A Christian Guide to Acts by R. David Pogge

Chapter 9

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

Acts 16 - 18:22

Rose Book of Bible Charts. Maps & Time Lines

Section 9.1 – The Missing Point

We saw in the previous chapter that the primary reason the Jerusalem Council was convened was to determine if Gentiles had to become Jews by being circumcised before they could become Christians. We also saw that they decided Gentiles did not have to be circumcised, and decided to convey that decision in a letter to the Gentile believers in Antioch. The letter was carried by Paul on his Second Missionary Journey; but there was something conspicuously missing from the letter. See if you spot it.

The apostles and elders, your brothers,

To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

Greetings.

We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said.  So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul—men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing.  It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:  You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Farewell. [Acts 15:23-29]

The word “circumcision” appears nowhere in the letter! It only says Christians are required to avoid even the appearance of idolatry, obey God's dietary laws, and reject some socially acceptable sexual practices. By omission it implies that Gentile Christians are not obliged to undergo circumcision, or keep the Jewish festivals. Since Paul was carrying the letter, he could “confirm by word of mouth” that circumcision is not necessary.

The Council realized prohibited pagan customs regarding idolatry, diet, and sex were already starting to be brought into the Christian church by the Gentile converts. That’s why the Council specifically prohibited them. Unfortunately, it was inconceivable to the Council that someday, hundreds of years in the future, the church would become so corrupt that it would proudly replace the Sabbath Commandment with the tradition of Sunday worship. 1 Even if they had the foresight to see the coming apostasy, advice to keep the Sabbath Commandment would have been as puzzling as advice to keep the commandments against theft and murder. Jews and Gentiles were keeping the Sabbath together. Why state the obvious?

As important as the controversy over circumcision was, the Council was more concerned about the acceptance of sins related to idolatry, diet, and sex; so they specifically forbade those sins in the letter. Despite this, many Christian denominations ordain openly gay ministers and serve sausage at their pancake breakfasts. Modern Christian congregations would “do well to avoid these things.”

Section 9.2 - Diplomatic Circumcision

If you thought it was strange that circumcision wasn’t mentioned in the letter, this will really blow you away:

Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek.  The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him.  Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. [Acts 16:1-3]

The Council had just decided circumcision wasn’t necessary for Gentiles, and Paul went ahead and circumcised Timothy. Why? Because Paul had to dispel the same false charges that the opponents of Christianity made against Stephen.

Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.  They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.  For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” [Acts 6:11-14]

Paul never spoke against the holy place and the law. Anti-Semitism didn’t become established in the Roman Catholic Church until the 4th century.

The apostles weren’t trying to oppose Judaism—they were trying to reform it. Their sermons were based on the fact that Jesus had fulfilled the Messianic prophecies. The apostles considered themselves to be uber-Jews.

By circumcising Timothy, Paul was visibly taking the anti-Semitic argument away from his critics. Circumcising Timothy was the diplomatic thing to do.

Paul knew Timothy would not be allowed to preach in the synagogue if he wasn’t circumcised. Since circumcision doesn’t matter to God, he might as well be circumcised to give him access to the synagogue.

On the other hand, when Paul took Titus with him to Jerusalem to meet with the church leaders, Paul told the Galatians,

Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. [Galatians 2:3]

To Paul, circumcision wasn’t, as some military folks would say, “a hill worth dying for.” He wasn’t afraid to be called a legalist because he circumcised Timothy, and he wasn’t afraid to be called a liberal by not circumcising Titus. He told the Corinthians:

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.  Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised.  Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.  Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. [1 Corinthians 7:17-20]

That bears repeating. “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing.  Keeping God’s commands is what counts.”

Paradoxically, there is a notion prevalent in some Christian churches that it is wrong to keep God’s commands. The illogical logic behind this idea is that people only obey God’s commands to get into heaven. Therefore, they are trying to gain heaven by their own works, not trusting in Christ and denying His grace if they keep the Ten Commandments. They think people will be kept out of Heaven for doing the right thing for wrong reasons. Not only is that foolish, it’s not biblical.

Paul makes it clear. Obedience counts. Performing a ceremony to join a church doesn’t.

Section 9.3 - Jesus, Take the Wheel

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.  During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. [Acts 16:6-10]

The Holy Spirit would not let them preach in Asia. That doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit didn’t want the message to go to China. Asia isn’t where it used to be. In Paul’s day, “Asia” was really southwestern Turkey. Mysia was western Turkey. Macedonia was Greece.

You know how preachers are—once they start talking, they can’t stop. The Holy Spirit wanted Paul to go to Greece, and didn’t want him to spend so much time preaching in western Turkey that he would never get to Greece. The Holy Spirit commanded Paul to go directly through Turkey without stopping to preach until he got to Philippi, in northern Greece.

Section 9.4 – Luke Joins the Tour

Luke said THEY went to Troas, but from there WE left for Macedonia. Luke apparently joined Paul at this point of his second missionary trip.

After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.  From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. [Acts 16:10-13]

As we have seen before, and will see again, Paul (and his Gentile travelling companion, Luke) worshipped on Saturday, not Sunday. The Sabbath is not a uniquely Jewish custom (like circumcision) which Christians don’t need to keep. Sabbath-keeping is a command of God which has been binding on everyone since the creation of the world.

Many people have been incorrectly taught that the apostles worshipped on Sunday in honor of the resurrection. Most Christians think they are honoring God by worshipping on Sunday; but they are actually perpetuating an anti-Semitic tradition which began in the 4th century. Consequently, they ignorantly violate the Sabbath Commandment every week.

Ignorance is no excuse since the truth is so plain to see. Fortunately, God forgives confessed sins. It isn’t too late to start keeping the Sabbath Commandment.

Section 9.5 – Bad Fortune(-telling)

Some Christians are confused by this story:

Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.  She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”  She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. [Acts 16:16-18]

Some might think it was strange that Paul would stop anyone (especially someone who was so well-respected that her advice was worth paying for) from proclaiming, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”

Paul stopped her because (despite the false claims to the contrary) Paul respected and obeyed the law of Moses, which prohibited divination (fortune-telling).

Do not practice divination or seek omens. … Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. … Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. [Leviticus 19:26, 28, 31]

Paul knew the prohibition against occult practices wasn’t nailed to the cross. He said it is obvious that engaging in occult practices, such as witchcraft (and all other forms of communication with the dead or evil spirits) can keep you out of Heaven.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. [Galatians 5:19-21]

God doesn’t want you going to a fortuneteller to have your palm read, or consulting an astrologer to find out what your horoscope says.

When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?  Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. [Isaiah 8:19-20]

When you go to a fortuneteller, the best you can hope for is that you are paying money to a charlatan who is lying to you. At worst, you are paying for advice from someone who really is demon possessed. Why would you do that? Should you not inquire of God instead?

Paul did not want to encourage fortune-telling. Allowing her to keep saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved,” would give her some credibility or endorsement. He had to stop her.

Section 9.6 - Rescue Refused

Paul freed the slave-girl from her bondage to Satan despite the consequences.

When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.  They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods.  After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.  When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. [Acts 16:19-24]

As we saw in Section 6.3, God rescued Peter from prison; but not James or John the Baptist. Would He send an angel to rescue Paul?

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.  The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.  But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” [Acts 16:25-28]

If the prisoners had escaped, the jailer would have been killed for failing to do his duty, even though the earthquake certainly was not his fault. At least, he could save his reputation by doing the honorable thing and kill himself.

God gave everyone in the prison, not just Paul and Silas, the opportunity to escape—but none of the prisoners took it. Apparently, the other prisoners would rather stay and listen to Paul and Silas than to escape.

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.  The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. [Acts 16:29-34]

Even though they were in prison, Paul and Silas were in a better situation than the jailer was, and the jailer recognized it. Paul and Silas had something the jailer wanted. Actions speak louder than words, and their actions shouted, “We don’t need to escape! God will protect us! We have peace! We aren’t worried!”

The jailer wanted what we Christians have. Your unconverted friends and neighbors want that too, whether they know it or not. Share it with them.

(And, just to finish the story, the magistrates apologized to Paul and Silas, and set them free.)

Section 9.7 - Falsely Accused

When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue.  As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said.  Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. [Acts 17:1-4]

We are told, yet again, that Paul converted a large number of people by showing, from the Old Testament prophecies, that Jesus is the Messiah. He didn’t tell them the Old Testament, with its “burdensome laws,” was abolished. He didn’t tell them to stop worshipping on the “Jewish” Sabbath and keep Sunday instead.

Luke specifically says Paul was preaching on Sabbath, but doesn’t say Paul was preaching on Sunday, too. If the day of worship had been changed, this would have been the perfect time to say so. Paul kept the Sabbath—not Sunday. Paul based his faith on the Old Testament, and kept the Sabbath.

Section 9.8 - The Unknown Creator

When Paul went to Athens, he preached to Greeks who had little or no Jewish background. Here’s how he preached to them:

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said:

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.  ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.  In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” [Acts 16:22-31]

Paul preached the same Gospel he preached to everyone else—creation, judgment, and Jesus. The only difference is that he didn’t specifically explain how the Jewish prophecies were fulfilled because the Greeks weren’t familiar with those prophecies. Instead, he made the same points generally by saying, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” The “one man” is certainly Adam. The “appointed times” no doubt refer to the prophecies in Daniel about the sequence of kingdoms, and the date that the Messiah would appear. The “boundaries of their lands” were foretold to Abraham and his descendants. He showed that Jesus is the answer to their nagging questions about the meaning of life, without complicating his message with specific Old Testament references they would not understand.

Paul ended his sermon by saying, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” Paul gave the same message to the Greeks that he gave to everyone else. You must repent because Jesus is coming back to judge you.

Section 9.9 - Jew First

Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.  But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” [Acts 18:4-6]

Yet again, Luke tells us that they preached every Sabbath, and not a single mention of a Sunday morning service. He tried “to persuade Jews and Greeks” by testifying “that Jesus was the Messiah” to both Jews and non-Jews. Ironically, this message went over better with Gentiles than it did with Jews.

Section 9.10 – No Hit-and-Run Evangelism

Paul didn't come to town, have a big tent meeting for several weeks, baptize some people, and then quickly move on. God told Paul to stick around.

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”  So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. [Acts 18:9-11]

Looking ahead, we see that Paul did the same thing on his Third Missionary Journey, too.

Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. [Acts 19:8-10]

Here, as we saw earlier, "the province of Asia" means Turkey, not the Far East. So, although the Holy Spirit did not let Paul preach in Asia on his second trip, the Spirit did let Paul preach in Asia on his third trip.

Luke says Paul had daily discussions in the lecture hall of Tyrannus for two years, and says nothing about Sunday. If Paul and his Christian converts had special worship services to honor Jesus' resurrection on Sunday, it certainly seems like that would have happened by the Third Missionary Journey, and Luke would have mentioned it at this point in his narrative.

There is no mention anywhere in the Bible of Christians worshipping on Sunday because that didn't start until the Catholic Church (which was strongly anti-Semitic at that time) replaced the "Jewish Sabbath" with "the Lord's day" in the 4th century.

Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday, but shall work on that day; but the Lord's day they shall especially honour, and as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ. [Canon XXIX, Council of Laodicea, c. A.D. 337]

Section 9.11 – Falsely Accused Again

The false accusation that was made over and over again is that Paul was preaching against the law of Moses.

While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment.  “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” [Acts 18:12-13]

Paul disproved this by his actions.

Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken.  They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. [Acts 18:18-19]

If Paul were teaching that one should no longer obey Jewish customs, he would not have “had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken.” Instead, he took his bald head on to Ephesus and went to the synagugue. From Ephesus, Paul sailed to Caesarea, went up to Jerusalem, and then ended his Second Missionary Journey in Antioch.

Back to Chapter 8 Table of Contents On to Chapter 10

Footnotes:

1 See Appendix C - Sunday for the anti-Semitic reason behind the change of the Sabbath.