Relevant Verses: Acts 21-23:30
Leading Question: Are religious beliefs personal and private, or are there some religious differences that are worth arguing—even fighting—about?
1. Acts 21 begins with a recitation of the stages in Paul’s journey to Jerusalem. He is warned by fellow believers, and by the prophet Agabus, that to continue to Jerusalem would lead to his arrest. Paul continues on, saying that he is willing to be bound and even to die “for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
Should Paul have continued on despite these warnings? If so, then what was the purpose of the Holy Spirit speaking through Agabus to warn Paul? What good is a prophet if the audience doesn’t listen?
In what ways does Paul’s journey to Jerusalem parallel Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem? Did both men know what awaited them? Did both men go willingly? Were they treated similarly when they arrived?
2. Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Paul faced false accusations that he had been teaching people to forsake Moses. At the urging of believers sympathetic to him, Paul tried to show otherwise by sponsoring the Nazirite vow for four other men. This act was intended to demonstrate Paul’s loyalty to Moses and Jewish tradition (Acts 21:20-26).
Did Paul’s efforts work?
According to the Lesson Quarterly, Paul’s actions in sponsoring the vow were a mistake. The Quarterly asserts, “It was a compromise, as it signified his endorsement of the legalistic motives behind the recommendation.” Then, there is a quote from Ellen White’s Acts of the Apostles which says that Paul “was not authorized by God to concede as much as they asked” (pg 405). How do you feel about this assessment? Did Paul do something wrong? Was he trying to appease the “liberals” of his day or the “conservatives”?
When someone is suspicious of our orthodoxy, is there any way of convincing them otherwise? Do critics really want us to change, or does their sense of joy come from the criticizing itself?
3. Paul is falsely accused, and soon, there was a riot in the temple as others joined in. In Acts 21:37-22:21, we read Paul’s response to the mob. It is strange that he doesn’t directly address the accusations that were raised against him. Instead, he told his life story.
Can you think of occasions when a rumor grows, and soon, there is an online “mob” of people, eager to defend the faith, who join in attacking someone they don’t know based on accusations they haven’t confirmed? How can a follower of Jesus keep from joining such online riots?
How much weight should we put in the fruit of someone’s life? Which is more important—their religious beliefs, or a life that demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control)? In other words, should a person’s virtuous life of service carry any weight in a theological controversy?
4. The next day, Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin. His behavior is rather unorthodox. He calls the high priest a “whitewashed wall,” then says that he didn’t know he was the high priest. Next, he announces that he is on trial because of his belief in the resurrection. He does this strategically, because this was a theological difference that divided Pharisees and Sadducees. Sure enough, the Sanhedrin is thrown into chaos as the two factions begin to argue (Acts 23:6-11).
What does all this suggest about Paul’s personality?
Did Paul really not know who the high priest was, or was he trying to make some other point?
Are there any religious issues that are worth arguing about? Are there any beliefs that are so dangerous that we would contemplate imprisoning the one who professes those beliefs?
5. By the end of Acts 23, Paul, his life still under threat by his religious opponents, is transferred under Roman guard to Caesarea.
Are there times when civil authorities need to step in to resolve religious conflict? How might God use the military power of the state to provide protection for his people?