In our last essay we studied Acts 17:22-34, which is a record of Paul’s Areopagus sermon at Athens during his second missionary journey. In this lesson we are studying Acts 18:1-22, which is an account of Paul’s mission to Corinth during his second missionary journey. The city of Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. It also was a great commercial center. A close look at the map of Greece immediately shows why. The southern part of Greece is almost an island. It is joined to the northern part by a little isthmus that is only about three and a half miles wide. And Corinth sits right on that isthmus.
This location automatically made Corinth one of the great commercial centers of the ancient world. All of the north-south land traffic and trade of Achaia had to go through Corinth by necessity. But in addition to that, much of the east-west sea trade came through Corinth by choice.
The alternative sea route was to sail about 200 miles around the southern tip of Greece, which was a very dangerous journey, and many ships were lost going that way. Therefore many ship owners wanted to avoid that route. So many of the ships would sail up to Corinth; and if the ships were small enough, they would take them out of the water and haul them across the isthmus on rollers. Once on the other side, they would put the ships back in the water. If the ships were too large for that, and most were, they would unload the cargo on the one side and haul it across the isthmus where it would be loaded onto another ship to take it on to its destination. John Stott observes, quote, “Paul must have seen [Corinth’s] strategic importance. If trade could radiate from Corinth in all directions, so could the gospel.”
Because of the many traveling merchants and seafarers who passed through the city, Corinth had gained a well-deserved reputation as a wicked, immoral city. And the sexual immorality was supported by the religious life of the city. A large temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, stood at the summit of the city’s largest hill. And a thousand slave girls served the goddess and roamed the streets at night as prostitutes. Indeed the reputation for sexual laxity in Corinth became so widespread that it became proverbial. The phrase, “Corinthian girl,” became a synonym for harlot.
Paul quickly found Christian fellowship with a married couple named Aquila and Priscilla. They recently had come to Corinth from Rome, because in AD 49 the Roman Emperor, Claudius, had banished all Jews from the city. There is little information about the reason for the banishment. Suetonius, the Roman historian, in his Life of Claudius mentions the banishment and says that it was because of constant riots in the Jewish community that were instigated by a man named Chrestus. Scholars debate whether or not this was a reference to Christ. If Chrestus were a man actually instigating the riots, then he was an otherwise unknown troublemaker. If Suetonius was referring to Christ, then the riots probably had to do with conflicts within the Jewish community between Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews.
At any rate, Aquila and Pricilla had come to Corinth in response to the AD 49 edict of Claudius. Then Paul arrived in AD 50. He heard about the couple, looked them up, and began a close association with them that ended in their being co-workers in business and in sharing the gospel. They also became life-long good friends.
In verse three we are told that Aquila and Pricilla were tentmakers. Scholars believe that this particular trade, in which Paul also had been trained as a young man, had broadened beyond making tents and prefer to translate it “leather worker.” Whatever the specific work they were doing was, Paul went into business with Aquila and Pricilla. Today some Christians, inspired by Paul, carry on so-called “tent-making ministries.” That is, they support themselves with a secular job and carry on ministry on the side.
Verse four tells us that Paul’s ministry in Corinth, at least in the beginning, was a Sabbath synagogue ministry to Jews and Greeks. The Greeks in this case would have been God-fearers who were attending the synagogue.
As we see in verses 5-11, Silas and Timothy caught up to Paul at Corinth. And when they did, Paul still was carrying on his synagogue ministry to Jews (v. 5). However as usual, fierce resistance to Paul’s synagogue ministry arose. Therefore, according to the NRSV, quote, “When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, ‘your blood be on your own hands. I am innocent. [literally, “clean”]. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’” The shaking of dust from one’s clothes, or the shaking out of one’s clothes, as the NIV puts it, was a dramatic gesture. In this case, it was to show that Paul was absolutely through with the synagogues of Corinth.
In verses 7-8 we see that Paul set up his Gentile ministry in the home of a Gentile named Titius [pronounced Tish-ee-us] Justus who lived next door to the synagogue. We also are told that Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, became a believer along with his household and many other Corinthians. Crispus probably lost his job at the synagogue when he converted.
Verses 9-11 tell us that the Lord appeared to Paul in a vision of the night in which the Lord assured Paul that he had nothing to fear in Corinth. Thus encouraged, Paul continued his ministry in Corinth for the next eighteen months. As we shall see in a moment, the eighteen months were during the two-year period AD 50-52.
Although Jesus had promised Paul that no harm would come to him in Corinth, the Lord did not promise that no attempt would be made. The Jewish opposition to Paul decided to take him to court, and a hearing was held before the Roman proconsul of Achaia, whose name was Gallio. Gallio was from a prominent Roman family. He was the son of Seneca the rhetorician and the younger brother of Seneca the philosopher. An inscription found on the temple of Delphi tells us that Gallio was proconsul of Achaia for only one year, beginning when Claudius was proclaimed emperor for the twenty-sixth time. However there is some uncertainty about when that proclamation took place. Therefore Gallio could have begun his proconsulship in either AD 51 or 52. But either way, this gives us a certain date for Paul’s being in Corinth during the second missionary journey.
Now then, the charge that the Jews brought against Paul was that he was propagating an illegal religion. Judaism was a legal religion, and up to this point the Romans did not consider Christianity and Judaism separate religions. And this was the position Gallio took. Paul didn’t even have to defend himself. Gallio immediately after hearing the charge dismissed it, because he interpreted the situation as strictly an internal Jewish religious matter.
Gallio sent everyone away, but as he did so, some of the Gentile onlookers let loose their anti-Semitism that was common in the Greco-Roman world, and they beat Sosthenes, the new leader of the synagogue right in front of Gallio. But Gallio chose to ignore the situation.
In verse 18 tells us that Paul got his hair cut because of a vow. It is uncertain what that reference means. The best guess is that it was a temporary Nazarite vow, in which one would abstain from alcohol, from touching anything dead, and from cutting one’s hair until the period of the vow was complete. We also see in verses 18-22 Paul and Silas complete Paul’s second journey. At the end of Paul’s year and a half in Corinth, he began the trip back to Syrian Antioch. Aquila and Priscilla accompanied him far as Ephesus, where Paul spoke in the synagogue. He was invited to stay, but the chose to continue moving toward Antioch, though he promised to come back, if God was willing. Then Paul returned to Syrian Antioch via Caesarea and Jerusalem, which completed the second journey.