Acts of Apostles 21:1-40

21  After tearing ourselves away from them and putting out to sea, we ran with a straight course and came to Cos, on the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patʹa·ra.  When we found a ship that was crossing to Phoe·niʹcia, we went aboard and sailed away.  After coming in sight of the island of Cyʹprus, we left it behind on the left side and sailed on to Syria and landed at Tyre, where the ship was to unload its cargo.  We searched for and found the disciples and remained there for seven days. But through the spirit they repeatedly told Paul not to set foot in Jerusalem.+  So when our time there was over, we left and started on our way, but they all, together with the women and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed  and said good-bye to one another. Then we went aboard the ship, and they returned to their homes.  We then completed the voyage from Tyre and arrived at Ptol·e·maʹis, and we greeted the brothers and stayed one day with them.  The next day we left and came to Caes·a·reʹa, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelizer,+ who was one of the seven men,+ and we stayed with him.  This man had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.+ 10  But after we had stayed there for quite a number of days, a prophet named Agʹa·bus+ came down from Ju·deʹa. 11  And he came to us and took Paul’s belt and tied his own feet and hands and said: “Thus says the holy spirit, ‘The man to whom this belt belongs will be bound like this by the Jews in Jerusalem,+ and they will give him into the hands of people of the nations.’”+ 12  Now when we heard this, both we and those who were there began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13  Then Paul answered: “What are you doing by weeping and trying to weaken my resolve? Rest assured, I am ready not only to be bound but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”+ 14  When he would not be dissuaded, we stopped objecting* and said: “Let the will of Jehovah take place.” 15  Now after these days we prepared for the journey and started on our way to Jerusalem. 16  Some of the disciples from Caes·a·reʹa also went with us, taking us to Mnaʹson of Cyʹprus, an early disciple at whose home we were to be guests. 17  When we got to Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us gladly. 18  But on the following day Paul went in with us to James,+ and all the elders were present.* 19  And he greeted them and began giving a detailed account of the things God did among the nations through his ministry. 20  After hearing this, they began to glorify God, but they said to him: “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the Law.+ 21  But they have heard it rumored about you that you have been teaching all the Jews among the nations an apostasy from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to follow the customary practices.+ 22  What, then, is to be done about it? They are certainly going to hear that you have arrived. 23  So do what we tell you: We have four men who have put themselves under a vow. 24  Take these men with you and cleanse yourself ceremonially together with them and take care of their expenses, so that they may have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that there is nothing to the rumors they were told about you, but that you are walking orderly and you are also keeping the Law.+ 25  As for the believers from among the nations, we have sent them our decision in writing that they should keep away from what is sacrificed to idols+ as well as from blood,+ from what is strangled,+ and from sexual immorality.”+ 26  Then Paul took the men the next day and cleansed himself ceremonially along with them,+ and he went into the temple to give notice of when the days for the ceremonial cleansing would be completed and the offering should be presented for each one of them. 27  Now when the seven days were about to end, the Jews from Asia, on seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd, and they seized him, 28  shouting: “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our Law and this place. And what is more, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”+ 29  For they had previously seen Trophʹi·mus+ the E·pheʹsian in the city with him, and they assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30  The whole city was in an uproar, and the people came running together and seized Paul and dragged him outside the temple, and immediately the doors were closed. 31  While they were trying to kill him, word reached the commander of the army unit that all Jerusalem was in confusion; 32  and he immediately took soldiers and army officers and ran down to them. When they caught sight of the military commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33  Then the military commander came near and took him into custody and ordered that he be bound with two chains;+ then he inquired who he was and what he had done. 34  But some in the crowd began shouting out one thing, and others something else. So being unable himself to learn anything for certain because of the disturbance, he commanded him to be brought to the soldiers’ quarters. 35  But when he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36  for a crowd of the people kept following, crying out: “Do away with him!”* 37  As he was about to be led into the soldiers’ quarters, Paul said to the military commander: “Am I allowed to say something to you?” He said: “Can you speak Greek? 38  Are you not, then, the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a sedition and led the 4,000 dagger men out into the wilderness?” 39  Then Paul said: “I am, in fact, a Jew,+ of Tarsus+ in Ci·liʹcia, a citizen of no obscure city. So I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40  After he gave permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned with his hand to the people. When a great silence fell, he addressed them in the Hebrew language,+ saying:


Or “we let the matter rest.” Lit., “we became silent.”
Or “came there.”
Or “Get rid of him!; Kill him!”

Study Notes

left side: Or “port side.” Apparently, the ship was passing the SW end of the island of Cyprus as it sailed eastward toward Tyre. On his first missionary journey about nine years earlier, Paul, along with Barnabas and John Mark, had encountered on Cyprus the sorcerer Elymas, who opposed their preaching. (Ac 13:4-12) Seeing Cyprus again and reflecting on what had occurred there may have encouraged Paul and strengthened him for what lay ahead.

the good news: First occurrence of the Greek word eu·ag·geʹli·on, rendered “gospel” in some English Bibles. A related Greek expression eu·ag·ge·li·stesʹ, rendered “evangelizer,” means “a proclaimer of good news.”​—Ac 21:8; Eph 4:11, ftn.; 2Ti 4:5, ftn.

evangelizer: The basic meaning of the Greek term eu·ag·ge·li·stesʹ, rendered “evangelizer,” is “a proclaimer of good news.” (See study note on Mt 4:23.) While all Christians are commissioned to proclaim the good news (Mt 24:14; 28:19, 20; Ac 5:42; 8:4; Ro 10:9, 10), the context of the three scriptures where this Greek term occurs shows that “evangelizer” can be used in a special sense (Ac 21:8; Eph 4:11; ftn.; 2Ti 4:5; ftn.). For example, when it is used of a person opening up new fields where the good news had never been preached, the Greek term could also be rendered “missionary.” After Pentecost, Philip pioneered the work in the city of Samaria with great success. He was also directed by an angel to preach the good news about Christ to the Ethiopian eunuch, whom he baptized. Then Philip was led away by the spirit to preach in Ashdod and all the cities on the way to Caesarea. (Ac 8:5, 12, 14, 26-40) Some 20 years later, when the events recorded at Ac 21:8 occurred, Philip is still referred to as “the evangelizer.”

prophesy: The Greek term pro·phe·teuʹo literally means “to speak out.” In the Scriptures, it is used of making known messages from a divine source. While it often includes the thought of foretelling the future, the basic meaning of the word is not that of prediction. The Greek word can also refer to identifying a matter by divine revelation. (See study notes on Mt 26:68; Mr 14:65; Lu 22:64.) In this context, holy spirit impelled some to prophesy. By declaring “the magnificent things” that Jehovah had done and would still do, they would serve as spokesmen for the Most High. (Ac 2:11) The Hebrew word for “to prophesy” carries a similar idea. For example, at Ex 7:1, Aaron is referred to as Moses’ “prophet” in the sense that he became Moses’ spokesman, or mouthpiece, rather than in the sense of foretelling future events.

unmarried daughters: Lit., “daughters, virgins.” In the Bible, the Greek term par·theʹnos, often rendered “virgin,” refers to “one who has never engaged in sexual intercourse” and can apply both to single men and to single women. (Mt 25:1-12; Lu 1:27; 1Co 7:25, 36-38) In this context, the Greek term emphasizes the idea that Philip’s four daughters had never been married.

prophesied: The prophet Joel foretold that both men and women would prophesy. (Joe 2:28, 29) The original-language words rendered “to prophesy” have the basic meaning of making known messages from a divine source; they do not necessarily include the thought of foretelling the future. (See study note on Ac 2:17.) While all in the Christian congregation may speak about the fulfillment of the prophecies recorded in God’s Word, the “prophesying” mentioned at 1Co 12:4, 10 was among the miraculous gifts of the spirit granted to some of those in the newly formed Christian congregation. Some who had the miraculous gift of prophesying were able to foretell future events, as did Agabus. (Ac 11:27, 28) The women who were chosen by Jehovah to receive this gift no doubt demonstrated their deep respect for him by remaining subject to the headship of the male members of the congregation.​—1Co 11:3-5.

trying to weaken my resolve: Or “making me weak at heart.” The Greek verb used here literally means “to crush together; to break to pieces.” It is here used figuratively with the Greek word for “heart.”

the will of Jehovah: The Greek term for “will” (theʹle·ma), as used in the Christian Greek Scriptures, is most often connected with God’s will. (Mt 7:21; 12:50; Mr 3:35; Ro 12:2; 1Co 1:1; Heb 10:36; 1Pe 2:15; 4:2; 1Jo 2:17) In the Septuagint, the Greek term theʹle·ma is often used to translate Hebrew expressions for God’s will, or delight, and can be found in passages where the divine name occurs. (Ps 40:8, 9 [39:9, 10, LXX]; 103:21 [102:21, LXX]; 143:9-11 [142:9-11, LXX]; Isa 44:24, 28; Jer 9:24 [9:23, LXX]; Mal 1:10) Jesus expressed a similar thought when he, according to Mt 26:42, prayed to his Father: “Let your will take place.”​—See App. C3 introduction; Ac 21:14.

James: This half brother of Jesus is evidently the James who is mentioned at Ac 12:17 (see study note) and Ga 1:19 and who wrote the Bible book by that name.​—Jas 1:1.

James: Likely referring to Jesus’ half brother and the James mentioned at Ac 12:17; 15:13.​—See study notes on Mt 13:55; Ac 12:17; 15:13.

and all the elders: See study notes on Ac 15:2; 16:4. None of the apostles are mentioned in connection with this meeting that took place in 56 C.E. The Bible does not explain why. However, regarding that time leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction, the historian Eusebius (born about 260 C.E.) said: “The remaining apostles, in constant danger from murderous plots, were driven out of Judea. But to teach their message they travelled into every land in the power of Christ.” (Eusebius, Book III, V, v. 2) Although Eusebius’ words are not part of the inspired record, they do harmonize with what the Bible says. For example, by 62 C.E., Peter was in Babylon​—far from Jerusalem. (1Pe 5:13) However, James the brother of Jesus was still in Jerusalem, likely presiding at this meeting when “all the elders were present” with Paul.

the apostles and the elders who were in Jerusalem: As shown in the study note on Ac 15:2, some elders in the nation of Israel served in positions of responsibility on a national level. Likewise, these elders in Jerusalem together with the apostles formed a governing body for all the Christian congregations in the first century C.E. After handling the issue of circumcision, these apostles and elders made their decision known to the congregations, and it was accepted as authoritative.

elders: Lit., “older men.” Here the Greek term pre·sbyʹte·ros refers to those who held a position of responsibility in the early Christian congregation. The elders of the Jerusalem congregation are mentioned together with the apostles as the ones to whom Paul, Barnabas, and some other brothers from Syrian Antioch went in order to get the matter of circumcision settled. So just as some elders served in fleshly Israel on a national level, these elders together with the apostles formed a governing body for all the Christian congregations in the first century C.E. This indicates that the original group serving as a governing body, the 12 apostles, had now been enlarged.​—Ac 1:21, 22, 26; see study notes on Mt 16:21; Ac 11:30.

James: Likely referring to Jesus’ half brother and the James mentioned at Ac 12:17. (See study notes on Mt 13:55; Ac 12:17.) It appears that when the circumcision issue came before “the apostles and elders in Jerusalem,” James presided over the discussion. (Ac 15:1, 2) Apparently referring to that occasion, Paul mentions that James, Cephas (Peter), and John were “the ones who seemed to be pillars” of the Jerusalem congregation.​—Ga 2:1-9.

James: Most likely referring to Jesus’ half brother. He may have been next to Jesus in age, being the first named of Mary’s four natural-born sons: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. (Mt 13:55; Mr 6:3; Joh 7:5) James was an eyewitness at Pentecost 33 C.E. when thousands of visiting Jews from the Diaspora responded to the good news and got baptized. (Ac 1:14; 2:1, 41) Peter instructed the disciples to “report . . . to James,” indicating that James was taking the lead in the Jerusalem congregation. He is apparently also the James mentioned at Ac 15:13; 21:18; 1Co 15:7; Ga 1:19 (where he is called “the brother of the Lord”); 2:9, 12 and the one who wrote the Bible book bearing his name.​—Jas 1:1; Jude 1.

thousands: Lit., “myriads; tens of thousands.” The Greek word literally refers to a group of 10,000, a myriad, but it can also be used of a very large, unspecified number.

an apostasy: The Greek noun a·po·sta·siʹa, used here, comes from the verb a·phiʹste·mi, which literally means “to stand away from” and can be rendered, depending on the context, “to withdraw; to renounce.” (Ac 19:9; 2Ti 2:19) The noun has the sense of “desertion; abandonment; rebellion.” It appears twice in the Christian Greek Scriptures, here and at 2Th 2:3. In classical Greek, the noun was used to refer to political defection, and the verb is apparently employed in this sense at Ac 5:37 concerning Judas the Galilean, who “drew [a form of a·phiʹste·mi] followers after himself.” The Septuagint uses the verb at Ge 14:4 with reference to such a political rebellion, and the noun a·po·sta·siʹa is used at Jos 22:22; 2Ch 29:19; and Jer 2:19 to translate Hebrew expressions for “rebellion” and “unfaithfulness.” In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the noun a·po·sta·siʹa is used primarily with regard to religious defection, a withdrawal from or abandonment of the true worship and service of God, an abandonment of what one has previously professed, a total desertion of principles or faith.

what is strangled: Or “what is killed without draining its blood.” This prohibition would apparently also include an animal that dies by itself or as a result of a wound caused by another animal. In either case, the animal’s body would not have been properly drained of its blood.​—Ex 22:31; Le 17:15; De 14:21.

sexual immorality: The Greek word por·neiʹa is a general term for all sexual activity that is unlawful according to the Bible. It includes adultery, prostitution, sexual relations between unmarried individuals, homosexual acts, and bestiality.​—See Glossary.

what is strangled: See study note on Ac 15:20.

sexual immorality: See study note on Ac 15:20.

the commander: The Greek term khi·liʹar·khos (chiliarch) literally means “ruler of a thousand,” that is, soldiers. It refers to a Roman military commander called a tribune. (See study note on Joh 18:12.) In about 56 C.E., Claudius Lysias was the military commander of the Jerusalem garrison. (Ac 23:22, 26) As recounted in Acts chapters 21 through 24, he was the one who rescued Paul both from the street mob and from the rioting Sanhedrin and who wrote a letter of explanation to Governor Felix when Paul was secretly taken to Caesarea.

military commander: The Greek term khi·liʹar·khos (chiliarch) literally means “ruler of a thousand,” that is, soldiers. It refers to a Roman military commander called a tribune. There were six tribunes in each Roman legion. The legion, however, was not divided into six different commands; rather, each tribune commanded the whole legion for one sixth of the time. Such a military commander had great authority, including the power to nominate and assign centurions. The Greek word could also refer to high-ranking military officers in general. A Roman military commander accompanied the soldiers who arrested Jesus.

army officers: Or “centurions.” A centurion was in command of about 100 soldiers in the Roman army.

the soldiers’ quarters: That is, a barracks for Roman troops, located in the Tower, or Fortress, of Antonia in Jerusalem. This fortress was situated at the NW corner of the temple court, overlooking the whole temple area. It apparently occupied the site where Nehemiah earlier had constructed “the Fortress of the House,” mentioned at Ne 2:8. Herod the Great did extensive and costly repair work on it and increased its fortifications. Herod named it Antonia in honor of the Roman military commander Mark Antony. Prior to Herod’s time, the fortress primarily served to guard against incursions from the N. Later, it mainly served as a point of control over the Jews and as a means of policing activities in the temple area. It was connected with that location by means of a passageway. (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, XV, 424 [xi, 7]) The Roman garrison could thus gain quick access to the area around the temple, which is likely what happened when soldiers rescued Paul from a mob.​—Ac 21:31, 32; see App. B11 for the location of the Fortress of Antonia.

in the Hebrew language: See study note on Joh 5:2.

Hebrew: In the Christian Greek Scriptures, inspired Bible writers used the term “Hebrew” in designating the language spoken by the Jews (Joh 19:13, 17, 20; Ac 21:40; 22:2; Re 9:11; 16:16), as well as the language in which the resurrected and glorified Jesus addressed Saul of Tarsus (Ac 26:14, 15). At Ac 6:1, “Hebrew-speaking Jews” are distinguished from “Greek-speaking Jews.” While some scholars hold that the term “Hebrew” in these references should instead be rendered “Aramaic,” there is good reason to believe that the term actually applies to the Hebrew language. When the physician Luke says that Paul spoke to the people of Jerusalem “in the Hebrew language,” Paul was addressing those whose life revolved around studying the Law of Moses in Hebrew. Also, of the great number of fragments and manuscripts comprising the Dead Sea Scrolls, the majority of Biblical and non-Biblical texts are written in Hebrew, showing that the language was in daily use. The smaller number of Aramaic fragments found shows that both languages were used. So it seems highly unlikely that when Bible writers used the word “Hebrew,” they actually meant the Aramaic or Syrian language. (Ac 21:40; 22:2; compare Ac 26:14.) The Hebrew Scriptures earlier distinguished between “Aramaic” and “the language of the Jews” (2Ki 18:26), and first-century Jewish historian Josephus, considering this passage of the Bible, speaks of “Aramaic” and “Hebrew” as distinct tongues. (Jewish Antiquities, X, 8 [i, 2]) It is true that there are some terms that are quite similar in both Aramaic and Hebrew and possibly other terms that were adopted into Hebrew from Aramaic. However, there seems to be no reason for the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures to have said Hebrew if they meant Aramaic.


Activities of Philip the Evangelizer
Activities of Philip the Evangelizer

The Bible records some of the zealous activity of “Philip the evangelizer.” (Ac 21:8) He was one of the “seven reputable men” who distributed food among the Greek-speaking and Hebrew-speaking disciples in Jerusalem. (Ac 6:1-6) After the death of Stephen when “all except the apostles were scattered,” Philip went to Samaria; there he preached the good news and performed miracles. (Ac 8:1, 4-7) Later, Jehovah’s angel sent Philip to a desert road that ran from Jerusalem to Gaza. (Ac 8:26) Philip encountered an Ethiopian eunuch on that road and declared the good news to him. (Ac 8:27-38) Led away by Jehovah’s spirit (Ac 8:39), Philip continued preaching, traveling from Ashdod and through other cities near the coast until he reached Caesarea. (Ac 8:40) Years later, Luke and Paul stayed at Philip’s home in Caesarea. At that time, Philip “had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.”—Ac 21:8, 9.

1. Jerusalem: Performs administrative work.—Ac 6:5

2. Samaria: Preaches the good news.—Ac 8:5

3. Desert road to Gaza: Explains the Scriptures to an Ethiopian eunuch and baptizes him.—Ac 8:26-39

4. Coastal region: Declares the good news to all the cities.—Ac 8:40

5. Caesarea: Philip welcomes Paul to his house.—Ac 21:8, 9

“The Wall in Between”
“The Wall in Between”

When the apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Ephesus about unity in the congregation, he compared the Mosaic Law to a wall that divided Jews and Gentiles. (Eph 2:14) Paul may have been alluding to the wall that surrounded the inner courtyards of the first-century temple in Jerusalem. This low wall, called the Soreg, marked the boundary that Gentiles could not cross on pain of death. On one occasion, Paul was mobbed in the temple because the Jews wrongly accused him of bringing Gentiles into the area fenced off by this wall. (Ac 21:26-31) To understand what Paul may have had in mind when he wrote about “the wall in between,” watch this video.

Roman Road in Tarsus
Roman Road in Tarsus

Tarsus, the birthplace of Saul (later the apostle Paul), was the principal city of the region of Cilicia in the southeast corner of Asia Minor, part of modern-day Turkey. (Ac 9:11; 22:3) Tarsus was a large, prosperous trading city, strategically located along a prime E-W overland trade route that threaded through the Taurus Mountains and the Cilician Gates (a narrow gorge with a wagon road cut through the rock). The city also maintained a harbor that connected the Cydnus River with the Mediterranean Sea. Tarsus was a center of Greek culture and had a sizable Jewish community. This photograph shows some of the ancient ruins that remain in the modern-day settlement of the same name, situated about 16 km (10 mi) from where the Cydnus River empties into the Mediterranean Sea. During the city’s history, a number of noted personalities visited Tarsus, including Mark Antony, Cleopatra, and Julius Caesar, as well as several emperors. Roman statesman and writer Cicero was the city’s governor from 51 to 50 B.C.E. Tarsus was famous as a seat of learning in the first century C.E., and according to the Greek geographer Strabo, as such it outranked even Athens and Alexandria. With good reason, Paul described Tarsus as “no obscure city.”—Ac 21:39.