Sunday, July 28
Acts 18:12-22: We know, from an inscription found at Delphi, that L. Junius Gallio Annaeus, older brother to the philosopher Seneca, was the proconsul of Greece (Achaia) from the early summer of A.D. 51 to the early summer of the year 52. Along with ClaudiusŐs expulsion of the Jews from Rome in 49, this inscription is one of our most important controls on the dating of the events narrated in the Acts of the Apostles. It enables us to "fix" the time of PaulŐs appearance in the presence of Gallio, the story told in these verses, in May or, more probably, June of the year 51. The judgment place (bema) of Gallio, where Paul appeared, may be visited even now in the excavations at Corinth. Concerned solely with the preservation of the civic order, Gallio is not impressed by the vague accusations brought against Paul by his Jewish detractors (verses 13-15). They, frustrated by the governorŐs insouciance, begin to beat one of their own leaders, who had recently become a Christian (verse 17). This is Sosthenes, who will later serve at PaulŐs secretary in the composition of 1 Corinthians (1:1). Some time after this incident, Paul goes to the nearby coastal city of Cenchrea (home town of the deaconess Phoebe, who several years later will carry the Epistle to the Romans to its intended destination Ń cf. Romans 16:1). We may surmise that Silas (Silvanus) was left at Corinth, because at this point he disappears entirely from LukeŐs narrative. He certainly left Corinth within the next five years, because he does not appear in the Corinthian epistles, a thing unthinkable if he were still in the city. We do not hear of Silas again until the early 60s, when we find him at Rome (cf. 1 Peter 5:12). At Cenchrea Paul has his head shaved, part of the ritual in a thirty-daysŐ period of special fasting and devotion (cf. also 21:26; Numbers 6:1-21; Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War 2.15.1). Paul then boards a ship, along with Aquila and Priscilla, to journey to Ephesus, where after some days he leaves these two companions. He boards another ship that takes him south to the coastal city of Caesarea. There he pays his respects to the local church, the original nucleus of which consists in the family and friends of Cornelius. From there Paul goes overland to Antioch, the church which had commissioned his second missionary journey, which is thus brought to an end. Paul will remain at Antioch for the winter, until the spring of 52. Meanwhile, as we shall see, Aquila and Priscilla will be very busy with the ministry at Ephesus.
Monday, July 29
Acts 18:23Ń19:7: We now come to PaulŐs third missionary journey. Though he once again begins from Antioch, this point of departure is more implied than stated (verse 23), and in fact the focal center of PaulŐs activity will now shift to the Asian city of Ephesus. To prepare us for this shift, Luke shares some of the background of this new church at Ephesus. During the winter that Aquila and Priscilla spent there without Paul, they became acquainted with an Alexandrian Jew, a follower of John the Baptist with an imperfect knowledge of Jesus and the Gospel. This man, Apollos, they further instructed and brought into the fullness of the Christian faith (verse 26). Prior to PaulŐs arrival at Ephesus, Apollos goes on to Corinth, carrying a letter of recommendation to that church (verse 27; cf Romans 16:1; 2 Corinthians 3:1-6; Colossians 4:10). At Corinth his eloquence and learning (verses 24 & 28) bring to the faith a whole new wave of converts easily distinguished from those whom Paul had converted in the same city. Indeed, within a few years the two groups at Corinth would begin squabbling in a very disedifying way (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-12; 3:4-11,22; 16:12). After Apollos leaves Ephesus for Corinth, Paul arrives at Ephesus in the summer of 52 (19:1). He finds more disciples of John the Baptist, whom he in turn brings into the fullness of the Gospel (19:2-6). There is reason to believe that some disciples of John the Baptist were to be found at Ephesus even for decades to come. When the apostle John wrote his gospel in that city near the end of the first century, he took special care to relate the ministry of John the Baptist entirely to Jesus, even informing us (nor would we otherwise know it) that some followers of John the Baptist were to be found even among the first apostles of Jesus (cf. John 1:29-37). Although the explicit evidence is sparse, it appears that many of John the BaptistŐs disciples, and perhaps most, joined the Christian Church within the next generation or so. Their presence in the Church would go far to explain the great reverence and devotion in which that greatest of the prophets has always been regarded in Christian piety from the earliest times. Without exception, an icon of John the Baptist is found in all the Eastern Orthodox places of worship.
Tuesday, July 30
Acts 19:8-22: Paul will spend the next three years (summer of 52 to summer of 55) in Ephesus, which becomes a center for the evangelization of neighboring cities in Asia Minor, such as Colossae, Laodicea (cf. Colossians 4:16; Revelation 3:14-22), Smyrna, Philadelphia, and elsewhere (cf. "churches of Asia" in 1 Corinthians 16:19). From Ephesus, during these three years, Paul will be directing the missionary activity of his associates, both in Asia Minor (such as Tychicus and Trophimus [Acts 20:4])and elsewhere (such as Erastus [Acts 19:22; cf. also 2 Timothy 4:20], Epaphroditus [Philippians 2:25-30; 4:18] and Timothy [Acts 19:22; Philippians 2:19; 1 Corinthians 16:10]). He will write the Epistles to the Galatians in the earlier part of these three years and1 Corinthians toward the end (the spring of 55). These notes will also argue that he wrote the Epistle to the Philippians at some time during these three years. Of these years in Ephesus, Paul spent three months regularly attending the synagogue (Acts 19:8) and two years lecturing daily in a rented hall (19:9-19). This activity, which accounts for twenty-seven months, leaves nine more months for which Luke gives no account. It is likely that Paul spent the remainder of that time in prison at Ephesus, the experience to which he seems to be referring in 1 Corinthians 15:32 and 2 Corinthians 1:8. Jailed at Ephesus, which was the capital of Asia, Paul would have been under the jurisdiction of a unit of "pretorian" guard, which was usual in capitals under a royal governor. His references to such a guard (Philippians 1:13; also cf. 4:22) seem to indicate that he wrote the Epistle to the Philippians while imprisoned in Ephesus sometime during these three years. (More will be said about this subject in our notes on Philippians in the autumn.) PaulŐs extended missionary activity is undoubtedly helped by the working of miracles (verses 11-12), and the subsequent and amusing story of the sons of Sceva illustrates the dangers of attempting such spiritual exploits without the faith to sustain them (verses 13-16). The conversions prompted by this incident lead to a burning of books dealing with matters of the occult (verse 19). The study of Satanic theories was sometime prominent in Asia Minor (cf. Revelation 2:24). Since such books come from hell, fire seems the appropriate way of getting rid of them. While in Ephesus Paul conceives the idea of going to Rome, an idea that Luke ascribes to divine inspiration (verse 21). How Paul finally makes that journey to Rome will be, of course, one of the great ironies of the book! Meanwhile, he begins to make more immediate plans to visit Greece, in order to set things right in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 16:5-7; 2 Corinthians 1:15Ń3:3), and to Jerusalem, in order to convey much needed funds for the relief of the poor (1 Corinthians 16:1-3; 2 Corinthians 8Ń9; Romans 15:25-29; Acts 24:17). Luke makes a point of dating these plans before the Ephesian riot that he will now go on to describe.
Wednesday, July 31
Acts 19:23-41: The excavations at Ephesus, which is the worldŐs largest excavation site, show it to have been a tightly populated city, the sort of place where a riot could be easily incited and quickly spread. In addition, as we know from informal inscriptions carved into the flagstones of the streets, the silversmiths of the city had their shops concentrated in a area very near the amphitheater of Ephesus. This latter, which easily seats up to 25,000 people, is still in an excellent state of preservation. The "Artemis" worshipped at Ephesus, in spite of her name, was not the virgin huntress of the Greeks but a fertility goddess, roughly the equivalent of the Phoenician Astarte and the Phrygian Cybele, portrayed with twenty-eight breasts, one for each day of the lunar menstrual cycle. She was often represented in figurines of silver and terra cotta, and, according to the present text, so was her famous shrine at Ephesus, recognized in antiquity as one of the seven wonders of the world (cf. Strabo, Geography 14.1.20). Because Paul and his team have been so successful in their preaching (supported, as we have seen, by miraculous healings), the silversmiths understandably feel that their idol-making business is under threat. Moreover, because the shrine at Ephesus has for a long time drawn pilgrims from far and wide, a loss of interest in that cityŐs famous shrine would have an even more devastating effect on the municipal economy (verse 27). Such a fear, of course, is identical to that expressed at Philippi in Acts 16:19, and the impact of the Christian Gospel on pagan religion is readily obvious to thoughtful pagans (cf. Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96.10). So, two of PaulŐs companions, who happen to be nearby, are abducted and dragged into the amphitheater, where the riot becomes concentrated. The situation grows tense and dangerous. Both of the apprehended Christians come from out of town, Aristarchus being a Thessalonian (Acts 20:4; 27:2; Philemon 24) and Gaius a Lycaonian from Derbe (Acts 20:4). PaulŐs various friends and the other Christians prudently restrain him from entering the amphitheater, which has meanwhile become a scene of utter confusion, many of the rioters unsure why are rioting. Fearing that this situation might pose some special threat for the Jews, who in any case were never popular at Ephesus (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 16.6.1), a Jew named Alexander endeavors to disassociate the Jews from the Christians (verse 33), but mobs do not readily recognize distinctions so subtle. Besides, one of the abducted Christians is a Jew (cf. Colossians 4:10-11)! The riot could have ended very badly, but the Roman insistence on common sense and good order saves the day (verses 35-41). (If, as I have earlier suggested, Paul spent some time in jail at Ephesus, this was surely the occasion.) A single manŐs ability to restore order amidst such confusion should be credited, in no small measure, to the extraordinary acoustics of that amphitheater. Some decades ago I began to read this entire account in the Ephesian amphitheater in a slightly elevated stage voice and saw, all throughout the place, a hundred or more tourists, only a handful of them known to me, suddenly grow quiet, sit down, and listen to the story.
Thursday, August 1
Acts 20:1-16: At the end of three years in Ephesus, Paul returned to Macedonia in late 55, his journey apparently taking in also the large region northwest of Macedonia, known as Illyricum or Dalmatia (cf. Romans 15:19). While traveling in Macedonia, Dalmatia, and Greece during the year 56, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians (perhaps from Philippi, where he received a report on the Corinthian congregation from Titus Ń 2 Corinthians 2:13; 76-14), 1 Timothy, and Titus. Sometime during that year he journeyed with Titus to Crete as well (cf. Titus 1:5). Although Paul planned to spend the winter of 56/57 at the Greek city of Nicopolis, a port on the Adriatic Sea (Titus 3:12), at the beginning of January he returned to Corinth, not far eastward, where he lived during the first three months of 57 (Acts 20:2-3). While there, he wrote the Epistle to the Romans. Intending to return to the Holy Land with the money collected for the needs of the poor there (Romans 15:25-27), he journeyed north to Macedonia one last time, where he celebrated Easter (Pascha) with his beloved Philippians (Acts 20:6). Luke, who had been pastoring that congregation since the year 49, now joined PaulŐs company for the trip to the Holy Land. (Luke will be with Paul for the rest of the latterŐs recorded life. We will find Luke with him during the two yearsŐ imprisonment at Caesarea [Acts 24:27; Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24] and during PaulŐs house-arrest in Rome [Acts 28:30; 2 Timothy 4:11].) Traveling in two separate companies over to Troas, Paul needed several extra companions to carry and protect the money collected for Jerusalem. Their names are enshrined forever in Acts 20:4. PaulŐs trip from Macedonia to Troas required five days (Acts 20:6). His company remained at Troas an entire week in order to share in the Sunday Eucharistic worship (20:7). Perhaps Paul had intended to be present for that worship on the previous Sunday but had simply not arrived early enough. In any case, we suddenly find him pressed for time. When Paul finally left for Troas that Sunday morning, after losing a nightŐs sleep for the worship, he decided to walk overland to the port of Assos while the others sailed around the small cape from Troas (20:13). It was a warm April day, and Paul, tired, preoccupied, and in a bit of a hurry, inadvertently left his heavy winter cloak at CarpusŐs house in Troas, along with some other items (2 Timothy 4:23). Anxious to be in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter (20:16), he met his companions at Assos on Monday, landing on the island of Lesbos on Tuesday (20:14), rounding the island of Chios on Wednesday, reaching Samos on Thursday, and landing at Miletus (the modern Balat) on Friday. Messengers were immediately dispatched to Ephesus, thirty miles inland, so that the presbyters of that church could come to Miletus to worship with Paul on Sunday (20:17). Paul will give his last sermon in Asia Minor.
Friday, August 2
Acts 20:17-27: This discourse of Paul to the "presbyters" (elders) of Ephesus, serves at least two functions in the Lukan narrative. It is a sort of final testament in which Paul gives an account of his ministry. In this respect it may be compared with the final testaments that closed the ministries of Joshua (Joshua 24) and Samuel (1 Samuel 12). Paul sensed that this was his last time to speak to a local church that he had inaugurated (20:25), and Luke, when he recorded the sermon for posterity, knew it very well. Second, PaulŐs discourse at Miletus adds his voice to the emerging theme of the "apostolic succession," the thesis that the ordained ministry of the Church derives its authority, not from the local congregations, but from a direct, historical, and Spirit-intended continuity with the authority of the apostles. This theme of the apostolic succession was a major motif in two of the epistles that Paul had written during the previous year, 1 Timothy and Titus. (The modern reluctance to accept either the early dating or the Pauline authorship of those epistles, or even the historicity of this sermon in Acts 20, is based, not on a careful study of the texts themselves, but on a highly questionable theory which refuses to regard the "apostolic succession" as truly apostolic. This dubious and fairly recent theory tends to dictate a serious misunderstanding of the biblical text with respect to the history of the early Church.) The beginning of PaulŐs discourse (20:17) speaks of the "elders" (presbyteroi, the root word of our English "priests"; cf. also 11:30; 14:23; 15:2,4,6,22,23; 16:4; 21:18), whereas in 20:28 Paul speaks of "overseers" (episkopoi, the root word of our English "bishops"). Our earliest interpreter of this passage, Irenaeus of Lyons, writing about 180 and himself a native of Asia Minor, believed that both groups were present (Against the Heresies 3.14.2). Some modern interpreters are reluctant to find an unmistakably hierarchical ministry so early in church history, but there it is.
Saturday, August 3
Acts 20:28-38: These presbyters (and/or overseers) are to be shepherds; or, to use the Latin word for shepherd, "pastors" (20:28; cf. also 1 Peter 2:25; 5:1-3). The image of the priest as shepherd comes from the Old Testament (cf. Ezekiel 34:1-6; Zechariah 10:2-3). The sheep do not "employ" the shepherd; God does, and his appointment through the apostolic succession, governed by the Holy Spirit, is the channel of his authority to shepherd the LordŐs flock. He is answerable to the One whose blood was poured out to purchase that flock. Nor can the shepherd properly keep watch over the sheep, unless he keeps watch over himself (cf. 1 Timothy 4:16; 1 Corinthians 9:26-27; 1 Peter 5:1-3). PaulŐs warning about the wolves evidently made a deep impression on the Ephesian presbyters. Earlier in the story we already saw the zeal of the Ephesian church for the preservation of sound doctrine (19:19), and documents from early church history further testify to the care taken at Ephesus to preserve doctrinal purity. The Lord would tell that church, not many years in the future, "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars" (Revelation 2:2); "But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate" (2:6). Indeed, it is significant that, of all PaulŐs epistles, his Epistle to the Ephesians is the only one that does not mention a single doctrinal error that needed correction. (Contrast this with the letters to Thessaloniki, Philippi, Galatia, Corinth, Colossae, and Rome.) One of the earliest pastors of the Ephesian church had earlier been warned by Paul on this very matter (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3-7,18-20; 4:1-3; 5:17; 6:3-5,20). In the year 107, Ignatius, the second bishop of Antioch, wrote a letter to the Ephesians in which he commented on their well known tradition of doctrinal orthodoxy (6.2; 9.1).