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THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES - Chapter 21 - Verse 38

Verse 38. Art not thou that Egyptian. That Egyptian was probably a Jew, who resided in Egypt. Josephus has given an account of this Egyptian, which strikingly accords with the statement here recorded by Luke. See Josephus' Antiq. b. xx. chap. viii. § 6, and Jewish War, b. ii. chap. xiii. § 5. The account which he gives is, that this Egyptian, whose name he does not mention, came from Egypt to Jerusalem, and said that he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go with him to the Mount of Olives. He said further, that he would show them from thence how the walls of Jerusalem would fall down; and he promised them that he would procure for them an entrance through those walls when they were fallen down. Josephus adds, (Jewish War,) that he got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him, "these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount, which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place." But Felix, who was apprized of his movements, marched against him with the Roman soldiers, and discomfited him, and slew four hundred of them, and took two hundred alive. "But the Egyptian escaped himself out of the fight, but did not appear any more." It was natural that the Roman tribune should suppose that Paul was this Egyptian, and that his return had produced this commotion and excitement among the people.

Madest an uproar. Producing a sedition, or a rising among the people. Greek, "That Egyptian, who before these days having risen up."

Into the wilderness. This corresponds remarkably with the account of Josephus. He indeed mentions that he led them to the Mount of Olives, but he expressly says that "he led them round about from the wilderness." This wilderness was the wild and uncultivated mountainous tract of country lying to the east of Jerusalem, and between it and the river Jordan. See Barnes "Mt 3:1".

It is also another striking coincidence showing the truth of the narrative, that neither Josephus nor Luke mention the name of this Egyptian, though he was so prominent and acted so distinguished a part.

Four thousand men. There is here a remarkable discrepancy between the chief captain and Josephus. The latter says that there were thirty thousand men. In regard to this the following remarks may be made.

(1.) This cannot be alleged to convict Luke of a false statement, for his record is, that the chief captain made this statement, and it cannot be proved that Luke has put into his mouth words which he did not utter. All that he is responsible for is a correct report of what the Roman tribune said, not for the truth or falsehood of his statement. It is certainly possible that that might have been the common estimate of the number then, and that the account given by Josephus might have been made from more correct information. Or it is possible, certainly, that the statement by Josephus is incorrect.

(2.) If Luke were to be held responsible for the statement of the number, yet it remains to be shown that he is not as correct a historian as Josephus. Why should Josephus be esteemed infallible, and Luke false? Why should the accuracy of Luke be tested by Josephus, rather than the accuracy of Josephus by Luke? Infidels usually assume that Josephus and other profane historians are infallible, and then endeavour to convict the sacred writers of falsehood.

(3.) The narrative of Luke is the more probable of the two. It is more probable that the number was only four thousand, than it was thirty thousand. For Josephus says, that four hundred were killed, and two hundred taken prisoners; and that thus they were dispersed. Now, it is scarcely credible, that an army of thirty thousand desperadoes and cut-throats would be dispersed by so small a slaughter and captivity. But if the number was originally but four thousand, it is entirely credible that the loss of six hundred would discourage and dissipate the remainder.

(4.) It is possible that the chief captain refers only to the organized Sicarii, or murderers that the Egyptian led with him, and Josephus to the multitude that afterwards joined them, the rabble of the discontented and disorderly that joined them on their march. Or,

(5.) there may have been an error in transcribing Josephus. It has been supposed that he originally wrote four thousand, but that ancient copyists, mistaking the d, delta, four, for l, lambda, thirty, wrote thirty thousand, instead of four thousand. Whichever of these solutions be adopted is not material.

Which were murderers. sikariwn. Sicara. This is originally a Latin word, and is derived from Sica, a short sword, or sabre, or crooked knife, which could be easily concealed under the garment. Hence it came to denote assassins, and to be applied to banditti, or robbers. It does not mean that they had actually committed murder, but that they were desperadoes and banditti, and were drawn together for purposes of plunder and of blood. This class of people was exceedingly numerous in the wilderness of Judea. See Barnes "Lu 10:30".


{1} "that Egyptian" "This Egyptian arose A.D. 55" Ac 5:36 {++} "before these days" "Formerly" {&} "uproar" "A disturbance" {|} "murderers" "Assassins"

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