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

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


(1) After we were gotten from them . . .—The Greek verb is more emphatic, and might almost be rendered, “When we had torn ourselves away from them.”

We came with a straight course unto Coos . . .—The navigation is, as before (Acts 20:14-15), from port to port. It would hardly be within the scope of a Commentary to enter at length into the history of each place. It will be enough to note that Coos was famous both for its wines and its silk fabrics, of fine and almost transparent tissue; that Rhodes, then famous for its Colossus, was one of the largest and most flourishing islands of the Archipelago, and is memorable for us in later history as connected with the history of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John; that Patara was a harbour on the coast of Lycia. For this harbour the ship in which the travellers had left Troas and Miletus was bound, and they had therefore to look out for another. Happily there was no long delay, and they embarked at once on a merchant-ship bound for Phœnicia.

Verse 3

(3) When we had discovered Cyprus . . .—The use of a technical term here is specially characteristic of St. Luke. Here the meaning is that, as soon as they sighted Cyprus, they stood to the southeast, and so had it on their left as they continued their voyage to Syria. At Tyre they had again to change their ship. On the position and history of Tyre, see Note on Matthew 11:21.

Verse 4

(4) And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days.—The word for “finding” implies a previous search. They inquired, when they landed, amid the crowded streets of the still busy port, whether any Christians were to be found there. It will be remembered that St. Paul had passed through that region at least once before. (See Note on Acts 15:3.) The church had probably been planted by the labours of Philip, as the Evangelist of Cæsarea. It is clear that the believers there were prepared to welcome St. Paul and his companions, and showed a warm interest in their welfare.

The “seven days’ ” stay, as at Troas (see Note on Acts 20:6), and afterwards 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. The utterances through the Spirit implied the exercise of prophetic gifts at such a meeting. It seems, at first, somewhat startling that St. Paul should reject what is described as an inspired counsel; or, if we believe him also to have been guided by the Spirit, that the two inspirations should thus clash. We remember, however, that men received the Spirit “by measure,” and the prophets of the churches at Tyre, as elsewhere (Acts 20:23), though foreseeing the danger to which the Apostle was exposed, might yet be lacking in that higher inspiration which guided the decision of the Apostle, and which he himself defines as the spirit “of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). This is, it is believed, a much more adequate explanation than that which sees in the Apostle’s conduct a somewhat self-willed adherence to his own human purpose, and finds a chastisement for that self-will in the long delay and imprisonment that followed on the slighted warnings. He was right, we may boldly say, to go to Jerusalem in spite of consequences. The repeated warnings are, however, an indication of the exceeding bitterness of feeling with which the Judaisers and unbelieving Jews were known to be animated against him.

Verse 5

(5) We departed, and went our way.—Literally, and were going on our way, the tense bringing before us something like a procession wending its way from the city to the shore.

We kneeled down on the shore, and prayed.—The choice of the place was in itself natural enough. It was the spot where the two sets of friends were to part. It was removed from the stir and bustle of the city. We may add that it fell in with the common Jewish practice of using the banks of rivers or the seashore as a place of prayer. The beach of Tyre became for the time a proseuchè. (See Note on Acts 16:13.) It seems implied, from the use of the plural, that in this instance St. Paul was not the only spokesman of the prayers, but that others also (probably St. Luke himself, and the leading members of the Church of Tyre) joined in reciprocal intercession.

Verse 6

(6) We took ship.—Literally, we embarked in the ship. The article probably, though not necessarily, indicates that they went in the same ship that had brought them, and which, after discharging her cargo at Tyre, was now bound for Cæsarea.

Verse 7

(7) We came to Ptolemais.—This city is memorable both for its antiquity and for the varied fortunes of its city. As Accho it appears in Judges 1:31 as one of the old cities of the Canaanites which the Israelites of the tribe of Asher failed to conquer. It was conquered, rebuilt, and re-named by Ptolemy Soter King of Egypt. The old name, however, ultimately revived, or perhaps was never entirely disused; and the natives of the region still speak of it as Accho, while to Europeans it is familiar as Acre, or, more fully, St. Jean d’Acre. Here, also, as through all the line of cities along the coast, we find a church already organised, founded probably, as already suggested, by Philip the Evangelist. Here the stay of the travellers was shorter than at Tyre, probably because the ship only put into the harbour for the night. The passengers had time, however, to land and refresh themselves by intercourse with those who were sharers in their faith and hope.

Verse 8

(8) We that were of Paul’s company departed.—Better, simply, we departed. The Greek which answers to the intervening five words is wanting in the best MSS., and seems a needless interpolation, there being no apparent reason for any change in the writer’s previous phraseology, or for his distinguishing “Paul’s company” from some other person or persons unknown. In some of the MSS. in which it is found, the verb is in the third person: “They that were of Paul’s company came . . . .”

Came unto Cæsarea.—Comp. Acts 8:40; Acts 10:1. This was, it will be remembered, St. Paul’s third visit there (Acts 9:30; Acts 18:22), and we may well believe that he was simply renewing the intercourse of a previous friendship with Philip.

Philip the evangelist.—The title given to him is interesting as showing that the work of “serving tables,” i.e., of superintending the distribution of alms, had been merged in the higher work of a missionary preacher. (See Note on Acts 6:3.) He was no longer known, if, indeed, that title had ever been applied to him, as Philip the deacon, but as Philip the evangelist. The office so described is recognised by St. Paul in his enumeration of spiritual gifts and functions, in Ephesians 4:11, as coming next in order of importance to those of apostles and prophets, and before pastors and teachers. It would seem, accordingly, to have been distinct from the “orders,” in the later sense, of presbyter or deacon, though capable of being united with either of them. Timotheus was exhorted by St. Paul when he was left at Ephesus, with the authority of a bishop, or, more strictly, of a vicar apostolic, to “do the work of an evangelist,” as that to which he had been called (2 Timothy 4:5). It followed, from the nature of the office, as analogous to that of the missionary of later times, that, though residing mainly at Cæsarea, Philip’s labours extended beyond its limits; and we have seen reason to trace his work (see Notes on Acts 8:40; Acts 15:3; Acts 21:3; Acts 21:7) all along the coasts of Palestine and Phoenicia. As far as we know, Philip and St. Luke had not met before, and we can imagine the satisfaction with which the latter, himself, probably, an evangelist in both senses of the word (2 Corinthians 8:18), and already contemplating his work as an historian, would welcome the acquaintance of the former, how he would ask many questions as to the early history of the Church, and learn from him all, or nearly all, that we find in the first eleven chapters of this book.

Which was one of the seven.—We note how entirely the Seven of Acts 6:3 are regarded as a special or distinct body. If the term deacon had ever been applied to them, which is very doubtful, it ceased to be applicable by its wide extension to the subordinate functionaries of the churches throughout the empire.

Verse 9

(9) The same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.—Both elements of the description are full of interest as throwing light on the life of the Apostolic Church. (1) The four daughters were “virgins.” The word then, as afterwards, probably indicated, not merely the bare fact that they were as yet unmarried, but that they had devoted themselves, if not by irrevocable vows, yet by a steadfast purpose, to that form of service. In the organisation of women’s work in the Church they formed apparently a distinct class, the complement of that of the widows of 1 Timothy 5:10. St. Paul had distinctly sanctioned such a life, as presenting a higher standard of excellence than the duties of domestic life (1 Corinthians 7:8), and on grounds which, in their general character, went beyond the “present distress” of a time of persecution (1 Corinthians 7:26; 1 Corinthians 7:34). It was, indeed, a matter on which he had no commandment from the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:25), and in which he was therefore open to the teachings of experience, and these seem to have modified his judgment at a later date, and led him to the conclusion that it was better that the younger “widows” should marry (1 Timothy 5:14), and that they should only be received into the list of those who were maintained by the Church in return for their services as “widows,” at a more advanced age (1 Timothy 5:9). The order of “virgin,” however, continued to exist, and the term Virgo, sometimes with Ancilla Domini (the handmaid of the Lord; comp. Romans 16:1) added to it, is found in the inscriptions from the catacombs now in the Museums of the Collegio Romano and the Lateran. So Pliny, in his letter to Trajan (Ep. 10 § 6), speaks of the women who were then called ministræ among the Christians, the latter term being probably used as the equivalent for “deaconesses.” (2) These virgins “prophesied.” The word comprised much more than mere prediction of the future, and included all words that came into the mind of the speaker as an inspiration, and to the hearers as a message from God. (Comp. Notes on Acts 2:17; Acts 19:6; 1 Corinthians 14:24-25.) In other words, they preached. We ask when, and where? Did they prophesy in the assemblies of the Church? It is true that St. Paul had forbidden this at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:34), and forbade it afterwards at Ephesus (1 Timothy 2:12); but the very prohibition proves that the practice was common (see also 1 Corinthians 11:5), and it does not follow that St. Paul’s rules of discipline as yet obtained in all the churches. It is perfectly possible, however, that they may have confined their ministrations to those of their own sex, and, accompanying their father in his missionary journeys, have gained access to women, both among Jews and Gentiles, and brought them to the knowledge of the Truth. It is obvious that the services of women, acting as deaconesses, would be needed as a matter of decorum in the baptism of female converts.

Verse 10

(10) As we tarried there many days . . .—The adjective is in the comparative degree, and implies, accordingly, a longer time than had been intended. Probably the voyage had been quicker than the travellers had expected, and there was therefore time to remain at Cæsarea, and yet to arrive at Jerusalem, as St. Paul purposed, in time for Pentecost (chap 20:16). There was, at any rate, time for the tidings of his arrival to reach Jerusalem, and for Agabus (see Note on Acts 11:28) to come down in consequence.

Verse 11

(11) He took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet.—The MSS. vary between “his hands” (St. Paul’s) and “his own;” but the latter is by far the best-supported reading. It is interesting to note the revival of the old prophetic manner of predicting by symbolic acts. So Isaiah had walked “naked and barefoot” (Isaiah 20:3-4); and Jeremiah had gone and left his girdle in a cave on the banks of the Euphrates, and had made bonds and yokes, and had put them on his neck (Jeremiah 13:1-11; Jeremiah 27:2); and Ezekiel had portrayed the siege of Jerusalem on a tile, and had cut the hair from his head and beard (Ezekiel 4:1-3; Ezekiel 5:1-4). Looking to the previous relations between St. Paul and Agabus at Antioch (Acts 11:27), we may well believe that the latter, foreseeing the danger to which the Apostle would be exposed, came down to Cæsarea, in a spirit of friendly anxiety, to warn him not to come. The feeling which led to the murderous plot of Acts 23:12 could be no secret to a prophet living at Jerusalem.

Verse 12

(12) Both we, and they of that place . . .—For the first time the courage even of the Apostle’s companions began to fail, and St. Luke admits that he himself had joined in the entreaty. Could not they, who were less known, and therefore in less danger, go up without him, pay over the fund that had been collected among the Gentiles to St. James and the elders, and return to him at Cæsarea? “They of that place” would of course include Philip and his daughters, and possibly, if he were still there, Cornelius and his friends, or, at any rate, those of the latter who were still residing in the city. They besought him, it will be noted, even with tears.

Verse 13

(13) What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart?—Better, What mean ye weeping and breaking . . .? The intense sensitiveness of St. Paul’s nature shows itself in every syllable. It was with no Stoic hardness that he resisted their entreaties. They were positively crushing to him. He adhered to his purpose, but it was as with a broken heart. In spite of this, however, his martyr-like, Luther-like nature carried him forward. Bonds and imprisonment!—these he had heard of when he was yet at Corinth and Ephesus, before he had started on his journey; but what were they to one who was ready to face death? The pronouns are throughout emphatic. “You are breaking my heart. I, for my part, am ready . . .”

Verse 14

(14) The will of the Lord be done.—It is, perhaps, too much to see in these words an acceptance of his purpose as being in accordance with the will of the Lord. They were the natural expressions of resignation to what was seen to be inevitable, possibly used as a quotation from the prayer which the Lord had taught the disciples, and which He had used Himself (Luke 22:42).

Verse 15

(15) After those days we took up our carriages . . .—Better, we took up our baggage. The English word now used always of the vehicle that carries, was in common use at the time of the Authorised version, for the things carried—the luggage or impedimenta of a traveller. So, in 1 Samuel 17:22, David leaves his carriage (or, as in the margin, the vessels from upon him) in the hand of the “keeper of the carriage.” So, in Udal’s translation of Erasmus’s Paraphrase of the New Testament (Luke 5:14), the bearers of the paralytic are said to have “taken their ‘heavie carriage’ to the house-roof.” (Comp. also Judges 18:21; Isaiah 10:28; Isaiah 46:1.)

Verse 16

(16) One Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.—Better, perhaps, an early disciple. The word for “old” refers less to personal age than to his having been a disciple from the beginning of the Church’s history. He may accordingly have been among those “men of Cyprus” who came to Antioch, and were among the first to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. (See Note on Acts 11:20.) We may fairly infer that he was one of those who had been “from the beginning” among the eye-witnesses and ministers of the word to whom St. Luke refers as his informants (Luke 1:2). If so, it is interesting, as showing that our Lord’s disciples were not limited to the natives of Galilee and Judæa. It lies on the surface of the narrative that Mnason had a house at Jerusalem in which he could receive St. Paul and his companions. The arrangement seems to have been made as the best course that could be taken to minimise the inevitable danger to which the Apostle was exposing himself. In that house at least he might be sure of personal safety, and the men from Cæsarea would form a kind of escort as he went to and fro in the city.

Verse 17

(17) The brethren received us gladly.—This was, perhaps, an informal welcome, given in Mnason’s house, by those who came there to receive the expected guests.

Verse 18

(18) The day following Paul went in with us unto James . . .—Looking to Acts 20:16, it seems natural to infer that this was on or near the Day of Pentecost. The city would be crowded with pilgrims. The Church would be holding its solemn festival, not without memories of the great gifts of the Spirit, and prayers for their renewal. The Bishop of Jerusalem—to give him the title which, though apparently not then borne by him, expressed his functions, and was afterwards attached to his name—was there with the elders of the Church. St. Luke is careful to add that they were all there. On their part there was no reluctance to receive the Apostle of the Gentiles into full fellowship.

Verse 19

(19) He declared particularly . . .—Better, one by one, or, in detail, the adverb of the Authorised version having acquired in modern English a slightly different meaning. This must, it is obvious, have implied a narrative of considerable length, including an outline of all that had passed since the visit of Acts 18:22, and ending with an account of the contribution which he and his companions had brought with them from well-nigh all the churches of the Gentiles.

Verse 20

(20) They glorified the Lord.—The better MSS. give, “they glorified God.” The tense implies continued action, and although its meaning would be satisfied by assuming mere ejaculations of wonder and praise, it is, at least, not improbable that there was a more formal thanksgiving.

How many thousands of Jews there are which believe.—Literally, how many myriadsi.e., tens of thousands. The numbers seem large if we think of the population of Jerusalem only, but the crowds that came from all quarters to the Feast of Pentecost (see Note on Acts 2:1) would fully justify the statement. The speaker here is obviously St. James, as the president of the assembly. There is no trace of the presence of any of the Apostles.

They are all zealous of the law.—Better, the word being a substantive and not an adjective, zealots for the law. The term was an almost technical one for the most rigid class of Pharisees. (See Note on Simon the Canaanite, Matthew 10:4.) So St. Paul describes himself as in this sense a “zealot” (Acts 22:3; Galatians 1:14).

Verse 21

(21) And they are informed of thee . . .—This, it is clear, was the current version of St. Paul’s teaching. How far was it a true representation of its tendencies? As a personal accusation it was, of course, easy to refute it. His rule of adaptation led him to be to the Jews as a Jew (1 Corinthians 9:20). He taught that every man, circumcised or uncircumcised, should accept his position with its attendant obligations (1 Corinthians 7:18-20). He had himself taken the Nazarite vow (Acts 18:18), and had circumcised Timotheus (Acts 16:3). It was probably false that he had ever taught that Jews “ought not to circumcise their children.” But fanaticism is sometimes clear-sighted in its bitterness, and the Judaisers felt that when it was proclaimed that “circumcision was nothing,” in its bearing on man’s relations to God (1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:6; Galatians 6:15), it ceased to have a raison d’être, and sank to the level of a mere badge of the national exclusiveness, which, in its turn, was assailed by St. Paul’s teaching that all middle walls of partition were broken down (Ephesians 2:14), and that Jews and Gentiles were alike one in Christ. If a Jew had asked, Why then should I circumcise my child? it would not have been easy to return a satisfying answer. If it were said, “To avoid giving offence,” that was clearly only temporary and local in its application, and the practice would die out as people ceased to be offended. If it were urged that it was a divine command, there was the reply that, as a command, it had been virtually though not formally repealed when the promises and privileges connected with it were withdrawn. It was the seal of a covenant (Romans 4:11), and could hardly be looked upon as binding when the covenant itself had been superseded. Few Christians would now hold that a converted Jew was still bound to circumcise, as well as baptise, his children. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews did but push St. Paul’s teaching to its legitimate conclusions when he said that the “new covenant had made the first old,” and that “that which is decaying and waxing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13).

That thou teachest all the Jews . . . to forsake Moses.—Literally, that thou teachest apostasy from Moses, the term used, with all its burden of evil import, adding weight to the charge.

Neither to walk after the customs.—On the general import of this phrase, as including the “traditions of the elders,” as well as the precepts of the Law, see Notes on Acts 6:14; Acts 15:1.

Verse 22

(22) The multitude must needs come together.—More accurately, at all events a crowd must needs come together. The report of St. Paul’s arrival was sure to spread, and those who heard of it would be eager to see how he acted. Would he ostentatiously reproduce in Jerusalem that living as a Greek with Greeks (1 Corinthians 9:22) of which they heard as his manner at Corinth and Ephesus? The advice which followed was intended to allay the suspicion of the timid, and to disappoint the expectations of more determined adversaries.

Verse 23

(23) We have four men which have a vow on them.—The advice was eminently characteristic. (1) It came from one who himself lived as bound by the Nazarite vow. “No razor came upon his head, and he drank neither wine nor strong drink” (Hegesippus in Euseb. Hist. ii. 23). By connecting himself with such a vow St. Paul would show that he was content in these matters to follow in the footsteps of St. James, that he looked upon the observance of the Nazarite vow, if not as binding, at any rate as right and praise worthy. (2) It is obvious that St. Paul’s conduct on his last visit to Jerusalem had furnished a precedent for the line of action now recommended. He had then come as a Nazarite himself; had in that character burnt the hair which he had cut off at Cenchreæ (see Note on Acts 18:18), and had offered the accustomed sacrifices. Why should he not repeat the process now? There was, however, this difficulty: the minimum period of the Nazarite vow was for thirty days, and as St. Paul had not taken the vow previous to the advice, and probably wished to leave Jerusalem soon after the feast was over (Acts 19:21), it was out of his power to fulfil it now in its completeness. Jewish usage, however, made an intermediate course feasible. A man might attach himself to a Nazarite, or company of Nazarites, join in the final process of purification, which lasted, probably, for seven days (Numbers 6:9), shaving his head, and offering sacrifices with them. This was considered in itself a devout act, especially if the new comer defrayed the cost of the sacrifices. Agrippa I., for instance, had in this way gained credit with the Jews, as showing his reverence for the Law (Jos. Wars, ii. 15, § 1). It is clear that the four men were members of the Church of Jerusalem, and the fact is interesting as showing how intensely Jewish that church still was in its observances.

Verse 24

(24) Purify thyself with them . . .—This involved sharing their abstinence for the uncompleted term of the vow, and shaving the head at its conclusion.

Be at charges with them . . .—Literally, spend money on them. This involved payment (1) for the act of shaving the head, for which probably there was a fixed fee to priest or Levite; (2) for the sacrifices which each Nazarite had to offer—sc., two doves or pigeons, a lamb, an ewe lamb, a ram, a basket of uneavened bread, a meat offering and a drink offering (Numbers 6:9-12).

Verse 25

(25) As touching the Gentiles which believe.—See Note on Acts 15:20. St. James, it will be seen, adheres still to the terms of the concordat sanctioned at the council of Jerusalem. He has no desire to withdraw any concession that was then made, and the Judaisers who in Galatia and elsewhere were, in his name, urging the necessity of circumcision, were acting without authority. He thinks it fair to call on St. Paul to show that he too adheres to the compact, and has no wish to disparage the “customs” of the Law. St Paul, it will be seen, readily acts upon the suggestion. All promised well; but an interruption came from an unexpected quarter and overturned what seemed so wisely planned in the interests of peace.

Verse 26

(26) To signify the accomplishment of the days of purification . . .—The process lasted, as the next verse shows, for seven days, which were probably reckoned from the completion of the thirty days, or other term, of the vow itself. St. Paul, having made himself the representative of the Nazarite company, had to give, in their name, the formal notice to the priests, who were to be ready for the sacrifices when the seven days had expired. Seven days was, it will be noted, the ordinary period for the more solemn purifications (Exodus 29:37; Leviticus 12:2; Leviticus 13:6; Numbers 12:14; Numbers 19:14, et al.).

Verse 27

(27) When the seven days were almost ended.—Literally, were on the point to be completed. St. Luke speaks of “the seven days” as a definite or known period. They cannot refer, as some have thought, either to the duration of the vow, which was never less than thirty days, or to that of the Feast of Pentecost, which at this time was never extended beyond one, and must therefore be understood of the period of special purification which came at the final stage of the fulfilment of the vow.

The Jews which were of Asia . . .—Better, from Asia—those who had come up to keep the Feast at Jerusalem. They, we may well believe, had been watching the Apostle eagerly as he passed in and out of the courts of the Temple. As it was, they seized him, with all the tokens of his purification still upon him (comp. Acts 24:18), about to offer sacrifices, and raised a cry which was sure to throw the whole city into an uproar. They first reiterate the general charge, and in doing so bring against St. Paul, in almost identical terms, the very accusation which he had brought against Stephen (Acts 6:11-13), of which they thus make themselves the witnesses. This was backed up by a more specific indictment (Acts 21:28). He had brought Greeks—i.e., uncircumcised Gentiles—into the Holy Place—i.e., beyond the middle wall of partition (Ephesians 2:14) which divided the court that was open to strangers from that which none but Jews might enter (Jos. Ant. xv. 11, § 5). The recent excavations of the Palestine Exploration Society (Report for 1871, p. 132) have brought to light a slab with an inscription, discovered and deciphered by M. Clermont Ganneau, which illustrates the horror with which the Jews looked on such a profanation. Its contents show that it must have formed part of the low wall just mentioned:—“NO MAN OF ALIEN RACE IS TO ENTER WITHIN THE BALUSTRADE AND FENCE THAT GOES ROUND THE TEMPLE. IF ANY ONE IS TAKEN IN THE ACT, LET HIM KNOW THAT HE HAS HIMSELF TO BLAME FOR THE PENALTY OF DEATH THAT FOLLOWS.” This, accordingly, was the punishment which the Jews of Asia were now seeking to bring on St. Paul and on his friends.

Verse 29

(29) Trophimus an Ephesian.—See Note on Acts 20:4. His face was naturally familiar to those who had come from the same city. They had seen the two together in the streets, possibly near the entrance of the Temple, and, hatred adding wings to imagination, had taken for granted that St. Paul had brought his companion within the sacred enclosure.

Verse 30

(30) The people ran together.—Better, perhaps, there was a rush of the people. St. Luke brings into something like a mental juxtaposition the pictures of the tumult at Ephesus and that at Jerusalem. The Jews of Asia, among whom we may perhaps think of Alexander the coppersmith, working then as afterwards “much evil” against the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:14), may have taken part in both.

Forthwith the doors were shut.—This was obviously the act of the Levite gate-keepers. The Apostle was dragged out, the crowd followed him, and they seized the opportunity to guard the sacred precincts against further profanation.

Verse 31

(31) The chief captain of the band.—On the word “band,” and its relation to the Latin “cohort,” see Notes on Acts 10:1; Matthew 27:27. On the word for “chief captain” (literally, chiliarch, or “captain of a thousand men,” the cohort being the sixth part of the legion, which consisted of 6, 000), see Note on Matthew 8:29. They were stationed in the tower known as Antonia, built by Herod the Great, and named in honour of the Triumvir, which stood on the north-west side of the Temple area, on a rock, with a turret at each corner, and two flights of stairs leading to the arcades on the northern and western sides of the Temple. The Roman garrison was obviously stationed there to command the crowds of pilgrims, and was likely to be on the alert at a time like the Pentecost Feast. The Procurator Felix, however, was for the time at Cæsarea. The next verse shows that their appearance was sufficient at once to strike some kind of awe into the turbulent mob. Once again the Apostle owed his safety from violence to the interposition of the civil power, (See Notes on Acts 18:14-17.) The “beating” would seem to have been rough treatment with the fists rather than any regular punishment.

Verse 33

(33) Commanded him to be bound with two chains.—Looking to the usual Roman practices in the treatment of prisoners, we may think of each chain as fastened at one end to the Apostle’s arm, and at the other to those of the soldiers who kept guard over him. (See Notes on Acts 12:6; Acts 28:16.) So shackled, he was taken before the Chiliarch Lysias for a preliminary inquiry.

Verse 34

(34) Some cried one thing, some another.—We note the parallelism with the like confused clamour at Ephesus (Acts 19:32), which is described in exactly the same terms.

He commanded him to be carried into the castle.—The Greek, which literally means encampment, is translated “armies” in Hebrews 11:34. By a transition which reminds us of the connection between the words castrum and castellum, or castle, it came to be applied to a regular structure of stone or brick, such for example, as the Tower Antonia, described in the Note on Acts 21:31.

Verse 35

(35) When he came upon the stairs . . .—This was one of the flights leading, as has been said, from the tower to the Temple area. Here the violence of the crowd became greater as they were more pressed in, and the soldiers had literally to lift him from his legs and carry him in, while the troops lined the staircase on either side.

Verse 36

(36) Away with him.—We remember that the self-same cry had been raised at the time of the Crucifixion (Luke 23:18; John 19:15), and that it was used now with the same meaning with which it had been used then.

Verse 37

(37) Canst thou speak Greek?—The chiliarch apparently expected his prisoner to have spoken Hebrew, i.e., Aramaic, and was surprised to hear Greek; the people expected Greek, and were surprised at Hebrew (Acts 22:2). Nothing could better illustrate the familiarity of the population of Jerusalem with both languages.

Verse 38

(38) Art not thou that Egyptian?—The Greek has an illative particle which is wanting in the English: Art not thou then that Egyptian? This was the inference drawn by the chief captain from the fact that his prisoner spoke in Greek. The Egyptian was a false prophet, who a short time before this, under the procuratorship of Felix, had led 30, 000 men (?) to the Mount of Olives, promising them that they should see Jerusalem destroyed (Jos. Ant. xx. 8, § 6; Wars, ii. 13, § 5). His followers were routed by Felix, but he himself escaped; and the chief captain infers from the tumult raised by a Greek-speaking Jew, that the Egyptian must have reappeared. Probably this was one of the vague reports in the confused clamour of the multitude. The words of the question have, however, been taken, on grammatical grounds, in a different sense: Thou art not, then, that Egyptian? as though his speaking Greek had changed the chiliarch’s previous impression. Against this, however, there is the fact that an Egyptian Jew, coming from the very land of the Septuagint, would naturally speak Greek, and the inference that St. Paul was not the Egyptian because he knew that language would hardly be intelligible.

Four thousand men that were murderers.—Josephus, as has been said, gives a much larger number, but his statistics, in such cases, are never to be relied on. The word for murderer (sicarii, literally, dagger-bearers) was applied to the cut-throat bands who about this period infested well-nigh every part of Palestine, and who differed from the older robbers in being, like the Thugs in India, more systematically murderous (Jos. Wars, ii. 13, § 3). In the siege of Jerusalem, their presence, sometimes in alliance with the more fanatic of the zealots, tended to aggravate all its horrors.

Verse 39

(39) A citizen of no mean city.—The boast was quite a legitimate one. In addition to all its fame for culture, the town of Tarsus bore on its coins the word METROPOLIS-AUTONOMOS (Independent).

Verse 40

(40) Paul stood on the stairs.—The position was one which raised him above the people, and the characteristic gesture commanded instant attention. And he spoke, not as they expected in the Greek, which belonged to one who fraternised with Gentiles, but in the Hebrew or Aramaic, which he had studied at the feet of Gamaliel. It was a strange scene for that Feast of Pentecost. The face and form of the speaker may have been seen from time to time by some during his passing visits to Jerusalem, but there must have been many who had not heard him take any part in public action since the day when, twenty-five years before, he had kept the garments of those who were stoning Stephen. And now he was there, accused of the self-same crimes, making his defence before a crowd as wild and frenzied as that of which he had then been the leader.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Acts 21". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/acts-21.html. 1905.
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