Acts 21:1-26 (web)

3rd Missionary Journey

Paul Conforms to Jewish Customs

21:1 When it happened that we had parted from them and had set sail,
we came with a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, 
and from there to Patara. 
21:2 Having found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard, and set sail. 
21:3 When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left hand, 
we sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload her cargo. 
21:4 Having found disciples, we stayed there seven days. 
These said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem
21:5 When it happened that we had accomplished the days, 
we departed and went on our journey. They all, with wives and children, 
brought us on our way until we were out of the city. 
Kneeling down on the beach, we prayed. 
21:6 After saying goodbye to each other, 
we went on board the ship, and they returned home again. 
21:7 When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais. 
We greeted the brothers, and stayed with them one day. 

21:8 On the next day, we, who were Paul's companions, departed, 
and came to Caesarea. We entered into the house of Philip the evangelist,
who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 
21:9 Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied. 
21:10 As we stayed there some days, 
a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 
21:11 Coming to us, and taking Paul's belt, he bound his own feet and hands, 
and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit: 
'So will the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt,
and will deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" 
21:12 When we heard these things, 
both we and they of that place begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 
21:13 Then Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?
For I am ready not only to be bound, 
but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." 
21:14 When he would not be persuaded, 
we ceased, saying, "The Lord's will be done." 

21:15 After these days we took up our baggage and went up to Jerusalem. 
21:16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea also went with us,
bringing one Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we would stay. 
21:17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 
21:18 The day following, Paul went in with us to James; and all the elders were present. 
21:19 When he had greeted them, he reported one by one the things 
which God had worked among the Gentiles through his ministry. 
21:20 They, when they heard it, glorified God. They said to him, 
"You see, brother, how many thousands there are among 
the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law. 
21:21 They have been informed about you, 
that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, 
telling them not to circumcise their children neither to walk after the customs. 
21:22 What then? The assembly must certainly meet, 
for they will hear that you have come. 
21:23 Therefore do what we tell you. We have four men who have taken a vow. 
21:24 Take them, and purify yourself with them, 
and pay their expenses for them, that they may shave their heads.
Then all will know that there is no truth in the things that 
they have been informed about you, but that you yourself also walk keeping the law. 
21:25 But concerning the Gentiles who believe, 
we have written our decision that they should observe no such thing,
except that they should keep themselves from food offered to idols, 
from blood, from strangled things, and from sexual immorality." 
21:26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day,
purified himself and went with them into the temple, 
declaring the fulfillment of the days of purification, 
until the offering was offered for every one of them. 


vs 4,11-14 It was not that the Spirit commanded him no to go to Jerusalem, but rather that these other Christians were given foresight as to the kind of his trials there and in sympathy didn't want him to suffer thusly, much as I'm sure Jesus' disciples didn't want Him to suffer as well. But accomplishing the mission is more important and Paul was prepared for the suffering he would face. The Lord Himself also affirmed Paul in his mission in Acts 23 after facing trials in which it is written: The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome."Acts 23:11 One is reminded also of Peter trying to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem to be crucified in reply to which Jesus rebuked him for not thinking in terms of the bigger picture. Don't be distracted from your mission by sympathetic Christians who though trying to help you avoid persecution yet have lost sight of the mission and the big picture. In the end we notice in verse 14 Paul finally after much perseverance got them to allow the Lord's plan to go forward.

Paul and the Law

vs 20-24 Paul had slanderously been accused of teaching those Jews who live among Gentiles to forsake the Law of Moses. He certainly had done no such thing. There are those who have tried to pit James against Paul, but in fact both were in agreement as we see here. Yes there may be paradoxes between their letters of which ignorant men misinterpret, but there is no contradiction between them. However it is apparent to me that James had not been particularly zealous in defending Paul up to this point. But at least now he tried to villify him. Notice also James' solution was not to debate, but rather to teach through application - much as his letter also speaks. To prove Paul reckoned the Law relevant to the Jews he simply had Paul apply the Law to himself rather than talk about it. One's lifestyle itself can be a powerful message. And indeed Paul seemed to have done a similar thing near the end of his second missionary vow, and similary with his circumcision of Timothy.

Paul's position is that the Law of Moses was written to Jews for Jews, not for Gentiles. However Gentiles can infer applications from the Law, as we do in the Christian community, but by the Spirit and not by the letter. Furthermore although the Law implies the possibility that it can justify, in practice it justifies no one, neither Jew nor Gentile. And Paul elaborates on this in the early chapters of Romans and in Galatians. However just because it doesn't justify doesn't mean it doesn't apply. In the Christian life making disciples also doesn't justify. Rather it's just simply part of the Christian life as are many other things. So also with the Law of Moses. Though being only a shadow, much as the rituals within Christianity, nonethess the Jews - whether Christian or otherwise - have been instructed to live in accordance with it. Naturally particular applications of the Law must not interfere with the practice of the Christian faith. And thus for example we have the compromise of Acts 15 in which to avoid harming the conscience of their Jewish brethren, Gentiles living among Jews were instructed concerning certain dietary scrupples, of which Paul also affirmed and advocated.

However I would be hestitant in assigning this difference between Jew and Gentile Christian as a particular dispensation. For there is no distinction between believers. "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." Col 3:11  "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Gal 3:28 But in fact there are differences in role. For example many of Paul's letters contain gender specific commands. And he has different commands for slaves than for their masters. For these are a matter of role. So also for the Jew/Gentile difference. Both are justified solely through faith in Christ, but each has their particular role in the body of Christ.

vs 26 The particular vow was probably that of the Nazarite of Numbers chapter 6 of which Paul probably also had practiced in Acts chapter 18.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 29,2015