Acts Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 21

1. After we had torn ourselves away from the Ephesian elders, we set sail and made a straight run to Cos. The next day we went to Rhodes, and from there to Patara.
2. On finding a ship that was crossing over to Phoenicia, we embarked and set sail.
3. After sighting Cyprus, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria and landed at Tzor, because that was where the ship was unloading its cargo.
4. Having searched out the talmidim there, we remained for a week. Guided by the Spirit, they told Sha’ul not to go up to Yerushalayim;
Guided by the Spirit, they told Sha'ul not to go up to Yerushalayim. Is God divided? Does he speak from both sides of his mouth? Can the Holy Spirit tell Sha'ul to go to Yerushalayim (20:22) and also speak through others telling him not to go? First, the two events are not at the same time. God can give an order and then rescind it, as he did in the case of Abraham's sacrificing Isaac (Genesis 22), or make a promise to destroy Nineveh and then change his mind because its inhabitants repent (Jonah 4). But here the Ruach HaKodesh is giving the believers of Tzor a word of knowledge (1С 12:8-10&N) that in Yerushalayim Sha'ul will meet with trouble. This word, already sensed by Sha'ul (20:23), is confirmed again shortly afterwards (vv. 10-14&N). But it is their own inference, not the Holy Spirit's command, that Sha'ul should therefore not go on. Their urging seems reasonable, and it appeals to sentiment. But it is not the Lord's will for Sha'ul, whom he told at the beginning that his ministry would involve suffering (9:16). 

5. but when the week was over, we left to continue our journey. All of them, with their wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the town. Kneeling on the beach and praying,
6. we said good-bye to each other. Then we boarded the ship, and they returned home.
7. When the voyage from Tzor was over, we arrived at Ptolemais. There we greeted the brothers and stayed with them overnight.
Ptolemais, named after the Ptolemys, the rulers of Egypt. Modern Akko (Acre), north of Haifa. 

8. The following day, we left and came to Caesarea, where we went to the home of Philip the proclaimer of the Good News, one of the Seven, and stayed with him.
Philip the proclaimer of the Good News, not the emissary but one of the Seven appointed shammashim (6:5, 8:5), settled in Caesarea (8:40&N). Although it was the Roman capital, Philip must have won only Jews to the Lord at first; since Kefa later brought the first Gentile to faith in that very city (10:1-11:18). 

9. He had four unmarried daughters with the gift of prophecy.
10. While we were staying there, a prophet named Agav came down from Y’hudah
11. to visit us. He took Sha’ul’s belt, tied up his own hands and feet and said, “Here is what the Ruach HaKodesh says: the man who owns this belt — the Judeans in Yerushalayim will tie him up just like this and hand him over to the Goyim.”
12. When we heard this, both we and the people there begged him not to go up to Yerushalayim;
13. but Sha’ul answered, “What are you doing, crying and trying to weaken my resolve? I am prepared not only to be tied up, but even to die in Yerushalayim for the name of the Lord Yeshua.”
14. And when he would not be convinced, we said, “May the Lord’s will be done,” and kept quiet.
A prophet named Agav, mentioned earlier (11:28; see also 11:27N). Facing a similar situation Yeshua said to Kefa, "Get behind me, Satan!" (Mt 16:23). Yeshua was angry at the Adversary; here Sha'ul is sorrowful over his friends' efforts to dissuade him' from doing what the Spirit wants him to do (see v. 4&N). In the end the others assent, subordinating their feelings to the Lord's will. 

15. So at the end of our stay, we packed and went up to Yerushalayim;
16. and with us went some of the talmidim from Caesarea. They brought us to the home of the man with whom we were to stay, Mnason from Cyprus, who had been a talmid since the early days.
17. In Yerushalayim, the brothers received us warmly.
18. The next day Sha’ul and the rest of us went in to Ya‘akov, and all the elders were present.
Ya'akov, the half-brother of Yeshua and leader of the Messianic Community in Yerushalayim (see 12:17N). 

19. After greeting them, Sha’ul described in detail each of the things God had done among the Gentiles through his efforts.
Sha'ul does not mention the great collection he and his companions were bringing with them for the Jewish poor in Yerushalayim: we assume it was duly delivered (see 24:17&N). His concern is rather with the things God had done among the Gentiles through him. He is not boasting: the elders need to be brought up to date on how the Lord is moving in places abroad (compare 14.26-27&N). 

20. On hearing it, they praised God; but they also said to him, “You see, brother, how many tens of thousands of believers there are among the Judeans, and they are all zealots for the Torah.
On hearing it they praised God. An attempt is sometimes made to prove that the believers in Yerushalayim opposed Sha'ul's efforts to reach Gentiles with the Gospel. These words prove the contrary: these believers, who were intensely committed to their Jewishness, praised God for what Sha'ul was doing and addressed him as "brother"; compare Ga 2:6-10.

Many tens of thousands. Most English versions render Greek muriades as "thousands"; but the word, like its Hebrew equivalent, r'vavot, means, literally, "tens of thousands." Although "muriades" gives English its word, "myriads," which is not specifically quantitative, there is no reason here to turn a word which is specifically quantitative into one which is not, let alone into a different quantity. The matter is important because there is a theory common in non-Messianic Jewish circles that Messianic Jews constituted a negligible proportion of first-century Jewry. This assumed quantitive insignificance is then used to explain the relatively infrequent mention of Yeshua in Jewish sources and their almost complete neglect of Sha'ul. It is hard to develop a defensible estimate of the number of Messianic Jews in the first century. I occasionally read in Messianic Jewish publications that there were half a million or a million, but I have yet to see anyone take responsibility for these numbers in print by naming primary sources. Nevertheless, there are some benchmarks. The Encyclopedia Judaica's article on "Population" states:

"...a census of the Jewish population taken by Emperor Claudius in48C.E.... found no less than 6,944,000 Jews within the confines of the empire.... It stands to reason, therefore, that shortly before the fall of Jerusalem the world Jewish population exceeded 8,000,000, of whom probably not more than 2,350,000-2,500,000 lived in Palestine." (13:871)

The article also notes that Jews constituted some 40% of the 500,000-1,000,000 inhabitants of Alexandria, "in which case the Alexandrine [JewishJ community may well have exceeded in size that of Jerusalem in its heyday." Thus the Alexandrine Jewish community numbered 200,000-400,000, and the Jerusalem community "may well have" been smaller.

What proportion of the Jews of Jerusalem were Messianic? The word "muriades" in this verse, if taken literally, necessarily means at least 20,000 Messianic Jews. Twenty thousand, the minimum number of Messianic Jews, is 5% of 400,000, the maximum population of the city. Thus at least 5% of the Jews of Jerusalem were Messianic. If we carry this exercise in mathematical logic one step further and assume that 5% of the world Jewish population was Messianic, we can deduce that there were at least 400,000 Messianic Jews alive in the world before the fall of Jerusalem.

Moreover, archeological data yield much lower figures for city populations. Magen Broshi, curator of Jerusalem's Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, estimates the city's population at the end of King Herod the Great's rule (c. 4 B.C.E.) at 40,000, and before the destruction of the Second Temple (c. 66 C.E.) at 80,000; these figures do not include the "suburbs" outside the city walls ("Estimating the Population of Ancient Jerusalem," pp. 10-15 in Biblical Archeology Review 4:2 (1978)). If there were 80,000 Jews and 20,000 Messianic Jews, the Messianics constituted a quarter of the city's population! But I find this unimaginable — a minority constituting a quarter of the Jewish population of Jerusalem could not have sunk into the oblivion suffered by the early Messianic Jewish community.

Another factor enters, although its consideration implies changing the word "Judeans" to "Jews" (see next part of this note, on "Judeans"). The population of both Messianic and non-Messianic Jews in Jerusalem was swollen by pilgrims who, like Sha'ul, had come for Shavu 'ot, or who, like the Jews in 2:5-11, had stayed over since Pesach. Josephus wrote how the population of Jerusalem swelled up for the pilgrim feasts. If Magen Broshi's estimate should be tripled for Shavu'ot, 20,000 is about 8% of 240,000; and applying this to the world figure yields 640,000 Messianic Jews in the world. But there were many muriates, which must mean more than the minimum of 20,000. There could have been 30,000, 50,000 or more Messianic Jews in Jerusalem when Sha'ul arrived. In this case the world figure could well approach the million mark.

On the other hand, if it can be shown that muriades is not used literally to denote "tens of thousands" but figuratively to mean merely "very many," then we can conclude next to nothing about the Messianic Jewish population in the first century. However, the burden of proof falls on those wanting to discount the word's literal meaning, since Luke employs numbers literally when describing the size of the Messianic Community and uses nonnumerical terminology when speaking less precisely about its growth (see 2:41&N). The word "muriades" can be satisfactorily rendered 'lens of thousands" in all three places where Luke uses it (Lk 12:1, Ac 19:19, here), and likewise at its three other New Testament appearances (MJ 12:22; Yd 14, where I render it "myriads"; and Rv 9:16).

Judeans, or "Jews." Normally I render Greek loudaioi "Judeans" when the context is the Land of Israel, but when the context is the Diaspora, I translate it "Jews" (see Yn 1:19). Here both contexts are present, and one can make a case either way. The location is Yerushalayim, obviously in the Land, so I have put "Judeans" in the text. Moreover, the Judeans were the Jews most likely to be zealots for the Torah. But the social context of the pilgrim feast brings in the Diaspora, as noted above and at 2:5; see 2:UN. Moreover, the textual context includes both "Gentiles" (v. 19) and "Goyim" (v. 21), which would argue in favor of rendering "loudaioi" "Jews" by way of contrast. In my view, a close call.

And they are all zealots for the Torah, or "jealous on behalf of the Torah." God himself is described as "jealous" at Exodus 20:5 and elsewhere. On "Torah" as a translation of Greek nomos see v. 2 IN. Nowhere in this narrative are these "zealots for the Torah" condemned for their devotion or for their adherence to the Torah. On the contrary, it was normal for Messianic Jews in Jerusalem to observe the Jewish Law. Not only were they Jews (not ex-Jews), but they behaved Jewishly, which means that they observed the Torah and were zealous for it. Their self-identification and their identification by others was as loyal Jews concerned for preserving the Jewish people, as the next verse demonstrates.

And so it is today. Messianic Jews today too regard themselves as loyal Jews. Most have increased their Jewish consciousness as a result of coming to trust in the Jewish Messiah. Yeshua; and most are actively concerned for preserving the Jewish people. The model fostered in parts of the non-Messianic Jewish community that when one believes in Yeshua one leaves the Jewish people is false and misleading. There is no ground for it in the New Testament, which time and again demonstrates exactly the opposite. Churchmen who spread the lie that Jewish believers in Yeshua are no longer Jewish do incalculable harm to the Gospel, to the Jewish people and to the Church — not least by lending credibility to non-Messianic Jews who have their own defensive reasons for holding the same view. 

21. Now what they have been told about you is that you are teaching all the Jews living among the Goyim to apostatize from Moshe, telling them not to have a b’rit-milah for their sons and not to follow the traditions.
What they have been told about you. Not, "They know thai you...." Ya'akov's careful choice of the verb "katechethisan" (from which comes the English word "catechism"), in the passive voice, means that he was fully aware that what these zealous Messianic Jewish brothers had heard about Sha'ul was not true. They had been told a lie, a rumor had spread, gossip had circulated. The problem, as becomes evident immediately, was not what Sha'ul had done (for he had not done the thing these people had been told), but how to deal with a situation where people are misinformed and feelings run high because they are zealots. What had they been told? That you are teaching all the Jews living among the Goyim. living among the Gentiles, in the nations outside Israel, in the Diaspora, to apostatize (Greek apostasia means, literally, "standing apart" and implies rebellion) from Moshe, that is, from the Torah God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, from the Jewish Law. This apostasy consists of two parts, telling them not to have their sons circumcised and not to follow the traditions. These were also the issues in Acts 15.

The importance of circumcision has already been discussed at 15:1&N, 16:1-3&NN. Opposing the command that embodies Jewish distinctiveness would be tantamount to teaching that the Jewish people as such are unimportant and have no future (which is exactly what Replacement theology does teach; see Mt 5:5N and other references there). Not following the traditions means not observing the Torah, probably including the Oral Law as well as what is written in the Tanakh. The accusation against Sha'ul, then, was that he was a traitor to the Jewish people who taught Jews all over the Diaspora to cease functioning as Jews. Here are three points to refute the charges:

(1) Sha'ul himself did not violate the Torah but continued to keep it after coming to trust in Yeshua. He had Timothy circumcised (16:3). He kept numerous Jewish customs — taking a vow (18:18&N), observing festivals (20:16&N), paying for the vow-ending sacrifices of four men at the Temple (vv. 23-27 below), evidently fasting on Yom-Kippur(21:9&N). He regularly attended synagogue services and was welcome to teach in them (17:2, etc.). As a Messianic Jew he remained a Pharisee (23:6&N). Thus he could say that he believed everything that accords with the Torah (24:14), that he had committed no offense against the Torah (25:8), and that he had a clear conscience in the sight of God and man (24:16); against his claims his accusers failed to make a case in court (26:31-32). At the end of his ministry he continued to assert exactly the opposite of what he is charged with here, saying, "I have done nothing against either our people or the traditions of our fathers" (28:17). For still more evidence see 13:9N.

(2) Sha'ul's teaching not to circumcise (1С 7:18&N; Ga 5:2-6&NN, 6:I2-15&NN) and not to observe Jewish laws and customs (Ga 4:8-1 l&NN, Co 2:16-23&NN) were never directed to Jews but invariably and only to Gentiles. Gentiles had to be reassured that they were saved and incorporated into the people of God by trusting God through the Messiah Yeshua, not by observing this or that set of Jewish practices or by converting to Judaism; for, although Judaism acknowledged that the righteous Gentile had a share in the world to come, there was in the first century a strong movement for Jewish proselytism (see Mt 23:15&N and references there).

(3) Sha'ul did not need to instruct Diaspora Jews to observe the Law, for there was no shortage of rabbis and teachers to exhort them (Ac 15:21). Moreover, what in the Tanakh could be clearer than that Jews are expected to keep the Torahl The New Testament does not repeat truths already evident from the Tanakh; it assumes them. Sha'ul assumed them too.

Thus we dispose of the indictment against Sha'ul. But this verse also hints at a crucial question for today's Messianic Judaism: should Messianic Jews keep the Law? Many Orthodox and Conservative Jews with a strong commitment to their religion, who consider obedience to the Law the central distinctive of Judaism, have been told that Christianity teaches Jews to apostatize from Moshe, telling them not to have their sons circumcised and not to follow the traditions. Believing it, they are likely to consider Messianic Judaism not Judaism at all. How Messianic Jews should relate to the Law is far too broad an issue to discuss in this commentary, but 1 have dealt with it throughout my book. Messianic Jewish Manifesto, especially in Chapter V ("Torah"); see particularly pp. 136ff. (On the other hand, when Messianic Jews do circumcise their sons and follow the traditions, there are non-Messianic Jews who accuse them of deception — see 2C 4:1-2&N. A "Catch-22" if there ever was one!) 

22. “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
23. So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow.
A vow. A voluntary vow; the terms are set forth in Mishna Nazir (see also 18:18N). Generally such vows were from one to three months in length. The outward elements consisted in not touching anything dead, refraining from any product of the grapevine and not cutting one's hair (see Numbers 6:1-21). At the end of the vow the Nazirite had his hair cut and burned it on the Temple altar, and certain prescribed sacrifices were offered. 

24. Take them with you, be purified with them, and pay the expenses connected with having their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that there is nothing to these rumors which they have heard about you; but that, on the contrary, you yourself stay in line and keep the Torah.
The exact details of this procedure, presumably a common one, are uncertain. However, the Torah states the central requirements:
"This is the torah of the naziron the day when the period of his vow is completed. He is to be brought to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and is to present his offering to Adonai: a yearling male lamb without blemish as a burnt offering, a yearling ewe without blemish as a sin offering, a ram without blemish as a peace offering, a basket of matzah, loaves of fine flour mixed with oil, matzah spread with oil, and their grain offering and drink offerings." (Numbers 6:13-15)

Clearly the four men were poor; otherwise they could have bought their own sacrificial animals and gifts. Sha'ul as patron must do more than merely pay the expenses, he too must be accepted by the cohanim and be ritually purified. The process took seven days (v. 27). Everyone will know, Greek gnosoniai, which implies certain knowledge of what is true, in contrast with what they "have been told" (v. 21). This means that Ya'akov already understood perfectly, and the zealous Jerusalem believers would soon see, that there is nothing to these rumors they have heard about Sha'ul; but that, on the contrary, in Ya'akov's words to Sha'ul, you yourself stay in line (Greek stoicheis, "walk, stand in line; are in the ranks") and keep the Torah. The authority of Ya'akov stands behind the assertion that Sha'ul was ГогаЛ-observant. Action is necessary in order to head off a violent confrontation with the "zealots" due to their believing the false rumor of v. 21.
In spite of the arguments of v. 21N confirming Sha'ul's loyalty to Judaism and the Torah, many Christians suppose that when Sha'ul came to faith in Yeshua he stopped being Jewish, stopped observing the Law and began teaching other Jewish believers to do likewise. But those who hold this mistaken opinion have a serious problem with the ethics of these verses. If Sha'ul was not really 7braA-observant, if he really did teach the Jews in the Diaspora not to have their children circumcised and not to follow the traditions, than he and Ya'akov are exposed orchestrating a charade to deceive the Jewish believers zealous for the Torah into discounting the truth they had been told and believing a lie instead. Nothing in the whole New Testament justifies this understanding of how Ya'akov. Sha'ul or any other believer functioned. 

25. “However, in regard to the Goyim who have come to trust in Yeshua, we all joined in writing them a letter with our decision that they should abstain from what had been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled and from fornication.”
This repeats the din (Hebrew for "ruling," halakhic decision) of 15:19-20&NN and 15:28-29, reassuring Gentiles that the preceding three verses dealing with the situation of Messianic Jews do not affect the earlier determination that Gentiles can become Christians without becoming Jews. 

26. The next day Sha’ul took the men, purified himself along with them and entered the Temple to give notice of when the period of purification would be finished and the offering would have to be made for each of them.
27. The seven days were almost up when some unbelieving Jews from the province of Asia saw him in the Temple, stirred up all the crowd and grabbed him.
Unbelieving Jews. See 9:22-23N. The unbelieving Jews from Asia stirred up ail the crowd, which included many Judean unbelieving Jews. Sha'ul had long been concerned about them (see 1 Th 2:14-16&NN, Ro 15:31&N). 

28. “Men of Isra’el, help!” they shouted. “This is the man who goes everywhere teaching everyone things against the people, against the Torah and against this place! And now he has even brought some Goyim into the Temple and defiled this holy place!”
Five lies. Sha'ul did not teach against the people or against the Torah or against this place (the Temple); nor had he brought some Goyim into the Temple or defiled this holy place. The accusations were precisely the ones most likely to stir up feeling against him. A Gentile entering the Temple's inner court would ceremonially defile it. 

29. (They had previously seen Trophimus from Ephesus in the city with him and assumed that Sha’ul had brought him into the Temple.)
Trophimus from Ephesus, whom Sha'ul had brought with him (20:5). People "from the province of Asia" (20:4) would have been the ones most likely to recognize him. 

30. The whole city was aroused, and people came running from all over. They seized Sha’ul and dragged him out of the Temple, and at once the gates were shut.
31. But while they were attempting to kill him, word reached the commander of the Roman battalion that all Yerushalayim was in turmoil.
32. Immediately he took officers and soldiers and charged down upon them. As soon as they saw the commander, they quit beating Sha’ul.
The Roman battalion was stationed in the Antonia Fortress, immediately adjacent to the Temple grounds; so it did not take long for them to arrive and prevent the mob from lynching Sha'ul. 

33. Then the commander came up, arrested him and ordered him to be tied up with two chains. He asked who he was and what he had done.
34. Everyone in the crowd shouted something different; so, since he couldn’t find out what had happened because of the uproar, he ordered him brought to the barracks.
35. When Sha’ul got to the steps, he actually had to be carried by the soldiers, because the mob was so wild —
36. the crowd kept following and screaming, “Kill him!”
37. As Sha’ul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, “Is it all right if I say something to you?” The commander said, “You know Greek!
38. Say, aren’t you that Egyptian who tried to start a revolution a while back, and led four thousand armed terrorists out into the desert?”
That Egyptian. The first-century historian Josephus reports that he came to Jerusalem around 54 C.E., during the time of Felix (23:24N):
"At this time someone came out of Egypt who said he was a prophet and advised the masses of the common people to go with him to the Mount of Olives, where he would show them how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down; and he promised he would enable them to enter the city through those walls after they had fallen down. When Felix was informed of these things, he ordered his soldiers to take their weapons, and he came against them from Jerusalem with a great number of horsemen and footmen. He attacked the Egyptian and the people with him, slaying four hundred of them and taking two hundred alive. The Egyptian himself escaped from the battle but did not appear any more." (Condensed from Antiquities of the Jews 20:8:6) 

39. Sha’ul said, “I am a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city; and I ask your permission to let me speak to the people.”
40. Having received permission, Sha’ul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people. When they finally became still, he addressed them in Hebrew:
In Hebrew, literally, "in the Hebrew language," which could have been either the Aramaic heard more often in public or the Hebrew still spoken in public but more often at home. See Mk 5:41N.
A dramatic and inspiring instance of what Ep 5:16 (KJV) calls "redeeming the time": Sha'ul turns his rescue into an opportunity for proclaiming the Gospel to his would-be killers. 

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