Paul in Ephesus en route to Antioch of Syria Part 1 of 3

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.

And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.

May 8, 2015


Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe



Acts 18:18-22 (KJV)

18 And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.
19 And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.
20 When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not;
21 But bade them farewell, saying, I must, by all means, keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.
22 And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up, and saluted the church, he went down to Antioch.



Introduction

Acts 18:18-22 provides a transition between Paul’s second and third missions. On the one hand, it concludes the second, with Paul returning to Antioch13 where his journey began (15:35-41). On the other hand, Paul’s brief visit to Ephesus looks toward the third missionary period, which would be spent primarily in that city.



Lesson

18 And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.

The note that “Paul . . . . tarried there yet a good while” indicates that the missionary remained in Corinth for some time after his appearance before Gallio, and it confirms the importance of Gallio’s refusal to hear the case. It was only due to his refusal that Paul was able to stay in Corinth afterward and continue his witness without hindrance.

On other occasions, persecution had driven Paul on, but this time the opposition was neutralized by the attitude of the officials. He, therefore, did not take his arrest as a sign that he should move on. In any case, he had the Lord’s personal promise that no one would be allowed to harm him in Corinth. If his arrest took place soon after the arrival of Gallio, which seems likely enough, then Paul stayed on for several more months.

“And then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.”Just why Paul decided to end his initial ministry in Corinth and sailed to “Syria” is not specified1. Cenchrea2, their port of departure and the eastern Aegean harbor of Corinth, was Paul’s natural point of departure for an eastern journey

He could look back over a tremendously fruitful time in Corinth. Large numbers had been saved, and a church had been founded that contained many gifted and able believers. They did “not lack any spiritual gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7). Indeed, many of the subsequent disorders in the church resulted from its superabundance of gifts, not all of which were exercised in particularly spiritual ways.

Paul’s leaving may have had something to do with his vow. He is said to have shaved his hair15 in connection with a vow he had made. This seems to have been a “temporary” Nazarite vow—A special pledge of separation and devotion—the type of vow discussed in Numbers 6:1-213. There is no way to verify the type of vow; therefore, it could have been one he made in a time of difficulty or danger. When Paul made this vow is unspecified. He may have made it when he left Troas for Macedonia, or at the beginning of his ministry at Corinth, or more likely, before, but the Lord gave him the vision (18: 9-10). Just why Paul had made a vow is not clear. It was perhaps in conjunction with his vision (Acts 18:9-10)4, a means of expressing thanksgiving and seeking the continued blessing of the Lord in his Corinthian mission, or perhaps he made the vow early in his stay at Corinth when he had been depressed and afraid (18:9)4. Moreover, the apostle was not above using a Jewish means to reach the Jewish people. He tells the Romans of his tremendous burden for the salvation of Jews (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1). He was willing to become all things to all men if only he might win some. Perhaps his Nazarite vow was intended to attract some of the synagogue Jews. Perhaps it was just a way of showing the Lord how greatly he desired to be used in the Jewish community at Corinth. Perhaps it was just a voluntary discipline he imposed upon himself to deepen his own personal consecration. Certainly at Corinth Paul set aside all natural means for attracting the Greek population to Christ. He came “not with enticing words of man’s wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:4), and their assessment of him was that his bodily presence was “weak” (2 Corinthians 10:10), and his speech contemptible. Paul was not concerned about making a good outward impression at Corinth. Indeed, he accused the Corinthians of being too willing to judge by the outward

appearance (10:7).

The reference to his having cut his hair at this point presents some difficulty. Generally, one cut the hair at the end of the vow and made a sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem, throwing the cut hair into the burnt offering as a part of the sacrifice. Some interpreters suggest that at Cenchrea2 Paul was beginning a vow that he would later complete in Jerusalem, but the past tense of the Greek verb indicates Paul had already taken the vow. There also is no evidence for cutting the hair at the initiation of a vow—only at its completion. A passage in Josephus seems to indicate the practice of cutting the hair elsewhere before going to Jerusalem to make the sacrifices. Perhaps this is what Paul was doing. At least he would not show up in Jerusalem with the outward sign of a Nazarite upon him. There it might easily be misinterpreted. Paul had made up his mind to go to Jerusalem. The Nazarite vow3 had to be completed in Jerusalem with the offering of the proper sacrifices, but it was not necessary for one to be in Jerusalem to make a vow.

In any event, the significance of the vow is that it shows Paul to have been a loyal, practicing Jew. In his mission to the Gentiles, he did not abandon his own Jewishness. Luke’s mention of this trivial matter may have been intended to show how unwarranted were the Jewish and even Jewish-Christian attacks upon Paul for his supposed opposition to their traditions. He was still a “Jew to the Jews” and still continued his witness in the synagogues. Interestingly, on Paul’s final visit to Jerusalem, when James wanted him to demonstrate his Jewish loyalty before the more legally zealous Jewish Christians, participation in a similar vow was chosen as the means to accomplish this (21:20-24)5. We should not be surprised when later on, Paul paid the expenses for four men to be released from a Nazarite vow.

With him, at this time, were his friends Aquilla and Priscilla which indicates that there was sufficient leadership in Corinth, with men such as Gaius, Sosthenes, Stephanas, and Crispus.. This was probably in a.d.52. Claudius died in a.d. 54, and his death signaled the return of many exiled Jews to Rome. Aquila and Priscilla themselves move back to Rome later—a.d. 57—and became active in the work of the Roman church (Romans 16:3)6. Their trade did not tie them to one spot. Paul doubtless welcomed their companionship on his eastern journey. Perhaps they originally intended to accompany him all the way to Jerusalem, but if so, their plans were soon to be altered.

There are a great many people who find fault with Paul because he made a vow. They say that this is the man who preached that we are not under Law but we are under grace, and so he should not have made a bow. Anyone who says this about Paul is actually making a little law for Paul. Such folks are saying that Paul is to do things their way. Under grace, my friend, if you want to make a bow, you can make it. And if you do not want to make a vow, you don’t have to. Paul didn’t force anyone else to make a vow. In fact, he said emphatically that no one has to do that. But if Paul wants to make a vow, that is his business. That is the marvelous freedom that we have in the grace of God today. I would like to offer this as an example: if one wishes to eat meat, there is freedom to eat meat. If one wishes to celebrate a certain day, there is freedom to observe it. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do it all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The important thing is to do all to the glory of God. Eating meat will not commend you to God and neither will abstaining from meat commend you to God. Actually, if what you do glorifies God, it is probably all right for you to do it.


19 And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.

“And he came to Ephesus,” and presumably, Silas and Timothy7 stayed behind in Corinth to continue the work that Paul was leaving, and to oversee the churches in Macedonia and Acadia; and Aquila and Priscilla accompanied Paul to Ephesus. They remained there and undoubtedly continued the Christian witness in the city after Paul’s departure (18:26). At this point, Paul made an appearance in the Ephesian synagogue. It was nothing more. Ephesus was not a major point on his itinerary for the second journey. It was often a port of call for ships traveling from Corinth to the Assyrian coast, and that probably was the case in this instance.

And left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. As always, Paul hastened to the Jewish synagogue and lost no time in introducing the Jews to Jesus.

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