Home » Acts of the Apostles » Acts 18 and 19

Acts 18 and 19

Scripture: Acts 18:1 – 19:41

Overview:

  • Paul relocates from Athens to Corinth and meets fellow tent makers Aquila and Priscilla (Jews recently ousted from Rome)
  • Paul preaches in the local synagog until the Jews there tell him they hate him, then he shakes out his clothes and moves his base of operations next door
  • One night Paul has a vision where God tells him to keep speaking and not worry about his safety, so Paul sticks around Corinth a year and a half
  • The Jews of Corinth rally and make a formal complaint about Paul to Gallio, the proconsul in the area, but Gallio says he doesn’t care about Jewish in-fighting regarding their own religion
  • In frustration, the crowd turns on Sosthenes, the local synagog leader, and they beat him up. Gallio is like, “Whatever”
  • Then Paul, Priscilla and Aquila sail off to Ephesus, and after promising to return to Ephesus, Paul keeps going on to Jerusalem then on home to Antioch
  • While Paul sets off on his third missionary journey (from Antioch, up through Galatia), a guy named Apollo appears on the the scene in Ephesus. He’s a learned dude, but needs some help from Priscilla and Aquila to get all the stuff about Jesus just right
  • Apollos then moves on to Achaia, with lots of support from his fellow believers
  • Meanwhile, Paul makes his way back to Ephesus and runs into a dozen of John the Baptists’ disciples and baptizes them in the name of Jesus so they can receive the Holy Spirit
  • Paul preaches in the synagogs of Ephesus until the Jews kick him out, then he relocates to a local hall and preaches to the Jews and Greeks for two more years
  • Lots of miraculous things happen while Paul is there (some people are healed by just coming into contract with Paul’s work clothes), so a few locals are inspired to try casting out demons on their own using Jesus’ name
  • The seven sons of a high priest named Sceva try casting out a demon in Jesus’ name and get the tar beat out of them by the demon possessed man
  • Word of the beating gets out and everybody starts taking Jesus’ name a bit more seriously, and some former sorcerers who become Christians are inspired to burn their magic scrolls publicly
  • Paul decides to head back to Jerusalem after going through Macedonia and Achaia, then says “I need to get to Rome one of these days”
  • In Ephesus, a silversmith named Demetrius raises a ruckus because Paul’s teaching has led to a decline in sales of their locally crafted idols
  • The other Ephesian craftsmen get worked up and decide that Paul’s anti-idol position isn’t just hurting their pocket books but also the reputation of their awesome temple to Artemis
  • The city gets all hot and bothered and grabs Gaius and Aristarchus, two of Paul’s traveling companions, and drag them into the theater
  • Paul wants to go and help his friends, but some of his high-up friends tell him to chill
  • There’s mass confusion, and in an attempt to make sure that Jews aren’t being blamed for what the Christian are teaching, a guy named Alexander gets up on the stage, but the crowd just gets worked up all the more and starts shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for two whole hours
  • The city clerk gets up and reminds them of the “fact” that the image of Artemis fell from heaven and Ephesus is her guardian. He points out that the Christians are not robbing their temples, and that proper procedure is for everyone to take everyone else to court. Rome doesn’t like it when there’s a riot in the city and if word gets out that Ephesus is out of control, Roman troops will show up and things will be bad
  • Then the clerk sends everyone home

Historical Context:

Corinth

In 27 B.C. Corinth became the capital of the Roman province of Achaia.  The city was a crucial communications center at the junction of sea lanes to the west and east, and land routes north and south. Corinth had over 200,000 inhabitants during New Testament times. Every two years it hosted the pan-Hellenic Isthmian Games, second only to the Olympic Games.

Corinth was also the “sin city” of Achaia. As is true of many port cities, it did a bustling trade in pleasure as well as goods. The classical Greeks had coined a metaphor from the city’s notorious sin — “to play the Corinthian,” or to “Corinthianize.” This referred to a person who was sexually immoral or who lived a life of lustful debauchery. The city had long been home to the worshippers of Aphrodite — the goddess of love. In classical times, her temple on the Acrocorinth had housed a thousand priestess-prostitutes. At night, they came into the city to offer their services. While such activities were vastly scaled down during Corinth’s Roman days, the city still had a reputation for moral looseness. (GCI)

Paul’s Vow

It is highly likely that Paul took a Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:1-21) in which one abstained from any grape product, including wine, as well as various forms of uncleanness. Paul also would’ve stopped cutting his hair during the period of the vow. At the end of the vow, one normally shaved their hair at Jerusalem and dedicated in the temple.

According to the first century historian Josephus, if a Nazarite devotee was far from Jerusalem, then he was allowed to trim his hair and to bring the trimmings to Jerusalem to be offered with the rest of his hair when his head was shaved (cf. Josephus, War 2.309-324). This appears to have been what Paul did at Cenchrea. (Williams)

Ephesus

The Romans made Ephesus the capital of the province of Asia. It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire (est. population 50,000 to 250,000) (IVP) after Sardis and Alexandria Troas.

Paul the Tent Maker

Most tents in the first century were constructed of leather, so the meaning of “tent maker” was extended to refer to an artisan who produced a variety of leather articles. Many Jewish rabbis of the time were bi-vocational so that they would not have to charge for their teaching. Other traveling teachers in the Hellenistic world expect to receive money for their lectures. In Greco-Roman culture the manual labor of the artisan class was despised. (IVP)

John the Baptist’s Followers

It seems strange that there would be followers of  John the Baptist who were unclear that Jesus was the messiah. In fact, according to the Gospel of John, Andrew (Peter’s brother) was one of John’s disciples and learned of Jesus directly from John.

“This is now the fifth time in Acts that John’s role as a precursor to Jesus has been clarified (Acts 1:5; 11:16; 13:25; 18:25). The need to repeatedly take up the issue, plus the fact that John apparently has disciples twenty years after his death in places as far from the Jordan as Alexandria (Apollos) and Ephesus, supports the portrait of John as an important religious figure in his own right” (Luke Timothy Johnson)

It is highly probable that John’s disciples had heard of Jesus but not realized that the baptism of the Holy Spirit had taken place at Pentecost.  “In fact, John’s preaching of the imminent arrival of a Messiah in eschatological judgment tied closely together the baptism ‘with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’ His followers, even if they had heard about Pentecost, probably would not have seen it as the fulfillment of John’s prophecy, for the purifying fire of final judgment had not immediately followed Pentecost.” (IVP)

Priscilla and Aquilla (and Apollos)

Priscilla is often thought to be the first example of a female teacher in early church history. Coupled with her husband, she was a celebrated missionary a friend and co-worker of Paul, and is often listed before her husband (Acts 18:18-19, 26; Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19). At Rome, one of the house churches met at her and her husband’s home. Some scholars have suggested that Priscilla was the author of the Book of Hebrews (as it is the only book in the New Testament with seemingly intentional author anonymity). It has been suggested that her name was omitted either to suppress its female authorship, or to protect the letter itself from suppression. (Wikipedia)

Aquila, husband of Priscilla, was originally from Pontus and also was a Jewish Christian. According to church tradition Paul made him a bishop in Asia Minor.

Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria which has lead some to speculate that he preached in the allegorical style of Philo, a highly influential first century Jewish philosopher. Apollos became a major figure in Corinth, so much so that the members of the church identified themselves as either followers of Paul or Apollos. Apollos is another of the supposed authors of the book of Hebrews.

Artemis of the Ephesians

Artemis of Ephesus was the mother-goddess of fertility. The temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. It supposedly could hold up to 50,000 people and covered an area four times as large as the Parthenon in Athens, or 400 feet by 200 feet in size. (GCI)

Artemis was most often depicted as a multi-breasted woman. She had animals on her skirt to show she had the power over them since she is the supreme “ghost goddess,”  and the signs of the zodiac were around her neck to show she could mediate between her followers and their astrological fate. Artemis was believed to have unsurpassed cosmic power. She was called Savior, Lord, Queen of the Cosmos and heavenly goddess. Each year in March or April, Ephesus hosted the month-long festival Artemisa, a time of carnival and religious celebration. Pilgrims flocked from all over the Empire to participate in the impressive ceremonies to Artemis, including offerings at her sacred grove, to enjoy athletics, plays and concerts, and to partake of great banquets and revelry. (IVP)

Worship of Artemis was part of Greek political and cultural identity, and essential to the economic life of the region.

Observations:

  • About this time Paul writes his first known letters to the Thessalonians (c. 51/52 AD), and while in Ephesus he writes letters to the Corinthians (c. 54/55 AD).
  • By shaking the dust from his clothes, Paul indicated that he was breaking fellowship with the Jews. “This kind of action was performed by Jews against Gentiles, and its present significance was to indicate that in the sight of the missionaries those who rejected the gospel were no better than the Gentiles, cut off from the true people of God” (Marshall)
  • Crispus was among the few that Paul had personally baptized (1 Corinthians 1:14-16)
  • Lucius Junius Gallio, the proconsul who hears the case, was the son of Spanish orator and financier Marcus Annaeus Novatus, who, after the relocation of his family to Rome, participated in the highest and most influential circles of society. Gallio’s brother Marcus Annaeus Seneca, a Stoic philosopher, politician and dramatist, was tutor to the young Nero.  (IVP)
  • Sosthenes is mentioned along with Paul as the sender of 1 Corinthians
  • Paul mentioned a deaconess, Phoebe, as being a member of the church in Cenchrea (Romans 16:1). She had been of great help to him and others in the church.
  • Luke introduces Apollos in a way that assures he’s not a renegade preacher, but a teacher in line with Paul and his companions
  • Lecture hall of Tyrannus is thought by some to be the auditorium of a local philosopher with the name Tyrannus. Others see Tyrannus as the owner of the building, who rented space to speakers such as Paul. (Tyrannus means “Tyrant,” and it was probably a nickname reflecting the man’s personality.) We know nothing else of Tyrannus. But he was introduced so casually that it’s possible Luke’s readers (especially Theophilus) would have known who he was. (GCI)
  • The miraculous “handkerchiefs” and “cloths” that touched Paul and were able to heal others were most likely the sweat rags and aprons that Paul wore when making tents.
  • There is no record of a Jewish high priest named Sceva, though it’s possible he was part of a Jewish chief-priestly family. Some commentators speculate Sceva may have been an apostate Jew and the high or chief priest of some pagan cult.
  • Luke tells us that the value of the burned sorcerers’ scrolls was 50,000 drachmas. The drachma was a silver coin worth about a day’s wages. The average American makes $48,ooo a year (or $131 a day) bringing the modern equivalent to around six million dollars.
  • According to Paul’s letters, he was eager to get to Jerusalem to deliver a collection of money he had taken up to help the poor church members of Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15; Romans 15:25-32). It was a strong desire to show Jerusalem that the Gentile churches stood solidly with their Jewish counterparts, even though they did not observe the same customs. He hoped that the gift of love would increase the solidarity and unity of the Jewish and Gentile elements in the church.  (GCI)
  • Gaius may have been the man who was baptized by Paul in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14) and who was a host to him and the church (Romans 16:23). Luke says Gaius was from Derbe in Galatia (Acts 20:4).
  • Aristarchus is referred to in Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24 as being a native of Thessalonica.
  •  The clerk in Ephesus reminds the crowd that the real danger they all face is to be charged with rioting without cause. Ephesus could lose status as a free city if it failed to maintain law and order through its own local authorities.  (IVP)
  • Luke seems to use the riot in Ephesus to point out that as long as Christians do not strain the social fabric of a culture through “public blasphemy of the gods,” fair-minded government officials should protect Christians from rash, illegal acts of persecutors (IVP)

Discussion:

  • Does Christianity kill culture? Note how the Jews and Greeks feel threatened by the encroachment of the gospel on their way of life. Should Christianity eradicate the various cultures it encounters?
  • Everywhere Paul went a riot seemed to break out. Should modern American Christians be bothered by how little disturbance our belief brings to our culture?

References:

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s