New Friends for Paul
Paul did not remain long in Athens, where he found a cool reception for the gospel. Luke mentions no converts at the synagogue where Paul preached, and few Greeks responded with interest after hearing him present his case to the Areopagus. The court apparently did not reach a decision whether to permit his ministry in the city, for although some of the philosophers mocked, others said they would hear him again. It is likely that the court withheld permission to preach in the meantime.
Paul, eager to spread the gospel, was not willing to wait. Soon after making his speech to the Areopagus, he left Athens and traveled without companions to the much larger city nearby, Corinth. This was the capital of the Roman province known as Achaia, which included all of Greece south of Macedonia. To reach Corinth he followed a westward course of about fifty miles, at the end taking him across the isthmus connecting the mainland to the Peloponnesian Peninsula, the southernmost extent of Greece. On the coast beyond the isthmus sprawled the city, with a defensive wall on its southern rim provided by a wide mound of rock jutting up nearly 2000 feet.
In one respect Corinth was a promising field for preaching the gospel, because its population was large and heterogeneous. Although nearly a million people lived there during its heyday centuries earlier, in Roman times it still held perhaps 200,000 people. Besides many Latin speakers from western regions of the empire and many Greek speakers from other regions, there were a large number of Jews. Yet in other respects it was a challenging field. As home to a temple of Venus, employing perhaps a thousand prostitutes, the city had for many centuries suffered a reputation for rampant immorality. In Paul’s day it was a favorite resort of the Roman elite.
In Corinth, perhaps as a result of attending the synagogue, Paul found two kindred spirits, a couple that had recently come from Rome. The man was Aquila, a Jew from northeast Asia Minor, and his wife was Priscilla. In most references to the couple, Priscilla’s name appears first, suggesting that she was a person of higher birth than her husband. Some writers have connected her with a noble Roman family. Since Luke’s account makes no mention of their conversion after meeting Paul, it has always been widely assumed that they were already Christians when they came to Corinth. Perhaps they had been among those who tried to build a church in Rome.
Paul immediately formed close ties with this couple because they not only shared a common faith, but also a common trade. Like Paul, they were tentmakers. If Priscilla had truly married below her station in life, she did not object to entering fully into her husband's world, even to the point of helping in his work.
The two had left Rome when Claudius expelled all Jews, an event in AD 49 or 50 that we discussed earlier. The evident cause of the trouble was that Christianity had already come to Rome, and as it did everywhere else, the preaching of the gospel had provoked violent opposition in the Jewish community. The riots in Rome were so disruptive of civil order that the emperor intervened. Rather than investigate the matter and limit punishment to the real troublemakers, he took the easy course of banishing all Jews from Rome. In so doing he was pandering to a general prejudice against the Jews. After his death, however, the edicts barring Jews from Rome collapsed, and Jews quickly reinstated themselves there.
The exiles Aquila and Priscilla settled in Corinth, perhaps because it was a busy commercial center where they found good demand for their trade. Soon they were busy at their work. Although the word for their trade is translated "tentmaker," it refers more generally to a leather worker. They made all sorts of leather articles, such as tents, belts, slings, helmets, and bottles. Because the same trade was plied by Paul, the couple was able to employ him. They also gave him lodgings in their home, which doubtless was, according to custom, in the same building where they labored each day.
A New Initiative
For a while, Paul was at some disadvantage as he tried to evangelize Corinth, because the rest of his missionary team was still in Macedonia. Upon arrival in Athens, he had sent back a message imploring his helpers to join him as soon as possible. Then upon departure from Athens, he had no doubt left word as to his destination. Now in Corinth, he waited for them to come. Yet as he waited, he did not slip into idleness. He did not content himself to work every day at his craft. Rather, he went every Sabbath to the synagogue and engaged both the Jews and the Greeks in discussions about the claims of Christ. He "reasoned" with them, pointing to the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled.
Finally, Silas and Timothy caught up with Paul. Their coming spurred him to a make fresh assault on the ignorance and unbelief all around him. He felt pressed in his spirit to declare to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.
As a result of intensifying his campaign to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, Paul stirred up more intense opposition. The conflict reached a moment of crisis when the Jews raised their rhetoric to the level of blasphemy. Then Paul decided that it was time to leave the synagogue. He shook out his clothes to show that he was clean of their blood; it was now on their own heads. In other words, he was free of any obligation to reason with them further. In the future, they alone would be accountable for their eternal destiny. Until now, he had been accountable in some measure. If he had failed to tell them of Christ, God would have held him responsible for shedding of their "blood," figuratively speaking. That is, God would have tried him as a murderer of their souls and found him guilty. But now he had fulfilled his duty to them.
Paul's language may reflect his familiarity with God's warning to Ezekiel. God said, "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand" (Ezek. 3:17-18).
After conducting his followers out of the synagogue, Paul chose a private home as the future meeting place of believers. This home, quite near the synagogue, belonged to a gentile God-fearer named Justus. It must have been a home large enough to accommodate at least hundreds of people, for the fledgling church counted among its members a large company of both Jews and Greeks. If designed like a typical Roman villa, the home was built about a central courtyard called an atrium, offering space for many guests. In the center was a water fountain that cooled the air during warm weather.
The Jews in the company of believers included the whole family of Crispus, formerly the ruler of the synagogue. Therefore, Paul’s attempt to reach Jews had by no means been a failure, even though many of them rejected his gospel message. Some Jews as well as some gentile God-fearers received it, and immediately after Paul established a church in Corinth, all the new believers were baptized to demonstrate in a public manner their identification both with Christ and with His body, the church universal (Col. 1:24; Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 1:22–23).
One night, Paul heard the Lord speaking to him in a vision. This was the Lord's third recorded appearance to Paul. The first was when he was on the road to Damascus, the second when he was in Jerusalem not long after his conversion (Acts 22:17-21). Whether he had seen or heard the Lord on any other occasion before he reached Corinth, we do not know.
The Lord came to Paul with encouraging words. He urged him not to be afraid but to preach the gospel boldly. He assured Paul that his enemies would have no power to hurt him or stop him. Divine protection would envelop him because he still had a great work to do, bringing the knowledge of Christ to many in Corinth that the Lord intended to save. Although they did not yet know the Lord, the Lord knew them and considered them to be His own, for He said, "I have much people in this city."
Even before the vision, the Lord had been working to encourage Paul. When Silas and Timothy arrived, they brought news that the church in Thessalonica was doing well (1 Thess. 3:6). Despite the bitter antagonism they faced every day, they were standing firm in their faith, remaining fervent in their love for each other, and clinging to a strong affection for Paul. Some weeks or months later, when Paul penned his first epistle to the Thessalonians, he acknowledged how much the report of Silas and Timothy had lifted his spirits (1 Thess. 3:7-9).
Buoyed up by his vision of the Lord, Paul set about his work in Corinth with a better spirit. He worked diligently for eighteen months to spread the Word of God. In a later letter to the Corinthians, Paul remembers that during this period, both Silas and Timothy assisted in his work of evangelizing the city (2 Cor. 1:19).
Although these two helpers were busy as preachers during this time, it is possible that they filled a dual role. They may also have served as couriers between Paul and the churches in Macedonia. One or both may have carried north his first epistle to the Thessalonians, then returned to Paul with more news and perhaps more financial assistance. Later, one or both may have delivered his second epistle to the same church.
A Change in Administration
During Paul's stay in Corinth, a new man came to assume control of the government. He was Gallio, member of a Roman family distinguished for its contributions to literature. His brother was the philosopher Seneca, and his nephew was the poet Lucan. Gallio himself was a man of considerable reputation, widely beloved for his good nature and his wit. But at last, in AD 65 he fell afoul of Nero, that mad dog of an emperor, who executed him unjustly.
Gallio came to Corinth because it was the seat of Roman government for the province of Achaia, and he assumed the title Proconsul of Achaia (translated "deputy of Achaia").
Gallio's arrival in Corinth is one of our chief anchors for New Testament chronology. An inscription found in Delphi, in central Greece, establishes that he became proconsul in July, AD 51. We may therefore be sure that the same year overlapped the latter portion of Paul’s stay in Corinth.
As soon as Gallio took office, Jewish enemies of the church decided to move against Paul. They were hoping that they would find a sympathetic listener in the new proconsul. Therefore, they seized Paul and dragged him before Gallio's judgment seat, accusing him of teaching a religion that violated the law. Whose law they meant has been debated. Whose law they meant has been debated. Did they mean that Christianity was a religio illicita ("illicit religion")—a religion forbidden by Roman law, or did they mean that it violated Jewish law? Gallio’s response suggests that he himself was not sure which law they meant. He said in essence that he cared nothing about Jewish law, and that Paul had done nothing against Roman law.
Paul's accusers must have been stunned by Gallio's reaction. His character bore the imprint of an earlier age, when men could speak of the noble Roman. Gallio replied to the charges with down-to-earth good sense. Even before Paul could say a word in his own defense, Gallio rebuked the Jews for wasting his time with charges devoid of substance. They alleged nothing in Paul's conduct that the court could view as "wrong or wicked lewdness" (literally, "a misdemeanor or serious crime"). In other words, he had not behaved in a criminal manner by attacking or defrauding anyone. The Jews were merely venting their wrath on somebody who did not agree with their religious beliefs, whose teaching differed from theirs on details of words and names and moral obligation. How to be saved was a mere question of words. Whether Jesus was Christ was a mere question of names. Whether circumcision was necessary was a mere question of moral obligation. Gallio refused to be a judge of who was right on such questions, and he summarily dismissed the charges. In so doing, he was in essence ruling that Christianity was not an illegal religion, a judgment Luke is careful to record for the sake of Paul’s defense in Rome.
Gallio’s dismissal of the charges must have enraged the Jews, even to the point of protesting his decision, because to get rid of them, he had to drive them away. That is, he called in soldiers to make them leave.
Far from feeling any obligation to appease the Jews after rebuffing their suit against Paul, he sent a strong signal that Jewish agitation would not be tolerated. As we said earlier, the emperor had recently expelled the Jews from Rome because they were a public nuisance, continually rioting over religious matters. Therefore, Gallio came to Greece with the resolve that he would keep the Jews under control. After forcibly ejecting Paul's accusers from his presence, he apparently enlisted the help of the Greeks in teaching the Jews a lesson. The whole Greek community rose up against the Jews, arrested Sosthenes, ruler of the synagogue, and brought him before the judgment seat. There they subjected him to the extreme humiliation of a public beating. Whether Sosthenes had conspired against Paul, we do not know. The mob targeted him simply because he was the leading figure in the Jewish community.
As Gallio watched the beating, he raised no objection, choosing rather to appear indifferent. Clearly, the Greeks knew that they had his approval and support.
Notice that Gallio’s perspective on Jewish rioting was wiser than the emperor’s. Claudius held all Jews responsible and punished them all, whereas Gallio understood that the true cause of riots was the unwillingness of many Jews to tolerate a new religion aiming to set aside their traditions. The preachers of Christ were themselves innocent of fomenting civil unrest. They were not leading mobs in the streets. It was their enemies who were the real troublemakers. Therefore, Gallio let the Christians alone, even giving tacit permission for their work of winning converts.
Think how Crispus, the former ruler of the synagogue, must have felt when he heard about the ordeal of Sosthenes. Think how thankful he was that he followed Paul out of the synagogue. At the time, he must have thought that he was enduring a great loss. He seemed to giving up important connections and wide influence. But the real loser was the man who stayed and took his place.
Perhaps Sosthenes' grueling experience was good for his soul, for about three years later, when Paul was in Ephesus writing his first epistle to the Corinthian church, he relayed special greetings from a certain Sosthenes (1 Cor. 1:1). This was evidently a fellow worker in Ephesus who was well known in Corinth. It is pleasant to imagine that the Sosthenes who opposed Paul when he first came to Corinth later became his strong ally and a bearer of the gospel to other cities.
Conclusion of a Journey
After a long, successful ministry in Corinth, lasting a total of eighteen months (v. 11) which included "a good while" after Gallio’s ruling, Paul was ready to leave. He therefore gathered the brethren and bade them farewell. Accompanied by his friends Priscilla and Aquila, he departed, intending to return to Syria by way of Jerusalem.
Nowhere in the New Testament do we discover what happened to Silas after he helped Paul in Corinth, unless he was the Silvanus (Silas is the diminutive form of Silvanus) who circulated Peter’s general epistle to the churches—a work now known as First Peter (1 Pet. 5:12). Paul’s remark in First Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:12) that some in the Corinthian church identified themselves as followers of Peter suggests that Peter visited Corinth after Paul’s departure. If Silas was still there, he may have decided to join the apostle as an assistant in his work.
After Acts 18:5, Timothy likewise disappears from Luke’s record of Paul’s second missionary journey, but he reappears during his third missionary journey as a helper in Ephesus (Acts 19:22). One possibility is that he accompanied Paul from Corinth to Ephesus, then remained there with Priscilla and Aquila until Paul returned many months later.
Sometime before leaving Corinth, Paul had taken the vow of a Nazirite, as described in the law of Moses (Num. 6:1-8). A Nazirite was someone who devoted himself to a time of special consecration to the Lord. As external signs of his separation from worldly things, he let his hair grow, he touched no dead body, and he refrained from consuming any food or drink derived from grapes. Mosaic law did not set any minimum duration for the vow, but Pharisaical tradition as recorded in the Talmud mandated at least thirty days.
Just before setting sail from Cenchrea, the eastern port of Corinth, Paul terminated his vow by shaving his head. Perhaps he knew that while he was dependent on a ship’s stores for something to drink, he would not be able to abstain from all wine and grape juice.
Paul’s ship did not go directly to Palestine, but stopped in Ephesus on the coast of western Asia Minor. This city over a thousand years old was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and the leading center of commerce in the region. With a population perhaps over 150,000, it was also the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire, its size surpassed only by Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. Among its citizens were an especially large contingent of Jews. Rather than go on with Paul, Priscilla and Aquila elected to remain. Perhaps they stayed as a deliberate tactic to begin the work of establishing a church. Despite the size and importance of the city, the gospel had not yet penetrated this corner of the gentile world.
Paul lingered long enough to proclaim Christ in the synagogue, but soon he continued his journey, even though some of the Jews wished to hear more. He explained that he desired to reach Jerusalem in time for "this feast"—presumably, the next on the calendar. It is evident why he gave priority to visiting Jerusalem, for he wished to complete the requirements of his Nazirite vow. But why he felt it so important not to miss the feast is uncertain. Perhaps he thought that by joining with Jewish believers in celebrating it, he would demonstrate an unwavering faithfulness to his Jewish blood and heritage. The same purpose may have prompted his decision to take a Nazirite vow which they would see him fulfill at the Temple. Apparently he sensed that to affirm his Jewish identity was the best springboard for telling the church in Jerusalem how greatly God was using him to evangelize gentiles. He hoped that as a result of picturing the gentile churches as the work of a Jewish apostle, the Jewish believers would feel a stronger kinship with gentile believers.
Before leaving Ephesus, Paul promised those interested in his message that he would return, if God willed. In fact, he kept his promise. Some months later, after going back to Antioch, he undertook yet a third missionary journey, and the place he especially targeted was Ephesus.
But at the close of his second missionary journey, he stayed in Ephesus only a brief while. Afterward, he fulfilled his intention to visit Jerusalem for the coming feast. He went by boat from Ephesus to Caesarea, principal seaport of Judea, walked sixty-five miles to Jerusalem, and stayed there at least thirty days, for Talmudic law required that after coming to the city, he had to undergo a thirty-day period of purification before submitting the offerings necessary to fulfill his vow. As he "saluted the church," he no doubt conveyed greetings from many who had come to Christ during his last tour of Asia Minor and Greece.
Then he went back to Antioch. It is likely that he did not walk the entire three hundred miles, but returned to Caesarea and sailed north. Nothing is said about how his home church received him, but we can imagine that he gave them a report of his mission and they heard it with joy. For when have the saints ever failed to rejoice when they heard that hundreds and thousands were being saved?
A New Journey
How long Paul spent in Antioch is not revealed, not even whether it was days or years, but a reasonable chronology of the Book of Acts does not allow a long delay before the beginning of his third missionary journey. We may assume that he left after a few months at most.
He then toured existing churches in Galatia and Phrygia, the same region he had visited during his previous missionary journeys (Acts 14:20–25; 16:6). The word translated "in order" suggests that he went from city to city along a route that was always taking him westward. Stops along the way included Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch, where he found the strong churches he established years earlier during his first missionary journey
A New Champion for Truth
During Paul's absence from Ephesus, God sent the city another preacher. He was Apollos, a Jew whom Luke describes as "an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures." The term "eloquent" carries the more general meaning that he was a learned man. It is no surprise that a man from Alexandria should have been well educated. As the site of one of the greatest libraries in the ancient world, Alexandria rivaled Athens as a hub of intellectual activity. The large Jewish community there, which occupied no less than two out of five quarters of the city, was especially noted for its literary achievements. According to a tradition affirmed by Josephus, Alexandria was the place where seventy-two carefully chosen scribes from the whole nation of Israel assembled in the middle of the third century BC to produce the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament into Greek, which Jewish communities everywhere soon adopted for their use.
One prominent citizen of Alexandria in later years was Philo, the most famous Jewish intellectual in the first century AD. He was renowned for attempting a grand synthesis of Jewish religion and Greek philosophy. In about AD 40, he headed the delegation of Jews who went to Rome and pleaded with Emperor Caligula not to place an image of himself in the Temple at Jerusalem.
Somehow the Alexandrian scholar Apollos, who was perhaps a student of Philo, became a follower of Jesus although he never sat at the feet of the apostles. He had been baptized, but only with John's baptism. How did someone in the religious movement started by John end up as a preacher of Christ? Some have speculated that he came to Christ as a result of reading some early Christian writing. But Luke’s comment, "This man was instructed in the way of the Lord," clearly implies that he had been discipled by a true missionary of the church. From what he had been taught and from his own study of the Scriptures, he knew enough about Jesus to show that this remarkable man fulfilled all the Messianic prophecies.
While Apollos was living in Alexandria, God laid it on his heart to go out as an evangelist, and he obeyed the call. He went to Ephesus and preached Christ in the synagogue, making a great impact. Among his hearers were Aquila and Priscilla, who were no doubt overjoyed to hear such a strong testimony for Christ. But at the same time they perceived that Apollos was not fully prepared to be a preacher of the gospel. Not only were there gaps in his understanding, but he lacked a sending church that might offer him support in various ways and also hold him accountable. They therefore undertook to remedy both deficiencies.
First, they took him aside and gave him the additional instruction that he needed. Although he was a learned man, he was not too proud to be teachable. Then they brought him into fellowship with the small local church they had already established. When he later went out to preach in the churches of Greece, he carried a letter of recommendation from "the brethren," meaning the assembly of believers in Ephesus.
One question that has provoked differing views is whether they also administered Christian baptism to Apollos, and the best answer is, probably not.
Apollos proved to be of great help to the cause of Christ wherever he went. He ministered to both believers and unbelievers. The benefit of his preaching for believers was to give their faith a solid grounding in the evidence of fulfilled prophecy. The benefit for unbelievers was to provide such a compelling defense of the gospel that they found it difficult to resist his arguments. The record that he "mightily convinced the Jews" implies that a great number of Jews came to Christ through his witness.