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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Acts 20:1-16 – Paul’s travels after Ephesus

Paul decided to leave Ephesus after the riot. The riot may not have been connected to this decision, because he had been in the process of making plans to leave before it. Nevertheless the fact that the church had received civil protection may have indicated to him that it was an appropriate time to move on.

Luke does not give much information about what Paul did during the period of several months that he spent in Macedonia and Achaia after leaving Ephesus. From elsewhere in the New Testament we know that Paul want first to Troas in order to meet with Titus (2 Cor. 2:12), and when that did not happen he then went round Macedonia and Achaia. Also it was during this time that Paul wrote Romans and 2 Corinthians. 

All that Luke mentions is that Paul had to change his travel plans for getting to Jerusalem because of a plot by the Jews. Luke does mention Paul’s companions on the journey and, while Luke does not tell us, they were with Paul because they were taking a collection to Jerusalem to help the poor believers there. Paul refers to this particular collection several times in his letters. Maybe they heard that Jews on the boat they had booked to sail on to Syria were planning to steal the collection. Many Jews would have been going up to Israel for the Passover.

Paul sent his friends ahead of him to Troas, but he remained in Philippi until after the feast of Unleavened Bread, which immediately followed the Passover. We cannot tell why Paul wanted to stay on in Philippi for those days – there probably was not a synagogue there that would arrange activities connected to that feast. Maybe Paul wanted a few days of rest or maybe he was not well, because when he left Philippi, doctor Luke went with him. Or perhaps Paul wanted to reflect personally on the activities of God in delivering Israel in the past. It looks as if most of his companions were Gentiles, so there was no reason for them to stay on with Paul if that is what he was doing. A third possibility is that he stayed on in Philippi to instruct the church about matters, maybe to explain why Luke was leaving them.

When Paul and Luke reached Troas after a five-day journey, they waited there for a week. The final day in Troas was the first day of the week, the day on which the church there met. Luke’s account of what happened is interesting. First, the focus of the service was the breaking of bread, a reference to the Lord’s Supper. It looks as if the Christians there had the Lord’s Supper as part of every service. 

Second, the Christians did not mind a long service, given that Paul spoke until midnight, before they broke bread. Obviously those Christians took instruction seriously. The church then had discussion with Paul until daybreak, so perhaps their gathering lasted for nine hours. Paul was delighted to interact with those who had listened to him, and they obviously were eager to ask him.

Third, as Andrew Bonar says somewhere, the heat that caused Eutychus to fall asleep is a warning to church beadles not to overheat the place of meeting. When he did fall from a great height, it is notable that it was Paul the apostle and not Luke the doctor who sorted out the problem. There was only one person in that room who had the power from God to raise Eutychus from the dead, and the resurrection of Eutychus would have ensured that Paul’s apostolic authority was recognised.

Fourth, perhaps if they had stood up to sing, Eutychus would have stayed awake! Luke however is silent about how they sang, or even if they had a time of singing, although we can assume that they did. He is also silent about whether or not they had a time of prayer during their gathering, although we can assume that they did so. So we have to ask ourselves why Luke mentioned the Lord’s Supper, the sermon by Paul and the discussion afterwards. Maybe Paul would have regarded a meeting without them as unauthentic.

Fifth, the church met in the evening because most of the members would have been working during the day, and it looks as if on the following morning they went from their church meeting to work. I wonder what they would think of the modern tendency to reduce almost to a minimum the amount of time that Christians spend together on the Lord’s Day.

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