Bible Study: Acts, Chapter Eighteen
Transcript: Today we are going to study Acts chapter 18 in depth. You can follow along in your own Bible if you like. I will be reading from the World English Bible because it is the only modern English translation that is copyright free, and I can read the entire Bible on video without any legal drama, or breaking anyone’s rules. After the meeting today, or sometime this week, please take the matching quiz that I have prepared for you on the website. If you find any problems with it, please let us know. We appreciate your feedback to help fix issues on the site. Thanks to everyone that has participated so far. Let’s get started:
First let’s set our location and do a brief catchup. In Acts chapter 17, Paul and his company came to Thessalonica and preached there until the Jewish leaders became jealous, raised a mob, started a riot, then blamed Paul for it. They took bond money from Jason, the leader of the house church there and Paul and Silas had to leave town in the middle of the night, so they traveled to Berea. The Jews from Thessalonica followed them to Berea and stirred up trouble for them there as well, so Paul moved onto Athens. There he encountered the most glorious display of idols on earth, where statues of the greek gods outnumbered the people there. It provoked his spirit and he preached Jesus to them but had little success. Afterwards, Paul moved on to Corinth, and that is where we begin our story today.
Acts Chapter 18 beginning in verse 1, reading from the World English Bible: After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth.
Paul was so eager to get out of Athens that he did not even wait for Silas and Timothy to arrive, who were on the way there. He must have felt a little dejected as he walked the fifty miles to Corinth. Since coming to Europe, he had taken a terrible beating in Philippi, rejection in Thessalonica and Berea, then cool indifference in Athens.
Paul later wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians: (1 Corinthians 2:1-3 WEB) “When I came to you, brothers, I didn’t come with excellence of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.”
The mission trip was breaking down his human strength. Paul sounds like a man that has been through the wringer, and he’s having to depend more and more on the Holy Spirit.
Corinth was an ancient and major city of the Roman Empire. It had a population of about 650,000 people. Corinth was a major center of commerce. Located on a narrow strip of land near two bustling seaports, and at a busy crossroads for land travelers and traders, the city was wealthy and very materialistic.
Corinth was a center of culture. Though not a university town like Athens, there was great interest in Greek philosophy and wisdom. The city was permeated with religion and at least twelve temples were located there. The most infamous of these temples was dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and featured one thousand “sacred” prostitutes that walked the streets at night. Another temple, dedicated to Apollo, employed young men whose job was to fulfill the sexual desires of the male and female worshipers. One could buy anything in Corinth if he had the money, and homosexuality was rampant. The city was notorious for its immorality and became so well known that a new Greek verb was eventually coined: to “Corinthianize” which meant to practice sexual immorality. When Plato referred to a prostitute, he used the expression “Corinthian girl.”
Before this, in 146 B.C. Corinth rebelled against Rome and was brutally destroyed by Roman armies. It lay in ruins for a century, until Julius Caesar rebuilt the city. It quickly re-established its former position as a center for both trade and immorality of every sort. One ancient writer described Corinth as a town where “none but the tough could survive.”
From a human point of view, Corinth was not the type of place where one would expect to launch a thriving ministry, but Paul didn’t view things from an earthly perspective. He saw Corinth as both a challenge and a great ministry opportunity. Later he would write a series of letters to the Corinthians dealing with the problems of their immorality. Some of which are the letters of First and Second Corinthians.
2 He found a certain Jew named Aquila, a man of Pontus by race, who had recently come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome. He came to them, 3 and because he practiced the same trade, he lived with them and worked, for by trade they were tent makers.
There had recently been an anti-Semitic stir in Rome under the emperor Claudius, probably about 49 A.D. It was said to have been because of riots among the Jews, and it was quite possibly because Christianity had been introduced to some of the Jewish synagogues there. When the fighting seemed endless, the emperor either put them all out of the city of Rome, or forced them to stop meeting in their synagogues, which caused many Jews to leave the city. This Jewish couple, Aquila and Priscilla, was forced to move their business from Rome to Corinth. Apparently after the emperor Claudius’ death, they returned to Rome, and Paul, in his letter to the Romans, sent them greetings in chapter sixteen.
Somehow Aquila and Priscilla had both come to Christ, and into Paul’s life. Which came first, we cannot be sure, but it sounds like they were Christians when Paul met them for Luke does not mention their conversion. Aquila means “eagle” while “Priscilla” is a form of Prisca, which is the name of one of the great families of Rome. Priscilla must have been related to the Prisca family in some way, and she was apparently a gifted woman, for in half the occurrences of their names, Priscialla is mentioned first, which is highly unusual in Scripture. Also, the Bible never mentions them separately. In marriage, work, and ministry, Aquila and Priscilla were together.
They were a great encouragement to the apostle Paul. In the final chapter of Romans, Paul calls them his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus,” saying that they “risked their lives” for him (Romans 16:3). They were close friends of Pauls, and towers of strength.
Paul was a tentmaker, better described as a leatherworker, and so was Aquila and Priscilla. Ancient craftsmen did not compete as merchants do today, but rather formed cooperative trade guilds and often lived in close proximity. Because many of the trade guilds had adopted pagan practices, two Christians artisans would have been delighted to work together.
Paul joined them in their work and earned money to help support himself while he was there waiting on Silas and Timothy to arrive. Apparently Paul worked during the week, and preached on the Sabbath. Most likely they worked with leather and made tents, but also anything fabricated from leather, like belts. Leather working was very portable and great skill for a traveling Apostle to have. Some tents may have been made from cloth, which was made from woven goat hair, and a loom would have been very bulky for a missionary to carry from town to town, so leather worker is probably the best way to view Paul’s trade.
Today, in modern mission work, people call any work that a missionary does to support himself on the mission field “tentmaking.” In the same way, Sylvia and I fix broken computers for people during the week, we are tent makers.
4 He reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and persuaded Jews and Greeks. 5 But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.
Paul “reasoned” with them in the synagogue every Sabbath and worked during the week, but verse 5 indicates that when Silas and Timothy arrived, that he began to dedicate all of his time to preaching the gospel. Silas and Timothy must have brought with them a financial gift from the believers in Macedonia as mentioned in Philippians 4:15 and 2 Corinthians 11:9. Paul was now free to preach full time.
6 When they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook out his clothing and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on, I will go to the Gentiles!”
Paul was quite an Apostle. He was zealous for the Lord Jesus, and I don’t mean what most live today. The best description of Christian zeal that I have ever heard was by a nineteenth-century Anglican bishop, J. C. Ryle in his book Practical Religion. It reads:
“A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, through-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies, whether he has health, or whether he has sickness, whether he is rich, or whether he is poor, whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence, whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish, whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise, whether he gets honour, or whether he gets shame, for all this the zealous mans cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it; he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him… This is what I mean when I speak of “zeal” in religion.”
That is the type of zeal that Paul lived.
7 He departed there, and went into the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his house. Many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized.
Paul’s preaching began to have an effect, the leader of the Jewish synagogue there came to Jesus, but at the same time he was becoming worn down. We know this because God gave him a vision in the next verse and began to encourage him (verse 9–10). God sends encouragement only when we need it. Sometimes we don’t even know that we do, if the trial has not come upon us yet.
9 The Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Don’t be afraid, but speak and don’t be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”
During this time, Paul had many reasons to be encouraged: Priscilla and Aquila, Silas and Timothy, financial help, and a full-time ministry. They were getting encouraging results, even in the face of opposition. In the midst of all this, apparently Paul began to fall prey to fear and discouragement. Like the Old Testament prophet Elijah, Paul had been under excruciating tension for such a long time, and he was beginning to lose his ability to rebound.
Elijah took a nosedive after his heart-thumping encounter with the priests of Baal followed by Jezebel’s threats, and Paul was similarly reeling from his multiple beatings, stoning, arrests and rejections. He probably had not had sufficient time to recover from his last beating, and he was tired. Now he faced the depressing moral corruption of Corinth, and more angry Jews.
From Paul’s perspective, the immediate future was perfectly predictable, for he had seen it so many times. Soon there would be a riot, and the drama would begin. He would be arrested, beaten, or stoned just as in Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. The pattern was quite clear. Paul was like a boxer who knows what is coming when the bell rings. Poor Paul was beginning to worry about troubles he was not facing yet, which is a terrible habit that many of us carry.
Many of us are pros at borrowing trouble from tomorrow. We feel harassed as we wait for something disastrous and unpleasant to happen, and go through a thousand tribulations in our mind that we are never meant to undergo—and probably never will. The vision and its opening words—the fact that God made the effort to encourage Paul not to fear—meant that God loved and cared for his ambassador. This gave Paul confidence and ministered to his heart, just as 1 John 4:18 teaches us: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” The simple words in the vision filled Paul’s heart with God’s love, and his fear was put to flight. Time and time again the Scriptures tell us to fear not—to stop worrying about tomorrow, to stop borrowing trouble—because we are divinely loved, and God’s love is enough!
The Lord gave Paul a vision to encourage him to keep on. He told him “Don’t be afraid” for apparently Paul was. “Speak and don’t be silent” for Paul was beginning to feel like maybe he should just keep his mouth shut. “For I am with you” because sometimes, Paul was feeling alone. Then “No one will attack or harm you” for Paul had been attacked and harmed so many times in the past, but the Lord promised him a season of grace in this city, and that he would not be harmed at all. It was a timely word of encouragement.
Weakness is the secret strength of God’s most effective servants and the indispensable element of powerful preaching. You will always minister best when you are feeling weak and fearful, like you can’t do this. That is the time to speak and not be silent, to rely on Him to make His power perfect in your weakness according to 2 Corinthians 12:9–10. Then whatever you do, whatever is accomplished for Christ, all the glory will go to God.
God assured Paul, “I have many people in this city.” Those were encouraging words. Paul’s work would not be fruitless. Some of the Corinthians were tired of Tinsel Town. The fleshly pleasures there had lost their attraction. Some were suffering deep guilt and an awful emptiness of soul. They were ready to receive Christ. Light shines brightest in darkness, and Corinth was a vary dark town.
11 He lived there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
Paul became down and fearful, then the Lord gave him a vision to strengthen him and lift his spirits. That vision carried Paul while he preached for the next 18 months. Something that I want to point out here is that Paul did not have visions every night; he had them when he needed direction or encouragement. For example, in Acts 16:9 they were in Troas wondering what to do next when he had a vision of a man in Macedonia calling for help, so they went to Macedonia. Here, Paul needed encouragement, so he was given this vision. So if God didn’t speak to you in a vision last night, don’t fret because there are long gaps between Paul’s visions as well. The rule of thumb here is to continue on the last vision until a new one comes.
The Roman proconsul Gallio was in Corinth and over the entire province of Achaia. He was a powerful man. Gallio was the brother of the philosopher Seneca, and lived from 3 BC–65 AD. He was born in Cordoba, Spain, and came to Rome during Tiberius Caesar’s reign. His given name was Marcus Annaeus Novatus, but he assumed the name Gallio after his adoption by Lucius Junius Gallio. The wealthy Lucius trained him for his career in administration and government. All who knew Gallio spoke of him in the highest terms as a good man.
Proconsular governors normally took office on July 1st and held it for one year only. Gallio served as the Roman proconsul of Achaia between AD 51 and 52, so this gives us an accurate timestamp in the book of Acts. So Paul first visited Corinth around 51 A.D. Being that Gallio had just taken office, the Jews apparently felt that he was inexperienced, or that he would want to win favor with the multitudes as politicians often did.
12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, 13 saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.”
The drama begins, and the Jews start a riot and with “one accord” drag Paul to Gallio and brought some charges against him. If they would have been successful, Paul would at the very least be forbidden to teach in that entire province (region or state). It would have also set a precedent for other rulers to base their decisions on against Christianity in the future.
The Jews said that Paul taught contrary to the law. The question is, to what law were they referring? If it was the Jewish law of Moses, then they were asking the governor to enforce their own religious laws. Perhaps they hoped that he would exclude the Christians who did not submit to it, in effect outlawing Christianity.
14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If indeed it were a matter of wrong or of wicked crime, you Jews, it would be reasonable that I should bear with you; 15 but if they are questions about words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves. For I don’t want to be a judge of these matters.” 16 So he drove them from the judgment seat. 17 Then all the Greeks seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. Gallio didn’t care about any of these things.
God had promised Paul that no one would harm him, and their plan backfired. Gallio said “I will not be a judge of such things”. Before Paul could speak in his own defense, Gallio drove the Jews out of the courtyard, and the gentiles grabbed the leader of the synagogue and began to beat him.
Apparently, when Crispus trusted in Jesus, he was replaced as ruler of the synagogue (Acts 18:8) by Sosthenes—who later himself seems to have become a Christian (1 Corinthians 1:1). For now, the angry mob beat the Jewish leader of the synagogue for bringing Paul up on false charges, and Gallio did not stop them. As the Lord had told Paul, “No one will harm you” and this time, the angry Jews were beaten themselves. Paul was ready to stand his ground, but this time he didn’t have to.
Some of us may be discouraged and fear an uncertain future. Some of us are seeing good things happen, but are still afraid they will not last, and that hard times will return once again. The Lord has a message for us in this chapter:
“Don’t be afraid. Stop borrowing trouble from tomorrow. Look to me! I love you. Keep ministering. Keep caring. Keep speaking my name. Fear will keep you locked in prison, and inactive if you let it. Believe that I am with you and that I will give you all the protection you need. Believe that your life will bear fruit—for I promise that it will.”
According to an ancient story, when Leonides, the noble hero of the Spartans who defended Greece from the Persians, was in battle against thousands of invaders, one of his men said to him, “General, when the Persians shoot their arrows, there are so many of them that they darken the sky.” Leonides replied, “Then we will fight in the shade.” Paul continued serving the Lord and fighting the battle, regardless of his feelings, no matter what circumstances he saw on the horizon, and we must do the same.
18 Paul, having stayed after this many more days, took his leave of the brothers, and sailed from there for Syria, together with Priscilla and Aquila. He shaved his head in Cenchreae, for he had a vow.
Unlike previous cities, Paul wasn’t forced out of Corinth. He stayed there a good while, teaching and ministering in perfect safety just as the Lord Jesus had promised him in the vision. When he was done, he took Priscilla and Aquila along with him and sailed for Syria.
Paul had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, for he had taken a vow. The vow was almost certainly the vow of the Nazirite in Numbers 6. Usually this vow was taken for a certain period of time to express a unique consecration to God, promising to abstain from all products from the grapevine, to not cut one’s hair, and to never come near a dead body. When the time was completed, the hair which had been allowed to freely grow, was cut off and offered to the Lord at a special ceremony at the temple in Jerusalem. Paul began this vow at Cenchrea.
It is worthwhile to note that Paul never became anti-Jewish. Paul never forgot that he was Jewish, that His Messiah was Jewish, that Christianity is Jewish, and that Old Testament forms and rituals might still be used to good purpose, like the vow of the Nazarite. Paul and the Jerusalem council of Acts chapter 15 was adamant that Jewish ceremonies and rituals must not be required of Gentiles, but he saw nothing wrong with Jewish believers who wished to observe such ceremonies, as long as Jesus was also recognized. Paul probably did this vow out of thankfulness of all that God had done for him during his time in Corinth.
19 He came to Ephesus, and he left them there; but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.
Paul had wanted to preach in Ephesus about two years earlier at the beginning of this mission trip, but he was prevented by the Holy Spirit in Acts 16:6. Now, the Holy Spirit gave him the liberty to preach in this important city, and great results were seen.
20 When they asked him to stay with them a longer time, he declined; 21 but taking his leave of them, he said, “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem, but I will return again to you if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus.
Paul could not stay long in Ephesus, wanting to present the offering of his Nazirite vow in Jerusalem at an upcoming feast. Something good had started there, and Paul wanted the work to continue. He had been working with Aquila and Priscilla over a year and half now and he trusted they could take care of anything that arose, so he left them there. Then Paul departed and sailed to Caesarea.
22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the assembly, and went down to Antioch.
Luke wraps up Paul’s second mission trip in a sentence. Caesarea was the closest port to Jerusalem, so Paul landed there and fulfilled his Nazarite vow, then made his way up to his home church at Syrian Antioch. They must have been pleased to have Paul return and tell them of all his work. Paul’s second mission trip was now complete; it took around three years, and centered about 51 AD.
23 Having spent some time there, he departed, and went through the region of Galatia, and Phrygia, in order, establishing all the disciples.
We don’t know exactly how much time Paul spent back at his home congregation in Syrian Antioch. Luke tells it like Paul soon began his third mission trip, revisiting the churches they had founded on the previous trips and strengthening them.
24 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus. He was mighty in the Scriptures.
Priscilla and Aquila had stayed behind in Ephesus when Paul moved on. While they were there, Apollos arrived. He is an interesting man, called “mighty in the Scriptures”. He was from Alexandria, which had the greatest library in the world, and a reputation for knowledge. Not only this, but he was “an eloquent man”, he could hold a crowd in the palm of his hand. Apollos was passionate—“he spoke with great fervor.” Literally the word means “burning” or “boiling hot.
25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John.
Apollos was on fire for Jesus, but he only knew the baptism of John. We should study that a moment: What is the baptism of John, and what comes after that? John the baptizer said in:
Matthew 3:11 “I indeed baptize you in water for repentance, but he who comes after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”
Luke 3:16 John answered them all, “I indeed baptize you with water, but he comes who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to loosen. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire”
We can see that John the baptizer said that he baptized with water, but that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus confirmed this also in Acts 1 and He told the disciples:
Acts 1:4-5 “Don’t depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which you heard from me. For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Something came after John’s baptism: the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Fifty days after the crucifixion, on the day of Pentecost, the promise of the Father descended on the 120 disciples in the upper room. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages. Mother Mary, Peter, and many others were baptized in the Holy Spirit, and spoke in tongues. That is where it began:
Acts 2:1 “Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 Tongues like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak.”
So Apollos had been baptized in water, as he knew only the baptism of John. There were pockets of believers like this scattered about, and Paul finds more in Acts 19:1-7.
26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside, and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
Priscilla and Aquila recognized the gaps in Apollos’ understanding, but they did not correct him in public. There was no scorn, criticism, or rejection. They did not embarrass him. They took him aside, probably to their home, washed his feet, gave him supper, and then explained Pentecost and the baptism of the Holy Spirit to him. Though highly educated, eloquent, and polished, Apollos humbly sat at the feet of these tentmakers, and learned from them. Apollos became one of God’s great ambassadors, and Martin Luther believed that he wrote the anonymous letter of Hebrews.
Apollos may have never come to life in the Spirit, had Priscilla and Aquila not been such gentle channels of divine grace. Life in the Spirit spreads through people just like this, from one to another. You can pray for help, and God will usually send it through a person. For example: A group of people prayed for revival in L.A. In the early 1900s, God sent them William Seymour, and the Azusa Street revival began. His gift came through a person.
Before we move on, I just want to say that I have been where Apollos was. I was saved, baptized in the Waccamaw River, and became on fire for God about 1987. I read the Bible through in a couple of different translations, and attended church every time the doors were opened. Then a couple of years later, about 1989, I was invited to a Charismatic church by a friend, and I learned about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. At first I was suspicious, as tongues were considered “evil” at the church I had attended. So like the Berean Christians, I studied the Bible to see if these things were so, and I found that it was. Soon I was baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues myself, and I have never looked back. It is my opinion that true life begins with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Before that, I was an empty shell.
What began on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 has never ended. The dark ages and a thousand years of a backslidden church lost a lot of the wonderful truths that the Apostles walked in, but they are still available. We have to remember that Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus after the resurrection, after Jesus ascended to heaven. Paul received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit when Ananias laid his hands on him and prayed. He was a second generation Christian that came to know Christ after His ascension, just as we have today. The mission trip that we have covered here was about twenty years after Jesus had ascended. Nowhere in scripture does it state that the gift of the Holy Spirit was taken away, and revivals around the world prove that it hasn’t been. James summed it up nicely: We don’t have, because we don’t ask God (James 4:2).
27 When he had determined to pass over into Achaia, the brothers encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him. When he had come, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews, publicly showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
Apollos left Ephesus and probably went to Corinth in Achaia. He became a powerful witness for Jesus there.
That concludes our Bible study on Acts Chapter Eighteen. Thank you for watching and being a part of Refreshing Hope!
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