Acts of the Apostles: Acts Chapter 20

From Macedonia and Greece to Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-21:16)

To Macedonia (Acts 20:1-2)

A short time after the tumult caused by Demetrius was over, Paul met with the disciples to encourage them. He then set out for Macedonia. This was part of the travel that Paul had planned earlier (19:21-22). His intention was to go through Macedonia and Greece, then to Jerusalem, and from there travel to Rome. A few months early, Paul told the Corinthians that he planned to stay at Ephesus until Pentecost, in late spring. He would then leave for Macedonia (1 Corinthians 16:8). Apparently, a great opportunity to preach the gospel had arisen in Ephesus, but Paul didn’t say exactly what that was (verse 9).

After Paul left Ephesus, he probably either took the Roman coastal road north to the port city of Troas, or travelled there by boat from, perhaps Miletus (2 Corinthians 2:12-13). He hoped to find Titus at Troas. Earlier, Paul had sent him to Corinth to deal with the problems in the church. Titus was not at Troas, so Paul crossed the Aegean to Macedonia. Paul must have caught up with Titus there, and received an encouraging report on the Corinthian church from him (2 Corinthians 7:5-7).

We don’t know how long Paul stayed in Macedonia, though it may have been as long as a year. Various years are assigned to this part of Paul’s ministry. Some scholars think that Paul may have preached the gospel in the province of Illyricum during this time. Luke does not mention any missionary work in Illyricum, so the idea must remain a conjecture.

Luke said only that Paul “traveled through that area,” apparently referring to Macedonia (20:2). He then came to Greece, where he stayed three months (20:3). Paul must have spent some of this time in Corinth. It is from there that Paul probably wrote the letter to the church at Rome (Romans 15:23-26). Luke collapsed Paul’s rather extensive visit to Macedonia and Achaia into a single brief mention, making it one of the briefest accounts of Paul’s activities in the book. Some of Paul’s letters written during this period (such as 2 Corinthians and Romans) fill in some of the details. Luke never mentions any of Paul’s letters. We know almost nothing of what transpired on this lengthy trip; it did not fit into the theme of Luke’s book.

Jews made a plot (Acts 20:3-4)

As Paul was about to sail for Syria from Corinth, presumably to visit Antioch (and then Jerusalem), he learned of a Jewish plot against him (20:3). To avoid the plotters, Paul decided not to leave by sea from Corinth but to backtrack through Macedonia. (Paul apparently changed his other travel plans as well. He went directly to Caesarea and Jerusalem, without stopping in Antioch.) Luke didn’t give any details about the conspiracy. Commentators suggest that Paul may have intended to reach Jerusalem by Passover, and travel on a Jewish pilgrim ship. Fanatical Jews would have found a vessel at sea a convenient place to dispose of Paul, perhaps throwing him overboard during the night.

No doubt the collection money Paul was carrying would have been an added inducement to murder him. Of course, Paul was not going to Jerusalem alone. He was in the company of representatives from the various Gentile church areas that had donated to the Jerusalem relief fund. These men must have been the official delegates appointed by their respective churches to present the collection to the Jerusalem elders. However, Luke was silent concerning the function of the delegation. Luke wanted to show the progress of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. Any inter-church affairs mentioned were almost always in the form of summaries or generalities, unless they were relevant to the movement of the gospel message.

Luke did, however, give us the names of the seven men and their origin. Sopater was from Berea, perhaps the Sosipater of Romans 16:21. Aristarchus came from Thessalonica (19:29). He was identified as a Macedonian in 19:29. Secundus was from Thessalonica. This was his first appearance in Luke’s account, and he is otherwise unknown. Gaius was from Derbe, in Galatia. Timothy, who was from Lystra, in Galatia, we know well. He is a familiar character from Acts and Paul’s epistles (16:1-3). Tychicus was from Asia (Colossians 4:7). This is the only time he is mentioned in Acts but he is well known from Paul’s letters (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12). Trophimus came from Asia, and is elsewhere described as an Ephesian (Acts 21:29; 2 Timothy 4:20). He will become the unwitting cause of Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem.

Missing are any delegates from Corinth or Philippi. Perhaps Paul took charge of the Corinth offering. Luke may have represented Philippi, as he joined the delegation at this point. Luke’s presence is made known by the start of another “we” section (20:5 uses the word “us”).

Some went to Troas (Acts 20:5-6)

Paul sent his Gentile travelling companions east across the Aegean Sea to Troas (20:5). But he stayed on at Philippi. Luke’s words show his presence with Paul: “These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas” (20:5). This is the first use of the personal pronoun “us” since Paul’s trouble with the demon-possessed girl in Philippi (16:17), during the second missionary tour (16:17). Perhaps Luke had remained at Philippi to strengthen the church, and now had rejoined Paul. He seems to be with Paul until they reach Jerusalem, and will accompany him on the final journey to Rome.

Paul and Luke sailed from Neapolis (the port city of Philippi) for Troas, where they rejoined the delegation (20:6). There is a marked contrast between the scanty allusions of verses 1 through 5 and the detailed description of Paul’s subsequent journeyings. This is credited to the fact that Luke was now with Paul. Richard Longenecker writes, “From 20:5 through the end of Acts (28:3), Luke’s narrative gives considerable attention to ports of call, stopovers, and time spent on Paul’s travels and includes various anecdotes. It contains the kind of details found in a travel journal, and the use of ‘we’ in 20:5-15; 21:1-18; and 28:16 shows its eyewitness character” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, “Acts,” page 508).

First day of the week (Acts 20:7)

Luke described only a single event at Troas, what was perhaps a special “worship service.” He said of himself and the church congregation: “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread” (20:7). It was an evening service, perhaps with a communal meal. If Luke was using a Jewish reckoning of time, with days beginning at sunset (or twilight), then Saturday evening would have marked the beginning of the first day of the week.

The first day of the week, for Jews and in Jewish reckoning began at, to put it simply, sunset of what we call Saturday evening. Thus, this was neither strictly a Sabbath or a Sunday meeting. It probably began, especially in summer, before the sun went down and continued into darkness. Thus, it occurred “in the cracks” between the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of Sunday, based on Jewish reckoning. (David J. Williams, Acts, New International Biblical Commentary, page 357)

This meeting at Troas is often taken as the earliest evidence of the day and time when Christians gathered for their worship service. But this meeting was clearly an unusual one, and may not reflect everyday practice. Further, scholars are not in agreement as to whether the time of the Troas meeting was the beginning of the “first day of the week” on Saturday evening or its ending on late Sunday afternoon. Both would have occurred, by Jewish reckoning, on the “first day of the week.” This is even further complicated by the fact that scholars are not sure which method of time reckoning Luke used, the Jewish or Roman.

According to the Jewish method of calculating the new day from sunset, Paul would have met with the Christians on what was Saturday evening by our reckoning, and would thus have resumed his journey on Sunday morning. According to the Roman method of reckoning the new day as beginning at dawn, the Christians would have met in the evening of either Sunday (the first day of the Jewish week) or Saturday (the first day of the Roman week). Since elsewhere Luke reckons the hours of the day from dawn (3:1), he appears to follow the Roman method of time-reckoning and the Jewish calendar (cf. Luke 24:1). (I. Howard Marshall, Acts, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, page 326)

Literally, the Greek expression translated “on the first day of the week” means “on one of the Sabbaths.” Could Luke have been simply be saying that Paul and the church came together “on one of the Sabbaths” or weeks?

One thing is not in doubt. This meeting was an evening meeting, and it became a very late one (20:7, 13). It was also a very special meeting, because Paul thought it would be the last time he would ever see the church. That being the case, it is very dangerous to make any assumptions from this event about the form and time of the apostolic church’s regular worship services.

Lord’s Supper? (Acts 20:7)

Luke said the people “came together to break bread” on this occasion (20:7). This is often taken to mean that the group was celebrating the Lord’s supper that night as well as being together to receive Christian instruction (1 Corinthians 10:16-17 and 11:17-34, with Luke 22:19; 24:30).

Luke allows us a glimpse of what was probably a typical meeting of Christians in these early days of the church. First, their purpose was to break bread. We should probably interpret this in the light of verse 11, where the best manuscripts read the definite article in the phrase, “having broken the bread.” The reference, then, is almost certainly to the bread of the Lord’s supper (see discussion on 2:42) and the full sense of what they were doing [is] expressed in 1 Corinthians 10:16. (Williams, 347)

However, Luke could just as well have been speaking of a simple evening meal. Much later in the night, Paul “broke bread and ate” (20:11). This is also, in the best manuscripts, “the bread.” But it most likely referred to a regular meal Paul (and perhaps the group) partook of late in the night.

Eutychus miracle (Acts 20:8-12)

Luke’s purpose in narrating this meeting at Troas was not to describe the form, or to point out the time of the early church’s worship services. Perhaps that’s why the account was so fuzzy on these matters. Rather, Luke was interested in telling his readers about what happened to a young man named Eutychus—and its meaning. Paul had been speaking a very long time—until midnight—and then he continued to “talk on and on” (20:9). (Perhaps Luke was also beginning to find Paul’s talk a bit tedious.)

Besides the length of Paul’s talk, the fumes of the lamps and the crush of the crowd made breathing a bit difficult. The flickering lamps may have added to the problem of staying awake by inducing a hypnotic effect on the listeners. It was quite late, and young Eutychus began to nod. (The term rendered “young man” refers to someone between eight and fourteen years of age.) His name means “good fortune,” and as we shall see, that’s exactly what he was to receive that night.

Finally, the drowsy Eutychus fell sound asleep and tumbled to the ground from the third-story window. (Presumably he fell to the outside of the building rather than to the inside.) The disciples rushed outside and Eutychus “was picked up dead” (20:9). Paul then “threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him” (20:10). He told the disciples not to be alarmed, and that, “He’s alive!” (20:10).

Luke told the story of the raising of this young man from the dead in such a casual manner as to make one wonder if he was really dead, or only seemed dead. However, it’s doubtful Luke would have singled out this story to tell if the boy had merely been knocked unconscious. Perhaps Luke was trying to show his readers that the power of God was so completely with Paul that such miracles were the natural order of the day. (The same feeling was engendered when we read that pieces of cloth Paul had touched could transmit healing to the sick.) Luke Johnson writes, “The small details already noted clearly indicate the message Luke wants the reader to derive from the tale: the power of the raised prophet Jesus is at work in the Apostle Paul precisely at the moment he sets off on his own journey to ‘chains and afflictions’ in Jerusalem” (The Acts of the Apostles, Sacra Pagina Series, page 358).

Paul’s gesture of leaning over Eutychus and embracing him reminds us of Old Testament stories of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha. Elijah restored the life of the son of the widow of Zarephath, who died from some unspecified illness (1 Kings 17:17-24). Elisha resuscitated the Shunammite’s son who died as a result of a farming accident (2 Kings 4:33-36). Luke already told his readers the story of Jesus raising to life the only son of a widow from Nain (Luke 7:11-15) and Peter’s raising of Dorcas (9:36-41). Even as the prophets of Israel, his peer the apostle Peter—and, of course, his Master, Jesus—Paul can be used by God to do good to the point of reversing a tragic death.

Almost casually, after such a dramatic event, Paul, who became hungry during what must have been the middle of the night, ate a meal (20:11). He continued talking until daylight, and then left. Luke concluded the scene by edging closer to telling his readers outright that Eutychus had been raised from death: “The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted” (20:12).

Trip to Miletus (Acts 20:13-15)

Paul left Troas, after a night without any sleep, and walked south along the Roman road to Assos (20:11, 13). The distance between the two cities was about 20 miles (32 kilometers), so it was quite a hike. (Luke didn’t explain why Paul insisted on walking; it is possible that some of the Ephesian elders walked with him for further conversation.) Meanwhile, Luke and the rest of the delegation boarded a ship at Troas and sailed for Assos. Paul was taken on board at Assos and the delegation sailed to Mitylene, a port on the southeast coast of the island of Lesbos. From there the ship sailed the next day to Chios, the major city of the island of Chios. The stop on the following day was the island of Samos, west of Ephesus. The next day the ship arrived at Miletus, a major port at the mouth of the Meander River, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Ephesus. (The boat made short one-day hops from port to port. This was customary for much of sea travel at the time.)

Luke (as he did when he had the information) gave his readers a day-by-day log of the journey to Jerusalem. Since he was on this trip with Paul, he may have kept a journal to which he could later refer. This and several other sections in Acts appear to be in the form of a travel journal.

Hurrying to Jerusalem (Acts 20:16)

Paul had booked passage on a ship that bypassed Ephesus because he didn’t want to spend time in the province of Asia. Luke said “he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost” (20:16). Paul had missed Passover at Jerusalem, but if he could get there by Pentecost, he could still demonstrate to the mother church his loyalty to the Jewish traditions. A visit to Ephesus would have probably kept him in the area too long, as all his friends and the churches would have wanted to see him.

Paul stopped at Miletus instead, and sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to come to him. This would have taken several days. A messenger had to be dispatched to Ephesus, and the elders had to be notified of the meeting. It may have taken them some time to get ready, and the trip to Miletus would have required more time as well.

Paul’s speech (Acts 20:18-35)

Luke gave his readers only a brief synopsis of what must have been a lengthy meeting at Miletus between Paul and the elders. Still, in comparison with some of the other speeches in Acts, Luke devoted a fair amount of space to what Paul said. This is the only example in Acts of a speech given to a Christian audience. Even at that, it was not necessarily typical in all respects, because Paul was speaking to elders and not lay members of the church. Yet, the speech does have the flavor of his letters to the churches.

There is no mistaking the speech as being Paul’s, rather than Peter’s or James’. The content is unmistakably the thought, the concerns, even the expression of Paul. In the words of Howard Marshall, “The total impression gained from the speech is that here we are in touch with Paul himself” Acts, 330). The speech at Miletus was close in style and content to Paul’s own letters. The likeness between the two has been noted by a number of commentators.

Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders is the nearest approximation to the Pauline letters in Acts. Its general content recalls how in his letters Paul encouraged, warned, and exhorted his converts. Moreover, its theological themes and vocabulary are distinctly Pauline….It is significant that, in a situation similar to those he faced in many of his letters, this farewell to the Ephesian elders reads like a miniature letter of his. Richard N. Longenecker, “Acts,” 511-512)

The speech was also a farewell address. Paul seemed to have understood that this would be his last meeting with the Ephesians. There was a sense of foreboding in Paul’s words, as he told the Ephesian elders he would never see them again. The speech has been described as Paul’s last will and testament to the churches he had planted and loved very much. Luke had already given us samples of Paul’s speeches to Jews (13:16-41) as well as to pagan audiences (14:15-17) and the educated of Athens (17:22-31). Later, he will give us further examples of speeches to Jews as well as to secular political leaders. This speech at Miletus is a sample of how Paul spoke to Christian audiences.

Served with humility (Acts 20:18-21)

Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders began with what’s called an apology or defense of his ministry and work. He reminded his listeners that from the first day to the last he “served the Lord with great humility and tears” at Ephesus (20:19). Paul referred to the fact that he had to endure “severe testing by the plots of Jewish opponents” at Ephesus. Luke had barely mentioned such opposition (19:19), concentrating rather on a single attack by the non-Jewish silversmith Demetrius. But as we saw earlier, there is a strong indication in Paul’s letters that he suffered greatly from Jewish persecution at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:8). This verse corroborates that. This should remind us that Luke omitted many important events, even when they directly concerned the apostle Paul’s work. We should not be surprised, then, that Luke’s work was not a full history of the apostolic church—nor a full history of Paul—and was not written to be that.

Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that he had not hesitated to teach anything that was helpful to them, and he had taught “publicly and house to house” (20:20). That is, Paul explained the gospel in synagogues and meeting halls but he also ministered privately to people in their homes. Paul had both a public and private ministry. He preached publicly, in the synagogue and the hall of Tyrannus (19:8-9) and privately, to the church that met in the home of Aquila and Priscilla (1 Corinthians 16:19). When he taught, Paul “declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (20:21). This was a way of describing the essence of the gospel message. Peter, for example, had urged Jews to repent and turn to God and have faith in Jesus as the Messiah (3:13, 16, 19).

Compelled by the Spirit (Acts 20:22)

In the second part of his speech, Paul drastically changed the subject and tone. He turned from his past work to the future, centering on his forthcoming trip to Jerusalem. Paul said he was “compelled by the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem (20:22). It’s not clear here who was doing the “compelling.” The Greek construction allows us to take this as Paul’s own spirit compelling him to go to Jerusalem, in the sense of his being determined to go—or feeling some great need to do so. Or we can take the phrase as telling us Paul was being moved by the Holy Spirit, who was impelling him to make the trip.

The New International Version has taken this phrase to be a reference to the Holy Spirit. But others understand this as indicating Paul’s own human spirit. Perhaps it is best to understand the phrase as representing a combination of the two ideas. That is, Paul may have felt himselfto be divinely compelled to go to Jerusalem. In this, his concern to take an offering to the poor saints in Jerusalem loomed large. In the words of Richard Longenecker, Paul

considered it necessary to complete his ministry of testifying to the grace of God throughout the eastern part of the empire by taking to the Jerusalem believers the money sent by Gentile believers in Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia—a contribution he looked on as a tangible symbol of the faith of these Gentiles and the unity of the Jews and Gentiles in Christ. (page 512)

Holy Spirit warns me (Acts 20:23-24)

If Paul felt himself compelled to go to Jerusalem—or if the Holy Spirit was somehow “compelling” him—he nonetheless faced a journey of great uncertainty. If the Spirit had compelled him, God had not revealed the purpose of his journey. But the Spirit told Paul that great trials awaited him there. “I am going to Jerusalem,” Paul told the elders, “not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me” (20:22-23). Luke hadn’t given his readers any examples of these messages, but he soon will (21:10-11).

We don’t know when Paul began to receive these warnings, but they must have started some time earlier. His concern about the trip was already expressed in Romans, which was probably written in Corinth, during his third missionary journey. There he asked the church, “Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there” (Romans 15:31).

In spite of the warnings and his own fears, he refused to back away from the trip. He said he considered his life of no value, except as it could be used to “finish the race and complete the task” that the risen Christ had given him (20:24). This familiar metaphor of the athlete competing in the games and finishing the race is paralleled in his own epistles (2 Timothy 4:7, with 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Galatians 2:2; Philippians 3:12-14).

Paul saw his task as one of “testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (20:24). This same attitude of self-less service to Christ despite persecution and the possibility of martyrdom is expressed in Paul’s letters (2 Corinthians 4:8-12; 6:4-10; Philippians 1:19-21; 3:8). But we shouldn’t see Paul as a passive martyr. Paul used the protection of the Roman government and any other means possible to escape persecution and death. His goal was always to preach the gospel on another day.

As Jesus’ final trip (Acts 20:23)

Luke described Paul’s trip to Jerusalem in similar terms as Jesus’ final journey. Luke knew that Paul didn’t die at Jerusalem. Yet, he seems to have emphasized common elements of the two trips. As Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem was accompanied by predictions of suffering (Luke 9:22, 44; 18:31-33), so was Paul’s (21:10-11). As Jesus endured a plot by Jews at Jerusalem (Luke 20:20; 22:3-6), so would Paul (23:12-15). As Jesus was handed over to the Gentiles (Luke 23:1), so would Paul be (21:30-33). As Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem ended in his arrest, a defense before the Jewish people and elders, as well as a Roman procurator and king (Luke 22:66; 23:1, 6), so would Paul’s trip end (22:1-21; 24:10-21; 26:23). In each case, the Jews cried “Get rid of him,” (Luke 23:18; Acts 21:36). But the accused—again in both cases—was declared innocent by the Romans (Luke 23:4; 14, 22; Acts 23:29; 25:25-26; 26:31-32).

In short, Luke painted Paul’s journey to Jerusalem in terms of the Suffering Servant. As David Williams writes, “Luke was struck by this similarity, and by introducing his account of Paul’s journey in much the same way as he had the other [of Jesus], he tried to ensure that his readers saw the similarity also” (Acts, 335). Luke, writing several years after the event, could see that there was a more important reason for going to Jerusalem than just delivering a gift of money. What comes out of the Jerusalem trip was the city’s final rejection of the prophet-apostle Paul. The city continued to be the one that killed all the prophets, as it did Jesus. Now, only the final consequences were to be worked out—the war with Rome, and the destruction of the city and temple. The beginning of those shattering events were but a decade away.

None to see Paul again (Acts 20:25-28)

In the third part of his speech, Paul began discussing his dire future expectations. He told the elders, “I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again” (20:25). Paul was bidding farewell to the Aegean world of Asia and Achaia. If he escaped Jerusalem with his life—which was not certain—he was off to Rome and the western Mediterranean. And he seemed certain he wouldn’t ever come back this way again.

Once again Paul defended his record. He had not hesitated to proclaim “the whole will of God” to them and he was “innocent of the blood of any of you” (20:26-27). As the watchman, he had warned the church and elders to follow the Way of faith and love.

Paul insisted that the elders must keep watch over their own spiritual condition. But they were also elders, so Paul told them to properly shepherd the flock “of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (20:28). The Greek word for “overseers” is episkopoi, or bishops. It is more or less equivalent to “elders” (14:23). But here Paul was not speaking of a particular office, but rather of the elders’ function as “shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (20:28).

The last part of the phrase—“bought with his own blood”—is awkwardly translated by the NIV. The New Testament doesn’t speak of God shedding his own blood. An alternative reading would have the phrase read “the blood of his Own One,” with “Own” referring to Jesus. We find a similar phrase in Romans 8:32. Paul’s central message about the redemptive value of the death of Jesus comes through in the phrase. Although there are few places in Acts in which the significance of the cross is discussed, this verse is a clear assertion of the doctrine of the atonement.

In any case, the overseers are guardians of the flock that was purchased with Jesus’ blood. They must nurture it with good spiritual food, providing guidance and pastoral care. David Williams writes, “The nature of their [the elders’] task is drawn out by a pastoral metaphor. The church is the flock (verse 28), a familiar figure for the people of God in both the Old Testament and the New; the elders are the shepherds (verse 28); and the danger threatening the flock is savage wolves, which will not spare them” (Acts, 355).

The “flock” is a familiar Old Testament metaphor for God’s people (Psalm 100:3; Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 13:17; Ezekiel 34). Jesus capitalized on it, applying it to his disciples (Luke 12:32; 15:3-7; 19:10; John 10:1-30). The “shepherds” are the watchmen who keep a vigil over the flock. This expression also has Old Testament roots in the watchman of Ezekiel 33:1-6. However, the shepherds or overseers, unlike the prophets, were to watch over the spiritual house of Israel, the church of God. Luke had Paul call the church the “church of God,” and this rings true of him. It is a phrase found exclusively in Paul’s letters, as in 1 Corinthians 1:2.

Wolves will come in (Acts 20:29-30)

The “wolves” were the other element of Paul’s pastoral analogy. The wolves were the ones who threatened the herd, the church. In the fourth part of his speech, Paul spoke of wolves in terms of what Paul foresaw would occur in the church after his passing. As Paul looked toward the future, he painted a somewhat dismal prospect for the Ephesian church. He told the elders: “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (20:29-30).

These tragic circumstances began to take shape, even in Paul’s lifetime. They are described in the letters to Timothy, who apparently ministered to the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3-4; 19-20; 4:1-3; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 1:15; 2:14-18; 3:1-9). A generation later, the Ephesian church, while rooting out some heresy, had become so loveless that the risen Christ threatened it with a loss (Revelation 2:4-5).

In fact, 2 Timothy 1:5 referred to a wholesale revolt of the churches throughout the entire province of Asia. The apostasy in the Asian churches must have begun when Luke wrote Acts. No doubt his reference to Paul’s prophecy about a future insurrection was meant to comfort his readers who knew about it. The message was: the problems in the church should not surprise us, for these are the things that happen among human beings, and Paul even warned us about “wolves” before they tore apart the flock.

“Wolves” is a much-used metaphor for false teachers and apostates in the Bible. Jesus described false prophets as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). He told his disciples they would be like sheep among wolves (Luke 10:3). Now, Paul was telling the elders that he had warned them for three years—the entire time he was with them—about the danger of apostasy (20:31). But he would no longer be able to guide them, and they were on their own to deal with any future problems as best as they could.

Commentaries on Acts of the Apostles

Supplied my needs (Acts 20:32-34)

Paul closed his final message to the Ephesian elders with a blessing. He committed the elders to God (20:32). Though Paul would be absent, the word of grace could build them up spiritually. Paul insisted he had not desired anyone’s possessions, but had worked to support himself and his associates. “These hands of mine have supplied my own needs,” he averred (20:34). Paul probably said this with a flourish of his arms, which reminded his hearers of seeing him toiling at his tentmaking trade (18:2). Luke’s reference to Paul’s protestations of self-support also revealed the voice of the apostle as seen in his letters. Some examples are 1 Corinthians 4:12; 9:12-18; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10.

As he often did, Paul based his moral instruction on Jesus’ teaching. His own hard work and ministry had served as an example that the strong should help the weak. This, Paul said, reflected the words Jesus had spoken: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (20:35). These words do not appear in any of the Gospels, though their spirit is certainly reflected in other sayings of Jesus (Matthew 10:8; Luke 6:38; John 13:34). The saying may have circulated in some collection or had been preserved in oral tradition. Obviously, not everything Jesus said and did found its way into the four canonical Gospels (John 20:30; 21:25).

Paul’s urgent speech was now over, and he was ready to depart. The elders knelt down with Paul, and he said a final prayer. Luke didn’t give us the substance of Paul’s prayer. But we can know its general tenor from his letters. Commentators have suggested the following prayers found in Paul’s letters may echo his prayer at Miletus: Ephesians 1:15-23; Philippians 1:3-11;Colossians 1:3-14; and 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 3:11-13; 5:23-24. The elders hugged Paul and wept, for this was the last time they would see or hear from the man who was their human father in the faith. It was a time of great emotion, and Luke caught its pathos with his references to tears, embraces, kisses and grieving.

Author: Paul Kroll, 1995, 2012


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