*this blog post was put together by the Gateway Theology & Research Team. If you would like information about being on the team, email firstname.lastname@example.org
In Acts 20:26-27, Paul says, “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of you all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Paul is leaving a group of elders in charge of the Ephesian church and telling them he will never see them again.
What did Paul mean by “The Whole Counsel of God?”
In other translations, Acts 20:27 is rendered “the whole will of God (NIV)” and “the whole purpose of God” (NRSV). In verse 25 Paul “proclaims the Kingdom” and here in verse 27 he “declares the whole counsel of God.” This parallel usage suggests that there is similarity and/or overlap between Kingdom and the Whole Counsel of God – they might be different ways of referring to the same thing.
Why does he emphasize that he “did not shrink” from declaring the whole counsel? Likely because declaring the whole counsel of God would have been offensive. Rather than holding back hard things, he has not obscured the revelation of God to His people – both Jews and Gentiles. We see that Jews and Greeks were similarly offended by the gospel that Paul preached (cf Acts 21:34 and 19:32).
Knowing that Acts was written by Luke helps us here as well. In Luke 24:27 we are told that Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” So, if the ‘counsel of God’ is the Scriptures and the whole of the Scriptures ultimately point us to the life and work of Jesus, the ‘whole counsel of God’ is also referring to the whole plan of God for humanity and the created order revealed in the Scriptures and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
So, in Paul’s discipleship of the Ephesians in Acts 20, he likely would have explained Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the Abrahamic covenant, the Torah, “prophets-priests-and-kings” all in the context of God’s plan for humanity, which includes the virgin birth, sinless life, vicarious death, victorious resurrection, and ascension of the Lamb of God, the Savior of the World, Jesus of Nazareth. Paul would NOT have shrunk back from calling sin sin, from testifying to sinners’ need for salvation, from declaring the unity of Jews and Gentiles, or from calling elders to faithfulness in their calling to preach the whole good news of the Kingdom of God realized in Jesus Christ and contained within the Scriptures.
How Can We Be Shaped By The Whole Counsel of God?
1. Taking In Scripture: We don’t simply want to “learn” Scripture, we want to take it into ourselves, to be transformed by the Word’s of God, to have our hearts changed by Spirit of God that meets us in His Scriptures. There are five basic ways to take in God’s Word: listen to it preached, reading it, studying it (reading with deeper reflection and utilizing resources), memorizing it, and meditating on it (contemplatively repeating to yourself). All ways are endorsed in God’s Word, and all of God’s Word is encouraged to be read, studied, and listened to (II Timothy 3:16,17). We are to take in the Scriptures with the desire to understand, to be renewed, and to ultimately obey.
2. Taking Out Scripture: Knowing the Whole Counsel of God is kind of like riding a bike: you can read a book on how to ride a bike, but in order to know how to ride a bike, you have to get on the thing and ride it. It is the same with Scripture, until we practice following Jesus, we can’t really “know” the whole counsel of God. Follow Paul’s example and do not “shrink back” from obeying or declaring God’s Word, even the parts that seem offensive to our culture.
3. Utilizing Helpful Summaries of Scripture. The bible is a vast and complicated book. Learning helpful summaries of the narrative of Scripture is important. Here are some helpful resources that might help you get more of a handle on “The Whole Counsel of God”:
- On The Basics of the Narrative-Shaped Story of God’s Word:
- On The Basics of the Gospel:
Ultimately, this is a lifelong mission to love and know Jesus better everyday. To understand Him, who He is, and what His Work of dying on the cross and rising from the dead means. Let us be a people, like Paul, who don’t shrink back from declaring the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near in the death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the long-awaited savior of the world.