Acts 21:17-36 – Paul Returns to Jerusalem


Acts 21:17-36


Paul is warmly welcomed by the Christ community when he arrives in Jerusalem. However, when he performs a prescribed Jewish ritual in the temple to certify his continuing affirmation of Jewish practices, l a crowd mobilizes against him.


Although warned by a prophet about impending hostilities in Jerusalem (21:10-12), Paul presses on to the holy city. He is “warmly welcomed” in Jerusalem by his brothers in Christ, including James (the brother of Jesus) and the elders. As he did at the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15, Paul again reports his recent missionary activities among the Gentiles. Although the leaders of the Jerusalem congregation praise God for Paul’s ministry, they also voice concern about his wider reputation “among the Jews,” especially related to his commitment to the Jewish law. Rumors were circulating that Paul had been urging “all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses and . . . not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.” 

James and the elders propose a strategy for Paul to set the record straight and publicly demonstrate his support for Jewish law. Four men in the congregation had undertaken a special vow of dedication to the Lord, signified by no haircutting for a set period. This was probably the “nazirite” vow stipulated in Numbers 6:1‒21. Paul himself had earlier made such a vow (18:18). Now he accompanies the four devotees to the temple to endorse their vows and pay for the head-shaving rituals of purification that signal completion of the process.

Despite Paul’s acts of good faith, certain “Jews from Asia” stir up a mob against him, falsely claiming that Paul was “teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place” and had even dared to bring a Gentile, an Ephesian named Trophimus, into the temple’s inner courts (21:27‒30). The uproar escalates so much that Roman guards must intervene and arrest Paul for his own safety.

In Acts 22, Paul tries to calm the crowd with a speech that recounts his devout Jewish upbringing and his dramatic encounter with the risen Christ. But the mob will have none of it, reminiscent of the final opposition to Jesus in Luke’s Gospel.

Paul remains a prisoner of Rome from this point to the end of Acts. Paul undergoes multiple trials before various judges on his way to Rome where he expects to make a final appeal to Caesar, as is his right as a Roman citizen. As a trained speaker and citizen, Paul proves to be a reasonable and responsible public representative of Christ over against his disruptive and deluded opponents.