Through the Bible in a Year: Acts 18-20

This Week’s Reading Schedule

Friday’s (today’s) Bible Reading is Acts 18-20.

I’ve made one more shift so we can slow down a little. We’ll finish Acts on Monday (Acts 21-24) and Tuesday (25-28). We’ll finish the week with some more Psalms. The following week, we will return to the Hebrew Scriptures to read Joshua and Judges over a couple weeks.

The overall year’s plan is here.

Today’s Reading

I think I’ve been over-commenting on the stories. You can get the stories from the Bible text itself. If you have questions, feel free to use the comment section.

I’m going to work at just hitting points I want to emphasize. I’m not very good at that; I like to comment on everything, but that is not best for me or for you; not in this format.

Acts 18:9-11

Paul announces he’s giving up on the synagogue and going to the Gentiles, and he stays year and a half in Corinth.

Notice that even Paul needs encouragement. The Lord comes to him in a vision and tells him not to be afraid. Don’t think that great men of God are great because they don’t have the fears you have. They are great men of God because they obey God even when they’re afraid.

I was with you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my speech and preaching were not with enticing words of men’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (Apostle Paul, 1 Cor. 2:3-5)

Acts 18:18

Paul has to leave Corinth. He takes Priscilla and Aquila with him. On the way, we read that he takes a vow.

This is almost certainly a Nazirite vow (Num. 6), a temporary vow of special devotion to God. Paul was not under the Law, and he was preaching the New Covenant, not the Law, but the Jews—and all the apostles were Jews—were still doing things that were not only part of the Law of Moses, but part of their culture as well.

As the writer of Hebrews put it, "When he said a ‘new covenant,’ he made the first old. Now that which is passing away and growing old is ready to disappear" (Heb. 8:13).

Acts 18:22-23

This return to Antioch marks the end of the "second missionary journey." Verse 23 is the third missionary journey all by itself. The specific cities of Phrygia and Galatia are not mentioned. You can see a map and description here. Click on the map there, and you have some options to make the map easier to understand. Iconium and Antioch, visited on the first missionary journey, are part of Galatian Phrygia.

Acts 18:24-28

Apollos is mentioned repeatedly in the letter to the Corinthians. This passage tells us who he is, an important figure in the early church.

Acts 19:1-6

Paul finds some disciples who had heard only John’s message. John’s baptism isn’t enough. Paul baptizes them in Jesus’ name. Then he laid hands on them and they spoke in other languages and prophesied.

Speaking in Tongues

To this point, I’ve avoided the Pentecostal controversy, but there are some things that are simply scriptural and historical that need to be admitted.

Scriptural Points:

  • Speaking in other languages happened. It seems obvious even in Acts that it was not always languages that someone understood. 1 Corinthians 14 specifically says that some speaking in tongues can’t be understood by any man (v. 2).
  • It was very common for apostolic converts to speak in tongues when apostles laid hands on them.
  • Despite that, 1 Cor. 12:30 makes it clear that not everyone speaks in tongues.
  • There’s restrictions to tongues in the assembly of the saints that are clearly outlined in 1 Cor. 14.
  • Despite the fact that we see baptism and laying on of hands in Acts, they are clearly meant to be one event, not two separate experiences.

Historical Points:

  • The early Christians writings speak of baptism followed by the laying on of hands, just as we see practiced by the apostles in Acts, but they never mention speaking in tongues or spiritual gifts in that context.
  • The only reference to speaking in tongues that can be found in the pre-Nicene writings of the church is in Irenaeus, around A.D. 185, who says that there were many in the churches—not in the church, but churches—who possessed prophetic gifts and spoke in "all kinds of languages." (Against Heresies V:6:1)
  • The modern tongues movement is about 100 years old. Outside of that tongues have been considered rare throughout church history.
  • I spent over a decade in Pentecostal and charismatic churches, and almost no one spontaneously speaks in tongues in such churches. Everyone is exhorted to do so and sometimes even trained to do so. Laying on of hands is often done not once, but many times before someone speaks in tongues. Without the emphasis on tongues, speaking in other languages would be as rare in those churches as it is in others. (Sorry, but that’s obviously true.)

You can make your own decisions about the pentecostal movement, but the things I’ve written above are all facts.

Acts 19:8-20

Don’t miss this section. The stories in it are unusual and interesting.

Can you imagine the opportunity to sit under Paul’s teaching daily for two years?

Acts 20:7-12

Paul has left Ephesus, went through Macedonia and Greece (where Corinth, Thessalonica, and Philippi are), and he is returning by way of Troas (across the Aegean sea on the way back to Antioch, though Paul is headed to Jerusalem).

He holds a meeting on the first day of the week on which they broke bread, and it lasts until midnight.

Is this evidence that the Christian churches were meeting on the first day of the week or having weekly communion/Eucharist? There’s really not enough information here to draw any conclusions. This could have been a weekly meeting, and it could have been a special meeting because Paul was in town.

Acts 20:17-38

Paul calls for the elders of Ephesus, and his speech to them is one of the fullest portions of Scripture.

  • Paul sums up his Gospel as "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 21). You can’t miss the emphasis on repentance in Acts.
  • The elders were the pastors of the early churches. We see that they are called overseers or bishops as well (v. 28, Gr. episkopos), and they shepherded the church of God.
  • Paul’s leadership was remarkably diligent. He warned the believers night and day with tears. He didn’t hold back anything profitable.
  • He provided his own needs without taking money from the Ephesians, and he did it as an example to the elders. What an interesting context, one rarely mentioned, to the saying, "It is more blessed to give than receive." Let’s see one of the prosperity teachers follow Paul’s example!
  • One of the greatest dangers to the church would be elders ("from among yourselves") drawing away disciples after themselves. Paul does not say how to prevent it; he simply tells them it will happen.
  • Paul was not living his life in darkness. The Holy Spirit was testifying to him through others, and he knew that his course involved arrest and chains.
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