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 Main Index : Commentaries : PNT : PNT Vol. 1 : Acts : Chapter 21

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Paul Seized in the Temple.

Bible Version
Cross Reference
Matthew Henry
JFB Commentary
Wesley's Notes
Peoples New Test.
Geneva Study Bible
Darby's Synopsis
SUMMARY.--The Voyage to Tyre. The Prayer-Meeting on the Seashore. Abiding with Philip the Evangelist in Cæsarea. The Prophecy of Agabus. The Importunity of the Disciples That Paul Should Not Go to Jerusalem. The Meeting of Paul with James and the Elders at Jerusalem. Their Request That He Should Disarm Prejudice by a Nazarite Vow. The Attempt to Kill Him in the Temple. The Rescue by the Chief Captain.

      1-6. After we were gotten from them. Chrysostom, himself, a Greek, says the Greek word means "had torn away." Came to . . . Coos. A small island, famous for its wines, forty miles south of Miletus. Hippocrates, the great physician, and Apelles, the painter, were born here. The day following to Rhodes. Fifty miles further south, one of the most famous islands of the world, noted for its beauty, its Colossus, its defence by the Knights of St. John against the Turks, and for giving its name to one of the American states. Thence to Patara. On the coast of Lydia. Here he took another ship, this probably being the destination of the first. Finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia. Tyre, where he landed, was a Phoenician city. When we had discovered Cyprus. Sailed in sight of Cyprus. This would arouse the memories of Paul's first missionary labors here about fourteen years before (see 13:4-13). Sailed into Syria. Syria embraced Phoenicia, Palestine and Antioch, in the Roman use of the term. Landed at Tyre. Still a considerable city, though its ancient glories had faded on account of the growth of Alexandria and Antioch, which had become the commercial centers of the East. "Its most important ruins now lie beneath the sea and can be seen through its waters." Finding disciples. In chapter 11:19, we find that preachers of the word came to Phoenicia, of which Tyre was the capital, and probably planted the church Tarried seven days. As this statement is made three times where Paul found brethren (20:6; 28:14), it evidently implies that he tarried at each place to have one solemn meeting on the first day of the week, as at Troas, and to celebrate the Lord's Supper with the church. Said to Paul through the Spirit. Predicted the sufferings that would befall him, and endeavored to dissuade him. We kneeled down on the shore and prayed. This was an affecting sight. The whole church, men, women and children, gathered around the great apostle and his companions, and the voice of prayer arose above the ceaseless roar of the waves.

      7-14. Came to Ptolemais. Here the journey by sea ended. This city, now called Acre, and having 15,000 population, is one of the oldest cities in the world, and called Accho in Judges 1:31, from which term its modern name is derived. It had the name Ptolemais for a few centuries from Ptolemy Soter, an [509] Egyptian king who rebuilt it. Came to Cæsarea. By land, a distance of thirty to forty miles. Paul had been here twice before (9:30; 18:22). The place is memorable for the conversion of the first Gentiles. Entered into the house of Philip. The evangelist of whose work we have an account in chapter 8, nearly a quarter of a century before. The last account of him (8:40) shows him preaching in the cities of the sea-coast. In one of these we now find him settled. Had four daughters . . . which did prophesy. Compare Acts 2:17. The prophetic spirit in either the Old or New Testament is not confined to a single sex. Deborah and Huldah are Old Testament examples, and in the New Testament, Elisabeth, Mary, Anna, and the daughters of Philip are instances. A certain prophet named Agabus. He is named in 11:28 as a prophet. He had probably come down to meet Paul. Took Paul's girdle. The belt or sash that bound the loose, flowing robe worn. In the style of the Old Testament prophets he impressed his lesson in a dramatic manner. Compare 1 Kings 22:11; Isa. 20:2, 3; Jer. 13:4-9; Ezek. 4:1, 2, 3. When we heard these things. The striking manner of Agabus, and perhaps his statements of the dark plots among the Jews against Paul, had such an effect that all sought, more earnestly than ever before, to dissuade him from going on. Why should the apostle, with these certain dangers revealed, press on right into the stronghold of enemies thirsting for his blood, infuriated by the accounts that came up from Asia and Europe of his success in converting Jews to Christ? Had not a deep sense of duty impelled him, we may be certain that he would have done this. There can be no doubt that he braved the danger in order to prevent a schism that threatened the church. False reports were circulated at Jerusalem concerning his teaching to Jewish Christians; the church there was filled with prejudice against him; from thence Judaizing teachers went forth to interfere with his work. Hence, in a loving spirit, filled with that charity that suffers all things, and carrying large offerings gathered in the Gentile churches for the poor at Jerusalem, he came to disarm prejudice and show the falsehood of the stories alleged about his teachings. There are times when duty calls the man of God to face the danger; so went the Lord to Jerusalem in spite of the protests of his disciples; so went Luther to Worms, though warned of his danger; so went Paul to Jerusalem. [510]

      15-17. Took up our carriages. Our baggage. See Revision. "Carriages" once meant the things carried. Went with us certain disciples of Cæsarea. Paul was often thus attended. They seem to have gone in order to find a place for him with an old disciple, a native of Cyprus, now dwelling in Jerusalem, named Mnason. Come to Jerusalem. This is the fifth time Paul entered the Holy City since his departure on that memorable journey to Damascus about twenty-two years before. The present probable date is near Pentecost (the latter part of May), A. D. 58.

      18-27. Paul went in with us unto James. For the identification and position of James see note on 15:13. This James was not one of the twelve, but was "the brother of the Lord," a witness of the risen Savior (1 Cor. 15:7). "James the brother of John" had been slain (12:2); of James the son of Alphæus, little is known, but James "the brother of the Lord" (Gal. 1:19) was now the leader of the church at Jerusalem. No mention is made of any one of the twelve, and it is probable that those still living in A. D. 58, were in other fields of labor. The "elders" are mentioned, but not the apostles, a proof that none of the latter were present. When they heard it. Paul's report of the wonderful success of the gospel. They evidently approved of and sympathized with his work. Thou seest, brother, now many thousands . . . believe. The Greek reads: "How many tens thousands." There were not only many thousands of Christians in the Jerusalem church, but many thousands of Jewish Christians who had come up to the feast of Pentecost. Twenty-seven years before there were five thousand men who believed in Jerusalem (4:4). They are all zealous for the law. "Zealots" for the law in the Greek. They believed upon Christ as the Messiah, but did not understand that the Old Covenant had passed away to give place to the New (Heb. 8:13). Hence, while they observed the Christian rites, they still kept up the forms of Judaism. It took a direct interposition of the Spirit to teach that Gentiles were entitled to baptism without circumcision. It required a council in Jerusalem to settle the question that Gentile Christians were not to keep the Jewish law. God taught the church, lesson by lesson, but up to this time that at Jerusalem had not yet learned that they were freed from the obligation to keep the law of Moses. Paul, in advance of the rest, had learned that the Jewish forms were not to be imposed upon Gentiles, were not an obligation upon Jewish Christians, but he still observed them, at least in part, himself, and so far from bidding Jewish brethren to forsake Moses, he circumcised Timothy, and said, "Let every man abide in the same calling (whether Jew or Gentile) in which he is called." (Read the whole connection of 1 Cor. 7:18-20). He had not, therefore, taught Jews to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. Do therefore this. This counsel is given [511] that the multitude of Jewish Christians may see that Paul still kept the Jewish customs. As he did keep them, not as a matter of obligation, but as a Jew, in order that he might reach his own race, it involved no sacrifice of principle. We have four men which have a vow. These were Jewish Christians. The vow was a Nazaritish vow (see Num. 6:14-18 for a description). This vow involved living an ascetic life for a certain period, sometimes thirty days, and was terminated by shaving the head, burning the hair as an offering, and offering a sacrifice. The advice to Paul is to associate himself in this vow, and be at charges with them for the necessary expenses, and thus show that he kept the time-honored customs of the Jewish race. As touching the Gentiles. The duties of the Gentiles had been settled in the council described in chap. 15. The advice of James was no doubt given from the best of motives. His position was a difficult one. The fanaticism of the Jewish nation, which broke out in war a few years later, was growing intense. The national feeling in the church had to be handled with great care. It would not do for the church to believe that Paul had become a renegade from their race. Paul, aware of all these difficulties, generously complied for the sake of peace and unity. We cannot be certain that the advice was just right, or that Paul did just right to comply, but these grand men acted according to their knowledge, and the record of Acts portrays both the shortcomings and the perfection of its great worthies. Entered into the temple. Purifying himself, he entered the temple, gave notice that the sacrifices would be offered at a definite time, and the period of the vows be closed. When the seven days were almost ended. Seven days was an ordinary period of purification (Exod. 29:37; Lev. 12:2; 13:6; Num. 12:14, etc.).

      Concerning this advice of James and compliance of Paul, Pres. Milligan says: "Three different views have been taken: (1) That Paul in this case acted ignorantly, not being aware of the fact that the law of Moses was no longer binding; (2) that, like Peter (Gal. 2:11), he acted from fear of the Jewish brethren; (3) that he acted in conformity with the law of Christian benevolence which requires us to respect even the weaknesses and prejudices of our brethren, so far as this can be done without in any way neglecting the requirements of the Gospel." The third hypothesis is the best, but some explanations are needful. The Jewish Christians were slowly emancipated from Judaism, and they did not reach the clear conviction, until after the temple was destroyed, that its sacrifices were obsolete. Gentiles were forbidden to sacrifice to idols, but there was no such prohibition with regard to the altar of Jehovah. Even Paul evidently at this time thought of the sacrifices as, like circumcision, a matter of indifference. It was left for the next generation to learn that the inspired writings of Paul himself lead to the conclusion that all the sacrifices of the temple altar pointed to the Lamb of God, and that, from the time he was offered, they became obsolete. [512]

      27-40. The Jews . . . of Asia. From the Roman province called Asia, of which Ephesus was the capital. As Paul had spent three years in that city, they knew him well. These Jews were watching Paul, had seen him in company with Trophimus, an Ephesian Greek, and when they saw Paul in the temple keeping the Nazarite vow, seized him and raised an outcry. Hath polluted this holy place. They not only charge him with teaching against Judaism, but with bringing Greeks into the part of the temple where all Gentiles were forbidden to come. The Palestine Exploration Society found in their excavations an inscription that must have been over the passage between the court of the Gentiles and the interior court, where the chambers for Nazarites were, forbidding aliens to pass the balustrade on the penalty of death. Nothing could arouse a greater outburst of fanaticism than the belief that Paul had taken Gentiles within the sacred precincts. They took Paul, and drew him out of the temple. He was, no doubt, within the inner courts, and was hurried without, and the gates shut, to prevent the pollution of the sacred courts by the shedding of blood. They proposed to slay him when they had dragged him where it could be done without profanation. They were willing to murder, but not to profane the temple. They went about to kill him. Had Trophimus been within, their customs might have permitted them to kill him, but to slay Paul could only be a murder. Tidings came unto the chief captain. The commander of the garrison in the castle of Antonia, overlooking the temple. The watch could see the uproar from their elevated outlook, and the soldiers in a moment would rush down the staircase that led into the temple area, and appear upon the scene. The fortress joined the temple wall and had two flights of stairs leading into the temple courts. Took him, and commanded him to be bound. The first thought of the commander was that the man seized was some great criminal. From verse 38 we learn that he supposed Paul was an Egyptian rebel. Hence he ordered him bound. Canst thou speak Greek? When Paul reached the head of the stairs, as he was carried by the soldiers into the fortress, he addressed the officer in Greek. Surprised that he should use that language, the chief captain asked if he was not that Egyptian. Josephus twice mentions this notorious Egyptian, a pretended prophet, and leader of the Sicarii, or "Assassins." This "Egyptian" brigand was probably illiterate and did not speak Greek. I am [513] a Jew of Tarsus. As Tarsus was "no mean city," a free city, he was entitled to some consideration. When he had given him license. To address the people. He stood at the head of the stairs, with the vast throng in the court below. Beckoning with the hand to call attention, he addressed them in their beloved Hebrew tongue. There is no excitement, no resentment, but an earnest purpose to benefit them by preaching Christ.

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