THE ACTS OF APOSTLES
Lesson 10: Chapters 21-22
The Church's Mission to the Gentiles Completed:
St. Paul's Ordeal in Jerusalem
Lord of Mercy,
St. Paul prayed that he might be delivered from his enemies in Jerusalem, but in Your divine plan to advance the doctrine of the Church, You allowed him to become a prisoner for the sake of the Gospel. We often face similar disappointments in our faith journeys when our prayers for deliverance seem to go unanswered. Give us the faith of Paul in those times of struggle, Lord, and the knowledge that You are with us in our sufferings. Help us to understand if we trust You and have faith in Your plan for our lives that You can turn those struggles and sufferings into victories that will count toward our eternal salvation. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ + +
Paul's letter to
the Christians in Rome: I urge you, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love
of the Spirit, to join me in the struggle by your prayers to God on my behalf,
that I may be delivered from the disobedient in Judea, and that my ministry for
Jerusalem may be acceptable to the holy ones, so that I may come to you with
joy by the will of God and be refreshed together with you. The God of peace be
with all of you.
Before Paul left Greece, he wrote a letter to the Christian communities in Rome expressing his desire to visit them in the future. He told them that before he visited them he had to go to Jerusalem because the Gentile Christians in Macedonia and Greece had made a contribution for the poor among the holy ones in Jerusalem. He told the Roman Christians that the Gentile communities of the faithful did this because they felt indebted to the Jerusalem church since they had "come to share in their spiritual blessings" that they ought to "serve them in material blessings" (Rom 15:27). He intended to deliver this contribution and then set out to visit Rome before traveling on to Spain. Then Paul asked the Roman church for their prayers on his behalf "that I may be delivered from the disobedient in Judea, and that my ministry for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the holy ones" (Rom 15:25-31). But this time it was God's plan that Paul should not be delivered from the "disobedient" and that his sufferings should advance God's divine plan for the spiritual and doctrinal growth of the Church.
Chapter 21: The End of the Third Missionary Journey
was fulfilled that says, proclaiming about the Church, "The daughters of Tyre
offer you gifts; all the wealthy among the people plead for your favor, and so
forth, up to the end of the psalm. For no city received the apostle, kept him
and sent him on his way with greater kindness than Tyre. Finally, today the
place is pointed out where they prayed together on the shore.
St. Bede, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, 21.5
Acts 21:1-6 ~ St. Paul's Gracious Reception in the
Gentile City of Tyre
1 When we had taken leave of them we set sail, made a straight run for Cos, and on the next day for Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 Finding a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went on board and put out to sea. 3 We caught sight of Cyprus but passed by it on our left and sailed on toward Syria and put in at Tyre where the ship was to unload cargo. 4 There we sought out the disciples and stayed for a week. They kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to embark for Jerusalem. 5 At the end of our stay we left and resumed out journey. All of them, women and children included, escorted us out of the city, and after kneeling on the beach to pray, 6 we bade farewell to one another. Then we boarded the ship, and they returned home.
St. Luke includes many geographical details in the narrative, all of which are correct. After Paul's emotional parting from the priests of the churches in Ephesus and probably surrounding communities, Paul sailed southeast from the Aegean Sea and into the Mediterranean Sea. It is the late spring/early summer of 58 AD. Paul and his companions (which included St. Luke) made stops along the coastland of Asia Minor at ports on the islands of Cos and Rhodes and at Patara, a seaport on the coast of Lycia (southern Turkey). Paul and his companions left Patara and sailed past Cyprus, approaching the island from the northwest and moving past the island's eastern coast before turning left and heading toward Syria. They sailed down the coast of Syria and reached the important commercial city of Tyre where St. Paul was warmly greeted by Christians living there. In his Gospel Luke recorded that people from Tyre came to hear Jesus preach (Lk 6:17), and he also wrote that Christian missionaries went to Phoenicia after Stephen's martyrdom to preach the Gospel to the Jews (Acts 11:19). Notice that the first person plural picked up again after Acts 20:15.
St. Bede saw Paul's reception in Tyre as a fulfillment of
Psalm 44:12 LXX (Hebrew O.T. 45:13): And the daughter of Tyre shall adore
him with gifts; the rich of the people of the land shall supplicate thy favor (see
St. Bede's quote at the beginning of the lesson). This was not a faith
community that Paul founded, but they knew him and loved him.
Question: How did the Christians of Tyre know Paul and know about his work among the Gentiles? See Acts 15:3.
Answer: He had visited them at least once in 49/50 AD when Paul passed through Phoenicia, visiting the faith communities there on his journey to Jerusalem for the Council of Jerusalem. At that time he shared the news of the success of the Gospel of salvation among the Gentiles, for which they gave joyful thanks.
Acts 21:4b ~ They kept telling Paul through the Spirit
not to embark for Jerusalem.
The Holy Spirit revealed to the members of the church in Tyre the prophetic message that Paul will face suffering in Jerusalem.
Question: Is this message of danger in Jerusalem news to Paul? See Acts 20:22-23.
Answer: No. The Holy Spirit has warned Paul that he will face imprisonment and hardships there but he does not know what else will happen to him.
Question: Why doesn't Paul change his plans and
return home to Antioch without visiting Jerusalem? What was the purpose for
the journey to Jerusalem? See Acts 20:22; 24:17;
1 Cor 16:1-4;
2 Cor 8:1-15; 9:1-15. There are two reasons.
As disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must trust Him
in all things and that includes our joys as well as our sufferings. Paul had
spent over a year gathering the contribution from the churches of Gentile
Christians, and that gift from the Gentiles for Jerusalem was also of great
Question: What prophecy was fulfilled in the Gentiles presenting their gifts to the saints in Jerusalem? See Is 66:18-21.
Answer: It fulfilled the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah that the Gentiles will become believers in the One True God and will bring their gifts acknowledging their faith to Jerusalem.
Acts 5b-6 ~ All of them, women and children included,
escorted us out of the city, and after kneeling on the beach to pray 6 we bade farewell to one another. Then we
boarded the ship, and they returned home.
After what was probably another tearful farewell (see 20:37-38), the Christians of Tyre prayed with Paul and his companions and made their good-byes. Paul and his companions sailed from Tyre to Ptolemais (Acco/Acre), one of the great port cities of antiquity that was located south of Tyre along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. There Paul and his companions were greeted by another Christian congregation.
Acts 21:7-14 ~ The Arrival at Ptolemais and Caesarea
7 We continued the voyage and came from Tyre to Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed day with them. 8 On the next day we resumed the trip and came to Caesarea where we went to the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him. 9 He had four virgin daughters gifted with prophecy. 10 We had been there several days when a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came up to us, took Paul's belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit: This is the way the Jews will bind the owner of this belt in Jerusalem, and they will hand him over to the Gentiles." 12 When we heard this, we and the local residents begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul replied, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? I am prepared not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of Jesus." 14 Since he would not be dissuaded we let the matter rest, saying, "The Lord's will be done."
In the past the Gentiles of Ptolemais had been very hostile to the Jews (see 1 Mac 12:45, 48) but now there was a thriving Christian faith community that had probably been founded by the Philip the evangelist in his missionary journey along the coast from Azotus to Caesarea (Acts 8:40). Paul had probably visited this faith community at least once and that was on his journey to the Council of Jerusalem from Antioch, Syria in 49/50 AD. Notice that Paul never passes up the opportunity to re-visit faith communities and to share the good news of additional conversions among the Gentiles that has resulted in the continuing growth of the Church universal.
Acts 21:8-9 ~ On the next day we resumed the trip and
came to Caesarea where we went to the house of Philip the evangelist, who was
one of the Seven, and stayed with him. 9 He
had four virgin daughters gifted with prophecy.
Paul and his companions only stayed a day in Tyre because it probably only took a day for the ship to unload cargo bound for this port and to take on additional cargo before setting out again for Caesarea.
Question: Who was Philip the evangelist? Why does Luke call him "one of the Seven." See Acts 6:1-6; 8:4-8, 26-40.
Answer: Philip was ordained by the Apostles along with six other men to serve as the Church's first seven deacons. Luke calls him "one of the Seven" to distinguish him from Philip the Apostle. Later Philip the deacon carried the Gospel to Samaria and baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. He continued his missionary work along the Mediterranean coast from Azotos (also known as Ashdod when it was one of the cities in the Philistine Pentapolis) north to Caesarea, where he settled with his family.
Philip's daughters had evidently had taken a vow of virginity in service to the Lord and were given the gift of prophecy.(1) The Church has always considered virginity in imitation of Christ a gift of God. Paul discusses virginity and celibacy in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 7:25-40), and Pope John Paul II devoted a section concerning consecrated virginity in his apostolic exhortation on the family: "Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes it and confirms it. Marriage and virginity or celibacy are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the covenant of God with his people" (Sacra virginitas, 2).
Acts 21:10-11~ We
had been there several days when a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came up to us, took Paul's belt, bound
his own feet and hands with it, and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit: This is the
way the Jews will bind the owner of this belt in Jerusalem, and they will hand
him over to the Gentiles."
Question: Where have we met the prophet Agabus previously in Acts? See Acts 11:20-30.
Answer: Not long after Barnabas and Saul/Paul were sent to the Christians of Antioch, Syria, the prophet Agabus visited the church from the mother church in Jerusalem and predicted a severe world-wide famine. This was the first time we heard of a community of Jewish and Gentile Christians sending aid to the mother church in Jerusalem.
Question: What was Agabus' prophecy concerning
Answer: He prophesied that Paul was to be arrested by the Roman Gentiles in Jerusalem.
In the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, Agabus delivered his prophecy by performing an ot; a symbolic demonstration of the prophecy (see for example Is 20:2; Jer 13:1; 19:1-13 and Ez 4:1-17). The prophet uses the expression "Thus says the Holy Spirit;" it is an expression only found here in the New Testament but is similar to prophetic statements in the Old Testament that begin with "Yahweh says" usually translated "the LORD says" (for example see Is 3:16; Jer 2:31; Ez 4:13; Amos 3:11; 5:16; Nah 1:2; Hag 1:6; Zec 1:16).
Question: Agabus prophecy for Paul is similar to
what prophecy that Jesus gave to Peter? See Jn 21:18.
Answer: Jesus prophesied Peter's future martyrdom telling him: Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.
Acts 21:12-14 ~ When
we heard this, we and the local residents begged him not to go up to
Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul replied,
"What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? I am prepared not only to
be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of Jesus." 14 Since he would not be dissuaded we let the
matter rest, saying, "The Lord's will be done."
Paul's statement "I am prepared" echoes the essence of his statement in Acts 20:24 in his farewell address to the priests of Ephesus when he talked about his coming suffering.
Question: How many times has Paul's coming suffering in Jerusalem been prophesied?
Answer: Three times:
Question: What did Jesus say about God's prophets
facing suffering in Jerusalem? See Lk 11:49-51; 13:33-34 and Mt 16:14; 23:34-36.
Answer: Jesus said Jerusalem has a history of persecuting and murdering God's prophets. He prophesied that Jerusalem will persecute and kill the prophets and apostles He will send. He also said that his generation will have to answer for their blood and the blood of all the prophets who died to fulfill God's divine plan throughout salvation history.
Question: Why does Paul tell the Christians of
Caesarea that they are breaking his heart?
Answer: Paul does not have any fear of giving up his life for the sake of the Gospel. He is prepared to die for Christ, but he does not want to cause his beloved companions and the community of Caesarea pain.
Question: How do Paul's companions and the faith
community demonstrate their faith and trust in God?
Answer: They demonstrate their faith and trust by accepting God's will for Paul's life, saying "The Lord's will be done."
Question: How is it that Paul's attitude and the
attitude of the Christian disciples reflects the attitude of Jesus in His final
moments of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane? See Lk 22:42.
Answer: Knowing that it was the Father's will that He should suffer and die Jesus prayed, "Father if you are willing, take his cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done." It is this same trust that Paul displays and also his friends who do not want him to suffer but submit themselves in obedience to God's divine plan.
Acts 21:15-26 ~ Paul's Meeting with St. James and the
Presbyters of the church in Jerusalem
15 After these days we made preparations for our journey, then went up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea came along to lead us to the house of Mnason, a Cypriot, a disciple of long standing, with whom we were to stay. 17 When we reached Jerusalem the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18 The next day, Paul accompanied us on a visit to James, and all the presbyters were present. 19 He greeted them, then proceeded to tell them in detail what God had accomplished among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 They praised God when they heard it but said to him, "Brother, you see how many thousands of believers there are from among the Jews, and they are all zealous observers of the law. 21 They have been informed that you are teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to abandon Moses and that you are telling them not to circumcise their children or to observe their customary practices. 22 What is to be done? They will surely hear that you have arrived. 23 So do what we tell you. We have four men who have taken a vow. 24 Take these men and purify yourself with them, and pay their expenses that they may have their heads shaved. In this way everyone will know that there is nothing to the reports they have been given about you but that you yourself live in observance of the law. 25 As for the Gentiles who have come to believe, we sent them our decision that they abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, form blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage." 26 So Paul took the men, and on the next day after purifying himself together with them entered the Temple to give notice of the day when the purification would be completed and the offering made for each of them.
Mnason is a Christian from Cyprus who is only mentioned here. His name is Greek. Luke records that he has been a disciple of Christ for a long time. Christian missionaries from Cyrene and Cyprus preached the Gospel in Phoenicia (Acts 11:20), and Mnason may have been one of them. He was the host for Paul's missionary team at their stop over on the way from Caesarea to Jerusalem.
Acts 21:17-19 ~ When
we reached Jerusalem the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18 The next day, Paul accompanied us on a visit
to James, and all the presbyters were present. 19 He greeted them, then proceeded to tell them in detail what
God had accomplished among the Gentiles through his ministry.
When the party reached Jerusalem, they were warmly greeted by the community of believers. The next day they had an audience with St. James Bishop of Jerusalem and the priests who are under his jurisdiction and reported on their success in spreading the Gospel among the Gentiles of Asia and Europe.(2)
Acts 21:20-22 ~ They
praised God when they heard it but said to him, "Brother, you see how many
thousands of believers there are from among the Jews, and they are all zealous
observers of the law. 21 They have
been informed that you are teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to
abandon Moses and that you are telling them not to circumcise their children or
to observe their customary practices. 22 What
is to be done? They will surely hear that you have arrived.
The church in Jerusalem is pleased to hear of Paul's success among the Gentiles and gave glory to God, a symbol for recognizing God's visitation in the conversion of the Gentiles, BUT...
Question: St. James tells Paul that Jerusalem church has also had success in the "thousands of believers" who have come to Christ "from among the Jews." Their success coupled with Paul's success among the Gentiles demonstrates that God is faithful in calling both Jews and Gentiles to salvation. However, what is the issue the leaders of the church in Jerusalem raise with Paul that is affecting their mission?
Answer: The Jews believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is rejecting the Law of Moses and this is having an adverse impact on the Jerusalem church's efforts to proselytize the Jews.
Question: Are the accusations they have heard against
Paul true? See Gal 2:3-12; 5:2-6; 6:13-15; 1 Cor 7:18-19; Col 3:11; Rom 2:25-29; 3:30-4:12; 15:8; Acts 20:6.
Answer: Yes. He is not even keeping the Jewish pilgrim feasts that are essential to the observance of Mosaic Law. Paul believes the old ritual practices of the Mosaic Law are now invalid and there is only salvation through Jesus the Christ for both Jews and Gentiles.
The Letter to the Hebrews is believed by many to have been a homily Paul gave in Jerusalem that was copied and sent out to the universal Church. Concerning the old Law the inspired writer of Hebrews says:
St. James' statement that the Jews who have converted to the faith are all zealous observers of the law is in some ways problematic. His statement makes sense in light of the fact that it is those Jews who really know the Scriptures who are the ones who see the coming of Jesus as the fulfillment of the promised Messiah in the books of the prophets. However, "zeal" is a description that has been used previously for a rigid defense of the old Law and jealousness for the honor paid to it while at the same time demonstrating hostility towards a perceived dishonor of the Torah of Moses or the Temple (see "zeal for the Law" in 1 Mac 2:26-27, 50, 54, 58). You will recall these are some of the accusations made against Jesus at His trial including the claim that He dishonored the Temple by threatening to destroy it (Mt 27:60-61). Remember, it was members from this community who first told the Christians in Antioch that Gentiles who were not circumcised could not be "saved," and there may be Jewish-Christians who probably still hold that belief.
Acts 21:23-24 ~ So
do what we tell you. We have four men who have taken a vow. 24 Take these men and purify yourself with them,
and pay their expenses that they may have their heads shaved. In this way
everyone will know that there is nothing to the reports they have been given
about you but that you yourself live in observance of the law.
By "purify yourself" St. James means that Paul should ritually immerse in a purification pool known as a mikveh; this form of ritual purification was required before entering the Temple's inner courts to worship. Such ritual bathing was symbolic of washing away any contamination or defilement and preparing one spiritually for Temple worship. There were many ritual pools in Jerusalem where thousands could immerse (clothed) at one time. The pool of Siloam was one such pool (see Jn 9:7).
Question: What is their solution to Paul's bad
reputation among the Jews? See Num 6:1-21.
Answer: The hierarchy of the church in Jerusalem wants Paul to make a gesture of reconciliation. They are asking him to demonstrate his attachment to the Torah by sponsoring four men who have completed a Nazirite vow.
Question: What is it that Paul will be required to
Answer: He will have to pay for the sacrifices for the four men which includes four yearling lambs for a holocaust offering, four ewe lambs for a sin offering, four rams as a peace/communion offering together with four cereal offerings, four wine libations and four baskets of unleavened cakes of fine flour mixed with oil and four unleavened wafers spread with oil. This is an expensive gesture.
Acts 21:25-26 As
for the Gentiles who have come to believe, we sent them our decision that they
abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, form blood, from the meat of strangled
animals, and from unlawful marriage." 26 So
Paul took the men, and on the next day after purifying himself together with
them entered the Temple to give notice of the day when the purification would
be completed and the offering made for each of them.
St. James and his presbyters stand by the decision of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:22-29), but point out that it was a decision that only affected Gentile converts and not Jews.
Question: What then is the view of James and his
priests concerning circumcision? See verse 25.
Answer: While they agree with the council's decision that the Gentiles should not be forced to be circumcised in order to enter the New Covenant in Christ, they evidently still believe it is a valid sacrament for Jewish-Christians along with the other observances of Mosaic Law.
Question: What is the problem with such a view?
Answer: It will cause division between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians instead of uniting them. Christians must be brothers and sisters who are the same/equal in all ways united in Christ.
Question: If Paul truly believes that these
rituals are no longer valid, why does he agree to sponsor these men in their
vow fulfillment ritual?
Answer: While he does not agree with their doctrine, he is humbly submitting to the higher authority of the Bishop of Jerusalem.
In his letter to the Christians in Rome he asked them to pray that my ministry for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the holy ones (Rom 15:31). This is what Paul feels he has to do for his ministry to continue to be acceptable to the church in Jerusalem whose jurisdiction he is under.
Acts 21:27-30 ~ Paul's Presence at the Temple Causes a
27 When the seven days were nearly completed, the Jews from the province of Asia noticed him in the Temple, stirred up the whole crowd, and laid hands on him, 28 shouting, "Fellow Israelites, help us. This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place, and what is more, he has even brought Greeks into the Temple and defiled this sacred place." 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him and supposed that Paul had brought him into the Temple. 30 The whole city was in turmoil with people rushing together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the Temple, and immediately the gates were closed.
It is assumed that the "seven days" refer to a period of ritual purification. The only such seven day ritual required of a Jew was if he became defiled by a dead body (Num 19:11-13, 20). Perhaps St. James requested that Paul undergo a special ritual purification because of his close contact with Gentiles on his mission journey or the Pharisees had introduced some new ritual associated with the completion of a Nazirite vow. However, the Mishnah tractate Nazir which gives the commands concerning Nazirite vows does not shed any light on this seven day period other than to repeat the ritual purification of the third and seventh day for contamination by death.(3)
the Jews from the province of Asia noticed him in the Temple ... If it is time for the pilgrim feast of Pentecost (Acts 20:16), Jews have arrived in Jerusalem from provinces across the Roman Empire. The Jews who recognized Paul were probably pilgrims from Ephesus since they recognized Trophimus who had been a resident of the city (21:29). He was named as one of the members of Paul's missionary team in Acts 20:4 and Paul will also mention him in his second letter to Timothy (2 Tim 4:20). The hostility of Jews against Paul has been noted earlier (19:9; 20:19). Their hostility escalates into a riot.(4)
Question: What are the four accusations made
against Paul in verse 28?
These charges brought against Paul are an echo of some of the charges brought against Stephen in Acts 6:13. Only those of the covenant were to be granted access to the inner courts of the Temple. Gentiles were strictly forbidden entrance beyond the Court of the Gentiles under penalty of death (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 15.11.5 ; Jewish Wars, 5.5.2 [193-194]; 6.2.4 [124-126]; Philo of Alexandria, Embassy to Gaius, 212). There were inscriptions in Greek and Latin that marked off the prohibited areas and one of these has been discovered by archaeologists. The inscription warned that any one "of another race" who enters the Temple is liable to death.
Acts 21:30 ~ The whole city was in turmoil with people rushing together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the Temple, and immediately the gates were closed.
The scene descends into a riot as Paul is dragged out of the Temple. The Temple guards close the gates, probably from the Court of the Gentiles to the inner courts, to prevent the riot from profaning the Temple. One wonders if Luke sees the shutting of the Temple gates against God's agent as a prophetic sign.
Acts 21:31-40 ~ Paul is Arrested
32 While they were trying to kill him, a report reached the cohort commander that all Jerusalem was rioting. 32 He immediately took soldiers and centurions and charged down on them. 33 When they saw the commander [tribune] and the soldiers they stopped beating Paul. The cohort [the leader of a thousand in a cohort] commander [tribune] came forward, arrested him, and ordered him to be secured with two chains; he tried to find out who he might be and what he had done. 34 Some in the mob shouted one thing, others something else; so, since he was unable to ascertain the truth because of the uproar, he ordered Paul to be brought into the compound. 35 When he reached the steps, he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob, 36 for a crowd of people followed and shouted, "Away with him!" 37 Just as Paul was about to be taken into the compound, he said to the cohort commander, "May I say something to you?" He replied, "Do you speak Greek?" 38 So then you are not the Egyptian who started a revolt some time ago and led the four thousand assassins into the desert?" 39 Paul answered, "I am a Jew, of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; I request you to permit me to speak to the people." 40 When he had given his permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people; and when all was quiet he addressed them in Hebrew. [..] = literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 392.
The Roman headquarters in Jerusalem was the Fortress
Antonia. It was built by Herod the Great and was connected to the Temple by
steps that ended in a terrace that overlooked the Temple courts. Josephus
recorded that a Roman legion was always present in the fortress during the
Jewish festivals (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.4.3 [91-92]; Jewish
Wars 5.5.8 [238-247).
As soon as the Romans saw that a riot was developing, the cohort commander, who was probably watching from the terrace of the fortress, intervened. The cohort tribune, chilearchos in Greek, means "leader of a thousand." He was the highest ranking Roman army officer in Jerusalem. A cohort ideally consisted of a thousand men (Johnson, page 383).
Question: What prophecy made previously is now
fulfilled? See Acts 21:11
Answer: Agabus' prophecy that Paul would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles.
This was not the first time Paul had been saved by the
Romans or their representatives; for example the proconsul Sergius Paulus in
13:6-12; the magistrates in Philippi in 16:19-40, and the town clerk at Ephesus
in 19:35-40. Since the cohort commander could not understand what Paul had
done to cause the riot, he had Paul arrested and was taking him to the Fortress
Antonio, chained between two soldiers. So violent was the mob who shouted
"Away with him!" (meaning "Kill him!") that for Paul's protection the Roman
soldiers literally carried Paul up the steps from the Temple to the Fortress
Question: What does the cry of the Jewish crowd against Paul echo from the Gospels? See Mt 27:23; Mk 15:13 and Lk 23:18.
Answer: This scene echoes the cry of the crowd that demanded Jesus' death when He was taken to Pilate.
Acts 21:37 ~ Just as Paul was about to be taken into
the compound, he said to the cohort commander, "May I say something to you?" He
replied, "Do you speak Greek?" So then you are not the Egyptian who started a
revolt some time ago and led the four thousand assassins into the desert?"
Question: In what two ways has Paul's identity been mistaken?
Answer: First Paul was mistakenly identified as a Temple defiler by the Jews and now he has been mistakenly identified as an Egyptian insurrectionist by the Roman commander.
The mention of an Egyptian who started a revolt is verified by Josephus who records that there was an Egyptian who claimed to be a prophet and the promised messiah and tried to take the city of Jerusalem at this same time while Felix was governor of Judea (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.8.6 [169-72]; Jewish Wars 2.13.5 [261-263]). Felix killed most of his followers, but the Egyptian escaped. The Roman commander, whose name is Claudius Lysias (Acts 23:6), gives his permission for Paul to speak to the crowd as he stands on the steps from the Temple to the Fortress Antonia.
Chapter 22: Paul Defends Himself to the Jews
Many have come
to Christianity as if against their will, for a certain spirit, appearing to
them, in sleep or when they are awake, suddenly silences their mind, and they
change from hating the Word to dying for him.
Origen, Against Celsus, I.46
This is Paul's fourth long speech. The other three speeches were:
Paul's fourth long speech to the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem is given in four parts:
Acts 22:1-21 ~ Paul's Speech to the Jews of Jerusalem
1 "My brothers and fathers, listen to what I am about to say to you in my defense." 2 When they heard him addressing them in Hebrew they became all the more quiet. And he continued, 3 "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city. At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today. 4 I persecuted this Way to death, binding both men and women and delivering them to prison. 5 Even the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify on my behalf. For from them I even received letters to the brothers and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem in chains for punishment those there as well. 6 On that journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' 8 I replied, Who are you sir [Lord]? And he said to me, I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.' 9 My companions saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me. 10 I asked, What shall I do, sir [Lord]?' The Lord answered me, Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything appointed for you to do.' 11 Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light, I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus. 12 A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law, and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me and stood here and said, Saul, my brother, regain your sight.' And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him. 14 Then he said, The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice; 15 for you will be his witness before all to what you have seen and heard. 16 Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name.' 17 After I had returned to Jerusalem and while I was praying in the Temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw the Lord saying to me, Hurry, leave Jerusalem at once, because they will not accept your testimony about me.' 19 But I replied, Lord, they themselves know that from synagogue to synagogue I used to imprison and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of your witness Stephen was being shed, I myself stood by giving my approval and keeping guard over the cloaks of his murderers.' 21 Then he said to me, Go, I shall send you far away to the Gentile.'"
Question: What strategy does Paul use to try to
identify with the Jewish crowd as he speaks to them in Aramaic, the common
language of Judea, and not in Greek?
Answer: Addressing the Jews in their language to demonstrate that he is one of them, Paul begins by trying to identify with the crowd. He tells them of his Jewish upbringing and his education as a scholar of the Law who studied under one of the most famous rabbis of the time. He tries to identify with their "zealousness" for the Law by talking about his service to the Sanhedrin in persecuting Christians. He was a zealous Jewish legalist who demanded strict adherence to the Law according to the norms of the Torah in the strict Pharisaic tradition.
Next, he shares his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. One point of his conversion experience that the "zealous" Jews probably did not miss was that Paul was not only converted to Christ, but he was converted from Jewish legalism. From the time of his conversion experience, he ceases to persecute Jewish followers of "the Way" and no longer continues to observe the Jewish ritual laws. You will recall that Paul only had Timothy circumcised to help give him credibility as a Jewish Christian witnessing Christ to the Jews on their missionary journeys and not because he felt circumcision was necessary to Timothy's salvation (Acts 16:3).
This is Luke's second account of Paul's conversion
experience; there will be a third account in Acts 26:1-23. There is some new
information and also some differences in wording between this account and the
previous account in Acts 9:1-19. Paul intentionally tailors his speech to his
Question: Compare the two accounts. What is new information, what are the differences, and what does Paul intentionally leave out in order to tailor his speech to his hostile Jewish audience?
New information: Paul saw a great light from the sky shone around him at noon, whereas in the first account we are told the light from the sky "flashed around him" and no time is given. He asks the question: "What shall I do, Lord" which is not in chapter 9. In the second account he wisely calls Ananias a "devout observer of the Law" and highly thought of by all Jews in the city. Ananias calls Jesus the "Righteous One" and tells Paul to get baptized to have his "sins washed away." He mentions a vision he received praying in the Jerusalem Temple in which Jesus tells him the Jews of Jerusalem will not receive his testimony, and his recalling his former persecution of Christians a second time followed by his commissioning to preach Christ to the Gentiles.
Different testimony: In the first account his companions heard the voice but could see no one and in the second account his companions saw the light but heard nothing. However, it could be that his companions saw the light (22:9) but did not see anyone (9:7). They did not see the glorified Christ but the heard a voice (9:7), however, they could not understand what was said (22:9).
What Paul intentionally leaves out of the second account: He does not mention the street in Damascus where he stayed or the three days that he was blind when he did not eat or drink from the first account. He does not mention that Ananias was a Christian nor does he mention Ananias' vision of Christ and the prophecy of Paul's coming suffering or that Paul will be Jesus' instrument of conversion to the Gentiles. He does not mention that the Jews of Damascus wanted to kill him and that this caused his hasty departure.
It is significant that in both accounts the wording of Paul's exchange with the Resurrected Jesus is the basically same except for the addition of Jesus' title as "the Nazorean" and Paul's question "What shall I do, Lord" in the second account. It is interesting that in this account of Paul's conversion experience he testifies that he saw the great light at noon. This detail could be meant to be in contrast to Luke's account of the darkness at noon when Jesus was crucified (Lk 23:44; also see Mt 27:45; 15:33). In each of Paul's retellings of his conversion experience, the reader is left with the impression that Paul considers himself a true witness of Christ's resurrection.
Acts 22:22-29 ~ Paul is Arrested and Imprisoned
22 They listened to him until he said this, but then they raised their voices and shouted, "Take such a one as this away from the earth. It is not right that he should live." 23 And as they were yelling and throwing off their cloaks [tearing their cloaks] and flinging dust into the air, 24 the cohort commander ordered him to be brought into the compound and gave instructions that he be interrogated under the lash to determine the reason why they were making such an outcry against him. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion on duty, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen and has not been tried?" 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the cohort commander and reported it, saying, "What are you going to do? This man is a Roman citizen." 27 Then the commander came and said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman citizen? "Yes," he answered. 28 The commander replied, "I acquired this citizenship for a large sum of money." Paul said, "But I was born one." 29 At once those who were going to interrogate him backed away from him, and the commander became alarmed when he realized that he was a Roman citizen and that he had had him bound.
[..] = literal translation, IBGE, vol. IV, page 395.
Question: What is it that Paul says in his speech
that causes such a strong response from the Jews demanding that he no longer
deserves to live?
Answer: It appears to be their rage at Paul when he says Christ commissioned him to take the Gospel of salvation to the Gentiles.
The full inclusion of Gentiles into the covenant that was
previously the sole possession of the Israel is the crisis point.
Question: How is the Jewish crowd's reaction to Paul's mention of the inclusion of the Gentiles by threatening his life similar to an event experienced by Jesus in His hometown in Luke 4:24-29?
Answer: It is the same rejection of the universalism of the covenant that got such a violent response from the Jews of Nazareth who then threatened Jesus' life when he told them that God's visitation extended beyond Israel.
Question: What does it signify that they Jews tore
their clothes and flung dust into the air as they denounced Paul in verse 23?
Answer: These are all symbolic gestures of rejection. They are repelling what they consider the wickedness of Paul's testimony that it is God's plan to universally extend the gift of salvation.
You may recall that when Caiaphas the high priest condemned Jesus in His trial with the Sanhedrin that he also tore his garments as a gesture of rejection in Matthew 26:65 (also see Mk 14:63). According to the Mishnah in a trial when a covenant member was found to be guilty of the capital offense of blaspheming God: He who blasphemes is liable only when he will have fully pronounced the divine Name; if the blasphemy was proved then the judges stand on their feet and tear their clothing, and never sew them back up (Mishnah: Sanhedrin, 7:5E). Jesus did not technically blaspheme, but claiming to be the Messiah and "making himself equal to God" (Jn 5:18) was enough for Caiaphas who immediately tore his robes. The tearing of the judges' robes and the prohibition against repairing the garment symbolized that the offender had broken with the covenant in such a way that his membership in the covenant family could never be restored. The gesture of the crowd carried the same meaning for Paul.
Question: What does the commander decide is the
best way to come to an understanding of what is causing the riot?
Answer: He decides Paul needs to be interrogated by a beating to get at the truth.
Acts 22:25 ~ But when they had stretched him out for
the whips, Paul said to the centurion on duty, "Is it lawful for you to scourge
a man who is a Roman citizen and has not been tried?"
Question: This situation reminds us of what earlier episode in Paul's life when he played his "Roman citizen card"?
Answer: The situation reminds us of the incident at Philippi in Acts 16:19-39 where Paul also appealed to his status as a Roman citizen who had not received a legal hearing before a Roman magistrate or law court. But this time Paul speaks up before he is beaten.
The centurion immediately went to the Tribune and
reported that Paul is claiming to be a Roman citizen.
Question: Why is the Tribune surprised?
Answer: Paul is not a Roman, he is a foreigner. The Tribune had to purchase his Roman citizenship.
The Tribune is not a native Roman but is from one of Rome's provinces and therefore had to purchase his citizenship. Citizenship was also awarded to foreigners when outstanding service has been rendered the empire and whether purchased or earned it was passed on to their heirs as in the case of Paul. The practice of purchasing citizenship in the first century AD is well attested by Roman historians including Dio Cassius (Roman History, 60.17.4-9). It was customary to add the name of the emperor in whose reign citizenship was acquired, and since the tribune's name is Claudius Lysias it suggests the time of his citizenship was granted in the reign of the Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD). It is now 58 AD.
Acts 22:29 ~ At once those who were going to interrogate
him backed away from him, and the commander became alarmed when he realized
that he was a Roman citizen and that he had had him bound.
Paul's claim to Roman citizenship saves him from a beating but also puts him under the protection of the empire and makes him subject to its judicial process. The Tribune and the soldiers were alarmed because it was a serious offense under Roman law to deny due process of the law to a Roman citizen (see Lesson 7, Acts 16:35-39). That such a high ranking officer was in fear of violating the rights of an ordinary citizen demonstrates the kind of fear of severe retribution for violations of Roman law that enabled Rome to maintain the peace in ruling over its vast empire
Acts 22:30 ~ The Roman Tribune Sends Paul to the
The next day, wishing to determine the truth about why he was being accused by the Jews, he freed him and ordered the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin to convene. Then he brought Paul down and made him stand before them.
What follows in chapter 23 is Paul's appearance before the Jewish high court of the Sanhedrin. It is the same court that accused Jesus of blasphemy and took Jesus to Pilate to be condemned to death (Mt 26:57-68; Mk 14:53-65; Lk 22:66-71); and it is the same court that condemned St. Stephen and illegally put him to death in Acts chapter 7. The Tribune will have Paul appear before the Jewish court in an attempt to placate the Jews, but he will have his soldiers stand by to protect Paul since the Jews do not have jurisdiction over a Roman citizen.
The events that have unfolded in Paul's attack by the Jews and in his arrest by the Romans have raised some troubling questions. Why haven't members of the Jerusalem church come forward to defend Paul? Is the community divided concerning Paul and his mission to the Gentiles and are there those who are glad to see him discredited? And why is there no mention of gratitude for the generous monetary gift Paul brought to them from the Gentiles of the Christian communities of Asia and Greece (Acts 24:17; Rom 15:25-26; 1 Cor 16:1-4)? Often Christians long for the unity and purity of faith in the first decades of the Church and despair of the troubling issues in the Church today. However, purity of faith has always been a struggle and there have always been scandals and divisions to overcome. The Church is the sinless Bride of Christ, but the irony is that she is a sinless Bride who is full of sinners. The struggle is part of the Church's destiny, and we must cling to Jesus' promise that the Church will not be overpowered by the forces of evil from without or from within.
Question for reflection or group discussion:
Have you ever experienced a trial in which there is nothing you can do to change the condition of your suffering? Have you had the courage and the faith to submit in the same way as Paul, his companions, and the Christians of Caesarea by saying "the Lord's will be done"? When we submit in this way, what does St. Paul write is God's promise to us in Romans 8:28-39, and how can that promise be applied to our lives?
1. In Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea's 4th century history of the Church he mentions that Deacon Philip and his daughters are often confused with Philip and Apostle who settled in Hierapolis in Asia with his virgin daughters. He quotes from a letter from Bishop St. Polycrates of Ephesus (130-196 AD) to Pope St. Victor, Bishop of Rome (d. 199 AD) saying that Philip the Apostle had settled in Hierapolis "where he is buried with two of his aged virgin daughters, and another daughter who lived in Holy Spirit now rests at Ephesus." Eusebius also mentions Deacon Philip as "one of the Seven" and his daughters who had the gift of prophecy (Eusebius, Church History, III.31.2-3).
2. James of Jerusalem was greatly admired by the Jews. Flavius Josephus records his martyrdom and the reaction of the Jews of Jerusalem when the High Priest Ananus/Ananias took the opportunity in the absence of the Roman governor to condemn St. James and some of the elders of the Church to death: Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the kinsman of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some of his companions; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned; but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay. Some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a Sanhedrin without his consent ... on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him ... (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1 [200-203]).
4. Jewish historian and priest Flavius Josephus (c. 37-100 AD) wrote about the volatility of the crowds of Jews during the pilgrim feasts: Jewish Wars, 1.4.3 [88-89]; 2.1.3 [8-13]; 2.3.1 [42-48]; 2.9.2 [169-174]; 2.12.1 [223-231]; 2.15.2 [315-320]; 2.17.1 [406-407]; 2.17.10 [449-456].
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Catechism references for Acts chapters 21-22 (* indicates Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):