21:1-7 Luke's account of sailing with Paul across the Mediterranean
As far as we know Luke had only been on short coastal sea journeys between ports along the coast of the Aegean between the Province of Asia and Macedonia. These were comparatively safe because they could stay in port during bad weather. As he joined Paul after the conference with the Ephesian elders (20:17-38), he was obviously awed by the dangerous open seas of the Mediterranean (he had heard of Paul's three shipwrecks, 2 Corinthians 11:25). So, like a modern tourist, Dr. Luke mentions the island of Cos, the location of the famous medical school founded by Hippocrates (about 400 BC). The Colossus of Rhodes had straddled the entrance to the harbor of Rhodes, but it was destroyed in an earthquake two hundred years before this visit. He notes the change to a big ocean going ship in Patara, the main port of the newly established Province of Lycia.. And we can imagine him watching as they sailed by the island of Cyprus on the left.. The ship landed in Tyre to unload cargo, and a week later went on via the port of Ptolemais to Caesarea. The twenty "we" verbs indicate that Luke was an eye-witness of the events in this memorable journey (21:1-17). He was obviously impressed by the Christians in each place, and the warnings they gave to Paul about the danger of going up to Jerusalem.
21:1-3 Patara was the best starting point to catch the prevailing winds for the long open sea journey across to Phoenicia (part of the province of Syria).
21:4 As the ship unloaded its cargo in Tyre (Tyrus), there was time for a week's visit with the church. It might have been planted from Damascus (a hundred miles away, 9:19-22) or by the refugees from persecution who moved up the coast to Antioch (Acts 11:19-21). Among the members was probably the Canaanite woman whose daughter was delivered by Jesus from satanic possession (Matthew 15:21-29).
21:5-6 Luke notes that the whole church in Tyre, including the women and children, accompanied them to the beach where the ship was moored. We wonder what the tough sea-going captain and his sailors thought of this large group kneeling to pray on the sand by their ship. We can be sure that Paul had told them about Jesus throughout the long sea journey, and no doubt he explained some more on the way to Caesarea.
21:7 Ptolemais (Acre, Akko) had been the most important sea-port of Palestine (now superceded by Haifa, 14 miles to the south). It was less than 20 miles from Cana of Galilee, so Jesus probably visited there. Philip (see note on 8:4, 21:8), and Peter (9:31-32) may have established the church in this big city (30 miles north of Caesarea). On this occasion (see note on 18:22) Paul and Luke could only stay one night to greet the believers there.
21:8-16 Paul is warned by prophets of the danger in Jerusalem
On the Day of Pentecost Peter quoted the prophecy of Joel that "your sons and your daughters will prophesy (Acts 2:17, Joel 2:28), and prophecy is one of the gifts of the Spirit (Romans 12:6, 1Corinthians 12:10, 28, Ephesians 4:11). Here Luke gives us a picture of how prophets actually functioned. Philip had four unmarried daughters who gave messages of "upbuilding and encouragement and consolation" (the definition of prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:3). That proves that there were women who preached in the early church, as they did in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:20, Judges 4:4, 2 Kings 22:14).
It also suggests that Paul's references to women keeping silent and asking their husbands at home (1 Corinthians 14:33-36, 1 Timothy 2:11-14) may have been added later (as in several ancient manuscripts of the Corinthian letter). The alternative is to deny the total mutuality that Paul clearly taught (1 Corinthians 7:1-16, Galatians 3:28). There is no way we can divide his teaching about the church as a body into male and female functions. Paul does give a rule about head covering. "Any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled" (1 Corinthians 11:4-16), which is obviously a cultural tradition (as is still required in some countries), but it also proves that Paul expected women to be praying and preaching in churches.
The problem was that both male and female (Revelation 2:20) prophets could turn out to be false prophets (13:6, Matthew 7:15, Nehemiah 6:12, 14, Jeremiah 23:21, 28:1, 29:8, Lamentations 2:14, Ezekiel 13:3). This is why Jesus stressed the need to test them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15, 22-23). There can also be those who are not false prophets, but their emphasis or conclusions can be wrong, so their messages need to be discussed and evaluated ("weighed" as in 1 Corinthians 14:29). Nobody is infallible.
In the case of Paul's intention to go to Jerusalem, the prophets in Tyre (21:4) and Agabus in Caesarea (21:10-11) probably knew that opposition to Paul was growing among orthodox Jews, and they were certainly right to warn him of the danger of going. But Paul said he was willing to be imprisoned (21:13) in Jerusalem, as in fact occured, and God overruled the situation for good (Romans 8:28)..
21:8 Cesarea was an easy day's sail forty miles south along the coast. The city was built 22-10 BC by Herod the Great who constructed huge moles for an artificial harbor, and aqueducts to bring water from the hills. It became the residence of the Roman governor, and a big military base. Philip the evangelist (Ephesians 4:11), had been one of the elders of the Greek speaking Christian synagogue in Jerusalem (6:5), but he became a very active church planting evangelist in Judea and Samaria (8:4, 26). He had made the city (see 10:1, 44-48) his headquarters for the work all along the coastal area of Judea. This was Paul's third visit (9:30, 18:22), and he would soon be imprisoned here (23:35-26:32).
21:9 As Paul and Luke met with the members in what we now call a charismatic gathering, Luke was surprised to find Philip's four daughters engaged in prophecy. Paul defined this as giving messages of "upbuilding and encouragement and consolation" (1 Corinthians 14:3). Perhaps these four women went out to build up and encourage other congregations in other parts of the city and in the surrounding country (see note on 18:10). We wonder whether they visited the congregation that gathered in the home of Cornelius, the Roman army Captain (10:44-48).
21:10-11 One who came to visit and speak in the charismatic meeting was Agabus. He was one the traveling prophets in the missionary bloodstream of the early church (see The Church: An Organic Picture chapters 8 and 13). He had previously met Paul in Antioch (11:27-28), and now he felt free to take Paul's belt, and he used it as a powerful visual aid (as in Jeremiah 13:1-11, Ezekiel 4:1-13, 5:1-4) to illustrate his warning that Paul would be arrested in Jerusalem.
21:12-14 Luke (see the "we" in verse 14) and the church members took this to mean Paul should not go up to Jerusalem, but Paul insisted he had to go, and they said "The Lord's will be done" (as in the Lord's Prayer).
21:15-16 In our day the journey down to Jaffa and up through the hills to Jerusalem would take less than two hours by car, but for Paul it was a four day walk. He was accompanied by Luke and some members of the church in Caesarea. In Jerusalem they were welcomed to stay with Mnason, who came originally from Cyprus, as did Barnabas (5:36), and like him was a founding member of the Christian synagogue in Jerusalem.
21:17- 30 Paul submits to a plan that failed to prove he was a loyal Jew
We have noted Peter's willingness to baptize Cornelius and his family to form a Gentile congregation in Caesarea (10:44-48). The Council of Jerusalem made it possible for non-Jews to have table fellowship with Jews in the same church congregation (15:19-21, 21:25). But in Jerusalem there were Messiah believing Jews who still felt the need to obey their ancient traditions (21:20). They knew that in his work planting Gentile churches, Paul was suspected of ignoring these duties. So they suggested that Paul join four strict Jews who were going through a ritual of purification to make a vow (21:24). They hoped this would satisfy the Jews in the city that Paul was still a loyal Jew. But things went wrong, and a false accusation resulted in a riot in which Paul just escaped being lynched.
21:17-18 When Paul and Luke and the brethren from Caesarea arrived, they were warmly welcomed, and they visited James, the brother of Jesus (see note on 15:13, 19) who was the presiding elder of the Christian but very orthodox Jewish congregation in Jerusalem.
21:19 Paul then had the opportunity to explain the huge growth that had taken place as congregations of Gentiles had formed in the churches of each of the main cities where Paul had preached all the way to Illyricum (Romans 15:19). In each case he stressed that it was God who had worked this through him (as in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, 2:4-5, 2 Corinthians 2:14, 4:7, 12:7-10).
21:20 This was well received, by James and the Jerusalem synagogue elders. But they wanted to demonstrate to the orthodox Jews (both Christian and those not yet believers in the Messiah) that Paul was a loyal Jew.
21:21 Many had heard that Paul not only told the Gentiles in each church that they did not need to obey the Old Testament laws and traditions (as settled in the Council of Jerusalem, 15:19-21), but he was guilty of telling Jews not to circumcise their baby boys and they could now ignore the traditions of their nation. This was a false rumor, though inevitably with Jews and Gentiles in one church, some of the traditions were probably ignored. Paul never denied that he was a Jew by race (see 21:39, 22:3). And in our day it is important for Jews who come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah to continue in their Jewish community and national traditions (as do the Messianic Jews).
21:22-24 But the elders suggested a plan for Paul to demonstrate his loyalty to Jewish traditions. Paul would join others, and pay their expenses, in making a Nazarite vow (Number 6:1-8) before the priests in the temple (e.g. David's vow in Psalm 132:2-5). This would be symbolized by cutting his hair (as in 18:18).
21:25 They made clear this was not a denial of the principle that Gentiles could continue to be Romans or Greeks or members of other racial groupings. The point was that Jews would remain racially Jews and abide by their culture. Christian faith is not a denial of one's own national heritage.
21:26 So Paul agreed (based on the principle of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23) to go through the seven day temple ritual as prescribed by Jewish tradition.
21:27-30 Some strict Jews, who had known Paul in the city of Ephesus in Asia, and who had previously caused trouble there (18:9) stirred up a crowd to cause a riot. Their argument was that Paul had brought a Greek named Trophimus from Ephesus into the temple area which was strictly closed to non-Jews. This was a false accusation, but the result was that a mob took Paul out of the temple area and were about to lynch him.
21:31-32 Romans hated a disturbance of any kind in their empire. Happily the commandant of the Roman garrison heard a riot had begun, rushed his men down from the Antonia fortress that overlooked the temple on the north side, and arrived just in time to save Paul who was already being beaten by the crowd.
21:33-36 He had him arrested and bound (as Agabus had prophesied, 21:10-11). He tried to find out who Paul was, but could not hear for the uproar of the angry crowd. So he ordered his soldiers to take Paul to safety into the barracks two hundred yards above the temple area.
21:37-39 As Paul was being carried up the steps, he asked for permission to speak to the commanding officer, who was surprised to hear him speaking in Greek. The Roman tribune had assumed that Paul was the Egyptian, who had recently led 4000 assassins (sikarioi from Latin sicarii men carrying daggers) in a revolt. But when he heard Paul speaking in educated Greek, he let Paul explain he was a Jew, and a citizen of Tarsus. At this point he did not say he was a Roman citizen by birth, but he did declare this later (22:25-28).
21:40 When Paul began addressing the crowd, he spoke to them in Hebrew.