Acts 18 12-22
Paul is enjoying an extended stay in Corinth. According to the closing verse of our previous passage, he “settled” there for 18 months — under the promise of the previous verses. In the very next verses we’ll see a specific example of the effects of the Lord’s promise of safety!
Paul Dragged Into Court (vv. 12-17)
Paul had already suffered much at the hands of the Jewish leadership, who always thrust Jesus as the Messiah away from them and did their best to silence him. It was no surprise to him that the Jews of Corinth would eventually come to a boiling point, especially since his center of operations was right next door to the synagogue. It must have been a real thorn in their flesh.
Paul must have wondered as events developed how this particular episode would turn out, but he had ultimate confidence in the promises of God. He had been in these straits before.
vv12-13 — “While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia…” Conybeare and Howson provide us with some background information about Gallio (pp. 326-327). Secular sources identify him as the brother of the Roman intellectual Seneca, a philosopher and eventually the tutor of the young Nero. Achaia was roughly the region of the entire Greek peninsula, corresponding to modern-day Greece, so it was a position of high importance and authority. His name in Roman circles was Annaeus Novatus, and he, as described by his brother Seneca, was “a man of integrity and honesty, … one who won universal regard by his amiable temper and popular manners.” He was an experienced statesman, and one who would not stoop to becoming mired in local politics. (He was adopted as a young man into the family of Junius Gallio, Roman rhetorician, hence known by the name Gallio.) Conybeare and Howson note that his training and temperament allowed him to overlook with indifference the events we are about to observe, unlike “Pilate, [who was] led into injustice by the clamor of the Jews.”
Conybeare and Howson speculate that Gallio was appointed as Proconsul at some time during Paul’s 18-month stay in Corinth. His fame for amiability encouraged the Jews, hoping for fresh ears to hear their case — and hopefully somewhat ignorant ears. Their case, as was the case with Jesus before Pilate, was one of their desire to carry out Jewish law under the guise of Roman authority. They succeeded in bringing their case before Gallio’s judgement, and stated their case before him: “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” (Notice that they conveniently did not identify whose law, a half-truth that they hoped would pull the wool over the eyes of this friendly new governor.)
Let’s recall at this moment our Lord’s words to Ananias when he balked at going to Paul after he was blinded on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:15): “Go for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” Paul, of course, knew such circumstances were of God’s design, and as events develop in the remaining chapters of Acts we will see this in increasing frequency and importance. If Paul had appeared before magistrates before, this magistrate was of much greater authority and renown. Paul was eager to make his rebuttal — it was exactly the kind of opportunity to explain the Gospel to gentile ears that would have the greatest audience.
vv. 14-16 But at the very moment Paul was about to give his defense, he was interrupted by Gallio himself! Gallio saw through the Jews’ arguments, and understood not only the half-truths and lies, but also understood the trap they had laid for him and their insultingly hopeful underestimation of his understanding of such things. (Perhaps word had circulated about the pickle Pilate found himself in after giving in to the Jews in Jerusalem.)
In any case, his statement to the Jews was scathing. He attacks them on the very issue where they had hoped to dupe him into unwarranted action — the question of whose law had been broken. If Paul’s “crimes” had been vicious or against Roman law, he would have “put up with them”. But since they were only a matter of Jewish law (a distinction concerning which they had hoped he would be ignorant, and by which they insulted his intelligence and experience), he not only refused to be a judge, but even refused to hear both sides of the issue. While the Jews hopes were instantly dashed, no doubt Paul’s hopes for an opportunity to present the Gospel before “kings” were also dashed.
Luke tells us that Gallio “drove them away from the judgement seat,” no doubt similar to instructing courtroom bailiffs to physically eject someone from the courtroom — only in much rougher fashion. The “bailiffs” would have been Roman soldiers.
v. 17 Apparently the bailffs were assisted by (and perhaps even overcome by) the audience in this gentile court of law. Conybeare and Howson suggest that the gentile community already had a dislike for the Jews, and saw this as an opportunity to put them in their place — with some violence. Luke tells us that “they all” took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue and began beating him on the spot, an angry mob at work. Gallio literally “had no concern” (Gr. emelen = “concern” as used also in I Cor. 9:9) about this turn of events, letting them “duke it out” on their own.
The suddenness of this turn of events set Paul’s persecutors back on their heels, and no doubt had a serious cultural effect on the Jewish community for months to follow. This even-tempered friendly Proconsul had turned out to be smart, perceptive and knowledgeable, and would be the tool of no man. The sheep the Jews had hoped for turned out to have some serious fangs.
In a single turn of events Gallio had disgraced the Jews, won high popularity among the gentiles, demonstrated his judicial prowess, set a precedent about what cases could be brought before him in the future, and established his authority as one not to be trifled with in spite of his outward appearance and reputation. For Paul, it confirmed his immunity from persecution according to the Lord’s promise and perpetuated his ministry and residence in the city of Corinth. The Jews would not risk attacking him again there, at least while Gallio was in power.
Paul Leaves Corinth (vv. 18-22)
These next verses describe in sequence the historical events and reasons for the conclusion of Paul’s stay in Corinth, which we have already noted spanned eighteen months.
v.18 — Following the trial before Gallio, Paul remained many more days preaching and teaching the new believers, and growing increasingly attached to his spiritual children there. Luke tells us, however, that eventually he sailed for Syria (the port city of Caesarea). Priscilla and Aquila accompanied him. Luke mentions that Paul (or Aquila — the verse is unclear about who “he” is; the next verse uses “he” to refer to Paul) had his hair cut in Cenchrea, the eastern port city of Corinth from which they sailed. Apparently this marked the completion of a vow similar to the Nazarite vow during which “no razor should touch the hair,” a mark of personal dedication.
v.19 — The ship’s route passed through Ephesus on the way to Syria, and apparently docked for several days. Priscilla and Aquila apparently chose to remain in Ephesus, and their ways parted at that location. In the days the ship remained there, Paul went into the local synagogue as he always did.
vv.20-21 — Apparently he met with a favorable reception, for those in the synagogue asked him to stay longer. But still hoping to reach Jerusalem, Paul decided to press on with a promise to return to them in the future if God permitted. This was Paul’s first visit to Ephesus, and he would have been reluctant to leave having found a Jewish community who was willing to learn from him. But apparently his objective was of superior urgency. Perhaps he felt that Priscilla and Aquila were capable of leading new believers in Ephesus in his absence, and that may have figured in their remaining. He would, in fact, return during the third Missionary journey and spend three years among them.
v.22 — On arrival at Caesarea, Luke states only that “he went up and greeted the church, and went down to Antioch.” He doesn’t distinguish whether Paul “went up” to a local assembly in Caesarea or all the way to Jerusalem. Since he doesn’t mention any specific meetings with the other apostles or any great gatherings to rehearse the events of the second missionary journey, we are left to assume the former, and that without going to Jerusalem he proceeded to what he would have considered his “sending church”, Antioch.
Is this a slight to the other Apostles and the Jerusalem church? If he did not go to Jerusalem (and we’re on shaky ground here), it would mean that he felt no obligation to check in with the other Apostles, including Peter, John and James. Why? Recall the significant meeting at the end of the first missionary journey (Acts 15) and/or the meeting that Paul describes in Galatians. “… seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised, … and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John … gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we might go to the gentiles, and they to the uncircumcised.” Indeed, Paul was not under their authority, and may have felt a greater obligation and longing to return to those who had been so instrumental in his missionary endeavors. It effectively highlights the growing distinction between the two messages represented by these churches, one waxing and one waning as God sets Israel’s promises aside. This is entirely in keeping with what Paul wrote to the church in Rome: “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in.” (Romans 11:25)
This is the mystery that we teach, a distinction that the vast majority of even those denominations that claim to do their utmost to live, believe and teach the Bible fail to recognize. We hope and pray that you, friend, are not uninformed of this mystery, just as Paul hoped for his spiritual children in Rome two thousand years ago.