Acts Lesson Forty

Acts Lesson Forty: Paul in Ephesus and the Sons of Sceva

God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands, 12 so that even facecloths or work aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, and the diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. 

13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists attempted to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I command you by the Jesus that Paul preaches!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 The evil spirit answered them, “I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul—but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them all, and prevailed against them, so that they ran out of that house naked and wounded. 17 This became known to everyone who lived in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. Then fear fell on all of them, and the name of the Lord Jesus  was magnified. 18 And many who had become believers came confessing and disclosing their practices, 19 while many of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them in front of everyone. So they calculated their value and found it to be 50,000 pieces of silver. 20 In this way the Lord’s message flourished and prevailed. (HCSB)

As Paul continues his work in Ephesus, we see God displaying His power. I’ll divide this lesson into two parts.

  • Miracles by God through Paul – verses 11-12.
  • The sons of Sceva – verses 13-20.

Miracles by God Through Paul

As we begin this section, let’s take a look at the history and characteristics of biblical miracles.

  • There are there special periods of miracles in biblical history.
    • The time of Moses.
    • The time of Elijah and Elisha.
    • The time of Jesus and the Apostles.
    • Each was less than 100 years.
    • The total number of miracles recorded for the three periods is around 100.
  • When Jesus performed miracles, there were usually at least three purposes for the miracle.
    • To show compassion and meet human needs.
    • To teach a spiritual truth.
    • To demonstrate that He was the Messiah.
  • The Apostles followed this same pattern, and the ability to perform miracles was proof of apostolic authority.
  • Miracles by themself do not save anyone. They must be connected to the message of the Word of God.
  • God empowered Paul to perform “special miracles” because Ephesus was a center for occult practices, and Paul displayed God’s power in Satan’s territory.
  • However, wherever God’s people minister in truth, Satan will send a counterfeit to oppose that work.
    • Jesus taught this in the parable of the Tares – Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
    • Peter in Samaria – Acts 8:9ff.
    • Paul in Paphos – Acts 13:4-12.

Now let’s look at the details surrounding the miracles Paul was performing.

  • The miracles were extraordinary.
    • The people would take clothing articles that had touched Paul’s skin and take them to sick people, who were then healed.
    • The “facecloths” could have been either handkerchiefs or sweatbands tied around the head.
    • The work aprons were normally tied around the waist and used for wiping the sweat from the wearer’s hands or face.
    • It didn’t matter which one was used; the result is the sick and possessed were healed.
  • The idea of an object, in the present narrative items of clothing, is a delicate issue.
    • Jesus’ garment healed a woman – Mark 5:27-34.
    • Peter’s shadow healing people – Acts 5:15.
    • However, the medieval church was plagued by an unhealthy fixation on relic worship.
    • Even today, believers journey to Israel and “worship” the various locations as if the location possessed power. When my wife and I visited Israel, one of the places we visited was Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I witnessed first-hand people rubbing cloths of various types on the hole in the rock floor where some believe Jesus’ cross was planted. 
    • It is never the item of location that possesses the power. The only true source of power is God.
  • Today we have various “Christian” ministries that will tell people to “donate” a certain amount for a healing cloth or some other item.
    • These are almost certainly not wholesome or Christian ministries.
    • If God has blessed someone with the gift of healing, they should be doing that without charge. Maybe at most, the cost they incur if they travel. 
    • Most of these “healers” are living quite luxurious lives, in stark contrast to biblical standards.
    • The very fact that people will succumb to these false prophets is an indication of how dark and superstitious our culture has become.

The Sons of Sceva

This section of the narrative should cause us to remember back to Simon Magus and his infatuation with Philip’s miracles. The local Jewish exorcists likely were either first or secondhand witnesses to the work of Paul. Unlike Paul, they were motivated by greed and saw a threat to their livelihood. Therefore, they attempted to operate in the same manner as Paul by using the name of Jesus. Luke then goes on and gives a specific account, of the sons of Sceva, as well as how the population of Ephesus reacted to the events. Let’s look at this section in detail.

  • Jewish exorcists occupied a respected place in Greco-Roman society.
    • Judaism was a long-respected religion.
    • The incantations which the Jewish exorcists used were considered strange and exotic.
    • In Greco-Roman society, the more exotic the incantation, the more effective it was thought to be.
  • Jewish exorcists observed how Paul drove out evil spirits by using Jesus’ name.
    • The incantations used by Jewish exorcists were usually long and elaborate, invoking the various Old Testament names of God.
    • When they observed Paul using a name new to them and being successful in driving out evil spirits, they decided to copy Paul’s method.
  • We don’t know much about Sceva, but let’s look at what we do know.
    • Sceva doesn’t appear in any list of priests by the Jewish historian Josephus.
    • We should conclude that Luke wasn’t placing him in an official position by using the term “chief priest.”
    • It’s possible he came from a priestly family.
    • It makes more sense to conclude that Sceva occupied a prominent position among the charlatans and magicians who duped the people.
  • The sons of Sceva decided to invoke the name of Jesus during an exorcism, which went horribly wrong for them.
    • The response of the evil spirit to the sons is both interesting and humorous when the original Greek is read.
      • The evil spirit knew Jesus. We read the same thing in the gospels. The enemy clearly knows who the Son of God is.
      • The evil spirit respected Paul, realizing the power of God worked through him. 
      • The evil spirit didn’t recognize them or respect them. They had no authority or power over the evil spirit.
    • The evil spirit then attacked the seven sons.
      • This narrative demonstrates the power of evil spirits and the truth that battling evil spirits is not something to be done lightly. At the same time, if we are children of God, and have the Holy Spirit living within us, we have nothing to fear.
      • Not only did the evil spirit attack and overpower the sons, but during the battle, they were stripped naked.
        • We need to remember that extreme modesty was a characteristic of Judaism.
        • For the sons to run naked from the house symbolizes their complete failure and humiliation in the failed attempt to exorcise the evil spirit.
    • We learn two lessons from the failed attempt by Sceva’s sons.
      • Christianity has nothing to do with magic. Jesus’ name is not some magical formula by itself. It is the power of Jesus working through the Holy Spirit residing in a believer that drives out the evil spirit. It only works through those who are committed believers.
      • The evil spirit understood the power of Jesus over him. We read in James 2:19 that demons believe and shudder. 
  • The result of this one incident had a profound and far-reaching impact on the residents of Ephesus.
    • It was evident that Jesus’ name  was not some toy but was power.
    • They were seized by a reverent fear.
    • They magnified the name of Jesus.
    • The most significant impact is many became believers.
      • Not only did they become believers, they openly confessed they were previously involved in occult practices.
      • In addition to confessing their previous involvement with occult practices, many brought their magic books and publicly burned them.
      • The monetary loss was enormous.
        • The silver coin was most likely a drachma, the most common Greek silver coin.
        • The drachma was equal to an average day’s wage.
        • The bonfire that consumed the books was worth 50,000 days of wages.
        • The burning of the books was a decision made by individuals; the church didn’t suggest or enforce the action. The lesson for believers is that separation from sin should be normal practice.
    • The end result is the Gospel advanced and overcame the widespread practices of the occult in Ephesus. The advancement occurred through two avenues.
      • Paul’s preaching.
      • The witness of the Ephesian Christians.

Applications

  • Although this passage includes examples of “items” being used to heal and drive out demons, I believe it is descriptive and prescriptive behavior for the church and Christians. This was a power projection to show that God was mightier than occult practices. Although it could occur today in specific settings, it should not be expected as standard practice.
  • Our power comes from Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Apart from that power, we should never expect to overcome the darkness in the world. The sons of Sceva learned this lesson in a most dramatic fashion. We need to immerse ourselves in the Word, prayer, and fellowship with God. As we remain attached to the vine, we can accomplish great works for God’s glory.
  • As believers, we need to separate ourselves from any type of occult practice. Those who became believers in Ephesus were heavily involved in the occult, as evidenced by the hefty value of the books which were burned. However, how many Christians read their horoscope or are engaged in some other type of “innocent” occult activity? 

Acts Lesson Thirty-nine

Acts Lesson Thirty-nine: Paul Meets Followers of John the Baptist – Acts 19:1-10

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” “No,” they told him, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” “Then what baptism were you baptized with?” he asked them. “With John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the One who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began to speak in other languages and to prophesy. Now there were about 12 men in all. 

Then he entered the synagogue and spoke boldly over a period of three months, engaging in discussion and trying to persuade them about the things of the kingdom of God. But when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd, he withdrew from them and met separately with the disciples, conducting discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 And this went on for two years, so that all the inhabitants of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the message about the Lord. (HCSB)

Luke now switches the narrative back to Paul. In this passage, we’ll look at two sections. 

  • Paul’s interaction with a group of men who were discipled by followers of John the Baptist – verses 1-7.
  • Paul’s initial work in the synagogue located in Ephesus – verses 8-10.

Paul and Disciples of John the Baptist

While Apollos stayed in Corinth, Paul was concluding his travels, which began in Acts 18:23, as he arrived in Ephesus. Let’s take a quick look at the likely course of his travels.

  • Paul’s third missionary journey began around the summer of 53 A.D. 
  • After leaving Phrygia, Acts 18:23, the most natural route to Ephesus would begin by passing through the Lycus Valley, where several Pauline churches were later established.
    • Colosse.
    • Laodicea.
    • Hieropolis.
  • Although Scripture doesn’t indicate that Paul stopped to evangelize and plant these churches, Colossians 1:7 suggests that Paul’s co-worker, Epaphras began these churches, likely during the period of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.
  • Once Paul arrived in Ephesus, he encountered a group of twelve men who had previously been discipled by followers of John the Baptist.
  • Paul’s first question to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit,” identifies areas of deficiency in their faith, which Paul addresses.
    • The question regarding the Holy Spirit, and the manifestation of the Spirit’s leading, is irrefutable proof that a person is truly born again.
      • Romans 8:9  You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
      • Romans 8:16  The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children.
      • Ephesians 1:13  When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. 
    • Their response indicates the uncertainty of their faith. 
      • As disciples of John the Baptist, they would know that there was a Holy Spirit and that the Spirit would one day baptize God’s people.
        • Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove His sandals. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” 
        • Luke 3:16  John answered them all,  “I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 
      • It’s possible these men were early converts of Apollos before he completely understood the Gospel.
    • Why did Paul ask them about their baptism?
      • We repeatedly see in the Book of Acts that a person’s baptismal experience is related to their spiritual experience. 
      • These men had received John’s baptism, the same one the Apostles received before the Day of Pentecost.
      • Yet, they were still lacking. They hadn’t been born again.
      • The Old Covenant was ended by Jesus at Calvary, not by John in the Jordan River.
        • John’s baptism was one of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.
        • John’s role was to prepare the people for Jesus.
        • It would appear from the passage these twelve men didn’t understand that Jesus was the one John had talked about, the Messiah, and had no saving faith.
    • As we look at this passage, we need to be careful not to read into it regarding their baptism, the laying on of hands, and the display of tongues. 
      • We shouldn’t interpret this as “re-baptism.” There is no indication these men knew about or had a saving faith in Jesus prior to meeting Paul. Therefore, this was their true baptism.
        • A Christian doesn’t need to be re-baptized if they were once baptized as a profession of faith in Jesus.
        • This includes those who may have fallen away but returned.
        • I once heard a metaphor from a missionary when he was asked about re-baptizing a follower. His response was that if we were in a boat on a lake and fell out of the boat, we don’t need a second boat to rescue us. We just need to get back into the original boat.
      • In the entire Book of Acts, this is the only instance of laying on of hands following baptism. The event is descriptive, not prescriptive.
      • This is the last reference to speaking in tongues in the Book of Acts.
        • For the Jews on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:4-11.
        • For the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius in Acts 10:44-46.
        • Both of these events contained historical significance; the baptism of Jews and Gentiles into the body of Christ.
        • The gift of tongues is not evidence of the baptism of the Spirit or fullness of the Spirit. 
          • When Paul wrote to the Ephesians about being filled with the Holy Spirit, he never mentioned speaking in tongues – Ephesians 5:18-21.
          • When Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12:30, asks, “Do all speak in other languages?” the construction of the original Greek phrase requires “no” as the answer.
          • Nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to seek a baptism of the Holy Spirit or to speak in tongues. However, we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit and to manifest the Spirit’s work in our lives. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians should be read to reinforce this idea.
    • Let’s review several ideas from this section of the passage before moving on.
      • The Holy Spirit comes upon a believer at the moment they submit to the Lordship of Jesus, not at a later time.
      • Two baptisms are not required. It occurred here because these men had not yet placed their faith in Jesus.
      • This is the only case in the Book of Acts where the laying on of hands was done in connection with baptism.
      • Although there are several instances of the manifestation of tongues in the Book of Acts, it is not a common occurrence with Spirit baptism.
      • We shouldn’t read any symbolism into the number twelve regarding those Paul baptized.  

Paul Enters the Synagogue

This is a relatively short section that leads into the next lesson. Let’s make some observations from these three verses.

  • Paul continues his typical pattern of first evangelizing in the local synagogue.
    • Paul’s comment in chapter 18 of “going to the Gentiles” applied to the Jews in Corinth and was not a universal rejection of evangelizing them.
    • Paul never lost the zeal he demonstrated towards the Jews. They may have repeatedly turned their backs on him, but he never universally turned his back on them.
  • We should also remember that in Acts 18:19-20, the Jews in the synagogue asked Paul to stay longer to teach them, but at the time, he declined and said if it were God’s will, he would return. Paul was now fulfilling that promise.
  • From the context, it appears the Ephesian Jews were open to Paul’s message.
    • Paul engaged in spirited discussion with them.
    • Paul spent three months in his evangelism efforts in the synagogue. Up until this point, this was the longest before Paul experienced opposition. If there had been widespread opposition to his message, it is likely Paul’s “freedom” to evangelize before they began to oppose him would not have been three months.
  • However, after three months, the opposition did begin.
    • Even when the opposition began, it appears that it was limited in scope as Luke uses the phrase “when some became hardened.”
    • Luke doesn’t expand on how strong the opposition was, but it resulted in Paul leaving the synagogue and taking those who had placed their faith in Jesus with him.
  • Paul took the believers and met them in the hall of Tyrannus.
    • We don’t know anything firm regarding Tyrannus.
    • He could have been the owner of the building.
    • He could have been a teacher there.
      • If this is true, his name may be an indication of how his students viewed him.
      • His name means “the Tyrant.”
  • Some Western texts add that Paul taught between the fifth and tenth hour, which means between 11 am and 4 pm. 
    • This makes sense as this would be the hottest part of the day and the time when most would be taking a siesta.
    • The hall would have been vacant during this time, allowing Paul to teach and take a break from his tent-making vocation.
  • The lecture hall provided the vehicle for a wider audience to hear Paul’s message.
    • Since it was a public building, both Jews and Gentiles could enter.
    • Also, anyone traveling through the city could hear the message.
  • Paul’s evangelism in the lecture hall went on for two years. 
    • It is reasonable to conclude that during this time, thousands of people, either residents of Ephesus or travelers, heard the Gospel. 
    • Those who were travelers and became followers of Jesus were then able to take the message and share it with others as they continued their journey.
    • It was during this time the churches in Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis were founded.
    • Paul wrote a lost letter, referenced in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, during this time, as well as writing 1 Corinthians.
  • We should also note that Paul, in contrast to what occurred in Corinth, never made a statement he would no longer evangelize the Jews. 
    • Since some of the Ephesian Jews became Christians, it is logical to infer that Paul’s witness to them continued.
    • It also appears that the Jewish reaction to Gospel was polarizing.
      • Some became Christians.
      • Some were strongly opposed to Paul’s message.
      • It is very possible there were Jews from Ephesus in the “Asian Jews” who engaged in mob action against Paul in Acts 21:27.

Applications

  • As we interact with other believers and engage in both evangelism and discipleship, we need to discern whether a person is a true believer or not. We saw Paul do this when he engaged the twelve men in the first part of chapter nineteen. Paul didn’t condemn them for the lack of understanding; he filled in the gaps to allow them to truly become followers of Christ.
  • As we engage in evangelism, we need to make sure that our message is complete. Teaching that lacks the entire understanding of the Gospel could unintentionally lead someone to think they are a believer when, in fact, they are still lost.
  • I’ve mentioned it in other lessons, but it is still applicable here. As we engage in evangelism, we will encounter opposition. Some may be mild, but some may be intense, to the point of persecution. We need to understand, accept, and continue sharing the Gospel message, never forgetting Jesus’ words in the Great Commission, “He will never leave us or forsake us.”

Acts Lesson Thirty-eight

Acts Lesson Thirty-eight: Acts 18:18-28 – Paul Returns to Antioch and Apollos Appears

18 So Paul, having stayed on for many days, said good-bye to the brothers and sailed away to Syria. Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He shaved his head at Cenchreae because he had taken a vow. 19 When they reached Ephesus he left them there, but he himself entered the synagogue and engaged in discussion with the Jews. 20 And though they asked him to stay for a longer time, he declined, 21 but he said good-bye and stated, “I’ll come back to you again, if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 

22 On landing at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and went down to Antioch. 23 And after spending some time there, he set out, traveling through one place after another in the Galatian territory and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. 

24 A Jew named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, an eloquent man who was powerful in the use of the Scriptures, arrived in Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught the things about Jesus accurately, although he knew only John’s baptism. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him home and explained the way of God to him more accurately. 27 When he wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers wrote to the disciples urging them to welcome him. After he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace. 28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. (HCSB)

This lesson is comprised of two parts.

  • The conclusion of Paul’s second missionary journey and the start of the third – verses 18-23.
  • The introduction of Apollos – verses 24-28.

Paul Returns…and Sets Out Again

Verses 18-22 are a transition point between Paul’s second and third missionary journeys. This section concludes the second journey and introduces the third. Let’s look at the information regarding this section of the passage.

  • Paul “stayed on for many days.”
    • The fact that Paul was able to stay in Corinth for an extended period of time underscores the  importance of Gallio’s refusal to hear the case against Paul.
    • The period of time that Paul spent in Corinth was approximately eighteen months.
  • Priscilla and Aquila accompanied Paul to the port of Cenchreae and sailed with Paul to Ephesus.
  • What is the idea behind Paul shaving his head because of a vow that he took?
    • The vow that Paul took was likely a Nazarite vow that is explained in Numbers 6.
      • The vow itself was voluntary in nature.
      • Paul was not abandoning grace by taking the vow.
      • It was a declaration of personal devotion to God.
      • Paul let his hair grow for a specific length of time before cutting it once the vow was complete. He would also abstain from using any fruit of the vine in any form.
    • The passage doesn’t explain why Paul took the vow. However, there are a few plausible reasons.
      • It may have been a dedication during the early and challenging times of Paul’s ministry in Corinth.
      • It could have been an expression of gratitude to God for all He had done for Paul and those working with him.
    • It was customary for the person to complete the vow in Jerusalem and throw the cut hair into the fire as part of the burnt offering. However, some historical writings indicate it was also acceptable to cut the hair in another location and then go to Jerusalem to make the sacrifice. 
    • The fact that Paul would make a Nazarite vow would signal that he hadn’t left his Jewish roots even though he was a follower of Christ. This would serve as a bridge in reaching the Jewish communities where he evangelized.
  • The passage doesn’t indicate how long Paul stayed in Ephesus, but there is every indication that it was a short stop.
    • It would appear that the Jews in Ephesus were receptive to Paul’s teaching on the Gospel.
    • They wanted Paul to stay longer, likely to learn more from him.
    • However, Paul felt it was necessary to continue his journey. It could be because of the completion of the Nazarite vow and the necessity of making the sacrifice in Jerusalem.
    • But Paul did desire to return to the believers in Ephesus.
  • Priscilla and Aquila stayed in Ephesus while Paul continued his journey.
  • Paul arrived at Caesarea and went to the church in Jerusalem.
    • The phrase “he went up and greeted the church” must not be viewed as a geographical statement but rather as a topographical statement. Going up didn’t mean going north; it meant going to a higher elevation. Moving from the port to Jerusalem would require an ascent from the port to the city.
    • Going to Jerusalem immediately after arriving would also allow Paul to offer his hair as a sacrifice, essentially completing the vow.
    • Visiting Jerusalem would also allow Paul to greet the believers there and tell them about his work with the Gentiles. 
    • Paul then traveled back to his sending church in Antioch. At this point, he had been gone for about two years, possibly more, and the believers there were likely overjoyed to see him and hear about the work God was accomplishing with the Gentiles.
  • Luke doesn’t specify how long Paul stayed in Antioch. However, most theologians believe it was about one year before he set out again.
  • Paul then begins his third missionary journey.
    • The journey from Antioch to Ephesus, with the stops along the way, was likely close to 1,300 miles…on foot. The journey would have been much easier by sea, but Paul shows the importance of revisiting the previously planted churches to check on them and provide additional teaching if required.
    • The route Paul took likely led to stops in the following locations.
      • Tarsus.
      • Derbe.
      • Lystra.
      • Iconium.
      • Pisidian Antioch.
      • The reference to Galatia and Phrygia might mean Paul traveled further north and could be evidence Paul established churches in the northern portions of Galatia on his second journey.
    • Paul’s desire to return to Ephesus, where his previous visit had been cut short, didn’t lead him to neglect the other churches he had planted.
  • While Paul traveled to Ephesus, Luke switches the narrative to introduce Apollos.

The Introduction of Apollos

Before we look at the content of this passage, let’s consider what is known about Apollos.

  • He came from Alexandria, which at the time was the second most important city in the Roman Empire.
    • Alexandria was a center for education and philosophy and contained a university with about 700,000 volumes.
    • The population was a mix of Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, and Jews. The Jewish population was about 25% of the total, and they were very influential.
  • It is likely that Apollos was well educated because of where he grew up. We also know that Apollos was well versed in Old Testament Scripture.
  • He was eloquent in his manner of speech.
  • Apollos appears in this passage of Acts, in Titus 3:13, and 1 Corinthians 1:1-4:21.
  • Some, including this writer, believe that Apollos was the author of Hebrews.

Now, let’s look at the passage.

  • It is likely that Apollos had received instruction “in the way of the Lord” while living in Alexandria.
  • At the same time, there were holes within his theology.
  • Since he only knew of John’s baptism, it is logical that we infer his instruction and knowledge of Jesus came from some of John’s disciples who traveled to Alexandria prior to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
    • There was no knowledge of Calvary.
    • There was no knowledge of the resurrection.
    • There was no knowledge of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
    • Apollos had the desire but lacked complete spiritual knowledge.
  • There is theological disagreement over what is meant by “fervent in the spirit.”
    • Some believe it means the Holy Spirit.
    • Others believe it means Apollos’ spirit, his zeal.
    • I believe the second makes more sense. If Apollos were filled with the Holy Spirit, it wouldn’t make sense that he only knew of John’s baptism or he had gaps in his theology.
  • Apollos had both zeal and boldness as he began to teach in the synagogue.
  • While teaching, the holes in Apollos’ theology were discovered by Priscilla and Aquila.
    • Since the couple was already believers before meeting Paul, they already had a foundation in the Christian faith. In addition, Paul would have addressed any weak areas in their knowledge of the Gospel during their time together.
    • Now, Priscilla and Aquila were able to help Apollos grow in his faith just as Paul had helped them.
    • In this example, we see a perfect illustration of discipleship. 
      • Believers begin with limited knowledge and grow under the tutelage of mature believers.
      • Then, as they mature, they are able to fill the same role as tutor those less mature spiritually.
      • Under the tutelage of Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos was able to grow his faith and understanding, leading to him being a powerful servant for Jesus.
    • Apollos then decided he wanted to go to Achaia, where Corinth is located and where Paul had already established a church.
    • Why did Apollos desire to go there? There are a couple of plausible answers.
      • Corinthian Christians passing through Ephesus may have invited him to go there.
      • While being discipled by Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos may have desired to travel to where Paul was and learn further or help Paul in his work.
    • The believers in Ephesus wrote a “letter of recommendation” for Apollos to take to the church in Corinth. 
    • Apollos became a great help and encouragement to the congregation in Corinth. 
      • Apollos appears in the early chapters of 1 Corinthians, and the Corinthian church was grateful for his ministry.
      • Since Apollos was “powerful in the use of Scripture,” he was well suited to present the Gospel to the Jews in Corinth.
    • We can also infer from the text that Apollos was able to outdo the Jews in the debate on whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. 
    • It’s unfortunate that later on we’ll read about factions arising between the different evangelists, something that none of them would have wanted, and Paul addresses quite forcefully.

Applications

  • If you were responsible for starting any ministry group and then handed it over to another believer to lead, make sure you periodically visit to ensure the spiritual health of the group. Sometimes, this can be a fine balancing act between being concerned and intrusive. It would help to let the person to whom you are passing the leadership, to understand that you will check in, at least until you are certain the ministry is running well.
  • It is the responsibility of spiritually mature Christians to help those less mature. Discipleship is a recurring cycle from new believers to spiritual leaders.
  • We need to make sure that we correctly know and understand the Gospel before we begin our evangelism efforts. Apollos’ heart was in the right place, but he lacked a complete understanding. I’m sure we’ve seen or heard a Gospel message that had holes or wrong teaching. This could have either been intentional or accidental. In either case, it can lead people astray. 

Acts Lesson Thirty-seven

Acts Lesson Thirty-eight: Acts 18:1-17 – Paul Establishes the Corinthian Church

After this, he left Athens and went to Corinth, where he found a Jewish man named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul came to them, and being of the same occupation, stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. He reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and tried to persuade both Jews and Greeks. 

When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with preaching the message and solemnly testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook his robe and told them, “Your blood is on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” So he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed the Lord, along with his whole household. Many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized. 

Then the Lord said to Paul in a night vision, “Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking and don’t be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 And he stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. 

12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack against Paul and brought him to the judge’s bench. 13 “This man,” they said, “persuades people to worship God contrary to the law!” 

14 As Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of a crime or of moral evil, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you Jews. 15 But if these are questions about words, names, and your own law, see to it yourselves. I don’t want to be a judge of such things.” 16 So he drove them from the judge’s bench. 17 Then they all seized Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the judge’s bench. But none of these things concerned Gallio. (HCSB)

I’ll split this lesson into three parts.

  • Paul’s arrival in Corinth: An introduction to Corinth and Paul’s initial work in the city – verses 1-4.
  • Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul, transitioning to Gentile evangelism and Paul’s vision – verses 5-11.
  • The Jews false accusations against Paul – verses 12-17.

Paul’s Arrival in Corinth

Before we start digging into this passage, let’s take a look at the city of Corinth to set the stage for this passage.

  • At the time of Paul’s visit, Corinth was the largest and most multi-cultural city in Greece.
  • It was located at the southern end of the isthmus connecting the Peloponnesus with mainland Greece.
  • The city was located about 50 miles west of Athens.
  • It contained two ports.
    • Lechaeum is located in the west, providing access to the Adriatic Sea.
    • Cenchrea is located in the east, providing access to the Aegean Sea.
  • The location of the two ports, and the fact that the waters around the Peloponnesus were treacherous for ships, made Corinth the Greek center for east-west trade.
  • However, this also meant that the city was plagued by the less desirable traits of a seafaring center.
  • There is a Greek word, korinthiazesthai, roughly translated to “live like a Corinthian” but understood to live immorally.
  • It was a relatively new city.
    • No major building was more than 100 years old.
    • It was also the most “Roman” city in Greece, with many Roman citizens as a core of the city.
  • The religion was mainly worship of the traditional Greek gods.
    • The temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, stood atop a 1,900-foot hill on the edge of the city.
    • Close to the agora, inside the city walls, was the temple to the sun god Apollo, who was also the patron of the city.
    • There was a temple to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, inside the city.
  • From the context of the passage, there was a practicing Jewish community since a synagogue existed in the city.
  • We also need to remember that Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians occur at a later date, during the period of Paul’s third missionary journey. The narrative we’ll look at in this lesson concerns the founding of the Corinthian church.

Now that we have a firm understanding of Corinth during the time of Paul’s visit let’s take a closer look at the passage.

After arriving in Corinth, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, who had recently moved from Rome to Corinth. We don’t know much about them before their introduction here, but we can deduce some information about them from the timing of their arrival into the narrative.

  • Aquila was a Jew hailing from Pontus, a region in northeastern Asia Minor.
  • Priscilla was likely a Roman citizen, although that is not certain. 
  • Both of them were tentmakers, the same trade that Paul learned to support himself.
    • Tentmakers used two different materials when they constructed tents.
      • The most common one was leather.
      • The other material was cilicium, a cloth woven from goat’s hair. It is possible that Paul focused on this type of tentmaking since cilicium originated and was named for Paul’s native province of Cilicia.
    • This trade likely harkens back to Paul’s days as a rabbinical student.
    • Students were required to learn a trade to ensure they didn’t rely on teaching as their sole source of income.
  • From the evidence in Scripture, they were mature Christians whose service to the kingdom went far beyond their interactions with Paul.
    • They put their lives on the line for Paul, as noted in Romans 16:3-4.
    • They assisted Paul in his work in Ephesus, as noted in Acts 18:18-28.
    • They hosted a church in their home, as noted in 1 Corinthians 16:19.
  • Scripture never mentions anything about Paul ministering to them. Instead, it is always the couple serving Paul.
  • It is interesting to note that the majority of the time they appear in Scripture, Priscilla is mentioned before her husband. 
    • This may be due more to her prominence in the early church than her social status.
    • Priscilla appears to be another of the women within the early church, much like Lydia, whose efforts stood out within the Christian community.
  • The decree from Claudius ordering all the Jews to leave Rome occurred between January 49-50 A.D. Since Aquila and Priscilla arrived prior to Paul, it is unlikely that Paul would have arrived in Corinth before the middle of 49 A.D.
  • Paul finds them after arriving in Corinth, whether by their reputation in the Christian community or as a fellow craftsman, lodges with them.
  • Paul then follows his standard practice of going to the synagogue each Sabbath to proclaim the Gospel to both Jews and Greeks.

Silas and Timothy Rejoin Paul

Not only did Paul meet new ministry partners in Aquila and Priscilla, but his old partners Silas and Timothy now rejoined him. However, Silas and Timothy didn’t arrive empty-handed.

  • It appears they brought money from the church in Philippi.
    • 2 Corinthians 11:9.
    • Philippians 4:14-15.
  • They also brought encouraging news from the church in Thessalonica – 1 Thessalonians 3:7-10.

We now see another pattern repeat itself regarding Paul’s evangelism efforts, rejection followed by persecution. 

We need to recognize one point regarding Paul’s statement in verse six, “From now on I’ll go to the Gentiles.” Paul didn’t mean this as a permanent declaration as he still would attempt to evangelize the Jews in the future. However, it did mean that Paul would no longer evangelize the Jews in Corinth.

Let’s take a closer look at verses 7-8.

  • Paul didn’t move into Titius Justus’ house; he was still staying at the home of Aquila and Priscilla.
  • Paul did move his place of evangelism from the synagogue to the house of Titius Justus. 
    • This house was located right next to the synagogue. One has to wonder if this was a strategic decision or if there just happened to be a Christian home next to the synagogue.
    • Some believe that Titius Justus is the Gaius mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:14. However, there is no conclusive evidence to determine if it’s true or not. 
  • Although a sizable portion of the Jewish synagogue rejected Paul’s message, the leader and his family became believers.
  • The success of Paul’s ministry is confirmed by the phrase, “Many of the Corinthians….”
  • We can infer several things from that statement.
    • The Corinthian church was relatively large. This is confirmed by the fact that church factions developed within the congregation, as noted in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.
    • The majority were likely normal working people as only a few notable families are mentioned.

Verses 9-11 act as a brief pause between what has transpired since Paul’s arrival in Corinth and what will occur when the persecution rears its ugly head in the last part of this narrative. As we prepare to look at the impending persecution, we need to remember Paul’s words from 

1 Corinthians 2:3 “I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” It would appear that Paul anticipated the persecution which would now arise. 

Once again, we see the familiar pattern. Paul arrives in a city, engages in evangelism, attains a level of success, jealousy sets in, and the attacks begin. However, in Corinth, we see a different approach to persecution. When the persecution began in the previous cities, the normal practice was for Paul to move on to the following location. Here, he receives a reassuring vision that he should stay as nothing will happen to him. Jesus’ mission for Paul in the city of Corinth was not yet finished. 

The last part of the vision, “I have many people in this city,” should cause us to pause and consider what Jesus meant.

  • Could it be there were already a large number of believers within the city?
  • Could it be foreknowledge of a large number of future believers within the city?

It is likely the second possibility. There were evidently some believers within Corinth at the time. However, from a contextual standpoint, it wouldn’t make sense for the Lord to keep Paul there for one and a half years unless there was an extensive mission to complete in Corinth. 

The Jews Bring False Charges Against Paul

Before we take a close look at this section, let’s take a close look at Gallio.

  • He was the proconsul for Achaia.
  • Achaia was a province of the second rank in the Roman Empire.
  • A posting as proconsul was normally a one-year commitment, although sometimes it extended to a second year. 
  • Because of an inscription at Delphi and the dating of a proclamation from the emperor Claudius, Gallio’s term would have started in either 51 or 52 A.D., and the latest he would have served would have been 54 A.D.
  • Most theologians believe the encounter before Gallio occurred in the early period of his appointment.

Now that we have a bit of information regarding Gallio let’s look at these last few verses.

  • The group of jealous Jews brought Paul before Gallio.
  • They charged Paul with trying to get people to worship God contrary to the law.
  • The last part of the charge is where the problem arose. Contrary to what law? 
    • Roman law?
    • Jewish law?
    • Rome did have laws against Roman citizens being proselytized by foreign cults.
  • Gallio didn’t interpret the charge in that sense.
  • Gallio correctly understood this was an internal matter concerning a dispute within the Jewish community. 
  • In situations where there was no clear-cut case of an infraction against an established Roman law, it was within the purview of the judge whether or not he would formally hear the case.
  • Gallio didn’t believe the case warranted his time and didn’t even bother hearing a defense from Paul. 
    • He decided the Jews could settle the matter themselves and sent them all out of the court.
    • We need to be careful that we don’t interpret Gallio’s actions as an endorsement of Paul or his message. The entire matter was Jewish, and Gallio would have nothing to do with it.
  • Gallio’s decision obviously incensed those who brought charges against Paul.
  • The big question is, “who” beat Sosthenes?
    • Was it the Jews?
    • Was it the Gentiles?
    • The question is complicated by a further question. Was this Sosthenes the one mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1, as a Christian brother? 
      • If the answer is yes, then the new leader of the synagogue may have been leaning towards Christianity at this point.
      • On the other hand, Sosthenes was a common name, and it could have been an entirely different person.
    • If we believe this Sosthenes was the same as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1, then it would make sense it was the Jews who beat him.
    • However, if it was a different person, then what is described here could very well be anti-Semitic feelings from the Gentile crowd.
    • Theologians are split regarding both who received and delivered the beating. 

Applications

  • We should look for fellow ministry workers as we go about God’s business. Too often, we see or read about “factions” within ministry or mission work. When I was in the mission field in Thailand, I witnessed this firsthand. Instead of pooling resources, there were “turf wars.” We are all on one team against a common enemy. 
  • Expect rejection as you share the Gospel. This should never stop us or discourage us from sharing. However, it may mean we redirect who or where we focus our energy. Always try to discern God’s will as to where He would have you work; never do it based upon your wishes.
  • Expect persecution. Jesus told His disciples that persecution would occur. The comfort is knowing if we are aligned with His plans and purposes, He will strengthen us as we encounter persecution.