Corinth: last stop, then homeward
Paul makes tents for a living1 After Paul left Athens, he went to Corinth. 2 He met a Jew there named Aquila, born in the Pontus district. Aquila and his wife Priscilla had recently moved to Corinth from Italy. They were forced into the move because Claudius had ordered all Jews banned from Rome. Paul went to visit the couple. 3 He found out they made their living the same way he did, by making tents. So he stayed with them and worked alongside them. 4 Every Sabbath he went to the synagogue. He tried to win over the Jews as well as the non-Jews who worshiped there. 5 By the time Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was spending just about all of his time telling the story of Jesus. He was trying to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.
Paul shakes of criticism of Jew6 The Jews took a firm stand against him. They badmouthed him, too. Paul shook his clothes like he was shaking off their words. “If you miss out on getting saved, it’s your own fault. I did everything I could to help you. From now on, I’ll be helping the non-Jews.” 7 Paul walked right out of that synagogue and moved into the house next door. It was the home of Titius Justus, a man who worshiped God. 8 The leader of the synagogue believed what Paul had to say about the Lord. His name was Crispus. His entire family believed, too. A lot of people in Corinth listened to Paul, believed what he said, and showed it by getting baptized. 9 The Lord spoke to Paul in a vision one night, “Don’t be afraid to speak out. Don’t keep the message to yourself by staying quiet. 10 I’m with you. I’m not going to let anyone lay a hand on you to hurt you. It’s not going to happen. I have a lot of people in the city.” 11 Paul stayed there for a year and six months. He taught the people, passing along the message God wanted them to hear. 12 But the Jews eventually got so upset with Paul that they rallied together and took him to court. They brought him up on charges before Gallio, governor of the territory of Achaia. 13 They said, “He’s talking people into worshiping God in a way that breaks the law.” 14 Paul was just about to defend himself when Gallio spoke. “Listen to me, you Jews. I would have to put up with you if you came here complaining about a serious crime. 15 You didn’t. You’ve come here to complain about some word or name that’s not kosher according to your own religious law. Pardon me, but I have zero desire to pass judgment based on Jewish law.” 16 Then he ordered them out of the courtroom. 17 The Jews, livid that they had instantly lost, mobbed and beat their synagogue ruler, Sosthenes. They did it right there in front of Gallio, who didn’t seem bothered by it.
Paul sails home to Antioch, Syria18 Paul stayed in Corinth many more days. But he eventually said goodbye to the believers and sailed back to Syria. He took Priscilla and Aquila with him. Before leaving from the port city of Cenchreae, he shaved his head. He did this because of a vow he had taken. 19 They made a stop in Ephesus, where Paul would leave Priscilla and Aquila. But before sailing off without them, he went to the synagogue to deliver God’s message to the Jews and to reason with them. 20 They invited him to stay longer, but he decided against it. 21 As he told them goodbye, he said, “I’ll come back, God willing.” Then he sailed away, leaving Ephesus behind. 22 He arrived at the harbor in the city of Caesarea. From there, he went to greet the believers. Then he was on his way north to Antioch. 23 He spent some time there, but then moved on further north. He traveled from place to place in the regions of Galatia and Phrygia. He was on a mission to strengthen believers scattered throughout those areas he had visited before.
Apollos, smooth talker24 A Jew named Apollos showed up in Ephesus. He came from Alexandria, Egypt. He knew his stuff when it came to the Jewish Scripture. When he talked, people listened because he had a wonderful way with words. 25 Someone had taught him all about the teachings of the Lord. And he told the story of Jesus accurately, with energy and excitement. But he knew only part of the story. The only baptism he knew about was the water baptism of John the Baptist. 26 He was no wimp when he taught in the synagogue; he was bold. Priscilla and Aquila heard him. They later pulled him aside and taught him more about God’s ways. 27 Apollos later decided to move on. He wanted to go to the Achaia district in southern Greece. Ephesus believers encouraged him to go. They wrote to the disciples in Achaia, asking them to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who had come to believe because of God’s kindness. 28 Apollos skillfully beat back the Jews in public debates. He used their own Scriptures to show that Jesus was the Messiah.
Corinth is about a 50-mile (80 km) walk southwest of Athens—two long days of hard walking, or three days at a more comfortable pace. It was a day-trip by boat. Paul left the thinking man’s town of Athens for the working man’s town on a narrow strip of land with harbors in two seas. It was a bustling town. Ships sailing in either the Adriatic Sea or the Aegean Sea would unload their cargo in Corinth and have it hauled across the four-mile-wide (6 km) isthmus and reloaded into another ship. This shortcut saved merchants from having to sail their goods around the southern tip of Greece, where storms could suddenly whip up the waves and sink the boat.
Pontus was a territory in what is now northern Turkey, on the southern coast of the Black Sea. It was roughly 350 miles (560 km) north of where Paul grew up in Tarsus, a city in southern Turkey.
Roman Emperor Claudius banned the Jews from Rome in A.D. 49. Roman writers said he did that because the Jews were causing trouble throughout the city over someone called “Chrestus.” The most common guess is the writers were talking about Christ, either misspelling his name or using an alternate spelling based on their Latin pronunciation of the title Christians applied to Jesus. Christ is the Greek version of the Hebrew word Messiah. Both words, in English, mean “Anointed One,” a leader that many Jews said would be coming on assignment from God, to save them from their enemies and to restore the nation of Israel to its former glory.
At least during his stretch in Corinth, Paul seemed to work as a bi-vocational pastor. It seems he paid his own way by making tents. He mentioned this in a letter he wrote to the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:9). Many rabbis in ancient times had a job aside from teaching their Bible (Old Testament) to Jews. Some Bible experts say Paul was probably making his tents out of leather. Others say he may have been working with goat hair.
“Shaking his clothes” sounds a bit like the instructions Jesus gave his followers when people refused to welcome them: “Wherever the people don’t welcome you, don’t stay. Shake the dust of that town off your feet. Use that to send your message of disapproval” (Luke 9:5).
Gallio held the Roman title of proconsul. He ruled Achaia, a Roman district that covered what is now the southern half of Greece, including the cities of Athens and Corinth.
This seems implied by the context.
Cenchreae was a port town about a seven-mile (11 km) walk east of Corinth. Ships leaving Corinth would sail from this port if they were headed for countries east of Greece, such as Turkey, Syria, Israel, and Egypt.
Bible experts can only guess what kind of vow Paul took. One guess relates to a Nazirite vow, which is famous for the order against cutting hair (Numbers 6:1-21). But it also orders people to shave their hair and start over if they come into some ritual contamination. For example, they were to keep themselves ritually pure by staying away from any food product made from grapes. Perhaps, some speculate, Paul wanted to make sure tradition-minded Jews didn’t think he had contaminated himself by his contact with non-Jews. Another guess is that Paul simply made a promise to God about something private, and shaving his head was one way of expressing his commitment to the promise. One more guess comes from the idea that Paul had just spent a year and a half among sailors in a Greek culture. After a dangerous voyage, Greek sailors grateful to still be alive would sometimes “shave their heads and…tell the story of their perils” (Satires 12, by Juvenal).
Ephesus was one of the four largest cities in the Roman Empire, possibly the third-largest. It sat on the west coast of what is now Turkey. Its port served as Rome’s main gateway into and out of what is now the Middle East. It was a melting pot of cultures and religions, and was already 1000 years old by the time Paul got there. It was also home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Temple of Artemis, four times larger than the Parthenon of Athens.
Caesarea was a port city that King Herod the Great built on the Mediterranean coast about 30 miles (48 km) north of what is now Tel Aviv. He designed it after Roman cities and named it after Caesar because he knew who was really the boss. Romans used Caesarea as their capital in the Middle East for 600 years.
Galatia and Phyrgia were neighboring Roman districts in what is now western Turkey.
Apollos, it seems, had not heard about baptism in the Spirit, when God gave his Spirit to human beings. Yet the phrase describing him, “with energy and excitement,” is more literally “fervent in Spirit.” Some Bible experts say the writer of Acts was making the point that even though Apollos didn’t know about the Spirit, his gift for speaking came from the Spirit.
The writer of Acts said Aquila and Priscilla were forced out of Italy “because Claudius had ordered all Jews banned from Rome” (18:2). That’s not only in the Bible, that’s part of Roman history. How does that make you feel about the story that the writer of Acts is telling? How much authenticity do you think it adds to the story?
When Paul got to Corinth he did his usual thing. He went to the synagogue and “tried to win over the Jews” (18:4). You would think by now he pretty well knew what he was doing. And certainly, he managed to start congregations from among the Jews. Christianity did start as a movement among the Jews. But in the church today, the vast majority of Christians are not racially Jewish. How would you explain that?
The Lord came to Paul in a vision one night and told him, “Don’t be afraid to speak out” (18:9). Paul never really seemed to have a problem speaking out. Why you think the Lord gave him a message like this?
God encouraged Paul in a vision, saying no one was going to hurt Paul. Then God added, “I have a lot of people in the city” (18:10). What do you think God meant by that?
After reading about how Gallio responded to the Jews who took Paul to court (18:14-17), what do you think of him?
Why do you think Gallio didn’t seem to have much patience with the Jews when it came to matters related to Jesus—since that’s what their argument was all about?
When Paul left Corinth, he took Priscilla and Aquila with him. But for some reason, he left them in Ephesus. Any guesses why?
In Ephesus, a Jewish Christian scholar named Apollos got a lesson in theology from a couple of tentmakers, Priscilla and Aquila. They “pulled him aside and taught him more about God’s ways” (18:26). What do you think that says about him, and perhaps about Priscilla and Aquila?
LIFE APPLICATION. In trying to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, Paul realized when he had stopped making progress and was standing at the dead end. He essentially told the Jews that he was done with them. Then he left them on their own. When do we as Christians do that kind of thing? What kind of situation would warrant that?
LIFE APPLICATION. It seems that while ministering in Corinth, Paul paid his own way “by making tents” (18:3). There are a lot of ministers today who are bi-vocational because the congregation can’t support a full-time minister. What do you think about ministers put in that situation?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul spent a lot of his time arguing, trying to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah and that Jesus rose from the dead. That sounds like a tough job. What are some of the toughest jobs you can think of in the Christian church?