Acts 17-20

Paul and Silas continue on Paul’s second missionary journey.  After leaving Philippi, they travel to Thessalonica and preach to the Jews.  As usual, some Jews are persuaded, as are some Greeks and “not a few of the leading women”.  Also as usual, the other Jews incite an uproar and they flee the town, this time going to Beroea.  After the pattern repeats in Beroea, they go to Athens, where they argue with Jews, debate with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, and preach in front of the Areopagus.  They proceed to Corinth, where the pattern repeats again–this time, the Jews drag Paul to Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, but Gallio dismisses the charges.  They leave, and Paul cuts his hair in Cenchreae due to a Nazirite vow.  They briefly visit Ephesus, Jerusalem, and Antioch.  Paul starts his third missionary journey: they travel west across Anatolia while meeting disciples along the way.

Paul reaches Ephesus, where he converts former followers of John the Baptist, preaches for 2 years, and performs miracles.  Their teachings threaten the local industry that makes shrines for Artemis, so the artisans drag Paul’s travel companions to the theater; the town clerk dismisses the crowd.  Paul leaves for Greece, and stays there three months; he goes to Troas and holds a discussion with disciples, where he resurrects one of them from the dead.  Paul goes to Miletus and meets with the elders of the Ephesian church, telling them that he will go to Jerusalem and that this trip will lead to his martyrdom.  He gives them words of encouragement and leaves.

Commentary:

  • Maps of Paul’s second and third missionary journeys can be found here and here, respectively.
  • In almost every city that Paul visits, he preaches to the Jews first.  Some Jews convert, but most of them reject the message, leading him to preach to Gentiles instead.  Usually, a group of hostile Jews seek to persecute or kill Paul.  In such cases, Roman officials are always portrayed in a positive light.  Luke seeks to portray Christians as perfectly law-abiding members of society throughout both his gospel and Acts.
  • During Paul’s two-year stay in Ephesus, he wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians.  This stay is usually dated to 53-57 AD.
  • Paul takes a Nazirite vow in Cenchreae.  After taking a vow, Nazirites must refrain from wine and other grape products, not cut their hair, and avoid contact with corpses (Numbers 6:1-21).  At the end of the vow, the Nazirite must shave his head and sacrifice a lamb, an ewe, and a ram.  Here, Paul is portrayed as shaving his head at the beginning of his vow, possibly because of Luke’s unfamiliarity with Jewish rituals.
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