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Bible Commentaries
Acts 21

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-40

Acts 21:1 . We came with a straight course to Coos, or Cos. See the map of St. Paul’s travels. It is the principal island of the group called Cyclades. Hypocrates the physician, and Apelles the painter, were born here.

And the day following unto Rhodes, an island about forty miles in length, and fifteen in breadth. According to the poets, Minerva rained here a shower of gold; that is, made the inhabitants rich by the art of statuary, in which they surpassed all other nations. So Pindar states in his Olympia, ode 7. Ipsa cæsiis oculis dea præbuit illis ut in omni arte Præstantissimâ operâ manuum suarum mortales reliquos superarent. The erection of the collossal statue of brass, which stood with one foot on each head of the pier of the harbour, and under which a ship could enter in full sail, is proof of their genius and wealth. It stood seventy cubits high, and was so large that few men could grasp its thumb. This statue was one of the seven wonders of the world, and on account of which the Rhodians were for a long time called Colossians. But their peculiar glory was not antique: having stood about sixty years, the statue fell by an earthquake, two hundred and forty four years before our Saviour’s birth. See more in Pliny, lib. 34. cap. 37. Thus every Babel of human pride must be brought low: the glory of this world passeth away.

From thence to Patara, a maritime city of Lycia, thirteen miles south-west of Satalia.

Acts 21:3 . And landed at Tyre, the ancient Tyre, described in Isaiah 23:1.

Acts 21:4 . Finding disciples who said to Paul, δια του Πνευματος , by or through the Spirit of prophecy, that he should not go up to Jerusalem. How are we to understand this revelation? Subjunctively, it would seem, that he must not go up unless he were resolved to fight the battles of the Lord. So Paul must have understood both this and the more explicit one of Agabus, in Acts 21:10-11; else he had been disobedient to the heavenly vision. He was like the heroes named by Virgil, who in battle do not know how to yield.

Acts 21:8 . Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven deacons. The accuracy of this description proves that Philip, who preached to the Eunuch, Acts 8:35, was Philip the apostle. The evangelists were colleagues of the apostles in preaching the gospel of Christ.

Acts 21:9 . Four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. Philip was married. Marriage was very much abstained from in the primitive missionaries for the great love they had to their Master’s work; but Paul tells the Corinthians that the preachers had a right to lead about a wife, or a sister, if that sister could be useful as a deaconess in the church. Œcumenius says that a married man might be a deacon, a priest, or a bishop. There is a slight apparent contradiction on the subject of Paul’s marriage, between the fathers. Ignatius affirms he had a wife; and Ambrose, that all the apostles were married, except St. Paul and St. John. Eusebius goes no farther than to say that three of the apostles were married, Peter, Paul, and Philip. Philip was not only married, but happy in his marriage. The holiness of the father had gained the daughters to the Lord, and the Lord had honoured their conversion with the gifts of prayer, of exhortation, and probably with some of the extraordinary endowments promised to women. Joel 2:0. and Acts 2:0. See also 1 Corinthians 9:5.

Acts 21:10-11 . There came down from Judea a certain prophet, named Agabus, of whom mention is made in Acts 11:28, as foretelling the famine in the second year of Claudius. His life had been spared for the space of twenty years since that prediction. He now bound himself with Paul’s girdle, the better to express the mind of God by signs, as well as words, like the prophets of old. Jeremiah 13:1. This was a clear prediction of Paul’s bonds, that the malice of the jews to destroy him, (which Agabus well knew) should be frustrated; that they should not stone him, nor assassinate him, as forty of them swore to do; and that the Romans would not be prevailed upon to put him to death. How luminous, how accurate were these predictions! How well calculated to fortify the apostle, and support the church, that the great hero of their faith suffered according to the will of God. Paul had seen the Lord, and would not deny his name.

Acts 21:14 . The will of the Lord be done. Paul was persuaded that good would result from the conflict he should have to maintain at Jerusalem; and thanking the prophet for his goodness, preferred the battle to a retreat. The prophecy however was not lost; it would confirm the church, and support them in submission to the divine will.

Acts 21:18-19 . The day following Paul went in with us to James, the only apostle now in the city, and he rehearsed to them what a gracious work the Lord had wrought in Greece, as he had before recited the great work in Asia minor: Acts 15:4-5.

Acts 21:20 . They said to him, thou seest, brother Saul, how many thousands of jews there are which believe. The Greek is, myriads, ten thousands. This no doubt is true, if Luke speaks here of believers in all the six provinces of Palestine; and they are all zealous of the law. This advice was good, and very prudent, to prevent dissension in the church, when they saw that Paul himself lived and walked as a pharisee in the order of his sect. This advice was founded on the reports that Paul had abrogated the law; when, in fact, he had refused only to burden the myriads of gentile converts with circumcision and the ritual obligations. Moses nowhere makes that law binding on the gentile world.

Acts 21:23 . We have four men which have a vow. Paul was advised, as coming from gentile nations, to purify himself with them. This would not only preserve peace with the church, but would appear better before the jewish council.

Acts 21:28 . Men of Israel, help. This is the man that teaches everywhere against the people of the Hebrew nation, against the law of Moses, and against this place, the holy temple. We now have him in our power; let his life pay for his crimes. The tumult spread to the city, and the people crowded the outer court of the gentiles. The men who gave the alarm were jewish teachers of the law; and coming from the province of Asia, they had seen the success which had attended his labours at Ephesus.

Acts 21:30 . They took Paul, and drew him out of the temple, lest his blood should defile the holy place. Claudius Lysias, the chief captain, the commandant, χιλιαρχος , the commander of a thousand men, the military tribune, ran down with centurions and soldiers to rescue Paul, mistaking or supposing him to be the seditious Egyptian, who about two years before had escaped the hand of justice. This commandant resided in the palace, now converted into a castle.

A word or two about this castle may tend to elucidate these events. John Hyrcanus succeeded his father Simon, as prince and highpriest of the jews, about one hundred and thirty years before the birth of Christ, and reigned as prince and priest for twenty nine years. He built this castle on the northern mount of the temple, with four towers, as the palace of the Asmonean princes. The staircase descended from the palace into the court of the gentiles. Herod the first converted it into a castle, and called it Antonia, in gratitude to Mark Antony. The Roman commanders, with their guards, occupied at that time the castle, because it commanded the temple and the city. See Josephus: Bell. Judges 13:0 .

Acts 21:38 . Art not thou that Egyptian which leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers. Σικαριων Sicarions, from the Latin sica. Cicero uses the term for a short pocket dagger, crooked at the point, to do the greater interior mischief on the infliction of a wound.

Of the bacchanalians at Rome, Livy has given a full account, but Josephus is brief concerning this fraternity of robbers and assassins. They were strangers, and had come to Jerusalem under the cloak of devotion; but subsisted by rapine and murder, and often killed their enemies in the temple, and escaped in the throng. The Egyptian is called a sorcerer, and in that respect the sect resembled the bacchanalians who affected to disclose the Elysian mysteries. The Sicarions were known in Jerusalem, for Felix the governor had most basely employed them to murder Jonathan, the highpriest. The issues of this desperate fraternity were a revolt against the Romans, with a promise from their Egyptian leader, that on assaulting the city, the walls, like those of Jericho, would fall down. On their arriving at the mount of Olives, Felix so hotly charged them both with horse and foot, that four hundred were slain, and two hundred made prisoners, while the rest escaped. Joseph. Antiq. 20. cap. 6. Euseb. Hist. lib. 2. cap. 21.

Acts 21:40 . When he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, which led from the court of the gentiles to the castle; and, though his body was sore with the beating he had just received from the jews, he had great presence of mind while addressing one of the most crowded auditories that had ever attended in that court.


The love that subsists between pastors and the people converted by their ministry, and their mutual prayers, is beyond conception. It is astonishing to the world, to see how those christians love one another. The brethren, their wives and children, attended Paul and his companions, wishing to have another word, and another look before they parted to meet no more on earth. See them kneel at the side of the road, to ask the blessing of their heavenly Father. Truly these were days of the Son of man.

But what we most admire is the invincible courage of the hero in his confession of the faith. After being twice warned by the prophets, and twice entreated by the weeping church, he might have retired from the contest with honour; and with a prudence which he himself might have accounted laudable in another. But to the real hero, there is no honour like that of victory; no reward like that of the crown. As the Holy Spirit had only announced his bonds, and had not expressly forbidden him to go, he silenced all entreaty by declaring his readiness not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. Go on, great apostle: the Lord is thy strength and thy Redeemer!

See the apostles, now accompanied by brethren in the ministry, meet the third time in Jerusalem to recount what God had done among the gentiles, and swell the joys of the church. The apostle James, now residing there, as bishop and general superintendent, delicately apprises Paul of the unfavourable reports circulated against him with regard to his laxity in not enforcing the ceremonial law of circumcision; and they advise him, for the peace of the church, to purify in the temple, and pay his vows, as coming from gentile nations; a thing the jews would often do on entering the territories of the holy land.

Paul was not opinionated; he was even a jew to gain the jews. The ceremonial rituals, though a burden, were not against his conscience. This submission aided him in his future defence; he could tell the Roman kings of Asia, that the jews neither found him in the temple disputing with any man, nor yet in the city, nor in the synagogue; and that they could not prove the things they had laid to his charge. He had, on the contrary, come to bring alms to his country from the richer gentiles of Greece. Thus God was with his servant in Jerusalem, as he had been at Antioch, at Iconium, at Ephesus, and at Philippi, and in all places. He stilled the fury of the people in the temple, and moved the Romans to become his protectors, and force the lions, who had called for his blood, calmly to hear him preach!

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 21". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/acts-21.html. 1835.
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