Acts 21:37
And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said to the chief captain, May I speak to you? Who said, Can you speak Greek?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(37) Canst thou speak Greek?—The chiliarch apparently expected his prisoner to have spoken Hebrew, i.e., Aramaic, and was surprised to hear Greek; the people expected Greek, and were surprised at Hebrew (Acts 22:2). Nothing could better illustrate the familiarity of the population of Jerusalem with both languages.

Acts 21:37-40. And as Paul was going to be led into the castle — To which the soldiers were conducting him; he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? — The wisdom of God teaching him to make use of that very time and place: Who — Hearing him speak in the Greek language; said — With some surprise; Canst thou speak Greek? Art not thou that Egyptian — Who came into Judea when Felix had been some years governor there, (see note on Matthew 24:26;) and, calling himself a prophet, drew much people after him: and, having brought them through the wilderness, led them to mount Olivet, promising that the walls of the city should fall down before them. But Felix marching out of Jerusalem against him, his followers were quickly dispersed, many of whom were taken or slain, but he himself made his escape. To the tribune’s question, Paul replied that he was a Jew, born in Tarsus, in Cilicia, and begged that he would suffer him to speak to the people. And when he had given him license — To say what he pleased; Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with his hand unto the people — To show that he was going to speak to them. And when there was made great silence — Their curiosity concurring with other motives to make them desire to hear what he could say in his own defence; he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue — Or that dialect of it which was then commonly spoken at Jerusalem. 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.May I speak unto thee? - May I have the privilege of making my defense before thee; or of stating the case truly; the cause of my accusation; of this tumult, etc.

Canst thou speak Greek? - Implying that if he could, he might be permitted to speak to him. The Greek language was what was then almost universally spoken, and it is not improbable that it was the native tongue of the chief captain. It is evident that he was not a Roman by birth, for he says Acts 22:28 that he had obtained the privilege of citizenship by paying a great sum. The language which the Jews spoke was the Syro-Chaldaic; and as he took Paul to be an Egyptian Jew Acts 21:38, he supposed, from that circumstance also, that he was not able to speak the Greek language.

37-40. Art not thou that Egyptian, &c.—The form of the question implies that the answer is to be in the negative, and is matter of some surprise: "Thou art not then?" &c. May I speak unto thee? A common expression in that language, whereby he craves leave, and bespeaks attention.

Canst thou speak Greek? After the Grecian empire, their language became and continued to be very common in Asia and Egypt, and very well known amongst all the Romans of any education or quality. And as Paul was to be led into the castle,.... Just as he was got up to the top of the steps, or stairs, that led up to the castle, and was about to go into the door of it:

he said unto the chief captain, may I speak unto thee? the apostle was one that had had a good education, and was a man of address, and this his modest and respectful way of speaking to the chief captain shows; and the question he put to him, was in the Greek language: hence it follows,

who said to him, canst thou speak Greek? or "dost thou know the Hellenistic language?" which the Jews who were born and lived in Greece spoke; hence such were called Hellenists; see Acts 6:1 of this language we read in the Talmud (h);

"R. Levi bar Chajethah went to Caesarea, and heard them reading "Shema", (hear O Israel), &c. Deuteronomy 6:4 Nytoynwla in the Hellenistic language; he sought to hinder them; R. Rose heard of it, and was angry; and said, he that knows not to read in the Hebrew language, must he not read at all? yea, he may read in whatsoever language he understands.''

The nearest to this language spoken by the Jews dispersed in Greece, must be the Greek language, in which Jews have written; as the books of the Old Testament translated by the "seventy" interpreters, who were Jews; and indeed it was this Bible which the Jews called Hellenists made use of; and the writings of Josephus, and Philo the Jew of Alexandria, and even the books of the New Testament, which are written by Jews; and Paul being a Jew of Tarsus, and so an Hellenist, could speak this language; as he did, when he disputed against the Hellenists, in Acts 9:29. This the chief captain said, either as wondering to hear him speak Greek, when he thought he had been a Jerusalem Jew, or rather an Egyptian, as in the next verse; or it may be he put this question to him, as choosing rather that he should speak in Greek, it being the language he might best understand himself, and was the least known to the people, who he might not care should hear what he had to say; since if he took him for the Egyptian, the Greek tongue was what was chiefly spoken by such.

(h) T. Hieros. Sota, fol. 21. 2.

And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 21:37-38. Εἰ ἔξεστι κ.τ.λ.] as in Acts 19:2; Luke 14:3; Mark 10:2. “Modeste alloquitur,” Bengel.

Ἑλληνιστὶ γινώσκεις] understandest thou Greek? A question of surprise at Paul’s having spoken in Greek. The expression does not require the usually assumed supplement of λαλεῖν (Nehemiah 13:24), but the adverb belongs directly to the verb γινώσκεις; comp. Xen. Anab. vii. 6. 8, Cyrop. vii. 5. 31: τοὺς Συριστὶ ἐπισταμένους, comp. Graece nescire in Cic. p. Flacco, 4.

οὐκ ἄρα σὺ εἶ κ.τ.λ.] Thou art not then (as I imagined) the Egyptian, etc. The emphasis lies on οὐκ, so that the answer would again begin with οὐ. See Klotz, ad Devar. p. 186. Comp. Bäumlein, Partik. p. 281. Incorrectly, Vulgate, Erasmus, Beza, and others: nonne tu es, etc.

The Egyptian, for whom the tribune had—probably from a mere natural conjecture of his own—taken Paul, was a phantastic pseudo-prophet, who in the reign of Nero wished to destroy the Roman government and led his followers, collected in the wilderness, to the Mount of Olives, from which they were to see the walls of the capital fall down. Defeated with his followers by the procurator Felix, he had taken to flight (Joseph. Bell. ii. 13. 5, Antt. xx. 8. 6); and therefore Lysias, in consequence of his remembrance of this event still fresh after the lapse of a considerable time,[132] lighted on the idea that the dreaded enthusiast, now returned or drawn forth from his long concealment, had fallen into the hands of popular fury.

τετρακισχιλ.] Joseph. Bell. l.c. gives the followers of the Egyptian at τρισμυρίους; but this is only an apparent inconsistency with our passage, for here there is only brought forward a single, specially remarkable appearance of the rebel, perhaps the first step which he took with his most immediate and most dangerous followers, and therefore the reading in Josephus is not to be changed in accordance with our passage (in opposition to Kuinoel and Olshausen).[133]

How greatly under the worthless Felix the evil of banditti (τῶν σικαρίων, the daggermen, see Suicer, Thes. II. p. 957: the article denotes the class of men) prevailed in Jerusalem and Judaea generally, see in Joseph. Antt. xx. 6 f.

[132] For different combinations with a view to the more exact determination of the time of this event, which, however, remains doubtful, see Wieseler, p. 76 ff.; Stölting, Beitr. z. Exegese d. Paul. Br. p. 190 ff.

[133] But there remains in contradiction both with our passage and with the τρισμυρίοις of Josephus himself, his statement, Antt. xx. 8. 6, that 400 were slain and 200 taken prisoners; for in Bell. ii. 13. 5, he informs us that the greater part were either captured or slain. But this contradiction is simply chargeable to Josephus himself, as the incompatibility of his statements discloses a historical error, concerning which our passage shows decisively that it was committed either in the assertion that the greater part were captured or slain, or in the statement of the numbers in Antt. l.c.Acts 21:37. παρεμβ., see on Acts 21:34.—εἰ, cf. Acts 1:6.—Ἑλλη. γινώσκεις; no need to supply λαλεῖν, cf. Xen., Cyr., vii., 5, 31; so in Latin, Græcè nescire, Cic., Proverbs Flacco, iv., Vulgate, literally, Græcè nosti?37–40. Paul asks Leave to address the Crowd

37. And as Paul was to be led into the castle] More clearly (with Rev. Ver.) “was about to be brought, &c.” This must have been when Paul with the soldiers had reached some place where he could be allowed to stand.

he said [Gk. saith] … May I speak unto thee?] Literally, (with Rev. Ver.), “May I say something unto thee?

Who said, Canst thou speak Greek?] More closely, as Rev. Ver. “And he said, Dost thou know Greek?” The chief captain had evidently come down with a preconceived notion who the offender was about whom the disturbance had arisen. And from some source or other he appears to have known that the Egyptian, whom he supposed St Paul to be, could not speak Greek.Acts 21:37. Μέλλων, when he was about to be led) By a most immediate guidance of Divine wisdom, Paul takes this most suitable place for speaking [for making his address to the people],—εἰ ἔξεστί μοι; may I he allowed?) He addresses him modestly.Verse 37. - About to be brought for to be led, A.V.; saith for said, A.V.; say something for speak, A.V,; and he for who, A.V.; dost thou know for canst thou speak, A.V. About to be brought into the castle. He had nearly reached the top of the stairs, and there was, perhaps, a brief halt while the gates of the castle-yard were being opened. Paul seized the opportunity to address Lysias in Greek. Dost thou know Greek? (Ἑλληνιστὶ γινώσκεις;). According to some, λαλεῖν is to be understood, "Dost thou know how to speak Greek?" after the analogy of Λαλοῦντες Ἀζωτιστί, and Οὐκ εἰσὶν ἐπιγινώσκοντες λαλεῖν Ιουδαι'στί, in Nehemiah 13:24. But others (Meyer, Alford, etc.) say that there is no ellipse of λαλεῖν, but that Ἐλληνιστὶ γινώσκειν Συριστὶ ἐπισταμένους (Xenophon), "Graece nescire" (Cicero), mean to know or not to know the Greek and Syrian languages. Canst thou speak (γινώσκεις)

Lit., dost thou know? So Rev.

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