Sunday, August 24
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 Ñ 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 PaulÕs company for the trip to the Holy Land. (Luke will be with Paul for the rest of the latterÕs recorded life. We will find Luke with him during the two yearsÕ imprisonment at Caesarea [Acts 24:27; Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24] and during PaulÕs 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. One of them, with the Latin name "Secundus," had a younger brother named Tertius, who was PaulÕs secretary in the composition of the Epistle to the Romans (cf. 16:22). (Another younger brother, Quartus, was present on that occasion [Romans 16:23].) PaulÕs 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 nightÕs 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 CarpusÕs 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.
Monday, August 25
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, PaulÕs 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 PaulÕs 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.
Tuesday, August 26
Acts 20:28-38: These presbyters (and/or overseers) are to be shepherds; or, to use the Latin 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 LordÕs 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). PaulÕs 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 PaulÕs 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).
Wednesday, August 27
Acts 21:1-14: Luke now carefully traces the stages of PaulÕs journey southward, first noting his arrival at Cos that Sunday evening. This island, dedicated to Asklepios, the god of healing, was perhaps special to the "beloved physician" as the homeland of Hippocrates, the father of Greek medicine, who sat under the famous plane tree and instructed his medical students in the art of healing. PaulÕs company arrive at Rhodes on Monday and at Patara on Tuesday. Leaving this coastline vessel, they embark on a sea-going ship on their way to the Phoenician city of Tyre, some four-hundred nautical miles to the southeast, sailing around Cyprus. Finding Christians at Tyre (cf. 15:3), they remain for a week, and then press on to Ptolemais, twenty-five miles to the south, and then Caesarea, forty miles further (or thirty-two miles if they went by land). One nearly gains the impression that Luke is copying out notes from a journal that he maintained on the trip, and one of the general effects of this listing of ports is to heighten the suspense of PaulÕs approach to Jerusalem. Even back at Miletus he had spoken of the prophetic warnings that he was receiving with respect to this trip to Jerusalem (20:23), warnings later repeated at Tyre (21:4). Here at Caesarea, however, such forebodings are intensified by the prophecies of Agabus, whom we met earlier in 11:27, and the daughters of Philip the deacon (21:8-11). Finally, LukeÕs attention to detail, with which he narrates each step of this journey, renders all the more remarkable the omission of Antioch. After both the first (14:25) and second (18:22) missionary journeys, Paul took care to report back to the church at Antioch, but on this occasion, and with only a hint of explanation (20:16), he does not do so. Clearly, Paul is looking elsewhere now; his eyes are on Rome, as he had recently suggested in a letter to that city (Romans 1:%; 15:22-28).
Thursday, August 28
Acts 21:15-25: The day after his arrival in Jerusalem, Paul goes to pay his respects to James, the LordÕs "brother," who appears to be the chief pastor of the church in that city and the leader of its presbyters. This impression is consonant with the early preserved lists of the bishops of the churches, where James is invariably listed as JerusalemÕs first bishop (along with Mark as AlexandriaÕs, Evodius as AntiochÕs, Linus as RomeÕs, and so on). Unlike the earlier gathering at Jerusalem in Acts 15, this meeting does not mention the "apostles." These latter have by now all left Jerusalem and have gone to preach the Gospel in other lands, some of which have preserved memories of earlier apostolic evangelization. There is evidence that the apostle Thomas preached in India, for example, Philip in Phrygia, Matthew in Syria and Ethiopia, and Andrew in Thrace. The apostle Peter had moved westward by this time, but the absence of his name from PaulÕs letter to the Romans indicates that he had not yet reached the EmpireÕs capital, where he would, along with Paul, suffer martyrdom. Meanwhile, at Jerusalem PaulÕs report greatly heartens James and the presbyters (verses 19-20), but they express concern about certain misrepresentations of Paul being circulated among the Jewish Christians. Because of PaulÕs frequent encounters with hostile Jews in various cities, he can hardly be surprised by such reports, and James is eager to put them to rest. Paul, desiring to be all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Romans 7:12), acquiesces in JamesÕs suggestion for how to go about neutralizing the rumors current among the "tens of thousands" (myriades Ñ verse 20) of Jewish Christians. This suggestion involves the rather elaborate public fulfillment of a Nazirite vow (verses 23-24; Numbers 6:1-21).
Friday, August 29
Acts 21:26-34: On the next day Paul begins daily worship in the temple as the sponsor of the four men under vow, to provide the offering required on such occasions (verse 26). A week later he is recognized in the temple by some of the same Asian Jews with whom he has already had so many painful experiences (verse 27; 18:19; 20:19). It is important to observe that the objections to Paul at Jerusalem do not come from the Jewish Christians living there, but from the Diaspora Jews, whose presence in Jerusalem is occasioned by the feast of Pentecost (20:6,16), a normal time for pilgrimage to the temple. On the streets of the city they had already recognized Trophimus, a Christian from Asia, who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem for the purpose of transporting the collection of money for the poor (20:4; cf. also 2 Timothy 4:20). The Jews from Ephesus accuse Paul of introducing this Gentile into the temple beyond the Court of the Gentiles. The gravity of their accusation is indicated in the inscription, written in both Greek and Latin, that separated that court from the Court of Women (Josephus, Jewish War 5.5.2; Antiquities 15.11.5 ; cf. also Ephesians 2:14). That inscription, discovered by C. S. Clermont-Ganneau in 1871, says: "No foreigner [non-Jew] is to enter within the balustrade and the embankment that surrounds the sanctuary. If anyone is apprehended in the act, let him know that he must hold himself to blame for the penalty of death that will follow." After ejecting Paul from the temple, his accusers close the gates to prevent his seeking refuge therein (verse 30). Because such riots in the temple are by no means rare, particularly during pilgrimages, a Roman guard of a thousand men is stationed in the nearby Fortress Antonia, and news of the disturbance reaches the commander of this unit, Claudius Lysias (23:26), who promptly takes Paul into custody to prevent his being murdered. It was at this very place that an earlier crowd of Jews had insisted to Pilate, "Take Him away!" [Aire touton in Luke 23:18] with respect to Jesus, the same insistence now being made with respect to Paul [Aire auton in Acts 21:36].
Saturday, August 30
Acts 21:35Ñ22:5: To apprehend Paul and put a stop to the riot, the soldiers had descended a long flight of stairs that leads up to the entrance of the Fortress Antonia. Now practically carrying their prisoner , they ascend those stairs, which will effectively give Paul an elevation from which to address the crowd. Perhaps the commander of the fortress had received a bulletin to be on the lookout for a famous Jewish revolutionary from Egypt (described in considerable detail by Josephus, incidentally). In any case, he mistakes his new prisoner for that individual and is surprised when Paul speaks to him in Greek. Thus taken by surprise, he grants PaulÕs request to address the mob. Speaking to them in Aramaic, Paul is deferential in tone ("Men, brothers and fathers") and patient in the development of his theme, which consists essentially in another narrative of his conversion. The story is told as a form of personal apologetics (apologia in verse 1). Paul insists, "I am a Jew" (verse 2). He tells of his education in Jerusalem under the tutelage of Rabbi Gamaliel, his adherence to the strictness (akribeia ) of the Torah, his zeal (literally "GodÕs zealot" Ñ Theou zelotes), which zeal he compares with their own (verse 3; Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:6). Paul too once opposed the new "way" (hodos), he tells them, as zealously as they are doing today. All this, however, changed dramatically, as he rode to Damascus.