April 26, 2015

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV: The Church Advancing to the End of Earth (Acts 13-28)   

                    

Subtopic C: The Missionary Journey (15:36-18:22)   

 

       Sub-subtopic 8: The Work in Corinth (18:1-17)                                            

                          

                                                                            

         Lesson: IV.C.8.c: Paul Charged by the Jews (12-17)                                                                                        

 

 

 

Acts 18:12-17 (KJV)

 

12 And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat,

13 Saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship contrary to the law.

14 And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you:

15 But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters.

16 And he drave them from the judgment seat.

17 Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

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.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

12 And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat,

 

We should begin with Gallio[1], because there is a great deal known about him from literary sources and from inscriptions.  Gallio had influential connections in Rome.  Marcus Annaeus Novatus, as he was first called, was born in Cordova Spain and came to Rome with his father when Tiberius was on the throne.  In Rome he was adopted into the family of his father’s friend Lucius Junius Gallio, and took the name of his adoptive father (he was now Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeus).  His father was the son of Seneca the orator, and his brothers were Lucius Seneca, Nero’s tutor and Mela, the father of Lucan the poet. 

 

Dr. Luke shared only one example of divine protection during Paul’s ministry in Corinth (Acts 18:12-17), but it was a significant one.  The arrival of a new proconsul gave the unbelieving Jews hope that Rome might declare this new “Christian sect” illegal.  They broke the law by attacking Paul and forcing him to go to court.  This was not the first time that fanatical Jews had tried to prove that Paul was breaking the Roman law (Acts 16:19-24; 17:6-7).

 

Gallio’s service in Corinth occurred during the proconsular period of his career[2]. Achaia at this time was a second rank province, and these were under the supervision of the Senate and were administered by proconsuls.  Generally in this region proconsuls served a one-year term, two at the most; and his 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[3]” 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.  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, Paul’s 18 months in Corinth would have occurred sometime between winter of A.D. 49/50 and summer of A.D. 54; he stayed, knowing that God was with him and that people would be saved.  During those 18 months of witness, Paul saw many victories in spite of Satan’s opposition. 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.  The divine promise that none would harm him had a notable fulfillment while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia (all of Greece south of Macedonia).

 

It was soon after Gallio’s appointment that the Corinthian Jews made their move against Paul—they instigated a riot and brought Paul before Gallio’s judgment seat, accusing the evangelist of propagating a religion that was contrary to the Roman law.  Evidently they considered the time was now right to take legal action against Christianity and to embroil Paul with the authorities.  The pleasant and charming Gallio, a man whose attractive personality had helped carry him successfully through life, must have seemed an easy mark to the crafty Jews, or they may have been banking on his inexperience.  Gallio had come to Acadia having only been a praetor and not yet a consul, the senior Roman magistrate, and in any case, he may have only recently arrived and would for that reason be eager to please his petitioners. They miscalculated badly, however, mistaking Gallio’s cordiality and general amiability for weakness.  Under the false impression that Gallio was a pushover, they banded together, rose up against Paul in a body, and had him dragged before Gallio as a lawbreaker.

 

 

13 Saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law.

 

The Gallio episode is typical of Paul’s appearances before Roman officials in Acts.  None of them found him guilty of having broken the Roman law.  This becomes very apparent 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”; that is, that he was spreading an illegal religion.  Judaism itself was a recognized religion of the empire (but not every religion was permitted in the empire), and was accorded the protection of the courts; Christianity, however, remained a “licensed religion” only so long as it could shelter itself under the auspices of Judaism. The Jews wanted a legal distinction to be made and a verdict handed down branding Christianity[4] as so different from Judaism as to be separate from it all together.  There would then be a legal precedent, and Christians could be prosecuted for teaching an outlawed religion.  That subtle move by the enemy was of great importance and was bound to have far-reaching effects.  The charge as it stands is vague.  What law had he broken?  Roman law or Jewish law? 

 

(If Paul had broken Roman law.) There were Roman laws against the proselytizing of Roman citizens by foreign cults, but Gallio obviously did not take the charge in that 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)[5].  The best charge for the Jews to bring “was that Paul was preaching to Romans, not to Jews, contrary to the Roman law, not the Jewish law, just as at Philippi”, that he was attempting to proselytize Roman citizens.

 

(If Paul had broken Jewish law.) If this were the case, then they were asking the governor to enforce their own law, perhaps with the hope of having him exclude the Christians who did not submit to it from the protection that the Jews enjoyed as a religio licita (a permitted religion).  But there was no reason to think that the Jews had any grounds for expecting such an enforcement by Romans of their law upon their own people.  The position taken by the Jews was Paul had broken their law by not requiring the Gentile converts to be circumcised.

 

 

14 And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you:

 

Being a Roman citizen, Paul was prepared to defend himself. Paul was about to make his defense when he was silenced by the proconsul.  No defense was necessary.  Gallio had already made up his mind.  So far as he was concerned, the whole matter was an internal Jewish religious dispute and the case should not have been brought to him in the first place. The phrase, Reason would that I should bear with you, could be put this way; “I should naturally have taken up your case.” Paul had no need to defend himself before the Roman court because his activities lay well within the confines of the law, which recognized Judaism and its various sects (Christianity, at the time, was viewed as a Jewish sect.) as legal.  In effect, he said, “Leave him alone,” or, at least, “Settle this among yourselves.  Paul has broken no law.” Had the apostle broken any real law, Gallio said, then of course he would involve himself, but he could not see any breach of the peace, any reckless disregard of Roman law or any misbehavior on Paul’s part.  Indeed, why had they presumed to bother him with their pity disagreements? 

 

 

15 But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters.

 

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.  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 (18:14).

 

Gallio did not recognize it, but that was precisely what the disagreement was all about; it was about “words”But if it be a question of words.  The Greek is logos, word.  The “Word” had been “made flesh.” That was the great message of the new faith.  The inspired Word of old had become the incarnate Word in Christ.  And it was about “names,” as Paul makes it clear in Hebrews, names such as Moses and Joshua, Aaron and Melchizedek, the names in that illustrious roll call of the faith in Hebrews 11.  But set the name of Jesus alongside those names, and all these bright lights in the Hebrew firmament fade as the stars before the rising sun.  And it was all about “your law.” They could not keep it, but Jesus did—every jot and tittle of the moral law He kept in His immaculate life; and He fulfilled the types and shadows of the ritual law in His immeasurable death.  So much so, indeed, that henceforth the law, as a system, was forever obsolete.  After all, it had been but a schoolmaster to bring the Jews to Christ.

 

That indeed was what it was all about. Gallioas a magistrate had no business adjudicating in such matters because they were outside his province and beyond his expertise.  Gallio, as a man, lost his soul by not being interested in those things.

 

The Jews must have been greatly disturbed by this verdict.  When it came to “words and names” and their law, they were no match for Paul.  Now they had taken their case to court, only to have it abruptly thrown back out again.  Worse yet, they had attracted the unfriendly eye of Roman officialdom to themselves.

 

 

16 And he drave them from the judgment seat.

 

The Jews could settle the matter themselves.  It was probably the case that the Jews, stunned at first by Gallio’s cavalier treatment, quickly recovered their resolve and persisted in their charges. Impatiently Gallio summoned the lictors and ordered them to clear the court.  Thus the Jews were driven out and into the street by the blows of the officers who doubtless were glad for an opportunity to express an emerging anti-Semitism with some measure of official sanction.  Thus were all of them driven from the court.  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.

 

 

17 Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.

 

The delighted crowd enthusiastically seconded the work of the lictors.  Here was a golden opportunity to vent some of their bottled-up dislike of Jews in general.  The incident must have taken place in the open[6], as indicated by the mob scene that occurred in the presence of the proconsul.  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 bema (18:12), or judgment seat of the Roman officials. 

 

Sosthenes had apparently succeeded Crispus as the ruler of the synagogue and was one of the Jews who had preferred charges against Paul.  But the Jewish conspiracy which he led, boomeranged.  The mob seized him, hauled him back into court, dragged him before the judgment seat, and proceeded to beat him up in the very presence of GallioGallio impassively saw what was happening, judged rightly the mood of the mob, decided it was no concern of his, turned a blind eye on these illegal proceedings, which should indeed have concerned him, and left them to it. This was not so much callousness on his part as it was his firm refusal to have anything to do with the matter.  It was entirely 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.  But you would think that some viewed his inaction on the Jewish charge as giving tacit confirmation to the legality of the Christian religion.

 

The unruly beating of Sosthenes is anything but clear.  Who are the “all” who beat him in front of the proconsul—probably the Greeks (Gentile unbelievers) who had come from elsewhere in the agora to see the goings-on before the bema?  Encouraged by Gallio’s attitude, they were quick to show their own contempt for the Jews by punishing Sosthenes for bringing Paul before Gallio on such an empty charge.  Or the entire crowd may be meant; both Jews and Gentiles.  Or it may have been the Jews themselves who beat him up, as the context would suggest.  Since they had failed to make their charges stick, they vented their rage on their own leader, who had presented their case.  Or if this was the Sosthenes of 1 Corinthians 1:1[7] (the coincidence is certainly striking), though still the leader of the synagogue, he may have shown some leanings toward the Christians, like his predecessor Crispus, and on that account suffered the rage of the Jews.

 

Establishing the identity of Sosthenes is complicated by the fact that Paul mentioned a Sosthenes in 1 Corinthians 1:1 as a close Christian companion who joined him in writing to the Corinthians.  Sosthenes is not an uncommon name, and the two may be different persons.  But if they are the same, then clearly the ruler of the synagogue subsequently became a Christian, just like his predecessor Crispus.  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 and 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 mentioned 1 Corinthians 1:1, in which case his conversion would be subsequent to this event.  It would be interesting to know exactly how he was converted.  Did Paul and some of the believers visit Sosthenes and minister to him?  Perhaps his predecessor Crispus helped “wash his wounds” (Acts 16:33) and used this as an opportunity to share the love of Christ.

 

Regardless of all that happened on this occasion, something positive may have come out of it for Paul.  He may have realized for the first time the full potential of the Roman state for protection.  And if it offered that protection here, why not in Rome itself?  Thus may the Spirit have sown the seeds of an idea that gradually became Paul’s great objective.

 

How strange and wonderful are the providences of God!  The Jews tried to force the Roman proconsul to declare the Christian faith illegal, but Gallio ended up doing just the opposite.  By refusing to try the case, Gallio made it clear that Rome would not get involved in cases involving Jewish religious disputes.  As far as he was concerned, Paul and his disciples had as much right as the Jews to practice their religion and share it with others.  Unfortunately, his decision could not enjoy undisputed validity for long, but as a precedent it did afford protection to Christianity for ten vital years. 

 

In the Book of Acts, Luke emphasizes the relationship between the Roman government and the Christian church.  While it was true that the Jewish Council prohibited the Apostles to preach (Acts 4:17-21; 5:40), there is no evidence in Acts that Rome ever did so.  In fact, in Philippi (Acts 16:35-40), Corinth, and Ephesus (Acts 19:31), the Roman officials were not only tolerant but almost cooperative.  Paul knew how to use his Roman citizenship wisely so that the government worked for him and not against him, and he was careful not to accuse the government or try to escape its authority (Acts 25:10-12[8]).

 

 

 

 


[1]   Gallio was born in Spain, and later 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.

[2] 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 60’s, a victim of Nero’s paranoia.

[3] Under the Roman Empire, the name of acclamations was given to the praises and flatteries which the senate bestowed upon the emperor and his family. These acclamations, which are frequently quoted by the Scriptores Historiae Augustae, were often of considerable length, and seems to have been chanted by the whole body of senators.

[4] The church was not made up of many mighty and noble people (1 Corinthians 1:26-31), but of sinners whose lives were transformed by the grace of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). 

[5] 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.  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.

[6] There is some doubt whether Gallio would have held court in such a public place, and we know from similar cases that Roman provincial courts were usually held in a basilica or in the praetorium.  If this was so now, then the so-called north basilica beside the Lecheum Road suggests itself as a possible location.

[7] (1 Corinthians 1:1, NIV) “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes.”

[8] (Acts 25:10-12, NIV) “Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

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