Paul and Luke visited Tyre in Acts 21:

4 We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

The Spirit inspired the Tyrian disciples to urge Paul not to go to Jerusalem. But only 8 verses later:

12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul was all set to go to Jerusalem. Did Paul act contrary to the Spirit?

14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

I'm interested in the dynamic between the spirit in Paul and the Spirit that inspired the Tyrian disciples.

  • 1
    Good point :) I modified.
    – user35953
    Aug 20, 2021 at 15:09
  • 1
    It seems from this, and other places, that Paul received warning of the Spirit of the consequences of his actions, thus he was given fair warning and opportunity to defer, but he did not mind accepting those consequences. What outstanding courage and zeal !
    – Nigel J
    Aug 20, 2021 at 16:37

4 Answers 4


Previously (before 21:4) Paul said the following. He was not unaware of what the people were saying.

22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. (Acts 20:22–25, ESV)

In 21:4 Paul understood what the Holy Spirit was saying, but did not interpret it the same way as those telling Paul.

In light of the standard Jewish view that God’s Spirit especially inspired prophecy, prophecy is surely somehow involved in their exhortation. Yet this phrase is not Luke’s usual description of prophecy and probably indicates that they were simply warning him not to go on the basis of their prophecies about what would happen (20:23; 21:11). -- Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Ac 21:4). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Through the Spirit (δια του πνευματος [dia tou pneumatos]). The Holy Spirit undoubtedly who had already told Paul that bonds and afflictions awaited him in Jerusalem (20:23). That he should not set foot in Jerusalem (μη ἐπιβαινειν εἰς Ἰεροσολυμα [mē epibainein eis Ierosoluma]). Indirect command with μη [mē] and the present active infinitive, not to keep on going to Jerusalem (Robertson, Grammar, p. 1046). In spite of this warning Paul felt it his duty as before (20:22) to go on. Evidently Paul interpreted the action of the Holy Spirit as information and warning although the disciples at Tyre gave it the form of a prohibition. Duty called louder than warning to Paul even if both were the calls of God. -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Ac 21:4). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

However, while Agabus warns Paul of what is to come, he did not say that Paul should not go.

Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:10–14, ESV)

  • +1 Did the Tyrian disciples act contrary to the will of the Spirit?
    – user35953
    Aug 20, 2021 at 16:51
  • 1
    Not in the sense of the Spirit warning Paul, so that he would be prepared. The Spirit's message to them was what was ahead for Paul, not what Paul should do. Their pleading for Paul not to go was their own feelings about the message. Acts doesn't give us details.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 20, 2021 at 16:57
  • a good comment! the saying of the Spirit is one thing and interpretation another! Aug 20, 2021 at 17:42
  • Very good answer +1.
    – Dottard
    Aug 20, 2021 at 21:50

As Perry Webb well explained above, the Spirit says the same things to Agabus and Paul, but Agabus (probably) and the people present there definitely think that Holy Spirit's revelation about Paul's arrest means that Paul should not go to Jerusalem, which is logical in human terms, like it is logical in human terms for Peter to urge the Lord to avoid His imminent fate in Jerusalem and escape the prophesy (Matthew 16:22), but divine logic is different, and the Lord will go to Jerusalem to be crucified even when He knows that this will be done there.

Similarly, Paul interprets the saying of the Spirit in a divine way through the same Spirit: not as avoidance of what will happen in Jerusalem, but as a preparation for that. Thus, one can say that Paul had a greater intensity of presence of he Holy Spirit in him than Agabus (probably) and others, who could not interpret the words of the Spirit in a due way, but only in a human, limited way.

St Gregory Palamas interprets it in terms of different degrees of grace received by Paul and others, for Paul got a greater saturation with the fire of grace so as to be ready to even die for the Lord, whereas others did not have such a degree and acted according to that degree that was given to them and tried to compassionately prevent Paul from endangering himself.

Thus, Paul not only did not go against the Spirit's revelation, but on the contrary, acted fully in tune with this revelation interpreting it through the same Spirit as a preparatory warning to get ready for the noble battle.

  • +1 I considered the similar situation between Peter and our Lord, but was not bold enough to put it in.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 20, 2021 at 19:14
  • very good answer +1.
    – Dottard
    Aug 20, 2021 at 21:50
  • @PerryWebb Thanks! Aug 21, 2021 at 7:04
  • @Dottard Thanks! Aug 21, 2021 at 7:05

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

The utterances through the Spirit implied the exercise of prophetic gifts at such a meeting. It seems, at first, somewhat startling that St. Paul should reject what is described as an inspired counsel; or, if we believe him also to have been guided by the Spirit, that the two inspirations should thus clash. We remember, however, that men received the Spirit "by measure," and the prophets of the churches at Tyre, as elsewhere (Acts 20:23), though foreseeing the danger to which the Apostle was exposed, might yet be lacking in that higher inspiration which guided the decision of the Apostle, and which he himself defines as the spirit "of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2Timothy 1:7). This is, it is believed, a much more adequate explanation than that which sees in the Apostle's conduct a somewhat self-willed adherence to his own human purpose, and finds a chastisement for that self-will in the long delay and imprisonment that followed on the slighted warnings. He was right, we may boldly say, to go to Jerusalem in spite of consequences. The repeated warnings are, however, an indication of the exceeding bitterness of feeling with which the Judaisers and unbelieving Jews were known to be animated against him.


There is much evidence which indicates that Paul's decision to go to Jerusalem in Acts 20 was due to him being "compelled" by an abundance of sensory influence to act in disregard to God's primary will. While in Ephesus he wrote to the Corinthians:

But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries. I Corinthians 16:8-9

His plan at that point did not involve going to Jerusalem for Pentecost since he knew (by the spirit) that God had opened a door of utterance for him in Ephesus. The effect of the "many adversaries" is not known, but in his next letter to Corinth he wrote:

For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: II Corinthians 1:8

Sometime before Pentecost, Paul's attention was drawn away from the door that had opened to him. With all his strength he wanted to finish his "course with joy, and the ministry... received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24) but now somehow he felt that this could only be accomplished by ministering in Jerusalem (the place of his upbringing, where he had previously reached the top of society as a Pharisee). After he decided to go to Jerusalem for Pentecost, he announced to the believers in Ephesus:

And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit [God was telling him not to go] unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself... Acts 20:22-24

At this point, Paul was convinced (by a senses feeling of dispair) that his whole world was beyond recovery, but that somehow finishing his ministry in Jerusalem would be meaningful. Now stopping in Tyre, he had a similar interaction with trusted believers who he himself had instructed in the operation of holy spirit:

And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased saying the will of the Lord be done. Acts 21:4,14

Paul had indicated that he understood his options, and still felt that he needed to go to Jerusalem even if it meant he would have to die in doing so. He just couldn't seem to grasp the possibility of his future having a positive outcome by not going to Jerusalem.

Despite our knowing better than to go against God's will, because we are subject to human limitations, none of us can fully predict what we will do when enough pressure and stress is applied. We should never want to settle for less than God's primary will, but at some point may have to receive God's forgiveness and forgive ourselves for doing so.

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