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The Book of Acts Series

Acts, Chapter 18

John Baugh

August, 2009

Acts 18 (New American Standard Bible)

Key events in Acts - Chapter 18

 

1 – Paul at Corinth

Paul finds Aquila and Priscilla

Silas and Timothy come down from Macedonia

Paul in the synagogue

Paul goes to the Gentiles

Paul’s Vision

The Jews bring Paul up before Proconsul Gallio

 

2 - Paul goes to Syria with Priscilla and Aquila

Paul leaves Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus

Paul sails for Caesarea and then goes to Antioch.

 

3 – Third Missionary Journey

Paul journeys through Galatia and Phrygia

Apollos, the Alexandrian, preaching Jesus of John the Baptist

Priscilla and Aquila explain the way of God to Apollos

Apollos travels to Achaia

 

 

 

Paul at Corinth

 

 1After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. 2And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, 3and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers.

Paul in Corinth

 

Chapter 17 of Acts has ended with Paul leaving Athens after a less than gratifying experience with the Athenian Areopagus and his message on Mars Hill. Chapter 18 opens with his arrival in Corinth.

 

If Athens was the center of intellectualism, Corinth was the center for sensuality. The city of Corinth lies about 50 miles west of Athens. When Paul visited it, Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Greece, known as Acacia at that time. Corinth, which was located on a narrow isthmus of land between the Adriatic and Aegean Seas, was a trade and commerce center. Interestingly, passage by sea around the isthmus was lengthy and so the Greeks had built tracks across the land that they used to transport boats from one side to the other, pulling them along on greased skids.

 

Corinth was a beautiful city and also a very pagan city. It was the center of the worship of Aphrodite, the goddess of sex. The temple devoted to Aphrodite was located on the hill known as the Acrocorinth. Each evening, a thousand temple priestesses would leave the temple and come down into the city to indulge in the worship of sex by offering their services as prostitutes. Because of this, Corinth held the reputation as the center of sensuality for the world.

 

In many ways, the things going on in Corinth are similar in what takes place in many cities of today.

 

Aquila and Priscilla

 

Paul arrived in Corinth a total stranger, never having been there before. However, God soon opened a door for him to function there. As an unsupported missionary, Paul needed to find work to support himself. Soon after his arrival, Paul found a Jew named Aquila. He was a native of Pontus who had recently arrived in Corinth with his wife Priscilla as a Jewish exile from Rome, where they had been living until they were chased out when the Emperor Claudius exiled most of the Jewish community as a civic improvement project to address problems the Jewish community in Rome had been causing.

 

In the manner that God works the problem of earning his keep was solved. Paul was a tent maker. Aquila and Priscilla were also tent makers and when Paul asked them for a job, they agreed. I am certain having another set of hands in the shop was viewed as a good thing. I am also certain it did not take Paul long to begin talking to the husband and wife about his true avocation and love. Before long, the couple had learned about Christ Jesus and a new converted family grew out of the occupational relationship.

 

This is a wonderful lesson in occupational witness for each of us. Remembering Christ’s words in Matthew 28: 18-22 which translate best in the following:

 

“As you are going, Make Disciples”

 

Paul, since he was going to Corinth anyway, ‘made disciples’ while he was there.

 

In a common questioning of life, “Where will you be tomorrow?” the answer is you will be going – to the market – to the mall – to work. Jesus said, “since you are going anyway, make disciples as you go.”

 

That is what Paul did with Aquila and Priscilla. He led them to Christ while he was at work. The simple fact is work is an excellent place to make contacts with people who are searching for answers in life.

 

This relationship between Paul and the Jewish convert couple will last throughout the rest of Paul's life and will impact lives across the range of the new church.

 4And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

In Corinth, Paul is following the familiar pattern Luke has reported before. Each time he comes to a new city, he first goes to the synagogue and begins his ministry of evangelism there.

 5But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles."

 7Then he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. 8Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.

 

“But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia,”

 

With the arrival of Silas and Timothy in Corinth, Paul began to fully devote his time to preaching, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. Evidently at this time, he was going to the synagogue every day and devoting his efforts exclusively to the mission of bringing Christ to the Jews and gentile God fearing people in the synagogue. It did not take long for the anger and hostility of the Jews in the synagogue to rise to uncomfortable levels. Paul was not having the level of success he considered worthy of his efforts and so (evidently in great frustration) he rebelled at those he originally sought to lead to Christ. In a fit suitable for any righteous Jew, Paul “shook out his garments” and told those in the synagogue exactly what he thought.

 

"Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles."

 

It needs to be reported that Paul's statement applied only to the Jews in the synagogue in Corinth. In the next town he went to, Paul started all over again in the synagogue.

 

However, there is still the statement that Paul makes in Corinth and we must deal with it. As bad as what Paul said sounds, Jesus said our responsibility is to present him to a lost world (to the Jew first and then the Gentile). Jesus made it plain that we have the ‘seed sower’s obligation’ to scatter the seed. We are not responsible for the quality of ground upon which the seed falls (whether and how well it takes root). We are also to understand that it may not be our privilege to harvest the crop, but we have an obligation to plant seed.

In his fit of frustration, Paul left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, who was a worshiper of God. The funny thing is that God did not send Paul very far when he left the synagogue. In fact, there is some humor at this point of Luke’s story because Paul went right next door to the synagogue to continue his work. In fact, the Greek wording that Luke uses indicates that the Synagogue and Titus’ house shared a common wall.

 

Interestingly, Paul’s exit from the synagogue had an effect, because Luke now reports that Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, was won to Christ along with all of his household.

 

Luke continues by telling us that among the other citizens of Corinth there was a also a tremendous response.

Many who heard Paul believed and were baptized.

 

Paul’s Vision

9And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, "Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city."

 11And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

 

A literal interpretation of what the Lord said to Paul in his vision was, "Stop being afraid, and keep right on speaking as an evangelist. There is no need to be afraid because I will protect you from physical harm."

For Paul to have received such a vision in the words Luke uses indicates that he was afraid of speaking out. It is understandable that he would be fearful, because a very familiar pattern was developing. He had seen it many times before. He had come to the synagogue and spoken to the Jews as was his obligation (to bring the message of Christ Jesus first to the Jews). As was usual, many of the Jews rejected his message and so he turned to the Gentiles and there was immediate response, a great flood of people coming in. This aroused anger and hostility from the Jews, and he knew that the next step was trouble for his ministry. Evidently he had decided he would soon be ousted from the city by some charges made by the Jews to the local authorities. It was also likely that if they found him, he would suffer physical violence from them. Death by beating or stoning had been the goal of the Jews in the past. There was a likelihood it would be the same in Corinth.

 

Many of us have imagined Paul to be a bold, fearless worker in Acts and yet he apparently suffered the same doubts, anxiety and fears that we do. In fact in a letter to these very Corinthians he addresses his fears. In 1 Corinthians chapter 2, he says, "When I came to you, ... I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling;" (1 Corinthians 2:1a, 2:3). He evidently was very much afraid of what might happen to him as he went about his ministry there.

 

The reason, of course, was that the city was responding to the gospel and the message of deliverance from sin he was bringing. Strongholds of evil were being broken down. The life of the city was being disrupted by the spiritual awakening which was spreading because of Paul's teaching.

The comfort is that the Holy Spirit was with him. We should understand that it is also with us as we sow the seed.

 

The attack against Paul's ministry comes

 

12But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, 13saying, "This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law."

 14But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; 15but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters." 16And he drove them away from the judgment seat.

 17And they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat. But Gallio was not concerned about any of these things.

 

When the attack against Paul finally does come, we can see God's hand is still at work to exert control over it. The tribunal where the charges were brought against Paul has been excavated and is one of the tourist spots in Corinth. In Greek, it is called the Bema, the scale or judgment seat. This is the place where Paul was to be placed on trial in Corinth.

 

It is not difficult to imagine Paul on trial in the Bema. The judge, Gallio, was well known in Corinth and is mentioned in the secular history of that time. He was the older brother of the philosopher, Seneca, who was engaged in the tutoring of the young Nero -- who would become the violent emperor who ruled Rome after Claudius. Gallio is mentioned several times in the writings from that time. History records he was a very just man, with a gracious and mild disposition. Luke shows him to be very impartial in hearing the charges brought up against Paul.

 

Once again, the charge brought against Paul was that he was violating the Roman laws against beginning a new religion. "This man is persuading men to worship God contrary to the law." It is interesting that the Jews meant the Roman law, which they commonly disregarded in their worship and lifestyle. Then the Jews evidently supported this charge with arguments concerning Paul's preaching of Christ.

 

But Gallio possessed a high level of perception and provides an example of how God often uses governmental authorities to preserve the peace and to permit the gospel to go forth. Before Paul could open his mouth to defend himself, the judge threw the case out of court. He denied the jurisdiction of his court, saying to the Jews, "Look, if this man had committed a crime, or had done something wrong, I would judge him. But it is obvious to me that all you are talking about are some silly semantic distinctions between your own Jewish religious factions. Therefore it has nothing to do with Roman law."

 

In saying this, Gallio was making an important decision. In effect, his ruling said Paul was now free to preach the gospel everywhere throughout the Roman empire without being charged with breaking the Roman law. Gallio ruled that Christianity, in the eyes of the Romans, was officially a Jewish sect, a part of Judaism. And Judaism was an established, official religion within the empire. This is what made it possible for Paul to preach in many Roman cities without any difficulty with the officials.

 

Once again, Luke shows humor in a tense situation, because at this point, the Jews  were so upset by this outcome that they seized their leader, Sosthenes, and beat him up in front of the tribunal, venting their anger when things did not go their way on him.

 

When Crispus became a Christian he was no longer the ruler of the synagogue, so Sosthenes evidently took his place and led the attack against Paul. But when he mismanaged the affair so badly that the whole thing was thrown out of court, the Jews beat him up right in the presence of the Roman judge. All this left Gallio quite unconcerned.

 

It may be that the beating did Sosthenes a lot of good. There is an interesting statement in the first verse of Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth.  

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, (1 Corinthians 1:1 NASV)

So, did Sosthenes become a Christian?

 

If this is the same Sosthenes, he eventually saw the reason in Paul's message and was led by the Holy Spirit to a conviction of belief in Christ Jesus. It may be that Sosthenes' eyes were opened when the Jews turned against him in court that day and he decided that maybe their cause was not so just after all. Regardless, he eventually gave heed to the gospel, and by the time Paul wrote a letter back to the church in Corinth, he had become a co-laborer with Paul in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

End of the second missionary journey

 

Luke records the end of Paul's second missionary journey with just a few words:

18Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow. 19They came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent,  21but taking leave of them and saying, "I will return to you again if God wills," he set sail from Ephesus.

 22When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and went down to Antioch.

 

This is characteristic of Paul's ministry during these days. After this Paul stayed many days longer, and then he left, sailing Syria. Interestingly, when he left, he took the husband and wife (perhaps wife and husband, because now she is named first) missionary team, Priscilla and Aquila with him.

 

Paul started his second missionary journey from Antioch and now Luke brings us to the close of the second journey, back in Antioch once again. Several things are worthy of note in this paragraph. Paul stayed in Corinth a long time after Gallio dismissed his case. The Christian faith was now legally accepted so he had an open door and he used it to the full, preaching there ( we do not actually know) for perhaps as much as two full years longer. Then at last he took leave of the brethren and, taking Priscilla and Aquila with him, he sailed from Cenchreae, one of the ports of Corinth.

 

Paul cuts his hair

 

At Cenchreae Luke writes that Paul cut his hair, “for he had a vow”. Luke does not say exactly what the vow is, but it most likely refers to a religious vow. According to the Jewish Law, this was a way of expressing thanks. If that is so, then Paul may have vowed that for thirty days he would not cut his hair but would give thanks to God and worship him. If that is true he probably would have fasted during this period, refraining from certain foods. At the end of the thirty days he cut his hair, having fulfilled his vow. This would have simply been a Jewish way of giving thanks. Perhaps he was offering thanks to God for protecting him while he was in Corinth.

 

On to Ephesus

 

Their voyage brought them to Ephesus in the Roman province of Asia. We should remember that earlier in his ministry, Paul had been forbidden by the Spirit to preach the word of the Lord in Ephesus, and so he headed westward, but now he is allowed to come in. However, he apparently stays only a brief time. As usual he begins at the synagogue. They receive his message and ask him to stay longer, but he is in a hurry to get back to Jerusalem and declines; but on taking leave of them he said, "I will return to you if God wills,". So Luke tells us he leaves Aquila and Priscilla and goes on, landing on the coast of Palestine at Caesarea, and "going up to greet the church," and spent some time there, most likely reporting on what God had done.

Paul’s Third Missionary Journey

 23And having spent some time there, he left and passed successively through the Galatian region and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

 

Finally he came back to the church at Antioch from which he had begun his journey as a traveling evangelist and church planter some two or three years before and “spent some time there”. However Paul’s staying in Antioch was not to be. Luke tells us that Paul enjoyed a short but well-deserved rest after the two to three years he had spent on his second missionary journey. The Holy Spirit accomplished so much through him during that time, specifically taking the gospel into Europe. But Paul did not rest for long. Luke uses few words to describe Paul’s time between the second and third missionary journeys, immediately beginning Paul’s third missionary journey with Verse 23 of Chapter 18.

 

On his third missionary journey, Paul starts out all alone. He has no Barnabas or Silas with him this time as he heads out to familiar ground, to minister among dear friends whom he personally had led to Christ. His purpose is to strengthen the churches. Paul loved to venture into new territories, but he never forgot the need to strengthen those already won. So Luke tells us that he begins his third journey devoting his efforts to the training of the disciples.

 

He went about among the churches in Galatia and Phrygia teaching them the Word of God, for it is the Word that strengthens.

 

The Story of Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila

 24Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. 25This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John;  

Luke now adds a short story (an aside) to his message to help explain what happens when Paul comes to Ephesus. To set the stage for that portion of the third missionary journey Luke needs to tell us about the ministry of Priscilla and Aquila back in Ephesus with a eloquently spoken man named Apollos.

 

Luke describes Apollos as mighty in the scriptures. Now days, we might say that he “Knew his stuff”. He was impressive, too. He was fervent in spirit, mighty in the scriptures, and was speaking and teaching accurately, but his message concerning Jesus was incomplete, because Luke tells us he was acquainted only with the Baptism of John. His knowledge of Jesus was incomplete and he was able to go no further than he knew and understood. The Baptism of John (the message John the Baptist preached – as in his preaching in the wilderness before the arrival of Jesus) was true, but it was not the whole truth. The whole truth only comes when Christ appears and moves through his ministry, death and resurrection.

 

Evidently the truths of John that Apollos was teaching included the following three great truths:

 

1 - Before God, forgiveness of sins is possible only on the basis of repentance. John stated the radical (to the Jews) position that there was no longer any need to bring a sacrifice or offering. John came with the startling word that what God really wanted was a repentant heart (and not a thousand rivers of blood). John had the people express their repentance in baptism, which was a symbolic act of cleansing. This also was something new. John came announcing that as people repented, changed their mind about their evil, called it what God called it, and forsook it, God forgave their sins. The symbol of that forgiveness was the washing of baptism.

 

2 - John insisted that repentance had to be real. He insisted that the believer actually produce fruit that befitted repentance. That is, the actions of the repented person had to demonstrate that they really meant what they said and would indeed turn from their evil.

 

3 – He announced that one was coming who would complete the work he had begun. Repentance is just a beginning with God. It is as far as human beings can go by ourselves, but it does not give us life. Repentance would achieve forgiveness of sins, but it would not give us any positive ground of action, any power by which to live. That is what John announced would be available when Jesus came. "There is coming one after me," he said, "who is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to carry. I have baptized you with water, as a symbol of the forgiveness God gives. But he will go further; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. He will put life into you. He will give you power. He will pour into you that which it takes to live as God asks. That I can't do," (cf, Matt 3:11, Mark 1:7, Luke 3:16).

 

Apollos knew this much, but he knew nothing of the act of redemption that occurred on the cross or of the victory over death by resurrection, or of the ascension back to the father and he did not know of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. His message was incomplete.

26and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

Luke tells us that Apollus began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they realized he was lacking in full knowledge, so they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

 

Perhaps it was here in Antioch where a most excellent Christian practice -- inviting the preacher home to dinner began. Aquila and Priscilla were Christians and they invited Apollos aside perhaps to their home and did a beautiful thing -- they helped this mighty speaker understand the fullness of the gospel message that John began in the wilderness.

 

It is difficult to say who should be more admired, Aquila and Priscilla, or Apollos. These two Christians, not too old in the Lord themselves, having been led to Christ by Paul in Corinth, do not scorn this young man for his incomplete preaching. They do not criticize or reject him, but instead they take him aside and lovingly and wisely, expound to him the more accurate presentation of Christ. As wonderful as the actions of Priscilla and Aquila were Apollos evidently was willing to sit under the teaching of others and humbly listen to the gospel message. What amazing news it must have been to Apollos that the message of John had now been fulfilled, that the one whom John had baptized had gone on to fulfill all that God had ever predicted concerning the way of salvation for men.

 27And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, 28for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Luke gives no indication that Apollos began teaching the gospel message in Ephesus, but it is likely that he did. Instead Luke tells us that Apollos desired to go over to Corinth. It may have been that he understood there was a congregation of believers there who had been instructed by the Apostle Paul. Since Aquila and Priscilla, his teachers, had been led to Christ by Paul in Corinth, perhaps Apollos wanted to go where he could learn more about what he had heard. For whatever reason, the brethren in Ephesus sent letters of recommendation with him so that the brethren in Corinth would receive him.

 

Luke reports that Apollos was a great help to those in Corinth when he came across. Here was a man who knew the Old Testament Scriptures. Luke wrote,

 

and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, 28for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

 

The success Apollos had in Corinth was probably due to the training he received in Ephesus, placed alongside his well established knowledge of scripture, eloquence of speech, fervency of spirit and skill as a teacher. 

 

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul acknowledges the fact that he had planted, but Apollos had watered (1 Corinthians 3:6). Paul was grateful for the ministry of this mighty man of the Scriptures who could thus confirm and strengthen the word that he had planted there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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