Acts 18: 18-23

After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus.

When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

Understanding And Applying the Text

Paul was in Corinth one and a half years. Paul was not driven away. He did not leave in fear. He left because he wanted to be in Jerusalem during the festival season. He was also making his third trip to Jerusalem.

“At Cenchreae he had His had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.” (v1b) The hair was grown during the period of the vow. Its cutting marked the vow’s conclusion. This was usually an expression of gratitude to God.

The wording is awkward. Who is the “he”? Traditionally, Paul is thought to be the one referred to. But two things support the idea that the cutting of hair refers to Aquila. First the proximity of the noun to the pronoun, he. Second, the names Aquila and Priscilla are reverse the normal order. Verse 1 says Priscilla and Aquila, not Aquila and Priscilla. Later references to Paul in Jerusalem (Act 21:23) do not resolve the issue. Cutting of Paul’s hair is not specifically mentioned.

We are uncertain of the vow taken in verse 1. It could be a private vow of thanksgiving. Or it could be a Nazirite vow. It is not clear whether someone under a Nazarite vow could cut their hair outside Jerusalem. Some cite the Mishnah (m. Nazir 3:6, Act_5:4) to argue the hair cutting could occur outside Jerusalem. Josephus, J. W. 2.15.1 (2.313) is also suggested as a parallel. But these references are not clear. Either way, it is a clear reflection on a pious dependence on God.

In verse 6 Paul shook of his garments. He said he was going to the Gentiles. This was not a casting off of the nation of Israel. It was only the Jews in Corinth. When Paul arrives in Ephesus he goes to the synagogue. This was Paul’s normal practice. They heard him in the Ephesian synagogue and they asked him to stay. But Paul refused.

The reason Paul refused to stay was he wanted to get to Jerusalem for the festival season. Also, winter was coming. The seas were impassible in winter.

Paul told the Ephesians he would return if God willed it. He avoided the sin James speaks of in James 4:13-17. Making and keeping promises are important. Breaking a promise is a sin. Paul knows he is reliant on God. So he told the Ephesians he would return only if the Lord willed it to be so. Let us remember we live under God’s sovereignty. We can only do what He allows.

Paul sailed from Ephesus to Caesarea. Paul then went when to Jerusalem and greeted the church. The words at Jerusalem are not in the Greek. That is why the ESV does not say Paul greeted the church at Jerusalem. But Luke implies Jerusalem. The expression “go up” refers almost always to the direction of Jerusalem. The corresponding “go down” refers to directions away from Jerusalem. Paul went up to the Church and down to Antioch.

Both expressions are Hebrew idioms. If Jerusalem is not the reference than Caesarea is. The honoring of a vow referred to in verse 18 implies a visit to Jerusalem.

Paul was keeping the church in Jerusalem informed of what he was doing. It appears Paul did not remain in Jerusalem long. When Paul left Jerusalem he went down to Antioch. Then he went over to the country of Galatia and Phrygia, He spent about four years there. This included his time at Ephesus.

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