How did the Holy Spirit prevent Paul from entering Bithynia?

In Acts 16:6-7, the Holy Spirit kept Paul and his companions from entering specific regions to evangelise. I was curious to know as to HOW did the Holy Spirit do this. Not why, the why is covered extensively but how would HE have done that is my question. The vision that Paul received comes after “ the spirit of Jesus” would not allow them to enter Bithynia and after he further travels to Troas.


@akshay807 Hey Akshay, are you asking how the Holy Spirit speaks to us today? Or are you wondering how the Spirit spoke to Paul? I’m not sure the text provides us the exact details on how Paul knew it was God or what exactly that looked like…


Hi @SeanO thank you for your prompt response. I was wanting to know how the Holy Spirit would have led these evangelists in deciding the right place and time to go and enter into an area or not go there at all. History says that there were many Jewish communities there at that time but they were stopped from ministering there. Now later the Bible tells us that Paul had vision and knew then what to do, in this case and the earlier case of Asia could it be that it was inward leading of the Holy Spirit, the term that we use about ‘not having peace’ in our hearts ?
Also does it mean that there is a time and place that we should or should not evangelise ?


@akshay807 To be honest with you, I do not know how Paul and the apostles knew the difference between their own emotions and God’s leading. I believe God would confirm His will - I do not agree that a ‘sense of peace’ is sufficient to know if it is God’s leading or not. I think we need to seek wisdom from God, wisdom from those around us and allow time and open / closed doors to guide.

I really like this book and you may find the linked threads helpful :slight_smile:


@akshay807 This is a puzzling passage and, as you and @SeanO have already noted, we’re not told specifically how Paul knew it was the Spirit who prevented his advance in Asia. The word forbid in Acts 16:6 means to “prevent (by word or act)” according to Strong’s concordance, so it seems either some circumstance or perhaps a prophecy was involved. Regardless, Paul discerned the Spirit’s involvement, which suggests Paul had learned during his walk with the Lord how the Spirit directed him. Experience with God is important.

Samuel’s anointing of David as king of Israel (1 Samuel 16) may provide some insight. Think of the dynamics as Jesse parades his oldest son, then the next and so on before Samuel. One by one Samuel dismissed the men. He didn’t have time to pray about it or consult anyone or have an interview. He knew in the moment when the Lord spoke and said, “Not him.”

How did Samuel know? I think it goes back to the night when he was young, in the service of the high priest Eli, and God called him (1 Samuel 3). We’re told “the word of the LORD was rare in those days” (1 Samuel 3:1) and God called three times before even Eli recognized who Samuel was hearing. Certainly, after that night, Samuel recognized the voice of God when He called again. So, as he stood before Jesse and withheld the anointing seven times, he recognized when the Lord spoke to him and he said, “The LORD has not chosen these.” He had heard this voice before.


@SeanO and @dennis.gladden, thank you both for your wisdom and honest insight. In my humble opinion i think the following :-

  1. The open and closed doors scenarios are good but they are firstly time consuming and this does not seem to be the way the early church operated, they operated from knowing Gods will and then pursuing the matter.

  2. It is also the atmosphere they cultivated, i was drawn to this verse a few chapters earlier Acts 13:2 “ While they were worshipping and fasting the Holy Spirit said…” there worship, fasting and prayer made the atmosphere conducive for the Spirit to talk.

  3. Earlier in Acts 15:28 they go so far as to say “ It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …” these guys really made all decisions in absolute consultation with the spirit and gave theological decisions based on the leading of the spirit. It seems odd because these days we go to theology to understand the Holy Spirit, where as they did it in the opposite manner.

  4. About the sense of peace, i agree when with you @SeanO that its dangerous when strong emotions and self will is involved, hence my curiosity on how there guys made such decisions and with such surety.

  5. About prophecy, Paul in Acts 21 did not really pay heed to it when it comes to his decisions of where and how to evangelise, so I don’t think it was prophecy, but like you so clearly put it @dennis.gladden, he seemed the hearing and knowing the voice of the Spirit of God.
    Do you guys find that there is any biblical basis for making decisions based on the ‘the sense of peace’?


I agree with @SeanO . I just want to point out that too many people overuse (or abuse, to be exact) the phrase “I feel peace about this” or “I don’t feel peaceful about that.” Reading between the lines, sometimes it can be better paraphrased as “I don’t like what God seems to want me to do, and I prefer, according to my comfort/pleasure, to do something else.”

Don’t get me wrong, when a wise, mature Christian say the phrase, I have no qualms about it. It’s the other type of people I’m concerned with who is nonchalantly pointing to that method as “Spirit-led”. So I believe as we mature in the knowledge of Christ and His word, and is obedient in doing His calling, we will be entrusted with this special revelation wisdom from the Holy Spirit that Paul is led by.

The HOW though in your opening context, remains speculative at best and seems to be a personal mystery, exclusive to Paul.


@akshay807 I spent around 10 years trying in my own life to practice various methods of discernment, including intense times of prayer daily, fasting, impressions upon the heart and thoughts in the mind. Not systematically, but just as I was trying to figure out how to follow God. I cannot speak conclusively, because God operates differently at different times and in different peoples lives. But for me, I found that the only reliable way to make wise decisions was to prayerfully seek God’s face, seek wisdom from a number of other individuals, learn from experience and pay attention to open / closed doors.

The idea that the more you pray / obey the better you become at hearing God’s voice never played itself out in my own life. But based on Scripture God clearly can and does speak to people and I simply assume He has the ability to make that clear when He wants to do so.


@akshay807 I have found the biblical principle of “two or more witnesses” to be very safe when seeking the Lord’s direction. It has kept me from misinterpreting Bible passages when I thought a verse may mean something but I could not find confirmation elsewhere. It has helped me learn patience to wait on God’s confirmation about decisions. How He confirms may vary, but you learn over time that He will.

@SeanO repeated an important point that I referred to in Samuel’s anointing of David: Experience is important. We learn God’s ways as we walk with Him. We may mistake His leading, especially starting out, but He is a gracious teacher, correcting as necessary while making things work for good. I think this is part of growing in grace and our knowledge of the Lord.

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I would say, look at it in the context also of what the “technology” was like. Paul had no gps. Paul did not have the NT; he was a living epistle and also one responsible for writing much of the NT.

Paul had to literally rely on the Holy Spirit.
Sounds like we could do more of that in our Western world, today, huh?
We must never ever let technology take the place of our absolute dependence on God.

Actually in much of Asia and the “underground church,” they do just this and God speaks through His Word as well as through visions, promptings, etc.

Am I saying to follow our emotions? Of course not.
I highly would recommend John Bevere’s book, The Holy Spirit.|dc&pcrid=70112873712&pkw=&pmt=&plc=&pgrid=21324337392&ptaid=pla-295007906783&gclid=CjwKCAjwm4rqBRBUEiwAwaWjjF3ZEPvUoSAiPNXiH_Nb6UHeJ4MHl7ZNJIpp7Lz6tdn_0CWQiJwA1BoCjX4QAvD_BwE#isbn=193318583X&idiq=6724174

The Holy Spirit is not Pentecostal, or Baptist, or Lutheran.
And He actually works profoundly through His Word.
He can also prompt us and give us inner inclinations, I do believe.

One thing I know, and that Bevere stresses as well, is that no matter how He speaks, Holy Spirit WILL NEVER CONTRADICT the WRITTEN Word of God.


Thank you @SeanO, what you said makes a lot of sense. But I am curious, do you think God wants to involve himself in every area of a believers life?Even the mundane things like deciding with God as to what to eat? Which restraunt to pick? Whether that particular couch would be the Best Buy?Our interaction in Christianity is basically a relationship and I take it that the Lord has all the time (since time is not a a Barrier and because he is omnipresent) he is constantly available and how much we engage this relationship determines the quality and depth of its interaction and therefore how easily we hear God. I am saying that if we involve God in our daily life to the minutest details, wont that help in making a practice of hearing God and maybe isn’t that what will develop our relationship with HIM more.
Would love to have @AO77 and @dennis.gladden give their opinions on this.


@akshay807 Of course I believe God cares about every area of our life, but I do not think that God tells us how to manage every area of our life supernaturally. I believe God expects us to learn wisdom - just like when we learn an occupation. Our parents and the Church pass wisdom onto us - we learn from others what is the appropriate way to dress, how to button up a suit, the right way to eat our meal, how to choose a good doctor or a reliable vehicle - these are wisdom issues. And I do not think God short circuits the need to gain wisdom.

I respect people greatly who seek to hear God’s voice in all of their daily decisions, but I also think this approach can lead people astray. Where in the Bible does God ever tell Abraham or Moses or Elijah or even Paul what shirt to wear? God does not - and I think there is a reason.

Why did God create Adam and Eve? To rule over the earth. God created us to be wise rulers underneath His authority and to pass on wisdom to the next generation - just as we see in the Book of Proverbs. Why does a book like Proverbs exist if God is going to tell us how to do everything? And does Scripture suggest God created us to be rulers or to micromanage us? I do not think God ever intended to tell us how to make every little decision. Just like a parent wants their children to be independent when they grow up - God wanted humanity to grow into maturity and He wants each of us to be mature, wise adults who have learned from His Word, others and our own experience.

Again, I seek to walk closely with Jesus and I respect those who want their senses attuned to the Spirit. However, I do not see Biblical support for expecting the Spirit of God to short circuit the path to wisdom.

What are your thoughts on that perspective? :slight_smile:


@akshay807 Thank you for inviting me to participate in this discussion. Balance is important when we seek God’s guidance. You are right, we are in a relationship with God and therefore He is interested and involved in all aspects of our lives, but I think He also wants a healthy relationship, which means He will not smother us. I have heard of people who will not even get out of bed unless they think God tells them to. Does God require control over every such detail of our lives? Personally, I don’t think so.

The Bible says God created us with powers of reasoning (Isaiah 1:18). One of the places we see this at work is in Acts 15, where the church leaders are debating how to handle the influx of Gentiles. After “much disputing” (Acts 15:7), the group wrote a letter for general distribution that began, “It seemed good to us…” and goes on with their decision to send delegates (Acts 15:25-27). The letter then says, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us…” and they spell out what “necessary things” they believed God required of the Gentiles. Here is a blend of the church taking action they deemed wise, but also reaching a consensus about necessities under the Spirit’s guidance.

The Bible also tells us that God gave man authority over the earth (Genesis 1:28). Delegation has a measure of autonomy (but not independence) and we see this come into play immediately. God, who formed all the beasts and fowl, “brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them” (Genesis 2:19). Adam was free to call them whatever, and God did not override his decisions.

Back to the idea of relationship, Paul described the church as the Bride of Christ. No bride, even in biblical times, would tolerate a husband who must control every decision. I think of Abraham, who told Sarah to handle her problems with Hagar as she saw fit (Genesis 16:6).

Inasmuch as God created us to reason and think and test things, we are to be those “whose minds are trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Training would be unnecessary if God were going to make every decision for us. As I see it, God established the boundaries in which we are to live. Stay within them and walk humbly with our God, then we have tremendous freedom to live creatively.


akshay807 Thank you for your question.

This isn’t the first time Paul has a run in with Jesus and needs to detour. And how.

We first see him experience this in Acts 9:4, Jesus appears in a blinding light (literally), and has a conversation with Paul (then named Saul). By verse 19 Paul was anointed, filled with the Holy Spirit, baptised and regained both spiritual and physical sight. He began turning away from persecuting Christians to discipling them instead. Paul knew the voice of the Master because he chose to serve Him daily.

John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me

Looking at Biblical examples of the Spirit’s leading, it seems that the “HOW” route God uses to turn us from the wrong path may differ every time depending on our personal relationship with Him, but our obedience to His direction seems to be far more important since He knows the final destination.

What is disclosed to us in this passage seems more important than what is not. We are not told how, but we are told why and in retrospect see the bigger design.

Mission > method.

God has a plan for us the Holy Spirit works in us to fulfil it.

What we can learn from this incident of Paul being kept or forbidden is that by any means necessary he kept his ears open to God’s direction because he believed he was on a mission to fulfil God’s plan.


@SeanO i do agree completely with the requirement of wisdom in our day to day life, a wise person will e.g take heed of the prevailing weather and carry an umbrella. What my intent was to convey the need to walk in such a awareness of God in our life that we make decisions together like Paul seemed to have done. I think that kind of decision making should be the focus of our life, we can go down the path of trying to develop our wisdom, but if my wisdom does not lead me to intimacy is that wisdom of any use?
All the books that i read and the knowledge that i gain, good as that may be if it does not directly bolster my relationship with God is it of any use ?

My intent in trying to listen to God in the mundane is not to leave HIM out of any area in my life, a simple prayer in asking God to help me choose the best colour for my car which i would still like 5 years from now, daft as it may seem, may make HIM a bigger part of my life.
Also i need not always hear HIM or know what’s best, but have the faith that HE has heard me (like that of a child )?
Does not a child rely more on faith and hope than on experience ?

The Spirit of God is itself all knowing and wise, but i am not all knowing and wise until i am full tuned to HIM, so there will be no case of the Spirit of God doing something foolish, however i can quote many examples of things which Gods spirit has said or asked people to do that would be preposterous to any normal human let alone a wise one e.g Gideon (if i was a wise general i would think Gideon was mad rather than hearing God when he cut his Army short )

God sometimes goes out of the realm of even common sense and at that time all the wisdom gained by experience or even directly read through proverbs seems to get you no where, I dare say that even interpreting proverbs requires one to actually be led by the Holy Spirit and not just the text e.g there are two consecutive verses in proverbs 26:4 and 26:5 which are completely opposite.

Growing in Maturity is good and Paul even encourages that, but Christian maturity makes me more reliant on God and the Holy Spirit, which is opposite to that of a parent who is teaching a child to be self reliant.
Self reliance is not the aim of maturing up in the Christian context, actually if the greatest of these is to be liken to a child, i become more reliant on God as i grow in HIM.

My experiences fall woefully short as God has throughout his word operated in ways beyond anything people at that time expected, so experiences as far as those with God go need to be open to what ever he would want .

We must at all times remember that for a Christian its way more important to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and walk in the sort of divine wisdom which Paul seemed to be walking in rather than an earthly wisdom gained by either experience or by counsel.


@akshay807 I respect your view :slight_smile: In brief, my thoughts are:

  • heavenly wisdom is wisdom rooted in the fear of the Lord and a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. Earthly wisdom is rooted in satisfying our own desires - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and pride in one’s lifestyle. I do not think that heavenly wisdom has anything to do with an ability to discern spiritual nudges or voices in our mind.
  • there is a huge difference between self-reliance and making wise decisions rooted in trusting and seeking God first. Self-reliance is not a particular way of making decisions - it is an attitude that says ‘I do not need God’ or ‘I can do fine on my own’. Having faith like a child does not mean being child-like - it means having absolute trust in God like a child trust. We should not push analogies too far.
  • I have never read of or met anyone who has managed to come to a place in their walk where they know it is God rather than their own emotions and is simultaneously able to show objectively that they are correct. Like when Nabeel Qureshi was ill - lots of people prophesied he would get well and were certain God told them - and they were wrong. I am open to being wrong here, but my experience indicates that the view that God regularly guides us directly is not really livable.
  • the fact that God has, on occasion, commanded people to do things that are irrational does not justify an assumption that God normally acts in an irrational manner.

Again, I really appreciate your commitment to know Christ more - we are in agreement there :slight_smile: And I am certainly open to the possibility God communicates with others in ways He has not communicated with me. I can only speak from my own experience.


I appreciate you welcoming my input. Honestly, I think we’d be surprised if we truly knew how much God is interested in the things we are. Remember the verse that says As many grains of sand are in the sea, those are the number of thoughts God has for us, but actually they outnumber that number?!
Psalm 139:18
“Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand-- when I awake, I am still with you.”

I so agree with Sean about our need for wisdom. I don’t think God will do the things He expects us to do. We are to “grow up” in Him.

Except herein lies a difference: We grow up weaning off our parents and become “independent.”
But we grow up in God and become MORE dependent on God, and in a way, interdependent on Godly community. That is what healthy Kingdom living looks like and I am reading a book by Andrew Murray, called “Abiding in Christ.” I love it because he reminds readers of the need to stay aware of His presence.

For truly, in all things, we can “do nothing apart from Him.”

How beautiful.

I think God takes a liking into our interests but also loves when we choose things on our own. As I’ve been walking in the Lord, it’s funny because I realize we can become hyper aware even to a toxic place of overthinking little minute decisions. I don’t think God wants that for us. So I would caution you there.

But if we are solid in our identity in Him, and confident and comforted by His love it’s funny because the choices we make OUT of that place actually are His choices and align with His will. He will lead us to the right people and places. I’ve witnessed it time and time again!

Bless you!


I’d agree to the heart of most of your points as well. I reckon I didn’t respond yet to your other point in response to my post. I do want to say that people can often prophesy wrong things. That doesn’t take away from true prophesies. Therein lies something we may disagree on. Some churches do not actually believe in prophesy, point blank.
I do recall Paul saying not to forbid these things though, if I’m not wrong?
I think I’d like to be clear here and say, that does not mean prophesy in that sense no longer exists. In fact, Paul said to desire to prophesy.
Just because people have misused a gifting or even peddled it for money, does not mean there isn’t a real version of it.
In fact, when you see the real version in balance, it is quite powerful.
The problem with so many, as I’m sure you and I can agree, is that many seek the manifestation rather than the Provider.
Can God manifest in whichever way He chooses? I believe so.
Does He often? I really don’t believe so as much as people might say. Because of the way people are with those things and what they turn it into.


Love your response my Brother!

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@AO77 Yes, I agree God is certainly able and on occasion does work miraculously. And I agree with you it is not healthy when people place too much emphasis on these gifts. I also think in the NT prophecy as a gift is not only or perhaps not even mainly telling the future, but rather speaking God’s Word boldly and clearly into an existing situation.

1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 - Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.