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Bible Commentaries
Acts 20

Godbey's Commentary on the New TestamentGodbey's NT Commentary

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Verse 1


1. We learn (1 Corinthians 1:8) that Paul remained in Ephesus at this time, A. D. 57, till after Pentecost, which was early in June, fifty days after April 14, having written the first Corinthian letter and sent it on to them by Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus. After this memorable uproar, calling together the disciples, exhorting and bidding them a loving adieu, he sails away to Macedonia.

Verses 2-3

2, 3. Spending the summer in the churches of Northern Greece, meanwhile Timothy and Titus with their comrades at different times have gone down into Achaia and preached to the Corinthians; bringing him word in reference to the effect of his first epistle, he writes the second [methinks at Berea] and sends it on before him, prosecuting his peregrinations through the north, and arriving at Corinth late in the fall, spending the winter of A. D.

57-58 in that genial southern climate. Meanwhile he writes the epistle to the Romans, setting out in the spring for the great East again and returning through Macedonia.

Verses 4-6

4-6. Meanwhile his evangelistic comrades, Sopater of Asia, Aristarchus and Secundus, Gaius and Timothy, Tychicus and Trophinius, embarking, sail directly to Asia, landing at Troas, whither Paul and Luke, leaving Philippi after the Passover, April 14, arrive in five days, and there remain for a week, preaching.

Verse 7


7. “On the first day of the week we assembling to break bread,” i. e., to celebrate the love-feast and the eucharist. Paul spoke to them, being about to depart the following day, and continued his discourse till midnight. Justin Martyr was a disciple of Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John. Hence he lived, wrote and suffered martyrdom within a generation of the apostles. I have now before my eye his testimony in his native Greek, certifying that all the saints kept Sunday, in his day, as a day of sacred rest, devoted to the worship of God in commemoration of our Lord’s resurrection, in consequence of which it was denominated “the Lord’s day,” a phrase never applied to the Jewish Sabbath. As a confirmation of this we find the Hebdomidal division of time prevailing throughout the whole Gentile world very early in the Christian era, there being no such a seventh day division of time among the heathens. As the first converts of Christianity were all Jews, of course they kept the seventh day during their generation, and while the Jewish element remained in the church, as we see from this verse and other Scriptures, and the corroborations of Justin Martyr and other Christian fathers, also observing the first day of the week, i. e., Sunday, as a day of sacred rest, devoted to the worship of God. The Seventh Day Adventists most glaringly and erroneously tell us that the pope of Rome made the change of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday! What an awful mistake! when there never was a pope until the seventh century, while we see right here, in New Testament times, they kept Sunday as we do, and history shows that it was ever afterward continued, down to the present day. The Roman historians, Suetonius and Pliny, who lived and wrote in the first centuries of the Christian era, during the bloody martyr ages, are good witnesses in this problem. As they were neither Christians nor Jews, but heathens, and not concerned in the controversy in any respect, their incidental historic testimony is unimpeachable. They certify, in their simple accounts of the Christian martyrdom, that when persons were arrested on suspicion that they were Christians, tried and put to death under the imperial edict prescribing all the Christians and interdicting their worship on penalty of death, their persecutors propounded to them the question: “ Dominicum servaste?” “Hast thou kept the Lord’s day?” The Christian responded: “ Christianus sum ” “I am a Christian.” “ Intermittere non possum ” “I can not omit it.” Then they proceeded with the bloody work of death. It is a well-known fact that the Jewish Sabbath never was called “the Lord’s day,” but simply “the Sabbath day.” If the primitive Christians had kept the seventh day, they would have been asked: “ Sabbaticum servaste?” “Hast thou kept the Sabbath day?” But this question never was asked by their persecutors. It is utter folly to deny that the Lord’s day was kept from the Apostolic age. The relegation of the change to the pope is preposterous, as there never was a pope until Procas, king of Italy, crowned Boniface III., A. D. 666. Suppose my conscience tells me to keep Saturday as a holy Sabbath? Then, be sure you satisfy your conscience, and keep that day holy. But be equally sure that you keep the day holy for the sake of the conscience of all Christendom (1 Corinthians 8:12). The Lord will enable you to make a living in five days in the week.

So rest and attend church both Saturday and Sunday. Then you will cover all the ground. I speak to you whose conscience requires you to keep Saturday. Duty to God is a matter on which we can not afford to take any risk.

Verses 8-9

8, 9. Here we see the church at Troas, the capital of Mysia; occupying a room in the third story. Church houses were never built till the middle of the second century. Till that time the Lord’s army were constantly marching to the conquest of the world. When they built houses and went into winter quarters, they soon toned down the heroic spirit of Pentecostal blood and fire, and ceased to be aggressive. When the holiness people house up and settle down, you can write “Ichabod” on their bonnet. Paul preached till midnight, when the death of Eutychus did not stop the meeting. They did not send up for Doctor Luke to come down and medicate him, but for Paul to pray over him and raise him from the dead. After midnight they had the Agapee, i. e., the Love Feast peculiar to the Apostolic age, and revived by John Wesley, commemorative of the last supper of Jesus and his disciples, which was followed by the sacrament. After the agapee and eucharist, Paul resumes and preaches on till day without retiring to rest. Meanwhile his comrades sail round the coast to Assos. He enjoys a morning walk of thirty miles through the country, and embarks with them at Assos per arrangement.

Verses 14-16

14-16. Mitylene is on the east coast of the Island of Lesbos. Chios is celebrated as the birthplace of Homer, the prince of uninspired poets, author of the “Illiad” and “Odyssey.” They pass in front of the Bay of Ephesus, run on and land at Miletus, the ancient capital of Ionia, thirty miles from Ephesus,

Verse 17

17. From which he sends for the elders of the Ephesian Church, testifying to them the humility and fidelity with which he had served the Lord the three years of his ministry among them.

Verses 20-21

20, 21. Preaching and teaching publicly and from house to house, “the whole counsel of God,” i. e., “repentance toward God,” as all violation of law is high treason against the divine government. Hence repentance is purely Godward. The sinner sees that God Almighty has a quarrel against him. Therefore he trembles and quakes in view of impending doom, weeps, falls and cries for mercy. The proper attitude of faith is “toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” since He is our only Mediator and atoning Substitute. When the sinner in utter desperation casts himself on the mercy of God in Christ then and there he receives a free pardon.

Verse 22

22. Paul, like the saints frequently in all ages, had a presentiment of the trouble awaiting him at Jerusalem, yet impelled on by the divine leadership. Bishop Marvin, not even a member of the General Conference, running on the Mississippi River, had a real presentiment of his election to the episcopacy. When he left Jerusalem during his round-the-world tour, he had a presentiment of his death, which occurred soon after. God’s saints, led by the Holy Ghost, and accompanied by guardian angels, anon receive profitable intimations of events still hidden behind the intervening veil, but destined soon to transpire. Good Lord, save us from that modern infidelity which takes God out of the current events of life, and help us to get back to the Acts of the Apostles, where we see God in everything.

Verse 25

25. “And now behold I know that you shall all see my face no more, among whom I came preaching the kingdom.” This was A. D. 58. I believe with the critics that he had a second imprisonment at Rome before his martyrdom, being acquitted the first time for the want of criminal charges against him, and afterward returning to Greece and Asia and revisiting Ephesus about A. D. 64, and, after writing the pastoral epistles, arrested a second time on charge of burning Rome, not that he was personally charged with it, because he was absent in Greece when it occurred, but as it was imputed to the Christians, they sent away to Neapolis in Macedonia, arresting him and bringing him to Rome, where, upon a second trial before Nero, he was condemned to death, with many other Christians, on charge of burning Rome, A. D. 68. This return to Ephesus, after six to eight years, did not preclude the fact that he would see the faces of some of them no more, as in that time many of them had passed away.

Verses 26-27


26, 27. Paul here certifies that he is “pure from the blood of all men,” and gives as a reason because he did not “shun to declare to them all the counsel of God.” Hence we see there is only one way for us to be pure from the blood of souls and ready to meet all the people at the Judgment bar; and that is to tell them the whole truth as we find it revealed in the Bible. If we fail to do this their blood will be found upon our hands when God Almighty shall make inquisition in the Judgment day. John Wesley’s best friends advised him to drop “sanctification” and “perfection” out of his ministerial vocabulary, preaching the same truth in other phraseology; hear his response: “Will you send the Holy Ghost to school and teach Him who made the tongue how to speak?” Verily, this is the only way we can be pure from the blood of all men, i. e., by declaring to them all the counsel of God.

“Watchman, what of the night?

The myriad foe come on to try thee with their might, And if thou shall fail one note that trump to sound, I will hang upon these battlements the watchman on hi round.”

This is a poetic versification of Ezekiel’s warning to Zion’s watchman. I trow many preachers lose their souls by faltering to meet this awful emergency, look people in the face and faithfully tell them the whole truth as God has revealed and committed it to them to proclaim to a dying world.

Verse 28

28. “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to the whole flock over whom the Holy Ghost has appointed you bishops, to feed the church of God, which he purchased through his own blood.” The word “bishop” here occurs in the Greek, episcopos from epi “over,” and skopeoo, “see.” Hence it means persons charged with the spiritual oversight of the Lord’s people. Nothing but God’s truth revealed in the Bible is soul pabulum. Consequently, millions this day are starving to death for the bread of life. The precious Word is bread, meat, milk, honey and all the luscious fruits of Canaan. The little sermonettes preached by the popular pastors have scarcely a scintillation of substantial gospel truth. Sick people nauseate food, and the dead have no use for it. The masses of popular churches consist of the dead, i. e., unsaved, and the sick, i. e., weak believers, who have never cut their spiritual teeth so as to eat solid food. Hence the preacher provides aromatics for the dead and sweet milk for the babies, having nobody on hand competent to eat the fatted calf, the bread and the delicious fruits of Canaan. In all this the preacher sustains an awful responsibility for not bringing to the dead the resurrection power and to the sick the healing efficacy of the infallible panacea, i. e., the Savior’s blood. I awfully fear Judas has a vast ministerial following gathering about him in the regions of woe.

Verse 29


29. “I know that after my departure grievous wolves will come in unto you, not sparing the flock;

Verse 30

30. “And from you yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, in order to draw away disciples after them.

Verse 31

31. “Watch, therefore, remembering that three years, night and day, I ceased not warning each one of you with tears.” Paul was a weeping prophet, his tears giving a force to the truth as nothing else could. I preached fifteen years with dry eyes. Then sanctification, breaking up the fountains of my tears, made me a weeping prophet, so I have preached thirty years, my eyes flowing like rivers. Rest assured the Holy Ghost can find the pent-up fountains of tears in the most arid soul. God help us to be personal like Paul, looking our beloved in the face and telling them the whole truth, as here you see he looks these Ephesian elders squarely in the physiognomy and tells them that some of them will turn Satan’s wolves and lead off disciples after them. How signally true has this sad Pauline prophecy been verified in the merciless laceration of the Apostolic church into six thousand sectarian denominations, filling the world with confusion, i. e., Babylon. Entire sanctification, the only grace adequate to fortify us against human leadership and put us where we will follow Jesus only, has for this very reason been rejected and antagonized by the party leaders of all ages, from the simple fact that it renders the people unmanageable by human manipulators and puts them where God alone can lead them by His precious Word, instructing their minds, His sweet Holy Spirit illuminating their spirits, and His gracious providence determining their environments. Glory to God, for His wonderful triple leadership, actually infallible when duly appreciated. Sad will be the day for the present holiness movement when captured and manipulated by human leaders. As God’s revivals in by- gone ages, the Church of God is ruled by the Holy Ghost alone, having no laws, no creed and no authority but God’s Word. It is the very audacity of Satan to invade God’s Church through the instrumentality of his preachers, i. e., the “grievous wolves” predicted by Paul. Oh, how they have scattered, torn and devoured God’s flock in all ages! The word “heresy” means separation. Hence all separation from God and His Word is heresy. Such is the predominant influence of Satan in this awfully wicked world during these dark ages of Satanic triumph, that he actually perverts everything pertaining to truth and righteousness, calling evil good, and good evil. Hence the Lord’s people, in all ages, have been anathematized and slaughtered under charge of heresy. It was true, they had separated from the devil and his people, and were heretics from their standpoint. So it is, this day, very difficult to walk with God in the beauty of holiness and the clear light of His Word, the fullness and freedom of His Spirit, without constant collision, ostracism and persecution by the great human ecclesiasticisms, antagonistical to God’s Word and Spirit, and claiming a right to domineer human conscience, which is the prerogative of God alone. Hence we live amid the awful fulfillment of the Pauline prediction of these “grievous wolves,” i. e., carnal men, “speaking perverse things, in order to draw off disciples after them.”

Verse 32

32. “And now I commend you to God and the word of his grace, being able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all the sanctified.” How infinitely potent the precious Word of God! and how little appreciated by His professed followers, while it is despised and hated by the wicked. The Bible assures us that none but the sanctified shall get to heaven (Hebrews 12:14), and here we are assured that the Word is able to sanctify us. God help us to appreciate it as never before.

Verses 33-35

33-35. Here Paul protests to the Ephesian elders his felicitous salvation from paltry pelf, asseverating that he had toiled with his hands making tents, not only for his own temporal support, but that of his evangelistic helpers and the Lord’s poor. Paul is clear in his deliverances on ministerial support as a right of the preacher and a duty of the people. Yet he is ever and anon explicit, along with Jesus, in his denunciations of a hireling ministry, who really turn out to be those “grievous wolves” lacerating, scattering and destroying the flock, and Ezekiel’s unfaithful shepherds, clothing themselves in the wool and devouring the fat, reveling in their tents while their flocks are “scattered on every hill and in every deep valley,” invaded by wild beasts and robbers. Here Paul reminds them of the words of the Lord Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” thus winding up that memorable valedictory to the greatest church in Western Asia through their representatives.

Verse 36

36. “Saying these things, putting down his knees, he prayed along with them all.” If you would be in the Apostolic succession you must always have an ample supply of kneeling grace. Prayer is the greatest privilege on earth, magnetizing heaven and bringing it into the heart. Without it this world is the ante-room of hell. Available prayer makes you indefatigable on the knee-drill. Lord, burn out of us all of the devil’s starch that keeps us from kneeling.

Verse 37

37. “Great was the lamentation of all, and falling on the neck of Paul they continued to kiss him,

Verse 38

38. “Especially grieving over the word which he had spoken, that they are about to see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.” Some of the holiness people emphasize the holy kiss, not without ample divine warrant, as we see in case of this memorable valedictory.

Bibliographical Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Acts 20". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ges/acts-20.html.
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