Acts 18: New American Commentary

7. Establishing a Church in Corinth (18:1–17)

That Luke did not intend to present a full-scale history of the Pauline mission is well illustrated by his treatment of Corinth. During the time of the church’s founding, Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth, as Luke attests (18:11). And yet the coverage is briefer than that of Paul’s work in Philippi, which lasted no longer than several months. It is several verses shorter than the Athenian section, which probably represents only a matter of weeks. We know from Paul’s two Epistles to the Corinthians, both of which were written during his third missionary period, that this was a time of severe problems for the church and a stormy relationship between it and Paul. For this period, Luke only mentioned Paul’s final three-month visit there, and that in but one sentence (20:2b–3). Luke’s method was selective—to depict the establishment of work in the various areas where Paul worked and to relate individual episodes that were typical of Paul’s experiences and edifying for his Christian readers. In the present section vv. 1–11 furnish the history of the church’s foundation, and vv. 12–17 furnish the episode—the appearance before the proconsul Gallio.

(1) The Mission to Corinth (18:1–11)

1After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

5When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

7Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.

9One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

Corinth in Paul’s day was the largest, most cosmopolitan city of Greece.104 Located at the southern end of the isthmus that connects the Peloponnesus with the Greek mainland, it was a major center for commerce. It had two ports, Lechaeum on the west, which gave access to the Adriatic Sea, and Cenchrea on the east, opening into the Aegean Sea. The isthmus is only three and a half miles wide at its narrowest point. Nero began a canal there, but this was not completed. The canal presently there was dug in the nineteenth century. In Paul’s day ships were often unloaded at one of the ports and the load carried overland the short distance and reloaded on another ship at the other port. Small boats were placed on carts called diolkoi and transferred from one port to the other by means of a roadway specially designed for that purpose. Either method was generally preferable to hazarding the treacherous waters around the Peloponnesus. All of this made Corinth the Greek center for east-west trade. With it came some of the undesirable elements that often plague a maritime center. Among the Greeks the word translated “to live like a Corinthian” (korinthiazesthai) meant to live immorally.

In Paul’s day Corinth was a new city. No major building was more than 100 years old. It was also the most Roman city of Greece, with its extensive group of resettled coloni as the core of its citizenry. As in Athens, the religion of the Corinthians seems to have been primarily that of the traditional Greek gods. The temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love, commanded the city from its perch on the Acrocorinth, the 1,900-foot hill that dominated the city from its perimeter.105 Inside the city walls, close to the agora, stood the temple of the sun god Apollo, the patron god of the city. Just inside the city wall excavations have uncovered a temple to Asklepius, the Greek god of healing. Elaborate canals and reservoirs connected with the temple provided water for the various healing rites. A number of clay replicas of human body parts have been found on the site. Evidently these were brought as offerings to the god and as petitions for healing, representing the part of the body in which the suppliant was afflicted.

Worship of God, however, was present in the city before Paul’s time. There was a Jewish settlement in Corinth, and it was with them that Paul began his mission (18:4). A large stone lintel from a doorway was excavated at the base of the steps that led into the agora and was inscribed as the synagogue of the Jews. Although it dates from the second century, it may mark the site of an earlier synagogue where Paul debated with the Jews of Corinth.106

Luke’s brief account of Paul’s establishment of the work in Corinth provides an invaluable supplement to Paul’s letter to that congregation. The two Corinthian letters date from a later period—that of Paul’s third mission. The Acts account deals with Paul’s foundation of the church during his second missionary period. Though they thus deal with different epochs in Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians, there are a number of remarkable agreements in detail between Luke’s account and the apostle’s two epistles as well as between all three and the archaeological evidence. These will be noted as they appear in the text. The following exposition is divided into three parts: (1) vv. 1–4: Paul’s arrival in Corinth; (2) vv. 5–8: the witness in the city; and (3) vv. 9–11: the assuring vision of Jesus.

Paul’s Arrival in Corinth (18:1–4)

18:1–2 Corinth was approximately fifty miles from Athens and almost due west. When Paul arrived in the city, he quickly met a Jewish couple by the name of Aquila and Priscilla. The couple is also mentioned in Paul’s letters (Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19). Paul and Luke always mentioned them together, never separately. Paul referred to the wife as Prisca, which was her formal name. Luke’s “Priscilla” was a diminutive, less formal designation, the form that would be used among acquaintances. Luke often used the more “familiar” form of a name. Compare his “Silas” with Silvanus. “Aquila” is a Latin name and derives from the word for “eagle.”

Some have surmised from Luke’s giving the detail that he came from Pontus, the Roman province along the Black Sea, that he may have been a Roman citizen; but that is not sufficient evidence. Others have wanted to see Priscilla as the Roman citizen, basing this on the fact that there was a Roman patrician family by the name of Prisca and on the fact that Priscilla is generally named first (cf. 18:18, 24; Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19). That she is usually mentioned before her husband is indeed remarkable for first-century usage but probably is less due to her social status than to her prominence in Christian circles. Not to detract from Aquila’s ministry, but Priscilla seems to have been one of those women like Lydia whose service in the Christian community stood out.107

Luke only mentioned as an incidental detail that the couple had recently come from Rome because the emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from the city. The detail is very important for Pauline chronology. Luke probably referred to the same incident the Roman historian Suetonius mentioned in his Life of Claudius (25.4). According to Suetonius, Claudius expelled all the Jews because of a tumult instigated by “Chrestus.” The later church historian Orosius dated this event during the ninth year of Claudius, i.e., between Jan. 25, 49 and Jan. 24, 50. If Orosius’s date can be trusted, this sets a certain date for Paul’s arrival in Corinth.108 Since Aquila and Priscilla preceded him there, it is not likely Paul would have arrived in Corinth before the middle of a.d. 49.

The reference in Suetonius is significant for other reasons as well. Likely, his attributing the tumult among the Jews to “Chrestus” resulted from his confusion over the name “Christus,” the Latin for Christ. This is evidence that Christianity had already reached Rome by a.d. 50. How would it have done so? Here is the perfect example before us—by Christians like Priscilla and Aquila traveling the routes of trade and commerce and carrying their faith wherever they went. Priscilla and Aquila likely were Christians already when they left Rome. The Jewish Christians would have been seen as ringleaders in the Jewish unrest over “Chrestus” and would have received the brunt of Claudius’s edict.109 Luke said nothing about Paul’s witnessing to the couple, and one would assume Paul readily took up with them because they were not only fellow Jews and fellow tentmakers but, most important of all, fellow Christians.

18:3 Paul mentioned working to support himself in his letters (1 Cor 4:12; 1 Thess 2:9; cf. 2 Cor 11:7). In Acts 20:34 he reminded the Ephesian elders that while in Ephesus he had supported himself and his coworkers with the labor of his own hands. Only in Acts 18:3 are we told the trade by which he supported himself—that of “tentmaker.” Exactly what this involved is often discussed. A number of the early church fathers rendered the term used here by a more general word, “leather worker.” This is quite plausible. Tents were often made of leather, and tentmakers probably used their skills on other types of leather products as well. Some interpreters have suggested, however, that Paul may not have worked in leather at all but rather in cilicium, a cloth of woven goat’s hair that was often used as a material for tents. Since cilicium originated in and was named for Paul’s native province of Cilicia, he may well have learned the trade there. The later rabbinic writings required students of the law to adopt a trade in order to keep the mind from becoming idle and so as to never depend on profit from the teaching of the Torah.110 Paul may well have been influenced by this ideal. First Corinthians 9 (cf. v. 12) particularly reveals such an attitude, where Paul spoke of foregoing any support from the Corinthians in order to avoid any obstacle to the gospel.111

The obstacle in the case of the Corinthians may well have been the distrust they had for those who went about making profit from their message. The originator of the Cynic school of philosophy, Diogenes, was a Corinthian native. By Paul’s day the Cynic movement was widespread. Cynic philosophers were peripatetic, traveling from town to town, often preaching to crowds on street corners and in marketplaces. Their ideal was a lifestyle free from want, totally nonmaterialistic. They depended on contributions for their basic needs. In actual fact, some seem to have fallen somewhat short of the ideal and had a reputation for fleecing the gullible crowds. Paul may have been particularly careful in places like Corinth to avoid any associations with these street preachers. In fact, Paul may have actually used his work as an opportunity for witness. According to available evidence, a number of Greek philosophers, beginning with Socrates, followed a pattern of witness in the shops and the workplace; and Paul may well have utilized such an opportunity in exercising his own trade.112

18:4 Whether he did so while at work during the week or on the Sabbath, Paul followed his customary pattern in Corinth. He went to the synagogue and sought to persuade both the Jews and God-fearers there that Christ is the Messiah (v. 4; cf. 17:2–4).

The Witness in the City (18:5–8)

18:5–6 One gets the impression that when Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth from Macedonia they brought a contribution for Paul’s ministry. Second Corinthians 11:8f. speaks of the support of other churches while Paul ministered in Corinth, and Phil 4:15f. speaks of the generous support of that congregation in his continuing mission endeavor. Now Paul was freed to witness more continually, not just on Sabbaths.

The seemingly inevitable results followed, however, and Jewish opposition arose. Paul turned from the synagogue and turned to the Gentiles (v. 6). The pattern was the same as in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch (13:44–47), and it would be repeated again, right up to the end of Acts (28:23–28; cf. 19:8–9). Why did Paul keep returning to the Jews after he seemingly had turned decisively to the Gentiles, and especially when he knew the almost certain resistance that would arise? Perhaps he gave us a clue in his statement that the Corinthian Jews’ blood would be on their own heads, not on his hands. We find the same language in Ezekiel’s picture of the prophet as a watchman over Israel (33:1–7; cf. 3:18).113 So Paul always fulfilled his role of witness to his fellow Jews. When it was no longer possible to bear that witness, he moved to the Gentiles. But in the next city he would be back to the synagogue, blowing his warning trumpet.

18:7–8 When Paul left the synagogue, he moved his place of witness to the house of a Gentile God-fearer named Titius Justus, who probably was one of those mentioned in v. 4 as present in the Corinthian synagogue. He probably continued to live with Aquila and Priscilla. Going just next door might appear as somewhat noningratiating toward the Jews, but it could also be indicative that he had not completely given up on them. Indeed, the ruler of the synagogue became a believer. He likely was the same Crispus mentioned in 1 Cor 1:14 as one of the few in Corinth upon whom Paul himself administered baptism.

Some have wanted to see Titius Justus as the Gaius who is also mentioned as having been baptized by Paul in 1 Cor 1:14. Their reasoning is that Titius and Justus would constitute the last two of the customary three Roman names and that Gaius could well have been his praenomen, or first name. This same Gaius is mentioned as Paul’s Corinthian host in Rom 16:23, and these interpreters would see v. 7 as referring to Paul’s changing his place of lodging from Aquila and Priscilla’s to Titius’s.114 This view is attractive but unfortunately too conjectural. In any event, the witness among the Gentiles was a success; many of the Corinthians believed and were baptized.

We know from Paul’s Corinthian correspondence that the church there was sizable, sufficiently so to develop church factions (cf. 1 Cor 1:10–17). Seemingly the majority were ordinary working people, not the “first families” of Corinth (cf. 1 Cor 1:26). Still, some were from the upper social classes. Social cleavage seems to have been the major problem at their gathering for the agape feast in connection with the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:17–22). Particularly of note in Paul’s Letter to the Romans (cf. 16:23), which was written in Corinth, is the mention of Erastus, the “director of public works” in Corinth.

An inscription has been excavated in a plaza adjacent to the theater at Corinth. It mentions Erastus as the treasurer (aedile) of the city who provided the funds for the plaza. This quite possibly is the same Erastus associated with the Corinthian congregation in Rom 16:23.

The Assuring Vision of Jesus (18:9–11)

18:9–11 Verses 9–11 are a sort of interlude in the narrative. They seem to interrupt the account of the increasing Jewish opposition to Paul, which became full-blown when he was brought before Gallio (vv. 12–17). They are, however, an essential part of the story and are closely related to the trial scene. Their form is that of a divine commissioning narrative in which God or his angel appears to a human agent, gives a task to be performed, and gives an assurance of his presence.115 The form already is familiar from previous incidents in Acts (5:17–21; 9:10–18; 16:6–10), and Paul would have similar visions on subsequent occasions (23:11; 27:23–24). All of these have elements familiar from the Old Testament texts that treat the call of the prophets—Moses (Exod 3:2–12), Joshua (Josh 1:1–9), Jeremiah (Jer 1:5–10), and the servant of the Lord (Isa 41:10–14). Even the same wording binds all these together: “Fear not; do not be silent; I am with you; no one will harm you” (author’s translation).

In the present instance Paul’s vision fortified him for the extensive witness in Corinth. Corinth was the first city where Paul settled for an extensive period of missionary activity. The pattern heretofore had been for such strong opposition to arise against Paul and his companions in cities where they witnessed as to force their departure. He had no reason to expect otherwise in Corinth. In 1 Cor 2:3 he even stated the fear and misgivings he had on first coming to the city. How would these Greeks and Roman colonials receive him? Already the familiar pattern of strong Jewish opposition was rearing its head. How long could his Corinthian ministry continue? The vision from the Lord provided an answer. Paul was to remain in Corinth and continue his witness there. The Lord was with him. No harm would befall him, no opposition withstand him. This assurance fortified Paul for the eighteen-month ministry in Corinth (v. 11). The successful outcome of his appearance before Gallio further assured him the Lord had indeed kept his promise.

(2) The Accusation Before Gallio (18:12–17)

12While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. 13“This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”

14Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. 15But 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.” 16So he had them ejected from the court. 17Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.

The appearance of Paul before Gallio is of particular importance in two respects. First, it established a precedent for the manner in which the Roman leaders should consider charges against Christians brought before them. Second, the mention of Gallio is an important reference point for determining the date of Paul’s work in Corinth and for establishing the entire Pauline chronology.

18:12 To begin with the second, a great deal is known of Gallio both from literary sources (Seneca and Tacitus) and from inscriptions.116 His service in Corinth occurred during the proconsular period of his career.117 Achaia at this time was a province of second rank, and these were administered by proconsuls. Generally in this region proconsuls served a one-year term, two at the most; and tenure seems to have begun in the early summer. An inscription discovered at Delphi, which relates to the dedication of an aqueduct, mentions Gallio as being proconsul of Achaia and dates this during the period of Claudius’s twenty-sixth acclamation as emperor. Such “acclamations” were made by the Roman senate at irregular intervals as affirmations of an emperor’s rule. On the basis of other inscriptions, Claudius’s twenty-sixth acclamation can be dated as covering the first seven months or so of a.d. 52. On this basis he is assumed as having begun his office in the summer of either a.d. 51 or a.d. 52.118 If one assumes that Gallio served the maximum two-year term, his tenure would have ended in summer of a.d. 54 at the latest. Putting this together with the date of Claudius’s edict,119 Paul’s eighteen months in Corinth would have occurred sometime between winter of a.d. 49/50 and summer of a.d. 54. Most interpreters are inclined to see Gallio as having the more usual one-year tenure and Paul as having appeared before him during the early days of his term of office. This would place Paul’s Corinthian ministry roughly between early 50 and late 52.120

18:13–16 Returning to the first point, the Gallio episode is almost paradigmatic for Paul’s appearances before Roman officials in Acts. None of them found him guilty of having broken any Roman law. This becomes very explicit with Gallio’s judgment regarding the Jewish charge against Paul. Their charge was that Paul was “persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” The charge as it stands is ambiguous. What law? Roman law or Jewish law? There were Roman laws against proselytizing of Roman citizens by foreign cults,121 but Gallio obviously did not take the charge in this sense. He saw it for what it was—an internal dispute within the Jewish community—their interpretations of “words” (the Scriptures?), of “names” (Jesus as Messiah?), of “law” (the Torah).122 In v. 15 Gallio seems to have used a technical term for taking up a case (anechomai) when he refused to judge (“listen to,” NIV) the Jews’ complaint against Paul. It was within his right as a proconsul to make such a refusal. In instances where it was not a clear-cut case of infraction of an established Roman law, it was left to the discretion of the judge whether or not to formally hear the case.123 In this instance Gallio did not see the charges as deserving his time. He didn’t even give Paul a chance to make a defense (v. 14). The Jews could settle the matter themselves. He drove them all from the court (v. 16). One should not see Gallio as taking Paul’s side, however. Paul would have been ejected along with the Jews. Gallio saw the entire matter as an internal Jewish affair and would have nothing to do with it.

18:17 The incident must have taken place in the open, as would be indicated by the mob scene that occurred in the presence of the proconsul (v. 17). This has been verified by the excavations at Corinth. A raised platform of blue marble has been uncovered on the south side of the agora that served as the bēma (v. 12), or judgment seat of the Roman officials. The unruly beating of Sosthenes is anything but clear. Who are “all” who beat him in front of the proconsul—the Jews or the Gentiles who had come from elsewhere in the agora to see the goings-on before the bēma? The question is complicated by the fact that Paul mentioned a Sosthenes in 1 Cor 1:1 as a close Christian companion who joined him in writing the Corinthians. Sosthenes is not an uncommon name, and the two may be different persons. If they are the same, then clearly the ruler of the synagogue subsequently became a Christian, just like his predecessor Titius Justus. In this instance the Jews may have beat Sosthenes, who may already have been indicating his Christian sympathies. On the other hand, the Gentiles may have been the culprits. Gallio’s ejection of the Jews may have unleashed their latent anti-Semitic tendencies. This would have rendered a sort of “poetic justice.” The one who as synagogue ruler probably was the chief speaker against Paul now received himself the punishment he had wished on the apostle. Such an interpretation does not rule out the possibility that this is the same Sosthenes as 1 Cor 1:1, in which instance his conversion would be subsequent to this event.

Through it all Gallio remained wholly indifferent. He turned a blind eye on the whole incident (v. 17). This was not so much callousness on his part as his firm refusal to have anything to do with the matter. It was wholly an internal Jewish affair. The incident set an important precedent. Proconsular decisions over such unusual cases were often followed by Roman officials in other provinces. Had Gallio decided against Paul, it would have been a dangerous precedent that not only would have ended his effectiveness in Achaia but hindered his witness elsewhere.

8. Returning to Antioch (18:18–22)

18Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken. 19They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.

Acts 18:18–22 provides a transition between Paul’s second and third missions. On the one hand, it concludes the second, with Paul returning to Antioch where his journey began (15:35–41). On the other hand, Paul’s brief visit to Ephesus looks toward the third missionary period, which would be spent primarily in that city.

18:18 The note that Paul remained “for some time” in Corinth after the appearance before Gallio confirms the importance of the latter’s refusal to hear the case. Paul was able to stay in Corinth afterwards and continue his witness without hindrance. Just why Paul decided to end his initial ministry in Corinth and sail to “Syria” is not specified.124 It may have had something to do with his vow. At Cenchrea, their port of departure and the Aegean harbor of Corinth, Paul is said to have shaved his hair in connection with a vow he had made. This seems to have been a Nazirite vow, the type of vow discussed in Num 6:1–21.125 Just why Paul had made a vow is not clear. It was perhaps in connection with his vision (Acts 18:9–10), a means of expressing thanksgiving and seeking the continued blessing of the Lord in his Corinthian mission. The reference to his having cut his hair at this point presents some difficulty. Generally one cut the hair at the end of the vow and made a sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem, throwing the shorn hair into the burnt offering as a part of the sacrifice. Some interpreters suggest that at Cenchrea Paul was beginning a vow that he would later complete in Jerusalem, but the past tense of the Greek verb indicates Paul had already taken the vow. There also is no evidence for cutting the hair at the initiation of a vow—only at its completion. A passage in Josephus seems to indicate the practice of cutting the hair elsewhere before going to Jerusalem to make the sacrifices.126 Perhaps this is what Paul was doing. In any event, the significance of the vow is that it shows Paul to have been a loyal, practicing Jew. In his mission to the Gentiles, he did not abandon his own Jewishness. He was still a “Jew to the Jews” and still continued his witness in the synagogues. Interestingly, on Paul’s final visit to Jerusalem, when James wanted him to demonstrate his Jewish loyalty before the more legally zealous Jewish Christians, participation in a similar vow was chosen as the means to accomplish this (21:20–24).

104 Excavations at Corinth have uncovered settlements on the site that date back to the early Bronze Age (3000 b.c.). During the age of the Greek city-states, Corinth was a major power, being known for its pottery and shipbuilding industries. When Persia attempted to conquer Greece, Corinth was head of the league of city-states that halted its advance (338 b.c.). Later it headed the Achaean league in its attempt to stop Rome. This leadership proved fatal to Corinth. The league was defeated, and Roman vengeance was vented on the city. In 146 b.c. it was razed. Such a strategic site could not remain unutilized for long; and in 44 b.c. Julius Caesar established a Roman colony there, primarily for the purpose of providing territory for the Roman proletariat. The new city was renamed Colonia Laus Julia Corinthiensis. In a.d. 27, when Achaia was organized as a separate senatorial province, it became the capital city and seat of the Roman proconsul.

105 Conzelmann, however, questions whether there was actually temple prostitution at the temple of Aphrodite, as Strabo maintained (Acts, 151). That there was widespread prostitution in Corinth is beyond dispute (cf. 1 Cor 6:12–20).

106 Excavation in Corinth was carried out by the American School of Classical Studies. See W. A. McDonald, “Archaeology and St. Paul’s Journeys in Greek Lands: Part III—Corinth,” BA 5 (1942): 36–48.

107 One perhaps would not want to go so far as Harnack, who saw Priscilla and Aquila as coauthors of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

108 Dio Cassius referred to an edict of Claudius in which the emperor did not expel the Jews but only limited their right of assembly. He dated this around a.d. 41. Some scholars see this as the same as Suetonius’s reference and opt for the earlier date. They seem, however, to be two separate edicts. See Beginnings 5:459–60; F. F. Bruce, “Christianity under Claudius,” BJRL 44 (1962): 315–18.

109 Because there were perhaps 50,000 Jews in Rome, Claudius may have had difficulty enforcing his edict; and it may have been confined to the leaders. In any event, there was a Jewish community in Rome eight years or so later when Paul arrived there (Acts 28:17–28).

110 See m.Abot 2.2 and 4.7.

111 R. Hock notes that Paul’s references to his work by such terms as “enslaved” (see 1 Cor 9:19) and “demeaning myself” (see 2 Cor 11:7) and being “a spectacle to the world” (see 1 Cor 4:9, 12) reflect a decidedly upper-class attitude toward work and may, along with his Roman citizenship, indicate his coming from a higher social level (“Paul’s Tentmaking and the Problem of his Social Class,” JBL 97 [1978]: 555–64).

112 See Hock, “The Workshop as a Social Setting for Paul’s Missionary Preaching,” CBQ 41 (1979): 438–50.

113 If the watchman blew the warning trumpet, anyone who failed to heed would be responsible for the consequences that came. If the watchman didn’t blow the trumpet, then the watchman would be responsible. Paul was a watchman to Israel, proclaiming the coming of the Messiah and the coming judgment. When he had borne his witness, he had fulfilled his responsibility.

114 See E. J. Goodspeed, “Gaius Titius Justus,” JBL 69 (1950): 382f. Neither is Titius to be confused with Titus as in some of the manuscripts (א) and church fathers. Titus was present with Paul at the Jerusalem Conference (Gal 2:1–3), which almost surely took place before Paul’s visit to Corinth.

115 For a full discussion of this commissioning form, see B. J. Hubbard, “The Role of Commissioning Accounts in Acts,” Perspectives on Luke-Acts, 187–98.

116 Born in Spain, he was taken to Rome by his father during the reign of Tiberius and educated for a diplomat’s career. He was the elder brother of Seneca, the famous philosopher-statesman, who described him as being of an unusually amiable disposition. Gallio’s career took him through the usual steps of serving as a praetor, then a proconsul, and finally rising to the rank of consul.

117 Shortly after his Corinthian tenure, Gallio seems to have contracted a rather serious illness that plagued him for the rest of his life. He was executed in the latter half of the 60s, a victim of Nero’s paranoia. For further treatment of his life, see R. Pesch, Die Apostelgeschichte, Teilband 2: Apg. 13–28 (Zurich: Benziger, 1986), 150.

118 For full discussions of the chronology of Gallio’s tenure and the relevant inscriptional evidence, see Beginnings 5:460–61 and A. Deissmann, Paul (New York: Doran, 1926), 261–86.

119 See commentary on 18:2.

120 Luke’s arrangement of material could be construed that the Gallio incident took place toward the end of Paul’s Corinthian ministry, but this is not certain; nor can one assume that Paul appeared before him in the early days of his tenure. Verse 12 is quite indefinite (“while Gallio was proconsul”) as is v. 18 (“Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time”). The only definite chronological statement in Acts 18 is the eighteen months that constituted the entire period of his Corinthian ministry (v. 11). See K. Haacker, “Die Gallio-Episode und die paulinische Chronologie,” BZ 16 (1972): 252–55.

121 See the discussion in Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law, 101–4.

122 Appeal to the concept of religio licita is somewhat precarious, the view that the Romans kept a list of accepted foreign religions and that the Jews were attempting to divorce themselves from Christians, thus making the latter an officially unrecognized religion. No first-century evidence exists that the Romans kept such a list (see Conzelmann, Acts, 153). The Jews were given privileges by Claudius assuring them of freedom of worship and protection from official harassment. Because of their identity with Judaism, the early Christians would have perhaps enjoyed some benefit from this.

123 The technical term for such cases was cognitio extra ordinem. See Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law, 99–100.

124 Syria may be intended in the provincial sense of all Syro-Cilicia, which included Palestine, since Caesarea is the actual final port of disembarkation (v. 22). On the other hand, Syria may indicate Antioch as Paul’s final destination and end of his journey.

125 Samson and John the Baptist are famous exemplars of such a vow. For them it was a lifelong vow, but there were provisions for vows of shorter term, thirty days seeming to be the minimum period. During the course of a Nazirite vow, one was forbidden to cut one’s hair, to consume wine or strong drink, and to come into contact with a corpse. Vows could be taken for various reasons—to seek divine blessing in an undertaking, to express thanksgiving, or to seek deliverance from an illness.

126 Josephus, War 2.313. The Greek text could be construed as having Aquila cut his hair, but such a detail would be meaningless and would serve no point in the narrative.

 John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 379–390.

18:19–22 Aquila and Priscilla accompanied Paul to Ephesus. They remained there and undoubtedly continued the Christian witness in the city after Paul’s departure (cf. 18:26). At this point Paul made an appearance in the Ephesian synagogue (18:19). It was nothing more. Ephesus was not a major point on his itinerary for the second journey.127 It was often a port of call for ships traveling from Corinth to the Syrian coast, and that probably was the case in this instance. Paul was in a hurry to catch his boat to Syria and refused the invitation of the Ephesian Jews to stay with them longer (v. 20). He promised to return, “If it is God’s will.”128 The stage was set for Paul’s third mission (cf. 19:1–21:16). In the meantime Aquila and Priscilla would carry on the witness in Ephesus until his return. Paul caught his ship. Why the rush to get to Palestine? The Western text provides an answer, adding to v. 21 the note that Paul was hurrying to Jerusalem for the upcoming festival.129 Although that is almost surely not the original text, it may be an accurate conjecture. Possibly Paul was hurrying to Jerusalem to complete his vow. Whatever his purposes, his ship landed at Caesarea, the port for Jerusalem. He then “went up” and greeted “the church,” then “down” to Antioch (v. 22). “The church” referred to is almost certainly Jerusalem. It was traditional language to speak of going “up” to the holy city, which sat high on Mt. Zion. Paul’s second mission finally ended with his return to the congregation that had sent him forth (15:35–41), the great missionary church of Antioch.130

VII. Paul’s Witness Overcomes Opposition in Ephesus (18:23–21:16)

Acts 18:23–21:16 covers the third and culminating period of Paul’s mission in the east. The narrative revolves primarily around the city of Ephesus, beginning with Priscilla and Aquilla’s ministry to Apollos there (18:24–28). All of chap. 19 is devoted to Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus, and the major portion of chap. 20 treats his farewell address to the leaders of the Ephesian church.

As was the case with Paul’s first two missionary periods, the narrative begins and ends with a travel motif. This is extremely brief for the beginning of the third mission, covering but two verses (18:23; 19:1). The conclusion of the Ephesian period, however, is marked by extensive travel and constitutes a major journey-to-Jerusalem emphasis. This begins with Paul’s decision while still in Ephesus to visit Jerusalem and to go from there to Rome (19:21). The determination to visit Rome marks a major turning point in the story of Paul’s witness. From then on, Rome becomes the major focal point in the narrative. The road to Rome, however, leads Paul first by way of Jerusalem; and his journey to Jerusalem is a major theme of 20:1–21:16. Much as Jesus’ own journey to Jerusalem was marked by his awareness that he would suffer in that city, Paul’s journey was marked by his premonition of trials that awaited him there (20:22f.) and constant warnings from fellow Christians about the danger of his going to the holy city (21:4, 11–14).

Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus followed the pattern already established at Corinth of setting up his mission in the major metropolitan center of a region and working outward from there. In Paul’s day Ephesus was the most populous city of Asia Minor and the commercial and political hub of the entire province. An ancient city, there was a settlement on the site well back into the second millennium before Christ. From these earliest times the area seems to have been a cult center for the worship of the Anatolian mother goddess. In 1044 b.c. the region was conquered by the Ionian Greeks, who took over the ancient cult and renamed it for the corresponding Greek goddess Artemis. In subsequent centuries the city came under the dominion of various foreign powers—under Croesus of Lydia (560 b.c.), the Persians (546 b.c.), the Macedonians under Alexander (334 b.c.), and the Seleucid kings (281 b.c.). Roman influence was first felt in 190 b.c. under the client-kings of Pergamum, and in 133 b.c. the last king of Pergamum ceded the city to Rome in his will. In Paul’s day the city was the seat of the Roman proconsul.

Through all these political changes the ancient shrine to the mother goddess persisted, and Ephesus was renowned throughout the Roman Empire as the temple keeper of Artemis. Excavations were first begun on the site of ancient Ephesus in 1813. Among the most famous of the findings were the ruins of this temple to Artemis, considered one of the seven architectural wonders of the ancient world. Also unearthed was a stadium rebuilt by Nero in Paul’s day and the theater, which had a capacity of 24,000. Particularly spectacular must have been the major street that led from the theater to the city harbor. It was thirty-five feet wide and had on both sides colonnades that ran fifteen feet deep with shops behind them.

Located on the main highway connecting the Aegean with the rich trade routes in the east, Ephesus was the main commercial center of Asia. It had a natural harbor with access to the Aegean by way of the Cayster River. According to Pliny, the original city was built on the sea; but because of silting from the Cayster, the city lay several miles inland up the river in the first century. The ruins of the city are some five miles inland today. To the north of Ephesus lay the city of Smyrna at the mouth of the Hermus River, and to the south was Miletus at the mouth of the Maeander River. The coastal plain connected Ephesus with both these cities and the commerce that traveled through them.1 In fact, no better site could have been picked for the evangelization of all of Asia Minor than Ephesus. The seven churches of Rev 2–3 may well have owed their origin to Paul’s Ephesian ministry.

1. Apollos in Ephesus (18:23–28)

23After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

24Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

27When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

18:23 Paul’s third missionary period led him first from Syrian Antioch to “the region of Galatia and Phrygia,” where he was “strengthening the disciples” (v. 23; cf. 14:22; 15:41). His route most likely led through the Cilician gates to the cities where he had established churches on his first journey—Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch. The reference to the Galatian religion and Phrygia might indicate the area further north and be evidence that Paul established churches in the northern portion of the Roman province of Galatia on his second missionary journey.2 In any event, Paul’s final destination was Ephesus (cf. 19:1). He had been prevented from working there on an earlier occasion (16:6). He had had to cut his first visit there short (18:20) and was eager to begin his mission in the city. Still, his desire for the new ministry did not lead him to neglect the old. He returned to his former fields and further ministered to the churches there. A journey to Ephesus by sea would have been much easier. The foot journey from Antioch to Ephesus was well in excess of 1,000 miles. Paul set a notable example of the importance of continued nurture of new converts.

18:24 While Paul was en route, revisiting his former mission fields, Apollos arrived in Ephesus (18:24). Luke described him as a Jew and an Alexandrian native. Apollos was indeed a common name in Egypt, being a shortened form of Apollonius.3 He is further described as “learned” (logios) and “powerful [dynatos] in the Scriptures,” which the NIV accurately interprets as his having a thorough knowledge of them.4

18:25 At v. 25 the description of Apollos becomes more ambiguous. He is pictured as having been instructed in “the way of the Lord.” Does this mean he was thoroughly acquainted with the gospel, the way of those who belong to the Lord? Or does it refer to the teaching of the earthly Jesus, the way that he taught? And what does the next phrase mean? The Greek reads literally “fervent in the spirit” (zeōn tō pneumati). The presence of the article before spirit would most naturally seem to indicate the Holy Spirit, and Paul used exactly the same phrase to refer to being “aglow with the Spirit” (Rom 12:11).5 Still, many translators and interpreters see this as a reference to Apollos’s own spirit, to his having a zealous temperament. (Compare NIV, “He spoke with great fervor.”) Their reticence to see this as a reference to the Holy Spirit is the last phrase used to describe Apollos, “He knew only the baptism of John.” In the Gospels and Acts, it is precisely the Holy Spirit who distinguishes the baptism of John from that of Jesus (cf. Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5). How one could have known only the baptism of John and yet have received the Holy Spirit is hard to understand. Equally confusing is the reference to Apollos’s teaching about Jesus accurately. Obviously the teaching was not complete, or he would have known Christian baptism as well. Still, Luke depicted Apollos as a Christian. Apollos knew the way of the Lord, taught accurately about Jesus, and may have experienced the Spirit. Still he was deficient. He knew only John’s baptism, and he had to be further instructed by Aquilla and Priscilla.

What exactly was the deficiency? Scholars have had a field day trying to define it more precisely. Apollos has been depicted as a disciple of John the Baptist,6 a heterodox Alexandrian Christian,7 a charismatic Christian,8 even a Jewish missionary and not a Christian at all.9 The trouble with all such views is that they concentrate on only one part of Luke’s description and do not sufficiently account for his total picture. Perhaps it is best to leave the matter with Luke’s description and not try to go beyond it. The one matter of deficiency given is that Apollos knew only the baptism of John. His understanding of Christian baptism was inadequate.10 Evidently it was not such that he needed further baptism. Luke did not relate his being rebaptized as were the disciples of John (19:5), only of his being further instructed by Priscilla and Aquilla.

18:26 Priscilla and Aquilla had remained in Ephesus to carry on the work there until Paul’s return (18:18f.). Evidently the ministry in Ephesus had not yet extended beyond the synagogue; and when Apollos began his Christian witness there, his deficiency quickly caught the couple’s attention. They took him aside, probably in the privacy of their home (so NIV), and expounded the way of Christ more fully to him (v. 26). The further instruction may well have included Paul’s teaching concerning the Gentile mission. It is noteworthy that Priscilla took an equal role with her husband in further instructing Apollos.

18:27a Apollos then decided to go “to Achaia,” i.e., to Corinth, where Paul had already established work. Apollos’s work in that city is well documented by 1 Cor 1:12; 3:4–6, 22; 4:6. Why he decided to go there is not specified. The Western text provides an explanation, greatly expanding v. 27 by saying that some Corinthian Christians who were sojourning in Ephesus invited him to minister in their native town. Aquilla and Priscilla more likely aroused his interest in Corinth, however, for they surely shared with him their ministry with Paul in that city.

The mention of the Ephesian brothers who provided a letter of recommendation for Apollos is significant because it is the first clear evidence that a church had by now been established in Ephesus. Such letters of recommendation were a common practice in the early church. Paul provided one for Phoebe of Cenchrea (Rom 16:1). He realized, however, that such commendatory documents could assume undue importance and could not take precedence over personal acquaintance (2 Cor 3:1–3).

18:27b–28 Apollos was well received in Corinth and was himself a great help to the congregation. Luke’s description of the Corinthians as “those who by grace had believed” is particularly appropriate. As a Pauline congregation the gospel they responded to was surely his appeal to salvation solely by God’s grace through faith.

Apollos’s power in scriptural interpretation (cf. v. 24) suited him for debate with the Jews of Corinth. Much like Peter with the Jews of Jerusalem, he would have used the Old Testament to demonstrate that the Messiah must suffer and rise and that consequently Jesus was the promised Messiah. Evidently Apollos returned to Ephesus. When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, probably in the latter part of his Ephesian ministry, Apollos was with him in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:12).11


127 For a description of Ephesus, see the introduction to Chap. VII.

128 The expression “God willing” was a Greek expression that was taken over by Hellenistic Judaism. Cf. Epictetus, Dissertations 1.1.17; Josephus, Antiquities 7.373; Heb 6:3; Jas 4:15.

129 Probably the Western editor had Passover in mind.

130 One should note the recurrent pattern of Paul’s three missionary journeys. Each began in Antioch. Each ended in Jerusalem. Each had a major speech: in Pisidian Antioch (first journey) Paul preached to Jews; in Athens (second journey) he preached to Gentiles; at Miletus (third journey) he preached to Christian elders.

1 For a further treatment of ancient Ephesus, see M. M. Parvis, “Archaeology and St. Paul’s Journeys in Greek Lands, Part IV: Ephesus,” BA 8 (1945): 62–73; F. V. Filson, “Ephesus and the New Testament,” BA 8 (1945): 73–80.

2 Cf. Acts 16:6 and see the comments on that text.

3 א, a few minuscules, and several ancient versions have “Apelles” instead of Apollos; and G. D. Kilpatrick argues for Apelles as the original reading (“Apollos-Apelles,” JBL 89 [1970]: 77).

4 Alexandria was the home of the allegorical-scriptural method associated with Philo and later with Christian scholars such as Clement and Origen. It is tempting to see Apollos as being steeped in such methods, but this is not explicit in Luke’s description.

5 For a persuasive argument that Apollos should be seen as fervent in the Holy Spirit, see J. D. G. Dunn, Baptism in the Spirit (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), 88f.

6 J. Munck, The Acts of the Apostles, rev. W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967), 183.

7 E. Käsemann, “The Disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus,” Essays on New Testament Themes (London: SCM, 1964), 136–48.

8 M. Walter, “Apollos und die ephesinischen Johannesjünger (Act 18, 24–19, 7),” ZNW 78 (1987): 49–73; H. Preisker, “Apollos und die Johannesjünger in Act 18, 24–19, 6,” ZNW 30 (1931): 301–4.

9 E. Schweizer, “Die Bekehrung des Apollos, Apg. 18. 24–26,” EvT 6 (1955): 247–54.

10 B. T. D. Smith, “Apollos and the Twelve Disciples at Ephesus,” JTS 76 (1915): 241–46; J. H. E. Hull, The Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles (New York: World, 1968), 180–84.

11 Apollos is an intriguing figure. He has often been seen as a ring leader in Paul’s opposition at Corinth, but Paul doesn’t seem to have depicted him as such. The Corinthians were guilty of pitting the two ministers against each other, but Paul did not indicate any personal antagonism between them. Apollos’s Alexandrian associations have made him a prime candidate for the authorship of Hebrews, a suggestion first made by Luther; but that remains wholly speculative. Titus 3:13 would indicate that Apollos remained associated with Paul as a coworker in his later ministry.

 John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 390–398.

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