Paul's Approach To God's Guidance


Printer Friendly version.

Paul's approach to God's guidance.pdf


Just over half of the Book of Acts tells the marvellous stories of Paul's three main missionary trips and his journey to Rome. In these historical accounts, we find fascinating details about what approach Paul took to receiving guidance from God and to human reason decision-making.

            Paul’s first missionary journey is recorded in Acts 13:1 to 14:28. His second is spoken of in Acts 15:36 to 18:22 and his third in Acts 18:23-26:32. Paul's trip to and the first part of his stay in Rome is recorded in Acts 27:1-28:30. Paul had a few minor trips also (see Acts 11:29-30, 12:25; and 15:1-35.


Acts is a summary


Before studying Paul’s trips, we must see that the Book of Acts provides us with a summary of the ministries of only a few of the Apostles and a small number of other church leaders. It concentrates mainly on the ministries of Paul, Peter and John. The ministries of Stephen, Philip the evangelist (not the Apostle), Silas, James, Timothy, Apollos and a few others are mentioned in very brief details. Apollos’ ministry is covered, for example, in only six verses (see Acts 18:24-19:1).

            The specific details of the ministries of the Apostles Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus and Simon the Zealot (see Matthew 10:1-4) are not even mentioned in the Book of Acts. These men were present on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 1:12-14) and stood with Peter as He preached (see Acts 2:14). But the Holy Spirit did not want to record in the Scriptures the specific details of their later God-inspired ministries. Imagine the people they ministered to over many years, the miracles and guidance they received and natural human decisions they made. None of these are recorded in Acts.

            This does not mean that God regarded only His workings through the ministries of Paul and Peter as being important. He regards His workings through and ministry to all people as being important. It is just that the Holy Spirit chose only certain parts of the lives of certain early believers to teach us from (see 1 Peter 1:10-11 and 2 Peter 1:20-21).

            Therefore the Book of Acts is a Holy Spirit-inspired summary of those limited number of human decisions, human events and God-given interventions, miracles and guidance from which He wanted us to learn. Acts does not record most of the human decisions of Paul, Peter and others about their daily ministries and lives. Similarly, Acts does not include a great many of the conversions, baptisms in the Holy Spirit, miracles, healings and supernatural guidance that Paul and Peter personally experienced or saw in the lives of others.

            For example, would you seriously suggest that during the approximately 33 years that the Book of Acts covers that there were only five major manifestations of the ministry of casting out demons? Acts 5:16, 8:7, 10:38 (whether this verse refers to healing and/or casting out of demons is debatable), 16:16-18 and 19:11-12 are these five examples. Similarly, do you think that the limited number of people recorded in the Book of Acts as being baptised in the Holy Spirit were the only people who received the Holy Spirit over those approximately 33 years? Also note that even though God commanded that all believers must be water baptised (see Matthew 28:18-19, Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38), the Book of Acts sometimes omits the water baptisms of many new believers at various places (see Acts 14:1-20 and 17:1-34). This is why it is wrong to say that the Book of Acts contains all or most of God's supernatural guidance to Paul, Peter and other ministries.

            2 Corinthians 12:14 and 13:1 probably also prove that the Book of Acts does not record some important events. 2 Corinthians 12:14 states: “Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but parents for the children.” 2 Corinthians 13:1 records: “This will be the third time I am coming to you. ‘By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.’”

            These two verses probably show that Paul went three times to Corinth. This is assuming Paul’s words in the above two verses are not just unfulfilled human plans. But note that the Book of Acts records only two visits by Paul to Corinth (see Acts 18:1-18 and 20:2-3).

            It is foolish to argue that the Bible gives complete details of the lives of those people mentioned in its pages. For example, the Bible does not mention the deaths of every believer spoken of in its pages. We cannot foolishly conclude from this they did not die.

            Similarly, just because the Bible does not record the Apostles receiving a multitude of instances of supernatural guidance from the Holy Spirit, does not prove that it did not happen. You cannot form doctrines only on the basis of the frequency of the event occurring in Scripture.

            John 21:25 reveals that the Book of John is only a summary of some of the things Jesus did: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not have contain the books that would be written.”

            A similar verse is John 20:30: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book.” These verses infer that the other written Gospels and the Book of Acts are only summaries of the major events the Holy Spirit wanted recorded.

            Note there are six dreams recorded in the four Gospels and the Book of Acts (Matthew 1:20, 2:12, 13:19-20, 22 and 27:19) and eighteen angelic appearances in the same Books (see Matthew 1:20-24, 2:13-15, 2:19-21, 4:11, 28:2-7; Mark 1:13; Luke 1:11-22, 2:9-12, 2:13-15, 22:43, 24:23; John 20:11-13; Acts 5:19-20, 8:26, 10:3-7, 12:6-11 and 27:23-25). It would be foolish to use this fact to teach a doctrine that God always grants angelic appearances three times as much as He gives supernatural dreams.

            Similarly, it would be unwise to count up the number of times the Holy Spirit is recorded as speaking by supernatural guidance to the believers in the Book of Acts and say that this records the exact frequency of these in the lives of these same believers.

            Therefore when you read the Book of Acts, understand that while it is totally inspired by God, it does not record all of the details of what happened in relation to the church and the lives of its leaders at that time. The Book of Acts is a summary inspired by God.


Paul was given general guidance at first


When Jesus Christ first appeared to Paul, He gave him general guidance to preach the Gospel to the Jews and the Gentile nations. Acts 26:15-18 records this general call. But note this general call did not provide any specific details about when and in what ways God wanted Paul to preach at various locations throughout the Roman Empire.

            Galatians 2:7-9 reveals that God's main ministry through Paul was to the non-Jews or Gentiles and Peter's main ministry was to the Jews. But note they were both also called by God to minister to both Jews and Gentiles (see Acts 10:1-11-11:18, 17:1-3, 17:10, 18:4, 19:8, 22:1-21 and 28:17-31).

            In the years after giving Paul this general guidance, the Lord gave him much more specific supernatural guidance. In those matters that God did not give specific guidance, Paul seemed to have filled in the gaps with his own human plans that he committed to God in the sense that Psalm 37:5-6 refers: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.”        

`           These facts about Paul will be seen in the following examples which you must remember occurred over an approximately 15 to 17 year period. This period began when Paul left Antioch as recorded in Acts 13:1 and finished when he arrived in Rome in Acts 28:16. About 15 to 17 years of Paul's ministry are compressed by Luke into a tight summary of around 16 chapters.

All original work on this site is Copyright © 1994 - . Individuals may take copies of these works for the purpose of studying the Bible provided a copyright notice is attached to all copies.   Questions regarding this site should be directed to the .