| Back to Home Page | Back to Book Index |


Acts Chapter Twenty-one


I. Content of the Chapter


Paul Went Back to Jerusalem and Was Taken

I. The process that Paul went back to Jerusalem from Troas:

  A. They changed the ship and came to Tyre in the middle (v.1-3).

  B. They stayed at Tyre seven days and the disciples advised him not to go to the city of Jerusalem and it was unsuccessful (v.4-6).

  C. They passed Ptolemais and came to Caesarea from Troas (v.7-9).

  D. Agabus the prophet predicted that Paul would be bound at Jerusalem (v.10-11).

  E. Paul did not listen to the entreaty of all (v.12-14).

  F. They went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea and lodged in the house of Mnason (v.15-16).

II. Paul was taken at Jerusalem:

  A. He told the elders the things that he preached among the Gentiles (v.17-19).

  B. The elders advised Paul to take men to obey the regulations in order to show that he observed all rules and regulations (v.20-26).

  C. Paul was taken by the Jews in the Holy Temple (v.27-30).

  D. The commander of the garrison took soldiers and delivered Paul from the multitudes (v.31-36).

  E. Paul asked the commander to permit him to speak to the people (v.37-40).

II. Verse by Verse commentary


Acts. 21:1 “Now it came to pass, that when we had departed from them and set sail, running a straight course we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara.

   YLT: “And it came to pass, at our sailing, having been parted from them, having run direct, we came to Coos, and the succeeding [day] to Rhodes, and thence to Patara,”

   Meaning of Words: “Cos”: summit, a public prison; “Rhodes”: rose; “Patara”: trodden, scattering cursing.

   Literal Meaning: when we had departed from them” In the original two words are used to express “depart” and they mean to drag them apart with strength, implying that it is difficult to depart from the Saints who were reluctant to part from them (See Acts. 20:36-38).

  “Set sail, running a straight course we came to Cos” “Cos” was a small island on the outside of the southwest end of Asia.

  “The following day to Rhodes” “Rhodes” was on the north of Cos and it was an island much greater than Cos.

  “And from there to Patara” “Patara” was an inland harbor in the province of Lycia.


Acts. 21:2 “And finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail.

   YLT: “and having found a ship passing over to Phenicia, having gone on board, we sailed,”

   Meaning of Words: Phoenicia”: the land of palms.

   Literal Meaning: And finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia” Men had to cross over the Mediterranean Sea, according to the ship route from here to Palestine directly. And therefore the bigger ship was needed. “Phoenicia” was the general name of the costal region of the province of Syria. And Tyre was its important harbor.


Acts. 21:3 “When we had sighted Cyprus, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo.

   YLT: “and having discovered Cyprus, and having left it on the left, we were sailing to Syria, and did land at Tyre, for there was the ship discharging the lading.”

   Meaning of Words: Cyprus”: beauty, justice, love, a flower; “Syria”: high land, be exalted; “Tyre”: rock, suffer.

   The Background: the ships at old times were used for both passengers and freight and every time the ships arrived in a port, they had to load and unload the cargo and therefore they had to stay there several days.

   Enlightenment in the Word: and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo” Wherever Christians go, we should have the mind of “unloading the cargo there” and provide the riches of Christ everywhere.


Acts. 21:4 “And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.

   YLT: “And having found out the disciples, we tarried there seven days, and they said to Paul, through the Spirit, not to go up to Jerusalem;”

   Meaning of Words: “through”: because; “Jerusalem”: foundation, the dwelling of peace.

   Literal Meaning: And finding disciples” “Disciples” refer to believers of Jesus Christ; “finding” in the original means “must find”. Probably believers at Tyre were few and they had to go around carefully and then found them.

  “We stayed there seven days” Please note: there were “seven days” here, five days that after he spent the Passover in Philippi and sailed to Troas, seven days that he stayed in Troas (Acts. 20:6), four days that he sailed from Troas to Miletus (Acts. 20:13-15) and at least three days that he stayed in Miletus (See the note in Acts. 20:18). We do not know how many days they needed to sail from Miletus to Tyre (See v.1-3). If we count it as ten days, then thirty-six days had passed and the Pentecost was only two weeks away.

  “Through the Spirit” Probably they had communion with the Holy Spirit and foreknew that Paul was about to suffer danger at Jerusalem. Please note that through the Spirit is not equal to the commandment or order of the Spirit; through the Spirit, men knew what would happen in future, however, the Spirit did not command men not to do something.

  “Not to go up to Jerusalem” Here it is not the Spirit but their love and concern to Paul that wanted to prevented Paul from going to Jerusalem. They were unwilling to see Paul suffer difficulty.

   Enlightenment in the Word:

1) Wherever Paul arrived, a group of believers in the Lord received him. A great good point of working for the Lord is to increase the contact with all members of the body of Christ and have sweet fellowship with them.

2) Today believers always like to walk in excuse of through the Spirit, actually the Spirit has not moved them and they walk according to their own subjective motives. Even if it is truly through the Spirit and He gives men feeling, the feeling cannot be the only ground by which we walk.


Acts. 21:5 “When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed.

   YLT: “but when it came that we completed the days, having gone forth, we went on, all bringing us on the way, with women and children, unto the outside of the city, and having bowed the knees upon the shore, we prayed,”

   Literal Meaning: and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city.” Believers, with wives and children, accompanied them till they were out of the city, showing their love and concern to Paul. Though they were acquainted with them several days, they were reluctant to depart from them because of their fellowship in the Lord.

   Enlightenment in the Word:

1) The world needs quite a long period of time to establish a deep friendship, however, as long as believers have communion with each other in life, the love from God will be touched off immediately (1John. 4:7; 5:1).

2) “And we knelt down on the shore and prayed.” When the Saints depart from each other, we’d better command each other to the word of the Lord’s grace through prayer (See Acts. 20:32, 36).


Acts. 21:6 “When we had taken our leave of one another, we boarded the ship, and they returned home.

   YLT: “and having embraced one another, we embarked in the ship, and they returned to their own friends.”


Acts. 21:7 “And when we had finished our voyage from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day.

   YLT: “And we, having finished the course, from Tyre came down to Ptolemais, and having saluted the brethren, we remained one day with them;”

   Meaning of Words: Ptolemais”: sandy, hot sand.

   Literal Meaning: And when we had finished our voyage from Tyre” “had finished our voyage” in the original means “continued our voyage”.

  “We came to Ptolemais” “Ptolemais” was a costal harbor which was about sixty kilometers to the south of Tyre. Probably one day was needed from Troas to Ptolemais by sea.


Acts. 21:8 “On the next day we who were Paul's companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.

   YLT: “and on the morrow Paul and his company having gone forth, we came to Cesarea, and having entered into the house of Philip the evangelist -- who is of the seven -- we remained with him,”

   Meaning of Words: Caesarea”: the city of Caesar, cut up; “Philip”: lover of horse.

   Literal Meaning: and entered the house of Philip the evangelist” Philip was the deacon who served tables in the church of Jerusalem (Acts. 6:2-5) and he went down to Samaria to preach Christ because the church in the city of Jerusalem suffered a great persecution. He was once guided by the Holy Spirit to go unto the way that went down unto Gaza, which was desert so as to preach the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch and lead him to be saved and baptize him. Later he was caught away by the Spirit and was found at Azotus. He preached the gospel all the way till he came to Caesarea (See Acts. 8). He was famous for preaching the gospel and therefore he was called “Philip the evangelist”.

  “Who was one of the seven” “The seven” specially refers to the seven deacons who were chosen in the church of Jerusalem which was recorded in the beginning of this book (Acts. 6:5).

   Enlightenment in the Word: When we serve the Lord in the church, though each has his duties, we should still have the mission of preaching the gospel.


Acts. 21:9 “Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.

   YLT: “and this one had four daughters, virgins, prophesying.”

   Literal Meaning: four virgin daughters” means that they were all older than the age of marriage and still remained unmarried. Probably they kept unmarried all their life in order to serve God.

  “Who prophesied” “Prophesy” means that they speak for God and preach the word.

   Enlightenment in the Word:

1) Believers should not only preach the gospel to strangers but also lead their children to believe in the Lord and serve Him (See Josh. 24:15).

2) The true spiritual ones always do from home and lead their children to love the Lord. For if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God? (1Tim. 3:5)


Acts. 21:10 “And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.

   YLT: “And we remaining many more days, there came down a certain one from Judea, a prophet, by name Agabus,”

   Meaning of Words: “Agabus”: grasshopper; “Judea”: praise, the land of Judah.

   Literal Meaning: And as we stayed many days” Most probably, their date of departure was earlier than the predetermined date and they had a few days to stay.

  “A certain prophet named Agabus” Agabus once predicted that there should be great dearth throughout all the world and it was fulfilled (Acts. 11:27-28).


Acts. 21:11 “When he had come to us, he took Paul's belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus says the Holy Spirit, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”

   YLT: “and he having come unto us, and having taken up the girdle of Paul, having bound also his own hands and feet, said, `Thus saith the Holy Spirit, The man whose is this girdle -- so shall the Jews in Jerusalem bind, and they shall deliver [him] up to the hands of nations.'”

   The Background: the Jewish prophets always had a habit that they used real object or body movement to express the message theatrically when their words cannot fully express the meaning (See 1Kings. 11:29-31; Is. 20:3-4; Jer. 13:1-11; 27:2; Ezek. 4; 5:1-4).

   Literal Meaning: So shallbind the man who owns this belt” Paul was bound indeed (See v.33; 28:17).

   Enlightenment in the Word:

1) The two great apostles Peter and Paul of the New Testament were bound and mistreated by men (See John. 21:18) in their old age. Serving the Lord is to walk on the way of cross and the more we are bound and deprived of by men, the more we are able to provide the riches of the Lord. 

2) Through many tribulations, we must enter into the kingdom of God; it is so to the spiritual giants and we are no exception. 

3) The prophets in the church------who speak for God------only tell us what would happen in future, however, they cannot replace Christ in us. We should not despise prophesyings (1Thess. 5:20), however, we should not equate Moses (the law) and Elijah (the prophets) with Christ (Matt. 17:3-5).


Acts. 21:12 “Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.

   YLT: “And when we heard these things, we called upon [him] -- both we, and those of that place -- not to go up to Jerusalem,”

   Literal Meaning: both we and those from that place” The word “we” shows that Luke himself also joined them to advise Paul not to go to Jerusalem.

  “Pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem” Please note that Agabus only pointed out that Paul must be bound in Jerusalem and did not say that the Lord did not permit him to go there (See v.11). And therefore their entreaty was obviously of the mind of men instead of the mind of the Spirit.

   Enlightenment in the Word:

1) In the church, though many people have love, the love is probably of our natural emotion and it is the carnal love.

2) The carnal love and the sight of gains and losses always make us “be not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” so that we become the tools of Satan (Matt. 16:22-23).


Acts. 21:13 “Then Paul answered, What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’”

   YLT: “and Paul answered, `What do ye -- weeping, and crushing mine heart? for I, not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem, am ready, for the name of the Lord Jesus;'”

   Literal Meaning: What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart” Believers in Caesarea worried about Paul’s journey to Jerusalem and wept. Though they showed the love among brothers, they only increased the difficulty to Paul and cannot hold back his determination of obeying God so that his heart was broken by the two will that “he was willing to go to Jerusalem” and “brothers persuaded him not to do so”.

   Enlightenment in the Word:

1) It is good that believers care about the conditions of each other, however, it should not be our attitude that we regard our safety and interests higher than the will of God.

2) Our natural love that is of the flesh not only makes the faithful witnesses sad and “heart-broken” but also becomes the enemy of the Lord’s cross (See Matt. 16:21-23).

3) Those who serve the Lord should have a determination that even though our future suffer pain and difficulties, we shall still walk forth willingly.

4) We should disregard the individual gain and loss for the sake of the name of the Lord. 

5) Only when Christians hold Christ as our only aim------“for the name of the Lord Jesus”, and deeply know the necessity of the cross------“to die at Jerusalem” shall we overcome the surrounding of men’s senses and emotions and advance bravely.


Acts. 21:14 “So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.’”

   YLT: “and he not being persuaded, we were silent, saying, `The will of the Lord be done.'”

   Literal Meaning: So when he would not be persuaded” The Bible exegetes had two different kinds of views towards Paul’s attitude of not being persuaded. The first kind of view is that he obstinately adhered to his own idea so that he was imprisoned at Jerusalem, suffered pain, wasted four years and accomplished nothing. He made the trouble by himself.

The second kind of view is that he did not disobey the Holy Spirit but did the will of God and the reasons are as follows: 1) he decided to go to Jerusalem because he “purposed in Spirit” (Acts. 19:21) and it means that this decision was not of his flesh and he did not obstinately cling to his course. But he did it of the depth of the spirit and he purposed it after he had received the instruction clearly; 2) he had already known that he would suffer bind and tribulation at Jerusalem and he had to go to Jerusalem because he was bound in Spirit (Acts. 20:22-23) and did not have the freedom of choice; 3) he had to go to Jerusalem by himself in order to give an account for the contributions of love from the Gentile churches (Acts. 24:17) and then he would unload the burden in him; 4) Paul’s being imprisoned was arranged by God who intended to let him preach the name of the Lord before kings (Acts. 9:15); 5) The Lord did not blame Paul after he was imprisoned and contrarily encouraged and comforted him (Acts. 23:11; 27:23-24); 6) the experience of Paul was similar to the process that the face of the Lord Jesus was going to Jerusalem to receive the cross (See Matt. 16:21-23; Luke. 9:22, 51; 13:31-32; 18:31-33).

The editor of this book agreed on the second kind of view.

  “Saying, The will of the Lord be done.’” They seemed to have known that the action of Paul was the guidance of God and therefore they no longer discouraged him from doing it and agreed on Paul’s decision.

   Enlightenment in the Word:

1) When believers have communion with the Spirit and foresee the tribulation that we are going to face, it does not mean that the Spirit asks us to avoid the difficult position. What’s important is to know the will of the Lord and walk according to the principle of “the will of the Lord be done”.

2) The will of the Lord is accomplished not only through our smoothness and peace but also through our suffering and tribulation many times. And therefore the problem does not lie in the environments but whether we have the clear guidance of the Lord.

3) All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). If we walk according to the will of God, all the environments are beneficial to us.

4) The Lord rules over all for His own glory. The positive persons and things work for Him and even the negative persons and things are controlled by Him.

5) The senses and opinions of brothers and sisters in the church could help us to understand the guidance of God, however, what we should be very carful is that we should not listen to the voice of men more than that of God in us.

6) Concerning one’s own way, he could not listen to others. Everyone must know the will of God by himself and receive the guidance of the Lord who dwells in him. Christianity is that Christ lives in every believer and tells us right and wrong individually.

7) Those who truly know the will of God have the iron will and they are neither persuaded by men’s words nor weakened by men’s tears.

8) Concerning doing the will of God, we should neither respect persons nor make en exception in the favor of men.

9) The one who clearly sees the will of God and insists on the will to the end will always influence others and makes them turn to consider “the will of the Lord” and no long care for the individual gain.


Acts. 21:15 “And after those days we packed and went up to Jerusalem.

   YLT: “And after these days, having taken [our] vessels, we were going up to Jerusalem,”

   Meaning of Words: packed”: take up…carriages, hire horses.

   Literal Meaning: we packed and went up to Jerusalem” There were about one hundred kilometers from Caesarea to Jerusalem and two days were needed at that time.


Acts. 21:16 “Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge.

   YLT: “and there went also of the disciples from Cesarea with us, bringing with them him with whom we may lodge, a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an aged disciple.”

   Meaning of Words: “Mnason”: memory.

   Literal Meaning: Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us” It was the time of the feast of the Passover, Jerusalem was crowed in every place and it was difficult to find a place to lodge. The several disciples from Caesarea specially accompanied Paul in order to ensure that Paul and others could have a place for rest. It showed their love to Paul.

  “And brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple” The word “an early disciple” implies that he was an essential member of the local church and some people held that he was one of the first one hundred and twenty members in the church at Jerusalem.

  “A certain Mnason” There were two sayings concerning where the house of Mnason was: 1) it was at Jerusalem and the “brothers” in v.17 refers to Mnason and the brothers who were with him; 2) it was on the way from Caesarea to Jerusalem and probably it was in Lydda or Antipatris (See the note in Acts. 23:31) because two days were needed for them to go to Jerusalem from Caesarea on foot and they had to spend a night on the way.


Acts. 21:17 “And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.

   YLT: “And we having come to Jerusalem, the brethren did gladly receive us,”

   Meaning of Words: “received”: welcome.

   Literal Meaning: when we had come to Jerusalem” The third journey of Paul began with Acts. 18:23 and ended in this verse.

  “The brethren received us gladly” “The brothers” may refer to Mnason in v.16 and the brother who were with him.

    The “receive” here stresses on “welcoming greatly” and it is different from the word hospitality (which means opening one’s house to receive others; Heb. 13:2) in the original.


Acts. 21:18 “On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.

   YLT: “and on the morrow Paul was going in with us unto James, all the elders also came,”

   Meaning of Words: “James”: seize the heel, the one who is crowded out, follow up.

   Literal Meaning: Paul went in with us to James” The word “us” shows that Luke was also present with Paul. After this time, this word did not appear again until the end of the twenty-sixth chapter, however, it does not mean that Luke departed from Paul temporarily.

James refers to the brother of Jesus according to the flesh (See Acts. 12:17; 15:13) and he was the pillar of the church at Jerusalem (Gal. 2:9).

  “And all the elders were present” Here the apostles were not mentioned. Probably they had all departed from Jerusalem and they were also the elders. And therefore the word “the elders” also includes the apostles (See 1Pet. 1:1; 5:1).


Acts. 21:19 “When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

   YLT: “and having saluted them, he was declaring, one by one, each of the things God did among the nations through his ministration,”

   Literal Meaning: he told in detail” refers to the things that happened after Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem (Acts. 18:22), however, his focus may be on the three years’ works in Ephesus. At the same time, Paul also took this opportunity to deliver the contributions of the Gentile churches (See the note in Acts. 20:4) to the elders in the church at Jerusalem for allocation.

   Enlightenment in the Word:

1) There isn’t the difference between superior and subordinate among fellow-workers, however, it is good for them to greet each other and have communication at work with each other.

2) The fellowship among the Saints could have the effect of “proving each other” and “being encouraged together”.


Acts. 21:20 “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;

   YLT: “and they having heard, were glorifying the Lord. They said also to him, `Thou seest, brother, how many myriads there are of Jews who have believed, and all are zealous of the law,”

   Meaning of Words: “many myriads”: innumerable, ten thousand.

   Literal Meaning: And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord” It shows that the elders of the church at Jerusalem looked on the expanding the gospel to the Gentiles without prejudice and contrarily they were optimistic about its success.

  “And they are all zealous for the law” It shows that the church at Jerusalem, under the guidance of James, was deeply influenced by Judaism (Gal. 2:12) and they obeyed the Law of Moses zealously.

   Enlightenment in the Word:

1) If the preachers had worked effectively, they should “glorify God” and should not attribute the success to themselves.

2) “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed.” If men always judge whether the church has the presence and blessing of God according to the number of people, they will be misled unavoidably. It shows that the outer large-scale is not necessarily of spiritual value.

3) “And they are all zealous for the law.” “Being zealous” is supposed to be good, however, if we are zealous for the wrong aims, it is not good contrarily and even the one who kills men thinks that he renders service to God (John. 16:2).

4) The normal church should preach the gospel to increase the number of men and teach the believers with pure truth (See Matt. 28:19-20; Acts. 2:41-42).


Acts. 21:21 “but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

   YLT: “and they are instructed concerning thee, that apostacy from Moses thou dost teach to all Jews among the nations, saying -- Not to circumcise the children, nor after the customs to walk;”

   Meaning of Words: “Moses”: drag out.

   Literal Meaning: you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses” “Forsake Moses” means not to obey the Law that was given to Moses. The main points of Paul’s teachings concerning the Law of Moses are as follows: 1) a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28); 2) the Gentile believers do not need to be circumcised or obey the Law after they have trusted the Lord and have been saved (Gal. 5:2-5); 3) the Law such as the circumcision is only the shadow and only Christ is the substance (Col. 2:17); 4) Believers are not without law toward God, but under law toward Christ (1Cor. 9:21), however, the law is not the law of letters but the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).

    To the Jewish believers, Paul did not teach them to abandon the Law obviously and contrarily he seemed to obey some ceremonies of the Law himself: 1) he had a vow and had shorn his head (Acts. 18:18); 2) to those who are under the law, as under the law, that he might win those who are under the law (1Cor. 9:20).

  “Nor to walk according to the customs” “The customs” refers to the items that are ordered by the Jewish Law.


Acts. 21:22 “What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come.

   YLT: “what then is it? certainly the multitude it behoveth to come together, for they will hear that thou hast come.”


Acts. 21:23 “Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow.

   YLT: “`This, therefore, do that we say to thee: We have four men having a vow on themselves,”

   Literal Meaning: We have four men” Undoubtedly, these four men were all the Jewish Christians.

  “Who have taken a vow” “A vow” refers to the vow of a Nazarite (See v.24; Acts. 18:18). One takes a vow for thanksgiving in order to receive some special blessings from God.


Acts. 21:24 “Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.

   YLT: “these having taken, be purified with them, and be at expence with them, that they may shave the head, and all may know that the things of which they have been instructed concerning thee are nothing, but thou dost walk -- thyself also -- the law keeping.”

   The Background: according to the vow of a Nazarite in the Law of Moses, all the days of one’s separation he shall not eat anything that is made of the vine or shear his head and avoid touching the uncleanness; when the days of his separation are fulfilled, he has to offer all kinds of sacrifices and shave his head finally and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings (Num. 6:1-21).

  According to the regulations that were made by rabbis, the rich ones could pay the expenses of the poor in order to realize the vow of a Nazarite and through this behavior those who pay the money show their piety.

   Literal Meaning: and be purified with them” It refers to the cleansing before they enter the temple (See v.26).

  “And pay their expenses” Paying the expenses of others is the proof that one is zealous for the Law.

  “So that they may shave their heads” The hair of those who take a vow from the day they took the vow to the day of expiration should be shaven before the altar and offered as a sacrifice.


Acts. 21:25 “But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.’”

   YLT: “`And concerning those of the nations who have believed, we have written, having given judgment, that they observe no such thing, except to keep themselves both from idol-sacrifices, and blood, and a strangled thing, and whoredom.'”

   Literal Meaning: so that they may shave their heads” It shows that the Gentile Christians should not obey the Jewish law (See v.24).

  “We have written and decided” It refers to the resolution at Jerusalem several years ago (Acts. 15:22-29).

  “That they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Please see the literal and spiritual meaning in Acts. 15:20.


Acts. 21:26 “Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.

   YLT: “Then Paul, having taken the men, on the following day, with them having purified himself, was entering into the temple, announcing the fulfilment of the days of the purification, till the offering was offered for each one of them.”

   Literal Meaning: Then Paul took the men” Some people criticized Paul that he yielded to the situation, disobeyed the principle of his teachings and his words and deeds were not in accord. And therefore he was hypocritical and no wonder there were so many bind and tribulations on him (Acts. 20:23; 21:33; 22:25). However, Paul taught men that “men are justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law” (Gal. 2:16) and he did not teach the Jews to disobey the Law of Moses. Obeying the Law did not conflict believing in Jesus Christ to the Jews.

  “Having been purified with them” It shows that Paul himself also joined the purification.

  “To announce the expiration of the days of purification” The one who carries out the vow has to announce to the priest when he made the vow and today the days are fulfilled and he comes to carry out the vow.

   Controversial Clarification: Many Bible exegetes held that Paul did not listen to the persuasion that he should listen to in Acts. 21:1-16 and he even listened to the persuasion that he should not listen to in Acts. 21:17-26. And therefore this chapter could be the greatest spot in Paul’s experience of service all his life. And their reasons were as follows: 1) Paul insisted on going up to Jerusalem and consequently he spent most of time in prison from then on and wasted his precious time of serving the Lord; 2) after Paul had been saved, he tried his best to oppose obeying the Law and today he even could not withstand the tender push of James and all the elders and bent his head to the law. It was just like what he had said, “For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor” (Gal. 2:18); 3) the elders advised Paul to take the head to be purified in order to dissolve the misunderstanding (v.21, 24) and consequently greater misunderstanding was brought in (v.27-29). It shows that this way was unacceptable to the Lord; 4) Paul received the advice of the elders reluctantly in order to consider the general interest and consequently he darkened the will of God and gave great confusion to the later believers.

  However, such criticism was unfair to Paul because what he did at that time was under the arrangement of the sovereign hand of God in order to fulfill His goodwill: 1) Paul went to Jerusalem because he was “bound in Spirit” (Acts. 20:22) and he did not have the freedom of not going there; 2) Paul must have seen that this journey was to fulfill the will of the Lord (See v.14) and therefore he made no account of his life (Acts. 20:24) and did not receive the persuasion of love from others (See v.4, 12-14); 3) Paul, as a Jewish believer, was under the environments of the Jews and his action was not against his teachings. Such point was difficulty for the Gentile believers to understand; 4) from then on Paul still had the Lord’s presence and blessings in the life of imprisonment (Acts. 23:11; 27:23-24; 28:30-31) and he did not regret being imprisoned (See 2Tim. 2:9; 4:7-8).

   Enlightenment in the Word:

1) To the Jews Paul became as a Jew, that he might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that he might win those who are under the law (1Cor. 9:20).

2) Paul constrained his opinion for the sake of the church and it shows that he was indeed the spiritual giant who “did not have himself”. Sometimes the compromise which is not against the truth shows one’s strength in stead of his weakness.


Acts. 21:27 “Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him,

   YLT: “And, as the seven days were about to be fully ended, the Jews from Asia having beheld him in the temple, were stirring up all the multitude, and they laid hands upon him,”

   Meaning of Words: Asia”: east, soil.

   Literal Meaning: the seven days were almost ended” There are seven days from the time one announces the expiration of the days of purification (See v.26) to the end of sacrifices. “Almost ended” indicates that it is close to the seventh day.

  “The Jews from Asia” Probably they were the Jews from Ephesus (See v.29).

   Enlightenment in the Word: the best plan may not make the best result; man proposes, and God disposes.


Acts. 21:28 “crying out, Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.’”

   YLT: “crying out, `Men, Israelites, help! this is the man who, against the people, and the law, and this place, all everywhere is teaching; and further, also, Greeks he brought into the temple, and hath defiled this holy place;'”

   Meaning of Words: Israel”: manage with God, the prince of God; “Greeks”: changeful, lowly ones.

   The Background: the Jews only permitted the Gentiles to enter the outer court of the temple and did not allow them to enter the border of the inner court. They posted the announcement before the inner court to indicate that the Gentiles were not allowed to enter: if the one who presumes to pass the warning board and enter the inner court shall be put to death. If a Jew brings a Gentile into the inner court, both of them shall be put to death. This regulation was also permitted by the Roman Government and it shows that it was a very serious crime for the Gentiles to intrude into the temple.


Acts. 21:29 “(For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)

   YLT: “for they had seen before Trophimus, the Ephesian, in the city with him, whom they were supposing that Paul brought into the temple.”

   Meaning of Words: Ephesus”: admirable, throw out; “Trophimus”: nutritive.

   Literal Meaning: For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city” “Trophimus” may be the fellow-worker of Paul and Trophimus walked with Paul when he returned to Jerusalem from Macedonia (Acts. 20:4) and therefore they were at present in the city of Jerusalem together.

   Enlightenment in the Word: men always regard the one-sided fact as the overall basis in making a judgment so that wrongness is made. Christians should be very careful and should not make conclusions hastily.


Acts. 21:30 “And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut.

   YLT: “All the city also was moved and there was a running together of the people, and having laid hold on Paul, they were drawing him out of the temple, and immediately were the doors shut,”

   Literal Meaning: and dragged him out of the temple” They did so in order to not blaspheme the sacred place with the blood of men.

  “And immediately the doors were shut” “The doors” refer to the doors connecting the inner court and the outer court. The captain of the temple shut the doors in order to avoid the more blasphemy towards the temple.


Acts. 21:31 “Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.

   YLT: “and they seeking to kill him, a rumour came to the chief captain of the band that all Jerusalem hath been thrown into confusion,”

   Literal Meaning: news came to the commander of the garrison” During the feast, many Jews gathered together at Jerusalem from various places and therefore the Roman military camps were set up in the northwest corner of the temple which were called “Anthony the barracks” (See the note in v.34). “The commander of the garrison” controlled a thousand soldiers, showing that the military force of that camp was at least several hundreds of soldiers. The name of this commander of the garrison was Claudius Lysias (Acts. 23:26).


Acts. 21:32 “He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

   YLT: “who, at once, having taken soldiers and centurions, ran down upon them, and they having seen the chief captain and the soldiers, did leave off beating Paul.”


Acts. 21:33 “Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done.

   YLT: “Then the chief captain, having come nigh, took him, and commanded [him] to be bound with two chains, and was inquiring who he may be, and what it is he hath been doing,”

   Literal Meaning: and commanded him to be bound with two chains” “Two chains” may be used to lock the hands of Paul with two soldiers, on either side one.


Acts. 21:34 “And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another. So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks.

   YLT: “and some were crying out one thing, and some another, among the multitude, and not being able to know the certainty because of the tumult, he commanded him to be carried to the castle,”

   Literal Meaning: he commanded him to be taken into the barracks” “The barracks” refers to the headquarter of the station troops. It is said that the barracks was built by Herod the Great to remember his good friend Mark Anthony and its name was Anthony the barracks.


Acts. 21:35 “When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob.

   YLT: “and when he came upon the steps, it happened he was borne by the soldiers, because of the violence of the multitude,”

   Literal Meaning: When he reached the stairs” There were two flights of stairs from the barracks to the outer court of the temple.


Acts. 21:36 “For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, Away with him!’”

   YLT: “for the crowd of the people was following after, crying, `Away with him.'”

   Literal Meaning: “crying out, ‘Away with him!’” The slogan “away with him” was once used upon the Lord Jesus (John. 19:15; Luke. 23:18).


Acts. 21:37 “Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, May I speak to you? He replied, Can you speak Greek?

   YLT: “”And Paul being about to be led into the castle, saith to the chief captain, `Is it permitted to me to say anything unto thee?' and he said, `Greek dost thou know?

   Literal Meaning: Can you speak Greek?” Obviously, Paul requested the commander in Greek.


Acts. 21:38 “Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?"

   YLT: “art not thou, then, the Egyptian who before these days made an uprising, and did lead into the desert the four thousand men of the assassins?'”

   Meaning of Words: “assassin”: men of the dagger; “Egyptian”: double difficulty, the land of the Coptic.

   The Background: according to the record of the Jewish historian Joseph, an Egyptian led the multitudes to rebel the Rome and they specially assassinated the Romans and the pro-Rome Jews. They failed finally, however, the Egyptian the leader was not arrested and escaped and fled.


Acts. 21:39 “But Paul said, I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.’”

   YLT: “And Paul said, `I, indeed, am a man, a Jew, of Tarsus of Cilicia, of no mean city a citizen; and I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.'”

   Meaning of Words: “Cilicia”: rolling, hair cloth; “Tarsus”: wing, flat basket.

   Literal Meaning: from Tarsus, in Cilicia” “Cilicia” was one of the provinces in the Roman Empire and it was in the southeast of Asia. “Tarsus” was the capital town of the province of Cilicia and it was the famous university town at that time.


Acts. 21:40 “So when he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying,

   YLT: “And he having given him leave, Paul having stood upon the stairs, did beckon with the hand to the people, and there having been a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew dialect, saying:”

   Meaning of Words: “Hebrew”: cross, of Herber.

   Literal Meaning: Paul stood on the stairs” The highest place of the stairs was sixty elbows high and the stairs occupied a commanding position. It was the best temporary platform.

  “He spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying” “The Hebrew language” refers to the Aramic that was commonly used by the Jews in Palestine at that time.


III. Outlines of the Spiritual Lessons


The Example that Believers Travelled

I. Wherever they arrived, they “found” the local believers (v.4, 15).

II. They “stayed with” with believers (v.4, 7-8, 15) and practiced the life of the body of Christ.

III. They spoke in the Spirit and had the open fellowship with each other (v.4, 11-14).

IV. They “greeted” each other (v.7, 19), “prayed” together before leaving and bid them farewell formally (v.5; Acts. 20:36).


The Conflict that Paul Experienced Concerning His Going up to Jerusalem

I. The disciples at Tyre advised him through the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem (v.4-6) and that is in conflict with that he was bound in Spirit and had to go to Jerusalem (Acts. 20:22).

II. His concern and burden towards believers in various places (v.7) are in conflict with that he cannot stay long because he had to arrive at Jerusalem before the Day of Pentecost (Acts. 20:16).

III. The Spirit pointed out through the prophet that he would be bound at Jerusalem (v.8-11) and that is in conflict with his concern about the accomplishment of the will of God (v.14).

IV. The Saints entreated Paul not to go up to Jerusalem for love (v.12) and that is in conflict with his intention of being ready to die for the name of the Lord at Jerusalem (v.13).

V. God used him to preach among the Gentiles and especially taught them the revelation that men are saved by faith instead of by obeying the Law (v.19; Gal. 3:2, 13-14) and that is in conflict with that he was forced to be under the law at Jerusalem in order to win those who are under the law (v.20-26, 1Cor. 9:20).

VI. The Jews who were zealous for the law and contrarily stirred up the riot and wanted to kill men (v.27-31) and that is in conflict with that the commander of the garrison who was the Gentile without the law walked by the rules and wanted to save Paul’s life (v.32-40; Acts. 23:16-24).


The Example of Philip the Evangelist (v.8-10)

I. He opened his house to receive the visitors from various places (including Paul and those who were with him and Agabus the prophet).

II. He served the Lord in many aspects------he was the deacon in the church of a place and preached the gospel everywhere.

III. He was famous for “preaching the gospel” and it became his mark, showing that the effect was quite remarkable.

IV. He was good at ruling his own house and made his children dedicate themselves to serve the Lord. He was indeed the best candidate to take care of the church of God (See 1Tim. 3:4-5).


The Two Aims of Those Who Insisted on the Law 

I. Christians who were zealous for the Law------the gentle aspect------they persuaded Paul with reasons (v.20-25).

II. The Judaists who were zealous for the Law------the unreasonable aspect------they started a rumor to stir up the multitudes to oppose Paul (v.27-30).


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Sharon Ren