J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on ActsActs 21
The vessel proceeded by a coasting voyage along the
southern shore of Asia Minor.
(1) "And it came to pass, when we had
separated from them, and set sail, that we ran with a straight course and
came to Cos; and the next day to Rhodes, and thence to Patara.
And finding a ship going across to Phenicia, we embarked and set sail.
(3) Passing in sight of Cyprus, and leaving it to the left, we sailed to
Syria, and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload her cargo."
The change of vessels at Patara must have been occasioned by the
fact that the one in which they had hitherto sailed was not bound for
a Phenician port. That the new vessel is said to be going across to
Phenicia, and that it left Cyprus on the left,
is an indication that the
other was going to cling still further to the coast of Asia Minor, and
was probably bound for Antioch.
The time employed by the sailors in putting out freight, and
taking on board a fresh cargo, gave Paul another opportunity for
communing with brethren on shore.
(4) "And having found the disciples,
we remained there seven days. They told Paul, through the Spirit,
not to go up to Jerusalem."
Here Paul met a repetition of those prophetic
warnings which had already cast a gloom over his feelings, and
so much alarmed were the brethren at the prospects before him, that
they entreated him to go no further. We are not to understand that
these entreaties were dictated by the Spirit; for this would have made
it Paul's duty to desist from his purpose; but the statement means
that they were enabled to advise him not to go, by knowing through
the Spirit, what awaited him. The knowledge was supernatural; the
advice was the result of their own judgment.
Verses 5, 6
When the seven days had passed, including, most likely, a
Lord's day, in which the disciples came together to break bread, another
scene of painful parting occurred, like that at Miletus.
it came to pass that when we completed those days, we departed and went
our way, they all, with their wives and children, conducting us forward
till we were out of the city. And we kneeled down on the shore and
(6) And bidding each other farewell, we went on board the ship,
and they returned home."
Unlike the scene at Miletus,
the sorrow of
manly hearts was here accompanied by the tenderness of female sympathy
and the tears of children. The tears of the company were bitter,
but they were sanctified and made a blessing to each heart, by prayer.
Thus, though all before the apostle, during this journey, was darkness
and danger, all around him and behind him was earnest prayer to God
in his behalf. Borne forward upon the current of such devotion, he
was able to breast the storm, and defy all the powers of earth and hell.
The journey by water was soon completed, and the remainder of
the distance was performed on foot.
(7) "And from Tyre we went down
to Ptolemais, completing the voyage, and saluted the brethren, and remained
with them one day."
If the vessel had been going forward to
Cæsarea without delay, they had better have continued on board than
to have traveled the distance of thirty or forty miles to that city on
foot. [Life and Ep., vol. 2, p. 232.]
We conclude, therefore, that the vessel either intended lying
in port for awhile, or did not intend to touch at Cæsarea.
The fact that Paul found brethren in Tyre and Ptolemais on the
coast of Phenicia, where he had never preached before, reminds us
once more of the dispersion of the Church in Jerusalem, and the fact
that "they who were scattered abroad upon the persecution which
arose about Stephen, traveled as far as Phenicia, speaking the Word to
none but the Jews." [Acts 11:19.]
Verses 8, 9
The single day spent with the brethren in Ptolemais was sufficient
for the solemn admonitions which Paul was leaving with all the
Churches, and for another painful farewell.
(8) "And the next day
we departed, and went to Cæsarea. And entering into the house of Philip
the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we abode with him.
(9) Now he
had four daughters, who were virgins, and who prophesied."
parted from Philip, after the immersion of the eunuch, he had prosecuted
an evangelizing tour through Azotus and the intermediate cities,
to Cæsarea. [8:40.]
It was probably while he was engaged in this tour that
Peter had come to Cæsarea, and immersed the family and friends of
When Philip arrived, he found the nucleus of a Church,
and here we still find him, after a lapse of more than twenty years.
He seems never to have returned to Jerusalem, to resume his position
as a deacon of that Church, but accepted the providential arrangement
by which he was thrown out into a wider field of usefulness, and
thenceforward was known as Philip the evangelist. That he had four
maiden daughters, who had the gift of prophesy, indicates the strict
religious training which he had given to his family.
During the interval spent with the family of Philip, another,
and the last of the prophetic warnings which Paul encountered on
this journey was given, causing a scene of sorrow similar to those at
Miletus and Tyre.
(10) "And while we were remaining several days,
there came down from Jerusalem a certain prophet named Agabus;
and he came to us, and took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and
feet, and said, Thus says the Holy Spirit: So shall the Jews in Jerusalem
bind the man who owns this girdle, and shall deliver him into the
hands of the Gentiles.
(12) And when we heard this, both we and they
of that place besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.
(13) But Paul answered,
What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am
ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem, for the name of
the Lord Jesus.
(14) And when he would not be persuaded, we held our
peace, saying, The will of the Lord be done."
Agabus was the same prophet who went from Jerusalem to Antioch,
and announced the famine which caused the mission of Paul and Barnabas
into Judea with a contribution for the
It was a singular
coincidence that the same man should now meet him, after the lapse
of so many years, when entering Judea on a similar mission, and warn
him of his own personal danger. The dramatic manner in which his
prophesy was delivered gave Paul a more distinct conception of the
afflictions which awaited him. If his traveling companions had hitherto
been silent when brethren were entreating him to desist from the
journey, as is implied in the narrative, their courage now failed them,
and they joined in the entreaties of the brethren in Cæsarea. The
fearfulness of his prospects was a sufficient trial to his own courage,
when he enjoyed at least the silent sympathy of his chosen companions;
but when they deserted him, and threw the weight of their influence
upon the weight already too heavy for him, the effect was crushing
to his heart, though the steadfastness of his purpose was not shaken.
The duty imposed upon him by the fearful condition of the Church
at large was paramount to all personal considerations, and he felt willing
to be bound and to die in his efforts to maintain the honor of the
name of the Lord Jesus by preserving the unity of his body. Upon
this declaration of his sublime self-devotion, the brethren felt unable
to offer another objection, and gave expression to their reluctant resignation
by the remark, "The will of the Lord be done."
Verses 15, 16
(15) "And after those days, we packed up our baggage, and
went up to Jerusalem.
(16) Some of the disciples from Cæsarea went with
us, conducting us to one Mnason, a Cyprian, and an old disciple, with whom
we should lodge."
The journey had been accomplished in time for the
feast of Pentecost. This is made to appear by enumerating the days
spent on the journey from Philippi. Leaving that city immediately
after the days of unleavened bread, which was seven days after the
Passover, he reached Troas in five days, where he spent
days were occupied in the passage from Troas to
sufficient to allow for the stay at
Miletus. [Com.xx: 17.]
In three he sailed from
Miletus to Patara, which place he left the same day he reached
and two more days, with favorable weather, would take him to
Tyre. [Life and Ep., vol. 2, p. 227.]
There he spent seven days, and three in the journey thence to
Allowing two days more for the journey from Cæsarea to
Jerusalem, we have enumerated only forty-two of the forty-nine days
intervening between the Passover and Pentecost, leaving seven for the
stay at the house of Philip.
That the feast of Pentecost did transpire
immediately after his arrival in Jerusalem, is indicated by the immense
multitude of Jews then assembled there, and the presence of some from
the province of Asia, who had known Paul in
but the annual feasts brought together in Jerusalem the Jews from
The period which had been looked forward to for months with
prayerful anxiety had now arrived, and Paul was to know, without
further delay, whether or not the service which he had for Jerusalem
would be accepted by the
saints. [Romans 15:31.]
To his unspeakable relief, the
historian was able to say,
(17) "Now when we were come to Jerusalem,
the brethren received us gladly."
If Luke had given any account of
the contribution Paul was bringing, we should have expected him to
say something more definite about its reception than is implied in this
remark. But, as he saw fit to omit all mention of the enterprise, we
are at liberty to infer, from the glad reception given to the messengers,
that the gift they bore was also welcome. The main object of Paul's
visit and of his prayers was now accomplished. He had finished this
much of his course and his ministry with joy, and his heart was relieved
from its chief anxiety. Whether the Lord would now accept
his prayer for deliverance from the disobedient in Jerusalem, he felt to
be a matter of minor importance.
After the general statement that they were gladly received by
the brethren, Luke proceeds to state more in detail what followed.
(18) "And on the day following, Paul went in with us to James, and all
the elders were present.
(19) And having saluted them, he related particularly
what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
(20) When they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said to him, You
see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who believe, and they
are all zealous for the law.
(21) Now they heard concerning you,
that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles apostasy from
Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children, nor to walk according
to the customs.
(22) What, then, is it? The multitude must by all means
come together; for they will hear that you have come.
(23) Do this, therefore,
which we tell you. We have here four men who have a vow upon
(24) Take them, and purify yourself with them, and bear the expenses
for them, in order that they may shear their heads, and all may
know that those things of which they have heard concerning you are nothing;
but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.
as respects the Gentiles who have believed, we have already written, having
decided that they observe no such things, only that they keep themselves
from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled,
and from fornication.
(26) Then Paul took the men, and the next day
went with them into the temple purified, announcing the fulfilling of the
days of purification, when an offering should be offered for each one of
This I confess to be the most difficult passage in Acts to fully understand,
and to reconcile with the teaching of Paul on the subject of the
Mosaic law. We shall have the exact state of the question before our
minds, by inquiring, first, What was the exact position of the Jerusalem
brethren in reference to the law? second, What had Paul actually
taught upon the subject? and, third, How can the course pursued
by both be reconciled to the mature apostolic teaching?
First. It is stated, in this speech, of which James was doubtless the
author, that the disciples about Jerusalem were "all zealous for the
law." They recognized the authority of Moses as still binding; for
they complained that Paul taught "apostasy from Moses." The specifications
of this apostasy were, first, neglect of circumcision;
abandonment of "the customs." By "the customs" are meant those
imposed by the law, among which, as seen in their proposition to Paul,
were the Nazarite vows, with their burnt-offerings, sin-offerings, and
meat-offerings, [Numbers 6:13-17.]
and, as seen in Paul's epistles, abstinence from unclean
meats, and the observance of Sabbath-days, holy days, new
moons, and Sabbatic
years. [Romans 14:1-23; Galatians 4:9,10; Colossians 2:16,17.]
Second. Our iniquity into Paul's teaching on the subject must have
separate reference to what he had taught before this time, and what
he taught subsequently. None of his oral teachings on the subject
are preserved by Luke, hence we are dependent for a knowledge of his
present teaching upon those of his epistles which were written previous
to this time. In none of the specifications above enumerated
did he fully agree with his Jewish brethren. True, he granted the
perpetuity of circumcision; yet not because he acknowledged with
them the continued authority of the law, but because of the covenant
with Abraham which preceded the
law. [See Com.xvi: 3.]
As for the law, he taught
that it had been "a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, that we might
be justified by faith, but after faith is come, we are
no longer under the
schoolmaster;" [Galatians 3:24,25.]
that, "now we are delivered from the law, being
to that in which we were held;" that we are "become dead to the law
by the body of
Christ." [Romans 7:4-6.]
In repudiating the authority of the law, he
necessarily repudiated all obligation to observe "the customs." In
reference to all these, he afterward said to the Colossians, that God
had "blotted out the handwriting of
ordinances which was against us,
which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to the
cross." "Let no man, therefore, judge you in food or in drink, or in
respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of Sabbaths; which are
a shadow of things to come, but the body is
Christ." [Colossians 2:14,16,17.]
repudiating the obligation to observe the ordinances, he admitted the
innocence of their observance, and forbade any breach of fellowship on
account of it, laying down in reference to them all, this rule: "Let
not him who eats, despise him who eats not; and let not him who
eats not, judge him who
eats." [Romans 14:1-6.]
In reference, therefore, to meats and
days, he and the judaizers agreed that the Jews might observe them;
and they differed as to the ground
of this conclusion: the latter affirming
that it was a matter of duty; the former holding that it was a
matter of indifference.
Thus far we have omitted special mention of one custom, because its
importance demands for it a separate consideration. We refer to sacrifices.
It is evident, from the transaction before us, as observed above,
that James and the brethren in Jerusalem regarded the offering of
sacrifices as at least innocent; for they approved the course of the four
Nazarites, and urged Paul to join with them in the service, though
it required them to offer sacrifices, and even sin-offerings. They could
not, indeed, very well avoid this opinion, since they admitted the continued
authority of the Mosaic law. Though disagreeing with them
as to the ground of their opinion, as in reference to the other customs,
Paul evidently admitted the opinion itself, for he adopted their advice,
and paid the expense of the sacrifices which the four Nazarites offered.
Third. The commentators uniformly agree that Paul was right,
and that the rites observed on this occasion are to be referred to that
class which are indifferent, and in reference to which Paul acted upon
the principle of being a Jew to the Jew, that he might win the
Jew. [Bloomfield, Olshausen, Neander, Hackett, Howson, etc.]
This would not be objectionable, if the proceeding had reference
merely to meats and drinks, holy days, etc., to which it appears to be
confined in their view; for all these were indifferent then, and are not
less so at the present day. Who would say that it would now be sinful
to abstain from certain meats, and observe certain days as holy?
But it is far different with bloody sacrifices. If disciples, either Jewish
or Gentile, should now assemble in Jerusalem, construct an altar,
appoint a priesthood, and offer sin-offerings, they could but be regarded
as apostates from Christ. But why should it be regarded as a crime
now, if it was innocent then?
The truth is, that, up to this time, Paul had written nothing which
directly conflicted with the service of the altar, and he did not yet
understand the subject correctly. His mind, and those of all the
brethren, were as yet in much the same condition on this subject that
they were before the conversion of Cornelius, in reference to the reception
of the uncircumcised into the Church. If we admit that the proposition
above quoted from Galatians, affirming that "we are no longer
under the law,"
was, when fully understood, inconsistent with the continuance
of the sacrifice, we make his case only the more likely like Peter's in
regard to the Gentiles; for he announced propositions, on Pentecost,
which were inconsistent with his subsequent course, until he was made
to better understand the force of his own words. Peter finally discovered
that he was wrong in that matter, and Paul at length discovered
that he was wrong, in his connection with the offerings of these Nazarites.
Some years later, the whole question concerning the Aaronic
priesthood and animal sacrifices was thrust more distinctly upon his
mind, and the Holy Spirit made to him a more distinct revelation
of the truth upon the subject, and caused him to develop it to the
Churches, in Ephesians, Colossians, and especially in Hebrews. In
the last-named Epistle, written during his imprisonment in Rome, he
exhibited the utter inefficiency of animal sacrifices; the sacrifice of
Christ, once for all, as the only sufficient sin-offering; and the abrogation
of the Aaronic priesthood by that of Christ, who was now the
only high priest and mediator between God and man. After these developments,
he could not, for any earthly consideration, have repeated
the transaction with the Nazarites; for it would have been to insult the
great High Priest over the house of God, by presenting, before a human
priest, an offering which could not take away sin, and which would
proclaim the insufficiency of the blood of the atonement. We conclude,
therefore, that the procedure described in the text was inconsistent
with the truth as finally developed by the apostles, but not with so
much of it as was then understood by Paul. This conclusion presents
but another proof that the Holy Spirit, in leading the apostles
"into the truth," did so by a gradual development running through
a series of years. [See Com.x: 9-23;xi: 1-18.]
When Paul finally was enabled to understand and develop the whole
truth on this subject, no doubt the opinions and prejudices of the more
liberal class of Jewish disciples yielded to his clear and conclusive
arguments. But, doubtless, some still clung to the obsolete and unlawful
service of the temple, assisting the unbelieving Jews to perpetuate
it. Then came in the necessity for the destruction of their temple
and city, so that it should be impossible for them to longer offer sacrifices
which had been superseded. The destruction of the temple was
not the legal termination of the Mosaic ritual; for it ceased to be legal
with the death of
Christ; [Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 2:14.]
but this brought to an end its illegal continuance.
Before we dismiss this passage, there are two more points claiming
a moment's attention. First, the justness of the accusation which the
brethren had heard against Paul. He had certainly taught the Jews
that they were no longer under the law, and that "the customs" were
no longer binding, and this was, in one sense, "apostasy from Moses."
But he had not, as he was charged, taught them to abandon the customs;
for he had insisted that they were innocent; and, in reference
to circumcision, he had given no ground of offense whatever. Hence
the charge, as understood by those who preferred it, was false; and
it was with the utmost propriety that Paul consented to disabuse
their minds, though the means he adopted for that purpose was improper.
The last point claiming attention is the nature of the purification
which Paul underwent. The statement which we have rendered, he
"purified himself with them," is understood, by some commentators,
to mean that he took part in their vow of
abstinence. [Bloomfield, Olshausen.]
But for this
meaning of the term, agnizo,
there is no authority in the New Testament;
everywhere else it means to purify, and Paul's own statement
to Felix, that "they found me purified in the
temple," [Acts 24:18.]
in which he
speaks of the same event, and uses the same word, is conclusive as to
its meaning here. It will be remembered that no Jew who, like Paul,
had been mingling with Gentiles, and disregarding the ceremonial
cleanness of the law, was permitted to enter the outer court of the
temple without being purified. This purification he must have undergone,
and there is no evidence that he underwent any other. But it
is said that he purified himself "with them," which shows that they, too,
were unclean. Now, when a Nazarite became unclean within the
period of his vow, it was necessary that he should purify himself,
his head on the
seventh day, and on the
eighth day bring certain
offerings. Then he lost the days of his vow which had preceded the
uncleanness, and had to begin the count anew from the day that the
offering was presented. This is fully stated in the
where the law of Nazarite is prescribed. Such was the
condition of these Nazarites, as is further proved by the notice given
of the "days of purification," and the mention, in the
of "the seven days," as of a period well known. Nazarites had no
purification to perform except when they became unclean during their
vow; and there was no period of seven days connected with their vow,
except in the instance just mentioned. In this instance, as the head
was to be sheared on the seventh day, and the offerings presented on
the eighth, there were just seven whole days employed. Paul's part
was to give notice to the priest of the beginning of these days, and to
pay the expenses of the offerings; but he had to purify himself before
he went in for this purpose.
(27) "Now when the seven days were about to be completed, the
Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, aroused the whole multitude,
and laid hands on him,
(28) crying out, Men of Israel, help! This is the
man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, and the law and
this place, and has even brought Greeks into the temple, and polluted this
(29) For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian
in the city with him, whom they thought Paul had brought into the temple.
(30) And the whole city was moved, and the people ran together, and seizing
Paul, dragged him out of the temple; and the doors were immediately
If Paul's own brethren in Jerusalem has become prejudiced
against him on account of his teaching in reference to the law,
not surprising that the hatred of the unbelieving Jews toward him
should be intense. Their treasured wrath was like a magazine, ready
to explode the moment a match should be applied; and to charge him
with defiling the holy place, which they believed that he had already
reviled in every nation, was enough to produce the explosion. It is
not the custom of mobs to investigate the charges heaped upon their
victims; hence, without knowing or caring to know, whether he had
really brought Trophimus into the temple, they seized him and dragged
him out into the court of the Gentiles. The doors of the inner court
were closed, to prevent the defilement of that holy place by the blood
which was likely to be shed.
For the second time in his history the Roman
authorities came to Paul's rescue from the hands of his
countrymen. [The first was in Corinth, before Gallio. Com.18:14-16.]
as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the
chiliarch [Captain of a thousand.]
of the cohort
that all Jerusalem was in an uproar,
(32) who immediately took soldiers
and centurions, and ran down upon them. And when they saw the chiliarch
and the soldiers, they quit striking Paul.
(33) Then the chiliarch
drew near and seized him, and commanded him to be bound with two
chains, and inquired who he was, and what he had done.
(34) But some
of the multitude cried out one thing, and some another; and not being able
to know the certainty on account of the tumult, he commanded him to be led
into the castle."
The inability of the mob to agree upon any charge
against him shows the precipitancy with which they had rushed upon
him, while the multiplicity of charges which they vociferated shows
the intensity of their hatred. The chiliarch was indifferent through
total ignorance of the case, and desired to act prudently; hence he determined
to protect the prisoner, and hold him for examination under
more favorable circumstances.
It was but a short distance to the castle of Antonia, which
overlooked the temple inclosure, and was connected with it by a stairway.
Thither the apostle was rapidly borne, the mob pressing after
(35) "And when he was on the stairs, he was borne by the soldiers,
on account of the violence of the multitude.
(36) For the crowd of people
followed, crying out, Away with him!
(37) And when he was about to
be led into the castle, Paul said to the chiliarch, May I say something to
you? He said, Do you understand Greek?
(38) Are you not that
Egyptian, who formerly made an insurrection, and led out into the wilderness
four thousand Assassins?
(39) Paul said, I am a Jew, of Tarsus,
in Cilicia; a citizen of no unknown city; and I beseech you, permit
me to speak to the people."
This conversation shows that the chiliarch
was utterly ignorant of the character and history of his prisoner. The
best conclusion he could form from the confused outcries of the mob
was the one indicated in the question just quoted. When he learned
that he was a Jew, he was still more perplexed concerning the rage
of the people, and not less astonished at the coolness displayed by
Paul. In the hope of learning something more definite, he at once
gave him liberty to speak, and stood by, an interested hearer.
"And when he gave him permission, Paul, standing upon the stairs,
waved his hand to the people. And when there was general silence, he
spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying,"