Online Bible Commentary
Acts 21:26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them. 27 Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place." 29 (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.) 30 And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut. 31 Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. (NKJV)
The time is 57 A.D. Paul and his travel party, including Luke, has returned to Jerusalem after completing his third and final missionary journey. Paul’s reputation as an opponent of Judaism has grown after his three missionary journeys.
So the church leaders fully expect Paul to be opposed by the Jews in Jerusalem and propose a plan to make him appear to be a supporter of Jewish customs and the Law. They suggest that he take a Jewish vow, paying for himself and four others who would be doing so the following day.
In compliance, Paul took the vow with the four men (v. 26). This may have been the Nazirite vow but Scripture is not clear. Obviously it was a vow in support of the Jewish law, in which Christians were not under.
Despite Paul’s compliance, the plan of the church leaders was not successful. “Jews from Asia” recognized him in the temple and stirred up the crowds of Jews against Paul (v. 27a). They detained him physically and cried out "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place" (vv. 27b-28).
The accusation that Paul had defiled the temple referred to the fact that the Jews had seen Paul in the company of Trophimus, a Gentile believer from Ephesus, in Jerusalem and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple (v. 29). It is not clear if Paul actually did what he was accused of, but the truth did not matter in this case.
The accusation set off the mob and they dragged Paul out of the temple closing the doors behind him (v. 30). The mob was “seeking to kill him” by beating him, and the “news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar” (v. 31). When the commander with his “soldiers and centurions” arrived on the scene the mob stopped beating Paul (v. 32).
We do not know Paul’s motives in agreeing to take the Jewish vow. Certainly it was not fear for his personal safety because that would have been out of character for Paul.
Paul’s motive may have been that he did not wish to cause trouble for the church in Jerusalem. It may have been to take the vow as a favor to all those fellow Christians who were concerned with his safety. Or, perhaps more likely, Paul’s motive may have been that he wanted to be all things to all men that he might save some (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
This passage should serve as a caution to us before criticizing the actions of our fellow Christians. We do not know their motives. We should always withhold judgment until all the facts are revealed. Suspicious activity may come with pure motives.