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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 18

 

 

Verse 1

1. Departed from Athens—By land, a journey of forty-five miles; by ancient ships, an average sail of two days; by the modern steamer, a trip of four or five hours.


Verses 1-11

5. The Fourth Church in Europe FoundedCorinth, Acts 18:1-11.

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Rejected from Athens, the intellectual capital of Greece, the apostle seeks Corinth, her then political capital, the seat of the Roman proconsul of Achaia or Southern Greece. The isthmus upon which Corinth stands connects the Peloponnesus with the continent on a small scale, very much as Darien connects South America with North. Before entering Corinth the apostle’s eye would survey the tall citadel rock, called the Acro-Corinthus. [Acron, summit, and polis, city; Acropolis, city-summit: Acro-Corinthus, Corinth-summit.] Upon this summit it was that the original town, called Ephyra, was built, in that twilight of antiquity before the age of Homer, when the first object in selecting a site would be inaccessibility to the attack of a warlike enemy. Standing upon its brow, the apostle would survey the city spread beneath, the ground gradually sloping to CENCHREA, her seaport, nine miles distant on the east, and Lecheum, the seaport about as many miles on the west. By Cenchrea Corinth had commanded a trade with the East, across the AEgean, from the time of the Phenicians to the apostle’s day. Through Lecheum she had sent forth colonies on the coast of Greece, whose reverence for her, as their mother city, had increased her political influence. Her great commerce acquired a boundless wealth. For her lawless commercial population she provided, by her magnificent temple of Venus, the ample means of licentiousness under the sanctions of religion. Such was the proverbial profligacy of the town, that the verb κορινθιαζειν, to Corinthianize, was invented to express the unrestrained indulgence of licentiousness. Corinth had ever played an important political part among the republics of Greece; but it was not until the latest age, after the patriotic leadership of Athens and Sparta had long ceased, that she took the supremacy, heading the Achaean League against the Roman power. For this, when Rome conquered, she suffered the most terrible penalty. The Roman consul, Memmius, entirely destroyed the city, leaving the ground perfectly desolate upon which the city had stood; so it remained until Julius Cesar rebuilt it and repeopled it with a numerous colony of Roman veterans relieved from service. The remnant of the old inhabitants returned, and the city rose with a rapidity paralleled only by the growth of the towns of our American west. At the time of Paul’s visit it probably had scarce, from its crudeness of mixed population, recovered its ancient refinement, though it had its ancient vices. It was still largely Roman, and, from the advantages of commerce, in some degree Jewish. Near Corinth was the locality of the celebrated Isthmian games, from which Paul often drew illustrations of Christian combat.


Verse 2

2. Aquila—A Roman name assumed according to custom, signifying eagle; in fact, both aquila and eagle are different shapes of the same primitive word. In rabbinical Hebrew the name became Onkelos.

Pontus— A province bordering on the Euxine Sea, where, induced by advantages of trade, the Jews were numerous. To them, in part, Peter addresses his first epistle, (1 Peter 1:1.)

Priscilla—Also a Roman name, which was strictly Prisca, (2 Timothy 4:19,) signifying antique. As in our day it is the fancy to use in feminine names the pet termination ie, (as Lizzie for Elizabeth, and Carrie for Caroline,) the Romans used the more euphonious termination illa. So Terentia, Prima, Prisca, became Terentilla, Primilla, Priscilla.

Commanded… from Rome—Suetonius tells us that the Emperor Claudius banished the Jews from Rome on account of disturbances “instigated by Chrestus.” Who this Chrestus was we are entirely uninformed by any other history. The best critics, therefore, plausibly infer that it is a mistaken word used really for Christ. The name of Christ would be strange to a Roman ill informed in Jewish religious affairs, and their ordinary name Chrestus (signifying meek or mild) would naturally be substituted. That the Christians were often by them called Chrestians we are informed by Tertullian, (Adv. Gent., c. 3,) who turns it to good account: “For, since you have no true knowledge of the name, it is rashly allowed by you to be Chrestian, an epithet composed of sweetness and benignity.” And Lactantius (fourth century) says: “The true form of this name is to be explained on account of the error of those who, by change of a single letter, are accustomed to make it Chrestus.” It is highly probable, therefore, that Suetonius, from the fact that rumour attributed the commotion to the Christians, really supposed that they were a party led by a man named Chrestus. In such case Christians as well as Jews were doubtless banished from Rome; or, at least, all the Christians of Jewish race. The first Roman Church, therefore, like the first Jerusalem Church, was probably swept off. Yet when Paul arrived in Rome, (Acts 28:15-29,) both Jews and Christians were reestablished in some force.


Verse 3

3. Same craft—has been debated whether Aquila and Priscilla were converted when Paul first found them at Corinth. Meyer argues that they are first mentioned as merely Jews, not as believers; that Paul was attracted not by sympathy of faith, but by similarity of trade, and that the couple were banished simply as Jews. But it is clear that Luke, without alluding to any conversion, speaks of them as a matter of course as Christians, (Acts 18:26,) nay, as mature Christians. Their being of the same craft is given, not as a reason why he became acquainted, but why he made his home with them, namely, to work in their manufactory; and their banishment must have taken place as Jews, whether they were Christians or not. Renan, in his sprightly way, assumes not only that they were Christians, but the true founders of Roman Christianity; and he rebukes the Christian Church for not canonizing them and building cathedrals to their honour.

Tentmakers—In Paul’s native province, Cilicia, was a very shaggy species of goat, from whose hair was manufactured a coarse, strong fabric, called, from the province, cilicium, the material for tents. These tents were in large demand in all sections of the country for the use, in various sizes, of ordinary travellers, and for soldiers, sailors, and the tribes of the deserts. They were the only houses of myriads of Arab nomads, who were hence called scenitae, tent-dwellers. It was in accordance with the Jewish rule, (see note on Matthew 13:55,) that even the young rabbi should learn a trade. “Most scholars,” says Maimonides, “practise some art, that they may not depend upon the charity of others.” Paul was able thereby not only thus to preserve his personal independence, but to maintain the policy of defying all charges of personal self-interest, by preaching a gratuitous Gospel. This he did especially at Corinth.


Verse 4

4. Persuaded—Fresh from his disheartening failure at Athens, and burdened with the uncertainty lest his first three Churches in Europe, namely, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, should also prove failures, and so his whole ministry turn out a failure, the apostle on his first entrance into the formidable city of Corinth is in spirit intimidated and lifeless. So he describes his own feelings to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:1-4) and to the Thessalonians, (1 Thessalonians 3:6-8.) Residing with Aquila, he goes to the synagogue and there, under depression and alone, rather persuades with gentle reserve, and conciliates the kindly feelings of the Jews.


Verse 5

5. From Macedonia—(See note on Acts 17:14; Acts 17:16.) The arrival of Silas and Timothy reanimated the apostle. Thence he learns that his Churches stand fast in the truth, and that Thessalonica’s faith sounds, like a trumpet, out into the world. And, reinforced in courage by their cooperation, he was pressed with an urgent spirit to preach Jesus the Messiah with a new and fearless force. The day of conciliation was now past, and the usual outbreak of the Jews accordingly followed.

The report made by Silas and Timothy induces Paul now to write from Corinth the FIRST AND SECOND EPISTLES TO THE THESSALONIANS, (A.D. 53,) which were not only the first of Paul’s canonical epistles, but perhaps the first written documents of the entire New Testament.

The second epistle was written to guard the Thessalonians from imagining from any thing said or written by Paul that Christ’s second advent was nigh at hand. (See note on Acts 17:4.)


Verse 6

6. Shook his raiment—A symbolical action indicating that not even a particle of dust belonging to them should adhere to him; hence entire departure.

Your blood… heads—The term blood here signifies penalty for the blood shed. (See note on Acts 20:26.) The reference is to Ezekiel 3:18, where Ezekiel is set as a spiritual watchman over the spiritual life of Israel. If any man were negligently left by Ezekiel unwarned he would die, but for the blood of his death Ezekiel should be answerable. As Paul had faithfully warned these Jews, their blood, the responsibility and penalty for their destruction, would rest upon themselves. Upon their heads, as being the object on which divine retribution would descend and rest.


Verse 7

7. Worshipped God—A Gentile who worshipped Jehovah, a devout monotheist. He seems to have been a person of sufficient wealth to afford Paul a spacious room for his congregations.

Hard—Near to the synagogue. This house was selected not because near the synagogue, but because the house of Justus happened to occupy that position. But it enabled the two congregations to come into comparison as representatives of old Judaism and new Christianity, the “Church” against the “meeting-house.”


Verse 8

8. Crispus—Their most eminent man, became a Christian with all his house. (See note on 1 Corinthians 1:14.)

Of course his secession from Judaism was a vacation of his office; and it seems probable that Sosthenes, (Acts 18:17,) who was a leader of the party opposed to Paul, forthwith stepped into his place. He suffered the penalty of a flogging for his ambition, and perhaps became a Christian, the “Sosthenes the brother” of 1 Corinthians 1:1.

Many of the Corinthians—Probably Jews and Gentiles, with a majority of the latter.


Verse 9

9. Vision—At this time of trial another of the manifestations of the Lord to his faithful apostle took place to assure him of support. In that city which he had entered most specially with fear and trembling should arise the most eminent victory. (See Acts 9:12; Acts 16:9; Acts 22:18.)


Verse 10

10. I have much people—Not, as Dr. Hackett has it, “Many who are appointed to become such,” for nothing is said of any such appointment. They were not appointed to become Christians any more than all the Corinthians. In all was the same power of acceptance, and of all the same appointment to accept. Yet divine prescience foresaw who would exercise the power to accept, and styles that class, more or less, by anticipation, the Lord’s people.


Verse 11

11. A year and six months—During the period of eighteen months he founded a Church which, with all its defects of partisanship, impurity, and heresies, was one of the most eminent monuments of the divine blessing on his apostolic labours.


Verse 12

12. Gallio—Marcus Annaeus Novatus was the brother of the celebrated philosopher, Seneca. Being, according to Roman custom, adopted into the family of the rhetorician Gallio, he assumed the name Junius Annaeus Gallio. His brother, Seneca, given him the highest character for a fascinating amiableness. “No one of mortals could be so dear even to a single friend as he was to all.” And the poet Statius gives him the epithet “sweet Gallio.” It is said, but not well authenticated, that he, like his brother Seneca, had the honour of death from the cruelty of Nero. Tacitus says, “He was appalled at the taking of his brother’s limb, and became a suppliant for his own.” Jerome states that he committed suicide A.D. 65.

Deputy—(See note on Acts 13:7.) Here is disclosed another instance of Luke’s minute accuracy. Gallio was deputed by the Senate during the reign of Claudius, and was, therefore, a proconsul, as Luke says. But under the preceding reigns the ruler was sent by the emperor, and so was not a proconsul but a legatus. There is historical evidence that Gallio was in Achaia about the time of Paul’s visit, and he appears to have resigned his office on account of ill health, proclaiming that it was “a disease not of his body, but of the climate.”

InsurrectionAn onset upon him.

One accord—Unanimously and spontaneously; but doubtless with Sosthenes, the new president of the synagogue, at their head.

Brought… judgment seat—Nothing, it would seem, but the extravagance of passion in these unhappy men could have prompted to this bold course. For the Jews as a race were under the displeasure of the emperor at this time, who had lately banished all from Rome. They could ill have anticipated that a proconsul fresh from that same Rome would be their very hearty friend.


Verses 12-17

The Arraignment before the Proconsul Gallio, Acts 18:12-17.

A new proconsul has just arrived at Corinth from Rome, and the Jewish experiment is to be made whether the Roman power cannot be called in to end Paul’s Corinthian ministry, perhaps his life.


Verse 13

13. Contrary to the law—As having infringed the law requiring every man to remain in his ancestral religion. From Gallio’s words it is clear that the indictment contained a statement of some length, not given by Luke, which he heard completely through.


Verse 14

14. Paul… mouth—Paul was not allowed a defence, because there was no charge.

Wrong—Positive crime.

Lewdness—Rather, laxity; misconduct from easy carelessness, yet often arising to presumption and recklessness.

O ye Jews—The repugnance of the easy and graceful literary philosopher appears in every clause.

Bear with you—However severe the endurance.


Verse 15

15. Words—So far as the doctrines were concerned, Gallio would consider them as so much worthless words.

Names—Of persons, as Moses and Jesus, which probably occurred in the statement of the prosecutors, and which Gallio would consider an mere names.


Verse 16

16. Drave them—Bid them clear the room so peremptorily as indicated ready compulsion by officers.

It is by no means so clear, as commentators represent, that Gallio does not here display more impatience than becomes his office. The tedium of a regal discussion is no good ground of a nonsuit. Perhaps he is already nervous from the climate, which ultimately sent him home an invalid. It certainly was a prima facie question whether Paul had not deserted from his national creed, requiring a discussion.


Verse 17

17. All the Greeks—All the Greeks present at the court. The Greeks of this degenerate age had learned to watch their Roman arbiter’s eye with servile adulation, and to take the cue from his words. When, therefore, Gallio ordered the Jews out of his presence, these Greeks seem, without rebuke from Gallio, to have caught their ringleader and chastised him for having come into the judicial presence. But, in addition to the present unpopularity of the Jewish race, this set of Greeks here present had, probably, taken some interest in this case. They knew that the quarrel between the Jews and Paul was a Jew and Gentile strife. Without any deep sympathy with Paul’s religion, they were at any rate against the Jews in the contest.

Cared for none—From the sound of the words, this seems a fine text from which to preach down indifference in religion. And, in fact, this amiable Roman philosopher, this brother of Seneca, did have before him the story of the crucified Jesus, and from indifference, nay, effeminate indifference, rejected it from examination! Still the those things of the present verse refers not so much to the religious topics as to the lawless castigation of Sosthenes by the Greeks. It was not a religious, but an official carelessness; and the text is rather a good whip for negligent magistrates who allow disorders and turbulence to go unchecked.


Verse 18

18. Yet a good while—He was, in consequence of this decisive check imposed by the Roman power upon Jewish hostility, enabled to fill out the eighteen months of Acts 18:11 in building probably the most powerful Church in Europe. The experiment was now settled that Europe was a true predisposed field for the Gospel. Japheth was at length to enter and dwell in the tents of Shem. Hereby Paul’s initiatory mission seemed to him fulfilled, and he turns his heart and feet back toward his native East.

Shorn his head—Unquestionably it was Paul who had the vow; and not, as some commentators maintain, Aquila. By the Nazarite vow, a Jew for a period consecrated himself to God, avoiding strong drink, and allowing his hair to grow unsheared. At the end of the period he was to go to the temple, make a somewhat liberal offering, shave his head and burn the hair in the sacrificial fire, and so absolve himself from his vow, (Numbers 6:1-21.)

A vow of a less sacred nature could be made for various purposes. A Jew, as an act of devotion, would vow not to trim his hair until he had safely accomplished his journey. So the Jews (Acts 23:14) vowed neither to eat or drink until they had slain Paul. By a similar custom the Greeks and Romans were accustomed, after deliverance from some great danger, to trim the head and consecrate their hair to the god who had preserved them. In modern times, the temperance pledge and the baptismal engagements are of the nature of a vow. The jurors in our modern law vow with a formal oath not to eat or drink until they have agreed upon a verdict. As the apostle’s vow ended with his embarkation for Syria, it was probably an act of self-consecration dependent upon being successfully brought to the end of his present mission in Corinth.

Dr. Wordsworth notes the difference between κειραμενος, used here, which signifies to cut with shears, and ξυρησωνται, signifying to shave bare with a razor. It was the last of these which was done by the Nazarite at the temple to close his vow. Wordsworth suggests that Paul wore his hair long at Corinth, (where short hair was the sign of a slave,) trimmed his hair at Cenchrea for convenience, preparatory to shaving it at Jerusalem, for which purpose was his haste at Acts 18:21.

Had a vow—Rather, had had a vow.

Cenchrea—More accurately Cenchreae. Leaving Corinth, Paul would pass by a road about nine miles in length, lined by tokens of zealous paganism, to this the seaport of Corinth, in her vast trade with the East, particularly with Asia Minor, through the great city of Ephesus. The name is still retained in its modern form, Kikries, though the more educated Greek still affects to retain its ancient classical name, which is plausibly derived from the millet, κενκρι, (cencri,) natively growing there. A Church was established there probably by Paul, and from thence his messenger, Phebe, bore his letter to the Romans, (Romans 16:1.) The ancient site is visible at Kalamaki, the eastern station of the modern steamboats.


Verses 18-22

Paul’s Return from Greece to Jerusalem, closing his Second Missionary Journey, Acts 18:18-22.

The voyage lies across the AEgean to Ephesus; thence southeastward to Cesarea; thence the land route to Jerusalem.


Verse 19

19. Came to Ephesus—Between Corinth and Ephesus the sea route was a perpetual scene of navigation. It took usually from twelve to fifteen days, about the time of a modern steamboat trip across the Atlantic. Ephesus, the commercial capital of proconsular Asia, we shall fully notice at Acts 19:1.


Verse 20

20. Desired him to tarry—The vessel, though stopping at Ephesus, seems bound for Cesarea. Paul’s first preaching at Ephesus, as at Corinth, seems to have won the Jews. In both places the brief peace was succeeded by violent war. As cultivators of the ground for a future Church, however, Paul left Aquila and Priscilla there, (Acts 18:19.)


Verse 21

21. I must… Jerusalem—This entire clause is found wanting in a number of the best manuscripts; but it is sufficiently sustained to be retained in the text. Paul’s promise to return was fulfilled soon after. Sailed—It is uncertain whether in the same or another ship. The same route was pursued in Paul’s return from his third journey, (Acts 21:1-8,) where see notes.


Verse 22

22. Cesarea—(See notes on Acts 8:40.) Gone up—To the English reader it would appear that these words express Paul’s going from the port up into the city of Cesarea, instead of his going up from Cesarea to Jerusalem. So it appeared to earlier readers; for that construction is the probable reason with the ancient copyists for leaving out the first clause of Acts 18:21. They recognised no actual visit to Jerusalem, and so blotted out Paul’s expressed intention to visit it. But the following phrase, went down to Antioch, would not be used of a journey from Cesarea to Antioch. As ancient capitals were built on high grounds for purposes of defence, the phrase go up to them became stereo-typed. (See Revelation 20:9, and note on Acts 11:2.) This assumes that the clause in Acts 18:21 is genuine, and that Luke presupposes that this going up is the fulfilment of that promise.

Saluted the church—We infer that nothing of consequence, to Paul personally or to the Church generally, took place when Paul made this visit to Jerusalem.

Went down to Antioch—The end, as the beginning, of his second missionary tour of somewhat less than three years.

IV. PAUL’S THIRD MISSION from Antioch to and through Ephesus and Greece, thence back by Asian and Syrian coasts to Jerusalem, Acts 18:23 to Acts 21:17.

About autumn of A.D. 54, leaving Antioch, Paul commences revisitation of the country of Galatia and Phrygia, confirming the Churches. Thence, after spending a ministry of three years in Ephesus, he journeys through Macedonia into southern Greece, where he spends three winter months at his farthest point, the city of Corinth. Returning, he passes through Macedonia, and, embarking at Philippi, crosses over to Troas. Thence by sea he skirts by the coasts of Asia Minor, through the AEgean isles, and, crossing the Mediterranean, comes to Tyre, Ptolemais, and Cesarea, and thence by land to Jerusalem. It occupied a period not far, more or less, from four years.


Verse 23

23. Some time there—A brief visit of respect suffices for Jerusalem; but some time of residence indicates that the apostle is at home in Antioch.

Galatia—”We may suppose,” says Dr. Hackett, “that Paul went first to Tarsus, thence in a northwestern direction through Galatia, and then, turning to the southwest, passed through Phrygia, and so on to Ephesus. That course accounts for Luke’s naming Galatia before Phrygia instead of the order of Acts 16:6.” (See map.)


Verse 24

24. Apollos—Contracted from Apollonius, the adjective of Apollo.

Alexandria—The city of Alexandria, the birthplace of Apollos, was built near the mouth of the Nile by Alexander the Great, and was intended by that comprehensive genius for a union-point of the eastern and western nations, a centre of the blended civilizations of the earth. The Jews boast that their nation enjoyed his personal favour owing to his having been shown the prophecies of Daniel predicting his great career. Certain it is that they were endowed with the fullest privileges of citizenship, and the fullest enjoyment of their religious rights, in this splendid and liberal capital. The land of their ancient bondage, Egypt, was now the home of their preeminent freedom. Here was made that translation of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Septuagint. Here Philo, the Greekish Jew, wrote those reflections upon the Hebrew Scriptures which prepared the minds of the Hellenists of various sections for the forms of thought presented in Christianity. Similarly our Apollos, an earnest Jew, imbued with the influence of Greek refinement, and trained under the teachings of Grecian rhetoric, would possess an eminent power of handling Christian truth with a pleasing and powerful effect.

Eloquent—The Greek word often signifies learned; but that being implied in the clause that follows, the word must refer to his power of oratory.

Mighty—It is not merely said that he knew the Scriptures, but he was mighty in bringing out their force impressively upon the hearts of men. The truths burning in his own heart fired the hearts of others.

Came to Ephesus—Probably from Alexandria; from the great capital of Africa to a great capital of Asia.


Verses 24-28

1. Apollos at Ephesus and Corinth, Acts 18:24-28.

This passage, though a pleasing episode, contributes material information for the main history.


Verse 25

25. Way of the LordOf the Lord, not of Jesus, but, according to the Old Testament, of Jehovah. So John was to prepare the way of the Lord=Jehovah. Apollos had not yet distinctly learned of Jesus.

Knowing only… John—In his native Alexandria, perhaps, some disciple of John, having left Judea before the zenith of Jesus’ ministry, may have unfolded to him the truths with which John had shaken the multitudes of Israel. The kingdom of God is at hand; the prophetic period for the Coming One is expiring; the world spiritually, and perhaps physically, is to be destroyed and renewed. With such truths and bold conceptions, Apollos’ oratory no doubt, like that of John, could sway the multitudes.


Verse 26

26. Began—Opened his ministry in Ephesus after he came.

Expounded… more perfectly—The Greek word for diligently in Acts 18:25 more properly signifies accurately. The same Greek word here is used in the comparative. But if Apollos preached accurately at first, how could he be taught to preach more accurately? The first accuracy, we suppose, was the proper accuracy of a Johnite; than which the accuracy of a Christian was more accurate.

Aquila and Priscilla unfolded to Apollos the wonderful fact of a Messiah already come. They gave him the history of the incarnation, the miracles, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension, the pentecostal affusion, and the commission to convert the world. This pupil was soon superior to his teachers. Aquila and Priscilla remained at Ephesus long enough to salute Paul on his return to that city, and to have him send their salutations thence to the Church at Corinth in the first epistle, (1 Corinthians 16:19.) The faithful pair had a “Church in their house.” Afterward, (Romans 16:3,) residing at Rome, they are greeted by the apostle himself as having been ready to sacrifice their lives to his, as worthy the thanks of all the Gentile Churches, and as still possessing a “Church in their house.” Again they return to Ephesus, and are again greeted by the great apostle. (2 Timothy 4:19.) This is their last New Testament record; but tradition reports their martyrdom by the axe.


Verse 27

27. Disposed… Achaia—The narrative of his teachers seems to have inspired his fervent spirit to visit the scenes where they had heard Paul preach Jesus, and witnessed his founding a holy Church. Helped…

through grace—Those who at first had believed through grace, were now helped by human aid to persevere in faith.


Verse 28

28. Mightily convincedNervously, or energetically and completely, refuted.

Publicly—Whether in synagogue, church-apartment, or agora. So popular was Apollos that a party arose with the motto, “I am of Apollos.”

The partisan spirit was only in the narrow partisans, not in the noble leaders. Apollos was with Paul, or near him, at Ephesus, when he wrote the first Epistle to the Corinthians, (1 Corinthians 16:12,) about A.D. 57. He declined, or rather deferred, then to go, according to Paul’s wish, to Corinth. Paul requests Titus (Titus 3:13) to “bring Zenas the lawyer and Apollos” to him. This is the last mention of Apollos in the New Testament; but tradition makes him Bishop of Cesarea. From the smooth style and the tinge of Alexandrianism in the Epistle to the Hebrews, some eminent scholars, among them Luther, Tholuck, and Alford, have plausibly suggested that its author was not Paul, but Apollos.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Acts 18:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/acts-18.html. 1874-1909.

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