Acts 21 – Accusations against Paul

Paul GraffitiAfter Paul participated in the vow with the Jewish Christians, Asian Jews stirred up trouble for Paul.  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.  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.

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 that the charge is 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 stir up trouble for him in Jerusalem.  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.

20 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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.