Paul at Corinth, 1-11
18:1 After this Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. 18:2 There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to depart from Rome. Paul approached them, 18:3 and because he worked at the same trade, he stayed with them and worked with them (for they were tentmakers by trade). 18:4 He addressed both Jews and Greeks in the synagogue every Sabbath, attempting to persuade them.
Schnabel remarks that this account highlights
- the importance of teamwork for the missionary proclamation of the gospel and the establishment of local churches,
- the reality of God’s presence in missionary work, and
- points of contact of missionary work with wider political realities.
Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome – Suetonius records this: ‘since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome’. Peterson comments: ‘Chrestus may be a corruption of Christus, meaning that the Jewish community in Rome had become seriously divided over Christian claims about Jesus.’ He adds that ‘leaving Rome under such circumstances must have been a great trial for those concerned, but Luke shows how, in God’s providence, the coming of this couple to Corinth and then Ephesus advanced the work of the gospel significantly (vv. 18–28).’
This edict of Claudius was rescinded when, in AD54, Nero came to the throne. Thus Aquila and Priscilla were able, along with other Jews, to return to Rome – and were there by the time Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans.
‘He refers to them in his first letter to Corinth (16:19) as well as in Romans 16:3; by the time of the latter, they are back in Rome, having spent some time in Ephesus in between (Acts 18:26). They are almost as widely travelled as Paul himself.’ (Wright)
He worked at the same trade…(they were tentmakers) – ‘The impression Luke might have given is that Paul hadn’t been staying anywhere long enough to set up shop, to sort out his tools and acquire raw materials, and to offer his services for trade. In fact, as we know from the Thessalonian letters in particular, he certainly worked there (night and day, he says), partly so as not to be a burden on the church and partly to set them an example of how Christians should behave (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 3:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:7–13). He emphasizes this point again in writing to Corinth, later on (1 Corinthians 9). Some may be surprised to think of Paul as a manual worker, but he wouldn’t have seen anything strange in it. It was commonplace among Jewish teachers for rabbis to have a trade by which to support themselves and their families. Paul had no pretensions on such a matter.’ (Wright)
v3 ‘Since rabbis were expected to perform their religious and legal functions without demanding a fee, it was necessary for them to have some other source of income. Paul’s occupation was as a tentmaker. Tents were made out of the goat’s hair cloth, known as “cilicium” and manufactured in Paul’s native province, or else out of leather; hence the word “tentmaker” could refer more generally to a “leather-worker,” and this seems to be the meaning here.’ (I.H. Marshall)
Synagogue – A fragmentary inscription has been found at Corinth which is believed to have borne the words, “Synagogue of the Hebrews.” It could have stood over the doorway of the synagogue Paul debated in.’
18:5 Now when Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul became wholly absorbed with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 18:6 When they opposed him and reviled him, he protested by shaking out his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am guiltless! From now on I will go to the Gentiles!” 18:7 Then Paul left the synagogue and went to the house of a person named Titius Justus, a Gentile who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. 18:8 Crispus, the president of the synagogue, believed in the Lord together with his entire household, and many of the Corinthians who heard about it believed and were baptized. 18:9 The Lord said to Paul by a vision in the night, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent, 18:10 because I am with you, and no one will assault you to harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 18:11 So he stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
Paul became wholly absorbed with proclaiming the word – ‘As a result of their coming, Paul now “devoted himself entirely to the task of preaching” (NEB; cf. GNB, NIV; the RSV translation fails to bring out the point). According to 2 Cor 11:9 Paul did not impose any burden on the Corinthian church by claiming financial support from it, since his needs were supplied by the Christians from Macedonia. (cf. Php 4:15) It seems probable, therefore, that Silas and Timothy brought gifts of money which freed Paul from the need to work to support himself in Corinth; he could therefore carry out missionary work throughout the week and not merely on the sabbath.’ (I.H. Marshall). Lydia McGrew (Hidden in Plain View) identifies this as an undesigned coincidence.
“From now on I will go to the Gentiles” – ‘This is not a decisive abandonment of ministry to Jews since he goes straight to the synagogue again when he arrives in Ephesus (v. 19).’ (Peterson)
‘The announcement that “from now on” (ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν) he will go to the Gentiles (εἰς τὰ ἔθνη) does not mean that he has not yet proclaimed the gospel to Gentiles in Corinth (cf. v. 4), nor does it mean that from now on he will no longer explain the good news of Jesus to Jews (note v. 19); rather, he announces that since he can no longer teach in the synagogue, he will focus his ministry on the non-Jewish people living in Corinth. This pattern of rejection in the Jewish community and reorientation to focus on preaching among the Gentiles was observable in Pisidian Antioch as well (Acts 13:46).’
Crispus – his house was next door to the synagogue, ‘which can hardly have made for good relations but was no doubt an effective location for influencing attenders at the synagogue.’ (I.H. Marshall)
We learn from 1 Cor 1:14 that Paul himself baptised Crispus.
The Lord said to Paul by a vision in the night… – ‘One of the many lessons Acts teaches quietly, as it goes along, is that you tend to get the guidance you need when you need it, not before, and not in too much detail. Enough to know that the Lord Jesus has many people in this city, and that he wants you, Paul, to stay here and work with them.’ (Wright)
Paul stayed for a year and a half – This was around AD 52
Paul Before the Proconsul Gallio, 12-17
18:12 Now while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews attacked Paul together and brought him before the judgment seat, 18:13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God in a way contrary to the law!” 18:14 But just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of some crime or serious piece of villainy, I would have been justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews, 18:15 but since it concerns points of disagreement about words and names and your own law, settle it yourselves. I will not be a judge of these things!” 18:16 Then he had them forced away from the judgment seat. 18:17 So they all seized Sosthenes, the president of the synagogue, and began to beat him in front of the judgment seat. Yet none of these things were of any concern to Gallio.
Gallio – ‘Luke’s narrative suggests that the Jews seized the opportunity afforded by the arrival of a new governor to make an attack on Paul. Marcus Annaeus Novatus was a brother of the famous Stoic philosopher Seneca; he was the son of a Spanish orator, and on coming to Rome he was adopted into the family of Lucius Junius Gallio and took the name of his adoptive father. Since Achaia was a second-rank province, it was governed by someone who had not yet attained the rank of consul (the senior Roman magistracy). Gallio accordingly came to Achaia after being praetor and before being consul. He had a pleasant character, but suffered from ill-health. He died as a result of Nero’s suspicions against the family. The date of his proconsulship can be fixed fairly accurately from an inscription found at Delphi, and it probably commenced in July, AD 51.’ (I.H. Marshall)
Wright notes that this mention of Gallio provides an important reference point for the chronology of Paul’s ministry. For many years, says Wright, scholars found it difficult to pin down the dates of his life and journeys:
‘Then the archaeologists turned up an inscription in Delphi, a few miles north-west of Corinth, and quite suddenly we knew exactly where we were. Gallio, who was the younger brother of the famous philosopher Seneca (who was himself tutor to the Emperor Nero) was proconsul of Achaea in the second half of 51 and on into early 52, before leaving through ill health. Scholars are now more or less agreed that Paul must have appeared before him some time in late 51. Since Paul seems to have left Corinth shortly after being acquitted, his 18 months in the city will therefore date from late 49 or early 50 to the middle or end of 51. From being just another odd reference in Acts, the reference to Gallio has become the peg on which a good deal of the rest of Pauline chronology can hang.’
Court – ‘This was a stone platform in the “agora” of the city whose site can still be seen.’ (I.H. Marshall)
Wright comments that this incident, along with those at Philippi (Acts 16:20f) and Thessolonica (Acts 17:7) shows the question surrounding the status of the young church. Was Christianity a branch of the Jewish faith, and therefore to be similarly tolerated by the Roman authorities. Or was it a new sect, having no right to Jewish privileges? Certain Jews thought the latter, and so complained that Christian worship was illegal. It is this charge that Gallio dismisses, telling the Jews, in effect, to sort out their own problems.
Wright concludes: ‘Sometimes, as Luke no doubt wants us to remark once more, even pagan officials do things which genuinely and thoroughly advance the cause of the kingdom of God.’
Paul Returns to Antioch in Syria, 18-23
18:18 Paul, after staying many more days in Corinth, said farewell to the brothers and sailed away to Syria accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because he had made a vow. 18:19 When they reached Ephesus, Paul left Priscilla and Aquila behind there, but he himself went into the synagogue and addressed the Jews. 18:20 When they asked him to stay longer, he would not consent, 18:21 but said farewell to them and added, “I will come back to you again if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus, 18:22 and when he arrived at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church at Jerusalem and then went down to Antioch. 18:23 After he spent some time there, Paul left and went through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Paul…said farewell to the brothers – He was not forced out of Corinth; he left of his own accord. Despite the length of time and amount of energy he had expended there, he would be writing to them within two or three years about a raft of problems that had developed in the young church. Schnabel comments
‘While we do not know whether Paul later regretted leaving Corinth too early, we should not forget that he was confident that the presence of God’s grace and the manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Corinthian congregation would strengthen them even in the midst of the difficulties that had arisen (1 Cor 1:4–8).’
Paul…had his hair cut off because he had made a vow – It may (as Wright suggests) have something to do with Paul’s willingness to be ‘all things to all people’ (1 Cor 9:20-22; see also Acts 21:23f). But Wright thinks that an alternative explanation is also possible: that when Paul received the vision telling him to remain in Corinth, he marked this by letting his hair grow. It was a sign that he trusted God to keep him safe. Now that he was finally leaving Corinth (Cenchrea is the eastern port of that city) he considered this the right time to finally have his hair cut. This is similar to the view, held by many scholars, that this was a Nazirite vow (which involved letting the hair grow, abstaining from strong drink, and not touching dead bodies, Num 6:1-21). The haircut would then have been marked the beginning (or, more probably, the completion) of the vow.
Apollos Begins His Ministry, 24-28
18:24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, arrived in Ephesus. He was an eloquent speaker, well-versed in the scriptures. 18:25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. 18:26 He began to speak out fearlessly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately. 18:27 When Apollos wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he assisted greatly those who had believed by grace, 18:28 for he refuted the Jews vigorously in public debate, demonstrating from the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
A native of Alexandria – Early Christianity in this city was characterised by Gnostic tendencies, and Apollos may have picked up a garbled version of the faith here. (Marshall)
A learned man – Note, lest we give in the the current notion that learning and godliness are incompatible.
‘Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a left leg or a right leg. Soldiers should have both legs’ (Warfield). Preachers should be both godly and learned.
‘No one will ever make a good minister of the Word of God unless he is first of all a scholar’ (Calvin).
With great fervour – more literally, ‘fervent in spirit’ (NASB), or ‘fervent in the spirit’ (AV). See Rom 12:11.
They took him aside – ‘Their ministry was timely and discreet. As Professor Bruce remarks, “how much better it is to give such private help to a preacher whose ministry is defective than to correct or denounce him publicly!”‘ (Stott)
They…explained to him the way of God more adequately – Third person plural, indicating that they were both involved in this.
‘We can presume that he was instructed in the distinctive Pauline doctrines.’ (Marshall)