Chapter 20

20:1  Luke omits Paul's Imprisonment and being thrown to face a lion in Ephesus

Luke uses the words "After the uproar" (thorubos means noise clamor, turmoil, uproar, disturbance). Usually it is assumed this just means the uproar in the Roman theater in Ephesus (19:28-40). But it is very unlikely the matter ended there. At least Paul would have been arrested and made to explain himself. The town clerk (mayor of the city) quietened the crowd when he said "the courts are open" and they could call a "regular assembly" (19:38-39). So Demetrius would certainly have pressed charges. And Paul wrote that Alexander the coppersmith did Paul much harm (2 Timothy 4:14), probably with the support of the powerful guild of silversmiths.

All the people involved, and the circumstances which Paul mentions in his letter (2 Timothy 1:15-18, 4:6-21) fit an imprisonment (there were several, 2 Corinthians 11:23) in Ephesus.. There seems to be a typo when a copyist wrote that Onesiphorus "arrived in Rome" (en romy) instead of  "arrived in the nick of time" (en ropy). As a result commentators have given a late date for the Pastoral Epistles, and located Paul being "rescued from the lion's mouth" (2 Timothy 4:17) in Rome. But "all who are in Asia have turned away from me" (2 Timothy 1:15) certainly points to an imprisonment in Ephesus, (as do the references to Epaphras and the letters Tichicus carried (Colossians 1:7, 4:12-13, 15-16, Philemon 23). For Tichicus to travel to Rome would have involved an 800 mile sea journey, taking several weeks depending on good weather and favorable winds.

It therefore seems likely that Paul was arrested after the riot in the theater, charged on the evidence of Alexander the Coppersmith, and thrown into the arena where he faced a lion. This did not require a Roman soldier to execute him, and his death could be explained as an act of God. Presumably the lion's mouth was stopped (Hebrews 11:33, as in Daniel 6:22), and as a result Paul was declared innocent and immediately released. And Paul, who had assumed he was about to die (2 Timothy 4:6-8), wrote a postscript to the letter (2 Timothy 4:9-18) in which he reported that this event was witnessed by thousands in the arena and the message was "fully proclaimed" in the city and all over the province.

Why did Luke omit this? Assuming that he would use the Book of Acts as part of Paul's defense before Nero in Rome (25:10, 21, 27, 26:32) , there was no point in including a disturbance and imprisonment in Ephesus. Nero might have said "let me see if Paul can survive one of our Roman lions!" It seems that by the end of two years under house arrest in Rome, Luke abruptly had to end the Book of Acts, and Paul told him to leave at once and take it back to the churches in Asia. There is no evidence that Paul was tried before Nero, and he was perhaps martyred at the same time as Peter when Nero killed off as many Christians as he could find for his spectacles.

20:2-16 Paul's Bloodstream Missionary Team

Luke gives us a glimpse into the astonishing movements of Paul and associates in their "bloodstream" ministry (see The Church 13-14) for the churches of the Mediterranean world.

20:2 Based on the dating we use here, immediately after his release from prison in Ephesus (see under 20:1), Paul sent Titus (2 Timothy 4:10) to prepare for Paul's arrival "in those regions." After visiting the churches in Macedonia, it was natural for Paul to go on north-west into Dalmatia and Illyricum. Paul said he had evangelized the whole area from Jerusalem to Illyricum (present-day Croatia, Romans 15:19, written towards the end of the third missionary journey). It is possible that Paul had intended to take a ship across the Adriatic, and go by land to Rome, but he was "hindered" (Romans 15:23).

20:3 After visiting Macedonia (and Dalmatia and Illyricum as we have suggested) Paul came down into Achaia (the area of Greece around Athens and Corinth). The epistle to the Romans was probably written in Corinth. He had intended to sail from Cenchrea (see note on 18:18) straight back to his home base in Antioch. But before he could find a bigger ship going east across the Mediterranean, he had to leave hurriedly by a coastal vessel to a port near Thessalonica (see note on 17:14-15).

20:4 This verse gives us a picture of Paul's team of workers during the second missionary journey. Sopater was from the synagogue which became the church in Beroea (17:10-14). Aristarchus had been dragged into the arena in Ephesus (19:29), and several years later he accompanied Paul on the first leg of his final journey to Rome (27:2-5). Secundus was also from Thessalonica. The NEB following one ancient text (D) lists Gaius as coming, not from Derbe, but from douberios a city in Macedonia near Thessalaonica (20:4). Several of these Macedonians were appointed to take the collection for the Jerusalem church (mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 Corinthians 9:1-5) Timothy was from Galatia, but he had worked in Macedonia (16:1-2, 17:14-15). Trophimus, from Ephesus, had been left in Miletus when he was sick (perhaps when Paul sailed to Macedonia (20:1, 2 Timothy 4:20), but now he was able to travel with Paul to Jerusalem to deliver the aid that had been collected (21:27-33). Tychicus from the province of Asia was sent on various missions (Ephesians 6:21, Colossians 4:7, 2 Timothy 4:12, Titus 3:12). Paul may have left him to go back with the grieving elders from Ephesus (20:17, 38).

20:5-6 These team members went on to Troas, but Paul accompanied by Luke (note the plural "we" in 20:5, 6, 7) apparently wanted to celebrate Passover with the church in Philippi (perhaps at the home of Lydia, 16:15, 40). There was a five day sail across to Troas where Paul and his team stayed for a week with the church..

20:7 Next Luke wants to give us a picture of a communion service with the church in Troas (founded in 16:8-11). The term "breaking of bread" is used to describe this service, often in a home (2:42, 20:11), which connects with Jesus blessing and breaking the bread when he fed the multitude, and also with the last supper (Matthew 14:19, 26:26, Mark 6:41, 8:6, 14:22, Luke 24:35, 1 Corinthians 10:16). Luke notes it was held on "the first day of the week" (that alone would not prove communion services were held on Sunday, but in his Gospel Luke refers to eating with the disciples "on the first day of the week" (Luke 24:1, 30, 35). John also emphasized "the first day of the week" (John 20:1, 19), the appearance to Thomas a week later, and again by the Sea of Galilee probably the next Sunday (John 20: 26, 21:1).). These references seem sufficient to explain the early Christian practice of meeting on "the Lord's Day" which apparently John kept in exile on the Island of Patmos (Revelation 1:10).

20:8-9 Luke was obviously present (see the "we" passages, 20:5-7,13) and we have this eye-witness account of Eutychus dozing off during Paul's long sermon, and falling three floors, apparently dead.

20:10-12 Paul picked him up in his arms (as did Elijah, 1 Kings 17:17-22, and Elisha, 2 Kings 4:32-36). Life came back into the boy, and he was taken home concussed but alive. But Paul continued with the breaking of bread service, and the fellowship meal till dawn.

20:13-17 Luke explains that he and others went aboard a coastal vessel in Troas, but Paul walked across the promontary to rejoin them in Assos for the journey to Mitylene sailing past the island of Chios. Paul was in a hurry to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost (he had celebrated the Passover in Philippi, 20:6) so the vessel sailed past Ephesus, to dock in Miletus, the next harbor to the south. Evidently there was time for Paul to call the Ephesian elders (for elders see notes on 6:1-6, 14:23, as defined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 5:17-22, Titus 1:5-9). They eagerly walked the thirty miles (or perhaps chartered a fishing vessel) to join him there three days later.

20:18-38 Paul's Sermon to the Elders of the Church of Ephesus

This is the only account of a sermon at a conference for church leaders, and Luke chooses it as an example of what Paul probably said on other similar occasions. It is worth reading it straight through to capture the very personal relationship of Paul with these elders.

20:18-19 Paul reminded them how he had lived among them for three years (see 19:9-10, 20:31). It had been a very tough time for Paul, and it had ended with the riot in the city (19:28, 40). We have given reasons why this was followed by his imprisonment and being thrown to face a lion in the arena (see note on "uproar" in 20:1). During that time it seems he was abandoned by many of the fearful disciples in Asia (2 Timothy 1:15). When he was in chains he was helped by Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:16) who arrived in the nick of time (en ropy, not en romy which would have referred to a much later Roman imprisonment).

20:20 Paul had taught them publicly in the hall of Tyrannus (19:9), and in their own homes. Probably he had attended breaking of bread services followed by meals in house churches (as in Troas, 20:7, 11).

20:21 Both Jews and Greek people were helped to turn to God (literally "the into God change of mind"). This was not feeling bad about particular sins (contrition would follow later, as in Romans 7:14-24), but a first turning to Jesus the Light of God (as in 26:18, John 1:4, 9, 12:46). To begin learning about him they would have been enrolled by baptism for deeper instruction, and then brought into an experience of life in his body by the Holy Spirit (as in 8:12, 15-16, 19:1-6, 1 Corinthians 12:13).

20:22-23 On the one hand Paul feels compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. On the other hand he has already had prophecies warning him of what would happen there (as he would hear later, 21:4, 11-12).

20:24-25 Paul is however ready for persecution and death, if need be, to continue the ministry he has been given, but already he knows that he will not return to Ephesus (20:38).

20:26 Responsibility for the blood of others is an Old Testament expression for failing to warn others of danger (as in 18:6, Ezekiel 3:18, 20, 33:4-6).

20:27 The "whole purpose of God" would have included what Paul taught in his epistles (as in Ephesians 1:4-12, Colossians 1:15-23).

20:28 The elders are to keep watch over their own lives, and also shepherd the Lord's flock (as in John 10:11-18). Jesus' death and resurrection had resulted in purchasing (freeing, redeeming) his new church of Jews and Gentiles who were now eating together in each city (as explained in Ephesians 2:13-18, Colossians 1:20). When Paul uses the expression "Church of God" (as in 1 Corinthians 10:32) he may be reminding us that the Trinitarian church (Matthew 28:19) being built by the Son (Matthew 16:18) was for the glory of God the Father (Romans 1:36), but created and empowered by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:11-13).

20:29-31 The church in each place is always prey to false teachers who come in like wolves to grab members of the flock for their own financial gain. We note the many references to these (as in 2 Corinthians 11:13, 1 Timothy 4:1-3, 2 Timothy 2:16-18, Hebrews 13:9, 1 John 4:1-6), and in spite of Paul's warnings (20:31) these later infested the churches of Asia (Revelation 1:4, 2:2, 15, 20, 3:9).

20:32-33 False teaching always shifts people from the grace of God (20:24, 32) to asceticism (1 Timothy 4:1-5), legalism (as in Galatians 1:6-9, 3:1-5), philosophies and ritual performances (Colossians 2:8, 16-19). And false teachers quickly begin wanting to make money by fleecing the flock (1 Timothy 6:5, 2 Peter 2:3). But as Luke points out, Paul never took money for himself from a church he was planting (20:33, 2 Thessalonians 3:8, though he did accept gifts for the work from other churches, as in Philippians 4:14-16).

20:34-35 Rather he gave an example of working as a tentmaker (see note on 18:3) to provide for himself and the members of his team (as in 2 Thessalonians 3:8). The saying "It is more blessed to give than to receive" is not found in the Gospels, but Jesus did say "If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to anyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you" (Matthew 5:40-42, but see the caution against idlers in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).

20:36-38 Luke remembers the moving scene (see the "we" passage in 21:1) as Paul knelt and prayed with the Ephesian elders. They embraced and kissed him as they wept, grieving because he had said they would never see him again (20:25).

Chapter 21