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Bible: What Does Acts 21 Teach Us About Paul's Missionary Work and His Arrest?

Updated on September 15, 2016

The Apostle Paul


Doctor Luke


Philip, One of the Seven


Main Elder in Jerusalem

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Acts 21: Paul's Third Journey Continued; His Arrest in Jerusalem

Paul Travels by Sea WithOthers

The apostle’s ship sails south to Cos and Rhodes on successive days, and then travels due east to Patara (v. 1).

Changing vessels, Paul and Luke journey southeast until they see Cyprus on their left; from there, they travel to Tyre in Syria where the sailors unload cargo (vv. 2-3).

Believers visiting with him during his weeklong stay in this seaport town tell him “through the Spirit” not to go to Jerusalem (v. 4; cf. 21:11).

[Is Paul disobeying God, or is the Lord just using believers to remind the apostle of what awaits him?

Luke does not record any of Paul’s responses to their report.]

At week’s end, the missionary band leaves Tyre with many Christian families bidding them adieu (vv. 5-6).

They take a short trip south to Ptolemais where they abide one day with more believers (v. 7).

On the morrow, Luke and Paul’s other traveling companions (or the entire band [NU]) head south to Caesarea,where they visit with the evangelist Philip, one of the seven original “servants” in Jerusalem (v. 8; cf. 6:5; 8:26-40).

(Luke adds the interesting, but seemingly irrelevant, detail that the evangelist had four virgin daughters who prophesied [v. 9]).

[Perhaps this note about prophesying serves as a transition to the next section].

A Prophet Warns Paul of Danger

Agabus, a seer from Judea, visits Philip and Paul in Caesarea, and demonstrates with the apostle’s belt how the Jews in Jerusalem would treat Paul (vv. 10-11).

[Again, someone claiming divine guidance warns the apostle of the danger ahead for him; Agabus had earlier foretold a famine that would happen during the reign of Claudius, and thus he has proven his credibility (see 11:28).]

This news motivates everyone present to plead with Paul not to go, but the apostle’s counter-response shows his commitment to this itinerary (vv. 12-13).

[Is Paul being stubborn? Does he have a “death wish”?]

Seeing that their efforts to dissuade him have failed, they submit themselves to the Lord’s will (v. 14).

Paul Visits Jerusalem Elders

The missionary team leaves Caesarea for Jerusalem, taking the Cypriot Mnason with them; Mnason, a veteran “learner of Christ,” provides lodgings for them (vv. 15-16).

The day after arriving in Jerusalem and receiving a cordial greeting there, Paul visits with James, the recognized leader of that important church, as well as with all the elders, and informs them of God’s movement among the Gentiles (vv. 17-19).

Apparently, James and the elders participate in the response (vv. 20-25), for Luke writes that “they” spoke to him.

They glorify God when they hear Paul’s good news, but then report that many zealous, Law-abiding Jews who believe in Jesus do not approve of the apostle’s Law-forsaking ministry to the “brethren” living among Gentiles (vv. 20-21).

To circumvent any hasty action from this latter group, the elders strongly advise Paul to contribute financially to the ritual purification of four men who had taken a Nazirite vow, thereby demonstrating to these Jews his adherence to the Law (vv. 22-24).

As for the issue of the deportment of believing Gentiles, these experienced early Church leaders decide that the former do not have to observe Jewish legal ordinances, but just avoid certain practices abhorrent to Jews (v. 25; cf. 15:19).

Paul Takes Their Advice

Acquiescing to the elders’ counsel, Paul participates in the men’s purification ceremony (v. 26).

Nevertheless, near the end of the week of purification, certain Asian Jews, not those from Jerusalem, incite the temple crowd against Paul, charging him with the usual antinomian offenses but also with bringing Gentiles into the holy place (vv. 27-29).

[Luke records that the Jews leap to the erroneous conclusion that since Trophimus the Ephesian accompanied Paul in Jerusalem, the apostle therefore had brought this Gentile into the temple with him.

Ryrie notes that the one guilty of such an egregious offense would suffer capital punishment (New Testament Study Bible 249).]

Paul Arrested by Lysias

Without inquiring whether this action actually occurred, the mob arrests Paul and drags him out of the temple (v. 30).

When Commander Claudius Lysias (cf. 23:26) hears about the commotion, he assembles his soldiers, “rescues” Paul from the Jews’ clutches, and seeks to learn the apostle’s name and supposed crime (vv. 31-33).

Having no success in that department, the commander transports Paul into the barracks, ordering his soldiers to carry the apostle through the crowd in order to prevent this angry opposition from throttling him (vv. 34-36).

The Apostle Addresses the Mob

Before entering the barracks, however, Paul asks Lysias for permission to speak with him.

When the apostle inquires of him in Greek, the commander expresses surprise, for he had assumed that Paul was a certain Egyptian anarchist who led “four thousand assassins into the wilderness” (vv. 37-38).

Identifying himself as a Jew fromTarsus, a citizen of the important city of Cilicia, Paul asks and receives permission from Lysias to address the crowd (vv. 39-40a).

After achieving silence among the people—the Jews see Paul’s gesture, indicating his wish to address them—the apostle begins his defense, speaking to them in Hebrew (v. 40b).

© 2013 glynch1


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    • glynch1 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      You are entitled to your opinion.

    • glynch1 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      By the way, thanks for the challenge. I will change the word in my hub from "hear" to "understand."

    • glynch1 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      You have made an interesting observation; however, I choose to believe that Paul did not contradict himself, nor did Luke (a careful historian) then compound the error by recording it.

      Granted, Luke used the same verb, but I choose to side with the NASB interpretation of the verb in 22:9 rather than that of the RSV or the NKJV. According to the Greek lexicon, the verb "akouo" can mean both hear and understand.

      Acts 9:7--"And the men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one."

      Acts 22:9--"And those who were with me indeed beheld the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking with me."


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