Acts 21 Bible Study
Who are "we" (Acts 21:1)?
Paul, Luke and the disciples Timothy, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus and Trophyimus who were carrying the financial aid from their respective churches to the church in Jerusalem. (see Acts 20)
Who are "them" (Acts 21:1)?
The elders of Ephesus who had come to meet Paul in Miletus (see Acts 20), from where Paul and his entourage "set sail" (Acts 21:1).
Where are "Cos ... Rhodes, and ... Patara" (Acts 21:1)
Cos is an island about 50 miles south of Miletus. Rhodes is an island about 50 miles southeast of Cos. The ship is island hopping along the coast of Turkey. Patara is a port on mainland Turkey about 50 miles east of Rhodes.
Why did they change ships in Patara?
Since Paul was "hurrying to be at Jerusalem" (Acts 20:16), he may have wanted to cover the remaining 400 miles of sea voyage non-stop. Indeed, the latter ship they took didn't even stop at the island of "Cyprus" (Acts 21:2), instead passing south of it.
Where is "Tyre" (Acts 21:3)?
Tyre is a port city in today's south Lebanon (north of Israel), where "the ship was to unload her cargo". (Acts 21:3)
Why did they wait "seven days" (Acts 21:4) to board the ship in Tyre?
Since they boarded "the ship" (Acts 21:6), it was most likely the same ship, which may have needed 7 days to "unload her cargo" (Acts 21:3) and to load new cargo.
How far was "Ptolemais" (Acts 21:7) from Tyre?
About 25 miles to the south, toward Jerusalem.
Then why didn't they just walk that distance, which would have taken only one day?
The "disciples" (Acts 21:4) they found in Tyre may have needed discipling and/or pleaded with Paul for seven days to stop him from going "to Jerusalem". (Acts 21:4)
Wasn't Paul "hurrying to be at Jerusalem" for the Pentecost (Acts 20:16)?
Pentecost is 50 days after Passover, which Paul celebrated in Philippi just prior to leaving for Jerusalem. He probably felt comfortable about arriving there on time since Jerusalem is only 120 miles south of Tyre and the less predictable 900 mile sea voyage from Philippi to Tyre had been covered in 30 days:
5 days from Philippi to Troas (Acts 20:6)
7 days in Troas (Acts 20:6)
1 day (estimated) from Troas to Assos (Acts 20:13)
1 day (estimated) from Assos to Mitylene (Acts 20:14)
1 day (estimated) from Mitylene to Chios (Acts 20:15)
1 day from Chios to Samos/Trogyllium (Acts 20:15)
1 day from Samos/Trogyllium to Miletus (Acts 20:15)
1.5 days (est.) for a messenger to travel from Miletus to Ephesus (Acts 20:17)
1.5 days (est.) for the elders to travel from Ephesus to Miletus (Acts 20:18)
1 day (estimated) spent with the Ephesian elders in Miletus (Acts 20:18-38)
1 day (estimated) from Miletus to Cos (Acts 21:1)
1 day from Cos to Rhodes (Acts 21:1)
1 day (estimated) from Rhodes to Patara (Acts 21:1)
6 days (estimated) from Patara to Tyre (Acts 21:2-3)
30 days total
How can the 400 miles from Patara to Tyre be sailed in 6
days when it took 5 days to sail the 150 miles from Philippi to Troas?
While the crossing from Philippi to Troas took 5 days this time, Paul's first crossing of the same 150 miles from Troas to Philippi-Neapolis took only 2 days (75 miles/day), including a stopover at Samothrace (Acts 16:11). The distance sailed depends on the direction of the wind, which appears to have been blowing eastward since Paul's ship covered about 50 miles per day during the island hopping phase of his journey. The second ship sailed directly from Patara to Tyre. Without the overnight stops at ports, it would have averaged at least 70 miles per day, a speed which would cover the 400 miles in 6 days.
Since the disciples in Tyre "told Paul through the Spirit
not to go up to Jerusalem" (Acts 21:4), was the Holy Spirit against Paul
going to Jerusalem?
The original Greek word translated "through" (Acts 21:4) is dia, a preposition whose many meanings include "on account of". The Holy Spirit most likely communicated to the disciples the harm that awaited Paul in Jerusalem, on account of which they tried to keep him from going. But going to Jerusalem and via Jerusalem to Rome was very much what God wanted. Months earlier, "Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome." (Acts 19:21) The disciples later acknowledged that it was the Lord's will for Paul to go to Jerusalem - "So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, "The will of the Lord be done." (Acts 21:14) - and the Lord Himself confirmed that it was His will when Paul was in Jerusalem: "But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, 'Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.'” (Acts 23:11)
Where is "Caesarea" (Acts 21:8)?
The capital of the Roman province of Judea, Caesarea is 30 miles south of Ptolemais.
Who went to Caesarea "on the next day" (Acts 21:8)?
Luke wrote, "we who were Paul's companions" (Acts 21:8), so those accompanying Paul, including Luke. Since they stayed "many days" (Acts 21:10), Paul most likely joined them later.
Who was "Philip" (Acts 21:8) who had the "four virgin
daughters who prophesied" (Acts 21:9)?
"One of the seven" (Acts 21:8) deacons chosen originally by the church in Jerusalem: "Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them."(Acts 6:1-6)
Why is Philip called "the evangelist" (Acts 21:8)?
He evangelized to the Samaritans - "Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them." (Acts 8:5), as well as to the Ethiopian eunuch - "Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: 'He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.' So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him." (Acts 8:26-35) - and most likely had been evangelizing all through the 20 some years that had since passed.
About what had "Agabus" (Acts 21:10) previously prophesied?
The previous famine: "And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul." (Acts 11:27-30)
Who are "the Gentiles" (Acts 21:11) to whom the Jew will deliver Paul?
Why does the Holy Spirit keep communicating the harm that awaits Paul in Jerusalem?
Most likely to prepare Paul, as well as the disciples so that when Paul is bound and later martyred in Rome, they will know that his suffering and death wasn't in error but in obedience to God's will.
Why would God want Paul to die?
"... For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." (James 4:14) Imagine the steam that puffs up when you open the lid on a pot of stew. Seen from eternity, that in effect is the duration of our life on the earth, the purpose of which isn't to make that puff last a little bit longer, but to expend all of its energy to serve and glorify Christ: "When He [Jesus] had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it." (Mark 8:34-35). To those who truly believe in Christ, death on earth is a promotion to heaven.
Was Paul ready for his promotion?
"... I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 21:13)
Are you ready for yours?
Why did they "pack..." (Acts 21:15) to go to Jerusalem?
The 65 or so remaining miles from Caesarea to Jerusalem, which is inland, had to be traveled on foot.
Who went with them?
Some "disciples from Caesarea" (Acts 21:15), as well as "Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge". (Acts 21:16)
Who received them in Jerusalem?
"The brethren" (Acts 21:17), "James" (Acts 21:18), who is one of the sons Mary had with Joseph after the birth of Jesus - "... James, the Lord’s brother ..." (Galatians 1:19) - who led the church in Jerusalem, "and all the elders" (Acts 21:18).
Where are Peter and the other Apostles?
Paul wasn't the only one running around the world for Christ. By this time, all of the remaining Apostles had left Jerusalem to spread the Gospel, as Jesus had commanded: "... You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth". (Acts 1:8)
Where can you go to hear about their missionary journeys?
Who did James and the elders praise after hearing about
Paul's "ministry" (Acts 21:19)?
God: "They glorified the Lord". (Acts 21:19)
Why couldn't they doubt Paul's account?
8 representatives from the major churches that he had planted had come with him, carrying with them financial gifts that expressed their love and care for their suffering Christians siblings in Jerusalem.
What issue do the elders of Jerusalem table before Paul?
Jewish believers had been told that Paul was telling Jews abroad to disrespect Jewish customs, including circumcision: "But they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs." (Acts 21:21)
Is this true?
Paul had been telling them that Jewish customs, including circumcision, isn't what saves them; only believing that Jesus is the promised Messiah who died to pay the penalty for their sins saves them. Paul never told Jews to stop circumcising their children or to do away with Jewish customs - to stop being Jews. In fact, he had personally circumcised one of the 8 who were accompanying him, and he - Timothy - wasn't even 100% Jewish by blood: "Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him ..." (Acts 16:1-3)
What will the elders do?
Gather the Jewish Christians - "the assembly must certainly meet" (Acts 21:22) - so that Paul can personally dispel the false rumors.
What do they recommend the Gentile believers (accompanying Paul) do to dispel the rumors?
Nothing more than what had been written previously: "But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality." (Acts 21:25)
When had that been written?
Years earlier when Paul and Barnabas had come to Jerusalem to discuss the inapplicability of circumcision for gentile believers: "They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” - to whom we gave no such commandment - it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell." (Acts 15:23-29)
What do they demand from Paul?
That he participate in a Nazarite vow and even pay the vow's expenses for four others who apparently couldn't afford it themselves, as means to demonstrating to the Jewish believers that he was a pious Jew.
What is a Nazarite vow?
It's an Old Testament vow that God gave to Moses for the Jews who were especially consecrating themselves to God: "1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD, 3 he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. 4 All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin. 5 ‘All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. 6 All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body. 7 He shall not make himself unclean even for his father or his mother, for his brother or his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. 8 All the days of his separation he shall be holy to the LORD. 9 ‘And if anyone dies very suddenly beside him, and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head on the day of his cleansing; on the seventh day he shall shave it. 10 Then on the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting; 11 and the priest shall offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and make atonement for him, because he sinned in regard to the corpse; and he shall sanctify his head that same day. 12 He shall consecrate to the LORD the days of his separation, and bring a male lamb in its first year as a trespass offering; but the former days shall be lost, because his separation was defiled. 13 ‘Now this is the law of the Nazirite: When the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall be brought to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 14 And he shall present his offering to the LORD: one male lamb in its first year without blemish as a burnt offering, one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish as a sin offering, one ram without blemish as a peace offering, 15 a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and their grain offering with their drink offerings. 16 ‘Then the priest shall bring them before the LORD and offer his sin offering and his burnt offering; 17 and he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of a peace offering to the LORD, with the basket of unleavened bread; the priest shall also offer its grain offering and its drink offering. 18 Then the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offering. 19 ‘And the priest shall take the boiled shoulder of the ram, one unleavened cake from the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and put them upon the hands of the Nazirite after he has shaved his consecrated hair, 20 and the priest shall wave them as a wave offering before the LORD; they are holy for the priest, together with the breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering. After that the Nazirite may drink wine.’ 21 “This is the law of the Nazirite who vows to the LORD the offering for his separation, and besides that, whatever else his hand is able to provide; according to the vow which he takes, so he must do according to the law of his separation.” (Numbers 6:1-21)
Which element of the Nazarite vow absolutely was NOT for Christians?
The "sin/trespass" offerings: "Then on the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting; and the priest shall offer one as a sin offering ... and make atonement for him ..." (Numbers 6:10-11) "... bring a male lamb in its first year as a trespass offering" ... (Numbers 6:12) "... one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish as a sin offering ..." (Numbers 6:14) "... Then the priest shall bring them before the LORD and offer his sin offering ..." (Numbers 6:16)
The Lord had granted the sin offerings to the Israelites to point forward to Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, which atoned for all sins of all Christians: "For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all ..." (Romans 6:10) Any sacrifice aimed at "atonement" (Numbers 6:11) for sins and trespasses contradicts the power, glory and finality of Jesus' sacrifice.
Were the elders of Jerusalem wrong to demand this Nazarite vow from Paul?
They were wrong to demand it from Paul, as well as to let it take place within their flock in Jerusalem.
Was Paul wrong to accept to take the Nazarite vow?
Not necessarily. During his first departure from Corinth, Paul took a Nazarite vow and had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, the port of Corinth, but there is no mention of him making any offering, let alone sin or trespass offering: "So Paul still remained a good while. Then he took leave of the brethren and sailed for Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, for he had taken a vow. And he came to Ephesus, and left them there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews." (Acts 18:18-19) If the offerings were omitted as implied, Paul may have appreciated the consecration dimension of the Nazarite vow but not the atonement/sin/trespass offering element, which he stripped out. Given this precedent, he could have been praying to the Lord to intervene before the end of the purification period at which time the offerings were to be made, and/or the Holy Spirit could have told him that He would do so, and for him to consent to the elders' demands.
Did the Lord intervene?
Since the mob "seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple" (Acts 21:30) just before the seven day purification period ended - "when the seven days were almost ended" (Acts 21:27), Paul and the four men had yet to make the "offering" (Acts 21:26); and the Lord is sovereign.
Who saw Paul and "stirred up" (Acts 21:27) the crowd?
"Jews from Asia". (Acts 21:27)
Why would they recognize Paul and what would they have against him?
Since they previously had recognized "Trophimus" (Acts 21:29), one of the 8 who had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem as an "Ephesian" (Acts 21:29), they were probably from Ephesus, where Paul ministered for 3 years and planted a flourishing church, much to the displeasure of the Ephesian Jews, who would know and welcome an opportunity to lash out at Paul.
Why were the "doors ... shut" (Acts 21:30)?
Since the mob was "seeking to kill him" (Acts 21:31), the temple guards most likely didn't want Paul's impending death to defile the temple, and the possibility of another alleged gentile sneaking into the temple may have occurred to them.
How did the "news ... that all Jerusalem was in an uproar"
(Acts 21:31) reach the commander?
The Roman garrison in Jerusalem was stationed at the Antonia's fortress, located at the northwest corner of and looking down on the temple area. It would have been easy for the sentries on duty to see and report the commotion in the temple courtyard below.
With how many "soldiers" (Acts 21:32) did the commander run
"down" to Paul?
Since the commander was accompanied by "centurions" (Acts 21:32) and each centurion led 100 soldiers, there were at least 200 Roman soldiers.
Why does the commander ask Paul, "Can you speak Greek?" (Acts 21:37)?
He isn't asking. He is expressing surprise. He thought Paul was an Egyptian but Paul spoke to the commander in Greek when he asked, "May I speak to you?" (Acts 21:37)
For which "Egyptian" did the commander initially mistake Paul?
The original Greek word translated "assassins" (Acts 21:38) is sicarii, which literally means "dagger carriers". In 54 AD, an Egyptian false prophet came to Jerusalem and drew a following among the militant Jews, claiming that his words will destroy the walls of Jerusalem and the Roman Empire. "Four thousand assassins" (Acts 21:38) followed him up the Mount of Olives, which overlooks Jerusalem from the east, followed by the Tenth Roman Legion, which killed and captured a few hundred of the rebels while the rest escaped into the wilderness. The escaped sicarii had a habit of returning to Jerusalem during feasts with their curved daggers hidden under clothes, locate and stab pro-Roman Jewish aristocrats in the crowds and slip away before their crimes are detected. The mob around Paul must have been massive for the commander to think that Paul was the Egyptian ring leader himself.
Where was Paul when he "stood on the stairs" (Acts 21:40)?
Since he "was about to be led into the barracks" (Acts 21:37) after having "reached the stairs ... and carried by the soldier" (Acts 21:35) up into Antonia Fortress, he was at the top of the stairs, protected by 200 body guards, and in front of a massive, captive audience. Even "a great silence" had been provided for him to start his sermon.