Acts of the Apostles: Week #7

paul-at-ephesusChapters 21-23 By Sister Mary Core, OSB

After an emotional farewell at Ephesus, Paul and companions continue their journey to Jerusalem.

Again, Luke uses the word “we,” suggesting his presence on the journey. The fact that there are Christian communities at Tyre and Ptolemais indicates that Christian evangelization was widespread across Asia Minor.

What happens next causes us to ask how the Spirit works in our own lives … and whether we recognize it for what it is.

As Paul prepares to leave Tyre, we witness another moving prayer and farewell scene at the seaside. 2 warning events in this section tell us of Paul’s impending arrest in Jerusalem.

First, the Christians at Tyre tell Paul that “through the Spirit” they know what awaits him and they beg him not to continue on to Jerusalem. Paul disagrees with them. The episode illustrates that hearing and following the Spirit are not always a simple or easy thing. For Paul, the warning is a forewarning of what he must face.

Second, at Caesarea, Agabus, who correctly prophesied the famine in Acts 11:28, prophesies that Paul will be bound hand and foot in Jerusalem. As at Tyre, the Christians there also beg him not to go to Jerusalem.

Paul however, sees the Caesarian Christians’ desire to preserve his safety as a lack of trust in God’s will and informs them that he is willing to face suffering and even death in Jerusalem for the sake of the name of Jesus. The Christians are saddened but, “we let the matter rest saying, ‘The Lord’s will be done.” The “we” here indicates that Luke and the other companions may also have tried to keep Paul from going on to Jerusalem.

This imitates Jesus’ struggle in facing the prospect of death, first with resistance and then acceptance. (The Garden scene in Luke 22:39-42).

Leaving Caesarea, Paul and companions are joined by Caesarean disciples who go with them as guides to the Jerusalem home of Mnason, a Christian disciple. “The next day Paul accompanied us on a visit to James and all the presbyters were present.” (Note here, Acts 21:18, it is Paul joining the others, not the others joining Paul.)

Paul tells the Jerusalem Church of the great success they have had among the Gentiles. In response, they tell him of building Jewish hatred because of the belief that Paul is urging the Diaspora (Jews living outside of Judea) to abandon the Mosaic Law.

Concerned for Paul’s safety and intending to show that Paul still observes the Torah, James and the Jerusalem Church ask Paul to accompany 4 men to the temple and to sponsor them and the ceremonies which fulfill the “nazarite” vow (Numbers 6:3-20).

This compromise may seem strange since Paul was so strong in defense of freeing the Gentile converts from the Mosaic Law. Yet, Paul is a Jew and is willing to observe the Law to win over the Jews to Christianity.

Sadly, Paul’s efforts do not save him from attack. Using false information and making assumptions, the pilgrim Jews stir the crowds to riot and attack Paul. As the crowds continue to call out “Away with him,” the commander in charge of the soldiers intervenes and has Paul brought to the compound. The chanting of the crowd certainly reminds us of the crowds calling for the death of Jesus.

On the steps of the Antonia Fortress, Paul asks to speak to the crowds in hope of making a clear defense for himself.

As he begins his address he makes it clear that he is a Jew. What we now hear is a 2nd version of Paul’s conversion experience (Acts 9). When Paul tells the crowds that it is Jesus who commissions him to go to the Gentiles, the Jews again rise up in protest and Paul is taken away to be further “interrogated” with the use of whips.

Once more Paul uses his Roman citizenship to escape the whipping. Cleverly, he uses the privileges of Roman citizenship to grant him a hearing and when before the Sanhedrin he divides his audience by speaking of the resurrection from the dead, a belief held by the Pharisees but rejected by the Sadducees.

From here to the end of Acts, the issue becomes not so much the guilt or innocence of Paul, but the acceptance or rejection of Jesus as the resurrected Savior.

When Paul’s life is once more in danger, it is Paul’s nephew who brings word of the plot to him and then to Lysius, the commander. Lysius has Paul put in protective custody and taken to Felix, the governor, at Caesarea. Felix agrees to hear Paul’s case, and holds him in custody at Herod’s praetorium until his accusers arrive from Jerusalem.

Upon Reflection …

Though the warnings given Paul at Tyre and Caesarea are from the Spirit, Paul is unwilling to change his plan. What does this tell us about how we interpret the working of the Spirit in our lives? Can we – do we – twist God’s will to fit our own wishes? How do we know God’s will?

In Acts 21:18, “Paul accompanied us,” seems a reversal of the way Paul usually operates. That is, he is typically in the lead. Does this give you any insights about how Paul may have been feeling as they go to see James and the rest of the Jerusalem Church leadership?

In Acts 22, we hear the 2nd of 3 accounts of Paul’s conversion. What are some of the differences in this account from those told in told in Acts 9? What do you think we are to learn from these differences? How do you feel about the man Paul, as you hear him tell his conversion experience?

For Closer Study …

  • Paul is accused of asking the Jews to abandon the Mosaic Law. He is also accused of bringing an Egyptian into the Temple. Neither of these is truth. How do you suppose these stories were started? What do you think happens when falsehoods or half-truths are proclaimed as truth?
  • Felix intends to judge Paul’s case when his accusers arrive from Jerusalem. From your reading of Acts, what is Paul being accused of? As an attorney, how would you defend Paul? Conversely, how would you prosecute him?

Next Week: Chapters 24-25

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