Bible kevinroosecomThe 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 omit — 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 (as cited below).

Acts 21:7-14

When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers[a] and stayed with them for one day. On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. 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[b] 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.”

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Last week’s entry featured Luke’s description of his and Paul’s voyage from the Dodecanese Islands and Asia Minor to Tyre. In Tyre, those in whom the Holy Spirit dwelt prophesied that Paul should not go to Jerusalem, as it was too dangerous for him.

Paul persisted, as he believed the Holy Spirit was telling him to press on towards Jerusalem. Luke, the author of Acts, continued as his companion. They arrived at Ptolemais, which was not far from Tyre. They met with the congregation there for a day (verse 7).

The next day, they continued southward on their journey and stopped in Caesarea, where they stayed with Philip the Evangelist, one of the seven original deacons described in the first six verses of Acts 6. The first martyr, Stephen, was among their number. They were Hellenic Jews.

Philip appears in Acts 8, preaching to the Samaritans. There he performed healing miracles. A sorcerer by the name of Simon Magus followed him, but then wanted to buy the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so Peter, accompanied by John, went from Jerusalem to confront him. At the end of Acts 8, Luke recounts the story of Philip baptising the Ethiopian eunuch.

Now Philip was living with his family in Caesarea, the place where Peter preached, by request, to Cornelius, the Roman centurion and first Italian saint. The Holy Spirit descended upon Cornelius, he was duly baptised and Peter stayed with him and his household for some time. One wonders if Cornelius was still there when Paul arrived. The Coptics believe that Peter made Cornelius Bishop of Caesarea after the centurion left the Roman army.

In any event, Paul and Luke stayed with Philip (verse 8). Philip fled to Samaria after Stephen had been martyred. Paul was overseeing the persecutions in Jerusalem at that time as Saul, a Pharisee. Now, years later, here Paul stands before Philip, Stephen’s friend and fellow deacon: a converted, pious, Christian — on fire for the sake of Christ Jesus and founding churches. What a transformation. Philip must have rejoiced and given heartfelt thanks for such a providential development.

Philip had four daughters, upon whom the Holy Spirit had descended, as they, too, were gifted with prophesy (verse 9). Matthew Henry says that Luke intimates they, too, might have warned Paul against going to Jerusalem (emphases mine):

This Philip had four maiden daughters, who did prophesy, Acts 21:9. It intimates that they prophesied of Paul’s troubles at Jerusalem, as others had done, and dissuaded him from going; or perhaps they prophesied for his comfort and encouragement, in reference to the difficulties that were before him.

The two men stayed with Philip and his family for some time. Henry tells us:

Paul and his company tarried many days at Cæsarea, perhaps Cornelius was yet living there, and (though Philip lodged them) yet might be many ways kind to them, and induce them to stay there. What cause Paul saw to tarry so long there, and to make so little haste at the latter end of his journey to Jerusalem, when he seemed so much in haste at the beginning of it, we cannot tell; but we are sure he did not stay either there or any where else to be idle; he measured his time by days, and numbered them.

A prophet, Agabus, went from Judea to Caesarea during this time (verse 10). Agabus made a previous appearance in Acts, specifically in Acts 11, when he travelled from Jerusalem to the new church in Antioch (Syria):

27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers[d] living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Agabus was correct.

So, now in front of Paul, he took the Apostle’s belt — some translations say ‘girdle’ — and tied it around his feet and hands, saying that the Holy Spirit said that Paul would be delivered by the Jews to the Gentiles so that he could be taken into captivity (verse 11). The reference to Gentiles here means the Romans.

Luke then says that he and the others present advised Paul against going to Jerusalem (verse 12). Apart from Luke, the people of Caesarea did not know Paul well, yet, as Henry explains, his reputation as a holy man proceeded him. They felt a great affection for him and wanted to protect him:

The great importunity which his friends used with him to dissuade him from going forward to Jerusalem, Acts 21:12. “Not only those of that place, but we that were of Paul’s company, and among the rest Luke himself, who had heard this often before, and seen Paul’s resolution notwithstanding, besought him with tears that he would not go up to Jerusalem, but steer his course some other way.” Now, 1. Here appeared a commendable affection to Paul, and a value for him, upon account of his great usefulness in the church. Good men that are very active sometimes need to be dissuaded from overworking themselves, and good men that are very bold need to be dissuaded from exposing themselves too far. The Lord is for the body, and so we must be. 2. Yet there was a mixture of infirmity, especially in those of Paul’s company, who knew he undertook this journey by divine direction, and had seen with what resolution he had before broken through the like opposition.

Paul would not be dissuaded, however. Interestingly, he asked them why they were breaking his heart by telling him not to continue to Jerusalem (verse 13). He said that he would suffer what his Lord Jesus did.

Here we have the Spirit urging Paul to continue and, at the same time via others, setting his expectations for the fate that would befall him. This combination of Sprit-led messages made Paul all the more determined to continue. John MacArthur says:

what happens here is Paul says, “I am ready” – and, you know, you could preach a whole evening on just that; that man was ready for everything. You know, there’s something about the Christian life, as Paul lived it, that I like. It’s kind of an instant readiness. I like the kind of Christian who doesn’t have to have a running start to get involved in anything. He’s ready any instant for anything. This man was ready to do whatever needed to be done, when it needed to be done

In Romans 1:15, he says he’s ready to preach in Rome. In 2 Timothy 4, he said he was ready to die. He’s ready for whatever. Readiness. Well, he says, “I’m ready to be bound” – and that, of course, would be painful and cruel – “and ready to die” – that would be an execution, probably by torture. There was no other execution in Rome than just the most torturous kinds: crucifixion or the merciful kind that Paul got, which was chopping off your head with a sword. But let’s face it, that would be an excruciation torture, just in its anticipation for most people. So, Paul said, “I’m ready to die.”

That said, Paul correctly envisaged that Jerusalem would not be the endpoint of his ministry, which, as we know, it wasn’t. He did go on to Rome, where he had always wanted to go, to be with the church there and organise it.

Henry points out that the Caesareans ended up receiving more of Paul’s time and preaching then they imagined at this juncture. It was all part of God’s plan:

These Christians at Cæsarea, if they could have foreseen the particulars of that event, the general notice of which they received with so much heaviness, would have been better reconciled to it for their own sakes; for, when Paul was made a prisoner at Jerusalem, he was presently sent to Cæsarea, the very place where he now was (Acts 23:33), and there he continued at least two years (Acts 24:27), and he was a prisoner at large, as appears (Acts 24:23), orders being given that he should have liberty to go among his friends, and his friends to come to him; so that the church at Cæsarea had much more of Paul’s company and help when he was imprisoned than they could have had if he had been at liberty. That which we oppose, as thinking it to operate much against us, may be overruled by the providence of God to work for us, which is a reason why we should follow providence, and not fear it.

Luke ends this account by saying that, as Paul was steadfast about going to Jerusalem, he and the Caesareans stopped trying to dissuade him (verse 14). Paul had a powerful personality, and, as he had prayed unceasingly with the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, everyone backed off — no doubt, reluctantly.

John MacArthur says that Acts 21 shows us Paul’s determination to do the Lord’s work according to His will:

as we come to 21 of Acts, we’re not so much exposed to a sermon on commitment as we are to a life that is committed. And I have said this in my own mind over and over again, that I see more of what Paul is from what he does than from what he says. But what makes it so powerful is that he winds up being what he talks about

Now, he says, “I have a ministry. The Lord gave me that ministry. I’m going to fulfill that ministry; I don’t care what the price is.” Now, that’s that I call commitment. Of all the words that are used, I prefer that word. But you might call it the courage of conviction, or consecration, or devotion, or dedication, or surrender, or yieldedness, or whatever other terms it comes under, it is basically the same thing.

He says, “I have an objective. God has committed to me a ministry. I’m going to see that thing to its fulfillment. And the price that I have to pay is inconsequential to the fulfillment of the objective.”

A word of caution: Paul’s ministry is an extraordinary one over which he prayed constantly. This is not to be construed as acting in a foolhardy way, thinking that God is talking to us about doing something rash. There was only one Paul, although within the communion of saints, others have also done great things and taken great risks in the Lord’s name over the past two millennia.

In that same sermon, MacArthur posits that Philip’s daughters had a big part to play in Luke’s divinely inspired composition of Acts. MacArthur also suggests that they did not prophesy on this occasion, which Henry would have countered:

So, it seems, as though, beloved, these four daughters of Philip could not be preachers – women preachers – but that what they did have was a gift of God to receive revelation from the Holy Spirit that was strategic to the life of the church.

Now you say, “Well, what kind of revelation are you talking about?”

I thought you’d ask that. It is interesting to surmise, and there is good evidence, that Luke himself – mark this – received much of the revelation of the book of Acts from these four women, and that that’s why they were placed here. That their role was not to preach in the church, but to be a vehicle of revelation, and in one case, for Luke. For Luke.

You say, “That may be why Luke put that little verse in there, because they don’t do anything.”

I mean they don’t prophesy in this passage. He just says that, and we leave them, and never hear about them before or after. Maybe Luke is putting this in as just a little hint [as to] their involvement with him.

You say, “Well, whatever makes you think they were involved with Luke?”

This: we know Luke didn’t know what he knew because he was always there, because he wasn’t always there in the book of Acts, was he? He didn’t have firsthand experience of everything. So, the Holy Spirit had to get it to him. How did the Holy Spirit get it to him? Well, the Holy Spirit used revelation. But the Holy Spirit could have used a human vehicle to give him that revelation.

Some people feel, for example, that Peter was Luke’s source for the Gospel of Luke. That God actually gave the revelation through Peter to Luke. We don’t know that. But in this case, it may have been that some of this information came to them – came to Luke through these girls.

Now, he had some time there; he had this period of time that he was there with them to get some of the information. Plus Paul, once he gets to Jerusalem, in the next couple of chapters, he becomes a prisoner, and he gets shipped back to Caesarea, and he stayed there two years. Did you know that? And the two years that he was in Caesarea, Luke would have had a great deal of time to spend with these girls.

You say, “Well, that’s all conjecture.”

Well, except for this: there was an early Church father right up against the early Church by the name of Papias. And Papias said that Philip’s daughters were commonly known as the informants on the early history of the Church. That’s a very interesting statement. In fact, the historian Eusebius, who is again a very early Church historian, quotes Papias, and gives some credence to the fact that these four daughters were used to transmit the revelation of the Holy Spirit; in some cases, that they even got the Gospel’s information, as well as the information of the book of Acts.

So, that’s a possibility. And historically, in the Church, has been agreed upon by those in the first century after the early Church.

Another interesting note that I want to draw to your attention here is the fact that these four virgins who did prophesy didn’t prophesy on this occasion. Another one came; a man came named Agabus in verse 10. And he gives the predictive prophesy of the future, which may, in a sense support the idea that these gals weren’t around to do the predicting of the future or do the preaching, but they had a very specific ministry of the Lord, and that was to be used as vehicles of revelation on the history of the Church past; we don’t know. And again I say, that’s just guessing, but at least it seems to fit together, and we must submit all of this to what we know in other Scriptures.

Food for thought — and, to me, at least, new information.

Next time — Acts 21:15-16