All these instances occur when some kind of pleading occurs.

In summary, the apostle Paul is stretching out his hand to entreat King Agrippa as he makes his defense.


Footnotes

1 Brasse, p. 638
2 LSJ, p. 1246
3 Layne and Tarrant, p. 74

References

Brasse, John. Greek Gradus, Or, Greek, Latin, and English Prosodial Lexicon. London: Valpy, 1828.

Layne, Danielle A.; Tarrant, Harold. The Neoplatonic Socrates. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2014.

Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; et al. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1940.

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1

Luke was a gentile and not known for Hebraisms, especially subtle ones. I observe that:

  • BDAG lists the Greek word "ektaino" (= to cause an object to extend to its full length) suggests that the meaning at Acts 26:1 is the gesture of a speaker and would be consistent with their several quoted examples of such for orators.
  • At the start of other of Paul's speeches he is said to "motion with his hand" (Acts 13:6, 21:40). While this is a different verb ("kataaseio") the intent is clearly similar.
  • Some English translations render Acts 26:1 as " … Paul motioned with his hand … " or similar - see NIV, NLT. This is presumably based on the habit listed earlier in Acts.
  • Ellicott observes:

Then Paul stretched forth the hand.--The characteristic attitude reminds us of Acts 21:40. Here it acquires a fresh pictorial vividness from the fact that St. Paul now stood before the court as a prisoner, with one arm, probably the left, chained to the soldier who kept guard over him. (Comp. Acts 26:29.)

Thus, I agree with BDAG that this is a gesture of a speaker. Luke may have used a different verb here compared to Acts 13:16 and 21:40 because one hand may have been restricted which made Paul's usual gesture impossible.

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