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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 37: Acts, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Chapter 21

Acts 21:1-6

1. And when it came to pass that we had loosed, being pulled away from them, we came with a straight course to Coos, and the next day to the Rhodes, and thence to Patara; 2. And when we had gotten a ship, which sailed over to Phenicia, when we were entered into it, we launched. 3. And when Cyprus began to appear to us, leaving it on the left hand, we sailed into Syria, and came to Tyrus: for here the ship did unlade her burden. 4. And when we had found disciples, we stayed there seven days; who said to Paul by the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem. 5. And when the days were ended, we departed and went our way; and they all, with their wives and children, accompanied us, until we were out of the city; and when we had kneeled down upon the shore, we prayed. 6. And when we had taken our leave one of another, we went up into the ship; and they returned home.


1. Luke reckoneth up briefly the course of his sailing; and that not only to win credit to the history, that we may know what was done in every place, but that the readers may weigh with themselves the invincible and heroic fortitude which was in Paul, who would rather be tossed and troubled with such long, unlevel,  452 and troublesome journeys, that he might serve Christ, than provide for his own quietness. Whereas he saith that they were drawn and pulled away, it is not simply referred unto the distance of places; but because the brethren stood on the shore, so long as they could see the ship wherein Paul and his companions were carried. He nameth the havens where the ship arrived,  453 for this cause that we may know that they sailed quietly without trouble of tempest. Let us search the describers of countries  454 touching the situation of the cities whereof he maketh mention; it is sufficient for me to show Luke’s purpose.

4. And when they had found disciples. Though the number of the faithful was but small, yet there came some seed of the gospel thither, according to the prophecies Of the prophets, (Isa 23:18) lest Tyrus should be altogether void of the blessing of God. And here, as in other places going before, Luke calleth Christians disciples, that we may know that those alone are numbered in the flock of Christ who have embraced his doctrine by faith. For that is a vain  455 and false profession for a man to give his name to Christ, and not to understand what he teacheth or speaketh. And let the readers mark, that Paul stayed seven days at Tyrus, for no other cause, saving that he might strengthen them. So that we see, that whithersoever he came he foreslowed [neglected] no occasion to do good.

They said by the Spirit. Namely, with the approbation of speech, that Paul might know that they spake by the Spirit of prophecy. Surely this was no small temptation to cause him not to finish the journey which he had taken in hand, seeing the Holy Ghost did dissuade him from the same. And this was a very fair color  456 to fly from the cross, if he had cared for his own safety, to be drawn back as it were with the hand of God.

Notwithstanding, he ceaseth not to hold on thither whither he knew he was called by the Lord. Notwithstanding, here ariseth a question, how the brethren can dissuade him by the Spirit from doing that which Paul did testify he doth by the secret motion of the same Spirit? Is the Spirit contrary to himself, that he doth now loose Paul whom he held bound inwardly? I answer, that there be diverse gifts of the Spirit; so that it is no marvel if those who excel in the gift of prophecy be sometimes destitute of judgment or strength.  457 The Lord showed to these brethren, of whom Luke maketh mention, what should come to pass; yet, nevertheless, they know not what is expedient, and what Paul’s calling doth require, because the measure of their gift doth not reach so far. And the Lord would have his servant admonished of purpose, partly, that through long meditation, he might be better furnished and prepared to suffer whatsoever should come, partly that his constancy might more plainly appear, when as being certified by prophecies of the doleful event, he doth, notwithstanding, wittingly and willingly, make haste to endure whatsoever things shall befall him.

5. With their wives and children. This was no small testimony of love, in that they accompanied Paul out of the city with their wives and children, which thing Luke doth report, partly that he might commend their godliness according as it deserved; partly that he might declare that Paul had that honor given him which was due to him. Whence we do also gather, that he meant nothing less than to provide for his own commodity, seeing that he was not kept back with so great good will, which was a pleasant bait to entice him to stay. And we must also note the solemn custom of praying in weightier affairs, and that being certified by God of the danger, they are more stirred up to pray.

Acts 21:7-14

7. And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came down to Ptolemais, and after that we had saluted the brethren, we abode with them one day. 8. And on the morrow, we which were with Paul departed, and came to Cesarea; and, entering into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven, we abode with him. 9. And this man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. 10. And when we abode many days, there came a certain prophet from Judea, named Agabus. 11. When he was come to us, he took, Paul’s girdle, and, binding his own feet and hands, he said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, The man which owneth this girdle shall the Jews thus bind at Jerusalem, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. 12. And when we had heard these things, both we, and also the rest which were of that place, requested him that he would not go up to Jerusalem. 13. Then Paul answered and said, What do you, weeping and afflicting my heart? I truly am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord Jesus. 14. And when he would not be persuaded, we were quiet, saying, The will of the Lord be done.


7. Luke doth briefly declare that Paul was also received at Ptolemais by the brethren. This is a city of Phenicia, standing upon the sea-coast, not far from the borders of Judea, from which Paul and his companions had no long journey to Cesarea. But if the readers be disposed to know farther touching the situation of regions, let them resort unto the describers of places and countries [geographers]. Furthermore, he saith, that when he came to Cesarea, they lodged with Philip, whom he calleth an Evangelist, though he were one of the seven deacons, as we may see in the sixth chapter (Ac 6:5). By this we may easily gather, that that deaconship was an office which continued but for a time;  458 because it had not otherwise been lawful for Philip to forsake Jerusalem, and to go to Cesarea. And in this place he is set before us, not as a voluntary forsaker of his office, but as one to whom a greater and more excellent charge was committed. The evangelists, in my judgment, were in the midst between apostles and doctors. For it was a function next to the apostles to preach the gospel in all places, and not to have any certain place of abode;  459 only the degree of honor was inferior. For when Paul describeth the order of the Church, (Eph 4:11) he doth so put them after the apostles, that he showeth that they have more room given them where they may teach than the pastors, who are tied to certain places. Therefore, Philip did for a time exercise the office of a deacon at Jerusalem, whom the Church thought afterward to be a meet man to whom the treasure of the gospel should be committed.

9. Four daughters. This is added for the commendation of Philip, not only that we might know that his house was well ordered, but also that it was famous and excellent through the blessing of God. For, assuredly, it was no small gift to have four daughters all endowed with the spirit of prophecy.

By this means the Lord meant to beautify the first beginnings of the gospel, when he raised up men and women to foretell things to come. Prophecies had now almost ceased many years among the Jews, to the end they might be more attentive and desirous to hear the new voice of the gospel. Therefore, seeing that prophesying, which was in a manner quite ceased, doth now after long time return again, it was a token of a more perfect state. Notwithstanding, it seemeth that the same was the reason why it ceased shortly after; for God did support the old people with diverse foretellings, until Christ should make an end of all prophecies.  460 Therefore, it was meet that the new kingdom of Christ should be thus furnished and beautified with this furniture, that all men might know that that promised visitation of the Lord was present; and it was also expedient that it should last but for a short time, lest the faithful should always wait for some farther thing, or lest that curious wits might have occasion given to seek or invent some new thing ever now and then. For we know that when that ability and skill was taken away, there were, notwithstanding, many brain-sick fellows, who did boast that they were prophets; and also it may be that the frowardness of men did deprive the Church of this gift. But that one cause ought to be sufficient, in that God, by taking away prophecies, did testify that the end and perfection was present in Christ; and it is uncertain how these maids did execute the office of prophesying, saving that the Spirit of God did so guide and govern them, that he did not overthrow the order which he himself set down. And forasmuch as he doth not suffer women to bear any public office in the Church, it is to be thought that they did prophesy at home, or in some private place, without the common assembly.

10. A certain prophet. Though Luke doth not plainly express the same, yet do I conjecture that this Agabus was the same of whom mention is made in the eleventh chapter, (Ac 11:28) who foretold that there should be famine under the reign of Claudius Caesar. And when as Luke calleth him a prophet, as of late he called, the four daughters of Philip, he signifieth that it was not a common but a peculiar gift. Now, we must see to what end the persecution which was at hand was now again showed by Agabus. As concerning Paul, he was sufficiently told already.  461 Therefore, I do not doubt but that this confirmation was added for other men’s sake; because the Lord meant every where to make known the bonds of his servant, partly that they might know that he entered the combat willingly, partly that they might perceive that he was appointed of God to be a champion to fight for the gospel. It was surely a profitable example of invincible constancy, seeing that he offered himself willingly and wittingly to the violence of the adversaries; and no less profitable is it for us at this day, that his apostleship should be confirmed with this voluntary and no less constant giving over of his life.

The man who owneth this girdle. It was an usual thing among the prophets to represent those things which they spake by signs; neither did they confirm their prophecies by using signs, through their own motion, but at the commandment of the Spirit, as when Isaias is commanded to go barefoot, (Isa 20:2) Jeremiah to put a yoke upon his neck, to sell the possession and to buy it, (Jer 27:2, and Jer 32:7) and Ezekiel to dig through the wall of his house privily, and in the same night to carry forth burthens, (Eze 12:5). These and such like might seem to the common sort to be toys;  462 but the same Spirit, who did apply signs to his words, did inwardly touch the hearts of the godly, as if they had been brought to the very thing itself. So this spectacle, mentioned by Luke, did no less move Paul’s companions, than if they had seen him bound in deed. The false prophets did afterward essay to delude the simple by this policy, as Satan is in a manner God’s ape, and his ministers do envy the servants of God. Zedekias made himself horns, wherewith he promised Syria should be pushed. Ananias, by breaking Jeremiah’s yoke, put the people in a vain hope of deliverance. God hath suffered the reprobate to be deluded with such delusions, that he might punish their unbelief.

But, forasmuch as there was in them no force of the Spirit, their vanity did no whit hurt the faithful. This is also worthy to be noted, that Agabus doth not set before their eyes a dumb spectacle, but he coupleth therewith the word, whereby he may show to the faithful the use and end of the ceremony.

12. Both we. Because they had not all one revelation, it is no marvel if their judgments were diverse. For seeing these holy men knew that there consisted much in the life or death of one man, they would not have him to come in danger rashly. And their desire is worthy [of] praise, in that they desired to provide for the common safety of the Church by keeping back Paul. But, on the other side, Paul’s constancy deserveth so much the more praise, when as he continueth so steadfast  463 in the calling of God. For he was not ignorant what great trouble he should suffer by reason of his bands. But because he knoweth the will of God, which was his only rule in taking counsel, he maketh no account of all other things, that he may follow it. And, assuredly, we must be so subject to the will and pleasure of God, that no profit, no kind of reason may remove us from obeying him.  464 When Paul doth reprehend the brethren, because they afflict his heart with weeping, he doth sufficiently declare that he was not hardened,  465 but that he was brought unto some feeling and suffering together with them.  466 Therefore, the tears of the godly did wound his heart; but that softness did not turn him out of the way, but that he proceeded to follow God with a straight course. Therefore, we must use such courtesy toward our brethren, that the beck or will of God have always the upper hand. Now Paul doth again declare by his answer, that the servants of Christ cannot be prepared to do their duty, unless they despise death; and that none can ever be well encouraged to live to the Lord, but those who will willingly lay down their lives for the testimony of the truth.

14. We ceased saying. If they had thought that he ran rashly unto death, they would not have ceased so. Therefore, they yield lest they resist the Holy Spirit, whereby they understand that Paul is governed. For that which they had heard before, by the mouth of Paul, that he was drawn, as it were, by the bands of the Spirit, was quite out of their heads by reason of the sorrow which they had conceived; but when they be taught again that it was the will of God that it should be so, they think it unlawful for them to resist any longer. And with this bridle must all our affections be kept in, that nothing be so bitter, or doleful, or hard, which the will of God may not mitigate and mollify. For so often as any thing which is hard or sharp doth fall out, we give God small honor, unless this cogitation prevail with us, that we must obey him.

Acts 21:15-25

15. And after these days, having taken up our burdens, we went up to Jerusalem. 16. And there came together with us certain of the disciples from Cesarea, bringing with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge. 17. And when we were come unto Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18. And on the morrow Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. 19. Whom after we had saluted, he told by order all things which God had done among the Gentiles by his ministry. 20. But when they had heard, they glorified the Lord, and said to him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousand Jews the be which believe; and they all are earnest followers of the law; 21. And it hath been told them concerning thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they must not circumcise their children, nor live according to the customs. 22. What is it then? The multitude must needs come together; for they shall hear that thou art come. 23. Therefore, do this which we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow upon them; 24. Them take, and purify thyself with them, and do cost on them, that they may shave their heads, and that all men may know that those things which they have heard concerning thee are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest and keepest the law. 25. And as concerning those which among the Gentiles have believed, we have written, decreeing that they observe no such thing, but that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from that which is strangled, and from fornication.


15. When we had taken up our burdens. Paul’s companions declare, that when they went about to call back Paul from danger, they did rather care for the common safety of the Church, than every man for his own life. For after they had taken the repulse, they do not refuse to take part with him in the same danger; and yet this was a plausible excuse that they were bound by no law to be hauled to suffer death, through one man’s stubbornness. And this is truly to bring our affections in subjection to God, when we are terrified with no fear, but every one of us endeavoreth, so much as he is able, to further that which we know doth please him. Also, it appeareth more plainly what great ferventness of godliness was in the rest, who of their own accord accompany him, and bring him an host; whereas, notwithstanding, they might well have feared many discommodities.

17. They received us gladly. Luke reciteth this, therefore, that he may set forth the equity of the brethren, who did not credit rumors  467 and false reports. Though many envious and wicked men did daily, one after another, endeavor to bring Paul in contempt, yet, because James and his fellows in office were well persuaded of his uprightness, they were not estranged from him. Therefore, they receive him now courteously and brotherly as a servant of Christ, and declare that he is welcome. This moderation must we observe diligently, that we be not too hasty to believe wicked reports, especially when those who have given some testimony of their honesty, and whom we have tried  468 to serve God faithfully, are burdened with crimes unknown to us, or else doubtful, because Satan knoweth that nothing is more fit to lay waste the kingdom of Christ, than discord and disagreement among the faithful, he ceaseth not to spread abroad false  469 speeches, which may cause one to suspect another. Therefore, we must shut our ears against false reports, that we may believe nothing concerning the faithful ministers of the Word, but that which we know to be true.

18. All the elders were present. We may gather that out of this place which we had already in the fifteenth chapter. So often as any weighty business was to be handled, the elders were wont to come together, to the end the consultation might be more quiet without the multitude. We shall see anon, that the people were likewise admitted in their order, yet after that the elders had had their secret consultation  470 among themselves.

19. And now Paul showeth his modesty when he doth not make himself the author of those things which he had done, but giving the praise to God, doth call himself only the minister whose industry [agency] God had used. As we must grant, that whatsoever thing is excellent and worthy of praise, it is not done by our own power, but forasmuch as God doth work in us; and especially touching the edifying of the Church. Again, it appeareth how far off the elders were from envy, when they glorify God for the joyful success. But because mention is made of no other apostle besides James, we may conjecture that they were gone into diverse places to spread abroad and preach the gospel as their calling did require; for the Lord had not appointed them to stay still at Jerusalem; but after they had made a beginning there, he commanded them to go into Judea and other parts of the world. Moreover, the error of those men, who think that James was one of the disciples whom Paul numbereth among the three pillars of the Church, is refuted before in the fifteenth chapter. And though the same commandment was given to him which was given to the rest of his fellows in office; yet I do not doubt but that they did so divide themselves, that James stood still at Jerusalem, whither many strangers were wont daily to resort. For that was all one as if he had preached the gospel far and wide in strange  471 places.

Thou seest, brother, how many thousands. This oration or speech hath two members. For, first, the elders say, that so many of the Jews as were converted, seeing they be earnest followers of the law, are evil affected towards Paul, because they think that he endeavoreth, with might and main, to abolish the law. Secondly, they exhort him that making a solemn vow he purge himself, that he may not be had in suspicion any longer. They object to Paul, the multitude of believers, that he may the more willingly yield to them. For if they had been a few stubborn fellows, he would not have been so much moved. But now he may not neglect both much people, and the whole body of the Church.

Undoubtedly, that zeal of the law, which was in them, was corrupt, and assuredly even the very elders declare sufficiently that they like it not. For though they do not condemn it openly, neither sharply complain of the same, yet because they separate themselves from their affection, they secretly confess that they err. If it had been a zeal according to knowledge, it ought to have begun at them; [selves] but they contend not for the law itself, neither do they pretend the due reverence thereof, neither do they subscribe to those who are earnest followers of it. Therefore, they both signify that they are of another mind, and also that they do not allow [approve] the superstition of the people.

Notwithstanding it is objected, that they say that Paul was burdened with a false report or slander; again, when they require at his hands satisfaction, they seem to nourish that zeal. I answer, that though that were a true report, in some respect, wherewith the Jews were offended, yet was it mixed with a slander. Paul did so teach the abrogating of the law, that notwithstanding by this means the authority thereof did not only continue sound and perfect, but it was more holy. For as we said, in the seventh chapter, the ceremonies should be vain, unless the effect thereof had been showed in Christ. Therefore, those who say that they were abolished by the coming of Christ, are so far from being blasphemous against the law, that they rather confirm the truth thereof. We must consider two things in ceremonies; the truth, whereto is annexed the efficacy; secondly, the external use. Furthermore, the abrogating of the external use, which Christ brought, dependeth hereupon, in that he is the sound body,  472 and that nothing was shadowed in times past which is not fulfilled in him. This differeth much from the falling away from the law, to show the true  473 end thereof, that the figures may have an end, and that the spiritual truth thereof may always be in force. Wherefore we see that they were malicious and unjust interpreters, who laid apostacy to Paul’s charge, though he did call away the faithful from the external worship of the law. And whereas they command Paul to make a vow to that end, that he may prove himself to be a keeper of the law, it tendeth to no other end, saving that he may testify that he doth not detest the law like a wicked apostate, who did himself shake off the Lord’s yoke, and move others unto the like rebellion.

That they ought not to circumcise. It was so indeed; for Paul taught that both Jews and Gentiles were set at liberty. For these sentences are general with him. Circumcision is nothing (1Co 7:19). Again, We be circumcised by baptism in Christ, not with circumcision made with hands; again, Let no man judge you in meat or drink, or in the choice of feasts, which are shadows of things to come; but the body is in Christ (Col. 2:11, 16). Again, Whatsoever cometh into the shambles, and whatsoever is set before you, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake (1Co 10:25). Again, Be not inwrapped again in the yoke of bondage (Ga 5:1). Seeing that he spake thus everywhere without exception, he freed the Jews from the necessity of keeping the law.

And lest I stand too long upon this, one place shall be sufficient, where he compareth the law to a tutor, under which the old Church was, as in the childhood thereof; but now knowing the grace of Christ, it is grown up, that it may be free from ceremonies. In that place he speaketh undoubtedly both of the Jews and Gentiles. Also, when he saith that the hand-writing of the law, which did consist in decrees, (Col 2:14) is blotted out and nailed to the cross by Christ, he setteth free the Jews, as well as the Gentiles, from the ceremonies, which he calleth in that place decrees. But seeing that he did not precisely reject ceremonies, in teaching that the coming of Christ did make an end of the observing thereof, that was no revolting, as the envious Jews thought it to be.

Neither were the elders ignorant of Paul’s liberty. Therefore, seeing they understand the matter very well, their meaning is, to have this alone made known to the rude and unskillful, that Paul meant nothing less than to persuade the Jews to contemn the law. Therefore, they behold not the bare matter, but knowing what the common sort thought of Paul, by reason of the reports  474 which went about concerning him, they seek to cure the same. Though I wot not whether this were more importunate than equal, [just] which they required at Paul’s hands. And by this it appeareth how preposterous the cruelty [credulity] of men is in receiving false reports, and how fast a false opinion, once rashly received, doth stick. It is certain that James and his fellows in office did endeavor to maintain and defend Paul’s good report, and to put away those lies which did hurt his estimation; yet let them do what they can, they will speak evil of Paul. Unless, peradventure, they were too slack in the beginning, that they might gratify their countrymen, so that they were not their own men [free] afterward.

22. The multitude must needs come together. The verb is a verb neuter, as if they should say, the multitude must of necessity come together. For it had been an absurd thing that an apostle, of such rare report, should not come before the whole multitude of the faithful. For if he had eschewed the light and sight of people, the sinister suspicion might have been increased. Nevertheless, we see how modestly the elders behaved themselves in nourishing concord, when as they prevent the offense of the people in time, saving that they bear too much  475 peradventure with their infirmity, in requiring a vow of Paul. But this moderation must be kept in the Church, that the pastors be in great authority, and yet that they rule not proudly as lords, neither despise the rest of the body. For the distinction of orders, which is the bond of peace, ought not to be any cause of dissension.

23. Do that which we say to thee. The elders seem (as I said even now) to be fallen unto a foolish pampering [indulgence] through too much love of their nation. But the manifest judgment of that thing  476 dependeth upon the circumstances which are hid from us at this day: yet they knew them well. The whole body almost did consist upon [of] Jews, so that they needed not to fear the offending of the Gentiles. For in other regions this was the cause of departure,  477 because every man was wedded to his own custom, and would prescribe a law to others. Furthermore, they had at Jerusalem many things which might provoke them to keep the ceremonies of the law, so that they had a greater excuse if they did more slowly forsake them. And though their zeal were not void of fault, yet as it was an hard matter to reform it, so it could not be done at a sudden. We see how this superstition was scarce in long time pulled from the apostles; and because new disciples came daily unto the faith, the infirmity was nourished in all together. And yet, notwithstanding, we must not deny but that ignorance was coupled with obstinacy, which the elders did nevertheless tolerate, lest they should do more hurt by using violent remedies. I leave it indifferent whether they did pass measure or no.  478

Having a vow upon them. Though these four be reckoned among the faithful, yet their vow was superstitious. Whereby it appeareth that the apostles had much trouble in that nation, which was not only hardened in the worship of the law through long use, but was also naturally malapert, and almost intractable. Though it may be that these men were as yet but novices, and therefore their faith was yet but slender, and scarce well framed; wherefore the doctors did suffer them to perform the vow which they had unadvisedly made. As touching Paul, because he made this vow not moved thereunto by his own conscience, but for their sakes, with whose error he did bear, the case stood otherwise with him. Notwithstanding, we must see whether this were one of the indifferent ceremonies, which the faithful might omit or keep at their pleasure. It seemeth, indeed, to have in it certain things which did not agree  479 with the profession of faith. But because the end thereof was thanksgiving, (as we said before in the eighteenth chapter) and there was nothing in the rite itself repugnant to the faith of Christ, Paul did not doubt to descend thus far to make his religion known. Therefore, Paul did that which he saith of himself elsewhere, because he made himself a companion of those which followed the law, as if he himself were in subjection to the law (1Co 9:20). Finally, he was made all things to all men, that he might win all; to wit, even unto the altars, so that he might pollute himself with no sacrilege under a color of love.  480 It had not been so lawful for him to go unto the solemn sacrifice of satisfaction.  481 But as for this part of the worship of God, which consisted in a vow, he might do it indifferently, so it were not done for religion’s sake, but only to support the weak. But it was neither his intent to worship God with this rite, neither was his conscience tied, but he did freely submit himself to his weak brethren.

24. Which they have heard of thee are nothing. They seem to persuade Paul to dissemble. For the rumor rose not upon nothing, that he did call away the Jews from the ceremonies, and that he did not walk in observing the law. But we must remember that which I said even now, that it was sufficient for Paul and the elders, if they could remove the slander which was unjustly raised, to wit, that he was a revolt [apostate] from the law, and there might a better opportunity be offered shortly, that in purging himself he might call them back by little and little from their error. Neither was it good or profitable that Paul should be counted an observer of the law any long time, as the disciples were then commonly; for by this means a thick  482 veil should have been put before their eyes to darken the light of Christ.

Wherefore, let us know that Paul did not dissemble, but sincerely professed that he did not hate the law, but that he did rather think reverently of it. They will him to bestow cost together with them, because they were wont to put their money together that they might offer sacrifice together.

25. And as concerning those which have believed. They add this lest they be thought to go about to take away or call back that liberty which they had granted to the Gentiles, so that they may be burdened with some prejudice. But, in the mean season, they seem to keep the Jews in bondage, from which they set free the Gentiles alone in plain words. I answer, forasmuch as the estate of all was alike, like liberty was granted to both. But there is mention made of the Jews, who were so addicted to their observations and ceremonies, that they would not take to themselves that liberty which they might well challenge. But the apostles did by name provide for the Gentiles, lest the Jews, after their wonted custom, should reject them as profane and unclean, because they were neither circumcised, neither nousled up [educated] in the worship of the law. Moreover, lest I load the paper with a superfluous repetition, let the readers repair unto the fifteenth chapter, (Ac 15:20) where they shall find those things which appertain unto the exposition of this decree.

Acts 21:26-30

26. Then when Paul had taken the men, on the morrow, being purified with them, he entered into the temple, declaring the fulfilling of the days of purification until an offering might be offered for every one of them. 27. And when the seven days were now almost ended, certain Jews of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, moved the people, and laid hands on him, 28. Crying, Men of Israel, help: This is that man, which teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place. Moreover, he hath also brought Grecians into the temple, and hath defiled this holy place. 29. For they had seen Trophimus an Ephesian in the city with him, whom they thought Paul had brought into the temple. 30. And all the whole city was moved, and the people ran together: and when they had caught Paul, they drew him out of the temple: and by and by the doors were shut.


26. Whereas some accuse Paul of subtilty,  483 as if he did play the hypocrite, I have before refuted this. Yet I do not deny but that he granted to do thus much at the request of the brethren, being thereunto in a manner enforced. Therefore, it hath more color, and is (as they say) more disputable, that he was too easily entreated, and too ready to obey; and yet I do not admit that which some men say, that it went not well with Paul, because, taking upon him a new and unwonted person, he did not so constantly, as he was wont, maintain the liberty purchased by Christ. I confess, indeed, that God doth oftentimes punish foolish purposes with unhappy success; but I see not why this should be applied to Paul, who through voluntary subjection sought to win the favor of the rude, and such as were not thoroughly instructed, that he might do them good; being about to do that not willingly, but because he had rather yield to the brethren than stick to his own judgment. Furthermore, when he was once admitted, he might fitly have passed over to moderate that zeal. His courtesy doth rather deserve great praise, in that he doth not only gently abase himself for the unskillful people’s sake, but doth also obey  484 their foolishness who did unworthily, and against reason, suspect him. He might well have reproved  485 them, because they had been so ready to believe reports contrary to his estimation [reputation]. In that he abstaineth, he showeth great patience; in that he winneth their favor so carefully, it is singular modesty.

Moreover, he might have been more rough and round with  486 James and his fellows in office, because they had not been more diligent to root out errors from among the people. For though it be certain that they taught faithfully, yet it may be that the sight of the temple, and the very seat of the law, did hinder them in defending the use of liberty. But Paul, whether he went from his right of his own accord, or whether he think that they see better what is expedient than he, doth follow  487 their counsel. And whereas false Nicodemites, following this example of Paul, go about to color their treacherous dissimulation, whilst they pollute themselves with all filthiness of Popery, it needeth no long refutation. They boast that they do this to win the weak brethren, (or that they follow their vein thus far) as if Paul did yield to them in all things without choice. If, being Jews, they should take upon them according to the pre-script of the law, to fulfill among the Jews a vow infected with no idolatry, then might they prove themselves to be like Paul. Now, forasmuch as they inwrap themselves in gross and altogether wicked superstitions, and that because they will escape the cross, what likelihood is that which they imagine?  488

27. The Jews which came from Asia. It is certain that these men were enemies to the name of Christ and of Christians, so that whilst Paul is bent to pacify the faithful, he incurreth the rage of the enemies. Those of Asia are, indeed, the raisers of the tumult; but the minds of all the people were so corrupt with the hatred of him that they all became partners in the fury. But this place teacheth, that we must not take it impatiently if at any time our hope be frustrate, and our counsels, which we have taken with a right and holy affection, fall not out well, that our actions may have an happy end. We must attempt nothing but with a good conscience, and according to the Spirit of God. But and if things come not to pass as we would, even then, let that inward feeling uphold us, that we know that God alloweth [approveth] our desire, though it be laid open to the reproaches and mocks of men; neither let it repent us of our gentleness, if at any time the wicked reward us otherwise than we deserve.

28. Men of Israel, help. They cry out as if they were in extreme danger, and they call upon all men to help them, as if all religion were in hazard. Whereby we see with what furious hatred they were inflamed against Paul, only because in showing that the full and perfect truth is found in Christ, he taught that the figures of the law had an end. Now, whereas they conceive a false opinion, having seen Trophimus, they do more betray by this headlong lightness how venomous they be. They accuse Paul of sacrilege. Why? because he brought into the temple a man which was uncircumcised. But they laid a most cruel  489 crime to the charge of an innocent through a false opinion. Thus the boldness of those men useth commonly to be preposterous who are carried away with an opinion conceived before. But let us learn by such examples to beware of the distemperature of affections, and not to let light prejudices have the rein, lest we run headlong upon the innocent, being carried with blind force.

30. And the city was moved. We see in this place the vanity of the common people, which count Paul a condemned man before ever they hear him. Whereas the city is moved about godliness,  490 “it is no marvel; but this is a point of perverse zeal and mad rashness, in that they set themselves against Paul before they know his matter. For in this corruption of nature frowardness is joined with foolishness, so that those will readily, of their own accord, make haste to maintain an evil cause who can hardly be moved with many exhortations to do well. This is a hard case, that the whole world should be armed against us at a sudden, through the persuasion of a few; but seeing it pleaseth the Lord it should be so, let every one of us prepare himself by this, and such like examples, to suffer all manner [of] assaults, and to bear and abide all brunts.

Acts 21:31-40

31. And as they sought to kill him, it was told the captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32. Who took with him straightway soldiers and under captains, and ran down unto them: but they, when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, left smiting of Paul. 33. Then the chief captain drew near, and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains, and he asked what he was, and what he had done. 34. And some cried one thing, and some another, among the people: and when he could not know the truth, by reason of the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the camp. 35. And when he came to the stairs, it happened that he was carried of [by] the soldiers, because of the violence of the multitude. 36. For the multitude of people followed, crying, Away with him. 37. And when Paul began to be carried into the camp, he saith to the captain, May I speak to thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek? 38. Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest into the wilderness four thousand men which were murderers? 39. And Paul said, I verily am a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a citizen of no vile city of Cilicia: but I beseech thee suffer me to speak to the people. 40. And when he had given him leave, Paul, standing upon the stairs, beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made great silence, he spake in the Hebrew tongue, saying.


31. As they sought to kill him. Assuredly the force of Satan appeareth therein, in that he driveth the people headlong into such rage, that when they have shut the doors of the temple, being not content with mean punishment, they conspire to put Paul to death. We must thus think with ourselves that Satan doth prick forward the enemies of godliness, lest their rage, how cruel and troublesome soever it be, trouble us. On the other side appeareth the wonderful goodness of God, when as he raiseth up the chief captain at a sudden, that he may deliver Paul from death. He himself thought upon no such thing, but he came to appease the tumult which was raised among the people; but the Lord showeth a more evident token of his providence, because Paul’s life was delivered from such present danger without man’s counsel. Thus doth he suffer the faithful not only to labor, but to be almost oppressed, that he may deliver them from death more wonderfully. Luke calleth him the chief captain [tribune] of the band  491 improperly, seeing every chief captain was set over a thousand, which cloth also appear by the text, where he saith that the chief captain took with him under captains?  492

32. And when they saw the chief captain. Those whose fury neither the majesty of God, nor yet the reverence of the temple, could once stay, begin to relent when they see a profane man. Whereby it appeareth that they were set on fire rather with barbarous cruelty than zeal. Now, whereas the chief captain bindeth Paul with chains, he declareth thereby sufficiently that he came not to ease him. The unbelievers would attribute this to fortune; but the Spirit hath depainted out unto us the providence of God as in a table [picture] reigning amidst the confused uproars of men. And though this be very hard that this holy minister of God is so shamefully handled, yet the equity of the chief captain is to be commended if he be compared with the Jews. He bindeth him with chains, as if he were some evil-doer, or some wicked person; yet doth he vouchsafe to hear him when he is bound, whom they did beat unmercifully; neither doth he determine to handle him hardly before he knew his ca, use. Yea, this was the best way to mitigate their cruelty, because they thought [hoped] that Paul should be punished immediately.

34. Some cried one thing, and some another. The madness of the raging people doth betray itself on every side. They make horrible outcries, whereof one is contrary to another. Nevertheless, they desire with one consent to have him put to death who was convicted of no offense. In the mean season, we need not doubt but that they were blinded with a color of holy zeal. But the truth of the cause well known maketh men truly zealous, as it maketh them true martyrs of God, but rage betrayeth devilish madness. Whereas mention is made in this place of the camp or fortress, we must know that the soldiers, which were placed to guard the city, had a place which was trenched and fortified on every side, which they might defend as if it were a castle, and from which they might beat back all assaults, if any sedition were raised. For it had not been good for them to have been dispersed here and there in diverse inns,  493 seeing the people were treacherous, and the city troublesome. And we gather by this that the place was high, because Luke saith, that when they came to the steps, Paul was carried of [by] the soldiers. And whether the soldiers did lift Paul up on high that they might bring him safe to the station or camp, or he was thus tossed with the violence of the crowd, this was no duty [office] of favor. But the greater the cruelty of those which followed him was, God did more plainly declare that he was favorable to his servant in sparing his life, lest if he should have been murdered in the tumult, his death should have wanted due fruit.

37. May I speak unto thee? Paul offered himself to defend his cause, which all the servants of God must do. For we must do our endeavor to make our integrity known to all men, lest through our infamy the name of God be blasphemed. But when the chief captain demandeth whether Paul be not that Egyptian which was a murderer, which a little before had led away a company of men,  494 let us learn that how modestly and quietly soever the ministers of Christ behave themselves, and howsoever they be void of all fault, yet cannot they escape the reproaches and slanders of the world. Which thing we must note for this cause, that we may acquaint ourselves with rebukes;  495 and that in well-doing we may be prepared to be evil-spoken of. When he asketh him concerning the Egyptian, he meaneth not Theudas the sorcerer, as some men falsely suppose; of whom Gamaliel made mention before in the fifth chapter, (Ac 5:36) and of whom Josephus speaketh more in his twentieth of Antiquities. For, besides that we read there that Theudas carried away only four hundred men, and the chief captain reckoneth up in this place four thousand, and saith that they were all murderers, that is more, in that Theudas raised that faction during the reign of Tiberius or Augustus Caesar; whereof remained only an obscure report, because, so soon as a troop of horsemen was sent after them, they were forthwith destroyed.

Notwithstanding, it seemeth to me that Josephus is deceived in that where he saith, first, that Cuspius Fadus was sent by Claudius, and then he addeth, that Theudas was of him overcome, seeing I have before showed that that former insurrection was made at such time as Claudius was but a private man. Though he disagree much with Luke’s narration, even in the number, seeing he saith that there were about thirty thousand made partners in the sedition, unless happily we expound it thus, that, after he was put to flight by Felix, he fled into the wilderness with four thousand. And it had been an absurd thing that the number should be made ten times greater, as also, that a troop, having no skill in war, or being altogether without courage, should have been defamed with the name of murderers. For as Josephus doth witness, that seducer had deceived the simple and credulous common people with false promises, boasting that he was a prophet of God, which would lead the people dry foot through the midst of Jordan.

But the same Josephus putteth the matter out of doubt when he saith, that an Egyptian, a prophet, did gather together a band of men under Felix the president, and did carry them into Mount Olivet, whereof four hundred were slain, two hundred taken, and the residue dispersed. The history was fresh in memory. Again, forasmuch as the author of the sedition was escaped, and the region filled with murderers,  496 it is not without cause that the chief captain demandeth of Paul, when he seeth all men so hate him, whether he were that Egyptian. Luke recordeth no longer conference had between the chief captain and Paul; yet it is likely, forasmuch as both of them understood the Greek tongue, that they had farther talk. Whereby it came to pass, that so soon as Paul had well purged himself, he had license granted him to speak to the people. For the chief captain would never have suffered a wicked man to make any public speech in a city which was so sore suspected.



Ac flexuosis,” and Winding.


Applicuit,” touched,


Consulantur geographi,” geographers may be consulted.


Lusoria,” elusory.


Color apprime speciosus,” a very specious pretext.


Fortitudine,” fortitude.


Temporale munus,” a temporary trace, (appointment.)


Nec praeficerentur certae staticni,” and yet not be appointed to a fixed station.


Adventu suo,” by his advent.


Jam satis superque admonitus fuerat,” he had been more than sufficiently warned already.


Ludicra,” ludicrous.


Inflexibilis,” inflexible,


A simplici ejus obsequio,” from simple obedience to him.


Ferreum,” iron-hearted.


Quin amore ad συμπαθειαν induceretur,” but by love was induced to sympathy.


Sinistris ramoribus,” sinister rumours.


Experti sumus,” experienced.


Obliquos sermones,” indirect speeches, insinuations. counsel.


Interius consilium,” more private


Remotis,” remote.


Ipse est solidum corpus,” he himself is the entire body.


Legitimum.” legitimate.


Mallgnis rumoribus,” malignant reports.


Nimis indulgent,” are too indulgent to.


Liquidum ejus rei judicium,” a clear judgment on the case.


Discessionis,” schism or dissension.


An voturn exeesserint in medio relinquo,” whether or not they went farther than they wished, I do not take it, upon me to determine,


Parum consectianea,” which ill accorded.


Sub praetextu charitatis,” under a pretext of charity.


Expiationis,” expiation


Crassius,” a thicker.


Astutiae,” craftiness.


Morem gerit,” defer to.


Expostulasset,” expostulated with.


Durior,” more severe on.


Acquiescit,” acquiesces in.


Qualis ista est quam fingunt similitudo,” what resemblance is there in it to that which they feign.


Atrocissimum,” most atrocious.


Quod tumultuatur civitas in negotio pietatis,” that the city is in a tumult in a matter relating to godliness.


Tribunum cohortis,” tribune of the cohort.


Centurionos... a tribuno assumptos,” that the tribune took with him centurions.


Neque enim.... tutum fuisset in varia hospitia passim distribui,” for it had not been safe for them to have been quartered up and down in various places.


Hominum turbam ad defectionem impulerat?” had induced a body of men to revolt.


Ut ad contumelias assuescamus,” that we may accustom ourselves to contumely.


Latronibus infesta,” infested with robbers.

Next: Chapter 22