Acts 18:1–17 . . .
“New Friends and a New Initiative”
Paul was a man of great standing. From our reading in the gospels, we've come to look upon Peter (not to mention the Lord's other disciples) as a man who had “feet of clay.” We've seen Peter put his foot in his mouth a number of times; act too hastily and sometimes rashly; deny knowing the Savior. But somehow we think of Paul differently. We think of him as a man who's incapable of feeling or acting as we might.
Acts 18 is one place where the human side of Paul is revealed to the reader. Specifically, our text makes it clear that Paul had fears, just as we do. Surely our God knows the hearts of his people. Thus, if God found it necessary to encourage Paul, instructing him not to fear and not to be silent regarding the gospel, then Paul must have had fears and contemplated keeping quiet regarding the gospel. So as we read and discuss today's passage, let's see how we're to understand this text and its implications so we can make a hearty effort to successfully apply it to our own lives.
Our text is 18:1–17, which covers Paul’s first visit to the city of Corinth. In Luke’s brief account of this campaign “In Corinth,” we'll focus on three major elements: (1) Prejudice and Providence: A divine appointment with Aquila and Priscilla (vv. 1–4). . . This first paragraph describes Paul's early ministry in Corinth, living and working with Aquila and Priscilla, and ministering on the Sabbath at the synagogue; (2) Exchanging a “Tents Situation” for a “Tense Situation” (vv. 5–11). . . These verses include a description of the second and more intensive phase of Paul’s ministry in Corinth. They contain two major transitions: First, Paul’s transition from part-time preacher to full-time; secondly, the transition of Paul’s ministry focus, going from the Jewish to the Gentiles, moving his place of ministry from the Jewish synagogue to a house next door. The segment closes with a night vision in which the Lord appeared to Paul with words of assurance; (3) The “Careless” Decision of Gallio (vv. 12–17). . . The final and closing segment is an account of the accusation of Paul and his trial before Gallio, at which a landmark decision was made, and it set an important precedent, providing for Paul’s protection while paving the way for the gospel's promotion.
From Athens to Corinth (18:1–4)
Looking back, when Paul left Berea and traveled to Athens, he left behind Silas and Timothy in Berea, with instructions to join him as soon as possible (17:14–15). When Paul came to Corinth, despite the invitation of some Athenian Gentiles to stay longer (17:32), he was still alone in 18:1–4 (shown below). He wasn't alone for long, however, because he encountered a Jewish couple — Aquila and Priscilla — who, like him, were tentmakers by trade. They'd recently lived in Rome, but, by the edict of Claudius, they'd been expelled with all the other Jews. Paul worked with them during the day; on the Sabbath, he went to the synagogue where he'd proclaim the same message he'd preached everywhere: Jesus is the Messiah whose suffering, death, and resurrection were what the Old Testament prophets foretold.
It seems as though Paul “met" or "found” Aquila and Priscilla (v. 2) because he was looking. Seemingly, Paul would immediately begin to look for Jews when he came to a new city; he'd especially seek those who'd either come to faith in Jesus being Messiah (as Aquila and Priscilla seem to have done, prior to Paul’s coming) or who were at least looking for Messiah to come. In the synagogue, Paul met this man and his wife who, most importantly, were believers, and, like Paul, made tents. And so Paul moved in with them and worked with them making tents, which provided for his needs during the week; he'd preach in the synagogue on the Sabbath.
The providential meeting of Paul and this couple was clearly a “divine appointment,” shaping the course of the lives of all three and many others. Paul continued to live in this way, living and working with Aquila and Priscilla while ministering each Sabbath at the synagogue, seeking to convince the Jewish and Gentile seekers of God that Jesus was the promised Messiah, through whom one must be saved. When Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth, several significant changes took place.
Four Crucial Changes (vv. 5–11)
CHANGE ONE: From Tentmaker to Preacher It's generally understood that Paul’s ministry changed here from what some would call a “part-time” minister to a more “full-time” minister. This change is related to the arrival of Silas and Timothy, likely related to money. Because ministry and money are so closely related, and because money has often had a very detrimental effect on ministry when it wasn't handled wisely or with the best interests of the gospel in mind, we ought to realize the three options as to how a person may be supported in their ministry: (1) A person may be supported by their own means, albeit by a secular job such as tentmaking (see Acts 20; 1 Thess. 2; 2 Thess. 3); (2) A person may be supported by those to whom he ministers (see Luke 9, 10; 1 Cor. 9); (3) A person may be supported by others, as Paul was supported by the Macedonians while he ministered in Corinth (see Phil. 4; 2 Cor. 11:8–9).
It was paramount in Paul’s motivation to advance the gospel. While there were many means and methods to proclaim the gospel, Paul set aside those who'd hinder the gospel while using those who'd most effectively and efficiently promote it. Thus, Paul refused to exercise his “right” as a minister of the gospel to be supported by those to whom he ministered, not because that was wrong, but because its associations would hinder his ministry. Charlatans and hucksters used the proclamation of religion as an excuse for their own profit, power, and personal gain. They charged for their ministry, and profited much. Paul didn't charge for his. He worked and supported others by means of his work. No one could ever accuse him of getting rich through his ministry!
While Paul's change in occupation from tentmaker to preacher was in some ways the result of money, there's a good chance that God had indicated his will for Paul. Realize this: (a) Paul’s change was governed by biblical principle, i.e., his priority was to advance the gospel; (b) his change was possible because of the provision of others — with money from others in hand, he could preach without any imposition on anyone; (c) his change was motivated by the “pressure” of divine guidance — when Paul sensed the Spirit's direction in Athens, he preached, just as he sensed it here in Corinth.
CHANGE TWO: From Reception to Rebellion This change wasn't made by Paul. Rather, it was a change that occurred among the Jews who attended the synagogue and heard Paul argue that Jesus was Messiah. Their change is typical of the Jews in other synagogues. At first they listened politely (as this week's video clip highlights), but as the message became clear, a few believed while many rejected and reacted.
CHANGE THREE: From the Jews to the Gentiles The Jew's strong opposition to Paul’s preaching produced a rather predictable result: Paul turned from ministering to the Jews to ministering to the Gentiles. The Jews were the first to hear the gospel, but in God's wisdom, the Gentiles were to hear the same gospel that the Jews rejected. Paul's spoken words to these Jews were very similar to those spoken to the Jews of Pisidian Antioch (13:46). There, and here in Corinth, Paul's speaking turned to the Gentiles. He wasn't declaring that he'd no longer preach to the Jews, for, in every city he visited, he first went to the synagogue — if there was one — or to a place (like the place of prayer along the river at Philippi that's covered on Week 29's summary) where he'd find Jews to whom he'd proclaim Jesus as the promised Messiah. However, once these Jews rejected Christ Jesus, Paul knew it was time to stop “casting his pearls to swine.”
Luke doesn't wish us to be left with the impression that the Jews, as a whole, rejected Paul and his preaching. There were a number of Jews who believed and were saved. Titius Justus, the man from whose house Paul continued to minister, was a God-fearer who came to faith (v. 7). And even Crispus, the (former) leader of the synagogue, believed, along with his whole household (v. 8). Paul’s ministry among the Jews at Corinth wasn't without its fruit; but there was even more fruit to come, and most of it would be harvested from among the Gentiles.
CHANGE FOUR: From Fearful to Fearless In our text, Paul is going to see his third vision. His conversion on the road to Damascus was his first (see 26:19), which occurred in broad daylight; his second (as Luke reports them) was the so-called “Macedonian vision” that Paul received, guiding his team to Macedonia; we now learn of Paul's third vision (his second “night vision”) in which the Lord appeared and spoke reassuring words to Paul about his being safe and fearless (vv. 9–10).
Gallio, the Man Without Care . . . (vv. 12–17)
Paul feared for his life, and rightly so. When he devoted himself to preaching the Word to the Jews, he reacted intensely. Now, turning to the Gentiles would make the Jews more jealous and hostile. He had every reason to think that the Jews wanted to inflict bodily harm on him. But the Lord promised Paul that he'd be with Paul so that no one would harm him. The instrument through which the Lord's promise would be fulfilled was none other than a pagan Roman ruler: Gallio.
Up to this point, Rome hadn't been a friend to Christianity. It had succumbed to Jewish pressure, putting Jesus to death for crimes that Pilate and Herod knew Jesus hadn't committed. Roman officials had willingly, perhaps even gladly, punished Paul, as was the case at Philippi (see Week 30's summary). But now a great change was about to occur, thanks to the decision rendered by Proconsul Gallio. Rome was to cease giving in to Jewish pressure; it was to refuse, any longer, to be used by the Jews to hinder the proclamation of the gospel. The very power that had once persecuted Christianity would now become a means of protecting it.
The real issue here (vv. 12–16) wasn't anti-Roman revolutionary teaching; it was really in-fighting between two factions of Judaism. Paul was preaching Jesus as being the Messiah, the One who perfectly fulfilled God’s promises to the patriarchs and through the prophets. But the unbelieving Jews refused to accept this. The dispute was within Judaism, among Jews; it wasn't a struggle against Rome, nor did it pose a threat to Roman rule. The real threat was the Jew's attempt to use the Roman rulers to do the fighting for them. And so Gallio threw not only this case out of court, he ejected also the Jews who'd pressed the charges.
Finally, Gallio’s total lack of concern over the beating of Sosthenes (v. 17b) is telling. The proconsul cared very little for the well-being of Judaism or the Jews. He, like Claudius and other Romans as well, had had just about all of the trouble-making Jews he could tolerate. No longer would the Romans allow the Jews to use them in their pursuits against fellow-Jews.
- Q. 1 With Silas and Timothy's arrival, how was Paul able to set aside tentmaking to devote all of his time to preaching the Word?
- Q. 2 On what basis was Paul able to not be afraid, go on preaching, and not be silent (vv. 9–10)? Are you equally able?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 18.]
† Watch the "Visual Bible" video clip: Acts 16:34–18:11, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
18 After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontius, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
5When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. 6But 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.”
7Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.
9One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
12While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. 13“This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”
14Just 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. 15But 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.” 16So he drove them off. 17Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever.