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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 21



Verses 1-40

St. Paul arrested at jerusalem

1. Were gotten] rather, 'had torn ourselves.' Coos] or Cos, a fertile island off the Carian coast, producing silks, ointments, wheat, and wines.

Rhodes] a city, and large island, situated S. of Caria. The famous colossus was a statue of the sun-god, 105 ft. high, which stood at the harbour entrance. Erected 280 b.c., it stood for 56 years, when it was overthrown by an earthquake. Its fragments remained where they fell till 656 a.d. Patara] an important Lycian seaport. After Patara, D adds 'and Myra,' an accurate geographical touch: see Acts 27:5.

3. Tyre] The greatest maritime city of the ancient world, claiming to have been founded as early as 2750 b.c. It produced glass and purple dye, but its chief wealth came from the fact that it almost monopolised the carrying-trade of the world. The Tyrian mariners were so skilled in astronomy, and constructed such accurate charts, that they sailed by night as well as by day, and made long voyages out of sight of land. They are known to have circumnavigated Africa—an extraordinary feat for the small ships of the ancients.

4. Disciples] RV 'the disciples.'

7. Ptolemais] Originally called Acco, its name was changed to Ptolemais by Ptolemy Philadelphus, when, after the death of Alexander the Great, it came into his possession. It is situated on the coast a few miles to the N. of the promontory of Carmel, and is now called Acre.

8. Philip] see Acts 6:5 and Acts 8. The Evangelist] Evangelists were itinerant officers, whose duty it was to break new ground, and establish new churches. They ranked below the prophets, and above the presbyters or pastors. Philip, originally a 'deacon,' has now, through the success of his missionary work, been advanced to a higher dignity. The NT. never uses 'evangelist' in the sense of a writer of a Gospel.

9. Prophesy] There were female prophets under the OT.: Miriam, Exodus 15:20; Deborah, Judges 4:4; Noadiah, Nehemiah 6:14; Huldah, 2 Kings 22:14 cp. Isaiah 8:3. See Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17

10. Agabus] see Acts 11:28. For his symbolic action, cp. 1 Kings 22:11; Isaiah 20:2; Jeremiah 13:1; Ezekiel 4, 5. For the fulfilment, see Acts 21:27.

15. Took up our carriages] rather, 'packed up our baggage.'

16. Brought with them one Mnason] A more probable translation is, 'brought us to Mnason,' etc. Mnason's house was probably half-way between Cæsarea and Jerusalem. D (Latin) reads, 'and when they had come to a certain town, we lodged with Mnason, an old disciple of Cyprus, and leaving there we came to Jerusalem.'

Verse 17

St. Paul in Jerusalem (Chs 21:17-28:16)

17-40. Disturbances in the Temple. St Paul arrested.

18. James] The Lord's 'brother,' the acknowledged head of the Church of Jerusalem: cp. Acts 15:13, etc.

19. Particularly] i.e. in minute detail.

20. The Lord (i.e. Jesus)] RV 'God.'

23, 24. The four men were Nazirites (see Numbers 6), and St. Paul was advised to pay for their sacrifices, and to associate himself with their Nazirite vow during the week that it had still to run (see Acts 21:27). By thus becoming a Nazirite, and defraying the sacrificial expenses of these poorer Nazirites (the latter a most meritorious work, according to contemporary opinion; see Jos. 'Ant.'

19.16.1), St. Paul would prove himself a good Jew as well as a good Christian.

The Jewish Christians were suspicious of St. Paul, not because he refused to circumcise his Gentile converts (this point had already been settled at the Council of Jerusalem), but because it was reported that he advised even Jews to neglect the observance of the Law (Acts 21:21). The charge was false in point of fact, but it had this amount of truth in it, that St. Paul's principle that a man is saved by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law, would naturally lead to the abandonment of the ceremonial Law even by Jews.

25. See Acts 15.

26. Entered, etc.] We may freely translate this difficult passage thus: 'He entered into the Temple, informing the priests that within seven days (see Acts 21:27) the days of their purification would be accomplished; and he purposed to remain with them in the Temple for a whole week, until the legal sacrifice had been offered for each one of them.' 27f.; The outer court of the Temple was called 'the Court of the Gentiles.' Within this was 'the Court of Israel,' separated from it by a high wall with doors (see Acts 21:30). Inscriptions upon the barrier denounced the penalty of death upon all Gentile intruders. One of these has been preserved, and runs: 'No alien is to pass within the fence and enclosure round the Temple. Whosoever shall be taken shall be responsible to himself alone for the death which will ensue.' See also Jos. 'Ant.'


29. Trophimus] see on Acts 20:4.

30. They drew him and all his companions 'out of the Temple,' i.e. out of the Court of Israel, and closed the doors of this court, ostensibly to prevent any more Gentiles from entering.

31. Went about to] i.e. were seeking to. The chief captain of the band] rather, 'the tribune of the Roman cohort,' which was stationed in the fortress Antonia, adjoining the Temple.

34. Castle] lit. 'encampment.' The fortress Antonia is meant.

36. Away with him] i.e. Slay him.

38. Art not thou] rather, 'Thou art not then the Egyptian,' etc. Four thousand men] rather, the four thousand men of the Sicarii. The Sicarii (i.e. assassins) were the extreme members of the 'zealot' party. They carried out their 'national' policy by openly assassinating influential Jews supposed to be friendly to Rome. Josephus says, 'But an Egyptian false prophet did the Jews more mischief still. He got together 30,000 deluded ment whom he led round from the wilderness to the Mount of Olives, and intended to break into Jerusalem by force from that place. He said that at his command the walls of Jerusalem would fall down' ('War,'

2. 13. 5; 'Ant.'

20.8. 6). Felix dispersed them, but the Egyptian escaped.

39. St. Paul was not without civic pride. Tarsus was the seat of a famous university, and had produced several of the most eminent Stoic philosophers. On its coins it proudly boasted itself 'Self-Governing Metropolis.' Citizenship of Tarsus was confined to a select few of the inhabitants, so that its possession was proof of respectability and social standing.


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Acts 21:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.

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