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Sunday, May 19th, 2024
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Bible Commentaries
Acts 20

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verse 1

The uproar - The tumult excited, by Demetrius and the workmen. After it had been quieted by the town-clerk, Acts 19:40-41.

Embraced them - Saluted them; gave them parting expressions of kindness. Compare the Luke 7:45 note; Romans 16:16 note; 1 Corinthians 16:20 note; 2 Corinthians 13:12 note; 1 Thessalonians 5:26 note; 1 Peter 5:14 note. The Syriac translates this, “Paul caned the disciples, and consoled them, and kissed them.”

To go into Macedonia - On his way to Jerusalem, agreeably to his purpose, as recorded in Acts 19:21.

Verse 2

Over those parts - The parts of country in and near Macedonia. He probably went to Macedonia by Troas, where he expected to find Titus 2 Corinthians 2:12; but, not finding him there, he went by himself to Philippi, Thessalonica, etc., and then returned to Greece proper.

Into Greece - Into Greece proper, of which Athens was the capital. While in Macedonia he had great anxiety and trouble, but was at length comforted by the coming of Titus, who brought him intelligence of the liberal disposition of the churches of Greece in regard to the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem, 2 Corinthians 7:5-7. It is probable that the Second Epistle to the Corinthians was written during this time in Macedonia, and sent to them by Titus.

Verse 3

And there abode - Why he remained here is unknown. It is probable that while in Greece he wrote the Epistle to the Romans. Compare Romans 15:25-27.

And when the Jews laid wait for him - There was a design formed against him by the Jews, which they sought to execute. Why they formed this purpose the historian has not informed us.

As he was about to sail - It would seem from this, that the design of the Jews was to attack the ship in which he was about to sail, or to arrest him on shipboard. This fact determined him to take a much more circuitous route by land, so that the churches of Macedonia were favored with another visit from him.

Into Syria - On his way to Jerusalem.

He purposed ... - He resolved to avoid the snare which they had laid for him, and to return by the same way in which he had come into Greece.

Verse 4

And there accompanied him - It was usual for some of the disciples to attend the apostles in their journeys.

Into Asia - It is not meant that they attended him from Greece through Macedonia, but that they went with him to Asia, having gone before him, and joined him at Troas.

Sopater of Berea - Perhaps the same person who, in Romans 16:21, is called Sosipater, and who is there said to have been a kinsman of Paul.

Aristarchus - Acts 19:29.

Gaius of Derbe - See the notes on Acts 19:29.

Tychicus - This man was high in the confidence and affection of Paul. In Ephesians 6:21-22 he styles him “a beloved brother, and faithful minister in the Lord.”

And Trophimus - Trophimus was from Ephesus, Acts 20:29. When Paul wrote his Second Epistle to Timothy he was at Miletum, sick, 2 Timothy 4:20.

Verse 5

These going before - Going before Paul and Luke. Dr. Doddridge supposes that only Tychicus and Trophimus went before the others. Perhaps the Greek most naturally demands this interpretation.

Tarried for us - The word “us,” here, shows that Luke had again joined Paul as his companion. In Acts 16:12 it appears that Luke was in Philippi, in the house of Lydia. Why he remained there, or why he did not attend Paul in his journey to Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, etc., is not known. It is evident, however, that he here joined him again.

At Troas - See the notes on Acts 16:8.

Verse 6

After the days of unleavened bread - After the seven days of the Passover, during which they ate only unleavened bread. See Exodus 12:0.

In five days - They crossed the Aegean Sea. Paul, when he crossed it on a former occasion, did it in two days Acts 16:11-12; but the navigation of the sea is uncertain, and they were now probably hindered by contrary winds.

Verse 7

And upon the first day of the week - Showing thus that this day was then observed by Christians as holy time. Compare 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10.

To break bread - Evidently to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Compare Acts 2:46. So the Syriac understands it, by translating it, “to break the eucharist”; that is, the eucharistic bread. It is probable that the apostles and early Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper on every Lord’s day.

And continued his speech until midnight - The discourse of Paul continued until the breaking of day, Acts 20:11. But it was interrupted about midnight by the accident that occurred to Eutychus. The fact that Paul was about to leave them on the next day, probably to see them no more, was the principal reason why his discourse was so long continued. We are not to suppose, however, that it was one continued or set discourse. No small part of the time might have been passed in hearing and answering questions, though Paul was the chief speaker. The case proves that such seasons of extraordinary devotion may, in special circumstances, be proper. Occasions may arise where it will be proper for Christians to spend a much longer time than usual in public worship. It is evident, however, that such seasons do not often occur.

Verse 8

And there were many lights - Why this circumstance is mentioned is not apparent. It, however, meets one of the slanders of the early enemies of Christianity, that the Christians in their assemblies were accustomed to extinguish all the lights, and to commit every kind of abomination. Perhaps the mention of many lights here is designed to intimate that it was a place of public worship, as not only the Jews, but the Gentiles were accustomed to have many lights burning in such places.

In the upper chamber - See the notes on Acts 1:13.

Verse 9

And there sat in a window - The window was left open, probably to avoid the malice of their enemies, who might be disposed otherwise to charge them with holding their assemblies in darkness for purposes of iniquity. The window was probably a mere opening in the wall to let in light, as glass was not common at that time. As the shutters of the window were not closed, there was nothing to prevent Eutychus from falling down.

The third loft - The third story.

And was taken up dead - Some have supposed that he was merely stunned with the fall, and that he was still alive. But the obvious meaning is, that he was actually killed by the fall, and was miraculously restored to life. This is an instance of sleeping in public worship that has some apology. The late hour of the night, and the length of the services, were the excuse. But, though the thing is often done now, yet how seldom is a sleeper in a church furnished with an excuse for it. No practice is more shameful, disrespectful, and abominable than that so common of sleeping in the house of God.

Verse 10

And fell on him ... - Probably stretching himself on him as Elisha did on the Shunammite’s son, 2 Kings 4:33-35. It was an act of tenderness and compassion, evincing a strong desire to restore him to life.

Trouble not yourselves - They would doubtless be thrown into great consternation by such an event. Paul therefore endeavoured to compose their minds by the assurance that he would live.

For his life is in him - He is restored to life. This has all the appearance of having been a miracle. Life was restored to him as Paul spoke.

Verse 11

Come up again - To the upper room, Acts 20:8.

And had broken bread, and eaten - Had taken refreshment. As this is spoken of Paul only, it is evidently distinguished from the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Verse 12

Not a little comforted - By the fact that he was alive; perhaps also strengthened by the evidence that a miracle had been performed.

Verse 13

Sailed unto Assos - There were several cities of this name. One was in Lycia; one in the territory of Eolis; one in Mysia; one in Lydia; and another in Epirus. The latter is the one intended here. It was between Troas and Mitylene. The distance to it from Troas by land was about 20 miles, while the voyage round Cape Lecture was nearly twice as far, and accordingly Paul chose to go to it on foot.

Minding himself - Choosing or preferring to go on foot. Most of his journeys were probably performed in this way.

Verse 14

Came to Mitylene - This was the capital of the island of Lesbos. It was distinguished by the beauty of its situation, and the splendor and magnificence of its edifices. The island on which it stood, Lesbos, was one of the largest in the Aegean Sea, and the seventh in the Mediterranean. It is a few miles distant from the coast of Aeolia, and is about 168 miles in circumference. The name of the city now is Castro.

Verse 15

Over against Chios - Opposite to. Into the neighborhood of; or near to it. Chios, called also Coos, is an island in the Archipelago, between Lesbos and Samos. It is on the coast of Asia Minor, and is now called Scio. It will long be remembered as the seat of a dreadful massacre of almost all its inhabitants by the Turks in 1823.

At Samos - This was also an island of the Archipelago, lying off the coast of Lydia, from which it is separated by a narrow strait. These islands were celebrated among the ancients for their extraordinary wines.

Trogyllium - This was the name of a town and promontory of Ionia in Asia Minor, between Ephesus and the mouth of the river Meander, opposite to Samos. The promontory is a spur of Mount Mycale.

Miletus - Called also Mileturn. It was a city and seaport, and the ancient capital of Ionia. It was originally composed of a colony of Cretans. It became extremely powerful, and sent out colonies to a great number of cities on the Euxine Sea. It was distinguished for a magnificent temple dedicated to Apollo. It is now called by the Turks Melas. It was the birthplace of Thales, one of the seven wise men of Greece. It was about 40 or 50 miles from Ephesus.

Verse 16

To sail by Ephesus - The word “by” in our translation is ambiguous. We say to go by a place, meaning either to take it in our way and to go to it, or to go past it. Here it means the latter. He intended to sail past Ephesus without going to it.

For he hasted ... - Had he gone to Ephesus, he would probably have been so delayed in his journey that he could not reach Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost.

The day of Pentecost - See the notes on Acts 2:1.

Verse 17

He sent to Ephesus - Perhaps a distance of twenty or thirty miles.

The elders of the church - Who had been appointed while he was there to take charge of the church. See the notes on Acts 15:2.

Verse 18

And when they were come to him - The discourse which follows is one of the most tender, affectionate, and eloquent which is anywhere to be found. It is strikingly descriptive of the apostle’s manner of life while with them; evinces his deep concern for their welfare; is full of tender and kind admonition; expresses the firm purpose of his soul to live to the glory of God, and his expectation to be persecuted still; and is a most affectionate and solemn farewell. No man can read it without being convinced that it came from a heart full of love and kindness; and that it evinces a great and noble purpose to be entirely employed in one great aim and object - the promotion of the glory of God, in the face of danger and of death.

Ye know - From your own observation. He had been with them three years, and could make this solemn appeal to themselves that he had led a faithful and devoted life. How happy is it when a minister can thus appeal to those with whom he has labored in proof of his own sincerity and fidelity! How comforting to himself, and how full of demonstration to a surrounding world, of the truth and power of the gospel which is preached! We may further remark that this appeal furnishes strong proof of the purity and holiness of Paul’s life. The elders at Ephesus must have had abundant opportunity to know him. They had seen him, and heard him publicly, and in their private dwellings. A man does not make such an appeal unless he has a consciousness of integrity, nor unless there is conclusive proof of his integrity. It is strong evidence of the holiness of the character of the apostles, and proof that they were not impostors, that they could thus appeal with the utmost assurance to those who had every opportunity of knowing them.

From the first day - He was with them three years, Acts 20:31.

Into Asia - Asia Minor. They would probably know not only how he had demeaned himself while with them, but also how he had conducted in other places near them.

After what manner I have been with you - How I have lived and acted. What has been my manner of life. What had been his mode of life he specifies in the following verses.

At all seasons - At all times.

Verse 19

Serving the Lord - In the discharge of the appropriate duties of his apostolic office, and in private life. To discharge aright our duties in any vocation is serving the Lord. Religion is often represented in the Bible as a service rendered to the Lord.

With all humility - Without arrogance, pride, or a spirit of dictation; without a desire to “lord it over God’s heritage”; without being elated with the authority of the apostolic office, the variety of the miracles which he was enabled to perform, or the success which attended his labors. What an admirable model for all who are in the ministry; for all who are endowed with talents and learning; for all who meet with remarkable success in their work! The proper effect of such success, and of such talent, will be to produce true humility. The greatest endowments are usually connected with the most simple and childlike humility.

And with many tears - Paul not infrequently gives evidence of the tenderness of his heart, of his regard for the souls of people, and of his deep solicitude for the salvation of sinners, Acts 20:31; Philippians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 2:4. The particular thing, however, here specified as producing weeping was the opposition of the Jews. But it cannot be supposed that those tears were shed from an apprehension of personal danger. It was rather because the opposition of the Jews impeded his work, and retarded his progress in winning souls to Christ. A minister of the gospel will:

(1) Feel, and deeply feel for the salvation of his people. He will weep over their condition when he sees theta going astray, and in danger of perishing. He will,

(2) Be specially affected with opposition, because it will retard his work, and prevent the progress and the triumph of the gospel. It is not because it is a personal concern, but because it is the cause of his Master.

And temptations - Trials arising from their opposition. We use the word “temptation” in a more limited sense, to denote inducements offered to one to lead him into sin. The word in the Scriptures most commonly denotes “trials” of any kind.

Which befell me - Which happened to me; which I encountered.

By the lying in wait ... - By their snares and plots against my life. Compare Acts 20:3. Those snares and plans were designed to blast his reputation and to destroy his usefulness.

Verse 20

I kept back nothing ... - No doctrine, no admonition, no labor. Whatever he judged would promote their salvation, he faithfully and fearlessly delivered. A minister of the gospel must be the judge of what will be profitable to the people of his charge. His aim should be to promote their real welfare to preach what will be profitable. His object will not be to please their fancy, to gratify their taste, to flatter their pride, or to promote his own popularity. “All Scripture is profitable” 2 Timothy 3:16; and it will be his aim to declare that only which will tend to promote their real welfare. Even if it be unpalatable; if it be the language of reproof and admonition; if it be doctrine to which the heart is by nature opposed; if it run counter to the native prejudices and passions of people; yet, by the grace of God, it should be, and will be delivered. No doctrine that will be profitable should be kept back; no labor that may promote the welfare of the flock should be withheld.

But have showed you - Have announced or declared to you. The word here used ἀναγγεῖλαι anangeilai is most commonly applied to “preaching in public assemblies, or in a public manner.”

Have taught you publicly - In the public assembly; by public preaching.

And from house to house - Though Paul preached in public, and though his time was much occupied in manual labor for his own support Acts 20:34, yet he did not esteem his public preaching to be all that was required of him, nor his daily occupation to be an excuse for not visiting from house to house. We may observe here:

(1) That Paul’s example is a warrant and an implied injunction for family visitation by a pastor. If proper in Ephesus, it is proper still. If practicable in that city, it is in other cities. If it was useful there, it will be elsewhere. If it furnished to him consolation in the retrospect when he came to look over his ministry, and if it was one of the things which enabled him to say, “I am pure from the blood of all men,” it will be so in other cases.

(2) The design for which ministers should visit should be a religious design. Paul did not visit for mere ceremony; for idle gossip, or chit-chat; or to converse on the news or politics of the day. His aim was to show the way of salvation, and to teach in private what he taught in public.

(3) How much of this is to be done is, of course, to be left to the discretion of every minister. Paul, in private visiting, did not neglect public instruction. The latter he evidently considered to be his main or chief business. His high views of preaching are evinced in his life, and in his letters to Timothy and Titus. Yet, while public preaching is the main, the prime, the leading business of a minister, and while his first efforts should be directed to preparation for that, he may and should find time to enforce his public instructions by going from house to house; and often he will find that his most immediate and apparent success will result from such family instructions.

(4) If it is his duty to visit, it is the duty of is people to receive him as becomes an ambassador of Christ. They should be willing to listen to his instructions; to treat him with kindness, and to aid his endeavours in bringing a family under the influence of religion.

Verse 21

Testifying - Bearing witness to the necessity of repentance toward God. Or teaching them the nature of repentance, and exhorting them to repent and believe. Perhaps the word “testifying” includes both ideas of giving evidence, and of urging with great earnestness and affection that repentance and faith were necessary. See 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:14; where the word used here, and here translated “testify,” is there translated correctly, “charge,” in the sense of “strongly urging, or entreating with great earnestness.”

And also to the Greeks - To all who were not Jews. “The Greeks” properly denoted “those who lived in Greece, and who spoke the Greek language.” But the phrase, “Jews and Greeks,” among the Hebrews, denoted “the whole human race.” He urged the necessity of repentance and faith in all. Religion makes no distinction, but regards all as sinners, and as needing salvation by the blood of the Redeemer.

Repentance toward God - See the notes on Matthew 3:2. Repentance is to be exercised “toward God,” because:

  1. Sin has been committed against him, and it is proper that we express our sorrow to the Being whom we have offended; and,
  2. Because only God can pardon. Sincere repentance exists only where there is a willingness to make acknowledgment to the very Being whom we have offended or injured.

And faith - See the notes on Mark 16:16.

Toward - εἰς eis. In regard to; in; confidence in the work and merits of the Lord Jesus. This is required, because there is no other one who can save from sin. See the notes on Acts 4:12.

Verse 22

Bound in the spirit - Strongly urged or constrained by the influences of the Holy Spirit on my mind. Not by any desire to see the place where my fathers worshipped, and not urged merely by reason, but by the convictions and mighty promptings of the Holy Spirit to do my duty in this case. The expression “bound in the spirit” δεδεμένος τῷ πνεύματι dedemenos tō pneumati is one of great strength and emphasis. The word δέω deō, “to bind,” is usually applied to “confinement by cords, fetters, or bands” Matthew 13:30; Matthew 14:3; Matthew 21:2; and then it denotes “any strong obligation” Romans 7:2, or “anything that strongly urges or impels,” Matthew 21:2. When we are strongly urged by the convictions of duty, by the influences of the Holy Spirit, we should not shrink from danger or from death. Duty is to be done at all hazards. It is ours to follow the directions of God; results we may safely and confidently leave with him.

Not knowing the things that shall befall me there - He knew that calamities and trials of some kind awaited him Acts 20:23, but he did not know:

  1. Of what particular kind they would be; nor,
  2. Their issue, whether it would be life or death.

We should commit our way unto God, not knowing what trials may be before us in life; but knowing that, if we are found faithful at the post of duty, we have nothing to fear in the result.

Verse 23

Save that - Except that. This was all that he knew, that bonds and afflictions were to be his portion.

The Holy Ghost witnesseth - Either by direct revelation to him, or by the predictions of inspired men whom Paul might meet. An instance of the latter mode occurs in Acts 21:11. It is probable that the meaning here is that the Holy Spirit had deeply impressed the mind of Paul by his direct influences, and by his experience in every city, that bonds and trials were to be his portion. Such had been his experience in every city where he had preached the gospel by the direction of the Holy Spirit, that he regarded it as his certain portion that he was thus to be afflicted.

In every city - In almost every city where Paul had been, he had been subjected to these trials. He had been persecuted, stoned, and scourged. So uniform was this, so constant had been his experience in this way, that he regarded it as his certain portion to be thus afflicted, and he approached Jerusalem, and every other city, with a confident expectation that such trials awaited him there.

Saying - In his experience, by direct revelation, and by the mouth of prophets, Acts 21:11. When Paul was called to the apostleship it was predicted that he would suffer much, Acts 9:16.

Bonds - Chains. That I would be bound, as prisoners are who are confined.

Abide me - See the margin. They remain or wait for me; that is, I must expect to suffer them.

Verse 24

Move me - Alarm me, or deter me from my purpose. Greek: “I make an account of none of them.” I do not regard them as of any moment, or as worth consideration in the great purpose to which I have devoted my life.

Neither count I my life - I do not consider my life as so valuable as to be retained by turning away from bonds and persecutions. I am certain of bonds and afflictions; I am willing also, if it be necessary, to lay down my life in the prosecution of the same purpose.

Dear unto myself - So precious or valuable as to be retained at the sacrifice of duty. I am willing to sacrifice it if it be necessary. This was the spirit of the Saviour, and of all the early Christians. Duty is of more importance than life; and when either duty or life is to be sacrificed, life is to be cheerfully surrendered.

So that - This is my main object, to finish my course with joy. It is implied here:

(1) That this was the great purpose which Paul had in view.

(2) That if he should even lay down his life in this cause, it would be a finishing his course with joy. In the faithful discharge of duty, he had nothing to fear. Life would be ended with peace whenever God should require him to finish his course.

Finish my course - Close my career as an apostle and a Christian. Life is thus represented as a course, or race that is to be run, 2 Timothy 4:7; Hebrews 12:1; 1 Corinthians 9:24; Acts 13:25.

With joy - With the approbation of conscience and of God, with peace in the recollection of the past. Man should strive so to live that he will have nothing to regret when he lies on a bed of death. It is a glorious privilege to finish life with joy. It is most sad when the last hours are embittered with the reflection that life has been wasted. The only way in which life may be finished with joy is by meeting faithfully every duty, and encountering, as Paul did, every trial, with a constant desire to glorify God.

And the ministry - That I may fully discharge the duty of the apostolic office, the preaching of the gospel. In 2 Timothy 4:5, he charges Timothy to make full proof of his ministry. He here shows that this was the ruling principle of his own life.

Which I have received of the Lord Jesus - Which the Lord Jesus has committed to me, Acts 9:15-17. Paul regarded his ministry as an office entrusted to him by the Lord Jesus himself. On this account he deemed it to be especially sacred, and of high authority, Galatians 1:12. Every minister has been entrusted with an office by the Lord Jesus. He is not his own; and his great aim should be to discharge fully and entirely the duties of that office.

To testify the gospel - To bear witness to the good news of the favor of God. This is the great design of the ministry. It is to bear witness to a dying world of the good news that God is merciful, and that his favor may be made manifest to sinners. From this verse we may learn:

(1) That we all have a course to run, a duty to perform. Ministers have an allotted duty; and so have men in all ranks and professions.

(2) We should not be deterred by danger, or the fear of death, from the discharge of that duty. We are safe only when we are doing the will of God. We are really in danger only when we neglect our duty, and make the great God our enemy.

(3) We should so live as that the end of our course may be joy. It is, at best, a solemn thing to die; but death may be a scene of triumph and of joy.

(4) It matters little when, or where, or how we die if we die in the discharge of our duty to God. He will order the circumstances of our departure, and He can sustain us in the last conflict. Happy is that life which is spent in doing the will of God, and peaceful that death which closes a life of toil and trial in the service of the Lord Jesus.

Verse 25

I know that ye all - Perhaps this means simply, “I have no expectation of seeing you again; I have every reason to suppose that this is my final interview with you.” He expected to visit Ephesus no more. The journey to Jerusalem was dangerous. Trials and persecutions he knew awaited him. Besides, it is evident that he designed to turn his attention to other countries, and to visit Rome; and probably he had already formed the purpose of going into Spain. See Acts 19:21; compare Romans 15:23-28. From all these considerations it is evident that he had no expectation of being again at Ephesus. It is probable, however, that he did again return to that city. See the notes on Acts 28:31.

Among whom I have gone preaching - Among whom I have preached. The parting of a minister and people is among the most tender and affecting of the separations that occur on earth.

The kingdom of God - Making known the nature of the reign of God on earth by the Messiah. See the notes on Matthew 3:2.

Verse 26

Wherefore - In view of the past, of my ministry and labors among you, I appeal to your own selves to testify that I have been faithful.

I take you to record - Greek: I call you to witness. If any of you are lost; if you prove unfaithful to God, I appeal to yourselves that the fault is not mine. It is well when a minister can make this appeal, and call his hearers to bear testimony to his own faithfulness. Ministers who preach the gospel with fidelity may thus appeal to their hearers; and in the day of judgment may call on themselves to witness that the fault of the ruin of the soul is not to be charged to them.

That I am pure - I am not to be charged with the guilt of your condemnation, as owing to my unfaithfulness. This does not mean that he set up a claim to absolute perfection; but that, in the matter under consideration, he had a conscience void of offence.

The blood of all men - The word “blood” is often used in the sense of “death, of bloodshed”; and hence, of the “guilt or crime of putting one to death,” Matthew 23:35; Matthew 27:25; Acts 5:28; Acts 18:6. It here means that if they should die the second death; if they should be lost forever, he would not be to blame. He had discharged his duty in faithfully warning and teaching them; and now, if they were lost, the fault would be their own, not his.

All men - All classes of people - Jews and Gentiles. He had warned and instructed all alike. Ministers may have many fears that their hearers will be lost. Their aim, however, should be:

  1. To save them, if possible; and,
  2. If they are lost, that it should be by no neglect or fault of theirs.

Verse 27

For - This verse contains a reason for what had been said in the previous verse. It shows why Paul regarded himself as innocent if they should be lost.

I have not shunned - I have not kept back; I have not been deterred by fear, by the desire of popularity, by the fact that the doctrines of the gospel are unpalatable to people, from declaring them fully. The proper meaning of the word translated here, “I have not shunned” ὑπεστειλάμην hupesteilamēn, is “to disguise any important truth; to withdraw it from public view; to decline publishing it from fear, or an apprehension of the consequences.” Paul means that he had not disguised any truth; he had not withdrawn or kept it from open view, by any apprehension of the effect which it might have on their minds. 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.

People 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 them selves, and choose to conceal its prominent and offensive points;
  4. Because they may be afraid of the rich, the great, and the frivolous, 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. People often preach a philosophical explanation of a doctrine instead of the doctrine itself They deserve the credit of ingenuity, but not that of being open and bold proclaimers of the truth of God.

All the counsel - πᾶσαν τὴν βουλὴν pasan tēn boulēn. The word “counsel” (βουλὴ boulē) denotes properly “consolation, deliberation,” and then “will or purpose,” Luke 23:51; Acts 2:23. It means here the will or purpose of God, as revealed in regard to the salvation of people. Paul had made a full statement of that plan of the guilt of people, of the claims of the Law, of the need of a Saviour, of the provisions of mercy, and of the state of future rewards and punishments. Ministers ought to declare all that counsel, because God commands it; because it is needful for the salvation of people; and because the message is not theirs, but God’s, and they have no right to change, to disguise, or to withhold it. And if it is the duty of ministers to declare that counsel, it is the duty of a people to listen to it with respect and candor, and with a desire to know the truth, and to be saved by it. Declaring the counsel of God will do no good unless it is received into honest and humble hearts, and with a disposition to know what God has revealed for salvation.

Verse 28

Take heed, therefore - Attend to; be on your guard against the dangers which beset you, and seek to discharge your duty with fidelity.

Unto yourselves - To your own piety, opinions, and mode of life. This is the first duty of a minister; for without this all his preaching will be vain. Compare Colossians 4:17; 1 Timothy 4:14. Ministers are beset with unique dangers and temptations, and against them they should be on their guard. In addition to the temptations which they have in common with other people, they are exposed to those special to their office - arising from flattery, and ambition, and despondency, and worldly-mindedness. And just in proportion to the importance of their office is the importance of the injunction of Paul, to take heed to themselves.

And to all the flock - The church; the charge entrusted to them. The church of Christ is often compared to a flock. See the John 10:1-20 notes; also John 21:15-17 notes. The word “flock” here refers particularly to the church, and not to the congregation in general, for it is represented to be what was purchased with the blood of the atonement. The command here is:

(1) To take heed to the church; that is, to instruct, teach, and guide it; to guard it from enemies Acts 20:29, and to make it their special object to promote its welfare.

(2) To take heed to all the flock the rich and the poor, the bond and the free, the old and the young. It is the duty of ministers to seek to promote the welfare of each individual of their charge not to pass by the poor because they are poor, and not to be afraid of the rich because they are rich. A shepherd regards the I interest of the tenderest of the fold as much as the strongest; and a faithful minister will seek to advance the interest of all. To do this he should know all his people; should be acquainted, as far as possible, with their unique needs, character, and dangers, and should devote himself to their welfare as his first and main employment.

Over the which the Holy Ghost - Though they had been appointed, doubtless, by the church, or by the apostles, yet it is here represented as having been done by the Holy Spirit. It was by him:

  1. Because he had called and qualified them for their work; and,
  2. Because they had been set apart in accordance with his direction and will.

Overseers - ἐπισκόπους episkopous. “Bishops.” The word properly denotes those who are appointed “to oversee or inspect anything.” This passage proves that the name “bishop” was applicable to elders; that in the time of the apostles, the name “bishop” and “presbyter,” or “elder,” was given to the same class of officers, and, of course, that there was no distinction between them. One term was originally used to denote “office,” the other term denotes “age,” and both words were applied to the same persons in the congregation. The same thing occurs in Titus 1:5-7, where those who in Titus 1:5 are called “elders,” are in Titus 1:7 called “bishops.” See also 1 Timothy 3:1-10; Philippians 1:1.

To feed - ποιμαίνειν poimainein. This word is properly applied to the care which a shepherd exercises over his flock. See the notes on John 21:15-16. It is applicable not only to the act of feeding a flock, but also to that of protecting, guiding, and guarding it. It here denotes not merely the “duty” of instructing the church, but also of “governing” it; of “securing” it from enemies Acts 20:29, and of “directing” its affairs so as to promote its edification and peace.

The church of God - This is one of three passages in the New Testament in regard to which there has been a long controversy among critics, which is not yet determined. The controversy is, whether is this the correct and genuine reading. The other two passages are, 1 Timothy 3:16, and 1 John 5:7. The mss. and versions here exhibit three readings: “the church of God” τοῦ Θεός tou Theos the church of the Lord τοῦ Κυρίου tou Kuriou; and the church of the Lord and God Κυρίος καὶ Θεός Kurios kai Theos. The Latin Vulgate reads it “God.” The Syriac, “the Lord.” The Arabic, “the Lord God.” The Ethiopic, “the Christian family of God.” The reading which now occurs in our text is found in no ancient mss. except the Vatican Codex, and occurs nowhere among the writings of the fathers except in Athanasius, in regard to whom also there is a various reading.

It is retained, however, by Beza, Mill, and Whitby as the genuine reading. The most ancient mss., and the best, read “the church of the Lord,” and this probably was the genuine text. It has been adopted by Griesbach and Wetstein; and many important reasons may be given why it should be retained. See those reasons stated at length in Kuinoel “in loco”; see also Griesbach and Wetstein. It may be remarked, that a change from Lord to God might easily be made in the transcribing, for in ancient mss. the words are not written at length, but are abbreviated. Thus, the name Christ Χριστός Christos is written ChoS; the name God θεός theos is written ThoS; the name Lord κύριος kurios is written KOS; and a mistake, therefore, of a single letter would lead to the variations observable in the manuscripts. Compare in this place the note of Mill in his Greek Testament. The authority for the name “God” is so doubtful that it should not be used as a proof text on the divinity of Christ, and is not necessary, as there are so many undisputed passages on that subject.

Which he hath purchased - The word used here περιεποιήσατο periepoiēsato occurs but in one other place in the New Testament - 1 Timothy 3:13, “For they that have used the office of deacon well, purchase to themselves a good degree and great boldness in the faith.” The word properly means “to acquire or gain anything; to make it ours.” This may be done by a price, or by labor, etc. The noun (περιποίησις peripoiēsis) derived from this verb is used several times in the New Testament, and denotes “acquisition:” 1 Thessalonians 5:9, God hath appointed us “to obtain” (unto the obtaining or acquisition of) salvation”; 2 Thessalonians 2:14, “Whereunto he called you by our gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ”; 1 Peter 2:9; Titus 2:14; Ephesians 1:14. In this place it means that Christ had “acquired, gained, or procured,” the church for himself by paying his own life as the price. The church is often represented as having thus been bought with a price, 1Co 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 2 Peter 2:1.

With his own blood - With the sacrifice of his own life; for blood is often put for life, and to shed the blood is equivalent to faking the life. See the notes on Romans 3:25. The doctrines taught here are:

(1) That the death of Christ was an atoning sacrifice; that he offered himself to purchase a people to his own service.

(2) That the church is, therefore, of special value a value to be estimated by the price paid for it. Compare 1 Peter 1:18-19.

(3) That this fact should make the purity and salvation of the church an object of special solicitude with ministers of the gospel. They should be deeply affected in view of that blood which has been shed for the church; and they should guard and defend it as having been bought with the highest price in the universe. The chief consideration that will make ministers faithful and self-denying is, that the church has been bought with a price. If the Lord Jesus so loved it; if he gave himself for it, they should be willing to deny themselves; to watch, and toil, and pray, that the great object of his death the purity and the salvation of that church - may be obtained.

Verse 29

For I know this - By what he had seen in other places; by his knowledge of human nature, and of the dangers to which they were exposed; and by the guidance of inspiration.

After my departure - His presence had been the means of guarding the church, and preserving it from these dangers. Now that the founder and guide of the church was to be removed, they would be exposed to dissensions and dangers.

Grievous wolves - Heavy βαρεῖς bareis, strong, mighty, dangerous wolves - so strong that the feeble flock would not be able to resist them. The term “wolves” is used to denote “the enemies of the flock - false, and hypocritical, and dangerous teachers.” Compare Matthew 10:16.

Enter in among you - From abroad; doubtless referring particularly to the Jews, who might be expected to distract and divide them.

Not sparing the flock - Seeking to destroy the church. The Jews would regard it with special hostility, and would seek to destroy it in every way. Probably they would approach them with great professed friendship for them, and expressing a desire only to defend the laws of Moses.

Verse 30

Also of your own selves - From your own church; from those who profess to. be Christians.

Speaking perverse things - Crooked, perverted, distracting doctrines διεστραμμένα diestrammena. Compare the notes on Acts 13:10. They would proclaim doctrines tending to distract and divide the church. The most dangerous enemies which the church has had have been nurtured in its own bosom, and have consisted of those who have perverted the true doctrines of the gospel. Among the Ephesians, as among the Corinthians 1 Corinthians 1:11-13, there might be parties formed; there might be people influenced by ambition, like Diotrephes 3 John 1:9, or like Phygellus or Hermogenes 2 Timothy 1:15, or like Hymeneus and Alexander, 1 Timothy 1:20. Men under the influence of ambition, or from the love of power or popularity, form parties in the church, produce divisions and distractions, and greatly retard its internal prosperity, and mar its peace. The church of Christ would have little to fear from external enemies if it nurtured no foes in its own bosom; and all the power of persecutors is not so much to be dreaded as the plans, the parties, the strifes, the heart burnings, and the contentions which are produced by those who love and seek power, among the professed friends of Christ.

Verse 31

Therefore watch - Matthew 24:42. In view of the dangers which beset yourselves Acts 20:28, the danger from people not connected with the church Acts 20:29, and the danger which will arise from the love of power among yourselves Acts 20:30, be on your guard. Observe the approach of danger, and set yourselves against it.

Remember - Recall my counsels and admonitions in reference to these dangers.

By the space of three years - In Acts 19:10, we are told that Paul spent two years in the school of Tyrannus. In Acts 19:8, it is said that he was teaching in the synagogue at Ephesus three months. In addition to this, it is not improbable that he spent some months more in Ephesus in instructing the church in other places. Perhaps, however, by the phrase three years, he meant to use merely a round number, denoting about three years; or, in accordance with the Jewish custom, part of each of the three years one whole year, and a considerable portion of the two others. Compare the notes on Matthew 12:40.

I ceased not - I continued to do it.

To warn - To admonish; to place before the mind νουθετῶν nouthetōn; setting the danger and duty of each individual before him.

Everyone - He had thus set them an example of what he had enjoined, Acts 20:28. He had admonished each individual, whatever was his rank or standing. It is well when a minister can refer to his own example as an illustration of what he meant by his precepts.

Night and day - Continually; by every opportunity.

With tears - Expressive of his deep feeling, and his deep interest in their welfare. See the notes on Acts 20:19.

Verse 32

And now, brethren - About to leave them, probably to see them no more, he committed them to the faithful care and keeping of God Amidst all the dangers of the church, when human strength fails or is withdrawn, we may commit that church to the safe keeping and tender care of God.

I commend you - I commit you; I place you παρατίθεμαι paratithemai in his hands and under his protection. See the notes on Acts 14:23.

And to the word of his grace - That is, to his gracious word; to his merciful promise. Paul refers, doubtless, to the gospel, including its promises of support, its consoling truths, and its directions to seek all needful help and comfort in God.

Which is able - Which has power. Τῷ δυναμένῳ Tō dunamenō. Which word, or gospel, has power to build you up, Hebrews 4:12, “For the Word of God is quick (living, life-giving, ζῶν zōn), and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, etc.” Compare Isaiah 49:2; Jeremiah 23:29, “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” It is implied here that the gospel is not a dead letter; that it has power to accomplish a great work; that it is adapted to the end in view, the conversion and sanctification of the soul. There is no danger in representing the gospel as mighty, and as suited by infinite wisdom to secure the renovation and salvation of man. Compare Romans 1:16; 1Co 1:18; 2 Corinthians 10:4.

To build you up - The word used here is properly applied to a house which is raised and completed by slow degrees, and by toil. It here means to establish, make firm, or permanent, and hence, to instruct, to establish in doctrine and in hope. The idea is, that the Word of God was able to confirm and establish them, amidst the dangers to which they would be exposed.

And to give you an inheritance - To make you heirs, or to make you joint partakers with the saints of the blessings in reserve for the children of God. Those blessings are often represented as an inheritance, or heirship, which God will confer on his adopted children, Matthew 19:29; Matthew 25:34; Mark 10:17; Hebrews 6:12; Revelation 21:7; Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 1:12; Colossians 3:24; Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:29.

Among all them which are sanctified - With all who are holy; with an the saints. See the notes on John 10:36. Those who shall be saved are made holy. They who receive a part in the inheritance beyond the grave will have it only among the sanctified and the pure. They must, therefore, be pure themselves, or they can have no part in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Verse 33

I have coveted - I have not desired. I have not made it an object of my living among you to obtain your property. Thus, 2 Corinthians 12:14 he says, “I seek not yours, but you.” Paul had power to demand support in the, ministry as the reward of his labor, 1 Corinthians 9:13-14. Yet he did not choose to exercise it, lest it should bring the charge of avarice against the ministry, 1 Corinthians 9:12, 1 Corinthians 9:15. He also had power in another respect. He had a vast influence over the people. The early Christians were disposed to commit their property to the disposal of the apostles. See Acts 4:34-35, Acts 4:37. The pagan had been accustomed to devote their property to the support of religion. Of this propensity, if the object of Paul had been to make money, he might have availed himself, and have become enriched. Deceivers often thus impose upon people for the purpose of amassing wealth; and one of the incidental but striking proofs of the truth of the Christian religion is here furnished in the appeal which the apostle Paul made to his hearers, that this had not been his motive. If it had been, how easy would it have been for them to have contradicted him! And who, in such circumstances, would have dared to make such an appeal? The circumstances of the case, therefore, prove that the object of the apostle was not to amass wealth. And this fact is an important proof of the truth of the religion which he defended. What should have induced him to labor and toil in this manner but a conviction of the truth of Christianity? And if he really believed it was true, it is, in his circumstances, a strong proof that this religion is from heaven. See this proof stated in Faber’s “Difficulties of Infidelity,” and in Lord Lyttleton’s “Letter on the Conversion of Paul.”

Or apparel - Raiment. Changes of raiment among the ancients, as at present among the Orientals, constituted an important part of their property. See the notes on Matthew 6:19.

Verse 34

Yea, ye yourselves know - By your own acquaintance with my manner of life. In Corinth he had lived and labored with Apollos (note, Acts 18:3); and he refers elsewhere to the fact that he had supported himself, in part at least, by his own labor, 1Co 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8. We may hence learn that it is no discredit to a minister to labor. Whatever it may be to a people who put him under a necessity to toil for his support, yet the example of Paul shows that a man should rejoice in the privilege of preaching the gospel, even if it is done while he is obliged to resort to labor for his daily bread. It is well when a minister of the gospel can make an appeal to his people like this of Paul, and say, “I have coveted no man’s gold, or silver, or apparel.” Every minister should so live that he can make this appeal to their own consciences of the sincerity and disinterestedness of his labors from the pulpit; or when called to separate from them as Paul did; or when on a dying bed. Every minister of the gospel, when be comes to lie down to die, will desire to be able to make this appeal, and to leave a solemn testimony there, that it was not for gold, or ease, or fame, that he toiled in the ministerial office. How much more influence will such a man have than he who has been worldly-minded; he who has sought to become rich; and he, the only memorials of whose life is, that he has sought “the fleece, not the flock” - that he has gained the property, not the souls of people.

Verse 35

I have showed you - I have taught you by instruction and example. I have not merely discoursed about it, but have showed you how to do it.

All things - Or, in respect to all things. In everything that respects preaching and the proper mode of life, I have for three years set you an example, illustrating the design, nature, and duties of the office by my own self-denials and toil.

How that - Or, that - ὅτι hoti. I have showed you that ye should by so laboring support the weak.

So labouring - Laboring as I have done. Setting this example, and ministering in this way to the needs of others.

To support the weak - To provide for the needs of the sick and feeble members of the flock, who are unable to labor for themselves. “The weak” here denotes “the poor, the needy, the infirmed.”

And to remember - To call to mind for encouragement, and with the force of a command,

The words of the Lord Jesus - These words are nowhere recorded by the evangelists. But they did not pretend to record all his sayings and instructions. Compare John 21:25. There is the highest reason to suppose that many of his sayings which are not recorded would be treasured up by those who heard them; would be transmitted to others; and would be regarded as a precious part of his instructions. Paul evidently addresses the elders of Ephesus as if they had heard this before, and were acquainted with it. Perhaps he had himself reminded them of it. This is one of the Redeemer’s most precious sayings; and it seems even to have a special value from the fact that it is not recorded in the regular and professed histories of his life. It comes to us recovered, as it were, from the great mass of his unrecorded sayings; rescued from that oblivion to which it was hastening if left to mere tradition, and placed in permanent form in the sacred writings by the act of an apostle who had never seen the Saviour before his crucifixion. It is a precious relic - a memento of the Saviour - and the effect of it is to make us regret that more of his words were not recovered from an uncertain tradition, and placed in a permanent form by an inspired penman. God, however, who knows what is requisite to guide us, has directed the words which are needful for the welfare of the church, and has preserved by inspiration the doctrines which are adapted to convert and bless man.

It is more blessed to give - It is a higher privilege; it tends more to the happiness of the individual and of the world. The giver is more blessed or happy than the receiver. This appears:

(1) Because it is a condition for which we should be thankful when we are in a situation to promote the happiness of others.

(2) Because it tends to promote the happiness of the benefactor himself. There is pleasure in the act of giving when it is done with pure motives. It promotes our own peace; is followed by happiness in the recollection of it; and will be followed by happiness forever. That is the most truly happy man who is most benevolent. He is the most miserable who has never known the luxury of doing good, but who lives to gain all he can, and to hoard all he gains.

(3) It is blessed in the reward that shall result from it. Those who give from a pure motive God will bless. They will be rewarded, not only in the peace which they shall experience in this life, but in the higher bliss of heaven, Matthew 25:34-36. We may also remark that this is a sentiment truly great and noble. It is worthy of the Son of God. It is that on which he himself acted when he came to give pardon to the guilty, comfort to the disconsolate and the mourner, peace to the anxious sinner, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, life to the dead, and heaven to the guilty and the lost. Acting on this, he gave his own tears to weep over human sorrows and human guilt; his own labors and toils to instruct and save man; his own life a sacrifice for sin on the cross. Loving to give, he has freely given us all things. Loving to give, he delights in the same character in his followers, and seeks that they who have wealth, and strength, and influence should be willing to give all to save the world. Imitating his great example, and complying with his command, the church shall yet learn more and more to give its wealth to bless the poor and needy; its sons and its daughters to bear the gospel to the benighted pagan; its undivided and constant efforts to save a lost world. Here closes this speech of Paul; an address of inimitable tenderness and beauty. Happy would it be if every minister could bid such an adieu to his people, when called to part from them; and happy if, at the close of life, every Christian could leave the world with a like consciousness that he had been faithful in the discharge of his duty. Thus dying, it will be blessed to leave the world; and thus would the example of the saints live in the memory of survivors long after they themselves have ascended to their rest.

Verse 36

He kneeled down - The usual attitude of prayer. It is the proper posture of a suppliant. It indicates reverence and humility; and is represented in the Scriptures as the usual attitude of devotion, 2 Chronicles 6:13; Daniel 6:10; Luke 22:41; Acts 7:60; Acts 9:40; Acts 21:5; Romans 11:4; Philippians 2:10; Ephesians 3:14; Mark 1:40.

Verse 37

Wept sore - Wept much. Greek: “There was a great weeping of all.”

And fell on Paul’s neck - Embraced him, as a token of tender affection. The same thing Joseph did when he met his aged father Jacob, Genesis 46:29.

And kissed him - This was the common token of affection. See the Matthew 26:48 note; Luke 15:20 note; Romans 16:16 note; 1 Corinthians 16:20 note.

Verse 38

Sorrowing most of all ... - This was a most tender and affectionate parting scene. It can be more easily imagined than described. We may learn from it:

(1) That the parting of ministers and people is a most solemn event, and should be one of much tenderness and affection.

(2) The effect of true religion is to make the heart more tender; to make friendship more affectionate and sacred; and to unite more closely the bonds of love.

(3) Ministers of the gospel should be prepared to leave their people with the same consciousness of fidelity and the same kindness and love which Paul evinced. They should live such lives as to be able to look back upon their whole ministry as pure and disinterested, and as having been employed in guarding the flock, and in making known to them the whole counsel of God. So parting, they may separate in peace; and so living and acting, they will be prepared to give up their account with joy, and not with grief. May God grant to every minister the spirit which Paul evinced at Ephesus, and enable each one, when called to leave his people by death or otherwise, to do it with the same consciousness of fidelity which Paul evinced when he left his people to see their face no more.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 20". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/acts-20.html. 1870.
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