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The Farewell Address to the Ephesian Elders

When writing to Christ assemblies in Rome that he did not personally found about his upcoming plans to go to Spain, Paul remarked that he liked to be the one to introduce the good news about Christ rather than build on another person’s foundation (Romans 15:20). The narrative of Acts accords with this picture of Paul as the missionary par excellence who traveled all over the ancient Mediterranean and occasionally had extended stays in certain places. What readers do not really get from Acts is a picture of Paul as a pastor caring for the daily needs of a particular congregation or writing letters to them when he was not present with them. However, one notable exception is in Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian “elders” (presbyteroi) in Miletus which is the sole lengthy speech addressed to Christ followers (20:17-35). It takes the form of a last testament, where Paul reviews his accomplishments and trials, compares his life to a course that he has nearly completed (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 4:6), encourages the audience who have been made “overseers” (episkopoi) “to shepherd” (poimainein) the flock in their care, predicts the onslaught of false teachers who are savage wolves, and concludes with final encouragements and his own positive example. I am convinced that this passage is a mirror to the structure and situation of Ephesian Christian assemblies in the author’s own day and this explains many areas where the contents of Luke-Acts overlaps with various traditions attested by Papias of Hierapolis. For the case for an Ephesian provenance for the composition of Luke-Acts, see the following online article “Acts in Ephesus (and Environs) c. 115.”

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