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Bible Gemz 1810 - How long did it take before Paul was Seized? (Acts 21:27-36)

May 6, 2018

Paul Seized

The seven days were almost ended when some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul in the Temple and roused a mob against him. They grabbed him,

yelling, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who preaches against our people everywhere and tells everybody to disobey the Jewish laws. He speaks against the Temple – and even defiles this holy place by bringing in Gentiles.”   

(For earlier that day they had seen him in the city with Trophimus, a Gentile from Ephesus, and they assumed Paul had taken him into the Temple.)

The whole city was rocked by these accusations, and a great riot followed. Paul was grabbed and dragged out of the Temple, and immediately the gates were closed behind him.

As they were trying to kill him, word reached the commander of the Roman regiment that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.

He immediately called out his soldiers and officers and ran down among the crowd. When the mob saw the commander and the troops coming, they stopped beating Paul.

Then the commander arrested him and ordered him bound with two chains. He asked the crowd who he was and what he had done.

Some shouted one thing and some another. Since he couldn’t find out the truth in all the uproar and confusion, he ordered that Paul be taken to the fortress.

As Paul reached the stairs, the mob grew so violent the soldiers had to lift him to their shoulders to protect him.

And the crowd followed behind, shouting, “Kill him, kill him!” (Acts 21:27-36)


Luke was with Paul during this process and recording for us what happened. He chooses his words carefully as he recorded it. There are times when paying careful attention to the words Luke uses answers questions for us. Then there are times when paying careful attention to Luke’s words give us further questions. This is one of those times.  Notice the opening words – “The seven days were almost ended when some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul in the Temple and roused a mob against him.” That is a revelation I have not thought of before. If we read Luke’s words chapter by chapter we get the impression that Paul was seized immediately he appeared at the Purification Ceremony. But hang on a minute! There are two possible ways to read what Luke wrote based on the Greek grammar and on one word in particular which Luke uses. Luke was an historian and he was a careful researcher who chose his words deliberately. Thus we must pay careful attention to what he has written.


The grammatical construction leads us to believe Paul was seized at the beginning of the seven day period for the purification ceremony. However the inclusion of the word [sunteleo] has the sense “to bring to an end, complete, finish” which leads us to believe Paul was seized at the end of the seven day period, maybe on the 6th or 7th day of the purification process. I won’t bother for the sake of this argument going into the detail of the Greek grammar for you. Suffice to say the grammatical construction should lead us to believe the seizing happened at the beginning. However because of the presence of the word [sunteleo] all translations take it to mean Luke added the word to make it clear a number of days had already passed for the purification ceremony and it wasn't until the end of the week that Paul was seized. It was inevitable that this would happen. Mark and the leaders had urged Paul to attend the ceremony and likely pay for the four others to demonstrate Paul’s agreement with Jewish customs, Thus it was only a matter of time before someone in the crowd recognised him. It happened when some Jews who had recently come from the Province of Asia saw him and recognised him and straight away grabbed him and started yelling. That was a pretty brave audacious move.


However we get the sense that more lay behind this seemingly spontaneous moment of recognition. Notice what Luke tells us. He makes two points:

  1. They recognised Paul as being the same man who was preaching against the Temple and telling everyone to disobey Jewish Law. “This is the man who preaches against our people everywhere and tells everybody to disobey the Jewish laws. He speaks against the Temple – and even defiles this holy place by bringing in Gentiles.”   

  2. But it was more premeditated than that for Luke adds - For earlier that day they had seen him in the city with Trophimus, a Gentile from Ephesus, and they assumed Paul had taken him into the Temple.


Just how long did it take for these men to recognise Paul? Luke does not make that absolutely clear. It could have been earlier in the seven day period or it could have been toward the end. What is clear is that Jews from Asia had recognised Paul before the moment they drew attention to him at the ceremony. They could have reacted on recognizing Paul on the street when they first saw him with Trophimus. But from what Luke writes, it is clear  they waited for maximum effect. They wait until Paul was standing at the barrier supporting the four men he had sponsored to fulfil their vow and they start yelling then. Firstly they shout out that they recognise him from their time in the Province of Asia (remember from earlier Gemz, that is not Asia as we know it, but Asia Minor as it was in Paul’s day). They made false accusations concerning what Paul preached in Asia but also they wrongly assumed that Paul had been the one to take Trophimus, a non-Jew from Ephesus, with him into the temple. The way Luke has written the account is that was another  assumption they made. But of course when rabble rousers shout out their claims against you, false accusations and assumptions stick as though they are true.   


Notice how easily riots develop in this continuing story! It doesn't take much to spark the Jews to riot if they are told their customs and traditions are being attacked or disregarded. Most especially if Jewish people are the ones doing it. But remember that Jews have no authority in Jerusalem to put anyone to death. That was the problem they had with Jesus. The opposition at the time had to get the Roman Governor, Pilate, to pronounce the death sentence. See what happens in this case – they first had to drag Paul out of the Temple. It would defile the Temple if blood was shed and a man was killed within the Temple. So they had to drag outside the Temple, and shut the doors. This is clearly depicted in the Greek verb tense as being an on-going action as they were dragging Paul out.  The crowd were so riled up that they were trying to kill Paul AS they were dragging him out of the Temple. The Gates to the inner court were shut in a symbolic way to show the inner Temple court was not defiled. However because they were doing that as they dragged him outside the temple word spread quickly to Commander of the  Roman regiment stationed at Jerusalem. They can’t have been stationed very far away from the action because they arrived quickly before those trying to kill Paul succeeded.


Did you catch the way Luke wrote this section by including a number of hints that this has happened before. It is very reminiscent of each time opposition has arisen in Jerusalem against the followers of the Way. It has word for word parallels to incidents involving the apostles and stoning of Stephen and most especially the parallels to the accusations and the handling of Jesus. Luke wants us to make the connections.


On seeing the Roman troops coming the crowd stops beating Paul and trying to kill him.  Then the same thing happens as has happened before. When the commander asks what it going on, there’s confusion. Not confusion as to what is going on, that much is clear.  What is confused is why! What has this man done that deserves death? Sound familiar? Some shouted one thing, some another. At that point there was so much confusion that the Commander of the Roman regiment had to order the troops take Paul into the garrison fortress. As the troops carried out the order of their Commander to take Paul inside the fort the crowd became more violent in an attempt to kill Paul. Luke’s words emphasize the fact that the troops picked Paul up and carried him unceremoniously (seized him bodily) and ultimately had to lift him above the crowd so they couldn’t get their hands on him. Chaos reigned. So in order to do his job, the Commander ordered Paul taken into the fort in order to question him there where it was quiet. The crowd followed behind shouting, “Kill him! Kill him!”  Sound familiar? Luke intends for you to connect the pieces.   


Now that we have reached the point where Paul is inside the fort and things are peaceful I will leave you. We will wait for the tensions to die down before we investigate further.  


We will look at Luke’s next point of emphasis for us on Wednesday.



If our preaching fails to actually bring people to the feet of Jesus, and rather makes them always simply "feel good", we haven't really preached the Gospel at all


Be less judgmental and mean spirited. Don’t belittle people. And if given a choice between clever or kind, always choose kind!


Some people will find fault no matter what you do. You have to accept the fact that not everyone is going to accept you.


Learn to achieve the right mix of Grace and Truth. Notice the order, Grace then Truth but don't leave the Truth out. Ian


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