Did Paul disobey the Holy Spirit in Acts 21:4?

Hello,

I was reading through Acts and came across a question regarding Paul’s urge to be at Jerusalem for Pentecost. According to Acts 20:22 it seems that the Spirit is guiding Paul to Jerusalem, but in Acts 21:4, he is warned by the disciples through the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem.

I believe the Bible is inerrant and true so could someone help explain to me how these passages work together?

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@Ajax93 Thanks Alan for that question. My short answer is I have no idea. :slight_smile: I’ve had a brief look at the passages you’ve mentioned but haven’t had an in depth look at it. I can see, though, why it can be confusing.

My first thought is that it is clear that Paul is being led by the Spirit to go on to Jerusalem, despite what would happen there. Maybe this could be understood in such a way that the Spirit made known to the disciples what was waiting for Paul when he got to Jerusalem and they were warning Paul against going not wanting him to face it? I see Paul quite clearly following the leading of the Spirit and think that he would not be telling one person one thing and another person something else entirely… but I can see that, if I was one of those disciples, knowing what I knew Paul was going to face I would (from a human perspective) be urging him to reconsider. Just a thought.

I suppose another option might be that they were only warning him in the short term, although I don’t see that as being as likely since he was only there a week anyway.

Not sure, but looking forward to hearing other thoughts on it. Thanks for the question.

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Hello @Ajax93,

This is an interesting situation where Paul and his friends knew he was go to Jerusalem and suffer, as directed by the Holy Spirit. I’d like to echo @tsbehan that there is definitely human element here in the love and concern the people have for Paul.

This begins begins earlier in Acts as he is living in Ephesus:

Acts 19:21 NASB
[21] Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”

Then later during his fairwell to the Ephesians, he recalls the time he spent, and reaffirms the reason for his departure. He also does not hide that the Spirit’s leading includes a warning to prepare for great affliction:

Acts 20:22-24 NASB
[22] And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, [23] except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. [24] But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

Paul, prepared to die for his Lord, was open about the risks involved and was going to face them head on. After his departure, Paul and his traveling companions landed in Tyre where they looked up other disciples. This is where we get to the key passage in question of Acts 21:4…

Acts 21:4-6 NASB
[4] After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem. [5] When our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until we were out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. [6] Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home again.

Paul gets further confirmation later in 21:10-14.

I believe that there is no disharmony here. In multiple, successive events, the Spirit is moving through the Christian communityto make them aware of His plans for Paul. Luke does not appear to be revealing a different message in 21:4, and through the Spirit (dia tou pneumatos) is related to revealing the situation Paul was to undergo. The people had a spiritual feeling to Paul (liken to Gal. 5:22), and were urging him not to go. However, even though Paul was being made aware of the dangers, the Spirit was not prohibiting.[1] I think it is important to note that the people also stopped and prayed with Paul in support for the Lord’s will to be done, not their’s or Paul’s (Acts 20:36, 21:5, 21:14).

Let me know if any of that helps or if there are any points I may have overlooked.


[1] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles in The Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) 578.

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You have a good reply @andrew.bulin. The answer is actually not so hard. The Holy Spirit was leading Paul to Jerusalem AND the Holy Spirit used many credible believers to warn Paul of the danger into which He was leading him. This actually shows the integrity of the Holy Spirit. Paul would be in danger for his life numerous times and in various ways before the whole matter was resolved. The point is that Paul should be fully aware of the deadly threat that awaited him.

Jesus was also warned about going to the cross. He was terrified of going, but would not deny His Father’s will. He told His disciples that the Father had provided 12 legions of angels to save Him. All Jesus had to do was call out to be saved. The nails didn’t hold Him on the cross. His determination to obey His Father did. This is why believers should constantly praise Jesus!

Paul had the same determination to obey God. He was informed of the suffering that awaited him, and he went any way. So, yes, he was obedient. In fact, he was knowledgeably obedient, not just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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