Studies in the Book of Acts
Paul left Athens (18:1)
Sometime after Paul’s defense before the Areopagus, Paul left Athens. Luke doesn’t say how long Paul was in the city, nor if he left rather soon after his defense. Luke was mainly interested in Paul’s confrontation with the most popular philosophies of the pagan world and the intellectual elite of Athens. It’s possible that Paul had to leave Athens because the Areopagus had not decided whether to allow him to continue preaching. Paul might have been waiting in vain for a favorable decision and decided to move on.
These must have been trying times for Paul. He had been prevented from preaching in Asia and Bithynia. Through a vision, God had directed Paul to preach in Macedonia. While he met with some success there, there were also major disappointments. Paul had been hounded by Jews across Macedonia and booted out of their cities. If Paul had thoughts of going to Rome, these must have been dampened by political events beyond his control. Then, in Athens he was dismissed with polite contempt.
Meanwhile, Paul was worried about the converts in Thessalonica who were in danger from angry Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5). Now he was travelling to Corinth, not knowing what would befall him in this city.
Went to Corinth (18:1)
When Paul moved from Athens to Corinth, he left a cultural university town for a fast-moving commercial metropolis of the world. The older city on the Isthmus of Corinth had been destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C. However, a hundred years later, Julius Caesar decreed that the city should be rebuilt. It was refounded as a Roman colony a few years later. In 27 B.C. Corinth became the capital of the Roman province of Achaia.
Corinth was built on a strategic plateau overlooking a narrow isthmus. It served as a land bridge connecting the Greek mainland and the Peloponnesian peninsula. Corinth was on the north side of the Acrocorinth, which rose to a height of almost 1,900 feet. That was an almost impregnable fortress.
Corinth was a crucial communications center at the junction of sea lanes to the west and east, and land routes north and south. The city had two ports, Lechaeum on the Gulf of Corinth and Cenchreae on the Saronic Gulf. These factors contributed to Corinth being a major commercial and population center. The city had over 200,000 inhabitants during New Testament times. Every two years it hosted the pan-Hellenic Isthmian Games, second only to the Olympic Games.
Corinth was also the “sin city” of Achaia. As is true of many port cities, it did a bustling trade in pleasures of the flesh as well as goods. The classical Greeks had coined a metaphor from the city’s notorious sin — “to play the Corinthian,” or to “Corinthianize.” This referred to a person who was sexually immoral or who lived a life of lustful debauchery.
Corinth had also attracted a variety of religious cults through the decades. The city had long been home to the worshippers of Aphrodite — the goddess of love. In classical times, her temple on the Acrocorinth had housed a thousand priestess-prostitutes. At night, they came into the city to offer their services. While such activities were vastly scaled down during Corinth’s Roman days, the city still had a reputation for moral looseness.
The sexual license in Corinth was reflected in the church that Paul started. Paul wrote to the Corinthian converts, saying: “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). The believers in Corinth had difficulty in living up to the expectations of the Christian life, particularly in regards to sexual conduct. Paul warned them that Christians cannot continue in a lifestyle of immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-2; 6:12-18; 2 Corinthians 12:21).
At first glance, Corinth would have seemed the most unlikely of places for the gospel of Jesus Christ to take root. Yet, the Spirit triumphed over the flesh. In what could be described as a “tale of two cities,” philosophical Athens showed much less interest in the message of salvation than fleshpot Corinth. For it was here in the sin city of Achaia that the word of God worked mightily and Paul had some of his greatest successes.
Priscilla and Aquila (18:2-3)
Luke began his account of Paul’s work in Corinth by mentioning a Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla. They had recently come to the city from Rome. Aquila was a native of Pontus, which was in northwestern Asia Minor along the Black Sea. Priscilla was called Prisca by Paul, and was often listed before her husband (18:18-19, 26; Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19). Commentators conclude that Priscilla was either from a higher social class, or considered more important than her husband in some way. Perhaps Priscilla was more active in church work. (Luke used the familiar forms of names such as Apollos, Priscilla, Silas and Sopatros. In his letters, Paul seemed to prefer calling people by their formal names, such as Epaphroditus, Silvanus, Sosipatros and Prisca.)
Paul saw Aquila and Priscilla because he was a tentmaker as they were. The couple must have hosted Paul’s stay in Corinth, and he apparently worked as a tentmaker with them (18:3). They may have owned a tentmaking business in Rome, and had possibly transferred their operation to Corinth. Paul earned his living as a tentmaker even while serving as a missionary (Acts 20:34; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 9:6-15; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10). Paul would have followed the dictates of Jewish law that directed theology students to also learn a trade (Mishnah, Abot 2:2).
Paul spoke highly of Priscilla and Aquila. They were his “fellow workers” in the gospel and “risked their lives” for him (Romans 16:3). The husband and wife team were loyal friends of Paul and also greatly helped the church. At Rome, a house church met in their home (verse 5), as it did in Ephesus when they later moved there (1 Corinthians 16:19). Aquila and Priscilla were probably converted before they moved to Corinth, as there is no mention in Acts of their conversion. At the end of Paul’s life, they were still faithful church members (2 Timothy 4:19).
Claudius expelled the Jews (18:2)
Luke noted that Priscilla and Aquila came to Corinth “because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome” (18:2). This edict by the Roman emperor is thought to have been issued in his ninth year, which would correspond to A.D. 49. Suetonius said the banishment order was issued because the Jews were “in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus” (Suetonius, Life of Claudius 25:4).
Any such edict could hardly have been carried out permanently against the entire population of Rome. Some Jews may have left after the edict had been made, as did Priscilla and Aquila. Others may have sought to get the decree reversed, or simply disobeyed it; it may have been enforced only for leaders of the Jewish community, or only when there was a commotion. Jews no doubt began to trickle back as the edict or its enforcement was relaxed. Priscilla and Aquila apparently went back to Rome after living in exile at Corinth and Ephesus (Romans 16:3).
Every Sabbath (18:4-5)
On the Sabbath Paul “reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks” (18:4). Paul continued his usual practice of preaching the gospel of salvation in the places where he (as a trained rabbi) had an open invitation to teach and where there were regular meetings of people who had a religious background that made it easier for them to understand Paul’s message.
Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul in Corinth, having come from Macedonia. They brought good news about the Thessalonian church (1 Thessalonians 3:6). Timothy also brought a gift of money from the congregation at Philippi (2 Corinthians 11:9). The Philippians had previously helped Paul financially when he was in Thessalonica (Philippians 4:14-16). The sight of Silas and Timothy and their good news about the spiritual condition of the Macedonian churches must have lifted Paul’s attitude. The financial help they brought freed him from having to spend his time earning a living.
Paul had first arrived in Corinth with “weakness and fear, and with much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). But now things had changed for Paul, and he “devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:5). One senses a reinvigorated Paul, whose mind and time were freed so he could preach the gospel with renewed zeal.
Left the synagogue (18:6)
As usual, some of the Jews soon opposed Paul, and he could no longer teach in the synagogue. In response, “he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’” (18:6). Paul used a similar ritual at Pisidian Antioch, there shaking the dust from his feet (13:51). By shaking the dust from his clothes, Paul indicated that he was breaking fellowship with the Jews. Marshall writes, “This kind of action was performed by Jews against Gentiles, and its present significance was to indicate that in the sight of the missionaries those who rejected the gospel were no better than the Gentiles, cut off from the true people of God” (294).
Paul also used a typically Jewish phrase, “Your blood be on your own heads,” to show that he had fulfilled his responsibility of preaching the gospel to them (20:26). Paul was saying, that like Ezekiel (33:6), he had been a faithful watchman and was not accountable for their rejection of his message. From now on, in Corinth at least, he would go to the pagan Gentiles who had no association with the synagogue. Paul’s ministry at Corinth followed the pattern set at Pisidian Antioch (13:46-52). He initially proclaimed the gospel in the synagogue to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. After being rejected by most of the Jews, he evangelized pagan Gentiles.
This didn’t mean Paul would no longer go to the synagogues in other cities or cease to try to convert his fellow Jews. He meant that at Corinth he was moving his base of operations outside the synagogue. Whenever Paul made a statement about going to the Gentiles directly, it always had reference to a local situation.
House of Titius (18:7-8)
Paul didn’t go very far. He left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a Gentile worshiper of God, who probably attended the synagogue (18:7). This became the first meeting place of the Corinthian church. The center of the new Christian community in Philippi was also based in the home of a worshiper of God, Lydia (16:15).
The fact that Paul’s missionary campaign was based next door to the synagogue must have annoyed many of the Jews. Even more galling must have been the conversion of Crispus, the leader or ruler of the synagogue (Greek, archisynagogos). (A little later we’ll meet another synagogue ruler from Corinth.) Crispus and “his entire household believed in the Lord” and were baptized (18:8). He was not the first believer at Corinth, though. Stephanas and his family apparently were (1 Corinthians 16:15). But Crispus was among the few that Paul had personally baptized (1 Corinthians 1:14-16).
No need to be afraid (18:9-11)
During Paul’s missionary journeys through Galatia and Macedonia (and even before) a disturbing pattern had emerged. He would have good initial success, but then opposition would attack him. In many cases Paul had to flee for his life. Would the pattern repeat itself in Corinth? Perhaps Paul thought so, and was discouraged at his prospects. God may have intervened in Paul’s life at this time to strengthen his faith.
Though opposition and persecution would continue to occur, the Corinthian mission would continue. In fact, Paul would remain in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching the word of God (18:11). This probably stretched from the fall of A.D. 50 to the spring of A.D. 52. One night the resurrected Jesus spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (18:9-10). If Paul had been concerned about what might happen to the mission in Corinth (1 Corinthians 2:3), then this vision brought him new confidence. The promise was that he would be protected from harm and that his mission would be successful, not that he wouldn’t face any difficulties.
Gallio the proconsul (18:12)
In fact, trouble came soon after Paul had the vision. Luke said “the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment” (18:12). There he faced Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia. Gallio came from a distinguished Spanish family. Perhaps the best-known member of the clan was his younger brother Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, politician and dramatist. Another brother, Mela, was the father of the poet Lucan. Gallio himself was highly respected and those who knew him spoke of his personal charm.
Achaia was a senatorial province of the Roman Empire. Senatorial provinces were governed by proconsuls, whereas imperial provinces were governed by a legate. Luke’s historical accuracy is underlined here in that the status of provinces changed with the times, and proconsuls had been reintroduced in Achaia only in A.D. 44. Proconsuls took office on July 1st and held their position for only one year. Gallio’s term ran between A.D. July 51 and June 52. The year has been determined by an inscription found at Delphi, in north Achaia. In conjunction with other inscriptions, scholars have been able to determine the exact year of Gallio’s proconsulship with a fair amount of certainty.
The inscription at Delphi, in the form of a letter sent from the emperor Claudius, included a reference to Gallio: “Lucius Gallio, my friend, and the proconsul of Achaia…” The inscription was dated to A.D. 52, but this meant Gallio must have taken office in the previous year. Time would have been required for Gallio to gather information about Achaia, send it to the emperor and then receive a response. Gallio may not have completed a full year as proconsul. Seneca tells us that soon after Gallio became proconsul, he went on a cruise because of an illness and recurring fever.
Brought Paul to the court (18:12)
We don’t know at what point in Gallio’s proconsulship Paul appeared before him. Paul remained a year and a half in Corinth (18:11) and “stayed on in Corinth for some time” after the Gallio incident (18:18). It’s not clear whether this time is to be included within the year and a half stay, or is in addition to it. Scholars generally conclude that Paul arrived in Corinth around late summer or fall of A.D. 50 and left in the spring of 52. The reason is that some months must have elapsed during which Paul had increasing success in gaining converts. At some point, this success became obvious and the Jews become concerned enough to mount a unified campaign against him.
The Jews probably took Paul to court at the very beginning of Gallio’s proconsulship in July A.D. 51. They may have been hoping that he wanted to please his new constituency. “Perhaps the Jews expected this man to be a ‘soft touch,’ or they may have been banking on his inexperience. Gallio had come to Achaia having only been a praetor and not yet a consul, the senior Roman magistracy, and in any case, he may have only recently arrived and would for that reason be the more ready to please his petitioners” (Williams, 317).
“Contrary to the law” (18:13-15)
The Jews charged Paul with teaching things that were illegal: “This man…is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law” (18:13). Luke framed the issue with some ambiguity. We do not know if the Jews were referring to the Roman or Jewish law. If it was the former, then the charge may have been that Paul was teaching the citizens and subjects of Rome some ideas that were contrary to decrees laid down by the government.
This sounds like the most effective charge the Jews could have brought against Paul. But we do not know for certain that a category of “illegal religion” even existed under Roman law (Marshall, 298). On the other hand, it hardly seems possible that the Jews were asking Gallio to enforce the Jewish law, unless it was to exclude Christians from the protection Judaism enjoyed.
A.N. Sherwin-White offered another interesting explanation of the Jews’ complaint. He surmised that the Jews may have been invoking the decrees of Claudius against Paul. These guaranteed them the unimpeded enjoyment of their religious and social customs throughout the Roman world. The Jews would have been claiming that Paul was interfering with these rights in some way. Yet, their complaint was, as Sherwin-White has noted, that Paul was persuading people to worship contrary to the law, not that he persuaded Jews to do this (Roman Law and Roman Society in the New Testament [Oxford, 1963; Baker, 1992] page 102).
In any case, when Gallio heard the Jews’ charges, he saw through them. The Jews could point to no misdemeanor or serious crime of which Paul might have been guilty. It was clear to Gallio that this was an internal struggle. He told the Jews: “Since it involves questions about words and names and your own law — settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things” (18:15).
Gallio must have seen that Paul was a Jew, and he saw Paul’s preaching as another variety of Judaism. True enough, the leaders of the Corinthian Jewish community were unhappy with Paul’s brand of teaching — but he was not violating Roman law. There was no reason to call Paul’s teaching a religio illicita (if that category existed), nor did Gallio think Paul was interfering with the Jews’ right to practice their own beliefs. Since the case concerned conflicting interpretations of Jewish religious law, it was not worth a proconsul’s time or attention.
Wouldn’t hear the matter (18:14-16)
The decision by Gallio not to prosecute Paul has been taken as a watershed event in the growing Christian movement. The Jews’ formal accusation created a test case, and Gallio’s decision not to prosecute (or even hear the matter) established a protective legal precedent for Christianity. Just as the judicial rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court set precedents today, once a proconsul as respected as Gallio ruled as he did, other proconsuls would think twice before rendering a contrary verdict on similar charges. Christianity was not to be considered a subversive cult — nor even disruptive to Judaism itself. Paul could continue to preach and enjoy protection under the Jewish “umbrella.” To outsiders, he was simply providing another option under Judaism. Roman institutions could function as a protection and aid for the spreading of the gospel.
If Gallio had accepted the Jewish charge and found Paul guilty of the alleged offense, provincial governors everywhere would have had a precedent, and Paul’s ministry would have been severely restricted. As it was, Gallio’s refusal to act in the matter was tantamount to the recognition of Christianity as a religio licita; and the decision of so eminent a Roman proconsul would carry weight wherever the issue arose again and give pause to those who might want to oppose the Christian movement…. For the coming decade or so, the Christian message could be proclaimed in the provinces of the empire without fear of coming into conflict with Roman law, thanks largely to Gallio’s decision. (Longenecker, 486)
Gallio’s ruling meant in effect that Paul and his associates, so long as they committed no breach of public order, continued to share the protection which Roman law granted to the practice of Judaism. It probably served as a precedent for other Roman judges, especially as it proceeded from a man whose brother (Seneca) occupied a position of influence at the imperial court. It meant that for the next ten or twelve years, until imperial policy toward Christians underwent a complete reversal, the gospel could be proclaimed in the provinces of the empire without fear of coming into conflict with Roman law. (Bruce, 354)
What was Luke’s purpose in telling his readers about the incident? He had some apologetic aim in mind. Perhaps it was to point out that Christians were law-abiding citizens and that the preaching and practice of Christianity (as a religion) did not violate any Roman law. But there was also a faith question involved. In terms of the book of Acts as a whole, the Gallio incident showed God as one who is in charge of human affairs and the protector of his church. The account is about how God acts to accomplish his will on earth. The opponents of Paul plotted their strategy. They think their opportunity has come when the inexperienced Gallio becomes procurator. They will halt the gospel and cut off the new religion by using the arm of the law.
But God already knows that a procurator is coming who has an accommodating mind toward Paul and Christianity. In this great drama, Paul will not be a player, but a spectator. He will also be caught up in events as the God of history inserts himself into human affairs. During the trial, Paul is about to defend himself, but he is cut off by Gallio, who has already decided in his favor (18:14). Paul’s oration does not save the day — it is not even needed. Paul virtually stands still to see the salvation of God as the accusers are ejected from the court (18:18).
Paul and the church are the beneficiaries of the God who is in charge of human affairs. He need not show his lordship through astounding miracles. God can exert his will through human events, through the small, still voice. Paul is saved from the Roman executioner in the same way as Mordecai escaped Haman’s noose — through God’s quiet manipulation of human events (Esther 5:1-6:10). Paul, in fulfillment of the heavenly vision (18:9-10), can preach unhindered in Corinth for as long as he deems necessary.
Sosthenes is beaten (18:17)
Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler, was not as fortunate as Paul. He was beaten up in front of the court. “But Gallio showed no concern whatever,” Luke said (18:17). Luke didn’t make it clear who roughed up Sosthenes — nor why they did it. Was it an anti-Semitic crowd hanging around the marketplace and forum? Or was it disgruntled Jews angry at their leader for not presenting a more convincing case to Gallio? Another intriguing possibility is that Sosthenes may have shown some interest towards Paul’s teaching. If he had leanings toward Christianity, or disagreed with prosecuting Paul, he would have been a ready target for the disappointed Jewish accusers.
Sosthenes is mentioned along with Paul as the sender of 1 Corinthians (1:1). Perhaps he is Luke’s Sosthenes, but we do not know for sure, because Luke gives no indication that Sosthenes was or became a Christian. If Sosthenes was subsequently converted, both rulers of the synagogue in Corinth (or successive ones) would have become Christians.
Unfortunately, Luke gave almost no details about the life or makeup of the church in Corinth. He was greatly concerned with the broad strokes of the development of the Christian mission, but gave scant details regarding the church itself. To learn more about the church we must turn to Paul’s letters.
As with the church in Philippi and Thessalonica, Luke’s account dovetails with material we have from Paul’s letters. He wrote several letters to the church in Corinth, and we have two of them in our New Testament. As in the case of the epistles to Philippi and Thessalonica, it is helpful to read these letters in conjunction with the account of Paul’s activities in Acts. In the letters, we find that most of the Corinthian converts came from the lower classes. “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth,” he told them (1 Corinthians 1:26). There were exceptions such as Erastus, the city’s director of public works, assuming that Romans was written from Corinth (Romans 16:23).
Paul at Cenchrea (18:18)
Paul stayed in Corinth “for some time” (18:18) and left the city with Priscilla and Aquila, probably in A.D. 52, in the spring, when sailing was safe. His ultimate destination was Jerusalem and Syrian Antioch. But on the way he stopped at Ephesus in Asia Minor (18:19). Luke mentioned an incident at the beginning of this journey, at Cenchrea, the eastern seaport of Corinth, about seven miles from the heart of the city, facing the Aegean Sea.
Paul mentioned a deaconess, Phoebe, as being a member of the church in Cenchrea (Romans 16:1). She had been of great help to him and others in the church. The church in Cenchrea was probably a result of Paul’s evangelizing work during his year and a half stay in Corinth. The church spread further as time went on. In 2 Corinthians, he writes to believers “throughout Achaia” (1:1). These may have been people who embraced the gospel while traveling to Corinth, or they may be results of Corinthian believers traveling to neighboring cities to share the good news.
Paul cut his hair (18:18)
In Cenchrea, Luke focused on a vow: “Before he sailed [for Ephesus], he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken” (18:18). At first glance, it seems unclear from Luke’s statement as to who had taken the vow, Paul or Aquila. Most commentators surmise that Paul took the vow. There would be no purpose in Luke’s telling us that Aquila had done so, since he was a lesser character in the narrative. However, Luke would want to take every opportunity to point out that Paul continued to be faithful to his Jewish traditions, and the taking of a vow would underscore this fact.
It’s also not clear what kind of “vow” Paul had taken. The standard Nazirite vow is described in Numbers 6:1-21. The person taking a Nazirite vow abstained from any grape product, including wine, as well as various forms of uncleanness. He would not cut his hair during the period of the vow. The shaving of the hair normally took place at Jerusalem at the end of a vow. The hair would then be dedicated in the temple. However, Paul cut his hair in Cenchrea, rather than at Jerusalem (18:18). Some commentators speculate that such exceptions were allowed for those who lived far from the Holy Land.
If the devotee was far from the city, he seems to have been allowed to trim his hair and to bring the trimmings to Jerusalem to be offered with the rest of his hair when his head was shaved (cf. Josephus, War 2.309-324). This appears to have been what Paul did at Cenchrea. (Williams, 322)
This would explain why Luke used the verb for “cut” to describe Paul’s action in Cenchrae, rather than “shave,” the verb normally used for ending a Nazirite vow. When Paul arrived in Jerusalem a few years later, he went into the temple to purify himself, and he shaved his head (Acts 21:24).
Other commentators feel that the vow referred to in Cenchrea was not a Nazirite vow, which could not properly be completed outside the Holy Land. “Some propose that Paul cut off his hair at the beginning of his vow. But there is no evidence for this, and much in the literature about Nazirite vows speaks directly against it” (Longenecker, 488). It is then surmised that Paul’s vow in Cenchrea may have been a private vow. Perhaps it was taken in thanksgiving to God’s intervention in Corinth and an unusually successful mission. However we are to understand the vow, it is clear that Luke was interested in presenting Paul as one who still thought of himself as a Jew. He was not opposed to keeping the traditions of his fathers, even though he was now a Christian. But he didn’t require Gentile converts to follow his practice.
Paul at Ephesus (18:19-21)
When Paul arrived at Ephesus, he preached the gospel, entering the synagogue and reasoning with the Jews (18:19). The Jewish community seemed interested in his message and wanted him to stay longer and teach them. Paul declined to do so. This seems odd for Paul, who always took advantage of any opportunity to preach Christ. Luke didn’t explain why Paul declined the offer to stay and teach, so we are at a loss to understand his reasoning at this point. It suggests that Paul felt that his journey to Jerusalem was very important.
Aquila and Priscilla, who had accompanied Paul from Corinth, remained at Ephesus (18:19). Possibly they were transferring their tent-making business to Ephesus, or opening a new branch in the city. They appear to have remained in Ephesus for some time, hosting a house church for the believers. At a later date, perhaps after the death of Claudius, they returned to Rome (Romans 16:3).
On to Judea (18:22-23)
Meanwhile, Paul embarked on a ship sailing east. Luke’s narrative is quite compressed at this point. In only a few sentences, he summarized the details of a lengthy sea voyage to Caesarea, an excursion to the church in Jerusalem, and a trip to Antioch (18:22). We should note that Paul went out of his way to make a trip to Jerusalem. His real destination was Antioch. From there he went on a pastoral journey throughout central Asia Minor. Why did Paul go to Jerusalem, and why did Luke mention the trip?
When Luke told his readers about Paul’s vow, he wanted them to see his commitment to Judaism. By telling us Paul had gone perhaps 300 miles out of his way to visit the church in Jerusalem, Luke implied that Paul was loyal to the apostolic mother church.
Within the narrative of Luke-Acts as a whole, these details serve the larger program of demonstrating how the Gentile mission emerged in continuity with the Jewish church in Jerusalem, and always remained in contact with its authority. For the reader, it also serves to reinforce the portrait of Paul in particular as one who remains from the first to last faithful to Judaism, so that the charge made against Paul when he finally arrives for his final visit to Jerusalem, that he was teaching the abandonment of the Jewish ethos(21:20-24), is known by the reader to be false. (Johnson, 335)
The reason for Paul’s going to Syrian Antioch is clear. It had been Paul’s home church. It had first sponsored him as a missionary, and so he returned to tell the believers there how the gospel message had fared. Paul had a loyalty to Antioch, perhaps even more so than Jerusalem. We remember he had spent a considerable time in the church there (11:26-30; 13:1-3; 14:26-28; 15:30-35). On this occasion, Paul remained in Antioch for “some time.”
Paul then embarked on an extensive pastoral journey. He “traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples” (18:23). Here the expression probably referred to the Phyrgian region of Galatia, that is, the area of southern Galatia. Most commentators do not think Paul went into northern Galatia around Ancyra, Pessinus, or Tavium. Rather, Paul systematically moved through all the towns in which he had earlier preached the gospel (14:6). He also had revisited the churches during an earlier trip (14:21-23). Paul then took the road through the interior, heading west toward Ephesus (19:1). By doing so, he may have passed through the cities of Colossae and Laodicea, but he did not stop to preach (Colossians 2:1).
Apollos arrives (18:24)
During Paul’s excursion through the Phrygian-Galatian region (and his trip to Ephesus), a Jew name Apollos came to Ephesus from Alexandria, the great Egyptian metropolis (18:24). Apollos “was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures” (18:24). The word “learned” (Greek, logios) can mean either educated or eloquent. It appears that Apollos was both. He knew the Scriptures, and he refuted the Jews handily in debate (18:28).
In future years, Paul would come to regard Apollos as a friend and valued co-worker (1 Corinthians 3:5-9; 16:12; Titus 3:13). No doubt Luke had a purpose for including this incident about Apollos in his account. Perhaps some schismatic converts were claiming Apollos as their special leader (1 Corinthians 1:12). Luke wanted to show that Apollos was not a renegade preacher, but was loyal from the start to the tradition that Paul had taught.
Apollos “spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately” (18:25). However, he only knew the baptism of John. Apparently, Apollos had not heard about being baptized “in the name of Jesus,” and its meaning. Such a baptism had been proclaimed since Peter’s first public sermon on the day of Pentecost some two decades earlier, so it was odd that Apollos had not yet heard about this Christian baptism. But once again Luke didn’t explain the background of the situation. Neither did he say whether Apollos had received the Holy Spirit earlier or had now been baptized into Jesus’ name.
In another situation, Paul did rebaptize converts who only knew the baptism of John. They did not have the Holy Spirit before this, and received it only upon being rebaptized (19:2-7). But Luke gave no indication that Apollos was rebaptized, and presumably he already had God’s Spirit, for he “taught about Jesus accurately.” We should be reminded that while Acts describes a general pattern individuals must follow to receive the Holy Spirit, it also tells of a number of exceptions to the rule. Apparently, Apollos was one of the exceptions.
“Way of the Lord” (18:25-26)
Apollos did need some basic instruction about the Christian faith. Priscilla and Aquila noticed his deficiencies in understanding and “they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (18:26). We once again meet the expression “way of God,” which describes the faith that Christians practice (9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).
We don’t know exactly what it was that Apollos needed to be instructed about. But Luke took pains to make this point, when he told his readers little else about him. The significance of this must have been important to Theophilus, but for us it serves only as an interesting detail. Apollos remains an intriguing character about whom we would like to know more.
“Luke’s brief and rather vague account does not enable us to say with certainty very much about Apollos. Had he learned about Christianity from someone of the type of the twelve ‘disciples’ referred to in 19:1-7 — who would almost certainly seem to have been members of a John the Baptist sect” (Neil, 201).
Apollos goes to Corinth (18:27)
After spending some time in Ephesus, Apollos wanted to go to the province of Achaia, probably Corinth in particular (19:1). The disciples were in favor of this move and wrote a letter of recommendation, encouraging the churches in Achaia to receive him. When Apollos arrived in Achaia, he met with non-converted Jews and refuted them in public debate, “proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (18:28).
Apollos became highly regarded by the churches in Achaia for his dedication and zeal, as well as his knowledge and public speaking skills. This is seen in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In it, he takes to task some of the members who were creating division in the church by latching onto Apollos as their own party leader (1 Corinthians 1:10-12). There is no evidence that Apollos encouraged this party spirit or that he was Paul’s rival. Paul accepts Apollos as a trusted colleague and helpful teacher (1 Corinthians 3:5-6). In effect, Apollos had become another important member of Paul’s discipling team.
We should also note that Paul had not abandoned the Jews in doing his missionary work. Apollos continued Paul’s labor in Achaia by preaching to Jews, trying to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah. Perhaps that is a point Luke wanted to make by including Apollos in the story.
Author: Paul Kroll, 1995, 2012