Setting

Paul had just returned to Jerusalem from his third missionary journey. Upon his arrival, Paul learned that the non-believing Jews had been offended by what he supposedly had been teaching the Jews in the Gentile regions. In spite of the church’s efforts to dispel these rumors, a mob was aroused to seize Paul.

Key Verse

(21:24)

Did You Know...?

1. Circumcise (21:21): A sacred Jewish tradition that originated with God’s promise to Abraham (cf. Gen 17:10-11). The apostolic church had concluded that circumcision was not required for salvation, and therefore it was not necessary to circumcise the Gentile believers (cf. 15:1, 19). However, the church did not forbid circumcision or condemn Jewish believers who performed circumcision.
2. Vow (21:23): A promise to God to perform certain things, to bring certain offerings, or to abstain from certain things, in exchange for certain blessings. The making of vows was not a religious duty. However, once a vow was made, it was considered a sacred and binding duty to fulfill it. In this case, the four men had made a vow to perform purification rites, which required them to shave their heads and to keep themselves ceremonially clean for seven days. Afterwards, they would give notice to the priests and enter the temple to make offerings (cf. 21:24; 24:18). [ref]
3. Trophimus (21:29): He joined in the final leg of Paul’s third missionary journey (cf. 20:4) and traveled with him through Macedonia into Asia, and to Jerusalem. He continued to be a faithful worker, almost dying from an illness while serving Paul (cf. 2Tim 4:20).
4. Commander/chief captain, centurions, soldiers (21:31-32): A commander was in charge of a legion, in which there were 60 centurions, each of whom was in charge of theoretically 100 soldiers. The ordinary duties of a centurion were to drill his men, inspect their arms, food and clothing, and to command them in the camp and in the field. [ref]
5. Greek (21:37): Common speech in the Roman Empire. [ref]
6. The Egyptian (21:38): According to Josephus, a man from Egypt came to Jerusalem, claiming to be a prophet and persuaded the people to follow him to the Mount of Olives. He prophesied that the walls of Jerusalem would fall at his command and promised that his followers would be able to take over the city. When Felix was informed of these things, he came upon this man and his followers, killing about 400 of them and captured 200 alive. But this false prophet escaped and never returned (Antiq. XX viii. 6)
7. Hebrew/Aramaic (21:40): Languages spoken by the Jews in Palestine. Hebrew was spoken in scholarly settings, while Aramaic was spoken as the vernacular. [ref]

Outline

  • Paul Takes Part in Purification Rites
    (21:17-26)
  • A Mob Tries to Kill Paul
    (21:27-31)
  • Paul Put under Roman Custody
    (21:32-40)

General Analysis

  • 1a.

    Based on this passage, list the rumors regarding Paul. Who started these rumors? How? What does this teach you about how people spread rumors?

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    Some of the Jews believed that Paul was teaching other Jews to turn away from the Mosaic law (cf. 21:21). Perhaps they were offended that Paul preached to the Gentiles (even though the apostle Peter had received a revelation from God to do so [cf. Acts 10:34-36]). Perhaps they misunderstood Paul’s message that one cannot be justified by the law of Moses (cf. 13:39). Also, because the news about Paul had traveled great distances, perhaps what they heard was not what Paul had actually said. Nevertheless, people are inclined to believe the worst.
    Later, some Jews claimed that Paul had brought Greeks into the temple area and therefore defiled the holy place. They had assumed that Paul had brought Trophimus the Ephesian into the temple because they were seen together in the city (cf. 21:28-29). Because of their preconception about Paul, they made false assumptions. Also, it’s possible that theses Jews simply made up false allegations and tried to back up their claim.

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  • 1b.

    Have you ever started a rumor? What was the result?

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  • 1c.

    Has there ever been a rumor about you? How did you deal with it? What can you learn from the actions of Paul and the church in Jerusalem?

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Segment Analysis

  • 21:17-26

    1.

    The Christians in Jerusalem praised God when they heard about Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles (19-20). Share an example of how you rejoiced at hearing about God’s work at another church.

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  • 2.

    Why were the church elders concerned over Paul’s arrival?

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    The church elders were worried that people had misunderstood that Paul taught the Jews to forsake the Mosaic law, and that his arrival would stir people up against the church. The ensuing mob (30 31) proved the validity of their concerns.

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  • 3.

    What did the Jews accuse Paul of doing? Were their accusations true? Why or Why not?

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    They heard rumors that Paul had been teaching the Jews to forsake the Mosaic law (21,28). In their eyes, Paul was more so a traitor because he used to be a zealot for the law and persecuted Christians for heresy. Nothing in Acts or in Paul’s epistles tells us that Paul advocated the Jews to abandon the Mosaic law. The elders knew that the rumors about Paul were false (cf. 24), but it was important for Paul to personally dispel the misconception through his actions in Jerusalem. He complied with the elders’ suggestion to appease the Jews. Also, he did not bring Trophimus, a Gentile, into the Jewish temple (29). His actions show that he respected Jewish traditions.

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  • 4a.

    List example of cultural traditions.

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    family relationships; food; formal/informal language; format of wedding; ancestor worship; Halloween; New Year; Christmas; Thanksgiving

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  • 4b.

    After we believe in Jesus Christ, should we forsake our cultural traditions? Why or why not?

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    Some traditions are against biblical teachings (ancestor worship, Halloween, etc.); we must resolve to turn away from those practices. However, it is not necessary to abandon the traditions that do not lead us astray from the truth, but neither should we insist others to continue to practice the traditions that have nothing to do with salvation.

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  • 5.

    Since we are justified by faith, and not by the law (cf. Gal 2:16), why did Paul agree to take part in the purification rites?

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    With our freedom in Christ, human traditions become secondary to our salvation. We are saved by faith, not by obeying laws and regulations. Nevertheless, Paul respected the Jewish traditions. He would not abuse his freedom if it would cause a brother to stumble (Rom 14:20-21).

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  • 6.

    Compare and contrast this incident to the one in Galatians 2:11- 14, in which Paul rebuked Peter for being a hypocrite for fearing the Jews from Jerusalem. Had Paul himself been a hypocrite by joining in the purification rites? Why or why not?

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    Peter’s mistake was not in following Jewish customs, but in misguiding the Gentile believers by his hypocrisy. Had Paul not corrected Peter openly, Peter’s action of disassociating with the Gentiles would have been understood by the Gentiles to mean that they were inferior to Jewish Christians because they did not conform to Jewish customs. This implicit message would have contradicted the gospel of grace.
    Paul’s situation, however, was very different. His compliance to the purification rites had nothing to do with the church’s stance on the Gentile believers. For the church had already written to the Gentile believers that they did not need to observe Jewish customs (25). What Paul did was to calm an unnecessary hostility from the Jews; it did not send any misleading message that Gentiles needed to follow Jewish customs. It also did not in any way compromise the Christian doctrine on salvation.

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  • 7a.

    List other biblical characters who submitted to something unreasonable and/or unfair.

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    Hagar (Gen 16:6-9); Isaac (Gen 26:12-22); Hosea (Hos 1:2-3; 3:1-2); Jesus (Lk 2:49-51; Jn 2:3-9)

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  • 7b.

    If you disagree with the church over a certain belief or opinion, what should you do?

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    In matters of opinion or preference, Paul teaches that the strong should bear with the weak (Rom 15:1). In this case, to appease the Jews, Paul submitted to the purification rites.
    However, if you feel that the church has erred in doctrines related to salvation, trust that God always reveals the truth to more than one worker (Amos 3:7). Bring up the issue to church ministers, and submit to the decision of the church and of the Holy Spirit (as was done with the issue of circumcising Gentile members; cf. Acts 15:1-31). Even if we are proven right in the end, the act of submission itself is valuable in God’s eyes. It would be to our own detriment if we depart from the church over a disagreement; a branch broken off from the tree cannot survive on its own. For example, Joshua and Caleb submitted and stayed with the Israelites, even though they alone had told the truth about the land of Canaan. Instead, we should pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal to the church workers what is right. We must put our faith in God to guide us in the truth.

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  • 21:27-31

    8.

    Who incited the crowd to lay hands on Paul?

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    The Jews from Asia (27). These were probably the same people as those who persecuted Paul during his missionary work.

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  • 9.

    Look through Acts and list the previous assaults on Paul. For each, why did the people seize Paul to kill him?

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    14:5, 19; 17:5; 18:12. The unbelieving Jews were jealous of Paul for converting many Jews to Christianity. They accused the apostles before the Roman officials, and sometimes took the law into their own hands by stoning the apostles.

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  • 10.

    Compare and contrast Paul’s arrest to how Stephen had been arrested and killed (Acts 6:10-14; 7:54-60).

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    In both cases, a few Jews used false witnesses to stir up a crowd against the apostles (cf. 7:11; 21:27). They seized both Stephen and Paul and accused them of defiling the temple and overturning the law of Moses (cf. 7:13-14; 21:21,28). However, whereas Stephen was martyred for speaking the truth, Paul’s life was spared to continue the ministry. It is interesting to note that Paul was persecuted the same way he had persecuted Stephen (cf. 7:60). As Jesus said, “With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Mk 4:24).

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  • 21:32-40

    11.

    Why did the commander of the garrison arrest Paul instead of the mob?

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    It was easier to remove the cause of the riot than to deal with the mob. Also, he thought Paul was a wanted murderer (cf. 21:38).

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  • 12.

    The Roman soldiers took Paul away before the mob could kill him. Compare the apostles’ “close calls” with those of Jesus (cf. Lk 4:28-30; Jn 8:59). What does this teach you about God’s protection and timing?

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    God allowed Paul to be persecuted, but spared his life because Paul’s ministry was not yet finished. This time, God arranged the Roman chief captain to snatch Paul from danger.

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  • 13.

    If you were Paul, what would you have done when you were arrested? How were Paul’s actions wise?

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  • 14a.

    Why did Paul speak to the crowd in Hebrew/Aramaic (40)?

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    Paul spoke in the Jewish language to demonstrate that he was their brother, and that he respected Jewish language and traditions. He also honored the crowd by addressing them as “brethren and fathers” (22:1). Because Paul spoke wisely, his words calmed down the crowd (22:2).

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  • 14b.

    14b. Paul used his fluency in both Greek and Aramaic to the advantage of his ministry. How do you use your knowledge to further God’s work?

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