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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Acts 21

 

 

Verses 1-3

Acts 21:1-3. And after we were gotten — Greek, αποσπασθεντας, were torn away; from them — Not without doing violence both to ourselves and them; we came with a straight course to Coos — Or Cos, now commonly called Lango, one of the islands termed Cyclades, famous for the worship of Æsculapius, and the temple of Juno; and for being the birth-place of Hippocrates, an eminent physician, and Apelles, a celebrated painter; and the day following unto Rhodes — Another island in the same sea, famous for the worship of the sun, and its Colossus, a prodigiously large brazen statue, erected across the mouth of the harbour, and dedicated to Apollo, or the sun, so high that ships, in full sail, could pass between its legs. The artificers were twelve years in making it; and it was deemed one of the seven wonders of the world. Sixty-six years after its erection, and about two hundred and twenty-four years before Christ, it was thrown down by a terrible earthquake, and lay prostrate almost nine hundred years. When the Saracens took possession of the island, about A.D. 660, they sold this image to a Jew, who, it is said, loaded nine hundred camels with the brass of it. And from thence unto Patara — A noted seaport town of Lycia, beautified with many temples, of which one was dedicated to Apollo, whose oracle therein, for credit and wealth, was not much inferior to that of Delphi. Here, finding a ship bound for Phenicia, they went on board, and leaving Cyprus on the left, sailed for Syria, and arrived at Tyre, where she was to unlade — Concerning Tyre, see the notes on Isaiah 23. That there should be Christians in Tyre, was foretold Psalms 87:4.


Verses 4-6

Acts 21:4-6. Finding disciples, we tarried there seven days — In order to spend a sabbath with them. Who said to Paul, through the inspiration of the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem — The meaning seems to be, that these disciples foreseeing, through the spirit of prophecy, the troubles which Paul would meet with in Jerusalem, if he went thither, themselves advised him not to go. It is necessary to understand the words thus, to account for Paul’s conduct; for had the Spirit absolutely forbidden his journey to Jerusalem, he doubtless would have obeyed, and not have gone thither. But he, considering it as being their own advice only, rejected it and went. Indeed, they seemed to have understood their prophetic impulse to be an intimation from the Spirit, that Paul, if he were so minded, might avoid the danger and trouble of which they warned him, by not going to Jerusalem. And when we had accomplished those days — Namely, the seven spoken of above; we departed and went our way — Fully purposing, notwithstanding all these admonitions, to embark again and proceed to Jerusalem; Paul deliberately judging that all the sufferings he might meet with in the course of his ministry would tend to the furtherance of the gospel; and that it was his duty to fulfil his engagements to the churches, in delivering their alms to the brethren there, whatever might happen. And they all brought us on our way, &c. — For though Paul did not yield to the persuasions of these his friends at Tyre, yet they showed him every imaginable token of respect; with their wives and children — Attending him and his company till they were out of the city, and had reached the shore — Where, before they parted, they kneeled down and prayed together — And then took leave of one another, as Paul and the elders of Ephesus had done.


Verses 7-9

Acts 21:7-9. And when we had finished our course — By sea; we came to Ptolemais — A celebrated city to the south of Tyre, on the same coast of the Mediterranean sea, anciently called Accho. It was enlarged and beautified by the first of the Egyptian Ptolemies, from whence it took its new appellation. It was the scene of many celebrated actions in that series of mad expeditions which was called the holy war. The Turks, who are now masters of all that region, call it Acca, or Acra; and when Maundrel was there, in 1697, like many other noble ancient cities, it was only a heap of ruins. Since then, however, it has again revived by the industry of Daher; and the works erected by Dejezzar, in his own time, have rendered it one of the principal towns on that coast. In 1799, aided by the British, under Sir W.S. Smith, it withstood a severe siege by the French, under General Bonaparte, who raised the siege, after failing in a twelfth assault, made over the putrid bodies of his soldiers. And saluted the brethren — For the disciples of Christ were now grown so numerous as to be found in every city of any note: and abode with them one day — After which they travelled by land to Cesarea — Where they abode many days with Philip the evangelist, and one of the seven deacons — Who, it seems, had for some years been settled there. Concerning him and his labours in those parts, as also of Cesarea, see the notes on chap. Acts 8:5-40. The same man had four daughters — Unmarried, who prophesied; the miraculous gifts of the Spirit being sometimes communicated to women, as well as to men.


Verses 10-14

Acts 21:10-14. And as we tarried there many days — There being many disciples in that city, the fruit, as appears, of the ministry and miracles of Philip; there came from Judea a prophet named Agabus — Paul, and some part of his company, had become acquainted with this prophet some years before, at Antioch, where he foretold the famine which afterward happened in the days of Claudius Cesar, Acts 11:28. And when he was come unto us — Several of the disciples of Cesarea and Paul’s friends being together; he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet — In the manner that malefactors were wont to be bound when apprehended; and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost — By whose inspiration I now speak and act; So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle — Thus Agabus, like the prophets of old, accompanied his prediction with a significant prophetic symbol: and thus the nearer the event was, the more express and impressive were the predictions intended to prepare Paul for it. When we — Of Paul’s company; and they of that place — The brethren of Cesarea; heard these things — And believed if he went to Jerusalem the prediction would be fulfilled; we besought him not to go — In the most pressing manner, and with many tears of sincere and fervent affection, Acts 21:13; being ignorant, it appears, that this and the former prediction were intended, not to hinder him from going to Jerusalem, but to make him the more courageous, by signifying to him beforehand what was to befall him, (Acts 20:22-23,) and that he would not be put to death at Jerusalem. Then Paul — Sensibly touched with the concern which they expressed on his account, and yet resolutely bent upon following what he apprehended to be the call of duty, whatever sufferings it might expose him to; answered, What mean ye to weep and break my heart? — By these affectionate salutations? Observe, reader, the admirable mixture of tenderness and firmness of spirit manifested in this answer. I am ready, not to be bound only — And cast into prison; but also to die at Jerusalem — Or wherever else I may be called to it; for the name of the Lord Jesus — For he feared neither sufferings nor death in any form, if he might thereby defend the gospel, and promote the glory of its Author, which were the ends he had chiefly in view in all his labours and sufferings, and which he preferred to all other things whatever. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased — It was not obstinacy in Paul that hindered his yielding to their persuasions, but true Christian resolution, not to relinquish what he believed to be the line of duty. We should never be persuaded either to do what we know to be evil, or to omit what we believe to be good, when it is in our power: saying, The will of the Lord be done — Which they were satisfied Paul knew.


Verse 15-16

Acts 21:15-16. And after those days — Spent at Cesarea, how many there were is not said; we took up our carriages, and went — Or, their baggage, which probably went by sea before; containing, doubtless, the alms they were carrying to Jerusalem, Acts 24:17. And they had in their company some of the brethren of Cesarea, together with one Mnason, of Cyprus, an old disciple — Who lived in Jerusalem, and probably had been converted, either by Christ or the apostles, at the first opening of the gospel there. With him they were to lodge, which they were the more willing to do, as he was a person of established character and reputation in the church; and as, in those days, there were no inns for the accommodation of travellers, as with us.


Verses 17-19

Acts 21:17-19. The brethren received us gladly — The alms which they brought with them might be one, but certainly were not the only or the chief reason of the welcome reception they met with. The day following, Paul, and those who had attended him in his journey, waited on James — Commonly called James the Less, or the Lord’s brother, the only apostle then presiding over the churches in Judea. See notes on Acts 15:18. And all the elders were present — To receive so important a visitant, of whose arrival and errand they had doubtless been informed. And when he had saluted them — With cordial affection, and presented to them those that were of his company; he declared particularly what God had wrought among the Gentiles — Since he last left Jerusalem, informing them how many of the idolatrous Gentiles, in all the great cities of the Lesser Asia, Macedonia, and Greece, had embraced the gospel through his ministry; that he had planted churches in those cities, and that the gifts of the Holy Ghost had been communicated to many believers in every church; mentioning also his having visited most of them a second time, as well as taken a review of those in Cilicia, Pamphylia, Lystra, and other parts of Asia, with the plantation of which they had formerly been made acquainted, Acts 15:4. Moreover, in this account we may be sure he did not forget to mention the liberal contributions which the churches of the Gentiles through Asia and Europe had made for the poor of the saints in Judea, and which they had sent by his hands as a testimony of their gratitude for the knowledge of the true God, communicated to them by men of their nation. The collection, Paul, no doubt, now delivered, in presence of the messengers of the churches, to James and to the elders, to be by them distributed to the poor of the Jewish Christians, who by that expression of the good-will of the Gentile believers, ought to have been disposed to think favourably of them as their brethren.


Verse 20-21

Acts 21:20-21. When they heard it, they glorified the Lord — The Lord Christ, for this wonderful demonstration of his presence and grace, with his servant; and said, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe — Many of these, doubtless, had come from different parts of the country, and some, probably, from remote provinces to Jerusalem, on occasion of this feast. Well might our Lord compare his religion to a grain of mustard-seed, seeing it had spread so extensively in so short a time. Its beginning was small, the instruments employed in propagating it apparently mean, the prejudices and obstinacy of the Jews very great, and yet, in about twenty-eight or thirty years after the ascension, the number of those who had embraced it, and were at one time in the same city, is stated at many thousands, or rather myriads, ( μυριαδες,) or ten thousands. And they are all zealous for the law — For the whole Mosaic dispensation, as supposing it to be of perpetual obligation on all the Jewish nation, without excepting those that had embraced Christianity. And they are informed of thee — Through the prejudice and falsehood of thine enemies; that thou teachest all the Jews to forsake Moses, &c. — This, it appears, was a false charge brought against Paul. We have no proof that he taught the Jews to forbear circumcising their children, or to forsake the law of Moses. On the contrary, it seems, knowing that law to be the civil or political law of Judea, he always enjoined them to comply with its institutions, as the means of preserving their political rites and privileges, till Jerusalem should be destroyed, (which he foresaw it would be,) and their commonwealth dissolved; even as he enjoined the converted Gentiles to obey the good laws of the countries where they resided. What he really taught concerning the law of Moses was, that neither Jew nor Gentile could be saved by its institutions, which was the doctrine likewise of James, and of the elders, and of all the more intelligent members of the church at Jerusalem; as is implied in what James says, Acts 21:25; as touching the Gentiles which believe, we have concluded that they observe no such thing. For if the Gentiles did not need to observe the law of Moses, obedience thereto could not be necessary to the salvation of any person whatever.


Verses 22-25

Acts 21:22-25. What is it therefore — Which may not be apprehended on such an occasion? Or, what is to be done? the multitude must needs come together — They will certainly be gathered together in a tumultuous manner, unless they be some way pacified. For they will hear that thou art come — And will immediately form their judgment of the truth or falsehood of the information they have received, by what they discover in thy present behaviour, of regard or disregard to the Mosaic ceremonies. Do therefore this, &c. — To show them, how far soever thou art from imposing the Mosaic ceremonies on any Jews or Gentiles, as necessary to salvation, or teaching men to seek justification by them, yet thou dost not think there is any intrinsic evil in them, nor teach it as a matter of duty, that believers in Christ, of Jewish extraction, should disuse and reject them; do this that we say to thee — As the best expedient we can think of, for immediately taking off any ill impressions which might otherwise be apprehended. We have four men — Converts to the gospel; which have a vow on them — Of Nazariteship; take them — As thy companions and partners; and purify thyself with them — According to the Jewish ritual; and be at the necessary charges with, (or, rather, for,) them, that they may shave their heads — And offer the sacrifices which the law has appointed in that case. These sacrifices are specified Numbers 6:13, &c., by which it appears, that the charges of these four would be the price of eight lambs and four rams, besides oil, flour, &c., and it was not uncommon among the Jews; for the rich to assist those Nazarites that were poor in bearing these charges: and all may know — Namely, all that come up to the temple, and see thee in these circumstances; that those things whereof they were informed are nothing — Have no reality or truth in them; but that — Instead of forbidding the observance of these ceremonies to others; thou thyself walkest orderly, and keepest the law — Avoiding all unnecessary occasion of offence. “It is evident from hence, that whatever might have passed between Paul and James on this head in private, (Galatians 2:2,) James and the brethren thought it most regular and convenient, that the Jewish ritual should still be observed by those of the circumcision who believed in Christ; and considering what tribulation the church at Jerusalem must otherwise have been exposed to from the sanhedrim, who, no doubt, would have prosecuted them to the utmost as apostates, and also how soon Providence intended to render the practice of it impossible, and to break the whole power of the Jews, by the destruction of the temple, and city, and nation; it was certainly the most orderly and prudent conduct to conform to it, though it were looked upon by those that understood the matter fully, (which it was not necessary that all should,) as antiquated and ready to vanish away, Hebrews 8:13.” Locke and Doddridge.


Verses 26-28

Acts 21:26-28. Then Paul took the men — Agreeably to the advice which he had received from James and the elders. And the next day, purifying himself with them — According to the rites of the law; entered into the temple, to signify — To the priest; the accomplishment — That is, their resolution to accomplish the seven days of purification — Till all the sacrifices should be offered which the Mosaic law required. And when the seven days of purification were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia Where Paul had preached so long, and who were especially enraged against him; when they saw him in the temple — Utterly disregarding this proof of his respect for the law; stirred up all the people — Greek, συνεχεον παντα τον οχλον; threw into confusion the whole multitude; and laid hands on him — In a violent and outrageous manner; crying out — To all that were present; Men of Israel, help — If ye be indeed men of Israel, that have a concern for your religion and your country, now is your time to show it by helping to seize an enemy to both. This is the man that teacheth all men everywhere — In all parts of Asia and Greece; against the people — By telling the Jews that they ought not to circumcise their children, and by assuring the Gentiles that they may be saved without becoming proselytes to Judaism; and the law and this place — By predicting that both shall be destroyed. Every thing contrary to the law would be justly interpreted as contrary to the temple, which was so evidently supported by a regard to it: but perhaps Paul might have declared that the time of the destruction of the temple was approaching, a declaration which, we know, was charged on Stephen as a great crime, Acts 6:14 : and brought Greeks also into the temple — Any foreigner might worship in that part which was called the court of the Gentiles; but these zealots, upon an uncertain conjecture and rumour, and without any proof, imagined Paul had brought some uncircumcised Greeks into the inner court, appropriated to the people of Israel, which no foreigner might enter, as was notified by the Greek and Latin inscriptions on several of the pillars which stood in the wall that separated it: ΄η δει αλλοφυλον παριεναι, No foreigner must enter here. It must be observed, however, that a proselyte who by his circumcision had declared his submission to, and acceptance of the whole Jewish religion, was no longer looked on as a foreigner, but as one naturalized, and so a fellow-citizen, to which there seems to be an allusion Ephesians 2:19.


Verse 30

Acts 21:30. And all the city was moved — Was in an uproar. Although the people had little holiness themselves, yet they had a great veneration for the temple; and when they heard of its being polluted, they were up in arms presently, being determined to stand by it with their lives and fortunes. And the people ran together — In a tumultuous manner; and the concourse was the greater because of the prodigious number of Jews from foreign countries, who had come to the feast of pentecost. The Jews, on this occasion, showed just such zeal for God’s temple as the Ephesians did for that of Diana, when Paul was represented as an enemy to it. But God does not reckon himself at all honoured by any zeal for him which transports people into such irregularities, and causes them, while they pretend to be concerned for his honour and service, to act in such an unreasonable, brutish, and barbarous manner. And they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple — That is, out of the court of Israel, into that of the Gentiles, as one who had polluted the temple. And forthwith the doors were shut — Both to prevent any further violation of the temple, and to prevent Paul’s taking sanctuary at the horns of the altar.


Verses 31-36

Acts 21:31-36. And as they went about to kill him — It was a rule among the Jews, that any uncircumcised person who came within the separating wall, mentioned above, might be stoned to death without any further process. And they seemed to think Paul, who, as they supposed, had brought such in thither, deserved no better treatment. Tidings came unto the chief captain of the band — Greek, τω χιλιαρχω της σπειρης, to the tribune of the cohort, called Lysias. A cohort, or detachment of soldiers, belonging to the Roman legion which lodged in the adjacent castle of Antonia, were stationed on feast days near the temple, to prevent disorders. It is evident Lysias himself was not present when the tumult began. Probably he was the oldest Roman tribune then at Jerusalem, and, as such, was the commanding officer of the legion quartered at the castle. Who immediately took soldiers, &c. — And ran down unto them, namely, to suppress the riot, knowing how much it was his concern to check such proceedings. And when they saw the chief captain and soldiers, they left beating of Paul — Which it appears they had begun to do in such a manner, that, had he not been thus seasonably rescued in this critical moment, his life must soon have fallen a sacrifice to their rage. Then the chief captain — Having made his way through the multitude, came near and took him — Into his custody. And how many great ends of Providence were answered by this imprisonment! It was not only a means of preserving his life, (after he had suffered severely for worldly prudence,) but it gave him an opportunity of preaching the gospel safely, in spite of all tumult, Acts 22:22; yea, and that in those places to which otherwise he could have had no access, Acts 21:40. And commanded him to be bound with two chains — Taking it for granted he was some notorious offender. And thus the prophecy of Agabus was fulfilled, though by the hands of a Roman. And demanded — Of those that seemed most enraged against him; who he was — Against whom such a general outcry was raised; and what he had done — To deserve it. And some cried one thing and some another — So great was the confusion of this riotous assembly, who neither knew one another’s mind, nor their own; though every one pretended to give the sense of the whole body. And when he could not know the certainty for the tumult — For the noise, clamour, and contradictory speeches that were uttered; he commanded him to be carried into the castle — The tower of Antonia, where the Roman soldiers kept garrison. And when he came upon the stairs — Leading to the castle. It was situated on a rock, fifty cubits high, at that corner of the outward temple where the western and northern porticoes joined, to each of which there were stairs descending from it. So it was that he was borne of the soldiers — Up from the ground; for the violence of the people — Who, if they could, would have pulled him limb from limb. And, when they could not reach him with their hands, they pursued him with their clamorous invectives: crying, Away with him — Observe, reader, how the most excellent persons and things are often run down by a popular clamour: Christ himself was so treated, while they cried, Crucify him, crucify him, though they could not mention any evil he had done.


Verses 37-40

Acts 21:37-40. And as Paul was going to be led into the castle — To which the soldiers were conducting him; he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? — The wisdom of God teaching him to make use of that very time and place: Who — Hearing him speak in the Greek language; said — With some surprise; Canst thou speak Greek? Art not thou that Egyptian — Who came into Judea when Felix had been some years governor there, (see note on Matthew 24:26;) and, calling himself a prophet, drew much people after him: and, having brought them through the wilderness, led them to mount Olivet, promising that the walls of the city should fall down before them. But Felix marching out of Jerusalem against him, his followers were quickly dispersed, many of whom were taken or slain, but he himself made his escape. To the tribune’s question, Paul replied that he was a Jew, born in Tarsus, in Cilicia, and begged that he would suffer him to speak to the people. And when he had given him license — To say what he pleased; Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with his hand unto the people — To show that he was going to speak to them. And when there was made great silence — Their curiosity concurring with other motives to make them desire to hear what he could say in his own defence; he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue — Or that dialect of it which was then commonly spoken at Jerusalem.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 21:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/acts-21.html. 1857.

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