Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 28th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Acts 21

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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In spite of the prophetic warnings of his friends, Paul continues his trip to Jerusalem, which will mark the conclusion of his third missionary journey (1-15). In Jerusalem Paul is mobbed in the temple and rescued by Roman soldiers, beginning a saga of pursuits and escapes from the Jews that will reach epic proportions (17-40).

Verse 1

And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them, and had launched, we came with a straight course unto Coos, and the day following unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara:

And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them, and had launched: It is with great reluctance that Paul makes a tearful departure from the elders of Ephesus. Vincent says the words, "gotten from"have a stronger, more emotional meaning, "having torn ourselves away" (563).

we came with a straight course unto Coos: Paul and his party continue their journey of benevolence on a small boat known as a"coaster."This type of ship rarely ventures into open sea but rather travels from seaport to seaport usually in sight of the land."The straight run of which Luke makes note by using a nautical term shows how favorable the first day’s wind was" (Lenski 860).

Coos, an island about forty miles south of Miletus, is famous for wine and silk fabrics. Reece says, "a great medical school was located there" (558).

and the day following unto Rhodes: The second day’s travel takes them to the famous island of Rhodes, some fifty miles southeast of Coos. Rhodes is known for its cultivation of roses from which it receives its name. One of the most famous attractions for which Rhodes is known is the Colossus of Rhodes.

One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, a giant bronze statue astride the harbor on its eastern extremity. It stood 105’ 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 finally sold as scrap metal to a Jewish dealer in 656 A.D., who required 900 camels to transport the remains (Coffman 397-398).

and from thence unto Patara: Not much is to be said about the harbor of Patara. It is a stopping point for vessels on the coast of Lycia about fifty miles east of Rhodes.

Verse 2

And finding a ship sailing over unto Phenicia, we went aboard, and set forth.

It is here at Patara that Paul and company have the good fortune of finding a ship bound directly for Tyre. They leave the port-hopping"coaster"and board what is evidently a larger more seaworthy merchant ship that is bound for the Phoenician coast, a trip of about four hundred miles (see 11:19 for notes on Phenice).

Verse 3

Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unladen her burden.

These ancient sailors are sailing southeast across the Mediterranean Sea. Luke uses the nautical term"discovered, "which"literally means to bring to light; and its use here is analogous to the English marine phrase, to raise land" (Vincent 564). By the sighting of the island of Cyprus on"the left hand" (north), they know they are on course (for notes on Cyprus, see 4:36).

Tyre is the final destination of this ship. It is here that her cargo is to be unloaded."Tyre an ancient Phoenician city is located on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, twenty miles from Sidon and twenty-three miles from Acre" (Unger 1121). The city was spoken of as "a crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honorable of the earth" (Isaiah 23:8) (see also 12:20).

Verse 4

And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.

And finding disciples: That a church of Christ is in the city of Tyre is made evident by this statement. Vincent says, "The verb means to discover after search ... The verb might be rendered strictly by our common phrase, having looked up the disciples" (564). It is bound to have been a great source of satisfaction to Paul and the brethren who accompany him to be able to "look up the brethren" in these strange and far-flung cities they visit. How there comes to be a congregation of brethren in Tyre is explained in Acts 11:19; Acts 15:3.

we tarried there seven days: This stay of seven days gives the disciples the opportunity to observe the Lord’s supper with the church at Tyre. The divine pattern for the observing of the Lord’s supper is recorded in Acts 20:7. It is "upon the first day of the week" that the Lord’s church assembles to "break bread." Later, this same practice will be noted at Puteoli (Acts 28:14).

who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem: Some of the brethren at Tyre have received, by revelation from the Holy Spirit, warnings of the dangers that await Paul at Jerusalem. Because of their love and concern for Paul’s welfare, they exhort him not to go to Jerusalem. This should not be understood as an order from the Holy Spirit to prohibit Paul from going to Jerusalem but rather a warning so that he might be prepared for what awaits him (compare with 20:23).

Verse 5

And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed.

In this verse, Luke repeats the account of the sad scene that takes place when Paul leaves the brethren standing on the shore at Miletus (20:36-38). Entire families turned out to bid the apostle and his company Godspeed. It is fitting that Luke notes the devotion of these Christians. They know hardships lie ahead for their beloved Paul; therefore, they humble themselves before the God whom they worship in common and invoke His blessings.

Verse 6

And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again.

The short sojourn with the faithful at Tyre is now over, and the appropriate goodbyes have been said. Paul and the disciples settle into the ship for a destination that will hold many unexpected hardships. The good brethren of Tyre return home."I can read into the closing words of Luke a certain loneliness that he must have felt... But they returned home again" (De Welt 278).

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 (Coffman 400).

Verse 7

And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day.

Ptolemais is a city located on the Mediterranean coast about thirty miles south of Tyre. In the Old Testament, this city was known as Accho (Judges 1:31). Later, the city was conquered by one of the Ptolemais of Egypt and named after him. The modern city bears the name Acre. There is a church of Christ in ancient Ptolemais and, as in Tyre, the disciples"look up"the brethren and spend one day with them. It is very possible Philip, of whom more will be said in following verses, established this congregation.

Verse 8

And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.

And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: This is Paul’s third visit to Caesarea (see notes on 9:30).

and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him: Paul takes the opportunity for rest and refreshment by going into the house of a fellow evangelist whose name is Philip. We can rest assured no introduction is necessary between these men. Philip is, as Paul, a good soldier for the cause of Christ. The scriptures indicate, after Philip’s great work in Samaria (Acts 8), that he establishes churches up and down the coast in the region around Caesarea, which likely includes the just mentioned churches at Tyre and Ptolemais (8:40).

This is our last opportunity to look in on the life of this great preacher who turns the heart of Simon the sorcerer to Jesus and sends the gospel to Ethiopia by way of the queen’s treasurer. He is spoken of no more in holy writ. To know more, we will have to wait for the great reunion in heaven.

Luke takes pains to distinguish this Philip so that his identity is assured. Luke identifies Philip as"the evangelist"who is also"one of the seven"of chapter six. This is reference to Philip’s being one of the seven men chosen to settle the problems between the Greek and Hebrew widows (see notes on 6:1-6)."This title, ’evangelist’ was given to those who went from place to place proclaiming the gospel, such preachers were ranked after apostles and prophets and above pastors and teachers in Ephesians 4:12" (Coffman 401).

Verse 9

And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.

And the same man had four daughters: It is apparent Philip has lived a full life in the twenty some years since he evangelized Samaria and baptized the eunuch (Acts 8). Luke here mentions Philip’s four daughters for whom any father could be thankful.

virgins: The fact they are referred to as"virgins"simply indicates they are unmarried and has no religious significance. One thing it does indicate is that these girls by being unmarried can devote their full attention to the Lord’s work.

There is no suggestion in this passage that there is such a thing as an order of"virgins"in the church. This idea is invented at a much later date by the Catholic church and has no scriptural basis.

which did prophesy: To "prophesy, " according to Vine, "signifies the speaking forth of the mind and counsel of God" (Vol. III 221). These women are able to teach the word of God by inspiration. They are not and should not be confused with the"prophets"mentioned as an office in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). Like Miriam (Exodus 15:20) and Deborah (Judges 4:4) of Old Testament times, these righteous women are an asset to the disciples of Jesus Christ.

Did these daughters of Philip teach in the public assemblies of the church? The answer is no. According to the scriptures, women are not allowed to speak in the assemblies of the church (1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:12). Where a woman is allowed to teach, which is in a private capacity, she may teach anyone (man, woman, or child); but where a woman may not teach, which is a public capacity, she may not teach anyone (see notes on 18:26; 20:20).

This miraculous ability to prophesy by inspiration from God is predicted by Joel (see notes on 2:17-18) and comes to an end when the New Testament is totally revealed ("that which is perfect is come") (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).

Verse 10

And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus:

This is the second time we have had Agabus appear on the scene, and on both occasions he has been the foreseer of bad news. In his first appearance (11:28), he predicts the famine that occurs during the reign of Claudius; now he foretells the bonds awaiting Paul in Jerusalem. (For additional notes on prophets, see 11:27.)

Verse 11

And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.

And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet: Agabus, in a graphic display that cannot be misunderstood, demonstrates the bonds and imprisonment that await the apostle. This symbolic demonstration illustrates, by the binding of hands, that Paul will not be allowed to work as he has, and by binding his feet that he will be restricted in going where he wants. It appears to have been a common thing for the prophets to act out or portray their prophecies (1 Kings 22:11; Jeremiah 13:1-7; Ezekiel 4:1-6).

The "girdle" refers to the belt or sash, commonly worn to gather the loose outer garment at the waist.

and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost: The message that Agabus is about to deliver is a direct quotation from the Holy Spirit.

So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles: The picture prophecy is now further clarified by this example of verbal inspiration given by the Holy Spirit. It will be the Jews who will be responsible for the binding of Paul; but because the Romans have legal jurisdiction in Judea, he will be delivered to the Gentiles for trial.

Verse 12

And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.

It is very possible that the companions of Paul have said little or nothing about the predictions concerning Paul’s fate until now. But with the Holy Spirit’s warning of danger in Miletus (20:23), the warning given by the brethren at Tyre (21:4), and now the dramatic revelation of Agabus, the disciples are moved to speak up. Luke, the brethren traveling with Paul, Philip, his four daughters, and others who have gathered at Philip’s house now plead with Paul not to go to Jerusalem.

Verse 13

Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart: Paul is deeply touched by the obvious love and concern for his welfare demonstrated by his friends."The word for ’breaking’ means ’to breakup’ or ’to pound, ’ and was often used of the practice of washing clothes by pounding them with stones" (Gaertner 332).

for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus: Paul will never turn aside from the path of obedience and duty. He is willing not only to be"bound"but also to give the ultimate sacrifice, his life. We must appreciate his conviction to stand against the strong persuasion of friends to do what he believes is God’s will.

Verse 14

And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.

It is likely the words, "The will of the Lord be done, "do not mean the disciples are now convinced it is the Lord’s will that Paul go to Jerusalem. But rather when Paul’s friends see there is no hope to dissuade him of his intentions to go, they resign themselves to the consequences by saying"the Lord’s will be done."

With the 20/20 vision provided by hindsight, we are made to wonder if it truly is God’s will that Paul go to Jerusalem. Paul stands contrary to the advice of Luke, Philip, and Philip’s four daughters, all of whom are also inspired as well as Paul. Luke does not tell us the reason for Paul’s apparent obsession to go to Jerusalem. We might speculate he wants to deliver the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem, hoping to create a bond between the Jewish brethren and their Gentile counterparts. Could not Luke and the brethren who carry the collection have made the delivery? The fiasco that occurs as a result of the ill-fated plan of James and the binding of Paul could have been avoided, at least this time.

On the other hand, it is also possible that Paul’s friends allow the emotion of the situation to influence their good judgment and perhaps even to cause them to resist the will of God. If this is the case, we must admire the noble apostle in his steadfastness and his firmness to"let the will of the Lord be done!"Perhaps we are a bit shortsighted in not seeing the benefits of Paul’s impending imprisonment.

The road is opened to Rome and to Caesar and to"the palace and all other places"left for Paul’s ministry.... So the gospel gains fresh wings, and that grace of God which lovingly overrules where perhaps it was not allowed to rule, is made known to vaster numbers, and amongst them to some whom it might not have reached in any other way (Hervey, Vol. II 187).

Verse 15

And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.

After the time spent in Philip’s house, the disciples took up our carriages "...baggage, things necessary for a journey" (Vine, Vol. I 95) and make the fateful trip to Jerusalem.

Verse 16

There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.

There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea: After it becomes apparent Paul is"packed up"and going to Jerusalem, some of the brethren at Caesarea join him and the eight other disciples (20:4) with him for the sixty-mile trip.

and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge: Luke leaves us little information on this elderly saint, Mnason, but we can assume he is a man of some wealth to live in Cyprus and also to maintain a house in Jerusalem large enough to provide lodging for the considerable company now traveling with Paul.

Verse 17

And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.

This verse marks the end of Paul’s third missionary journey. Churches have been established in Asia Minor, established congregations have been visited and encouraged, and letters have been written to strengthen the young churches. Paul has returned to Jerusalem in time for the Pentecost, as is his desire (20:16). This point also marks a dramatic change in the life of this great apostle to the Gentiles. No longer will he be a free man to travel at will among the churches. His fate is sealed; Paul will soon be on the road that will lead to Rome.

"This was the fifth time that Paul had visited Jerusalem, since he set out against the brethren at Damascus" (Campbell 142). Paul’s previous entries into Jerusalem have provoked a diversity of receptions, but the glad reception of the brethren this time belies the calamities that await.

Verse 18

And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.

Contrary to the modern concept of church hierarchy, conceived by the Catholic church and adopted by many in the denominational world, James is not here presented as some special"bishop"or as an"archbishop"with rule over the church in Jerusalem. This James is the half-brother of Jesus and an apostle in the secondary sense (he was not one of the original twelve) (Galatians 1:19). We are left to wonder where Peter and the rest of the apostles are? If they are in Jerusalem, surely they would have been at this meeting. (For additional notes on apostles, see 14:4.)

Verse 19

And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.

After Paul’s customary greeting and, we can assume, the delivery of the collection for the poor saints, he begins his speech. As Paul has informed the elders at Antioch (14:27), he now recounts the successes of the gospel to the elders at Jerusalem. All teachers of the gospel should note that Paul realizes he is nothing more than an instrument of God.

Verse 20

And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:

And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him: The Jerusalem elders express their heartfelt joy at the success of the gospel by giving God the praise, but they have another matter that is a burden on their minds: trouble looms large on the horizon.

Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe: The elders begin to unburden their minds by calling to Paul’s attention the myriads of Jews in Jerusalem who have been converted to Christianity. It is not difficult for one to feel the tension in this situation. The elders are fearful Paul will"tear up their nest"if he teaches the truth about the Christian’s responsibility toward the Law.

and they are all zealous of the law: It is incredible that such a statement can even be made considering the fact that it has been twenty-five years since the establishment of the church. How is it possible that these Jewish Christians do not understand the differences in the Old Testament and the New Testament?

They still observe the Law of Moses. The reference here is to the Law respecting circumcision, sacrifices, distinctions of meats and days, festivals, etc. It may seem remarkable that they should still continue to observe those rites, since it was the manifest design of Christianity to abolish them (Barnes 505).

It is likely that we today fail to appreciate the hold the Law had upon the Jewish Christians. They have been trained all of their lives, before the coming of Christianity, in the faithful observation of the Law. It does cause one to wonder how much effort has been made by the Jerusalem elders to teach the truth in regard to the Law (Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 8:6-10; Hebrews 10:1-4).

It apparently takes the providence of God to end this extreme attachment to the Law. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the subsequent destruction of the temple will bring closure to Jewish worship as it once was. Coffman gives us this note:

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 (406).

Verse 21

And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.

And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses: These Jewish Christians have heard from other Jewish Christians from outside Jerusalem that Paul teaches the Law of Moses is not necessary for salvation. We are made to wonder why the Jerusalem Christians have not also been taught in this matter?

saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs: This is a malicious lie; these accusations are not true. Paul does not forbid circumcision; rather he teaches that the condition of being circumcised or of being uncircumcised matters not for one’s salvation.

For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love (Galatians 5:6).

Concerning "the customs," Paul makes no restrictions upon the ceremonial Law as long as it is not taught as a requirement of salvation. The error made by the Jerusalem elders and the majority of the church is in their conclusion that God has two plans for salvation. One plan is for the Jews, which includes the gospel of Christ and the keeping of the Law. A second plan is for the Gentiles, which is the gospel of Christ without the requirement to keep the Law. The only exception to this second plan is the Gentile Christians are to"abstain from pollution of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled and from blood" (15:20). As here noted, the roots for this misunderstanding are found in the conclusion of the meeting that Paul has with the apostles and elders at Jerusalem on an earlier occasion (see notes on 15:1-22).

Verse 22

What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.

What is to be done? The multitude will most certainly hear of the arrival of Paul and something must be done to assuage the anger of these"Law-keeping Christians."Do we detect a little panic in this question?

Verse 23

Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;

James and the elders are not without a plan. They outline a scheme they hope will appease "those of the circumcision" (11:2, 15:1) and the rest of those "zealous of the Law."

The plan is to be based upon four men, apparently members of the Jerusalem church, who are in the process of completing a vow. It is generally agreed that this vow is the Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:1-21).

Verse 24

Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.

Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: James and the elders urge Paul to join in with the four men who are under the vow, thus purifying himself and paying for the necessary sacrifices as required ("be at charges with them"). It is quite amazing and very difficult to explain why Paul would ever consider such an ill-conceived plan. To observe the requirements of the Nazarite vow, one has to refrain from all products of the grape, which would preclude Paul’s observing the Lord’s supper, and it also required the sacrifice of a lamb for a"sin offering" (Numbers 6:14) (see notes on 18:18). Who can believe that Paul would disregard two major concepts in the doctrine of Christ for such a plan?

Coffman offers this quotation from Adam Clarke, which is also the conclusion of this writer:

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 (408).

and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law: The ultimate purpose of this elaborate plan is to show the multitude of "Christian Law-keepers" that Paul is one of them! If these "Law-keepers" can observe Paul "keeping the Law," perhaps they will not believe the rumors about Paul’s teaching an end to the Law; and a tumult can be avoided.

The situation that is being proposed by James and the Jerusalem elders is an appalling example of "too little, too late!" It appears evident the leaders of the church in Jerusalem have not taught and enforced the "whole counsel" of God’s word. Is it not interesting that this multitude of Jewish brethren who are willing to oppose Paul to the death have no problems with the teaching of James and the elders? These Jewish Christian "Law-keepers" should have been told that they are no longer keepers of the Law of Moses."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!" (Coffman 406).

Paul finds himself caught up in a dilemma for which there is no good solution. This plan is doomed from the beginning because there are Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who know exactly what Paul has taught about the Christian and his relationship to the Law (Galatians 2:16-21; Galatians 3:11-24; Galatians 5:4; Colossians 2:14). We know Paul keeps some of the Jewish customs in a patriotic sense and for the purpose of being allowed entrance into the synagogues. He even shaves his head in some type of a vow as noted in chapter eighteen. But Paul always makes it clear that such customs and ceremonies have nothing to do with salvation. Why he joins this plan as described by James is unexplained. Paul’s explanation might have been:

And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; (1 Corinthians 9:20).

Perhaps in the name of peace and harmony, a compromise is allowed these Jewish converts. They are allowed to hold on to those ceremonies and rituals that are considered as Christian liberties as long as they do not bind them as essential for salvation. Compromise can be useful and right as long as the truth is not sacrificed; but, as is exemplified here, compromise is often a way to put off an impending problem that will have to be dealt with eventually.

Let us hear the conclusion of this matter by using a summary provided by Coffman:

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 (407).

Verse 25

As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.

This assurance seems to have been added as further inducement to get Paul’s cooperation. Paul need not worry about his Gentile brethren because James and the elders are saying they will never enforce the commands of the Law upon them. Of course, this concession would have been only a momentary stopgap as we can be certain this Pharisaic party in the Lord’s church would soon have been requiring "Law-keeping" of the Gentile Christians also (see notes on 15:28-29).

The very purpose for Paul’s bringing the collection to the poor saints at Jerusalem, besides the obvious benevolent reason, is to attempt to form a bond between the Jewish Christians and their Gentile brothers. It is evident, by the transpiring events, that the desired bond is not going to happen. Instead, these Judaizing Christians have the concept of two forms of Christianity: one for the Jews, which involves keeping the Law, and a second for the Gentiles, who are not required to keep the Law.

Verse 26

Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.

It looks as if the plan of the elders is going to work. It has been almost seven days since Paul entered into the temple to join himself to the four men. "Seven days had to elapse before a Nazarite who had contracted such defilement could be purified: such a man shaved his head on the seventh day and brought his offering on the eighth day..." (Bruce 430-431).

Verse 27

And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,

The entire week has almost passed without incident. It appears the plan is going to work until certain of the "Jews of Asia" discover Paul in the temple. These are most likely some of the same Jews who are led by Demetrius to harass and pursue Paul in Ephesus (19:24; 20:19). This group of Jewish rabble-rousers cries out as if they have just spied Beelzebub in the flesh and lay hold of Paul as if he is some notorious criminal. From this point in Paul’s life, he is never free again. He will soon be rescued by the Romans to spend the remainder of his life as their prisoner.

Verse 28

Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.

The impassioned cries of these venomous Jews serve to incite the emotions of the crowd. The charges named against Paul are all false; but because of the volatile attitude of Paul’s adversaries, it is doubtful if anyone gives much thought to calling for an investigation.

Verse 29

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

Luke seems to realize the futility of attempting to refute the lies of the mob; therefore, he gives explanation for only one of the false charges. "They supposed" are the key words here. Evidently, because someone has seen Trophimus in company with Paul, "they supposed" that Trophimus, a Gentile, has been taken into a part of the temple that is forbidden to the Gentiles. This is all based upon the false premise that anyone seen with Paul in the city is also with him in the temple. It is also very possible that this is not just a mistake but rather a cleverly contrived lie to agitate the people further.

Verse 30

And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut.

These Jewish henchmen have sought opportunity to murder Paul for sometime. Now it appears the chance has come. A mob quickly forms, Paul is dragged out of the temple, and his death looks certain, but it is not to be. God is not yet finished with Paul’s life on earth; by His providence Paul will be spared, for now.

Verse 31

And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.

The intentions of this mob are plain. It is their purpose to kill Paul. Someone, whom we are unable to ascertain, alerts the Roman soldiers who are quartered in the tower or fortress of Antonia. Unger gives the following information on this tower:

Antonia, a strong fortress built and named by Herod in honor of Antonius, or Mark Anthony, situated to the N.W. of the temple area in Jerusalem, partly surrounded by a deep ditch one hundred and sixty-five feet wide. It was garrisoned with Roman soldiers, whose watchfulness preserved order in the temple courts (70).

The "chief captain" is the Roman commander over one thousand troops or one tenth of a legion. We learn the name of this particular chief captain is Claudius Lysias (23:26).

Verse 32

Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down unto them: and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul.

The fortress of Antonia is joined to the outer court of the temple by two flights of stairs. When the Romans get news of the ensuing tumult, a minimum of two hundred of Rome’s elite soldiers rush to Paul’s rescue (we conclude since the word centurion is plural and each centurion is commander of one hundred soldiers, this action involved at least two hundred men) (see notes on 10:1).

This riot is not to be allowed by the Roman peacekeepers. When the soldiers, led by the chief captain himself, charge down upon this crowd, the heavy hand of Rome brings control over a mob that is out of control and saves Paul’s life.

Verse 33

Then the chief captain came near, and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and demanded who he was, and what he had done.

With this action, Paul becomes a prisoner of the Roman government. For approximately the next five years, Paul will be passed from one Roman official to the next, beginning in Caesarea and ending in Rome. It is during this time that Paul fulfills the prophecy that he would "bear the Lord’s name before kings" (see notes on 9:15).

The fact that Paul is bound with "two chains" indicates a case of mistaken identification. The chief captain believes they have captured some infamous criminal, as will be noted in verse 38.

Verse 34

And some cried one thing, some another, among the multitude: and when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the castle.

In response to the chief captain’s demand, "who he was, and what had he done," the crowd shouts "one thing, some another." As is usually the case when mob mentality takes over, it is doubtful if the majority of this frenzied crowd even knows what is really happening. It quickly becomes obvious to this man of authority that he will get no satisfactory answer from the crowd; therefore, he takes Paul into the castle (the tower of Antonia).

Verse 35

And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people.

This is a mob with a vengeance. The soldiers find it necessary to carry Paul up the steps to the tower to protect him from the violent intentions of the mob.

Verse 36

For the multitude of the people followed after, crying, Away with him.

This vicious mass of humanity has one common goal: they are howling for Paul’s blood. This is reminiscent of a mob of the same flavor who clamored "Let him be crucified" (Matthew 27:22).

Verse 37

And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek?

The talent that Paul has to be able to defuse the most volatile of situations now shows itself. With all the military protocol necessary and in the polished language of an obviously educated man, Paul makes a request to speak to the chief captain. With this simple request, made in the Greek language, Paul immediately causes the chief captain to have doubts about the assumed identity of his captive.

Verse 38

Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?

The commander now expresses his confusion as to Paul’s identity by asking Paul if he is a notorious "Egyptian" who led an insurrection against the Romans. It is no wonder the chiliarch (the commander of a thousand men) has Paul bound in double chains: he thinks he has captured the leader of the "dagger-men" : "assassins" who plotted a murderous insurrection.

His reference was to an incident also reported by Josephus. Three years earlier an Egyptian had arrived in Jerusalem promising the Jews that the walls of Jerusalem would tumble down if they joined him on the Mount of Olives. He claimed that God would lead the Jews to victory over the Romans. Josephus says that 30, 000 people followed him. Felix the procurator put an end to the adventure, however, sending troops who killed 400 of the rebels, took another 200 prisoners, and the rest fled. The Egyptian managed to disappear (Gaertner 341-342).

Verse 39

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

But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia: Paul begins to explain to the chief captain who he is. It is well to note that Paul does not yet reveal his Roman citizenship.

a citizen of no mean city: According to Vine the word "mean" literally means "without mark, ... undistinguished, obscure" (Vol. III 50). Paul is saying he does not come from some obscure, unheard of city but rather he finds his roots in the notable city of Tarsus (see notes on 9:1).

and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people: The indefatigable spirit, the amazing fortitude, and the tenacious drive of the Apostle Paul are seen in this request. He has barely escaped this murderous mob of Jews; yet he desires to take advantage of this most hostile of situations to preach God’s word! May his tribe increase!

Verse 40

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

It is certain we cannot imagine nor fully appreciate the scene that now appears. Paul is given permission to address the Jews. He steps forward on the stairs that provide him some elevation above the crowd; and then with a gesture so very characteristic of Paul (12:17; 13:16; 26:1), a great hush falls over this gathering. Now this subdued mob hear the words of this great man of God ring out in their native tongue.

Dear reader, this is the place to take a deep breath and enjoy this astounding silence as we prepare for Paul’s sermon and the inevitable renewed hysteria of the Jewish mob who will not be placated until Paul is dead

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 21". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/acts-21.html. 1993-2022.
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