Paul Travels Through Macedonia and Greece

20:1 After the disturbance had ended, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left to go to Macedonia. 20:2 After he had gone through those regions and spoken many words of encouragement to the believers there, he came to Greece, 20:3 where he stayed for three months. Because the Jews had made a plot against him as he was intending to sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. 20:4 Paul was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, and Timothy, as well as Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. 20:5 These had gone on ahead and were waiting for us in Troas.

Paul had spent almost three years in Ephesus during his 3rd missionary expedition. He now sets off, travelling from place to place until he finally reaches Jerusalem, Acts 21:17. From there it is his intention to travel to Rome, Acts 19:21.

The Jews made a plot against him – ‘Paul’s intention must have been to take a pilgrim ship carrying Achaian and Asian Jews to the Passover…With a shipload of hostile Jews, it would be easy to find opportunity to murder Paul’ (Ramsay).

Paul usually travelled with others. He favoured teamwork, and, when alone, longed for companionship, Acts 17:15-16 2 Tim 4:9,21. These men, coming as they do from different regions, are witnesses to the growth, unity and catholicity of the early church: they know that ‘they belong to the same church and in consequence co-operate in the same cause’ (Stott). They bear witness, as Stott again points out, to the fruitfulness of Paul’s ministry: they were fruits of mission who soon became agents of mission. Moreover, they testify to the missionary impulse of the young churches, who were willing to give up some of their best local leadership to the wider work of the gospel.

The previous ‘we-section’ left Luke at Philippi, Acts 16:12, so presumably it was here that Luke re-joined the party.

20:6 We sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and within five days we came to the others in Troas, where we stayed for seven days. 20:7 On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul began to speak to the people, and because he intended to leave the next day, he extended his message until midnight. 20:8 (Now there were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting.) 20:9 A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, was sinking into a deep sleep while Paul continued to speak for a long time. Fast asleep, he fell down from the third story and was picked up dead. 20:10 But Paul went down, threw himself on the young man, put his arms around him, and said, “Do not be distressed, for he is still alive!” 20:11 Then Paul went back upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he talked with them a long time, until dawn. Then he left. 20:12 They took the boy home alive and were greatly comforted.

‘Most religious associations in the Greco-Roman world met together once a month. Although some early Christians may have met daily (2:46), they seem to have gathered especially on the first day of the week (Sunday), probably because of the resurrection (Lk 24:1) and to avoid conflicting with synagogue gatherings on the sabbath (Saturday).’ (NT Background Commentary)

‘Christians may have met early, before sunrise, but would have to work Sunday mornings like everyone else in the empire; so this meeting may have begun late Sunday afternoon or Saturday at sunset. (It depends on whether one reckons days from midnight to midnight, like the Romans and modern Westerners, or from sundown to sundown, like ancient Jews. In the former case, the first day means Sunday; in the latter, it started on what we consider Saturday evening.) Whatever view one takes, because most people went to bed not long after sunset, midnight was well into one’s sleeping time, and Paul is certainly being long-winded.’

Paul talked on and on

The view of Dibelius was that ‘a current anecdote had come to be applied to Paul, that Luke found it in this form and introduced it into his narrative’. This is, of course, pure guesswork.

He was picked up dead…But Paul said, “He is still alive!” – So, was the young man dead or alive?

Some, such as Bruce, argue that he was ‘as good as dead’, but that he recovered (possibly over a period of several hours).  It is not clear whether we should ascribe miraculous power to Paul in this recovered, or possibly even some form of resuscitation.  (For a similar situation, see Lk 8:49, and also cf. 1 King 17:21; 2 King 4:34f).

Marshall, however, argues: ‘There can be little doubt that Luke intended to portray Paul as being able to raise the dead (like Peter, 9:36–43); Paul’s comment that the boy’s life was in him refers to his condition after he had ministered to him. Luke would not have devoted space to the raising up of somebody who was merely apparently dead.’

The Voyage to Miletus

20:13 We went on ahead to the ship and put out to sea for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for he had arranged it this way. He himself was intending to go there by land. 20:14 When he met us in Assos, we took him aboard and went to Mitylene. 20:15 We set sail from there, and on the following day we arrived off Chios. The next day we approached Samos, and the day after that we arrived at Miletus. 20:16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so as not to spend time in the province of Asia, for he was hurrying to arrive in Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost. 20:17 From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, telling the elders of the church to come to him.

Miletus was thirty miles south of Ephesus. However, the journey by road was circuitous and it would have taken three days to complete the return journey.

‘There is an apparent contradiction between Paul’s decision to sail past Ephesus because he was in a hurry and his having then taken the time to send word to Ephesus to the elders of the church. This probably had something to do either with the scheduled sailings or with a desire to avoid some anticipated trouble in Ephesus or Asia which might have delayed him further.’ (NBC)

20:18 When they arrived, he said to them, “You yourselves know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I set foot in the province of Asia, 20:19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, and with the trials that happened to me because of the plots of the Jews.

This is the only speech of Paul in Acts which is addressed to believers. All the others are either evangelistic messages or legal defences. The audience is made up of church leaders, called ‘elders’, v18, ‘pastors’, v28a, and ‘overseers’, v28b. It is clear that these terms are describing the same people. The plurality of leaders (cf Acts 14:23) reminds us that there is no biblical warrant for a ‘one-man-band’ style of ministry. We need in our own day, says Stott, to recover this concept of the pastoral team.

Luke was present and heard the speech for himself, cf. the ‘we’ in Acts 21:1.

‘Certainly the address has an authentically Pauline flavour. What has struck many students is the correspondence, in both vocabulary an content, between the speech and Paul’s letters. Themes in his letters which he touches on in his speech are the grace of God (24, 32), the kingdom of God (25), the purpose (boulē) of God (27), the redeeming blood of Christ (28), repentance and faith (21), the church of God and its edification (28, 32), the inevitability of suffering (23–24), the danger of false teachers (29–30), the need for vigilance (28, 31), running the race (24) and our final inheritance (32).’ (Stott)

20:20 You know that I did not hold back from proclaiming to you anything that would be helpful, and from teaching you publicly and from house to house, 20:21 testifying to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus. 20:22 And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem without knowing what will happen to me there, 20:23 except that the Holy Spirit warns me in town after town that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. 20:24 But I do not consider my life worth anything to myself, so that I may finish my task and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.

Paul’s preaching

Taking Matthew Henry’s comments as our starting-point, we may characterise Paul’s preaching as follows.

  1. He preached plainly.  He focused on the plain truths of the gospel, and did not set out merely to amuse his hearers, nor lose them in philosophical speculations.
  2. He preached powerfully.  He preached as one upon oath, as one fully assured of the truth of what he preached and its importance to his hearers.  He preached as a conscientious witness in court, testifying with the utmost seriousness and concern.
  3. He preached profitably.  He aimed not to entertain, or to impress, or merely inform.  He sought with all his heart to preach that which would be helpful to his hearers, to impart to them wisdom, to inform their judgements, and to reform their hearts and lives.
  4. He preached painstakingly.  He was not ashamed to preach the gospel in public, nor did he grudge spending time with individuals and families in their own homes.
  5. He preached faithfully.  He knew that the gospel was a stumbling-block to many Jews and foolishness to many Greeks.  But he kept nothing back, even if the preaching of it might be difficult for him or unpalatable for his hearers.  He both encouraged and reproved, according to the demands of truth and the needs of his hearers.
  6. He preached impartially.  He testified to both the Jews and to the Greeks.  Though he was a Jew through and through, and loved his fellow-countrymen, he preached the gospel just as readily to the Gentiles.
  7. He preached evangelistically.  He did not preach philosophical notions, or politics, or matters of doubtful dispution.  He preached repentance and faith: the confession, forgiveness and forsaking of sin and faith in Christ as Saviour and Redeemer, coming to him as our Lord and our God.

If only I may finish the race – ‘This intimates that we have our labours appointed us, for we were not sent into the world to be idle; and our limits appointed us, for we were not sent into the world to be here always, but to pass through the world, nay, to run through it, and it is soon run through; I may add, to run the gauntlet through it…Dying is the end of our race, when we come off either with honour or shame.’ (MHC)

Note the intensity of Paul’s determination: ‘He thinks nothing too much to do, nor too hard to suffer, so that he may but finish well, finish with joy. We must look upon it as the business of our life to provide for a joyful death, that we may not only die safely, but die comfortably.’ (MHC)

20:25 “And now I know that none of you among whom I went around proclaiming the kingdom will see me again. 20:26 Therefore I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of you all. 20:27 For I did not hold back from announcing to you the whole purpose of God. 20:28 Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. 20:29 I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 20:30 Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them.

“None of you…will ever see me again” – Best thought of as a conviction, rather than as a revelation. ‘He was bidding farewell to the Aegean shores: henceforth, if he got safely away from Jerusalem, the western Mediterranean was to be his field of action’ (Bruce).

I have not hesitated – I have not shunned, disguised or held back.

Holding back the truth

Truth may be disguised or kept back,

  1. By avoiding the subject altogether from timidity, or from an apprehension of giving offence if it is openly proclaimed; or,
  2. By giving it too little prominency, so that it shall be lost in the multitude of other truths; or,
  3. By presenting it amidst a web of metaphysical speculations, and entangling it with other subjects; or,
  4. By making use of other terms than the Bible does, for the purpose of involving it in a mist, so that it cannot be understood.

Men may resort to this course,

  1. Because the truth itself is unpalatable;
  2. Because they may apprehend the loss of reputation or support;
  3. Because they may not love the truth themselves, and choose to conceal its prominent and offensive points;
  4. Because they may be afraid of the rich, the great, and the gay, and apprehend that they shall excite their indignation; and,
  5. By a love of metaphysical philosophy, and a constant effort to bring everything to the test of their own reason.

(Barnes)

The whole will of God – The whole ‘plan’ or ‘purpose’.  Some idea of the scope of Paul’s teaching may be gained from his letter to the Romans, which was written about this time.

Note the the parallel phrase in Acts 20:20–21: “how I held back nothing that was useful … to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” This is the “whole plan of God.”

Paul had managed this in just two and a half years.  He cannot, therefore, have gone through the entire OT in detail, verse by verse.  But (according to D.A. Carson), his preaching must have embraced:-

  • God’s purposes in the history of redemption (truths to be believed and a God to be worshiped),
  • an unpacking of human origin, fall, redemption, and destiny (a worldview that shapes all human understanding and a Saviour without whom there is no hope),
  • the conduct expected of God’s people (commandments to be obeyed and wisdom to be pursued, both in our individual existence and in the community of the people of God), and
  • the pledges of transforming power both in this life and in the life to come (promises to be trusted and hope to be anticipated).

‘Every preaching tradition tends to give disproportionate emphasis to some points of doctrine and to speak with only the most muted accents on others. It would be arrogant in the extreme to assume that we are exceptions to this.’ (D. MacLeod)

Having thus preached, ‘he cannot be held responsible if any of them might perish’ (Stott); cf. v26.

“The church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son” – Lit.: “which he bought with the blood of his own”.  NIV: “The church of God, which he bought with his own blood”.  So also AV, TNIV, ESV.  Peterson says that this translation introduces an idea (God shedding his own blood) which is unknown in the rest of the NT.

Marshall comments that it would be unlikely that an early Christian would speak of God shedding his own blood.  He says that the statement might well be translated, ‘…which he bought with the blood of his own [Son]’ (so RSV margin, NRSV).  Peterson, Williams, and others concur.

Peterson says that there is equally strong manuscript evidence for the reading, “The church of the Lord…”.  He himself prefers “The church of God”, because it is the ‘harder’ reading.

On the blood of Christ as the means of redemption, see Romans 3:24–25; 5:9.  Jesus himself grounded the ‘new covenant’ in his own blood (Lk 22:19f).

Whatever the details of translation, this is the clearest statement in Acts of the atoning work of Christ.

The exalted idea of the church as being God’s personal possession is also found in Eph. 1:14; Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9.

‘Although this is one of the few places in Luke’s writings which clearly refer to the doctrinal significance of the cross, we should not underestimate its importance as a statement which represented his own belief as well as Paul’s.’ (Marshall)

‘The persons for whom, and in whose stead he offered himself to God, was the whole number of God’s elect, which were given him of the Father, neither more nor less: So speak the scriptures. He laid down his life for the sheep, Jn 10:15. for the church, Acts 20:28. for the children of God, Jn 11:50-52. It is confessed, there is sufficiency of virtue in this Sacrifice to redeem the whole world, and on that account some divines affirm he is called the “Saviour of the world,” Jn 4:42 et alibi…But that the efficacy and saving virtues of this all-sufficient sacrifice, is co-extended with God’s election, so that they all, and no others can, or shall reap the special benefits of it, is too clear in the scriptures to be denied, Eph 5:23; Jn 17:2,9,19,20; Jn 10:26-28; 1 Tim 4:10ff.’ (Flavel)

Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them – TNIV translates: ‘Even from your own number some will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away the disciples after them.’ It has been noted that ‘the TNIV obscures the fact that the church elders in Ephesus were exclusively male by mistranslating the Greek masculine word aner, which can only mean ‘male human being,’ with the neuter term “some.” See also, Acts 1:16; 2:14; 3:12; 4:4; 17:22; Rom 4:8; 11:4 where the meaning of aner is either obscured, or omitted entirely.’

20:31 Therefore be alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears. 20:32 And now I entrust you to God and to the message of his grace. This message is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 20:33 I have desired no one’s silver or gold or clothing. 20:34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine provided for my needs and the needs of those who were with me. 20:35 By all these things, I have shown you that by working in this way we must help the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

‘It has often been observed how little the Acts, epistles and Revelation reflect any awareness of the Gospel tradition. Only rarely is a teaching of Jesus quoted (but see Acts 20:35; 1 Cor 7:10; 9:14; 11:23-25; 1 Tim 5:18). Nevertheless, the epistles are filled with numerous allusions to Jesus’ teaching, (e.g., Rom 12:14; 12:17; 13:8-9; 14:10; 16:9; 1 Thess 2:14-16; 5:2) which suggests that such awareness was much more widespread than a superficial survey of Scripture discloses (see Stanton). The book of James contains allusions to the Sermon on the Mount in nearly every paragraph, while Acts reflects the basic outline of Mark in several of the longer speeches which summarize the gospel as preached by Peter and Paul (and in Acts 10:36-41 and Acts 13:24-25 even more specific details are included).’ (Blomberg, DJG)

20:36 When he had said these things, he knelt down with them all and prayed. 20:37 They all began to weep loudly, and hugged Paul and kissed him, 20:38 especially saddened by what he had said, that they were not going to see him again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.
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