Through the Bible in One Year

Day 223

Acts 18:1-17

Yesterday we saw Paul in Athens, which was historically the most important city in Greece.  And today we are going to see Paul move from Athens to Corinth.  We know a good deal about the events that took place in Corinth during Paul’s initial trip and we know a good deal about this group of converts struggles because Paul wrote two letters, that we know of, to the Corinthian church.

After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.—18:1-4

Map of Greek Peninsula in New Testament Times
Map of Greek Peninsula Today

The heavily populated Roman capital of Achaia (Greece) lay 53 miles (85 kilometers) to Athens’ west.  Because the southern coasts of Greece were dangerous for ships, the sea trade between Italy and the prosperous Roman province of Asia passed through the Isthmus of Corinth, making Corinth wealthy.  Rome decimated old Corinth in 146 BC, reestablishing it as a Roman colony in 44 BC.  Although some Greeks continued living there in the interim and many Greeks remained in Paul’s day, full citizens of Corinth were Roman citizens and Latin was the language of official civic business.  Corinth was the best preparation possible for any future ministry of Paul in Rome or the western Mediterranean.

Claudius was the Emperor of Rome from AD 41 to 54, he dealt firmly with the Jewish community at various times, and expelled them from the city of Rome, probably in AD 49, shortly before Paul reached Corinth.  What provoked the expulsion order was conflict in the Jewish community over one “Chrestus,” usually thought to be debates about Jesus as the Christ.  Jewish Roman citizens probably would not have left, however, and probably many others also remained; given the controversy, however, leaders of the Jesus movement were probably among those forced to leave.

People of the same trade often lived and ran shops in the same neighborhood with one another, but most Jewish people lived in Jewish enclaves distinct from wider trade connections.  Tarsus was known for its textile industry, but many scholars think the term translated “tentmaker” more often referred generally to leather workers.  Certainly tools for leather working would have been easier for Paul to carry from one city to the next.

Despite the importance of hospitality in antiquity, guest were rarely welcomed for more than three weeks.  The working arrangement here differs from usual hospitality, however; many workers lived in mezzanine or other apartments attached to their ground-floor shops.  Women often worked as artisans or sellers alongside their husbands.  Although artisans were often proud of their work, people of status usually despised manual labor, and most Gentile sages avoided it.  Some Jewish teachers in this period had another trade besides teaching, often learned from their fathers.

Under the Roman republic, Corinth had been destroyed and lain barren for 100 years until Julius Caesar rebuilt it as a Roman colony.  In Paul’s day, Corinth was a major center of commerce, culture and entertainment (like New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas all in one place).  Priscilla and Aquila were forced from Rome to Corinth when Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome due to riots that were instigated be someone called “Chrestus” around AD 49/50 (according to Roman historian Suetonius, who may hay garbled “Christ”).  These riots may have been conflicts that arose when the gospel of Christ reached Rome.  Paul stayed in Corinth and worked as tentmaker.  The word “tentmaker” was widely used for “leather worker” and suggests the trade was more than making shelters, though it certainly included that.  Paul later made the point to the Corinthians that he had worked with his hands so that he would not be a burden on the new believers (1 Corinthians 4:12 and 9:12-18).

When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.—18:5-8

The arrival of Timothy and Silas, as well as the news they bore, surely spawned the letter called 1 Thessalonians.  They brought a gift from the Macedonians that allowed Paul to preach full-time.  The response of the synagogue was blasphemous.  Paul’s reaction of shaking out his garments (possibly similar to shaking dust off one’s feet) suggests the argument was particularly bitter.  Paul’s pronouncement of their guilt has roots in the Old Testament (Leviticus 20:9 and Ezekiel 33:1-6) and signifies that Paul was free from responsibility for their souls.  Paul likely went from the synagogue to the private home of Titius Justus because he and his family had become Christians.  The conversion of Crispus would have been a topic of much conversation in Corinthian Jewish circles because, as the synagogue leader, he was responsible for the spiritual well-being of the members.

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.—18:9-11

Paul had a vision, which was distinct from a dream even though the vision happened at night.  The Lord promised that no one would successfully attack Paul, who clearly had enemies that would continue to resist him, sometimes violently; their opposition would be futile.  The promise was made not merely for Paul’s personal safety but because Paul would be used by the Lord to reach many people.  Paul stayed a year and a half in Corinth, fulfilling the promise made in the vision.

While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”

Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law —settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” So he drove them off. Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever.—18:12-17

Achaia was the Roman provincial name of the Greek peninsula.  The installation of Gallio as the proconsul of Achaia is one of the surest events to date the ministry of Paul.  Gallio, the younger brother of the famous orator Seneca, had a notable political career.  He arrived in Corinth between July and October of AD 51.  The installation of new proconsul surely gave the Corinthian Jews hope for a favorable ruling against Paul.  The charge is purposefully vague regarding what law Paul had supposedly broken.  Gallio interpreted the allegation as an internal religious matter (which it was).  The Corinthian Jews were possibly attempting to legally separate Christianity from the protections of Judaism under Roman law.  Gallio rather forcefully and dismissively refused to hear the charges.  The angry crowd turned on the synagogue leader named Sosthenes and beat him right in front of the tribunal.  As a leader of the synagogue, Sosthenes was either Crispus’s successor or colleague.  While no direct evidence connects him to same name in 1 Corinthians 1:1, he is likely the same person.  If so, Paul was two for two in leading the synagogue leadership to faith in Christ.  And that is where we will pick tomorrow as we see Paul leave Corinth and arrive in Ephesus and we will also see the events around Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Nehemiah 3:15-5:13, 1 Corinthians 7:25-40, Psalm 32:1-11 and Proverbs 21:5-7


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