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Paul Comes in Corinth
The next goal of Paul is Corinth, the capital of the province of Achaia. The city had two ports on the Mediterranean Sea and was a competitor of Athens. As a port city, it was a meeting point and residence for all kinds of nationalities. Like Athens, Corinth was known for its wisdom and scholarship, but even more for its great corruption and immorality. This is evidenced by the fact that the name of the city was made into a verb: ‘Corinthianizing’. That word means as much as ‘living in harlotry’.
Paul does not come here with an attitude to teach a lesson to that worldly city. He is aware that he is entering a field where people do not take God and His commandments into account at all and where there is no respect whatsoever for human life. He comes there “in fear and in much trembling” (1Cor 2:3).
To win them for the gospel, he has not made use of excellence of words or wisdom. That would not have convinced them of their sinfulness, but rather made them insensitive to the gospel. No, when he went to them, he had intended to know nothing among them “except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1Cor 2:2).
In the face of all immorality, he presented Christ and Him crucified. He presented the Person of Christ and His work on the cross to them. Thus he announced God’s grace for them, and he also showed God’s judgment of sin in it.
Paul and Aquila and Priscilla
Against the background of this extremely secular stronghold and his lonely arrival and stay in that city, the meeting with the couple Aquila and Priscilla must have been an encouragement to Paul. For this meeting to take place, God used the command of Emperor Claudius in Rome. In this way He always knows how to use the great ones of the earth to promote His work (cf. Lk 2:1-7). Emperor Claudius had issued an anti-Semitic command and sent the Jews away from Rome. The reason for this command was supposed to be the struggle and unrest that had arisen among the Jews because of the question whether the Lord Jesus was the Messiah or not.
Because Aquila was a Jew, as Luke explicitly mentions, he too had to leave Rome. We are not told whether his wife was a Jew or not. Aquila came from Pontus, in the south of present-day Turkey. Later he moved to Rome. Where he met Priscilla and whether they had children is not told to us either, nor the way in which they came to faith.
Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned here for the first time out of a total of six. They have become faithful and esteemed collaborators of Paul, who risked their lives for him and who had the church in their house (Rom 16:3-5; 1Cor 16:19). Paul had them in mind until the very end of his life (2Tim 4:19). The three times Paul writes about them in his letters, he writes “Prisca” and not “Priscilla”, as Luke does three times in this chapter. ‘Prisca’ is the diminutive form of ‘Priscilla’.
Paul goes to them. He appreciates their company. He notices their interest in the things of the Lord. And he discovers another similarity: Aquila is a tent-maker by profession and so is he. Paul had learned a trade according to good Jewish custom, as was expected of all Jewish boys. ‘He who does not teach his son to work, teaches him to steal,’ the rabbis said. So the profession Paul learned is that of a tent-maker.
Because Aquila, so it seems, had a tent maker’s business, Paul can go to work for him and stay there. In this way he can provide for himself. He does this to be completely independent of the Corinthians and without any suspicion that, by proclaiming the gospel to them, he would be after their money. He has accepted money from other churches. For example, when he was in Thessalonica, he received support twice from Philippi (Phil 4:15). But in Corinth, where money and trade abounded, he did not accept financial support.
He works with his own hands. He had the right to live from the gospel, but does not use this right in Corinth (1Cor 9:14; cf. Acts 20:34-35). He did not in any way want to give the impression that he preached the gospel in order to earn money from it, or make merchandise of the gospel, just as everything in that city was merchandise.
Paul’s Preaching in Corinth
In his spare time, i.e. on the Sabbath, Paul goes to the synagogue. Also in Corinth he goes first to the place where he finds the best connection for the teaching of the Scriptures. The public there, consisting of Jews and Greeks, is familiar with the Scriptures or is interested in them. Paul makes grateful use of this to find entry into the hearts.
He convinces both Jews and Greeks of what Scripture says about the Christ, that is the Messiah. It is especially important that he shows that Scripture speaks about the coming of the Messiah. He also speaks of the fact that He would be rejected at His coming, that He would be killed, that He would also rise and go to heaven. This conviction from Scripture is the preparatory work in order to be able to testify afterwards that this Messiah has indeed come, namely in the Person of Jesus.
The latter he will do when Silas and Timothy have come from Macedonia and have joined him. It is plausible that Silas and Timothy brought financial support from the believers in Macedonia (2Cor 11:9), which enabled Paul to devote all his time to the proclamation of the Word. The very arrival of the two brethren was, of course, also a great encouragement for the apostle. Supported by their presence, he devoted himself completely to the Word for which he now has the opportunity every day and not only on the Sabbath. The main thing in his proclamation of the Word is to testify to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. In doing so, he seems to address only the Jews.
While the Jews are at first convinced by him of everything written about the Messiah, a little later they resist and blaspheme Christ, that is, they deliberately speak evil of Him. They do not want to accept that He is the Messiah. They reveal their deep-rooted hatred of God’s Anointed. When Paul sees this, he puts the responsibility for their lives on their own heads.
He has warned them and is free from the judgment that will affect them. He bears symbolic witness to this by shaking out his garments. There is no bloodguilt on his head. Loading bloodguilt on himself means being guilty of someone else’s death. There is such a thing as a bloodguilt that we put on ourselves if we fail to preach the gospel. The Christian is a debtor of all people (cf. Eze 3:18; Eze 18:13; Eze 33:4-9).
The rejection by the Jews opens the way for Paul to go to the nations (cf. Acts 13:46). Paul leaves them to their own responsibility, after he has fulfilled his responsibility. He is clean and because he is clean, he can go to the nations. Nothing more can be done for them. Significantly we read that he leaves there. He has to turn his back on them.
The Lord confirms his decision by connecting him directly with the nations in the person of Titius Justus. Titius Justus sympathizes with the Jews and has heard the Word in the synagogue. He takes Paul into his home. Also significant is the mention of Luke that the house of Titius Justus was “next to the synagogue”. The house in which Paul and with him the gospel takes up his residence, stands “next to the synagogue”. The blessing is no longer to be found in the synagogue, but remains as it were within reach for those who go there.
Yet it is a Jew, and even the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, of whom we read that in Corinth he is the first to come to believe in the Lord with all his household. Again a whole family is saved (cf. Acts 10:24; 44; Acts 16:15; 34). Crispus is baptized by Paul. By the way, Crispus is one of the few converts in Corinth who is baptized by Paul personally (1Cor 1:14-15). Just as in financial matters, Paul has always taken care in spiritual matters that he could not be suspected of being out for his own benefit.
Crispus and his house are the first fruits in Corinth. Many more come to faith after they have heard Paul, after which they are baptized. The work gets going. We see that this work is done in the order that is still customary today: hearing, believing, baptizing.
The Lord Encourages Paul
While the work is in progress and many are coming to repentance, one night the Lord comes to Paul in a vision with an encouragement. From what the Lord says, we can see that Paul is afraid and is thinking about remaining silent. It is not without reason that the Lord says that Paul should not be afraid and that he should speak and not be silent.
We could ask ourselves whether so much blessing at his work is not already a great encouragement and that his fear and his considerations not to preach any more speak of little faith or even unbelief. But we remember what type of a city Corinth is (1Cor 6:9-11) and that Paul is there with fear and trembling. Even the campaign of hatred of the Jews (Acts 18:6) he does not suffer stoically. Paul has a great awareness of the enormous opposition. There is result, but what an environment!
Blessing gives no strength. Only the Lord gives strength. The Lord knows what is going on in His servant and He encourages him in view of the resistance of the Jews and in view of the great immorality of the city. Every servant who is aware of the world in which he lives needs such encouragement.
The Lord gives Paul two encouragements to continue. The first is that He Himself is with him. Knowing that the Lord Himself is with you gives strength. We then know ourselves in the company of Him to Whom all power is given in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:18) and Who has said, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20; Isa 43:5). It is the encouragement that we will also be able to perform the task assigned to us (Jdg 6:12).
No one will be able to do him any harm, for the Lord Himself will protect him so that he may perform his task. What that task is, we see in the second encouragement that consists of the announcement that the Lord has many people in the city. The Lord knows all who will believe in Him (Acts 13:48), but He wants to use Paul to make themselves public. So Paul is told that there are many chosen people, whom he has yet to approach with the gospel. He does not know who they are, but they will come forward through his preaching.
Although it has yet to become clear who all belong to His people, the Lord does not say ‘I will have a great people in this city’, but ‘I have many people in this city’. For Him, something that has yet to happen is the same as it has already happened. He can talk about future things as things that are already reality.
Encouraged by the Lord, Paul continues the great work in Corinth for no less than a year and a half, although he is on a missionary journey.
The Case Law of Gallio
The Lord’s promise that no one would lay hands on him will soon be fulfilled. Gallio becomes proconsul of the Roman province of Achaia in the thirteenth year of Claudius Caesar, which is in the year 53. So Paul must have arrived in Corinth around the year 52. When a new proconsul arrived in Gallio, the Jews saw their chance to sue Paul. They will all convince the newcomer Gallio what a dangerous man Paul is. They believe that Gallio will support their plan because the man wants of course to keep the peace in his province. They offer to help him do so, by bringing this hostile gentleman before him.
As in other cities, the citizens seem to have had the right to arrest someone and bring them to justice. This invariably concerned a threat to the established order. That is the accusation here as well. They accuse Paul of talking strongly to people in order to persuade them to venerate God, which is very much against the law. The prosecutors wisely do not mention by which law. It is clear that they want to give a religious matter a political content, just as their tactics have been in Philippi (Acts 16:20-21).
When Paul wants to open his mouth to defend himself, he does not get the chance to do so. The Lord stands up for him through Gallio’s reaction to the Jewish action. The Jews have completely misjudged Gallio. Gallio is not only an amiable man – as historians characterize him – but also a totally indifferent man. He knows why the Jews are worried and that is exactly what he is not worried about at all. With that he also says that the gospel is not dangerous for the state. He is not interested in the gospel, but it doesn’t harm him either. So why would he take action against it? If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, he would certainly deal with the accusation of those who he explicitly addresses with “O Jews”.
By addressing them so emphatically he shows that he is well aware of the background of their intent. He then also explains this when he states that they are nothing more than contentious questions about words and names and the law they have. He knows what it is all about. It also shows his total indifference towards the Lord Jesus and His work. He reduces the whole faith to a word, a few names and the law. Maybe he has heard a word like ‘resurrection’ or names like ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ and has heard something about Jewish law, but he is not interested in any of it. His total lack of interest is the fault of the Jews (Rom 2:24), but it does not make Gallio any less guilty.
Even today there are many of those indifferent people who are not interested in matters of faith because of the quarrels of Christians among themselves about peanuts. As Christians, we must confess our guilt. Yet for those who use the behavior of Christians as an excuse not to concern themselves with matters of faith, this behavior does not justify their indifference. Often such people also boast of their religious tolerance.
As for Gallio, he does not let himself be tempted to pass judgment on the case brought before him. He doesn’t want to hear another word about it either and drives them all away from the judgment seat. However, the Jews do not give in and find a new victim in Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue. Out of frustration at the failure of their accusation against Paul, they treat him rougher than Paul, because they beat him in front of the judgment seat.
If this Sosthenes is the same as the one that Paul mentions as co-sender of his first letter to the Corinthians (1Cor 1:1), it is plausible that at this moment he has already shown his interest in the Jesus preached by Paul as the Christ. Sosthenes, who probably succeeded Crispus as leader of the synagogue, is then in their eyes a new traitor. That must have made them even more angry. It doesn’t matter to Gallio. Just as he was not disturbed by their story about Paul’s alleged violation of the law, he remains indifferent about their violent action against Sosthenes.
Gallio’s complete indifference also makes it clear how the acclaimed norms of Roman law were applied at the time. God used it here to protect His servants, but as an exercise of law it is done entirely arbitrarily.
Brief Visit of Paul to Ephesus
In addition to the period of one and a half years that he has already been in Corinth, Paul will remain “many days longer” in Corinth. Then comes the moment when he says goodbye to the brethren. He goes to Syria with Priscilla and Aquila in his company. It indicates that also Aquila and Priscilla are not bound to a place. They are flexible and move easily to another place when the service for the Lord requires it.
There is still a curious remark by Luke about Paul. Paul, who resisted the law so strongly, submits to a Jewish ordinance. In any case, having cut his hair in connection with keeping a vow is reminiscent of this. It is reminiscent of the vow of the Nazarite (Num 6:18). In Acts 21 he does something similar (Acts 21:23-26). There it seems to be meant to be a Jew to the Jews (1Cor 9:20). It is difficult to think of that here, given the extremely hostile attitude of the Jews.
Luke does not tell us of what nature the vow is. It may be that Paul, due to the pressure of circumstances in Corinth, made a vow to the Lord that he would have his hair cut if the Lord would help him. In itself, a vow does not necessarily have to be wrong. However, we must take to heart the warning from Ecclesiastes 5 (Ecc 5:2-6). The question is whether making a vow suits the position of the Christian and whether Paul is not acting below that position because his actions are reminiscent of an Old Testament custom.
We may apply these considerations to ourselves, but not to Paul. We simply do not know what motivated him. Luke only mentions that he had his hair cut, that he did so because of a vow and that he had it done in Cenchrea. It is not contrary to his preaching against the law, because he does not block the way of someone who wants to keep the law. In the same way, it does not have to be a problem for us if Messianic Jews want to keep the law. What brings Paul to the fiercest opposition to the law is when the law is imposed upon the nations. That must also be our reaction to the preaching of the law.
After having had his hair cut in Cenchrea, they sailed from Greece to Turkey. When they arrive in Ephesus, Paul goes his own way apart from the couple. The couple stays behind in Ephesus when Paul travels on. Before he travels on, he first visits the synagogue, where he reasons to the Jews. What he tells the Jews about Christ does not meet resistance, but rather appreciation, because they ask him to stay longer. For the time being, however, it must remain with this one-time meeting, because it is not Ephesus that is the purpose of his journey, but Jerusalem. At least that seems to explain the hurry he is in to continue his journey and the expression “went up” as the indication of Jerusalem as a goal.
His hurry to be in Jerusalem on time is then related to wanting to be present at one of the annual feasts, possibly the Passover (cf. Acts 20:16). Paul therefore does not allow himself to be held up in Ephesus. He leaves with the promise that he will return to them, stating that he will do so if it is in accordance with the will of God. The fulfilment of his promise we find in Acts 19.
End of Second and Start of Third Mission Journey
When he arrived in Caesarea by sea and landed there, he went on, that is, to Jerusalem – if the assumption is correct that this is the meaning of ‘he went on’. There he attends the feast – if the assumption is correct that this is why he was in a hurry –, greets the church and then leaves for Antioch. This is where his second missionary journey ends.
After spending some time in Antioch, he begins his third missionary journey. The account of this is described up to Acts 21:16. First he travels through Galatia and Phrygia, the area where Derbe, Lystra and Iconium are located. There he also went on his first and second missionary journey. Just like on his second missionary journey he does not preach the gospel there, but strengthens all the disciples. The churches in Galatia must have deviated from the truth of the gospel shortly after this visit by the arrival and teaching of Judaic teachers, which forced Paul to write his circular letter, the letter to the Galatians, to them.
Apollos in Ephesus
While Paul is on his way to Ephesus, Luke tells us something about “a Jew named Apollos” coming to Ephesus. Apollos, from Alexandria in Egypt, is an “eloquent (or “learned”) man. He does not use his natural abilities for himself, but for the glory of God. The fact that he is mighty in the Scriptures does not mean that he is able to quote long passages of text – perhaps he could –, but that he knows the context of Scripture and understands its meaning.
In Apollos we have someone in whom the energy of the Holy Spirit reveals itself without any intervention of the apostle or the twelve. He is an instrument of the Spirit that works independently of the apostles. This is also how it is meant by the Spirit, Who gives to whom He wills (1Cor 12:11). We see that Apollos acts independently when he later does not follow Paul’s recommendation, but goes his own way, which is also accepted by Paul (1Cor 16:12).
There is no jealousy between the two servants. Between them there is not the idea that they want to win people for themselves, but both of them want to win people for Christ. It is completely reprehensible to them that the believers in Corinth have made them party leaders, causing a division in the unity of the believers (1Cor 1:10-12).
Apollos probably heard and accepted the gospel in Egypt and then became mighty in the Scriptures, by which the Scriptures of the Old Testament are meant. He was taught in the way of the Lord. This means that he was taught in the way of the Lord Jesus, how that teaching should be brought into practice, and how that teaching should literally get hands and feet. The purpose of teaching in God’s Word is always that it is worked out in life.
Luke does not tell how Apollos came to faith. That he really has come to faith is obvious from his life. He is completely absorbed by what he has discovered in the Scriptures. This has ignited a fire in him that is expressed in his speaking and teaching. This fervor of Apollos’ spirit is not a trait, but a fervor of spirit which is of the Spirit of God and which we should all possess (Rom 12:11).
He knows the zeal of the Spirit, like the prophets in the Old Testament. He does not merely pass on knowledge, but is grasped by it himself. He has great knowledge of Scripture and is able to reflect that knowledge to others. Listeners can sense whether someone is passing on dry theory, or whether he is talking about something that has gripped him.
Apollos does not yet know anything about everything that has happened to Christ. The only thing he knows is John’s baptism. This means that he has accepted the preaching of John, has repented and has believed in Christ Whom John has pointed out. However, he does not know about the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. He stood, as it were, before Pentecost. But from what he knows he speaks boldly in the synagogue in Ephesus.
There also Priscilla and Aquila come and they hear him speak. In the beginning of the church the Christians (also) still go to the synagogue. This couple always meet interesting people. In Corinth they got to know Paul and here in Ephesus they get to know Apollos.
The meeting must have been very pleasant for them. When they listen to him, they notice that he still misses something. They notice that he does not know how things went on with Jesus of Nazareth. They don’t get up in the synagogue to correct him, but take him home to tell him what is missing. It speaks in favor of the mighty orator Apollos that he allows himself to be taught by simple tentmakers. Aquila and Priscilla pass on to Apollos what they have undoubtedly learned themselves from Paul’s teaching.
How beautiful it is when there are couples who can teach servants in God’s Word and make their home and time available for it. Priscilla and Aquila together explain the way of God more precisely. Priscilla comes first, possibly because she was the first to recognize him as someone with whom something was missing. Women often have more sense of this than men. It is plausible that she then proposed to her husband to take him with them. Only as a third activity is it stated that they both explained to Apollos the way of God more accurately. When explaining the way of God more accurately, Priscilla will not have contravened the commandment that a woman is not allowed to teach or rule over the man (1Tim 2:12).
There is a general remark to be made in connection with this. A man is generally sensitive when someone knows more than he does. He sometimes has to overcome something first to invite the other. It does not mean that this has been the case with Aquila; that cannot even be assumed, but it is something that servants should consider. For example, it may happen that an older brother with a lot of knowledge of Scripture finds it difficult to accept that a younger brother has even more knowledge of Scripture.
Apollos was taught in the way of the Lord. That had led him to place his life under the authority of the Lord. Now he hears about the way of God, which is the way of faith for the Christian as it can be known from Scripture. In Scripture we learn how God has acted with His people and His own throughout the entire history of salvation. It must have been a joy for Apollos to receive this teaching.
When Apollos has received a more accurate explanation of the way of God, he wants to go to Achaia where Corinth is. How did he get the idea to go to Corinth? Why not go to Athens or Philippi? It is plausible that he heard about Corinth from Aquila and Priscilla. They must have told him that there is a need there and that may have been the reason for Apollos to go there. In this way, workers are given all kinds of indications to go somewhere.
The brethren in Ephesus see in Apollos a gifted servant of God and encourage and recommend him in his service. The letter of recommendation he receives is not about receiving at the Table of the Lord for partaking of the Supper of the Lord, but about receiving as a servant of Christ (cf. 2Cor 3:1; Rom 16:1).
A letter of recommendation is not bound to a local church, but to the fact that the senders are known in the place where a servant goes and that the senders there are known as believers whose spiritual judgment can be trusted. If such believers give a testimony concerning someone who is not known there, it gives confidence in the servant who comes. Writing and receiving a letter of recommendation is in both cases a privilege and an expression of fellowship. A personal testimony from the servant himself is not sufficient (Acts 9:26-28; 2Cor 13:1).
With the letter of recommendation to the service with him, Apollos leaves Ephesus for Corinth. There he will water what Paul planted (1Cor 3:6). He may continue and expand Paul’s work. The fact that his arrival in Corinth gives rise to division only makes the necessity of his service even more clear. There are people in Corinth who are particularly impressed by his oratorical talent and choose him as their leader, without him wanting it.
Luke mentions that he is of great help to the faithful. This is not due to his qualities, but to the grace of God. Also for him, it is true that he can do nothing without the Lord Jesus (Jn 15:5). Only grace makes us capable to help others. Every blessing we pass on comes from the Lord.
The service of Apollos focuses especially on the Jews who, time and time again, put Christians in trouble, by opposing the truth. Apollos unequivocally refutes all these attacks from the Scriptures, for he proves that Jesus is the Christ. He overthrows all the arguments of his opponents with the Scriptures. Demonstrating means to present something in a convincing, vivid way. The Word of God is the evidence.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 18". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13