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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Acts 18

 

 

Verse 1

Corinth, the largest city in Greece at this time, was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia and was a Roman colony. The Romans razed Corinth in146 B.C, but it was rebuilt a century later in46 B.C. Its site lay about50 miles southwest of Athens at a very strategic location. Land traffic from northern Achaia to its southern peninsula, the Peloponnesus, crossed a land bridge very near Corinth. Stevedores hauled smaller ships travelling from one of Corinth"s port towns, Lechaeum on the west or Cenchrea on the east, to the other overland on wooden rollers. They handled the cargoes of larger ships the same way. The distance between the ports was three and a half miles. Sea captains preferred this inconvenience because they did not want to sail200 miles around dangerous Cape Malea at the southern tip of the Peloponnesus. Consequently Corinth constantly buzzed with commercial activity, and it possessed all the vices that have typically haunted cosmopolitan ports.

"The city was in many regards the best place possible in Greece for making contacts with all sorts of people and for founding a new religious group." [Note: Witherington, p538.]

Corinth was about20 times as large as Athens at this time with a population of over200 ,000 inhabitants. [Note: Longenecker, p480.] The city was infamous for its immorality that issued from two sources: its numerous transients and its temple to Aphrodite. Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, and here devotees promoted immorality in the name of religion. [Note: See Dan P. Cole, "Corinth & Ephesus," Bible Review4:6 (December1988):20-25.] Her temple, which boasted1 ,000 religious prostitutes, stood on the Acrocorinth, a1 ,857-foot flat-topped mountain just outside the city. It is easy to understand why sexual problems plagued the Corinthian church ( 1 Corinthians 5; et al.).

"Beginning with the fifth century B.C, the verb "to Corinthianize" (korinthiazesthai) meant to be sexually immoral, a reputation that continued to be well-deserved in Paul"s day." [Note: Longenecker, p480.]

"The reputation of Corinth is illustrated by the fact that the verb "to act like a Corinthian" was used of practicing fornication, and the phrase "Corinthian girls" designated harlots." [Note: Ladd, "The Acts . . .," p1158.]

Archaeologists have also discovered the remains of temples to Melkart, the god of sailors, to Apollo, the god of music and poetry, and to Asclepius, the god of healing, and there were others.

When Paul entered Corinth he was fearful ( 1 Corinthians 2:1-5), probably because of the wicked reputation of this city and perhaps because his fellow workers were not with him.

"To move from Athens to Corinth was to exchange the atmosphere of a provincial university city for that of a thriving commercial metropolis ..." [Note: Neil, p194.]

It was as though Paul had left Boston and had landed in Las Vegas.


Verses 1-4

Paul"s arrival in Corinth18:1-4


Verses 1-17

Ministry in Corinth18:1-17

Silas and Timothy had evidently rejoined Paul in Athens ( 1 Thessalonians 3:1). Before leaving Athens, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica ( 1 Thessalonians 3:2) and Silas back to somewhere in Macedonia ( Acts 18:5), perhaps Philippi (cf. Philippians 4:16). Paul entered Corinth without these brethren, but they joined him in Corinth later ( Acts 18:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:6).


Verse 2-3

Pontus was the Roman province in Asia Minor that lay east of Bithynia on the Black Sea coast (in modern northern Turkey).

Priscilla had another name, Prisca ( Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19), the latter being more formal. Luke normally used the colloquial, diminutive form of names (e.g, Silas, Sopatros, Priscilla, Apollos), but Paul preferred their formal names in his writings (e.g, Silvanus, Sosipatros, Prisca, Epaphroditus). Nevertheless he sometimes used the more popular form of a name (e.g, Apollos, Epaphras). Priscilla"s name frequently appears before her husband Aquila"s in the New Testament (e.g, Acts 18:18-19; Acts 18:26; Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19). This may indicate that she came from a higher social class than Aquila or that others regarded her as superior to him in some respect. Here, however, Luke mentioned Aquila first.

The Roman writer Suetonius referred to an edict by Emperor Claudius ordering non-Roman citizen Jews to leave Rome, and he dated this expulsion at A.D49-50. [Note: Bruce, "Chronological Questions ...," pp280-82. See Blaiklock, pp149-50 , for an interesting description of Claudius.] There were other expulsions of Jews from Rome in139 B.C. and19 A.D. [Note: Levinskaya, pp28-29.]

"Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Crestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from the city." [Note: Suetonius, "Claudius," XXV, Twelve Caesars, cited by Kent, p141.]

"It was commonly supposed that Suetonius was referring to riots in the Jewish community over the preaching of Christ, but that he has misspelled the name and has perhaps erroneously thought that Christ was actually a rebel leader in Rome (Suetonius was born in A.D69 , and wrote considerably after the event)." [Note: Ibid, pp141-42.]

Often tradespeople set up shop on the ground floor of a building and lived on the floor above. We do not know if Aquila and Priscilla were Christians when Paul first met them, but it seems likely that they were since Luke did not mention their conversion.

Paul evidently had a financial need, so he went to work practicing his trade of tentmaking (cf. Acts 20:34; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 9:1-18; 2 Corinthians 11:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).

"Apart from occasional gifts ( Philippians 4:15 ff), Paul"s practice was to be self-supporting by working at his trade and not to be dependent on the charity of church members ..." [Note: Neil, p195.]

Tent-makers made and repaired all kinds of leather goods, not just tents. [Note: Murphy-O"Connor, p41.] It would be more accurate to describe Paul as a leather-worker (Gr. skenopoioi) rather than as a tent-maker. This was a common trade in his home province of Cilicia, which produced a fabric made from goats" skins called cilicium. It was common practice for Jewish rabbis to practice a trade as well as study and teach the Hebrew Scriptures. [Note: Neil, p195.]

"Paul was a Rabbi, but according to Jewish practice, every Rabbi must have a trade. He must take no money for preaching and teaching and must make his living by his own work and his own efforts. The Jew glorified work. "Love work," they said. "He who does not teach his son a trade teaches him robbery." "Excellent," they said, "is the study of the law along with a worldly trade; for the practice of them both makes a man forget iniquity; but all law without work must in the end fail and causes iniquity." So we find Rabbis following every respectable trade." [Note: Barclay, p147. See also R. F. Hock, The Social Context of Paul"s Ministry, p67.]


Verse 4

Paul continued his usual evangelistic strategy in Corinth. He reasoned with (Gr. dielegeto, Acts 17:2; Acts 17:17; Acts 18:19; Acts 19:8-9; Acts 20:7; Acts 20:9; Acts 24:12; Acts 24:25) and tried to persuade (epeithen, Acts 13:43; Acts 19:8; Acts 19:26; Acts 21:14; Acts 26:28; Acts 28:23) both Jews and Gentiles in the local synagogue.


Verse 5

Maybe Paul was able to stop practicing his trade and give full time to teaching and evangelizing if Silas returned from Philippi with a monetary gift, as seems likely (cf. Philippians 4:14-16; 2 Corinthians 11:9). Timothy had returned from Thessalonica with encouraging news about the Christians" progress there (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10), but they were also having problems ( 1 Thessalonians 2:3-6; 1 Thessalonians 4:13 to 1 Thessalonians 5:11). Paul evidently wrote1Thessalonians soon after Timothy"s return and2Thessalonians shortly thereafter also from Corinth, probably in the early A.D50s (cf. Acts 18:11).


Verses 5-11

Paul"s year and a half ministry in Corinth18:5-11


Verse 6

Paul"s hearers blasphemed when they spoke things about Jesus Christ that were not true (cf. Acts 13:45; Acts 26:11). Shaking out one"s garment so no dust from the place remained symbolized the same thing as shaking the dust from one"s sandals ( Acts 13:51), namely, rejection. Paul felt he had fulfilled his responsibility to deliver the gospel to these Jews (cf. Ezekiel 33:1-9). Consequently he turned his attention to evangelizing the Gentiles, as he had done before ( Acts 13:7-11; Acts 13:46; Acts 14:2-6; Acts 17:5; cf. Acts 19:8-9; Acts 28:23-28).


Verse 7

Titius Justus-the name is Roman-may have been a God-fearer whom Paul met in the synagogue. He may be the person Paul called Gaius elsewhere (cf. Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:14) since Gaius is a first name and Titius and Justus are given and family names respectively. [Note: William M. Ramsay, Pictures of the Apostolic Church, p205 , footnote2; Edgar J. Goodspeed, "Gaius Titius Justus," Journal of Biblical Literature69:4 (December1950):382-83.]


Verse 8

Crispus was another one of the few believers in Corinth that Paul baptized personally ( 1 Corinthians 1:14). Yet many of the Corinthians believed the gospel when they heard it from Paul.


Verse 9-10

Another vision quieted Paul"s fears (cf. Acts 23:11; Acts 27:23-24). His ministry in Corinth was getting off to a rough start, as many ministries do, but it would succeed. He needed encouragement to be courageous and to keep speaking rather than falling silent. The Lord could see His elect in Corinth before their conversions even though Paul could not.

"Please note that divine sovereignty in election is not a deterrent to human responsibility in evangelism. Quite the opposite is true! Divine election is one of the greatest encouragements to the preaching of the Gospel. Because Paul knew that God already had people set apart for salvation, he stayed where he was and preached the Gospel with faith and courage. Paul"s responsibility was to obey the commission; God"s responsibility was to save sinners." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:477.]


Verse 11

Paul"s year and a half stay in Corinth probably dates from the fall of50 to the spring of A.D52. This was evidently the entire time Paul remained in Corinth. The church Paul planted in Corinth consisted of a rich mixture of people some of whom were greatly gifted but most of whom came from the lower elements of society (cf. Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:4-8; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 1 Corinthians 7:18; 1 Corinthians 12:13).


Verse 12

An inscription found at Delphi in Central Greece has enabled us to date the beginning of Gallio"s term as proconsul to July1 , 51. [Note: See Bruce, Commentary on . . ., p374; and idem, "Chronological Questions ...," pp282-83.] Gallio was a remarkable Roman citizen from Spain. His brother, the Stoic philosopher Seneca, who was Nero"s tutor, referred to him as having an unusually pleasant disposition.

"No mortal is so pleasant to any person as Gallio is to everyone." [Note: Seneca, Naturales Quaestiones4a, Preface11 , cited by Longenecker, p485.]

"Even those who love my brother Gallio to the utmost of their power do not love him enough." [Note: Cited by Barclay, p148.]

Another Greek writer referred to his wit. [Note: Dio Cassius, History of Rome6135 , cited by Longenecker, p485. See also Marshall, The Acts . . ., p297.] A proconsul was the governor of a Roman province, and his legal decisions set precedent for the other proconsuls throughout the empire. Consequently Gallio"s decision in Paul"s case affected the treatment that Christians would receive throughout the Roman world. This was the first time that Paul (or any other apostle, as far as we know) stood trial before a Roman provincial governor.

The "judgment-seat" (Gr. bema, Acts 18:12) 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, p486.]

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).


Verses 12-17

Paul"s appearance before Gallio18:12-17


Verse 13

The Corinthian Jews" charge against Paul was the same as the one the Philippian Jews and the Thessalonian Jews had raised ( Acts 16:21; Acts 17:6-7; Acts 17:13). They claimed he was proselytizing for a new religion. The Romans permitted the Jews to do this, but they could not proselytize among Roman citizens.


Verses 14-16

To Gallio the accusations of these Jews seemed to involve matters of religious controversy that entailed no violation of Roman law. He was responsible to judge criminal cases, not theological disputations. Consequently he refused to hear the case and ordered the Jews to settle it themselves. The AV translation, "Gallio cared for none of these things," is misleading. It implies that Gallio had no interest in spiritual matters. That may have been true, but it is not what the text means. Really he was absolutely impartial and refused to involve himself in a dispute over which he had no jurisdiction. He refused to mix church and state matters. [Note: See McGee, 4:594.] Gallio"s verdict effectively made Christianity legitimate in the Roman Empire. However it is going too far to say that Gallio"s decision made Christianity an officially recognized religion in the Roman Empire. [Note: Witherington, p555.] Officially hereafter for many years the Romans regarded Christianity as a sect within Judaism even though the Jews were coming to see that it was a separate faith. As a proconsul, Gallio"s decision in Paul"s case was much more important than the judgments that the local magistrates in Philippi and elsewhere had rendered.


Verse 17

"They all" evidently refers to the Gentile audience at this trial. Encouraged by Gallio"s impatience with the Jews, they vented their own anti-Semitic feelings. They beat up Sosthenes who had either succeeded Crispus as leader of the synagogue ( Acts 18:8) or served with him in this capacity (cf. Acts 13:15). This Sosthenes may have become a Christian later and served as Paul"s amanuensis when the apostle wrote1Corinthians ( 1 Corinthians 1:1), or he may have been a different Sosthenes. Gallio did not interfere, probably concluding that this demonstration might discourage the Jews from bothering him with their religious differences in the future.

Gallio"s decision resulted in the official toleration of Christianity that continued in the empire until A.D64when Nero blamed the Christians for burning Rome. It may also have encouraged Paul to appeal to Caesar when he felt the Jews in Palestine were influencing the Palestinian Roman officials against him too much ( Acts 25:11).


Verse 18

Paul stayed in Corinth and ministered quite a while after Gallio"s decision. Eventually he decided to return to Jerusalem for a brief visit. He departed by ship from the Corinthian port town of Cenchrea, seven miles southeast of Corinth, for Syria. Priscilla and Aquila accompanied him as far as Ephesus, where they remained ( Acts 18:19). Luke did not record what Silas and Timothy did.

". . . Paul set sail for Caesarea, giving as his reason for haste, according to the Western text, "I must at all costs keep the coming feast at Jerusalem". If, as is likely, the feast was Passover, he was planning to reach Jerusalem by April, A.D52. This was a bad time of the year for a sea voyage, and it has been suggested that one of the three shipwrecks which Paul refers to in2 C. Acts 11:25 may have occurred between Ephesus and Caesarea." [Note: Neil, p199.]

This questionable textual reading may explain part of Paul"s reason for going to Jerusalem, but Luke definitely recorded that Paul had taken a vow. This vow, which was optional for Jews, involved, among other things, leaving one"s hair uncut. Jews took vows either to get something from God or because God had done something for them (cf. Leviticus 27). They were, therefore, expressions of dedication or thanksgiving. Perhaps Paul took this vow out of gratitude to God for the safety He had granted him in Corinth. At the end of the vow, the person who made it would cut his hair and offer it as a burnt offering, along with a sacrifice, on the altar in Jerusalem (cf. Numbers 6:1-21). [Note: See Mishnah Nazir1:1-9:5; and Josephus, The Wars . . ., 2:15:1]

"There are a great many folk who find fault with Paul because he made a vow. They say that this is the man who preached that we are not under Law but we are under grace, and so he should not have made a vow. Anyone who says this about Paul is actually making a little law for Paul. Such folk are saying that Paul is to do things their way. Under grace, friend, if you want to make a vow, you can make it. And if you do not want to make a vow, you don"t have to. Paul didn"t force anyone else to make a vow. In fact, he said emphatically that no one has to do that. But if Paul wants to make a vow, that is his business. That is the marvelous freedom that we have in the grace of God today." [Note: McGee, 4:594. Cf. Marshall, The Acts . . ., p300.]

Even under the Old Covenant vows were optional. Evidently Paul had his hair cut just before he made his vow, when he left Cenchrea for Syria. He would have cut it when he arrived in Jerusalem. It seems less likely that he would have cut his hair at the end of his vow in Cenchrea and then carried it all the way to Jerusalem. Ironside believed Paul took this vow before his conversion. [Note: Ironside, Lectures on . . ., p421.] This seems unlikely. This explanation may be an attempt to separate Paul as a Christian from Jewish customs, but Paul clearly practiced other Jewish customs after he became a Christian (cf. Acts 21:17-36). This was probably a private vow rather than a Nazirite vow. [Note: Bock, Acts , p586.]

Cenchrea was the eastern seaport of Corinth on the Aegean Sea. There was a church there later and perhaps already at this time ( Romans 16:1).


Verses 18-22

4. The beginning of ministry in Asia18:18-22

Paul had attempted to reach the province of Asia earlier ( Acts 16:6). Now the Lord permitted him to go there but from the west rather than from the east. Luke recorded his initial contact in Ephesus in this section to set the scene for his ministry there when he returned from Syrian Antioch (ch19).


Verses 19-21

Ephesus was the capital and chief commercial center of the province of Asia. [Note: See Cole, pp25-30.] At this time it boasted a population of between200 ,000,250 ,000 and was the largest city of Asia Minor. [Note: Witherington, p563.] It stood near the coast of the Aegean Sea. Priscilla and Aquila remained in Ephesus, but Paul moved on to Syria after he had done some evangelism in the synagogue. The openness of the Jews to Paul"s preaching there encouraged him to return. Paul"s reference to God"s will ( Acts 18:21) reminds us again that he subordinated his plans to the Lord"s leading in his life. The phrase translated "if God wills" was well known among Jews and Gentiles in Paul"s day. Both groups used it but with different gods in view. [Note: Ibid, p558.]


Verse 22

Paul"s ship landed at Caesarea, the chief port of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 10:1). He went from there "up" to Jerusalem and greeted the church. To "go up to" and "go down from" are almost technical terms for going to and from Jerusalem in Acts. [Note: Longenecker, p489; Neil, p199.] Likewise "the church," without a modifier, is clearly a reference to the mother church in Jerusalem here. [Note: Bruce, "The Church . . .," p641.] When Paul had finished his business in Jerusalem, he returned to Syrian Antioch and so completed his second missionary journey ( Acts 15:40 to Acts 18:22). Paul traveled about2 ,800 miles on this trip compared to about1 ,400 on his first journey. [Note: Beitzel, p177.]

Luke highlighted one major speech in each of Paul"s three missionary journeys. During the first journey Paul preached to Jews in Pisidian Antioch, during the second journey he preached to Gentiles in Athens, and during the third journey he preached to Christians at Miletus. [Note: Witherington, p560.]


Verse 23

5. The results of ministry in Asia18:23-19:20

Luke gave considerable information regarding Paul"s significant ministry in Asia Minor to record the advance of the gospel and the church on the eastern Aegean shores.


Verse 23

The beginning of Paul"s third missionary journey18:23

Luke did not record Paul"s activities in Antioch, but we may safely assume he gave another report to the church as he had done when he returned from his first journey ( Acts 14:27-28). Paul probably remained in Antioch from the spring or summer of52through the spring of A.D53. [Note: Longenecker, p489.] Leaving Antioch he seems to have followed the same route through the province of Galatia and the district of Phrygia that he had taken when he began his second journey ( Acts 15:41 to Acts 16:6). He stopped to minister to the churches of those areas again, too.

"The third journey is a journey of new mission only in a limited sense. In the first two journeys the emphasis was on the founding of new churches. In Acts 18:23 Paul begins a journey to strengthen established churches." [Note: Tannehill, 2:231. Cf. Kent, p147. See the map of Paul"s third missionary journey in Longenecker, p250 , or in Toussaint, " Acts ," p406.]


Verses 24-26

Apollos, whose full name would have been Apollonius, may have arrived in Ephesus after Paul had departed for Jerusalem. That is the impression Luke gave. In any case he was from Alexandria, the capital of Egypt. Furthermore he was a Christian Hellenistic Jew who had a thorough understanding of the Old Testament, a gift for communicating and defending the faith, and enthusiasm (cf. Romans 12:11). "The way of the Lord" is another description of the Christian faith (i.e, the gospel; cf. Acts 9:2; Acts 16:17; Acts 18:26; Acts 19:9; Acts 19:23; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14; Acts 24:22). Apollos was proclaiming what he knew of the gospel in the Ephesian synagogue, but he did not know about Christian baptism. He only knew about John the Baptist"s baptism that expressed repentance for sins (cf. Acts 19:3).


Verses 24-28

The ministry of Apollos18:24-28

The purpose of this pericope ( Acts 18:24-28) seems primarily to be to bring us up to date on what had transpired in Ephesus since Paul left that city. [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p302.] Luke also introduced his readers to another important servant of the Lord to whom Paul referred elsewhere ( 1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 3:4-6; 1 Corinthians 3:22; 1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 16:12; Titus 3:13).


Verse 26

Luke named Priscilla here before her husband. He did not explain the reason for this unusual order in the text. [Note: See my comment on Acts 18:2 above.] This couple wisely took Apollos aside and privately instructed him in subsequent revelations about "the way of God" (i.e, the gospel) that he did not know.

"Before the encounter with Aquila and Priscilla, it is best to regard Apollos in the same class as OT saints. They too hoped for salvation in Messiah and had not rejected him. The entire Book of Acts depicts the transition from Judaism to Christianity. It is not surprising, therefore, to find imperfect forms of faith during those epochal days." [Note: Kent, p149.]

Another possibility is that Apollos was a New Testament Christian who had not yet learned as much as Priscilla and Aquila had about their faith.

Priscilla and Aquila were an outstanding couple who give evidence of having a strong marriage. They always appear together on the pages of Scripture. They were selfless and brave and even risked their own lives for Paul ( Romans 16:4). They were hospitable and hosted a church in their home ( 1 Corinthians 16:19), and they were flexible, as seen in their moving twice ( Acts 18:2; Acts 18:18). They worked together as leather-workers ( Acts 18:3). They were committed to Christ and to teaching others about Him, which their instruction of Apollos illustrates.

"It is a needed and delicate task, this thing of teaching gifted young ministers. They do not learn it all in schools. More of it comes from contact with men and women rich in grace and in the knowledge of God"s ways." [Note: Robertson, 3:308.]


Verse 27-28

Armed with his new understanding Apollos proceeded west where he ministered at Corinth by watering the gospel seed that Paul had planted ( 1 Corinthians 3:6). The Christians in Ephesus encouraged him by providing letters of commendation that introduced him to the Corinthian church (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:1). This is the first mention of a church in Ephesus. Perhaps Paul planted it ( Acts 18:19-21), but someone else may have done so since he appears to have been there only briefly on his way to Jerusalem. Maybe Priscilla and Aquila planted it.

Apollos was so effective at instructing the Corinthian believers and refuting Jewish objectors that he developed a strong personal following in Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 3:4). He does not seem to have been responsible for encouraging the party spirit that his presence there generated ( 1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 16:12). He proved from the Old Testament that Jesus was the Messiah (cf. Acts 8:35; Acts 18:5; 1 John 5:9).

The word order in the Greek text favors the view that "through grace" modifies "believed" rather than "helped." The Corinthian Christians had believed the gospel through the grace of God ( Acts 18:27; cf. Ephesians 2:8-9).

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 18:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/acts-18.html. 2012.

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