Paul’s Journey to Jerusalem and the Role of the Spirit

May 16, 2018

As Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey draws to a close, the text states, “After looking up the disciples [at Tyre], we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). At first glance it would seem that the Holy Spirit is instructing Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Is that what the passage means?

View of Jerusalem, looking west, from Mt. of Olives. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Every passage of Scripture has a context. Previously Luke recorded, “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21, ESV). Then a few verses later, ” And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there” (20:22, ESV). We know that capitalization is supplied by the translators but you see that the English Standard Version, along with many others, indicate this is the Holy Spirit, not Paul’s spirit, in these texts, Who is directing Paul. Further, that Paul’s journey to Jerusalem was clearly endorsed by the Lord is seen in 23:11, “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (ESV). Additionally, when Paul and his companions were forbidden by the Holy Spirit (on the 2nd Journey) to preach in Asia, Mysia and Bithynia, they did not resist the Spirit, but passed through those regions on to Macedonia (Acts 16:1-10). These passage furnish the surrounding context in which Acts 21:4 must be viewed.

J.W. McGarvey wrote, “We are not to understand that these entreaties [in our opening text, 21:4] were dictated by the Spirit; for this would have made it Paul’s duty to desist from his purpose; but the statement means that they were enabled to advise him not to go, by knowing, through the Spirit, what awaited him. The knowledge was supernatural; the advice was the result of their own judgment” (A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, p.255).

Bob & Sandra Waldron explained, “The Spirit is telling Paul there will be trouble, but it is the people who are begging him not to go” (Go Tell the Good News, p.184).

I do believe that this gives the best explanation of Acts 21:4, as any other view would contradict the related texts immediately before and after the passage. I’m convinced this must be the approach when approaching a challenging text–explanations must be ruled out which contradict other plain passages of scripture.


Paul Landed at Syracuse

January 20, 2016

In the book of Acts we read of Paul’s route from Caesarea, Israel, to Rome, as a prisoner, with the trip’s various stops along the way. As they journeyed in the Mediterranean there was a shipwreck which resulted in their staying for the winter at the island of Malta. Then Luke, who was on that journey with Paul continues, “After three months we sailed in an Alexandrian ship whose figurehead was the Twin Brothers, which had wintered at the island. And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days” (Acts 28:11-12).

Syracuse is mentioned in the NT only as having been a harbour where St. Paul lay at anchor for three days on his voyage from Malta to Rome. The shipwrecked crew and passengers, after spending three months in Malta, set sail on the Dioscuri, evidently one of the Alexandrian fleet of imperial transports carrying grain from Egypt to maintain the food supply in Rome.† They started, evidently, very early in the year, probably in February, before the settled weather and the customary season for navigation (mare clausum 11 Nov. to 5 March) had begun. That implies that a suitable and seemingly steady wind was blowing, which tempted them to embark, and carried them straight to Syracuse, a distance of about 100 miles. On the voyage from Malta to Rome as a whole, see RHEGIUM.

Nothing is said with regard to any preaching by St. Paul in Syracuse, nor could any be expected to occur. The ship was certainly waiting for a suitable wind to carry it north to the straits of Messina; and under such circumstances no prisoner was likely to be allowed leave of absence, as the ship must be ready to take instant advantage of the wind (Ramsay, W. M. (1911–1912). SYRACUSE. In J. Hastings, J. A. Selbie, A. B. Davidson, S. R. Driver, & H. B. Swete (Eds.), A Dictionary of the Bible: Dealing with Its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology (Vol. 4, p. 645). New York; Edinburgh: Charles Scribner’s Sons; T. & T. Clark.)

Sicily is noted for its rich history (Greek, Roman and more), culture, theater & amphitheater, architecture, and as the birthplace of the preeminent mathematician and engineer Archimedes. But my special interest in it has to do with its being included among biblical sites!

Siracusa Theater Greg and Carlo_Picogna

At Greek Theater at Syracuse. Greg Picogna (r) with his father Carlo (now deceased). Photo taken in 1998.

Also at Syracuse you can view the Fountain of Diana.

At Syracuse, Fountain of Diana, goddess of the hunt. Photo supplied by Greg Picogna.

At Syracuse, Fountain of Diana, goddess of the hunt. Photo supplied by Greg Picogna.

Giulio Moschetti (1847-1909) created this fountain in Syracuse; it portrays Diana, the mythical goddess of the hunt, in all of her calm and pride.

Another famous site in Syracuse is the “Ear of Dionysus” (Italian Orecchio di Dionisio). It was most likely formed out of an old limestone quarry. It is 75.5 feet high and extends 213 feet back into the cliff. Because of its shape this unusual formation has extremely good acoustics, making even a small sound reverberate throughout the cave.

Ear of Dionysius at Syracuse. Photo supplied by Greg Picogna.

Ear of Dionysius at Syracuse. Photo supplied by Greg Picogna.

I’m looking forward to seeing these sites at Syracuse, along with other locations in Sicily and Italy, with my tour group coming up in March.


Miletus

April 20, 2010

Miletus was a seaport on the Mediterranean, on the Bay of Latmus. Because of silting filling the gulf, the site is now more than five miles from the coast. The modern name of Miletus is Yeni-Balat. Miletus was a leading harbor during the Persian and Greek periods. Miletus was still an important trade center in Roman times. A temple devoted to the worship of Apollo was located at Miletus.

I had the opportunity in summer of 2006 to visit Miletus.  The photo below shows the ruins of the harbor, and the harbor monument. The circular base in center of photo is the foundation of the great harbor monument.

Miletus Harbor. Foundation of Great Harbor Monument. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Again I had the occasion to see Miletus last month.  This is a shot of the same area, but reflecting winter and spring rains.

Miletus Harbor March 2010. Monument foundation under water. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Note the building which can be seen in both photos, upper right.  This is the ruins of a synagogue.  There is no record of a church at Miletus in the context of Acts 20.

Bible and Spade has this to say regarding Paul’s brief stay at Miletus:

At the head of the harbor Paul would have landed on the marble paved street in front of the harbor stoa, stretching 525 feet along the south end of the bay. On his right he would have seen the large harbor monument built to honor the Emperor Augustus shortly after 31 B.C. The foundations of the Harbor Stoa and Monument are still there today, and not far from them is a partially excavated synagogue, which Paul may have visited. Had the Apostle walked through the center of town, as he no doubt did, he would have passed the Delphinion, the city’s chief religious center, where Apollo was worshiped. After walking 325 feet down the processional road he would come to the great South Agora, equal in size to some sixteen city blocks and surrounded by something like one hundred shops (Vol.2.4.103).

Biblical Significance. On the return route of the 3rd missionary journey, Paul asked the Ephesian elders to meet him here at Miletus (Acts 20:17). Miletus was 37 miles south of Ephesus. The elders accommodated Paul, and thus enabled him to stay near the harbor so that he would not miss the ship going on to Israel. It was here that he poured out his heart to them, admonishing them to take heed to themselves, and to all the flock among which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (Acts 20:28). They prayed and wept freely; then he departed on the ship, sailing to Cos and the following day to Rhodes (one of the islands included on our tour). Reference is later made to Miletus in Paul’s final letter, in 2 Tim. 4:20, as he notes having left Trophimus there due to sickness.

Archaeological work has been conducted mostly by German teams from 1899-1914, 1938-9 and since 1955. We plan to share more photos of Miletus within the next day or two, including some of the areas referenced above in the Bible and Spade quote, so be sure to check back for more.