Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Paul and his company sail from Miletus, and come to Coos, Rhodes, and Patara, Act 21:1. Finding a Phoenician ship at Patara, they go on board, sail past Cyprus, and land at Tyre, Act 21:2, Act 21:3. Here they find disciples, and stay seven days, and are kindly entertained, Act 21:4, Act 21:5. Having bade the disciples farewell, they take ship and sail to Ptolemais, salute the brethren, stay with them one day, come to Caesarea, and lodge with Philip, one of the seven deacons, Act 21:6-9. Here they tarry a considerable time, and Agabus the prophet foretells Paul's persecution at Jerusalem, Act 21:10, Act 21:11. The disciples endeavor to dissuade him from going; but he is resolute, and he and his company depart, Act 21:12-16. They are kindly received by James and the elders, who advise Paul, because of the Jews, to show his respect for the law of Moses, by purifying himself, with certain others that were under a vow; with which advice he complies, Act 21:17-26. Some of the Asiatic Jews, finding him in the temple, raise an insurrection against him, and would have killed him had he not been rescued by the chief captain, who orders him to be bound and carried into the castle, Act 21:27-36. Paul requests liberty to address the people, and is permitted, Act 21:37-40.
Came with a straight course - Having had, as is necessarily implied, wind and tide in their favor.
Coos - An island in the Archipelago, or Aegean Sea, one of those called the Sporades. It was famous for the worship of Aesculapius and Juno; and for being the birthplace of Hippocrates, the most eminent of physicians, and Apelles, the most celebrated of painters.
Rhodes - Another island in the same sea, celebrated for its Colossus, which was one of the seven wonders of the world. This was a brazen statue of Apollo, so high that ships in full sail could pass between its legs. It was the work of Chares, a pupil of Lysippus, who spent twelve years in making it. It was 106 feet high, and so great that few people could fathom its thumb. It was thrown down by an earthquake about 224 years before Christ, after having stood sixty-six years. When the Saracens took possession of this island, they sold this prostrate image to a Jew, who loaded 900 camels with the brass of it; this was about a.d. 660, nearly 900 years after it had been thrown down.
Patara - One of the chief seaport towns of Syria.
Phoenicia - A part of Syria. See the note on Act 11:19.
Cyprus - See the note on Act 4:36, and see the track of this journey on the map.
Tyre - A city of Phoenicia, one of the most celebrated maritime towns in the world. See the notes on Act 12:20; Mat 11:21 (note).
There the ship was to unlade her burden - The freight that she had taken in at Ephesus she was to unlade at Tyre; to which place she was bound.
Who said to Paul through the Spirit - We cannot understand this as a command from the Holy Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem, else Paul must have been highly criminal to have disobeyed it. Through the Spirit, must either refer to their own great earnestness to dissuade him from taking a journey which they plainly saw would be injurious to him - and so Bp. Pearce understands this place; or, if it refer to the Holy Spirit, it must mean that if he regarded his personal safety he must not, at this time, go up to Jerusalem. The Spirit foretold Paul's persecutions, but does not appear to have forbidden his journey; and Paul was persuaded that, in acting as he was about to do, whatever personal risk he ran, he should bring more glory to God, by going to Jerusalem, than by tarrying at Tyre or elsewhere. The purport of this Divine communication was, "If thou go up to Jerusalem the Jews will persecute thee; and thou wilt be imprisoned, etc." As he was apprized of this, he might have desisted, for the whole was conditional: Paul might or might not go to Jerusalem; if he did go, he would be persecuted, and be in danger of losing his life. The Holy Spirit neither commanded him to go, nor forbade him; the whole was conditional; and he was left to the free exercise of his own judgment and conscience. This was a similar case to that of David in Keilah, Sa1 23:9-13. David prevented the threatened evil by leaving Keilah: Paul fell into it by going to Jerusalem.
When we had accomplished those days - That is, the seven days mentioned in the preceding verse.
And they all brought us on our way, with wives and children - It is not likely that Paul, Silas, Luke, etc., had either wives or children with them; and it is more natural to suppose that the brethren of Tyre, with their wives and children are those that are meant; these, through affection to the apostles, accompanied them from their homes to the ship; and the coming out of the husbands, wives, and children, shows what a general and affectionate interest the preaching and private conversation of these holy men had excited.
Kneeled down on the shore, and prayed - As God fills heaven and earth, so he may be worshipped every where; as well, when circumstances require it, on the seashore as in the temple. We have already seen, in the case of Lydia, that the Jews had proseuchas by the river sides, etc.; and an observation in Tertullian seems to intimate that they preferred such places, and in the open air offered their petitions to God by the seashore: Omissis templis, per omne littus, quocumque in aperto aliquando jam preces ad coelum mittunt. Tertul. de Jejunio.
Taken - leave - Ασπασαμενοι; Having given each other the kiss of peace, as was the constant custom of the Jews and primitive Christians.
They returned home - That is, the men, their wives, and their children.
We came to Ptolemais - This was a seaport town of Galilee, not far from Mount Carmel, between Tyre and Caesarea, where the river Belus empties itself into the sea. It was at first called Accho, (and this is the reading of the Syriac and Arabic), and belonged to the tribe of Asher, Jdg 1:31; it was enlarged and beautified by the first of the Egyptian Ptolemies, from whom it was called Ptolemais. This place terminated St. Paul's voyage; and this is what is expressed in the text: And we came from Tyre to Ptolemais, where our voyage ended. See the Greek text.
We that were of Paul's company - Οἱ περι τον Παυλον· This clause is wanting in ABCE, and many others; the Syriac, Coptic, Vulgate, Armenian, etc.
Came unto Caesarea - This was Caesarea of Palestine, already sufficiently described, See on Act 8:40 (note).
Philip the evangelist - One of the seven deacons, who seems to have settled here after he had baptized the eunuch. See on Act 8:40 (note).
Four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy - Probably these were no more than teachers in the Church: for we have already seen that this is a frequent meaning of the word prophesy; and this is undoubtedly one thing intended by the prophecy of Joel, quoted Act 2:17, Act 2:18, of this book. If Philip's daughters might be prophetesses, why not teachers?
Agabus - See the note on Act 11:28.
Took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands, etc. - This was no doubt a prophet, in the commonly received sense of the term; and his mode of acting was like that of the ancient prophets, who often accompanied their predictions with significant emblems. Jeremiah was commanded to bury his girdle by the river Euphrates, to mark out the captivity of the Jews. Jer 13:4. For more examples of this figurative or symbolical prophesying, see Jer 27:2, Jer 27:3; Jer 28:4; Isa 20:1-6; Ezekiel 4:1-17; 12:1-28, etc.
Into the hands of the Gentiles - That is, the Romans, for the Jews had not, properly speaking, the power of life and death. And, as Agabus said he should be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, he showed thereby that they would attempt to destroy his life. This prediction of Agabus was literally fulfilled: see Act 21:33.
Besought him not to go up to Jerusalem - For they all understood the prophecy to be conditional and contingent; and that it was in Paul's power to turn the scale.
I am ready, not to be bound only - He was resolute and determined; but was under no constraining necessity. See the note on Act 21:4.
The will of the Lord be done - May that which is most for his glory take place! They plainly saw from the prophecy what would take place, if Paul went to Jerusalem; and every one saw that he had power to go, or not to go.
Took up our carriages - Αποσκευασαμενοι; We made ourselves ready; packed up our things; got our baggage in order. This is what the text means.
And brought with them one Mnason, etc. - It is not very likely that they would bring a man with them with whom they were to lodge in Jerusalem; therefore, the text should perhaps be read as Bp. Patrick proposes: There went with us certain of the disciples of Caesarea, bringing us to one Mnason, with whom we were to lodge. This is most likely, as the text will bear this translation. But it is possible that Mnason, formerly of Cyprus, now an inhabitant of Jerusalem, might have been down at Caesarea, met the disciples, and invited them to lodge with him while they were at Jerusalem; and, having transacted his business at Caesarea, might now accompany them to Jerusalem. His being an old disciple may either refer to his having been a very early convert, probably one of those on the day of pentecost, or to his being now an old man.
Went in with us unto James - This was James the Less, son of Mary; and cousin to our Lord. He appears to have been bishop of the Church in Jerusalem, and perhaps the only apostle who continued in that city. We have already seen what a very important character he sustained in the council. See Act 15:13.
All the elders were present - It appears that they had been convened about matters of serious and important moment; and some think it was relative to Paul himself, of whose arrival they had heard, and well knew how many of those that believed were disaffected towards him.
Declared particularly, etc. - He no doubt had heard that they were prejudiced against him; and, by declaring what God had done by him among the Gentiles, showed how groundless this prejudice was: for, were he a bad man, or doing any thing that he should not do, God would not have made him such a singular instrument of so much good.
How many thousands - Ποσαι μυριαδες; How many myriads, how many times 10,000. This intimates that there had been a most extraordinary and rapid work even among the Jews; but what is here spoken is not to be confined to the Jews of Jerusalem, but to all that had come from different parts of the land to be present at this pentecost.
They are all zealous of the law - The Jewish economy was not yet destroyed; nor had God as yet signified that the whole of its observances were done away. He continued to tolerate that dispensation, which was to be in a certain measure in force till the destruction of Jerusalem; and from that period it was impossible for them to observe their own ritual. Thus God abolished the Mosaic dispensation, by rendering, in the course of his providence, the observance of it impossible.
Thou teachest - to forsake Moses, etc. - From any thing that appears in the course of this book to the contrary, this information was incorrect: we do not find Paul preaching thus to the Jews. It is true that, in his epistles, some of which had been written before this time, he showed that circumcision and uncircumcision were equally unavailable for the salvation, of the soul, and that by the deeds of the law no man could be justified; but he had not yet said to any Jew, forsake Moses, and do not circumcise your children. He told them that Jesus Christ had delivered them from the yoke of the law; but they had, as yet, liberty to wear that yoke, if they pleased. He had shown them that their ceremonies were useless but not destructive; that they were only dangerous when they depended on them for salvation. This is the sum of what Paul had taught on this subject.
The multitude must needs come together - Whether this refers to a regular convocation of the Church, or to a tumult that would infallibly take place when it was heard that the apostle was come, we cannot pretend to say; but it is evident that James and the elders wished some prudent steps to be taken, in order to prevent an evil that they had too much reason to fear.
We have four men which have a vow - From the shaving of the head, mentioned immediately after, it is evident that the four men in question were under the vow of Nazariteship; and that the days of their vow were nearly at an end, as they were about to shave their heads; for, during the time of the Nazariteship, the hair was permitted to grow, and only shaven off at the termination of the vow. Among the Jews, it was common to make vows to God on extraordinary occasions; and that of the Nazarite appears to have been one of the most common; and it was permitted by their law for any person to perform this vow by proxy. See the law produced in my note on Num 6:21 (note). "It was also customary for the richer sort to bestow their charity on the poorer sort for this purpose; for Josephus, Ant. lib. xix. cap. 6, sec. 1, observes that Agrippa, on his being advanced from a prison to a throne, by the Emperor Claudius, came to Jerusalem; and there, among other instances of his religious thankfulness shown in the temple, Ναζαραιων ξυρασθαι διεταξε μαλα συχνους, he ordered very many Nazarites to be shaven, he furnishing them with money for the expenses of that, and of the sacrifices necessarily attending it." See Bp. Pearce.
Be at charges with them - Or, rather, be at charges for them: help them to bear the expense of that vow. Eight lambs, four rams, besides oil, flour, etc., were the expenses on this occasion. See the notes on Numbers 6:1-21 (note).
Thou - walkest orderly and keepest the law - Perhaps this advice meant no more than, Show them, by such means as are now in thy power, that thou art not an enemy to Moses; that thou dost still consider the law to be holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good. Paul did so, and bore the expenses of those who, from a scruple of conscience, had made a vow, and perhaps were not well able to bear the expense attending it. Had they done this in order to acquire justification through the law, Paul could not have assisted them in any measure with a clear conscience; but, as he did assist them, it is a proof that they had not taken this vow on them for this purpose. Indeed, vows rather referred to a sense of obligation, and the gratitude due to God for mercies already received, than to the procuring of future favors of any kind. Besides, God had not yet fully shown that the law was abolished, as has already been remarked: he tolerated it till the time that the iniquity of the Jews was filled up; and then, by the destruction of Jerusalem, he swept every rite and ceremony of the Jewish law away, with the besom of destruction.
As touching the Gentiles - See the notes on Acts 15:1-21 (note), and the additional observations at the end of that chapter.
To signify the accomplishment, etc. - Διαγγελλων, Declaring the accomplishment, etc. As this declaration was made to the priest, the sense of the passage is the following, if we suppose Paul to have made an offering for himself, as well as the four men: "The next day, Paul, taking the four men, began to purify, set himself apart, or consecrate himself with them; entering into the temple, he publicly declared to the priests that he would observe the separation of a Nazarite, and continue it for seven days, at the end of which he would bring an offering for himself and the other four men, according to what the law prescribed in that case." But it is likely that Paul made no offering for himself, but was merely at the expense of theirs. However we may consider this subject, it is exceedingly difficult to account for the conduct of James and the elders, and of Paul on this occasion. There seems to have been something in this transaction which we do not fully understand. See the note on Num 6:21.
"Besides their typical and religious use, sacrifices were also intended for the support of the state and civil government; inasmuch as the ministers of state were chiefly maintained by them: so that the allotments to the priests out of the sacrifices may be considered as designed, like the civil-list money in other nations, for the immediate support of the crown and the officers of state. On these principles we are able to account for Paul's sacrificing, as we are informed he did, after the commencement of the Christian dispensation; an action which has been severely censured by some as the greatest error of his life: hereby he not only gave, say they, too much countenance to the Jews in their superstitious adherence to the law of Moses, after it was abrogated by Christ, but his offering these typical sacrifices, after the antitype of them was accomplished in the sacrifice of Christ, was a virtual denial of Christ, and of the virtue of his sacrifice, which superseded all others. Paul's long trouble, which began immediately after this affair, some have looked upon as a judgment of God upon him for this great offense. But, if this action were really so criminal as some suppose, one cannot enough wonder that so good and so wise a man as Paul was should be guilty of it; and that the Apostle James and the other Christian elders should all advise him to it, Act 21:18, Act 21:23, Act 21:24. It is likewise strange that we find no censure ever passed on this action by any of the sacred writers; not even by Paul himself, who appears so ready, on other occasions, to acknowledge and humble himself for his errors and failings: on the contrary he reflects with comfort on his having complied with the customs of the Jews in order to remove their prejudices against him and his ministry, and against the Gospel which he preached, and to win them over to embrace it: 'Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; and this I do for the Gospel's sake.' Co1 9:20, Co1 9:23.
"To elucidate this point; we are to consider that there was a political as well as a typical use of sacrifices; and that, though the typical ceased upon the sacrifice of Christ, yet the political continued till God in his providence broke up the Jewish state and polity about forty years after our Saviour's death. Till that time it was not merely lawful, but matter of duty, for good subjects to pay the dues which were appointed by law for the support of the government and magistracy. Now, of this kind was the sacrifice which Paul offered; and in this view they were paid by Christians dwelling in Judea, as well as by those who still adhered to the Jewish religion. So that, upon the whole, this action, for which Paul has been so much censured, probably amounts to nothing more than paying the tribute due to the magistrate by law, which the apostle enjoins upon all other Christians in all other nations, Rom 13:6." - Jennings' Jewish Antiquities, p. 17.
The Jews which were of Asia - These pursued him with the most deliberate and persevering malice in every place; and it appears that it was through them that the false reports were sent to and circulated through Jerusalem.
This is the man that teacheth, etc. - As much as if they had said: This is the man concerning whom we wrote to you; who in every place endeavors to prejudice the Gentiles against the Jews, against the Mosaic law, and against the temple and its services.
Brought Greeks also into the temple - This was a most deliberate and malicious untruth: Paul could accomplish no purpose by bringing any Greek or Gentile into the temple; and their having seen Trophimus, an Ephesian, with him, in the city only, was no ground on which to raise a slander that must so materially affect both their lives. Josephus informs us, War, lib. v. cap. 5, sec. 2, that on the wall which separated the court of the Gentiles from that of the Israelites was an inscription in Greek and Latin letters, which stated that no stranger was permitted to come within the holy place on pain of death. With such a prohibition as this before his eyes, was it likely that St. Paul would enter into the temple in company with an uncircumcised Greek? The calumny refutes itself.
They took Paul - They tumultuously seized on him; and drew him out of the temple, out of the court of the Israelites, where he was worshipping: and - the doors were shut; the doors of the court of the Gentiles, probably to prevent Paul from getting any succor from his friends in the city; for their whole proceedings show that they purposed to murder him: they brought him out of the court of the Israelites, that court being peculiarly holy, that it might not be defiled by his blood; and they shut the court of the Gentiles, that they might have the opportunity unmolested of killing him in that place; for the court of the Gentiles was reckoned to be less holy than that of the Israelites.
The chief captain of the band - The Roman tribune, who had a troop of soldiers under him, which lodged in general in the castle of Antonia, which was built at the angle where the northern and western porticoes of the outer court of the temple were joined together. This castle was built by John Hyrcanus, high priest of the Jews: it was at first called Baris, and was the royal residence of the Asmoneans, as long as they reigned in Jerusalem. It was beautified by Herod the Great, and called Antonia, in honor of his friend Mark Antony. By this castle the temple was commanded, as it stood on higher ground. Josephus describes this castle, War, b. v. chap. 5, sec. 8, "as having four towers, from one of which the whole temple was overlooked; and that one of the towers was joined to the porticoes of the temple, and had a double pair of stairs from it, by which soldiers in the garrison were used to come down with their arms to the porticoes, on the festival days, to keep the people quiet; for, as the temple was a guard to the city, so this castle was a guard to the temple." "It seems, therefore," says Bp. Pearce, "to me very plain, that the place where the Jews were about to kill Paul was the court of the Gentiles, the porticoes being there; and that the chief captain came down there to his rescue." The name of this chief captain, or tribune, was Claudius Lysias, as we learn from Act 23:26.
Ran down unto them - Ran down the stairs to the porticoes mentioned above.
And took him - With great violence, according to Act 24:7, probably meaning an armed force.
To be bound with two chains - To be bound between two soldiers; his right hand chained to the left hand of the one, and his left hand to the right of the other. See the note on Act 12:6.
And when he came upon the stairs - Those mentioned in the note on Act 21:31.
Away with him - That is, Kill him; despatch him! for so much this phrase always means in the mouth of a Jewish mob. See on Luk 23:18 (note), and Joh 19:15 (note).
Canst thou speak Greek? - Claudius Lysias was not a Roman; he had, as himself informs us, purchased his citizenship of Rome with a great sum of money; (see Act 22:28); and it is very likely that he was but imperfectly acquainted with the Latin tongue; and the tumult that was now made, and the discordant noise, prevented him from clearly apprehending what was said; and, as he wished to know the merit of the cause, he accosted Paul with, ἙλληνιϚι γινωσκεις, Dost thou understand Greek? And when he found that he did understand it, he proceeded to question him as below.
Art not thou that Egyptian, etc. - The history to which Claudius Lysias refers is taken from Josephus, Ant. lib. xx. cap. 7, sec. 6, and War, lib. ii. cap. 13, sec. 5, and is in substance as follows: An Egyptian, whose name is not known, pretended to be a prophet, and told his followers that the walls of Jerusalem would fall down before them, if they would assist him in making an attack on the city. He had address enough to raise a rabble of 30,000 men, and with these advanced as far as the Mount of Olives; but Felix, the Roman governor, came suddenly upon him, with a large body of Roman troops, both infantry and cavalry: the mob was speedily dispersed, four hundred killed, two hundred taken prisoners, and the Egyptian himself, with some of his most faithful friends, escaped; of whom no account was ever afterwards heard. As Lysias found such an outcry made against Paul, he supposed that he must be some egregious malefactor, and probably that Egyptian who had escaped, as related above. Learned men agree that St. Luke refers to the same fact of which Josephus speaks; but there is a considerable difference between the numbers in Josephus, and those in Luke: the former having 30,000, the latter only 4000. The small number of killed and prisoners, only 600 in all, according to Josephus, leads us to suspect that his number is greatly exaggerated; as 600 in killed and prisoners of a mob of 30,000, routed by regular infantry and cavalry, is no kind of proportion; but it is a sufficient proportion to a mob of 4000. Dean Aldridge has supposed that the number in Josephus was originally 4000, but that ancient copyists mistaking the Greek Δ delta, four, for Λ lambda, thirty, wrote 30,000, instead of 4000. See Havercamp's edition, vol. ii. p. 177. There is another way of reconciling the two historians, which is this: When this Egyptian impostor at first began to make great boasts and large promises, a multitude of people, to the amount at least of 30,000, weary of the Roman yoke, from which he promised them deliverance, readily arranged themselves under his banners. As he performed nothing that he promised, 26,000 of these had melted away before he reached Mount Olivet: this remnant the Romans attacked and dispersed. Josephus speaks of the number he had in the beginning; St. Luke, of those that he had when he arrived at Mount Olivet.
That were murderers? - Σικαριων: Sicarii, assassins: they derived their name from sica, a sort of crooked knife, which they concealed under their garments, and privately stabbed the objects of their malice. Josephus.
I am a man which am a Jew - A periphrasis for, I am a Jew. See the note on Act 7:2.
Of Tarsus - no mean city - In the notes on Act 9:11, I have shown that Tarsus was a city of considerable importance, and in some measure a rival to Rome and Athens; and that, because of the services tendered to the Romans by the inhabitants, Julius Caesar endowed them with all the rights and privileges of Roman citizens. When St. Paul calls it no mean city, he speaks a language that was common to those who have had occasion to speak of Tarsus. Xenophon, Cyri Anabas. i., calls it, πολιν μεγαλην και ευδαιμονα, a great and flourishing city. Josephus, Ant. lib. i. cap. 6, sec. 6, says that it was παρ' αυτοις των πολεων ἡ αξιολογωτατη μητροπολις ουσα, the metropolis and most renowned city among them (the Cilicians.) And Ammianus Marcellinus, xiv. 8, says, Ciliciam Tarsus nobilitat, urbs perspicabilis: "Tarsus, a very respectable city; adorns Cilicia."
Paul stood on the stairs - Where he was out of the reach of the mob, and was surrounded by the Roman soldiers.
Beckoned with the hand - Waving the hand, which was the sign that he was about to address the people. So Virgil says of Turnus, when he wished, by single combat between himself and Aeneas, to put an end to the war: -
Significatque manu, et magno simul incipit ore:
Parcite jam, Rutuli; et vos tela inhibete, Latini.
He beckoned with his hand, and cried out with a loud voice,
Desist, ye Rutulians; and, ye Latins, cease from throwing your javelins.
He spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue - What was called then the Hebrew, viz. the Chaldaeo-Syriac; very well expressed by the Codex Bezae, τῃ ιδιᾳ διαλεκτῳ, in their own dialect.
Never was there a more unnatural division than that in this chapter: it ends with a single comma! The best division would have been at the end of the 25th verse.
Paul's embarkation at Tyre is very remarkable. The simple manner in which he was escorted to the ship by the disciples of Tyre, men, women, and children, and their affectionate and pious parting, kneeling down on the shore and commending each other to God, are both impressive and edifying. Nothing but Christianity could have produced such a spirit in persons who now, perhaps for the first time, saw each other in the flesh. Every true Christian is a child of God; and, consequently, all children of God have a spiritual affinity. They are all partakers of the same Spirit, are united to the same Head, are actuated with the same hope, and are going to the same heaven. These love one another with pure hearts fervently; and these alone are capable of disinterested and lasting friendship. Though this kind of friendship cannot fail, yet it may err; and with officious affection endeavor to prevent us from bearing a necessary and most honorable cross. See Act 21:12, Act 21:13. It should, therefore, be kept within Scriptural bounds.