Three Months in Greece Part 2 of 3

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)



3 And there abode three months. And when the Jews laid wait for him, as he was about to sail into Syria, he purposed to return through Macedonia.

“And there abode three months.” There is nothing in this passage to indicate why he spent “three months” in Greece—most or all of it were likely spent in Corinth—but it probably had something to do with the collection for Jerusalem’s poor; that is, to give the churches of Greece the opportunity to join with the other churches in giving. The importance of the collection held for the apostle is best illustrated in Romans 15:25-29, where he indicated that he was putting off his visit to Rome and his cherished mission to Spain in order first to deliver the collection to Jerusalem. He was doing this with full awareness that the undertaking involved considerable personal risk from unbelievers and possible rejection from the Jerusalem Christians— “Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there” (Romans 15:31).

“And when the Jews laid wait for him, as he was about to sail into Syria, he purposed to return through Macedonia.” Each year a pilgrim ship left the port city of Cenchrea for Palestine, to take Jewish people home for the annual festivals. Paul, it would seem, planned to “sail” on one of those pilgrim ships. Word of that leaked out, and the “Jews” decided among themselves that it would give them a golden opportunity to get rid of him. Paul, however, uncovered the plot, changed his plans, and headed back north to “Macedonia.” The plan may have been to attack him on board ship, especially if the vessel was crowded with Jewish Pilgrims for Passover or Pentecost, or even in the crowded harbor of Cenchrea before the ship sailed. The reason is not given. It may have been a continuation of his earlier troubles with the “Jews”— “While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment” (18:12)—or simply because he was carrying money for the church in Jerusalem. So instead of going by ship, Paul set out by road through “Macedonia,” the way he had come “three months” earlier. In all the plots and schemes and attempts on Paul’s life, in all his narrow escapes from them, we detect the protecting hand of God. Truly we are immortal until our work is done.

Tragically, most of the opposition to Paul’s ministry stemmed from his fellow countrymen— “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers” (2 Corinthians 11:26). The Jewish community of Corinth hated Paul because of its humiliating debacle before Galileo (18:12-17), and the stunning conversions of two of its most prominent leaders, Crispus (18:8), and Sosthenes (18:17; 1 Corinthians 1:1). Luke does not record the details of the Jew’s plot, but undeniably it involved murdering Paul during the voyage to Palestine. The apostle would have been an easy target on a small ship packed with Jewish Pilgrims. Because of that danger, Paul canceled his plans to “sail” from Greece to Syria. Instead, he decided to go north into “Macedonia,” cross the Aegean Sea to Asia Minor, and catch another ship from there. That delay cost Paul his opportunity to reach Palestine in time for Passover, but he hurried to be there in time for Pentecost (v. 16).

4 And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.

In his epistles Paul mentioned his intention to be “accompanied” to Jerusalem by representatives of the churches— “And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel” (2 Corinthians 8:18). The list in verse four would indicate that there was a representation from each of the major areas where Paul had established churches.

“And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea.” The names of Paul’s traveling companions are carefully noted, probably because they were official delegates appointed by their respective churches to make the journey with Paul and to present the collection. “Sopater” is probably the Sosipater of Romans 16:21 who was a relative of Paul, and was with Paul at Corinth when he wrote that letter. He was the delegate from the church in “Berea.” Luke’s account of the evangelization of “Asia” is very brief, and should be supplemented by studying Paul’s address to the Ephesian Elders (17-35), as well as the passing references to this ministry in the letters to the Corinthians, written from Ephesus.

“And of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus, and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.” Paul now had around him a group of fine men from the various regions he had evangelized. The Macedonian churches were represented by “Sopater, Aristarchus and Secundus”; “Aristarchus” was mentioned earlier in 19:29 as one of the victims of the riot; but later we read of him being a fellow prisoner with Paul in Rome (Philemon 24; Colossians 4:10). He and “Secundus” represented the church in “Thessalonica.” The Galatian churches were represented by “Gaius and Timothy”; “Gaius” and “Timothy” were Galatians, unless we accept the Western text’s1 description of “Gaius” as “the Doberian” Doberus was a Macedonian town near Rome., instead of “the Derbean,” in which case Gaius was another Macedonian and presumably a fellow victim, with “Aristarchus,” of the riot (19:29). It is commonly held, however, that “Gaius” was a friend of Timothy, and had probably been converted, along with Timothy, during Paul’s first missionary journey. He not only “accompanied” Paul into “Asia” but was with him in Rome during his first imprisonment. Subsequently, he traveled with Paul through proconsular “Asia.” In his Second letter to Timothy, Paul expressed the desire to see him again, but we do not know whether this wish was ever fulfilled. “Tychicus and Trophimus,” represented the Asian churches. “Tychicus” is well known from the later epistles as Paul’s courier to “Asia” (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12). Probably both were Ephesians. “Trophimus” certainly was, and because of this became the unwitting cause of Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem (21:29; see also 2 Timothy 4:20). As we gather from 2 Corinthians, the Corinthian church was well represented by Titus and two other brethren (2 Corinthians 8:1-6; 16:24).

The chief reason for Paul’s traveling with such a considerable escort was the collection of money he had been accumulating from his various Gentile churches to help minister to the poor in the Jerusalem church. These men undoubtedly came from the various churches that had contributed to the project. Here we discern another of those missionary principles that so characterize the book of Acts; Paul was always careful to be above all reproach and suspicion in matters of money. He surrounded himself with safeguards to ensure that he could never be accused of misappropriation of funds. That’s why I find it hard to believe, as some Bible commentators do, that “Paul himself may have taken responsibility for the money raised by the Asian churches, though this had not been his original intention— “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me” (1 Corinthians 16:2-4).

We need to recognize that when Paul went through Greece and Macedonia, he visited all the churches which he had founded there. He would have stopped at Athens and Corinth, at Thessalonica and “Berea” and Philippi. So he retraced his steps and visited all the churches that were in Europe—or at least in the European section of his third journey.

It is odd that the church in Philippi is not mentioned, but Luke, who apparently joined the company in Philippi, may have been their representative. The difficulty that the company only went to Philippi at the last minute is overcome if we accept that there was much more movement and discussion than Acts has recorded and that Luke may have been the brother “who is praised by all the churches” whom Paul had sent with Titus from Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:18). Titus was to carry Paul’s latest letter (2 Corinthians) to Corinth and then to help the Corinthians to get ready for the collection. Luke may have taken the Philippians' contribution with him but then returned to Macedonia to make arrangements for his own departure for Jerusalem as the Philippian delegate. He may have planned to meet up with the others somewhere along their route and so he may have been more or less ready to travel when they unexpectedly turned up at Philippi.

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