ACTS - CHAPTER 18
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2001 James Melough
“After these things Paul
departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;”
“After these things,”
refers to the Apostle’s experience in Athens where only a few responded to the
Gospel. It was very different in Corinth, for there many responded, and a
church was formed, which later became the recipient of the two letters from Paul,
which we know as the Epistles to the Corinthians, and which contain such a wealth of
We have here a demonstration
that God’s ways are not man’s. From
a human viewpoint Athens seems far more likely to have furnished converts than
Corinth, for the Athenians were relatively moral, and inclined to discuss such
matters as philosophy and religion, whereas the Corinthians were rich, and busy with
business, and in addition were notorious even in a generally immoral world, for their
gross immorality, particularly in connection with the worship of Venus.
But as the Lord Himself declared, He had come, not to call the righteous, but
sinners to repentance, Mt.9:13. Their
very immorality may have rendered the Corinthians more ready to acknowledge their
need of salvation.
Corinth means satiated,
and the name reflected the character of the people, for the name Corinthian had
become a synonym for depravity. Athens
means uncertainty, a name which also reflects the character of the Athenians,
who were always looking for some new thing.
“And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from
Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to
depart from Rome:) and came unto them.”
From the vantage point of
today we can review those lives lived almost two thousand years ago, and see how
perfectly God was ordering circumstances to accomplish His own purposes.
Their faith enabled them to live in the assurance that all things were under
God’s control, so that they enjoyed peace even in the midst of circumstances little
calculated to induce peace. Whatever other lessons we may learn from what has been recorded of
them, one at least is obvious: from such histories as theirs, and from such
Scriptures as Ro 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them
that love God,” He would teach us to walk in the enjoyment of that same peace.
How often we rob ourselves of it by failing to remember that He does indeed
work all things (even the seeming tragedies of life) together for His own glory, and
It is highly unlikely that
the emperor Claudius had any knowledge of Aquila and Priscilla, or of the fact that
his decree banishing them from Rome, would be used of God to give these two a place
of honorable mention on the page of Scripture, and his own a place of infamy as the
persecutor of God’s people. No man
need fear to leave the ordering of his life in God’s hands.
“... and came unto
them.” There has been a question as to
whether Aquila and Priscilla were believers, or simply religious Jews before their
contact with Paul. Everything points to
their being believers before they met him; and the lesson God would teach us in
Paul’s coming unto them has to do with fellowship.
Only the disobedient believer can enjoy the company of unbelievers.
Men of “like precious faith” tend to find one another.
Aquila has three meanings
(1) Hebrew, I shall be nourished, (2) Latin, an eagle, (3) Greek, immovable,
the propriety of their meanings being apparent when we remember that as those who
obeyed God, they were assured of His sufficiency to meet their every need, His grace
enabling them to “mount up with wings as eagles,” Isa 30:41, and to stand
immovable on the Rock, Christ.
Priscilla means little
old woman, but I regret being unable to see the spiritual significance of her
“And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for
by their occupation they were tent-makers.”
They were of the same craft
in more senses than one, for the Lord’s business was the principal business of all
three. And Paul’s abiding with them
tells us that the friendship was no mere casual thing: it involved every aspect of
their lives. This kind of fellowship is
little known today amongst God’s people.
“... and wrought
(worked).” They were no impractical dreamers or idlers, but people who, when
required, worked with their own hands to supply the necessities of life, even while
they labored fervently in the Lord’s business. It is instructive to note also that Paul’s being an apostle
didn’t exempt him from the necessity of also working with his hands to supply his
temporal needs. The reality of their
faith and their loyalty to God were tested by the daily circumstances of life, just
as are ours, the only difference being that their lives were far more difficult than
There is special
significance to their being tent-makers, for the tent speaks of the pilgrim character
of those who are pilgrims and strangers on the earth, passing through the wilderness
of this world on their way home to heaven. Lot,
type of the carnal Christian, dwelt in a house in Sodom, but Abraham, the man of
faith, dwelt in tents. The pilgrim
lifestyle is also little practiced today. We
manifest far more the characteristics of earth dwellers in the worst sense of the
“And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews
and the Greeks.”
While based on faith,
Christianity is by no means an unreasonable thing, except to the natural mind, which
refuses to even examine the Scriptures. The
truth is that the more one studies Scripture, the more reasonable does the
Christian’s faith become.
“... in the synagogue,”
assures us that it was still the Jewish age, and God was still calling Israel to
repentance in order that they might receive the millennial kingdom.
The “every sabbath” tells us that Paul’s ministry was no sporadic
activity. There was a steadfastness
about him we would do well to emulate. It
is the steady consistent walk that wins the crown.
Paul, having put his hand to the plow, did not look back.
Like His Lord, Who set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem to finish His
Father’s work, Paul kept his eye on the Bema.
It is the one great safeguard against being turned aside by the false
allurements of the world, for it is only in the light of that judgment seat that the
things of earth can be properly evaluated.
One reason we see so few
persuaded is that we try so little to persuade them.
And the fact that both Jews and Greeks were among his converts, reminds us
that Israel’s day of grace, though almost ended, was not yet over, but unlike the
beginning, the Gentiles were now being brought in, and the day was fast approaching
when Israel’s autonomy would be brought to an end, national unbelief robbing them
of the millennial kingdom, and forcing God to withdraw the offer of it until a day
still future, but near, when the terrible Tribulation judgments will bring national
repentance, and see a believing remnant inherit the kingdom.
It is solemn to remember that had we the spiritual wisdom to discern the signs
of the times, we would see that the day of grace for the Church has also almost run
“And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in
the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.”
Upon arriving in Athens,
Paul had sent for Silas and Timothy (ch 17:15), but apparently they hadn’t caught
up with him until now.
“... pressed in the
spirit,” is misleading, for all other translations make it clear that it was the
preaching of the Gospel that was Paul’s pressing concern, and apparently that work
was beginning to take more and more of his time.
It is emphasized too that no small part of his work was his attempt to
convince the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, their long-promised Messiah. This was an imperative, for apart from that belief there could be
no salvation for Israel. That is why we
find so much emphasis in Acts on the fact of the Lord’s resurrection, His death and
resurrection having both been foretold by the prophets.
“And when they
opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your
blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the
The Jews would not listen,
and having hardened their own hearts, God, His patience exhausted, was now about to
make that hardening permanent, as He had done with Pharaoh.
His warning to all men is, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man,”
Ge 6:3; “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be
destroyed, and that without remedy,” Pr 29:1.
It is a terrible thing to quench and grieve the Holy Spirit to the point where
He turns away, not to return. See also
Romans 1 for other references to God’s giving people up to their sin without hope
This is the second time that
Paul turned from a company of Jews. The
first time was 13:46, and the last time was 28:28.
We see here God’s reluctant departure from that rebellious nation, as long
ago He departed from Jerusalem with the same reluctance, see Eze 10.
At Calvary they had assumed
responsibility for the blood of Christ: now Paul makes them responsible for their
own, soon to be spilt at the hand of Titus in AD 70.
He couldn’t have done so, however, had he not first preached the Gospel to
them. Once a man has heard the Gospel,
he is then responsible for what happens to his soul, Ez 33:9. He, however, who fails to warn the sinner, incurs guilt, see Ez
33:7-9. Paul could say, “I am
clean,” only because he had warned them. His
turning to the Gentiles warns us of the terrible danger of rejecting the Gospel.
Every believer is the recipient of blessings which unbelievers have refused.
“And he departed thence, and entered into a certain man’s house, named
Justus, one that worshiped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue.”
He was a proselyte, known
also as Titus Justus, and appears to have been a believer, possibly converted as a
result of Paul’s preaching. His house
being “joined hard to the synagogue” means simply that it adjoined or was next
door to the synagogue.
“And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with
all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.”
If the Gospel was clear
enough to convince the chief ruler of the synagogue, there was no excuse for the
unbelief of the other Jews.
It may not be presumed that
his household were saved through his belief, for Scripture makes it clear that no man
can believe for another, Ps 49:7. Each
member of his household believed for himself. It
cost Crispus much to become a Christian, for not only would he lose his high office,
but he would also suffer ostracism. From
the perspective of eternity, however, the loss was small, for “What shall it profit
a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mk 8:36.
The many Corinthians who
believed were not persuaded by Paul’s worldly wisdom, for 1 Co 2:1-5 tells us that
he purposely avoided an appearance of being wise in worldly knowledge, “I
determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
This is to be the pattern for our own preaching.
Worldly wisdom will save no one.
“... and many of the
Corinthians hearing believed,” reminds us of the responsibility we have to preach
the gospel, for, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?
and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?
and how shall they hear without a preacher?” Ro 10:14.
A question we might will ask ourselves is, How many are likely to be converted
as a result of hearing the gospel from me?
The fact of their being
baptized reminds us of the importance of this ordinance.
No believer should refuse to be baptized, not because baptism will make him
any more saved, but because the evidence of a true conversion is an obedient life,
and baptism is one of the first acts of obedience.
“Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but
speak, and hold not thy peace:”
There are other references
in Acts to God’s communicating with His own at night, when others slept, reminding
us that while the unconverted are spiritually asleep, and in nature’s darkness, He
communicates with His own through His Word.” It
is to be remembered, however, that until AD 70 it was still the Jewish age when He
communicated with men through visions, and other miraculous means, but during this
Church age He does not communicate by any means other than through the indwelling
Holy Spirit’s use of Scripture.
“Be not afraid,” is the
same encouragement as was given to Joshua just prior to the conquest of Canaan, Jsh
1:9. Fear is one of our most formidable enemies.
“The fear of man bringeth a snare,” Pr 29:25.
The fact that fear is linked with speaking reminds us that almost invariably
it is fear of man that keeps us from declaring the gospel: we fear being laughed at. God’s command to Paul was “... speak, and hold not thy
peace,” and it is His command to you and me also.
The assurance “Be not
afraid,” may have been to allay possible fear on Paul’s part that Jewish
opposition might result in his having to leave Corinth, as it had in other places.
“For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have
much people in this city.”
The assurance of God’s
presence was all Paul needed, and it is all we need.
Nothing can happen to us apart from His permission, and when He does permit
seeming harm to come to us, it is for His own glory and our ultimate good, as it is
written, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love
God,” Ro 8:28.
“... for I have much
people in this city,” announces, not predestination, but foreknowledge.
God knows in advance who will, and who will not believe the gospel.
“And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God
The clear implication is
that this was an exceptionally long time for him or any of the Apostles to remain as
long in one place, a fact that refutes the notion of one man’s remaining
permanently in one church to do all the evangelizing, teaching or preaching.
It emphasizes also the need of teaching sound doctrine.
“And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with
one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat,”
The pattern of Jewish
opposition repeats itself. They would
neither go into the kingdom themselves, nor suffer others to do so.
The pattern repeats itself today, for there is no one more vehemently opposed
to the preaching of the Gospel than the Jew, unless it be organized religion which
presents similar intense opposition. And as always, they sought to make the civil authorities their
“Saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law.”
Unlike the persecution in
Thessalonica (Ac 17:7) where they charged the Apostle with violation of Roman law, it
was their own Jewish law they claimed to have been broken here in Corinth. The pattern remains the same.
Organized religion still labels wrong the presentation of any way to heaven
other than through the keeping of the law. Man in his folly will cling to a law which can only condemn him,
while spurning grace, the only thing that can save him.
“And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews,
If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I
should bear with you:”
This is a demonstration of
the sovereignty of God at work. He makes
the unbelieving Gallio Paul’s defendant. Well
might the poet write, “Why should I ever careful be, since such a God is mine.”
No one should ever hesitate to leave the ordering of his life in God’s
hands. It is safer there than anywhere
“But if it be a
question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge
of such matters.”
It is to his credit that he
would not permit the Jews to manipulate him. In
this he stands in sharp contrast with Pilate, and others, e.g., Herod, Ac 12:3, and
Felix, Ac 24:27.
“And he drave them from the judgment seat.”
“Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and
beat him before the judgment seat. And
Gallio cared for none of those things.”
Sosthenes appears to have
been the successor of Crispus, see verse 8; and if he is the same as the Sosthenes of
1 Co 1:1, then he too became a convert. As
to whether Sosthenes was beaten by Jews or Greeks, there is no good reason not to
accept the KJ version which clearly declares it to have been by Greeks (non-Jews), a
circumstance which seems to imply that the Jews were less than popular in Corinth.
“And Gallio cared for none
of these things” has led some commentators to paint him as an indolent official,
whereas history records that he was a kind and amiable man.
It is to his credit that, unlike Pilate and others, he would not allow the
Jews to manipulate him.
“And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave
of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila;
having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.”
There seems to be little
support for the claim of some that it was Aquila, not Paul, who had taken the vow;
besides which the problem is less with the identification of the man, than with the
fact of the vow itself, for whether Paul or Aquila, the question remains, Why was the
vow taken at all? The difficulty,
however, disappears when we remember that it was still the Jewish age in which the
millennial kingdom was being offered Israel - and that in the millennium, the
Levitical ritual will be resumed, but with a different character.
In the past it was anticipative; in the millennium it will be commemorative -
the literal animal sacrifices being then the means by which not only Israel, but the
nations, will express their worship for the Christ, who by His death, has fulfilled
the anticipative types of that ritual. As
noted already, the Levitical ritual was still the valid method for believing Jews to
express their worship between AD 32 and AD 70, the only difference from the past
being that they also commemorated the Lord’s death by eating the Lord’s supper on
the first day of each week, the two forms being complementary, not mutually
The nature of the vow
isn’t explained, nor is it important. What
is important is to realize that it was still the Jewish age, and the Jewish form of
worship was that which God had ordained for believing Jews, but not for believing
Gentiles, during the era between AD 32 and AD 70 when the millennial kingdom was
still being offered to Israel.
Why Priscilla’s name
occurs here before that of her husband Aquila, is unknown, but has led to the
suggestion, unwarranted, that she was a better teacher than he, or that she was the
more dominant personality. God has not
given any woman the gift of teaching, nor is there a word in Scripture to indicate
that this godly woman ever displayed anything other than the scripturally enjoined
submission to her husband. See further
comments on verse 26.
“And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into
the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.”
“... and left them (Aquila
and Priscilla) there” is somewhat ambiguous. It
means simply that upon arriving in Ephesus, Paul took advantage of the ship’s
docking there, to go into the synagogue, and according to his custom, preach to the
Jews, and then continued his journey, leaving Aquila and Priscilla behind in Ephesus.
His entering into the
synagogue was according to his custom of preaching first to the Jews, for it was
still the Jewish age. The kingdom was
still being offered to Israel; and his reasoning with them reminds us that there is
no one to whom the gospel should have been more reasonable than the Jews, for all
that had befallen Christ at their hands had already been foretold in their
Scriptures. It was the height of illogic
for them to refuse the witness of Scripture; and it is no less illogical for men
today to refuse that same witness.
“When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not;”
“But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that
cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will.
And he sailed from Ephesus.”
While some question the
legitimacy of the phrase “I must by all means keep this feast that cometh at
Jerusalem,” it is to be noted that in verse 22 Paul did indeed visit Jerusalem
after leaving Ephesus. It may be that
those contending for rejection of the clause are being influenced by their failure to
recognize the validity of the Levitical ritual for believing Jews during that period
which God clearly intended to be one of preparation for the setting up of the
“And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up, and saluted the church, he
went down to Antioch.”
Nothing is told us of what
transpired during this brief visit with the Jerusalem assembly, a silence which some
have construed, very wrongly, as “proof” that Paul was wrong.
There is not one word in Scripture which even hints that he was wrong in
anything he did after becoming a believer.
“And after he had spent some time there, he departed, and went over all
the country of Galatia and Phyrgia in order, strengthening all the disciples.”
This emphasizes the need to
strengthen the faith of believers by continually reminding them of God’s promises,
and of the rich eternal inheritance that is theirs through Christ’s death and
“And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and
mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.”
Eloquent means educated or
cultured, while “mighty in the scriptures” means filled with, excelling in, the
knowledge of scripture, and skillful in the use of it.
“This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the
spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the
baptism of John.”
His having been instructed
in the way of the Lord, or the Christian faith, indicates that he was a believer, but
one whose knowledge apparently hadn’t gone beyond that which related to the gospel
as preached by John the Baptist, that is, the call to Israel to believe in Christ in
order to be forgiven, and thereby fitted to enter the millennial kingdom.
He appears to have been unaware of the fuller truths of salvation for the
Gentiles as well as the Jews, and the promise of heaven rather than the millennial
His partial lack of
knowledge, however, didn’t lessen his zeal to preach the gospel, a fact which
rebukes our failure to preach the gospel with the same fervor.
“And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and
Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God
Aquila and Priscilla’s
taking “him unto them” means that they took him into their home, and instructed
him more fully relative to the Christian faith.
This may not be taken as
implied permission for a woman to teach, since God has forbidden her to do so.
There is nothing to indicate that Priscilla joined in the teaching given
Apollos by her husband.
“And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting
the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had
believed through grace:”
The decision to furnish a
letter of commendation to the saints in Achaia, on behalf of Apollos, fulfilled the
requirement that we know those who labor amongst us.
It is a dangerous practice to accept a man simply on the basis of his own
recommendation. God’s command is,
“... know them which labor among you,” 1 Th 5:12.
The description of the
believers who benefitted by his ministry, as those who “had believed through
grace” reminds us that salvation is all of grace - God’s bestowing undeserved
“For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, shewing by the
scriptures that Jesus was Christ.”
It was essential to the
conversion of the Jews that they learn this truth.
But Apollos’ convincing them “from the scriptures,” raises the question
of how he did it; and the answer isn’t hard to find: Christ is revealed in all
the Scriptures, no less clearly in the typology of the OT than in the literal
language of the New, as it is written in Lk 24:27 relative to His conversation with
the two disciples on the road to Emmaus on the day of His resurrection, “And
beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures
the things concerning himself.” It is
to be remembered that at that time not a word of the NT had been written.