Acts 18:1-22

A Bible Study Taught by Dr. Larry Reynolds

September 17, 2009 


Paul’s Second Missionary Journey – Part 4:  Corinth to Antioch

(Acts 18:1-22)


Paul’s second missionary journey (recorded in Acts 15:6 – 18:22) covered a period of approximately three or four years.  About one-half of that time was spent in the city of Corinth in the southern Greek province of Achaia.  Corinth was one of the most important cities in ancient Greece, and in the 1st century it was still vitally important, mainly because of its unique location.  The city sits on a very narrow isthmus, known as “the Bridge of Greece,” that separates the Adriatic Sea to the west and the Aegean Sea to the east.  In the 1st century it was a port city with two ports.  An ingenuous system of pulling ships over a three-mile long log road was devised to move ships across the Isthmus to keep them from having to sail all the way around the tip of southern Greece.  Today, a long, deep, narrow canal connects the two seas near Corinth.  The canal was completed in the late 19th century but the idea had been considered in ancient Greece.  Julius Caesar actually devised a detailed plan for the canal and Nero broke ground on the project but it was never finished.

The following is a thumbnail history of Corinth:

·        Corinth was founded in ancient times and by 750 B.C. was the wealthiest city in Greece.  Because of its location on a major trade route connecting west and east by sea, it became a great commercial center.

·        In 146 B.C. the Romans destroyed Corinth.  Its citizens were either killed or sold into slavery, its buildings were wrecked, and its art treasures looted and sold.  Rebuilding was forbidden and for nearly one hundred years the city lay in ruins.

·        In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar rebuilt Corinth and had it colonized with veterans and freedmen.  Shortly after that it became the capital of the province of Achaia.

·        In the 1st century it is estimated that the population of Corinth was well over half a million, with about 200,000 being freedmen and the rest slaves.

·        The city was world famous for its drunkenness, debauchery, dishonesty, and immorality.  The Greeks coined a word, cornthiazomai, which literally means “to live like a Corinthian” and was synonym for living a loose, immoral life.  The phrase “Corinthian girl” became synonymous with prostitute.  Paul wrote Romans from Corinth.  To get a picture of life in this immoral city, read Romans 1:24-32.

·        Even the religion of Corinth was corrupt.  There was a temple to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, on top of the acrocorinth with towered about 1500 feet above the city.  It is said that 1000 women served as priestesses/prostitutes in this temple.  Even though the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C., the immoral religion of Aphrodite thrived in various shrines around the city of Corinth.


In Acts 18 we have only a brief sketch of what happened during Paul’s long stay in Corinth.  In this chapter, Luke tells us the following:

  • The meeting of Aquila and Priscilla (18:1-3)
  • The arrival of Silas and Timothy from Macedonia (18:5)
  • Paul’s ministry in the synagogue (18:4, 6-8)
  • Paul’s vision of encouragement (18:9-11)
  • The experience before Gallio (18:12-17)


The Meeting of Aquila and Priscilla (18:1-3)

This is our first introduction in the New Testament to this outstanding couple that had a tremendous impact on the church in the 1st century.  In this passage Luke tells that:

  • Aquila was “a native of Pontus which was a Roman Province on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea in what is now modern day Turkey.
  • They came to Corinth from Rome because “Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome…”  The Roman historian, Suetonius, says this decree was issued in 49 A.D. because of a riot in a Jewish ghetto that was instigated by a man named Chrestos.  Most scholars take this as a reference to Christ, meaning that there as a conflict between Jews and Christians in Rome.  Romans 16:3 indicates that Aquila and Priscilla later returned to Rome.
  • Aquila “…was of the same trade…” as Paul.  Verse 3 tells us that they were working as “tent-makers.”  The word literally means leather workers. 
  • Paul “…stayed with them…” while he was in Corinth.


The Arrival of Silas and Timothy (18:5)

This is an interesting verse.  We have to read between the lines to piece together the movements of Silas and Timothy during this period.  The last time Luke mentions them is in Acts 17:15 while they were still in Berea.  Paul had gone ahead to Athens and was waiting for them there.  I Thessalonians 3:1ff indicates that Silas and Timothy had joined Paul in Athens.  Because Paul was concerned about the new Christians in Macedonia, he sent Timothy (and apparently Silas) back to Macedonia to check on the churches there while he traveled on to Corinth.  When they arrived back from Macedonia, verse 5 says Paul “…began devoting himself completely to the word…”  In other words, he quit his secular job and did nothing but teach and preach.  He was able to do that because Timothy and Silas brought a financial gift to him from the Christians in Macedonia, specifically Philippi (see 2 Cor. 11:9 and Philippians 4:14-16).


Paul’s Ministry in the Synagogue (18:3, 6-8)

Verse 3“And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”  Four times in Acts 17 & 18 the word translated “reasoning” is used (see also Acts 17:2, 17; 18:19)  The word is a compound word.  The first part is a preposition meaning through and the last part is a noun verb meaning to speak.  So the word carries the idea of attempting to convince or persuade through speech.  As we have seen over and over again, it was Paul’s normal method to begin his ministry of teaching and preaching in the synagogue.


Verses 6-7 chronicles the intense opposition Paul encountered in the synagogue.  Verse 6 says Paul “…shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads…”  which was a way of saying, “We have done our duty, you have been warned, and we are not responsible for your fate.”  (See Acts 13:51)  Jesus commanded His followers to do this in places that were unresponsive to their message (see Matthew 10:14 and Mark 6:11).  Because of the opposition Paul stopped teaching in the synagogue and began teaching at the home of a man who lived next to the synagogue!  The name of the man, Titius Justus, indicates he was a Roman citizen.  While Luke describes him as “a worshiper of God” it is not clear if he actually had come to believe in Jesus.


Verse 8 indicates that not everyone in the synagogue rejected Paul’s message.  The leader of the synagogue, Crispus, came to faith in Jesus.  In 1 Corinthians 1:14 Crispus is mentioned as one of the few people baptized by Paul at Corinth.


Paul’s Vision of Encouragement (Acts 18:9-11)

The fact that Paul had this vision is an indication that he was getting discouraged.  That is not surprising considering all that he had endured for the sake of the gospel.  Even though he had received a clear call to go to Macedonia, he had been run out of very city he visited in that area.  Nor was he well received in Athens.  Now, in Corinth, opposition had once again reared its ugly head.  Surrounded by a morally corrupt culture that glamorized sin and degenerate life-styles, Paul was probably tempted just to move on to somewhere else.  In this vision the Lord gave Paul three concrete reasons to continue his ministry in Corinth:

  • The promise of the Lord’s presence – “…I am with you…”
  • The promise of the Lord’s protection – “…no man will attack you in order to harm you…”
  • The promise of a coming harvest – “…for I have many people in this city…”  The word translated people is laos which is used in the Greek version of the Old Testament to refer to the people of God.

This vision renewed Paul’s enthusiasm for ministry in Corinth and he stayed there for a year and one-half.  The only place Paul ministered for a longer period was the great city of Ephesus on the third missionary journey.


The Experience Before Gallio (Acts 18:12-17)

“Gallio” – He was the proconsul (Roman governor) of Achaia beginning in 51 A.D. and reigning for approximately two and one-half years.  His mention here is an important clue in putting together the chronology of Paul’s travels.  Gallio was the son of the famous Roman orator, Seneca, and the brother of the Stoic philosopher, Senecca (Junior).  He was known as an extremely fair and kind person.  His brother said of him, “No man was ever as sweet to one as Gallio is to all.”  The Lord used this man to provide Paul the protection promised him in the vision of verses 9-10.

“This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law…” – Paul’s enemies tried to convince Gallio that Paul was violating some Roman law.  The Jews were free to practice their religion under Roman law and Gallio viewed the dispute between Paul and the Jews as nothing more than an internal Jewish theological debate of which he wanted no part.  F.F. Bruce points out that Gallio’s ruling meant that Paul and his companions were free to share the gospel as long as they did not cause a public disturbance.

“Sosthenes” – Apparently Sosthenes became the leader of the synagogue after Crispus converted to Christianity.  He was among those who brought charges against Paul before Gallio.  When they were rebuffed by the proconsul, those who had come with Sosthenes turned on him and beat him.  This beating may have convinced Sosthenes that he was hanging out with the wrong crowd!  In 1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul mentions a man named Sosthenes as the co-author of that letter and as his brother in Christ.  Sosthenes apparently became the second leader of the synagogue in Corinth to come to faith in Christ.


The Return to Antioch (Acts 18:18-22)

After staying in Corinth for a while longer, Paul, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, decided it was time to move on.  He had been away from his friends in Antioch of Syria for several years, and he was anxious to see them.  So, taking Priscilla and Aquila with him (some see significance in that Luke puts Priscilla’s name first, perhaps indicating that her special gifts had made her the more effective of the two in ministry [see also Acts 18:26 and Romans 16:3]), he set out for the port at Cenchrea.  There “he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow…”  Sometimes Jews would take a Nazarite vow agreeing not to drink wine or cut their hair for a specific period of time.  It was a period of focusing on discerning the will of God.  Paul had taken such a vow in Corinth, perhaps to discern whether or not it was time for him to move on.  Now that the vow as completed, he had his hair cut.  After a brief stop in Ephesus, where Priscilla and Aquila apparently stayed, Paul sailed to Caesarea, went to Jerusalem, and then back to Antioch, thus ending his second missionary journey.


Practical lessons from Acts 18:1-22:

  1. No culture or sub-culture is beyond the transforming power of the gospel.  Corinth was the very last place one would expect the gospel to take root.
  2. We need each other!  Paul depended on people such as Silas, Timothy, Aquila, and Priscilla to stand beside him and help him in ministry.  The support sent to Paul by the Philippians greatly enhanced what he was able to accomplish.  We always get more done for the kingdom by cooperating with rather than fighting with our fellow believers.
  3. Everyone, at some time or another, struggles with discouragement.  Paul was not immune from that.
  4. In times of discouragement, the promise of “I am with you” is sufficient to see us  through.