Acts 21:27 - 23:11

A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

October 29, 2009 


The Captivity of Paul – Part 1:  Jerusalem

(Acts 21:27-23:11)


The last major section of Acts deals with the captivity of Paul.  From Acts 21:17, where Paul is taken into custody by a mob at the temple in Jerusalem, to the Acts 28:31, where Paul is in Rome awaiting trial before Caesar, he is in constant custody.  While he may not have been chained in a dungeon during all of this period, he was not free to come and go as he pleased.  This period of captivity lasted between four and five years, and during this time Paul wrote numerous letters, some of which are in the New Testament.  Almost all New Testament scholars say Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (the so-called “prison epistles”) during this period of captivity.  Some contend that 1 & 2 Timothy as well as Titus was written during this time as well.  The last part of Acts can be broadly outlined as follows:

  • Acts 21:37-23:11 – Captivity in Jerusalem
  • Acts 23:12-26:30 – Jerusalem to Caesarea
  • Acts 27:1-28:31 – Caesarea to Rome



Verse 27 tells when this event occurred and who instigated it.

“when the seven days were almost over” – This refers back to the rite of purification that Paul agreed to undergo in the previous paragraph.  This event took place about a week after Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem.

“the Jews from Asia” – They were in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost.  They brought their jealousy and seething anger toward Paul with them to Jerusalem!  When they saw him in the Temple area, they saw their opportunity to silence him.


Verses 28-29 tell of the accusations they made against him.  Their accusations were false but effective.  Essentially, they accused him of two things:

·        Preaching against Jews, Jewish Law, and the Jewish Temple.  Such an accusation was a gross, deliberate distortion of the gospel Paul preached.  Paul understood Jesus to be the fulfillment of his Jewish heritage not the destruction of it.

·        Bringing a “Greek” (meaning uncircumcised Gentile) into a prohibited area of the Temple.  They had seen Paul in the company of Trophimus (see Acts 20:4 and 2 Timothy 4:19) in Jerusalem and assumed that Paul brought him into the Temple.


Verses 30-31a tell of the reaction to these false accusations.  Paul was seized by an angry mob, dragged out of the inner courts of the Temple, and was beaten.


Verses 31a-40 tell of the intervention of the Romans. 

In the northwest corner of the Temple area was a structure known as the Tower (Fortress) of Antonio.  It was built by Herod the Great as a residence and as quarters for the guard.  Pilate’s judgment hall was probably located in this structure.  In the first century a cohort (battalion) was stationed there to keep peace in Jerusalem.  The Romans rightly assumed that if trouble were to break out, it would be in the Temple area.  The “commander” referred to in verse 31 was a “chilliarch” or commander of 1000 thousand soldiers.  He would have had ten “centurions” under his command, each commanding 100 soldiers.

The “commander” actually rescued Paul from being beaten to death by the crowd.  From the crowd’s reaction to Paul, the commander assumed that Paul was guilty of something and had him placed in chains.  He tried to discern from the crowd who Paul was and what he had done, but in all the confusion he was unable to get any real facts about Paul.  So, he ordered that Paul be carried into the barracks.  As Paul was being carried up the steps by the soldiers to shield him from the mob, Paul spoke to the commander in Greek.  This surprised the commander because he made an assumption that Paul was an Egyptian who had led some kind of revolt in Jerusalem and who had not yet been captured.  Paul requested the commander to allow him to address the mob, and the commander agreed, probably curious about what Paul could possibly say to silence the crazed crowd.


Acts 22:1-21 summarize Paul’s defense before the mob.  Essentially these verses are a recounting of Paul’s personal religious experience from his birth to the present day.  Throughout this address is the implied question, “In light of how the Lord has spoken to me, how could I have done anything other than what I have done?”  There are four main parts to his address:

·        Verses 3-5 summarize the prominent facts of Paul’s life before his conversion to Christianity.  He was born as a Jew.  He received the best training available in Jewish law and customs.  He was violently opposed to Christianity, doing all he could to persecute Christians.

·        Verses 6-11 relate his conversion experience.  He stressed the fact that he was confronted by the Lord as he was on a mission to persecute Christians.

·        Verses 12-16 tell of the role Ananias played in Paul’s conversion.  Paul stresses that Ananias was a “devout Jew” (v.12) and that he was “well spoken of by all of the Jews”(v.12) in Damascus.  It was through Ananias that Paul was first informed that he had been set apart by the Lord to be “a witness for Him to all men”(v.15).

·        Verses 17-21 describe the events that took place in Jerusalem on Paul’s first visit there after his conversion (see Acts 9:26-30).  The Lord told Paul in a vision to leave Jerusalem because the people there would not accept his testimony about his conversion experience.  Paul insisted the people knew of his past persecution of Christians and the implication is that he believed they would be convinced of the truth of his testimony by the radical change that occurred in him.  However the Lord insisted that Paul leave Jerusalem and focus his ministry on Gentiles.


Acts 21:22-29 describe the various reactions to Paul’s defense.

  • Verses 22-23 describe the reaction of the mob heard Paul say the Lord sent him to Gentiles, they erupted in anger.  Remember, the primary accusation they had raised against Paul is that he advocated the abandonment of Jewish traditions and that he had defiled the Temple by bringing a Gentile into a restricted area.
  • Verses 24-29 describe the reaction of the Roman commander.  Since Paul had addressed the crowd in “the Hebrew dialect” (Acts 21:40) which is Aramaic, the Roman commander did not know what he had said.  But when the crowd erupted in anger, he decided to get to the bottom of this conflict by having Paul flogged.  This was a process by which a person was beaten with a leather whip that had pieces of stone or metal tied into it.  If often crippled and sometimes killed the person being flogged.  It was such a cruel punishment, it was not legal for a Roman citizen to be flogged.  The punishment, much like crucifixion, was reserved for foreigners and slaves.  When the commander learned that Paul was a Roman citizen, his treatment of Paul changed dramatically.


Acts 22:30-23:11 summarize Paul’s defense before the Jewish Sanhedrin.

  • Verses 22:30-23:1 – The Roman commander learned that the charges against Paul were religious in nature.  Since the Jews were allowed by the Romans to handle their own religious disputes, the commander “ordered” the Sanhedrin to assemble to deal with Paul.  As we have seen previously in this study, the Sanhedrin (the word means court) was the Jewish high court that dealt primarily with religious matters.  It consisted of the high priest and seventy others. 
  • Verses 2-5 report the conflict between Paul and Ananias, the high priest.  F.F. Bruce says that Ananias was one of the most disgraceful high priests in the history of Judaism.  He was once suspended, and in 59 A.D. he was deposed.  Ten years later he was murdered by the Jews for his pro-Roman policies.  Paul’s claim in verse 1 that he had lived with a “perfectly good conscience before God” so angered Ananias that he ordered Paul to be struck.  Paul responded by calling Ananias a “whitewashed wall” which was a metaphor for a weakened wall about to topple the condition of which was disguised by a coat of whitewash.  The statement by Paul in verse 3 that he “was not aware … that he was high priest” had been interpreted in various ways:
    • Paul may have been speaking with sarcasm and irony meaning, “He does not act like a high priest.”
    • Paul may not have been looking at the high priest when the order to strike him was given and did not know from whom the order came.
    • Paul’s poor eyesight may have been the reason Paul did not recognize the high priest.
    • Because this was not a regular session of the court but one called by the Roman commander, the high priest may not have been in his usual place or wearing his priestly robes.  Since Paul had been away from Jerusalem for many years, he probably would not have recognized the face of the high priest.


Verses 6-10 describe how Paul threw the assembly into chaos.

  • Realizing the best he could hope for was a hung jury, Paul played upon the division that existed on the Sanhedrin between Pharisees and Sadducees.  The  Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead and the Pharisees did.  This was a source of bitter argument between the two groups.  Paul declared that he was a Pharisee being persecuted for his belief in the resurrection.  The other Pharisees on the Council quickly came to his defense.  As a result, the Roman commander had Paul removed from the Council and put into protective custody.


Verse11 tell of a vision of encouragement the Lord gave Paul.

  • This is reminiscent of the vision Paul had in Corinth (see Acts 18:9).  That the vision was necessary is an indication that Paul may have been discouraged or at least troubled by all that had happened to him in Jerusalem.  The Lord assured Paul that his mission was not yet completed and he would be protected until it was.


Practical application of Acts 21:27-23:11:

    1. There is no guarantee that just because we are faithful we will have no adversity in our lives.  This is a recurring theme in Acts and demonstrated many times in the life of Paul.  Sometimes doing the will of God is the most difficult thing we can do.  Gethsemane is a reminder of that truth.  Those who teach that Christianity is an easy road to prosperity and general well-being are peddling heresy.
    2. Jumping to conclusions about people is always dangerous.  The Jews “assumed” Paul took Trophimus into the Temple simply because they had heard rumors that Paul no longer observed Jewish traditions and they had seen him with Trophimus in the city.  The Roman commander “assumed” Paul was the Egyptian who had earlier led a revolt in Jerusalem.  It is dangerously easy to make erroneous assumptions about people!
    3. A closed mind will never learn new truth.  The mob Paul faced in the Temple was not teachable because the minds of those people were completely closed to what Paul had to say.
    4. Simply because one has a title does not mean that person is in touch with God’s will.  Ananias had the title of high priest but had no clue about the will of God in relation to Paul.
    5. God has a way of sending encouragement to us just at the moment we need it the most.