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

iii] The arrest of Paul in the Temple


Paul has attended the temple for purification with four men who are completing their Nazarite vow, but at the conclusion of the purification, he is spotted by pilgrims from Asia who stir up the crowd with the claim that Paul has defiled the temple by taking Gentiles into it. The crowd drags Paul from the temple and are setting upon him when a cohort from the local garrison intervenes, arresting Paul and taking him back to the barracks. Before entering the barracks, the commander allows Paul to address the gathered mob.


All things work for good to those who love the Lord, Rom.8:28.


i] Context: See 21:1-16.


ii] Background:




iii] Structure: The arrest of Paul:

The charge of profaning the temple, v27-29;

A crowd sets upon Paul, v30-32;

The arrest, v33-36;

Paul explains himself, v37-40.


iv] Interpretation:

Paul now finds himself under arrest by the Roman authorities and he will stay this way for the rest of the book of Acts. Pervo in Profit and Delight, 1987, notes that Luke devotes a third of his Acts of the Apostles to Paul's imprisonment, actually more than his missionary endeavours. Luke also gives more space to his defence speeches than to his earlier gospel sermons. It's unclear what's going on here. Is this section climactic, or is it more important in Luke's eyes? Of course, it may just be that Luke is addressing recent events and so he writes with greater clarity. We should never discount the possibility that Luke wrote this book while Paul was still under house-arrest in Rome.

Again we note Luke's inclination to paint Rome's justice system in a positive light. Roman justice is flawed, but again the Roman administration comes to the rescue, and Paul is able to survive a murderous mob acting illegally. Paul has conducted himself properly and has certainly not profaned the temple. Paul's enemies are the ones acting illegally. So, we again see evidence of a defence of Christianity, an apologia to the Roman authorities, even possibly a defence for Paul himself.

In Luke's account, we are told that some Jews from the Roman province of Asia are the ones who stir up the mob against Paul. Paul is at the end of seven days of purification from ritual defilement when they set upon him. As in Ephesus, a riot develops from baseless charges. The more serious charge, a capital offence, held that Paul had profaned the temple by taking Greeks beyond the Court of the Gentiles into the inner temple. The Roman garrison was housed next to the temple, and when Paul is dragged out of the temple by the mob, a Roman cohort, led by an officer named Claudius Lysias, gets involved and arrests Paul, just as Agabus prophesied. Paul is a bit worse for wear, so he has to be helped to the barracks.

While being led away, Paul addresses the tribune in Greek (the lingua franca of the day). The tribune then realises that Paul is cultured, and not some uncouth Aramaic Jew, nor a particular Egyptian Jew who has just led a rebellion against Rome's forces in Jerusalem. Josephus, the Jewish historian of the time, records this rebellion, as well as the fact that the leader had escaped. For the tribune, these rebels are sikariwn, "assassins = terrorists", but of course, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter - it all depends on your perspective (eg., Palestine today). Paul provides a condensed CV (curriculum vitae) to the tribune, who consequently is amenable to Paul's request to speak to the crowd. The shouting subsides and Paul addresses the crowd in an aramaicized Hebrew, a version of Israel's historic language, the dialect of Israel's religious elite.

Text - 21:27

The arrest of Paul, v27-40; i] The charge of profaning the temple, v27-29. Ephesian Jews from the Roman province of Asia have caused trouble for Paul in the past and it seems some of them have come to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost and have spotted Paul, their hated enemy.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative.

wJV "when" - when [the seven days]. The conjunction here is temporal, introducing a temporal clause.

sunteleisqai (suntelw) pres. inf. "were [nearly] over" - [were about] to be finished. The infinitive is complementary, completing the verb "to be about".

apo + gen. "from [the province of Asia]" - [the jews] from [asia]. Expressing source / origin.

qeasamenoi (qeomai) aor. part. "saw" - having seen [him in the temple, were mingling together = confusing, stirring up, all the crowd and they laid on him the hands]. The participle is handled differently by translators, eg., adjectival, attributive, "who had noticed him ...", Berkeley, or attendant on the verb "to stir up", "saw him and set about stirring up ... ". It is probably intended to be adverbial, modifying the verb "to stir up", modal or temporal; "when they saw Paul in the temple they set about stirring up a riot".


The first part of the charge reflects the concern expressed by James, with the second, far more serious. Taking a Gentile into the inner court of the temple, the holy place, is forbidden, on pain of death.

krazonteV (krazw) pres. part. "[seized him] shouting" - calling out. The NIV treats the participle as adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of their seizing Paul, but it may be treated as attendant on the verb "to lay hands on = seize"; "they seized him and cried out". In typical fashion, such a participle serves also to introduce direct speech.

Israhlitai (hV ou) "[fellow] Israelites" - [men] israelites, [help us]. Vocative, standing in apposition to "men".

didaskwn (didaskw) pres. part. "who teaches" - [this is the man] teaching [everyone everywhere]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "man", as NIV.

kata + gen. "against" - against [the people and the law and this place]. Expressing opposition.

eti te kai "and besides" - and yet also [he brought greeks into the temple and has made common = defiled this holy place]. Culy suggests that the sense of this construction here is intensive, "and moreover, he has even brought .....", rather than just "furthermore", "what is more", Zerwick.


Luke is at pains to make sure that the reader understands an important point of jurisprudence, with respect to Paul's arrest. The more serious charge against Paul is based on an assumption. The Ephesian Jews saw Paul in the city with their fellow countryman Tophimus, obviously a Gentile, but they wrongly assume that Paul had taken him into the temple.

gar "-" - for [they had seen before time trophimus, the ephesian, in the temple with him]. More reason than cause, explanatory.

oJti "that" - [whom they were thinking] that [paul brought into the temple]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception, expressing what Paul's accusers thought.


From all reports, it seems a good riot was a common feature of life in Jerusalem at the time. To protect the holy place, the gate keepers close the temple gates, presumably the ones between the inner and outer courts of the temple. Johnson surmises that Luke may be making the point that Paul is now outside the cultic life of Israel; so also Bock.

s tou laou (oV) gen. "the people [came running from all directions]" - [and the whole city was disturbed, and there became a tumultuous gathering together] of the people. The genitive is adjectival, limiting "a tumultuous gathering together ", descriptive, idiomatic / identification, "tumultuous gathering together (which was) made up of / consisting of people"; "a concentrated rush of people", Barclay.

epilabomenoi (epilambanomai) aor. part. "seizing [Paul]" - [and] having seized [paul they were dragging him outside the temple, and immediately the doors were shut]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to drag"; "The people rushed together, seized Paul and dragged him outside the temple", Moffatt.


The tribune, who responds to the riot with a cohort from the barracks, is a ciliarcoV, "a commander of a thousand". The garrison is not necessarily at full strength, although later Luke mentions that Paul is escorted from Jerusalem by a military force of 470, indicating that the Romans probably have a full contingent stationed in Jerusalem. Obviously, Palestine is a troublesome province within the empire (nothing changes!!)

zhtountwn (zhtw) gen. pres. part. "while they were trying" - [and they] seeking. The genitive participle forms a genitive absolute construction, temporal, as NIV; its genitive subject is assumed.

apokteinai (apokteinw) aor. inf. "to kill" - to kill [him]. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the participle "seeking".

tw/ cilarcw/ (oV) dat. "the commander" - [a report went up] to the commander of a thousand. Dative of indirect object, the direct object being the report "all Jerusalem is mingled together (in confusion)".

thV speirhV (a) gen. "of the Roman troops" - of the cohort. The genitive is adjectival, descriptive, idiomatic / subordination, "over the cohort".

oJti "that" - that [all jerusalem is mingled together]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing the content of the report; "all Jerusalem is in a tumult", Cassirer.


The commander of a thousand attends the riot with probably no more than two officers / centurions (ekatonhtarcaV, plural, "commanders of a hundred"), each of whom would be in command of 100 men, although it would be unlikely that a full contingent attended.

exauthV adv. "at once" - [who] immediately. Temporal adverb introducing a temporal clause.

paralabwn (paralambanw) aor. part. "took" - having taken [soldiers and centurions, ran down upon them]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to run down"; "He at once took ...... and ran down to them".

oiJ ... idonteV (oJraw) aor. part. "when [the rioters] saw" - [but/and] the ones having seen [the commander and the soldiers]. Although often translated as a temporal clause, as NIV, the participle serves as a substantive, subject of the verb "to stop, cease", although it is likely that the crowd stops beating Paul, not just the ones who see the Roman soldiers approaching.

tuptonteV (tuptw) pres. part. "[they stopped] beating" - [stopped] beating [paul]. The participle is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "to stop".


ii] The arrest, v33-36. Two chains implies that Paul is chained between two soldiers. Indirectly, the prophecy by Agabus has come true.

eggisaV (eggizw) aor. part. "came up [and arrested]" - [then the commander] having drawn near [took hold of]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to take hold of".

autou gen. pro. "him" - him. Genitive of direct object after the epi prefix verb "to take hold of".

deqhnai (dew) aor. pas. inf. "to be bound" - [and commanded] to be bound. The infinitive introduces as object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what the commander ordered, namely, "that he be bound".

alusesi (iV ewV) dat. "with [two] chains" - in [two] chains. The dative is adverbial, instrumental, expressing means, as NIV.

epunqaneto (punqanomai) imperf. "he asked" - he was inquiring [who he might be and what he has done]. Kellum suggests that the imperfect may be inceptive, "and he began to ask ....." The two questions are formed by an oblique optative and an interrogative pronoun (tiv).


The Roman contingent in Jerusalem was housed in the Antonia fortress, a substantial construction built by Herod the Great. It was attached to the temple forecourt by a set of stairs. Unable to get any sense from the crowd, Paul is marched off (later carried) to the barracks.

mh dunamenou (dunamai) pres. part. "and since [the commander] could not" - [but/and others = some in the crowd were shouting one thing and another a certain = something otherwise = different, he] not being able. The genitive participle and its genitive subject form a genitive absolute construction, temporal, "when he could not ascertain the facts", but also possibly causal, "because he could not ascertain the facts". Note the unusual grammar where the subject of the participle autou, "he" (the commander), is also the subject of the finite verb ekeleusen, "to order, command"; "a serious abuse of construction", Barrett.

gnwnai (ginwskw) aor. inf. "get at the truth" - to know. Complementary infinitive completing the sense of the negated participle "not being able"

dai + acc. "because" - because of [the confusion, noise]. Here with a causal sense; "because of, on account of".

agesqai (agw) pres. mid. inf. "that [Paul] be taken]" - [he ordered him] to be brought [into the barracks]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what the soldiers are ordered to do, as NIV. The accusative subject of the infinitive is auton, "him".


The Antonia steps led up from the temple forecourt to the fortress. It is not clear whether the bian, "violence, force", of the crowd is impeding the soldiers from getting Paul up the stairs, or whether Paul was harmed by the violence and now is unable to get up the stairs by himself, either way, he is carried by the soldiers.

bastazesqai (bastazw) pres. mid. inf. "he had to be carried" - [but/and when he became = was upon the going up stairs, it happened he] to be carried [by the soldiers]. The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of cause expressing what happened, came about, befell; "When Paul reached the steps, it fell out that he had to be carried by the soldiers", Cassirer. The accusative subject of the infinitive is auton, "he".

tou oclou (oV) gen. "[the violence] of the mob was so great" - [because of the violence] of the crowd. The genitive is adjectival, limiting the noun "violence, force", usually treated as verbal, subjective, "the violence perpetrated by the crowd", although possibly better, simply attributive; "he had to be carried by the soldiers, due to mob violence", Berkeley.


The rather strange phrase, "the gathering / crowd of the people" is probably used to express the idea that the mob spoke in one voice, and what they said was similar to what the crowd said to Jesus before Pilate, "away with this man". I am reminded of what the soldiers said of the officer class in the Great War, "Let them be shot and their cloths burnt" - all memory of them removed.

gar "-" - for. If a causal sense is intended, explaining why the soldiers had to carry Paul, then the reason would be something like, "the mob, as one, pressed in on the squad shouting, 'Get rid of him'".

tou laou (oV) gen. "[the crowd]" - [the gathering, crowd] of the people [ were following]. The genitive is adjectival, here wholative.

krazonteV (krazw) pres. part. "shouting" - crying out [take away him]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to follow". The use of a participle here also serves to introduce direct speech.


iii] Paul explains himself, v37-40. In the first century, the lingua franca of Palestine was Greek; the people were bilingual - they spoke Aramaic, with their second language Greek. So, it is unlikely that the Officer is surprised that Paul can speak Greek; his surprise is probably how Paul speaks Greek. As Haenchen puts it, "Paul speaks with elaborate politeness" - "Is it permissible for me to say something to you?", Peterson Gk. The officer is not dealing with an uncouth local who may say something like, "Hay mate! Can I say sumtin to yu?"

mellwn (mellw) pres. part. "as the soldiers were about [to take]" - [and] being about [to be brought in into the barracks]. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, as NIV. The complementary infinitive, eisagesqai, "to be brought in", completes the sense of the participle. In typical fashion, the prepositional prefix eiV of the infinitive is repeated. "When he was about to be taken into the barracks", Weymouth.

tw/ xiliarcw/ (oV) dat. "the commander" - [paul says] to the commander of a thousand. Dative of indirect object after the verb "to say".

ei "may" - if [it is permitted, right, possible]. Here used to introduce a direct question where the outcome is unsure, as NIV; "May I have a word with you", Cassirer.

moi dat. pro. "I" - to me = for me. The dative is adverbial, reference / respect; "if it is permissible with respect to me."

eipein (legw) aor. inf. "say" - to say [something]. The infinitive serves as the subject of the impersonal verb "is permitted", lit., "if to say something to you is permitted for me?", although see plhrwqhnai 1:16 for a complementary classification.

proV + acc. "to [you]" - toward [you]. A typical use by Luke of proV + acc. for an indirect object instead of a dative.

oJ de "-" - but/and he [he said, do you know how to speak fluent greek]? Transitional, indicating a change in subject from Paul to the officer.


Josephus, in his Jewish history War, records the Egyptian Jewish prophet who led 30,000 followers (Bruce thinks that Luke's 4,000 is closer to the mark - only 400 were killed and 200 captured, AD 54) to the Mount of Olives to watch the walls of the city fall before them, only to be set upon by the Roman garrison. The Egyptian escaped, and so for a moment, the commander thinks that Paul may be this renegade back causing trouble. Once Paul speaks, the commander has second thoughts; "So you're obviously not the Egyptian who ......."

ouk "[ar]en't [you]" - [you are] not [therefore the egyptian]. This negation in a question expects an affirmative answer, "Are you not the Egyptian, then, who ....?" ESV, as NIV. Yet, ara here may not be inferential, but rather serve to introduce a supposition; "Then you are not ......", Bruce Gk.

oJ anasstatwsaV (anastatow) aor. part. "who started a revolt" - the one [before these days] having agitated = rebelled [and having led away into the desert]. As with "having led away", the participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "the Egyptian".

twn sikariwn (oV) gen. "terrorists" - [the four thousand men] of the dagger. The genitive is adjectival, limiting "men". Luke is probably using the word attributively, so "dagger men", giving the general sense "terrorist", although "dagger" is the neuter sikarion, with "assassins" the nominative, sikarioV. Culy suggests that the genitive is partitive. The word, when specifically used, refers to a group of terrorists / freedom-fighters who set about surreptitiously assassinating their pro-Roman opponents, stabbing them during public festivals and the like.

pro "some time ago" - before [these days]. Adverbial use of the preposition, temporal; "who recently stirred up a revolt", ESV.


Jewish citizenship of a Greek city within the Empire was not a given, but it seems Paul has this status, and that he holds it in a leading Greek city. Interestingly, Paul is not shy in affirming his ethnicity, namely, that he is a Jew, just as are those who have set upon him.

men ..... de "-" - [but/and paul said] on the one hand with respect to your question to me [i am am a jewish man, a tarsian of cilicia, a citizen of not an insignificant city] and on the other hand with respect to my question to you [i ask of you]. We do seem to have a coordinating men de construction (so Bruce, contra Barrett), although not adversative. Note how "a Tarsian of Cilicia" and "a citizen of not an insignificant city" stand in apposition to anqrwpoV (noun) .... IoudaioV (adjective), "a Jewish man" = "a Jew".

thV KilikiaV (a) gen. "[from Tarsus] in Cilicia" - [a tarsiote] of cilicia. The genitive is adjectival, descriptive, idiomatic / source; "I am a Jew, a Tarsiote from the region of Cilicia". "My hometown is Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia."

ouk ..... polewV (iV ewV) "[no ordinary] city" - [a citizen] of not an [insignificant] city. The genitive is adjectival, limiting "citizen", probably possessive, "belonging to", but possibly source, "from". Negating the statement serves to emphasise the positive (a litotes); "a citizen of a most illustrious city", Barclay. Tarsus was a centre of Hellenistic culture and learning with a large Jewish population.

sou gen. pro. "[please]" - [i ask] of you. Genitive of direct object after the verb "to ask".

moi dat. pro. "[let] me" - [allow] to me. Dative of direct object after the epi prefix verb "to allow", but note lalhsai below.

lalhsai (lalew) aor. inf. "speak" - to speak. Usually classified as complementary, although technically it serves as the direct object of the verb "to allow, permit", so introducing a dependent statement of cause expressing what may be allowed. Taken this way, the dative pronoun moi would be a dative of indirect object; "Give leave to me, I pray, that I may speak to the people"

proV + acc. "to [the people]" - toward [the people]. The preposition is used instead of a dative of indirect object.


It is not quite clear what Luke means by his use of Ebraidi, "Hebrew". At this time, the common language of the people was Aramaic, but the religious (eg., the Dead Sea community), and the religious intelligencia, used a rabbinical Hebrew, and/or a aramaicized Hebrew (a situation similar to the use of Latin in Roman Catholic church services up to the 1960's). Luke may be using the word for the local dialect of the people, namely Aramaic (cf., 1:19), but it is more likely that Paul intends speaking to the crowd in the language of Israel's religious elite, an aramaicized Hebrew, and for this reason the people will "become very quiet", 22:1.

epitreyantoV (epitrepw) aor. part. "after receiving [the commander's] permission" - [but/and he] having permitted, allowed. The genitive participle and its genitive subject autou, "he", forms a genitive absolute construction, temporal.

eJstwV (iJsthmi) perf. part. "stood" - [paul] having stood [upon the steps]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to make a signal", as NIV.

th/ ceiri (r roV) dat. "-" - in = with the hand. The dative is instrumental, expressing means.

tw/ law/ (oV) dat. "to the crowd" - to the people. Dative of indirect object.

genomenhV (ginomai) aor. part. "when they were silent" - [but/and a great silence] having come. The genitive participle and its genitive subject "a great silence" form a genitive absolute construction, temporal, as NIV; "When all had become quiet", Berkeley.

th/ Ebraidi adj. "in Aramaic" - [he spoke] in the hebrew dialect. The adjective serves as a substantive, the dative being instrumental expressing means, "by means of the Hebrew dialect".

legwn (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant, serving to introduce direct speech.


Acts Introduction

Exegetical Commentaries


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