What does Acts 18:21 mean?
ESV: But on taking leave of them he said, "I will return to you if God wills," and he set sail from Ephesus.
NIV: But as he left, he promised, "I will come back if it is God’s will." Then he set sail from Ephesus.
NASB: but took leave of them and said, 'I will return to you again if God wills,' and he set sail from Ephesus.
CSB: but he said farewell and added, "I’ll come back to you again, if God wills." Then he set sail from Ephesus.
NLT: As he left, however, he said, 'I will come back later, God willing.' Then he set sail from Ephesus.
KJV: But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.
NKJV: but took leave of them, saying, “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.” And he sailed from Ephesus.
Verse Commentary:
Paul is headed home after a long second missionary journey. He and Silas started by revisiting the churches Paul and Barnabas had planted in the province of Galatia in central modern-day Turkey. They picked up Timothy in Lystra and traveled west to Troas where they met Luke. God sent Paul a vision to come to Macedonia, so they crossed the Aegean Sea and planted churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea before Paul had to flee to Athens to escape persecution. From Athens, he went west to Corinth where he met Priscilla and Aquila. He was partway through his eighteen-month stay when Silas and Timothy rejoined him. After a tense standoff with irritated Jews and an indifferent proconsul, Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila crossed the Aegean Sea east to Ephesus (Acts 15:40—18:19).

In Ephesus, Paul visits the synagogue, as usual, and explains how Jesus of Nazareth fulfills the prophecies of the Messiah given in the Hebrew Scriptures (Acts 18:19–20). The attendees are interested and want him to stay longer, but he is apparently anxious to reach Jerusalem. Possibly because he needs to fulfill the requirements of a Nazirite vow (Acts 18:18) or, perhaps, to be there for Passover.

He will return, however. On his third missionary journey, he will spend three years there, building up the church. He will be so successful, and so many Gentiles will respond to Jesus' offer of forgiveness, that the craftsmen who make idols for Artemis worship will find their business greatly diminished (Acts 19:17–41). On his way back to Jerusalem, He will meet the Ephesian church elders in nearby Miletus. He will encourage them and tell them he will not see them again. The elders weep and pray, and accompany him to his ship (Acts 20:17–38).
Verse Context:
Acts 18:18–21 starts with a short account of Paul's final days in Corinth. He works there, where he met Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:2–3), for eighteen months (Acts 18:11) before taking the couple with him to Ephesus. He apparently spends only one day in the synagogue before sailing to Caesarea Maritima on the coast of Judea. He stops briefly in Jerusalem before returning home to Syrian Antioch, then travels north and west again into modern-day Turkey. Meanwhile, Priscilla and Aquila meet Apollos in Ephesus and teach him the truth about Jesus, thus equipping another powerful witness for the church (Acts 18:24–28).
Chapter Summary:
Acts 18 recounts the end of Paul's second missionary journey. He leaves Athens for Corinth, in southern Greece, and works with Priscilla and Aquila as a tentmaker until Silas and Timothy rejoin him. The team stays eighteen months with no significant pressure. Eventually, Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila sail east to Ephesus. Paul leaves a short time later for Judea and Syrian Antioch before returning to Galatia for his third missionary journey. Meanwhile, Priscilla and Aquilla host the church in Ephesus and train a talented speaker named Apollos to be a minister of Christ.
Chapter Context:
Acts 18 covers the last half of Paul's second missionary journey and the first part of the third. He and his team have traveled down the east coast of Macedonia and Greece to Corinth (Acts 17) where they will spend eighteen months. Paul will stop briefly in Ephesus on their way back to Judea before visiting Jerusalem and Syrian Antioch. From there, Paul will return to Galatia in modern-day Asia Minor before returning to Ephesus for an extended stay (Acts 19). He will revisit the churches in Macedonia and Greece before facing arrest in Jerusalem (Acts 21).
Book Summary:
The summary of the book of Acts is provided in Jesus' words in Acts 1:8: ''But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'' In Acts 2:1–13, the Christ-followers receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:14—7:60 describes the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem. Chapters 8—12 find Jewish persecution inadvertently spreading the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria. And in chapters 13—28, Paul and his companions spread the good news throughout the Roman Empire.
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