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Bible Commentaries

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

Acts 21





In the end the plan (21:22-26) does not work. It appears that this plan is simply the product of human reasoning (this does not mean that the plan was wrong) but simply that the intended result was not achieved.

The following mob action will reveal the intense hatred that existed towards Paul. He was respecting the Jewish customs and yet people still hated him or assumed the worst about him.

The above plan is probably an example of Paul seeking to accommodate himself to different cultures ( 1Co_9:19 ff).

In applying the principles behind this section of Scripture the reader needs to exercise caution. The above verses do not mean that Gentiles could in like manner frequent idol temples ( 1Co_8:1-13 ), or engage in idolatrous sacrifices ( 1Co_10:21 ). Remember, idolatry, paganism and for that matter denominationalism is and has always been unauthorized religion and worship. Judaism was an authorized religion, and therefore it's practices were not inherently sinful, and thus could be engaged in as a matter of custom or national identity without any connection to salvation or worship.

Verse 1

21:1 "When we had parted from them" "The Ephesian elders had escorted Paul and his friends to the ship, and now they have parted to go their separate ways. 'Parted' is a strong word in the Greek, and might almost be rendered, 'When we had torn ourselves away from them'" (Reese p. 778). "We ran a straight course" The expression straight course indicates that they had excellent sailing weather (compare with 16:11). Remember, Paul is still with the messengers from the churches ( Act_20:4 ), and taking the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. "Cos" Pronounced kahz this is a small island between Miletus and Rhodes and was famous for its wines, ointments, purple dyes, and for its fine textured silk and cotton. It was located about 40 miles south of Miletus. "The next day to Rhodes" Rhodes was another island, this time about 50 miles SE of Cos. The island was given the name Rhodes because of the beautiful roses that grow there. "For 56 years the brazen Colossus of Helios stood across the mouth of the harbor. It was so large, being 105 feet high, that ships sailed between its legs. It was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. About 224 B.C., an earthquake threw the idol down and its fragments were still on the spot at the time of Paul's visit" (Reese p. 778). "And from there to Patara" Patara (pronounced pat uh ruh) was a seaport on the coast of Lycia, or the mainland of Asia Minor.

Verse 2

21:2 "And having found a ship crossing over to Phoencia" Here they change ships, leaving behind the smaller ship and boarding a large, ocean-going vessel for the 400-mile trip across the open sea toward Jerusalem.

Verse 3

21:3 "When we came in sight of Cyprus" The ship was headed in a SE direction, and Cyprus passed by on the left side. The expression came in sight of is the correct nautical term. "As they were sailing toward Syria, they came near enough to the island that it seemed to rise above the horizon" (Reese p. 779). "We kept sailing to Syria" The term Syria was the name given to the whole eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea from Cilicia in the north to Egypt in the south. It included Phoenicia and Palestine" (Reese p. 779). "Landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo" "Tyre was a main port for commerce on the eastern end of the Mediterranean in ancient times, and still is a port of considerable tonnage. It was the chief city of Phoenicia, and though about 400 miles from Patara, it could be reached under favorable sailing conditions in four or five days. 'Unload' is a present tense verb, indicating that the job took some days" (Reese p. 780).

Verse 4

21:4 "After looking up the disciples" This indicates some effort on Paul's part to find the Christians in this city. This is the first mention of a congregation in Tyre, though the gospel had been preached in this region in Act_11:19 , and Paul had visited this area in Act_15:3 . "We stayed there seven days" This may be the time it took to unload and reload the ship on which Paul was traveling, but it gave Paul the opportunity to encourage and teach the brethren here. "They kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem" Seeing that Paul will set foot in Jerusalem, some have concluded that Paul disobeyed the command of the Holy Spirit at this point, but other passages need to be factored in: 1. The Holy Spirit was actually commanding Paul to go to Jerusalem ( Act_20:22-23 ; Act_19:21 ). 2. Act_21:11-14 is a good commentary on Act_21:4 . The Holy Spirit did reveal that bonds and afflictions awaited him at Jerusalem, but the Holy Spirit did not forbid him to go. Rather, after the Holy Spirit revealed what awaited Paul at Jerusalem, Christians of their own accord encouraged him not to go there. "The better solution is to draw a distinction between a prediction and a prohibition. Certainly Agabus only predicted that Paul would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles (21:11); the pleadings with Paul which followed are not attributed to the Spirit and may have been the fallible (indeed mistaken) human deduction from the Spirit's prophecy. For if Paul had heeded his friends' pleas, then Agabus' prophecy would not have been fulfilled! It is more difficult to understand 21:4 in this way, since the 'urging' itself is said to be 'through the Spirit'. But perhaps Luke's statement is a condensed way of saying that the warning was divine while the urging was human" (Stott p. 333). That is, Act_21:4 is a very condensed version of the same type of thing that is mentioned in Act_21:11-14 .

Verse 5

21:5 "With wives and children" This is the first specific mention of children in connection with the early church. "After kneeling down" Compare with Act_20:36 . "On the beach" There is a beach on both sides of the ancient city of Tyre. "And praying" "Prayer is a fitting way for Christians to part" (Reese p. 782).

Verses 6-7

21:6-7 "We arrived at Ptolemais" This city was located about 30 miles south of Tyre. In Old Testament times this port was named Accho. Today it is known as Acre. The Bay of Acre forms a half-circle, about nine miles from north to south. On the south side of this bay is Mount Carmel and the modern port of Haifa. Ptolemais was located on the north side. "After greeting the brethren" Notice Paul's regular practice of finding the brethren when he came into a town.

Verse 8

21:8 "Came to Caesarea" As noted in Act_10:1-48 the city of Caesarea had been built by Herod the Great to serve as the port for Jerusalem. This was Paul's third recorded visit to Caesarea ( Act_9:30 ; Act_18:22 ). "Entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven" This is the same Philip who was chosen to serve tables in Act_6:5 , and the same man who had preached to the Samaritan and the eunuch ( Act_8:1-40 ). He is called "one of the seven" to distinguish him from Philip the apostle, and according to Act_8:40 , after Philip baptized the eunuch he came to Caesarea. The time interval between Act_8:40 and this chapter is some 20 years. This is a good passage to point out that an evangelist can remain or locate in one place and still do the work of an evangelist. The denominational idea that an "evangelist" is a preacher who is always traveling is a false concept. For the other uses of the term evangelist see Eph_4:11 and 2Ti_4:5 .

Verse 9

21:9 "Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses" These daughters were morally pure, unmarried (at this time) and they had the spiritual gift of prophecy. Spiritual gifts were given to women ( Act_2:17 ), and such gifts were used outside the assembly ( 1Co_14:34 ), especially when teaching other women ( Tit_2:3 ff), and children. The fact that these women spoke by inspiration does not mean that they were preachers (see 1Ti_2:12 ). "How are we to harmonize the passages which forbid women prophesying, with those which indicate they were indeed prophesying? May we say that the Holy Spirit led women to do in one place what He forbade them to do in another? Or is there an underlying theme running all through these passages that allows us to harmonize them? Women are not to assume a teaching position in the church that would usurp the divine order of authority - God, Christ, man, woman ( 1Co_11:1 ff). It is perfectly possible that Philip's daughters confined their ministrations to those of their own sex; especially would they be able to speak and teach in private among the women of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds" (Reese p. 786).

Verse 10

21:10 "As we were staying there for some days" Paul had been hurrying to be at Jerusalem by Pentecost ( Act_20:16 ). This purpose has not been abandoned, but rather Paul may have arrived in Judea sooner than he had expected, and thus can spend some time with Philip. "A prophet named Agabus came down from Judea" This appears to be the same prophet mentioned in Act_11:28 .

Verse 11

21:11 "He took Paul's belt" "Outer garments worn in the first century were loose and flowing robes, and the belt was used to bind them to the body at the waist" (Reese p. 787). "Bound his own feet and hands" The manuscripts vary here between the hands of Paul and the hands of Agabus. The prophets often used such visual aids ( 1Ki_21:11 ; Jer_13:1-11 ; Jer_27:2 ; Eze_4:1-6 ; Eze_5:1-4 ; Isa_20:3-4 ). "This is what the Holy Spirit says" Agabus now directly quotes the words that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him. "In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles" See Act_21:23 ; Act_24:1 ff.

Verse 12

21:12 ""When we had heard this" Remember, the we includes the messengers mentioned in Act_20:4 , as well as Luke the writer. "The local residents" The brethren at Caesarea. "Began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem" Even Luke will urge Paul not to go. They may have argued that Paul did not need to go, they (who were far less known to the Jews in Jerusalem) could deliver the collection and return to Caesarea and let Paul know how it was received. At other times Paul was moved to change his plans by such pleas ( Act_9:25 ; Act_19:30 ).

Verse 13

21:13 "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?" Paul's brethren were so concerned that tears and weeping accompanied such pleas. "The verb breaking is a very picturesque word, being used of the pounding that a washerwoman would give clothes to get them to yield to her efforts to clean them. Paul felt his determination to go to Jerusalem weakening before the forceful pleadings of the brethren. He respected their judgment, knew they had his best interests at heart, and knew as well as they the dangers and persecution that awaited him at Jerusalem. It was with no stoic hardness that he resisted their pleadings" (Reese p. 788). "For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus" Notice the emphasis upon "I". Regardless of what others may feel, Paul was determined to face such suffering, yea, he was prepared to even face death.

Verse 14

21:14 "Since he would not be persuaded" They realized that any more pleading would be fruitless. "The will of the Lord be done!" I would interpret this exclamation as meaning that in spite of the warnings of persecution, it was the Lord's will that Paul go to Jerusalem, and that is why Paul could not be stopped (compare with Act_20:22 ). The same Holy Spirit that predicted the sufferings also commanded Paul to go. Caesarea is about 65 miles NW of Jerusalem.


Verses 15-16

21:15-16 "Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us" If they cannot dissuade Paul, at least they can travel with him. "Taking us to Mnason" The name is pronounced nay sohn and means "remembering". "Of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing" He may have been converted on the first missionary journey ( Act_13:5 ff), or he even may have been one of the first Christians, having been converted on the day of Pentecost in Act_2:1-47 .

Verse 17

21:17 "After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly" The journey to Jerusalem probably took about two days.

Verse 18

21:18 "And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present" We have already noted that this James, is James the Lord's brother who is also mentioned as being a prominent member of the congregation in Jerusalem ( Act_15:13 ; Gal_2:9 ; Gal_2:12 ). "Because only James is named, it is regularly deduced that the other apostles were all absent from Jerusalem" (Reese p. 792). "All the elders" That is, all the elders of the Jerusalem congregation. Remember, Paul and his companions were bringing the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem ( 1Co_16:1-3 ), and this money would be handed over to the elders ( Act_11:30 ).

Verse 19

21:19 "He began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry" Paul begins to give a detailed report of his preaching among the Gentiles. This report may have included his first journey, but that report had already been given ( Act_15:4 ). This report is probably a detailed account of the second and third journey ( Act_16:1-40 ; Act_17:1-34 ; Act_18:1-28 ; Act_19:1-41 ; Act_20:1-38 ). "Things which God had done" Notice that Paul emphasized what God had done. Paul knew that he was simply a tool, and the real power was in God's message and the miracles that God performed through him. Remember, one thing that had preoccupied Paul was wondering how the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem would receive a collection from predominately Gentile congregations ( Rom_15:31 ).

Verse 20

21:20 "They began glorifying God" This means that the elders in Jerusalem were in full agreement with Paul and his teaching and practice among the Gentiles. This contradicts the claim made by some that there was a split in doctrine and practice between Paul and the leading Jewish Christians. In addition, they also glorified God for the collection sent by these Gentile Christians.

21:20 "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed" This indicates that a good number of Jews had been Christians. We saw the same thing in Act_5:14 . "And they are all zealous for the Law" Does this mean that Jewish Christians continued to observe the Law of Moses, some commentators say "yes". Reese argues that Jewish Christians still were observing the Law of Moses, in particular, the sacrifices, the distinctions of meats and days, the hours of prayer, and the feasts. "It does seem, as one reads the epistles of Paul and the sermons in Acts, that the people should have begun by this time to lose some of their overzealous attachment to Moses. But they have had to rely on the Old Testament for their written words from God, and so there is something more understandable in their zealousness for the Law. In addition, the people are slow to give up the old, traditional way of doing things, even when they know a better way" (Reese pp. 794-795). He also argues that some years later when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, this brought an effective end to the observance of such rites.


Yet Paul had by this time written Romans and Galatians, books that made it clear that Christians-even Christians of a Jewish background were no longer under the Law of Moses ( Rom_7:1 ff; Gal_3:25 "Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor"). And equally, that continued observance of the Law in order to find favor with God (like circumcision, or observing days), would result in falling from grace ( Gal_5:1-4 ; Gal_4:10-11 ).

One can be zealous for the Law without continuing to observe the obsolete system (as the Hebrew writer calls it, Heb_8:13 ). That is, I still view it as the word of God and learn the lessons that it teaches ( Rom_15:4 ).

One could continue to observe certain elements in the Law merely from the standpoint of custom. That is, circumcision was still allowed - simply as a surgical practice ( 1Co_7:19 ). One could still go to Jerusalem during Passover or Pentecost and attend those feasts as one would attend any other national festival. One could go to the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath in order to teach people, and one could still observe various food laws - simply as a matter of personal taste or conscience ( Rom_14:1 ff), after all one did not have to eat pork if they did not want to.

Verse 21

21:21 "And they have been told about you" Here is a rumor that has been circulating about what Paul taught while traveling and preaching to Jews in other parts of the world. "That you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs" This accusation is a good example of how a half-truth can be very dangerous. First, Paul did not forbid Jews to circumcise their children, in fact, he had circumcised Timothy ( Act_16:1 ff). He did teach that circumcision was no longer a divine requirement, and thus a non-issue (it did not matter if you were or if you were not circumcised, 1Co_7:19 ). And he aggressively opposed those who taught that one could not be saved unless they were circumcised ( Act_15:2 ). There is a vast difference between saying, "It is not necessary", and "You must not do it". In addition, Paul also taught that the Law was given by God ( Rom_7:12 ), thus inspired, but that the problem was that no man would keep if perfectly. He had made it very clear in Galatians and Romans that Christians are no longer under the Law, rather it was the schoolmaster that brought us to Christ ( Gal_3:24 ).

Verses 22-26

21:22-26 Paul in the Temple

For centuries this has been a difficult section of Scripture to harmonize with what Paul taught elsewhere. I offer the following comments from Wayne Jackson on this section.

Here was the problem: a report had been circulated widely that Paul went about constantly teaching that Jews, especially those who lived in Gentile lands, should "forsake," (apostasia - cf. Apostasy ) Moses. "Moses" stands for the Old Testament economy. They apparently had concluded that Paul opposed any sort of connection with the Hebrew system, which was not true. The apostle himself had circumcised Timothy in order to prevent offense to the Jews (16:3). Paul had not opposed observing certain elements of the law - provided the intent was not to seek justification on that basis.

The apostle was not insensitive to the feelings of his Israelite kinsmen. But that had become his reputation. Though James and the brethren did not agree with the assessment that Paul radically opposed the law, they felt the matter needed remedy in some fashion. It must be added that these Jerusalem leaders probably did not have a completely accurate view themselves as to what Paul was practicing and teaching. What could be done to defuse this volatile situation? The Jewish antagonists were bound to hear that Paul was in Jerusalem, and there would be trouble. The following solution, therefore, was proposed.

There were four Hebrew men who had placed themselves under a vow (likely a Nazarite vow). It was near the time for that ritual to be consummated by a purification ceremony in the temple. It was suggested, therefore, that Paul identify with them, paying their temple fees, and, "purifying" himself along with them. Such a procedure was allowed under the law. This would be done so that the Jews in general might see that Paul was "walking orderly, observing the law." Gentiles, of course, were under no such constraints, as indeed the conference in Jerusalem had established (chapter 15). Paul agreed to the suggestion. The following day the apostle, along with the four men, went to the temple where the sacrifices would be offered. The process was initiated, which would be culminated a few days later. Not only were the four "purified," but so was Paul - though likely not for the same reason. There is no evidence that the apostle was under a vow. However, since he recently had been in Gentile territory, he would be viewed as ceremonially "unclean," hence would need to purify himself in order to partake with the others (Simon Kistemaker, Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990, p. 760). The minute details of the whole process are not recorded.

Here is the problem: Why would Paul, knowing that the Mosaic regime was obsolete, submit to a "purification" ritual, that would appear to convey the impression that Christ's blood was insufficient as a medium of cleansing? Sincere Bible students have struggled with this difficulty. Several views have been offered relative to this matter.

Some suggest the event never happened; it is alleged that Luke fabricated the incident in order to show that Paul was a law-abiding Jew.

Others argue that the apostle was sincere in yielding to this procedure; he simply did not fully understand - at this point - that the law had been abrogated.

Many allege that Paul, in a moment of weakness, knowingly sinned, yielding to the pressure.

Some contend that the apostle's actions were a matter of expediency - in a unique time-period when certain elements of the Mosaic system (particularly civil/ceremonial) gradually were passing away.

Perhaps no suggestion is entirely free from difficulty, in view of the brevity of the record. We would offer, however, the following observations.

First, the notion that Luke invented this narrative to buttress his personal agenda is unworthy of any consideration. It is wholly barren of evidence.

Second, J.W. McGarvey contended that the apostle's understanding was limited at this point (New Commentary on Acts of Apostles,1892 - Reprint, Delight, AR: Gospel Light, II, p. 208). He thought that if Paul had entertained a clearer perception of the abolition of the law, he would not have done what he did here - especially later on, after writing the books of Ephesians and Hebrews (he assumes Paul wrote the latter).

This position has an obvious weakness. The apostle had written clearly on the matter of the law's abrogation in other letters that were composed before this incident. And these discussions were not mere passing allusions, as were Peter's brief references to the Gentiles in Act_2:1-47 (which he did not comprehend at the time, cf. 17,21,39). Rather, Paul's teaching on the abolition of the law had been clear and definitive (cf. 2Co_3:1-18 ; Rom_7:1-25 ; Gal_5:1-26 ). It does not appear, therefore, that this episode can be explained upon the basis of the apostle's limited knowledge.

Third, some respected men have argued that Paul "slipped" on this occasion, lapsing into weakness; his practice, therefore, was "inconsistent" with his preaching (cf. Francis D. Nichol, Ed., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Washington, DC: Review & Herald, 1957, p. 405). After all, they contend, if Peter could sin ( Gal_2:1-21 ), so could Paul. We respectfully offer the following general observations on this position.

If Paul is indicted of sin, so are James and the Jerusalem elders, for they asked him to do what he did.

Even if the apostle did err (and we are not ready to affirm that he did), the mere recording of the transgression would not make the Bible culpable. It is not a sin to record the commission of a sin.

While it is the case that even an apostle could sin, as indicated above (cf. Gal_2:11 ff), one ought to be very careful in charging Paul with an overt sin in the absence of explicit testimony. In other words, is one logically forced to this position as a last resort, or is there another possibility?

If Paul erred in this episode, why did he later, in an inspired defense of his ministry before a government ruler (cf. Mat_10:17-19 ), appeal to this very incident (cf. 24:18)? Was the apostle led by the Spirit to defend sin? It would seem to me that, in arguing this position, the "cure" is worse than the "ailment."

Fourth, is it possible that Paul went through this ritual as a matter of expediency in an attempt to relieve a tense situation? Could the apostle have "purified" himself, strictly in conformity to nationalistic Judaism - with no intent whatever of substituting an animal for the precious sacrifice of the Lamb of God? Fervent voices cry: "Absolutely not." But why not? If the apostle could circumcise Timothy as an expediency, with no design of associating the ritual with salvation (as was sometimes done - Act_15:1 ), why could he not have done the same with reference to a sacrifice? To utilize circumcision as a matter of salvation was apostasy ( Gal_5:2 ff). To practice the rite in order to remove prejudice - in that era when the law was so freshly abolished - was an exercise of wisdom (cf. 1Co_9:19-23 ). To offer a sacrifice redemptively would have been wrong; but there is no proof that such was Paul's intention.

It should be noted in passing that ceremonial "purification" did not necessarily involve atonement for personal sin. A Jewish woman had to be "purified" following the birth of a child (cf. Lev_12:1 ff; Luk_2:22 ), even though the act of bearing a child is not sinful. Paul's act of "purification," therefore, need not suggest that he was seeking personal forgiveness by means of an animal sacrifice. Clearly that was not Paul's purpose in this temple ritual.

In the final analysis, I must say this. In the absence of more conclusive information, it is unwise to accuse Paul of compromise or sin. As Frank Goodwin observed, "Paul's conduct in this transaction was perfectly consistent with his previous teaching and practices" (A Harmony of the Life of St. Paul, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1951, p. 121). There may have been a greater good (the unity of Jew/Gentile relations) to be accomplished in this case, than whatever negative "impressions" might have resulted from Paul's offering of a sacrifice. If one is to err in judging this episode, it is best to err on the side of respect and love for God's noble apostle.

Verse 27

21:27 "When the seven days were almost over" "The seven days between the notification and the actual acts of purification. Act_24:18 suggests he was actually in the process of offering the sacrifices. We may suppose that the whole week has passed without incident, and that it seemed for a time that the plan of the elders would succeed" (Reese p. 800). "The Jews from Asia" These Jews were probably from Ephesus, for they recognized both Paul and Trophimus a Christian from Ephesus (21:29). "Doubtless some of these same Jews had been the moving force behind the plots that Paul had to face during his Ephesian ministry ( Act_20:19 ; Act_19:39 )" (Reese p. 800). "Upon seeing him in the temple" Paul had preached for an extended period of time in Ephesus, so he was well known to the Jews in Asia ( Act_19:10 ). "Began to stir up all the multitude and laid hands on him" They immediately grab Paul incite the people in the temple area against him.

Verse 28

21:28 "Men of Israel, come to our aid" The inference is that all men of Israel need to unite against this invader. "This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people" Compare to the accusations made against Stephen ( Act_6:11-13 ). Anyone who has read Rom_9:1-6 can see that this accusation is false. Paul dearly loved the nation of Israel. "And the Law" Paul did not preach against the Law, rather he gave the Law its proper glory and place in God's plan ( Gal_3:19 ff; Rom_7:12 ). "Besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place" That is, the charge is that Paul had actually brought Gentiles into the temple area that was reserved for Jews. "Around the court of Israel was a wall beyond which Gentiles (even proselytes) were not to go" (Reese p. 801). Inscriptions were posted which declared that any non-Jewish person who entered this court would be put to death if caught. Josephus claims that even though the Romans had taken away from the Jews the right to exercise the death penalty, violation of the temple was one area where they permitted the death sentence even when it was passed against a Roman citizen (Josephus, Wars, VI.2.4). "Has defiled" Of course, what really had defiled the temple was the fact that so many in the Jewish nation had rejected Jesus.

Verse 29

21:29 "For" Here is why they believed that Paul had brought Gentiles in the court of Israel. "They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple" Sadly, the only exercise that some people get is when they jump to unwarranted conclusions. "Evil minds and wicked hearts possess fertile imaginations and easily draw circumstantial conclusions" (Reese p. 802). A lot of problems and misunderstandings can be avoided if we simply stick to the facts. They had not actually seen Trophimus with Paul in the temple! But when evil men really want to believe something they find all the evidence that they need.

Verse 30

21:30 "And all the city was aroused" The whole city is in an uproar, compare with the mob scene in Act_19:29 . "They dragged him out of the temple" They treat Paul as they would an intruding Gentile and quickly get him out of the temple. "And immediately the doors were shut" The gates leading from the outer courts to the court of Israel were closed.

Verse 31

21:31 "While they were seeking to kill him" Which means that they were fully intent on killing him. "They were already pummeling him. Once they have come out into the court of the Gentiles, their furious activity can be seen from the tower of Antonia" (Reese p. 802). "A report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion" A fortress existed at the NW corner of the temple enclosure, on a rock side that is about 20 feet higher than the level of the floor of the temple area. This fortress had been rebuilt by Herod the Great, and was named Antonia in honor of his friend, Mark Antony. Two flights of stairs connected this fortress to the temple area. "During the feasts a garrison of soldiers in the fortress was kept under arms in constant readiness to suppress any tumults that might arise. Watchmen on the towers would be quick to notice the report the swift spreading tumult that swirled around Paul" (Reese p. 803). "Commander of the Roman cohort" The word commander here denotes one who commanded a thousand men, plus 120 horsemen, that is, one-sixth of a legion. This man's name will be given in 23:26.

Verse 32

21:32 "At once" A quick thinking man. "Some soldiers and centurions" Seeing that a centurion was over 100 men, this force may have included a couple of hundred soldiers. "Ran down to them" The soldiers came down the stairways from the fortress into the temple area. "They stopped beating Paul" The sight of several hundred Roman soldiers running into the temple area stopped the mob for a moment. They might have been more concerned at the moment of defending themselves than inflicting any more blows upon Paul.

Verse 33

21:33 Paul is immediately arrested and bound with chains. "At least, the arrest of the central figure would be the quickest way to stop the uproar" (Reese p. 804). Remember, the commander in charge does not know who Paul is and assumes that in order to be in the middle of such a riot he must have done something wrong.

Verse 34

21:34 When the commander seeks information from the crowd on who Paul is and what he had done, all he receives back is confusion and contradiction. Compare with Act_19:32 . "Lysias could make little sense out of what the mob was shouting" (Reese p. 804). "He ordered him brought into the barracks" He was taken to the fortress of Antonia.

Verses 35-36

21:35-36 "Luke indicates the situation was indeed perilous at this moment. The Jews make an increasingly violent effort to get at the prisoner, and the soldiers pick him up bodily (with others defending those who carried the prisoner by forming a protective shield about them) and begin to move up the stairs into the fortress" (Reese p. 805). "Away with him" Compare with Luk_23:18 and Joh_19:15 .

Verses 37-38

21:37 "Do you know Greek?" The commander is surprised that Paul speaks to him in the Greek language. The next verse explains this surprise. 21:38 "Then you are not the Egyptian" The commander had jumped to the conclusion that his prisoner was an Egyptian revolutionary, who about three or four years earlier had deceived people by claiming to be a prophet. Josephus writes that this man had around 30,000 followers. He had assembled many of his followers on the Mount of Olives, and claimed that when he gave the command the walls would fall down (like ancient Jericho) and they would then march in and defeat the Roman garrison in the city. Felix had sent out a body of troops, and they killed 400 and wounded another 200. This followers were scattered, while the Egyptian had escaped. "The feelings of those who had been made fools of by this Egyptian would not be friendly" (Reese p. 806). "Led the four hundred Assassins out into the wilderness" The word assassins means "dagger-men" and were a powerful force in the early years of the governorship of Felix (52-60 A.D.). "They were terrorists who were bitter enemies of the Romans and the Roman sympathizers in Palestine. They would mingle with the crowds at the feasts, for example, pull their daggers from beneath their robes and stab a man, return the dagger into its hiding place, and then join in the outcry against such violence that the bystanders would raise" (Reese p. 806).

Verse 39

21:39 "I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia" This informs the commander that Paul was not an Egyptian nor a Gentile, rather he was a Jew. "A citizen of no insignificant city" At this point the commander does not know that Paul is a Roman citizen (see Act_22:27 ). The city of Tarsus was not some back-wood hick town, rather it was a very important city and "citizenship in Tarsus was limited to a select few inhabitants who had rank fortune" (Reese p. 806). "Allow me to speak to the people" Paul wasted no time to seeking to clear things us, in addition, Paul always was looking for one more opportunity to preach the gospel. Yes, the mob hated him, but at the same time, the mob was a captive audience as well.

Verse 40

21:40 "There was a great hush" Part of this great hush has to do to an excitement concerning what Paul might say and the fact that he addressed the audience in the Hebrew language (22:2). "By speaking Hebrew, Paul would cause them to be more quiet and to listen more carefully to what he was saying" (Reese p. 807). In addition, the mob might have been completely unprepared for the fact that Paul would turn and be allowed to address them.

Verse 40

21:40 "There was a great hush" Part of this great hush has to do to an excitement concerning what Paul might say and the fact that he addressed the audience in the Hebrew language (22:2). "By speaking Hebrew, Paul would cause them to be more quiet and to listen more carefully to what he was saying" (Reese p. 807). In addition, the mob might have been completely unprepared for the fact that Paul would turn and be allowed to address them.

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Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Acts 21". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". 1999-2014.