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Bible Commentaries
Acts 21

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-99

21:1 6 . Paul’s Voyage from Miletus, and his Stay in Tyre

1 . And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them, and had launched ] The Rev. Ver. has reproduced the Greek construction, but the sentence is not a happy one, nor the gain worth the sacrifice. “And when it came to pass that we were parted from them, and had set sail.” It gives perhaps a little more of the sense of difficulty in tearing themselves away which is in the original, but it is not what an Englishman would say.

The vessel in which they sailed from Troas to Patara seems to have been under the Apostle’s control, and they could stay wherever and as long as they pleased.

we came … Cos ] The name, sometimes spelt Coos, should be written Cos. It is a small island, now called Stanchio , on the coast of Asia Minor, just at the entrance of the Archipelago, and in old times was famous for its wines and some light-woven fabrics. There was also in the island a temple of Aesculapius to which was attached a medical school.

and the day following unto Rhodes ] In 20:15 the A. V. gave three times over “the next day,” and in each case the Greek was different, and here we have a fourth form in the original for the same sense. In one case in the former chapter the Rev. Ver. left “next day,” and they make that change here, but as the Greek is not the same it is not easy to see why the A.V. should not be left alone.

Rhodes is the famous island at the south-west extremity of Asia Minor, off the coast of Caria and Lycia. The city of Rhodes and the island of which it is the capital were famous in the times of the Peloponnesian war. It was well supplied with timber fit for shipbuilding and hence became famous for its navy, and its position has caused the island to play a conspicuous part in European history from that time onward. It was celebrated for the great Temple of the Sun, whose worship in the island is marked by the head of Apollo on the coinage. With this worship was connected the great statue known as the Colossus, which was meant as a figure of the sun, and was one of the wonders of the world. In the Roman times many privileges were granted to Rhodes by the Roman emperors, while in mediæval history this was the last Christian city which resisted the advance of the Saracens.

Patara ] This was a city on the coast of Lycia. It was devoted to the worship of Apollo, who is hence sometimes called by classical writers Patareus . The city was not far from the river Xanthus, and Patara was the port of the city of Xanthus. We can understand, therefore, why St Paul’s voyage in the coasting vessel should end here, because at such a port he would be likely to find a larger vessel to carry him to Syria.

2 . And finding a ship sailing over unto Phenicia ] Rev. Ver. literally, “ having found a ship crossing , &c.” Phœnicia was the country on the coast of the Levant, north of Palestine. It contained the important cities of Tyre and Sidon.

we went aboard, and set forth ] Rev. Ver. set sail .”

3 . Now when we had discovered Cyprus ] Rev. Ver. “And when we had come in sight of.” “Discover” has now acquired the special sense of “finding for the first time.” On Cyprus , see notes on 13:4 seqq.

we … Syria ] This was the general name for the whole district lying along the Mediterranean from Cilicia down to Egypt.

Tyre ] One of the chief ports of Phœnicia, and a city of very great antiquity. It was built partly on the mainland and partly on an island, and is often mentioned both in Scripture and in profane literature. It is noticed as a strongly fortified city as early as Joshua 19:29 . We read of its fame in the time of Solomon in connexion with the building of the temple, and Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, was the daughter of Ethbaal, called King of the Sidonians in Scripture, but in Josephus ( Ant . viii. 13, 2) King of Tyre. The city was besieged by Shalmaneser and afterwards by Nebuchadnezzar, and was captured by Alexander the Great.

Christ went on one of his journeys from Galilee into the neighbourhood of Tyre, if not to the city itself, which was about 30 miles from Nazareth, and it must have been then in much the same condition as at this visit of St Paul.

there the ship , &c.] And so most probably the further voyage to Ptolemais was made in a different vessel, this one going no farther.

4 . And finding disciples ] Better, “ And having found the disciples ” with Rev. Ver. This means the members of the Christian church of Tyre, not some disciples who by chance happened to be at Tyre. That there was already a Christian congregation there is probable from the account of the spread of the Gospel given in 11:19, and as brethren in Phœnicia are spoken of in 15:3. If there were such anywhere in that country, they would presumably be in Tyre.

we tarried there seven days ] The Apostle now finds that he can easily accomplish his journey to Jerusalem in time, and so he no longer hastens as he did when all the probable mishaps of a coasting voyage were before him.

who said to Paul through the Spirit ] Rev. Ver. and these said , &c.” The Apostle himself was urged by some inward prompting to go on to Jerusalem “not knowing what might befall him.” The Spirit warns these disciples of the dangers which would come upon him. We need not judge that these things are contrary one to the other. The Apostle knew that bonds and afflictions were to be his lot everywhere, and though the Spirit shewed to his friends that he would suffer, yet the impulse of the same Spirit urged him forward, because it was God’s will that he should suffer thus in the cause and for the greater furtherance of the gospel.

that he should not go up to Jerusalem ] The oldest texts give a reading which the Rev. Ver. represents “ should not set foot in .”

5 . And when we had accomplished those days ] Rev. Ver. very literally “ And when it came to pass that we had accomplished the days .” This means, of course, the seven days mentioned above. The verb rendered “accomplished” is very unusual in this sense, though the Vulgate explains it so, and Chrysostom gave it that meaning, so we may accept it. Some, keeping to a more common use of it “to fit out,” have proposed to understand the word “ship” as the object of it, and to render “when we had refitted (the ship) during those days.”

we departed and went our way ] Because of the word “way” coming in the next clause for different Greek, the Rev. Ver. has here “went on our journey.”

and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children ] i.e. with their wives and children, the whole Christian community escorting the Apostle to the shore. The existence of these families shews that “the disciples” (ver. 4) is required. They were the Church of Tyre.

and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed ] To follow the reading of the oldest text, the Rev. Ver. joins the construction of this verse with the following, “ and kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and bade each other farewell .” On the action cp. 20:36.

6 . The best text requires here for the last clause, “ and we went on board the ship, but they returned home again .” There is nothing in the Greek to tell us whether the ship was the same in which they had come, or not.

7 14 . Paul’s Journey to Cesarea, and his Stay there

And when … Ptolemais ] For “our course” Rev. Ver. has “the voyage” and for “came to” reads “arrived at.” For the same verb in 16:1, “came to” is left.

Ptolemais is the name given during Macedonian and Roman rule to the city anciently called Accho (Judges 1:31 ), and known in modern history as St Jean d’Acre or often simply Acre . In the earliest times it was the most important town on that portion of the coast, but at the beginning of the Christian era was far surpassed by Cæsarea, which was the residence of Herod and of the Roman governor.

and saluted the brethren ] There was therefore a Christian society in Ptolemais also. As the place lay on the great high road by the coast, it was certain to be visited by some of the earliest preachers, when the disciples were dispersed from Jerusalem after the death of Stephen.

8 . And the next day ] Rev. Ver. “And on the morrow.”

we that were of Paul’s company ] The Greek for the last five of these words is omitted in the best MSS. We can see at once how such a marginal comment, thought useful by the reader of an early MS., would be brought into the text without scruple by the next copyist.

unto Cesarea ] Though it was possible to have made this journey by sea, the verb seems rather to leave us to infer that it was a land journey. The road between the two places was of the best.

and we entered … and abode with him ] Rev. Ver. (as Greek) “ and entering … we abode , &c.” Philip is named next after Stephen in the narrative (6:5) of the choosing of the seven, and though no such prominent exhibition of his zeal is narrated as of Stephen, yet we are told, that he went away from Jerusalem and was the first to carry the Gospel to the Samaritans (Acts 8:5 ). He also was directed by the angel of the Lord to go and baptize the Ethiopian eunuch (8:16 38), thus being doubly an ambassador to the Gentiles, and earning his title of “Evangelist.” He preached afterwards at Ashdod, and from the chapter before us we may conclude that he had made his home at Cæsarea. Such a situation, the meeting-place of Gentiles with Jews, was the proper scene for such a missionary to labour in, and such a labourer would rejoice greatly to welcome to his house the great apostle who had gone forth once and again unto the Gentiles and with such mighty blessing on his work.

9 . And the same man … prophesy ] Rev. Ver. Now this man had , &c.” The family of the Evangelist were walking in their father’s steps. These daughters, instead of resting at home, took upon them the hard duty of publishing the message of the Gospel. The English word “prophesy” has come to have, since about the beginning of the seventeenth century, only the one sense of “to predict what is yet to come.” In the time of Queen Elizabeth “prophesyings” meant “preachings,” and Jeremy Taylor’s famous work on the “Liberty of Prophesying,” was written to uphold the freedom of preaching. These women were, in their degree, Evangelists also.

10 . And as we tarried there many days ] The word rendered “many” is not the one commonly so translated. It is equal to “some” as Rev. Ver. in margin, and implies that the Apostle made a suitable stay, such as was seemly with a host of such a kind.

there … Agabus ] Perhaps the same who (11:28) at Antioch foretold the coming famine. The prophets mentioned on that occasion had also come up from Jerusalem, and the name being somewhat unusual, makes the identity very probable.

11 . And when he was come … he took … and bound his own hands and feet ] The oldest MSS. have “feet and hands,” and the Rev. Ver. adopts the Greek construction, “ And coming … and taking … he bound , &c.” His adoption of this figurative action makes it almost certain that the man was a Jew. Similar actions are common with the Old Testament prophets. Thus Isaiah (20:3) walks naked and barefoot. Jeremiah (13:5) hides his girdle by the river Euphrates, and (19:10, 11) breaks the potter’s vessel in the Valley of Hinnom; Ezekiel (4:1 3) draws on a tile a picture of the siege of Jerusalem, and (5:1 4) cuts off his hair and burns and destroys it as God commanded. So too Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made horns of iron (1 Kings 22:11 ). With this act of Agabus may be compared our Lord’s words to St Peter (John 21:18 ).

The girdle was that band with which the loose Oriental robe was drawn together at the waist. It was of considerable size, and served the purposes of a pocket, the money being carried in it. To judge from the verb employed in describing the prophet’s action, it seems that St Paul had laid aside his girdle and that it was taken up by Agabus from the place where it lay.

and said … Gentiles ] That we may observe the Apostle’s zeal to carry out the Lord’s will, once more we are told how the Holy Ghost made known to him through others that he was about to be made a prisoner, and still we see him go forward unmoved, because though others might know that he was to suffer, and might in their affection strive to hold him back, he was convinced that such suffering was the Lord’s way for him, and so he went on.

12 . we, and they of that place ] We (i.e. St Luke and the rest who were his fellow-travellers) and the Christians of Cæsarea. The act of Agabus was in all probability done with some publicity.

13 . Then Paul answered. What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart ] Better (with Rev. Ver. ), “What do ye, weeping and breaking my heart?” The sentence is little more than an emphatic question, “Why do ye weep?” implying, of course, the exhortation, “Don’t weep, &c.” The verb for “break” is found only here in N. T., and signifies the weakening of purpose in any one. So the Apostle intimates not that they intended, as we should say “to break his heart” by adding to his sorrow, but to weaken his determination, and deter him from his journey.

for … Jesus ] The pronoun “I” stands emphatically in the Greek, and shews that the Apostle had long ago counted the cost of Christ’s service, and found the sufferings of this present time not worthy to be compared with the glory that was to be revealed.

14 . And … be done ] They gathered from the language of St Paul that he had a higher leading than theirs in what he was doing, and feeling that Christ’s guidance was better than any other, they quieted their minds with the thought that the work was “for the name of the Lord Jesus,” who would strengthen His servant to do His will.

15, 16 . The Journey to Jerusalem

15 . And after those days we took up our carriages ] Rev. Ver. our baggage.” In the English of the A.V. “carriages” were things which were carried. The word is found in this sense, 1 Samuel 17:22 ; Isaiah 10:28 , as well as in this passage. So in Shakespeare, and cp. Earle’s Microcosmographie (Arber), p. 41, “His thoughts are not loaden with any carriage besides.” But the use is quite lost now. The verb indicates rather “packing up” for the purpose of removal, than “taking up” in the act of moving.

16 . There went with us also … of Cesarea ] The Greek text has a conjunction to introduce the sentence, “ And there went , &c.… from Cæsarea. ” The Evangelist had formed a Church where he had settled, and the congregation were, like their teacher, concerned at St Paul’s danger, and so some went with him to Jerusalem. Perhaps the nucleus of the Church may be dated from the baptism of Cornelius, and Philip settling in Cæsarea carried on what had been begun by St Peter.

and brought with them ] There is no special word in Greek for the last two English words. The original is a participle, meaning “leading.” Therefore the Rev. Ver. renders “ bringing ,” and adds “with them” in italics. But seeing that “to lead” is “to bring somebody with you,” the A. V. seems justified in printing “with them” in Roman letters as being necessary to the sense and implied in the meaning of the verb.

one Mnason of Cyprus ] This man belonged to Cyprus, but had now his home in Jerusalem. Just as Barnabas and his sister Mary, the mother of John Mark, who were also Cypriotes, seem to have done.

an old disciple ] Rev. Ver. early .” He had become a Christian in the first days of the gospel preaching, in the beginning of the Church of Jerusalem.

with … lodge ] At such a time this was no unnecessary precaution, for at the Feast Jerusalem was certain to be full of people, and by this arrangement made in Cæsarea, the whole party was saved the trouble of searching for a lodging when they arrived. To find a house in which the Apostle and those with him might all be received would probably have been attended with much difficulty. To be the owner of such a house Mnason must have been one of the wealthier members of the congregation. His name is Greek, and he was most likely one of the Hellenists. Or, if he were a Jew, Mnason was perhaps substituted for some Jewish name, e. g. Manasseh .

17 36 . Arrival at Jerusalem. Paul’s Reception by the Church and by the People

17 . And … gladly ] The brethren, whose joy is here spoken of, would be those Christians who first learnt of the arrival of Paul at Mnason’s house. It is not the public reception which is here intended, for however welcome Paul may have been to individuals, the heads of the Church were manifestly apprehensive of trouble which might arise from his presence in Jerusalem.

18 . And the day following … James ] This was the Church’s reception of the returned missionaries. Notice of their arrival would soon be given, and the authorities who were at the time resident in Jerusalem were gathered together. There was not any Apostle there or St Luke would hardly have failed to mention the fact, as he was one of those present. Paul took with him to this interview all who had shared in his labours, that their work, as well as his own might receive the recognition of the mother church of Christ. The James here mentioned is the same who appears recognised as the head of the congregation in Jerusalem (12:17, 15:13). He was most probably one of our Lord’s brethren. See note on 12:17.

and … present ] These men, with James, formed the government of the Church, and were the persons to whom the Apostle would naturally desire to give an account of his labours. In the proceedings which follow, the narrative does not, as in the council at Jerusalem, represent James as taking the lead, or being spokesman; he is only mentioned as the person to whom the missionaries specially went. The advice given to St Paul is couched in the plural number, as if the elders had jointly tendered it.

And … saluted them ] The verb is used both of the greetings at parting and arrival, and these in the East were of a much more formal character than is common in Western countries.

he declared particularly what things ] More literally (with Rev. Ver.) , “ he rehearsed one by one the things which .” Such a narrative must have consumed a long time, though St Luke, having previously given a sketch of what the Apostle had done, omits any speech of St Paul here.

God … by his ministry ] We cannot doubt, from what remains to us of St Paul’s writings, that this was the tone of all that he would say. God had been pleased to use him, and for His own glory had made St Paul’s weakness effective.

20 . And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord ] The oldest MSS. read God . They took up the strain of thanksgiving which had run through all the Apostle’s story.

and said unto him ] Their anxiety makes itself apparent at once, and we come here face to face with what must have been one of the greatest difficulties for the early Christians. Before Jerusalem was destroyed there must ever have been at that centre a party zealous for the law, with whom labour among the Gentiles would find small favour.

Thou seest, brother ] The verb is not the ordinary one for to see. It implies that there had been an opportunity for the Apostle to behold some Christian gathering. At this feast the Christians would have as much interest in a commemorative assembly as the Jews.

how many thousands ] The Greek is “myriads,” but the word is used indefinitely, like our “thousand,” to signify a large number.

of Jews there are which believe ] The most authoritative Greek text is rendered by the Rev. Ver. there are among the Jews of them which have believed .” These were persons who, as was not unnatural, accepted Christianity as the supplement of Judaism, but made no break with their old faith, of the observances of which their life-long training had made them tenacious. To such men, as Christianity rested on the Old Testament Scripture, there would seem little need to make a rent between their old life and the new.

and they are all zealous of ( for ) the law ] i.e. rigorous maintainers of all the ceremonial of the Mosaic code. The word is the same as the name of the sect, Zealots.

21 . and they are informed of thee ] More clearly and in accordance with modern English, the Rev. Ver. they have been informed concerning thee .” The verb is a very significant one, from which comes our English “catechize.” It implies, therefore, that the process of educating public opinion in Jerusalem about St Paul had been a diligent business. They had taught the lesson persistently till their hearers were fully trained in it. We can hence understand the great hostility which the Apostle experienced, and his strong language about these Judaizers. They must have had their partizans at work in preparation for his visit, and have poisoned men’s minds against him.

that thou teachest … to forsake Moses ] The calumniators made use of the Apostle’s earnest words to Gentile converts, that they should not accept Judaism first as a door to Christianity, to bring a charge that, to Jews also, he spake of the law as no longer to be regarded. We can see from what we know of his words and actions how false this was, but at such a time and amid such a populace the charge would rouse great animosity, and have no chance of being refuted.

saying that they ought not to circumcise their children ] More simply (with Rev. Ver. ), “telling them not to,” &c. This had so long been the mark of the Jew, and the expression “uncircumcised” meant something so abhorrent to his mind, that we cannot wonder that this is put in the forefront of the charge. For the sense of contempt and abomination in the name, cf. 1 Samuel 17:26 ; Ezekiel 28:10 , 32:29, 30.

neither to walk after the customs ] The customs being the ceremonial law of the Jews. There is quite a Jewish sound in the frequent Old Testament phrase “to walk after.”

22 . What is it therefore ?] i.e. How stands the matter? An expression used as introductory to the consideration of what is best to be done.

the multitude must needs come together ] The oldest texts omit all but the word here rendered “needs,” giving only, “ they will certainly hear that thou art come ,” for the rest of the verse. Some keeping the Greek of the Textus Receptus , have translated “A multitude will certainly, &c.” But the reading of the oldest MSS. seems to give the most natural sense. The gathering before whom Paul had been speaking was composed of only the conspicuous members of the Christian body, to hear a report on the day after St Paul’s arrival. The rest of the speech addressed to the Apostle gives no hint of a crowd to be gathered, but recommends a policy by which the Judæo-Christians might learn gradually in their own visits to the temple that the Apostle against whom they had heard such reports was there himself taking part in the observance of the Mosaic customs.

23 . Do therefore … vow on them ] They advise St Paul to take a part in the ceremonies of a Nazarite vow. He could not go through the whole course of the observance, for these men had already for some time had the vow upon them, but it was permitted among the Jews for anyone who wished, to join in the final purification ceremonies of this vow; and this was the more readily permitted, if the person wishing to take a share, only in this concluding portion, bore the charges of the person or persons to whom he joined himself. It is significant of the intense clinging to the older ceremonial in the Jewish Church that among the Christian congregation there were men found who had taken this vow upon them. If the authorities knew of St Paul’s previous observance of a like vow (18:18) they would have no scruple in urging him to take part in a similar service again. For an account of the Nazarite’s vow, see Numbers 6:1-21 . It is not there specified how long the observance of the vow lasted, and the time may have varied in different cases, but the final ceremonies appear to have lasted seven days.

24 . them take, and purify thyself with them ] i.e. make thyself one of their company, and observe all the ordinances, with regard to purification and keeping from what is unclean, which they observe.

and be at charges with ( better , for) them ] Josephus ( Antiq . xix. 6. 1) tells how Agrippa took upon him the expenses of many Nazarites. Cp. also Bell. Jud . ii. 15. 1, from which passage it appears that the whole time of the Nazarite’s vow there mentioned was thirty days.

that they may shave their heads ] Which was done at the conclusion of the vow, and when the victims were offered, the hair was burnt in the fire which was under the sacrifice of the peace-offering. The charges which had to be borne by St Paul would be the cost of the victims and other things connected with the sacrifice.

and all may know ] The oldest texts read, “ and all shall know .”

that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing ] Rev. Ver. “that there is no truth in the things whereof they have been informed concerning thee.” The “are nothing” of the A. V. is an attempt to keep closer to the Greek, and means “have no foundation in fact.” Cp. 25:11.

but that … and keepest ( Rev. Ver. keeping ) the law ] The participial clause expresses the nature of the orderly walk. It was in the special manner which the Jews so regarded.

25 . As touching the Gentiles which believe ] The clause should commence with But, which is expressed in the Greek. The elders, while urging on Paul the course they have described in consideration of Jewish prejudices, are yet careful to distinguish from this the liberty of the Gentiles, and to confirm that liberty, and shew to the Apostle that they were of the same mind as when the council was held (Acts 15:0 ), they refer now to the decisions then arrived at.

we have written ] Better (with the Rev. Ver. ), we wrote . This is said in reference to the time when the decrees were first published (Acts 15:33 ). The verb used in that account for “write” (15:20) is the same which the elders employ here, and it is not the usual one, shewing that an exact reference is made to the proceedings of the former synod.

and concluded ] Better (with Rev. Ver. ), “ giving Judgment .” This word also refers back to 15:19, where James then said, “My judgment is, &c.” And although he is not specially named here as the speaker, there must have been one who at this time also gave utterance to the advice of the whole presbytery, and none was more likely to do so than he.

that they observe no such thing, save only ] The oldest texts omit all these words, and they appear merely to be a marginal comment, echoing in part, but with a negative, the language of 15:5, 24. They do not represent any part of the form given in that chapter of the letter of the synod.

that they keep themselves from things offered to idols … and from strangled , &c.] The Rev. Ver. makes both the meaning and the English clearer: “ that they should keep themselves from things sacrificed to idols … and from what is strangled , &c.” On the prohibitions and the reasons for them see notes on 15:20.

26 . Then Paul took the men ] This consent of Paul to the advice of James and the elders has been taken by some for a contradiction of the words and character of the Apostle as represented in his own writings. But he has testified of himself (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ) that for the Gospel’s sake he was made all things to all men, unto the Jews becoming as a Jew that he might gain the Jews, and for the same end, to them that are without law, as himself without law. And these brethren of the Church of Jerusalem to whom St Paul joined himself were Christians, and therefore were not clinging to legal observances as of merit towards salvation, but as ordinances which were of divine origin, and which education had made them careful to observe. The same spirit had actuated the Apostle to manifest by an outward act his thankfulness for some deliverance when, on a former occasion, he took this vow on himself without the suggestion of others (18:18). In the Christian services of the earliest days there was very little outlet for the expression by action of any religious emotion, and we cannot wonder that a people whose worship for a long time had been mainly in external observance should cling still to such outward acts, though they had grown to estimate them as of no saving virtue in themselves. With reference to the supposed contradiction in the two pictures of St Paul as given by St Luke and by himself, we need only compare his language about Judaizers in the Epistle to the Galatians with what he says of the preaching of the Gospel at Rome by similar adversaries, when he was writing to the Philippians, to see that the Apostle in what he said and did had ever an eye to the circumstances. To the Galatians he speaks in the strongest terms against the Judaizers because their influence was to draw away the Christians in Galatia from the simple Gospel as offered by him in Christ’s name to the Gentiles, and to make them substitute for it the observance of the law of Moses as a necessary door to Christianity. He has no words strong enough to express his horror of such teachers in such a place. But the same Paul at Rome, the condition of whose people may be learnt by a perusal of the first chapter of his letter to that Church, says (Philippians 1:15-18 ), “Some preach Christ even of envy and strife, supposing to add affliction to my bonds. Notwithstanding every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached, and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” Assuredly there is as much of so-called contradiction between Paul as described in different places by himself, as between his own description and what St Luke has left us of his history. Contradiction it is not, but only such concession as might be expected from one strong in the faith as St Paul was when he was dealing, as he was called upon to deal, with two classes of men who could never be brought to the same standpoint To observe the ceremonial law was not needful for the Gentiles, therefore the Apostle decried its observance and opposed those who would have enforced it. The ceremonial law was abolished for the Jew also in Christ, but it had a divine warrant for those who had been trained in it from their youth up, therefore all that the Apostle here desired was that their true value only should be set on externals. He felt that time would develop Christian worship to fill the place which the Temple Service for a long time must hold among the Christians of Jerusalem.

and the next day … temple ] The regulation was that the Nazarite should avoid all persons and things that would cause ceremonial defilement, and that this might be more thoroughly accomplished the closing days of the vow appear, at this time, to have been passed within the Temple precincts. This, of course, must have been a later arrangement than any which is spoken of in the institution of the vow (Numbers 6:0 ).

to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification ] Rev. Ver. “declaring the fulfilment, &c.” The meaning is that St Paul gave notice to the proper of the officials of the Temple that the completion of the vow would be at a certain time. It would be needful for him to do this, as otherwise they would have expected him to keep the full number of days which others observed. After his explanation that he was only a sharer for a time in the vow of his companions, it would be understood that his days of purification should terminate when theirs did.

until that an offering should be offered for every one of them ] Rev. Ver. “Until the offering was, &c.” The offering is better, for it means that special one which was enjoined by the law. The words are a part not of St Paul’s notice to the priests, but of St Luke’s history. The Apostle did these things and continued as a Nazarite till the whole ceremonial for all of them was ended.

27 . And when the seven days were almost ended ] Rev. Ver. “completed.” This seems to have been the period devoted to the more secluded residence in the Temple.

the Jews which were of Asia ] Lit. (with Rev. Ver. ) “the Jews from Asia.” So that it would seem that a portion of the visitors to Jerusalem had known the Apostle in his missionary labours, and may have come after him, in their enmity, to damage his reputation, by calumnious reports of his teaching, reports which had as much ground in truth as the story about Trophimus from which the tumult arose at this time in Jerusalem.

when … stirred up all the people , &c.] Rev. Ver. “multitude.” These Asian Jews were coming up to the Temple for their worship, and may even have been of the company in the ship by which the Apostle and his companions came from Patara. They certainly had known, or found out, that Trophimus was an Ephesian and a Gentile. If they had seen the Apostle in familiar converse with him, this would be enough to rouse their indignation, especially as Paul and his companion would be living together in the same house and at the same board (cp. Acts 11:3 ).

28 . crying … help ] The cry as if an outrage had been committed, and they, the strangers visiting Jerusalem, were the persons who could afford the best testimony to what had been done. For had they not seen and heard Paul in Ephesus and elsewhere?

This … people ] They would intimate that he was bringing the whole nation into contempt. The Jews no doubt were treated with contempt among the Gentiles, and to hear that one of their own nation had helped this on would rouse them as much as anything could.

and the law, and this place ] How great a change has come over the Apostle since the day when he joined with those who charged Stephen (ch. 6:13), with speaking blasphemous words against this holy place (the Temple) and the law. Now a like multitude brings similar charges against him.

and further brought ( Rev. Ver. “and moreover he brought”) Greeks also into the temple ] There was in the Temple a “court of the Gentiles” but the accusation against the Apostle was, that during his own sojourn in the sacred precincts he had brought his companions into places which were forbidden to them. How unscrupulous their charge was is indicated by the plural “Greeks,” whereas the only person to whom such a term could be applied was Trophimus.

and hath polluted ( Rev. Ver. “defiled”) this holy place ] They themselves as Jews were in the court allotted to their nation, and which was deemed more sacred than that of the Gentiles. The Greek word is literally “made common,” and carries the thought back to St Peter’s vision, where the Gentiles were figured by the beasts which the Apostle deemed “ common or unclean” (Acts 10:14 ).

29 . For they had , &c.] Hence we see that Trophimus had come with the Apostle not only “as far as Asia” (see note on 20:4), but all the way to Jerusalem. His name bespeaks the man a Greek, and, from the anger of these Asiatic Jews, he was doubtless a convert to Christianity without having been a proselyte of Judaism. It is noticeable that so ready were these men to find a cause for attacking St Paul, that they began it on a mere thought, “They supposed Paul had brought him into the temple.”

30 . And … ran together ] This is a proof that what James and the elders had stated was true, the whole Jewish community had been “catechized” on the doings of St Paul among the Gentiles. The least spark set the whole train on fire.

and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple ] This rendering hardly does justice to the Greek. Read (with Rev. Ver. ) “ they laid hold on Paul and dragged him ,” &c. Their design was probably to get him out of the Temple precincts before they proceeded to further violence. It is clear that all the ceremonies of the Apostle’s vow were not yet accomplished, and had they not laid violent hands on him, he might have fled to the altar for safety. That such a murder as they contemplated was possible in Jerusalem at this period we have evidence in the case of Stephen.

and forthwith the doors were shut ] We need not suppose that any of the Levites, the gatekeepers of the Temple, were of the same mind with the rioters. Their action in closing the gates was only to prevent any profanation of the building by the uproar which they saw to be beginning.

31 . And as they went about ( Rev. Ver. “were seeking”) to kill him ] The object of the mob was clearly, now that they had the Apostle in their power, to beat him to death in the crowd, and thus avoid a charge of murder against any individual.

tidings came unto (Better with Rev. Ver. up to ) the chief captain of the band ] The chief military officer of the Romans in Jerusalem was stationed in the tower of Antonia, which was situate on the N.W. of the Temple on the hill Acra. It had been built by Herod and was so close to the scene of the tumult that news would be brought at once. The military officer (probably a tribune ) is called in the Greek, chiliarch , that is, officer over a thousand men. On the word “band” for a Roman cohort, or troop of soldiers, cf. 10:1. The verb “came up to” shews that the writer was familiar with the locality and had the whole scene in his mind.

that all Jerusalem was in an uproar ] Rev. Ver. “in confusion.” At the time of the feast religious party feeling would run very high, and the multitudes of strangers visiting the city would think to shew their zeal for the temple and the law by their eagerness to avenge any supposed profanation.

32 . Who immediately took soldiers and centurions ] Clearly he had charge of a considerable troop, which perhaps might just then be augmented in anticipation of any disturbance to which such a concourse, as would come together for the feast, might give rise.

and ran down unto them ] Rev. Ver. upon them .” The tower was on the height above the temple, so that the verb is very correct.

and when they saw … left beating of Paul ] The Rev. Ver. alters the last four words into “ left off beating Paul ” which gives a rhythm not so pleasant, and the older English was not misunderstood. The mob probably knew that Roman law would do justice, and that if the Apostle were found by the chief captain to have been wrongfully treated they would be brought to an account.

33 . Then … took him ] The last verb implies a formal arrest, therefore the Rev. Ver. rightly gives “ laid hold on him .” The chief captain did not come with a view to relieve St Paul, but to find out what was the matter, and seeing the Apostle in the hands of the mob, himself arrested him, that he might not be killed without a hearing.

and … two chains ] (Cp. 12:6.) Evidently, as appears from his language afterwards, regarding him as some desperate criminal. The chief captain would have thought little of any question about Jewish law (see 23:29).

and demanded … done ] The English word demand had in early times the sense of “ask,” “inquire.” Cp. Cymbeline , iii. 6. 92, “We’ll mannerly demand thee of thy story.” But it has in modern times only the stronger meaning of imperative questioning. Therefore Rev. Ver. and inquired .” The inquiry was made of the crowd, not of the Apostle.

34 . And some cried [ R. V. shouted] … another ] The verb is the same which St Luke uses for the din of the multitude which shouted against Jesus (Luke 23:21 ), “Crucify him;” also for the adulatory shouting in honour of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:22 ). No other New Testament writer uses the word. The chief captain appears to have made an effort to learn what was laid to the charge of the Apostle.

and when … tumult [R. V. uproar]. Perhaps as at Ephesus (19:32) a large part of the shouters hardly knew themselves for what the clamour was raised.

he … to be carried [ R. V. brought] into the castle ] The Greek word signifies “an encampment,” but was employed to designate the barracks which the Romans had in the Tower of Antonia. The same word is rendered “army” in Hebrews 11:34 .

35 . And … stairs ] This was the flight of steps leading from the Temple area up to the Tower where the soldiers were stationed. The stairs were not covered in, for St Paul is able to address the multitude while standing on them (verse 40).

so it was … for the violence of the people [ R. V. crowd]. The crowd pressed on St Paul with all the more fury because they saw that he was now to be taken out of their hands. Hence it came to pass, that some of the soldiers were obliged, in order to keep him safe, to lift him from his feet and carry him up till he was out of reach, their comrades meanwhile keeping back the people from the foot of the stairs.

36 . For … Away with him ] The same cry which (Luke 23:18 ) was used by the Jews before Pilate in reference to Jesus.

37 40 . Paul asks Leave to address the Crowd

37 . And as Paul was to be led into the castle ] More clearly (with Rev. Ver. ) “ was about to be brought , &c.” This must have been when Paul with the soldiers had reached some place where he could be allowed to stand.

he said [Gk. saith] … May I speak unto thee? ] Literally, (with Rev. Ver. ), “ May I say something unto thee?

Who said, Canst thou speak Greek? ] More closely, as Rev. Ver. “And he said, Dost thou know Greek? ” The chief captain had evidently come down with a preconceived notion who the offender was about whom the disturbance had arisen. And from some source or other he appears to have known that the Egyptian, whom he supposed St Paul to be, could not speak Greek.

38 . Art not thou that Egyptian ] Better (as Rev. Ver. ), “ Art thou not then the Egyptian? ” Thus we see more clearly the reason of the previous question which the chief captain had asked. The Egyptian to whom allusion is here made was a sufficiently formidable character, if we only reckon his followers at four thousand desperadoes. Josephus ( Ant . xx. 8. 6; Bell. J . ii. 13. 5) tells how he was one of many impostors of the time, and when Felix was governor came to Jerusalem, gave himself out as a prophet, gathered the people to the Mount of Olives in number about 30,000, telling them that at his word the walls of Jerusalem would fall down, and they could then march into the city. Felix with the Roman soldiers went out against him. The impostor and a part of his adherents fled, but a very large number were killed and others taken prisoners. The narrative of Josephus does not accord with the account of St Luke, but if the former be correct, we may well suppose that the numbers and the occasion spoken of by the chief captain relate to an event anterior to that great gathering on the Mount of Olives. The fame of the impostor may have grown; indeed, must have done so before he could collect the number of adherents of which Josephus speaks.

which before these days modest an uproar ] The verb, which is found besides in Acts 17:6 ; Galatians 5:12 , is active and requires an object. Read “stirred up to sedition” (as Rev. Ver. ), and make this verb, like the one which follows, relate to the incitement of the four thousand.

and … murderers ] Read (with R. V. ) “ and led out into the wilderness the four thousand men of the assassins .” The Gk. name is Sicarii (i.e. men armed with a dagger), and Josephus ( B. J . ii. 13. 3), in an account of the lawless bands which infested Judæa in these times, says (after relating how a notorious robber named Eleazar had been taken with his followers and sent in chains to Rome), “But when the country was thus cleared there sprang up another kind of plunderers in Jerusalem called Sicarii. They kill men by daylight in the midst of the city. Particularly at the feasts they mix with the crowd, carrying small daggers hid under their clothes. With these they wound their adversaries, and when they have fallen the murderers mix with the crowd and join in the outcry against the crime. Thus they passed unsuspected for a long time. One of their earliest victims was Jonathan the high priest.”

39 . But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus ] The A. V. does not often follow the Greek so closely as this. And here it is better to read with the Rev. Ver. , “ I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia ” (see 6:9, notes).

a citizen of no mean city ] Tarsus was the metropolis of Cilicia, and a city remarkable for its culture, and the zeal of its inhabitants for philosophic studies.

and … people ] An objection has been here raised that it is extremely improbable that the chief captain could have held this conversation with St Paul amid the tumult, and also that he would have granted permission to speak to a man whom he had just taken as his prisoner, and whom he afterwards arranges to examine by scourging (22:24). But we have only to remember that the Apostle and his interlocutor were high up above the crowd, and so away from the noise; that the staircase crowded with soldiers, who could not rapidly be withdrawn because they were restraining the multitude, made some delay absolutely unavoidable, and that, added to this was the surprise of the chief captain that his prisoner could speak Greek, and we have enough warrant for accepting the story as it is here told. Moreover the Greek which the Apostle used was of a very polished character, shewing the education and refinement of the speaker, and making good his claim to respect.

40 . And when he had given him licence [leave, R. V. ]. And as the same verb occurs in the previous verse, the Rev. Ver. has there “ give me leave to speak , &c.” It is fitting that in such passages the renderings should be uniform.

Paul … people ] Apparently the chief captain had also been so far impressed by the conversation of his prisoner, that he allowed at least one of his hands to be released from its chain while he spake to the multitude, and this he waved to ask for silence.

And … great silence ] The unusual circumstance, and the gesture which could be seen through the whole crowd, would gain an audience very readily. Beside which an Oriental mob is less persistent than those of the western world.

he spake … in the Hebrew tongue [language, R. V. ] This alone, as soon as it was heard, would gain the speaker an audience with many. It was their own speech. For by “Hebrew” here is meant the Aramaic dialect of Palestine.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Acts 21". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/acts-21.html. 1896.
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