Bernice – An Unrepentant Sinner

(Berenice depicted with her brother Agrippa II during the trial of St. Paul. From a stained glass window in St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne.)

Bernice (Berenice) was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, and the older sister of Drusilla. She was born about 28 A.D. into a racially mixed family. At age 13 she was married to Marcus, the son of Tiberius Julius Alexander. Marcus died, and she then married her uncle, Herod of Chalcis. They had 2 sons, Berniceanus and Hyrancus. She was widowed again in about 48 A.D and was the subject of incestuous scandal when she became a consort to her own brother, Agrippa II. Years later, she married a third time to Ptolemy, king of Cicilia. The marriage, however, did not last, and she returned to her brother. She was later the mistress of the Roman emperors Vespasian and his son Titus. She was well known for her sexual promiscuity.

A woman of strong opinions, Bernice was once a dauntless defender of the Jewish people. Some sources report that she even risked her own life to intercede on behalf of the Jews. So strong was her faith that at one time, that she shaved her head and walked barefoot in keeping a vow to God. But her lifestyle pulled her away, and Bernice evidently abandoned her Jewish faith.

When Agrippa and Bernice went to Caesarea with Festus on state business, Agrippa agreed to hear the case of a prisoner, the apostle Paul. Bernice heard Paul argue his case for Christ in one of the most eloquent presentations of the Gospel ever given, along with his own personal testimony; yet she ignored his message. Maintaining her wicked ways, Bernice died in Rome after the fall of Jerusalem. She seems to have simply disappeared from recorded history. So, we do not know how her demise came about.

Acts 25:13-23 “And after certain days king Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus. And when they had been there many days, Festus declared Paul’s cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix: About whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have a judgment against him. To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have a licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him. Therefore, when they were come hither, without any delay on the morrow I sat on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought forth. Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed: But had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. And because I doubted of such manner of questions, I asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these matters. But when Paul had appealed to be reserved unto the hearing of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I might send him to Caesar. Then Agrippa said unto Festus, I would also hear the man myself. Tomorrow, said he, thou shalt hear him. And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains, and principal men of the city, at Festus’ commandment Paul was brought forth.”

Paul’s defence and testimony before Agrippa and Bernice:

Acts 26:

1 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:
2 I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:
3 Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.
4 My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;
5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
6 And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God, unto our fathers:
7 Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.
8 Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?
9 I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10 Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.
11 And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.
12 Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
13 At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
15 And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;
17 Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,
18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
21 For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.
22 Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:
23 That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
24 And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.
25 But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.
26 For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
27 King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
28 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
29 And Paul said, 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.
30 And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them:
31 And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.
32 Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.

Bernice represents all those women throughout history who have heard the gospel, yet they have chosen to reject Christ. She embraced a sinful life that caused the deterioration of her character–a character that could have been changed by Jesus Christ, making her useful in His Kingdom. Instead, she chose to live as a friend of this world (which is at enmity with God). Her life was of such little consequence that very little was recorded of her after this oratory from Paul. I imagine that her thoughts in her later years surely wandered back to that opportunity afforded to her to come to Christ, and how she, in her self-consuming mindset, rejected Him. I would like to believe that perhaps she came back to Him before she died. But I cannot help but believe that she suffered much sorrow at the regret of so many wasted years of her life that could have been spent furthering the purpose of God’s Kingdom.

As I look around at the world today, I see many young women doing the same as Bernice in rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ for the temporal pleasures that this world offers. Perhaps they find it easier to go the way of the world and accept the devil’s lies, therefore finding their self-worth in self-love. Perhaps they are even born again children of God who have found the world’s enticements too exciting and fun. Whatever the reason, it is my prayer that they will seek the joys of following Jesus. The joy that I experience in my walk and submission to my God Jehovah totally outweigh any high I have experienced from the world

Author: Godfrey Gregg