29 Oct 2020
A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 20:13-16. A coastal voyage to Miletus.
This next brief paragraph in Luke’s narrative (only four verses in our English Bibles) is a rather breathless account of Paul’s voyage from Troas (where he addressed the local church) to Miletus (where he addressed the pastors of the Ephesian Church), He tells us that Paul was ‘in a hurry’ (16); we get the impression that Luke was in a hurry too. He mentions four coastal or island ports at which Paul and his companions stopped (Assos, Mitylene, Kios and Samos) after leaving Troas and before arriving at Mitetus. The we-section which began at verse 5 continues, so that Luke must be drawing on his own daily log of events. The ship evidently sailed each day and anchored each night. ‘The reason’, Ramsay explained. ‘lies in the wind.’ During the Aegean summer ‘it generally blows from the north, beginning at a very early hour in the morning’. Then ‘in the late afternoon it dies away’ and ‘at sunset there is a dead calm’.
Leaving Troas, Luke writes, *we went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos*, a port on the Asian mainland about twenty miles south of Troas, *where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot* (13), or perhaps simply ‘by land’ (RSV) or ‘by road’ (NEB). Luke shares two facts with us, without explaining them. First, Paul sent his companions on ahead of him. Did he delay his departure from Troas in order first to assure himself that Eutychus was not only alive but well? It is only a guess. Secondly, Paul arranged for his friends to travel to Assos by sea and for himself to go by land. Travel along the coastal road would be quicker than a sea voyage round the cape. But why did he want to be alone? Was it that this was the real beginning of his long journey to Jerusalem? We know that he was anxious both that he would be rescued from unbelievers in Judea and that his offering would be acceptable to the believers in Jerusalem, for he begged the Christians in Rome to join him in praying for these very things (Rom.15:30ff.). Maybe it was these things which occupied his thoughts and prayers on his lonely walk from Troas to Assos. But again, it is only a guess.
*When he met us at Assos*, the pre-arranged rendezvous, *we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene* (14), which was the main city of the island of Lesbos, and was situated on its south-east coast. *The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Kios* (15a), that is, anchored in a mainland port opposite the island of Kios. *The day after that we crossed over to Samos*, an island west of Ephesus, and ‘after stopping at Trogyllium’ (JB, following the Bezan text), a promontory at the entrance to the gulf, *on the following day arrived at Miletus (15b), the mainland harbor at the mouth of the River Meander. *Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus*, and indeed had now done so in order to reach Miletus, because he wanted *to avoid spending time in the province of Asia*, a quick visit being in his judgement impossible, *for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost* (16).
Tomorrow: Acts 20:17-38. 4). Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.