James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;
And after he had spent some time there, he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.Acts 18:23-21:17
As in the last lesson, it is recommended that the text of the present one be read through at a single sitting, and two or three times if possible, before considering the comments, which then will be more valuable.
Some time had been spent again in Antioch, after which the whole territory of Phrygia and Galatia, in Asia minor, was once more traversed for the purpose indicated in 18:23. Ephesus was duly reached (Acts 19:1), where Paul found a condition of things explained by the closing verses of chapter 18. Apollos does not seem to have been a Christian till Aquila and Priscilla met him, but he had been awakened by the ministry of John the Baptist, and was learned in the Old Testament Scriptures. The “disciples” Paul met (Acts 19:2), were possibly those of Apollos’ ministry, whom he (Paul) brought out into the full fellowship of the gospel (Acts 19:2-7). “Since ye believed” of Acts 19:2, should be rendered “when ye believed.” There was something lacking in these disciples which Paul observed, and which led him to put this question, because the reception of the Holy Spirit is the test of true discipleship (Romans 8:9). (See comment on 2:5-13.) Acts 19:8-20 show an unusual work of grace in and around Ephesus at this time. “The school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9) was the convenient meeting place. The special miracles by Paul (Acts 19:11) were an offset to the unusual power of the evil one there. This power showed itself in the “vagabond Jews” of Acts 19:13 who suffered justly for their wickedness (Acts 19:16), and whose defeat wrought gloriously for the Gospel (Acts 19:17). There was much of this occultism in Ephesus, the overthrow of which is portrayed in the bonfire of the books of the black art, the cost of which was about $10,000.
But the spread of the Gospel was exhibited in the undermining of the controlling trade of the city, with the consequences following (Acts 19:23-41).
Chapter 20 is a diary of an extended journey from Ephesus to Macedonia (Acts 20:1-2), when again Paul must have visited Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, etc. Then he came down into Greece, possibly Athens, certainly Corinth saw his labors again. Here his purpose to cross by sea to Syria was interfered with by plots against his life, so that he retraced his steps into Macedonia, and crossed again to Troas (Acts 20:3-6). A week in Troas was made memorable by his discourse till midnight, and the miraculous recovery of the young man Eutychus (Acts 20:7-21). Note that this gathering of the saints to “break bread,” i.e., observe the Lord’s supper, was on the first day of the week, strengthening the conviction that the Lord’s day had taken the place of the Jewish Sabbath as the time for Christian assemblies.
Twenty miles on foot, and apparently alone, brought Paul to Assos, and thence by ship to Mitylene, and finally Miletus (Acts 20:13-16).
A tender episode meets us here in his farewell discourse to the beloved elders (bishops or presbyters) of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38). Three of his discourses have been reported hitherto somewhat at length, but this is especially interesting as the first spoken to the church. The others were missionary discourses. He first testifies to his own integrity as a minister (Acts 20:18-21); he then alludes to the bonds and afflictions that await him (Acts 20:22-27); a charge to the elders follows (Acts 20:28-31); a further testimony to his faithfulness (Acts 20:32-35); the prayer of farewell (Acts 20:36-38). Space will not permit elaboration, but Acts 20:28 should not be passed over in its clear testimony to the oneness of God in Christ. “The church of God which he purchased with His own Blood.” The Deity of our Lord is here asserted, and the priceless cost of our redemption. There is no suggestion of an “apostolic succession” in Acts 20:29, but just the opposite; a prophecy by- the-way, finding fulfillment in all the centuries, and never more positively than now. The beatitude of Acts 20:37 was evidently current in the early church in addition to those recorded in the gospels, and this reference to it gives it inspired authority.
The journey continues until Jerusalem is reached (Acts 21:1-17), the most important features of which are the warnings of the apostle not to go to Jerusalem at all (Acts 4:10-14). The second says that these warnings were not merely from man but from the Holy Spirit. How then can we explain his neglect of them? Shall we say that they were not in the nature of a command, but a testing? Acts 21:11-13 suggest this. There is one other difficulty in this chapter, where the prophesying of women is referred to (v. 9), and which seems to contradict Paul later on in 1 Corinthians 14, 1 Timothy 2. We cannot explain it, except to suggest that possibly this prophesying was private rather than in the public assembly.
1. Have you read the text of this lesson as requested?
2. Why did Paul take this journey through Asia Minor?
3. What is suggested in this lesson as the test of true discipleship?
4. State in your own words the story of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus at this time.
5. What makes memorable his stay at Troas on this journey?
6. Analyze his discourse to the elders of Ephesus.
7. What two great doctrinal truths are emphasized in Acts 20:28?
8. Quote the new beatitude of Acts 20:37.
9. What do Acts 21:11-13 suggest concerning Paul’s warnings?