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Commentary On Acts Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

Acts 21:31-40

31. And as they sought to kill him, it was told the captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.32. Who took with him straightway soldiers and under captains, and ran down unto them: but they, when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, left smiting of Paul.33. Then the chief captain drew near, and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains, and he asked what he was, and what he had done.34. And some cried one thing, and some another, among the people: and when he could not know the truth, by reason of the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the camp.35. And when he came to the stairs, it happened that he was carried of [by] the soldiers, because of the violence of the multitude.36. For the multitude of people followed, crying, Away with him.37. And when Paul began to be carried into the camp, he saith to the captain, May I speak to thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek? 38. Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest into the wilderness four thousand men which were murderers? 39. And Paul said, I verily am a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a citizen of no vile city of Cilicia: but I beseech thee suffer me to speak to the people.40. And when he had given him leave, Paul, standing upon the stairs, beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made great silence, he spake in the Hebrew tongue, saying.

31. As they sought to kill him. Assuredly the force of Satan appeareth therein, in that he driveth the people headlong into such rage, that when they have shut the doors of the temple, being not content with mean punishment, they conspire to put Paul to death. We must thus think with ourselves that Satan doth prick forward the enemies of godliness, lest their rage, how cruel and troublesome soever it be, trouble us. On the other side appeareth the wonderful goodness of God, when as he raiseth up the chief captain at a sudden, that he may deliver Paul from death. He himself thought upon no such thing, but he came to appease the tumult which was raised among the people; but the Lord showeth a more evident token of his providence, because Paul's life was delivered from such present danger without man's counsel. Thus doth he suffer the faithful not only to labor, but to be almost oppressed, that he may deliver them from death more wonderfully. Luke calleth him the chief captain [tribune] of the band improperly, seeing every chief captain was set over a thousand, which cloth also appear by the text, where he saith that the chief captain took with him under captains?

32. And when they saw the chief captain. Those whose fury neither the majesty of God, nor yet the reverence of the temple, could once stay, begin to relent when they see a profane man. Whereby it appeareth that they were set on fire rather with barbarous cruelty than zeal. Now, whereas the chief captain bindeth Paul with chains, he declareth thereby sufficiently that he came not to ease him. The unbelievers would attribute this to fortune; but the Spirit hath depainted out unto us the providence of God as in a table [picture] reigning amidst the confused uproars of men. And though this be very hard that this holy minister of God is so shamefully handled, yet the equity of the chief captain is to be commended if he be compared with the Jews. He bindeth him with chains, as if he were some evil-doer, or some wicked person; yet doth he vouchsafe to hear him when he is bound, whom they did beat unmercifully; neither doth he determine to handle him hardly before he knew his ca, use. Yea, this was the best way to mitigate their cruelty, because they thought [hoped] that Paul should be punished immediately.

34. Some cried one thing, and some another. The madness of the raging people doth betray itself on every side. They make horrible outcries, whereof one is contrary to another. Nevertheless, they desire with one consent to have him put to death who was convicted of no offense. In the mean season, we need not doubt but that they were blinded with a color of holy zeal. But the truth of the cause well known maketh men truly zealous, as it maketh them true martyrs of God, but rage betrayeth devilish madness. Whereas mention is made in this place of the camp or fortress, we must know that the soldiers, which were placed to guard the city, had a place which was trenched and fortified on every side, which they might defend as if it were a castle, and from which they might beat back all assaults, if any sedition were raised. For it had not been good for them to have been dispersed here and there in diverse inns, seeing the people were treacherous, and the city troublesome. And we gather by this that the place was high, because Luke saith, that when they came to the steps, Paul was carried of [by] the soldiers. And whether the soldiers did lift Paul up on high that they might bring him safe to the station or camp, or he was thus tossed with the violence of the crowd, this was no duty [office] of favor. But the greater the cruelty of those which followed him was, God did more plainly declare that he was favorable to his servant in sparing his life, lest if he should have been murdered in the tumult, his death should have wanted due fruit.

37. May I speak unto thee? Paul offered himself to defend his cause, which all the servants of God must do. For we must do our endeavor to make our integrity known to all men, lest through our infamy the name of God be blasphemed. But when the chief captain demandeth whether Paul be not that Egyptian which was a murderer, which a little before had led away a company of men, let us learn that how modestly and quietly soever the ministers of Christ behave themselves, and howsoever they be void of all fault, yet cannot they escape the reproaches and slanders of the world. Which thing we must note for this cause, that we may acquaint ourselves with rebukes; and that in well-doing we may be prepared to be evil-spoken of. When he asketh him concerning the Egyptian, he meaneth not Theudas the sorcerer, as some men falsely suppose; of whom Gamaliel made mention before in the fifth chapter, (Acts 5:36) and of whom Josephus speaketh more in his twentieth of Antiquities. For, besides that we read there that Theudas carried away only four hundred men, and the chief captain reckoneth up in this place four thousand, and saith that they were all murderers, that is more, in that Theudas raised that faction during the reign of Tiberius or Augustus Caesar; whereof remained only an obscure report, because, so soon as a troop of horsemen was sent after them, they were forthwith destroyed.

Notwithstanding, it seemeth to me that Josephus is deceived in that where he saith, first, that Cuspius Fadus was sent by Claudius, and then he addeth, that Theudas was of him overcome, seeing I have before showed that that former insurrection was made at such time as Claudius was but a private man. Though he disagree much with Luke's narration, even in the number, seeing he saith that there were about thirty thousand made partners in the sedition, unless happily we expound it thus, that, after he was put to flight by Felix, he fled into the wilderness with four thousand. And it had been an absurd thing that the number should be made ten times greater, as also, that a troop, having no skill in war, or being altogether without courage, should have been defamed with the name of murderers. For as Josephus doth witness, that seducer had deceived the simple and credulous common people with false promises, boasting that he was a prophet of God, which would lead the people dry foot through the midst of Jordan.

But the same Josephus putteth the matter out of doubt when he saith, that an Egyptian, a prophet, did gather together a band of men under Felix the president, and did carry them into Mount Olivet, whereof four hundred were slain, two hundred taken, and the residue dispersed. The history was fresh in memory. Again, forasmuch as the author of the sedition was escaped, and the region filled with murderers, it is not without cause that the chief captain demandeth of Paul, when he seeth all men so hate him, whether he were that Egyptian. Luke recordeth no longer conference had between the chief captain and Paul; yet it is likely, forasmuch as both of them understood the Greek tongue, that they had farther talk. Whereby it came to pass, that so soon as Paul had well purged himself, he had license granted him to speak to the people. For the chief captain would never have suffered a wicked man to make any public speech in a city which was so sore suspected.

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