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Bible Commentaries
Acts 20

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


(1) Paul called unto him the disciples, and embraced them . . .—The latter verb implies a farewell salutation.

Departed for to go into Macedonia.—We are able from the Epistles to the Corinthians to fill up the gap left in the narrative of the Acts. Having sent Timotheus and Erastus to see after the discipline of the Church of Corinth (Acts 19:17), the Apostle was cheered by the coming of Stephanas and his two companions (1 Corinthians 16:17), and apparently wrote by them what is now the First Epistle to the Corinthians. A previous Epistle had been sent, probably by Timothy, to which he refers in 1 Corinthians 4:17. When he wrote that Epistle he intended to press on quickly and complete in person the work which it was to begin (1 Corinthians 4:18-19). He was led, however, to change his purpose, and to take the land journey through Macedonia instead of going by sea to Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:16-17), and so from Corinth to Macedonia, as he had at first intended. He was anxious to know the effect of his letter before he took any further action, and Titus, who probably accompanied the bearers of that letter, was charged to hasten back to Troas with his report. On coming to Troas, however, he did not find him, and after waiting for some time in vain (2 Corinthians 2:12), the anxiety told upon his health. He despaired of life and felt as if the sentence of death was passed on him (2 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 4:10-11). The mysterious thorn in the flesh “buffeted” him with more severity than ever (2 Corinthians 12:7). He pressed on, however, to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:13), probably to Philippi, as being the first of the churches he had planted, where he would find loving friends and the “beloved physician,” whose services he now needed more than ever. There, or elsewhere in Macedonia, Titus joined him, and brought tidings that partly cheered him, partly roused his indignation. There had been repentance and reformation where he most wished to see them, on the one hand (2 Corinthians 6:6-12); on the other, his enemies said bitter things of him, sneered at his bodily infirmities (2 Corinthians 10:10), and compared, to his disparagement, the credentials which Apollos had presented (2 Corinthians 3:1) with his lack of them. The result was that Titus was sent back with the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, accompanied by some other disciple (probably St. Luke, but see Notes on 2 Corinthians 8:18-19), the Apostle resolving to wait till they had brought matters into better order and had collected what had been laid up in store for the Church of Jerusalem, so that it might be ready for him on his arrival (2 Corinthians 9:5). At or about this time also, to judge from the numerous parallelisms of thought and language between it and the Epistles to the Corinthians on the one hand, and that to the Romans on the other, we must place the date of the Epistle to the Galatians. (See Introduction to that Epistle.) Probably after Titus and Luke had left, and before Timotheus had returned—when he was alone, with no one to share the labour of writing, or to give help and counsel—tidings came that the Judaising teachers had been there also, and had been only too successful. How the tidings reached him we do not know, but if the purple-seller of Thyatira was still at Philippi, she might naturally be in receipt of communications from that city, and it was near enough to Galatia to know what was passing there.

Verse 2

(2) And when he had gone over those parts.—Here also we can fill up the outline of the narrative from the Epistles. We may take for granted that St. Paul would revisit the churches which he had himself founded at Thessalonica and Beræa, as well as at Philippi. The names in Acts 20:4 indicate that delegates were chosen, probably by his direction, for the great journey to Jerusalem, which he now began to contemplate. Romans 15:19 indicates a yet wider range of activity. He had taken the great Roman road across Macedonia, and going westward to the shores of the Adriatic, had preached the gospel in Illyricum, where as yet it had not been heard.

He came into Greece.—The word Hellas, or Greece, seems used as synonymous with Achaia, the southern province. This may have led to an unrecorded visit to Athens. It certainly brought him to Corinth and Cenchreæ. There, we may hope, he found all his hopes fulfilled. Gaius was there to receive him as a guest, and Erastus was still a faithful friend. There, if not before, he found Timotheus, and he had with him Jason of Thessalonica and Sosipater of Berœa (Romans 16:21-23). In one respect, however, he found a great change, and missed many friends. The decree of Claudius had either been revoked or was no longer acted on. Aquila and Priscilla had gone straight from Ephesus to Rome on hearing that they could do so with safety, and with them the many friends, male and female, most of them of the libertini class, whom he had known in Corinth, and whose names fill so large a space in Romans 16:0. The desire which he had felt before (Acts 19:21) to see Rome was naturally strengthened by their absence. His work in Greece was done, and he felt an impulse, not merely human, drawing him to the further west. A rapid journey to Jerusalem, a short visit there, to show how generous were the gifts which the Gentile Churches sent to the Churches of the Circumcision, and then the desire of his life might be gratified. To preach the gospel in Rome, to pass on from Rome to the Jews at Cordova and other cities in Spain (Romans 15:24-28),—that was what he now proposed to himself. How different a path was actually marked out for him the sequel of the story shows.

Verse 3

(3) When the Jews laid wait for him . . .—In sailing for Syria, Cenchreæ would naturally be the port of embarkation, and St. Paul’s presence there may reasonably be connected with the mention of Phœbe, the deaconess of that church, in Romans 16:1. His intention was, however, frustrated. The malignant Jews of Corinth watched their opportunity. At Cenchreæ, amid the stir and bustle of a port, they might do what they had failed to do before. Here there was no Gallio to curb their fury, and throw the ægis of his tolerant equity over their victim. Their plans were laid, and their victim was to be seized and made away with as he was on the point of embarking. On hearing of the plot, the Apostle had to change his plans, and started with his companions for Macedonia, either travelling by land or taking a ship bound for one of its ports, instead of the one bound for Cæsarea, or Tyre, or Joppa. It is clear that the latter course would have baffled his murderers quite as much as the former.

Verse 4

(4) And there accompanied him into Asia . . .—The occurrence of the two names, Timotheus and Sosipater (another form of Sopater) in Romans 16:21 makes it probable that all of those here named were with St. Paul at Corinth. As they were to go with him to Jerusalem, it was indeed natural they should have gone to the city from which he intended to embark. It is not difficult to discover the reason of their accompanying him. He was carrying up a large sum in trust for the churches of Judæa, and he sought to avoid even the suspicion of the malversations which the tongue of slanderers was so ready to impute to him (2 Corinthians 8:20-21). Representatives were accordingly chosen from the leading churches, who acting, as it were, as auditors of his accounts, would be witnesses that all was right. As regards the individual names, we note as follows: (1) The name of Sopater, or Sosipater, occurs in the inscription on the arch named in the Note on Acts 17:8 as belonging to one of the politarchs of Thessalonica. (2) Aristarchus had been a fellow-worker with St. Paul at Ephesus, and had been a sufferer in the tumult raised by Demetrius (Acts 19:29). (3) Of Secundus nothing is known, but the name may be compared with Tertius in Romans 16:22, and Quartus in Romans 16:23, as suggesting the probability that all three were sons of a disciple who had adopted this plan of naming his children. The corresponding name of Primus occurs in an inscription from the Catacombs now in the Lateran Museum, as belonging to an exorcist, and might seem, at first, to supply the missing link; but the inscription is probably of later date. In any case, it is a probable inference that the three belonged to the freed-man or slave class, who had no family names; and the Latin form of their names suggests that they had been originally Roman Jews, an inference confirmed by the fact that both Tertius and Quartus send salutations to their brethren in the imperial city (Romans 16:22-23). The names Primitivus and Primitiva, which occur both in Christian and Jewish inscriptions in the same Museum, are more or less analogous. (4) Gains of Derbe. The Greek sentence admits of the description being attached to the name of Timotheus which follows; and the fact that a Caius has already appeared in close connection with Aristarchus makes this construction preferable. On this assumption he, too, came from Thessalonica. (See Note on Acts 19:29.) (5) Timotheus. (See Note on Acts 16:1.) (6) Tychicus. The name, which means “fortunate,” the Greek equivalent for Felix, was very common among slaves and freed-men. It is found in an inscription in the Lateran Museum from the Cemetery of Priscilla; and in a non-Christian inscription, giving the names of the household of the Emperor Claudius, in the Vatican Museum, as belonging to an architect. The Tychicus of the Acts would seem to have been a disciple from Ephesus, where men of that calling would naturally find an opening. Such vocations tended naturally, as has been said in the Note on Acts 19:9, to become hereditary. (7) Trophimus (= “nursling,” or “foster-child” was, again, a name of the same class, almost as common as Onesimus ( = “profitable”). In a very cursory survey of inscriptions from the Columbaria and Catacombs of Rome, I have noted the recurrence of the former four, and of the latter five times Trophimus appears again in Acts 21:29, and is described more definitely as an Ephesian. We find him again in contact with St. Paul towards the close of the Apostle’s life, in 2 Timothy 4:20. That they were seven in number suggests the idea of a reproduction either of the idea of the Seven, who are commonly called Deacons in Acts 6:0, or of the Roman institution upon which that was probably based. It may be noted here, in addition to what has there been said on the subject, that the well-known pyramidal monument of Caius Cestius, of the time of Augustus, near the Porta Latina at Rome, records that he was one of the Septemviri Epulonum there referred to.

We must not forget what the sudden change to the first person plural in the next verse reminds us of, that the name of Luke has to be added to the list of St. Paul’s companions. We may, perhaps, assume that he went less as an official delegate from the Church of Philippi than as a friend, and probably, St. Paul’s health needing his services, as physician.

Verse 5

(5) These going before tarried for us at Troas.—Two motives may be assigned for this arrangement—(1) It enabled St. Paul to keep the Passover with the church at Philippi, starting “after the days of unleavened bread,” and that feast was already assuming a new character as the festival of the Resurrection, bringing with it also the commemoration that “Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8); (2) The disciples who went on in advance would announce St. Paul’s coming to the church of Troas, and so there would be a full gathering to receive him and listen to him on his arrival.

Verse 6

(6) And came unto them to Troas in five days.—The voyage from Troas to Philippi (see Notes on Acts 16:11-12) had taken only three days, but the ship had now to contend against the south-west current that set in from the Dardanelles, and probably also against the Etesian winds blowing from the north-east that prevail in the Archipelago in the spring.

Where we abode seven days.—It lies on the surface that the motive for this stay was to keep the Lord’s day (the name was probably already current; see Revelation 1:10), and to partake with the Church of what, even before the date of this journey, St. Paul had already spoken of as the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20).

Verse 7

(7) Upon the first day of the week . . .—This and the counsel given in 1 Corinthians 16:2, are distinct proofs that the Church had already begun to observe the weekly festival of the Resurrection in place of, or, where the disciples were Jews, in addition to, the weekly Sabbath. It lies in the nature of the case that those who were slaves, or freed-men still in service, under heathen masters could not transfer to it the rigid abstinence from labour which characterised the Jewish Sabbath. And on this day they met together, obviously in the evening after sunset, to “break bread.” On the half- technical significance of that phrase, as applied specially to the Lord’s Supper, the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, see Notes on Acts 2:46, and 1 Corinthians 10:16. Two further questions, however, present themselves—(1) On what evening was the meeting held? (2) How far was a meal such as was known as the Agapè, or Feast of Charity, united with the Lord’s Supper? In answer to (1), it seems probable that in churches which were so largely organised on the framework of the Jewish synagogue, and contained so many Jews and proselytes who had been familiar with its usages, the Jewish mode of reckoning would still be kept, and that, as the Sabbath ended at sunset, the first day of the week would begin at sunset on what was then or soon afterwards known as Saturday. In this case, the meeting of which we read would be held on what we should call the Saturday evening, and the feast would present some analogies to the prevalent Jewish custom of eating bread and drinking wine at that time in honour of the departed Sabbath (Jost, Gesch. Judenthums, i. 180). (2) Looking to St. Paul’s directions in 1 Corinthians 11:33-34, it is probable that the hour of the “breaking bread” became gradually later, so as to allow those who would otherwise have been hungry to take their evening meal at home before they came. The natural result of this arrangement was, as in the instance now before us, to throw the Eucharistic rite forward to midnight, or even later; and, as this was obviously likely to cause both inconvenience and scandal, the next step was to separate it entirely from the Agapè, and to celebrate the purely symbolic feast very early in the morning of the first day of the week, while the actual meal came later in the evening of the same day. That this was so in the regions of Troas and Asia we see from Pliny’s letter to Trajan (Epp. x. 96), in which he describes the Christians as meeting on “a fixed day,” for what he calls a sacramentum at break of day, and again in the evening to partake of a simple and innocent repast. At Troas we have the connecting-link between the evening communion of the Church of Corinth, and the morning celebration which has been for many centuries the universal practice of the Church.

Paul preached unto them.—The fact has a liturgical interest as showing that then, as in the more developed services of the second and third centuries, the sermon, and the lessons from Scripture which it implied, preceded what we now know as the Celebration.

Ready to depart on the morrow.—It may perhaps seem to some strange, taking the view maintained in the previous Note, that the Apostle and his companions should thus purpose to travel on a day to which we have transferred so many of the restrictions of the Jewish Sabbath. But it must be remembered (1) that there is no evidence that St. Paul thought of them as so transferred, but rather the contrary (Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:16); and (2) that the ship in which his friends had taken their passage was not likely to alter its day of starting to meet their scruples, even had those scruples existed.

Verse 8

(8) And there were many lights in the upper chamber.—We learn from Acts 20:9 that it was on the third floor of the house. In the high narrow streets of Eastern towns the upper storey is often chosen for social or devotional purposes, partly as more removed from the noise of the street, partly as giving access to the roof of the house. Such a room in a good sized house might well hold two or three hundred people. It is a fair inference also that the vividness and minuteness of the account indicate that we have the narrative of an eye-witness. The lamps or torches (see Notes on Matthew 5:15; Matthew 25:3; John 5:35) are probably mentioned, partly as accounting for the sleep of Eutychus by the heat and closeness of the room, partly, perhaps, as an indirect answer to the calumny loudly asserted afterwards (Tertull. Apol. c. 8), and probably even then whispered, that at the meetings of the Christians the lamps were extinguished and free scope given for deeds of shameless licence. There is no ground for assuming that the lamps at this early period had any distinctive ritual or symbolic character, though it would be a natural expression of respect that two or more should be placed in front of the Apostle, or other presiding elder, at such a meeting, on either side of the loaf which was to be broken, and the cup which was to be blest. The position of the celebrant (to use a later, but convenient term) may have been, as in the original institution of the Supper, recumbent on the triclinium, or couch, which was at this time used by both Greeks and Romans. It is obvious, however, that this would be an inconvenient posture for distribution to a large assembly, and the special mention of “the Lord’s table” in 1 Corinthians 10:21, leads to the conclusion that there was a separate high table (to borrow the familiar language of a college or Inn of Court) at which the celebrant and other ministers sat, their backs to the wall, their faces to the people, and that from that table they distributed the bread and wine, either by taking them, or sending them by the deacons or other ministers, to those who sat in the body of the room, or by giving it to the congregation as they came up to the table in detachments. The later practice of the Church, and the absence of any indication in patristic writings that there was an abrupt change, makes the latter the more probable alternative. The table, so placed, served as a transition stage between the triclinium and the altar of the later basilica. The primitive arrangement in which the priest faces the congregation and stands behind the altar, it may be noted, was at first retained in most of the basilicas, and survives to the present day in some of the churches of that type in Rome—as, for example, in that of S. Clemente. This, therefore, and not any eastward or southward position, may claim to be, as has been well said, “at once the most primitive, the most Catholic, the most Protestant” of Eucharistic usages.

Verse 9

(9) There sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus . . .—The name, like those of kindred meaning, such as Felix, Felicia, Felicissimus, Syntyche, Epaphroditus, Fortunatus, Faustus, Felicitas, was sufficiently common, especially among the freed-man class. In one instance, in an inscription in the Collegio Romano, the two names of Eutychus and Felicia appear as belonging to husband and wife.

And was taken up dead.—What follows is obviously related as a miraculous resuscitation; but it may be questioned, looking to St. Paul’s words, “his life is in him,” whether more than apparent death is meant. He was to all appearance dead—would have died but for the prayer of the Apostle; but there had been no fracture of limb or skull, and the cause of death, or of the state that looked like death, was the shock given to the brain and nerves by the violence of the fall.

Verse 10

(10) Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him . . .—The act reminds us of those of Elijah (1 Kings 17:21), and Elisha (2 Kings 4:34). The close contact, the clasp of warm affection, gave a new intensity to the prayer of faith, and, as a current of vitality passed, as it were, from the one body to the other, enabled the Apostle to feel that the heart had not ceased to beat, and to give the calming assurance, “his life is in him.” The whole scene is painted, as before, vividly, as by an eye-witness. We have to think of the cries of alarm, the rush of men down the staircase from the third floor with lamps and torches in their hands, the wail of sorrow on finding what looked like death, the undisturbed calmness of the Apostle, sure that his prayer was answered, and returning quietly, leaving the motionless body in the cool night air, to finish the interrupted discourse.

Verse 11

(11) And had broken bread, and eaten.—Better, broken the bread and tasted. In the early usage of the Lord’s Supper the bread was not made, as in the Latin Church, in the form of circular wafers, nor cut up into small cubes, as in most Reformed Churches. The loaf, probably a long roll, was placed before the celebrant, and each piece was broken off as it was given to the communicant. Stress is laid on this practice in 1 Corinthians 10:16, and indeed in the very term of “breaking of bread” as a synonym for the Lord’s Supper. (See Note on Acts 2:46.) Whether the next act of “eating” refers to the actual communion (we are obliged to use technical terms for the sake of definiteness), or to a repast, or Agapè, we have no adequate data for deciding. The use of the same verb, however, in “tasting of the heavenly gift,” in Hebrews 6:4, suggests the former, and it is probable that the portion of bread and wine thus taken, in the primitive celebration, would be enough to constitute a real refreshment, and to enable the Apostle to continue his discourse.

Even till break of day.—The whole service must have lasted some seven or eight hours, sunrise at this time of the year, shortly after the Passover, being between 5 and 6 A.M. The inconvenience of such a protracted service led, as has been stated (see Note on Acts 20:7), to the transfer of the Lord’s Supper from the evening of Saturday to the early morning of Sunday, a position which, with some moderate variations, it has retained ever since, till the introduction in recent times of the yet more primitive practice of an evening celebration.

Verse 13

(13) And sailed unto Assos.—The port of Assos. lay about twenty-four miles to the south of Troas. We can only conjecture St. Paul’s motives for going thither himself by land while his companions went by sea. In Acts 16:8 we find that he had avoided Mysia to press on to Troas; but he may well have extended his labours thither during his two years’ sojourn in Asia, and have wished, before he started for Jerusalem, in the full belief that he was never to return to those regions (Acts 20:25), to say a few words of parting counsel. Possibly, also, after the exciting scene at Troas, he may have been glad to have even a couple of days of comparative solitude for meditation and prayer as to the great work that lay before him, before embarking on the ship, with all its motley crew of passengers and sailors.

Verse 14

(14) We took him in, and came to Mitylene.—This was the capital of Lesbos, and furnished the island with its modern name of Mitilini.

Verse 15

(15) We sailed thence . . .—After the usual manner of the Mediterranean navigation of the time, the ship put into harbour, where it was possible, every evening. Each of the stations named—Lesbos, Chios, Samos—has legendary and historical associations of its own, full of interest for the classical student; but these, we may well believe—the revolt of Mitylene in the Peloponnesian War (Thuc. Book iii.), the brilliant tyranny of Polycrates at Samos (Herod. iii. 39-56), even “the blind old man of Scio’s rocky isle”—were nothing to the Apostle and his companions. Trogyllium, the last station named before Miletus, was a promontory on the mainland, forming the extremity of the ridge of Mycale, and separated from Samos by a narrow channel of about a mile in width. Miletus, famous for its dyes and woollen manufactures, memorable in its earlier history for the disastrous issue of its revolt against Persia (Herod. v. 28-36), was practically the port of Ephesus, the harbour of which had been gradually choked by the accumulation of silted-up sand.

Verse 16

(16) For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus.—The English phrase is unfortunately ambiguous. What is meant is that he had decided to continue his voyage without going to Ephesus—to pass it by.

To be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.—The motives for this wish lie on the surface. (1) It was, as has been said in the Note on Acts 2:1, the Feast that attracted most pilgrims from all parts of the world, and therefore gave most scope for his work as an Apostle, especially for the great task of healing the growing breach between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. (2) It revived the memories and the power of the great day which had been the birthday of the Church’s life as a distinct society. (3) St. Paul was contemplating a journey from Syria to Rome after his visit, and that would hardly have been feasible had he waited for the Feast of the Tabernacles. It might have seemed at first as if there was little gained in point of time by sending for the elders to come to him instead of going to them. We must remember, however, that had he taken the journey he would have been exposed to the accidents of travel, perhaps to a fresh riot like that of Demetrius, and might have been detained beyond the day fixed for the departure of the ship. By remaining at Miletus it was in his power to embark at any moment.

Verse 17

(17) And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.—We find, from Acts 20:28, that they were known also as episcopi (“bishops,” or “overseers”), the two names being interchangeable at this period, and the Apostle standing in relation to those who bore them as the later Bishop did to the elders under him. (See Notes on Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5-6; 1 Peter 5:1-2.) The many presbyters represented probably, each of them, a distinct church or congregation. Most, if not all, of these must have been ordained by the Apostle himself. He had found them loyal, faithful, singularly receptive of the truth (Acts 20:20; Ephesians 3:4). He was passing, as he thought, to far-off regions, never to revisit them, and he was naturally anxious to give them parting words of counsel and of warning.

Verse 18

(18) Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia . . .—No discourse recorded in the Acts is so full of living personal interest. St. Luke would naturally be present at the meeting, and able to take notes of the address, and reproduce it almost, if not altogether, word for word. It bears upon the face of it internal marks of genuineness. No writer of a history adorned with fictitious speeches could have written a discourse so essentially Pauline in all its turns and touches of thought and phraseology, in its tenderness and sympathy, its tremulous anxieties, its frank assertions of the fulness of his teaching and the self-denying labours of his life, its sense of the infinite responsibility of the ministerial office for himself and others, its apprehension of coming dangers from without and from within the Church. The words present a striking parallel to the appeal of. Samuel to the people in 1 Samuel 12:3.

Verse 19

(19) Serving the Lord with all humility of mind . . .—The participle exactly answers to the epithet of the “servant” or “slave” of Christ which St. Paul so often uses of himself (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1). The “tears,” too, are characteristic of the Apostle, whose intense sensitiveness and sympathy had not been hardened into a Stoic apathy, and therefore found vent in a form which the Stoic would have scorned as unmanly. (Comp. Acts 20:31; 2 Corinthians 2:4.) Epictetus (Enchirid. c. 2) barely allowed a follower of wisdom to mourn outwardly with those who mourned, and added the warning: “Take heed that thou mourn not inwardly.”

Temptations.—Better, trials—the word retaining its dominant meaning of troubles coming from without, rather than allurements to evil from within. The reference to the “lying in wait of the Jews” refers, of course, to something altogether distinct from the Demetrian tumult, and implies unrecorded sufferings. The Apostle’s life was never safe, and the air was thick with plots against it.

Verse 20

(20) How I kept back nothing that was profitable.—The verb is one which belongs to the vocabulary of sailors, and was used for taking in or reefing sails. He, St. Paul seems to say of himself, had used no such reticence or reserve, but had gone on his course, as it were, before the wind, with all his canvas spread. It must be noted, however, that even here, as in the more limited range of teaching imparted to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:1-2), he confines his statement to the things that were “profitable.” In each case he considered what was required by the capacity of his disciples. That of Ephesus was wider than that of Corinth, and there, accordingly, he was able to set forth “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Publicly, and from house to house.—The first word points probably to the teaching in the synagogue and the lecture-room of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9), the second to the meetings of disciples which were held in private houses, such as that of Aquila and Priscilla (1 Corinthians 16:19). It may, however, include even more personal and individual counsel.

Verse 21

(21) Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.—These, under all varieties of form, whether speaking to Jews or Gentiles, to philosophers at Athens (Acts 17:30) or peasants of Lystra (Acts 14:15), formed the substance of his teaching. It is obvious, however, that out of these might be developed a whole system of theology—why repentance was needed, and what it was, and how it should show itself, what was involved in the statement that Jesus was the Christ, and why men should believe in Him, and what works were the proper fruit of faith. All these were questions which had to be answered, before even the most elementary truths could be rightly apprehended.

Verse 22

(22) And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit.—The question meets us as before (see Note on Acts 19:21), whether the words refer to the direct action of the Holy Spirit or to the higher element of St. Paul’s own nature, as in 1 Corinthians 5:3; 2 Corinthians 2:13. On the whole, the latter seems the more probable, subject, as before, to the reservation that the word is used because it points to that part of his being which was most in communion with the Divine Spirit. (Comp. Romans 8:16.) He was going to Jerusalem regardless of results, under a constraint which virtually limited the freedom of his human will. As in 1 Corinthians 9:16, a “necessity” was laid upon him.

Verse 23

(23) The Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city.—This can hardly refer to mere internal previsions of the future, but implies, like the analogous phraseology of 1 Timothy 4:1, predictions uttered by the mouth of prophets, such as that which was afterwards spoken by Agabus (Acts 21:11). In every city, Corinth, Berœa, Thessalonica, Philippi, Troas, there had been like utterances, of which, though they are here implied, we have no separate record. There was a general dread as to the results of his journey, which led the disciples who loved him to dissuade him from attempting it. We may trace the influence of such predictions in the anxiety which he himself expresses when he asks for the prayers of his friends at Rome (Romans 15:30-31) that he may be delivered from those that did not believe in Judæa. The words are not without their value as throwing light on the nature and limits of inspiration. The prophets of whom St. Paul speaks were truly inspired, as far as their prevision of the future was concerned, and yet that inspiration did not make them infallible advisers, and the Apostle felt that he was right in acting on those convictions of his own in which he, too, recognised the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

Verse 24

(24) But none of these things move me . . .—Literally, But I take account of nothing, nor do I hold my life . . . We note the parallelism with Luther’s famous declaration, when warned by his friends not to go to Worms, “I will go thither, though there should be devils on every house-top.”

So that I might finish my course with joy.—The two last words are wanting in many of the best MSS., and were probably inserted as a rhetorical improvement. The passage is grander without them. What St. Paul desired was to finish his course—whether “with joy” or not mattered little. The dominance of the same ruling thought finds utterance once again in his last Epistle (2 Timothy 4:7).

The ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus.—We have again to note the parallelism with St. Paul’s language elsewhere (2 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 5:18; 1 Timothy 1:12); the words that follow are in apposition with the “ministry,” and explain what it consisted in. To bear witness, especially as a living example of its power (1 Timothy 1:12-16), of the good tidings that God was not a harsh Judge, but a gracious Father, willing all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), that was the truth to the proclamation of which his life was to be devoted. In this there was the central truth of the kingdom of God, of which the next verse speaks.

Verse 25

(25) I know that ye all . . . shall see my face no more.—It is clear from these words, as well as from Romans 15:23-24, that at this time St. Paul did not contemplate any further work in the Roman province of Asia, or in Greece. It is as clear, if we accept the Pastoral Epistles as genuine, that he did revisit Asia (2 Timothy 1:15), and that that visit included Troas (2 Timothy 4:13), Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20), and, in all probability, Ephesus also (1 Timothy 1:3). We need not be startled at this seeming discrepancy. The Apostle expressly disclaims foresight of his own future, and when he says, “I know,” he speaks after the manner of men who take the fulfilment of their purpose for granted. In one sense, perhaps, his words were true. When he returned to Asia, and all were turned away from him (2 Timothy 1:15), how many of that company was he likely to have met again?

Verse 26

(26) I am pure from the blood of all men.—The image was a familiar one in the Apostle’s lips (Acts 18:6). It rested on the language of an older prophet (Ezekiel 3:18; Ezekiel 3:20). He had acted on the teaching of that prophet, and none could require the blood of any man at his hands.

Verse 27

(27) I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.—The words point to a greater degree of receptivity for Divine truth than had been found elsewhere. So in the Epistle to the Ephesians, which, even on the assumption that it was an encyclical letter, was addressed to them principally, he speaks to them as able to understand his knowledge in the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:4), the universality of His redeeming work, the brotherhood of mankind in the common Fatherhood of God. In “I have not shunned” we have the same word and image as in the “kept back” of Acts 20:20.

Verse 28

(28) Over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.—Better, in which the Holy Ghost set you as watchers. The word used is the same as that commonly translated bishops, but, as used here in connection with the idea of the flock, it requires a word less technically ecclesiastical. It will be noticed that the word is commonly used in the New Testament as associated with this imagery. So in 1 Peter 2:25, we have “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls,” and the corresponding verb in 1 Peter 5:2, “feed the flock of God . . . taking the oversight thereof.” The appointment, as referred to the Holy Ghost, implies, probably, (1) the inward call, the impulse which drew the man to the office; (2) the attestation of that call by the voices of the prophets, as in Acts 13:2, 1 Timothy 4:1; (3) the bestowal of gifts fitting them for the work.

To feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.—It is clear that the words as they stand in the text are of immense importance, as bearing their witness to the belief of the Apostolic Church at once in the absolute divinity of Christ and in the nature of His redemptive work. The MSS., however, vary in their readings. Some of the best uncials and versions give “God;” others, of almost equal authority, give “Lord;” others, again, combine the two “Lord and God.” The fact that elsewhere St. Paul invariably speaks of “the Church of God” (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:14, et al.), and never “the Church of the Lord,” may be allowed, from one point of view, some weight as internal evidence in favour of the Received reading; while from another it may be urged that it might have tempted a transcriber to substitute a familiar for an unfamiliar phrase. Accepting that reading, the words not only confirm the great truths of the Church’s creed, but give an implicit sanction to the language of theology or devotion, when it applies to the divine nature of our Lord predicates that belong strictly to the human nature which was associated with it. So Ignatius (Romans 6:0) spoke of “the passion of my God,” and Tertullian (Ad Uxor, ii. 3) and Clement of Alexandria (Quis dives, c. 34) use the very phrase “the blood of God” which this passage suggests, and the Eastern Church at the council of Ephesus gave to the Blessed Virgin the title of Theotŏkos Deipara, the mother of the very God. So in the liturgy which bears the name of St. James the brother of the Lord, he is described as Adelphotheos, the brother of God, and that name is still current among the Greek Christians of Jerusalem. The general drift of the language of the New Testament writers was, however, in the other direction, and predicated human acts and attributes of the man Christ Jesus, Divine acts and attributes of the eternal Son; and it is obvious that this tends at once to greater accuracy of thought, and is really more reverential than the other.

In the word “purchased” (or, more literally, acquired for himself), we recognise the idea, though not the word, of redemption. The same verb is used in 1 Timothy 3:13. The thought seems to have been one which specially characterised the teaching of St. Paul at Ephesus (Ephesians 1:14 : “the redemption of the purchased possession”). Comp. also, “ye were bought with a price,” in 1 Corinthians 6:20, which, it will be remembered, was written from that city. The same idea is expressed in the “peculiar people” of 1 Peter 2:9; literally, a people for a purchased possession, and so, as it were, the peculium, or personal property of Him who had paid the purchase money.

Verse 29

(29) After my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you.—The figurative language followed naturally on the idea of the flock and of the shepherds who keep watch over it. It lies in the nature of the case that the wolf stands primarily for the open enemies of the flock, the persecutors of all ages. (Comp. John 10:12.) The wolves, however, might come in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15), and so the false prophets, the usurpers of authority, and leaders of parties within the Church, are also included in the term. Here this latter class is distinctly pointed out in the following verse. We find traces of the fulfilment of the prediction in the “turning away” of 2 Timothy 1:15; the “fiery trial” of 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 4:12; the suffering “as a Christian” of 1 Peter 4:16.

Verse 30

(30) Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things.—The Pastoral Epistles, 2 Peter and Jude, supply but too abundant evidence of the clearness of the Apostle’s prevision. Hymenæus and Alexander and Philetus, saying that the resurrection was past already (1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 2:17); evil men and seducers becoming worse and worse (2 Timothy 3:13); resisting the faith, as Jannes and Jambres had resisted Moses (2 Timothy 3:8); false prophets, bringing in damnable heresies and denying the Lord that bought them (2 Peter 2:1); these were part of the rank aftergrowth of the apostolic age, of which St. Paul saw even now the germs. It adds to the pathos of this parting to think that men such as Hymenæus and Philetus may have been actually present, listening to the Apostle’s warnings, and warned by him in vain.

To draw away disciples after them.—Better, to draw away the disciples—those who had previously been disciples of Christ and His Apostles. This was at once the motive and the result of the work of the false teachers. The note of heresy was that it was essentially self-asserting and schismatical.

Verse 31

(31) Therefore watch . . .—The word was, as it were, an echo from our Lord’s teaching (Matthew 24:42; Matthew 25:13, et al.), which could hardly have been unknown to St. Paul. Here, however, it receives a fresh significance from its connection with the term episcopi. They who were the bishops, the overseers, the watchers of the flock, ought, above all others, to set an example of vigilance.

By the space of three years.—Strictly speaking, the narrative of the Acts accounts for three months’ preaching in the synagogue (Acts 19:8), two years in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:10), and an undefined period embracing the time immediately before and after the tumult of Demetrius. This would be enough to warrant him describing the time of his ministry, speaking roughly, as extending over three years.

To warn every one night and day with tears.—Comp. Note on Acts 20:19.

Verse 32

(32) And now, brethren, I commend you . . .—The Greek verb and its derivatives are characteristic of St. Paul’s phraseology. Teachers are to “commit” the truth they have received to others (2 Timothy 2:2), and the truth so committed is the depositum fidei which they thus hold, as it were, in trust (2 Timothy 1:14).

The word of his grace, which is able to build you up . . .—It can hardly be said that the “word” here is used, as it is by St. John, for the person of Christ as the Logos. (See Notes on John 1:14; John 1:16; 1 John 1:1.) There is, however, a quasi-personal character ascribed to it, “able to . . . give an inheritance,” which suggests the thought of something more than the written or spoken word. The true explanation is probably to be found in the thought of the “engrafted (or better, the implanted) word” of James 1:21, the “word of God, quick and powerful” of Hebrews 4:12; and in so far as this is identical with the “Light that lighteth every man” of John 1:9, we may find in these passages a preparation for the more fully developed teaching of St. John as to the Logos. We cannot pass over the word “build” without noting the recurrence of the same thought and word in Ephesians 2:20-21; Ephesians 4:12; Ephesians 4:16; Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 2:7. The figure was a natural one anywhere (comp. 1 Corinthians 3:10), but it would gain additional vividness from the stately architecture of Ephesus, perhaps also from the presence of one among St. Paul’s companions who may have been himself an architect. (See Note on Acts 20:4.)

An inheritance among all them which are sanctified.—Here also we find a thought specially characteristic of the teaching of the Epistle to the Ephesians. So we find the “earnest of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14), the “inheritance in, or among, the saints” (Ephesians 1:18), the “inheritance in the kingdom” (Ephesians 5:5). The participle is in the perfect tense: those that have been sanctified, or consecrated. That term was, of course, equivalent to and co-extensive with “the saints,” as applied to the whole body of believers. (See Notes on Acts 9:2; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1.)

Verse 33

(33) I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel.—Comp. the parallel of Samuel’s appeal to the people (1 Samuel 12:3). In each case there was a special reason for what might otherwise seem an uncalled-for boast. Samuel’s sons had been guilty of corrupt practices, taking bribes and the like (1 Samuel 8:3). Among the many calumnies against St. Paul, one was that he used his apostolic ministry “as a cloke of covetousness.” (Comp. 2 Corinthians 7:2; 2 Corinthians 12:17-18; 1 Thessalonians 2:5.) On “apparel,” as constituting a large part of the personal estate of the East, see Notes on Matthew 6:19; James 5:2.

Verse 34

(34) These hands have ministered unto my necessities.—The words clearly cover the whole three years of the Apostle’s ministry at Ephesus. The partnership with Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:3) continued. Philemon was probably a sharer in it (Philemon 1:17). And the Apostle had not been satisfied with working for himself, but ministered also to “those who were with him.” His teaching in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 makes it improbable that he would have thus laboured to maintain others who were able-bodied in idleness, and the words that immediately follow make it almost certain that we must confine the statement to those who were suffering from infirmity. In 1 Corinthians 4:12, written, it will be remembered, from Ephesus, we have an undesigned coincidence confirming the statement.

Verse 35

(35) I have shewed you all things.—The words point to his motive in acting as he did. He sought to teach by example, to indicate in all things how others ought to act.

To support the weak.—The Greek verb is rightly rendered, but it deserves notice that it is the root of the noun translated “help” in 1 Corinthians 12:28. The word “weak “is to be taken as implying bodily infirmities. (See Note on previous verse.)

To remember the words of the Lord Jesus.—The words that follow are not found in any of the four Canonical Gospels, nor indeed in any of the Apocryphal. They furnish, accordingly, an example of the wide diffusion of an oral teaching, embodying both the acts and the words of Christ, of which the four Gospels, especially the first three, are but partial representatives. On the other instances of sayings ascribed to our Lord, and probably in many cases rightly ascribed, see the Introduction to the First Three Gospels in Vol. I. of this Commentary. The injunction to “remember” the words implies that they had often been prominent in the Apostle’s teaching.

Verse 36

(36) He kneeled down, and prayed with them all.—The historian who has recorded what we may call the “charge” of St. Paul, shrinks, with a natural reverence, from reporting his prayer. Ephesians 3:14-21 will enable the thoughtful reader to represent to himself its substance, perhaps even its very thoughts and words.

Verse 37

(37) Fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him.—We note, as before in Acts 20:19, the absence of any suppression of emotion. As David and Jonathan parted of old (1 Samuel 20:41), so did St. Paul and his fellow-workers part now. In 2 Timothy 1:4 we have a passing reference to another parting scene of perhaps even tenderer emotion. To think that they should see his face no more, that this was their last farewell, made the elders of Ephesus and the other disciples eager, up to the very hour of embarkation, for the last embrace.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Acts 20". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/acts-20.html. 1905.
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