Why didn't James come to Paul's rescue?

(The Trophimus incident)





Acts 21:26-31 records the account of Paul's arrest for ostensibly bringing a Gentile into the temple. In the account, the "Jews from Asia " (modern Turkey ) were obviously well aware of what Paul had been teaching in Asia . Ephesus was a prominent city of Asia . When Paul was in the temple providing the animal sacrifices for the purification rites of four Nazirites at James's behest to ostensibly prove to everyone that he still kept the law of Moses, these Asian Jews spotted Paul and leveled the following accusation against him. 

"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." 

Immediately after this in verse 29, Luke makes this interesting quasi-defense for Paul.

“For they had seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.”  

This argument as it stands would have an impossible time holding up in court. It would be absurd to suggest that simply having seen Paul with a Gentile in the city would have been grounds on which to convict him of actually bringing that Gentile into the temple. No one would make that argument. Jews and Gentiles mingled outside the temple all the time. It should be apparent that there must be more to the story here …and probably something that Luke would really rather not reveal to us. Therefore, we are forced to read between the lines and logically put the missing pieces of the puzzle together.

Now if Trophimus had gone into the temple and been caught, and Paul was responsible for putting it in his mind to go there on his own, then we have a different story.

First: Trophimus was caught in the temple

It is evident that Trophimus had indeed been caught in the temple. Here is the flow of logic:

  1. The Jews of Asia could not have been referring to the Nazirites with Paul in the temple at that time as "Greeks". (No Jew would have confused a Nazirite for a Gentile.) 
  2. If no Gentile had been in the temple at all, it would have been Paul’s and Luke's first and only-necessary line of defense!
  3. If no Gentile had been in the temple, James most certainly would have come to Paul’s rescue and reassured the “many myriads of Jews” which he led that such was the case.  Therefore: 
  4. Some Gentile had obviously defiled the temple.
  5. The fact that Luke is compelled to mention Trophimus by name is telling. Obviously, he was the one being prosecuted for being in the temple. If Trophimus had not been the one who everyone was already talking about, there would have been no need for Luke to name him and bring him into it. 
  6. Luke only tries to put distance from the idea that Paul had physically ushered Trophimus into the temple by saying they only "supposed” it. 

The Jews of Asia knew that Paul was responsible for Trophimus defiling the temple. Some of them, having seen Trophimus and Paul together in the city would have naturally jumped to the conclusion that Paul had actually accompanied Trophimus into the temple. Thus the rumor began. Luke seized upon the error and tried to cover for Paul by saying, “they supposed that Paul had brought” Trophimus into the temple.  But the Asian Jews were none the less correct in accusing Paul of being responsible for Trophimus defiling the temple.

 Second: Paul was responsible for Trophimus being in the temple

That Trophimus was an Ephesian and a friend of Paul is not in question. How Trophimus came to believe he had some right to enter the temple on his own accord is what tells the rest of the story. It could hardly be more obvious where Trophimus got his presumptuous idea in light of what we know Paul had been teaching the Ephesians. In his epistle to the Ephesians Paul had written these words: 

“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh--who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands--that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens form the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division 1 between us, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in himself one new man form the two, thus making peace, and that he might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And he came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, Therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 2 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.”  
Ephesians 2:11-22

1 "the middle wall of division" is a direct reference to the wall in the temple that separated the court of the Gentiles from the court of Israel. 
2 "members of the household of God" is an indisputable reference to those who have the right to worship in the temple. 


Thus Trophimus boldly went where no Gentile was supposed to go! When he was caught and interrogated, his immediate defense would naturally have been along the lines of:

“…but Paul said there is no difference between Jew and Gentile anymore!  He said the wall of division in the temple is meaningless.  He said I now have access to the Father and am a fellow citizen and an equal member with you in the household of God!” 

Now try to imagine how that defense would have gone over with the priests!

This scenario would perfectly explain several things: 

  1. It explains why Paul was held responsible for a Gentile being in the temple ...even though he may not have physically ushered him in. 
  2. It explains the subsequent uproar in all of Jerusalem against Paul. 
  3. It also perfectly explains why James never did come to Paul’s rescue after this

Prior to this, James had confronted Paul concerning the anti-Moses rumors that were going around about him and effectively made it known to Paul that they had better not be true. James was the one who had sent Paul to the temple in the first place, for the very purpose of giving him opportunity to prove that the rumors were not true and that he continued to abide by the Law. (see Acts 21:18-25) James could have easily calmed the crowd by explaining everything and assuring the people that Paul had not brought a Gentile into the temple if that were the case and it was all a simple misunderstanding. But that wasn't the case. After Trophimus defiled the temple and tried to defend himself with Paul's doctrine, it was all over for Paul. The Jews from Asia testified that Paul had indeed been teaching such things, and quite possibly documented the fact with a copy of Paul's letter to the Ephesians. After this, James could not defend Paul any longer. There was no question anymore.  The rumors were true. Paul had in fact been teaching  “…against the people, the Law, and this place…”! 

As a supplementary article to this, take note of the Ephesian connection in, Who Were the False Apostles Yeshua Commended the Ephesians for Rejecting?   



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