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Acts 21

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Paul’s third journey continued from Miletus to Tyre (Acts 21:7-15), and was concluded in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17-26); and Luke’s account of these events, although very brief, is of keen interest. The great feature of the chapter, however, is that of Paul’s being mobbed in the temple and rescued by the Romans who took him into protective custody, beginning a long period of imprisonment for the apostle Paul, an imprisonment that would not end until Satan had enlisted the Roman Empire as a persecutor of the church.

Verse 1

And when it came to pass that we were parted from them and had set sail, we came with a straight course unto Cos, and the next day unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara.


The places touched on this phase of Paul’s trip were all places of historic interest and attraction for tourists. For example, Rhodes, a tiny island famous for its cultivation of roses (whence came the name), was also noted for "the giant Colossus of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land." Emma Lazarus, Sonnet (bronze plaque on Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor, placed in 1886). This member of the Dodecanese Islands boasted the mighty Colossus of Rhodes, "One of the seven wonders of the ancient world," Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, Inc., 1972), Vol. 20, p. 282. a giant bronze statue astride the harbor on its eastern extremity. It stood 105 feet high, having been erected by Chares of Lindus in 300 B.C. After standing only 56 years, it was tumbled and fragmented by an earthquake in 244 B.C.; but the ruins of this enormous wonder were a notable attraction until they were finally sold as scrap metal to a Jewish dealer in 656 A.D., The Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago: William Benton, Publisher, 1961), Vol. 19, p. 262. who required 900 camels to transport "the remains"! Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1953), Acts, p. 301.

The above is a fair example of the interest which attaches to every point mentioned by Luke in this passage; but we shall follow the example of the inspired author in passing over the others in this list without comment on them. After all, the journey outlined here was not a tourist excursion.

Before leaving "The Colossus," it should be pointed out that "The notion that it once stood astride over the entrance to the harbor is a mediaeval fiction." The Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit., p. 262.

When … we were parted from them … Many have noted the Greek text here which has the meaning of "When we had torn ourselves away," A. C. Hervey, Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1950), Vol. 18, Acts ii, p. 169. indicating the intense emotions of the parting from Miletus. Luke was sensitive to the deep emotional ties which bound the apostle to his converts.

Verse 2

And having found a ship crossing over unto Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail.

The ship Paul and company had been using was a "tramp vessel," making many stops; and here the chance to speed up their journey came through the timely availability of a ship bound directly for Tyre. As Hervey said, "This meant the voyage would be shortened by many days." Ibid., p. 170.

Verse 3

And when we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left hand, we sailed unto Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was able to unlade her burden.

Here was a remarkable fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy:

Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the Lord thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 60:9).

The sons of God, coming from far, laden with gold and silver, unto the name of the Lord (in the person of his disciples) - all of this is remarkably applicable to what took place here. In addition, the "ships of Tarshish" were invariably associated with places "like Joppa and Tyre." The New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1962), p. 1239.

Verse 4

And having found the disciples, we tarried there seven days: and these said unto Paul through the Spirit, that he should not set foot in Jerusalem.

Wesley was correct in saying that the presence of Christians in Tyre "was foretold"; John Wesley, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, in loco. for Psalms 87:4 has this: "Among them that know me, behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia."

Having found … would seem to indicate some little search before the company of believers (perhaps small) was located.

This sail to Tyre was a distance of 340 miles; but in view of the prevailing winds at that time of the year, Howson concluded that "The voyage might easily have been accomplished in forty-eight hours." J. S. Howson, Life and Epistles of St. Paul (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1966), p. 562.

We tarried there seven days … Plumptre and others have observed that the purpose here of the seven days’ stay was to enable the missionaries to observe the Lord’s supper with the Christians of Tyre.

The seven days’ stay, as at Troas (Acts 20:6), and afterward at Puteoli (Acts 28:14), was obviously for the purpose of attending one, or possibly more than one meeting of the church for the Lord’s supper on the Lord’s day. E. H. Plumptre, Ellicott’s Commentary on the Holy Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1953), Vol. VII, p. 144.

That he should not set foot in Jerusalem … This could hardly be understood as a direct word from the Holy Spirit to the effect that Paul should not continue his journey to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit had repeatedly revealed that bonds and imprisonment awaited Paul in Jerusalem; and these carried the certain implication that he was, of course, going there. The words here, then, should be viewed, not as a mandate of the Holy Spirit, but as a conclusion reached by the disciples who so dearly loved Paul and wished to protect him from danger. "The inference that he should not go to Jerusalem was their own" A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 170. that is, of the disciples.

Verses 5-6

And when it came to pass that we had accomplished the days, we departed and went on our journey; and they all, with wives and children, brought us on our way until we were out of the city: and kneeling down on the beach, we prayed, and bade each other farewell; and we went on board the ship, but they returned home again.

Barnes viewed this episode as proof that New Testament Christians did not follow any prescribed form of prayer, but that prayers were offered extemporaneously at any convenient time or place. He said:

No man can read this narrative in a dispassionate manner without believing that they offered an extemporaneous prayer …. No man can believe that Paul thus poured out the emotions of his heart in a prescribed form of words. Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 303.

But they returned home again … There is the suppressed longing of the heart for home in Luke’s words here. He, with Paul and their fellow-travelers, went aboard ship; but THEY went home. What a poignant word is they. They went home with wife and child; but Luke and Paul went to the savage mob in Jerusalem, and chains, and long waiting for justice that never came, and at last a voyage that led to a shipwreck on Malta, and the military barracks in Rome. As De Welt said, "I can read into the closing words of Luke a certain loneliness that he must have felt … ’But they returned HOME again.’" Don DeWelt, Acts Made Actual (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1958), p. 278.

Verse 7

And when we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and we saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day.

When we had finished the voyage from Tyre … Hervey and others believed that the Greek words used here indicate that "the sea voyage ended here," A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 170. and that the balance of the journey to Jerusalem was on foot.

Saluted the brethren … This was a favorite word, both of Paul and of Luke; Paul used it more than a dozen times in Romans 16. It carried the meaning of a fervent greeting of fellow-Christians.

Verse 8

And on the morrow we departed, and came unto Caesarea: and entering into the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we abode with him.

Philip the evangelist … "This title was given to those who went from place to place proclaiming the gospel"; R. Milligan, Analysis of the New Testament (Cincinnati, Ohio: Bosworth, Chase Hill, Publishers), p. 389. such preachers were ranked after apostles and prophets and above pastors and teachers in Ephesians 4:12. Timothy was another evangelist in the New Testament sense (2 Timothy 4:5). The use of the word as a title for authors of the gospels did not arise until much later.

We abode with him … As McGarvey said, "His house must have been a capacious one, as it enabled him to entertain the nine men who made up Paul’s company." J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on Acts (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company), ii, p. 199. See Acts 20:4,5 for the names of the other seven besides Paul and Luke. Philip had evangelized the cities of the coastal area from southward of Caesarea; where, after his preaching in many places, he had settled down in Caesarea, his large house indicating that he was a man of considerable means, incidentally disproving the "communism" which some think they find in the New Testament. See also Acts 21:16.

Verse 9

Now this man had four virgin daughters, who prophesied.

MacGreggor noted that:

The absence of any statement as to what the daughters of Philip did or said is a sign that here we have the account of an eyewitness. In fiction, a new character is introduced only in order to do or say something. G. H. C. MacGreggor, The Interpreter’s Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), Vol. IX, p. 278.

Wesley’s notion that "these women were evangelists also" John Wesley, op. cit., in loco. must be rejected. These are the New Testament counterpart of such Old Testament prophetesses as Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14). They were not evangelists. Furthermore, the mention of their being unmarried "virgins is only an interesting detail and carries no religious significance." Everett F. Harrison, Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 462.

Root’s supposition that these daughters of Philip "likely repeated the same prophecy that was being given in every city (Acts 20:23)," Orrin Root, Acts (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1966), p. 164. is not proved by anything in the text but could be true. Also, Bruce’s seeing in the sojourn of Luke with Paul and company in the house of Philip a possible source of information acquired by Luke with reference to the earliest days of the church, is most likely correct. "The daughters who lived to great age were highly esteemed as informants concerning persons and events" F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1954), p. 424. of the early years of Christianity.

In that connection, it should be remembered that Paul was imprisoned here at Caesarea for two whole years; and there can hardly be any doubt that Luke, who was with him (though not imprisoned), would have highly prized information acquired during that period, making use of such information "in the composition of his twofold work." Ibid.

Verses 10-12

And as we tarried there some days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet named Agabus. And coming to us, and taking Paul’s girdle, he bound his own feet and hands, and said, Thus saith the Holy Spirit, So shall the Jews and Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. And when we heard these things, both we and they of that place besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.

Agabus … The prophecy here delivered by this man is exceedingly important as showing "how" the Holy Spirit testified to Paul in every city that bonds and imprisonment awaited him. It was not by premonitions and subjective thoughts, but through plain words spoken by the Holy Spirit through a prophet, that Paul received such information. For more on this, see under Acts 20:23.

Bound his own feet and hands … The Old Testament prophets often acted out their prophecies, as for example, in Ezekiel’s portrayal of the siege of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:1-6); and a similar thing was done by Agabus here.

Implicit in Agabus’ prophecy that the binding of Paul would occur in Jerusalem is the fact that the Holy Spirit expected him to go to Jerusalem. The prophecy was not that "If you go you will be bound," but that "you will be bound." Agabus is the same prophet mentioned in Acts 11:28 who foretold the famine in the reign of Claudius.

Luke himself appears to have been one of the disciples who interpreted the prophetic warnings to Paul as an indication that he should not proceed to Jerusalem at all. Note the "we" in Acts 21:12. There remains, in the light of what occurred there, a lingering wonderment if Luke might have been correct. After all, he was also inspired, as well as Paul.

Verses 13-14

Then Paul answered, What do ye, weeping and breaking my heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.

This is a tragic passage. Against the advice of his physician, and contrary to the insistence of his friends and fellow-Christians, Paul determined to go to Jerusalem, believing, of course, that it was the will of God for him to go; a conclusion that was reluctantly accepted by Luke and others who sought to dissuade him.

I am ready … to die at Jerusalem … It certainly was not God’s will that Paul should die in Jerusalem, for such did not occur. Paul’s words remind one of what Peter said (John 13:37); but there was a difference. Peter’s affirmation that he was ready to die for the Lord was made in his own strength; Paul’s was made in the strength of the Lord. The group concurred in the conviction that Paul knew what the will of the Lord was.

Verses 15-16

And after these days we took up our baggage and went up to Jerusalem. And there went with us also certain of the disciples from Caesarea, bringing with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple with whom we should lodge.

The point of interest here is the early disciple, Mnason, who would provide lodging for the company of nine men in Jerusalem; and the fact of his also residing in Caesarea, or at least having gone up there to meet Paul, gives rise to the speculation that he owned houses in both Jerusalem and Caesarea, and perhaps even in Cyprus also. Faced with such implications, some commentators have supposed that Mnason had journeyed to Caesarea to meet Paul, Orrin Root, op. cit., p. 165. or that his house was located halfway between Caesarea and Jerusalem, J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 847. or even that this refers to Mnason’s picking up the bill for the group’s lodging on the way to Jerusalem, which was about sixty miles away and would have required an overnight halt. All such speculations are unnecessary upon the acceptance of the obvious fact of Mnason’s being a man of means and of property. Only such a person could have provided lodgings in such a city as Jerusalem for so large a company. Added to what is recorded in Acts 21:8 and Acts 12:12ff, the picture of the New Testament church which emerges in Acts utterly fails to support the allegations of collectivists.


Some place the conclusion of Paul’s third journey at Acts 21:17; but it would appear more logical to include the balance of this paragraph, through Acts 21:26, thus including the implied delivery of the charity to James and the elders, along with suggestions immediately offered to Paul in their first meeting.

Verses 17-19

And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he rehearsed one by one the things which God had wrought among the Gentiles through his ministry.

Received us gladly … This could have been expected, normally, due to the money which Paul brought and presumably delivered at this time to James and the elders; but the situation was far from normal, there being many powerful enemies of Paul in Jerusalem who had sowed the city with false and bitter reports concerning him. In his letter to the Romans, Paul had solicited their prayers that the brethren in Jerusalem would even receive the bounty raised for them among the Gentile churches (Romans 15:31). This first joyful reception was therefore an answer to Paul’s prayers.

James … and all the elders … It is affirmed, of course, that what emerges here is the picture of a metropolitan bishop ruling over the church in Jerusalem, the elders being secondary; but this is not to be accepted. James, as a natural half-brother of our Lord, and an inspired author (of the Book of James), was an "apostle of secondary rank," though not one of the Twelve; and it was quite natural that the church in Jerusalem should have given him the honor which he seems to enjoy in this and other passages.

"This was the fifth time that Paul had visited Jerusalem, since he set out against the brethren at Damascus." Alexander Campbell, Acts of Apostles (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House), p. 142. This initial joyful reception seemed to promise that it would be the happiest; but such was not to be.

"It can scarcely be supposed that any of the apostles were at that time in Jerusalem." John Peter Lange, Commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 389. Otherwise, they would have been mentioned. It could be only a matter of conjecture as to where each of them had gone; but it is natural to conclude that they were obedient to the Lord’s command to "Go … into all the world."

Verses 20-21

And they, when they heard it, glorified God; and they said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of them that have believed; and they are all zealous for the law: and they have been informed concerning thee, that thou teachest all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.

In the absence of the Twelve, who presumably might have known better, the whole Jerusalem church was involved in law-keeping, being "zealous for the law of Moses." One may only be astounded at such a statement as James made here. This very James had already publicly assented with Peter and the Twelve that they would not place upon the Gentiles "a yoke" which neither themselves nor their fathers could bear; and here James is concerned for circumcision and keeping the "customs." The great error of James, the Jerusalem elders, and the majority of that church was in the supposition that God had two plans, one for Gentiles and another for Jews. The apostolic mandate lifting law-keeping from the back of the Gentiles was also the theoretical and logical lifting of it off the backs of "all Christians"; but this had somehow been overlooked in Jerusalem. This writer can find no rational basis for supposing that James was blameless in this situation, although it was probably a blameworthiness due to ignorance of the implication of what had already been decided by the apostles, rather than of any willful disobedience.

An extenuation of the blame of those Jewish Christians in not being able to accept the abolition of the Mosaic law and all the temple services, is seen in our Lord’s prophecy of the temple’s destruction. The Lord knew that the hold of its forms and sacrifices would have such a force upon all the Jews, that rather than their being able to tear away from them, God would tear them away from the Jews. See reasons for God’s destruction of the temple in my Commentary on Mark under Mark 13:2.

As Wesley said, "James should have told those Jewish Christians: I do not keep the law of Moses; neither does Peter; neither need any of you!" John Wesley, op. cit., in loco.

The charges mentioned here, to the effect that Paul had persuaded Jewish Christians not to circumcise their children, was a base lie. He had even circumcised Timothy with his own hands, and it is evident that Paul had carried on no campaign of any kind as that alleged against him. However, in Paul’s making circumcision and all Mosaic regulations absolutely unnecessary for salvation, he had laid the theoretical foundation for their total abandonment by all Christians.

James’ proposal as to what Paul should do about the situation was next offered.

Verses 22-24

What is it therefore? they will certainly hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say unto thee: We have four men that have a vow on them; these take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges for them, that they may shave their heads: and all shall know that there is no truth in the things whereof they have been informed concerning thee; but that thou thyself walkest orderly, keeping the law.

It is true, of course, that Paul himself, as a Jew, kept many of the customs of Jews, in a patriotic sense, even shaving his head (apparently) (Acts 18:18) with regard to some kind of vow; but Paul’s writings make it certain that he never regarded any such things as being related in any manner whatsoever to salvation in the name of Christ. Without doubt Paul’s observance of such things made his entry into synagogues possible, and thus they had a certain practical utility in his teaching. "To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews" (1 Corinthians 9:20). Still, one is aghast at James’ proposal! Was it right for him to make such a proposition to Paul? and was it right for Paul to concur in it? This writer simply does not dare to offer a dogmatic answer. It is believed, of course, that both James and Paul did what, under the circumstances, they truly believed to be right; but evidently both of them were caught in a net of circumstances where anything they might have done would have had elements of error in it.

Be at charges for them … What is indicated here is that James and the Jerusalem elders were proposing that part of the Gentile bounty raised for the "poor saints" would be diverted to the greedy priests in the "den of thieves and robbers," so vehemently condemned by the Christ himself. It appears that the absorption into the Jerusalem church of so many Pharisees (Acts 6:7; 15:5) had created a situation in which a Pharisaical party in the church itself was as busy as beavers grafting as much as possible of the law of Moses onto Christianity; and, although they had not yet gone so far as to insist on Gentiles keeping such things (the apostolic edict still stood against it, as in next verse), nevertheless, it is all too evident that they would soon have gotten around to that, or else have made Gentile Christianity an inferior brand of faith.

As Adam Clarke appropriately said:

However we may consider this subject, it is exceedingly difficult to account for the conduct of James and the elders, and of Paul on this occasion. There seems to be something in this transaction which we do not fully understand. Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane), Vol. V, p. 860.

The exact nature of the Nazarite vow, involved in this business, can be of very little interest to Christians. It is enough to know that certain sacrifices to be offered in the temple had to be provided and paid for; and that Paul consented to be "the fall guy." Some things had to be done by God himself before men could be righteous; and the denial of Peter the night the Lord was betrayed was due not so much to any unusual weakness in Peter, as to the fact that the enabling death of Christ had not then taken place. We view the unhappy situation here as beyond the control, either of James and the elders, or of Paul. The mighty undertow against true spirituality in Christ which was provided by the extravagantly beautiful, impressive, and even glorious temple was simply too much for the Jerusalem church, the entire epistle to the Hebrews giving evidence of the same fact; and, as the hour God had appointed for its destruction was yet future, the status of the church in Jerusalem continued to be far short of the ideal. Paul, without any sacrifice of principle, found his very liberty of thought used against him here in a manner that he found no means of avoiding. Even kings were "sucked in" by the pressures exerted by that temple crowd in Jerusalem.

Conybeare relates that not long before this, "Agrippa I had given the same public expression of his sympathy with the Jews, on his arrival from Rome to take possession of his throne." W. J. Conybeare, Life and Epistles of St. Paul (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1964), p. 573. No doubt James and the elders felt that what the king had done for popularity, Paul might do for the sake of peace and harmony; but in such a misunderstanding (on someone’s part) there was a gross misreading of the relationship between the Jewish temple and the spiritual body of the Lord, which alone is the true temple. The entire ill-conceived venture was destined for a disastrous failure.

Verse 25

But as touching the Gentiles that have believed, we wrote, giving judgment that they should keep themselves from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what is strangled, and from fornication.

This repetition of the agreement of the so-called council in Jerusalem was made for the sake of assuring Paul that there had been no "backing out" of the agreement; but that it still held. Implicit in James’ proposal, however, was the proposition of TWO DIFFERENT BODIES of Christians being promulgated, one keeping the law of Moses, the other not; a premise which it is certain that Paul never for one moment accepted. In fact his efforts in this chapter were dedicated to a resolution of the differences in the two groups which ALREADY EXISTED.

Verse 26

Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them went into the temple, declaring the fulfillment of the days of purification, until the offering was offered for every one of them.

So far, so good. It might have seemed that all was well, that everything would be all right, that all the Jewish Christians would behold what a noble Jew Paul really was; but Jesus had spoken of that temple, calling it a "den of thieves and robbers," and accusing its masters of committing murder in the sanctuary itself; and before the week ended the Lord’s church would have new evidence that he had spoken the truth.

It is here that the third journey of Paul ended, with the bounty delivered, and with Paul going the second and third miles in a vain effort to mollify the Judaizers. Paul had traveled some 3,400 miles, suffering countless hardships, and extending himself to the limit of human endurance on behalf of the gospel of Christ.

Thus the fabulous missionary journeys of Paul were concluded. According to De Welt, a period of about eight years was required for all the events connected with those journeys, from about 50 A.D. to about 58 A.D. These journeys established a large number of Gentile congregations throughout a large portion of the Roman Empire and proved the amazing success of the Lord’s great apostle to the Gentile world. During this period, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Romans had been written and sent on their way through history. In a real sense, these eight years were crucial to the spread of Christianity throughout the world.

Verse 27

And when the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the multitude and laid hands on him.

Jews from Asia … These were not Jewish Christians, but were of the hard cadre of secular Israel who rejected Christ totally. Harrison believed that one of the reasons for Luke’s inclusion of this incident was to show the final and irrevocable rejection by the Jews of the Lord Jesus Christ. He said:

Luke devotes considerable space to the record of Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem, not because the visit was important in itself, but because it showed the final rejection of the gospel by Jerusalem. Everett F. Harrison, op. cit., p. 463.

That James’ intentions were honorable, and that he in heart had not in any degree forsaken the will of the Lord in his ill-advised request of Paul, which incidentally appears not actually as his request but rather as that of "the elders" (Acts 21:20), is evident in the cause and manner of his death, as recorded by Josephus:

Ananus thought that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus was dead and Albinus was still on the way. So he convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man called James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, translated by William Whiston (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston), p: 598.

A Christian writer of the second century, Hegesippus, says James was thrown down from the pinnacle of the temple, stoned, and finally killed by a fuller’s club. Jack P. Lewis, Historical Backgrounds of Bible History (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1972), p. 141.

Jack Lewis declares that these testimonies are "usually thought to be authentic." Ibid.

Such information further explains the character of the temple crowd which dominated and controlled the Jewish temple, but recently completed, having been under construction nearly three quarters of a century, and which was THE THEATER WHERE the conciliatory efforts of this chapter were enacted. Given the place where the efforts occurred and the mob who controlled it, there was no possibility of such efforts succeeding.

Verse 28

Crying out, Men of Israel, help: this is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place; and moreover he brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath defiled this holy place.

The unscrupulous agitators who stirred up the mob were false in all of their charges; but a lie serves better than the truth in the mouths of such evil beasts as those whose fury broke against Paul. In the next verse, Luke gave the pretext upon which they founded the third charge of defiling the temple; but it is of interest only as an example of the way the criminal mind works. If they had not had that pretext, they would have invented another.

Verse 29

For they had before seen with him in the city Trophimus the Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.

There was no basis at all for supposing that anyone with Paul in the city was also with him in the temple.

Verse 30

And all the city was moved, and the people ran together; and they laid hold on Paul, and dragged him out of the temple: and straightway the doors were shut.

The Jerusalem hierarchy had long sought to murder Paul, and his frequenting the temple for a whole week gave them exactly the opportunity they needed; and the only reason they did not succeed was due to the providential alertness and efficiency of the Roman garrison in the tower of Antonio.

Verse 31

And as they were seeking to kill him, tidings came up to the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in confusion.

One would like to think that some of those Christians with their heads shaved carried the message to the chiliarch, but there is no evidence of it.

The Sanhedrinists, through their henchmen, were in the process of beating Paul to death, having first precipitated a mob scene in which it would be impossible to fix individual responsibility. Only God’s providence saved the great apostle’s life.

Verse 32

And forthwith he took soldiers and centurions, and ran down upon them: and they, when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, left off beating Paul.

At the northwest corner of the temple stood the great tower of Antonio, official headquarters of the Roman presence in Jerusalem. That presence was commanded by a chiliarch (commander of a thousand, or a tenth of a legion) with centurions (each commanding a hundred) under him. Thus it appears that two or three hundred men were used by the chiliarch (called the chief captain) in his rescue of Paul.

From the scene here, it is crystal clear that the Jewish temple would have to be destroyed, in order to break up the center of opposition which it sheltered. That opposition was ruthless, unprincipled, and resourceful; and, if they could have continued in possession of such an instrument of power as the temple assuredly was, the gospel might not ever have been fully free of it in Judaea. However, Paul’s speech about to be given would be the last great opportunity that the temple-keepers would ever have to renounce their unbelief and accept the Savior. Only about a decade from the uproar in this chapter would elapse before Vespasian and Titus would unknowingly implement the Lord’s great prophecy of the temple’s utter ruin. See my Commentary on Mark under Mark 13:2 for ten reasons why God destroyed it.

Verses 33-34

Then the chief captain came near, and laid hold on him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and inquired who he was, and what he had done. And some shouted one thing, and some another, among the crowd: and when he could not know the certainty of the uproar, he commanded him to be brought into the castle.

Thus the apostle Paul passed into the custody of the Roman government, beginning a period of imprisonment which was to last five years; and during which Rome itself would become a persecutor. It was a most decisive moment in the life of Paul. During those long years of his imprisonment, first at Caesarea, then in Rome, Luke would do the research necessary to giving mankind the gospel that bears his name and the book which is the object of these present studies.

Verses 35-36

And when he came upon the stairs, so it was that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the crowd; for the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, Away with him.

It was necessary to carry Paul in order to prevent someone’s putting a dagger in his heart, even while in the custody of the military. That was no ordinary mob.

Away with him … They may have supposed that the temple authorities would find some manner of persuading the military to execute Paul. The words remind one of the cries of the mob who clamored for the blood of Jesus.

Verse 37

And as Paul was about to be brought into the castle, he saith unto the chief captain, May I say something unto thee? And he said, Dost thou know Greek?


In the best form of military etiquette, Paul requested and received permission to speak to the chiliarch, who was astounded that Paul addressed him in a learned manner, speaking Greek, which the chiliarch had no reason to suppose that he knew. Throughout, the chiliarch had acted upon the assumption that Paul was a criminal, but one word from the apostle was enough to cast doubt on such a conclusion.

Verse 38

Art not thou then the Egyptian, who before these days stirred up to sedition and led out into the wilderness the four thousand men of the Assassins?

Egyptian who led … four thousand men … Commentators like to speculate on the disparity between this chiliarch’s attribution of only 4,000 men to the Egyptian seditionist as contrasted with the 30,000 attributed to him by Josephus; but it is exceedingly unlikely that the chiliarch’s information would have been inadequate on such a subject. Josephus, unlike the sacred authors, has been proved wrong on many points.

The evil genius of the critical mind, however, is revealed in such a comment as that of MacGreggor, thus: "This is another faulty recollection of Josephus on Luke’s part." G. H. C. MacGreggor, The Interpreter’s Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), p. 288. This snide little criticism is reproduced here, not because of its value, for it has none; but it is cited as another example of the crooked exegesis which is popular in our day. Here is what Josephus wrote:

There was an Egyptian false prophet … who got together thirty thousand men who were deluded by him … and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force … conquer the Roman garrison … But Felix prevented his attempt … When it came to a battle, the Egyptian ran away … while the greatest part of those that were with him were either destroyed or taken alive. Flavius Josephus, op. cit., p. 683.

Note the last lines of the above comment from Josephus, which declare that there were more than FIFTEEN THOUSAND casualties, that number being the minimum which could qualify as "the greatest part" of "thirty thousand." But in another place, Josephus gave the number killed and captured thus:

Felix attacked the Egyptian and the people that were with him. He slew four hundred of them, and took two hundred alive. But the Egyptian himself escaped out of the fight, but did not appear any more. Ibid., p. 596.

Behold then the accuracy of Josephus! But not less marvelous is the critical mind which can: (1) suppose that Josephus was absolutely correct, (2) that the competent military commander in Rome knew that Josephus was correct and agreed with him when he said the Egyptian led thirty thousand men, and (3) that poor Luke failed to remember exactly what he had read in Josephus, (4) that of course he never heard Lysias say anything, but was piecing together a speech attributed to Paul by scrounging up some material from Josephus! It is exactly this type of nonsense which has firmly fixed the onus of bias and unreliability upon current criticism of the New Testament.

Verse 39

But Paul said, I am a Jew, of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and I beseech thee, give me leave to speak unto the people.

A citizen of no mean city … Coins excavated from Tarsus carry the inscription, "Metropolis Autonomous," indicating that it had been granted autonomy by the Romans. It was an important metropolis noted for its educational facilities, as well as for trade, shipbuilding, and commerce.

The amazing character of Paul is seen in this, that he desired to address a multitude which only a few moments before had been illustrated in their efforts to beat him to death. Amazing fortitude, amazing faith, amazing power!

Verse 40

And when he had given him leave, Paul, standing on the stairs, beckoned with the hand unto the people; and when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew language, saying.

Beckoning with the hand … Such a gesture, so characteristic of Paul, might not have been possible unless the chiliarch had ordered the easing or removal of his chains.

A great silence … How strange that the uproar ceased. The hand of God was surely in the astounding silence that fell over the temple mob. By such a means, God would give them one more opportunity to hear and believe the truth; and one may only wonder if perhaps there was even a single individual who dared in his heart to forsake such blind and frenzied prejudice and come to the fullness of faith in Jesus our Lord.

The Hebrew tongue … Strictly, this was Aramaic, or the common vernacular of the people. Paul was a linguist; and it may be supposed that if his dream of reaching Spain was ever realized, even there he would have been able to preach in a tongue known to the people. The content of Paul’s speech is the burden of the next chapter.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Acts 21". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/acts-21.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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