Acts 21 – Accusations against Paul

After Paul participated in the Nazarite vow with Jewish Christians, Asian Jews stirred up trouble for Paul. In Acts 21 these Jews from Asia Minor begin spreading accusations against Paul, primarily a common misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching, that he is now fallen away from the practice of the Law. Paul is not anti-Jew in the sense that he wants Jews to stop being Jewish, he wants them to stop relying on the Law for salvation.  To the orthodox Jews, this is worthy of death.  The charge the bring against Paul is that he brought a Gentile into the Temple.  This would be a serious offense, worthy of death (for the Gentile, as well!)  The Jews did not allow women or Gentiles into the central courts of the Temple, believing them to be unclean.

Apostle Paul ancient painting

Is this anger credible, or is Luke exaggerating the situation for rhetorical reasons? The evidence seems indicate that there were zealots in Jerusalem in the mid first century who were willing to use violence to guard the sanctity of the Temple.

m.Sanhedrin 9:6 He who stole a sacred vessel [of the cult (Num. 4:7)], and he who curses using the name of an idol, and he who has sexual relations with an Aramaean woman— zealots beat him upon the spot. A priest who performed the rite in a state of uncleanness— his brothers, the priests, do not bring him to court. But the young priests take him outside the courtyard and break his head with clubs. A non-priest who served in the Temple— R. Aqiba says, “[He is put to death] by strangling [Num. 18:7].” And sages say, “[He is put to death] at the hands of Heaven.” (Translation from Neusner)

Philo, Spec.Laws 2.253 And such a man will never entirely escape, for there are innumerable beings looking on, zealots for and keepers of the national laws, of rigid justice, prompt to stone such a criminal, and visiting without pity all such as work wickedness, unless, indeed, we are prepared to say that a man who acts in such a way as to dishonour his father or his mother is worthy of death, but that he who behaves with impiety towards a name more glorious than even the respect due to one’s parents, is to be borne with as but a moderate offender.

Luke points out  these accusations against Paul are not true, that the Gentile that had been seen with Paul did not enter the temple. The charge comes from “Jews from the province of Asia,” quite possibly from Ephesus.  They would have been the most likely pilgrims to recognize Trophimus as a Gentile convert and associate of Paul. These men are never called disciples, so the implication is that they are Jewish pilgrims.

If this is true, there is a hint here that the Jews from Ephesus were anti-Paul and quite willing to make accusations against Paul that are not quite true (or at least based on rumors). I have speculated earlier that Paul’s time in Ephesus was more troubled than Luke lets on; this is another bit of evidence in that regard.   Perhaps Paul was in prison on Ephesus after all!

That Diaspora Jews are interested in rioting in the Temple over potential desecration indicates that Diaspora Jews cannot be considered “liberal” on Law.  These are people who are very zealous for the traditions of the Law and the sanctity of the temple and are willing execute Paul for breaking the sanctity of the Temple.  Like Paul before his conversion, the Hellenistic Jews are willing to use force if necessary to defend the Law and the Temple.

27 thoughts on “Acts 21 – Accusations against Paul

  1. I think that, again, the zealots we see in the Asian Jews are much like the zealots we see in the American church. So often we see churches holding so tightly to the traditions that have been passed down for generations, that they aren’t willing to look, watch, and see what kinds of changes God might be trying to make in their worship. I will praise the current church in that we don’t often murder people for trying to seek changes in the church. While the charges against Paul are false, they are deeply rooted in a sense of fear. The Asian Jew are threatened by the idea that what they have always practiced, and believed; might be wrong. Although, it’s not as if Paul is telling them that they are wrong, it’s more that he’s asking them to look deeper, and see where their salvation truly comes from, rather than continue to live the way they have. I see a lot of examples where people in the modern church need to look a little deeper at where their salvation comes from. It’s a very common issue to see people living in a mindset where, as long as they do a lot of things to help the church, and serve the church; they will be saved. But, Paul would challenge this with the fact that salvation comes only through Jesus, not through the Law, not through John’s baptism, not through works for the church, and not through anything that mere humans could ever hope to accomplish.

  2. I wish I could have put this sentence in my paper on Paul’s conversion. “Paul is not anti-Jew in the sense that he wants Jews to stop being Jewish, he wants them to stop relying on the Law for salvation.” This sentence summarizes so well what Jesus did for Jews and everyone when he died on the cross. I don’t think there is a sentence in my entire paper on Paul’s conversion that summarizes this better than this sentence.
    As far as the content of the Post goes, the extracts from the text show how serious the offense that the Jews were saying Paul did. However, I think it is not likely that Paul entered the temple with the Jew because he himself knew what the law was and would not break this law unless he was breaking it on purpose to prove a point. I think the Jews were so upset that they saw Paul with the gentile convert, then they saw Paul in the temple, so they just assumed that Paul had brought the gentile into the temple with him. “If this is true, there is a hint here that the Jews from Ephesus were anti-Paul and quite willing to stir up trouble for him in Jerusalem” I think this sentence best exemplifies the feelings of the Jews because they WANTED to believe the gentile was in the temple with Paul so they could punish Paul to the fullest extent of the law.
    “Men Of Israel! Help! … brought a Greek into the temple” (Acts 21:28). These people were tattling on Paul and were just looking for a way to get Paul out of their hair in any way possible. The Jews chose a way where the punishment was death and had some sort of credibility. There was just enough truth behind the tattle tale that could get Paul in Trouble.
    I like what Zach said about the modern church today. It is the same thing as what Paul experienced in the past, where people hold on tightly to laws and traditions and look for ways to get rid of the person that is stirring the pot. It is amazing how these problems are still around in today’s faith and are even more extreme in some cases.

  3. I like what Zac says about holding on to traditions and taking a deeper look at things. The Jews zeal here is the ultimate ‘holding of tradition’. It was not just tradition, it was their lifestyle and their ‘salvation’. I doubt that many people would seek death for the sake of tradition, but people will die for/kill for beliefs. If in fact the Asian Jews were from Ephesus, we could point back to Acts 19:9 where it says, “But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publically maligned the Way.” They were callous, not willing to change for anything.

    The charge that the Asian Jews made against Paul was definitely done out of zeal/hatred of Paul and his ministry. For not teaching the Gentiles to practice Judiasm, the Asian Jews and even some Jews in Jerusalem thought Paul was directly opposed to Judaism. However, we know that is not true as he preached to Jews as well as Gentiles. “He was not a ‘Gentile specialist’ who had mastered the art of winning pagans for the gospel” (Schnabel 307). We know from Paul’s letters that he was not opposed to Jews. In Colossians 3:11 he says, “Here there is no Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian of Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” He believed that through Christ, all people could be saved.

  4. There is nothing wrong with following the law. Paul knows this and says this, but there is a problem with the ideology that the law is salvation. The law helps people stay focused on God but becomes a problem when it becomes the thing that is worshiped and God is secondary.
    The accusation of the law no longer being necessary is a complete shock to the Jews and is acceptable as it seems to go against everything they previously knew. I believe that they legitimately thought that they were doing everything right in obeying the law and thus serving God. What they were wrong in thinking is that the law was above God and the worship that he deserves.
    Their anger was against the love that Christ shows for us by his death on the cross.
    The law now-a-days keeps us focused on Christ as we serve those that he puts in authority. The second the law starts to go against what Christ taught is when we can abandon the law as we are saved by God’s grace and not the law.

  5. In Paul’s letters it seems to be clear that he does not believe that someone under the law should stop. He continued to live as a Jewish man would have in the first century. He emphasized that the law was not the way to salvation, which is what Christ taught. Paul seemed to be under a lot of scruteny constantly. The Jewish leaders could have still held contempt for his past or for the fact that he was the one bringing so many to salvation. Jealousy causes men to do a lot of things. The zealous Jews does make sense, they were used to that tradition and we humans are creatures of habit usually unwilling to break from out traditions.

  6. I personally believe that Luke was not exaggerating the situation but speaking truth about how they actually acted. There are many different times in Acts where Luke writes about how zealous the Jews were about people that were unclean. I don’t doubt one bit that they would’ve used violence in order to keep a place that was sacred and holy to them clean. The Jews at that time took the law into their own hands, anything that involved punishment, they did themselves. This is indicated with the death of Stephen and Jesus and many other followers of Christ that are persecuted without counsel. Even though Jesus and Stephen was put on trial, the punishment was put into their own hands. Considering the beginning of the article, Paul is not in any way anti-Jewish, but he in fact wants them to stop relying on the law for salvation because Christ fulfilled the law. He wants them to stop depending on the law but to depend and rely on Jesus and His sacrifice, which would first involve them believing that Christ is God and was the Messiah.

  7. All I have to say is wow. It makes much more sense to me why the Jews had so much anger and all the death threats do not seem so bad compared to being strangled to death or getting your head smashed in with clubs. There are so many people that hate the idea that they can not earn there way to eternal life. I am sure that this made the Jews very mad. Luckily Paul had a love for people and he did not want to see people spend eternity in hell.

  8. As evidenced by the script, the charge against Paul was pretty extravegant. I do think that there is some credibility to their (the Jews) anger. In today’s culture, we do not readily express the holiness of our worship to God. Certainly, there are conservative churches within America that certainly maintain greater stewardship of their resources and so express the holiness of their worship to God. However, I agree with Nick that “Paul would not have brought a Gentile into the Temple without making a point.” With that being said, Paul did not come to completely demolish the Jewish Law. In fact he said that they could practice aspects of the Law (as he did with the vow) but that they should not base their works as a basis for salvation; promptly explaining to them that Jesus is the Messiah who grants salvation to all people who believe.

  9. The first thing I noticed about the post was that women and Gentiles are on the same level of uncleanliness to Jews and being let into the temple was a matter of life or death. Offensive but to the cultural context, women are not worthy and probably less likely than men to be considered religious, they must not have been very educated and not allowed to read, if possible, the sacred texts.
    After my woman rant, yes I believe that this text could be talking about the situation with Paul was severe enough for death. just like the men in the last chapter of Acts, they were upset about Paul preaching because the temple of Artemis was a part of their trade and their lifestyle and Paul threatened this. These Jews, could be mad because Paul is just teaching something different, but something different has always been seen as dangerous. They would have been willing to do anything to keep him quiet. Violence was the answer in the past and Paul was stoned, beaten and willing to go the distance for the spreading of the Gospel.

  10. It definitely seems that the Jews in the Temple are overcome with zeal, although the source does not seem to be in the defense of the law, it seems deeper than that. In the cities that Paul preached in, he was always rejected by the Jews. In Acts 13:48-50, it shows a prime example of the cause for the Jews anger. Here, Paul is preaching the Gospel in Posidian Antioch. At the end of his speech, Paul says that God has, “made him a light for the Gentiles (vs. 47).” “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord (vs. 48).” The Gentiles, according to Paul, were chosen to receive the Gospel over the Jews, because the Jews had rejected Jesus. This obviously angered the Jews in Posidian Antioch. In verse 50, it says, “But the Jew incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas.” In this event, it seems that the Jews were much less motivated by defending the Law, and more on jealousy. To the Jews, they were the covenant people of God, the people that God had chosen to create through Abraham. However, Paul is preaching that the Gentiles are also to be included in the New Covenant. This upsets the Jews, because they are selfish. They do not want to share their role as God’s people with Gentiles! They have walked with God for hundreds of years, and will not allow the preaching of Christ interfere, not only with tradition, but with their standing as the people of God. Yes there is motivation to “defend the Law”, but this merely seems like an excuse to rid themselves of the men who are trying to take the Jews rightful place as God’s people from them.

  11. This article definitely helped me understand more of what the Jews meant when they were accusing Paul of when they were coming after him. It helped me to understand that they believed that he was truly anti-Jew. However, the blog post did a great job of quickly summarizing Paul’s ministry and how it was not anti-jew. “These Jews begin by spreading the common misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching, that he is anti-Jew. Paul is not anti-Jew in the sense that he wants Jews to stop being Jewish, he wants them to stop relying on the Law for salvation” (Reading Acts). Paul is following the ministry of Jesus and teaching people that they do not need to follow the Law for salvation, but they need to find salvation through Jesus. Paul was trying to help them to understand this and they were misinterpreting it as him being against the Jews.

  12. First, I guess I never would have thought there would have been “Asian Jews” living in Paul’s day. Secondly, something that has really been a common theme in the Book of Acts is misunderstanding or questioning why Jesus was “greater” than the Jewish faith and traditions. In previous chapters, it was answering the question “should gentiles be circumcised?” “should Christians follow Jewish traditions?” Now here in Acts 20, there becomes disagreements and false-misunderstandings of Paul being anti-Jew. As written “They would have been the most likely pilgrims to recognize Trophimus as a Gentile convert and associate of Paul. These men are never called disciples, so the implication is that they are Jewish pilgrims”. A lot of times when your not similar with a situation, false assumptions may occur. At the end of the day, Paul was simply trying to help the Asian Jews understand the teachings of Jesus and that he is the way to salvation. There misunderstanding caused them to jump to the conclusion that he was anti-Jew.

  13. I don’t see the relevance of the quoted mishnah to your point. Under Jewish law, a non-PRIEST wasn’t allowed to SERVE in the temple. This has nothing to do with a non-JEW who ENTERS the temple.

  14. It is interesting to me that Paul tried to show the Jews that the law is not everything and that they should focus on a relationship with God rather than being so hung up on the law. Yet, this made them angry and they grew even more zealous towards the law, causing them to possibly overreact to the situation with Paul and the Gentile. If Paul told them these things early in Acts and then they see him again, having a negative connotation about him, they could have completely blown everything out of proportion. They could have seen Paul and the Gentile, already in a rage towards Paul for his speech about the dangers of the law, and quickly jumped to conclusions, assuming he was doing something wrong. OR, maybe they made it up completely, associating Paul with the gentile and making up the idea that he brought him into the temple just because they were already enraged towards him. Knowing what the outcome could have very possibly been for Paul, they really milked the situation to the Roman guards, maybe thinking that if a whole crowd of them were in on it, protesting that they would not eat or drink until Paul was killed, that the guards would be convinced.

  15. Paul knows that following the law is important but also knows the difference between putting the law before God. Paul knows that focusing on a relationship with God is more important than the law. This is something that I think about quite often because of the current laws we have in the U.S. I think that the law falls before God a lot of the times because we can be punished if we don’t follow the law but having that relationship with God is more important. This makes life a bit stressful because of some of the laws that we have to follow and it makes people turn their backs on a relationship with God because society dictates whats right or wrong.

  16. Having a relationship with God came first to Paul, which was something that he was trying to get these Jews to understand. I think that it is interesting to me how stuck in the mindset that the law trumps having a relationship these Jews were. When you look at it though, it does make sense. They have only known of the law and were taught to respect and obey the law and now Paul is coming around and challenging that, I could see how they would reject it. But the fact that their hearts were not even open to hearing what Paul had to say saddens me. They were so stuck in their ways and were willing to send a man to his death bed is sad. Even that can be said about people in today’s world. I think that so often Christians today forget about the fact that Christianity is based on having a relationship with God, but they treat it more of a religion with rules and regulations. Even people from outside of Christianity see it as that. I think that it is important to have the courage that Paul had to show the people that it is a relationship with the heavenly Father and not just the law.

  17. Since the Jews were willing to protect their law, and Paul was wanting to break the Jews free of the law, there are going to be accusations against Paul. The higher up people will start to dislike Paul and his ways. This article is nice to read because in a way it gives us a different outlook on Paul’s ministry. Paul, as the article writes, had a charge against him for bringing a gentile into the temple. A big no-no, however, Luke writes that it is not true. Even if Paul did bring them into the temple, was Paul actually wrong? Since he is trying to teach as many people as he can, is he wrong for breaking this law? I would say no. In countries like China, where it Is practically shameful to be a Christian people are constantly sneaking Christianity within. Underground skate churches, bibles, etc. All they are doing is trying to protect their customs and their beliefs, but Paul is in the wrong for trying something else.

  18. It is interesting to note the parallel between the fierce Jews, and the way Paul used to be. Both the Jews in this story and Paul were on fire for the law. They wanted to make sure everyone kept the law and kept it as sovereign as it was intended. Now, abiding by the law and God’s rules is not a bad thing, and Paul had never gone as far as to suggest that. However, he was not encouraging people to follow it, and he was clear that it was not needed for salvation. This is what lead to another outbreak of anger from the Jews. “There is a desire to do violence to Paul” (Jipp 115). They were furious with the way Paul laid aside he law in order to reach people with salvation. They were so angered by this that they went to extremes, lying about Paul’s behavior. Paul, was also a devout man, so he knew not to bring a Gentile or women into the temple, as that was not allowed (Long). However, the feisty Jews suggested that is exactly what he did. They said that he brought Trophimus, a Greek, into the temple with him (Acts 21:29). This would be a clear breaking of the Law, but Luke later displays that these accusations were not even accurate. Overall, it seems that these zealous Jews just wanted to shut down the message that Paul was bringing. They believed their way was the only one, and because of that they felt the need to shut down any advancements that Paul made in his mission.

  19. Upon reading this blog, it seems that the Jews were more violent than I had originally anticipated that they had been. I find this information rather shocking, as they are known as the people of God and were set as an example for others around them. I guess that their opposition to Paul’s teaching shows just how much they had become connected to the Law. Polhill notes for verse 28 say that Paul would have been well aware that the penalty for bringing a Gentile into the temple was death (2132). This was something that was connected to Jewish law and they showed that they took it very seriously as they were looking to kill Paul over the law, or rather the intense beliefs of their teachings, than listen to the gospel that Paul was preaching.
    Scripture shows that Paul still follows and respects the Jewish laws and customs, so this accusation against Paul is clearly false as he would not have brought a non-Jew into such a sacred place for the Jewish people. This passage just shows me that the point to which the Jews followed the law had gotten so much like a crutch, that they missed the whole meaning of what their scriptures and law were trying to prepare them for. They go to great lengths, including being willing to kill someone, in order to preserve their way of life under the law rather than move into the next phase that God had for them, which was the gospel.

  20. I cannot say that I am shocked by the behavior of the Jews out of Asia, as they were trying to find a way to condemn Paul. To me, I feel like their motive was because they did not want Paul to use his platform to convert anyone else and their own way, was better. However, this may not be the case and the Jews from Asia may have simply been acting out solely to receive attention and/or bring a common negative idea of Paul as an individual. These Jews had claimed that Paul brought a Gentile into the temple and “defiled this holy place” (verse 28). However, Paul knew of the death penalty and he was respectful to honor the holy place of the temple as he honors the Jewish laws and customs (Polhill, p. 2132). While there was no proof to this respectfulness of Paul, the Jews from Asia seemed to convince enough people for a mob to drag Paul out of said temple. Reading this blog post after reading this chapter (and others), it seems to me that the Jews might be focused too much on their own laws and customs, idolizing these things, that they became blinded to the gospel that Paul was bringing to the world. These Jews were so blinded by their idolizing that they were ready to kill Paul, an apostle of God, just to defend their laws and customs.

  21. I think that Paul knew about the law and how serious it is but I know that God comes before any law. Paul knew that being locked in with God is the best feeling in the world and know that any law doesn’t compare to God himself because he created the law. God has his law too and pushes people to be the best version of themselves that they can be. God wants you to be great and to stay locked in with him no matter what. But God always comes before any Law that this world throws at us.

  22. After reading this blog post about Paul’s accusations, it is clear to see that the Jews from Asia Minor were not Paul’s biggest fans. This dislike toward Paul comes from a misunderstanding of Paul’s teachings, a misunderstanding that is common during this time. The author of the blog post goes on to state that Luke says that these accusations are not true, and are more based on rumors. The author also goes on to describe how he thinks that the time Paul spent in Ephesus was worse for Paul than Luke actually writes. The author explains that Paul could have actually spent time in prison during his time in Ephesus. This is something that I could believe to be true. The Hellenistic Jews wanting to use force to defend the Law and the Temple makes sense to me because it is something that they believed in strongly so they want to make sure they can defend it.

  23. It’s really interesting to hear Long explain his evidence that Paul was persecuted more than Luke let on to believe in Acts 19. As we can see, he got arrested multiple times because of many zealous Jews. Who knows, maybe Long is right about Paul being possibly arrested in Ephesus. It makes my heart hurt by the persecution he faced along with the persecution of people still to this day. As Long states, Paul wasn’t anti-Jew where he wanted to force people to stop following Judaism and such, he just simply wanted the Jews to stop relying on their Mosaic Law for their salvation to grant them into Heaven. I can tell by Acts 26, that even Paul tried to relate to them that he was a Pharisee: one of the strictest sects. However, the Jews from Asia didn’t like that, and we can see that through their accusations and rumors put on behalf of Paul to try and get killed. I can see a comparison with the church today, how people hold onto their legalistic rules too much and condemn other Christians for not following their rules just like they do.

  24. In this post, Long explains how Asian Jews claimed that Paul had entered the temple with a Gentile, something worthy of death. These Jews were holding strongly to beliefs that had been passed down for generations. It was of utmost importance to follow the Law and obey God in the right way. But now Paul was saying that the Law doesn’t define salvation, and suddenly the Jews are upset.
    In this situation, Paul didn’t actually enter the temple with a Gentile, but was being accused of it anyway. I find it interesting how quickly people can jump to conclusions about one another without actually witnessing anything in particular happening. It wouldn’t have seemed out of character for Paul to enter the temple with a Gentile, thus it was reasonable to assume that he had actually done it and to be outraged, even though he hadn’t. They claim he had defiled the holy place by bringing a Gentile in (Acts 21: 28). Polhill (2008) explains that clearly, this was a lie, Paul knew the sentence was death if he were to bring a Gentile in, and so he would never have done so. I think this continues to happen even today. The church is quick to judge others for even the small things, and if someone fits a certain set of characteristics, it becomes even easier to assume they’re doing things they aren’t actually doing. However, as Christians, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that we will face hardships and people will often assume the worst. Paul knew he would be persecuted harshly, and he was. Yet, he had God to guide him through it.

  25. In the book of Acts, it tells the story of the apostle Paul who was a missionary for Christianity. He traveled to many different places to share the message of Jesus Christ. One of the places he went was Jerusalem. While he was there, some people started causing trouble for him. These people were Jews from Asia Minor who didn’t like what Paul was teaching. They accused him of breaking the Jewish law by bringing a non-Jewish person into the temple. The Jews believed that the temple was a holy place and only Jews were allowed in the central courts of the temple. They thought that Paul had done something very bad and should be punished. But Paul didn’t actually bring a non-Jewish person into the temple. The accusations were not true. Luke, the author of Acts, explains that the accusations were made by Jewish pilgrims from Ephesus, where Paul had spent a lot of time. This suggests that these people were anti-Paul and willing to make up lies about him. It’s important to understand that the Jews at this time were very serious about their religious laws and customs. They believed that following these laws was the only way to be saved. So, when they saw someone like Paul who was teaching something different, they became very angry. Some of them were even willing to use violence to defend the sanctity of the temple. This story shows us that people have always had different beliefs and opinions. Sometimes, these differences can lead to conflict and even violence. It’s important to respect others’ beliefs, even if we don’t agree with them. We should try to understand where they are coming from and have open and honest conversations with them. This can help us find common ground and live peacefully together.

Leave a Reply