Acts: Chapter 18
Let’s begin by readying (Acts 18:1-8).
(Verse 1) “After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth”
Corinth had been a flourishing city since about 6000 B.C., but it was completely destroyed by the Roman general Lucius Mummius Achaicus and his forces in about 146 B.C. It laid nearly desolate for about 100 years until it was rebuilt in about 46 A.D. by Julius Caesar.
It was located in southern Greece, about 48 miles west of Athens, and was the capital of the province of Achaia.
Mainly because of its strategic location, between the Aegean and Ionian seas, it had thousands of visitors a year.
Because the journey by boat around the region was dangerous, many boats were taken out of the water and rolled on logs across land from one sea to the other. Nero attempted to build a canal through Corinth, but it was not completed until 1893. This was a very prosperous business for the Corinthians.
Corinth was known for its wealth, luxury, commerce, artistry, and entertainment, but it was also known as a place of vice, corruption, and immorality.
They prided themselves on surpassing the other Greeks in the embellishment of their city and the adornment of their temples.
There were at least 12 or more temples scattered throughout the city dedicated to various “gods” and “goddesses” (i.e. Hercules, Athena, Poseidon, Asclepius, Hermes, and Apollo). The only thing still standing today from the original city of Corinth are seven columns from the temple of Apollo.
The largest, and perhaps most famous temple was that of Aphrodite, the “goddess of love” (“the Venus of all the people”). It had a thousand consecrated “priestesses,” each dedicated to the service of Aphrodite, in other words, they were prostitutes.
Prostitution was so rampant that the word “korinthiazomai” (“to Corinthianize”) came to be synonymous with prostitution and living an immoral and impure life.
The population of Corinth at the time Paul wrote his letter was anywhere from 500,000 to 750,000, of which the vast majority were slaves.
The language spoken in Corinth was mainly Greek.
It is interesting to note that of the few “catalogs of sins” that Paul wrote, one was in a letter to Corinth (1 Cor 6:9-10), and one was written from Corinth (Rom 1:29-31).
(Verses 2-3) “And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. (3) And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.”
“Aquila… with his wife Priscilla” – This married couple, close friends of Paul, are mentioned by name 6 times in the New Testament (3 times in this chapter: verses 2,18,26, and as well as in Rom 16:3-4, 1 Cor 16:19, 2 Tim 4:19).
Paul tells us that they came to Corinth from Italy. “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible” tells us that: “In A.D. 49 the Roman emperor Claudius (Emperor of Rome from 41 – 54 A.D.) expelled all Jews from Rome due to riots that were ignited by a group of zealous Jews. These insurrectionists were advocating revolution against Rome and opposing the installation of a new king.” Aquila and Priscilla were very likely a part of this group of exiles, and resettled in Corinth.
***Note: It is worth noting that in looking at the 6 verses in which “Aquila and Priscilla” are mentioned, Priscilla is listed before Aquila 3 times. As we have previously said, the “first person” listed when grouping people together was usually either the oldest, or considered the most important. Why is “Priscilla” mentioned first? Several theories are proposed. Perhaps she was more learned in the Scriptures. “MacArthur” supposes that it could “imply she had a higher social rank than Aquila or that she was the more prominent of the two in the church.” The “Liberty Bible Commentary” adds, “There are inscriptions in the catacombs which hint that Priscilla was of a distinguished family of high standing in Rome.”
We are told here that Paul was trained to be a “tentmaker” (can also mean “leather worker”). A number of verses tell us that Paul “worked with his hands” to support himself while on the mission field (1 Th 2:9)(2 Th 3:7-9)(Acts 20:33-34)(1 Cor 4:12)(1 Cor 9:3-14)(2 Cor 12:13).
(Verses 4-6) “And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. (5) And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed (“compelled”) in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. (6) And when they opposed themselves (him), and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean; from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.”
Paul continues his tradition here of heading to the Jewish synagogue when entering a new city, to share the Gospel with the Jews (i.e. Acts 14:1, Acts 17:1-3,10,17, verse 19 this chapter, Acts 19:8). (The “Greeks” here are likely Jewish proselytes, who also attended synagogue.)
“Silas and Timothy (“Timotheus”) were come from Macedonia” – (From the “MacArthur Study Bible”) “As Paul desired, Silas and Timothy joined him in Athens (17:15). From there he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:1-6). Paul evidently sent Silas somewhere else in Macedonia, possibly Philippi (cf. Phil. 4:15; 2 Cor 11:9), since he returned to Corinth from that province.”
“Shook his raiment” – This act signified disdain for the city (or house) that they were leaving. It symbolically showed that they did not want to take anything from that city with them when they left. This act was previously initiated by Jesus (Mt 10:14)(Mk 6:11)(Lk 9:5)(Lk 10:11), and was previously done by Paul at Antioch (Acts 13:51).
“Your blood be upon your own heads” – a VERY important verse. Let’s turn to and read three sections of Scripture that emphasize this more: (Ezek 3:18-21)(Ezek 33:8-9)(Acts 20:26-27). (Related verses can be found in Gal 6:1, James 5:19-20.) Two examples of this can be found in (Gal 2:11-21)(2 Sam 12:1-15).
“I will go unto the Gentiles” – In his anger, Paul said this before in (Acts 13:44-46), but nevertheless, he still continued going to the Jews (see verse 19).
***Note: It is about this time that Paul wrote 1st Thessalonians. 2nd Thessalonians was written shortly after (likely 2-6 months after).
(Verses 7-8) “And he departed thence, and entered into a certain man’s house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue. (8) And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.”
“Justus” – “Justus” was a Roman name, and since he was “one who (that) worshipped God,” he was almost certainly a Jewish proselyte. MacArthur speculates that “since Romans usually had 3 names, his may have been Gaius Titius Justus, meaning he was the same Gaius mentioned in Rom. 16:23 and 1 Cor. 1:14.”
“Crispus believed” – To have the “chief ruler of the synagogue” become a believer in Jesus would have been a HUGE deal in that area! Paul mentions in his letter to the Corinthians in (1 Cor 1:14-16) that he did not baptize many people, but he “did” baptize Crispus (and Gaius, meaning if Justus was Gaius, he also became a believer).
Next, let’s read (Acts 18:9-17).
(Verses 9-11)(NKJV) “Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; (10) for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” (11) And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”
“The Lord spoke to Paul…by a vision” – This was the 3rd of 5 visions given to Paul by the Lord (also see: Acts 9:11-12, Acts 16:9-10, Acts 22:17-21, 2 Cor 12:1-4).
“no one will attack you to hurt you” – This was certainly the longest period of time (“a year and six months”) during Paul’s ministry that he was able to “teach the word of God” without being “attacked.”
“for I have many people in this city” – While this included already professed “believers” in Christ, it also likely included those who God in His foreknowledge knew would come in the future.
***Note: 1st and 2nd Corinthians tell us some of what happened during the 18 months that Paul was in Corinth.
(Verses 12-13) “And when Gallio was the deputy (“proconsul”) of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat, (13) Saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law.”
“Gallio” – The “Zondervan NIV Study Bible” says this of Gallio: “The brother of Seneca, the philosopher, who was the tutor of Nero. Gallio was admired as a man of exceptional fairness and calmness. From an inscription found at Delphi, it is known that Gallio was proconsul of Achaia in A.D. 51-52.” (The Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary says that Nero later had both Gallio and Seneca executed, but several other sources say they died a different way.)
“Achaia” – From the “Ellicott Commentary” – Achaia, which included the whole of Greece south of the province of Macedonia, had been an imperial province under Tiberius (Tacitus, Ann. i. 76), and had been governed by a praetor, but had been recently, in the same year as the expulsion of the Jews from Rome, restored to the senate by Claudius, as no longer needing direct military control (Suetonius, Claud. c. 25).
“the judgment seat” – From “Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes” – “The “judgment-seat” (Gr. bema) was the place where Gallio made his official decisions. It was “. . . a large, raised platform that stood in the agora (marketplace) in front of the residence of the proconsul and served as a forum where he tried cases.” [Note: Longenecker, p. 486.] Paul used the same Greek word to describe the judgment seat of Christ when he wrote to the Corinthians later (2 Corinthians 5:10; cf. Matthew 27:19).”
“Smith’s Bible Commentary” adds, “That judgment seat is still there in the city of Corinth. If you go to Corinth today, they’ll take you to the middle of the town and they’ll show you this one flat area, and it is the judgment seat, the very seat where Gallio was, and where Paul was brought to trial by the Jews.”
“contrary to the law” – From the “MacArthur Study Bible” – “While Judaism was not an official religion, it was officially tolerated in the Roman world, and Christianity was viewed as a sect of Judaism. The Jews in Corinth claimed that Paul’s teaching was external to Judaism, and therefore should be banned. Had Gallio ruled in the Jews favor, Christianity could have been outlawed throughout the Empire.”
(Verses 14-15)(NKJV) “And when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes, O Jews, there would be reason why I should bear with you. (15) But if it is a question of words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of such matters.””
Proconsuls were generally appointed for 2 years, and Gallio was just starting his appointment. It seems very likely that the Jews were bringing this case before him to take advantage of his newness to the job. However, in his wisdom, Gallio clearly seems to see through what they are doing, and offers these wise words.
As proconsul, Gallio was to “judge” matters of “wrongdoing or wicked crimes,” not matters of Jewish law. Romans did not care about those who broke Jewish law, and Gallio tells the Jews that they are responsible for judging matters of Jewish law, not him.
Paul was ready to “open his mouth” to defend himself, but never even got the chance. What could Paul have said in his defense?
(Verses 16-17) “And he drave them from the judgment seat. (17) Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.”
“Sosthenes” – (name means “of sound strength”) It is believed by most scholars that Sosthenes replaced Crispus as the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth when Crispus became a Christian. We know nothing about him, and the name Sosthenes is mentioned in only one other place in the New Testament. In (1 Cor 1:1), Paul sends his greeting, and calls Sosthenes “our brother.” “If” this is the same Sosthenes, it would mean that sometime after this “beating,” but before Paul’s writing of Corinthians (in Ephesus), Sosthenes became a Christian!
Why did they beat Sosthenes?
Next, let’s read (Acts 18:18-23).
(Verse 18) “And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.
“Syria” – Prominently mentioned in the Old Testament (67 times), it is mentioned only 8 times in the New Testament. As we saw in (Acts 15:41), it is the first place Paul went to on his “2nd missionary journey.”
“Cenchrea” – Laying 7 miles east of Corinth, it was its eastern harbor. This town is mentioned only here and in (Rom 16:1), where Paul says, “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.” Today, it is called “Kechries.” A Greek geographer from around that time named “Pausanias” said of Cenchrea, “In Cenchreae are a temple and a stone statue of Aphrodite, after it on the mole running into the sea a bronze image of Poseidon, and at the other end of the harbour sanctuaries of Asclepius and of Isis.”
“a vow” – From the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible” – “Paul had his hair cut as part of a Nazirite vow he had made (see Num. 6). Such a vow had to be fulfilled in Jerusalem, where the hair would be presented to God. Vows were either made in gratitude for God’s blessing (like Paul’s safekeeping in Corinth) or as part of a petition for future blessing. The vow involved abstinence from drinking wine and a commitment not to cut one’s hair for a period of time. At the end of this set period, the hair was cut and then burned along with other sacrifices as a symbol of offering oneself to God (21:23-26). Paul redirected his entire travel schedule because he wanted to get to Jerusalem in time to make this vow.”
(Verses 19-22) “And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. (20) When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not; (21) 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. (22) And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up, and saluted the church, he went down to Antioch.
The Grecian city of Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey). It was 3 miles east of the Aegean Sea, located near the mouth of the Cayster River, which emptied into the Aegean Sea. It laid almost exactly east of Athens, and opposite the island of Samos.
The city stood upon the sloping sides, and at a base of two hills: the Prion and Coressus. It had a very good climate and the soil of the valley was unusually fertile.
Ephesus was a major commercial center, and easily the most accessible city in Asia. It had highways which connected it with the chief cities of the province as well as a major man-made harbor.
Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the world in Paul’s time with about 250,000 to 300,000 people. Its inhabitants were known for being self-indulgent, extravagant, and worshipers of many gods and goddesses.
The most well known thing about Ephesus was its temple to Diana or Artemis, which had quite a history:
- History records that the temple of Diana was destroyed by fire and rebuilt 7 times, each time on a larger and grander scale than before.
- The temple which existed in Paul’s time had been rebuilt at an enormous cost after the previous one had been burned down in 355 B.C. by Herostratus on the night that Alexander The Great was born. It supposedly took 220 years to rebuild.
- It was considered one of the “Seven Wonders Of The World.” Archaeological remains have shown that it had 10 steps leading to it, and was 425′ long by 220′ wide. It contained 127 pillars and had a roof that was 60′ high.
- That temple was burned to the ground in 252 A.D. and never rebuilt.
- While the temple of Diana was a place of worship, it was also a museum in which the best statues and most beautiful paintings were preserved.
- Because the temple of Diana, and the worship of her was so significant in Ephesus, there was a large number of mini shrines which could be purchased by strangers to take on their journeys or set up in their homes.
(The Bible says Paul put a dent in this trade with his teachings: Acts 19:23-27).
Ephesus was also home to the largest theatre (see: Acts 19:29-31) that was ever built by the Greeks. It could hold 25,000 to 30,000 people. It was 685′ long by 200′ wide, and open to the sky.
In addition, the city contained public baths, gymnasiums, and a library. Because of its strength, people also stored their money there.
As mentioned above, the harbor was man-made. The Cayster River contained a lot of silt, which continually had to be removed to keep the harbor open. We now have only partially covered remains of the city today because the silt from this river has covered what used to be Ephesus. The remains are now several miles inland as well, and the whole area is now totally desolate with the exception of a small Turkish village at Ayasaluk.
As he is finishing his 2nd missionary journey, Paul “leaves” Priscilla and Aquila behind in Ephesus. They likely stayed for several years, continuing their business in a new place, and having a church in their home (1 Cor 16:19). Eventually, they returned to Rome.
After arriving at Caesarea, Paul went up to Jerusalem, and “saluted the church.” (***Note: While we aren’t told specifically that Paul went to Jerusalem after landing at Caesarea, the fact that he had “gone up” [people always “went up to” or “came down from” Jerusalem, as it was on a hill] to “the church” points pretty strongly to it.) He also would have been in Jerusalem to fulfill the vow he had previously made.
(Verse 23) And after he had spent some time there, he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.”
“spent some time there” – Continuing his usual pattern, Luke is vague regarding time. MacArthur says, “Possibly from the summer of A.D. 52 to the spring of A.D. 53.”
Beginning with this verse, and continuing to (Acts 21:16), Paul begins his 3rd missionary journey (53 – 57 A.D.). As with the previous 2 missionary journeys, Paul begins at Antioch. This is the last time he will ever be in Antioch.
During this 3rd missionary trip, Paul will revisit and “strengthen the disciples” and churches that he had previously established (i.e. Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Ephesus, Philippi).
The “JFB Commentary” says, “Galatia is mentioned first here, as he would come to it first from Antioch. It was on this visitation that he ordained the weekly collection (1 Co 16:1,2), which has been since adopted generally, and converted into a public usage throughout Christendom. Timotheus and Erastus, Gaius and Aristarchus, appear to have accompanied him on this journey (Ac 19:22,29; 2 Co 1:1), and from Second Corinthians we may presume, Titus also. The details of this visit, as of the former (Ac 16:6), are not given.”
Finally, let’s read (Acts 18:24-28).
(Verses 24-26) “And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. (25) This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. (26) And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.”
“Apollos” – Mentioned by name 10 times in the New Testament, here is what we know about him.
He was a Jew, born in Alexandria, Egypt. (The 2nd most important city in the Roman Empire, with a large Jewish population [about 1/4 of the population].)
He was “an eloquent (“logios“) man.” (Strong’s – “Logios, from logos, “a word,” primarily meant learned, a man skilled in literature and the arts.”) (***Note: This word appears nowhere else in the NT.)
He was “mighty in the Scriptures.” Other versions say, “with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures,” “well versed in the Scriptures,” “powerful in the use of the Scriptures.”
He was “fervent in (the) spirit.” (NIV – “he spoke with great fervor”)
He was a disciple of John the Baptist.
As a disciple of John the Baptist, he knew “the way of the Lord, and “he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord.” This likely means that his “thorough knowledge of the Scriptures” (the Old Testament) was being used to show the Jews prophetic Scriptures pointing to the coming Messiah. (“The baptism of John” was to prepare for the coming Messiah.)
He did not know that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Scriptures which pointed to the Messiah.
Aquila and Priscilla (who Paul had left in Ephesus: verses 18-22) took him aside and explained this to him (“expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly”).
(Verses 27-28)(NKJV) “And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; (28) for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.”
Fired up and armed with this newfound knowledge, Apollos leaves Ephesus, and heads to Achaia (he “crossed” the Mediterranean Sea). A letter was sent with him by the “brethren” to commend him to the disciples there (“letter” – also see: 1 Cor 16:3, 2 Cor 3:1-2, Col 4:10). NOW, not only did Apollos show the Jews prophetic OT Scriptures pointing to the Messiah, but he showed that Jesus WAS the fulfillment of those Scriptures: He WAS the Messiah (the “Christ”)!
***Note: Paul mentions Apollo, and his work in Achaia (a Roman province, Corinth its capital) in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:12)(1 Cor Ch. 3)(1 Cor 4:6). Based upon (1 Cor 16:12), it appears that at some point Apollos left Achaia, and went to back to Ephesus. Paul says that he urged Apollos to “come to you (the Corinthians),” from Ephesus (where Paul was writing to the Corinthians from), but “he was quite unwilling.”