1 After this Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he found 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 depart from Rome. Paul approached them, 3 and because he worked at the same trade, he stayed with them and worked with them (for they were tentmakers by trade). 4 He addressed both Jews and Greeks in the synagogue every Sabbath, attempting to persuade them. 5 Now when Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul became wholly absorbed with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 When they opposed him and reviled him, he protested by shaking out his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am guiltless! From now on I will go to the Gentiles!” 7 Then Paul left the synagogue and went to the house of a person named Titius Justus, a Gentile who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the president of the synagogue, believed in the Lord together with his entire household, and many of the Corinthians who heard about it believed and were baptized. 9 The Lord said to Paul by a vision in the night, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent, 10 because I am with you, and no one will assault you to harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So he stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. 12 Now while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews attacked Paul together and brought him before the judgment seat, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God in a way contrary to the law!” 14 But just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of some crime or serious piece of villainy, I would have been justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews, 15 but since it concerns points of disagreement about words and names and your own law, settle it yourselves. I will not be a judge of these things!” 16 Then he had them forced away from the judgment seat. 17 So they all seized Sosthenes, the president of the synagogue, and began to beat him in front of the judgment seat. Yet none of these things were of any concern to Gallio. 18 Paul, after staying many more days in Corinth, said farewell to the brothers and sailed away to Syria accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because he had made a vow. 19 When they reached Ephesus, Paul left Priscilla and Aquila behind there, but he himself went into the synagogue and addressed the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay longer, he would not consent, 21 but said farewell to them and added, “I will come back to you again if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus, 22 and when he arrived at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church at Jerusalem and then went down to Antioch. 23 After he spent some time there, Paul left and went through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. 24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, arrived in Ephesus. He was an eloquent speaker, well-versed in the scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak out fearlessly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately. 27 When Apollos wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he assisted greatly those who had believed by grace, 28 for he refuted the Jews vigorously in public debate, demonstrating from the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. 1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the inland regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples there 2 and said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 So Paul said, “Into what then were you baptized?” “Into John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, 6 and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. 7 (Now there were about twelve men in all.) (Acts 18:1—19:7)1
People are not always what they appear to be. A number of years ago, I arrived in India for the first time. My letter, which contained my airline flight and arrival information, arrived in India a couple of weeks after I did, so I was all alone for a number of hours. When I finally was able to contact someone in India, I was told that I was to meet a very well-known speaker from the United States, and I would then travel with him. He was staying at the local YMCA, so I took a taxi to meet him there. Having never met this well-known preacher, I had a certain picture in my mind as to what this meeting would be like. It didn’t turn out exactly as I had expected. No, it didn’t turn out anything like I had expected. When I arrived at the YMCA, I learned the number of the room in which this man was staying. When I arrived at the door it was wide open, and he was lying there, on top of the bed, in just his underwear.
Now, there was certainly nothing indecent about this. It was the YMCA, a place for men only. And the speaker whom I was to meet was certainly decent. I should add that the reason for his attire was that it was very warm and humid in Bombay, and there was no air conditioning. It was the only way to cool down, as this fellow had learned from past experience. Somehow, though, this mental picture will always be in my mind’s eye. I found it a little difficult to be awestruck by a dignitary in his underwear!
You may be wondering what all this has to do with our text in Acts 18. Like the fellow I was to meet in Bombay, Paul was a man of great standing. From our reading in the Gospels, we have come to look upon Peter (not to mention the other disciples of our Lord) as a man who has “feet of clay.” We have seen him put his foot in his mouth a number of times. We have observed him acting too hastily, and sometimes rashly. We have even heard him deny knowing the Savior. But somehow we think of Paul differently. We think of him as a man who is incapable of feeling or acting as we might.
Acts 18 is one place where the human side of Paul is revealed to the reader. Specifically, our text makes it clear that Paul had fears, just like we do. I know this because God Himself tells us so:
9 The Lord said to Paul by a vision in the night, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent, 10 because I am with you, and no one will assault you to harm you, because I have many people in this city” (1 Corinthians 18:9-10).
Surely our God knows the hearts of His people, and thus if God found it necessary to encourage Paul and to instruct him not to fear, and not to be silent regarding the gospel, then Paul must have had fears and must have contemplated keeping quiet regarding the gospel.
I believe that our text is important for several reasons. First of all, it is fascinating reading. God works in amazing ways, and our text is surely an example of this. Second, this passage portrays Paul in terms we can identify with, like we identify with Peter. Third, this text helps us to put Paul’s life and ministry into perspective. So join me as we seek to understand this text and its implications and applications for our own lives.
1 After this Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he found 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 depart from Rome. Paul approached them, 3 and because he worked at the same trade, he stayed with them and worked with them (for they were tentmakers by trade). 4 He addressed both Jews and Greeks in the synagogue every Sabbath, attempting to persuade them (Acts 18:1-4).
You will remember that when Paul left Berea and traveled on to Athens, he left Silas and Timothy behind in Berea, with instructions to join him as soon as possible (Acts 17:14-15). When Paul came to Corinth, he was still alone in verses 1-4. He was not alone for long, however, because he encountered a Jewish couple (Aquila and Priscilla) who, like him, were tentmakers by trade. They had recently lived in Rome, but were expelled by the edict of Claudius along with all the other Jews. Paul worked during the day, but on the Sabbath, he went to the synagogue, where he would proclaim the same message he preached everywhere: Jesus is the Messiah whose suffering, death, and resurrection the Old Testament prophets foretold.
On the surface, verses 1-4 do not seem all that significant. But upon further reflection, we should see that they help to explain and to illustrate Paul’s teaching elsewhere. For example, think of Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians – the saints of this very city. In chapter 8, Paul called upon the stronger saints to forego their “right” to eat certain meats for the sake of their weaker brother. In chapter 9, Paul demonstrates how this should work by citing his practice of working with his own hands, rather than to accept support from those to whom he ministered (1 Corinthians 9:1-23). Paul is referring to the very thing Luke describes in Acts 18:1-4.
This principle is not just practiced in Corinth. We find several texts in which Paul refers to the same practice elsewhere:
31 “Therefore be alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears. 32 And now I entrust you to God and to the message of his grace. This message is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have desired no one’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine provided for my needs and the needs of those who were with me. 35 By all these things, I have shown you that by working in this way we must help the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:31-35).
7 For you know yourselves how you must imitate us, because we did not behave without discipline among you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s food without paying. Instead, in toil and drudgery we worked night and day in order not to burden any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give ourselves as an example for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this command: “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).
From what Luke has written concerning Paul’s practice in Corinth, some have embraced what they would call “tent-making ministry.” They find a means of employment which enables them to support themselves in a certain place, and from this setting, they proclaim the good news of the gospel. This is now necessary in those countries which will not allow full-time missionaries. These so-called “closed” countries still need people who are highly skilled in medicine, public health, technology, or teaching English. “Tent-making ministry” not only reduces the financial burden on the church, it also provides a way for Christians to have contact with people in the workplace. Paul was years ahead of his time.
5 Now when Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul became wholly absorbed with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 When they opposed him and reviled him, he protested by shaking out his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am guiltless! From now on I will go to the Gentiles!” 7 Then Paul left the synagogue and went to the house of a person named Titius Justus, a Gentile who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the president of the synagogue, believed in the Lord together with his entire household, and many of the Corinthians who heard about it believed and were baptized.
While Paul is in Corinth, Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia. This enables Paul to fully devote himself to preaching from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ (verse 5). We are not told just what it was that enabled Paul to suddenly devote himself to preaching. But what Luke has not said here, Paul has written in his Epistle to the Philippians:
15 And as you Philippians know, at the beginning of my gospel ministry, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in this matter of giving and receiving except you alone. 16 For even in Thessalonica on more than one occasion you sent something for my need (Philippians 4:15-16).
I suspect that most of us assume Paul was supported in the same way that modern missionaries are today. We have already noted that Paul was a “tent-maker missionary,” being supported by his own labors most of the time. One reason for this was that this was Paul’s personal conviction, as seen in 1 Corinthians 9:1-23. Another reason seems to be that the sending church (Antioch) did not commit to monthly support, as churches and individuals often do today. Paul says plainly to the Philippians that their giving to him is the exception, rather than the rule. Not only did they send Epaphroditus to minister to Paul in his imprisonment, they also sent funds. In part, this may have been due to the fact that this is the way prisoners were cared for – by contributions from friends and family. But it would seem that on this occasion, the Philippian saints sent money to Paul as an expression of their love and partnership in his ministry:
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 I always pray with joy in my every prayer for all of you 5 because of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now (Philippians 1:3-5).
Consequently, Paul was able to spend all of his time in preaching the gospel (and no doubt in personally following up with those who came to faith). I suspect that it was a combination of Paul’s intensified ministry and a greater number of converts that precipitated a strong Jewish reaction (verse 6). As he had done before, Paul responded by turning from the Jews to focusing on the Gentiles. He didn’t have far to go, however. He simply moved from the synagogue to the home of Titius Justus, a Gentile believer who lived next door to the synagogue. This must have really irritated the unbelieving Jews, because Paul’s ministry would still impact those attending synagogue.
Among those Jews who believed was a man named Crispus, who was the president of the synagogue. He, along with his entire household, believed in the Lord Jesus and was baptized. Many of the Gentile Corinthians also believed in Jesus, and they were baptized as well.
9 The Lord said to Paul by a vision in the night, “Do not be afraid [any longer, NASB], but speak [“go on speaking,” NASB] and do not be silent, 10 because I am with you, and no one will assault you to harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So he stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them (Acts 18:9-11).
I agree with the translators of the NASB when they render verses 9 and 10 in this way:
9 And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10, NASB, emphasis mine).
The present imperative, utilized in these two verbs, would suggest that Paul should cease being afraid (thus, he was afraid) and that he should keep on preaching (which he was tempted to cease). Paul was afraid, and he must have been contemplating keeping silent.
Can anyone blame him for feeling this way? Here is a man who has endured more pain at this point in time than any of us will ever experience (and his sufferings are just beginning). His experiences would strongly suggest that he was about to suffer more at the hand of unbelieving Jews (and perhaps some unbelieving Gentiles as well – remember Philippi). Paul seemed to be the “lightning rod” for the opposition. When he came to town, something dramatic usually happened. And when he left, things settled down, even when he left Silas and Timothy behind. Perhaps Paul considered keeping a low profile and toning down the dogmatic way in which he presented Jesus as Israel’s Messiah.
We know that God’s timing is perfect. We also know that God knows our hearts perfectly. Thus, we must assume that if God chose this time to encourage Paul by a night vision, Paul must have needed it, now. We must therefore assume that at this moment in time Paul was afraid of what his opponents might do to him because he proclaimed the gospel. But why would he be afraid now, when he was beginning to experience a good measure of success?
I believe it is precisely because Paul has experienced success that he is afraid. Think of what we have already read in Acts:
4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large group of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. 5 But the Jews became jealous, and gathering together some worthless men from the rabble in the marketplace, they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. They attacked Jason’s house, trying to find Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly (Acts 17:4-5).
The Jews were provoked to jealousy by the belief of many Gentiles,3 and it was this jealousy which prompted their opposition. Paul is now experiencing success in his ministry to the Gentiles; why should he not anticipate intensified opposition from the Jews? It was Paul’s success which posed the danger.
This night vision was just what Paul needed to strengthen and encourage him. Consider what God communicated to Paul through this vision.
First, God assured Paul that He was with him. This promise of God’s presence is not just one that is made to Paul. It is a promise to every believer:
18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, emphasis mine).
16 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever - 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you” (John 14:16-18, emphasis mine).
5 Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, emphasis mine).
Second, God promised Paul that no one would assault him, so as to hurt him. We know that Paul endured many assaults, along with other forms of suffering:
23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am talking like I am out of my mind!) I am even more so: with much greater labors, with far more imprisonments, with more severe beatings, facing death many times. 24 Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with a rod. Once I received a stoning. Three times I suffered shipwreck. A night and a day I spent adrift in the open sea. 26 I have been on journeys many times, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own countrymen, in dangers from Gentiles, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers from false brothers, 27 in hard work and toil, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, many times without food, in cold and without enough clothing. 28 Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxious concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not burn with indignation? 30 If I must boast, I will boast about the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is blessed forever, knows I am not lying. 32 In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to arrest me, 33 but I was let down in a rope-basket through a window in the city wall, and escaped his hands (2 Corinthians 11:23-33).
Among other things that Paul has suffered thus far in Acts, he has been stoned and left for dead in Lystra (Acts 14:19). He, along with Silas, has also been beaten severely in Philippi, and then placed in stocks in a prison (Acts 16:19-23). Had God not intervened, Paul would probably have suffered in Thessalonica, as well as in Berea. Paul has every reason to assume that his success in preaching the gospel to Gentiles in Corinth may result in persecution. We all know that every man’s mind and spirit can be broken if tortured long enough. Paul seems to have reached his limit. And thus God assures him that he will not endure another beating in Corinth.
Finally, God informed Paul that He had many more souls in Corinth. God was going to spare Paul any additional torture in Corinth, and He had many souls who were yet to be saved in Corinth. Paul’s ministry was not yet over in Corinth, and thus God assured him that He would protect him from injury in this place. He also assured Paul of even greater success in Corinth. In the strength of these assurances, Paul remained on in Corinth for 18 months. This was the longest stay in any city for Paul up to this point in time.
12 Now while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews attacked Paul together and brought him before the judgment seat, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God in a way contrary to the law!” 14 But just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of some crime or serious piece of villainy, I would have been justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews, 15 but since it concerns points of disagreement about words and names and your own law, settle it yourselves. I will not be a judge of these things!” 16 Then he had them forced away from the judgment seat. 17 So they all seized Sosthenes, the president of the synagogue, and began to beat him in front of the judgment seat. Yet none of these things were of any concern to Gallio (Acts 18:12-17).
God has promised Paul that He will be with him. He has promised Paul that he will not suffer at the hands of his adversaries in Corinth. He has further assured Paul that He has many more who will yet believe in Corinth. The surprise is not that God fulfills His promises, but how He does so. This we see in Acts 18:12-17.
Before we go on, we must remind ourselves concerning something Luke has already written:
1 After this Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he found 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 depart from Rome (Acts 18:1-2, emphasis mine).
Aquila and Priscilla moved to Corinth from Rome because Claudius had expelled all Jews from Rome. Now why would he do such a thing? I am confident that he did so because the Jews were trouble-makers, the very thing Paul’s adversaries accused him of being.
Why do you think Luke bothered to include this detail about Aquila and Priscilla coming from Rome? Let me suggest that it sets the stage for the hearing before Gallio in verses 12-17. Rome has just expelled all Jews for being resistant, rebellious, and subversive.4 Their rebellion was so pronounced and widespread that the Roman authority finally rid Rome of all Jews (not just a few trouble-makers). Now, we find the Jews in another Roman city (Corinth) accusing Paul and Silas of virtually the same offense:
“This man is persuading people to worship God in a way contrary to the law!” (Acts 18:13)
In a most clever way, Paul’s Jewish opponents are accusing Paul and Silas of that for which Claudius found all Jews guilty. Even more cleverly, they have accused Paul and Silas of teaching people to worship God in a way that is “contrary to the law.” The same word “law” here is used both for Roman “law,” and also for the “law” of Moses. In truth, their objection is not that Paul incites people to rebel against Rome, because that is exactly what the Jews in Jerusalem wanted Jesus to do. And it was exactly that which Barabbas did. They chose Barabbas rather than Jesus because Jesus would not immediately overthrow Rome. The Jews who accused Paul were hypocritical, at best, not to mention liars. The civil unrest we have seen earlier in Acts is due to Jewish initiative, not due to Paul’s initiative.
Nevertheless, when one reads the accusation these Jews made against Paul and Silas against the backdrop of Claudius’ actions in Rome, there seems to be very little basis for a good verdict from Gallio. If Claudius has already thrown all Jews out of Rome for being revolutionaries, then hearing the same charge against Paul and Silas would surely appear to be sufficient grounds for criminal charges against them. Add to that Gallio’s obvious disregard for justice and compassion (as seen by his apathy while watching the Jews beat Sosthenes in front of him), and one would have little basis for optimism here.
Gallio may not be favorably inclined to Jews, nor filled with the milk of human kindness, nor even predisposed toward justice;5 but he is very insightful. No one is going to “pull the wool over his eyes.” Is Gallio going to fall for this false accusation against Paul and Silas? Not for a moment!
Here is what I like best. Gallio will rule in Paul’s favor, and yet without so much as one word being spoken by Paul in his own defense. Let’s admit it; we tend to think of Paul as a brilliant speaker. I’m not so sure that he is as skilled a speaker as we suppose, but let’s save that for another time. If Paul was really a highly skilled speaker, then we might not be surprised if Paul were to speak in his own defense in such a way that it convinced Gallio that he was innocent. But Paul is not allowed to speak. Paul opens his mouth to speak, and Gallio interrupts. Thus, Gallio’s ruling is completely independent, and without any influence on Paul’s part.
So what was his ruling? Consider Gallio’s words:
“If it were a matter of some crime or serious piece of villainy, I would have been justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews, 15 but since it concerns points of disagreement about words and names and your own law, settle it yourselves. I will not be a judge of these things!” 16 Then he had them forced away from the judgment seat (Acts 18:14b-16).
The crime of which Paul was accused was a most serious offense – a capital offense. He might as well have been accused of treason, for in nature that is very close to sedition. Gallio recognizes the seriousness of the charge, and then promptly dismisses it. They have accused Paul and Silas of sedition. If these charges were true, then Gallio would have taken them seriously. But, in fact, they were not true. This wasn’t really about rebellion against Roman “law” anyway; it was about petty squabbles (in his mind) over the interpretation and application of the “law” of Moses. And so Gallio says something like this: “You have accused these men of violating my ‘law,’ but it is really your differences of opinion over violations of your ‘law’ that is at the heart of all this.”
In effect, Gallio throws this case out of court. This is a very significant legal ruling. It is much like our Supreme Court refusing to hear a case that has been brought to it. In so doing, Gallio leaves matters just the way they were. And how was that?
The Roman government had recognized Judaism as the religion of Israel, and thus had given it legal status. As such, Judaism was allowed, and even protected, under Roman law. Other religions were not given the same status. Judaism had been trying to distance itself from Christianity. Judaism sought to officially discredit Christianity and brand it as a heretical (and even revolutionary) religion, contrary not only to Jewish law, but also to Roman law. Gallio recognized that he was being used, and he refused to play into the hands of these Jewish prosecutors. It was all a matter of religious in-fighting within Judaism. He would not pronounce on religious matters. And he was not convinced that Paul and Silas had created any political unrest, unlike their Jewish adversaries. Christianity was Jewish, in the eyes of Rome, and thus Christians would be protected by Rome, especially Christians, like Paul, who were Roman citizens.
I wonder at Gallio’s indifference to the beating of Sosthenes, before his very eyes. But I also note that Sosthenes must have replaced Crispus as the “president of the synagogue.”6 We know that Crispus became a Christian, along with his whole household. It is reasonable to assume that when Paul and Silas left the synagogue, Crispus either resigned or (perhaps more likely) was fired as “president of the synagogue.” How could the synagogue be run by a man who embraced Paul’s preaching?
In my mind’s eye, I can see Crispus going home to his wife one day to announce to her that he had been fired. It was all because of his faith. Can you imagine how Crispus must have felt if he witnessed the “trial” of Paul and Silas before Gallio? I can see him going home that day to tell his wife how his successor was beaten badly for unsuccessfully accusing Paul. Maybe losing his job wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
18 Paul, after staying many more days in Corinth, said farewell to the brothers and sailed away to Syria accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because he had made a vow. 19 When they reached Ephesus, Paul left Priscilla and Aquila behind there, but he himself went into the synagogue and addressed the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay longer, he would not consent, 21 but said farewell to them and added, “I will come back to you again if God wills.“ Then he set sail from Ephesus, 22 and when he arrived at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church at Jerusalem and then went down to Antioch. 23 After he spent some time there, Paul left and went through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples (Acts 18:18-23).
Paul stayed on in Corinth for “many more days” (verse 18). I take it that he ministered in Corinth for a total of 18 months (see verse 11). He then departed for Syria (Antioch), accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Luke includes a note about Paul cutting his hair off at Cenchrea because he had made a vow. There is a lot of discussion about this “vow,” which seems most likely to be a Nazirite vow.7 I think Luke tells us about Paul’s vow to inform us that he (and other Jewish believers) are free to observe such Old Testament rituals, knowing that they were a mere “shadow of what was to come” (see Colossians 2:17).
When they reached Ephesus, Paul went to the synagogue, where he addressed the Jews, showing that Jesus was the Christ.8 The initial response was similar to what he received elsewhere.9 Paul was encouraged to stay longer, so that he could more fully explain his message. Paul did not consent to stay, however. Instead, he promised to return “if God wills” (Acts 18:21). The question that comes to our minds is “Why?” “Why didn’t Paul stay on in Ephesus to preach the gospel to them?”
I can think of several answers. First, Paul may be eager to get back to Jerusalem, as he is elsewhere.10 This may be related to the vow he had taken (verse 18). Second, earlier Paul and Silas had been forbidden to preach the gospel in Asia.11 Did this earlier prohibition still stand? Paul may not be certain, and so he waits for further confirmation. He did not wish to attempt to break down a door that God had closed. Third, Asia just wasn’t quite ready for Paul. It is clear that Asia is ready by his third missionary journey.12 One wonders if Apollos (Acts 18:24-28) was not part of the preparation process (not to mention Priscilla and Aquila).
Paul set sail from Ephesus, leaving Priscilla and Aquila behind. When his ship had landed at Caesarea, Paul made his way up to Jerusalem. We are not told what Paul did here, but he no doubt would have worshipped in the Temple, and he could have met with some of the saints there, reporting about his second missionary journey. After Jerusalem, Paul went to Antioch, from which he had commenced both of his missionary journeys. Nothing is said of Paul’s ministry in Antioch, except that he spent some time there. When Luke tells us that Paul leaves Antioch and makes his way through “the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples,”13 he is indicating to us that the second missionary journey has ended and the third missionary journey has begun.
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, arrived in Ephesus. He was an eloquent speaker, well-versed in the scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak out fearlessly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately. 27 When Apollos wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he assisted greatly those who had believed by grace, 28 for he refuted the Jews vigorously in public debate, demonstrating from the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Apollos is a most fascinating fellow. Thanks to Luke’s description of him, we know that he is a very bright and gifted Jew from Alexandria. This Egyptian city had a great impact on Christianity. It was here that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) was written. The New Testament writers often cited Scripture from the Septuagint. One of the early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament (Codex Alexandrinus), along with other important New Testament manuscripts, was obtained in Alexandria. Alexandrian Jews were among those with whom Stephen debated (Acts 6:9). If Apollos was “well-versed in the scriptures” (Acts 18:24) it was probably in Alexandria that he became a great student of the Old Testament.
Apollos was not only very knowledgeable in the Old Testament Scriptures; he was also a very powerful speaker. (He almost seems to be a replacement for Stephen, who died as a martyr for the faith – Acts 6:8—8:1.) Luke tells us a great deal about Apollos, but he also informs us that there were some gaps in his understanding of the gospel. The question is, “What were these gaps?” While students of Scripture differ on this point, I have concluded to my own satisfaction that Apollos was unaware that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Let me suggest the evidence that pointed me in this direction.
1. We are told that Apollos knew the Old Testament Scriptures well. This was his area of expertise and strength. Through the Old Testament Scriptures, he had been instructed in “the way of the Lord” (Acts 18:24). The term rendered “Lord”14 here need not refer to Jesus, but can just as easily refer to God the Father. But even if “Lord” here refers to Jesus, it would simply mean that Apollos knew many of the facts about Jesus, facts about Him that were revealed by the Old Testament prophets. Apollos knew a lot about the Messiah who was to come, yet without knowing Jesus personally as the Messiah.
2. If this is true (that Apollos had not yet personally come to trust in Jesus as the promised Messiah), it in no way undercuts the importance of Apollos to Luke’s argument. Think of it this way. Paul’s normal method of preaching in the synagogue was to begin by proving from the Old Testament that Messiah must suffer, die, and be raised from the dead. Then Paul went on to show how Jesus fulfilled these Old Testament prophecies. From Luke’s description of Apollos, we can see that Apollos’ message was precisely the same as the first part of Paul’s presentation of the gospel (from the Old Testament Scriptures). The problem with Apollos was that he did not yet know the second half of Paul’s message – he did not yet know that Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of these prophecies about Messiah. Apollos’ message is further confirmation of the gospel as preached by Paul. Independently of each other, both reached the same conclusion: the Messiah must be rejected by His people, crucified, and raised again. And once enlightened by Priscilla and Aquila, the message of Apollos would be precisely that of Paul.
3. Apollos was an Old Testament saint, like those listed in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11. He was like the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8, or Cornelius of Acts 10. He (like other Old Testament saints) believed that Messiah was coming,15 but they did not, as yet, realize that He had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
4. The story of the further instruction of Apollos by Priscilla and Aquila is placed just before Luke’s account of the 12 brethren in Ephesus who were disciples of John the Baptist, who had never received believers’ baptism or the gift of the Holy Spirit. Whatever Apollos was lacking, it seems to be the same thing the 12 disciples lacked. And since those in the house of Cornelius and the 12 Paul met in Ephesus were clearly saved, then baptized, and finally baptized by the Holy Spirit, we can safely assume (I believe) that this was the case with Apollos as well.
Thus, I don’t see how we can conclude that Apollos had come to trust in Jesus as the promised Messiah until after Priscilla and Aquila informed him more accurately. He knew that Messiah was coming. I believe that he knew Messiah would be rejected by the nation Israel and die for the sins of His people. I believe that Apollos knew that Messiah would be raised from the dead. But what he didn’t know was that Jesus was the fulfillment of Israel’s messianic hopes. Thanks to Priscilla and Aquila, he does now.
Why does Luke bother to include this information about Apollos? As mentioned above, I believe the similarity between the preaching of Paul and that of Apollos was further confirmation of the truth and accuracy of Paul’s gospel. The gospel was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, and Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies of the coming of Messiah. I believe there is another reason why Apollos is included in this account: it enables us to better understand Paul’s references to Apollos in his epistles. Aside from references to Apollos in Acts (18:24; 19:1), we find Paul frequently referring to him in his First Corinthian Epistle (1:12; 3:4, 5, 6, 22; 4:6; 16:12). Beyond this, he is mentioned only one other time (Titus 3:13). Apollos is noteworthy because of his great gift as a speaker and also because of his independence from Paul:
With regard to our brother Apollos: I strongly encouraged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was simply not his intention to come now. He will come when he has the opportunity (1 Corinthians 16:12).
Obviously, Apollos did not take orders from Paul, nor need he do so. Apollos could sense when it was God’s time for him to visit Corinth, where he had been before (see Acts 18:27-28; 19:1).
I believe there is at least one more reason why Apollos is mentioned in Acts 18 and 19. There is a kind of alternation that takes place in Ephesus and Corinth. Paul spent a good while in Corinth (at least 18 months according to Acts 18:11), and then he moved on to Ephesus, where he briefly ministered before leaving for Syria (Acts 18:19-21). Apollos seems to have arrived in Ephesus after Paul had left (Acts 18:24-26). It was here that Priscilla and Aquila (whom Paul had left behind in Ephesus) more fully explained the way of God to him. From Ephesus, Apollos went on to Corinth in Achaia (Acts 18:27; 19:1), where he ministered. It is interesting to note Luke’s assessment of Apollos’ ministry:
When Apollos wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he assisted greatly those who had believed by grace (Acts 18:27, emphasis mine).
According to Luke, the ministry of Apollos was not evangelism as much as it was edification. He was instrumental in assisting those who had believed. It was Paul who was instrumental in the conversion of the Corinthian saints; it was Apollos who followed up with these new believers, strengthening their faith by his strong affirmation of the gospel as Paul had proclaimed it. This perfectly squares with Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow (1 Corinthians 3:6).
After Apollos left Ephesus for Corinth, Paul seems to have arrived for his much more lengthy ministry there (Acts 19:1ff.). All this alternation between Paul and Apollos shows how God graciously works to save and to sanctify His own people. The spread of the gospel was not the work of just one man – Paul – but was the work of a plurality (a team, if you would) of people, who were used of God in a powerful way.
1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the inland regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples there 2 and said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 So Paul said, “Into what then were you baptized?” “Into John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, 6 and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. 7 (Now there were about twelve men in all.) (Acts 19:1-7)
I will deal with this text briefly here and return to it in our next study. There is good reason not to lose sight of this text when studying Acts 18. Apollos seems to have been very much like these 12 Ephesian “disciples.” Apollos and these 12 disciples were products of the ministry of John the Baptist (compare Acts 18:25 and 19:3). Apollos and these 12 men seem to have been Old Testament saints who were looking for the Messiah, who had heard and believed the message of John the Baptist, but who had not yet been informed that Jesus was the Messiah the prophets foretold and about whose coming John the Baptist preached. What Priscilla and Aquila did for Apollos, Paul did for these Ephesian disciples.
When they heard the “rest of the story,” these 12 disciples of John believed in Jesus and were baptized in His name. Then, when Paul placed his hands upon them, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, just as Luke has recorded concerning Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), the Samaritan saints (Acts 8:14-17), and Cornelius and those who were with him (Acts 10:44-46). We will deal with this more fully in our next lesson.
The first thing we can learn from our text is that Paul is human and that he has his fears and his weaknesses. If God finds it necessary to speak to Paul in a night vision and to tell him to stop being afraid, then we certainly are justified in concluding that Paul has his weaknesses, like us. James tells us that Elijah was just a man, like us:
Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain on the land for three years and six months! (James 5:17)
Other texts of Scripture indicate how Paul must have felt at this point in time:
5 So when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter somehow tempted you and our toil had proven useless. 6 But now Timothy has come to us from you and given us the good news of your faith and love and that you always think of us with affection and long to see us just as we also long to see you! 7 So in all our distress and affliction, we were reassured about you, brothers and sisters, through your faith. 8 For now we are alive again, if you stand firm in the Lord. 9 For how can we thank God enough for you, for all the joy we feel because of you before our God? 10 We pray earnestly night and day to see you in person and make up what may be lacking in your faith (1 Thessalonians 3:5-10).
For even when we came into Macedonia, our body had no rest at all, but we were troubled in every way - struggles from the outside, fears from within (2 Corinthians 7:5).
In fact, it was through Paul’s weakness that God glorified Himself:
7 . . . Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me - so that I would not become arrogant. 8 I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
The second thing we should learn is that God never intended for us to be “Lone Ranger” Christians; He purposed to use Christians collectively to accomplish His purposes. When we read about spiritual growth in Ephesians 4:10-16, Paul speaks of growing up together as a church, and not just individual growth. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes individual Christians as members of the body of our Lord, members of the church. When God set someone apart for missions, He set apart Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:1-4), not just Saul (Paul). In our text, we see a number of Christians being used of God, and not just Paul. There is Silas and Timothy (Acts 18:5), Priscilla and Aquila (18:1-3, 26), and Apollos (Acts 18:24-28).
Thus, when Paul writes his First Epistle to the Corinthians, he rebukes those who foolishly follow one man:
11 For members of Chloe’s household have made it clear to me, my brothers and sisters, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,“ or “I am with Apollos,“ or “I am with Cephas,“ or “I am with Christ.“ 13 Is Christ divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you in fact baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11-13)
4 For whenever someone says, “I am with Paul,“ or “I am with Apollos,“ are you not merely human? 5 What is Apollos, really? Or what is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, and each of us in the ministry the Lord gave us. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow. 7 So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work as one, but each will receive his reward according to his work (1 Corinthians 3:4-8).
In a day when Christians are tempted to idolize a particular Christian leader, let us remember Paul and our text.
Third, God used people to encourage and to strengthen Paul in his hour of weakness. Paul was alone when he first came to Corinth (Acts 17:14; 18:5). God first brought Paul to Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-3), and then later he was joined by Silas and Timothy (who appear to have come with a gift from the saints at Philippi – see Acts 18:5; Philippians 4:15-16). Apollos did not have direct contact with Paul in our text, but his ministry did complement Paul’s ministry (Acts 18:27).
Wonder of wonders, God even used a pagan Roman official like Gallio to encourage Paul. God first encouraged Paul by assuring him that there were many souls in Corinth whom He had chosen for salvation (Acts 18:9-10). He also assured Paul that he would not be harmed in Corinth, as he had been earlier. Who would have thought that God’s instrument of deliverance would have been Gallio? When charged with insurrection, Paul does not even get the opportunity to speak in his own defense. Instead, he is defended by Gallio. And rather than Paul taking a beating, it appears that the Jewish man who led the opposition (Sosthenes), took a beating instead (Acts 18:16-17).
James indicated that Elijah was a man “of like passions,” a man like us (James 5:17). I have taught about Elijah before, and I always assumed that Elisha was chosen merely as Elijah’s replacement (lest Elijah think of himself as indispensable). But in studying our text in Acts 18, I have changed my mind about Elisha. Elisha was immediately selected to accompany Elijah, and he remained at his side until he (Elijah) was taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:1-11). I now believe that one of Elisha’s primary functions was to provide fellowship and encouragement to Elijah.
Paul, too, was merely a man, like us. But God knows our frame and that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14), and thus God provided encouragement for Paul in his hour of weakness and fear. He encouraged him by a night vision, as well as by working through others like Aquila and Priscilla, Silas and Timothy, Apollos, and even Gallio. What a gracious God we serve.
Fourth, Luke provides us with insight into how missionary activity was financed in the early days of the church. It appears that Paul did not “raise support” in the way it is done today. We know from 1 Corinthians 9 that it is not wrong to be supported by those to whom we minister. But Paul set his right to support aside for the good of the gospel. Instead of being supported, Paul supported himself and others by tent-making, by working with his own hands so that he could give to others in need.
Now for many, a tent-making ministry is not possible. A computer programmer would find little work to support himself in the jungles of the Amazon River. Some ministries require support from the church. But not all ministries do. In fact, tent-making ministries may be the only way that some missionaries will ever be able to enter certain countries legally, so that they can proclaim Christ. Let us keep this option open in our minds, because it is a wonderful way to minister in some situations.
Let us also bear in mind that this is not the only way to do ministry. When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, they seem to have come with a financial gift, a gift which enabled Paul to cease his tent-making job and devote himself fully to the proclamation of the Word of God. Let us not look down on this divine provision as well.
Finally, let us rejoice in the way that God worked through human instruments to bring salvation to those who were desperately lost and destined for eternal judgment. Let us remember the kind of people God saved in Corinth:
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
God is still in the business of taking sinful men and making saints of them through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. And He has given us the privilege of having a part in this marvelous ministry. Let us be about the task, knowing that He will save those He has chosen, and that He will use us in our weakness to do so.
Let us also take note of the fact that God works through His body, the church, and not just through individual effort. God used others to comfort Paul in his time of need, and He used these same people to advance the gospel. Are you lonely? Are you fearful? Do you feel helpless? If you have not trusted in Jesus, do so today. And if you have trusted in Jesus, then get involved in a good church where you can minister with others and to others, and where they can minister to you.
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
2 Copyright © 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 25 in the Studies in the Book of Acts series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on May 21, 2006. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
3 Compare Romans 11:13-14.
4 I believe this is precisely why Rome sacked Jerusalem under Titus in 70 A.D. They were finally fed up with Jewish autonomy.
5 It is only right that I point out that John R.W. Stott would differ with me here. He speaks much more favorably of Gallio: “He was the younger brother of Seneca, the Stoic philosopher and tutor of the youthful Nero, and Seneca spoke appreciatively of his brother’s tolerant kindness.” John R.W. Stott, The Message of Acts (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), p. 299. What would one expect one to say about his younger brother? Luke does not seem to speak of him in the same way. Later, Stott explains Gallio’s indifference to the beating given to Sosthenes before his own eyes: “Luke’s addition that Gallio showed no concern whatever (17b) does not mean that he was indifferent to justice, but that he considered it judicious to turn a blind eye to this act of violence” (Stott, p. 300). I am not persuaded by Stott, as much as I respect his scholarship. From Luke’s description, I do not see Gallio as a compassionate man whose only interest is justice. I think God used an unwilling and uncaring Roman official to accomplish His will: “The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD like channels of water; he turns it wherever he wants” (Proverbs 21:1).
6 Compare verse 17, where Sosthenes is called the “president of the synagogue,” with verse 8, where Crispus holds this title.
7 See Numbers 6; Judges 13:5-7; 16:17.
8 See Acts 17:2.
9 See Acts 13:42.
10 See Acts 20:16.
11 Acts 16:6.
12 See Acts 19, especially verse 10.
13 Verse 23.
14 In Matthew 1:22; 2:15 kurios is employed in reference to God the Father; in John 20:18, 28 it is used in reference to the Son. This Greek term (kurios) that is most often rendered “Lord” is used to translate the Hebrew term adonai, which was read in place of the sacred tetragrammaton (Yahweh). The point is that it can refer either to the Father or to the Son.
15 See John 8:56.