Acts 20:1-38

After the uproar for which Demetrius and his fellow artisans were responsible had ceased, Paul arranged to meet with the disciples to encourage them. Doubtless his intent was to strengthen them in their resolve to remain devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ even though they might face opposition. Subsequent to his saying farewell to fellow believers, he departed for Macedonia. If, as appears likely, Paul started his overland route through Macedonia from the north, he may first have gone to Troas and from there set sail to Neapolis, the seaport for Philippi. (20:1; compare 16:11.)

On his way through Macedonia (literally, “those parts”), he “encouraged them” (fellow believers) with “many a word.” Based on his former activity in Macedonia, Paul would have gone to Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica, and Beroea before arriving in Greece. His letters reveal that his many words of encouragement to believers would have included admonition to conduct themselves as approved disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, to remain loyal to him when encountering persecution, and to look forward to his return in glory and what this would mean for them. (20:2; Romans 12:1-13:14; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10; 3:1-5; 4:13-18; 5:12-22)

Paul stayed in Greece for three months. (20:3) According to Romans 16:23, Gaius was his host, which indicates that Paul spent a significant part of the time in Corinth, Greece. (Compare 1 Corinthians 1:14; 16:5-8.)

Accordingly, it must have been from Cenchreae, the eastern port for Corinth, that Paul intended to sail to Syria and then travel to Jerusalem, but he was forced to change his plans. He came to know about the scheming of hostile Jews. These Jews may also have had Jerusalem as their final destination, planning to be present for Passover (20:6), and so could have ended up being fellow passengers. Perhaps, during the course of the voyage, they had intended to cast Paul overboard. On account of the plot, he decided to return to Macedonia, taking a less direct route on his way to Jerusalem. (20:3)

Paul did not travel alone. Accompanying him were Sopater from Beroea; Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica; Gaius from Derbe; Timothy; and from the Roman province of Asia (the western part of Asia Minor), Tychicus and Trophimus. The oldest extant manuscripts identify Sopater as being “of Pyrrhus,” that is, the “son of Pyrrhus,” but numerous other manuscripts do not include this. Aristarchus from the Macedonian city of Thessalonica apparently is the Macedonian whom the mob dragged into the theater of Ephesus at the time of the uproar that Demetrius and his fellow artisans started. (19:29) If Gaius of Derbe was also the fellow Macedonian whom the crowd seized at that time, this could indicate that Gaius had moved to Derbe from Macedonia. Secundus is not mentioned elsewhere in the Acts account nor in any of Paul’s letters. Timothy, Tychicus, and Trophimus continued to be the apostle’s close associates to the end of his life. (2 Timothy 4:9, 12, 13, 20, 21) Trophimus accompanied Paul to Jerusalem and apparently so did Aristarchus. (21:29; 27:2) It may be that they and the other five were representatives of their respective congregations, entrusted with the responsibility to take the contributed funds to the needy believers in Jerusalem. (20:4; compare 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; 2 Corinthians 9:4, 5; see the Notes section.)

Just when the seven men parted from Paul, preceding him to the city of Troas in the Roman province of Asia, cannot be determined from the account. In its rendering of verses 4 and 5, The New Jerusalem Bible makes it explicit that all seven men were waiting for Paul in Troas. “He was accompanied by Sopater, son of Pyrrhus, who came from Beroea; Aristarchus and Secundus who came from Thessalonica; Gaius from Derbe, and Timothy, as well as Tychicus and Trophimus who were from Asia. They all went on to Troas where they waited for us.” (See the Notes section.)

The use of the first person plural (“waiting for us”) suggests that Luke had joined Paul as a travel companion, and was with the apostle when he left Philippi for Troas. They would have sailed from the nearby harbor (Neapolis). The time for the observance of the Jewish Festival of Unleavened Bread had passed when they started the journey. After meeting the disciples who were waiting for them in Troas, Paul and his travel companions stayed there for seven days. (20:5, 6)

In the Greek text, “first day of the week” literally is, “first of the sabbaths” (sabbáton, a tranliterated plural [in the genitive case] of the Hebrew word shabbáth). The expression (“first of the sabbaths”) means the first day of the period that ended with a sabbath, that is, the first day of a seven-day week. In Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, and John 20:1, this expression is used regarding the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. Women disciples were the first witnesses to his resurrection in the early morning after the Jewish Sabbath had ended on the previous evening. So it seems reasonable to conclude that in Acts 20:7 the meaning of the words “first of the sabbaths” would be the same. Accordingly, Paul met with fellow believers in Troas on Saturday evening when (based on Jewish reckoning) the first day of the week began. At that time, they had assembled to “break bread,” which probably means to share a meal and observe the “Lord’s Supper.” Because he was planning to leave the next day and likely also on account of knowing that he would not see this community of fellow believers again (20:25), Paul appears to have wanted to say as much as he could to them. When midnight came, he was still speaking. (20:7)

Besides all the disciples gathered in the upper chamber, the many oil lamps that were burning for illumination would have made the room warmer and reduced air quality. This circumstance, coupled with the lateness of the hour, would have contributed to inducing drowsiness. (20:8)

While Paul was talking, a young man named Eutychus dozed off and began to sleep soundly. He then fell to his death out of the third-story window where he had been seated. (20:9)

Coming to know what had happened, Paul went downstairs to the place where Eutychus had fallen, “threw himself” on the young man (probably meaning that he dropped to his knees and then lay bent over Eutychus, possibly as did Elisha on the dead son of the hospitable woman of Shunem [2 Kings 4:34]), and put his arms around him. To those there, the apostle then said, “Do not be troubled, for his soul [life] is in him.” Paul’s quoted words suggest that he came to realize that Eutychus had miraculously been restored to life and so could say what he did to the greatly distressed disciples. (20:10)

After he returned to the upper chamber, Paul “broke bread,” ate, kept on talking until dawn, and then departed. This second mention of breaking bread suggests that those assembled must have eaten in a leisurely manner and that Paul had done some eating during the time he had been speaking. (20:11) The fact that the night had not ended in tragedy but that Eutychus could be led away alive greatly comforted the believers. (20:12)

Paul’s travel companions, including Luke (as indicated by the first person plural “we”), sailed from Troas to Assos (Behramkale) on the northern coast of the Gulf of Adramyttium. The sea route required navigating around Cape Baba, the westernmost point of Asia Minor. Although Paul had been up all night, he decided to walk the shorter overland route, a distance of about 20 miles (over 30 kilometers). He then intended to meet his companions (as he had previously arranged with them) when the ship would be anchored at Assos (Behramkale). By choosing to walk, Paul would have had time for undistracted thought and prayer. (20:13; see for pictures of and comments about Assos.)

He boarded the ship at Assos and sailed with his companions to Mitylene on the island of Lesbos. There the ship remained anchored during the night. (20:14) The ship on which they were traveling stopped at various harbors along the way. On the day following their departure from Mitylene, they reached a point “opposite Chios,” which may mean the city of Chios on the Aegean island with the same name. The next day they arrived at Samos, another island in the Aegean Sea. (See for a picture of a beach on the island of Samos.) On the following day, the ship anchored at Miletus, a city on the western coast of Asia Minor and about 30 miles (c. 50 kilometers) south of the city of Ephesus. (20:15; see for pictures of and comments about Miletus.)

Paul’s decision to sail past Ephesus may be understood to mean that he chose to travel on a ship that bypassed Ephesus and sailed to Miletus instead. Desiring to be in Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost on the sixth day of Sivan (the month corresponding to mid-May to mid-June), he did not want to spend any more time in the Roman province of Asia. (20:16) Nevertheless, concerned about fellow believers in Ephesus, he sent a message to the elders of the congregation, requesting that they come to Miletus to see him. It would have taken a messenger (or messengers) all day to reach Ephesus. After staying there overnight, the messenger or messengers, accompanied by the elders, probably left Ephesus early in the morning and arrived at Miletus in the evening. (20:17)

The Acts account narrates Paul’s farewell words to the elders from the community of believers in Ephesus. “From the first day,” or his initial major activity in the Roman province of Asia, Paul had primarily (“all the time”) been in Ephesus. During his stay in the city, the elders whom he addressed had come to know him as an unassuming servant, one who “slaved for the Lord” Jesus Christ with a disposition of great lowliness or humility. They knew about the plots that hostile Jews directed against him and the trials he had faced, and so there was no need for the apostle to make mention of the details. The attitude of his fellow countrymen when persisting in unbelief caused him to shed tears of grief, pain, and anxiety for them. (Compare 19:9; Romans 9:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 3:18.) That Paul faced severe trials is evident from his having mentioned to the Corinthians that he fought “wild beasts” at Ephesus. (1 Corinthians 15:32) This could suggest that he faced wild animals in an arena but escaped death. When recounting his trials in another letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:23-27), he did not list this among the hardships he had experienced. So it may well be that he did not literally fight wild beasts but that he had to contend with intensely hostile opposers who, like fierce predators, were determined to harm him. (20:18, 19)

Paul had faithfully discharged his responsibility in imparting to believers everything they needed to know. He did not lessen the full force of what it meant to be devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, not holding back from telling believers what would be for their benefit or their own good. He taught them publicly, which would have included his teaching the disciples or fellow believers in the school or lecture hall of Tyrannus (19:9). He also imparted instruction privately in their homes (literally, “according to houses”). His visits were not mere social calls as he went from one house to another. When in the homes, he taught the believers who were there. (20:20)

His ministry, though, was not confined to fellow believers. Both to Jews and Greeks (or non-Jews) he presented the testimony about the need for individuals to repent of their sins and to turn to God and to put faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, accepting him as the unique Son of God whom his Father had raised from the dead and also his sacrificial death as the means by which they could be forgiven of their sins. (20:21; compare 13:32-39; 14:15-17; 16:31, 32; 17:29-31; 19:10; 26:20-23)

“Bound to the spirit,” Paul was on his way to Jerusalem. This could mean that his own spirit or mind prompted him to make the trip. It is more likely, however, that the reference is to the compelling power of God’s spirit (much as the spirit moved Jesus Christ to go into the wilderness after John baptized him). Guided by the holy spirit, Paul would have been acting in harmony with God’s will, which included his having to testify concerning Jesus Christ before “kings” or rulers. (9:15) The journey to Jerusalem resulted in creating the circumstances that enabled Paul to fulfill this part of his commission. At the time he spoke to the elders of the Ephesus congregation, however, he did not know just what would happen to him in Jerusalem. (20:22)

Up to this point in his journey to Jerusalem, Paul had come to know that bonds and hardships would befall him in the city. This was revealed to him through the operation of the holy spirit on him or on the prophets in the various congregations he visited as he had traveled from city to city. (20:23; compare 21:10, 11.)

Nevertheless, he was willing to suffer and die for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not consider his “soul” or life as being of such value that he would be impelled to preserve it at all costs. Paul’s concern was to complete his course and the “service” or ministry that he had received from the Lord Jesus, which ministry called for him to “testify to the evangel of God’s favor.” This “evangel” was the good news that God’s favor would be bestowed on all who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and accepted his sacrificial death for them. Recipients of the “favor” or unmerited kindness of God would be forgiven of their sins and become reconciled to him as his beloved children who would continue to benefit from his care and guidance. (20:24)

In view of what awaited him, Paul knew that those among whom he had proclaimed “the kingdom” (or, according to other manuscripts, “the kingdom of Jesus,” “the kingdom of God,” or the “evangel of God”) would not see his “face” again. The message about the kingdom related to how individuals could become part of the realm where God is recognized as Sovereign and where he rules by means of his Son. Believers cease to be part of the world that is under the control of the powers of darkness (Satan and his demons), alienated from God and under the condemnation of death. They have been transferred to another realm (another kingdom) as persons forgiven of their sins and who will come to enjoy an enduring life as totally sinless persons when God’s kingdom will be the only realm and all competing rulerships will have been reduced to nothingness. (20:25; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Colossians 1:13, 14; 2:13)

Having faithfully discharged his ministry, Paul solemnly declared to the elders of the Ephesus congregation, “I am clean from the blood of all.” If any one among them became disloyal to God and Christ, this could not be charged to Paul’s account. (20:26) He had not withheld anything they needed to know but had related to them “all the counsel of God,” not leaving out any essentials relating to the doing of God’s will. (20:27)

The elders needed to watch themselves, making sure that they conducted themselves in an exemplary manner and faithfully adhered to Jesus’ teaching. They were also obligated to watch out for fellow believers, the “flock” under their care. Paul attributed their appointment as “overseers” to the holy spirit, which may be understood to mean that, through the operation of God’s spirit, they had been equipped to serve fellow believers. The source of their thus being qualified to serve could also indicate that they were under obligation to follow the spirit’s direction when discharging their duties. As “overseers” or “guardians,” they were to look out for the welfare of the flock of fellow believers, laboring for them as loving and caring shepherds. The flock was not theirs but belonged to God. It was God’s congregation that he had purchased with “the blood of his own one,” his dearly beloved Son. (20:28; 1 Peter 1:18, 19; see the Notes section.)

Paul alerted the elders to the grave danger they would be facing. The flock of fellow believers would come under attack. After his going away (either his departure as one who had cared for them personally or his departure in death), men, comparable to savage wolves, would come into the flock and not spare it from harm. These “wolves” would introduce pernicious error and, with corrupt teaching, exploit and injure everyone whom they succeeded in deluding. (20:29)

The welfare of the flock would also be threatened from within. Paul warned that, from their very midst, men would rise up and distort the truth. These men would not follow the leading of God’s spirit and adhere faithfully to the good news about Jesus Christ. They would endeavor to lead disciples away from Christ and have them be their followers. (20:30)

In view of the future threats from outside and inside the community of believers, Paul urged the elders to remain awake and to consider the example he had set while laboring among them. “For three years, night and day,” he had not stopped warning each one of them “with tears.” Based on the specifics in the book of Acts, the “three years” are to be understood as a round number. Paul’s words about admonishing or warning them “day and night” signify that he did so repeatedly, without letup, and at every opportunity. His tears revealed the great concern and tender feeling he had for them, appealing to them compassionately when they strayed from the right course. (20:31)

Because they would no longer have him personally present, Paul entrusted the elders to God or, according to the reading of other manuscripts, to the Lord. As persons committed to God (or to the Lord Jesus Christ), they would come under his care and guidance. Additionally, Paul commended them to the “word of favor” or “grace.” This would be the message about Jesus Christ that revealed God’s favor or kindness to the fullest extent. That “word” provided them with everything they needed for being built up or strengthened in faith and for knowing how to remain divinely approved so as to be given an “inheritance among all who have been sanctified” (set apart as holy, clean, or pure for God). That inheritance includes all the privileges and blessings to be enjoyed by all who, as their ultimate destiny, will come to be sinless children of God. (20:32)

Paul had labored unselfishly in the interests of the Lord Jesus Christ, not seeking personal gain or coveting the possessions of others — gold, silver, or garments. At a time when many had only one robe or outer garment and one tunic or inner garment, additional clothing was regarded as something highly desirable. This is illustrated by the fact that the four Roman soldiers divided Jesus’ outer garment into four parts and cast lots to determine who would get the seamless tunic or inner garment. (20:33; John 19:23, 24)

To support himself and his associates and not to be a burden on others, Paul labored with his own hands at his trade. (20:34) For the elders, he set the example as a loving shepherd who was deeply concerned about the flock of God and who expended himself fully in ministering to fellow believers. He did not neglect the lowly, the insignificant or the “weak,” and he admonished the elders to support the weak. The “weak” could have been believers with a fragile faith who were facing hardships and so needed caring support and consolation so that they would not become disheartened but would grow stronger in faith. Through selfless service to fellow believers, members of the beloved family of God’s beloved children, the elders would experience the fulfillment of Jesus’ words (which are uniquely preserved in the Acts account), “More happiness there is in giving than in receiving.” These are the words that Paul admonished the elders to remember, never forgetting that the superior joy would come from giving of themselves fully to others. (20:35)

After he had finished speaking, the apostle “knelt down with all of them and prayed.” (20:36) Especially grieved about the prospect of not seeing Paul again, the elders gave way to considerable weeping, embraced him (literally, “fell upon the neck of Paul”), and kissed him. Thereafter they accompanied him to the ship on which he and his travel companions would set sail for the first part of the journey to Jerusalem. (20:37, 38)


In verse 4, Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) refers to Eutychus (Tychicus) and Trophimus as being Ephesians.

In view of the way in which the Greek text of verses 4 and 5 is worded, there is a possibility that only Tychicus and Trophimus traveled ahead to Troas, whereas the others accompanied Paul through Macedonia and then to Troas from Philippi. The German Gute Nachricht Bibel specifically identifies only the two (Tychicus and Trophimus) as waiting in Troas for the arrival of Paul and the others. “On this trip seven representatives of the congregations accompanied him: from Beroea, Sopater, the son of Pyrrhus; from Thessalonica, Aristarchus and Secundus; from Derbe, Gaius; additionally Timothy and, finally, from the province of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus. Both of these traveled ahead to Troas and expected us there.” (Auf dieser Reise begleiteten ihn sieben Vertreter der Gemeinden: aus Beröa Sopater, der Sohn von Pyrrhus, aus Thessalonich Aristarch und Sekundus, aus Derbe Gaius, weiter Timotheus und schließlich aus der Provinz Asien Tychikus und Trophimus. Diese beiden fuhren nach Troas voraus und erwarteten uns dort.)

Certain manuscripts (in verse 15) include a stay at “Trogyllium” on the coast of Asia Minor and opposite the island of Samos. “The following day we arrived at Samos and stayed at Trogyllium.” (NKJV)

In verse 28, numerous manuscripts read, “congregation of the Lord.” Understood as a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, the purchase of the congregation had been made with his “own blood.”