The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 20:13-16

13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and[a] the day after that we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.


Paul and his companions — including Luke, the Gospel writer and author of Acts — left Troas the morning after Paul, through divine power, raised Eutychus from the dead after the young man fell asleep during his sermon. It’s important to stay awake during worship, no matter the adverse conditions.

Luke and the others sailed to Assos from Troas, but Paul walked (verse 13).

Before going into the possible reasons why Paul travelled on foot, below is a map of where the men went. Note the west coast of Asia Minor and locate Troas in the northwest. Also worth noting are the towns and cities of some of the churches in Revelation, e.g. Smyrna and Pergamon. Click on the map and it will open in a new tab. Map courtesy of Wikipedia:

Matthew Henry and John MacArthur offer different reasons why Paul walked to Assos, which is at the southern point of the Troas region.

Henry’s commentary states that Paul wanted to convert more souls and meet old friends. He took a shorter, yet more dangerous, route, possibly as a means of self-denial (emphases mine below):

He had decreed or determined within himself that whatever importunity should be used with him to the contrary, urging either his ease or his credit, or the conveniency of a ship that offered itself, or the company of his friends, he would foot it to Assos: and, if the land-way which Paul took was the shorter way, yet it is taken notice of by the ancients as a rough way (Homer, Iliad 6, and Eustathius upon him, say, it was enough to kill one to go on foot to Assos.–Lorin. in locum); yet that way Paul would take, 1. That he might call on his friends by the way, and do good among them, either converting sinners or edifying saints; and in both he was serving his great Master, and carrying on his great work. Or, 2. That he might be alone, and might have the greater freedom of converse with God and his own heart in solitude. He loved his companions, and delighted in their company, yet he would show hereby that he did not need it, but could enjoy himself alone. Or, 3. That he might inure himself to hardship, and not seem to indulge his ease. Thus he would by voluntary instances of mortification and self-denial keep under the body, and bring it into subjection, that he might make his sufferings for Christ, when he was called out to them, the more easy, 2 Timothy 2:3. We should use ourselves to deny ourselves.

MacArthur, on the other hand, posits that friends from the church in Troas accompanied him part of the way and that he shared their company, talking more about the Gospel along the way:

What did I tell you … was customary when a – when a beloved friend left a certain people? It was customary for those people whom he was leaving to – what? – accompany him on his journey. You know why Paul walked? Paul walked so he could have more time with them. Selfless man. He wasn’t in a hurry, was he? He was available. Oh, how he loved the Church. He walked between 20 and 30 miles, and probably the last 5 or 10 miles he walked alone. And I’m sure he needed that time to be alone with the Lord before he met his friends at the ship.

Once in Assos, Paul and his companions sailed to Mitylene, which is on the island of Lesbos (verse 14).

The following day, they sailed ‘opposite’ the island of Chios. The day after that, they sailed further south to the island of Samos, and, the following day, they returned to the mainland to nearby Miletus (verse 15).

These were fairly short journeys, because, as MacArthur explains, the winds blew only during part of each day:

This is an interesting thing just to note. I’m not going to go into all the geography of those cities or any of that, but each one of those cities is about 30 miles past the next one, all down the little coast of Asia Minor. And the thing was that the winds only blew from early morning to late afternoon; so, they would just travel from early morning to late afternoon, 30 miles, stay overnight; 30 miles, stay overnight; 30 miles stay overnight; 30 miles, stay overnight. That’s how they journeyed. And so, that’s why it tells us about all those little stops.

While the names of these destinations might seem obscure to us, Henry’s commentary says that they were important during that era:

… these are places of note among the Greek writers, both poets and historians …

Miletus was fairly close to Ephesus and was also a port city. MacArthur has more:

Miletus was a town, the ancient capital of Ionia. It was not too far from Ephesus. It was originally composed of a colony of Cretans; became extremely powerful and built one of the world’s great, magnificent temples dedicated to the God Apollo. So, it was somewhat famous.

In verse 16, Luke tells us that Paul was intent on completing his journey to Jerusalem so that he could be there for Pentecost. Therefore, he did not want to go to Ephesus, where he most probably would have been persuaded to stay by the church there.

MacArthur says that the journey from Miletus was likely to have been quicker than the one from Ephesus:

Apparently, the ship going to Ephesus, or the one that would have stopped there, was going to stay too long, and he was in a hurry. So, because he didn’t want to spend time in Asia, he didn’t take the ship to Ephesus but the one that stopped at Miletus.

However, that did not stop Paul from sending word to the elders in Ephesus to stay with him in Miletus. More on that next week.

Next time — Acts 20:17-27