Acts 21:40
And when he had given him license, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand to the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew tongue, saying,
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(40) Paul stood on the stairs.—The position was one which raised him above the people, and the characteristic gesture commanded instant attention. And he spoke, not as they expected in the Greek, which belonged to one who fraternised with Gentiles, but in the Hebrew or Aramaic, which he had studied at the feet of Gamaliel. It was a strange scene for that Feast of Pentecost. The face and form of the speaker may have been seen from time to time by some during his passing visits to Jerusalem, but there must have been many who had not heard him take any part in public action since the day when, twenty-five years before, he had kept the garments of those who were stoning Stephen. And now he was there, accused of the self-same crimes, making his defence before a crowd as wild and frenzied as that of which he had then been the leader.

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.Licence - Liberty; permission.

On the stairs - See the notes on Acts 21:35.

Beckoned with the hand - Waving the hand as a sign that he was about to address them, and to produce silence and attention. See Acts 12:17.

In the Hebrew tongue - The language which was spoken by the Jews, which was then a mixture of the Chaldee and Syriac, called Syro-Chaldaic. This language he doubtless used on this occasion in preference to the Greek, because it was understood better by the multitude, and would tend to conciliate them if they heard him address them in their own tongue. The following chapter should have been connected with this. The division here is unnatural.

40. stood on the stairs—"What nobler spectacle than that of Paul at this moment! There he stood, bound with two chains, ready to make his defense to the people. The Roman commander sits by, to enforce order by his presence. An enraged populace look up to him from below. Yet in the midst of so many dangers, how self-possessed is he, how tranquil!" [Chrysostom (or in his name) in Hackett].

a great silence—the people awed at the permission given him by the commandant, and seeing him sitting as a listener.

in the Hebrew tongue—the Syro-Chaldaic, the vernacular tongue of the Palestine Jews since the captivity.

Paul stood on the stairs; as he was now about to be carried into the castle Antonia, before mentioned.

And beckoned with the hand; signifying that he craved their audience; as Acts 12:17 13:16.

He spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue; the Hebrew tongue being understood by all of them, and most grateful unto them. Yet this was not the pure and ancient Hebrew, which had been corrupted ever since their captivity; but the Syriac tongue, which they there learned, was called Hebrew, it having at first been derived from the Hebrew, and being then in use by those who were, Hebrews. And when he had given him licence,.... To speak to the people, which he could not well deny him, after he had so freely declared who he was, and in so courteous a manner addressed him, and asked leave of him:

Paul stood on the stairs; on the steps of the ascent to the castle, on the top of them:

and beckoned with the hand unto the people; to desire silence, which he might be able to do, notwithstanding his chains; for his being bound with a chain to a soldier, did not hinder the moving and lifting up of his hand:

and when there was made a great silence; either through the authority of the captain, who might command it, or through the desire of the people, to hear what he could say for himself:

he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue; which the people he spoke to best understood, and was his own mother tongue; the Alexandrian copy reads, "in his own dialect"; this was not pure Hebrew that was spoke in common in those times, but the Syro-Chaldean language:

saying; as in the following chapter.

And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying,
Acts 21:40. ἐπιτρέψ.: because he no doubt saw that Paul’s purpose was to inform and pacify the people, so that there is nothing strange in such permission to speak.—κατέσεισε, see on Acts 12:17. “What nobler spectacle than that of Paul at this moment! There he stands bound with two chains, ready to make his defence to the people. The Roman commander sits by to enforce order by his presence. An enraged populace look up to him from below. Yet in the midst of so many dangers, how self-possessed is he, how tranquil!” Chrys., Hom, xlvii.—πολλῆς δὲ σιγῆς γεν., cf. Virg., Aen., i., 148–152, ii., 1; but probably the phrase means not “a great silence,” but rather “aliquantum silentii” (Blass), Acts 22:2, cf. Xen., Cyr., vii., 1, 25.—Ἐβραΐδι: in W.H[364] Ἐβ., see Introd., 408; so as to gain the attention, and if possible the hearts, of the people, by using the language of the people, the Aramaic dialect of Palestine (Grimm-Thayer however points out that this is not rightly described as Syro-Chaldaic, it was rather Chaldee): see also Schürer, Jewish People, div. ii., vol. i., E.T., pp. 47, 48.

[364] Westcott and Hort’s The New Testament in Greek: Critical Text and Notes.40. And when he had given him licence [leave, R. V.]. And as the same verb occurs in the previous verse, the Rev. Ver. has there “give me leave to speak, &c.” It is fitting that in such passages the renderings should be uniform.

Paul … people] Apparently the chief captain had also been so far impressed by the conversation of his prisoner, that he allowed at least one of his hands to be released from its chain while he spake to the multitude, and this he waved to ask for silence.

And … great silence] The unusual circumstance, and the gesture which could be seen through the whole crowd, would gain an audience very readily. Beside which an Oriental mob is less persistent than those of the western world.

he spake … in the Hebrew tongue [language, R. V.] This alone, as soon as it was heard, would gain the speaker an audience with many. It was their own speech. For by “Hebrew” here is meant the Aramaic dialect of Palestine.[40. Ἐπὶ τῶν ἀναβαθμῶν, upon the steps) What an advantage did Paul’s captivity obtain for him, even at the very beginning of it!—V. g.]Verse 40. - Leave for license, A.V.; standing for stood...and, A.V.; language for tongue. A.V. The Hebrew language; i.e. the Syro-Chaldaic which was the vernacular of the Hebrew Jews at that time.

Beckoned with the hand

Compare Acts 26:1.

Tongue (διαλέκτῳ)

Lit., dialect: the language spoken by the Palestinian Jews - a mixture of Syriac and Chaldaic.

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