If you wish to contact me for any purpose or would like to ask any questions, I can be contacted through these various ways:

Email: barryjustinhobert@gmail.com

Facebook: 'Things As They Really Are' Facebook Page

Facebook Messenger

Twitter: @Thingsastheyrea


Lesson Plan for Acts 16-28


Paul is a towering figure in Christian history but remains largely underappreciated in circles within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I am not sure why that is, but one reason might be how a few generations of Latter-Day Saints grew up seeing Paul as too theologically "evangelical", maybe? At least that is how I viewed him growing up. 

In addition to that, we only have one Sunday out of the entire year where we go over the actual mission trips of Paul. I think that does a disservice to Paul. Granted, we will be reading many of the epistles of Paul in the coming months, but they are Paul writing to his converts and churches in the areas he served in. They, in and of themselves, are not his mission trips. 

Joseph Smith was a big fan of the Apostle Paul as he quoted Paul often during his sermons. Joseph Smith once gave this visual description of Paul:

"[Paul] is about five feet high; very dark hair; dark complexion; dark skin; large Roman nose; sharp face; small black eyes, penetrating as eternity; round shoulders; a whining voice, except when elevated, and then it almost resembles the roaring of a lion. He was a good orator." (1)

We have learned from previous chapters in Acts that Paul is a very fiery personality compared to the personality of Peter who was more balanced and contemplative in his approach. This is why they butted heads. We also know Paul was very well educated and came from wealth, which is implied and stated plainly in a few places in Acts. Paul is referred to as a "know-it-all" a few different times in the Book of Acts, the people of Athens and Festus are just a few that seem to get aggravated by his "smarts". Peter even slightly criticizes Paul in this regard in his later epistles (see 2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul was universally known to be hard to understand at times because of his learning and the way he spoke.

As stated previously, Paul is pretty foreign to Latter-Day Saints even though he wrote almost half the books of the New Testament. In recent years, he has become more understood by members of our Church based on new scholarship seeing Paul with fresh eyes. As probably the foremost scholar on the life of Paul has written, "It has been customary to read Paul as the enemy of 'legalism' in religion... although, this issue does not represent Paul's central [point]". (2) In other words, for centuries scholars have read Paul's writings and interpreted Paul's brazen distaste for "the law" as a slam dunk case for the evangelical belief in being "saved by grace alone" (Sola Gratia).

It has only been in the last 3-4 decades that scholars inside and outside the Church are reading Paul with new eyes. This movement is called "the New Perspective on Paul" and it is indispensable to understand Paul's mission and writings in their proper context. As we will see in these chapters and in future weeks, Paul was not a happy camper with the policy change regarding circumcision and the law of Moses in Acts 15. Paul certainly agreed that Gentile Christian converts did not need to observe these customs as being salvific, but he felt Peter and James' policy didn't go far enough. Jewish Christians were still allowed to be circumcised and observe certain aspects of the law of Moses, as long as they understood that salvation was through Christ. Paul thought that this policy still distracted all Christians from Christ and might have given Jewish Christians the false impression that the law of Moses was still salvific.

It is in this constant theological conflict in the ancient church that we must understand Paul's writings and how he used terms like "faith", "works", "grace", "law", "justification", and so on. One scholar, not a member of our Church, puts it rather straightforwardly:

"To read Paul as though he were answering the question, “What must I do to be saved?” is to misread the apostle’s main intent. Instead, those parts of his letters that deal with salvation or justification are usually answering the question, “How may Gentiles take part in God’s saving grace to Israel?”" (3)

To help you communicate better with your Christian friends, again, I quote N.T. Wright (the foremost scholar in the world on the life of Paul). He comments on the most popular translation of the Bible in the world today, the NIV (New International Version), and how it misses the point of Paul's ministry and writings:

"When the New International Version [NIV] was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses. This contrasted so strongly with the then popular New English Bible, and promised such an advance over the then rather dated Revised Standard Version, that I recommended it to students and members of the congregation I was then serving. Disillusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one: to make sure that Paul should say what the broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said…. if a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about." (Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision, p. 51-53)

In short, the conflict in Acts 15 continues for decades afterward. It is the lens we must read the rest of the New Testament through. 


We will begin with Paul's second mission trip to the Gentiles. In Acts 16 we get Paul and Timothy preaching in the area of modern-day Turkey. They appear to want to make a clockwise trip around that part of the world given the cities they mention. In verses 6 & 7 they are told by the Holy Ghost not to venture further into Asia. They get a vision of a Greek man inviting them to Macedonia, which was anciently and is modernly a part of continental Europe. Paul has entered the Western world.

Some scholars suggest that Paul heeding the promptings of the Spirit here was monumental. If you want evidence that heeding the promptings of the Holy Spirit can have long-term consequences, this is a prime example. Without this mission trip to Europe, we probably don't have Christianity as strongly rooted in the West as it was. Could it be possible that Joseph Smith doesn't begin the restoration in the Western world without Paul and Timothy heeding promptings from the Holy Ghost here in Acts 16?

Paul ventures to Athens, the capital of philosophy and pagan religion in the ancient world. He runs into Epicureans and Stoics who accuse Paul of being a "foolish showoff" (Wayment translation of "babbler" in Acts 17:18). They arrest Paul and bring him to Areopagus which "was a court designed to try serious cases" (New Testament In Its World, Wright, p. 354). Paul stands up to defend himself and gives an unconventional sermon.

READ ACTS 17:22-29

"22 ¶ Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.

23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;

25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;

26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device."


What can we learn from Paul's teaching? What did he say or not say? How does he consider his audience?

Paul doesn't throw Isaiah or the Psalms at these learned Greeks. He quotes their own poets and philosophers, specifically Cleanthes and Aratus of Soli. (4) The people of Athens were sarcastically known for having more idols of gods in their city than people. They even had a monument for "THE UNKNOWN GOD" just so they didn't leave anyone out. Paul adapts that to his audience in the first full detailed Christian sermon we have given to people in Europe.

Paul returns for a time to Ephesus and Corinth and heals many. We are told people would be healed by simply using Paul's handkerchiefs or aprons in Acts 19:12. We even have a certain Jew trying to perform exorcisms in the name of Jesus and Paul. It doesn't go very well as an evil spirit tells these men he knows of Jesus and Paul but does not recognize their authority. They are attacked and wounded by this evil spirit.


If you recall our introduction at the beginning of class that Paul needs to be understood through the continual conflict Jewish and Gentile Christians had with one another, we are going to see that being misunderstood is something Paul was used to and is what led him to being imprisoned and on house arrest for the last several years of his life.

Once Paul ends his third mission trip to the Gentiles, he travels back to Jerusalem. On his way back a man named Agabus prophecies that the Jews in Jerusalem will arrest him. Paul tells the man that he is prepared to die in Jerusalem. This almost has a Joseph Smith vibe when he traveled to Carthage "like a lamb to the slaughter". Paul makes it to Jerusalem and recounts to the brethren the success of his missionary efforts. Afterward, James (the leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem) warns Paul of the stir he has caused and recommends Paul participate in a ritual with 4 other men in the temple to appease the Jews.

Again, it is worth remembering that the Christian Church wasn't really thought of as a Church at this time, but as a sect of Judaism that many in and around Jerusalem sought to destroy.

The ritual cleansing Paul and these 4 men set out to do was the Jewish way, at this time, to be fully adopted into the House of Israel (see Romans 11 and here). The ritual took seven days to complete, probably symbolic of the person undergoing a new creation. Having Paul go through that ordinance was the Christian leadership's way of offering an olive branch to the Jewish community as well as the Jewish converts.

READ ACTS 21:27-32

"27 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,

28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.

29 (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)

30 And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut.

31 And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.

32 Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down unto them: and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul."

A better translation of "they left beating of Paul" is "they stopped beating Paul" (NET). Paul is thought to have been this destroyer of the Jewish way of life. He is falsely accused of bringing Gentiles into the inner courts of the temple, therefore, they deem it necessary to kill Paul where he stands. Fortunately, the Romans arrived and saved Paul from being bludgeoned to death.

A very interesting point to remember, as also stated previously, James partly had Paul go through with this ritual to appease the "Jewish believers who were zealous of the law" (see verse 20). For this reason, some scholars suggest that members of the Christian Church were among the Jews trying to beat Paul to death. (5) That is a horrific detail that might make us want to ponder a bit.


In what ways may we be like the Jewish Christians who were vehemently against Paul's ideas regarding the Gentiles, even to the point of wanting to kill him? In our modern world with controversial issues, how might we guard against falsely accusing apostles of the Lord?

Church educator, Scott Woodward, has made the following modern-day parallel:

"[The accusing Jews are saying], "Paul's trying to destroy our whole Jewish way of life"... "He is the worst." We see this pretty commonly today surrounding LGBT issues. Modern apostles and Jesus' followers today often just take it right in the teeth, when it comes to LGBT issues. You hold up man/woman marriage as the only God-ordained way of marriage, however humbly you approach it, however thoughtfully and gently and sincerely, and watch out. Some are not going to be able to resist hurling terms like, "Homophobic," or, "Hateful bigot," or, "Anti-love," or whatever. Even if you're an apostle, nobody's exempt from the hate machine here. Assumptions will be made and accusations will be leveled.

On the other hand, though, I also noticed it the other way, that as efforts are made by Christ's followers, including His apostles today, sometimes accusations come from the other direction within the church about caving under pressure... We've just got to learn to slow down and challenge our initial assumptions about each other. Listen to each other in love... As a follower of Jesus, prepare to be misunderstood, prepare to be misrepresented. It's bound to happen, so prepare to forgive a lot. You're going to have a lot of opportunities to forgive. Paul knew that firsthand. Jesus will say, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for my name's sake." [He is saying], "It's going to happen." It's part of the beatitudes. And not even eloquent, powerful Paul, who's such a good speaker and writer and explainer, not even he could avoid being misunderstood with his words." (6)

Elder Neal A. Maxwell has aptly summarized this idea:

"... As the disciple enriches [their] relationship with the Lord, he [or she] is apt to have periodic “public relations” problems with others, being misrepresented and misunderstood. He or she will have to “take it” at times. Meekness, therefore, is a key to deepening discipleship." (7)

Paul is taken by the Romans while being attacked by a mob. He, with the protection of the Romans, tries to speak and appease the mob and recounts his conversion experience to them. Interestingly, as soon as he mentions "Gentiles" the crowd doesn't want to hear any more of it (see Acts 22:21-22). This was a trigger word for their anger. Do we have any similar trigger words?

Paul is thrown into the barracks and then brought before the Sanhedrin to make his case the next day. That doesn't go so smoothly either. The Romans were afraid Paul would be "pulled to pieces (see Acts 23:10), therefore, they got Paul out of there and brought him under their protection.

As you can imagine, Paul was probably devastated. The Jews were his people. The Lord comforts him during a visit. Elder Neal A. Maxwell has commented on this visit from the Lord to Paul:

"... the resurrected Jesus stood by an imprisoned Paul, instructing Paul to be of good cheer. (Acts 23:11.) Once again, the circumstances of the moment included Paul’s having been struck publicly on the mouth by order of Ananias. Forty individuals were plotting his death. He faced a trial for sedition. Why, therefore, should he be of good cheer? Because, Jesus announced, though in bad circumstances, Paul would soon take the good news of the gospel to Rome!" (8)


Why would the Lord tell Paul to be of good cheer here? The Savior himself was a man of sorrows, how do we make sense of this command from the Savior to Paul here?

Joseph Smith spoke of how the gospel had a "voice of gladness" (See D&C 128). President Thomas S. Monson summed it up well when he said, "Be of good cheer. The future is as bright as your faith." (9)


From this point on, Paul is witnessing of Christ fairly consistently before some of the most powerful men in the world. One scholar has noted that this appears to have been Paul's expertise while Peter's teaching was usually towards "a different cultural niche" (Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 740).

Paul continues to be a prisoner, although not bound by chains, and can freely travel locally and receive guests. He is guarded by 470 Roman soldiers (see Acts 23:23). He represents himself before Felix who was the Procurator or Governor of Judaea and Samaria at this time. He isn't a very good dude, in short. He keeps Paul in prison for two years because he is apparently waiting for a bribe from Paul (see Acts 24:26). Felix also was involved in a scandalous relationship with Herod Agrippa's youngest daughter which is why he takes some of Paul's teachings about morality to be hard (see Acts 24:25). Felix allows Paul's case to be a stalemate and makes no progress on it.

Festus comes to power as the Governor of Judaea and tries to do the Jewish leadership a favor by having Paul sent back to Jerusalem to be tried. Paul, quite simply, isn't having it. He lashes out and, as his right as a Roman citizen, appeals to be judged by Caesar. In Roman law, this was a serious request as each Roman citizen had a right to appeal their cases to the highest judgment seat. 

This is how the Lord's promise that Paul would preach in Rome was fulfilled! It can teach us some lessons; like, how Paul had to wait for two years to see that promise fulfilled or how sometimes the Lord places opportunities in our path where we have to be agents who act to bring about His promises.

Festus has some doubts about sending Paul to Rome because, as he says, "it seems unreasonable to me to send a prisoner [to Ceasar] without clearly indicating the charges against him" (NET Acts 25:27). For this reason he reaches out to King Agrippa, the king of Judea who was the grandson of the Herod that tried to kill Jesus at His birth. Festus wants some help formulating the charges against Paul which is why he has Paul recount his defense/conversion story before King Agrippa. As soon as Paul starts to testify of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Festus interrupts and says "Much learning doth make thee mad." Paul then appeals to King Agrippa to see if he believes. The King's response to Paul is not very well translated in the KJV. He is not almost convinced to become a Christian, but more plainly asks Paul, "In such a short time are you persuading me to become a Christian?" In other words, Agrippa is putting up a wall. Paul responds by saying he will testify of the Savior no matter how long it takes (See Acts 26:24-29)

Paul could have been set free then and there if he had not already appealed to Ceasar. Therefore, Paul makes a long trip by ship to Rome. It was quite an eventful trip that should have taken around 3 weeks, but ended up lasting several months, perhaps over a year. 

One detail that highlights the importance of Acts 27 & 28 is how Luke crafted the narrative of the book of Acts to mirror the narrative of Luke's gospel. In other words, Luke's gospel ends with the passion and resurrection narrative of Jesus as a complete whole. The book of Acts is similar in that it crafts Paul's trip and arrival to Rome as a complete whole. "Paul's journey to Rome looms as the final threat to the satisfactory implementation of the divine plan" (Eerdmans's Commentary on the Bible, p. 1263). Here we have a story of severe trial and then triumph. The triumph results in the times of the Gentiles coming into full swing. It doesn't compare to Christ's atoning sacrifice, but it does have eternal and cosmic significance. That appears to be what Luke is communicating through this literary tool.

On this journey, the ship (holding 276 passengers, see Acts 27:37) continually had issues with the wind. Paul advises the Roman soldiers to not sail on, at least until the season passed. He sort of prophecies of disaster in Acts 27:10. Nevertheless, the boat sailed onward because the Romans did not want to spend the winter stranded. Not long after this, a "tempestuous wind" arose. That translation simply does not do it justice. The Greek here is tuphōnikos and it is where we get the word "typhoon" from. Better translations call this wind a "hurricane-force" (NET). The ship, therefore, is blown off course for days. They have to throw off their cargo, which probably included food, and they didn't see the sun or stars for days. Luke says, because he was probably on the boat with Paul, "we finally abandoned all hope of being saved" (NET Acts 27:20).

Luke is trying to draw a powerful metaphor here. In the ancient world, it was believed there was a cosmic battle at the time of creation; namely, God versus the waters. Isaiah calls this demon monster "Leviathan" or "the Dragon" (see Isaiah 27:1 & 51:9-10). When Jesus calmed the sea of Galilee in Mark 4, this is why the disciples are so amazed; namely, Jesus showed them cosmic powers over the powerful demon of the great deep. To the ancient reader, this same demon was trying to consume Paul and prevent him from reaching Rome.

READ ACTS 27:21-25

"21 But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss.

22 And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship.

23 For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,

24 Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Cæsar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.

25 Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me."


What can we learn here about trusting in the Lord and trusting in His servants when battling "cosmic forces of darkness"? When "the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee" (D&C 122:7)?

Note that Paul doesn't say it will be easy; the ship is going to be destroyed. The angel promises that no lives will be lost. Part of the reason Paul might have been so calm during this is that this was his fourth time being shipwrecked (see 2 Corinthians 11:25). Another powerful theme that comes through is how often some variation of the Greek word "saved" (sodzo) is used in this chapter. It occurs, uncharacteristically, seven times during this troublesome voyage through hurricane-like winds. Perhaps Luke is trying to convey the message that not even Leviathan can stop the gospel message from spreading and not even Leviathan can compete with the Lord if we remain faithful amid the storm.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said:

"If you will welcome Jesus Christ, “The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), into your ship, you can find peace amidst the turbulent and frightening storms that swirl inside you and around you... With faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you can “be still” when the storms of life come upon you. Peace may not be as immediate as it was for the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, but the Lord will strengthen you to get through the storms you face." (10)


Paul and all the members of the ship end up having to abandon the ship and flee because they were afraid it would sink due to "crosscurrents" (a better translation of Acts 27:41). All the passengers survive while Paul also survives a murder plot by desperate Roman soldiers. 

They arrive on the island of Malta where Paul has an experience with a snake and is acclaimed as a god by the locals as a result. Also, Paul heals the chief's father and a host of others on the island. The people are so grateful that they resupply the travel party with all the items that were lost at sea. The Lord took care of them. In addition, the number 3 is used a lot in this story. He is with the people of Malta resting in their home for three days and then travels peacefully for three months to Rome. Some scholars point out this is a narrative parallel to Jesus resting for three days in the garden tomb. Paul, after escaping the great deep (a cosmic symbol for death), has a period of rest. He reaches Rome in the spring and teaches 

They arrive in Rome where Paul is still under careful guard by the Romans but is free to teach and preach. Paul teaches in the local synagogue like he usually did during his travels and is, again, rejected. Paul, under inspiration, quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 to them.

READ ACTS 28:24-28

"24 And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.

25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,

26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:

27 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it."

It is important to understand this in our own Church parlance. Luke ends the gospel of Acts with Paul declaring unequivocally that the "times of the Gentiles" (see D&C 45:25) were upon them. The ancient apostles clearly understood that an apostasy would come, but that the glorious restoration would break forth during this time. Therefore, if we read the scriptures, Paul is directly connecting his ministry to ours.

Paul possibly ends up being set free where some say he traveled as far as Spain. He does eventually, according to tradition and ancient historians, end up being beheaded under the direction of Nero in 68 A.D. He served the Lord faithfully for around 30 years.

President David O. McKay once wrote this wonderful poem that sums up the faithfulness of Paul:

"Before the Royal, he was kingly,

In the prison, noble, true;

In the tempest, mighty captain

Of a terror-stricken crew.

Sunless days nor nights of blackness,

Prison chains—tempestuous wave,

Floundered ship nor deadly viper—

Feared he not the yawning grave.

“God’s good angel stood beside me,

His I am and Him I serve,” This the secret of his power—

Him from Right no power could swerve." (11)

If time permits, here is a non-exhaustive chart I created that highlights what many other scholars have pointed out. Namely, the narrative of Paul and Jesus in Luke's books is masterfully and purposefully crafted to show us that the lives of disciples are supposed to mirror the life of the Master.


Popular Posts