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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Acts 21

 

 


Verse 1

St. Paul’s Journey from Miletus to Tyre, 1-6.

Acts 21:1. And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them. The Greek word here, as Chrysostom remarks, is a very forcible expression, and signifies, ‘when we had torn ourselves away from them.’ The parting between St. Paul and his Ephesian friends and fellow-workers must have been exceedingly painful.

We came with a straight course unto Coos. This was a small island about forty miles south of Miletus, opposite the coast where lay the cities of Cnidus and Halicarnassus. It was famous for its wines and fabrics. It possessed, in the days of Paul, a celebrated temple of Æsculapius, and was a renowned school of medicine. Josephus tells us that many Jews resided here. It was the birthplace of Hippocrates the physician, and Apelles the painter.

And the day following unto Rhodes. Rhodes lay fifty miles to the south of Coos. It was famed for being the most beautiful spot in this, perhaps the fairest portion of the world. There was a proverb that ‘the sun shone every day in Rhodes.’ From its unrivalled situation, lying as it does on the verge of two of the basins of the Mediterranean Sea, it has always been an emporium for the eastern and western trades. It was the point from which the Greek geographers reckoned their parallels of latitude and meridians of longitude, In the Greek period, it was illustrious especially for its great temple of the Sun, and for the Colossus; this latter, in the days of Paul, was in ruins, having been overthrown by an earthquake. Its navy had done great and effectual service in the suppression of piracy in those seas.

In the days of Roman power, Rhodes still enjoyed a nominal freedom. It formally became a province of the Empire in the days of the Emperor Vespasian. In mediaeval story, Rhodes obtained a distinguished place as the home of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John, and then it was the last Christian city to make a stand against the Saracens. It now belongs to the Ottoman Turks, retains its ancient name, but little else of its former magnificence and power.

And from thence unto Patara. Patara, on the coast of Lydia, was the harbour of Xanthus, and, from its ruins, was a place of some importance and splendour. Here was a famous oracle of Apollo. This port is now an inland marsh.


Verse 2

Acts 21:2. And finding a ship sailing over unto Phœnicia. Circumstances here favoured Paul. Patara was evidently the harbour whither his ship was bound from Alexandria Troas; but there was another vessel on the point of sailing for Phoenicia: thus not a day was lost.


Verse 3

Acts 21:3. Now when we had discovered Cyprus. The Greek word here rendered ‘when we had discovered,’ is a nautical expression such as an eye-witness, familiar with the language of sea-Suing men, would have used; literally, having had (Cyprus) brought up to sight, made visible to us above the horizon. There are many such-like phrases in the ‘Acts’ which taste, so to speak, of the salt sea. It seems more than probable that Luke the physician, the compiler of these apostolic memoirs, had in some portion of his life been connected with some of the great trading ships of the Levant; very likely he had been employed on board in a professional capacity. The ship of Paul, we read, passed ‘Cyprus,’ the island he knew so well, the home probably still of his old friend Barnabas, on the left, as they sailed by it to the southward.

And sailed into Syria. The geographical name Syria is here employed in the Roman sense, according to which Phoenicia and Palestine were considered parts of the province of Syria. The distance between Patara and Tyre was 340 geographical miles.

And landed at Tyre. In St. Paul’s days the glory of Tyre, as described in the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel, had long since faded. Its merchants were no more princes. The modern cities of Antioch and Cæsarea had proved successful rivals to the old capital of Phoenicia. In honour of its ancient grandeur, the Roman Empire gave it the privilege of a ‘free city.’ It retained a considerable position among cities, however, until the close of the thirteenth century, when it was taken and destroyed by the Saracens. It has never risen since that awful ruin above the condition of a wretched village. It now, indeed, fulfils the old prophecy, and is literally, with its shapeless ruins by the sea, only ‘a place to spread nets upon’ (Ezekiel 26:14). Writing of Tyre, Dr. Hackett says: ‘Its most important ruins lie at present beneath the sea; it was with melancholy interest that I looked down upon them through the calm waters, in the long twilight which closed the 10th of May 1852.’

For there the ship was to unlade her burden. Literally, ‘for thither’ ( ἐ κεῖ σε γὰ ρ). For having come thither, the ship was unlading, etc.


Verse 4

Acts 21:4. And finding disciples. Literally, ‘and having found out the disciples.’ There were disciples who lived at Tyre, these were searched out by Paul and his companions. There was a little Christian church in this city. See chap. Acts 11:19, where we read how those who were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen, travelled as far as Phœnice (Phœnicia), of which Tyre was the capital. Professor Plumptre suggests that this church had been planted probably by the labours of Philip as the Evangelist of Cæsarea. St. Paul himself had most likely visited Tyre when he ‘passed through Phœnicia’ on his journey to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:3)

We tarried there seven days. These ,seven days’ may have been the time exactly occupied in the lading and unlading of the ship in which Paul was one of the passengers. But 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.

Who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem. Chrysostom remarks here that they who at Tyre thus urged Paul, knew by the inspiration of the Spirit that certain afflictions awaited their beloved teacher at Jerusalem, but that their exhortations to him not to go up to the city were certainly not inspired by the Spirit (see Acts 21:23-24 of the preceding chapter (20), where the apostle refers to similar warnings of the Holy Ghost having come to him in every city). This, in fact, was only a repetition of what had happened before on several occasions. The Spirit had revealed to certain of the Church that grave dangers awaited St. Paul on his arrival at Jerusalem. These revelations were probably made to show the elders and teachers of the Church, through the example of Paul, what was the duty of a true elder and teacher in the face of the sorest peril. Paul listened to the warning words, we know, but convinced that the work which his Master wished him to do called him to Jerusalem, set his face steadily towards the city, regardless of all danger and suffering. His example has not been lost on the Christian Church.


Verse 5

Acts 21:5. And when we had accomplished those days. That is, simply when the seven days at Tyre had come to an end.

We departed and went our way. Literally, ‘and were going on our way.’ ‘The imperfect tense of the Greek verb bringing before us something like a procession wending its way from the city to the shore’(Plumptre).

And they all brought us on our way, with wives and children. Baumgarten observes that this is the first time, in the notice of a Christian Church, that children are mentioned—that we have here the first recorded instance of Christianity pervading a whole family.

Till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed. It is uncertain whether or no there was a proseucha or chapel, a temporary place of prayer, here on the shore for the Christian brotherhood of Tyre, or whether it was simply that, as the Christians of Tyre were bidding farewell to Paul and his companions, they knelt down and prayed together. It is, however, certain that the Jews loved to pray on the seashore, and therefore it seems most probable that there was a ‘proseucha’ on this spot. The following extract of Biscoe contains several trustworthy allusions from ancient writers on this point: ‘The sea-shore was esteemed by the Jews a place most pure, and therefore proper to offer up their prayers and thanksgiving to Almighty God. Philo tells us that the Jews of Alexandria, when Flaccus, the governor of Egypt, who had been their great enemy, was arrested by order of the Emperor Caius, not being able to assemble at their synagogues, which had been taken from them, crowded out at the gates of the city early in the morning, went to the neighbouring shores, and standing in a most pure place, with one accord lifted up their voices in praising God. Tertullian says that the Jews in his time, when they kept their great fast, left their synagogues, and on every shore sent forth their prayers to heaven (de Jejun. c. 16); and in another place, among the ceremonies used by the Jews, mentions orationes littorales, the prayers they made upon the shores (Adv. Nat. i. 13). And long before Tertullian’s time there was a decree made at Halicarnassus in favour of the Jews, which, among other privileges, allows them to say their prayers near the shore, according to the custom of their country (Josephus, Ant. xiv. 10, 23). It is hence abundantly evident, that it was common with the Jews to choose the shore as a place highly fitting to offer up their prayers.’


Verse 7

St. Paul completes his Journey to Jerusalem from Tyre by way of Ptolemais and Cæsarea to the Holy City, 7-17.

Acts 21:7. And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais. More literally, ‘And we finishing our voyage, arrived at Ptolemais from Tyre.’ The arrival of the apostle and his companions at Ptolemais completed the sea portion of their journey; the rest of the journey from Ptolemais to Jerusalem by Cæsarea was made by land. Ptolemais is one of the oldest cities in the world; we read of it in 1:31, under the name of ‘Accho,’ as one of the old cities of the Canaanites which the children of Israel failed to obtain possession of. It was situate in the portion of Asher, and seems to have been ever considered as a Phoenician city. In a maritime point of view, it was a fortress of great importance, and has been looked on as the key of Galilee from the Mediterranean.

But with Israel the sea and the seaboard was ever a question of minor importance, hence possibly their neglect of such stations as Accho. On the partition of the Macedonian Empire, Accho fell to the lot of the Ptolemais. It was rebuilt and renamed Ptolemais by Ptolemy Soter. But its old name still survived, and eventually superseded the Egyptian title. It was famous in the Crusades under the name of St. Jean d’Acre. It is still called Acre, and has a population of some 15,000.


Verse 8

Acts 21:8. And came to Cæsarea. The little company now travelled by land. Their route led them round Carmel along the coast for some thirty to forty miles to Cæsarea. This was the third visit St. Paul had paid to this city: (1) On his journey from Jerusalem to Tarsus (chap. Acts 9:30); (2) on his return to Antioch from his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 18:22); (3) in his last mission to Jerusalem now about to be described. For an account of Cæsarea see note on chap. Acts 8:40.

And we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven. We have already met with this Philip. In the early years of the Church’s story, seven men were chosen by the believers in Jerusalem as assistants to the ‘Twelve;’ of these seven two seem to have come rapidly into great prominence, Stephen and Philip. The first of these, Stephen, after acquiring a fame unequalled in the first years of the faith, endured a martyr’s death, and thus followed his Master. The second, Philip, like Stephen, became a great preacher. We read of him in Samaria (chap. Acts 8:5), and again on the way to Gaza (chap. Acts 8:26), then as preaching in many nameless cities (‘in all the cities,’ chap. Acts 8:40), and finally apparently settling in Cæsarea. This was about A.D. 35-36, nearly a quarter of a century before the visit of St. Paul to the home of Philip on his way to the Holy City.

As regards the first title of Philip, ‘a deacon ,’ the inferior title and also the original duties of the office had, in the case of the seven chosen assistants of the ‘Twelve,’ been quickly forgotten, owing doubtless to the important work which rapidly fell to the lot of these favoured men; with Philip the lesser duties had become merged in the higher ones which belonged to the office of evangelist.

The ‘evangelists’ of the early church are thus described by Eusebius (H. E., iii. 37): ‘After laying the foundation of the faith in foreign parts, as the peculiar object of their mission, and after appointing others as shepherds to the flock, and committing to them the care of those that had been recently introduced, they went again to other regions and nations with the grace and co-operation of God.’ They were thus the missionaries of the first days, to use the words of Dr. Westcott (Introduction to the Gospels, chap. 3): ‘The evangelist was not the compiler of a history, but the missionary who carried the good tidings to fresh countries; the bearer and not the author of the message. Till the end of the first century, and probably till the time of Justin Martyr (about A.D. 140), “the Gospel,” “Evangel,” uniformly signifies the substance and not the records of the life of Christ.’ We can thus trace how, when the story of the life of Christ—at first only told orally by the evangelist or missionary—was written down in the form of narrative, the inspired writers became known as the evangelists: after the four written records became widely known, it is probable that the title ‘Evangelist’ was appropriated only to them.

Professor Plumptre has an interesting note here on the meeting which must have taken place between Philip and Luke the companion of Paul: ‘As far as we know, Philip and Luke had not met before, and we can imagine the satisfaction with which the latter (Luke), himself probably an evangelist in both senses of the word (2 Corinthians 8:18), and already contemplating his work as an historian, would welcome the acquaintance of the former (Philip); how he would ask many questions as to-the early history of the Church, and learn from him all or nearly all that we find in the first eleven chapters of this book.’


Verse 9

Acts 21:9. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. This is an example of the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel quoted by St. Peter in the early days of the faith (Acts 2:17): ‘And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy . . . and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit’ (Joel 2:28-29).

From the several traditions respecting these four daughters, it seems that subsequently two of them were married. It is improbable that any ‘order of virgins’ existed at this early period. There seems to have been an organization (see 1 Timothy 5:9, etc.) at Ephesus of ‘widows’ of an advanced age, who spent their days in charitable work in connection with the Church. But we find no trace of any order of virgins in the early Christian Church. The Ministrae alluded to by Pliny in his letter to the Emperor Trajan were not improbably deaconesses, but these need not have teen, probably were not, virgins.

It is very likely that these ‘four’ foretold the apostle’s coming captivity, and showed him the dangers he would meet with in Jerusalem.


Verse 10

Acts 21:10. And as we tarried there many days. ‘Many;’ the Greek word thus rendered is in the comparative degree, and apparently signifies that Paul and his companions tarried in Cæsarea ‘more days’ than at first they had intended. He was now only two days’ easy journey from Jerusalem, which he intended to reach by Pentecost.

The following table, compiled by Dr. Gloag, derived from the diary of the writer of the ‘Acts,’ will show how St. Paul had been enabled to accomplish his purpose of reaching Jerusalem before the Pentecostal feast (Acts 20:16):—

Paul leaves Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread (Acts 20:6), that is, after Passover

6 days

And came to Troas in

5 days

Where he abode

7 days

Voyage from Troas to Miletus (Acts 20:13-15)

4 days

At Miletus

2 days

Miletus to Patara (Acts 21:1)

4 days

Patara to Tyre, (about)

4 days

He remained in Tyre

7 days

Tyre to Ptolemais

1 day

Ptolemais to Caesarea

2 days

He remained in Caesarea

5 or 6 days

Caesarea to Jerusalem

2 days

On the fiftieth day after Passover, the feast of Pentecost occurred.

There came down from Judæa a certain prophet, named Agabus. This is the same Agabus whom we read of in chap. Acts 11:28; we are sure of his identity with the foreteller of the famine in the days of Claudius Cæsar—the name, the office, and the residence being the same in both instances. Fifteen or sixteen years had elapsed since Agabus of Jerusalem had prophesied before the Church of Antioch; he had doubtless now come down from the Holy City to meet Paul at Cæsarea.


Verse 11

Acts 21:11. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle and bound his own hands and feet, and said. The loose flowing robes worn in eastern countries are bound about the waist with a sash or girdle. Taking this from the apostle, the Christian prophet, in the dramatic way with which the old seers of Israel were wont to deliver their prophecies, revealed to Paul the peculiar form of danger which surely awaited him in the ancient capital of the people. Hitherto the prophetic voices had simply spoken of perils awaiting his arrival; Agabus now signifies the exact nature of the danger. He would be delivered by his own countrymen under some grave, probably capital charge into the hands of the Roman government. We have many instances in the Old Testament of similar symbolical prophecies; for instance, the horns of iron of Zedekiah when he prophesied before the kings of Judah and Israel (1 Kings 22:11); the walking naked and barefoot of Isaiah (Isaiah 20:2-3); the marred linen girdle of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 13:4-9); the tile with the city of Jerusalem portrayed upon it (Ezekiel 4:1-2); the iron pan of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 4:3), etc.

There were even darker plots in store threatening the life of the brave apostle, plots known no doubt to the inspired prophet (see Acts 23:12). He would warn the well-known Christian leader, and if possible prevent his coming up to the Pentecostal feast.

Thus saith the Holy Ghost. A solemn formula, corresponding to the well-known Old Testament נְאֻם יְה<sub>וֹ</sub> ָה, Thus saith the Lord.


Verse 12

Acts 21:12. And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. The prediction of Agabus, set forth in so striking and impressive a manner, and possibly, too, because it detailed the danger in a way much more precise than appears from the text of the narrative, moved even the fearless companions of Paul, men like Luke; and they, and Philip and his daughters, and others, joined their entreaties to the great leader not to risk a life so precious to the Master’s cause, but to give up the journey.

Commentators strikingly call attention here to the parallel between Paul and Paul’s Master, who had to listen to His disciple Peter endeavouring to persuade Him to turn aside from the way of suffering on which He had entered.


Verse 13

Acts 21:13. Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break my heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. But Paul, in spite of these reiterated prophecies, notwithstanding the loving and affectionate entreaties of his friends, saw clearly the Divine will and his own plain duty through all this cloud of hindrances, and held on to his first purpose without flinching. The work his Master had appointed for him to do lay at Jerusalem. There, at the great Pentecostal feast, he would meet with many thousand Jews from all parts of the world, all more or less prejudiced against the famous apostle of the Gentiles who was said to be everywhere teaching the children of the chosen people to forsake the ‘Law.’ He would meet these face to face, and, supported by the countenance of James and the elders of the revered Jerusalem Church, disprove these painful fatal rumours. He would show the multitudes gathered together at Pentecost, how nobly his churches—his converts—had come forward with money and help for the distressed Palestine Jews, and thus he hoped for ever to set himself right with his own countrymen. He was an old man, wearied with ceaseless toils and worn with sickness and anxiety. The chance of meeting so great a concourse of Jews in the Holy City might never occur again; so for his work’s sake, for the sake of the many flourishing churches he had founded, he would do his best to disprove the false rumours so widely disseminated concerning his teaching. This was, we believe, in Paul’s mind, and determined him at all risks to go up to the Holy City and keep the feast; and in spite of what happened there, there is no doubt but that this the real purpose of the visit was accomplished, and that with James the Lord’s brother, the head of the Jerusalem Church, a vast proportion of the crowds from foreign lands who kept that Pentecost feast, from that time, as the result showed, loyally accepted the Gentile apostle and his noble work. Far down the stream of Christian centuries, another famous Christian leader, an ardent and devoted follower of Paul, when similarly warned of coming danger, resolutely replied to his friends in the spirit of Paul. It was when Luther was on his way to the city of Worms, that he too met with friends who warned him; and when he was near the city, his beloved friend Spalatin sent him a message entreating him not to enter and expose himself to such dangers. His answer was a memorable one: ‘Although there were as many devils in Worms as there are tiles upon the housetops, I will still go thither.’


Verse 14

Acts 21:14. We ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done. It seems very probable that this expression of resignation to the Divine will, to which the brethren so reverently bowed, was a quotation from the Lord’s Prayer, and such a use of one of its petitions suggests to us that the Christians of the Apostolic Age were in the habit of frequently using this model of prayer designed for them by their Master. On these words St. Bernard very beautifully writes: ‘We say daily in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Oh, how pure and serene is our life when that will alone directs us, and when not a trace of our own will remains behind! With such a frame of mind, we become like unto God.’


Verse 15

Acts 21:15. And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem. There is a variety here in the Greek text. The literal translation of the word found in the Received Text ( ἀποσκευασάμενοι) would be, ‘having stowed away our baggage,’ that is, having stored our heavy packages away in Cæsarea to await our return. The reading, however, of the older and more trustworthy authorities is ἐ πισκευασά μενοι, which is best rendered by ‘having packed up our baggage,’ that is, having placed it upon pack-horses or other beasts of burden with a view of carrying it with us up to Jerusalem. The alms which had been gathered with so much care and pains from many churches probably constituted a portion of this luggage. This precious and important charge, perhaps, was what St. Luke was especially alluding to here. The apparently strange English expression, ‘we took up our carriages,’ was in common use for ‘the things carried’ at the time when the Authorised Version was brought out. A similar use of the word ‘carriages’ we find in the description in the prophet’s vision of the march of the invader (Sennacherib) toward Jerusalem (Isaiah 10:28): ‘He is come to Aiath, he is passed to Migron; at Michmash he hath laid up his carriages.’ See, too, for a similar use of ‘carriages,’ 18:21; 1 Samuel 17:22; Isaiah 46:1.


Verse 16

Acts 21:16. There went with us also certain of the disciples of Cæsarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge. This rendering of the Greek words is a possible one. A simpler way, however, of translating the original, and one, too, that affords a better sense, is: ‘There went with us also certain of the disciples of Cæsarea, conducting us to Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge.’ The chief object apparently of the Cæsarean brethren in accompanying Paul to Jerusalem, was to introduce them to this Mnason, who was prepared to receive them as his guests. Mnason was no doubt an important person in the Jerusalem Church; he is styled ‘an old or an early disciple,’ and was possibly converted during the life of our Lord Himself. Mnason is a Greek name, he was therefore most probably an Hellenist or Greek-speaking Jew. Professor Plumptre thinks ‘we may fairly infer that he was one of those who had been “from the beginning” among the eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, to whom St. Luke refers as his informants (Luke 1:2). If so, it is interesting as showing that our Lord’s disciples were not limited to the natives of Galilee and Judæa.’


Verse 17

Acts 21:17. And when we were come to Jerusalem. St. Paul now arrives at Jerusalem for the fifth time since he left it on that never-to-be-forgotten journey to Damascus to persecute the believers in Jesus. This is the last recorded visit that he made to the Holy City. The probable date of this Pentecost, in which the events about to be recorded took place, was A.D. 58.

The brethren received us gladly. This must have been an informal reception either at the city gates or in the house of Mnason, for we read how James and the elders received the traveller and his companions on the day following.


Verse 18

The Reception of Paul by James and the Jerusalem EldersThey tell Paul how he should act towards the Jewish Christians present at the FeastThe Gentile Apostle acts on their Advice, 18-25.

Acts 21:18. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James. This James was the so-called brother of the Lord, not one of the Twelve, but who, converted to the faith probably owing to a special appearance of the Lord after His resurrection, took his place at once among the more prominent members of the Jerusalem Church, of which community after some little time he became the ‘bishop’ or presiding elder. See the note, chap. Acts 15:13, where the position and character of this eminent and devoted servant of the Lord are discussed at some length. There are in the New Testament story three men bearing the name of James—the first, James the son of Zebedee, the brother of John, one of the twelve apostles: he suffered martyrdom at a comparatively early period in the history of the Church, at the bands of Herod (see Acts 12:2); the second, James the Less, the son of Alphæus, also one of the Twelve; the third, James the so-called brother of the Lord (most probably with the other ‘brethren of the Lord,’ a son of Joseph by a former wife), the bishop or president of the Church of Jerusalem. He is generally known in history as ‘the Just.’ This is the James who received Paul when he came up to the Holy City to keep this feast of Pentecost, A.D. 58. Some ten or eleven years later, he suffered as a believer in Jesus of Nazareth, the year before the fatal siege of Jerusalem. By direction of the high priest Annas, a Sadducee, James, the head of the Christian Church in the city, was hurled from a pinnacle of the temple, and finally despatched by stoning (Hegesippus in Eus. H..E. ii. 23).

And all the elders were present. The mention of James and ‘all the elders,’ and the omission of any allusion to the apostles, is a clear proof that none of these were at this time resident in the Holy City. It must be borne in mind that more than a quarter of a century had passed since the memorable first Pentecost kept by the believers in Jesus of Nazareth; some had doubtless rejoined their Lord, others were working for Him in distant lands.


Verse 19

Acts 21:19. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. Both from the private (Acts 21:17) and public reception of Paul and his companions by the presiding elders and bishop of the Jerusalem Church, it is quite clear that the governing body among the resident Jerusalem Christians sympathized with Paul’s work, and thoroughly endorsed his teaching and practice. The bitter opposition proceeded from a small though influential faction, which was represented to some extent in all those many populous centres where Jews congregated. Before this venerable assembly of the elders of the mother church of Christianity, presided over by one who had been with the Lord from the days of the sacred childhood, Paul rehearsed the story of the past three years, including what is generally called the Third Missionary Journey—all, in fact, that had taken place of importance since his last visit to the city, briefly recorded in chap, Acts 18:22, dwelling on the vast numbers of Gentiles who had joined the Church of God in such centres as Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Philippi, Colossæ. On this occasion he, no doubt, presented the costly presents and alms contributed as a token of love and sympathy by these foreign Gentile congregations to their poor Jewish brethren in Palestine.


Verse 20

Acts 21:20. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him. Thus the Jerusalem elders and James, when they heard the story of the successful missionary apostle, reverently gave thanks to Almighty God for the great work done by the hand of His servant Paul. In their minds after his narrative no shadow of mistrust or suspicion of the earnest and devoted man lingered. Then after the prayer of glad thanksgiving, they gave him counsel how best to win the hearts of their suspicious, jealous countrymen.

Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law. The Greek word rendered ‘thousands’ is even stronger,—‘myriads,’ ‘tens of thousands.’ We must bear in mind that James was speaking not of the Christian Jews of Jerusalem only, but of that vast multitude which was in the habit of coming up yearly to keep the feast of Pentecost in the Holy City, and who at that moment were present in Jerusalem. Of all the great Jewish festivals, Pentecost attracted the largest number of pilgrims from distant countries. This in great measure was owing to the danger of travel in early spring or late autumn, which was an effectual bar to pilgrims from a distance coming up in great numbers to the Passover or feast of Tabernacles. We read in Acts 4:4, how the number of ‘believers’ in the city was about five thousand. This was some twenty-four years back, and during this long period Christianity had continued to spread with a strange and, in some places, with a startling rapidity. We must remember the myriads here spoken of include the Jewish Christians of all lands.

‘But,’ James continues, ‘these Jews who have accepted Jesus as Messiah are all zealous,’ more accurately rendered, ‘are all zealots of the law.’ The Jews of the first century in great numbers were willing to acknowledge as Messiah, that Crucified One whom so many had seen after He was risen from the dead; but they were reluctant to give up their privileges as a chosen race, and so they clung to their law and its stern restrictions with an attachment more devoted than ever. The hatred of the Jews for Paul sprang from their consciousness that he looked upon this sacred law as having done its work, and consequently doomed to vanish away.

A large body of these Jewish Christians subsequently withdrew from the Church; these are known in ecclesiastical history as Nazarenes and Ebionites. The latter sect was very widely spread, and counted in its ranks great numbers of the chosen people. They rejected the authority and writings of St. Paul, branding him as an apostate. They held, also, erroneous views respecting the person of Christ. This Judaising sect was very numerous even as late as the close of the fourth century.


Verse 21

Acts 21:21. And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. This was, no doubt, the general opinion current among those Jewish Christians who had not personally come under the influence of Paul. A widespread feeling existed in Jewish Christian communities that the famous apostle of the Gentiles taught the chosen people ‘to forsake Moses,’ to give up their cherished rites and ceremonies, to discontinue in their children that peculiar and time-honoured custom of circumcision which for so many centuries had distinguished the child of Israel from the child of the Gentile foreigner. This assertion was false. Paul’s teaching here is best summarised in his own words to the Corinthian Church: ‘Is any man called being circumcised? let him not became uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called(1 Corinthians 7:18-20). Paul never taught the Jewish Christian to abandon the law and the customs of his fathers. He himself, on the contrary, on several occasions conspicuously observed the strictest rites of Judaism; as, for instance, when he shaved his head at Cenchrea, when he lived as a Jew with the Jews, when, in the circumstances about to be narrated, he took upon himself the Nazaritic vow. Yet, as it has been well observed, ‘fanaticism is sometimes clear-sighted in its bitterness, and the Judaisers felt that when it was proclaimed that circumcision was nothing in its bearing on man’s relations to God,’ the day would come at no far distant date when circumcision would cease to be practised, and the time-honoured ceremonial law of Moses, which enjoined it as the initial and principal rite, would become a dead letter.


Verse 22

Acts 21:22. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. ‘Seeing, now, this is the state of things, that you, Paul, are looked upon by a large number of our countrymen with jealous suspicion and dislike, let us consider what is best under the circumstances for you to do; for it if certain that out of all these multitudes of foreign Jews come up to keep Pentecost in Jerusalem, a great number will always be watching you and your actions, to see whether what they have heard alleged against you be just, for the news of your arrival will be soon noised abroad.’


Verse 23

Acts 21:23. Do therefore this that we say unto thee: We have four men which have a vow on them. ‘We,’ that is, James the presiding elder and his brother-presbyters of the Jerusalem Church. The advice which was tendered, and which Paul followed, was the counsel of the whole assembly. The ‘four men’ here spoken of were, of course, Christian Jews, and were doubtless members of one of the Jerusalem congregations. It is curious to observe how, in the Christian brotherhood of the Holy City, the old Jewish customs were still rigidly observed. Doubtless this was owing in great measure to the influence of their presiding elder, James ‘the Lord’s brother,’ as he was called. He, we know, from the tradition preserved by Hegesippus (in Eus. H. E. iii. 23), lived the life of a Nazarite, bound by a perpetual vow like Samson and Samuel, and possibly like John the Baptist. ‘James drank,’ we read, ‘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 be found there 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.’

Thus the advice to Paul to associate himself with these men came from one a perpetual Nazarite himself. These four poor Jewish Christians of Jerusalem had taken the Nazaritic vow. This involved their leading an ascetic life for a certain time, usually (when the vow was for a season only) for thirty days. When the time specified in the vow was completed, a certain group of offerings had to be presented in the temple. They could not legally be released from the obligations they had taken upon themselves, until these offerings had been presented; and it seems to have been the custom for the wealthier Jews to take upon them the expenses and cost of these offerings for their poorer brethren, and so enable them to complete their vow. Such a deed of benevolence was looked upon by the more earnest Jews as an act of special merit. Josephus tells us of Agrippa the First, who, on his arrival in Jerusalem after having obtained the crown of Palestine, paid the expenses of many poor Nazarites who were waiting to be released from their vows. This was the king’s thankoffering for his good fortune. It was also an act well calculated to win the hearts of his more zealous Jewish subjects. In the Gemara we read how Alexander Jannæus contributed towards supplying nine hundred victims for three hundred Nazarites.


Verse 24

Acts 21:24. Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads. Better, be at charges for them; pay all the expenses consequent on their Nazarite vow. These charges were, for each of the four persons, an he-lamb for a burnt-offering, a ewe-lamb for a sin-offering, a ram for a peace-offering, together with a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and a drink-offering (see Numbers 6:14-18), in addition to which there was a fee to the priest or Levite for the act of shaving the head. This involved a considerable expense, and we can well conceive that, in many instances, without the help of the rich or comparatively rich, the poor man often would have been unable to complete his Nazarite vow.

Now, James would know from his past history, that Paul,—with all his liberal views, with all his anxiety to remove stumbling-blocks out of the way of the Gentile nations willing to become servants of Christ,—still reverenced and even loved to share in the ancient time-honoured practices of his people. Only three or four years before, Paul had taken in Cenchrea this very Nazarite’s vow (see Acts 18:18). That act of the Gentile apostle was no doubt well known to James and the Jerusalem presbyters. Such a gift, too, from Paul, who was known in all the churches as one who supported himself by the labour of his hands, would, besides testifying to his love for the old Jewish customs, bear striking witness to his generosity and ready self-denial. It would indeed be a notable gift, the paying these poor men’s expenses in the temple, for the travelling tentmaker Paul (see Acts 20:34-35, where the generous apostle’s words give us some insight into his character). It seems to have been the custom in those times among the Jews, for certain persons who had not, in the first instance, taken the obligation of a Nazarite upon themselves, to associate themselves towards the end of the period for which the vow was taken with Nazarites who had taken the vow, and to join with them in the final process of purification, which lasted apparently, as in this case, for seven days, and then to defray for the whole of the company, many or few, all the cost of the sacrifice. This way of taking on oneself the obligations of a Nazarite was considered a devout and meritorious act.

And all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keenest the law. James thought that nothing would be so likely to conciliate the ‘conservative’ party among the Jewish Christians as the sight of the well-known apostle of the Gentiles sharing in, and assisting at his own cost others to take part in one of the cherished Jewish customs. Surely one who could thus publicly by example and teaching maintain the rigid observance of the ceremonial law, would never sanction disloyalty to the national traditions of Israel.

How all this ended, we shall see three or four verses on. The counsel was well meant, and Paul acted kindly and generously in the matter, endeavouring to win the hearts of his bigoted exclusive countrymen. But it does not seem as though his Master smiled upon the transaction. It certainly utterly failed. In Paul’s loving heart there was an intense longing to win the covenant people, and so he was ready to make any sacrifice to attain this end. But the party of ‘zealots’ among the Jews of the first century were after all right in their estimate of what would result from Paul’s teaching. They foresaw that if the Gentiles were freed from the law of Moses and all its burthen-some rites, and at the same time were put, as regards the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven, on a footing of perfect equality with the Jews, the time would surely come when the Jew would ask, ‘To what purpose availeth the keeping of the old law and the hard rites?’ and so they surely foresaw that the old order of things would at no distant period give place to the new, and the Jew would no longer be distinguished from the Gentile.


Verse 25

Acts 21:25. As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing. James and the Jerusalem elders were careful—after they had advised Paul to assist these poor Nazarites, and to associate himself as one zealous for the law of Moses with them in their vow of asceticism—to repeat that they had no desire whatever to interfere with that perfect liberty of action, and freedom from all the restraints of the law of Moses, which had already, in a solemn apostolic conclave at Jerusalem, been conceded to Gentile Christians: none of these austere practices like the Nazarite’s vow were to be expected from any except a born Jew and then James proceeded to enumerate the four points in a way connected with the Mosaic law, but which really belonged to a far broader and more solemn code. See notes on chap, 15, and Excursus following that chapter.


Verse 26

Paul takes the Nazarite’s VowThe Uproar in the TempleHe is arrested by the Roman Soldiery and interrogated by the Officer in Command, who allows him to address the Crowd, 26-40.

Acts 21:26. Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them, entered into the temple. Dr. Schaff (Hist, of the Apostolic Church, Book I., ‘Missions’) well remarks on this concession of Paul to the request of James: ‘The position of James, as his martyrdom a few years after shows, was at all events one of extreme difficulty; since, amidst the growing obduracy of the nation, and in sight of its impending doom, he still had to stand—for this was his proper mission—as the connecting link between the old and the new dispensations, to rescue as many as possible from the destruction. And as to Paul, he was here not in his proper Gentile-Christian field of labour. His conduct on other occasions proves that he was far from allowing himself to be restricted in this field. He reserved to himself entire independence in his operations. But he stood now on the venerable ground of the Jewish-Christian mother Church, where he had to respect the customs of the fathers, and the authority of James, the regular bishop. Clearly conscious of already possessing righteousness and salvation in Christ, he accommodated himself, with the best and noblest intentions, to the weaker brethren. Though himself free, he became to them that were under the law, as under the law; to the Jews, a Jew; to those who were not free, a servant, that he might gain some, according to his own maxim (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Should he therefore, in this particular instance, have yielded too much, it would at all events not have been a betrayal of his convictions;—this is precluded by the firm, logical consistency of his character,—but a personal sacrifice for the great end of the peace and unity of the Church. And surely this sacrifice must have been duly appreciated by the more moderate and noble-minded of the Jewish Christians.’

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 (chap. Acts 1:16-20); of the sin and punishment of two of the most notable believers of the first days (chap. Acts 5:1-11); of the jealous murmuring and discontent of the poor saints (chap, Acts 6:1); of the failure in courage of Mark, and the bitter quarrel of two of the most prominent Christian leaders (chap. 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. Nothing is concealed, nothing is even partially veiled. On the same page with the splendid successes of the Christians of the first days, appear their failures; side by side with their supernatural powers are described their sins and human weaknesses. No careful reader can study these ‘Acts’ without gaining with every hour’s work a surer confidence that he has before him a true and genuine record of the life of Christian men and women during the thirty years which immediately succeeded the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

To signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them. Expositors have differed slightly as to the meaning of the original words here. The literal translation here would be, ‘declaring the fulfilment of the days of purification until the offering was offered for every one of them;’ that is to say, Paul entered the temple declaring [to the priests] when the days of purification would be completed for himself and the four, namely, in seven days; and that then, at the close of them, the customary offerings for all of them would be made; or, in other words, Paul announced to the temple authorities the interval, viz. seven days, between this declaration of his and the end of the vow and the presenting the required offerings. Dean Alford purposes to translate, ‘signifying their intention of fulfilling;’ but this is inadmissible. Dean Howson (St. Paul, chap, xxi.) would render the whole passage thus: ‘He entered into the temple, giving public notice that the days of purification were fulfilled, [and stayed there] till the offering for each one of the Nazarites was brought.’ If this rendering be adopted, we must understand that Paul entered the temple and told the priests that the period of the Nazaritic vow was accomplished; and he waited then within the sacred enclosure till the necessary offerings were made for each of them, and their hair cut and burnt in the sacred fire. Wieseler also adopts this view. [The rendering, however, given above, which looks on the announcement of the days of purification as having reference to the future, on the whole appears best and simplest.] Seven days was the ordinary period for the more solemn purifications. See Exodus 29:37; Leviticus 12:2; Leviticus 13:6; Numbers 12:14-15; Numbers 19:14-16, etc.


Verse 27

Acts 21:27. And when the seven days were almost ended. Or, literally rendered, ‘were on the point of being completed;’ that is, when the seven days, ‘the days of purification,’ announced to the priests as the time to which the vow of the four Nazarites would extend, and also the period of the apostle’s sharing in that consecration, were coming to an end.

The Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him. The Jews who had come up as pilgrims to the Holy City from Proconsular Asia, of which Ephesus was the capital. Paul, we know, had spent some three years in Ephesus and Asia, and was well known to the Jews there, by many of whom he had been bitterly opposed and persecuted. No doubt many of these Asian Jews were from Ephesus, the chief city, and recognised Trophimus their fellow-townsman (Acts 21:29). These Jews had been watching Paul, with strange excited interest, as he passed in and out of the temple courts with the marks of his Nazarite’s vow upon him, and at length they saw him in company with a Gentile (Trophimus) well known to them. He was, no doubt, in the outer court of the temple, where aliens might walk and gaze unhindered; and these excited men at once concluded Paul was about to proceed with the stranger into those sacred precincts reserved strictly for the children of Israel, and at once raised the cry, charging him with the crime of profaning the Holy Place.


Verse 28

Acts 21:28. Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place. The immediate provocation no doubt was the fact of Paul being in company with one known to be a Gentile. Paul they hated; they had watched him for several days with some surprise as a Nazarite constantly going in and out of the second court, where was situated the chambers where the Nazarites performed their vows (Middoth, quoted by Howson, St. Paul, chap, 21), and into which no Gentile on pain of death might enter. After some days they saw him in the outer court (the court of the Gentiles), with Trophimus the Ephesian: they at once concluded he had been taking this un-circumcised Gentile with him into the inner court, where only an Israelite might penetrate. The angry men at once seized him, and, acting on a mere suspicion, directly charged him with sacrilege. But they accused him, besides, of having taught all men everywhere not only ‘against the Law and the Temple,’ which was the old charge brought against Stephen and a greater than Stephen, but of having taught all men ‘against the people.’ This was really the great accusation which the Jews brought in the case of Paul, and was of course based upon his well-known and famous work among the Gentile peoples, whom Paul taught everywhere were fellow-heirs with Israel of the kingdom. This levelling up of the long-despised alien, the rigid and exclusive Jew bitterly rebelled against, hence the burning hostility against Paul.

And further brought Greeks into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place. That is to say, Paul had brought Trophimus into that part of the temple interdicted to foreigners, not being Jews. The first court, called ‘the Court of the Gentiles,’ could be entered by all—Jew and Gentile alike.

The temple of Jerusalem in the first century of the Christian era was erected on the old area once occupied by the threshing-floor of Araunah, but greatly enlarged by means of laborious substructions after King David’s death. The temples of Solomon and Zerubbabel had successively stood upon it, and now the partially new ‘house of Herod’ occupied the same place.

The outer court was a square; it was known in the old prophetic books as the ‘Court of the Lord’s House.’ Josephus calls it ‘the Outer Temple.’ In the Apocrypha and Talmud it is known as ‘the Mountain of the House.’ In this enclosure Gentiles might walk. It was paved with stones of various colours, and was surrounded with a covered colonnade of great magnificence. About the south-east angle of this court was the Porch of Solomon where Jesus walked (John 10:23). It was in this great outer court that the money-changers kept their exchange tables, and where beasts for sacrifice were sold. It was here, too, that Peter and John nearly a quarter of a century before had healed the lame man (Acts 3). This outer court was connected with the city and the Mount Zion quarter by means of a bridge over the intervening valley.

Near the north-west corner of this court of the Gentiles arose that series of enclosed terraces, communicating with one another by flights of steps, on the summit of which was the sanctuary. A balustrade of stone fenced off these more sacred enclosures. This was the middle wall of partition alluded to, Ephesians 2:14. The first flight of steps led up to a platform called the Court of the Women, so named because no woman of Israel might penetrate beyond this enclosure. The Nazarite chambers led out of this terrace or court, which also it is supposed contained the treasury. It was here that St. Paul was believed to have introduced Trophimus. Above this terrace were the Court of Israel and the Court of the Priests. Here the sacrifices were offered. The temple itself, including the vestibule, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies, rose above all these raised terraces, and was approached by a flight of twelve steps from the Court of the Priests.


Verse 29

Acts 21:29. (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed Paul had brought into the temple.) Trophimus was one of the little band which accompanied Paul from Philippi in Macedonia to Jerusalem. Being an Ephesian, he would be well known by sight to many of the Jews from Asia. There was no excuse either for Paul or Trophimus, they considered; the prohibition to pass the balustrade leading to the steps by which Israelites ascended to the Court of the Women and the chambers of the Nazarites was well known, and was, besides, engraved on pillars before the eyes of all who walked in the outer Gentile porch. One of these inscriptions, which must once have formed part of the balustrade and low wall in question, the recent excavations of the Palestine Exploration Society have brought to light. Professor Plumptre thus translates it:— ‘NO MAN OF ALIEN RACE IS TO ENTER WITHIN THE BALUSTRADE AND FENCE THAT GOES ROUND THE TEMPLE IF ANY ONE IS TAKEN IN THE ACT, LET HIM KNOW THAT HE HAS HIMSELF TO BLAME FOR THE PENALTY OF DEATH THAT FOLLOWS.’ Thus the temple was really looked upon as including all the courts and buildings which were surrounded by the Court of the Gentiles. It was this doom which Trophimus the Ephesian was supposed to have brought on himself. But Paul in the eyes of the rigid Jews was the most guilty person, as having induced the Gentile, as they fancied, to pass the forbidden barrier.

The feverish anxiety of the Jews to maintain all their ancient privileges and customs, and their hatred of all foreign interference, was growing, it must be remembered, every year. The doomed Holy City was filled with wild societies of ‘zealots’ and other unions of bigoted and fanatic Jews. When the events related in this chapter were taking place, little more than ten years remained for Jerusalem. We are now speaking of what took place A.D. 58-59. In A.D. 70 not one stone of all this superb pile of buildings then glittering with its wealth of gold and marble remained on another. No Jew was allowed to linger even near the scene of so many ancient Hebrew glories—of such awful disaster and shame.


Verse 30

Acts 21:30. And all the city was moved, and the people ran together. The rumour quickly reached the quarter of ‘Zion’ that the notorious Paul had been caught in an act of sacrilege in the temple, and crowds of Jews would quickly come hurrying across the bridge which led from the temple into the city.

And they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut. Paul was evidently at this time in the first of the inner courts, probably in the neighbourhood of the Nazarite chambers, and certainly not with Trophimus—this was clearly a gratuitous supposition on the part of his enemies. They had been seen together in the city, perhaps in the Court of the Gentiles; they were known from old memories in Ephesus to be close friends, and so the rumour got abroad. It is easy to understand how it was repeated from mouth to mouth, in the first instance perhaps as a probability, then as a fact. ‘The doors’ which were shut were most likely those on the eastern side, made of Corinthian brass, very strong and massive. It has been suggested that these great gates were closed to intimate that the worship and sacrifice in the temple were temporarily suspended, in order that it might be ascertained whether or no the temple had been profaned.

It is, however, more likely that these doors were shut, and Paul thrust out, to guard against the possibility of the temple floors being stained with blood and thus polluted in the event of Paul and his supposed companion being summarily put to death by the people. This was done by the Levites in charge of the ‘House.’


Verse 31

Acts 21:31. And as they went about to kill him, tidings came onto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Preparations apparently were actually going on to execute summary justice on the apostle. The crowds that came hurrying over the bridge no doubt hindered the arrangements for his death, and gave time to the Roman officer to come upon the scene of the tumult. Philo tells us that any uncircumcised person who ventured within the separating wall might be stoned to death without any further trial. But this would only apply to the case of the Ephesian Trophimus, who was not found in the temple. As for Paul, any such procedure in his case would have been simply a murder, hence the rapid interference of the Roman authority. ‘The chief captain,’ literally ‘chili-arch,’ or chief of a thousand, was Claudius Lysias (chap, Acts 23:26). He commanded the division of the Roman force which garrisoned Jerusalem, and was stationed in the fortress of Antonia, a castle built so as to overlook the temple and its courts.

This castle (Acts 21:37) or tower of Antonia, where the Roman force which at that period watched the temple was lodged, was built by the Asmonean princes for a residence under the name of Baris. Herod the Great rebuilt it with considerable splendour, and named it ‘Antonia,’ after the Triumvir Mark Antony.

This fortress stood at the north-west corner of the temple area, and it communicated with the temple cloisters by means of two flights of steps. It stood on lower ground than the platform of the House, but it was raised to such a height that at least one of its four turrets commanded a view of what was going on in the courts within.

The ordinary Roman garrison was probably increased at the times of the great Jewish festivals such as Pentecost, as in these troubled and exciting periods, when the people were full of religious fanaticism, an outbreak among the pilgrims gathered together was not unusual. The officer here called the chief captain was commander of a thousand men. This appears to have been the number of the forces stationed during this Pentecost in Antonia.


Verse 33

Acts 21:33. Then the chief captain came near, and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains. The ‘chief captain’ assumed that Paul was a criminal and guilty of some very grave crime against society. He himself evidently suspected he was a well-known Egyptian rebel who had hitherto eluded capture. He orders him to be chained by each hand to a soldier for security’s sake, and then he proceeds at once to interrogate him.


Verse 34

Acts 21:34. And some cried one thing, and some another, among the multitude. The same angry, confused murmur of voices and cries were heard among the crowd as at Ephesus in the amphitheater when the Jews accused Paul and his friends. The Greek words used to describe the confused cries of the populace are the same in both places (see chap. Acts 19:32). Two verses further on (Acts 21:36), we read how the same sounds fell on the ears of the Roman captain and his soldiery as twenty - five years before were listened to and obeyed by the Roman governor Pilate, when Another was accused and reviled by a Jewish mob of fanatics gathered together at a solemn feast in this same Jerusalem. Now as then, the people cried, ‘Away with him!’ Poor misguided ones, they knew not what they asked!

He commanded him to be carried into the castle. The Greek word here translated ‘castle’ signifies literally ‘encampment.’ The meaning is, the Roman officer directed that Paul should be conveyed up the steps, away from the angry multitude who would have killed him, into that part of the fortress of Antonia used as the barracks of the imperial soldiery, where were no doubt strong guard - rooms set apart for the custody of prisoners.


Verse 37

Acts 21:37. And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? who said, Canst thou speak Greek? At the foot of the stairs leading up to the Tower of Antonia (the Castle), the pressure of the angry throng apparently obliged the Roman guard to take up Paul in their arms, and closing round, to carry him out of harm’s way up the steps. Out of reach of the angry crowd, and standing as it seems on the steps at the entrance of the tower, this strange prisoner turned quietly to the captain and addressed him in Greek, a language the Roman was surprised to hear from this eastern pilgrim, as he supposed him to be. He had no idea that the prisoner was a person of high culture; the Roman officer at once perceiving the accused was no ordinary man, proceeded to interrogate him.


Verse 38

Acts 21:38. Art thou not that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers? The ‘Egyptian’ for whom the chief captain had mistaken Paul was a notorious character in those days. Josephus in his writings mentions him twice. He appears to have been a pretended sorcerer, who also gave himself out as a prophet. He was in reality a leader of one of those robber bands, which in the disturbed years which preceded the great Jewish rebellion, infested Judaea and the neighbouring countries. The name ‘Sicarii,’ assassins, was derived from ‘sica,’ a dagger or short sword these robbers wore beneath their clothing. This could be used in a crowd with fatal effect without being observed. The ‘assassins,’ in these fierce lawless times, were often hired by the leading men of the country for purposes of murder. This ‘Egyptian’ in the reign of Nero, we read, promised his followers that at his word the walls of Jerusalem would fall down, and that he and they should enter the city over the ruins. Felix, the Roman procurator, however, attacked and defeated this predatory band with signal success, killing 400 and taking 200 prisoners; the remainder and their leader were put to flight and escaped.

A good deal has been written as to the discrepancy in the numbers which made up this robber band; St. Luke here in the ‘Acts,’ and Josephus in each of his two accounts of the rebellion, giving different estimates of the force.

It is, however, comparatively easy fairly to reconcile the three accounts. The Egyptian had gathered a band of Sicarii or armed assassins. With these, at one period of his career, a great multitude, some 30,000 in number, of people were associated, probably unarmed and undisciplined. The Procurator Felix, however, attacked and defeated the comparatively small armed body of Sicarii; of these he killed 400 and captured 200 prisoners. The remainder and their leader escaped. With these perhaps fled some of the deluded people who had joined the impostor prophet. It is also more than probable that the three accounts speak of different epochs of this outbreak, when the number of the followers of the Egyptian would be variously estimated.

From the words of the chief captain to Paul, it was no doubt a notorious fact that the ‘Egyptian impostor’ in question was an illiterate person, and did not speak ‘Greek.’


Verse 39

Acts 21:39. But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city. If he were indeed a citizen of Tarsus, he would have real claims upon the Roman authorities for protection. Tarsus as a city stood high in public estimation. It was not only famous as a university and seat of learning, but was the most important centre in that part of the Empire, and possessed many privileges. It bore on its coins the proud title of METROPOLIS AUTONOMOS, ‘the independent capital city.’


Verse 40

Acts 21:40. And when he had given him licence. There is nothing to call for the surprise which some have expressed at this permission being granted by the Roman authority for the suspected Paul to speak to the crowd. He had satisfied the officer that he was not the dangerous rebel whom he had taken him for, and had assured him who he was and whence he came; besides which, there was evidently something in the apostle’s manner and bearing which ever gained respect and confidence. We have in these ‘Acts’ several marked instances of this strange power Paul gained so quickly over those with whom he was brought into contact.

Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them. ‘It was a strange scene for that feast of Pentecost. The face and form of the speaker may have been seen from time to time by some during his passing visits to Jerusalem, but there must have been many who had not heard him take any part in public action since the day when, nearly a quarter of a century before, he had kept the garments of those who were stoning Stephen; and now he was there, accused of the self-same crimes, making his defence before a crowd as wild and frenzied as that of which he had then been the leader’ (Plumptre).

In the Hebrew tongue. That is, he spoke this address to his fellow-countrymen in that Hebrew dialect, the Syro-Chaldaic or Aramaic, the mother-tongue of the Jews in Judæa at that time.

This would be the language best loved by the fanatics who were thirsting for his blood. With the old Hebrew words he would be sure to speak more directly home to the Jewish heart, whose guiding principle was an intense, often an unreasoning attachment to their country, its ancient language, customs, and law.

No doubt ‘the great silence,’ the hush which fell on this angry, vociferating crowd, was produced by the sound of the loved Hebrew words.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 21:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/acts-21.html. 1879-90.

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