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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 18

 

 

Verse 1

‘After these things he departed from Athens, and came to Corinth.’

It was, then, from the small city of Athens to this large capital city of Achaia that Paul now came. There is no hint that this move was any other than tactical and voluntary in accordance with what he believed was God’s will. But he was not in the best of conditions. He may well have been suffering a renewed bout of malaria, and he was not really feeling up to ministry. As he reminds them in his letter, ‘I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling’ (1 Corinthians 2:3).


Verses 1-17

Successful Ministry in Corinth (18:1-17).

Paul had recognised that in a small town like Athens he could well spare his companions and had sent Timothy off to Thessalonica, and Silas to Macedonia, possibly to Philippi. Now, having laid the foundations of a church at Athens, he decided to move to the much larger opportunity at Corinth. Some of the converts in Athens may well have drawn his attention to it and its need.

Corinth was an important city situated on the landbridge between the Corinthian Gulf and the Saronic Gulf, across which landbridge freight, and even smaller vessels, were transferred by land from one harbour (Lechaeum) to the other (Cenchreae) on its way to the world’s trade centres. This was done in order to avoid rounding the dangerous and feared Cape Malea on the Peloponnese peninsula. It was thus itself an important trade centre and grew rich.

Its presiding deity was Poseidon, the great sea-god, as befitted a maritime city, and it was a centre of the worship of Aphrodite, with its multitude of sacred priestess prostitutes, which involved a high degree of sexual perversion, such that ‘a Corinthian’ became a byword for loose living, and it was famous for its schools where great men came to expound ‘wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’, some of value and much of little value. It was in some ways a ‘popular’ version of Athens. People followed their favourite philosophers and spent much time in discussing and arguing their case for their differing views. This was a popular leisure activity. It was also heavily influenced by mystery religions which drew men into exotic experiences. And it was famed for its drunkenness. Another important thing in the life of Corinth was the Isthmian Games to which men came from far afield to partake in serious sporting activity, which themselves were heavily connected with the gods, and were held in Poseidon’s honour.

It was thus considered to be a highly civilised city, especially by its inhabitants. And it was, although very old, in essence a new city, simply because of its recent history. It had earlier been totally destroyed as a leader of rebellion against Rome, and it had been rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 46-44 BC as a Roman colony. Its 200,000 or so inhabitants were mainly without old roots, so that it was not bound by ancient customs, being mainly comprised of Greeks, retired Roman soldiers, freedmen from Italy, businessmen, government officials, easterners and a large number of Jews. It was the provincial capital of Achaia. We know from an inscription from Delphi that the pro-consul Gallio began his rule there in 51/2 AD, which helps to date what follows.

Paul defines something of what Corinth was like when he wrote, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingly rule of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingly rule of God -- and such were some of you" (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Corinth was a cosmopolitan city full of every vice and sin known to man.

In the chiasmus from Acts 12:25 to Acts 18:22 (moving from Antioch back to Antioch twice) this incident parallels the ministry in Cyprus in Acts 13:4-12, for both result in a steady ministry and both result in Paul being brought before a pro-consul.


Verse 2

‘And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a man of Pontus by race, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome.’

On arrival in Corinth he must have been encouraged when he ‘found’ a Jew named Aquila, a man of Pontus, who, along with his wife Priscilla, had lately left Italy because of the expulsion from Rome of all Jews in 49/50 AD. Suetonius, the Roman historian, tells us that ‘as the Jews were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestos, he (Claudius) expelled them from Rome’. ‘Chrestus’ may simply refer to some slave by that name who was a constant troublemaker, but it may equally refer to the reaction of some of the Jews to the growth of the Christian church in Rome, slightly misinterpreted. If so it would suggest that already the church in Rome was large enough to be noticed. In fact the decree finally failed of its purpose simply because there were just too many Jews in Rome.


Verse 2-3

We are not told whether they formed a partnership, or whether Paul worked for Aquila as an employee, but they worked together as tentmakers/leatherworkers. It was customary for a Rabbi to have learned a trade so that he could maintain himself and not need to be supported while preaching. 'Love work,' they said. 'He who does not teach his son a trade teaches him robbery.' This was Paul’s trade. He always made every effort not to have to rely on gifts from local Christians. (Compare 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).

Especially having regard to what is said later we may probably assume that Aquila was already a Christian Jew (see Acts 18:26). There is certainly never any suggestion that he was one of Paul’s converts and the assumption must be that he and his wife had been Christians for some time. Their meeting may have been providential, or it could be that Paul had been recommended by Christians he knew to seek out Aquila, and that was why he had ‘found’ him. Or possibly when looking around for work he had been told about this Jew with rather funny ideas


Verse 4

‘And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks.’

But however he was feeling, every Sabbath day he went to the synagogue, and ‘entered into dialogue’ with both Jews and God-fearers, ‘persuading both Jews and Greeks’. While not holding back we note how he is limiting his ministry to the original pattern. There was probably quite sufficient ‘material’ to work on in the synagogue.


Verse 5

‘But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was constrained by the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.’

The arrival of Silas and Timothy from Macedonia, no doubt at his request, must have encouraged him, especially as they brought from Thessalonica encouraging news about the progress of the Christians there (see 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10), although he also learned of their problems (1 Thessalonians 2:3-6; 1 Thessalonians 4:13 to 1 Thessalonians 5:11). It was during this time at Corinth that he wrote the letters to the Thessalonians. Many consider that gifts from Macedonia enabled him to concentrate more time on the ministry in Corinth without looking to that church for support. He was determined not to receive any gifts or support from the church in Corinth itself. He wanted to combat their mercenary approach to life.

Heartened by the arrival of Silas and Timothy he was ‘constrained by the word’, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. The phrase ‘constrained by the word’ is a powerful one, demonstrating that the word was so pressing on him that in spite of his illness he felt that he could do nothing but proclaim it and reason from it. Thus he could later write ‘My speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of men’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power’ (1 Corinthians 2:4). He had become acutely aware that anyone converted in the atmosphere of Corinth would need to be strong, and he wanted to be sure that their faith did not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:5). In his weakness the word had become his slave-master, and he was preaching with power and with urgency.


Verse 6

‘And when they opposed themselves and blasphemed, he shook out his raiment and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads. I am clean. From now on will go to the Gentiles.” ’

The consequence of this powerful preaching of the word was that ‘the Jews’ (those who refused to believe) reacted by blaspheming against it. This probably indicates their refusal to accept Christ as the Messiah and being insulting about Him. And the final result was that he deserted the synagogue, shook off its dust from his clothes as a testimony against them, and declared that he was leaving them in order to go the Gentiles outside the synagogue (compare Nehemiah 5:13; Matthew 10:14). Of course once he did so he would be even more persona non grata in the synagogue.

‘Your blood be on your own heads.’ Compare 2 Samuel 1:16; Ezekiel 33:6. Paul no longer considers himself responsible for them. 2 Samuel 1:16, which contains the more exact parallel, was spoken of one who had ‘slain the Lord’s anointed’. The implication may therefore be that by their blasphemy against Christ he considers that they have crucified Him again (compare Hebrews 6:6).

We may probably gather from this that the response from the God-fearers had been very different from that of the Jews, and that they had begun to bring Gentile friends to hear Paul. That may well have been part of the reason for the opposition.


Verse 7

‘And he departed from there, and went into the house of a certain man named Titus Justus, one who worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue.’

A God-fearer (one who worshipped God) who lived next door to the synagogue and whose name was Titius Justus, had a large house, and he offered it to Paul for his ministry. He may well have been identical with Gaius (Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:14), for Gaius is a first name.


Verse 8

‘And Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his house. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, were believing, and were being baptised.’

But in spite of the attitude of the Jews generally, Crispus the ruler of the synagogue became a believer, and so did all his house (compare 1 Corinthians 1:14). And as well as him and his household, many of the Corinthians came to hear Paul, believed and were baptised. We are justified in seeing in this that a good number of Jews as well as God-fearers did become Christians. The tenses of the verbs stress that this was on ongoing process.


Verse 9-10

‘And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not hold your peace, for I am with you, and no man shall set on you to harm you, for I have much people in this city.” ’

It may be that as the Jewish opposition rose Paul remembered back to previous experiences with fanatical Jews and was considering the possibility of moving on so as to prevent an uprising among the people which might make things difficult for the church, for ‘the Lord’ (Jesus Christ) now spoke to Paul in a night vision, urging him to continue the ministry of the word in Corinth, and assuring him of His presence with him, and that there would be no violence against him.

‘I have much people in this city.’ This is probably looking ahead prospectively signifying that there were large numbers of people whom He wanted to win for Himself. Alternately it may signify that there had been far more converts than Paul had yet realised, and that the influence of some of them would for the time being prevent any uprisings. Either way he was told not to hold his peace, for God had a work that He wanted to do.


Verse 11

‘And he dwelt there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.’

The result was that he preached for eighteen months without let or hindrance, ‘teaching the word of God’ among them. This ‘teaching’ was not only a proclamation but a steady build up in the word. Note the constant references to ‘the word’ throughout Acts. Underlying all that we find in Acts is the progress of the word as it advances. It is going forward to bring about God’s will as Isaiah had promised (Isaiah 55:9-13). And here once more Paul was sending it forth at the Lord’s command.

The clear assumption of this passage is that the word of God was working effectively in the lives of the ‘much people in this city’. But it is interesting that after the initial burst (Acts 18:8) we are not told of even one convert. We are left to recognise the fact without being told, for it is quite clear that a great work was going on. Once again we recognise that Luke’s silences are not to be assumed as signifying that nothing was happening. From elsewhere we know that as well as Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, and Titius Justus, whose house Paul stayed in, there were Stephanas and his household, his earliest converts whom he baptised himself, something that he soon refrained from doing (1 Corinthians 1:16; 1 Corinthians 16:15); there was Erastus the city treasurer (Romans 16:23); there was Gaius whose house was large enough to hold the church (Romans 16:23); and there was the Lady Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11). These were highly influential people, but the unknown majority would come from the lower levels of society, including both freedmen and slaves, although we must remember in saying that, that slaves could hold positions of some importance. The church covered the whole spectrum of society.


Verse 12-13

‘But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment-seat, saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” ’

Knowing the constant strength of Jewish feeling we are not surprised to discover that eventually they took action against Paul. It may well have been the arrival of the influential and approachable Gallio as pro-consul in around 51/52 AD that resulted in this. He was brother to the philosopher Seneca, (Nero’s tutor), who had a high regard for him and spoke of his pleasantness to everyone. He was not a man easily to be deceived or wrongly influenced, and was generally approved of by a number of writers of the time. Sadly he suffered ill-health and his pro-consulship was not overlong. He would later be executed by Nero.

The Jews, feeling that he might sympathise with their case, (which they, of course, believed to be fully justified), took the usual tack of the day. In their view Paul was not preaching Judaism, he was preaching an Illicit Religion, one which, unlike Judaism, had not had the stamp of approval from Rome and was therefore not to be participated in. Many of course did participate in illicit religions but the danger of doing so was that they could always be denounced. This, however, would usually only occur when someone had been badly offended or had their business interests affected. And to bring a charge always had its dangers. it could rebound on the plaintiff.


Verse 14-15

‘But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If indeed it were a matter of wrong or of wicked villainy, O you Jews, reason would that I should bear with you, but if they are questions about words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves. I am not minded to be a judge of these matters.” ’

Gallio was a discerning and wise ruler and having looked over their case he immediately came to the conclusion that both sides were simply disagreeing about the interpretation of the same religion. He drew the proceedings to a close before Paul had even had an opportunity to speak and pointed out to the plaintiffs, that is, the Jews, that interpreting their religion was not the purpose for which he had been appointed. If they could produce evidence of Paul breaking the law, or committing some villainy then he would be quite happy to act. But when it came to such things as interpretations of what ‘the word’ was, and disagreements about particular names connected with it, such as ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christos’, and whether their Instruction (Torah) should be observed by certain people or not, that was a matter for them to decide between themselves. He was not prepared to judge such matters. They must argue it out among them.

We may presume that in building up their case in order to demonstrate that Paul was not preaching Judaism, they had distinguished their Scriptures from ‘the word’ preached by Paul, had distinguished their idea of the Messiah from Jesus Christos, and had pointed out that contrary to Judaism Paul taught that Gentiles did not have to keep the Law of Moses. Gallio simply saw both sides as interpreting the same religious ideas in different ways. Interestingly both were right. It simply depended on how it was seen.


Verse 16

‘And he drove them from the judgment-seat.’

And the result was that he drove them all from the place of judgment. He was having none of it. There is an impression here of rather forceful dealings, as the next verse confirms. The authorities did not take kindly to spurious cases which simply wasted their time.

The ‘judgment seat’ was a large raised platform that stood in the marketplace in front of the pro-consul’s residence and from which he would try cases in public.


Verse 17

‘And they all laid hold on Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment-seat. And Gallio cared for none of these things.’

‘They all’ here probably refers to the officials responsible for overseeing the bringing of the case to court and the subsequent proceedings. They would mainly be Gentiles among whom there was quite probably some anti-Semitism, which would possibly be the result of jealousy over the Jews’ proverbial success in business. Observing Gallio’s attitude and contempt for the bringing of the case they proceeded to beat Sosthenes, the current ruler of the synagogue, (who had presumably replaced Crispus in the position). This would probably be on the basis that he had brought a false charge. Beatings were quite a common occurrence in those days (compare Acts 22:24), and it would appear here that it was because it was considered that by bringing an unreasonable case he had wasted everyone’s time. It was intended as a warning to all not to bring up false matters. People had to learn not to misuse the court. That is why Gallio would ignore it. To him it was irrelevant and in fact deserved. In those days going to law always brought the possibility of reprisals if the case was not won.

Gallio’s view in general would be that as long as the people caused no trouble they could sort out minor matters between themselves. We must remember that the giving of such beatings was not unusual. They were seen as quite commonplace affairs. They were, for example, allowed on the authority of the synagogue elders for breaches in synagogue rules. Synagogues would regularly administer beatings for misbehaviour. As long as the person was not seriously injured they would not be seen as a serious matter, and would be allowed. After all fathers regularly beat their sons and masters their slaves. Beatings were seen as good for people. It was only Roman citizens who were not supposed to be beaten without first being examined.

‘Gallio cared for none of these things.’ This is not saying that Gallio did not perform his duty. It is saying that he refused to get involved in things to do with religious interpretation. Gallio in other words was saying that they had nothing to do with Roman Law. His attitude was thus in favour of Christians. Luke is saying to all who read his work, ‘see, Gallio was unconcerned about it’.

This decision by a pro-consul would have widespread effects. It was basically a decision that Christians were to be seen as included with Jews in a Licit Religion. It would require someone of comparative or higher status to reverse its effects.

Thus Luke is stressing that as with the pro-consul in Cyprus (Acts 13:12), here was another pro-consul who had examined Christianity and declared it to be a Licit Religion. Neither had seen in it anything that was illegal or to be condemned. Paul’s ministry to this point ended as it had begun, with the approval of Rome.


Verse 18

‘And Paul, having tarried after this yet many days, took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila, having shorn his head in Cenchreae, for he had a vow.’

Having continued his work in Corinth for some further good long time, Paul set sail for Syria, taking with him Priscilla and Aquila. But prior to setting sail he shaved his head as a result of some kind of vow. Cenchreae was an outpost of Corinth, and was the presumably the port from which Paul set sail. The shaving of the head would normally come at the end of the period of the vow, and the hair would then have to be presented in Jerusalem (compare Numbers 6:18). We must then assume that the vow was made at a time when he was at a low ebb, possibly through his illness, (and thus to be maintained while he was in Corinth), or in hope that it would produce more effectiveness in his ministry. Alternately it may have been some kind of expression of gratitude to God for the work he had done in Europe, and a rededication to God’s service for the future, with the shaving being preliminary, and preparatory to allowing it to grow for the full period of the vow. Perhaps it included a vow to return to Europe, and even possibly to visit Rome. Either way in the fulfilment of it he would hurry on to Jerusalem, (although Luke only mentions that visit indirectly - Acts 18:22), prior to returning to Syrian Antioch.

We need see this vow and rededication as little different, except in intensity, from our special consecration meetings of one kind or another. They too should be just as binding. It was his way of expressing full consecration of himself to God in conformity with his upbringing, in view either of his rededication when he was feeling low or the joy in his heart arising from all that God had achieved, and his vow that he would continue so to serve God. Either way he wanted a means to outwardly express his feelings and clearly saw nothing inconsistent in it. He presumably saw it as a freewill action, and not as something binding by the Law. The Nazirite and related vows were all voluntary.

However it might also have been because by this act he hoped to keep open contact with the Jewish wing of the church especially in Jerusalem. He was always ready to be all things to all men where it did not compromise truth (1 Corinthians 9:20-23). It may even have been the warm reception of this vow by the church in Jerusalem that would lead on to its disastrous repetition. It is apparent from the text that Luke refers to it because as an honest historian he felt that he had to, and possibly in order to explain why Paul’s visit to Ephesus was curtailed. But the brevity with which he deals with the matters involved suggests that he feels that it was not in the end either an important or a wise action.

‘Priscilla and Aquila.’ We note here the unusual order of putting the woman first, something repeated elsewhere with regard to this couple (Acts 18:26; Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19). This is in contrast with 1 Corinthians 16:19, but there they are linked with the whole church so that Priscilla is not the prominent one. This would suggest that Priscilla was seen as of higher status than Aquila, possibly as of Roman aristocracy. In contrast in Acts 18:2 Paul had been seeking work and therefore it was the one who could offer that work who was mentioned first. But here we have the normal order. Priscilla was the diminutive for Prisca, the latter preferred by Paul. Luke has a tendency to use diminutives. Priscilla and Aquila seem constantly to be on the move and it may be that they had business interests in Rome, Corinth and Ephesus. They had come from Rome to Corinth (Acts 18:2), and now they would go to Ephesus. They were in Ephesus, with a church meeting being held in their house, when 1 Corinthians was written (1 Corinthians 16:19), but were later found in Rome (Romans 16:3), and later again back in Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:19). They were therefore very peripatetic.


Verses 18-22

Paul Returns to Antioch Via Ephesus and Jerusalem (18:18-22).

The ministry at Corinth continued for some time after which Paul decided that it was time to return back to the church at Syrian Antioch who had originally sent him and Silas out (Acts 15:40), and he did so via Ephesus.


Verse 19

‘And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.’

On arrival in Ephesus Paul clearly said his ‘goodbyes’ to Priscilla and Aquila. ‘He left them there’ suggests that he did not expect to meet up with them again in Ephesus because he expected to embark at once. It would seem, however, that discovering that he could not embark as soon as he had expected he had to take up short term lodgings in Ephesus by the harbour, in order to wait for a suitable berth. This would be why he was unexpectedly able to go to the synagogue to reason with the Jews (we may presumably read in, ‘on the Sabbath day’). We say unexpectedly because had he been expecting it presumably he would have asked Priscilla and Aquila to accompany him.

This first act of evangelising in Ephesus is probably intended to stress that prior to the soon to be explained ministry of Apollos, there had been there an Apostolic witness. Thus the initial action in establishing the church at Ephesus had been Paul’s. He could therefore be seen as the founder of the church.


Verse 20-21

‘And when they asked him to remain a longer time, he refused his consent, but taking his leave of them, and saying, “I will return again to you if God will”, he set sail from Ephesus.’

The Jews there seemingly saw his ministry as acceptable for they asked him to remain. But he had his vow to fulfil and presumably wanted to be in Jerusalem for a coming feast. Thus he refused his consent, but promised that he would return again shortly in the near future if it proved to be God’s will. Then he set sail from Ephesus.


Verse 22

‘And when he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and saluted the church, and went down to Antioch.’

Landing at Caesarea ‘hewent upand saluted the church’. This almost certainly indicates that he went up to the mother church at Jerusalem where he would complete his vow, rather than just to the church of Caesarea. He would not be seen as ‘going up’ to the church in Caesarea. But Jerusalem is no longer important to Luke and he makes this clear by dismissing it with a half reference. He is no longer interested in Jerusalem.

‘And went down to Antioch.’ Paul then returned to Syrian Antioch. His long second missionary journey was over. This visit to Jerusalem is confirmed by the ‘going up’ and the ‘going down’ which are technical terms. Attending the church in Caesarea would not be seen as a ‘going up’. Going from Caesarea to Antioch would not be seen as a ‘going down’. These were technical terms.


Verse 23

Paul Sets Out on His Third Missionary Journey: Ministry Among The Disciples of John The Baptiser (18:23-19:7).

Paul Sets Out On His Third Missionary Journey.


Verse 23

The Third Missionary Journey And The Ministry of Apollos (18:23-19:20).

This section from Acts 18:23 to Acts 19:20 follows the section which has described Paul’s ministry from first leaving Antioch for his first missionary journey to his arrival back in Antioch after his second missionary journey (Acts 12:25 to Acts 18:22), in between which was sandwiched the enquiry at Jerusalem. It is thus not part of the Acts 12:25 to Acts 18:22 chiasmus. However, it is still a part of the section from Acts 12:25 to Acts 19:20 which ends with the subscription in Acts 19:20, ‘mightily grew the word of the Lord and prevailed’. It forms its own chiasmus.

It commences with Paul revisiting the churches in Asia Minor and then deals primarily with ministry in Ephesus, the largest city in Asia Minor and third largest city in the Roman Empire (Syrian Antioch was the second largest after Rome). It includes the remarkable activity of Apollos, and the conversion of the disciples of John the Baptiser, followed by Paul’s ministry there. It is characterised by a lack of persecution, and this in spite of the opposition of the Jews at Ephesus. (Although it may be that any persecution which took place is simply unmentioned. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:8). Such persecution will, however, certainly result in Ephesus in the next section of Acts). On the other hand it has all the appearance of the early days of Acts.

One reason for this subsection being here would appear to be in order to demonstrate that God had raised up another champion to take over the care of the churches in the face of Paul’s coming arrest and journey to Rome. It was saying that God would not leave the churches without someone to minister to them. When Paul was arrested the work among the Gentiles would still go on, for God always has His replacements. The word would continue to multiply. A second reason would appear to be in order to deal with the vexed question of disciples of John the Baptiser. We know from elsewhere that there were many of these in synagogues around the Roman world and it was important that the way into the church of Jesus Christ should be opened to them, while making clear to them that they did still require something more. But a third reason may well be in order to reproduce the atmosphere of the early part of both Luke and Acts so as to demonstrate that the same Spirit was at work at this time as from the beginning, and this as a preparation to commencing Paul’s journey to Jerusalem and then to Rome, which to a certain extent parallels Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Thus this subsection tells us that his coming journey was to be seen against the background of the powerful and continually maintained triumph of the Gospel which had gone forward right from the beginning without hindrance (see analysis below).

We may analyse it as follows (giving comparisons with Luke and early Acts with the analysis):

a The ministry of the disciples of John through Apollos expands into the full proclamation of Jesus (Acts 18:24-28). Compare here Luke 3:3-22; Acts 1:5.

b The disciples of John the Baptiser are incorporated into the church by the Holy Spirit coming on them in power and they speak in other tongues and prophesy (Acts 19:1-7). Compare here Luke 3:21-22; Luke 4:1 and Acts 2:1-13.

c The Good News of the Kingly Rule of God is declared to the Jews, who are revealed to be hardened (Acts 19:8-9 a), and then to the Gentiles in a continually successful ministry so that all in Asia heard ‘the word of the Lord’ (Acts 19:9-10). Compare Luke 4:16-43. See especially Luke 4:43 which with its ‘also’ demonstrates that Jesus saw the whole passage as preaching the Kingly Rule of God, and Acts 18:24-27 which illustrate Jewish hardness and Gentile success. Compare also Acts 2:14 to Acts 12:24 and Acts 12:25 onwards.

d Great wonders and signs continue to be performed by God through Paul (whereas John did no miracle). Even aprons and handkerchiefs (or headbands and leather aprons) taken from his body are God’s instruments in the performing of such signs and wonders (Acts 19:11-12). Compare Luke 4:18 to Luke 9:50, and Acts 4:30; Acts 5:1-16; Acts 6:8; Acts 8:6-7; Acts 8:13.

c Hardened Jews who deal in the occult are defeated, and the name of the Lord, even Jesus, is magnified (Acts 19:13-17). There are no direct parallels with this in Luke and early Acts but the idea of the conflict with the powers of Satan appears constantly in Luke, and in Luke 9:49-50 we have a contrasting story of one who also used the name of Jesus to cast out evil spirits but was acceptable because his heart was right. See also Acts 5:16; Acts 8:7; Acts 13:8; Acts 13:10-11.

b The books which are the instruments of Satan are burned in fire (Acts 19:18-19). These acts are symbolic of the destruction of Satan himself (Revelation 20:10) and depict the rejection and defeat of Satan as in Luke 4:33-37; Luke 9:37-43; Luke 10:18; Luke 11:14-22 and finally at the cross. See also again Acts 5:16; Acts 8:7. For destruction by fire see Luke 3:17; Luke 17:29-30; Acts 2:19.

a The word of the Lord grows mightily and prevails (Acts 19:20).

In ‘a’ the ministry of John develops into the ministry of Jesus, and in the parallel mightily grows the word of God and prevails. In ‘b’ the disciples of John are immersed in the Holy Spirit and speak in other tongues, in the parallel the books which are the instruments of Satan are dealt with by being immersed in fire. We are reminded of John’s words, ‘immersed in the Holy Spirit and in fire’. In ‘c’ the Jews as a whole are hardened (and thus become false witnesses), while the Gentiles continually respond so that all Asia hear the word of the Lord, and in the parallel the hardened Jews who are false witnesses are defeated, while the name of the Lord Jesus is magnified by ‘all’. Central to all in ‘d’ are the signs and wonders which confirm Paul’s ministry to be of God and to be continuing what happened at Pentecost. The whole section demonstrates the bringing to completion of the ministry of John and the atmosphere of the days following Pentecost as a reminder that Pentecost still goes on.


Verse 23

‘And having spent some time there, he departed, and went through the region of Galatia, and Phrygia, in order, establishing all the disciples.’

Having spent some time in Syrian Antioch, during which time he would enjoy a teaching and evangelistic ministry, and would familiarise the church there with all that God had done, Paul set out again in order to visit the churches in Asia Minor, in ‘the Galatian region and Phrygia’ which he had previously evangelised. He did this in an orderly way, using the opportunity to strengthen all the disciples who had been won for Christ. Depending on which route he took, which would determine the order in which he visited, he would call in at Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, and Perga. This ministry would take many months.


Verse 24

‘Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus, and he was mighty in the scriptures.’

Apollos was an Alexandrian from Egypt, which probably means that he interpreted the Scriptures more allegorically than would be done in Palestine. Alexandria had a large Jewish population and was heavily influenced by the Jewish philosopher Philo. He was also very eloquent, and above all very knowledgeable about, and effective in teaching, the Scriptures.


Verses 24-26

The Ministry of Apollos in Ephesus. He Is Instructed In The Way of the Lord (18:24-26).

Meanwhile there arrived in the west of Asia Minor, in Ephesus, which Paul had visited but had not yet really evangelised, ‘a certain Jew named Apollos’. This remarkable person proclaimed the baptism of John, and the Coming One whom John had promised and to Whom he had pointed. He knew about Jesus, and believed, but his knowledge was incomplete. He was ‘instructed in the way of the Lord’ (compare Luke 3:4) and ‘taught diligently (or accurately) the things concerning Jesus’. Here ‘Lord’ may mean the God Whom John served, or the Coming One to Whom John had pointed. But either way it was not a full faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus. He had to be taught ‘the way of God’ more perfectly.

But once he had been taught the way of God more accurately he began to proclaim the Messiah as Jesus along with all that went with it. A major explanation for the introduction of Apollos’ ministry is that it was in order to confirm that once Paul was prevented from engaging in further missionary journeys there was another who would take his place. It may well be that Ephesus first, and then Corinth, was a deliberate reversal of Paul’s path, which had been Corinth first and then Ephesus, in order to demonstrate that he was taking on Paul’s ministry (compare the reversal of visits to places when Elisha takes over from Elijah - 2 Kings 2). But it is also an essential first step in Luke’s re-enactment of the triumph of God from John the Baptiser to the final defeat of Satan at the cross, as suggested above.

We must pause here to remind ourselves of the importance of Ephesus in the ongoing of the Good News. It was the major city of western Asia Minor, itself an area of great cities, and was the third largest in the empire (although being on the wane due to difficulties in preventing the silting up of its harbour), containing over 250,000 inhabitants. Being at the end of the Asiatic caravan route, and a natural landing point from Rome, it was a prominent harbour. With its theatre (capacity 25,000), baths, library, agora and paved streets together with its huge and world-famed temple of the many-breasted Diana (Greek: Artemis) and its three temples dedicated to emperor worship it saw itself, and was seen by others, as an important centre of civilisation and religion. It had a large colony of Jews who enjoyed a privileged position under Roman rule. It would be an important centre for the spread of the Good News throughout the Roman province of Asia.


Verse 25

‘This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John.’

It would appear that Apollos had either visited Jerusalem and come under the ministry of John the Baptiser, or that he had come under the influence of others who had done so. As a result of that ministry they had learned of the coming of Jesus, and even something of His life and teaching. We learn here that Apollos had been instructed in ‘the way of the Lord’. This reminds us of the words cited by John, ‘make ready the way of the Lord’ (Luke 3:4). Apollos had taken in John’s instruction.

Furthermore he knew and taught accurately ‘the things concerning Jesus’. We must probably read this as meaning ‘the things concerning Jesus as taught by John’. He had been so inspired by it that he had taken up a teaching ministry so as to press it home to Jews everywhere, and prepare them for the arrival of the Coming One. Unfortunately we are not given full details of what he did know and believe. But we can be sure that he knew nothing of the saving effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection, nor of the coming of the Holy Spirit in power. Otherwise he would not have needed to be taught more.

‘Fervent in spirit.’ Almost there, but not quite. His own spirit was the source of his effectiveness, even though strengthened by God. Possibly he had similar inspiration to others prior to Pentecost, which could include being ‘filled (pimplemi) with Holy Spirit’ (Luke 1:15; Luke 1:41; Luke 1:67) to speak inspired words. Thus ‘being fervent in spirit he spoke and taught’. But it was pre-Pentecost filling.


Verse 26

‘And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him to them, and expounded to him the way of God more accurately.’

In God’s goodness he began to proclaim his teaching in the synagogue in Ephesus which was attended by Priscilla and Aquila. When they heard what he had to say they took him to one side and updated his teaching, explaining to him ‘the way of God more accurately’. In other words they filled him in on what was lacking in his teaching through lack of knowledge, telling him about the death of Jesus as Messiah, and His resurrection and enthronement through which men could be saved and as a result of which He had sent the full blessing of the poured out Holy Spirit. And he seemingly responded to such an extent that the Ephesian believers then felt able to recommend him to the churches in Achaia.

We may see in all this a re-enactment of John’s ministry and its blossoming into the full revelation of Jesus Christ.

For ‘the way of God’ compare Matthew 22:16 where it refers to the teaching of Jesus, Mark 12:14 where it refers to the teaching of Jesus as paralleled with the idea of the best of Jewish teaching, and Luke 20:21 where it very much emphasises the special nature of Jesus’ teaching. It does not directly appear in the Old Testament, but compare ‘the way of holiness’ (Isaiah 35:8). We must also keep in mind the description of Christianity as ‘the Way’ (compare Acts 16:17; Acts 19:9; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:22)


Verse 27-28

The Ministry of Apollos in Achaia (18:27-28).

‘And when he was minded to pass over into Achaia, the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him, and when he was come, he helped them much who had believed through grace, for he powerfully confuted the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.’

Moving on to Achaia Apollos continued his ministry, but now with the full facts burning in his heart. Now he was indeed fervent in the Spirit. The ‘brethren’ in Ephesus, (‘the brethren’ suggests that there was already a small church there, possibly founded by Priscilla and Aquila during there stay there), encouraged him in his endeavour, and sent letters with him recommending him to the churches of Achaia. Such letters of commendation were to be a regular feature of the early church in order to identify true men of God, and avoid the danger of false and lying prophets. On arrival there he was a great help to the believers, ‘those who had believed through grace’, for he powerfully and publicly demonstrated to the Jews from the Scriptures, that the Messiah was Jesus.

‘Those who had believed through grace.’ Compare especially Acts 15:11. See also Acts 4:33, Acts 11:23; Acts 13:43; Acts 14:3; Acts 14:26; Acts 15:40; Acts 20:32. This refers to those who were trusting in the ‘unmerited love and compassion’ (grace) of God for salvation through the cross and resurrection of Christ (Acts 15:11), as contained in the word of His ‘grace’ (Acts 14:3). ‘Grace’ is the unmerited love and compassion of God which was revealed clearly in the lives of the converts at Pentecost and after (Acts 4:33) and in Syrian Antioch when Barnabas visited them (Acts 11:23). Thus the disciples in Pisidian Antioch were ‘encouraged to continue in the grace of God’, that is, in trusting in God’s unmerited love and favour for their salvation. In Acts 14:26 and Acts 15:40 it refers to God’s gracious and effective assistance in the ministry.

Up to this point we are only told that he preached in Achaia, but eventually, as we would expect, Apollo ministered in Corinth (Acts 19:1). How soon it was after his arrival in Achaia we are not told. Possibly almost immediately. He would later return to Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:12).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 18:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/acts-18.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, January 19th, 2020
Second Sunday after Epiphany
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