April 3, 2015

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV: The Church Advancing to the End of the 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.a: Paul's Work in the Synagogue (18:16)                                                                     

 

 

 

Acts 18:1-6 (KJV)

 

1 After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;

2 And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them.

3 And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.

4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.

5 And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.

6 And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean; from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.

 

 

Introduction

 

Corinth in Paul’s day was the largest, most cosmopolitan city of Greece.  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 it was not completed.  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 plagued a maritime center.  Among the Greeks the word translated “to live like a Corinthian” 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 in 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.  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 the temple to Asklepius, the Greek god of healing.  Elaborate canals and reservoirs connected with the temple provided water for the various healing rights.

 

The worship of God was present in the city before Paul’s time.  There was a Jewish settlement in Corinth, however, and it was with them that Paul began his mission (18:4). 

 

Luke’s brief account of Paul’s establishment of the work in Corinth provides an invaluable supplement to Paul’s letters 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 founding of the church during his second missionary period.

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary

 

 

1 After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;

 

“After these things”—the Arabic version renders it, "after these words, or discourses"; after the apostle's debate with the philosophers, and his sermon in the Areopagus, the effects of which are related in the previous lesson. Paul did not stay in “Athens” very long. The philosophers there were too well-to-do, too lazy, and too wise in their own eyes to receive the Gospel.

 

Corinth was approximately 50 miles from Athens and almost due west. It was one of the most populous and wealthy cities of Greece, and at the same time one of the most luxurious, effeminate, flamboyant, and degenerate. Lasciviousness[1] was not only practiced and allowed, but was sanctioned by including it in the worship of Venus, the goddess of love; and much of the wealth and splendor of the city arose from the offerings made by those indulging in unrestrained passion in the very temples of this goddess. No city of ancient times was more self-indulgent and depraved. It was the Paris of ancient times; the seat of splendor, and show, and corruption. Yet even here, in spite of all the disadvantages of prosperity, overindulgence, and depravity, Paul began the work of rearing a church; and he was eminently successful at getting the work done. 

 

 

2 And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them.

 

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 (Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19).  Paul and Luke always mention them together, never separately.  Paul referred to the wife as Prisca, which was her formal name.  Luke’s “Priscilla” was a less formal designation, the form that would be used among acquaintances.  Luke often used the more “familiar” form of a name.  This is similar to his use of “Silas” in lieu of Sylvanus.  “Aquila” is a Latin name and derives from the word for “eagle.”

 

Some have surmised from Luke’s giving the detail that “Aquila” 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 (18:18, 24; Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19).  That she is usually mentioned before her husband is indeed remarkable for first-century usage but probably it 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.

 

Luke only mentioned as an incidental detail that the couple had recently come from Italy because the emperor Claudius[2] had expelled the Jews from Rome; all who were Jews by birth, regardless of whether they were Jews or Christians[3] by religion, because they were too pompous to make a distinction.  According to the historian Suetonius, Claudius expelled all the Jews who were constantly exciting turmoil under their leader, “Chrestus.” Though the command of Claudius applied only to Rome, yet it was probably deemed unsafe for Jews to remain in the country, or it might have been difficult for them to find work in any part of Italy. Later on, the church historian Orosius dated this event during the ninth year of Claudius, i.e., between January 25, 49 and January 24, 50.  If Orosius’ date can be trusted, this sets a certain date for Paul’s arrival in Corinth.  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 by Suetonius is significant for other reasons as well.  Likely, his attributing the turmoil among the Jews to “Chrestus” resulted from his confusion over the name “Chrestus,” 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[4].  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.

 

 

3 And because he was of the same craft[5], he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.

 

Paul mentioned working to support himself in his letters (1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 11:7).  In Acts 20:34[6] 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 “tent maker.” Exactly what this involved is often debated.  A number of the early church fathers rendered the term used here by a more general word, “leather worker.” This is quite possible.  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 ciliciun, a cloth of woven goat’s hair that was often used as a material for tents.  Since ciliciun 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 idol and so that they would never need to depend on profit from the teaching of the Torah.  Paul may well have been influenced by this idea.  First Corinthians 9:12[7] particularly reveals such an attitude, where Paul spoke of forgoing any support from the Corinthians in order to avoid any obstacle to the Gospel; but seeing that he worked at the same trade as Aquila and Priscilla, he takes up his lodging with them at Corinth, and works at their trade. Perhaps Paulused his work as an opportunity for witnessing.

 

Paul continued to work as a tentmaker until Silas and Timothy joined him (18:5). When Silas and Timothy came, they brought an offering from the church in Philippi, where the Philippian jailer was converted. They took up an offering and sent it to Paul, and when they came with this offering for Paul, then it was no longer necessary for him to work, and so he gave full time to the ministry there in Corinth. So Paul was the kind of person who if he needed money he was willing to go out and work with his hands to acquire it. But if the Lord would provide, such as He did with the Philippian’s offering, then he was eagerly willing to give himself full-time to the work of the Lord.

 

The obstacle he had to overcome, in the case of the Corinthians may well have been the distrust they had for those who went about making profit from their message.  Paul may have been particularly careful in places like Corinth to avoid any associations with the street preachers who preached for profit. 

 

 

4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.

 

The Apostle went to the synagogue every Sabbath, where he attempted to persuade both “the Jews” and God-fearers that Christ is the Messiah (see 17:2-4).  But regardless of whether he did so while at work or after work, during the week or on the Sabbath, Paul followed his customary pattern in Corinth, going first to “the synagogue.” He shows an intense desire to plant a Christian church at Corinth, and through his preaching to bring the Jews of Corinth to embrace the Gospel.

 

Note: Men may speak persuasively, but onlyGod can persuade.

 

The gist of the verse is that the apostle succeeded in bringing many to faith in Jesus Christ, but not as many as he hoped.

 

 

5 And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.

 

They came to Paul in response to the request which he had sent by the brethren who accompanied him from Thessalonica: “Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible” (Acts 17:15, NIV). Silas seems to have stayed a considerable time at Berea: but Timotheus had come to the apostle while he was at Athens, and been sent by him to comfort and confirm the Church at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5). But at long last both “Silas and Timotheus” came to the apostle at Corinth.Paul’s zeal for God was greatly excited by the company of these two good men—“Iron sharpens iron, so does the face of a man’s friend.”

 

When Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth from Macedonia they brought a contribution for Paul’s ministry.  Second Corinthians 11:8 speaks of the support of other churches while Paul ministered in Corinth, and Philippians 4:15 speaks of the generous support of that congregation in his continuing mission endeavor.  Now Paul was freed to witness more continually, not just on Sabbath’s. 

 

“Paul was pressed in the spirit,” meaning he was urged or motivated by an unusual impulse coming from the Holy Spirit. It was deeply impressed upon him that it was his duty to proclaim Christ in Corinth.His love for Christ was so great, and his conviction to preach the truth so strong, that he labored to make known to them the truth that Jesus Was the Messiah.The Greek word rendered “in spirit” means in his mind; in his feelings.

 

 

6 And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean; from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.

 

The seemingly inevitable results followed, however, and Jewish opposition arose.  Paul turned from the synagogue and turned to the Gentiles.  The pattern was the same as in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (13:44-47), and it would be repeated again, right up to the end of Acts (28:23-28; 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 Jew’s blood would be on their own heads, not on his hands.  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 go back to the synagogue, blowing his warning trumpet.

 

And when they opposed themselves (to him and his message),and blasphemed.”Their opposition was a repeat of what had transpired in Antioch in Pisidia:“But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming” (Acts 13:45, KJV). “Blasphemed” is a word that is seldom heard today; we have replaced it with words like cussed, cursed, took the Lord’s name in vain, used profanity, and damned.  The gist is evidently that they rebuked and vilified Jesus of Nazareth; they spoke of Him with contempt and scorn. They were opposed to the doctrine that Jesus was the Messiah; that the Messiah would be humble, lowly, despised, and put to death. They contradicted the apostles while in their presence (Acts 13:46[8]), and that evidentially led to great turmoil and disorder. When people are enraged, they have little regard for what they say, and don’t care what God thinks of them. When people do not have any good arguments to support their position, they attempt to overwhelm their adversaries with bitter and outrageous words. People frequently utter blasphemy more often than they will admit. Pure biblical doctrines are often vilified because we do not believe them; and the heart of the Savior is pierced once again, and His cause bleeds from the wrath and wickedness of his professed friends.

 

How did Paul react? “He shook his raiment” as an act expressive of shaking off the guilt of their condemnation; and he did it to show that he was resolved to have nothing to do with themin the future; and perhaps, also, to express the fact that God would soon shake them off, or reject them.

 

He must have really stirred them up when he said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads,” foryou alone are the cause of the destruction that is coming upon you, and you must bear the guilt. “I am clean,” I am not to blame for your destruction. I have done my duty. The Gospel had been fully explained and offered to all, and then deliberately rejected; and Paul was not to blame for their ruin, which he saw was coming upon them.

 

When he realized that they would not accept his witness, he avowed, “From henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.” But he did not go to them exclusively. He did NOT break off all interaction with the Jews even at Corinth, but he would no longer preach in their synagogues.

 

 


[1]Lasciviousness is defined as indicating sexual interest and is expressive of lust or lewdness.

[2] Claudius commenced his reign in 41 A.D., and was poisoned in 54 A.D.

[3] The fact that he describes Aquila as a Jew may imply that he was not yet a Christian. Some expositors are of the opinion that they were converted at Corinth, but most would say they were already Christians when they met Paul for the first time, as do I.

[4] 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).

[5] Craft—occupation.

[6] (Acts 20:34, NIV) “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.”

[7] (1 Corinthians 9:12, NIV) “If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

[8] (Acts 13:46, NIV) “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”

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