Posted: 20 Jan 2011 11:00 PM PST
IN ACTS 21 WE FIND PAUL AND THE CHURCH in Jerusalem trying to be as accommodating as possible, but nothing will avail. Paul is arrested, in line with the prophecies to the effect that he would be seized and bound (Acts 21:4, 11). Note:
(1) This is one of the "we" passages in Acts (Acts 21:1, 17). On the face of it, Luke the author is at this point traveling with Paul and is a witness to the events described here. That is worth noting, because many critics find these events completely unbelievable.
(2) The church and its leaders warmly receive Paul and his reports of gospel fruitfulness among the Gentiles. This is entirely in line with their earlier delight when Paul reported many Gentile conversions (e.g., Acts 15). In other words, experiences in Samaria (Acts and Peter's visit with Cornelius and his household (Acts 10–11) have prepared the church to delight in the manifest progress of the Gospel among the Gentiles.
(3) Nevertheless, the leaders are painfully aware that substantial numbers of conservative Jews are out to get Paul. They have heard that he is counseling "all" the Jews in the Diaspora not to circumcise their children or follow the Law of Moses (Acts 21:21). So they devise a plan to help him regain a reputation for observing conservatism (Acts 21:23–24). "Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law" (Acts 21:24).
It is this passage that is especially controverted, for does not Paul himself say that he is flexible on such matters (1 Cor. 9:19–23; Gal.)? Yet before we write off the Jerusalem elders and Paul himself for massive inconsistency, or Luke for making up stories, observe: (a) The initial charge is that Paul exhorts all Jews in the Diaspora to abandon circumcision and the Law of Moses. That he does not do. He refuses to allow circumcision and kosher observance to become a test of spirituality, but he does not advocate universal abandonment of the Law. He himself circumcised Timothy to advance the communication of the Gospel. (b) One suspects that the biggest fear of some conservative Jews was that Paul would desecrate the temple (Acts 21:27–29). The elders therefore sought to show that while he was in Jerusalem Paul was a carefully observant Jew, even paying for the temple purification rites of others. After all, neither Paul nor the Jerusalem leaders imposed full observance on all Christian believers (Acts 21:25; cf. Acts 15; see vol. 1, meditation for July 28).
So in the providence of God, Paul is arrested. Thus he arrives, for the first time, in Rome, and the Gospel is heard in Caesar's courts.
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