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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Acts 21



Verse 1

1. ἀναχθῆναι ἡμᾶς ἀποσπασθέντας ἀπ' αὐτῶν, when we were gotten from them and had set sail. The vessel in which they sailed from Troas to Patara seems to have been under the Apostle’s control, so that they could stay wherever and as long as they pleased.

The verb ἀποσπασθέντας expresses the great wrench of the separation: so Chrysostom δείκνυσι δὲ τὴν βίαν τῷ εἰπεῖν ἀποσπασθέντες.

εὐθυδρομήσαντες ἤλθομεν εἰς τὴν Κῶ, we came with a straight course unto Cos. Cos is a small island, now called Stanchio, on the coast of Asia Minor, just at the entrance of the Archipelago, and in old times was famous for its wines and some light-woven fabrics. There was also in the island a temple of Aesculapius to which was attached a medical school.

τῇ δὲ ἑξῆς εἰς τὴν Ῥόδον, and the day following unto Rhodes. Rhodes is the famous island at the south-west extremity of Asia Minor, off the coast of Caria and Lycia. The city of Rhodes and the island of which it is the capital were famous in the times of the Peloponnesian war. It was well supplied with timber fit for ship-building and hence became famous for its navy, and its position has caused the island to play a conspicuous part in European history from that time onward. It was celebrated for the great Temple of the Sun, whose worship in the island is marked by the head of Apollo on the coinage. With this worship was connected the great statue known as the Colossus, which was meant as a figure of the sun, and was one of the wonders of the world. In the Roman times many privileges were granted to Rhodes by the Roman emperors, while in mediæval history this was the last Christian city which resisted the advance of the Saracens.

Πάταρα, Patara. This was a city on the coast of Lycia. It was devoted to the worship of Apollo, who is hence sometimes called by classical writers Patareus. The city was not far from the river Xanthus, and Patara was the port of the city of Xanthus. We can understand, therefore, why St Paul’s voyage in the coasting vessel should end here, because at such a port he would be likely to find a larger vessel to carry him to Syria.

Verses 1-6


Verse 2

2. πλοῖον διαπερῶν εἰς Φοινίκην, a ship sailing over [lit. crossing] unto Phœnicia. Phœnicia was the country on the Levant, north of Palestine. It contained the important maritime cities of Tyre and Sidon.

Verse 3

3. ἀναφάναντες δὲ τὴν Κύπρον, and when we had come in sight of Cyprus. On Cyprus, see notes on Acts 13:4. The more usual construction would be ἀναφανείσης τῆς Κύπρου, but cf. with this alteration of construction Galatians 2:7, πεπίστευμαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, meaning πεπιστευμένον ἔχω τὸ εὐαγγέλιον.

εἰς Συρίαν, into Syria. This was the general name for the whole district lying along the Mediterranean from Cilicia down to Egypt.

κατήλθομεν εἰς Τύρον, we landed at Tyre. Tyre was one of the chief ports of Phœnicia, and a city of very great antiquity. It was built partly on the mainland and partly on an island, and is often mentioned both in Scripture and in profane literature. It is noticed as a strongly fortified city as early as Joshua 19:29. We read of its fame in the time of Solomon in connexion with the building of the Temple; and Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, was the daughter of Ethbaal, called King of the Sidonians in Scripture, but in Josephus (Ant. VIII. 13. 2) King of Tyre. The city was besieged by Shalmaneser and afterwards by Nebuchadnezzar, and was captured by Alexander the Great.

Christ went on one of His journeys from Galilee into the neighbourhood of Tyre, if not to the city itself, which was about 30 miles from Nazareth, and it must have been then in much the same condition as at this visit of St Paul.

ἐκεῖσε γὰρἀποφορτιζόμενον τὸν γόμον, for there the ship was to unlade her burden. And so in all probability the further voyage to Ptolemais was made in a different vessel, this one going no further. With regard to the exact meaning of this clause, there is no need to suppose ἐκεῖσε is the same as ἐκεῖ, though the English idiom may ask for ‘there’ in our rendering. The full idea of the words is, ‘thither the ship was going and would there unlade &c.’ The reason for the use of ἦν ἀποφορτιζόμενον is probably to be found by understanding that the ship was in the habit of sailing to Tyre with cargoes. Cf. James 1:17, πᾶν δώρημα τέλειον ἄνωθέν ἐστι καταβαῖνον.

Verse 4

4. ἀνευρόντες δὲ τοὺς μαθητάς, and having found the disciples. This means the members of the Christian Church of Tyre, not some disciples who by chance happened to be at Tyre. That there was already a Christian congregation there is probable from the account of the spread of the Gospel given in Acts 11:19, and as brethren in Phœnicia are spoken of in Acts 15:3. If there were such anywhere in that country, they would presumably be in Tyre.

It was so much the custom for Jews to seek out their fellow Jews in whatever place they came to, that it would be natural in St Paul and his companions to inquire after the Christians in every city in the same way.

ἡμέρας ἑπτά, seven days. It appears that the Apostle, having finished nearly all his sea voyage, found that he could easily accomplish his journey to Jerusalem in time, and so he no longer hastened as he did when all the probable mishaps of a coasting voyage were before him.

οἵτινες τῷ Παύλῳ ἔλεγον διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος, and these said to Paul through the Spirit. The Apostle himself was urged by some inward prompting to go on to Jerusalem ‘not knowing what might befall him.’ The Spirit warns these disciples of the dangers which would come upon him. We need not judge that these things are contrary one to the other. The Apostle knew that bonds and afflictions were to be his lot everywhere, and though the Spirit shewed to his friends that he would suffer, yet the impulse of the same Spirit urged him forward, because it was God’s will that he should suffer thus in the cause and for the greater furtherance of the Gospel.

μὴ ἐπιβαίνειν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα, that he should not set foot in Jerusalem. After verbs of commanding, urging, directing &c. when the command is in the negative form μὴ is used, because in the direct sentence this would be the particle, as here μὴ ἐπίβαινε.

Verse 5

5. ὅτε δὲ ἐγένετο ἡμᾶς ἐξαρτίσαι τὰς ἡμέρας, and when we had accomplished those days. Literally, ‘when it came to pass that we had &c.’ For the construction in the Greek cf. above Acts 21:1.

τὰς ἡμέρας means, of course, the seven days previously mentioned. The verb ἐξαρτίζω is very unusual in this sense, though the Vulgate explains it so (expletis diebus) and Chrysostom gave it that meaning (πληρῶσαι), so we may accept it. Some, keeping to a more common use of it, ‘to fit out,’ have proposed to understand the word ‘ship’ as the object of it, and to render ‘when we had refitted (or fitted the ship with stores) during those days.’

προπεμπόντων ἡμᾶς πάντων σὺν γυναιξὶ καὶ τέκνοις, while they all escorted us, with wives and children, i.e. with their wives and children. The whole Christian community attended the Apostle to the shore. The mention of families here confirms what was said on Acts 21:4 about ‘the disciples.’ They were the Church of Tyre.

ἕως ἔξω τῆς πόλεως, till we were come outside the city. ἕως is used in a local signification with many phrases which signify the point to which the movement or action is continued.

καὶ θέντες τὰ γόνατα κ.τ.λ., and kneeling down on the beach. On the action cf. Acts 20:36 and note there.

προσευξάμενοι ἀπησπασάμεθα ἀλλήλους, we prayed and bade each other farewell. The verb ἀπασπάζομαι is exceedingly rare. It occurs nowhere else in N.T. or LXX.

Verse 6

6. καὶ ἐνέβημεν εἰς τὸ πλοῖον, ἐκεῖνοι δὲ ὑπέστρεψαν εἰς τὰ ἴδια, and we went on board the ship, but they returned home again. There is nothing in the Greek to tell us whether the ship was the same in which they had come to Tyre, or not.

Verse 7

7. τὸν πλοῦν διανύσαντες, when we had finished the voyage. The distance was but short, and would be accomplished in a day.

κατηντήσαμεν εἰς Πτολεμαΐδα, we came to Ptolemais. Ptolemais is the name which was given during Macedonian and Roman rule to the city anciently called Accho (Judges 1:31), and known in modern history as St Jean d’Acre or often simply Acre. In the earliest times it was the most important town on that portion of the coast, bat at the beginning of the Christian era was far surpassed by Cæsarea, which was the residence of Herod and of the Roman governor.

καὶ ἀσπασάμενοι τοὺς ἀδελφούς, and having saluted the brethren. It is clear then that there was a Christian society in Ptolemais also. As the city lay on the great high-road by the coast it was certain to be visited by some of the earlier preachers, when the disciples were dispersed from Jerusalem after the death of Stephen.

Verses 7-14


Verse 8

8. τῇ δὲ ἐπαύριον ἐξελθόντες ἤλθομεν εἰς Καισάρειαν, and on the morrow having departed we came to Cæsarea. This part of the journey was made by land, though it could have been made by sea. But the road between the two places was one of the best.

εἰς τὸν οἶκον Φιλίππου τοῦ εὐαγγελίστου, into the house of Philip the evangelist. Philip is named next after Stephen in the narrative (Acts 6:5) of the choosing of the seven, and though no such prominent exhibition of his zeal is narrated as of Stephen, yet we are told that he went away from Jerusalem and was the first to carry the Gospel to the Samaritans (Acts 8:5). He also was directed by the angel of the Lord to go and baptize the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-38), thus being doubly an ambassador to the Gentiles, and earning his title of ‘Evangelist.’ He preached afterwards at Azotus, and from the chapter before us we may conclude that he had made his home at Cæsarea. Such a situation, the meeting-place of Gentiles with Jews, was the proper scene for such a missionary to labour in, and such a labourer would rejoice greatly to welcome to his house the great apostle who had gone forth once and again unto the Gentiles and with such mighty blessing on his work.

ὄντος ἐκ τῶν ἑπτά, who was of the seven, i.e. those seven who were chosen (Acts 6) to relieve the Apostles from the duty of ‘serving tables.’

Verse 9

9. τούτῳ δὲ ἧσαν θυγατέρες τέσσαρες παρθένοι κ.τ.λ., now this man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. The family of the Evangelist were walking in their father’s steps. These daughters, instead of resting at home, took upon them the hard duty of publishing the message of the Gospel. The English word ‘prophesy’ has come to have, since about the beginning of the seventeenth century, only the one sense of ‘to predict what is yet to come.’ In the time of Queen Elizabeth ‘prophesyings’ meant ‘preachings,’ and Jeremy Taylor’s famous work on the ‘Liberty of Prophesying’ was written to uphold the freedom of preaching. These women were, in their degree, Evangelists also.

Verse 10

10. ἐπιμενόντων δὲ ἡμέρας πλείους, and as we tarried there many days. In this phrase πλείους loses its comparative sense, and means only ‘several,’ ‘some,’ ‘many.’ It is frequent in the LXX. Cf. Numbers 20:15, καὶ παρῳκήσαμεν ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ ἡμέρας πλείονς. Joshua 11:18, καὶ ἡμέρας πλείους ἐποίησεν Ἰησοὺς τὸν πόλεμον. See also Numbers 9:19; Joshua 23:1; Joshua 24:7, &c. With the omission of ἡμῶν here, leaving the genitive absolute without a subject, ct Luke 12:36, ἐλθόντος καὶ κρούσαντος where αὐτοῦ is similarly omitted.

προφήτης ὀνόματι Ἄγαβος, a prophet named Agabus. Most probably the same who (Acts 11:28) foretold the coming famine. The prophets mentioned on that occasion had also come up from Jerusalem. And the name Agabus is not one of common occurrence.

Verse 11

11. καὶ ἐλθὼνδήσας ἑαντοῦ τοὺς πόδας καὶ τὰς χεῖρας, and coming … he bound his own feet and hands. The adoption by Agabus of this figurative action makes it almost certain that the man was a Jew. Similar actions are common in the Old Testament prophets. Thus Isaiah (Acts 20:3) walks naked and barefoot. Jeremiah (Acts 13:5) hides his girdle by the river Euphrates, and (Acts 19:10-11) breaks the potter’s vessel in the Valley of Hinnom; Ezekiel (Acts 4:1-3) draws on a tile a picture of the siege of Jerusalem, and (Acts 5:1-4) cuts off his hair and burns and destroys it as God commanded. So too Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made horns of iron (1 Kings 22:11). With this act of Agabus may be compared our Lord’s words to St Peter (John 21:18).

The girdle was that band with which the loose Oriental robe was drawn together at the waist. It was of considerable size, and served the purposes of a pocket, the money being carried in it. To judge from the verb (ἄρας) employed in describing the prophet’s action, it seems that St Paul had laid aside his girdle and that it was taken up by Agabus from the place where it lay.

τάδε λέγει τὸ πν. τ. ., thus saith the Holy Ghost. That we may the better note the Apostle’s zeal for carrying out the Lord’s will, we are once more told how the Holy Ghost made known to him through others that he was about to be made a prisoner. Still we see him go forward unmoved, because though others might know that he was to suffer, and might in their affection strive to hold him back, he was convinced that such suffering was the Lord’s way for him. Therefore he went on.

Verse 12

12. ἡμεῖς τε καὶ οἱ ἐντόπιοι, we and they of that place. We (i.e. St Luke and the rest who were fellow-travellers with St Paul) and the Christian congregation of Cæsarea. The act of Agabus was in all probability done with some publicity; perhaps in some meeting where St Paul had laid aside his girdle for greater freedom while he spoke.

Verse 13

13. τί ποιεῖτε κλαίοντες καὶ συνθρύπτοντές μον τὴν καρδίαν; what do yet weeping and breaking my heart? i.e. what are you seeking to effect thereby?

συνθρύπτειν is a very rare word; its sense is to weaken the purpose of any one. The Apostle does not mean ‘break my heart’ in the ordinary sense of adding to his load of sorrow so as to overpower him. The deterring from his journey by weakening his determination is what his words indicate.

ἐγὼ γὰρ κ.τ.λ., for I, &c. The pronoun stands emphatically, though we cannot express its force in English. St Paul had long ago counted the cost of Christ’s service, and had found the sufferings of the present time not worthy to he compared with the future glory.

ἀποθανεῖν εἰς Ἱερουσαλήμ, to die at Jerusalem. For εἰς following a verb indicating rest, but implying previous motion, cf. Acts 8:40, Φιλιππος δὲ εὑρέθη εἰς Ἄζωτον.

Verse 14

14. τοῦ κυρίον τὸ θέλημα γινέσθω, the will of the Lord be done. They gathered; from the Apostle’s language that he had a higher leading than theirs in what he was doing, and feeling that Christ’s guidance was better than any other, they quieted their minds with the thought that the work was ‘for the name of the Lord Jesus,’ who would strengthen His servant to do His will.

Verse 15

15. ἐπισκενασάμενοι, having made ready our baggage. The verb is used now and then in the LXX. of making ready the lamps &c. in the house of the Lord. In classical Greek it is common enough, but only occurs here in N.T.

Verse 15-16


Verse 16

16. συνῆλθον δὲ καὶ τῶν μαθητῶν, and there went with us also some of the disciples. The genitive without government in this fashion is rare, and the more usual thing is to find ἐκ, or some other preposition to govern it, as in John 16:17, εἶπον οὖν ἐκ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ, Some then of His disciples said. Somewhat like the construction in this verse is Isaeus, Acts 7:5, ὁ Θράσνλος τῶν ἐν Σικελίᾳ κατελέγν τριηράρχων, and Xen. Mem. I. 2. 31, Κριτίας τῶν τριάκοντα ἦν. But these are not with an active verb like συνῆλθον.

ἀπὸ Καισαρείας, from Cæsarea. The Evangelist had formed a Church where he had settled, and the congregation were, like their teacher, concerned at St Paul’s danger, and so some went with him to Jerusalem. Perhaps the nucleus of the Church may be dated from the baptism of Cornelius, and Philip settling in Caesarea carried on what had been begun by St Peter.

ἄγοντες παρ' ᾦ ξενισθῶμεν ΄νάσονί τινι Κυπρίῳ, ἀρχαίῳ μαθητῇ, bringing with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge. The construction is not easy to settle. The rendering just given takes παρ' ῷ ξευισθῶμεν as an inserted clause interfering with the regular government, which would be ἄγοντες ΄νάσονά τινα. &c. The antecedent however is made to correspond in case with the intruded relative. This appears simplest, but others suppose. the sense to be ἄγοντες (ἡμᾶς) παρὰ ΄νάσονά τιναπαρ' ᾦ ξενισθῶμεν, ‘leading us to the house of Mnason’ &c. It seems more natural to suppose that for some reason or other Mnason was at this time at Cæsarea, and that the arrangement by which the Apostle’s party became his guests was made with him there, than to consider that the disciples in Cæsarea, knowing Mnason’s hospitality and that he could receive such guests, agreed to carry them thither.

On Mnason’s reception of St Paul Chrysostom reflects thus: Παῦλον ἐξένιζεν ἐκεῖνος. τάχα τις ὑμῶν ἐρεῖ· εἴ τις κἀμοὶ Παῦλον ἔδωκε ξενίσαι, ἑτοίμως ἄν καὶ μετὰ πολλῆς τῆς προθυμίας τοῦτο ἐποίησα· ἰδοὺ τὸν Παύλου δεσπότην ἔξεστί σοι ξενίσαι, καὶ οὐ βούλει. ὁ γὰρ δεχόμενος, φησίν, ἕνα τῶν ἐλαχίστων, ἐμὲ δέχεται.

Mnason belonged to Cyprus, but had now his home in Jerusalem. Just as Barnabas and Mary, the mother of John Mark, were also Cypriotes, but had fixed their home in the holy City. Mnason is called ἀρχαῖος μαθητής as having become a Christian in the beginning of the Gospel preaching, soon after the day of Pentecost. At the time of any of the great feasts it was no unnecessary precaution to settle on a lodging beforehand, for Jerusalem was certain to be full of people, and by this arrangement made in Cæsarea, the whole party was saved the trouble of searching for quarters when they arrived. To find a house in which the Apostle and those with him might all be received would probably have been attended with much difficulty. To be the owner of such a house Mnason must have been one of the wealthier members of the congregation. His name is Greek, and he was most likely one of the Hellenists, or, if he were a Jew, Mnason was perhaps substituted for some Jewish name, e.g. Manasseh.

Verse 17

17. ἀσμένως ἀπεδέξαντο ἡμᾶς οἱ ἁδελφοί, the brethren received us gladly. The brethren, whose joy is here spoken of, would be those Christians who first learnt of the arrival of Paul at Mnason’s house. It is not the public reception which is here intended, for however welcome Paul may have been to individuals, the heads of the Church were manifestly apprehensive of trouble which might arise from his presence in Jerusalem.

Verses 17-36


Verse 18

18. τῇ δὲ ἐπιούσῃ εἰσῄει ὁ Παῦλος σὺν ἡμῖν πρός Ἰάκωβον, and the day following Paul went in with us unto James. This was the Church’s reception of the returned missionaries. Notice of their arrival would soon be given, and the authorities who were at the time resident in Jerusalem were gathered together. There was not any Apostle there or St Luke would hardly have failed to mention the fact, as he was one of those present. Paul took with him to this interview all who had shared in his labours, that their work as well as his own might receive the recognition of the mother Church of Christ. The James here mentioned is the same who appears recognised as the head of the congregation in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17, Acts 15:13). He was most probably one of our Lord’s brethren. See note on Acts 12:17.

πάντες τε παρεγένοντο οἱ πρεσβύτεροι, and all the elders were present. These men, with James, formed the governing body of the Church, and were the persons to whom the Apostle would naturally desire to give an account of his labours. In the proceedings which follow, the narrative does not, as in the council at Jerusalem, represent James as taking the lead, or being spokesman; he is only mentioned as the person to whom the missionaries specially went. The advice given to St Paul is couched in the plural number, as if the elders had jointly tendered it.

Verse 19

19. καὶ ἀσπασάμενος αὐτούς, and having saluted them. ἀσπάζομαι is used of the greetings both at parting and arrival. For the latter, cf. 1 Maccabees 11:6, ἠσπάσαντο ἀλλήλους καὶ ἐκοιμήθησαν ἐκεῖ. For parting see above, Acts 21:1. Oriental greetings are of a much more formal character than is common in Western countries.

ἐξηγεῖτο καθ' ἕν ἕκαστον ὦν, he rehearsed one by one the things which. Such a narrative must have consumed much time, though St Luke, having given us before a sketch of St Paul’s work, omits here any speech of the Apostle.

For the attraction of the relative into the case of its antecedent see note on Acts 1:1. Here however the antecedent τούτων is not expressed.

ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸςδιὰ τῆς διακονίας αὐτοῦ, God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. We cannot doubt, from what remains to us of St Paul’s writings, that this was the tone of all that he would say. God had been pleased to use him, and for His own glory had made Paul’s weakness effective.

Verse 20

20. ἐδόξαζον τὸν θεόν, they glorified God. They took up the strain of thanksgiving which had run through all the Apostle’s story. Nothing could show more clearly than such a result how little of himself, and how much of God, there had been in St Paul’s narrative.

εἶπάν τε αὐτῷ, and they said unto him. Their anxiety makes itself apparent at once, and we come here face to face with what must have been one of the greatest difficulties for the early Christians. Before Jerusalem was destroyed there must ever have been at that centre a party zealous for the Law, with whom labour among the Gentiles would find small favour.

θεωρεῖς, ἁδελφέ, thou seest, brother. The use of θεωρέω seems to imply that there had already been some opportunity for the Apostle to behold and estimate the character of a Christian gathering in Jerusalem. At this feast of Pentecost the Christians would have as much interest in a commemorative assembly as the Jews.

πόσαι μυριάδες, how many thousands. Literally ‘myriads.’ But the word is used indefinitely of a large number, just like our ‘thousand.’

εἰσὶν ἐν τοῖς Ἰουφαίοις τῶν πεπιστευκότων, there are among the Jews of them which have believed. These were persons who, as was not unlikely to be often the case, accepted Christianity as the supplement of Judaism, but made no break with their old faith, of the observances of which their life-long training had made them tenacious. To such men, as Christianity rested on the Old Testament Scripture, there would seem little need to make a rent between their old life and the new.

καὶ πάντες ζηλωταὶ τοῦ νόμου ὑπάρχουσιν, and they are all zealous for the Law, i.e. rigorous maintainers of all the ceremonial of the Mosaic code. Ζηλωταί was the name of a most rigid sect among the Jews, begun in the times of the Maccabees. It is used in a bad sense, ‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles’ § 3.

Verse 21

21. κατηχήθησαν δὲ περὶ σοῦ, and they have been informed concerning thee. κατηχέω is a very significant verb. It is the root of our English ‘catechize.’ It implies, therefore, that the process of educating public opinion in Jerusalem about St Paul had been a diligent business. The Pharisaic party had taught the lesson persistently till their hearers were fully trained in it. We can hence understand the great hostility which the Apostle experienced, and his strong language about these Judaizers. They must have had their partizans at work in preparation for his visit, and have poisoned men’s minds against him.

ὅτι ἀποστασίανπάντας Ἰουδαίους, that thou teachest all the Jews that are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses. The calumniators made use of the Apostle’s earnest words to Gentile converts, that they should not accept Judaism first as a door to Christianity, to bring a charge that, to Jews also, he spake of the Law as no longer to be regarded. We can see from what we know of his words and actions how false this was, but at such a time and amid such a populace the charge would rouse great animosity, and have no chance of being refuted.

ἀποστασία is found 1 Maccabees 2:15, of those who were being compelled to forsake the Law and the ordinances and to sacrifice unto idols. οἱ παρὰ τοῦ βασιλέως οἱ καταναγκάζοντες τὴν ἀποστασίανἵνα θυσιάσωσι.

λέγων μὴ περιτέμνειν αὐτοὺς τὰ τέκνα, telling them not to circumcise their children. Circumcision had so long been the mark of the Jew, and the expression ‘uncircumcised’ meant something so abhorrent to his mind, that we cannot wonder that this is put in the forefront of the charge. For the sense of contempt and abomination in the name ‘uncircumcised,’ cf. 1 Samuel 17:26; Ezekiel 28:10; Ezekiel 32:29-30.

μηδὲ τοῖς ἔθεσιν περιπατεῖν, nor to walk after the customs. The customs are the ceremonial laws of the Jews. The recurrence of words = ‘to walk after’ gives quite an Old Testament ring to the language of these speeches.

Verse 22

22. τί οὖν ἐστιν; what is it therefore? i.e. How stands the matter? A question used as introductory to the consideration of what is best to be done.

πάντως δεῖ συνελθεῖν πλῆθος, a multitude must needs come together. These words are accepted by Lachmann and Tischendorf, but omitted by Tregelles, and also in the Rev. Vers. They appear to suit very badly with the sense. St Paul had just been addressing the conspicuous members of the Church at Jerusalem. They recommend to him a certain course by which certain Judæo-Christians might learn in their visits to the Temple that the Apostle against whom such evil reports had been circulated was taking part in the observance of the legal customs. In all this there was nothing done with special reference to a crowd, nor do we read of the gathering of any crowd till the seven days of the vow were nearly ended, and then it was the Jews of Asia who stirred up the multitude.

Verse 23

23. τοῦτο οὗν ποίησον, do therefore this. They advise St Paul to take a part in the ceremonies of a Nazirite vow. He could not go through the whole course of the observance, for these men had already for sometime had the vow upon them, but it was permitted among the Jews, to anyone who wished, to join in the final purification ceremonies of this vow; and this was the more readily permitted, if the person wishing to take a share only in this concluding portion bore the charges of the person or persons to whom he joined himself. It is significant of the intense clinging to the older ceremonial in the Jewish Church that among the Christian congregation there were men found who had taken this vow upon them. If the authorities knew of St Paul’s previous observance of a like vow (Acts 18:18) they would have no scruple in urging him to take part in a similar service again. For an account of the Nazirite’s vow, see Numbers 6:1-21. It is not there specified how long the observance of the vow lasted, and the time may have varied in different cases, but the final ceremonies here appear to have lasted seven days.

Verse 24

24. τούτους παραλαβὼν ἁγνίσθητι σὺν αὐτοῖς, them take and purify thyself with them, i.e. make thyself one of their company, and observe all the ordinances which they observe with regard to purification, and avoiding what is unclean.

καὶ δαπάνησον ἐπ' αὐτοῖς, and be at charges for them. Josephus (Ant. xix. 6. 1) tells how Herod Agrippa took upon him the expenses of many Nazirites (ξυρᾶσθαι διέταξε μάλα συχνούς). Cf. also Bell. Jud. II. 15. 1, from which passage it appears that then the whole time of a Nazirite’s vow was thirty days. This latter passage relates to a vow made by Berenice.

ἵνα ξυρήσονται τὴν κεφαλήν, that they may shave their heads. This use of the future indicative after ἵνα is found in several places in N.T. Whether it occurs in classical Greek is very doubtful; though ὅπως is found with this construction.

The shaving of the head took place at the conclusion of the vow, and when the victims were offered, the hair was burnt in the fire which was under the sacrifice of the peace-offering. The charges which had to be borne by St Paul would be the cost of the victims and other things connected with the sacrifice.

καὶ γνώσονται πάντες, and all shall know, i.e. learning from what they actually behold.

κατήχηνται, they have been informed. See above on Acts 21:21 for the force of the word. They had been taught this calumny about St Paul as if it were a lesson to be learnt.

οὐδέν ἐστιν, are nothing, i.e. have no truth in them. Cf. Acts 25:11.

στοιχεῖς καὶ αὐτὸς φυλάσσων τὸν νόμον, thou thyself also walkest orderly keeping the Law. στοιχέω (as its derivation from στοῖχος = a row, would intimate) is always used of going by a rule or example, following a pattern. What the pattern here is is expressed in the participial clause. Of the value which the Jew attached to such following, cf. Sirach 21:11, ὁ φυλάσσων νόμον κατακρατεῖ τοῦ ἐννοήματος αὐτοῦ. He may not understand at first, but obedience will lead him to a mastery of all that the Law means.

Verse 25

25. περὶ δὲ τῶν πεπιστευκότων ἐθνῶν, but as touching the Gentiles which believe. The elders, while urging on Paul the course they have described in consideration of Jewish prejudices, are yet careful to distinguish from this the liberty of the Gentiles, and to confirm that liberty. They make it plain to the Apostle that they are of the same mind as when the council was held (Acts 15). They refer now to the decisions then arrived at.

ἡμεῖς ἐπεστείλαμεν, we wrote. This is said in reference to the time when the decrees were first published (Acts 15:23). ἐπιστέλλω is used there (Acts 15:20) just as here. The proceedings of the synod are referred to in their technical language.

κρίναντες, giving judgment. In this word also there is a reference to the language of Acts 15:19 where James says ἐλὼ καίνω. And although James is not specially mentioned here as the speaker, there must have been one who acted as the mouthpiece of the presbytery, and none was more likely to do so than he.

φυλάσσεσθαι αὐτοὺς κ.τ.λ., that they should keep themselves from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what is strangled and from fornication. On these prohibitions and the reasons for them see notes on Acts 15:20.

Verse 26

26. τότε ὁ Παῦλος παραλαβὼν τοὺς ἄνδρας, then Paul having taken the men. This consent of Paul to the advice of James and the elders has been taken by some for a contradiction of the words and character of the Apostle as represented in his own writings. But he has testified of himself (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) that for the Gospel’s sake he was made all things to all men, unto the Jews becoming as a Jew that he might gain the Jews, and for the same end, to them that are without law, as himself without law. And these brethren of the Church of Jerusalem to whom St Paul joined himself were Christians, and therefore were not clinging to legal observances as of merit towards salvation, but as ordinances which were of divine origin, and which education had made them careful to observe. The same spirit had actuated the Apostle to manifest by an outward act his thankfulness for some deliverance when, on a former occasion, he took this vow on himself without the suggestion of others (Acts 18:18). In the Christian services of the earliest days there was very little outlet for the expression by action of any religious emotion, and we cannot wonder that a people whose worship for a long time had been mainly in external observance should cling still to such outward acts, though they had grown to estimate them as of no saving virtue in themselves. With reference to the supposed contradiction in the two pictures of St Paul as given by St Luke and by himself, we need only compare his language about Judaizers in the Epistle to the Galatians with what he says of the preaching of the Gospel at Rome by similar adversaries, when he was writing to the Philippians, to see that the Apostle in what he said and did had ever an eye to the circumstances. To the Galatians he speaks in the strongest terms against the Judaizers because their influence was to draw away the Christians in Galatia from the simple Gospel as offered by him in Christ’s name to the Gentiles, and to make them substitute for it the observance of the law of Moses as a necessary door to Christianity. He has no words strong enough to express his horror of such teachers in such a place. But the same Paul concerning Rome, the condition of whose people may be learnt by a perusal of the first chapter of his letter to that Church, says (Philippians 1:15-18), ‘Some preach Christ even of envy and strife, supposing to add affliction to my bonds. Notwithstanding every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached, and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.’ Assuredly there is as much of so-called contradiction between Paul as described in different places by himself, as between his own description and what St Luke has left us of his history. Contradiction it is not, but only such concession as might be expected from one strong in the faith as St Paul was when he was dealing, as he was called upon to deal, with two classes of men who could never be brought to the same standpoint. To observe the ceremonial law was not needful for the Gentiles, therefore the Apostle decried its observance and opposed those who would have enforced it. The ceremonial law was abolished for the Jew also in Christ, but it had a divine warrant for those who had been trained in it from their youth up, therefore all that the Apostle here desired was that their true value only should be set on externals. He felt that time would develop Christian worship to fill the place which the Temple Service for a long time must hold among the Christians of Jerusalem.

τῇ ἐχομένῃ ἡμέρᾳεἰς τὸ ἱερόν, the next day, having purified himself with them, he entered into the Temple. The regulation was that the Nazirite should avoid all persons and things that would cause ceremonial defilement, and that this might be more thoroughly accomplished the closing days of the vow appear, at this time, to have been passed within the Temple precincts. This, of course, must have been a later arrangement than any which is spoken of in the institution of the vow (Numbers 6).

On the Apostle’s action at this time Chrysostom remarks: ὅρα τὸν Παῦλον. οὐ λέγεικαὶ μὴν δύναμαι πεῖσαι τῷ λόγῳ· ἀλλ' ἐπείσθη αὐτοῖς καὶ πάντα ἐποίησε. καὶ γὰρ οὕτω συνέφερεν. οὐ γὰρ ἦν ἴσον εἰς ἀπολογίαν καταστῆναι, καὶ οὐδένος εἰδότος ποιῆσαι ταῦτα. ἀνύποπτον ἦν τὸ καὶ δαπανᾶσθαι.

διαγγέλλων τὴν ἐκπλήρωσιν τῶν ἡμερῶν τοῦ ἁγνισμοῦ, declaring the fulfilment of the days of purification. The meaning is that St Paul gave notice to the proper officials of the Temple that the completion of the vow would be at a certain time. It would be needful for him to do this, as otherwise they would have expected him to keep the full number of days which the others observed. After his explanation that he was only a sharer for a time in the vow of his companions, it would be understood that his days of purification should terminate when theirs did.

ἕως οὗ προσηνέχθνἡ προσφορά, until the offering was offered for every one of them. ἕως οὗ depends on εἰσῄει, ‘he entered in … (to stay) till the offering, &c.’ The words are not a part of St Paul’s notice to the priests, but of St Luke’s history. The Apostle performed these observances, and intended to continue as a Nazirite till the whole ceremonial for all of them was ended.

Verse 27

27. ἔμελλονσυντελεῖσθαι, were almost completed. Seven days appear to have been the period devoted to the more secluded residence in the Temple. For συντελεῖσθαι, of the completion of a portion of time (which is not very common), cf. Job 1:5, καὶ ὡς ἂν συνετελέσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ πότου.

οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἀσίας Ἰουδαῖοι, the Jews from Asia. It seems from this that a portion of the visitors to Jerusalem had known the Apostle in his missionary labours, and may have come after him, in their enmity, to damage his reputation by calumnious reports of his teaching, reports which had as much ground in truth as the story about Trophimus from which the tumult arose at this time in Jerusalem.

συνέχεον πάντα τὸν ὄχλον, stirred up all the multitude. These Asian Jews were coming up to the Temple for their worship, and may even have been of the company in the ship by which the Apostle and his companions came from Patara. They certainly had known, or found out, that Trophimus was an Ephesian and a Gentile. If they had seen the Apostle in familiar converse with him, this would be enough to rouse their indignation, especially as Paul and his companion would probably be living together in the same house and at the same board (cf. Acts 11:3).

Verse 28

28. βοηθεῖτε, Help. The cry is as if an outrage had been committed, and they, the strangers visiting Jerusalem, were the persons who could afford the best testimony to what had been done. For had they not seen and heard Paul in Ephesus and elsewhere?

οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἄνθρωπος ὁ κατὰ τοῦ λαοῦ κ.τ.λ., this is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the people. By their language they would intimate that he was bringing the whole nation into contempt. The Jews no doubt were treated with contempt among the Gentiles, and to hear that one of their own nation had helped this on would rouse them as much as anything could.

καὶ τοῦ νόμου καὶ τοῦ τόπου τούτου, and [against] the Law and this place. How great a change has come over the Apostle since the day when he joined with those who charged Stephen (ch. Acts 6:13) with speaking blasphemous words against this holy place (the Temple) and the Law. Now a like multitude brings similar charges against him.

ἔτι τε καὶ Ἕλληνας εἰσήγαγεν εἰς τὸ ἱερόν, and moreover he has brought Greeks also into the Temple. On the occurrence of τε καί in the same clause, cf. on Acts 19:27. There is no doubt a special emphasis intended to be given to Ἕλληνας in this clause which may explain St Luke’s irregular language.

There was in the Temple a ‘court of the Gentiles,’ but the accusation against St Paul was that, during his own sojourn in the sacred precincts, he had brought his Gentile companions into places which were forbidden to them. How unscrupulous their charge was is indicated by the plural ‘Greeks,’ whereas the only person to whom such a term could be applied was Trophimus.

καὶ κεκοίνωκεν κ.τ.λ., and hath defiled this holy place. They themselves as Jews were in the court allotted to their nation, which was deemed more sacred than that of the Gentiles. The Greek word κεκοίνωκεν is literally ‘hath made common,’ and carries the thought back to St Peter’s vision, where the Gentiles were figured by the beasts which the Apostle deemed ‘common (κοινά) or unclean’ (Acts 10:14).

Verse 29

29. Τρόφιμον τὸν Ἐφέσιον, Trophimus the Ephesian. Hence we see that Trophimus had come with the Apostle not only ‘as far as Asia’ (see note on Acts 20:4), but all the way to Jerusalem. His name bespeaks the man a Greek, and, from the anger of these Asiatic Jews, he was doubtless a convert to Christianity without having been a proselyte of Judaism. It is noticeable that so ready were these men to find a cause for attacking St Paul, that they began it on a mere thought, ‘They supposed Paul had brought him into the Temple.’

Verse 30

30. καὶ ἐγένετο συνδρομὴ τοῦ λαοῦ, and the people ran together. So κεὶ ἐγένετο συνδρομὴ ἐν πάσῃ τῇ παρεμβολῇ (Judith 10:18) of the crowding around Judith as she came into the camp of Holophernes.

What occurred is a proof that the words of James and the elders were true. The whole Jewish community had been ‘catechized’ on the doings of St Paul among the Gentiles. The least spark set the whole train on fire.

καὶ ἐπιλαβόμενοι τοῦ Παύλου εἶλκον αὐτόν, they laid hold on Paul and dragged him. Their design was probably to get him out of the Temple precincts before they proceeded to further violence. It is clear that all the ceremonies of the Apostle’s vow were not yet accomplished, and had they not laid violent hands on him he might have fled to the altar for safety. That such a murder as they contemplated was possible in Jerusalem at this period we have evidence in the case of Stephen.

ἐκλείσθησαν αἱ θύραι, the doors were shut. We need not suppose that any of the Levites, the gatekeepers of the Temple, were of the same mind with the rioters. Their action in closing the gates was only to prevent any profanation of the building by the uproar which they saw to be beginning.

Verse 31

31. ζητούντων τε αὐτὸν ἀποκτεῖναι, and as they were seeking to kill him.

For the omission of the pronoun, which is not rare with the genitive absolute of the third person, see on Acts 21:10 above and cf. 1 Chronicles 17:24, μεγαλυνθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου ἕως αἰῶνος λεγόντων Κύριε, κύριε παντοκράτωρ.

For ζητεῖν in the sense of ‘wishing’ as here cf. Exodus 4:24, συνήντησεν αὐτῷ ἄγγελος κυρίου, καὶ ἐζήτει αὐτὸν ἀποκτεῖναι. The desire of the mob was clearly, now that they had the Apostle in their power, to beat him to death in the crowd, and thus avoid a charge of murder against any individual.

ἀνέβη φάσις τῷ χιλιάρχῳ τῆς σπείρης, tidings came up to the chief captain of the band. The chief military officer of the Romans in Jerusalem was stationed in the tower of Antonia, which was situate on the N.W. of the Temple on the hill Acra. This tower had been built by Herod, and was so close to the scene of the tumult that news would be brought at once. The military officer (probably a tribune) is called χιλίαρχος, that is, officer over a thousand men. On the word σπεῖρα for a Roman cohort, or troop of soldiers, cf. Acts 10:1. The verb ἀνέβη ‘came up to’ shews that the writer was familiar with the locality and had the whole scene in his mind. On the Tower of Antonia, see Josephus, Vita, 5.

φάσις is used in classical Greek for a formal accusation laid before a law court. It is only found once in the LXX. where φάσις θεοῦ is the order from God given for the punishment of an offender, Susanna 55. The name of the χιλίαρχος is from the further history (Acts 23:26) found to have been Claudius Lysias, but nothing is known of him beyond what we read in the Acts.

συγχύννεται, was in confusion. Cf. the σύγχυσις at Ephesus, Acts 19:29. At the time of the feast religious party feeling was sure to run very high, and the multitudes of strangers visiting the city would think to shew their zeal for the Temple and the Law by their eagerness to avenge any supposed profanation.

Verse 32

32. στρατιώτας καὶ ἑκατοντάρχας, soldiers and centurions. Clearly the χιλίαρχος had charge of a considerable troop, which might perhaps just at the feast be augmented in anticipation that the incourse of so many foreigners might lead to a disturbance.

κατέδραμεν ἐπ' αὐτούς, ran down upon them. The tower was on the height above the Temple, so the verb is very correct.

ἐπαύσαντο τύπτοντες τὸν Παῦλον, they left beating of Paul. The mob probably knew that Roman law would do justice, and that if the Apostle were found by the chief captain to have been wrongfully treated they would be brought to an account.

Verse 33

33. ἐπελάβετο αὐτοῦ, laid hold on him. The verb implies a formal arrest. The chief captain did not come with a view to relieve St Paul, but to find out what was the matter, and seeing the Apostle in the hands of the mob, himself arrested him, that he might not be killed without a hearing.

ἁλύσεσι δυσί, with two chains, cf. Acts 12:6. Evidently, as appears from his language afterwards (Acts 21:38), the χιλίαρχος regarded St Paul as some desperate criminal. He would have thought little of the matter, had it seemed merely a question about Jewish law (see Acts 23:29).

καὶ ἐπυνθάνετο, and inquired. From those who appeared most prominent in the crowd.

τίς εἴη καὶ τί ἐστι πεποιηκώς, who he was, and what he had done. The optative mood in the first half of the question shews that this was a question about the answer to which there might be uncertainty. The indicative in the latter half proclaims the conviction of the χιλίαρχος. He was quite sure some wrong had been done.

Verse 34

34. ἄλλοι δὲ ἄλλο τι ἐπεφώνουν, and some shouted one thing and some another. ἐπιφωνέω is the verb which St Luke gives for the din of the multitude which shouted against Jesus (Luke 23:21), ‘Crucify Him’; also for the adulatory shouting in honour of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:22). No other New Testament writer uses the word. It is twice found in the LXX. (1 Esdras 9:47; 2 Maccabees 1:23), both times of loud responses in prayer.

The chief captain appears to have made an effort to learn what was laid to the charge of the Apostle.

διὰ τὸν θόρυβον, because of the uproar. Probably, as at Ephesus (Acts 19:32), a large part of the shouters hardly knew themselves why the clamour was raised.

ἄγεσθαιεἰς τὴν παρεμβολήν, to be led into the castle. παρεμβολή signifies ‘an encampment,’ but was employed to designate the barracks which the Romans had in the Tower of Antonia. The same word is rendered ‘army’ in Hebrews 11:34. Cf. also LXX. 1 Samuel 4:5-7.

Verse 35

35. ἐπὶ τοὺς ἀναβαθμούς, upon the stairs. The noun is common in the LXX. (cf. 1 Kings 10:19-20, &c.) but not in classical Greek. It occurs Herod. II. 125.

The stairs mentioned here are the flight of steps leading from the Temple area up to the tower where the soldiers were stationed. They were not covered in, for St Paul is able to address the multitude while standing on them (Acts 21:40).

διὰ τὴν βίαν τοῦ ὄχλου, by reason of the violence of the crowd. The people pressed on St Paul with all the more fury because they saw that he was now to be taken out of their hands. Hence it came to pass, that some of the soldiers were obliged, in order to keep him safe, to lift him from his feet and carry him up till he was out of reach, their comrades meanwhile keeping back the people from the foot of the stairs.

Verse 36

36. τὸ πλῆθοςκράζοντες, the multitude … crying. The plural masculine participle is used, because the notion of πλῆθος is plural.

αἶρε αὐτόν, away with him. The same cry which (Luke 23:18) was used by the Jews before Pilate in reference to Jesus.

Verse 37

37. μέλλων τε εἰσάγεσθαι, and when he was about to be brought. This must have been when a place on the stairs had been reached where Paul was safe out of reach of the mob, and needed no longer to be borne up by the soldiers.

εἰ ἔξεστίν μοι είπεῖν τι πρός σε; may I speak to thee? Literally ‘may I say something to thee?’ On εἰ as a mere mark of interrogation, cf. on Acts 1:6.

Ἐλληνιστὶ γινώσκεις; dost thou know Greek? The χιλίαρχος had evidently come down with a preconceived notion who the offender was about whom the disturbance had arisen. And from some source or other he appears to have known that the Egyptian, whom he supposed St Paul to be, could not speak Greek.

Verses 37-40


Verse 38

38. οὐκ ἄρα σὺ εἶ, thou art not then (as I supposed thee to be). Probably St Paul had addressed him in Greek already.

ὁ Αἰγύπτιος, the Egyptian. The person to whom allusion is here made was a sufficiently formidable character, if we only reckon his followers at four thousand desperadoes. Josephus (Ant. xx. 8. 6; Bell. J. II. 13. 5) tells how he was one of many impostors of the time, and that when Felix was governor he came to Jerusalem, gave himself out as a prophet, gathered the people to the Mount of Olives in number about 30,000, telling them that at his word the walls of Jerusalem would fall down, and they could then march into the city. Felix with the Roman soldiers went out against him. The impostor and a part of his adherents fled, but a very large number were killed and others taken prisoners. The narrative of Josephus does not accord with the account of St Luke, but if the former be correct, we may well suppose that the numbers and the occasion spoken of by the chief captain relate to an event anterior to that great gathering on the Mount of Olives. The fame of the impostor may have grown; indeed, must have done so before he could collect the number of adherents of which Josephus speaks.

ἀναστατώσας καὶ ἐξαγαγών, who stirred up to sedition and led forth. ἀναστατόω is found, beside here, in Acts 17:6; Galatians 5:12, and is always active. So ἄνδρας must be governed by both these verbs, and not, as in A.V., by the latter only.

τῶν σικαρίων, of the assassins. σικάριοι is a word derived from the Latin sica = a dagger, and imported into Greek. Josephus (B. J. II. 13. 3) in an account of the lawless bands which infested Judæa in these times, says (after relating how a notorious robber named Eleazar had been taken with his followers and sent in chains to Rome), ‘But when the country was thus cleared there sprang up another kind of plunderers in Jerusalem called Sicarii. They kill men by daylight in the midst of the city. Particularly at the feasts they mix with the crowd, carrying small daggers hid under their clothes. With these they wound their adversaries, and when they have fallen the murderers mix with the crowd and join in the outcry against the crime. Thus they passed unsuspected for a long time. One of their earliest victims was Jonathan the high priest.’ For further notices of the Sicarii cf. Josephus B. J. II. 17. 6 and Ant. XX. 8. 10.

Verse 39

39. ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπος μέν Ἰουδαῖος, Ταρσεύς τῆς Κιλικίας, I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia. See Acts 6:9 and notes.

οὐκ ἀσήμου πόλεως πολίτης, a citizen of no mean city. Tarsus was the metropolis of Cilicia, and a city remarkable for its culture, and the zeal of its inhabitants for philosophic studies.

ἐπίτρεψόν μοι λαλῆσαι πρὸς τὸν λαόν, give me leave to speak unto the people. An objection has been here raised that it is extremely improbable that the chief captain could have held this conversation with St Paul amid the tumult, and also that he would have granted permission to speak to a man whom he had just taken as his prisoner, and whom he afterwards arranges to examine by scourging (Acts 22:24). But we have only to remember that the Apostle and his interlocutor were high up above the crowd, and so away from the noise; that the staircase crowded with soldiers, who could not rapidly be withdrawn because they were restraining the multitude, made some delay absolutely unavoidable, and that, added to this was the surprise of the chief captain that his prisoner could speak Greek, and we have enough warrant for accepting the story as it is here told. Moreover the Greek which the Apostle used was of a very polished character, shewing the education and refinement of the speaker, and making good his claim to respect.

Verse 40

40. ἐπιτρέψαντος δὲ αὐτοῦ, and when he had given him leave. As in the previous verse.

κατέσεισεν τῇ χειρί, he beckoned with his hand. Apparently the chief captain had also been so far impressed by the conversation of his prisoner, that he allowed at least one of his hands to be released from its chain (see above, Acts 21:33) while he spake to the multitude, and this he waved to ask for silence.

πολλῆς δὲ σιγῆς γενομένης, and when there was made a great silence. The unusual circumstance, and the gesture which could be seen through the whole crowd, would gain an audience very readily. Beside which an Oriental mob is less persistent than those of the western world.

τῇ Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ, in the Hebrew language. This alone, as soon as it was heard, would gain the speaker an audience with many. It was their own speech, for by ‘Hebrew’ here is meant the Aramaic dialect of Palestine.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Acts 21:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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