Acts 21:27
And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,
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(27) When the seven days were almost ended.—Literally, were on the point to be completed. St. Luke speaks of “the seven days” as a definite or known period. They cannot refer, as some have thought, either to the duration of the vow, which was never less than thirty days, or to that of the Feast of Pentecost, which at this time was never extended beyond one, and must therefore be understood of the period of special purification which came at the final stage of the fulfilment of the vow.

The Jews which were of Asia . . .—Better, from Asia—those who had come up to keep the Feast at Jerusalem. They, we may well believe, had been watching the Apostle eagerly as he passed in and out of the courts of the Temple. As it was, they seized him, with all the tokens of his purification still upon him (comp. Acts 24:18), about to offer sacrifices, and raised a cry which was sure to throw the whole city into an uproar. They first reiterate the general charge, and in doing so bring against St. Paul, in almost identical terms, the very accusation which he had brought against Stephen (Acts 6:11-13), of which they thus make themselves the witnesses. This was backed up by a more specific indictment (Acts 21:28). He had brought Greeks—i.e., uncircumcised Gentiles—into the Holy Place—i.e., beyond the middle wall of partition (Ephesians 2:14) which divided the court that was open to strangers from that which none but Jews might enter (Jos. Ant. xv. 11, § 5). The recent excavations of the Palestine Exploration Society (Report for 1871, p. 132) have brought to light a slab with an inscription, discovered and deciphered by M. Clermont Ganneau, which illustrates the horror with which the Jews looked on such a profanation. Its contents show that it must have formed part of the low wall just mentioned:—“NO MAN OF ALIEN RACE IS TO ENTER WITHIN THE BALUSTRADE AND FENCE THAT GOES ROUND THE TEMPLE. IF ANY ONE IS TAKEN IN THE ACT, LET HIM KNOW THAT HE HAS HIMSELF TO BLAME FOR THE PENALTY OF DEATH THAT FOLLOWS.” This, accordingly, was the punishment which the Jews of Asia were now seeking to bring on St. Paul and on his friends.



Acts 21:27 - Acts 21:39

The stronger a man’s faith, the greater will and should be his disposition to conciliate. Paul may seem to have stretched consideration for weak brethren to its utmost, when he consented to the proposal of the Jerusalem elders to join in performing the vow of a Nazarite, and to appear in the Temple for that purpose. But he was quite consistent in so doing; for it was not Jewish ceremonial to which he objected, but the insisting on it as necessary. For himself, he lived as a Jew, except in his freedom of intercourse with Gentiles. No doubt he knew that the death-warrant of Jewish ceremonial had been signed, but he could leave it to time to carry out the sentence. The one thing which he was resolved should not be was its imposition on Gentile Christians. Their road to Jesus was not through Temple or synagogue. As for Jewish Christians, let them keep to the ritual if they chose. The conciliatory plan recommended by the elders, though perfectly consistent with Paul’s views and successful with the Jewish Christians, roused non-Christian Jews as might have been expected.

This incident brings out very strikingly the part played by each of the two factors in carrying out God’s purposes for Paul. They are unconscious instruments, and co-operation is the last thing dreamed of on either side; but Jew and Roman together work out a design of which they had not a glimpse.

I. Note the charge against Paul.

The ‘Jews from Asia’ knew him by sight, as they had seen him in Ephesus and elsewhere; and possibly some of them had been fellow-passengers with him from Miletus. No wonder that they construed his presence in the Temple into an insult to it. If Luther or John Knox had appeared in St. Peter’s, he would not have been thought to have come as a worshipper. Paul’s teaching may very naturally have created the impression in hot-tempered partisans, who could not draw distinctions, that he was the enemy of Temple and sacrifice.

It has always been the vice of religious controversy to treat inferences from heretical teaching, which appear plain to the critics, as if they were articles of the heretic’s belief. These Jewish zealots practised a very common method when they fathered on Paul all which they supposed to be involved in his position. Their charges against him are partly flat lies, partly conclusions drawn from misapprehension of his position, partly exaggeration, and partly hasty assumptions. He had never said a word which could be construed as ‘against the people.’ He had indeed preached that the law was not for Gentiles, and was not the perfect revelation which brought salvation, and he had pointed to Jesus as in Himself realising all that the Temple shadowed; but such teaching was not ‘against’ either, but rather for both, as setting both in their true relation to the whole process of revelation. He had not brought ‘Greeks’ into the Temple, not even the one Greek whom malice multiplied into many. When passion is roused, exaggerations and assumptions soon become definite assertions. The charges are a complete object-lesson in the baser arts of religious {!} partisans; and they have been but too faithfully reproduced in all ages. Did Paul remember how he had been ‘consenting’ to the death of Stephen on the very same charges? How far he has travelled since that day!

II. Note the immediately kindled flame of popular bigotry.

The always inflammable population of Jerusalem was more than usually excitable at the times of the Feasts, when it was largely increased by zealous worshippers from a distance. Noble teaching would have left the mob as stolid as it found them; but an appeal to the narrow prejudices which they thought were religion was a spark in gunpowder, and an explosion was immediate. It is always easier to rouse men to fight for their ‘religion’ than to live by it. Jehu was proud of what he calls his ‘zeal for the Lord,’ which was really only ferocity with a mask on. The yelling crowd did not stop to have the charges proved. That they were made was enough. In Scotland people used to talk of ‘Jeddart justice,’ which consisted in hanging a man first, and trying him leisurely afterwards. It was usually substantially just when applied to moss-troopers, but does not do so well when administered to Apostles.

Notice the carefulness to save the Temple from pollution, which is shown by the furious crowds dragging Paul outside before they kill him. They were not afraid to commit murder, but they were horror-struck at the thought of a breach of ceremonial etiquette. Of course! for when religion is conceived of as mainly a matter of outward observances, sin is reduced to a breach of these. We are all tempted to shift the centre of gravity in our religion, and to make too much of ritual etiquette. Kill Paul if you will, but get him outside the sacred precincts first. The priests shut the doors to make sure that there should be no profanation, and stopped inside the Temple, well pleased that murder should go on at its threshold. They had better have rescued the victim. Time was when the altar was a sanctuary for the criminal who could grasp its horns, but now its ministers wink at bloodshed with secret approval. Paul could easily have been killed in the crowd, and no responsibility for his death have clung to any single hand. No doubt that was the cowardly calculation which they made, and they were well on the way to carry it out when the other factor comes into operation.

III. Note the source of deliverance.

The Roman garrison was posted in the fortress of Antonia, which commanded the Temple from a higher level at the north-west angle of the enclosure. Tidings ‘came up’ to the officer in command, Claudius Lysias by name {Acts 23:26}, that all Jerusalem was in confusion. With disciplined promptitude he turned out a detachment and ‘ran down upon them.’ The contrast between the quiet power of the legionaries and the noisy feebleness of the mob is striking. The best qualities of Roman sway are seen in this tribune’s unhesitating action, before which the excited mob cowers in fright. They ‘left beating of Paul,’ as knowing that a heavier hand would fall on them for rioting. With swift decision Lysias acts first and talks afterwards, securing the man who was plainly the centre of disturbance, and then having got him fast with two chains on him, inquiring who he was, and what he had been doing.

Then the crowd breaks loose again in noisy and contradictory explanations, all at the top of their voices, and each drowning the other. Clearly the bulk of them could not answer either of Lysias’ questions, though they could all bellow ‘Away with him!’ till their throats were sore. It is a perfect picture of a mob, which is always ferocious and volubly explanatory in proportion to its ignorance. One man kept his head in the hubbub, and that was Lysias, who determined to hold his prisoner till he did know something about him. So he ordered him to be taken up into the castle; and as the crowd saw their prey escaping they made one last fierce rush, and almost swept away the soldiers, who had to pick Paul up and carry him. Once on the stairs leading to the castle they were clear of the crowd, which could only send a roar of baffled rage after them, and to this the stolid legionaries were as deaf as were their own helmets.

The part here played by the Roman authority is that which it performs throughout the Acts. It shields infant Christianity from Jewish assailants, like the wolf which, according to legend, suckled Romulus. The good and the bad features of Roman rule were both valuable for that purpose. Its contempt for ideas, and above all for speculative differences in a religion which it regarded as a hurtful superstition, its unsympathetic incapacity for understanding its subject nations, its military discipline, its justice, which though often tainted was yet better than the partisan violence which it coerced, all helped to make it the defender of the first Christians. Strange that Rome should shelter and Jerusalem persecute!

Mark, too, how blindly men fulfil God’s purposes. The two bitter antagonists, Jew and Roman, seem to themselves to be working in direct opposition; but God is using them both to carry out His design. Paul has to be got to Rome, and these two forces are combined by a wisdom beyond their ken, to carry him thither. Two cogged wheels turning in opposite directions fit into each other, and grind out a resultant motion, different from either of theirs. These soldiers and that mob were like pawns on a chessboard, ignorant of the intentions of the hand which moves them.

IV. Note the calm courage of Paul.

He too had kept his head, and though bruised and hustled, and having but a minute or two beforehand looked death in the face, he is ready to seize the opportunity to speak a word for his Master. Observe the quiet courtesy of his address, and his calm remembrance of the tribune’s right to prevent his speaking. There is nothing more striking in Paul’s character than his self-command and composure in all circumstances. This ship could rise to any wave, and ride in any storm. It was not by virtue of happy temperament but of a fixed faith that his heart and mind were kept in perfect peace. It is not easy to disturb a man who counts not his life dear if only he may complete his course. So these two men front each other, and it is hard to tell which has the quieter pulse and the steadier hand. The same sources of tranquil self-control and calm superiority to fortune which stood Paul in such good stead are open to us. If God is our rock and our high tower we shall not be moved.

The tribune had for some unknown reason settled in his mind that the Apostle was a well-known ‘Egyptian,’ who had headed a band of ‘Sicarii’ or ‘dagger-men,’ of whose bloody doings Josephus tells us. How the Jews should have been trying to murder such a man Lysias does not seem to have considered. But when he heard the courteous, respectful Greek speech of the Apostle he saw at once that he had got no uncultured ruffian to deal with, and in answer to Paul’s request and explanation gave him leave to speak. That has been thought an improbability. But strong men recognise each other, and the brave Roman was struck with something in the tone and bearing of the brave Jew which made him instinctively sure that no harm would come of the permission. There ought to be that in the demeanour of a Christian which is as a testimonial of character for him, and sways observers to favourable constructions.

21:27-40 In the temple, where Paul should have been protected as in a place of safety, he was violently set upon. They falsely charged him with ill doctrine and ill practice against the Mosaic ceremonies. It is no new thing for those who mean honestly and act regularly, to have things laid to their charge which they know not and never thought of. It is common for the wise and good to have that charged against them by malicious people, with which they thought to have obliged them. God often makes those a protection to his people, who have no affection to them, but only have compassion for sufferers, and regard to the public peace. And here see what false, mistaken notions of good people and good ministers, many run away with. But God seasonably interposes for the safety of his servants, from wicked and unreasonable men; and gives them opportunities to speak for themselves, to plead for the Redeemer, and to spread abroad his glorious gospel.And when the seven days were almost ended - Greek: as the seven days were about to be fulfilled - ἔμελλον συντελεῖσθαι emellon sunteleisthai. The seven days which were to complete the observance of the vow, Acts 21:26. Perhaps the whole observance in this case was intended to be but seven days, as the time of such a vow was voluntary. The translation, "were almost ended," is not quite correct. The Greek implies no more than that the period of the seven days was about to be accomplished, without implying that it was near the close of them when he was seized. By comparing the following places, Acts 21:18, Acts 21:26; Acts 22:30; Acts 23:12, Acts 23:32; Acts 24:1, Acts 24:11, it appears that the time of his seizure must have been near the beginning of those days (Doddridge).

The Jews which were of Asia - Who resided in Asia Minor, but who had come up to Jerusalem for purposes of worship. Compare the notes on Acts 2.

27-30. the Jews … of Asia—in all likelihood those of Ephesus (since they recognized Trophimus apparently as a townsman, Ac 21:29), embittered by their discomfiture (Ac 19:9, &c.). The seven days; either,

1. After his coming to Jerusalem; or rather,

2. Of his vow; for it is thought that his vow of separation was but for seven days; or:

3. The seven days of that feast of Pentecost which he came unto.

The Jews which were of Asia; who were implacably set against him wheresoever he went, as Acts 14:19 17:5. These Jews dwelt at Ephesus and elsewhere, but were come to observe the feast at Jerusalem.

Laid hands on him; by violence, and against law.

And when the seven days were almost ended,.... The Syriac version renders it, "when the seventh day was come"; from the time that Paul came to Jerusalem: some understand this of the seven weeks from the passover to Pentecost, and that it was when they were almost ended, and the day of Pentecost was at hand, for which Paul came up to Jerusalem; but rather, the seven days of purification of the Nazarites are meant:

the Jews which were of Asia; and it may be chiefly of Ephesus, the metropolis of Asia; who knew Paul there, and were his implacable enemies; for this is to be understood of the unbelieving Jews, who were come up to the feast of Pentecost:

when they saw him in the temple; where he was come to bring his offering, on account of his vow:

stirred up all the people; against the apostle; incensed them with stories about him, how that he was an opposer of Moses and his laws, and was now defiling the temple, by bringing in Heathens into it:

and laid hands on him; in a violent manner, and dragged him out of the temple.

{5} And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,

(5) A preposterous zeal is the cause of great confusion and great troubles.

Acts 21:27. αἱ ἑπτὰ ἡμέραι: it does not appear that the seven days were enjoined by the law—not even in Numbers 6:9; indeed it would appear from Jos., B.J., ii., 15, that a period of thirty days was customary before the sacrifice could be offered. The seven days cannot therefore include the whole period of the vow, although they might well include the period of the Apostle’s partnership with the four men. Wendt and Weiss suppose that a reference is here made to a rule that the interval between the announcement to the priest and the conclusion of the Nazirite vow should include a period of seven days, but as there is admittedly no reference to any such ordinance elsewhere, it is precarious to depend too much upon it. It seems impossible to refer the expression to the seven days observed as the Feast of Pentecost; the article before ἑπτὰ ἡμ. refers to the “days of purification” just mentioned, see further critical note and Knabenbauer for summary of different views.—οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἀ. .: “the Jews from Asia,” R.V., cf. Acts 6:9, where we read of the Jews of Cilicia, etc., who disputed with Stephen.—θεασάμ., cf. Acts 24:18, where St. Paul tells us how these Jews had found him in the Temple purified, i.e., with the Nazirite vow upon him, and in the act of presenting offerings—not of creating a disturbance, as his enemies alleged. These Jews, who were of course not believers, may have come from Ephesus, and were full of enmity against the Apostle for escaping them there, cf. Acts 20:3—they had come up to worship at Pentecost.—συνέχεον, see on Acts 9:22.—ἐπέβ. τὰς χ., cf. Acts 12:1.

27. And when the seven days were almost ended] Rev. Ver. “completed.” This seems to have been the period devoted to the more secluded residence in the Temple.

the Jews which were of Asia] Lit. (with Rev. Ver.) “the Jews from Asia.” So that it would seem that a portion of the visitors to Jerusalem had known the Apostle in his missionary labours, and may have come after him, in their enmity, to damage his reputation, by calumnious reports of his teaching, reports which had as much ground in truth as the story about Trophimus from which the tumult arose at this time in Jerusalem.

when … stirred up all the people, &c.] Rev. Ver. “multitude.” These Asian Jews were coming up to the Temple for their worship, and may even have been of the company in the ship by which the Apostle and his companions came from Patara. They certainly had known, or found out, that Trophimus was an Ephesian and a Gentile. If they had seen the Apostle in familiar converse with him, this would be enough to rouse their indignation, especially as Paul and his companion would be living together in the same house and at the same board (cp. Acts 11:3).

Acts 21:27. Αἱ ἑπτὰ) The αἱ has a relative force in relation to those days of which Acts 21:26 treats.

Verse 27. - Completed for ended, A.V.; from for which were of, A.V.; multitude for people, A.V. The seven days; showing clearly that some customary term of preparation for the offerings and shaving of the head is meant. This shows also that "the days" in the preceding verse meant the "seven days" of preparation rather than "the days" of the whole Nazaritic vow. The Jews from Asia; come up for Pentecost. How hostile the Asiatic Jews were appears from Acts 19:9. When they saw him in the temple, whither he had come to complete the seven days of preparation. It was apparently the fifth day (see Acts 24:11, note). How often the best meant attempts at conciliation fail through the uncharitable suspicions of a man's opponents! The temple. It must be remembered throughout that it is τὸ ἱερόν that is spoken of, which embraces the temple courts, not the ναός, or house (see Acts 3:2, note). Stirred up. Συγχέω ισ found only here in the New Testament. Properly "to confuse," like the kindred συγχύνω (Acts 2:6; Acts 19:32; Acts 21:31); and σύγχυσις, confusion (Acts 19:29); hence "to stir up." It is of frequent use in medical writers (Hobart, 79.). Acts 21:27Asia

See on Acts 2:9.

Stirred up (συνέχεον)

Only here in New Testament. Lit., poured together, threw into confusion. See on confounded, Acts 2:6; and confusion, Acts 19:40.

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