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The Book Of Acts by William R. Cannon


Before his election to the episcopacy in 1968 United Methodist Bishop William R. Cannon served as Professor of Church History and then Dean of Chandler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. Other books by Bishop Cannon include The Gospel Of John, Jesus The Servant, and The Book Of Acts. The Book Of Acts, Copyright 1989 by W.R. Cannon, published by Upper Room Books. This material prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.


Chapter 7: The Third Missionary Journey


The third missionary journey was Paul's last voluntary itineration throughout Asia Minor and Greece; like the other two, it was a journey that he, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, planned and accomplished freely without major external restraints. His last journey would be as a prisoner, and its itinerary would be determined by the government of Rome.

The third missionary journey was the most extensive geographically of any of the three, and its duration was much longer than the other two had been. During this journey, Paul covered the territory he had traversed in Asia Minor and in Europe on the earlier missions and stopped and preached at several new places as well, mostly ports of call at islands in the Ionian Sea. He did not cover Cyprus, however. After his separation from Barnabas, he did not visit Cyprus.

The focal point of Paul's third missionary journey was Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia. He spent more time in this city than in any other in the course of his three missionary journeys. In fact, he stayed so long, it looked as if his itineration might end there and he would settle down in Ephesus and become its first bishop. But Paul was too much of a missionary for that. He could not be satisfied until he had preached in Rome itself (19:21). Yet from Luke's account in Acts, Ephesus and Corinth are Paul's crowning missionary and evangelistic achievements, and of the two, Ephesus seems to transcend Corinth. It is Paul's jewel in the East, while Corinth is his jewel in the West.

 

Apollos (l8:23-28)

While Paul was visiting again the churches he had established in Galatia and Phrygia, a man named Apollos arrived in Ephesus. He was a native of Alexandria in Egypt. He was a Jew, however, for the Jewish colony in Alexandria was a large one. It was so large, in fact, that the Hebrew scripture had been translated by and for that community of Jews into Greek, since it had become so Hellenized that many Alexandrine Jews had forgotten or never learned the Hebrew language. The translation made in Alexandria is the famous Septuagint. Whether Apollos knew Hebrew or not, Luke does not say. Two things he did know, though, and he used both to great advantage. One was the Greek language, and the other was the Hebrew scripture.

Alexandria was famous for its schools of philosophy and oratory. The world-renowned philosopher Philo, himself a Jew, was a native of Alexandria, where he interpreted the scripture by means of the Stoic concept of Logos. John used to advantage this aspect of Philo's philosophy in his explication of the incarnation in the first chapter of his Gospel.

Apollos likely was well versed in philosophy, especially Philonic philosophy, since he, like Philo, was a Hellenized Jew. This would have enabled him to find rapport immediately. with the Hellenistic Jews of Ephesus. Not only could he speak Greek fluently, but he was a spell-binding orator who knew the scripture thoroughly. In all probability he gave it a Philonic interpretation. Whatever interpretation he gave it, his enthusiasm, sincerity, and gift of oratory made him most effective with the people.

Evidently, he had at least a smattering of Christianity, though Luke says that he knew only the baptism of John the Baptist. That means definitely that he had a conviction of the heinousness of sin and the need for repentance and reparation. It probably meant as well that he knew the name of Jesus and recognized him as the promised Messiah who had finally come, for John the Baptist had acknowledged him.

But it is obvious from Luke's account that Apollos had no access to apostolic preaching and had not been blessed with the fullness of the gospel with its gift of the Holy Spirit. In other words, he had not acquired a full understanding of faith and how by faith alone one receives the Lord Jesus Christ as one's Savior. Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, discerned this when they heard him speak in the synagogue. After his message, they took him aside and offered him full instruction in the Christian way. Apollos gladly received such instruction and through them understood more perfectly the gospel. It is clear that Paul had left in Priscilla and Aquila two disciples who could carry on his work.

Apollos readily qualified as a true proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so much so that when he decided to go to Greece, the brethren in Ephesus provided him with letters of recommendation. Luke tells us that in Greece he confirmed those who already believed through his preaching and he convinced the Jews through his interpretation of the Hebrew scripture that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ.

 

Paul's Successful Ministry in Ephesus (19:1-22)

After the departure of Apollos, Paul arrived in Ephesus. He came down to the city from the northeast where he had been working in Galatia and Phrygia.

On his arrival he found a small group of sincere people who adhered to the teaching of John the Baptist. They had been convicted of sin and had repented and had registered their penitence in an act of baptism. Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit either in the course of or as a

result of their baptism. They frankly admitted that they had never even heard of the Holy Spirit.

Paul, then, explained to them the meaning of the Christian life, which begins at baptism, and showed them that John the Baptist had intended his ministry to be only preliminary and preparatory. He came to prepare people to receive the Messiah, who was Jesus Christ. Consequently, his baptism to repentance was insufficient. It needed to be superseded by baptism indicating one's belief in and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This belief and acceptance is accompanied by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

These disciples of John the Baptist believed Paul's message. They accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and were baptized in his name. As had Peter and John before him, Paul laid his hands on them and immediately they received the Holy Spirit, who came on them with power, enabling them to speak in tongues and even to prophesy.

These two gifts, namely, of tongues and of the inspiration to prophesy, must have been extraordinary gifts, for there is no indication in the New Testament that they always accompanied baptism. However, the gift of the Holy Spirit is in the New Testament the normal result of baptism, which every Christian should expect to receive. The fact that Paul laid hands on the heads of the baptized converts no doubt symbolized the descent of the Spirit into their lives, just as the Spirit had descended on the converted Samaritans whom Philip had baptized when Peter and John laid their hands on them (8:14-17).

That is why today the ordained minister lays hands on persons when they are confirmed and join the church. Baptism symbolizes their forgiveness and cleansing from sin. Confirmation symbolizes their full membership in the corporate body of Christ, a membership they have voluntarily assumed, and the fulfillment of Christ's promise to give the Holy Spirit to all who believe (John 14:16-26; 16:7-15).

Paul's baptism of these disciples of John the Baptist is the only incident in the New Testament where persons who had been baptized once were baptized a second time. As a result of this, some persons advocate rebaptism. Baptists, for example, insist that persons who come into their church from another denomination that practices infant baptism or uses a form of baptism other than immersion be rebaptized. There are others, some among United Methodists, who contend that a person who has sinned away the benefits of his or her baptism and who has come to repentance and received the grace of Christ to live a new life should signify the same in an act of rebaptism. I have seen persons whom I baptized as infants ask their minister to baptize them again when they joined the church.

Does this incident in the book of Acts validate such acts of rebaptism? I think not, because these disciples of John whom Paul baptized had never received Christian baptism before. They had not been baptized in the name of Jesus until Paul baptized them in Ephesus. The only valid baptismal formula for Christians is in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, for that is the only formula Jesus is gave for his followers to use on persons they won through evangelism who desired to become members of Christ's holy church (Matt. 28:19).

Paul began his public ministry in Ephesus in his usual manner by speaking to the Jews in their synagogue on the sabbath day. In fact, judging from his first experience with them when he stopped briefly in Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem at the close of his second missionary journey, he had every reason to anticipate a gracious and fruitful ministry among them (18:19-21). But such was not the case. To be sure, he had some success among them. However, those who opposed him were so bitter in their opposition that within only three months, he had to separate his followers from them and go to another place.

Similar events occurred wherever Paul went. He was called to be an apostle to the gentiles, and he was especially adept in winning them to the Christian faith. But he had little success with the Jews. They were not only indifferent to him and his message but hostile as well; he was constantly in danger when he tried to minister to them.

He set up headquarters in the school of a man named Tyrannus, about whom we know nothing. He was probably a philosopher -- Stoic, Epicurean, Platonist, or the representative of another system of metaphysics -- who had opened a school where he taught in Ephesus and gathered from the populace his own disciples. Since Paul spoke in the school daily, he probably rented from Tyrannus, who welcomed him as a foil to his own instruction. If not a philosopher, Tyrannus had to be a rhetorician. If that were the case, Paul offered no competition to him. Rather, his presence and popularity drew more students to Tyrannus's classes, so Paul became an asset to his school. I am inclined to this latter opinion because Paul stayed there for two years.

Since Ephesus was the capital of Asia, and people from all over that Roman province came there from time to time, the gospel through Paul's preaching was not limited to the citizens of Ephesus but spread throughout the entire region. The Roman province of Asia covered the middle section of the western seaboard of what is now Turkey. It was not synonymous with modern Asia Minor; it was only a small geographical segment of it. The region of Mysia in the province of Asia with the port of Troas was north of it. Lycia and Pamphylia were south of it along the coast, and Pisidia, Phrygia, and Galatia were beyond it in the east.

Paul's success was remarkable; people all around responded positively to his message. He performed miracles in their behalf. Indeed, pieces of his clothing were carried out to the sick and diseased who could not come to him; and when his clothing touched their bodies, they were cured.

This is the only incident in the New Testament where this type of healing is said to have occurred. To be sure, the woman with the menstrual bleeding was cured by just touching the hem of Jesus' garment (Luke 8:43~8), but Jesus was wearing the garment at the time and the woman was actually in his presence. In Paul's case, his clothing was sent to the sick in distant places. This is the origin of the belief that inanimate objects can convey miraculous power when they have been handled or just blessed by a saint or holy person. For example, Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, claimed to verify her discovery of the cross on which Jesus had died by placing it against the bodies of sick people and watching, when she did so, their immediate recovery.

When the wandering Jewish exorcists try to improve their practice by calling on the name of Jesus preached by Paul to expel an evil spirit from a tormented man, the spirit answers by saying: "Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you?" (19:15, AP). With that retort, the man under the impulse of the evil spirit leaps on the exorcists and beats them so that they run naked out of the man's house. Evidently the man has stripped them of all their clothes in his struggle with them. Luke identifies these exorcists as the sons of Sceva, whom he calls a chief priest.

The magicians, sorcerers, and exorcists of the region were so frightened by Paul's powers, and yet convinced of the validity of his message, that they collected their books of magic and burned them publicly as they embraced the Christian faith. Paul wanted to go back to Greece, but his work in Ephesus was going too well to leave it. Therefore, he sent Timothy and a disciple of his named Erastus to Macedonia in his stead.

The Pagan Demonstration in Ephesus (19:23-41)

Paul might have stayed much longer than he did had not a demonstration against him and his work taken place that involved a sizable number of citizens. This arose in the silversmith guild, which made silver replicas of the statue of Diana in the temple to be sold to visitors to that sacred site from all over the Hellenistic world.

Ephesus was the center of the worship of Diana, or Artemis, as her Greek name was, in the entire Roman world. Diana was the goddess of hunting in Greek mythology. But her cult in Ephesus represented her as being far more than the goddess of the chase. Indeed, she personified to her worshipers the earth in its fertility and fruitfulness, for she had acquired the features of the Asiatic goddess, Cybele, or Mother Earth. Her image was that of a woman of many breasts; the golden statue in the temple represented her as such. That is what the silversmiths duplicated and sold in abundance to the pilgrims and tourists who came in large numbers to Ephesus all the year round.

Ephesus in itself was a splendid city, one of the most beautiful in the Graeco-Roman world. Its wide main thoroughfare, which could accommodate several chariots in a row as well as pedestrians, its inviting shops and invigorating public baths, its stadium and large theater, which would seat twenty thousand people, made it the Rome of the East. Add to all this its temple, which was the religious showplace of antiquity, comparable almost to the Parthenon of Athens. In fact, the Temple of Artemis, or Diana, was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Whether people believed in Diana as a deity or not, they came to see her temple and to admire its artistry. Most of the Ephesians did believe in her divinity, and they looked on her as the protectress of their city and their very special deity.

The silversmiths had a vested interest in Diana, for most of their trade came from the purchase of her statue and other works of art that they made and sold in connection with her temple. One of them, Demetrius, organized his fellow silversmiths to resist Paul and to stage a demonstration against him. To reach the general public, however, and elicit the aid of the populace, they had to have a more attractive reason than their own financial welfare. They had to convince the citizens that Paul was preaching that gods and goddesses made with hands were only idols and that those he converted despised Diana and her temple. If his movement were allowed to spread, it would greatly diminish the influx of pilgrims and tourists into Ephesus, and the great temple for which Ephesus was noted might lose so much support that it would fall into disrepair.

If Demetrius and his cohorts had focused on the danger of bankruptcy to them from Paul, the townsfolk might have disregarded them. What was it to them whether Demetrius went bankrupt or not? But for the city itself to be put in jeopardy and their own goddess Diana damaged would be a calamity so great that they ought to exert every effort to avert it. Demetrius threw the whole city into an uproar.

Paul was not in sight at the time. However, the demonstrating citizens did see two of his associates, Gaius and Aristarchus, who were from Macedonia. They apprehended and carried them to the theater, where the enraged multitude assembled to decide what form of action should be taken. The Asiarchs, that is, the chief persons of the province, who had come to respect Paul, cautioned him not to venture into the theater. A prominent Jew named Alexander was trying to explain to the assembly that Paul was not in favor with the Jewish leadership and therefore not to associate Paul with the Jews. But the crowd would not hear him simply because he was a Jew and Paul was a Jew also. Many people had joined the multitude, not knowing the reason for all the excitement. The people were becoming hysterical and getting out of control. For two hours they shouted until they were hoarse:"Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (19:34).

Finally the town clerk arrested their attention. He told them they had nothing to fear from anyone. The statue of Diana had dropped out of heaven from Jupiter into their midst. Her religion was too great for anyone to injure. Paul had operated in a quiet and unobtrusive manner. He had violated no laws. If the silversmiths felt he had in any way injured their business, they had the law courts in which to sue him and to make their case. He said that the ugly public demonstration was doing more harm to the reputation of Ephesus than Paul could ever do. Besides, with no better case against Paul than theirs was, they were endangering themselves with the Roman government. The best thing they could do would be to go home. And they did.

Paul's Last Missionary Journey as a Free Person (20:1-21:14)

And Paul went home, too, not to Tarsus, where he was born and reared, but to Jerusalem, where he had been educated as a Pharisee among the rabbis. Jerusalem had always been his spiritual home, now more than ever as the site of his mother church.

He took a roundabout way to get there, however. He had a premonition that once he arrived he might never be able to resume his missionary activity again. Before going to Ephesus on this third missionary journey, he had visited the churches he had founded in what is now Asia Minor. On leaving Ephesus, he wanted to visit one more time the churches he had founded in Greece. So after the town clerk had quelled the uproar against him in Ephesus, he bade his Ephesian congregation good-bye and sailed away to Macedonia, covering all the churches in that province. Then, he went down to the province of Achaia, which includes the cities of Athens and Corinth, where he preached and worked as chief pastor and founding father for three months.

Luke in Acts tells us nothing whatever about Paul's constructive ministry in either Macedonia or Achaia. We have to put together as best we can the details from his Corinthian correspondence and his letters to the Thessalonians and a reference in Romans (15:19). Factions, disagreements, and open immorality had troubled the Corinthian church since Paul had left it, and even the validity of his ministry was in question there. So he had sent Titus ahead of him to Corinth to test the waters and report back to him. This Titus did and met Paul with a favorable report in Macedonia. Paul sent him, accompanied by two others, back again to take a collection among the Corinthians for the mother church in Jerusalem (I Cor. 8: l--24). After that, Paul went to that troubled church. All Luke tells us is that Paul planned to sail from Achaia directly to Syria, but changed his route when he learned that the Jews had fomented a plot against him. Consequently, he left the province of Achaia and returned to Macedonia.

Luke lists seven persons whom Paul took along as traveling companions as he made his way back into Asia. He tells us where six of the seven came from: one from Berea, two from Thessalonica, one from Derbe, and two from the province of Asia, presumably Ephesus. He does not tell us where Timothy is from, because we already know from an earlier passage (16:1-2).

Some commentators have suggested that these seven were sent with Paul by their respective churches to present the collection their church had raised for the mother church in Jerusalem. This suggestion does not seem feasible to me. No one from Philippi or Corinth is mentioned in the list, and two names found there are from Galatia, which probably did not participate in the offering, for it had been several years since Paul had traveled through Galatia. It would have been foolish for the churches in Lystra and Derbe to send money from Asia Minor to Europe and then back again in order for it to reach Jerusalem.

The most reasonable explanation for this list of seven would be that these people were free at the time to travel with Paul and that they wanted to be with him in Jerusalem to testify to the success of his mission in their part of the world. The way Luke injects them into his narrative without any explanation is odd indeed.

Paul sent them ahead of him to Troas in Mysia on the continent of Asia. Paul follows after them to Troas, where he stays for seven days. His last stop in Macedonia had been Philippi. It was at Philippi on the second missionary journey that the "we passage" in Acts had ended, indicating that Paul had left Luke there when he went on to Thessalonica. Now the "we passage" begins again. This means that Luke had accompanied Paul from Troas to Philippi and had stayed there without Paul for more than three years.

Before sailing for Troas, Paul had kept at Philippi the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, which is a seven-day observance following immediately after Passover, a one-day observance. Its purpose is to give thanksgiving to God for the harvest and to consecrate the first-born of man and beast to God as well as to signalize the redemption of the first-born males of the Jewish people. During the eight days of Passover and Unleavened Bread, Jews are expected to abstain from eating any bread made with leaven.

Paul met on the first day of the week with the members of the Christian congregation at Troas and broke bread with them. This meal was a recapitulation of the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples. In the early church this celebration generally included more than just bread and wine, though in the course of the meal this act of Jesus was repeated as the principal act in table fellowship. Paul also preached to the congregation. This is the first instance in the New Testament where it is noted that the Christian congregation observes the first day of the week, not the Jewish sabbath on the seventh day, as its day of worship. The first day of the week is the day on which Jesus rose from the dead.

The service must have been in the evening, however, since Luke tells us that Paul preached until midnight. The room where he preached was on the third floor of a building, brightly lit with oil lamps. Eutychus, just a lad probably in his middle or late teens, fell sound asleep under Paul's preaching. Since Eutychus was sitting on the ledge of an open window, he fell out and was killed. Paul went down, stretched out over his body, and restored him to life. I wonder if Eutychus apologized to Paul for going to sleep on him.

On the morning of the second day of the week, Luke and Paul's other companions sailed to Assos, but Paul chose to hike overland since the distance was only twenty miles. He joined the others there and sailed with them to Miletus. Their voyage from Assos to Miletus took them down the coast by Mitylene and through the straits between the Asiatic coast and the island of Chios down to the island of Samos, where they stopped at Trogylium for a day, and back to the mainland, where they disembarked at Miletus. They stayed at that city long enough for Paul to send to Ephesus (only forty miles away) and invite the elders of the Ephesian church to come to him in Miletus. There Paul delivered his valedictory address to the elders whom he had appointed to watch over and lead the church he had left in Ephesus.

The principal points Paul made in that address are (1) to recall to their minds the character and quality of his ministry to them; (2) to remind them of the trouble the Jews gave him and the anxiety and suffering he underwent in their behalf; (3) to state that he preached repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the essence of the gospel; (4) to testify that he went now to Jerusalem not knowing what would happen to him there except that he knew by the Holy Spirit that afflictions awaited him; (5) to assure them that nothing concerned him, not even the loss of life itself, so long as he could testify to the grace of God in Jesus Christ; (6) to say that he had no regrets about his ministry to the people in Ephesus, for he was clean of the blood of all the people there, for he preached the full gospel to all of them; and (7) to admonish them to be diligent in their oversight of the Ephesian church and to feed the church of God there, which Christ purchased with his own blood.

Paul ended his discourse with a moving exhortation. He warned the elders of danger to them in the future and urged them to watch and pray. He told them that he sought nothing for himself. Like him, they, too, must support the weak and remember the words of Jesus: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (see Luke 14:12). He said they shall not see his face anymore. He closed his message with prayer. The elders wept as they hugged and kissed him and said good-bye.

Paul and company put out to sea again. Their voyage carried them by Cos and Rhodes and into the Lycian port of Patara, where they changed ships, sailed within sight of Cyprus, and landed at Tyre, where the ship unloaded its cargo. That took seven days, during which time the Christians there pleaded with Paul not to proceed to Jerusalem. But when the ship was ready to sail, Paul and his companions were on board again. They stopped for a day at Ptolemais in order to encourage the Christians in that city. Finally they reached Caesarea, which was to be their point of disembarkation for Jerusalem.

In Caesarea Paul and his companions found hospitality in the home of Philip, one of the seven who had been made deacons by the Jerusalem church before the martyrdom of Stephen. It was he who had first won converts among the Samaritans and had baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. Because of his remarkable success in winning people to Christ, he had come to be known as Philip the evangelist. He had four virgin daughters who had the gift of prophecy.

However, Agabus was the one who foretold Paul's fate in Jerusalem. Just as he had done in Antioch, when he foretold the famine that would afflict the Roman world under Claudius Caesar and cause the church there to send relief by Paul and Barnabas to the mother church in Jerusalem (11:27-29), so now he came, this time to Caesarea, from Jerusalem to warn Paul not to go there. This time he made a demonstration of his message. He took Paul's girdle and put it around himself, binding his hands and feet with it, and said, speaking for the Holy Spirit, that the Jews in Jerusalem would bind the man that owned the girdle and would deliver him to the gentiles. His prediction was so graphic that Paul's traveling companions and his hosts in Caesarea besought Paul with tears not to go to Jerusalem. Paul asked them to refrain from crying, for they were breaking his heart. He was adamant. He was ready, not just to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

Since Paul would not listen to their advice, all his friends could say was: "The will of the Lord be done" (21:14).

 

Questions For Reflection and Study

1. Paul stayed so long in Ephesus that it looked as if he would settle down there and become its first bishop. When our work is going well, are modern Christians ever tempted to settle back and enjoy it rather than to move ahead? How do we know when it is time to move in another direction?

2. Apollos was uniquely gifted both by natural ability and by training to preach the gospel effectively. What natural abilities do you have that can enable you to reach people in the name of Christ? What training have you had that prepares you for this task? Which abilities do you think you need to develop in order to increase your effectiveness?

3. Although gifted, Apollos realized his shortcomings and was willing to accept the instruction of Priscilla and Aquila. Under whose instruction are you willing to place yourself in order to understand more perfectly the gospel?

4. What do you understand to be the difference between baptism and confirmation? Are both equally important? Is either of them optional? What does each mean to you personally?

5. Paul experienced much opposition in preaching the gospel. However, he seemed to know when to call it quits and turn to another area in order to win persons to Christ. Do you ever have difficulty knowing when to persevere and when to give up? Upon what criteria do you base your decision? Do circumstances alter your criteria?

6. Luke tells us that Paul performed miracles of healing and that even his clothing could cure persons who touched it. What is your reaction to the concept that inanimate objects that have been handled or blessed by a saint or holy person convey miraculous power?

7. The magicians, sorcerers, and exorcists at Ephesus were frightened of Paul's power, but were so convinced of his message that they accepted the Christian faith. As a symbol of that faith, they gathered and burned their magic books. What symbolic act would be meaningful to you personally as an expression of your faith? Can you name others that might be appropriate for modern Christians?

8. The members of the silversmith guild at Ephesus rejected Paul's message of the gospel because it threatened their financial well-being. Do Christians ever reject certain aspects of the gospel when it interferes with material comfort? Are we ever guilty of picking and choosing those precepts of our faith that are most convenient? Name some examples of how this might be true.

9. When Paul made it known that he intended to travel to Jerusalem and that his journey would ultimately mean his death, his friends and followers implored him to change his mind. Have you ever had a difficult task to perform only to have your family or friends try to dissuade you? How did you handle the situation? Have you ever tried to convince others to change their mind? Do you think it is possible for well-meaning people to interfere with God's work in such a way?

 

 

 

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