writing things down…


Why does Paul have such resolve to go to Jerusalem after his third expedition despite the warnings?

It is well understood that the Holy Spirit and/or other divine agents direct much of the action of Acts, especially once the Christ movement moves outside of the confines of Jerusalem. Luke goes out of the way to make this clear at times. The initial scattering of the church “throughout the region of Judea and Samaria” came as a result of a great persecution (8:1). But, subsequent scenes have angels of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, and even Jesus himself (in the case of Paul) sending people to and fro.

  • Philip is sent by “an angel of the Lord” (8:26) and the “Spirit” (8:29). He’s also caught up by the Spirit (8:38).
  • Paul is sent by the Lord into the city of Damascus for further instruction (9:6)
  • Ananias is sent by the Lord “to the street called Straight” (9:11).
  • Cornelius has a vision of “an angel of God” and is instructed to send for Peter (10:3-8; cf. 10:30-33; 11:13-14).
  • Peter falls into a trance and hears a voice, after which “the Spirit said to him, ‘…Rise and go down, and accompany [the men] without hesitation; I have sent them” (10:10-12, 19-20; cf. 10:28-29; 11:5-12).
  • Peter is rescued from prison and led into the city by an angel of the Lord (12:7-10; cf. 12:17)
  • Paul and Barnabas are “sent out by the Holy Spirit” from Antioch (13:4), after the Holy Spirit had spoken to the worshipers there (13:2).
  • Paul is forbidden to speak the word in Asia by the Holy Spirit (16:6-7), instead Paul’s vision leads him to conclude “that God had called us to preach the Gospel to [the Macedonians]” (16:9-10).

There are also a few places where forewarnings help Paul escape murderous mobs:

  • He learns of a plot to kill him in Damascus, so his disciples lower him over the city wall in a basket (9:23-25).
  • The Jerusalem believers learn of a plot to kill Paul and send him to Tarsus (9:29-30).
  • The believers of Thessalonica send Paul and Silas to Berea after their proclamation of Jesus as the Christ rouses some people to attack the house of Jason (17:5-10).
  • Paul leaves Asia “when a plot was made against him by the Jews” (20:3).

And, the readers know to trust the words of Agabus, who foretells “by the Spirit that there will be a great famine over all the world” (11:28). Later, too, Agabus warns Paul about his fate in Jerusalem (21:10-11).

So, why then Paul’s resolve?  Acts 19:21 says he “resolved in the Spirit/spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem.”  This phrasing, “resolved in the spirit/Spirit,” is a little unique to Acts. Is this another way for Luke to note the Spirit’s direction of action as in the examples listed above? Or, is this more a personal resolve of Paul’s similar to his distressed spirit in Athens (17:16)? Paul himself says to the elders of Ephesus that he is “going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit…” (20:22).

Nevertheless, the events of the narrative leading to his arrival in Jerusalem demonstrate it is Paul’s determination more than the involvement of the Spirit that is dictating the movement (see 20:1, 7, 13, 16, 17). It seems to me that Paul’s resolve and his failure to heed warnings goes against what Luke’s readers have been conditioned to expect in Acts. Unless, of course, the readers are to see in Paul’s resolve the similar resolve of Jesus and his movement toward Jerusalem (Luke 13-19). If that is the case, the readers might also expect for Paul a similar fate (see Luke 18:31-33).  Still, I am perplexed by Luke’s use of divine agents to move action along earlier in Acts, but Paul’s resolve moves it along toward the end.


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