October 17, 2015


Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe



Topic #IV: The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts 13-28)   


Subtopic D: The Third Missionary Journey (18:23-21:14) 




Lesson: IV.D.4: Three Months in Greece (Acts 20:1-5)                           



Acts 20:1-5 (KJV)


1 And after the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto him the disciples, and embraced them, and departed for to go into Macedonia.

2 And when he had gone over those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece,

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.

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.

5 These going before tarried for us at Troas.





After Paul’s experience in Ephesus, he took his leave of Ephesus and set out for Macedonia, and then to Philippi, back to Troas, and to Miletus.  The Elders of the church in Ephesus meet him in Miletus where they have a tender reunion and a touching farewell.


This account can be supplemented considerably from 2 Corinthians 1-7, where Paul discussed the events of the same period.  There had been considerable tension with the Corinthian church during the final portion of Paul’s Ephesian ministry.  Paul seems to have written a rather confrontive letter to that congregation during that period.  He described the letter as “painful” and written “with many tears” (2 Corinthians 2:3).  Strong opposition to Paul had arisen in the church, and there were attacks on his status as their apostle.  In the letter Paul seems to have confronted the opposition directly and severely.  The letter was sent by way of Titus, and Paul evidently wanted to hear Titus’ report back to him about “how it went” before proceeding himself to Corinth.






1 And after the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto him the disciples, and embraced them, and departed for to go into Macedonia.


“And after the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto him the disciples, and embraced them.” The “uproar” mentioned here was caused by the rioting silversmiths, and it put an end to any further usefulness for Paul in Ephesus.  Besides that, his continued presence might spark more trouble; in any case, he had for some time been formulating plans for a move.  The riot gave added impetus to his own goals, so he said his fond farewells to his beloved brethren and took up his pilgrim staff again.  “Macedonia” was to be his next stop, since Paul was concerned about the situation in Corinth.  Paul waited at Ephesus until the return of Timothy and Erastus, and left Ephesus shortly after Pentecost, 55 A.D.— “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me,(C) and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9).  We learn from Romans 15:19 that he spent some time in “Macedonia” and extended his missionary labors (which were marked by sign miracles) as far as Illyricum. But he spent the three winter months of 55-56 A.D. in Corinth, and there he wrote the Epistle to the Romans.


He seems to have made his way up the coast to Troas, crossed over to Philippi, and then headed for Corinth.  He does not appear to have tarried long at Troas, though “a door was opened” to him there (2 Corinthians 2:12).  Paul was hoping Titus would be there with news from Corinth, but when Titus failed to materialize, he turned his restless steps toward Europe and Corinth, perhaps following much the same route he had taken on his second missionary journey.


It would appear that soon after the silversmiths’ riot Paul “departed” Ephesus for “Macedonia.”  The words of encouragement that he addressed to the believers before going may have been along the same lines as those he spoke to their leaders a few months later (vs. 17-35).  He had already “decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Acadia” (19:21), but he may have set out sooner than intended, partly because of the riot, and partly because of his anxiety over the situation in Corinth.  These had been stormy years in Paul’s dealing with the Corinthians.  They had rejected his authority, and neither his letters nor his own or Timothy’s visits had seemed to help.  In desperation, therefore, he had sent Titus to Corinth with another letter (now lost) in the hope that either the message or the messenger might bring the church back to loyalty to him.  And he could not wait any longer for Titus’ return.  Thus, full of anxiety and perhaps also physically ill (2 Corinthians 1:8), Paul went to Troas hoping to meet Titus there.  Here he preached “the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door” to him there (2 Corinthians 2: 12). But his heart was not in it.  He could not rest until he had heard from Titus.  When Titus failed to rendezvous at Troas, Paul resolved to go on to “Macedonia” “I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia.” (2 Corinthians 2:13).


 “And departed for to go into Macedonia.” Paul’s journey must have taken him to Troas.  According to his Corinthian correspondence, he had a great opportunity two preach the Gospel in that city; but he was so depressed in not finding Titus there waiting for him that he went on to “Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 2:12).  Luke takes up the story again at this point with a brief notice of what may have been quite a prolonged “missionary progress” through the province of “Macedonia.”



2 And when he had gone over those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece,


“And when he had gone over those parts, and had given them much exhortation.” Paul had two goals in mind as he visited the various churches.  His main purpose was to encourage and strengthen the saints so that they might stand true to the Lord and be effective witnesses.  His second purpose was to finish taking up the collection for the needy believers in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-27; 1 Corinthians 16: 1-9; 2 Corinthians 8-9).


We learn from 2 Corinthians; a letter he wrote at this time from Philippi (2 Corinthians 1:8; 2:13; 7:5)—certainly the most autobiographical of all his epistles—that Paul arrived in Macedonia in a state of spiritual depression.  He remained in Macedonia for some time, for it would seem that it was at this time he evangelized the seagirt [means, surrounded by sea] province of Illyricum on the Adriatic Sea, and across from Italy (Romans 15:19).  Depression did not keep Paul from the task of winning souls to Christ.  So often depression is Satan’s tool to keep our mind on ourselves and off the need of a perishing world.  That device of Satan did not work with Paul.


It must have been a joy for Paul to renew old friendships.  But this journey had its problems, as Paul indicated in 2 Corinthians 7:5— “When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside.” And always there was his nagging concern for the church in Corinth.  His relief knew no bounds, therefore, when Titus met him with good news of that church— “But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus” (2 Corinthians 7:6).  From Macedonia Paul may have gone to Illyricum (Romans 15:19, but it is not clear from this reference whether he actually preached in Illyricum or simply named it as marking the western limit of the eastern world that had up till then been his territory.


“He came into Greece.” Greece here means “Achaia,” and the background of the journey is supplied by 2 Corinthians 1:15-2:16.  We gather that the three months visit to Corinth (implicit in verses 2-3) was a happy one, thanks to Titus’ good work and the effect of the letters.  Paul stayed in Gaius’ hospitable home and was able to dictate his great letter to the Romans, inspired by his plans for proceeding there after his proposed visit to Jerusalem (Romans 15:16).


From Macedonia Paul went on to “Greece,” and revisited Corinth and Athens and the churches he started in the small towns in the area. While there he wrote his theological masterpiece, his epistle to the Romans. Paul who had long planned to go to Rome, now seemed to be sensing the Holy Spirit’s approval for that move.  The news that Phoebe, a devoted sister in the church at Cenchrea, near Corinth, was soon to go to Rome on business spurred Paul on.  He would write a letter.  It would serve to introduce this beloved sister to the saints at Rome, it would give the believers there an advance notice of his own proposed visit, and it would enable him to spell out the great truths of Christianity in an orderly form for their edification.  But as great as the apostle’s desire to go to Rome and Spain, he was so concerned for the poor in Jerusalem and over the widening gap between Jewish and Gentile Christians that he had to suppress his yearning to go first to Jerusalem.


Counting the time Paul spent at Troas, he seems to have invested the best part of a very busy year in Europe.  If the contents of his Roman epistle is any indication of his ministry at this time, he certainly set before the European church by example and “exhortation” the need for steadfastness in evangelism, church planting, and bible teaching.



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 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’s[1] 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.



5 These going before tarried for us at Troas.


It is not clear from verse 5 whether this whole company of delegates traveled on to Troas ahead of Paul.  “These [men]” possibly refers only to the Asians Tychicus and Trophimus, who went ahead to their native province to seek a ship for the company to travel to Palestine.  Others have suggested that the rest of them went by ship directly to Troas, while Paul made the journey alone by land.  In any case, the party divided at some point (probably Philippi, if they were traveling together), with the others going on to Troas and Paul remaining to celebrate the feast of unleavened bread (i.e., The Passover, v. 6) at Philippi. 


This is quite a group of men, missionaries, who worked with Paul.  I take it that these men had traveled with Paul before.  When Paul wanted to have a ministry in a place like Corinth, probably these men would radiate out and had a ministry in the countryside and the small towns.  We read in the Epistle to the Colossians about the fact that the Word of God had been made known in that day to the whole world.  That sounds unbelievable, but it was true.  It was no oratorical gesture.  Of course “the whole world” means the Roman world because that was the world of that day.  We get some insight here and recognize that there were other people working with the apostles.  Acts trace the work of Peter and Paul as the dominant ones—Peter as the Apostle to the Jews and Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles.  What we have here in the book of acts is a very limited account of the missionary work that was going on.


Note that in verse 5, Luke uses the pronoun “us” indicating that Luke has joined Paul at Philippi.







[1] Western text: The chief characteristics of Western readings is fondness for paraphrase. Words, clauses, and even whole sentences are freely changed, omitted or inserted. Sometimes the motive appears to have been harmonization, while at other times it was the enrichment of the narrative by the inclusion of the traditional or apocryphal material. Some readings involve quite trivial alterations for which no special reason can be assigned.