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

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§ 1. Seven Days at Tyre; or, Impending Danger announced (Acts 21:1-6).

§ 2. With Philip at Cæsarea; or, Renewed Foreannouncements of Evil (Acts 21:7-14).

§ 3. With James and the Elders at Jerusalem; or, Mistaken Counsel (Acts 21:15-25).

§ 4. Arrested in the Temple; or, Long Looked for, Come at Last (Acts 21:26-40).

Verses 1-6


Acts 21:1. And it came to pass that after we had gotten from them and had launched.—Better, as well as literally, And when it came to pass that we had weighed anchor, having departed from them. The “we” certainly included Luke and, most probably, Trophimus (Acts 21:29) and Aristarchus (Acts 27:2); the others (Acts 20:4) presumably proceeded no farther. Timothy may even have returned with the elders from Miletus to Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). With a straight course shows the wind to have been favourable. Compare Acts 16:11. Coos should be Cos, an island on the south-west coast of Asia Minor, and forty miles from Miletus, a distance which could have been performed in six hours. Rhodes.—Another island lying upon the south of Asia Minor, on the coast of Caria. Patara.—A seaport of Lycia, near the left bank of the Xanthus, celebrated for its oracle of Apollo.

Acts 21:2. Finding a ship sailing over. Lit., having found a vessel crossing over. The reason for thus changing vessels may have been either that the one they left was not proceeding further, or was not fit for venturing far from the coast, or that the one they boarded was just leaving when they landed at Patara, so that by availing themselves of it they lost no time.

Acts 21:3. Discovered Cyprus.—Better, sighted Cyprus. Lit., having had it brought up to sight or made visible. A nautical expression, the opposite of which is to lose sight of land, ἀποκρύπτειν γῆν. We left (or, leaving) it on the left hand.—This shows they sailed to the southward of the island. Syria in those days included Phœnicia (Acts 21:2), of which Tyre (see Acts 12:20) was the capital. For there, etc.—Lit., for thither (i.e., having come thither), the ship was unlading her burden.

Acts 21:4. And finding disciples should be and having found out (by searching, because they were strangers) the disciples who lived there, since the gospel had been preached in Phœnicia at an early period (Acts 11:19), and the Saviour had performed some of His miracles in the neighbourhood of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21; Mark 7:24). Seven days (compare Acts 20:6).—The time occupied in unloading the ship; during which time Paul would, without doubt, preach the gospel and consult for the welfare of the Syrian Church. Go up, ἀναβαίνειν, as in Acts 21:12.—The best text reads set foot upon, ἐπιβαίνειν.

Acts 21:5. And when we should be and when it came to pass that we had accomplished those, or the days named in Acts 21:4. The days were not spent in refitting the ship (Meyer), but in refreshing the disciples. Wives and children.—Only mention of wives and children in the Acts.


Seven days at Tyre; or, Impending Danger announced

I. The voyage from Miletus to Tyre.—

1. From Miletus to Patara.

(1) The company of voyagers. Paul and his companions, now reduced to three, Trophimus, Aristarchus, and Luke, the others Sosipater, Secundus, Gaius, Timotheus, and Tychicus, having either remained behind at Miletus, or gone to their several homes, or departed to various fields of labour. “So part we in this world of care to meet again in dear Jerusalem.”
(2) The sorrowful farewell spoken on the sea-beach, with hot tears and tender embraces, and with the feeling present in every heart that never again would they all look each other in the face on earth. A presentiment which all companies may feel on breaking up.
(3) The speedy voyage. The first night the vessel anchored at Cos, famous for its wines and fabrics, for its temple of Æsculapius, or school of medicine, and for its two distinguished natives, Hippocrates the physician, and Apelles the painter. The ship had made a run of six or seven hours from Miletus, which shows it must have sailed from the latter port about noon. The next day, having rounded Cape Crio, it headed eastward, a distance of fifty miles, and lay to for the second night in Rhodes, then celebrated as being “the most beautiful spot in this perhaps the fairest portion of the world,” a current proverb saying that “the sun shone every day in Rhodes.” From the Greek period it had been renowned for its Temple of the Sun and for its Colossus, though when Paul’s ship visited the harbour the latter was in ruins, having been overthrown by an earthquake. The day following, the barque landed at Patara, a coast town of Lycia, and a place of some importance and splendour, possessing a convenient harbour (now an inland marsh) and a celebrated temple and oracle of Apollo, which almost rivalled that of Delphi (Herod., I. 182, III. 4).

2. From Patara to Tyre. Scarcely had the vessel anchored in the harbour of Patara when Paul and his companions found another ship, a merchantman, bound for Phœnicia, in the act of setting sail, and having taken out passages in it once more confronted the dangers of the deep. Whether the ship they left was not proceeding farther, or they were unwilling to wait for it, need not be curiously inquired after. It admirably served their purpose to embark on the one they found weighing anchor, and hurry to their destination. Passing by the island of Cyprus (Acts 4:36) on the left hand—i.e., keeping to its south, the Phœnician merchantman steered her course for Tyre to which she was bound with a cargo. (On the commercial importance of Tyre in Old Testament times, see Ezekiel 27:0) As the distance between Patara and Tyre was 340 geographical miles, several days would most likely be consumed in this part of the voyage.

II. The seven days’ stay in Tyre.—

1. The unlading of the ship. The commercial greatness of Tyre. Never was a more precious cargo discharged at her wharves than when Paul and his companions disembarked, carrying with them the unsearchable riches of salvation to proclaim to its inhabitants.

2. The search for the disciples. Paul probably knew that already the gospel had been preached and the nucleus of a Church formed there. That the Christians were not numerous in Tyre may be inferred from the circumstance that they required to be searched out. Paul’s inquiry after them arose no doubt partly from a desire of Christian fellowship in a heathen city, and partly from a wish to impart unto them some benefit by preaching among them (compareRomans 1:11; Romans 1:11).

3. The warning of Paul. Given by the disciples, who, in speaking as they did, acted as the organs and mouthpiece of the Holy Ghost, who never did, and does not yet restrict His influences or communications to official persons, but imparts them to whomsoever He will (John 3:8; 1 Corinthians 12:11). The tenor of their warning was that Paul should not set foot in Jerusalem, obviously because of the danger they saw impending.

If we ask, Why did the Spirit through these men warn Paul? It could not be that the Spirit did not wish Paul to visit Jerusalem, because it must already have been in the Spirit’s plan that Paul should go to Jerusalem, be apprehended there, and carried thence to Rome. The only answer possible seems to be that in this way the Spirit desired to confirm the impression already made upon Paul’s heart, that “bonds and afflictions” were waiting him (Acts 20:23), and to test if not the sincerity, at least the strength and tenacity of his faith.

III. The pathetic farewell to Tyre.—

1. The affectionate convoy. The whole body of the disciples with their wives and children, unwilling to be parted from the apostle and his companions, repeated the scene which had a few days before been witnessed in Miletus, and accompanied them on their way till they reached the outskirts of the city. A scene like this attests the strength of that spiritual affection which a true minister of Christ can inspire in the bosoms of his hearers.

2. The prayer meeting on the beach. Recalling the similar interview with the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:36), and the fast of Ezra and his fellow-travellers on the Ahava (Ezra 8:21). How much more appropriate for Christians to part at a prayer meeting than at a social banquet, with supplications and tears and solemn commendations of each other to God than with songs and laughter, wine and wassail.

3. The final separation. Bidding each other good-bye, they went their several ways, Paul and his companions to their ship, the Christians of Tyre to their homes. So must all earthly unions and communions be broken up and interrupted till the heavenly union and communion arrive which will never end.


1. How God guides His people on their journeys, whether these be by sea or land.
2. How Christ’s disciples draw to one another, even in strange cities.
3. How the Spirit of Christ tries and tests the faith and patience of those He leads.
4. How providence assigns to each man his own particular sphere and work.


Acts 21:1-7. Helps and Hindrances.

I. Helps for Paul’s journey.—

1. Favourable winds—a straight course (Acts 21:1).

2. Opportune events—the crossing ship (Acts 21:2).

3. Christian companions—“we came” (Acts 21:1), “we sailed,” “we landed” (Acts 21:3).

4. Religious fellowship with the Tyrian disciples (Acts 21:4).

II. Hindrances to Paul’s journey.—

1. The prophecies of approaching evil. (Acts 21:4).

2. The tearful farewells upon the beach (Acts 21:5-6).

3. The separation from Christian friends which ensued.

Acts 21:4. Seven days in Tyre. “This peculiar period of time mentioned at Troas (Acts 20:6), and again at Puteoli (Acts 28:14), seems to tell us that St. Paul arranged to stay at each of these points where there was a Christian Church—Troas, Puteoli, and Tyre—for the purpose of attending one solemn meeting of the brethren on the Lord’s day, and partaking, once at least, with them all of the Lord’s Supper.—Spence.

Acts 21:5. Husbands, Wives, and Children.

I. All belong to the conception of an ideal home.—All, therefore, should be bound together by ties of love. All should be mutually helpful by lovingly fulfilling the duties which each owes to the other two, and which all owe to God, to the Church, to the world.

II. All have a rightful place within the Christian Church.—All belong to its communion. The Church membership of wives and children no less than of husbands and fathers is distinctly recognised in New Testament Scriptures (Acts 2:39; 1 Corinthians 7:14).

III. All should take part together in exercises of Christian worship.—Whether in public assemblies or in private gatherings of the disciples, all should, like Cornelius’s household (Acts 10:33), be present. The modern practice of establishing separate Churches for children cannot be too severely condemned.

Children. Are—

I. The heritage of the Lord, and should be thankfully received from, and diligently trained for Him.

II. The ornament of home, and should be sincerely admired and tenderly cherished.

III. The hope of the Church, and should be carefully instructed and nourished up in the faith.

IV. The promise of the world, and should therefore be with much solicitude prepared for their future places in it.

Acts 21:1-5. The Power of Love to Jesus Christ.

I. It brings the unacquainted near (Acts 21:4).

II. It forewarns of possible danger (Acts 21:5).

III. It gladly cultivates fellowship (Acts 21:5).

IV. It humbles itself before God in mutual prayer (Acts 21:5), (Lisco, in Lange).

Acts 21:6. Christian Farewells.

I. Often take place under sorrowful circumstances.
II. Should always be accompanied with prayers as well as tears.
III. Ought not to hinder the prosecution of necessary duties.
IV. Will eventually give place to joyous reunions.

Verses 7-14


Acts 21:7. And when he had finished our course from Tyre might be read but me, having finished our voyage, came down from Tyre (Alford). From Tyre, a moderate day’s journey by land and a few hour’s by sea. Ptolemais.—The ancient Accho (Judges 1:31), the modern Akka of the Arabians, and Acre or St. Jean d’Acre of Europeans. With arrival at this port the sea voyage from Neapolis to Syria ended.

Acts 21:8. Cæsarea.—The third visit (see Acts 9:30, Acts 18:22). That the distance from Akka to Cæsarea, about forty miles, was performed on foot appears (Holtzmann and others) incompatible with the haste which would not suffer Paul to land at Ephesus (Acts 20:16); but the land route may have been rendered necessary because of inability to find a ship without waiting. Philip the Evangelist.—See on Acts 8:40. Of the seven.—See on Acts 6:6.

Acts 21:9. And the same man.—Better now this man.

Acts 21:10. Agabus.—In all probability the person already known (Acts 11:28). Whether he had heard of Paul’s arrival and come to Cæsarea on that account (Baumgarten) must be left undecided. It is worth observing that Philip’s daughters were not selected as the medium through which Paul was warned.

Acts 21:11. Compare the symbolical actions of Old Testament prophets (1 Kings 22:11; Isaiah 20:2; Jeremiah 13:1; Ezekiel 4:1, etc.).

Acts 21:12. They of that place were the Christians there.

Acts 21:13. What mean ye?—Better, what do ye, weeping and breaking my heart? Compare Mark 11:5.


Acts 21:7-14. With Philip at Cæsarea; or, Renewed Fore-announcements of evil

I. The journey from Tyre to Cæsarea.—

1. The Voyage from Tyre to Ptolemais. Commenced after the seven day’s sojourn in Tyre and the affecting farewell upon the beach; it continued probably not more than a few hours, as Ptolemais was distant from Tyre not more than a moderate day’s journey by land.

2. The halt at Ptolemais. Not to examine into either the antiquities or the splendours of the town, though in respect of both it was then worthy of attention. Given to Asher at the conquest (Judges 1:31-32), Acco, the original name of Ptolemais, had never been completely cleared of the Canaanites, but remained in possession of the Phœnicians, till taken by Shalmaneszer of Assyria. In B.C. 333 it passed into the hands of Alexander the Great, and from his, when his dominions were divided among his generals, into those of Ptolemy in B.C. 320, who, having greatly enlarged and beautified it, called it Ptolemais. Ultimately it fell beneath the yoke of the Romans, and received further embellishment at the hands of Herod. At the time of Paul’s visit it had been raised to the rank of a Roman colony and must have been a splendid city (see Picturesque Palestine, 3:87–89). Yet none of these things attracted the apostle. What tempted him to linger a day within its borders was a desire to meet with the Christian disciples who were to be found here also as at Tyre.

3. The walk from Ptolemais to Cæsarea. The distance extended to nearly forty miles; while the route lay along the coast and round the head of Carmel. Why the travellers footed this instead of sailing cannot with certainty be said. The apostle may have deemed it better to hurry on overland than wait for the sailing of his ship (if it was going further) or (if it were not) for the finding of another.

4. The arrival at Philip’s house. This Philip was the Jerusalem deacon (Acts 6:5), who, following the example of his brilliant colleague Stephen, became an eloquent preacher of the gospel in Samaria (Acts 8:5), and after being used by the Spirit for the conversion of the Eunuch (Acts 8:26), was last heard of as publishing the good news in all the cities on the coast northwards from Azotus (Acts 8:40), till he came to Cæsarea, where he finally settled, and for nearly twenty-five years fulfilled the office of an evangelist. When Paul in A.D. 58, paid his third visit to the town, Philip had four grown up and unmarried daughters endowed with the prophetic spirit (Acts 2:17)—i.e., who gave inspired utterances and expositions of Christian truth, and also foretold future events. Whether they joined (Spence) or did not join (Hackett) Agabus in predicting Paul’s approaching captivity is unrecorded; but Luke represents Paul and his companions as having been so pleased with their reception and entertainment in Philip’s family circle that they “tarried there many days,” perhaps longer than they at first intended. Luke himself must have here for the first time met Philip, who would no doubt supply him with much of the information about himself and others which appears in the earlier chapters of the Acts.

II. The warning renewed in Philip’s house.—

1. The person of the speaker. A certain prophet from Judea, named Agabus, most likely the same who fourteen years before in Antioch had predicted the coming of a famine (Acts 11:28), though otherwise unknown. God often sends important communications through obscure messengers.

2. The symbolic action. Having found his way into Philip’s house, he laid hold of Paul’s girdle—i.e., the sash wherewith in Oriental countries the flowing robes were tied round the waist, and with it bound in succession first his own hands and then his own feet—after the manner of the Old Testament seers (see “Critical Remarks”).

3. The prophetic utterance. “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.” Agabus distinctly claimed to speak with divine authority, and Paul accepted his announcement as such. Besides solemnly confirming what Paul had previously heard at Tyre, the language of Agabus explained the exact nature of the peril which now threatened the apostle. Under some grave charge not revealed he would be delivered over by his countrymen into the hands of the Roman Government.

4. The friendly appeal. When Paul’s companions and the inmates of Philip’s house, with probably other Christians came to hear of Agabus’s prediction, they entreated their beloved teacher not to proceed to Jerusalem. Agabus, it will be observed, did not join in this entreaty, though the Tyrian disciples did (Acts 21:4)—which shows that most likely these last overstepped the limits of what the Spirit had revealed to them (see “Critical Remarks”). The parallel between Christ and Paul, who were both dissuaded—the former by Peter (Matthew 16:22), the latter by his friends—from going to Jerusalem to suffer, is too apparent to escape notice.

5. The heroic response. “What are ye doing? thus weeping and breaking mine heart,” etc. The apostle, with a fortitude which resembled that of his Master, gave his friends to understand that he perfectly realised the situation, and accepted it with unreserved submission, that he felt ready to face the worst at Jerusalem for his Master’s sake, that death itself had no terrors for him, and that their tearful entreaties would have no effect in keeping him back from the fate which he saw impending. The course he was pursuing had been adopted under the Spirit’s guidance, and aimed at the glory of Jesus and the furtherance of the gospel, by publishing once more the tidings in the Metropolis at the most numerously attended of all the feasts, and by seeking fresh recognition from the mother Church for his Gentile mission. Hence he could not flinch; their tears and entreaties, therefore, only rendered his separation from them the more acutely painful. When he said they were breaking his heart, he did not mean that they were lacerating his soul by conjuring up before him the bonds and afflictions” that awaited him, since he could truthfully affirm none of these things moved him, but that it broke his heart to be obliged to witness their grief and resist their weeping and supplication.

6. The submissive acquiescence. When his friends perceived that he could not be persuaded they desisted, saying: “The will of the Lord be done!”—borrowing their expression, it has been conjectured, from the Master’s prayer, which by this time had attained to familiar and perhaps daily use among Christians. If there is a time to speak there is also a time to be silent, and this was one.


1. The variety of offices in the Christian Church—evangelists, prophets, apostles.
2. The value of dramatic action in preaching.
3. The calm heroism of him who walks in the way of duty.
4. The preference a good man should give to duty over life itself.
5. The necessity laid on Christians to acquiesce in their Master’s will.


Acts 21:8. Philip of Cæsarea.

I. Not an apostle like his namesake of Bethsaida (John 1:44), but a deacon like his gifted colleague Stephen (Acts 6:6).

II. Not a pastor of a Church like James the brother of Our Lord (Galatians 2:9), but an evangelist like Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5).

III. Not a celibate like Paul (1 Corinthians 7:8 (?)), but a married man like Peter (Mark 1:30).

IV. Not a wandering missionary like Paul, but a preacher of the gospel having a fixed centre from which to evangelise.

Acts 21:9. Virgins which did prophesy; or, the place of Woman in the Christian Church. The fact here stated proves—

I. That woman has an equal standing in the Church with man.—In Christ there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28).

II. That woman equally with man is susceptible of receiving the highest spiritual endowments.—Examples in Hebrew Church—Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), Anna (Luke 2:36). In the New Testament Church Philip’s daughters stand alone.

III. That though woman was not intended to rule in the Church of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:12), nothing hinders her from exercising her gifts as a preacher of the truth (see Acts 18:26; and 1 Corinthians 11:5). As a possessor of the truth she is equally with man under obligation to disseminate it; and if God has endowed her with the gift of sweet speech there appears no sound reason why that gift should not be utilised for such a holy purpose.

IV. That the number of women called of God and the Spirit to this work will most likely always be few.—This a warrantable deduction from the exceptional character of the present instance.

V. That woman may be equally helpful to the cause of Christ in other ways than by prophesying.—Like Dorcas (Acts 9:39), Phebe (Romans 16:1), Mary (Romans 16:6), and others.

Acts 21:10. The Prophet Agabus; or, comfort for obscure men.

I. Obscure men are all known to God.—Simon, the Joppa tanner, was as well known as Peter the apostle; and Ananias of Damascus as Saul the emissary of the Sanhedrim.

II. Obscure men may become vessels of Divine grace.—“Not many mighty, not many wise, not many noble, but God hath chosen the poor of this world rich in faith.

III. Obscure men may be employed on great missions.—Ahijah the Shilonite predicted the rending of the kingdom from Rehoboam and the elevation of Jeroboam to the throne of Israel (1 Kings 11:29-31). Humble shepherds were made the first preachers of the Incarnation (Luke 2:17). Agabus announced to Paul his impending imprisonment.

IV. Obscure men may eventually come to high renown.—The name of Agabus is for ever associated with that of Paul; the names of the humblest believers will for ever be connected with that of Christ.

Acts 21:12-13. The great Modern Counterpart of Paul—Martin Luther. “When he entered a town the people flocked together to see the wonderful man who was so brave and who dared make a stand against the Pope and all the world that held him to be a God in opposition to Christ. Some gave him poor comfort, telling him that, because there were so many cardinals and bishops at Worms at the Diet, he would speedily be burned to powder, as Huss had been at Constance. But Luther answered such men as follows: “And if they should build a fire between Wittenberg and Worms that would reach to heaven, in the Lord’s name I would appear and step into Behemoth’s mouth, between his great teeth, and confess Christ and let Him do His pleasure.” (Frederick Myconius: quoted by Hagenbach: History of the Reformation, i. 133) … “Spalatin also, the court preacher of the Elector of Saxony, and the intimate friend of Luther, advised him by a post messenger, that he must not go immediately to Worms. It was then that Luther uttered his ever memorable speech: “And if there were as many devils at Worms as there are tiles upon the roofs, I would go thither” (Hagenbach, Ibid., pp. 133, 134).

Acts 21:13. Paul’s Sacrifices in the Cause of Christ.

1. Of ease. Recount his labours. Contrast them with ours.
2. Of friendship. A warm-hearted man who delighted to love and to be be loved. Sacrificed his affections at the shrine of duty. We must not allow the influence either of our relatives or of our friends to interfere with our supreme devotion to the cause of Christ.
3. Of liberty. Value of liberty. Paul was capable of appreciating it, and did appreciate it highly. Was willing to forfeit it, and did forfeit it. His imprisonment was overruled for good. It is scarcely possible that any of us should be, in our own country at least, literally a prisoner for Christ We may be exposed to social and political disadvantages. We ought to be willing to bear them.
4. Of life. The highest proof of devotion to any cause. Paul gave it. The fact was in his case a confirmation of the truth of the religion he professed. It was, at all events, a proof of his own sincerity. A willingness to die for the cause of Christ is the best preparation for all minor trials.—G. Brooks.

Acts 21:14. “The Will of the Lord be done!

I. A prayer put into the Christian’s mouth by Christ (Matthew 6:10).

II. A precept for the Christian, illustrated by Christ (Matthew 26:42).

III. A pattern of Christ that should be followed by His servants.

Or thus:—

I. A vow of becoming obedience.

II. A confession of believing submission.

III. A declaration of holy courage (Leonhard and Spiegel, from Lange).

Christian Resignation.

I. Enjoined and illustrated by Christ.
II. Exemplified and recommended by Paul and his friends.
III. Approved and rewarded by God.

Acts 21:11. Lessons from Paul’s Girdle.

I. Apostolic fidelity.—Christian ministers, like Paul, are bound to be faithful to their Lord.

II. Apostolic trial.—Christian ministers, if faithful, may expect, like Paul, to experience the hatred of the world.

III. Apostolic zeal.—Christian ministers, like Paul, should always be ready for whatever suffering or duty lies before them (from Gerok).

The True Bonds of a Christian.

I. Not the bonds of his own flesh and blood, which he has torn asunder by the power of the Spirit.
II. Not the bonds of human force and enmity, which cannot injure him contrary to the will of God.
III. Not the bonds of brotherly love and friendship, for whosoever loveth brethren or sisters more than the Lord is not worthy of Him.
IV. But only the bonds of love to his Lord, to whom he is bound in grateful love and childlike fidelity, even unto death (Gerok, in Lange).

Acts 21:13-14. The Heroism of Paul; A study for the followers of Christ.

I. The splendour of his heroism.—Exhibited in—

1. The calm courage he displayed in the prospect of death.—“I am ready not to be bound only, but to die also at Jerusalem.” This utterance was not made—

(1) In ignorance of what suffering and death was. Paul and misfortune had been companions for many years. For twenty years he had been an object of unsleeping persecution, had experienced every sort of calamity, and had more than once been in the grips of death (2 Corinthians 11:23).

(2) In secret expectation that both might be escaped. Paul had no such hope or expectation. Already it had been too clearly signified to him that “bonds and imprisonment awaited him.” Agabus’s words, too, left no loophole for escape.
(3) In a feeling of despair, because he saw that evasion was impossible. On the contrary, humanly speaking, Paul perceived that the only thing necessary in order to escape was to keep away from Jerusalem, renounce his mission, cast off Christianity, and go back to the fold he had left. The Jews would receive him with open arms.

(4) In a spirit of braggadocio. Like Peter, to gain for himself a reputation for valour, with no real intention of ever fulfilling his words. Paul maintained the same intrepidity before Festus (Acts 25:11), and in writing to the Philippians from Cæsarea (Philippians 2:17). Later he exhibited the same spirit when sending an epistle to Timothy from Rome (2 Timothy 4:6).

2. The triumphant victory over the prospect of death which he obtained. Not only was he calm and unmoved in the contemplation of his arrest and execution, but as it were death was so overcome that it could not hinder him from thinking about the interests of others. One would naturally have expected that with the prospect of bonds and imprisonment before him, although externally unperturbed, he would be inwardly sad and occupied with his own misfortunes. But he was not. The grief of his friends even could not thrust him in upon himself. How like his master who, when in the agonies of death, prayed for His murderers, pardoned the robber and cared for His mother! How like Stephen, who, with his latest breath, interceded for his assassins! And since then men have sometimes been found over whose heroic spirits death had no power.

II. The secret of his heroism.

1. Love to the Lord Jesus Christ. Between Paul and Jesus Christ existed such a bond of personal love and devotion as has probably never since existed. Paul’s individuality was almost swallowed up in Christ. “Not I, but Christ liveth in me!” “To me to live is Christ!” Paul had such a conception of Christ’s love to him—“He loved me and gave Himself for me”—that it kindled in him a responsive flame of affection that wellnigh consumed him. “The love of Christ constraineth us!” And there is no consideration or force that will transform a man into a hero sooner than this.

2. Love for the souls of men. When Paul said “for the name of the Lord Jesus” he practically meant “for the gospel’s sake,” which again signified, “for the souls of men.” He wanted to go to Jerusalem to preach to his countrymen at Pentecost, and was willing to face bonds, imprisonment, and death for so sacred a cause. This the next strongest force to the love of Christ. Paul was willing to die for the gospel, not because it was the highest philosophy, or divinest theology, but because it was the power of God unto salvation to every one who believed.

Verses 15-25


Acts 21:15. We took up our carriages, or things to be carried (see Judges 18:21).—ἀποσκευασάμενοι. The reading of the Received text should be translated, having packed away our baggage—i.e., the superfluous part of it (Olshausen); or having discharged our baggage—i.e., unpacked the matters necessary for our journey to Jerusalem. But the best reading, ἐπισκευασάμενοι, signifies, having packed up our baggage, and so made ourselves ready for the journey to Jerusalem (Hackett, Alford, Holtzmann, and others).

Acts 21:16. An old, better, an early disciple.—i.e., one who had long been a disciple, having been probably converted on the day of Pentecost. Whether the Cæsarean brethren brought Mnason with them to Jerusalem (Calvin, Beza, Plumptre), or brought Paul to Mnason at Jerusalem (Bengel, Olshausen, Meyer, De Wette, Holtzmann) is uncertain. Both translations are admissible. Mnason was of Cyprus, and therefore a countryman of Barnabas (Acts 4:36).

Acts 21:17. The brethren were not the Church or the apostles (Kuinoel), but private Christians, such as Mnason and others (Wendt, Holtzmann, Hackett, and others).

Acts 21:18. James.—See on Acts 12:17, Acts 15:13. The apostles, not mentioned, may by this time have been dispersed from Jerusalem, while some may have been dead. The Jerusalem Church was manifestly presided over by James and the elders.

Acts 21:19. Particularly, what things, or one by one, each of the things which.—Compare Acts 15:4; Acts 15:12. That nothing is here said about the delivering up of the collections for the poor saints at Jerusalem has been explained by supposing that the “we” sources were no more at the author’s command, but may be satisfactorily accounted for by assuming that Luke did not consider this necessary to be stated. It is perfectly arbitrary to assert that—in order, shall it be said, to guarantee the apostle’s good faith?—information should have been given about the final disposition of those contributions which the apostle had been collecting, and with which he hoped to appease the irritated minds of his Jewish brethren (Holtzmann).

Acts 21:20. They glorified the Lord—Rather, God (as in Galatians 1:24), on Paul’s account, and not as if they themselves did not share in the general suspicion or anxiety (Holtzmann), but more likely as if they were somewhat troubled about the inferences that were being publicly drawn from Paul’s Gentile mission—called his attention to the many thousands, or myriads, of Jewish Christians, not in the world (Overbeck), but in Jerusalem and Judaea (Wendt, Zöckler), who were all (not “some “as in Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5) zealous, not of, but for the law, as Paul himself had formerly been (Galatians 1:14).

Acts 21:21. That thou teachest all to forsake Moses.—Lit., that thou teachest apostasy from Moses. The allegation contained an element of truth in so far as it was undoubtedly Paul’s aim to persuade his countrymen to embrace the gospel, and in so far as their reception of the gospel would in due course emancipate them from the bondage of the law; but it was not Paul’s object or business to inculcate on Jewish Christians the discontinuance of either circumcision or the ritual of Moses. (See further in “Homiletical Analysis.”)

Acts 21:22. The multitude (or a crowd, πλῆθος, without the article) must needs come together.—The best MSS. omit this clause along with γὰρ, for, and read, they will certainly hear that thou art come.

Acts 21:23. We have four men.—The clause shows how closely the Jerusalem Church adhered to the ritual of Moses. That the vow, taken by the men, was that of the Nazarite is suggested by the reference to shaving the head.

Acts 21:24. Purify thyself with them and bear charges with, rather, for them.—James, who gave this advice, was himself a Nazarite—“Drank no wine nor strong drink, neither did he eat flesh. No razor ever touched his head; he did not anoint himself with oil; he did not use the bath.… He would enter into the temple alone, and there be found kneeling on his knees and asking forgiveness for the people; so that his knees grew hard like a camel’s knees, because he was ever upon them worshipping God and asking forgiveness for the people” (Euseb, Hist., Acts 2:23). The term for a Nazarite vow, though not prescribed by the law, was usually thirty days; but Jewish practice had rendered it possible for one who could not undertake a vow for so long a time to join in with another in the last days of his Nazaritic period on condition of bearing all the temple charges for offerings for himself and that other. The Jews considered it a specially meritorious act to assist a poor Nazarite in this manner. Agrippa I., on obtaining the sovereignty of Palestine, paid the expense of numerous indigent Nazarites who were waiting to be released from their vows (Jos., Ant., XIX. vi. 1). As Paul was a poor man, it is supposed he paid, or proposed to pay, the charges for the Nazarites out of the Gentile contributions which he brought for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Ramsay challenges the statement that Paul was a poor man, and suggests that the charges here specified, as well as the cost of his subsequent trial, were borne out of his own patrimonial estate, or hereditary property (St. Paul the Traveller, etc., pp. 310 ff). All may know should be all shall know.

Acts 21:25. The best MSS. omit the clause that they observe no such thing. This reference to the apostolic decrees confirms the credibility of the account in chap. 15.


With James and the Elders at Jerusalem; or, Mistaken Counsels

I. Paul’s journey to the capital.

1. The point of departure. Cæsarea; the abode of Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8), the city of Cornelius (Acts 10:1), the scene of Herod’s death (Acts 12:19-23) and of Paul’s subsequent imprisonment (Acts 23:31-35). The apostle little dreamt, on leaving Cæsarea, that before many days had passed he would return to it a prisoner, though, had he foreseen such, the knowledge would hardly have discomposed him (Acts 21:13). Paul one of those heroic spirits that rise superior to external circumstances, and when confronted by extremest danger “forget they ever heard the name of death” (Shakespeare).

2. The time of departure. After the interview with Agabus. The pathetic scene with the disciples (Acts 21:12-14), and in particular the courageous declaration of Paul, not to mention other reasons, clearly rendered it impossible for him to remain longer at Cæsarea. Had he done so, even the disciples might have begun to think, if not to say, when they recalled his spirited utterance—“These be brave words, O Paul! but where is thy performance?” And Paul was not the man to suffer any one to charge him with either timidity or inconsistency.

3. The manner of departure. With “carriages” or things to be carried—i.e., baggage taken up—this including both articles necessary for the journey and the gifts Paul was bearing to the poor saints in Jerusalem. Paul’s anticipations of sorrow for himself had no power to make him forget the contributions he had gathered for the needs of others. Paul was ever a rare example of self-forgetfulness.

II. Paul’s travelling companions.

1. Those who had accompanied him from Asia. Whether all the seven mentioned in Acts 20:4 (Besser), or only Trophimus, Aristarchus, and Luke is debatable, though the latter opinion is the more probable.

2. Certain disciples from Cœsarea. Most likely Gentile converts, though they may have been Jewish Christians travelling to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Pentecost. Wherever Paul went his noble personality, rendered more magnetic by the grace of God that was in him, drew around him circles of friends, and grappled them to his bosom as with hooks of steel. The time had not yet arrived when all men would forsake him (2 Timothy 4:16) as they had formerly forsaken his Master (Matthew 26:56).

3. Mnason, an old or “early” disciple—i.e., one who had long been a Christian, having been (it may be supposed) one of the first converts, gathered into the Christian fold on the day of Pentecost. A native of Cyprus like Barnabas, he may also have been one of those “men of Cyprus” who came to Antioch and were among the first to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 11:20). Whether he lived at Cyprus but possessed a house as well in Jerusalem, or usually resided in Jerusalem but had been visiting at Cæsarea and was now returning home, or had not been to Cæsarea at all, but was still in Jerusalem, and Paul (according to another translation) was being conducted to him, are points concerning which no authoritative decision can be given. The one clear fact is that Paul and his companions obtained a lodging in Mnason’s house, presumably because in the state of public feeling among Jewish Christians concerning Paul’s Gentile mission, it might have been difficult, if not dangerous, to seek accommodation for him with one of these.

III. Paul’s arrival in the city.

1. The date. That he reached Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost is apparent. His departure from Philippi took place after the days of unleavened bread, since then he had been occupied in travelling as under:—

From Philippi to Troas (Acts 20:6)

5 days.

Where he abode

7 days.

From Troas to Miletus (Acts 20:13-15)

4 days.

Where he stayed (say)

3 days.

From Miletus to Patara (Acts 21:1)

3 days.

From Patara to Tyre (say)

4 days.

Where he remained (Acts 21:4)

7 days.

From Tyre to Ptolemais (Acts 21:7)

1 days.

From Ptolemais to Cæsarea (Acts 21:8)

2 days.

Where he halted (Acts 21:10, say)

6 days.

From Cæsarea to Jerusalem

2 days.

In all

44 days.

If to this be added six for the days of unleavened bread (Acts 20:6), the total of fifty will be obtained, which is the interval between Passover and Pentecost.

2. His reception. The brethren—i.e., the private Christians (among them Mnason and his friends) to whom his coming was made known welcomed him and his companions gladly—Mnason to his house and all of them to their hearts. Sympathising fervently with Paul’s missionary enterprise they rejoiced to see him home again with tidings from the regions beyond.

IV. Paul’s interview with the Church leaders.—

1. Fraternal greetings. As on a former occasion (Acts 18:22), Paul saluted or embraced the recognised heads of the Christian community, who had convened to accord him welcome. These were James the brother of Our Lord—not James the younger (Hackett)—who, ten or eleven years later, suffered martyrdom as a believer in Jesus of Nazareth, by being hurled from the pinnacle of the temple and despatched by stoning (Euseb., H. E., Acts 2:23); and the elders or spiritual rulers, overseers, presbyters of the various congregations in Jerusalem. That none of the apostles are mentioned as having been present suggests that none of them at that time resided in the Holy City. Some may have set forth on missionary tours, while others may have “departed to be with Christ, which is far better.”

2. Glowing recitals. Salutations over, the apostle, as he had done on returning from his first missionary tour (Acts 14:27), declared particularly or rehearsed one by one the things which God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry—noting specially his hearing of Apollos (Acts 18:24), meeting with John’s disciples (Acts 19:1), and successful preaching (Acts 19:20) in Ephesus; his journey to Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 20:1-2); with the various incidents that occurred on the homeward route, in Troas (Acts 20:9), at Miletus (Acts 20:17), in Tyre (Acts 21:4), and at Cæsarea (Acts 21:8). More might be done to deepen the home Church’s interest in the missionary enterprise by returned missionaries, were they to lay before their Christian brethren, in fitting language, the story of what God is at present doing among the heathen.

3. Fervent thanksgivings. When the assembled elders had listened to the thrilling narrative, they glorified God for having raised up such a veteran missionary within the Church, and for having performed, through his instrumentality, such wonders of grace among the Gentiles (compare Acts 4:21, Acts 11:18). Henceforth they could entertain no doubt or suspicion, more of the earnestness of the man or of the Divine authority of his mission; and whatever friction may have previously existed between the apostle and the Jerusalem leaders, at this moment it had disappeared. The anti-Gentile spirit, if it slumbered in the Church of the Metropolis, which is doubtful, was not shared in by its rulers.

4. Mistaken counsels.

(1) The circumstances out of which these arose were two; the multitudes (myriads or tens of thousands) of Jewish Christians from all parts of the world, who were then present in the Holy City, and the misconception under which they laboured of Paul’s work, which they imagined to be a crusade against circumcision and the customs of Moses, when it was no such thing. Certainly Paul taught the Gentiles that circumcision and the customs of Moses were not required for a sinner’s justification so that the Gentiles had no need to embrace these with a view to salvation. To the Jews among the Gentiles—i.e., to the Jewish Christians he explained that even for them circumcision and the customs of Moses formed no ground of acceptance before God; but he never insisted on the discontinuance, by Jewish Christians, of either circumcision or the customs. Doubtless Jewish Christians, who came to understand the complete religious worthlessness of circumcision, and the customs as mere external performances, would gradually lay these aside; and so the notion might (and probably did) diffuse itself that Paul directly aimed at this result by means of his gospel. It was of course an error fitted to be hurtful.

(2) The motive which dictated the advice given by James and the elders was unquestionably good. They desired, if possible, to disabuse the public mind of the unjust suspicions it entertained of Paul’s Hebrew orthodoxy, and to remove every stumbling block out of the way of his ministerial usefulness among his countrymen. On this principle Paul himself was always prepared to act (1 Corinthians 9:20).

(3) The advice itself ran that Paul should associate himself with four poor Christian Jews who had taken on themselves Nazarite vows, which required them to let their hair grow, to abstain from intoxicating liquor, and generally to lead ascetic lives for a period usually of thirty days, from which vows they could not be released without the presentation in the temple of certain specified offerings (Numbers 6:1-21). It was suggested that Paul should, according to a custom then prevailing, join himself to these four men during the last seven days of their vow, should along with them abstain from wine, and lot his hair grow; and that at the end of these days he and they should shave their heads, while he paid for the necessary offerings to clear himself and them—again after the manner of pious Jews of a wealthier sort, who were accustomed thus to assist their poorer brethren. James and the elders believed that by so doing Paul would demonstrate to his excited countrymen that there was no truth in the information they had received, and that he, Paul, was as good and orderly a Jew as any one among themselves. To the suggestion of this course they may have felt prompted by remembering that Paul had once at least before at Cenchrea undertaken a similar vow (Acts 18:18).

(4) The consideration by which James and the elders hoped to urge this course upon the apostle was that they had gone a long way in making concessions to the Gentiles, having written and concluded or given judgment, that they, the Gentiles, should observe no such thing as circumcision and the customs of Moses, but only that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols and from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication.

(5) Nevertheless the advice was a mistake. What it recommended, if carried out, as it was, might not have been sinful in itself or unlawful for Paul from his point of view (1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 10:23), but it was certainly of doubtful policy as tending to confirm Jewish Christians in the idea that Paul did regard the law as in some fashion indispensable for salvation, while in point of fact he did not, and practically worthless, since it neither effected what they hoped for, nor averted what they feared, neither allayed the groundless suspicions against Paul, nor prevented an outbreak of hostility against him (Acts 21:28).


1. The lawfulness of Christian prudence—exemplified in lodging Paul with Mnason.
2. The duty of Christian brotherly kindness—illustrated in Paul’s reception by the Christians of Jerusalem and the leaders of the Church there.
3. The doubtfulness even of Christian compromises—as seen in the course recommended by James and followed by Paul.


Acts 21:16. An Old Disciple.—Exemplified in Mnason of Cyprus.

I. A striking proof of Divine faithfulness.—In preserving Mnason to be a Christian of long standing.

II. A satisfying evidence of the reality and power of religion.—Had Mnason not found it so, he had not adhered to it so long.

III. A precious storehouse of Christian experience.—One who has long been a disciple must have learnt much of the secret of the Lord.

IV. A possible instrument of valuable service.—To the Church and the world. As there are tasks that can better be performed by young believers, so there are offices that can be more efficiently filled by aged disciples.

V. A deserving object of Christian honour and esteem.—If the hoary head is entitled to respect and veneration, much more is it so when found in the way of righteousness.

VI. A Christian pilgrim drawing near the better land.—Heaven may be near the young believer, it never can be far off from the old disciple.

Acts 21:17-20. A Foreign Missionary’s Return.

I. The welcome he received.—Joyful.

II. The salutation he brought.—Peace.

III. The story he told.—The triumphs of the cross.

IV. The enthusiasm he enkindled—They glorified God.

Acts 21:20-24. Concessions to Weak Brethren.

I. Legitimate.

1. When they can be made without violating conscience—i.e., when they refer to things indifferent.

2. When they help to remove stumbling-blocks out of the weak brother’s way.
3. When they assist in promoting peace.

II. Illegitimate.—

1. When, though right in themselves, they tend to mislead the weak brother by causing him to think his position only right.
2. When adopted more from a desire of peace than with a view to promote what is right.
3. When they are calculated to offend as many as they please.

Acts 21:21-24. The World’s Misrepresentations of the Followers of Christ.

I. Are frequently wide-spread.
II. Mostly have nothing in them.
III. Always are difficult to remove.
IV. Seldom get corrected by compromise.

Acts 21:26. Doubtful Actions; or, the inconsistencies of great and good men.

I. State the case referred to.—Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem; welcome from the brethren; meeting with the elders and James. James’s proposal and the reason of it. Danger apprehended from probable suspicions of Jewish Christians. Paul’s adoption of the course recommended, and joining of himself with the four men who had a vow.

II. Was this action wrong?—Consider—

1. How it may have looked to James.

(1) Unless James had deemed the course recommended legitimate it may be assumed he would not have made the proposal.
(2) James’s motives were unquestionably right—to ensure Paul’s safety by disarming the hostility of the Jews; to gain a hearing from his co-religionists for Paul’s gospel; to set the apostle right with the Jewish Christians.
(3) Yet the course recommended may have been wrong, though the course itself may have appeared right and the motives prompting it may have been good.
2. How it may have looked to Paul.

(1) Of great importance to allay the wide-spread suspicion that was abroad concerning him, and to gain a hearing for the gospel.
(2) No small matter to disabuse the minds of his weaker brethren of their misconceptions concerning himself and his mission.

(3) Not against his principles to take a vow, since he had done so at Cenchrea (Acts 18:18).

(4) In harmony with his conduct in circumcising Timothy (Acts 16:3).

(5) Not inconsistent with his refusal to perform the same rite on Titus (Galatians 2:3).

(6) Not the same as Peter’s eating with the Gentiles at Antioch and then withdrawing (Galatians 2:11-12).

(7) It was only a carrying out of Paul’s principle of becoming all things to all men to gain some (1 Corinthians 9:20, etc.).

3. How it may look to some still.

(1) Of doubtful morality. Not that to recommend or adopt such a course of action was wrong; but that being liable to misconstruction it should neither have been recommended nor adopted without serious consideration. Neither Paul nor James believed that observance of the moral law was indispensable for salvation; but what about the multitude of Jews? Would they not reason, that if Paul observed the customs they must be absolutely binding on the conscience?
(2) Of doubtful expediency. It was meant to save Paul, but did not; intended to gain the Jews, but did not; designed to recommend Christianity; but is it certain it did not rather confirm the Jews, both Hebrew and Christian, in the notion of the permanent obligation of the law of Moses?

III. Lessons from the story.—

1. Compromises are seldom successful.
2. Good men may give bad advice and take false steps.
3. The short road to victory is ever steadfast adherence to principle.

Note.—“Surely these records of the ‘Acts,’ with their unflinching truth, speak with a strange mighty power to us after all these ages. We feel, while we read of the awful fall and miserable death of one of the Twelve (Acts 1:16-20); of the sin and punishment of two of the most notable believers of the first age (Acts 5:1-11); of the jealous murmuring and discontent of the poor saints (Acts 6:1); of the failure in courage of Mark and the bitter quarrel of two of the most prominent Christian leaders (Acts 15:38-40); and here of this doubtful compromise of Paul and James that we have before us a real picture, painted from life, of the Church of the first days, by one who never shrinks to paint the errors, the faults, and the grievous mistakes of even the most distinguished of the first believers.”—Spence.

Verses 26-40


Acts 21:26. Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself, might read took the men the next day, and having purified himself, not by performing the ordinary ablutions required before entering the temple (Howson), but by entering with them upon the same course of dedication. To signify (better, declaring) the accomplishment of the days of purification.—I.e., either that the days were fulfilled and the time come for the four men to be released from their vows (Wieseler, Conybeare and Howson); or, better, announcing his intention to fulfil along with them the (seven) days which by the law must precede the termination of the vow (Alford, Hackett, Plumptre, Spence, Holtzmann and others).

Acts 21:27. Seven days was the ordinary period for the most solemn purifications (Exodus 29:37; Leviticus 12:2; Leviticus 13:6; Numbers 12:14; Numbers 19:14). Of these seven days Paul observed only two, or at least four, as appears from Acts 24:11 (see “Critical Remarks”), which shows the interval between Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem and his speech before Felix was only twelve days. When his arrest took place the seven days were “almost ended”—i.e., they were not completed when he was apprehended. In the temple meant most likely in the court of the women, afterwards called this holy place (Acts 21:28), into which no foreigner was permitted to enter under pain of death. “This court was four square, and had a wall about it peculiar to itself.” There was also a stone partition all round, three cubits high, whose construction was very elegant, and upon which stood pillars at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek and some in Roman letters, that “No foreigner should go within that sanctuary” (Jos., Wars, V. Acts 21:2, VI. ii. 4). The correctness of this statement, which was long disputed, has been recently confirmed by Monsieur Clermont Ganneau’s discovery of one of those prohibitory notices, with an inscription in Greek, of which the following is a translation: No foreigner to proceed within the partition wall and enclosure around the sanctuary; whoever is caught in the same will on that account be liable to incur death” (Recent Discoveries on the Temple Hill, p. 134).

Acts 21:30. They took, or laid hold on Paul.—Baur and Holtzmann regard it as improbable that these Jews, among whom doubtless were many zealots for the Messiah’s faith and for the law, should have seized Paul when engaged in the performance of a pious work of the law, and accordingly reject this story as unhistorical. But why should fanatical Jews always have acted in logically and religiously consistent fashion, when enlightened and sober-minded Christians do not? The doors were most probably the gates which led into the women’s court.

Acts 21:31. The chief captain of the band.—The chiliarch, or military tribune of the cohort, whose name was Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:26), resided in the Castle of Antonia, a gigantic fortress on a rock or hill, about eighty-five feet high, at the north-west angle of the temple area, which communicated with its northern and western porticoes, “and had flights of stairs descending into both, by which the garrison could at any time enter the court of the temple and prevent tumults” (Robinson, Biblical Researches, I., p. 432. Compare Josephus, Wars, V. Acts 21:8).

Acts 21:33. Two chains.—I.e., bound by a chain to a soldier on each side (compare Acts 12:6).

Acts 21:34. Into the castle.—More correctly, into the camp or barracks attached to the tower.

Acts 21:36. Away with him.—Compare Acts 22:22; Luke 23:18; John 19:15.

Acts 21:37. Canst thou speak Greek?—Lit., dost thou know Greek? Ἑλληνιστὶ γινώσκεις. Compare Græce nescire in Cicero (Pro. Flac., 4) and τοὺς Συριστὶ ἐπισταμένους in Xenophon (Cyrop., VII. Acts 21:31).

Acts 21:38. That (or, the) Egyptian.—Josephus (Wars, II., xiii, 5) mentions an Egyptian, a false prophet, who, having deluded thirty thousand men, led them round about from the Wilderness to the Mount of Olives with the view of breaking into Jerusalem from that place, and states that Felix, having fallen upon them, either destroyed or captured alive the greater portion of his followers, and dispersed the rest, while he himself escaped with a small number. In another account (Ant., XX. viii. 6) the Jewish historian says that this Egyptian went to Jerusalem and advised the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives, which they did in vast crowds, he promising to show them the walls of Jerusalem fall down at his command; and that Felix sallied out against them with a great company of horsemen and footmen, slew four hundred, and made two hundred prisoners, but did not capture the Egyptian, who escaped. Tholuck (Glaubwürdigkeit, p. 169) has shown how the variations in Josephus’s story may be harmonised; but even if they could not, they would only prove that Josephus, while substantially confirming Luke’s account, was not so accurate a historian as Paul’s friend.

Acts 21:39. Of no mean city.—Josephus (Ant., I. vi. 1) calls Tarsus the most important city in all Cilicia. “Many of the coins of Tarsus bear the title of Autonomous and Metropolis” (Hackett).

Acts 21:40. That Lysias should have given Paul licence or leave to address the people need occasion no surprise. Paul had satisfied Lysias that he was no wild revolutionary, but a peaceful Cilician; and besides, Lysias may have seen in Paul’s countenance from the first what convinced him his prisoner was no ordinary man. The Hebrew tongue, or dialect, was the Syro-Chaldaic or Aramean, as in John 5:2; John 19:13, the mother tongue of the Jews in Judæa at that time.


Arrested in the Temple; or, Long Looked for, Come at Last

I. The Apostle’s arrest

1. Where it occurred. In the temple—i.e., the temple court, into which Paul had entered, and in one of the cloisters of which he most likely stayed during the period of his purification. Perhaps at the moment he was in the court of the women (see below).

2. When it took place. On the last of the seven days (say some) when the necessary offerings were being presented for himself and the four Nazarites, but better as the seven days were running on and nearing completion, so that the offerings were not presented.

3. By whom it was instigated. By certain Jews from Asia who had been acquainted with his missionary activity in Asia Minor, and more especially in Ephesus, who had observed him in the city accompanied by Trophimus, an Ephesian, and who now lighted upon him in the temple court. Throughout the whole of his career the Jews (unbelieving) had been his persistent, unsleeping, and remorseless antagonists. The method they adopted in this instance to raise a tumult against him was effective.

(1) They laid hands on him, as if he had been an evil doer, a criminal who they purposed to hand over to the tender mercies of the law.

(2) They raised a shout against him in the temple court, which inflamed the crowd there present, and spreading abroad throughout the city, threw it into confusion, much as Ephesus had been thrown into a turmoil by the cry of Demetrius (Acts 19:29), and attracted an excited mob around the temple gates.

(3) They pointed him out as the man—the notorious fellow—who went about everywhere teaching all (men and women) against the people—i.e., of Israel—an appeal to their patriotism; against the law—i.e., of Moses—an appeal to their orthodoxy; and against this place—i.e., the temple, the holy dwelling-place of Jehovah—an appeal to their religion.

(4) They accused him, though falsely, of sacrilege—i.e., of having violated the sanctity of the holy place by bringing (as they erroneously supposed) Trophimus, the Ephesian, into not the court of the Gentiles, but the court of the women, into which none but Jews could pass under penalty of death (see “Critical Remarks”).

4. How it was effected.

(1) Tumultuously. The crowd rushed into the temple and seized the apostle’s person.
(2) Violently. They dragged him forcibly outside the sacred precincts in order that these might not be stained with his blood (compare2 Chronicles 23:14; 2 Chronicles 23:14), which they clearly intended to shed. More than likely also this was the reason why the temple gates were so expeditiously shut behind the retreating mob, in case it should return and carry out its murderous project in the holy place.

II. The Apostle’s rescue.

1. Opportune. The mode selected for the carrying out of their deadly intention was the slow one of beating (Acts 21:32), which allowed time for the information to spread and be carried to Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:26), the chief captain of the band, or military tribune (chiliarch) of the cohort, in the Tower of Antonia near by, whose business it was to quell all riots which might occur (and these were frequent) in connection with the Jewish festivals (see Jos., Ant., XX. Acts 21:3; and Wars, V. Acts 21:8). The moment, therefore, Lysias understood the situation, he ran down upon the crowd with a company of soldiers and centurions, the sight of which at once checked their blood-thirsty fury and caused them to leave off beating the apostle. Magistrates were appointed to be terrors to evil-doers (Romans 13:4), and crowds, it is well known, have a salutary fear of the ruler’s sword.

2. Incomplete. Rescued from the hands of the Jews and from the jaws of death, he was yet not set at liberty. The chiliarch commanded him (wrongfully, as he afterwards learnt, Acts 22:25), to be bound as a prisoner, with two chains, and fetched into the castle. The reason for this procedure was the impossibility of learning anything correctly from the infuriated rabble about either who the apostle was or what he had done. Those who composed that rabble could only follow after the retreating soldiers as they bore off their prisoner, and cry, “Away with him,” as their fathers had thirty years before shouted in front of Pilate’s prætorium (John 19:15). Yea, so violent did they become, that Paul might have been snatched from the soldier’s hands and lynched on the spot, had not the soldiers, to whom he was bound, lifted him into their arms or upon their shoulders and borne him up the castle stairs.

III. The Apostle’s request.

1. The preliminary conversation. When the top of the stairs had been reached, just before passing into the castle, the apostle, addressing the chief captain in Greek, solicited permission to “say something” to him. Surprised at hearing Greek on the lips of (as he supposed) a foreign Jew whom he did not expect to find a person of culture, he first asked the apostle if he knew Greek, and on receiving a reply in the affirmative, inquired further if he (the apostle) was not then (as the captain had concluded before he heard the apostle speak Greek) that Egyptian impostor—spoken of by Josephus Ant., XX. vii. 6; Wars, II. xiii. 5; see “Critical Remarks”)—who shortly before had stirred up to sedition and led out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers, literally, the four thousand men of the Sicarii or Assassins. To this, of course, Paul responded, that he was not that renowned brigand chief, but a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, and a citizen of no mean city. Honourable men are never afraid to give account of themselves and their doings.

2. The solicited permission. To address the people—which showed Paul had not parted with his courage, and was still as ready to fight with wild beasts as he had been at Ephesus (Acts 19:30; 1 Corinthians 15:32). “The request was a bold one,” write Conybeare and Howson, “and we are almost surprised that Lysias should have granted it; but there seems to have been something in St. Paul’s aspect and manner which from the first gained an influence over the mind of the Roman officer.” In another sense, the request was a comparatively harmless one, and on its being granted Paul at once moved to the stair front, and looking into the faces of the demoniac crowd, beckoned to them with his chained hand, signalling that he wished to speak. “What nobler spectacle,” exclaims Chrysostom, “than that of Paul at this moment! There he stands, bound with two chains, ready to make his defence unto the people. The Roman commander sits by, to enforce order by his presence. An enraged populace look up to him from below. Yet, in the midst of so many dangers, how self-possessed is he, how tranquil!” (quoted by Hackett). As if startled by the heroism of the man, the angry crowd forget to shout. A great silence ensues which deepens into an intenser stillness as the accents of their old Hebrew tongue fall upon their ear.


1. How unexpectedly evil may befall one. Paul, doubtless, never dreamt of being apprehended in the temple.
2. How difficult it is to quench the passion of hate in unrenewed hearts. The Jews dogged Paul’s steps like sleuth-hounds.
3. How easily a misconception may arise. Paul’s enemies had seen him and Trophimus in the city, and at once jumped to the conclusion that Paul had fetched his Greek friend into the Holy Place.
4. How quickly a lie can spread. In a few moments the slander was in possession of the town.
5. How nearly one may come to being killed and yet be rescued. A few moments longer before Lysias arrived and Paul might have been a dead man.
6. How strangely a good man may be talked of behind his back. The governor clearly had heard it said that Paul was a sort of bandit chief.
7. How bravely a Christian can comfort himself in face of peril. Not many men could have faced the mob as Paul did from the castle stairs.


Acts 21:26. Paul among the Nazarites.

I. Not as a slave of human ordinances, but in the might of evangelical liberty, which has power over all things that promote the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:12).

II. Not as a dissembler before the people, but in the ministry of brotherly love, which bears the infirmities of the weak (Romans 15:1).

III. Not as a fugitive from the cross, but in the power of apostolic obedience, which knows to deny itself from love to the Lord (Luke 9:23).

Acts 21:27. Unrealised Aims; or, man proposes but God disposes.

I. Many plans that promise well turn out ill.—The recommendation of James and the elders, and the compliance of Paul were Intended to ensure Paul’s safety, but they actually led to his arrest.

II. When a plan turns out badly it cannot be safely argued that the plan was not good.—We agree with the view which thinks James’s counsel, and Paul’s practice were not, in this instance the best—we cannot pronounce them sinful; but even had they been the wisest they might have failed.

II. The success of a plan does not necessarily demonstrate that the plan was good.—Nothing more common than for the counsels of the wicked to prosper on earth and in time, though they will eventually be overthrown.

Acts 21:27-38. The Troubles of a Good Man. Paul.

I. Doubly slandered.

1. Charged with apostasy in religion (Acts 21:28).

2. Blamed for committing sacrilege (Acts 21:28).

II. Nearly murdered.

1. Violently dragged from the court of the women (Acts 21:30).

2. Mercilessly beaten by the angry mob (Acts 21:32).

III. Innocently bound.

1. Like a dangerous criminal (Acts 21:33).

2. Though no one could tell for what (Acts 21:34).

IV. Ignorantly suspected.

1. Of being an Egyptian when he was a Jew.
2. Of being a leader of assassins when he was only a peaceful citizen.

3. Of having stirred up sedition when in truth he was a preacher of peace (Acts 21:38-39).

Acts 21:38. “Art not thou that Egyptian?” “A remarkable proof of the erroneous and absurd thoughts which the blind world entertains of the children and servants of God. They regard us as idiots, madmen, seducers, enemies of mankind, and under this form they hate us. Thus was Christ also numbered among transgressors” (Gerok in Lange).

Art not thou that Egyptian?” or, misconceptions entertained by the world concerning the followers of Christ, who are often slandered as

I. Disturbers of social order.—Paul was accused of being a brigand chief. Had often been reviled as a revolutionary. On this ground the early Christians were persecuted under the Roman emperors. Usual to accuse them as evil doers (see 1 Peter 2:12). In the days of the Stuart ascendency in our own country Nonconformists were treated as enemies of the commonwealth, because they worshipped God according to their own consciences. To-day Christians are looked upon by many, if not as open malefactors, at least as impracticable persons, who, by crying out against social evils, such as drink, gambling, licentiousness, trouble society.

II. Self-interested deceivers.—Lysias obviously thought Paul was one of this class. Christianity has often been represented as a huge imposture, a gigantic system of deception, invented by priests for their self-interest. This accusation, which was common last century, is not unknown in this. Believers are often maligned as persons who have adopted a profession of religion simply as a cloak for their covetousness. No doubt such abuses have existed and such individuals have been found in the Church; but Christianity is no invention of deceivers.

III. Hypocritical pretenders.—Giving themselves out to be “saints” when they are as wicked as other people. No doubt of some professing Christians this is true; but it is ignorant calumny to represent all as such. Still Christians should study to approve their sincerity by a holy walk and conversation.

IV. Impracticable visionaries.—Doubtless the captain considered Paul such when he fancied the apostle was that Egyptian who had been aiming at upsetting the supremacy of Rome by means of a handful of Sicarii. So the world pronounces Christians visionaries, fools, fanatics, idiots, dreamers, and such like when they talk of,

1. Applying the principles of Christianity to ordinary life;
2. Bringing the whole world round to the acceptance of Christianity; and,
3. Living for the other world rather than for this.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Acts 21". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/acts-21.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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