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Acts 21







Paul's Journey to Jerusalem Warnings on the Journey to Jerusalem Paul Returns to Palestine Paul Goes to Jerusalem The Journey to Jerusalem
21:1-6 21:1-14 21:1-6 21:1-6 21:1-6
21:7-14   21:7-14 21:7-11 21:7-14
  Paul Urged to Make Peace Paul's Conformity to Judaism 21:12-13 Paul's Arrival in Jerusalem
21:15-16 21:15-25 21:15-16 21:15-16 21:15-16
Paul Visits James     Paul Visits James  
21:17-26 Arrested in the Temple 21:17-26 21:17-25 21:17-25
  21:26-36   21:26 21:26
Paul Arrested in the Temple   Paul's Arrest and Defense Paul is Arrested in the Temple Paul's Arrest
21:27-36   (21:27-22:29)
21:27-29 21:27-29
      21:30-36 21:30-36
Paul Defends Himself Addressing the Jerusalem Mob   Paul Defends Himself  
21:37-22:5 (21:37-22:21) 21:37-40 (21:37-22:5)

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



This chapter is surprising in what is not said! There is no mention of Paul's emphasis on a contribution from the Gentile churches to the Jerusalem church.

James D. G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the NT, pp. 272-278, makes in interesting conjecture that there was tension between James (known for his allegiance to the traditions of Judaism) and Paul over the place of the Oral Traditions in the life of a believing Jew.


 1When we had parted from them and had set sail, we ran a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes and from there to Patara; 2and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. 4After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. 5When our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. 6Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again.

21:1 "ran a straight course" This is a nautical term meaning to sail a direct course (cf. 16:11). Luke was very familiar with sailing terms (cf. v. 3). Most of the "we" sections of Acts involve sailing.

▣ "Cos" The name means "summit." It is the name of both an island and its largest city. This island was the home of Hippocrates (fifth century b.c.) and it was the site of a large medical school. It was a free state considered to be part of the Roman province of Asia. It was located about forty miles south of Miletus.

▣ "Rhodes" This is also the name of an island and its chief city. This commercial island was famous for (1) its roses and (2) its university, which specialized in rhetoric and oratory. In the past (29 b.c.) it was world famous for its bronze, 104' tall colossus of a man that stood by the harbor. The statue functioned as a lighthouse.

▣ "Patara" The Western family of Greek manuscripts (cf. P41, D) and some Old Latin versions add "and Myra" (most likely an addition from 27:5), which was the chief port for ships to Syria. The UBS4 gives the shorter reading an "A" rating (certain).

Patara was a coastal city in Lycia. It was famous for its oracle of Apollo, which at one time rivaled even Delphi.

21:2 "and having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia" This must have been a larger ship. The smaller ships hugged the coastline. This ship saved them a lot of time by taking a direct route.

21:3 "came in sight of Cyprus" This must have brought thoughts of Barnabas and the first missionary journey.

▣ "Tyre" This was the coastal capital of Phoenicia.

21:4 "the disciples" There was a church in this city which was probably started after the persecution of Stephen (cf. 8:4; 11:19). In this period believers would seek out other believers to stay with (cf. vv. 7,16).

▣ "telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem" This refers to the presence of prophets in this local congregation (cf. 20:23; 21:10-12). Their message concerning persecution was true and yet apparently Paul's trip was God's will (cf. v. 14). Jesus, through Ananias, had told Paul about his life's work (cf. Acts 9:15-16). Suffering would be part of it, but also he would witness to kings.

21:5 "After kneeling down on the beach and praying" This is a beautiful picture of Christian love and concern. It may have been a special service, like 20:32,36.

 7When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. 8On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. 9Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. 10As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, "This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" 12When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13Then Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." 14And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, "The will of the Lord be done!"

21:7 "Ptolemais" This city was named after Alexander the Great's general who ruled in Egypt and was an ancestor of Ptolemy II who built this city in 26 b.c. This is the only natural port on the Palestinian coast. In the OT it was called Acco (cf. Judges 1:31). Today it is called by its Crusader name, Acre.

▣ "the brethren" In Acts this is synonymous to "disciples" (cf. vv. 4,16). It designated believers in Jesus Christ.

▣ "we stayed with them" See note at v. 4.

21:8 "we left" Whether they left by land or sea is uncertain.

▣ "Caesarea" This is the Roman headquarters of Palestine. It was a coastal city with a small manmade harbor. Philip the Evangelist lived here (cf. 8:40).

▣ "the evangelist" This term is surprisingly used only three times in the NT (cf. Eph. 4:11 and II Tim. 4:5). We are not certain exactly what this ministerial gift encompassed. The term itself means "one who proclaims the gospel."

"who was one of the seven" This refers to the Jerusalem church's problem of complaining of unfair food distribution by the Greek-speaking widows. The church elected seven men to handle this need. All of them had Greek names. These seven were powerful preachers. They were the first to catch the worldwide vision of the gospel (cf. Acts 6).

21:9 "had four virgin daughters. . .prophetesses" Remember Luke has a special concern for women. We need to rethink our position on women in leadership positions (cf. Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:16-21) in the church based on all of NT evidence. See Special Topic: Women in the Bible at 2:17. A book that has helped me in this area is Gordon Fee, Gospel and Spirit.

Church tradition says that they moved to Asia Minor (Phrygia) and that his daughters lived long and served God to a very old age. We learn this tradition from Eusebius' quotes from both Polycrates and Papias (cf. Eccl. Hist. 3:31:2-5).

21:10 "a prophet named Agabas" There are at least two ways to understand this term.

1. in the Corinthian letters this refers to sharing or proclaiming the gospel (cf. I Cor. 14:1)

2. the book of Acts mentions prophets (cf. 11:27-28; 13:1; 15:32; 21:10, even prophetesses, 21:9)

The problem with this term is, how does the NT gift of prophecy relate to OT prophets? In the OT prophets are the writers of Scripture. In the NT this task is given to the original twelve Apostles and their helpers. As the term "apostle" is retained as an ongoing gift (cf. Eph. 4:11), but with a changed task after the death of the Twelve, so too, is the office of prophet. Inspiration (see Special Topic at 13:1) has ceased; there is no further inspired Scripture (cf. Jude v. 20). New Testament prophets' primary task is proclamation of the gospel, but the also show how to apply NT truths to current situations and needs. See Special Topic: Prophecy in the NT at 11:27.

21:11 Agabas, like the OT prophets Jeremiah and Exekiel, acted out his revelation.

21:12 "began begging him" This is an imperfect active indicative. It can mean (1) to begin an action or (2) a repeated action in past time.

21:13 It is hard to balance this prophetic action with Paul's sense that going to Jerusalem was God's will (cf. v.4).

▣ "the name of the Lord Jesus" See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE NAME OF THE LORD at 2:21.

21:14 "The will of the Lord be done" This is a present middle imperative, used in the sense of a prayer. God did have a plan and purpose for Paul's life. Paul felt he knew God's will even in the face of specific and recurring prophecy about the problems which lay ahead. Paul must have felt that these prophecies were for his spiritual and mental preparation and not a prohibition.


 15After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. 16Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge.

21:15 "we got ready" The King James Version has "took up our carriages" (NKJV has "packed"). This is a graphic word used of travel preparation and is found only here in the NT.

▣ "Jerusalem" It was about 64 miles away.

21:16 "Mnason" This was a Jewish Christian from Cyprus (like Barnabas). He would have been one of the Hellenistec Jews, like the Seven of Acts 6. Apparently he had been a believer from the early days; possibly Luke interviewed him for his Gospel while staying in Palestine during Paul's imprisonment at Caesarea.


A. BRIEF OUTLINE OF ACTS 21:17-26:32 (Paul's imprisonment and defense both in Jerusalem and Caesarea.)

1. Riot and arrest at the Temple 21:17-40

2. Paul's defense before the mob 22:1-22

3. The Roman Interrogation 22:23-30

4. The Sanhedrin Interrogation 23:1-10

5. The conspiracy to murder Paul 23:11-35

6. Paul before Felix 24:1-23

7. Paul before Felix and Drucilla privately 24:24-27

8. Paul before Festus 25:1-12

9. Paul before Agrippa II and Bernice 25:13-26:32




Common Elements Paul before Mob Paul before Sanhedrin Paul before Felix Paul before Festus Paul before Agrippa II
1. His Jewish Background  22:3    24:14,17-18    26:4
2. His Pharisaic training and zeal  22:3  23:6-9  24:15,21    26:5-8
3. His Persecution of "The Way"  22:4-5        26:9-11
4. His Personal testimony of his conversion  22:6-16        26:12-16
5. His Call to specific ministry by God  22:17-22        26:17-23



Name Means 
Social Status
Scriptural Question



Maccabean Period
Priestly Aristocracy
Written Law only
(especially Genesis
through Deuteronomy) 
– just the opposite
of Pharisees, who
were accused of
being influenced
by Zoroastrianism
(cf 23:8)
Maccabean Period
"Separated Ones"?
Middle Class Laymen
All of the Oral & Written Law plus the Prophets and Writing sections of the OT canon
 – highly developed angeology
 – belief in life after death
    and resurrection
 – very structured rules for daily life


 17After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; 21and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 22"What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23"Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 25"But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication." 26Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.

21:17 It was a good sign that the Jerusalem believers gave Paul and these Gentile converts a hearty welcome (cf. Luke 8:40; 9:11; Acts 2:41; 18:27; 21:17; 24:3; 28:30), but there was also prejudice in the Jerusalem church (cf. vv. 20-21).

21:18-19 "Paul went in with us to James" There is no special mention here of the gift from the Gentile churches (cf. 24:17). Paul made a similar report to James in 15:12. James is the half-brother of Jesus and the respected leader of the Jerusalem Church (cf. Acts 12:17; 15:13).

21:18 "and all the elders were present" Notice that there is no mention of the Apostles. Apparently they were on mission trips out of the country, or maybe they were dead. This use of the term "elders" reflects its Jewish usage (cf. 4:5,8,23; 6:12; 11:30; 15:2,4,6,22,23; 16:4; 23:14; 24:1,25; 25:15; Heb. 11:2; James 5:14), not its later use by the church for pastors (cf. 14:23; 20:17,18,23; I Tim. 5:17,19; Titus 1:5; I Pet. 5:1; II John 1; III John 1).

21:19 Some commentators think that Paul received a cool reception and that the money from the Gentile churches was not appreciated. Here is their line of reasoning.

1. Paul stayed at a Hellenistic Jew's home, not one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church.

2. There is no expression of gratitude for the gift. It is not even mentioned.

3. The leadership immediately tell Paul how disliked he is among thousands in the Jerusalem church.

4. The church is never said to have supported Paul in prison or at his trials.

It must be said that there was conflict and confusion about Paul's message and mission. However, v. 19 seems to be positive to me!

21:20 "how many thousands there are among the Jews" What a wonderful witness of the power of the gospel and the love of God to Jewish people in Jerusalem. There was a believing Jewish remnant. May be Zech. 12:10 has been fulfilled!

▣ "who have believed" This is a perfect active participle (see Special Topics at 3:16 and 6:5). This surely implies true saving faith. One can be saved without complete understanding and even despite misunderstanding of all theological issues, (cf. Acts 1:6; Luke 19:11).

Paul would characterize these as "weak" Christians (cf. Rom. 14:1-15:13; I Cor. 8; 10:23-33). He would bend over backward to encourage them, as long as their "weakness" did not affect the gospel (the Judaizers of Galatians).

▣ "they are all zealous for the Law" This shows the large number of converted Pharisees, zealots, or Essenes. However, conversion did not remove their religious bias. These were similar to the Judaizers of Galatians. It is remarkable how Paul loved and supported "weak" believers, but would not tolerate "false teachers" or those who misrepresented the gospel.

21:21 "they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses" The phrase "having been told" reflects the Hebrew idiom "re-echo," which implies oral teaching. This is combined with the present tense verb (teaching) to show that the Jews in Jerusalem had repeatedly been told about Paul's activity in a biased sense. These charges were more serious than preaching to Gentiles, which caused so much trouble (cf. Acts 15).

The term "to forsake" is a strong term which comes into English as "apostasy" (cf. II Thess. 2:3). The theological issue related to how believing Jews should relate to the OT was not yet settled! In some sense this mirrors the issues of "Messianic synagogues"!

21:23 "We have four men who are under a vow" Apparently these were members of the church. This refers to a limited Nazarite vow (cf. Num. 6:1-8). Paul had earlier taken a similar vow (cf. 18:18). We are very uncertain about the details of this limited vow (cf. Nazir 1:3).

21:23-25 This passage gives us insight into Paul's view about Jewish Christians' relationship to the Mosaic Law. Paul may have continued to observe Jewish traditions (cf. 18:18; 20:6), at least when trying to evangelize Jews (cf. I Cor. 9:19-23). This is possibly an affirmation of Messianic Jewish fellowships in our day.

21:24 "pay their expenses" Paul may not have taken a Nazarite vow himself at this point, but paid for the required sacrifice for the others. The rabbis taught that it was a great honor to pay for the Nazarites vow (Ned. 10a).


▣ "shave their heads" The Nazarite vow is discussed in Numbers 6. Those who took permanent vows were not allowed to cut their hair. However, the temporary vow was characterized by the shaving of the head at the end of the time period. This verse shows how Paul tried to conform to the culture to which he was trying to preach (cf. I Cor. 9:19-23; 10:23-33).

21:25 "we wrote" This refers to the official statement of the Jerusalem Council (cf. Acts 15:19-20, 28-29). This document mainly removed the ritualistic and dietary barriers between believing Jewish and believing Gentile groups in mixed churches of the diaspora (outside Palestine). It, however, did not relate to believing Jews' relationship to the Mosaic Covenant.

21:26 "went into the temple" This is what would cause the trouble, not solve it!

 27When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, 28crying out, "Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place." 29For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. 31While they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32At once he took along some soldiers and centurions and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; and he began asking who he was and what he had done. 34But among the crowd some were shouting one thing and some another, and when he could not find out the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35When he got to the stairs, he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; 36for the multitude of the people kept following them, shouting, "Away with him!"

21:27 "Jews from Asia" Paul's old enemies had come to Jerusalem for the feast also. Now Paul was on Judaism's turf.

21:28 "this is the man who preaches" These Asian Jews interpreted Paul's preaching as against Judaism instead of fulfilling the OT promises. These charges are similar to the ones made against Stephen (cf. 6:13). Paul himself may have stated this; he surely agreed with this Jewish theological position (cf. 22:20) before his Damascus encounter with Christ. The message of Christ undermined the legalism and ritualism of popular first century Judaism! This is seen not only in Paul's universalism—salvation available to "all men"—but also the theological assertion of exclusivistic salvation only in and through faith in Christ.

▣ "he has even brought Greeks into the temple" This supposed incident would have occurred in the Court of Israel, where the Nazarite vows were performed in the southeast corner. It was lawful for the Gentiles to enter the outer court of the Temple only. This was a false charge (cf. v. 29).

21:29 "Trophimus the Ephesian" These Jews from Asia (Ephesus) knew both Paul and Trophimus and had earlier planned Paul's death (cf. 20:3). Now they saw their opportunity to play on Jewish racial biases and have Paul killed (cf. vv. 31,36).

21:30 "the doors were shut" This was apparently the gate between the Court of Israel and the Court of the Women. The Temple had its own police force of Levites who kept order. This action was to

1. keep the Temple from being defiled

2. keep Paul from trying to return to the Temple for safety

These Jews acted in exactly the same manner as did the mob at Ephesus (cf. Acts 19).

21:31 "the commander of the Roman cohort" This is literally a leader of a thousand. This would be the highest-ranking official in the Roman army (equestrian) who was stationed in Jerusalem during feast days when the population swelled to three times its normal number. His job was to keep order.

▣ "the cohort" They lived in Fortress Antonia, which overlooked the Temple Court. It was built by Herod the Great as a palace, but was used by the Romans as a military headquarters (cf. Josephus, Wars 5.5.8).

21:32 "some soldiers and centurions" A centurion was literally the leader of a hundred. The Fortress Antonia overlooked the Temple area. It was heavily garrisoned, especially during feast days.

21:33 "to be bound with two chains" This could mean (1) hands and feet or (2) between two Roman soldiers. Apparently the soldiers thought he was an insurrectionist (cf. v. 38).

21:34-35 This shows the violence and frenzy of the mob (cf. v. 30).

21:35 "the stairs" These stairs that ran from the Fortress Antonia into the temple area had been alluded to in v. 32, "ran down." There were two sets of these access stairs, each going into a different division of the temple. The Romans wanted to quell any rioting quickly. Feast days were often days of nationalistic unrest.

21:36 "Away with him" These are the same words which were shouted at Jesus (cf. 22:22; Luke 23:18; John 19:15). There are many parallels between the treatment of Paul and Jesus by the Jews and Romans.

 37As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, "May I say something to you?" And he said, "Do you know Greek? 38"Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?" 39But Paul said, "I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people." 40When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying,

21:37 "Do you know Greek" The Colonel was surprised that Paul spoke Koine Greek because he apparently thought that Paul was an Egyptian insurrectionist that he had heard about (cf. v. 38 and Josephus' Antiq. 2.13.5; 20.8.6). This Egyptian rebellion occurred between a.d. 52-57.

21:38 "men of the Assassins" This is sicarii, a Latin term for assassins or dagger men. They are often called "zealots" in the NT (cf. Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). They were a group of Jews committed to the violent overthrow of the Romans.

A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 3, p. 382, mentions that this very word was used by Josephus to describe this Egyptian insurrectionist's followers (cf. Josephus, Wars 2.13.5; Antiq. 20.8.6,10).

21:39 "a citizen of no insignificant city" This is an idiom (litotes, see note at 12:18), which Paul used to assert his citizenship in a world-class university town. The text does not say if the Roman officer was impressed.

21:40 "he had given him permission" This commander still wanted to know what this was all about!

▣ "motioned to the people with his hand" This was apparently a well known hand gesture for silence so that a person could speak (cf. 12:17; 13:16; 19:33; 21:40; 26:1). This may have been a rhetorical gesture that Paul learned while studying rhetoric at Tarsus.

▣ "he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect" Paul spoke to the mob in Aramaic (the Jews had learned to speak Aramaic during their years under Persian rule). This quieted the mob for a period (cf. 22:2).


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. If prophets in every city told Paul not to go to Jerusalem, why did he go?

2. How were/are believing Jews to relate to the Mosaic Covenant?

3. Was the Asian Jews' charges against Paul in v. 28a true?

4. Does this commander's comment (v. 38) imply that few Jews knew Greek or that he thought Paul was an Egyptian?


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