Acts 21:4-14; Paul Goofs?

In my coursework we are going through the book of Acts and I've developed a renewed appreciation for Paul and his ministry. But what has really grabbed my attention has been incidents where it seems that Paul has actually made a mistake.

Now let's get this straight: Paul was not infallible, he could and did make mistakes. The Bible records those (and the mistakes - even sins - of others) inerrantly. While Paul is legitimately a role-model (1Cor 11:1), he isn't perfect and even said so (1Tm 1:15).

When Paul comes back from his last missionary circuit, he stops by and has a quick off-site briefing with the leaders from Ephesus and admits to them that everywhere he's been recently the Spirit keeps saying that 'bonds and afflictions' await him. Paul says good-bye, sails back towards home, and then lands in Tyre.

In Tyre, the prophesies are a bit more explicit (Ac 21:4): "they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem." Now I don't know if there might be something hiding in the text, but it sounds like - from these words - that the Spirit is trying to tell Paul "Don't go to Jerusalem!" Now, what's the difference in Paul's reaction between this and Ac. 16:6-7 where Paul hears from the Spirit to not go to places, Paul obeys, and does not go to those places?

Paul then goes to stay with Philip and his four daughters (all prophetesses) in Caesarea. Agabus, a prophet who seems to have a good track record, makes a special trip up to Paul and warns him, again, things aren't going to go well if Paul persues this course of action. All the folks (including Philip and his daughters) take this news and beg Paul to not go further. Paul doesn't listen.

Finally, in the face of a remarkably intrasigent Paul, the folks there say, "Well, we sure hope that God can do what he wants with this situation." Now a couple of commentators I've read both see that as the folks "finally acknowleged that it was the Lord's will for Paul to go."

Really? In the face of five prophets, a Proto-Deacon who helped to break the gospel into Samaria, and the words of the Spirit from many believers for the last few months, am I to read this narrative and see that the vast majority of Christian leaders (including reliable and respected prophets) all saw it the other way but only Paul had it right?

Any thoughts out there?


Eric said...

It seems like there are two choices.

1) Paul blatantly ignored God's will.
2) Paul heard the warnings but felt it was God's will to go to Jerusalem anyway.

I don't like reading into texts or softening them just to make them acceptable. However, given Paul's station in life and what eventually happened I'm inclined to go with the commentators and pick #2.

Either way, Paul was finally granted his wish to get to Rome, but it couldn't possibly have been how he planned it. A good lesson for all of us, especially if we feel that being in God's will means only good will happen to us.

emesselt said...

Actually, I think you're right about this. I just find it disconcerting when Paul is going against the apparently godly advice of the believing community.