Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Garbled in transmission?

22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:22-24).

4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4).

10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:10-14).

This invites a variety of differing explanations. Let’s run through the possibilities:

1) The Christian prophets sincerely imagined that the Spirit revealed this to them, but they were deluded.

Given the narrative viewpoint, I think that’s unlikely:

i) Luke takes a favorable view of Christian prophecy. Throughout Acts, he gives us illustrations of how Joel’s prophecy fulfilled.

ii) They receive the same ostensible revelation as Paul. The content is basically the same. It’s corroborative. A confirmation of what Paul himself was told.

iii) This has multiple-attestation. Two different parties (Agabus and the “disciples”) claim to receive the same revelation. They are independent of each other. Seems improbable that two different parties would mistakenly receive the same revelation.

iv) Also, the contention that Agabus bungled the details strikes me as wooden. Agabus is speaking in shorthand.

2) The Spirit did, indeed, reveal something to the Christian prophets, but they drew the wrong inference.

That’s plausible.

3) The Spirit revealed something to them, and they drew the right inference. They were right and Paul was wrong.

i) Since Paul isn’t sinless, it’s possible that he pigheadedly flouted the warning, heedless of the consequences. However, I don’t think that’s the best overall interpretation.

ii) Paul is determined to pursue this course of action because he’s convinced that the Holy Spirit has obliged him to do so (Acts 19:21; 20:22). Hence, Paul is obedient to God’s directive, as he understands it.

iii) It’s inconsistent with apostolic inspiration to suppose an apostle mistakenly thought God was speaking to him, or mistook what God was telling him to do.

4) God was giving Paul a choice.

i) This assumes the warning was a deterrent. That the Holy Spirit issued this warning to give Paul an out. Informed consent.

If so, that raises the question of whether the prophecy refers to the actual future or a hypothetical future. How Paul responds to the prophecy will, itself, factor into the future outcome. He might take it as a warning not to proceed any further. In which case an alternate future will eventuate.

From a Reformed standpoint, whichever fork in the road Paul took would be predestined.

ii) However, I doubt that explanation. I think the Holy Spirit is warning Paul, not to deter or dissuade him, or even to give him a choice, but to prepare him for the coming ordeal. To be forearmed. The prediction tells him what to expect, not what to do. He’s foretold the consequences, not to duck the consequences, but to brace himself for the consequences.

5) Both sides were right. It was permissible for Paul to forge ahead, but it was equally permissible for him to change course. There can be more than one morally permissible course of action. Everything doesn’t boil down to a choice between right and wrong.

I think that explanation is valid in the abstract, but in the concrete context I think the narrator has led us to believe, by the programmatic statement in Acts 20:22-24 (cf. 19:21), that it was God’s will for Paul pursue that path.


  1. There are two additional things one might want to consider, if not more I suppose, in arriving at a fair explanation for all that you have laid out here with this blog article?

    One is that peculiar verse, Hebrews 6:3. One could easily come to the conclusion after studying the life of Paul in the Scriptures that Paul reached a level of maturity with "Eternal Life" in this temporal world that most do not reach? We are all admonished to lay hold of Eternal Life.

    We see this level of mature relationship between the Only True God through Jesus Christ here: Php 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
    Php 1:22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.
    Php 1:23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
    Php 1:24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
    Php 1:25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,
    Php 1:26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

    One comes away with the sense after pondering that that Paul was given the right to "pull" his own trigger as Christ did when He laid down his life, (Paul too)? The difference being Jesus after laying down His Life picked it up again.

    The next areas of concern I would consider are a couple of exchanges we read about between Paul and Jesus as Luke records them in the book of Acts that are not touched on yet, here:

    Act 14:3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

    Act 23:11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, "Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome."

    continuing in the next post because of length

  2. finishing comments:::>

    Without raising any issue as you have clearly developed in your blog article a clearer insight into the workings of the Holy Spirit with the brethren both adversely and not, for Paul and more specifically that odd matter as expressed by the Prophet Agabus as a confirming Word to Paul I offer those things as a consideration to add to the matrix in understanding the workings out of salvation in us personally and collectively as we together are carrying out our mandate to bring this Gospel of the Kingdom to every creature and or between one another with the guiding wisdom of God by the Holy Spirit Himself not being in conflict with the guiding wisdom by Jesus Christ Himself (that wisdom from above that is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere producing a harvest of righteousness after being sown in peace by those who make peace) as we bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ ever so maturely or not.

    Finally, I offer some more Scripture as an anecdote for my reasons in connecting the dots to arrive at a fair understanding the working of the Holy Spirit, God Our Heavenly Father when reconciling souls in the world to Himself through Christ and the particular work Christ Himself is undoubtedly still doing through His Church, the whole chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians especially noting verse six:

    1Co 4:6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

    For me when reasoning out why these things are recorded in the book of Acts by Luke I come to his Gospel and this verse as well as at the beginning of chapter one of Acts, too: Luk 1:4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

    One final Scriptural reference that seems to me to play into a consideration of this interactivity between us and our God after receiving the gift of Eternal Life is the peculiar sequence of verses Luke also captures for our consideration:

    Act 16:6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.
    Act 16:7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
    Act 16:8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.

    In verse 6 the Holy Spirit is doing something and in verse 7 the Spirit of Jesus is doing something. There were obviously more men of God than Paul and Apollos at work doing the missionary work of the Gospel. Those verses seem to indicate a clarifying where these men were to go and work in light of where Peter and others were to go and work? Peter clearly was called that area the Holy Spirit forbade Paul as we learn when reading Peter's introduction in his epistle: 1Pe 1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
    1Pe 1:2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

    Anyway, just some thoughts that come to me to post in light of your blog article above "Garbled in transmission".

  3. I think the Holy Spirit is warning Paul, not to deter or dissuade him, or even to give him a choice, but to prepare him for the coming ordeal. To be forearmed. The prediction tells him what to expect, not what to do. He’s foretold the consequences, not to duck the consequences, but to brace himself for the consequences.

    That is my favored position as well.
    But that could be the Legion talking, for we are many.