This chapter has all sorts of prophetic words about Paul going up to Jerusalem. He arrives there. The chapter also sees James, the (half-)brother of Jesus, tell Paul to go along with a vow to be a good witness to the law-keeping converts to the Jesus Movement, which he did. A riot promptly beaks out when he is spotted in the temple. In v. 16, Paul’s third missionary journey comes to an end, and his journey to Rome via Jerusalem begins in v. 17.
As I write in every introduction:
This online commentary and translation is available for free, gratis, to anyone who needs it, particularly those living in oppressive nations, who do not have access to printed Study Bibles.
The translation is mine. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If readers don’t read Greek, they can ignore the left side of the tables. I include the language to check my work and for Greek readers, who can also check my translation.
If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com. The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. And I keep things nontechnical.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section of Scripture, for discipleship.
Links are provided for further study.
Paul and Team Go from Miletus to Tyre (Acts 21:1-6)
|1 Ὡς δὲ ἐγένετο ἀναχθῆναι ἡμᾶς ἀποσπασθέντας ἀπ’ αὐτῶν, εὐθυδρομήσαντες ἤλθομεν εἰς τὴν Κῶ, τῇ δὲ ἑξῆς εἰς τὴν Ῥόδον κἀκεῖθεν εἰς Πάταρα, 2 καὶ εὑρόντες πλοῖον διαπερῶν εἰς Φοινίκην ἐπιβάντες ἀνήχθημεν. 3 ἀναφάναντες δὲ τὴν Κύπρον καὶ καταλιπόντες αὐτὴν εὐώνυμον ἐπλέομεν εἰς Συρίαν καὶ κατήλθομεν εἰς Τύρον· ἐκεῖσε γὰρ τὸ πλοῖον ἦν ἀποφορτιζόμενον τὸν γόμον. 4 ἀνευρόντες δὲ τοὺς μαθητὰς ἐπεμείναμεν αὐτοῦ ἡμέρας ἑπτά, οἵτινες τῷ Παύλῳ ἔλεγον διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος μὴ ἐπιβαίνειν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα. 5 ὅτε δὲ ἐγένετο ἡμᾶς ἐξαρτίσαι τὰς ἡμέρας, ἐξελθόντες ἐπορευόμεθα προπεμπόντων ἡμᾶς πάντων σὺν γυναιξὶν καὶ τέκνοις ἕως ἔξω τῆς πόλεως, καὶ θέντες τὰ γόνατα ἐπὶ τὸν αἰγιαλὸν προσευξάμενοι 6 ἀπησπασάμεθα ἀλλήλους καὶ ἀνέβημεν εἰς τὸ πλοῖον, ἐκεῖνοι δὲ ὑπέστρεψαν εἰς τὰ ἴδια.||1 Tearing ourselves away from them, we set sail. We ran a straight course and came to Cos, and soon afterwards to Rhodes and from there to Patara. 2 And after finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail. 3 When Cyprus appeared, and we left it behind on the left, we sailed into Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload the cargo. 4 We sought out the disciples and stayed there seven days. They kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to go on to Jerusalem. 5 When those days were completed for us, we departed and went on, while everyone, including women and children, accompanied us outside the city. After we kneeled on the sandy beach and prayed, 6 we said goodbye to each other; we boarded the ship, and they returned to their own homes.|
“Tearing … away”: it comes from the verb apospaō (pronounced ah-poh-spah-oh), and it used only four times in the NT: Acts 20:30; 21:1; Matt. 26:51; Luke 22:41. It combines the prefix apo– (away, from) and spaō (to draw as in draw a sword or a lot from a helmet). And it means as it does here: “draw,” draw away, attract,” and “be parted” or an extra-strong goodbye. F. F. Bruce suggested my translation, and the NIV has it too.
Paul and his team are landing on various islands, except Patara, on the mainland. They did not stay long, so he did not go inland on the island to preach. He must have trusted that the Spirit would eventually lead men and women to go to the islands to evangelize, which did happen.
Phoenicia is a region on the west coast of the larger area Syria. The town of Tyre is in Phoenicia.
They sailed past the island Cyprus on their left side of the ship, without stopping. It was the island home of Barnabas, who was a cousin of John Mark. When Paul and Barnabas split (Acts 15:36-41), Barnabas took John Mark to strengthen the churches back home. Their split was not amicable. How did Paul feel when he saw the island and memories flooded back? Did Paul tell Luke the narrator-historian about the incident as they sailed past the island, or did Luke hear about it from another source?
“Tyre”: Apparently the Christian mission had already reached the coastal town of Tyre. I wonder who they were, because the missionaries did not usually travel alone. In any case, Paul and his team must have asked people for directions to the “Christians” or followers of the “Way.”
Don’t forget that Jesus went that far north and ministered in the power of the Spirit, with signs and wonders (Matt. 11:21-22; 15:21; Mark 3:8; 7:24; Luke 6:17; 10:13-14). So he softened the ground.
“disciples”: they are believers in and followers of Jesus. Whenever “disciples” is mentioned in Acts, it refers to Christians. The noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG, considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
Before we begin our exegesis of the prophecy, lt’s consider that in Acts 20 Paul told the Ephesian elders in the city of Miletus that this sort of prophetic word was given in every town:
22 “And now consider! I am bound by the Spirit I go to Jerusalem, without knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except in every town the Holy Spirit testifies to me, saying that chains and troubles await me. 24 But on no account do I make my life precious to me, as I complete my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, testifying of the good news of the grace of God. (Acts 20:22-24)
It is amazing that prophets or prophecies were spoken in every town. But Paul held to his Spirit-inspired conviction that God called him to go to Jerusalem.
So then, how do we respond when we hear believers speak through the Spirit—prophecies—that something dangerous is about to happen, when we have the Spirit tell us to proceed ahead? We have to follow the deepest part of our soul and heart. Paul was ready to die in Jerusalem, just like his master was ready to die in the city (Luke 9:51). Paul followed Jesus. Do we?
However, get the context right.
Paul was a very mature believer and disciple. He was with a rather large team of heroes and mature men of God: “He was accompanied by Sopater of Berea, son of Pyrrhus, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius of Derbe and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia,” and we can include Luke because he is now writing with the pronoun “we” (Acts 20:4-5). Paul was not an independent operator. Paul had apostolic authority; we don’t (or very few of us do).
One gets the impression that these prophetic disciples were just trying to help, so Paul was moved by their love, as Luke will reveal later in this chapter (v. 13). Marshall is right to say that the Christians at Tyre were led by the Spirit to foresee Paul’s suffering and then of their own accord told him not to go (comment on v. 4). That sounds reasonable. Keener is right: “The Spirit inspires their knowledge of what awaits Paul, as in the more extended example in 21:11 (cf. 20:23). But although they rightly apply this knowledge in love, their prophetic knowledge is limited, marring their application (cf. 2 Sam 7:3-5; 2 Kgs 2:3-5, 16; Jer 35:2-14 [esp. 35:5; Luke 7:20; 1 Cor 13:9; 14:29. Paul will suffer, but this is God’s will (Acts 20:13)” (p. 512).
In other words, prophecy is an inexact “science” and is limited (1 Cor 13:9 “we prophesy in part”) and its application can be off, as the prophetic person overinterprets or misinterprets the word. I have seen prophets misapply their own words from the Lord, as well. They miss the timing and meaning of their words. The Christians back then in Tyre did the same thing. But the prophecy, as delivered, was not false. The interpretation was.
“through the Spirit”: this is Luke’s way of saying that people were speaking prophetically. Some will claim that the Spirit contradicted himself. In Acts 20:22, Paul was compelled or bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. But here in v. 4 some disciples by the Spirit told him not to go into Jerusalem. The answer is that the Spirit-inspired Bible records the inconsistent behavior and words of the believers, even when they claim to be speaking by inspiration of the Spirit. Paul noted this in his writings when he said that prophecies must be tested and judged and evaluated (1 Thess. 4:19-20; 1 Cor. 14:29). Sometimes prophetic people speak out of their own soul or add something because their emotions are running high. The Spirit may have spoken to these prophets just as he did to Agabus who said Paul was going to be bound hand and foot, but Agabus, a mature prophet, did not add that Paul should not go (vv. 10-14).
What 1 Corinthians 14 Really Teaches
And no, New Covenant prophets do not fall under the old law of being put to death if they get some elements wrong (Deut. 18:20). Deut. 18:21-22 says that if what a prophet says does not come to pass, then he spoke presumptuously, and the people are not to be alarmed. In the era of the New Covenant, anyone who has hung out or hangs out among charismatics and prophetic people (as I have) know that sometimes they get an element or two of their prophecies wrong, but the sum and substance of their word is right. That’s why Paul said to evaluate their words. And then we encourage and teach these prophetic learners to hone their skills and not to speak out of their excitement or soul power, beyond what the Spirit says. If they refuse to listen, then they will have to move on, probably to their own destruction. But we don’t put them death!
False Prophets in Sinai Covenant and Imperfect Prophets in New Covenant: Life and Death Differences
In the New Covenant, there is a difference between being false and wrong.
Next, this prophetic scene in v. 4 is one more hint that the church of the first century was a powerhouse of believers—every single one of them. It was the norm for the first-century church, and it should be the norm for us today. Just because Luke does not go into detail about the power and fulness of the Spirit in every other verse does not mean the baptism in the Spirit did not happen. It happened with manifested gifts all throughout the areas that the apostles reached, along the lines we see in 1 Cor. 12-14. You’ve heard of the Midas touch? The apostles and other preachers in Acts had the Spirit touch! By God’s grace, so can we.
Finally, Jesus himself appeared to Paul after Paul had testified before a crowd of people and the Jewish High Council (Sanhedrin) in Jerusalem and told him: “Take courage, for as you testified to the things about me in Jerusalem, thus it is required of you to testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11). Paul was right to go into Jerusalem, and the people speaking prophetically got some elements wrong, while the mature prophet Agabus is about to be right and did not add anything extra (vv. 10-11).
6. Gifts of the Spirit: Prophecy
Do NT Prophets and Prophecy Exist Today?
New Testament Restricts Authority of Modern Prophets
I like Polhill’s summary of v. 4:
The Spirit’s role is best seen as informing them of those coming hardships for the apostle. Their very natural reaction was to urge him not to go. Their failure to deter him only heightens the emphasis on Paul’s firm conviction that God was leading him to Jerusalem and had a purpose for him there. (comment on v. 4)
“women and children”: it is good to see them out and about. Luke has a soft spot in his heart and writings for them. Good for Dr. Luke!
“kneeled… prayed”: they prayed in public on the beach (“sandy” is not a separate word in Greek, but it is implied) with the visible and public display of kneeling. Back in the Jesus Movement in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s, “Jesus freaks” gathered on the beaches and sang their new “innovative” and “nonconformist” and “groundbreaking” and “radical” songs, which by today’s standards are very meek and mild. Then someone stood up and gave a Bible study. They were fearless back then, stepping outside the old mainline churches. Yes, people do the same thing nowadays, and that’s good, but it does not have the same pioneering spirit behind it.
GrowApp for Acts 21:1-6
A.. How do you respond when you hear believers speak through the Spirit—prophecies—that something dangerous is about to happen? How do you sort out cross-messaging?
Paul and Team at Philip’s House (Acts 21:7-14)
|7 Ἡμεῖς δὲ τὸν πλοῦν διανύσαντες ἀπὸ Τύρου κατηντήσαμεν εἰς Πτολεμαΐδα καὶ ἀσπασάμενοι τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς ἐμείναμεν ἡμέραν μίαν παρ’ αὐτοῖς. 8 τῇ δὲ ἐπαύριον ἐξελθόντες ἤλθομεν εἰς Καισάρειαν καὶ εἰσελθόντες εἰς τὸν οἶκον Φιλίππου τοῦ εὐαγγελιστοῦ, ὄντος ἐκ τῶν ἑπτά, ἐμείναμεν παρ’ αὐτῷ. 9 τούτῳ δὲ ἦσαν θυγατέρες τέσσαρες παρθένοι προφητεύουσαι.
10 Ἐπιμενόντων δὲ ἡμέρας πλείους κατῆλθέν τις ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰουδαίας προφήτης ὀνόματι Ἅγαβος, 11 καὶ ἐλθὼν πρὸς ἡμᾶς καὶ ἄρας τὴν ζώνην τοῦ Παύλου, δήσας ἑαυτοῦ τοὺς πόδας καὶ τὰς χεῖρας εἶπεν· τάδε λέγει τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον· τὸν ἄνδρα οὗ ἐστιν ἡ ζώνη αὕτη, οὕτως δήσουσιν ἐν Ἰερουσαλὴμ οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ παραδώσουσιν εἰς χεῖρας ἐθνῶν. 12 ὡς δὲ ἠκούσαμεν ταῦτα, παρεκαλοῦμεν ἡμεῖς τε καὶ οἱ ἐντόπιοι τοῦ μὴ ἀναβαίνειν αὐτὸν εἰς Ἰερουσαλήμ. 13 τότε ἀπεκρίθη ὁ Παῦλος· τί ποιεῖτε κλαίοντες καὶ συνθρύπτοντές μου τὴν καρδίαν; ἐγὼ γὰρ οὐ μόνον δεθῆναι ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀποθανεῖν εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ ἑτοίμως ἔχω ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ. 14 μὴ πειθομένου δὲ αὐτοῦ ἡσυχάσαμεν εἰπόντες· τοῦ κυρίου τὸ θέλημα γινέσθω.
|7 Continuing our voyage from Tyre, we landed at Ptolemais, greeted the brothers and sisters and we stayed one day with them. 8 The next day we departed and went to Caesarea and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
10 While we stayed there several days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He approached us and took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “The Holy Spirit says this: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem shall bind the man whose belt this is and turn him over to the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the local residents urged that he should not go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart in pieces? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he was not persuaded, we kept quiet and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”
“Ptolemais”: it is farther south than Tyre on the Mediterranean coast. It is also called Acco. The view must have been as wonderful back then as it is today.
“brothers and sisters”: the Greek reads “brothers,” but it is broad enough to include women, much like our word mankind includes women.
“Caesarea”: it is still farther south, and from there Paul and his team could walk or take pack animals up to Jerusalem. As noted in the previous verse, the view must have been wonderful.
Philip believed that the Spirit permitted him leave his ministry of watching over the funds and food, even though the apostles themselves prayed for the seven (Acts 6:1-7). He had a successful evangelistic campaign in Samaria, and Peter and John endorsed it (Acts 8:4-25). Luke probably heard from Philip himself about his selection to be deacon (Acts 6) and his evangelistic campaign in Samaria and his ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch and being whisked away (Acts 8).
“unmarried”: it literally reads “virgin” (parthenos, pronounced pahr-theh-nohss). Being unmarried and virginity meant the same thing back then. Does it mean the same thing today? God says it should.
“who prophesied”: it comes from the verb prophēteuō (pronounced proh-phay-too-oh), and it is a participle, feminine plural. So it could be translated as “four unmarried, prophesying daughters.” It was an ongoing ministry, not a one-off.
Recall Acts 2:17:
‘It shall be in the last days, says God,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people,
And your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
And your young people shall see visions,
And your elderly people shall dream dreams (Acts 2:17)
To prophesy means to speak by the fulness of the Spirit, not just preaching that comes from study, though study is important. And it does not mean just shriekin’ and freakin’ behind the pulpit (too much soul power). It has to go deeper. The Spirit speaks special knowledge that the human speaker did not know before (1 Cor. 14:24-25).
We don’t know what the daughters said prophetically, but it would have been great to hear more details. (Once again, Luke omits things.) But I have no doubt that they spoke to Paul that danger was ahead of him in Jerusalem, just like Agabus is about to do, and the other prophetic disciples did (v. 4). Bruce is right: if Luke were a romance novelist, he would have invented prophecies in Acts, but he did not (comment on v. 9). Bruce further says that the Philip and the four girls migrated to the province of Asia (Turkey today) at the city of Hierapolis in Lycus valley. The tombs of Philip and at least two of the daughters were pointed out toward the end of the second century. The daughters lived to great old age and were informants for the early years of Judean Christianity. Why move to Asia Minor? The rising tensions between Rome and Jerusalem; the Roman army attacked Jerusalem in AD 66 and sacked in 70.
Let’s not forget that these four girls had a ministry, and no doubt they were young, some premarriage age and others of marriageable age, but unmarried. Kids don’t get “Holy Spirit, Jr.” They get the fullness of the Spirit, both boys and girls. They can have a prophetic ministry—and so can single people.
Do NT Prophets and Prophecy Exist Today?
Women can prophesy in church (1 Cor. 14:31; Luke 2:36). Acts 2:37 says daughters shall prophesy. That ministry is not denied to them.
Agabus first appeared in Acts 11:27-28, where he predicted that famine was going to take place, which did, under reign of Roman Emperor Claudius. God in his graciousness revealed this, so the people could prepare. God did not cause the famine. Likewise, God in his graciousness foretold what would happen to Paul, but God did not cause the chains and beatings.
Agabus says “thus saith the Lord” (to use the older language). This speaks of more authority than the language the Christians at Tyre used.
Following in the prophetic stream of Ahijah the Shionite who tore his new cloak to demonstrate how Solomon’s kingdom would be torn (1 Kings 11:29-39, of Isaiah who went about naked and barefoot to demonstrate how the Egyptians would be led into captivity by the Assyrians (Is. 20:2-4), and of Ezekiel who built a model of Jerusalem and laid siege to it to imitate the Babylonians who were about to besiege it (Ezek. 4:1-3), Agabus was a demonstrative prophet (HT: Bruce, comment on vv. 10-11).
Note that Agabus did not say, “Don’t go!” He simply acted out what was going to happen. It was the Christians in Tyre and the ones here in Caesarea who said he should not go. And so they leaped to a wrong conclusion. It was natural for them to do this because of their love for him, but it was a “good idea,” as distinct from a “God idea.” Sometimes the two overlap, but often they do not. So be careful.
See my comments in v. 4 for further clarification of prophecies and their application and interpretation or misapplication of misinterpretation.
Remember Paul’s calling, which the risen Jesus told Ananias:
15 But the Lord told him [Ananias], “Go! Because this man is my chosen vessel to carry my name to the nations, kings, and descendants of Israel. 16 For I shall show him everything he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15)
Paul was called to suffer, not needlessly or for no good reason, but to testify about Jesus in difficult, hard-to-reach areas of society. Roman officials are about to learn who he is and what his message is.
Much of today’s church would have freaked out and told him to leave or hauled him before a strict committee to tone him down. However, Agabus’s demonstration or visual illustration does not give permission to wandering prophets today to barge into a church that does not have a culture of free-flowing gifts. The arrogant disruption hurts the cause of Christ and the fulness of the Spirit. Here in Caesarea at Philip’s house, the environment was Spirit-filled and full of signs and wonders and prophecies, so Agabus fit right in. He was not out of place.
New Testament Restricts Authority of Modern Prophets
“breaking my heart in pieces”: it comes from the verb sunthruptō (pronounced soon-throop-toh), and it is an onomatopoeic word—the pronunciation of the word sounds like its meaning. It means to pound clothing during washing day. It is used only here in the NT.
“name”: this noun stands in for the person—a living, real person. You carry your father’s name. If he is dysfunctional, his name is a disadvantage. If he is functional and impacting society for the better, then his name is an advantage. In Jesus’s case, he has the highest status in the universe, under the Father (Col. 1:15-20). He is exalted above every principality and power (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). His character is perfection itself. His authority and power are absolute, under the Father. In his name you are seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Now down here on earth you walk and live as an ambassador in his name, in his stead, for he is no longer living on earth, so you have to represent him down here. We are his ambassadors who stand in for his name (2 Cor. 5:20). The good news is that he did not leave you without power and authority. He gave you his. Now you represent him in his name—his person, power and authority. Therefore under his authority we have his full authority to preach the gospel and set people free from bondages and satanic spirits and heal them of diseases.
“Let the will of the Lord be done”: A literal translation is “Let the will of the Lord happen.” Any prophecy that someone speaks over you is not binding on your conscience. The prophet could be wrong. Here, Agabus’s prophecy was merely descriptive (it described what was going to happen). It was the people who turned it into a prescription or prohibition. Often counselors are wrong. And as noted, even prophets are wrong about their own words. Be warned! The more arrogant and strident the prophets, the more they are at risk to be wrong. Instead, you must follow the deep conviction of your heart, when you are sure that the conviction comes from God. Don’t allow a prophet or his interpreters to knock you off course—off of your conviction.
GrowApp for Acts 21:7-14
A.. Four girls prophesied. What is your ministry, particularly if you are a woman?
B.. Paul was ready to die for Jesus. How about if we start with dying to ourselves, daily (Luke 9:23). Where do you begin?
Paul Meets with James and Elders (Acts 21:15-25)
|15 Μετὰ δὲ τὰς ἡμέρας ταύτας ἐπισκευασάμενοι ἀνεβαίνομεν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα· 16 συνῆλθον δὲ καὶ τῶν μαθητῶν ἀπὸ Καισαρείας σὺν ἡμῖν, ἄγοντες παρ’ ᾧ ξενισθῶμεν Μνάσωνί τινι Κυπρίῳ, ἀρχαίῳ μαθητῇ.
17 Γενομένων δὲ ἡμῶν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα ἀσμένως ἀπεδέξαντο ἡμᾶς οἱ ἀδελφοί. 18 Τῇ δὲ ἐπιούσῃ εἰσῄει ὁ Παῦλος σὺν ἡμῖν πρὸς Ἰάκωβον, πάντες τε παρεγένοντο οἱ πρεσβύτεροι. 19 καὶ ἀσπασάμενος αὐτοὺς ἐξηγεῖτο καθ’ ἓν ἕκαστον, ὧν ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν διὰ τῆς διακονίας αὐτοῦ. 20 Οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες ἐδόξαζον τὸν θεὸν εἶπόν τε αὐτῷ· θεωρεῖς, ἀδελφέ, πόσαι μυριάδες εἰσὶν ἐν τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις τῶν πεπιστευκότων καὶ πάντες ζηλωταὶ τοῦ νόμου ὑπάρχουσιν· 21 κατηχήθησαν δὲ περὶ σοῦ ὅτι ἀποστασίαν διδάσκεις ἀπὸ Μωϋσέως τοὺς κατὰ τὰ ἔθνη πάντας Ἰουδαίους λέγων μὴ περιτέμνειν αὐτοὺς τὰ τέκνα μηδὲ τοῖς ἔθεσιν περιπατεῖν. 22 τί οὖν ἐστιν; πάντως ἀκούσονται ὅτι ἐλήλυθας. 23 τοῦτο οὖν ποίησον ὅ σοι λέγομεν· εἰσὶν ἡμῖν ἄνδρες τέσσαρες εὐχὴν ἔχοντες ἐφ’ ἑαυτῶν. 24 τούτους παραλαβὼν ἁγνίσθητι σὺν αὐτοῖς καὶ δαπάνησον ἐπ’ αὐτοῖς ἵνα ξυρήσονται τὴν κεφαλήν, καὶ γνώσονται πάντες ὅτι ὧν κατήχηνται περὶ σοῦ οὐδέν ἐστιν ἀλλὰ στοιχεῖς καὶ αὐτὸς φυλάσσων τὸν νόμον. 25 περὶ δὲ τῶν πεπιστευκότων ἐθνῶν ἡμεῖς ἐπεστείλαμεν κρίναντες φυλάσσεσθαι αὐτοὺς τό τε εἰδωλόθυτον καὶ αἷμα καὶ πνικτὸν καὶ πορνείαν.
|15 After those days, we packed up and went up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought us to the house of Mnason, of Cyprus, a long-standing disciple, with whom we were to lodge.
17 When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters gladly welcomed us. 18 The next day, Paul took us and went to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After he greeted them, he narrated every single thing that God did among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 They listened and glorified God and said to him: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews among us have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 But they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles a departure from Moses. You say they are not to circumcise their sons, nor live by the customs. 22 What about this? They shall certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do this which we tell you. There are four of our men who have taken a vow. 24 Take them along and be purified with them, and pay for their expenses, so they may shave their heads; and everyone shall learn that there is nothing to the things they have been informed about you, but you yourself also follow and keep the law. 25 Concerning the believing Gentiles, we have written and decided that they should abstain from things sacrificed to idols, blood, and strangled, undrained meat, and sexual immorality.”
Before we begin, here is commentator Schnabel’s excellent table, to give us the bigger picture:
|Year||Occasion for Visit to Jerusalem|
|31/32||Conversion of Saul|
|32-34||Missionary work in Arabia and in Damascus|
|33/34||First visit (Acts 9:26-20), three years after Paul’s conversion|
|34-44||Missionary work in Syria and Cilicia (eleven years)|
|44||Second visit (Acts 11:27-30): taking gifts to the poor, eleven years after the first visit|
|45-47||Missionary work on Cyprus and in Galatia|
|48||Third visit (Acts 15:1-29): Apostles’ Council, three years after the second visit|
|49-51||Missionary work in Macedonia and Achaia|
|51||Fourth visit (Acts 18:22): three years after the third visit|
|52-56||Missionary work in the Province of Asia and visit to Achaia|
|57||Fifth visit (Acts 21:15-17): collection visit, six years after the fourth visit|
|57-61||Arrest in Jerusalem and imprisonment in Caesarea and in Rome|
|Schnabel, p. 455|
The fifth visit is relevant here.
They packed up, indicating they may have had mules or horses, though horses were much more expensive. On the other hand, maybe they just carried their supplies on their backs.
Now the crew or team or posse got bigger. They must have had a good time of fellowship. Always go in teams on your ministry / missionary journeys. There is safety in numbers.
We don’t know who Mnason was, other than the little appositive words Luke mentions. He was from Cyprus, but when did he come over to Israel, so that he could be called a long-time disciple? Since he came from Barnabas’s home island, was he related to the Son of Encouragement (Barnabas)? No doubt he at least knew Barnabas. Was he familiar with the baptism of John, as the certain disciples were, whom Paul met in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7), but then got the fulness of the Spirit later? Was he with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry, like the twelve were? Jesus had many followers who were not part of the twelve, some of whom were women (Luke 8:1-3). Was he one of the unnamed seventy-two whom Jesus sent out (Luke 10:1-24)? Probably. Was he one of the 120 in the upper room when the Spirit came down in great power and fire (Acts 2:1-4)? Was he a recent convert from Peter’s ministry, when Peter traveled along the seacoast (Acts 9:32-11:1)? The most likely option. He must have had some wealth to host this large team of missionaries, because his house had to be big enough to lodge them. In comparison, Barnabas and John Mark and Mary (John Mark’s mother) were related, and Mary had a big enough house to have a gate and host a church in Jerusalem, where property values were high.
Some scholars speculate that Luke heard about Peter’s miracles for Aeneas and Dorcas (Acts 9:12-43) from Mnason.
In the next section, Paul and his team will reach Jerusalem. It makes me wonder whether Paul and his team did not go to Mary and John Mark’s house because of the rift (Acts 15:36-39). They may have visited there, but the text is silent. We will never know for sure.
Always, always leave behind old grudges and former conflicts!
“name” see v. 13 for a closer look at this noun.
“disciple”: see v. 4 for more comments.
Once again, here is Bock’s table of the cities and regions during Paul’s third missionary journey:
Paul’s Third Missionary Journey
|Unnamed cities||Macedonia and Greece|
|Bock, p. 640|
The Greek is “brothers,” but it is big enough to include “sisters,” much like our word mankind includes women. I like to imagine that Mary, mother of John Mark, was one of the sisters who gladly welcomed him. And where were Barnabas and John Mark? Were they in Jerusalem or out in the field, ministering? I say they were on a missionary journey.
James must have been a president over a “Messianic Sanhedrin” of sorts. They come across as very august and politically powerful. Don’t mess with James and the Elders! Bruce points out that if James’s house could hold meetings of this size, it must have been huge (comment on v. 18).
What is so interesting is the absence of the apostles. It is impossible to believe that if the twelve (or even some of the twelve) were there, Luke would have omitted this important detail. Luke omits details, but not something that was historically and ecclesiastically significant. Where were the twelve? No doubt they, like Barnabas and John Mark, had already been going outside of Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and even leaving Israel, as Jesus told them—commanded them—to do (Acts 1:8).
And why was James (the half-brother of Jesus) still there? It is good to have a permanent Messianic-Jewish presence in Jerusalem, but did they keep too closely to the old law of Moses? Let’s see.
This verse marks the end of the “we passages” until Acts 27:1 to 28:16, where Luke was included and was an eyewitness. But he was in Jerusalem, and he must have seen the events when they happened. He certainly got instant reporting if he did not see them with his own eyes. Luke is probably interviewing Christians to learn about Jesus and their own stories with him.
Was Luke in the room? Or was a (probable) Gentile not allowed into the presence of these Messianic Jews who were in the holy city of Jerusalem, where the law of Moses was carried out even to the point of animal sacrifices? Recall that the “we section” ended in v. 17. But surely he was there. These high-flying leaders would not exclude a (probable) Gentile like Luke! We will never know for sure.
It must have been great to hear Paul narrate those details, but Luke won’t allow us to hear them because he has already written about some of them. He expects us to fill in those missing details with what we already know: the power and fullness of the Spirit, with signs and wonders.
It was imperative that Paul discuss the Gentile outreach, to remind these Messianic Jews headquartered in Jerusalem that God loved Gentiles too.
“ministry”: it is the Greek noun diakonia (pronounced dee-ah-koh-nee-ah), and it means, depending on the context, “service,” “office,” “ministry,” or “aid, support, distribution.” Yes, we get our word deacon from it (1 Tim. 3:10, 13). It evolved into a position at church for a man (or woman) who did practical service, to help the pastor, so he (or she) could focus on the Word of God. But this does not limit the deacons’ service away from the Word, as we have observed with Philip and Stephen, who preached the gospel. Paul meant the term more broadly than practical service, though it meant that too for him. It was his entire apostolic ministry.
Luke does not include the offering (1 Cor 16:1-4; Rom. 16:25-33). Why? Longenecker speculates that Luke may not have known how to explain it to a Gentile audience, other than this is Paul’s attempt to curry favor with the Jerusalem church (a sort of low-grade bribe to buy favor); or Paul was fearful that the Jerusalem church may not accept it (comments on v. 19). Schnabel offers a better explanation: when Luke finally wrote down his account the offering was insignificant, compared to Paul’s arrest and calling to Rome (comment on v. 18). Bock is also sensible: the word ministry may include the offering (Comment on vv. 17-19). Other than those reasons, I don’t know, though I prefer Schnabel’s and Bock’s reasons. But Longenecker is right to go on to say that Paul was motivated by unity. He wanted to show the unity between the Gentile Christians and the headquarters of the Way (Christianity) in Jerusalem, the mother-church.
“believed”: The verb is pisteuō (pronounced pea-stew-oh), and it is used 241 times. It means to “believe, be convinced of something.” In a more specific definition it goes in a direction: “to have faith in Christ or God” (Mounce p. 61). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
Here it is connected to “saved.” But these Jews were still steeped in Judaism, However, let’s not question their salvation. They were on a journey towards God and complete trust in Christ.
Let’s discuss the verb believe and the noun faith more deeply. It is the language of the kingdom of God. It is how God expects us to relate to him. It is the opposite of doubt, which is manifested in whining and complaining and fear. Instead, faith is, first, a gift that God has distributed to everyone (Rom. 12:3). Second, it is directional (Rom. 10:9-11; Acts 20:21). We cannot rightly have faith in faith. It must be faith in God through Christ. Third, faith in Christ is different from faith in one’s ability to follow God on one’s own. It is different from keeping hundreds of religious laws and rules. This is one of Luke’s main themes in Acts, culminating in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and Paul’s ministry for the rest of Acts. Faith in Jesus over faith in law keeping. Fourth, there is faith as a set of beliefs and doctrines, which are built on Scripture (Acts 6:7). Fifth, there is also a surge of faith that is poured out and transmitted through the Spirit when people need it most (1 Cor. 12:9). It is one of the nine charismata or manifestations of grace (1 Cor 12:7-11). Sixth, one can build faith and starve doubt by feasting on Scripture and the words about Christ (Rom. 10:17).
Word Study on Faith and Faithfulness
Yes, James and the elders listened and glorified God because of God working through Paul’s ministry, but it seems they could not wait to advise Paul on how to show the Messianic zealous law-keepers that Paul honored the temple and the law.
“zealous for the law”: this phrase does not refer to a political party of the Zealots, which hit the cultural scenes later, closer to the destruction of Jerusalem. Instead, they were enthusiastic and devoted adherence to the old customs embedded in the law of Moses. Paul himself says that he used to be zealous for the law (Acts 22:3; cf. Phil. 3:4-6).
It was great that thousands of Jews of Jerusalem and Judea believed in the Messiah, but how much of the law did they keep? They probably kept the moral law and some of the rituals, like the feasts and festivals, but we will never know for sure how deeply they kept the law—though we learn about a vow in v. 23-24. It is a sure thing that Jerusalem and the temple in plain sight and with easy access held these Messianic Jews’ minds down (and back) to the ancient religion of Judaism.
“departure”: it is the noun apostasia (pronounced ah-poh-stah-see-ah), and we get our word apostasy from it. Combining the prefix apo– (from or away) and stem stas– (stand), it means to “stand away” or “fall away,” and also “defection,” “revolt,” “interval,” or “distance.” Paul did teach that the new temple was the church, not the structure of stones in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:21), and Peter taught the same thing, so he made a break from the temple worship (1 Pet. 2:5).
The key word is “customs.” Some of the customs can be kept by Messianic Jews, like the Sabbath and the festivals and feasts, or the (later) Seder meal, but New-Testament educated Messianic Jews know that salvation does not come through them. They honor them, if they do, voluntarily, not by command or force, baked into the law of Moses. However, if a Messianic Jew wishes voluntarily to move on past them, then he is free to do that, as well.
Paul is about to take the middle ground, and honor a custom, the Nazarite vow (Num. 6:2-21), just for the sake of cultural peace, not as a necessary act to prove that he loved God or to enhance or improve his salvation, which is by grace and faith alone (Eph. 2:8).
What Paul opposed vehemently is the Sinai Covenant (Ex. 19), and all the curses and wrath and destruction guaranteed for those who could not keep it (Deut. 28:15-68 ≠ Gal. 3:10-14). Moral law was absorbed into his writings and the rest of the New Covenant Scriptures, but not rituals (Sabbath keeping is a ritual), ceremonies, sacrifices, and even feasts and festivals, which are also rituals, particularly circumcision as a sign of salvation. But as noted, if Messianic Jews wish voluntarily to keep the feasts and festivals and even the Sabbath, they are certainly free to do so. But if they voluntarily choose not to do any of it or only some of it, then are equally free, even circumcising sons.
Paul speaks with clarity:
17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. (1 Cor 7:17-20, NIV)
And here he speaks about his personal liberty, which involves his cultural flexibility, in order to win some for the gospel:
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor 9:20-23, NIV)
As usual, Bruce is excellent here, so I quote him in full:
Paul’s position in such matters [of following the customs of Moses] is fairly clear from his letters. The circumcising of Gentile converts as a kind of insurance policy, lest faith in Christ should be insufficient in itself, he denounced as a departure from the purity of the gospel (Gal. 5:2-4). But in itself circumcision was a matter of indifference; it made no difference to one’s status in God’s sight (Gal 5:6; 6:15). If a Jewish father, after he became a follower of Jesus, wished to have his son circumcised in accordance with ancestral custom, Paul had no objection. He adopted the same flexible attitude to such customs as observance of special days or abstention from certain kinds of food: “let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:2-6). He himself was happy to conform to Jewish customs when he found himself in Jewish society. Such conformity came easily to him in view of his upbringing, but he had learned to be equally happy to conform to Gentile ways in Gentile company. (Comments on vv. 19-21)
But what practice did he adopt when in the company of Jews and Gentiles a mixed company? Bruce continues:
The answer probably is that he acted as he thought each situation required: any Jews who were content to participate in such missed society had doubtless learned some measure of adaptation already. For anyone who stayed by the letter and spirit of the law, Paul’s regarding some of its requirements as matter of indifference, his treating as optional things that the law laid down as obligatory, must in itself have constituted “apostasy against Moses”; but in practice he avoided giving offense to those in whose company he was from time to time. (comment on vv. 19-21)
I add that Paul would figure out who had the weakest (i.e. most restrictive) conscience and honor him in public (Rom. 14:13-23). In light of those verses in Rom. 14, James and the Jewish elders were weak, but who can blame them? They lived in Jerusalem and in the temple. Yet, there is no getting away from that fact that they were restricted in their outlook, when measured against God’s global outreach.
“also follow and keep the law”: James is speaking imprecisely here, and apparently Paul latched on to the shallow vow that these four men had taken. Paul’s decision to go along with James’s advice was an outward show just to keep the peace among the legalistic Jews and the Messianic Jews, and even Paul led a team of more liberated Messianic Jews than the legalistic Messianic Jews whom James led. Paul said he would become all things to all men, so he could win some (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
For the customs of the Nazarite vow, please go to Num 6, which discusses shaving of the hair (v. 8) and offering it to God.
Let’s not forget that James and the elders received money from Paul, and they did not want to jeopardize their outreach to their fellow Jews with money which they might perceive as tainted. “Ha! How can you get money from an apostate like Paul! It’s defiled! So enough of your outreach to us!” they could easily say. In Rom. 15:31-32, Paul was concerned that his offering from the Gentiles would be acceptable to the Jerusalem church.
So where did Paul get the money? From the offering or from the Jerusalem church’s funds? Probably from the Jerusalem church itself (Schnabel and Bock, on v. 24). Either way, it does not really matter because Paul’s offering replenished the Jerusalem church’s funds.
“informed”: the verb is ginōskō (pronounced gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). The verb is so common that it is used 222 times in the NT. (Its cognate epiginōskō, pronounced eh-pea-gee-noh-skoh is used 44 times).
When Paul paid the expenses, he was doing an act of charity. It is not likely he was totally immersed in the details of the Nazarite vow. Marshall is right: “There was no theological compromise for Paul in so doing [participating in this vow], especially since the offering involved would not seem to him to clash with the self-offering of Jesus as a sacrifice for sin” (p. 361).
Keener: “Paul purifies himself as well (Acts 21:26; 24:18), although for temple purity reasons and not part of their vow” (p. 518). So he did not sacrifice animals or such like, but he may have paid for the other four men to sacrifice, in his liberty. “The plan was a noble one, marred only by an outcome that could not be foreseen. Paul’s accusers might have denounced him in the temple whether or not he had gone there for sacrifice” (pp. 518-19).
See Acts 15 for the details of these requirements brought about by the Jerusalem Council, which has nothing to do with salvation, but keeping the peace between Messianic Jews and Gentile believers out in the provinces, so they could fellowship together.
“believing”: it could be translated as “Gentiles who believed.” See v. 20 for more comments on the verb believe and the noun faith.
What Does the New Covenant Retain from the Old?
Do Christians Have to ‘Keep’ the Ten Commandments?
Ten Commandments: God’s Great Compromise with Humanity’s Big Failure
In the end, James could not keep the unity of old Judaism and the new Way together. The old law and Christianity separate. Polhill reports James’s demise.
In the aftermath of the Jewish War with Rome and the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Jewish Christianity was declared heretical by official Judaism; and it was no longer possible for a Christian Jew to remain in the Jewish community. James had seen the problem well and sought to present himself as a strict, Torah-abiding Jew, doubtless to strengthen the credibility of his witness to his fellow Jews. Ultimately, he gave his life for his Christian witness, being put to death at the order of the high priest Ananus in A.D. 62. (comment on v. 25)
GrowApp for Acts 21:15-25
A.. Recount everything God did through him and his team. How do you tell your story of God’s workings in your life, without being boastful? What has God done for you?
B.. Paul is now in Jerusalem. Study 1 Cor. 9:19-23. Paul was flexible enough to fit into various cultures, yet without sinning against the gospel. How flexible are you in various settings?
Riot in the Temple Precincts (Acts 21:26-30)
|26 Τότε ὁ Παῦλος παραλαβὼν τοὺς ἄνδρας τῇ ἐχομένῃ ἡμέρᾳ σὺν αὐτοῖς ἁγνισθείς, εἰσῄει εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν διαγγέλλων τὴν ἐκπλήρωσιν τῶν ἡμερῶν τοῦ ἁγνισμοῦ ἕως οὗ προσηνέχθη ὑπὲρ ἑνὸς ἑκάστου αὐτῶν ἡ προσφορά. 27 Ὡς δὲ ἔμελλον αἱ ἑπτὰ ἡμέραι συντελεῖσθαι, οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἀσίας Ἰουδαῖοι θεασάμενοι αὐτὸν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ συνέχεον πάντα τὸν ὄχλον καὶ ἐπέβαλον ἐπ’ αὐτὸν τὰς χεῖρας 28 κράζοντες· ἄνδρες Ἰσραηλῖται, βοηθεῖτε· οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἄνθρωπος ὁ κατὰ τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ τοῦ νόμου καὶ τοῦ τόπου τούτου πάντας πανταχῇ διδάσκων, ἔτι τε καὶ Ἕλληνας εἰσήγαγεν εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν καὶ κεκοίνωκεν τὸν ἅγιον τόπον τοῦτον. 29 ἦσαν γὰρ προεωρακότες Τρόφιμον τὸν Ἐφέσιον ἐν τῇ πόλει σὺν αὐτῷ, ὃν ἐνόμιζον ὅτι εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν εἰσήγαγεν ὁ Παῦλος. 30 ἐκινήθη τε ἡ πόλις ὅλη καὶ ἐγένετο συνδρομὴ τοῦ λαοῦ, καὶ ἐπιλαβόμενοι τοῦ Παύλου εἷλκον αὐτὸν ἔξω τοῦ ἱεροῦ καὶ εὐθέως ἐκλείσθησαν αἱ θύραι.||26 Then Paul took the men along, and the next day he purified himself with them and went into the temple, giving notice of the completion of the days of purification until the offering was offered for each one of them. 27 When the seven days were about to be completed, Jews from Asia saw him in the temple and stirred up the whole crowd and seized him with hands, 28 shouting, “Israelites! Help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place! Furthermore, he has even brought Greeks into the temple and profaned this holy place! 29 (For they had seen previously Trophimus of Ephesus in the city with him, whom they were thinking Paul brought into the temple.) 30 The entire city was whipped up and scrambled together to form a mob. After seizing Paul, they dragged him outside the temple, and immediately the gates were shut.|
Paul is simply fulfilling the terms of the vow. Repeat: he followed this custom not to prove his love for God or to enhance or add on to his salvation by grace and faith alone, but to keep the peace between Messianic Jews and the unconverted Jews. It was a cross-cultural outreach. Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), the missionary to China, dressed like a standard Chinese man. These are shallow issues in the bigger call to salvation.
“purified himself”: he dipped in one of the many and large immersion pools around Jerusalem, perhaps the pool of Siloam or the pool of Bethesda near the sheep gate (Schnabel, comment on v. 26). Sounds reasonable to me.
Bruce points out that Paul himself may not have been “sanguine” about joining the four men, but he was prepared to conform for the sake of unity.
Further, it is probably true that the extra-devout unconverted Jews would not like it when the Messianic Jewish community received money from unclean Gentiles. Who knows what the ultimate source of the money was? From temple prostitution? No money (Deut. 23:18)! It would have hurt the Messianic Jewish testimony to their fellow Jews. So they urged Paul to fall in line.
Bock is on target:
Liberty is a great thing, but sometimes the expression of liberty can be counterproductive. Paul sensed that James’s request made sense, so he willingly restricted his freedom. Paul taught this in other areas as well, as Rom. 14-15 also indicates. Both men show a generous spirit in interacting with each other, which is always an indication of a healthy relationship. Neither is making a power play against the other. (comment on v. 26)
James and Paul were disciples who surrendered to Jesus.
As to the purification being completed, Num. 19:2 says that purification was to be done on the third and seventh days. Paul must have gone to the temple on the seventh day.
Now for the accusations. All of their words were false or gross distortions, as we can read from Paul’s epistles, particularly Rom. 9-11. Paul said God still had a purpose for the Jews, even though a temporary blindness has covered and is covering their eyes. And Paul did not bring a Gentile into the temple (v. 29).
A notice was fixed to the barrier separating the court of the Gentiles and the inner courts. The notice warned that any Gentile that trespassed into the forbidden areas brought death. The warnings were found in 1871 and 1935. They were in Greek. They read:
No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the temple and enclosure. Any one who is caught trespassing will bear personal responsibility for his ensuing death. (Bruce, comments on vv. 27-29)
With that being said, however, Paul believed that the temple in Jerusalem was unnecessary for proper worship (1 Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:21). Keeping the law of Moses was unnecessary and puts people in bondage (Gal. 4:21-31). The law of Moses had a certain inferior level of glory, but it was fading and giving way to the gospel (2 Cor. 3). Circumcision, the sign of the Old Covenant, is no longer valid or necessary (Rom. 2:25-29; Gal. 5:22-23).
So he was a threat to old Judaism, because he preached that Jesus was the Messiah and a new order, a new kingdom, had come.
I like how Bruce points out that when the temple doors were shut, this act symbolized the temple was shut from the new ways of God and the New Covenant. Luke himself may have accepted the act of shutting as symbolic, for Jesus predicted its judgment and destruction many years before (Luke 21:6) (Bruce’s comment on v. 30). In fact, Luke will demonstrate from here on that it is the Romans who take care of Paul, and it is his fellow-Jews who turn into his relentless persecutors and enemies (HT: Polhill, comment on p. 442).
Today, Messianic Jews are the fulfillment of the Old Judaism, so many of the old laws are unnecessary. However, if they want to keep some of the interesting, harmless parts of the Old Law, like feasts, a kosher diet, or the Sabbath, then they are certainly free to do that. After all, Paul had Timothy circumcised, but only for ministry, not for salvation or as a sign of the New Covenant (Acts 16:3). They now live in the law of liberty and love of Christ. The thing Paul objected to was the Old Sinai Covenant and law keeping to prove his salvation; now it is about faith in Jesus. He also objected to the curses and wrath and punishment that were the consequences to failing to keep those laws.
For more discussion, read the final Observations for Discipleship section, below.
GrowApp for Acts 21:26-30
A.. Paul was falsely accused and now his life was in danger. Have you ever been falsely accused? How have you handled it? Study Eph. 4:32. Have you forgiven your accuser?
Romans Rescue Paul (Acts 21:31-36)
|31 Ζητούντων τε αὐτὸν ἀποκτεῖναι ἀνέβη φάσις τῷ χιλιάρχῳ τῆς σπείρης ὅτι ὅλη συγχύννεται Ἰερουσαλήμ. 32 ὃς ἐξαυτῆς παραλαβὼν στρατιώτας καὶ ἑκατοντάρχας κατέδραμεν ἐπ’ αὐτούς, οἱ δὲ ἰδόντες τὸν χιλίαρχον καὶ τοὺς στρατιώτας ἐπαύσαντο τύπτοντες τὸν Παῦλον. 33 τότε ἐγγίσας ὁ χιλίαρχος ἐπελάβετο αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐκέλευσεν δεθῆναι ἁλύσεσιν δυσίν, καὶ ἐπυνθάνετο τίς εἴη καὶ τί ἐστιν πεποιηκώς. 34 ἄλλοι δὲ ἄλλο τι ἐπεφώνουν ἐν τῷ ὄχλῳ. μὴ δυναμένου δὲ αὐτοῦ γνῶναι τὸ ἀσφαλὲς διὰ τὸν θόρυβον ἐκέλευσεν ἄγεσθαι αὐτὸν εἰς τὴν παρεμβολήν. 35 ὅτε δὲ ἐγένετο ἐπὶ τοὺς ἀναβαθμούς, συνέβη βαστάζεσθαι αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τῶν στρατιωτῶν διὰ τὴν βίαν τοῦ ὄχλου, 36 ἠκολούθει γὰρ τὸ πλῆθος τοῦ λαοῦ κράζοντες· αἶρε αὐτόν.||31 As they were trying to kill him, a report that all of Jerusalem was stirred up went up to the military commander of the cohort. 32 At that instant, he took along soldiers and officers and ran down with them. When they saw the commander and soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the commander approached and grabbed him and ordered him to be bound with two chains, and he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, others another. When he was unable to find out accurately the reason for the uproar, he ordered him to be led into the barracks. 35 When he came to the stairs, he met and was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the crowd of people kept following him, shouting, “Away with him!”|
This is exciting writing! Did Luke see the events from a distance? Or did he hear about them shortly later on.
Paul had chains put on him, thus fulfilling Agabus’s words (vv. 10-14) because the two chains bound Paul’s hands and feet.
We learn in Acts 23:26 and 24:22 that the commander’s name is Claudius Lysias. A commander of a thousand (on paper) means he was high up in the Roman military, being a leader of a thousand. Marshall says Claudius was equivalent to a major or colonel (comment on vv. 31-32). He is the first in a line of Roman officials to learn about Paul and his message (Acts 21-23). As noted, Luke will portray the Romans as protecting Paul, in contrast to his fellow Jews who opposed him vehemently.
Paul was actually getting beaten and getting pelted with rocks. He was a man of great stamina. Here are Paul’s own words about his suffering:
23 I have worked much harder, in prison more often, more severe floggings, facing death often. 24 Five times I have received forty lashes minus one by Jews, 25 three beatings with rods, once hit with stones, three times shipwrecked; a day and a night I have spent in the deep; 26 traveling on foot often; in danger from rivers, in danger from robbers, in danger from fellow-Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in cities, in danger in the wilderness, in danger at sea, in danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and nakedness …. (2 Cor. 11:23-27)
He regarded persecution as a sign of an apostle (2 Cor. 12:12). Any persecution suffered for Christ is a sign of God’s favor and the promise of an earnest reward (Matt. 5:11; Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12).
Could I put myself in that position? Only by God’s grace.
“find out”: see v. 24 for more comments. Here it is the second definition.
“away with him”: They shouted these exact words against Jesus about twenty-seven years before (Luke 23:18; John 19:15). It means, “Kill him!”
GrowApp for Acts 21:31-36
A.. A military commander rescued Paul, so he could fulfill his destiny to go to Rome. How has God intervened in your life, in a surprising way?
Paul Is Permitted to Address the Crowd (Acts 21:37-40)
|37 Μέλλων τε εἰσάγεσθαι εἰς τὴν παρεμβολὴν ὁ Παῦλος λέγει τῷ χιλιάρχῳ· εἰ ἔξεστίν μοι εἰπεῖν τι πρὸς σέ; ὁ δὲ ἔφη· Ἑλληνιστὶ γινώσκεις; 38 οὐκ ἄρα σὺ εἶ ὁ Αἰγύπτιος ὁ πρὸ τούτων τῶν ἡμερῶν ἀναστατώσας καὶ ἐξαγαγὼν εἰς τὴν ἔρημον τοὺς τετρακισχιλίους ἄνδρας τῶν σικαρίων; 39 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Παῦλος· ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπος μέν εἰμι Ἰουδαῖος, Ταρσεὺς τῆς Κιλικίας, οὐκ ἀσήμου πόλεως πολίτης· δέομαι δέ σου, ἐπίτρεψόν μοι λαλῆσαι πρὸς τὸν λαόν. 40 ἐπιτρέψαντος δὲ αὐτοῦ ὁ Παῦλος ἑστὼς ἐπὶ τῶν ἀναβαθμῶν κατέσεισεν τῇ χειρὶ τῷ λαῷ. πολλῆς δὲ σιγῆς γενομένης προσεφώνησεν τῇ Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ λέγων·||37 When they were about to take him into the barracks, Paul said to the commander, “May I be permitted to say something to you?” He said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Then you are not the Egyptian who ignited a revolt and led four thousand men of the Assassins into the desert some time ago?” 39 Paul said, “I am a Jewish man, from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city. I beg you: allow me to speak to the people.” 40 He allowed it. Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people. When a great hush took place, he spoke in the Aramaic language, saying ….|
They were named after the dagger sica in Latin, so they were called sicarii or “dagger men.” They arose during the governorship of Felix, who will appear later in Acts. Times were tense in Jerusalem and Judea. You can read about the Egyptian man online.
In v. 37, that is close to a literal translation. Other translations just say, “May I say something to you?”
Paul was bold in his speaking, even from the top of the steps. He was fearless. You know when the Spirit inspires you when you speak with boldness—though that is not the only criterion. But it is a sure thing that God did not give you a spirit of fear, as Paul reminded Timothy (2 Tim. 1:7).
“The bulk of Jerusalem has reacted now against Jesus, Peter, John, Stephen, and Paul. For Acts, this is the final, key rejection of the gospel” (Bock, comments on vv. 31-33). Jerusalem will be left behind and go unmentioned after Paul is hustled away to protect him (Acts 23:23-24).
“know”: see v. 24 for more comments.
“Tarsus”: Bock says that Paul’s home city of Tarsus had several hundred thousand of inhabitants in it. Wow. It was a cultural center of Hellenism (Greek culture), rhetoric, and Stoic philosophy, which you can look up online.
Aramaic was a common Semitic language throughout greater Palestine and beyond, and it may have been used in the temple precincts. However, since these are religious Jews, the language may have been Hebrew.
In 1205, Stephen Langton inserted chapters into the Bible missed it here, because we have to turn to the next chapter to find out what Paul said. It’s a page turner! (Robertus Estienne or Robert Stephanus inserted the verse numbers in his edition of 1551.)
Paul secured their silence with a characteristic gesture of his hand, which “is probably intended by Luke to bear witness to the power of his personality” (Bruce, comment on vv. 39-40).
GrowApp for Acts 21:31-40
A.. Read 2 Tim. 4:2. We are supposed to be ready in season and out—prepared at any time, as Paul was in this life-threatening situation. How is your preparation before you hit hard times in your own life? How do you prepare?
Observations for Discipleship
God has wonderful plans for you, even if they involve trials for you, as we saw in Paul’s life in this one chapter. Paul suffered an injustice in an environment of no religious freedom. But God was still working out his plan for the missionary-apostle. God saw him through his trials in Jerusalem, and Paul ended up in Rome, as predicted. God will see you through your trials too. Someone may object that Paul was beheaded. True, but God finished his course. God called him home. He will allow you to finish your course before he calls you home.
Have you ever received a deep word from God for your life? Are you listening in to what he wants to say to you? He wants to speak you’re your spirit. His sheep hear his voice (John 10:14-16, 27). You have to know him intimately before you can hear his voice.
Now what happens when you hear his voice and prophetic believers tell you otherwise. You believe you are called to go into Jerusalem (or your own goal), but they tell you not to go? The answer is that you have do what Paul did. Be a mature believer and know deeply that God has called you. Surround yourself with mature men and women of God who will support you. Listen to the prophetic words that contradict your own, but as Paul wrote, test and evaluate personal prophecies (1 Thess. 4:19-20; 1 Cor. 14:29). If you are confident that God spoke to you, don’t obey those contradictory words. Sometimes these prophetic people speak out of their own souls and enthusiasm. They get some elements right, but other elements wrong.
Now what about the old law of Moses. What should we bring forward and leave behind? Paul says plainly that we are not under the old law’s curses and wrath and judgments. As I wrote above:
Read those passages, and you will see it clearly.
Now how much should Messianic Jews bring forward? The entire sweep of the NT says that the animal sacrifices must be left behind. Jesus is the once-and-for-all sacrifice. Now various rituals after that are optional. The Sabbath does not have to be kept, but if they want to do so, they are free. The feasts and festivals don’t have to be kept, but if Messianic Jews freely wish to keep some of those elements, then they may do so. They are not under the command and threats of Moses; they are free.
We can keep the old stories about the heroes of faith, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua and Caleb, David and Jonathan, Solomon, the blessing and promises in the prophets (but not the judgment and wrath for New Covenant believers). From those old stories we can learn how to behave and how not to behave! We can learn from the devotional psalms and the wise proverbs.
In sum, Paul says in 2 Cor. 3 that the old law had a certain level of glory in it because God ordained it. But compared to the New Covenant, the old one is fading away. Keep that in mind, and you will have liberty and balance. Paul kept the old vow for the sake of peace between the Messianic Jews in Jerusalem and the unconverted Jews. He was doing this for outreach (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
Personally, I don’t keep the old laws and feasts and festivals or the Sabbath. But I read in the New Covenant Scriptures that the moral law in the Old Covenant Scriptures was kept, so we are not exempt from it. Just follow Jesus by walking in the Spirit, staying in in fellowship and studying Scripture. And if you’re confused about how to behave, keep the moral law in the New Covenant, and you’ll be fine.
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.
Bruce, F. F. Acts. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1988. (I also used his earlier work Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Commentary, Eerdmans, 1951, 1952, 1990, 3rd ed.).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger. United Bible Society, 2014. The Greek text in the tables comes from the Nestle-Aland 28th ed, available here: https://www.academic-bible.com/en/online-bibles/novum-testamentum-graece-na-28/read-the-bible-text/
Keener, Craig, S. Acts. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge UP, 2020.
Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.
Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Tyndale, 1980.
Parsons, Mikeal C. and Martin M. Culy. Acts. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor, UP, 2003.
Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 2009.
Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. Vol. 26. Broadman and Holman, 1992.
Schnabel, Eckhard, J. Acts. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2012.