The gospel reaches Rome, 21:1-28:31

ii] Paul and James


On arriving in Jerusalem, Paul, and the members of his team, stay at the home of a Cyprian believer named Mnason. On the following day, the team meets with James and the church elders. At this meeting the subject of Paul's gospel of grace and its relation to Mosaic law is discussed. As a salve to conservative Jewish believers, it is agreed that Paul both finance (possibly from the funds raised by his Gentile churches in aid of the poor saints in Jerusalem) and share in an act of ritual purification in accordance with the Law. The meeting concludes with James reminding the team of the agreed principles of the Jerusalem Council


We are saved by grace through faith apart from works of the law.


i] Context: See 21:1-16.


ii] Background:

iRighteousness before God apart from the Law, 10:17-33.


iii] Structure: Paul and James:

The missionary team makes its report, v17-20a;

The issue of law-obedience, v20b-24;

The issue of cultural sensitivity, v25.


iv] Interpretation:

This short passage gives us an insight into the tensions that existed in the New Testament church between conservative Jews and their Gentile brothers, but at the same time, it raises more questions than it answers.

The issue that dominates the first meeting between the apostle to the Gentiles and the elders of the Jerusalem church led by James, goes to the heart of Paul's gospel of grace and its relationship with Mosaic Law. The implication is that James and the elders believe that Paul is downplaying the significance of the Mosaic Law in the life of Jewish believers, and is allowing Gentiles to run roughshod over Jewish sensibilities. James makes the first point directly, and the second indirectly (James reminds Paul of the agreement reached at the Jerusalem Council, v25).

None-the-less, Luke seeks to paint a picture of settled agreement on the Jew / Gentile issue, even of Paul's willingness to participate in an act of Jewish ritual purification. Yet, it's very likely that the members of the circumcision party, the judaizers, an influential party in the Jerusalem church, would read Paul's ritual purification as nothing more than a sham. Luke makes no further mention of Paul's act of purification, nor of any real attempt by the believers in Jerusalem to aid him when troubles ensue. In fact, one wonder whether the judaizers were not the instigators of Paul's arrest. We have no real knowledge on the state of the church in Jerusalem at this point in time, but it probably exists as a compliant sect within Judaism, such that Paul, with his Gentile inclinations, would be somewhat of an embarrassment.

Given Paul's letter to the Galatians, James' complaint does have some merit. Paul's argument with Peter at Antioch likely developed over the implementation of the resolutions of the Jerusalem Council. In Galatians, Paul states that there was no way he would accept a break in fellowship in order to comply with matters of Jewish sensibility. Paul then moves on to the heart of the matter, the relationship between law and grace. Compliance with Mosaic Law as a fruit of faith is one thing, but using the Law as a mechanism to promote sanctification / holiness is another. Second-temple Judaism was nomistic, ie., they believed that the birth-rights of a Jew, under the covenant, were theirs as a gift of grace from a gracious God, but that the maintenance and progression of their covenant standing / their holiness, depended on a faithful attention to the Law. The members of the circumcision party were obviously tarred with this brush, even though followers of Jesus.

In his exposition of the Law, Jesus sought to expose the Pharisaic heresy of nomism. God's people are unhealthy trees producing bad fruit, and all the Law does is make us more fruitless / lawless - the speck becomes the log. Good trees will naturally produce good fruit, but such requires a work of grace, not law - a state (usually understood as status, but if God says it's so, it is so) of righteousness in the sight of God that is a gift of grace apart from the law. Law may guide, but it primarily serves to expose a person's sinful state. So, it is understandable that Paul, functioning as the exegete of Jesus, inevitably came into conflict with conservative members of the Jerusalem church who were still bound by Second-temple nomism.

One wonders to what extent James and the elders were, what we might call, "Reformed". Certainly, Luther had a view on the matter when it came to the letter of James (traditionally held to be the work of James of Jerusalem, the brother of the Lord)! Luke is not painting a false picture of settled agreement between Judaeo and Gentile Christianity, rather he is not giving us the full picture. The leadership team of the Jerusalem church "praised God" in response to Paul's account of the Gentile mission, but their concerns run deep, as noted by Luke. Having noted the concerns, Luke leaves the substance of the issue to Paul's letters.

On the issue of the offering of the Gentiles to the poor in Jerusalem, it is interesting to note that Luke makes no mention of the collection. As Barrett suggests, the collection likely makes no impact whatsoever, possibly even lost in all the troubles, and so Luke chooses not to record what ends up as a failed venture. There is the possibility that James' suggestion that Paul pay for the purification rites of the four men, serves as an obtuse reference to the collection, and to the type of use it was put to by the church in Jerusalem.


v] Homiletics: When in Rome

[Rome] I well remember, many years ago, a local Hare Krishna commune decided to get into local politics. So, for the local election, they put aside their cymbals, dressed up in suits, and went around touting for votes. The shaved heads and piercings were a bit of a giveaway. I always thought that they probably would have done better had they just stuck with their saffron robes and sandals. Local government would probably benefit from the input of someone committed to peace in every aspect of life. They might contribute to making Council meetings a little more peaceful.

Our reading today flags the danger of hypocrisy, given that Paul is about to perform an act of piety to sooth the concerns of conservative Jewish believers. Now, if anyone is a hypocrite in this situation, it's James and the elders; Paul may be the Apostle to the Gentiles, but he has never abandoned his Jewish culture. And more importantly, Paul lives by the principle that for the sake of the gospel he is "all things to all people" - When in Rome do what the Romans do.

This is one of those principles that easily moves from sensitivity to deception. Blokes, who have never worn a suit in their lives, know that for their wedding they have to dress up and not look like a dag. Mind you, I have never understood why so many blokes end up in an ill-fitting suit - maybe they would have been better left in their jeans! The When in Rome principle is not about deception - I don't wear the suit to pretend that I am always a well-dressed gentleman - but about sensitivity - I wear the suit for the sake of my partner.

Some years ago, an evangelistic programme took hold known as Friendship Evangelism. The programme involved encouraging believers to develop friendships to enable evangelistic opportunities. You can see, can't you, how such a programme can be either a sensitive consideration for others, or a selfish deception for personal gratification (the winning of scalps).

The principle, All things to all people, must have at its heart consideration for the other person, and not the self (The Golden Rule, Luke 6:31).

Text - 21:17

Paul and James, v17-25: i] The missionary team makes its report, v17-21. On leaving Caesarea, the missionary team heads for Jerusalem, staying at the home of a Cyprian believer named Mnason. It is not clear whether he and his family do the welcoming referred to in v17, or whether "the brothers" refers to the Christian community in Jerusalem. Luke is painting a positive picture, so maybe he intends the "Christian community".

genomenwn (ginomai) aor. part. "when we arrived" - [but/and, we] having come into jerusalem, the brothers gladly received us]. The genitive participle and its genitive subject hJmwn, "us", forms a genitive absolute construction, temporal, as NIV.


Again, Luke specifies the nature of the Jerusalem church leadership - James takes the lead supported by a team of elders, cf., 15:4ff. It is interesting to note that there is no mention of any of the apostles. Presumably, there are none present in Jerusalem at this time.

th .... epioush/ (epeimi) dat. pres. part. "the next day" - [but/and] on the following upon = next day [paul with us was going in toward james and all the elders came]. The participle serves as a substantive, the dative being temporal, as NIV.


It is possible that diakonia, "ministry", is referring to the collection for the saints, given that the word is used with this sense in Romans 15:30-31, although Bock thinks that here the word is being used in a general sense.

aspasamenoV (aspazomai) aor part. "Paul greeted [them and reported]" - [and] having greeted [them he was explaining]. The participle may just be attendant on the verb to explain, as NIV, but it could also be taken as adverbial, temporal; "After greeting them", ESV.

kaq (kata) "in detail" - according to [one each]. Distributive use of the preposition; "one thing after another / each and every one."

w|n gen. pro. "what" - which things [god did in = among the gentiles]. Although not affecting the sense of the verse, the presence of the genitive is somewhat strange. Zerwick suggests that technically kaq e}n e{kaston would include the genitive toutwn, "each and every one of these things", genitive of reference / respect, "concerning these things", and that the relative pronoun a{, "which things", has become w|n, genitive by attraction.

dia + gen. "through" - through. Instrumental, expressing means; "by means of".

autou gen. pro. "his [ministry]" - [the ministry] of him. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, "his ministry", or verbal, subjective, "the ministry performed by him".


Luke makes sure that the reader understands that, as with Paul's meeting with the Jerusalem Council in 15:4-12, "his law-free offer of the gospel to Gentiles was clearly endorsed" (Peterson Gk.) by the Jerusalem church leaders. To what degree they did fully endorse it is another matter!

oiJ ... akousanteV (akouw) aor. part. "When they heard this" - [but/and] the ones having heard [were glorifying god]. The participle serves as a substantive, subject of the verb "to glorify".


ii] The issue of law-obedience, v20b-24. Luke has already made the point that the sect of the Nazarene has attracted large numbers of adherents, a fact evidencing the realisation of the kingdom of God, 2:41, 4:4, 5:14. James, in restating this fact, underlines the adherents zeal for the law. Philo, commenting on such zealotry, states that "there are thousands who are zealots for the law, strictest guardians of the ancestral customs, merciless to those who do anything to subvert them". Such zealotry for Jewish distinctives and practices will do little "for any hope of good relations between the home church and the burgeoning mission in the /Aegean and beyond", Dunn. None-the-less, other than mentioning the initial difficulties that prompted the Jerusalem Council, Luke doesn't go there, cf., 15:24. Of course, Paul, in his letters, doesn't hesitate exposing the difficulties he encountered with members of the circumcision party, eg., Titus 1:10.....

te "-" - and. As with the introductory de, this conjunction is transitional, indicating a step in the narrative, but as Culy notes, it probably serves to give prominence to the following statement.

autw/ dat. pro. "to Paul" - [they said] to him. Dative of indirect object.

twn pepisteukotwn (pisteuw) perf. part. "have believed" - [you see how many myriads] of the ones having believed [there are in = among the jews]. The participle serves as a substantive, with the genitive being adjectival, partitive, "the many thousands of those who believe"; "I am sure you are aware of the large number of Jews who are believers."

tou nomou (oV) gen. "[zealous] for the law" - [and all exist = are zealous] of the law. The genitive is adjectival, verbal, objective, as NIV; "And all of them remain devoted adherents of the law", Barclay / "staunch upholders of the law", Cassirer.


As then, so today, it is easy to assume that a person who is anti-nomian is a perfectionist (the idea that law is unnecessary because we are already perfect). In fact, why not go all the way and live in sin that grace may abound? Rom.6:1. Of course, the argument is illogical, as Paul often pointed out; grace, by it's very nature, makes us gracious, or as Jesus puts it, a good tree produces good fruit. For the child of God, the law has only two functions: to remind us to look to the mercy of God in Christ (it constantly exposes our sinful nature, so driving us to the cross of Christ), and to guide the fruit of faith. All this assumes that James is raising a theological concern, but it is possible that cultural sensitivity is at the heart of James' words - or in Paul's case, his insensitivity.

oJti "that" - [but/and they have been informed about you] that. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what they were informed. The preposition peri expresses reference / respect; "concerning you".

kata + acc. "who live among" - [you are teaching the jews] according to [all the gentiles, nations]. A distributive use of the preposition introducing a phrase which serves as an attributive adjective, as NIV; "the Jews who live throughout all the nations".

apo + gen. "away from" - [apostasy] from [moses]. Expressing separation, "away from". Note that this phrase serves as the accusative complement of the direct object, "the Jews throughout the nations", of the verb "to teach", standing in a double accusative construction and stating a fact about the object. Note how the noun apostasian, "apostasy = abandonment", has been brought forward for emphasis.

legwn (legw) pres. part. "telling" - saying. The participle is probably adverbial, expressing means; "you teach ...... abandonment of Moses by saying .....", so Culy.

mh peritemnein (peritemnw) pres. inf. "not to circumcise" - [they] not to circumcise [the children, nor to walk in the customs]. The infinitive, as with "to walk", serve to introduce an object clause, dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Paul is supposed to have said. The accusative subject of the infinitive is autouV, "they".


James' rhetorical question heightens concern and thus, the need for a solution. Given the context, the "they" James fears has to be Jewish believers (Fitzmyer thinks it applies to Jews in general). It all seems a bit dramatic, but the enmity displayed in the past between Protestants and Catholics, or between Sunni and Shi'ite, reminds us that in a state of religious fervour, the devout take no prisoners.

oun pro. "[what shall we do]?" - therefore [what is to be]? Inferential, establishing a logical connection; given the problem, "what then can be done?"

oJti "[hear] that" - [they will hear certainly] that [you have come]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what they will hear, namely, that Paul has arrived in Jerusalem.


It is not clear how the leadership team of the Jerusalem church views the situation; is Paul the problem, or is it his theology? Anyway, they take the view that a show of Jewish piety will placate conservative Jewish believers. A question of integrity is often raised by commentators at this point, but Luke has been at pains to make the point that, even though Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles, he has not disowned his Jewish culture, cf., 18:18. He has though, adopted a when in Rome do what the Romans do approach to gospel ministry, cf., 1Cor.9:22.

soi dat. pro. "you" - [therefore this do which we say] to you. Dative of indirect object.

hJmin dat. pro. "with us" - [there are four men] in = with us. Dative of association, as NIV.

econteV (ecw) pres. part. "who have [made a vow]" - having [a vow upon themselves]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "four men"; "four men who are under a vow", ESV.


We have here an act of purification following a Nazarite vow, an act of piety involving 7 days of ritual cleansing, cutting of hair and payment for temple offerings. The offerings can be quite expensive, although probably not now as extensive as recorded in Numbers 6:1-21. Paul had only recently undertaken a Nazarite vow, but technically, due to his association with Gentiles, he would be unclean and in need of purification again. Paul's payment for the other four men may allude to the funds he holds from the Collection for the Saints.

paralabwn (paralambanw) aor. part. "take [these men]" - having taken [these men, become purified with them and spend money upon them]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to purify".

iJna + inf. "so that" - that [they will shave the head]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose, as NIV; "so that they can afford to pay the hair-offering".

oJti "-" - [and everyone will know] that. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what people will know.

w|n gen. pro. "about [you]" - of which things [they have been instructed about you there is nothing]. The pronoun sets up a headless relative clause, the genitive being adverbial, reference / respect; "with respect to the information they have received about you, there is no substance to it". "Everyone will know that there is not truth in these stories about you", Weymouth.

alla "but" - but. Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction: "no ....., but ....."

fulasswn (fulassw) pres. part. "in obedience to [the law]" - [that you yourself and = also are in conformity] keeping [the law]. The participle is adverbial, instrumental, expressing means; "by keeping the law". "You yourself keep the law and guide your conduct by it", Barclay.


It is possible that by repeating the decisions of the Jerusalem Council, James is making the point that Paul's purification rites have no bearing on his Gentile associates. The Western text assumes this to be the reason, so after "as for the Gentile believers", it adds "they have nothing against you for .....".

It seems more likely that Luke sees James making a clear distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers. If this is the case, then the purpose of the Council's decisions has changed. In the first instance the regulations sought to establish a basis for the union of Jew and Gentile, now they establish separation - they have their regulations, we have ours. For Paul, the regulations are a sensitivity guide. For James, the regulations are probably a minimal requirement for Gentile believers in their association with the Lord's historic people Israel. Given that James likely knows that Paul has been less than fastidious in the application of Mosaic law when it comes to his Gentile associations, he is reminding Paul that, as a Jew, he has a responsibility to live according to the law of Moses, just as Gentiles have a responsibility to live according to the basic regulations spelt out by the Jerusalem Council. Luke is recording a parting of the ways. The Christianity of James will go on to enslave God's people; the Christianity of Paul will set them free.

With respect to the four council decrees, as already noted, the three versions of the decrees - here and in 15:20, and 29 - vary in form and order, and to make matters worse, have attracted numerous textual variants, eg., the Western text omits "that which is strangled", replacing it with a negative version of the Golden Rule (except here???). Intent, of course, is the issue, and in all likelihood, Paul and James perceive the rules differently. It is very easy to read them as the best that can be expected of a human subset raised in a pagan environment, but for Paul, they are nothing more than sensitivity guidelines for Gentile believers fellowshipping with Jews, cf., Paul's argument with Peter in Galatians. At the church barbecue, when Jewish believers are present, it's best not to roast a strangled unbled pig slaughtered at the local temple, nor is it helpful to turn up with your two concubines.

peri + acc. "as for" - [but/and] about [the gentiles]. The preposition expresses reference / respect, "with respect to, about, concerning".

twn pepisteukotwn (pisteuw) gen. perf. part. "believers" - the ones having believed. The participle is adjectival, attributive, "the Gentiles who have believed", although note that the NIV treats it as attributed, "Gentile believers".

hJmeiV pro. "we" - we [we wrote]. Emphatic by use and position, possibly indicating a bit of finger-wagging; "Let me remind you that we wrote to Gentile believers on this matter after careful consideration".

krinanteV (krinw) aor. part. "our decision" - having judged. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, "after judgment" = "after careful consideration".

fulassesqai (fulassw) pres. mid. inf. "that they should abstain from" - [they] to keep guard = avoid, abstain from. The infinitive serves as the direct object of the verb "to write", serving as a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what they stated when they wrote, namely, "that you should abstain from". The pronoun autouV, "they", serves as the accusative subject of the infinitive.

to "-" - [both] the [idol meat, and blood, and strangled, and fornication]. The article, with the coordinating te .... kai construction, introduces the combined accusative complement of the direct object "to avoid", standing in a double accusative construction and stating a series of facts about the object.


Paul submits to James' request and commits himself to seven days of purification. This is required of a Nazarite who has touched a dead body, ie., Paul has associated with Gentiles. The financial arrangements associated with the hair-offering obviously requires some organisation, and given that Paul is funding the four men undertaking the Nazarite vow, he goes to the temple to diaggellwn, "make arrangements", with respect to the completion of the period of purification, indicating that at that time an offering would be made on behalf of each of the four men.

th/ ecomenh (ecw) pres. mid. part. "the next [day]" - [then] on the having = next to [day]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "day", "the day which is next" = "the next day". The dative is adverbial, temporal.

paralabwn (paralambanw) aor. part. "[Paul] took" - having taken [the men, having purified with them, he was entering into the temple]. The participle, as with "having purified", is adverbial, best treated as temporal; "On the following day, after Paul had undergone the purification ritual with the four men, he entered the temple". The preposition sun, "with", expresses association / accompaniment.

diaggellwn (diaggellw) pres. part. "to give notice" - announcing = giving notice. The participle is adverbial, best treated as final, expressing purpose, "in order to give notice = make arrangements".

thn ekplhrwsin (iV ewV) acc. "the date" - the completion. The accusative is adverbial, reference / respect; "in order to give notice, with respect to the completion" = "with respect to when the days of purification end".

twn hJmerwn (a) gen. "when the days [.... would end]" - of the days. The genitive is adjectival, descriptive, idiomatic / temporal, limiting "completion"; "when the days end".

tou aJgnismou (oV) gen. "of purification" - of purification. The genitive is adjectival, descriptive, idiomatic, limiting "days"; "the days which cover the period of purification".

e{wV ou| "-" - until which [the offering was offered for each one of them]. This temporal phrase takes the sense "at which time", BDAG. At this point it seems that Luke now gives us the content of the notice; "that at that time an offering would be presented for each of them." The preposition uJper, "for", in this context, expresses advantage, "on behalf of each of them". The genitive autwn, "them", is adjectival, partitive, "each one of them".


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