New Friends for Paul
Paul did not remain long in Athens, where he found a cool reception for the gospel. After making his speech at Mar's Hill, he soon resumed his travel southward and came to the city of Corinth on the isthmus leading to the Peloponnesian Peninsula, which is the southernmost extent of Greece. There he found two kindred spirits, a Christian couple 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.
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. This event in AD 49 is mentioned by several ancient historians. The most interesting record is found in a work of Suetonius. He comments that Claudius "expelled the Jews from Rome, on account of the riots in which they were constantly indulging, at the instigation of Chrestus." "Chrestus" was a common misspelling for Christ. From a vantage several decades after the event, Suetonius garbled the facts when he accused Christ of being the instigator of the riots, but the information he provides makes it obvious what really happened. By AD 49, Christianity had come to Rome, and as it did everywhere else, the preaching of the gospel 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. Antisemitism existed in the first century just as it does today. After his death, however, the edicts barring Jews from Rome collapsed, and Jews quickly reinstated themselves in the city.
After leaving Rome, Aquila and Priscilla settled in Corinth, perhaps because it was a busy commercial center where they found good demand for their trade. Although the word for their trade is translated "tentmaker," it refers more generally to a leather worker. They made all sorts of leather articles. The same trade was plied by Paul.
Paul's trade has led to some fascinating speculation concerning one of the most significant developments in the history of human culture, the invention of books. Books as we know them, with pages bound to a spine running along one side, did not exist until the first century AD. They were first made by Christians to contain the Scriptures and other writings they wished to preserve. (You did not learn this in school, but Christians indeed invented books.) Since the original books were bound by leather, bookmaking required the craftsmanship of a leather worker. It has been argued that the inventor of books was none other than Paul himself, for he was both a leather worker and a church leader with a keen interest in circulating Christian writings.
A New Initiative
For awhile, Paul was at some disadvantage as he tried to evangelize Corinth, because the rest of his missionary team had remained in Macedonia. Upon arriving in Athens, he had sent back a message imploring his helpers to join him as soon as possible. Then, upon leaving Athens, he no doubt left word as to his destination. 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 came. Their arrival spurred Paul 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.
When Paul intensified his campaign to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, he stirred up more intense opposition. The conflict reached a moment of crisis. When the Jews raised their rhetoric to the level of blasphemy, Paul decided that it was time to leave the synagogue. He shook his clothes to show that he was free of any obligation to reason with them further, and he declared that from now on, 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, their blood would have been required at his hands. In other words, 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.
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 Jews opposed him. All the new believers, both Jews and gentiles, were baptized right away. Throughout the Book of Acts, we find no instance of a new convert who was baptized only after some delay. Peter's command at Pentecost, "Repent, and be baptized" (Acts 2:38), reformulating similar commands of Christ (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16), was understood to mean that a new convert should immediately demonstrate his faith by going through the waters of baptism.
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."
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.
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 he fell afoul of Nero, that mad dog of an emperor, who executed him unjustly.
Gallio came to Corinth because it was the Roman seat of government for the whole province of Achaia; that is, Greece. The Romans used a bewildering variety of titles for rulers, yet archeology has confirmed that Gallio's title in the Book of Acts, where he is called proconsul of Achaia, is exactly right. The accuracy of this title and of all the other titles in Acts is an impressive witness to Luke's reliability as a historian.
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.
As soon as he 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, but Gallio's response makes it clear that they considered him guilty of breaking Jewish 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 wickedness or wrongdoing. They were merely venting their wrath on someone who did not agree with their religious beliefs. Gallio refused to be a judge of who was right on such questions, and he summarily dismissed the charges. The Jews must have protested 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.
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. 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, 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.
Some time earlier, he had taken the vow of a Nazirite, as described in the law of Moses (Num. 6:1-8). Anyone who took such a vow 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 drinking wine. Just before setting sail from Cenchrea, the eastern port of Corinth, Paul shaved his head and resumed a normal life, perhaps because he knew that maintaining the vow would be difficult under the conditions of long-distance travel. The law permitted him to terminate the vow if he had kept it for at least thirty days.
The ship did not go directly to Palestine, but stopped in Ephesus, the main city on the coast of western Asia Minor. It was the greatest commercial city in the region, and 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 that 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 the feast, undoubtedly the feast of Passover. Why he felt it so important to attend this particular feast is uncertain. Perhaps he desired to tell the church in Jerusalem about the latest advances of the gospel. As the apostle to the gentiles, he was always concerned to maintain a strong bond between gentile believers and their Jewish brethren, especially in the original church. Yet 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. As he "saluted the church" there, 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. 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 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 was especially noted for its literary achievements.
Somehow Apollos 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? We have no evidence that Apollos received the gospel from another disciple of John outside the church. It is therefore likely that he received it from John himself. He must have been in Judea at the time John was preaching. Just as the Baptist recommended Jesus to His future disciples John and Andrew (John 1:35-37), he must have recommended Jesus to Apollos, and in the next few years Apollos must have followed the career of Jesus with keen interest. Many years later, he knew enough about Jesus to show that Jesus fulfilled all the Messianic prophecies.
While Apollos was living in Alexandria, God laid it on his heart to go out as a missionary, 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 many gaps in his understanding, but he had never even received a proper baptism, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Moreover, he lacked any connection with the church Christ founded. They therefore undertook to remedy all three deficiencies.
First, they took him aside and gave him the additional instruction that he needed. Next, they baptized him. Although Luke's account omits this detail, the welcome later extended to Apollos by all the churches leaves no doubt that he received Christian baptism during his stay in Ephesus. Last, Aquila and Priscilla 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.
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. The systematic defense of the gospel by appealing to the evidences of its truth is called apologetics.
© 2009, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.