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Bible Commentaries
Acts 21

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

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Verses 1-14

Warnings On the Road To Jerusalem

The departure from Miletus was an emotional one. In fact, Luke used the word for depart which Thayer says means, "tear away." They went from Cos, to Rhodes, to Patara. Then, they boarded a ship sailing to Phoenicia. They passed Cyprus and sailed to Syria, where they stopped at Tyre for the ship to unload its cargo. Paul and his companions sought out the Lord's followers in that city and stayed seven days with them. Since the Spirit played a key role in the start of this journey toward Jerusalem, it seems likely the disciples, having further revelations from the Spirit concerning Paul's coming imprisonment, begged him not to go ( Act_21:1-4 ; Act_19:21 ; compare 21:11-14).

At the end of their week long visit, Paul's company walked toward the ship with an escort composed of the many Christian men in the city of Tyre, along with their wives and children. They all stopped for prayer upon reaching the shore. Then, the apostle and those with him boarded the ship and the others returned home. The ship went on from Tyre to Ptolemais, where they were again greeted by the brethren. After one day's stay, they went on to Caesarea, where they spent some time in the house of Philip the proclaimer of good news. This was the same Philip who was chosen for the ministration to the widows and, likely, the one who taught the Ethiopian. Luke reported that Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied ( Act_21:5-9 ).

Agabus ( Act_11:28 ) also came to Philip's house at the same time as Paul's company. The prophet took Paul's belt, or girdle, and bound his own hands and feet. He then explained that the Holy Spirit was foretelling Paul's being taken prisoner by the Jews and turned over to the Gentiles. All those who heard the prophecy, including Luke, begged the apostle not to go to Jerusalem. Paul explained that his trip to Jerusalem was one he was making in an effort to fulfill his commission to preach the gospel. So, he asked why they would cry and break his heart, since he was not only ready to be bound but to die for his Master. When the others realized the strength of the apostle's convictions in the matter, they yielded and expressed the desire that the Lord's will be accomplished ( Act_21:10-14 ).

Verses 15-25

Paul Urged To Take Peaceful Actions

The group next travelled on to Jerusalem where they planned to lodge with one of the early disciples, Mnason of Cyprus. They were joyfully greeted by the brethren in Jerusalem. Paul may well have viewed this as an answer to the prayers he had been asking others to pray for him ( Rom_15:30-31 ). At least they did receive the gift of money Paul brought to help the needy saints. The next day, Paul delivered a report to James and all the elders concerning the things God had accomplished among the Gentiles through Paul. The group naturally glorified God for the good which had been done ( Act_21:15-20 a).

Then, the assembled group explained to Paul that thousands of Jews had obeyed the gospel of Christ in Jerusalem. They also still tried to adhere strictly to the law of Moses. Someone, or some group, had spread the rumor that Paul taught Jews who lived among the Gentiles that they should forsake Moses' law, especially by refusing to circumcise their children. Of course, this was false. Paul had actually circumcised Timothy with his own hand ( Act_16:3 ). Yet, a full understanding of the effect of the cross on the ordinances of the law of Moses would ultimately result in the end of circumcision as a religious act ( Act_21:20 b-21).

Naturally, the church would hear of Paul's arrival in Jerusalem and would assemble. Therefore, James and the others proposed that Paul purify himself along with four men who had taken a vow. The apostle was also urged to pay the expenses involved in their vows. The purpose in these actions was to silence those who were falsely charging Paul. This writer must admit that this event poses certain thorny questions. Did Paul compromise his teachings about the law being a schoolmaster to lead men to Christ by purifying himself and paying for a vow under Moses' law? Or, did he recognize that these things did not have to do with salvation, so he could do them in an effort to further reach out to the Jews? No certain answer seems apparent. At least James and the elders were consistent in not requiring the Gentiles to follow the law of Moses ( Act_21:22-25 ).

Verses 26-36

Paul's Arrest in the Temple

Paul yielded to the proposal set forth by James and the others and began to be purified, perhaps to enter the inner part of the temple (See McGarvey). Near the end of the seven days of purification, some Jews from Asia found Paul in the temple area and called for others to help them. They accused him of: 1.) teaching against the Jews; 2.) teaching against the law; 3.) teaching against the temple; and 4.) bringing Greeks into the temple, thereby defiling it. As to the last charge, Luke reported that they had seen Paul in the city with Trophimus the Ephesian and supposed he had brought him into the temple. An angry mob seized the apostle and dragged him into the court of the Gentiles. The doors to the temple's inner court were shut so that no blood would defile it ( Act_21:26-30 ).

Through God's providence, word reached the chief captain of the Roman garrison guarding Jerusalem. He rushed with perhaps 300 men into the midst of the mob violence. The mob left off beating Paul as the soldiers arrived. The chief captain ordered Paul to be bound with two chains and asked of his crime. Different, possibly conflicting, answers were given, so he ordered Paul taken to the castle. The soldiers literally had to carry Paul as a large part of the crowd followed, shouting, "Away with him." ( Act_21:31-36 ).

Verses 37-40

Paul's Request to be Allowed to Speak

In proper fashion, Paul asked the chief captain, who had taken him prisoner, if he could speak. The captain was surprised to hear Paul so fluently speak to him in Greek, since he had assumed he was an Egyptian criminal. The captain described the man in question as the one who had led a band of some 4,000 men in rebellion. Josephus indicates they first attacked the Roman authorities in Jerusalem, then the Egyptian ran away into the wilderness.

Paul explained to the captain that he was a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia. Coffman says, "Coins excavated from Tarsus carry the inscription, 'Metropolis Autonomous,' indicating that it had been granted autonomy by the Romans. It was an important metropolis noted for its educational facilities, as well as for trade, shipbuilding, and commerce." The apostle went on to ask him for permission to speak to the very multitude that only moments before had sought to kill him! Once permission was granted, Paul gestured with his hand to gain the attention of the audience and a hush fell over the crowd. He then began to speak to them in Hebrew, or Aramaic ( Act_21:37-40 ). Bruce says, "Aramaic was not only the vernacular of Palestinian Jews, but was the common speech of all non-Greek speakers in western Asia, as far east as (and including) the Parthian empire beyond the Euphrates."

Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Acts 21". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghc/acts-21.html. 2014.
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