Throughout the Book of Acts, the Spirit of God is portrayed as actively leading God’s people. The apostles, for example, were led of the Spirit in dramatic and dynamic ways. There was a human side to the planning, planting, and development of the early church, but the leading of the Spirit was decisive for them. With our text in mind, Bruce (p. 325) writes:
The missionary journeys of Paul exhibit an extraordinary combination of strategic planning and keen sensitiveness to the guidance of the Spirit of God, whether that guidance took the form of inward prompting or the overruling of external circumstances. This combination is specially noteworthy in the present passage.
Second Missionary Journey
Paul and Barnabas returned from the Council in Jerusalem to Antioch. Then, Paul spoke to Barnabas (Acts 15:36) about his desire to visit the cities where they had proclaimed the Word. Barnabas wanted to take John, who was called Mark, but Paul did not want to take him. So Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus while Paul chose Silas and started his second missionary journey.
As Paul and Silas traveled through Syria and Cilicia, they (Acts 15:41) strengthened the churches. Then they went (Acts 16:1) to Derbe and on to Lystra. At Lystra Paul enlisted Timothy, who already was a believer, to travel with him. Timothy became a major worker on Paul’s missionary team. As the team traveled (Acts 16:4) “through the cities,” they delivered the decrees decided upon by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.
Forbidden by the Holy Spirit
At this point in the story, Luke says (Acts 15:6): “They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden [koluthentes] by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” Here, the main point is that we see the Holy Spirit at work in changing the plans of Paul and his team.
However, a much debated question arises. What does Luke mean by “the Phrygian and Galatian region?” In Acts 18:23, Luke says “the Galatian region and Phrygia.” Although this is an interesting question, our purpose does not require that we resolve this geographical issue.
Another question is: “When did the Spirit forbid Paul to speak the Word in Asia?” Was it before or after Paul visited the territory described by Luke as the Phrygian and Galatian region? Both views have been argued, but the Greek word koluthentes, which is an aorist passive participle, favors the view that it was before. The scripture translation above is “having been forbidden.” Under either view, at some point, Paul was forbidden by the Spirit from speaking the Word in Asia. This is the crucial point.
When Luke says that the Spirit had forbidden Paul to speak the Word in Asia, he implies that Paul wanted to do so. No doubt, at some point, Paul had made his desire known to the missionary team. Although Luke does not mention Ephesus, the chief city of Asia, it seems likely that Paul wanted to proclaim the gospel there. Ephesus was a great commercial, religious, and cultural center. However, the Holy Spirit postponed Paul’s preaching there. He would go there near the end of his (Acts 18:19-21) second missionary journey and returned for extended ministry on his third journey.
The Journey to Troas
Now, Luke continues the story with this comment (Acts 16:7-8): “and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.”
What route did Paul take from Lystra to Troas? We know (Acts 16:4) that they passed through various cities. Luke does not mention Pisidian Antioch, but it seems probable that he went there. Paul had proclaimed the Word there (Acts 13:14; 14:21) on his first journey. Moreover, he had expressed his desire to go to all the places where he proclaimed the Word. Therefore, many believe that Paul went to Pisidian Antioch.
According to Lenski (p. 646), “We are unable to plot the route from Pisidian Antioch to Troas on the basis of the meager data which Luke furnishes.” We do know that Paul and his team went through “the Phrygian and Galatian region.” We are just uncertain as to what exactly Luke meant by this phrase.
Other than this, all we know is that they came to (verse 7) the province of Mysia. Then, in verse 8, Luke says they “passed by” (parelthontes) Mysia. As Robertson (p. 247) says, parelthontes means “passing alongside or skirting.” However, he says (p. 247) that strictly speaking, “they passed through part of it [Mysia] to reach Troas.” According to Horton (p. 192), they passed by Mysia in the sense that they did not preach the gospel there. Troas was a coastal city of the province of Mysia.
The Spirit had forbidden Paul to speak the Word in Asia, but this did not prevent them from going through Asia. As Bruce explains (p. 326), “Paul and his friends had, of course, to pass through part of the province of Asia to get either to Bithynia or Troas: they were forbidden to preach in the province not to traverse it.”
The Bithynia Strategy
After they came to Mysia, Paul and his team wanted to turn north into the northern province of Bithynia. Again, they had a strategy they wanted to implement. The northern part of Bithynia was on the southern coast of the Black Sea. A key city in this northern province was Nicea. Rea (p. 183) writes:
God’s strategy for world evangelization was Europe before Asia. Bithynia would have its chance later on. In fact, within fifteen years, Peter took the gospel to that area, according to the salutation of his first epistle (I Pet. 1:1).
By the beginning of the next century, Christianity was flourishing there, as we discover in a fascinating letter from Pliny, the Roman governor of Bithynia, to the Emperor Trajan. Pliny described the worship services of the Christian in his province and their oath to abstain from all criminal acts and breaches of trust, and how their “contagious superstition” only spread further as he sought to bring individuals to trial.
The Spirit of Jesus
Now, for a second time, the Holy Spirit intervened. The “Spirit of Jesus” did not permit the missionary team to go to Bithynia. This was an historic moment in the history of the church. The Spirit turned the attention of Paul and his team to Europe instead of to Bithynia. Throughout the Book of Acts, the pivotal moments are described as coming from the Spirit. God’s strategy was being implemented!
The title “Spirit of Jesus” is used for the Holy Spirit. This is the only time this title is used in the Bible. However, we have the “Spirit of Christ” in Romans 8:9, the “Spirit of Jesus Christ” in Philippians 1:19, and the “Spirit of His Son” in Galatians 4:6. All four titles express the close relationship there is between Christ and the Spirit. Christ and the Spirit are One and yet different; they are different, yet one.
The Macedonian Call
God speaks to us and leads in a variety of ways. Sometimes God reveals His will through a vision. God spoke to Ananias (Acts 9:10-12) in a vision about Paul and his ministry. The Lord spoke to Cornelius (Acts 10:3) and Peter (Acts 10:17-19 and 11:5) in visions. These visions led to the breakthrough of the gospel among the Gentiles.
At Troas, the Lord spoke to Paul through a vision. In the vision a man from Macedonia was standing and appealing to Paul to come to Macedonia. This was a powerful and persuasive way for Paul to be called. God not only prevented Paul from preaching in Asia and going to Bithynia, but also gave them positive direction on what to do.
The missionary team did not hesitate to respond to the call. Luke (verse 10) says, “immediately we sought to go into Macedonia.” This is the first of Luke’s “we” passages. Apparently, Luke joined Paul’s team at Troas.
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Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Fernando, Ajith. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
Gangel, Kenneth O. Acts: Holman New Testament Commentary. General Editor: Anders, Max. Nashville: Holman Reference, 1998.
Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1981.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Rea, John. Bible Handbook on the Holy Spirit. Orlando: Creation House, 1998.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Wood, George O. Acts: A Study Guide. Springfield: ICI Press (Second Edition), 1996.
© Copyright 2003. GMF.