Paul, in his address to the people, gives an account of his birth and education, Acts 21:1-3. His prejudices against Christianity, Acts 21:4, Acts 21:5. And of his miraculous conversion, and call to the apostleship, vv. 6-21. The Jews, hearing him say that God had sent him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, become exceedingly outrageous, and clamor for his life, Acts 21:22, Acts 21:23. The chief captain orders him to be examined by scourging; but he, pleading his privilege as a Roman citizen, escapes the torture, Acts 21:24-29. The next day the chief captain brings Paul before the chief priests and their council, Acts 21:30.
Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you.Men, brethren, and fathers - A Hebrew form of expression for brethren and fathers: for two classes only are addressed. See the note on Acts 7:2.
Hear ye my defense - Μου της απολογιας, This apology of mine; in this sense the word apology was anciently understood: hence the Apologies of the primitive fathers, i.e. their defenses of the Christian religion. And this is as proper literal meaning; but it is now used only as implying an excuse for improper conduct. That this is an abuse of the term requires no proof.
(And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,)When they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue - He had probably been traduced by the Jews of Asia as a mere Gentile, distinguished only by his virulence against the Jewish religion; which virulence proceeded from his malice and ignorance.
I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.I am verily a man which am a Jew - A periphrasis for, I am really a Jew: and his mentioning this adds weight to the conjecture in the preceding note. He shows that he could not be ignorant of the Jewish religion, as he had had the best instructer in it which Jerusalem could produce.
Yet brought up, etc. - Bp. Pearce proposes that this verse should be thus read and translated: but brought up in this city; instructed at the feet of Gamaliel, according to the most exact manner, being exceedingly zealous for the law of our fathers, as ye all are this day.
Feet of Gamaliel - See a full account of this man in the note on Acts 5:34 (note).
It has been generally supposed that the phrase, brought up at the feet, is a reference to the Jewish custom, viz. that the disciples of the rabbins sat on low seats, or on the ground, whilst the rabbin himself occupied a lofty chair. But we rather learn, from Jewish authority, that the disciples of the rabbins stood before their teachers, as Vitringa has proved in his treatise De Synag. Vet. lib. i. p. 1, cap. 7. Kypke, therefore, contends that παρα τους ποδας, at the feet, means the same as πλησιον, near, or before, which is not an unfrequent mode of speech among both sacred and profane writers. Thus, in Acts 4:35, Acts 4:37; Acts 5:2, ετιθουν παρα τους ποδας των αποϚολων, they laid it at the apostles' feet, means only, they brought it to the apostles. So in 2 Maccabees 4:7, παρα ποδας ηδη τον ᾁδην ὁρωντες κειμενον, they saw death already lying at their feet; that is, as the Syriac translator has properly rendered it, they saw death immediately before them. So Themistius, Or. 27, p. 341, who adds the term by which the phrase is explained, εϚι και πλησιον αει τῳ δυναμενω λαμβανειν, ante pedes id temper et prope est, illi qui accipere potest. Also Lucian, De Conser. Hist. p. 669, ὡν παρα ποδας οἱ ελεγχοι. The refutation of which is at hand. The same kind of form occurs in the Hebrew, Exodus 11:8 : All the people that are at thy feet, ברגליך beragleica, i.e. who are with thee, under thy command, 2 Samuel 15:16. And the king went out, and all his household, ברגליו beraglaiv, at his feet; that is, with him, in his company. See Kypke. The phrase is used in the same sense among the Hindoos: I learned this at my father's feet - instead of, I learned it of my father. I was taught at the feet of such a teacher - my teacher's feet say so; meaning, simply, such and such persons taught me.
According to the perfect manner - That is, according to that strict interpretation of the law, and especially the traditions of the elders, for which the Pharisees were remarkable. That it is Pharisaism that the apostle has in view, when he says he was taught according to, ακριβειαν, the most extinct manner, is evident; and hence, in Acts 26:5, he calls Pharisaism ακριβεϚατην, the most exact system; and, under it, he was zealous towards God; scrupulously exact in every part of his duty, accompanying this with reverence to the supreme Being, and deep concern for his honor and glory.
And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.I persecuted this way - Ταυτην την ὁδον; This doctrine, the way of worshipping God, and arriving at a state of blessedness. See on Acts 9:2 (note).
As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.The high priest doth bear me witness, etc. - He probably referred to the letters of authority which he had received from the high priest, and the whole estate of the elders, παν το πρεσβυτεριον, the whole of the presbytery, that is, the sanhedrin; and it is likely, that he had those letters to produce. This zeal of his against Christianity was an ample proof of his sincerity as a Pharisaical Jew.
And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me.As I made my journey, etc. - See the whole of this account, and all the particular circumstances, considered at large in the notes on Acts 9:1 (note), etc., and the observations at the conclusion of that chapter.
And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.
And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.
And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.
And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.
And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there,
Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him.
And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.And see that Just One - The Lord Jesus, called the Just One, in opposition to the Jews, who crucified him as a malefactor: see the note on Acts 7:52. This is an additional proof that Jesus Christ did actually appear unto Saul of Tarsus.
For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.Thou shalt be his witness unto all - Thou shalt proclaim Christ crucified, both to Jews and Gentiles.
And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.Arise, and be baptized - Take now the profession of Christ's faith most solemnly upon thee, by being baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Wash away thy sins, etc. - Let this washing of thy body represent to thee the washing away of thy sins: and know that this washing away of sin can be received only by invoking the name of the Lord.
And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance;When I was come again to Jerusalem - It is likely that he refers to the first journey to Jerusalem, about three years after his conversion, Acts 9:25, Acts 9:26, and Galatians 1:18.
I was in a trance - This circumstance is not mentioned any where else, unless it be that to which himself refers in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, when he conceived himself transported to the third heaven; and, if the case be the same, the appearance of Jesus Christ to him, and the command given, are circumstances related only in this place.
And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.
And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee:I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue - This shows what an active instrument Saul of Tarsus was, in the hands of this persecuting priesthood, and how very generally the followers of Christ were persecuted, and how difficult it was at this time to profess Christianity.
And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.When the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed - See on Acts 7:58 (note); Acts 8:1 (note). All these things Paul alleged as reasons why he could not expect to be received by the Christians; for how could they suppose that such a persecutor could be converted?
And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles - This was the particular appointment of St. Paul: he was the apostle of the Gentiles; for, though he preached frequently to the Jews, yet to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, and to write for the conversion and establishment of the Gentile world, were his peculiar destination. Hence we find him and his companions travelling every where; through Judea, Phoenicia, Arabia, Syria, Cilicia, Pisidia, Lycaonia, Pamphylia, Galatia, Phrygia, Macedonia, Greece, Asia, the Isles of the Mediterranean Sea, the Isles of the Aegean Sea, Italy, and some add Spain and even Britain. This was the diocess of this primitive bishop: none of the apostles traveled, none preached, none labored as this man; and, we may add, none was so greatly owned of God. The epistles of Peter, John, James, and Jude, are great and excellent; but, when compared with those of Paul, however glorious they may be, they have no glory comparatively, by reason of that glory which excelleth. Next to Jesus Christ, St. Paul is the glory of the Christian Church. Jesus is the foundation; Paul, the master-builder.
And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.They gave him audience unto this word - Namely, that God had sent him to the Gentiles: not that they refused to preach the law to the Gentiles, and make them proselytes; for this they were fond of doing, so that our Lord says, they compassed sea and land to make a proselyte; but they understood the apostle as stating that God had rejected them, and called the Gentiles to be his peculiar people in their place; and this they could not bear.
Away with such a fellow - According to the law of Moses, he who attempted to seduce the people to any strange worship was to be stoned, Deuteronomy 13:15. The Jews wished to insinuate that the apostle was guilty of this crime, and that therefore he should be stoned, or put to death.
And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air,Cast off their clothes - Bishop Pearce supposes that shaking their upper garments is all that is meant here; and that it was an ancient custom for men to do so when highly pleased or greatly irritated; but it is likely that some of them were now actually throwing off their clothes, in order to prepare to stone Paul.
Threw dust into the air - In sign of contempt, and by way of execration. Shimei acted so, in order to express his contempt of David, 2 Samuel 16:13, where it is said, he cursed him as he went, and threw stones at him; or, as the margin, he dusted him with dust. Their throwing dust in the air was also expressive of extraordinary rage and vindictive malice. The apostle, being guarded by the Roman soldiers, was out of the power of the mob; and their throwing dust in the air not only showed their rage, but also their vexation that they could not get the apostle into their power. It is still used as a token of hostility and defiance. M. Denon, (Travels in Egypt, vol. iii. p. 98), on coming down the Nile to Cairo, stopped at the ancient city of Antinoe, to examine its ruins. "Being desirous of obtaining a view of the whole of these ruins, we ascended a little hill, and soon perceived the inhabitants of the modern village assembling behind an opposite eminence: scarcely had we come over against them than, supposing our intentions to be hostile, they called out for assistance, and threw dust into the air, in token of defiance. The alarm spread, and they began firing upon us."
The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him.Examined by scourging - As the chief captain did not understand the Hebrew language, he was ignorant of the charge brought against Paul, and ignorant also of the defense which the apostle had made; and, as he saw that they grew more and more outrageous, he supposed that Paul must have given them the highest provocation; and therefore he determined to put him to the torture, in order to find out the nature of his crime. The practice of putting people to the rack, in order to make them confess, has, to the disgrace of human nature, existed in all countries.
And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?And as they bound him, etc. - They were going to tie him to a post, that they might scourge him.
Is it lawful, etc. - The Roman law absolutely forbade the binding of a Roman citizen. See the note on Acts 16:37.
When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman.
Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea.
And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.With a great sum obtained I this freedom - So it appears that the freedom, even of Rome, might be purchased, and that it was sold at a very high price.
But I was free born - It has been generally believed that the inhabitants of Tarsus, born in that city, had the same rights and privileges as Roman citizens, in consequence of a charter or grant from Julius Caesar. Calmet disputes this, because Tarsus was a free not a colonial city; and he supposes that Paul's father might have been rewarded with the freedom of Rome for some military services, and that it was in consequence of this that Paul was horn free. But that the city of Tarsus had such privileges appears extremely probable. In Acts 21:39, Paul says he was born at Tarsus in Cilicia, and in Acts 22:28, he says he was free born; and, at Acts 22:26, he calls himself a Roman; as he does also Acts 16:37. From whence it has been concluded, with every show of reason, that Tarsus, though no Roman colony, yet had this privilege granted to it, that its natives should be citizens of Rome. Pliny, in Hist. Nat. lib. Acts 16:27, tells us that Tarsus was a free city. And Appian, De Bello Civil. lib. v. p. 1077, edit. Tollii, says that Antony, Ταρσεας ελευθερους ηφιει, και ατελεις φορων, made the people of Tarsus free, and discharged them from paying tribute. Dio Cassius, lib. xlvii. p. 508, edit. Reimar, farther tells us, Adeo Caesari priori, et ejus gratia etiam posteriori, favebant Tarsenses, ut urbem suam pro Tarso Juliopolin vocaverint: "that, for the affection which the people of Tarsus bore to Julius Caesar, and afterwards to Augustus, the former caused their city to be called Juliopolis." The Greek text is as follows: - οὑτω προσφιλως τῳ Καισαρι προτερῳ, και δι' εκεινον τῳ δευτερῳ, οἱ Ταρσεις ειχον, ὡϚε και Ιουλιοπολιν σφας απ' αυτου μετονομασαι. To which I add, that Philo, de Virt. vol. ii. p. 587, edit. Mang., makes Agrippa say to Caligula, φιλων ενιων πατριδας ὁλας της Ῥωμαΐκης ηξιωσας πολιτειας· You have made whole countries, to which your friends belong, to be citizens of Rome. See the note on Acts 21:39. These testimonies are of weight sufficient to show that Paul, by being born at Tarsus, might have been free born, and a Roman. See Bishop Pearce on Acts 16:37.
Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.After he knew that he was a Roman - He who was going to scourge him durst not proceed to the torture when Paul declared himself to be a Roman. A passage from Cicero, Orat. pro Verr. Act. ii. lib. v. 64, throws the fullest light on this place: Ille, quisquis erat, quem tu in crucem rapiebas, qui tibi esset ignotus, cum civem se Romanum esse diceret, apud te Praetorem, si non effugium, ne moram quidem mortis mentione atque usurpatione civitatis assequi potuit? "Whosoever he might be whom thou wert hurrying to the rack, were he even unknown to thee, if he said that he was a Roman citizen, he would necessarily obtain from thee, the Praetor, by the simple mention of Rome, if not an escape, yet at least a delay of his punishment." The whole of the sixty-fourth and sixty-fifth sections of this oration, which speak so pointedly on this subject, are worthy of consideration. Of this privilege he farther says, Ib. in cap. lvii., Illa vox et exclamatio, Civis Romanus sum, quae saepe multis in ultimis terris opem inter barbaros et salutem tulit, etc. That exclamation, I am a Roman citizen, which often times has brought assistance and safety, even among barbarians, in the remotest parts of the earth, etc.
Plutarch likewise, in his Life of Pompey, (vol. iii. p. 445, edit. Bryan), says, concerning the behavior of the pirates, when they had taken any Roman prisoner, Εκεινο δε ην ὑβριϚικωτατον κ. τ. λ. what was the most contumelious was this; when any of those whom they had made captives cried out, Ῥωμαιος ειναι, That He Was a Roman, and told them his name, they pretended to be surprised, and be in a fright, and smote upon their thighs, and fell down (on their knees) to him, beseeching him to pardon them! It is no wonder then that the torturer desisted, when Paul cried out that he was a Roman; and that the chief captain was alarmed, because he had bound him.
On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him from his bands, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them.He - commanded - all their council to appear - Instead of ελθειν, to come, which we translate, to appear, συνελθειν, to assemble, or meet together, is the reading of ACE, nearly twenty others, the Ethiopic, Arabic, Vulgate, Chrysostom, and Theophylact: this reading Griesbach has received into the text; and it is most probably the true one: as the chief captain wished to know the certainty of the matter, he desired the Jewish council, or Sanhedrin, to assemble, and examine the business thoroughly, that he might know of what the apostle was accused; as the law would not permit him to proceed against a Roman in any judicial way, but on the clearest evidence; and, as he understood that the cause of their enmity was something that concerned their religion, he considered the Sanhedrin to be the most proper judge, and therefore commanded them to assemble; and there is no doubt that he himself, and a sufficient number of soldiers, took care to attend, as the person of Paul could not be safe in the hands of persons so prejudiced, unprincipled, and enraged.
This chapter should end with the twenty-ninth verse, and the following should begin with the thirtieth; this is the most natural division, and is followed by some of the most correct editions of the original text.
1. In his address to the council, Paul asserts that he is a Jew, born of and among Jews; and that he had a regular Jewish education; and he takes care to observe that he had early imbibed all the prejudices peculiar to his countrymen, and had given the fullest proof of this in his persecution of the Christians. Thus, his assertions, concerning the unprofitableness of the legal ceremonies, could neither be attributed to ignorance nor indifference. Had a Gentile, no matter how learned or eminent, taught thus, his whole teaching would have been attributed to ignorance, prejudice, and envy. God, therefore, in his endless mercy, made use of a most eminent, learned, and bigoted Jew, to demonstrate the nullity of the whole Jewish system, and show the necessity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. At the close of this chapter, Dr. Dodd has the following judicious remark: - "As unrighteous as it was in the Roman officer, on this popular clamor, to attempt putting this holy apostle to the torture, so reasonable was St. Paul's plea, as a Roman citizen, to decline that suffering. It is a prudence worthy the imitation of the bravest of men, not to throw themselves into unnecessary difficulties. True courage widely differs from rash and heedless temerity; nor are we under any obligation, as Christians, to give up our civil privileges, which ought to be esteemed as the gifts of God, to every insolent and turbulent invader. In a thousand circumstances, gratitude to God, and duty to men, will oblige us to insist upon them; and a generous concern for those who may come after us should engage us to labor to transmit them to posterity improved rather than impaired." This should be an article in the creed of every genuine Briton.