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Acts 18:18-28 offers us a whistle-stop tour: we see Paul travel from Corinth to Ephesus, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Antioch and back through Galatia to Ephesus again. The narrative is very condensed, either because Luke’s information was limited (since he was still in Philippi himself), or because his narrative purpose was to get Paul from Achaia to Asia (where he had previously been forbidden by the Spirit to preach), from his two years in Corinth to his three years in Ephesus without dwelling on his intervening months of travel.
Some time after the events narrated in the earlier part of Acts 18, therefore, Paul sailed for Syria (Acts 18:18a), presumably intending to report back to the church of Syrian Antioch which had sent him out. He was accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila who may well have financed his trip. Paul left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus. He went to the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews there. (Acts 18:19) From Caesarea (Palestine’s chief port), he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch. After spending some time in Antioch (probably from the early summer of AD 52 to the early spring of AD 53), and having doubtless given its church a full account of his second missionary expedition, Paul set out from there on what proved to be his third and last journey. He travelled from place to place throughout the regions of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. (Acts 18:23) – revisiting the churches of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, which he had established on his first missionary journey and consolidated during his second.
In this passage, Luke compresses a considerable amount of journeying by Paul which took him from Corinth via Ephesus to Jerusalem and Antioch, and then back to Ephesus where he entered upon the next main phase of his missionary work. We may feel it’s a bit of a whistle-stop tour (rather like some holidays where people want to cram as much sightseeing into a fortnight as possible!), but Luke is preparing us for the extended period Paul spent in Ephesus and as such, we realise that not everything we do needs to be recorded in minute detail! Getting an overview is important in life as well as in storytelling; sometimes we need to understand ‘the bigger picture.’