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.  

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