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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

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

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Verses 1-17


As in the last lesson, it is recommended that the text of the present one be read through at a single sitting, and two or three times if possible, before considering the comments, which then will be more valuable.

Some time had been spent again in Antioch, after which the whole territory of Phrygia and Galatia, in Asia minor, was once more traversed for the purpose indicated in 18:23. Ephesus was duly reached (Acts 19:1 ), where Paul found a condition of things explained by the closing verses of chapter 18. Apollos does not seem to have been a Christian till Aquila and Priscilla met him, but he had been awakened by the ministry of John the Baptist, and was learned in the Old Testament Scriptures. The “disciples” Paul met (Acts 19:2 ), were possibly those of Apollos’ ministry, whom he (Paul) brought out into the full fellowship of the gospel (Acts 19:2-7 ). “Since ye believed” of Acts 19:2 , should be rendered “when ye believed.” There was something lacking in these disciples which Paul observed, and which led him to put this question, because the reception of the Holy Spirit is the test of true discipleship (Romans 8:9 ). (See comment on 2:5-13.) Acts 19:8-20 show an unusual work of grace in and around Ephesus at this time. “The school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9 ) was the convenient meeting place. The special miracles by Paul (Acts 19:11 ) were an offset to the unusual power of the evil one there. This power showed itself in the “vagabond Jews” of Acts 19:13 who suffered justly for their wickedness (Acts 19:16 ), and whose defeat wrought gloriously for the Gospel (Acts 19:17 ). There was much of this occultism in Ephesus, the overthrow of which is portrayed in the bonfire of the books of the black art, the cost of which was about $10,000.

But the spread of the Gospel was exhibited in the undermining of the controlling trade of the city, with the consequences following (Acts 19:23-41 ).

Chapter 20 is a diary of an extended journey from Ephesus to Macedonia (Acts 20:1-2 ), when again Paul must have visited Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, etc. Then he came down into Greece, possibly Athens, certainly Corinth saw his labors again. Here his purpose to cross by sea to Syria was interfered with by plots against his life, so that he retraced his steps into Macedonia, and crossed again to Troas (Acts 20:3-6 ). A week in Troas was made memorable by his discourse till midnight, and the miraculous recovery of the young man Eutychus (Acts 20:7-21 ). Note that this gathering of the saints to “break bread,” i.e., observe the Lord’s supper, was on the first day of the week, strengthening the conviction that the Lord’s day had taken the place of the Jewish Sabbath as the time for Christian assemblies.

Twenty miles on foot, and apparently alone, brought Paul to Assos, and thence by ship to Mitylene, and finally Miletus (Acts 20:13-16 ).

A tender episode meets us here in his farewell discourse to the beloved elders (bishops or presbyters) of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38 ). Three of his discourses have been reported hitherto somewhat at length, but this is especially interesting as the first spoken to the church. The others were missionary discourses. He first testifies to his own integrity as a minister (Acts 20:18-21 ); he then alludes to the bonds and afflictions that await him (Acts 20:22-27 ); a charge to the elders follows (Acts 20:28-31 ); a further testimony to his faithfulness (Acts 20:32-35 ); the prayer of farewell (Acts 20:36-38 ). Space will not permit elaboration, but Acts 20:28 should not be passed over in its clear testimony to the oneness of God in Christ. “The church of God which he purchased with His own Blood.” The Deity of our Lord is here asserted, and the priceless cost of our redemption. There is no suggestion of an “apostolic succession” in Acts 20:29 , but just the opposite; a prophecy by- the-way, finding fulfillment in all the centuries, and never more positively than now. The beatitude of Acts 20:37 was evidently current in the early church in addition to those recorded in the gospels, and this reference to it gives it inspired authority.

The journey continues until Jerusalem is reached (Acts 21:1-17 ), the most important features of which are the warnings of the apostle not to go to Jerusalem at all (Acts 4:10-14 ). The second says that these warnings were not merely from man but from the Holy Spirit. How then can we explain his neglect of them? Shall we say that they were not in the nature of a command, but a testing? Acts 21:11-13 suggest this. There is one other difficulty in this chapter, where the prophesying of women is referred to (v. 9), and which seems to contradict Paul later on in 1 Timothy 2:0; 1 Timothy 2:0 . We cannot explain it, except to suggest that possibly this prophesying was private rather than in the public assembly.


1. Have you read the text of this lesson as requested?

2. Why did Paul take this journey through Asia Minor?

3. What is suggested in this lesson as the test of true discipleship?

4. State in your own words the story of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus at this time.

5. What makes memorable his stay at Troas on this journey?

6. Analyze his discourse to the elders of Ephesus.

7. What two great doctrinal truths are emphasized in Acts 20:28 ?

8. Quote the new beatitude of Acts 20:37 .

9. What do Acts 21:11-13 suggest concerning Paul’s warnings?

Verses 18-40


The stirring events in this lesson are:

1. Paul’s Ceremonial Vow (Acts 21:18-26 ) 2. His Apprehension by the Jewish Mob (Acts 21:27-30 ) 3. His Speech to Them from the Castle Stairs (Acts 21:31 to Acts 22:21 ) 4. His Colloquy with the Roman soldiers (Acts 22:22-29 ) 5. His Defense before the Sanhedrin (Acts 22:30 to Acts 23:11 ) 6. The Plot to Murder Him (Acts 23:12-22 ) 7. The Escape to Caesarea (Acts 23:23-35 ).

As to Paul’s vow, it is to be kept in mind that the Judaizing element in the church increased as its numbers increased, and while they had accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, yet they were also zealous for the law of Moses. They can be sympathized with in this, considering their past history as Jews; but not when they attached a saving value to the law, or attempted to force its observance upon the Gentiles. To propitiate them and promote peace, Paul was tempted to compromise in the matter of this vow whatever it may have been, and he fell into a snare. It might be said in extenuation that the pressure was exceedingly strong upon him.

Of course it was not these Judaizing Christians who set upon him in the temple, but out and out Jews who hated Christianity altogether, and to whom the opportunity had been given by the action of Paul in yielding to the prejudices of the others.

This speech on the castle stairs constitutes: first, an account of himself as a Jew (Acts 22:1-5 ); second, the story of his conversion (Acts 22:6-16 ); and third a declaration of his divine commission (Acts 22:17-21 ). In the story of his conversion some have found a difficulty in that Paul says his companions saw the light but heard no voice, while in chapter 9, Luke reports that they heard the voice. The explanation probably is that they heard the sound of the voice but were unable to understand the words. What he says of his divine commission here is not given in chapter 9, and is especially interesting and important on that account. It is a chapter of his inner life which otherwise never would have been known.

In Paul’s defense before the Sanhedrin some think he was acting in the flesh, and after his own will rather than in the Holy Spirit. This is a serious charge to make and great caution is necessary, but the circumstances supposed to justify it are the abruptness of his beginning without waiting to be questioned, and his apparently self-righteous spirit (Acts 23:1 ), his offensive epithet to the high priest (Acts 23:3 ), and his cleverness in dividing the council (Acts 23:6 ). If there be anything in such a supposition, we are all the happier for the evidence in Acts 23:11 , that it was all right once more between the Lord and himself before the next day arose.

We need not continue our comments further in this case.


1. Give the outline of this lesson.

2. How would you explain the occasion for Paul’s vow?

3. Do you see the distinction between Jews, and those here called Judaizers?

4. Analyze Paul’s speech on the castle stairs.

5. What serious reflection is sometimes cast upon Paul at this crisis, and on what grounds?

6. What Divine comfort or justification of Paul does the record contain?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Acts 21". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/acts-21.html. 1897-1910.
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