Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Law and the Promise (Galatians 3:15-25)

The “brothers” with which Paul opens this section of his letter contrasts with the “O foolish Galatians” with which he introduced the chapter. It indicates a change of tone on Paul’s part and reminds his readers, both the Galatians and us, of their common relationship to Jesus Christ (“he [is] the firstborn among many brothers,” Romans 8:29, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV) and the fraternal attitude that they should have towards one another.

The Priority of the Promise

15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

In verses 6 to 9 and 14, Paul connected justification by faith with God’s promise to Abraham, “[I]n you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Now he shows the priority of that promise over the law, claiming that since God had ratified an earlier covenant , it couldn’t be set aside or changed by a covenant made over four centuries later. (The Greek word translated “covenant” in the passage, diatheke, usually means “will” or “testament” but was used by the LXX for the standard Hebrew word for “covenant.” Commentators disagree on whether Paul meant “covenant” or “will/testament” or a mix of their meanings.) But that is what would happen if the teachings of the Judaizers–Jewish Christians who told Gentile Christians that they had to be circumcised and obey the Mosaic law, in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, to be saved–was accepted.

Paul also observes that God made the promise to Abraham and his “offspring” (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 17:7; 24:7) and argues that since “offspring” is singular and not plural the promise was to be inherited by one person, Christ, rather than by many people, the Jews, as the Judaizers claimed. (Paul’s argument has been criticized because in both Hebrew and Greek, as in English, the singular “offspring” has a collective sense. On the other hand, the principle of selecting one offspring to receive the promise out of many possible offspring was established early in Israel’s history when God distinguished between Isaac and Ishmael as the offspring of Abraham [Genesis 24:7].) In view of Paul’s use of “offspring” elsewhere (for example, in Galatians 3:29, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise”), he is probably thinking of Christ as head of a spiritual race rather than as an individual.

The Purpose of the Law

Since according to Paul the law was given after God’s promise to Abraham and had no effect on it, the question of why God gave the law arises. Paul now considers that question and gives the following reasons:

1. The law was “added because of transgressions” (3:19-20).
2. The law was given to convince people of their need for a Saviour (3:21-22).
3. The law was intended to be “our guardian until Christ came” (3:23-25).

1. The law was “added because of transgressions.”

19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

The law wasn’t added to change or annul God’s promise to Abraham but because of transgressions. What does Paul mean by “because of transgressions”? The average reader naturally thinks of it as meaning “to restrain sins,” restraining transgressions being the basic function of law, but most commentators interpret the phrase in light of what Paul wrote to the Romans–“through the law comes knowledge of sin” (3:20) and “the law came in to increase the trespass” (5:20)–as meaning “to reveal sin” or even “to provoke sin.”

Angels are referred to in connection with the giving of the law in Deuteronomy 33:2, “The LORD came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones.” The intermediary by whose hand the law was given was Moses, who told the Israelites, “I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain” (Deuteronomy 5:5).

Numerous explanations have been made of verse 20. The basic idea seems to be that the law was inferior to the promise because the law was mediated but the promise was given directly. The law’s inferiority to the promise is also indicated in this passage by its temporal nature, “added…until the offspring should come.”

2. The law was given to convince people of their need for a Saviour.

21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

The law’s being so different from the promise suggests that it might be opposed to the promise. To that suggestion Paul responds emphatically, “Certainly not!” He then goes on to state his reason, negatively in verse 21b and positively in verse 22. The law was never intended to make alive or reckon righteous. Rather it confined everybody under sin so that “the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (compare Romans 11:31, “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all”). (Actually, Paul attributes the confining to “the Scripture.” Commentators disagree on whether “the Scripture” refers to the Scriptures in general, such as those cited in Romans 3:10-18, or to a particular passage that Paul has already cited. Particular passages that have been proposed are Psalm 143:2, possibly alluded to in Galatians 2:16, and Deuteronomy 27:26, quoted in Galatians 3:10.)

3. The law was intended to be “our guardian until Christ came.”

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

It’s tempting to relate this passage to one’s personal experience of abandoning his or her attempt to establish righteousness by works of the law and of accepting the righteousness which comes by faith in Jesus Christ. However, most modern commentators relate the passage to the change from the age of law to the age of faith that was inaugurated by the coming of Jesus Christ and fulfilled the promise to Abraham. Thus that is how I shall take it here.

“[W]e were held captive under the law, imprisoned” is remarkably parallel to verse 22. However, while verse 22 refers to “everything” being imprisoned, verses 23-25 seem to refer specifically to the Jews (“we”). Also, here the law, instead of sin, is the jailer, suggesting that to be “under the law” is in practice to be “under sin.” Compare Romans 6:14, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” The reason is that, although forbidding sin, the law stimulates it (Romans 5:20, quoted above).

A “guardian” or paidagogos was a person, usually a slave, charged with the conducting of a child to and from school, seeing that he didn’t fall into harm or get into mischief, and drilling him on what he had learned. Similarly the law served God’s purposes by “imprisoning” (guarding and restricting) the Jews.

The law did what it was intended to do. Then Jesus Christ came and the law was no longer needed. The Judaizers failed to realize this and told the Galatian Christians that they had to follow the law, in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, to be saved. Are you still trying to mix law and grace, as the Judaizers did, or are you trusting completely in what Jesus Christ did for our salvation?

Paul’s Third Missionary Journey – 1. Paul’s Ministry in Ephesus

On his way back to Antioch in Syria at the end of his second missionary journey, Paul visited the synagogue in Ephesus and, on being asked to stay longer, promised to return “if God wills” (Acts 18:21). After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out on a missionary journey which would center on Ephesus. I plan to consider it in six posts: this one based on Acts 18:23 and 19:1-20; “A Riot in Ephesus” (19:21-41); “Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians”; “Paul’s Visits to Macedonia and Greece and Trip to Jerusalem” (parts of 20:1-21:16); Paul’s Letter to the Romans”; and “Paul’s Speech to the Ephesian Elders” (20:18-35).

Paul began the journey, his third missionary journey, by visiting the churches in Galatia and Phrygia which he and Barnabas had established on his first missionary journey and he and Silas had visited at the beginning of his second missionary journey. Luke describes Paul as “[going] from one place to the next … strengthening all the disciples” (18:23, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV), indicating that his main purpose was to help and encourage his converts in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch rather than to carry out more evangelism in the area.

On Paul’s second missionary journey the Holy Spirit hadn’t allowed him to enter Asia, the Roman province stretching from Galatia to the Aegean Sea. Thus he had gone north and then, not allowed by the Holy Spirit to enter the Roman province lying south of the Black Sea (Bithynia), west to Troas, where he had a vision calling him to preach the gospel in Macedonia. However the Holy Spirit didn’t stop Paul from entering Asia this time and he “passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus” (19:1), the administrative and commercial center of the province, thus fulfilling the promise that he had made in Acts 18:21.

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Paul’s Encounter with “Disciples” in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7)

1 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

Biblical scholars disagree on who the “disciples” were. Some think that they were disciples of John the Baptist, arguing that verse 4 indicates that they didn’t know of Jesus. However others note that elsewhere in Acts “disciples” without qualification refers to disciples of Jesus and thus claim that if Luke had meant that these were disciples of John he would have said so. As well, Paul’s asking them “”Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” implies that they had heard of and believed in Jesus. What Paul wanted to know is whether they had been baptised with the Holy Spirit after they believed (“when you believed” can also be translated “after you believed”) in Jesus.

This is the only occasion recorded in Acts in which ones who had been baptized were rebaptized. Probably, on hearing Paul’s explanation of baptism, the disciples asked to be baptised in the name of Jesus to ensure their relationship with him. According to John B. Polhill, the disciples’ being baptized “in the name of Jesus” would not differ from their being baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” as commanded by Jesus in Matthew 28:19. He observes in his note on Acts 10:48 in ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles, 2008) that a person’s “name” represents his or her character and attributes and that the “name” (character) of Jesus here would be the same as the “name” (character) of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in Matthew 28:19. His observation is supported by the fact that “name” in Matthew 28:19 is singular, indicating that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share one “name” (character).

This is the third occasion recorded in Acts in which ones are described as speaking in tongues when the Holy Spirit came upon them, the others occurring in 2:1-4 and 10:44-46. By “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit,” the disciples wouldn’t mean that they hadn’t heard of the Holy Spirit. Since they had received John’s baptism, they would have been told that it was preparatory for the coming of one who would baptise with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16). Thus the disciples would mean was that they didn’t know that the baptism with the Holy Spirit promised by John the Baptist and by Jesus (Acts 1:5) had already taken place. Paul’s laying his hands on the disciples before they were baptised with the Holy Spirit shows that he expected believers to be baptised with the Holy Spirit. For more on baptism with the Holy Spirit, see these earlier posts on it here: [The Baptism in the Holy Spirit – Its Promise and Purpose], [The Baptism in the Holy Spirit – Receiving It], [The Baptism in the Holy Spirit – The Initial Evidence], and [Baptism in the Holy Spirit – Speaking in Tongues].

Paul’s Subsequent Ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-10)

8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

The three-month hearing the Jews gave Paul was one of the longest he had in any synagogue. As usual when opposition rose against “the Way” he withdrew, taking the disciples with him. For the next two years he ministered daily in the hall of Tyrannus, probably the lecture hall of a local philosopher or a hall rented out to travelling philosophers by its landlord owner. Some Greek manuscripts add that Paul gave his daily lectures between 11:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M., which included the hottest part of the day, when people (including Tyrannus) would take off work for a midday nap.

In 20:31 Paul told the elders of the church in Ephesus that he had ministered there for three years. This would include the “three months” and “two years” referred to here. That “all the residents of Asia heard the word of God” reflects Paul’s missionary strategy of setting up in major cities and sending helpers into the surrounding region to establish churches. Two of his helpers are identified in 19:22–Timothy and Erastus (a Corinthian, possibly the one named in Romans 16:23 and 2 Timothy 4:20).

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians near the end of his time in Ephesus, sending it to Corinth with Timothy and Erastus. Later he visited Corinth himself (20:1-2; 1 Corinthians 16:5-8). As I noted at the beginning of this article, I plan to post an article here on Paul’s Corinthian letters.

The Sons of Sceva (Acts 19:11-20)

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

God supported the ministry of Paul with such extraordinary miracles–people’s even being healed by application of his sweat-cloths and work-aprons–that the sons of a Jewish priest tried to cast out evil spirits by saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” The attempt failed, the evil spirit in one man leading him to attack them so that fled out of his house naked and wounded. All in Ephesus, both Jews and Gentiles, heard of the incident and were overcome with fear and magnified the name of Jesus. Many who practiced the magic arts became believers and, renouncing their former practices, brought their books of magic and burned them publicly. Thus “the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”

As I look back over Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, the word “power” comes to mind. The account opens by reporting how a group of believers was baptised with the Holy Spirit when Paul lay his hands on them, an experience that Jesus told the apostles would be accompanied by their receiving power (Acts 1:8). It continues by telling of God’s doing such extraordinary miracles through Paul that the sons of a Jewish priest tried to imitate him. And it concludes by describing how such fear and respect for Jesus fell on the people that even pagan magicians became believers and renounced publicly their former practices.

O Foolish Galatians! (Galatians 3:1-14)

In Galatians 1:6 Paul expressed astonishment over the Galatians turning quickly from the one who called them to another gospel, that of Jewish Christians who told them that they had to be circumcised and obey the Mosaic law, in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, in order to be saved. Now Paul suggests a reason for the Galatians listening to the Judaizers–they’d, figuratively speaking, had a spell placed on them by the Judaizers.

1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

“O foolish Galatians” expresses Paul’s frustration over the Galatians’ accepting the Judaizers’ gospel, his finding it incomprehensible that they’d do so after he’d portrayed so clearly to them Jesus Christ as crucified for their salvation. Similarly, the risen Jesus had addressed the two on the way to Emmaus as “O foolish ones” for their lack of spiritual discernment (Luke 24:25).

Paul goes on to give three arguments why justification is by faith in Jesus Christ rather than by observing the law:

– argument from the experience of the Galatians (3:2-5)
– argument from the promise to Abraham (3:5-9)
– argument from the curse of the law (3:10-14)

The Experience of the Galatians (3:2-5)

2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith[?]

In the house of Cornelius, Peter recognized that God’s giving the Holy Spirit to those gathered there showed that He’d accepted them (Acts 10). Later he told the Council of Jerusalem, “And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:8-10)

Paul expresses a similar idea here. By listening to the Judaizers’ gospel, the Galatians were in effect denying their experience of having received the Holy Spirit upon believing the gospel that they’d heard from Paul. Thus that experience may have been in vain. Noting the change in tense from the past to the present, I think that Paul is referring in verse 2 to the indwelling of every believer by the Holy Spirit when he or she believes and in verse 5 to God’s ongoing provision of the Holy Spirit to the church.

The Promise to Abraham

6 [J]ust as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (The quotations are from Genesis 15:6 and 12:3.)

The Judaizers seem to have made a lot of God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3–“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”). Doubtless they argued that all the covenant blessings come through Abraham; that they are inherited only by his descendants, the Jews; and that God’s appointed sign of the covenant is circumcision (Genesis 17:10-14). Thus for Gentiles to receive covenant blessings they must become children of Abraham by being circumcised.

Paul responds by using Abraham as an example of righteousness by faith. “[I]t was counted to him as righteousness” because he believed God’s promise that, although he was as yet childless, his offspring would be as numerous as the stars he could see in the night sky (Genesis 15:5-6; later, in Romans 4:10-12, Paul points out that this occurred before Abraham was circumcised). Assuming that God deals with everyone on the same basis, Paul infers that this established the principle of justification (being declared righteous by God) by faith. Foreseeing that He was going to justify the Gentiles by the same principle, God promised Abraham that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3). Thus it is those who exercise faith who are the children of Abraham and blessed with him.

The Curse of the Law (3:10-14)

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Next Paul presents two reasons why no one can be justified by the law. The first reason that he gives is that no one can observe the law perfectly, which would be necessary for a person to be justified by it. He cites Deuteronomy 27:26, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them,” and Leviticus 18:5, “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them,” to support his claim that a person would have to observe the law perfectly to be justified by it.

The second reason that he gives is that according to Habakkuk 2:4 (“the righteous shall live by his faith”) justification is by faith, but faith and the law are mutually exclusive. Thus, Paul claims that, instead of saving a person reliance upon the law puts him or her under the curse of God referred to in Deuteronomy 27:26 (quoted above).

However, Paul continues, Jesus Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. He cites Deuteronomy 21:23, “a hanged man is cursed by God,” to show that Christ was cursed by God; ironically, Paul probably cited the same passage before his conversion to refute the early Christians’ claims of a crucified Messiah. The result is twofold: (1) the blessing of Abraham, which verses 6-9 have shown to be justification by faith, is given to the Gentiles and (2) we who have faith receive the promise of the Holy Spirit spoken of in verses 2-5.

By referring to the crucifixion, in both the beginning and the closing of Galatians 3:1-14 (verses 1 and 14), Paul makes clear to the Galatians and to us that receiving the promised Holy Spirit and having the hope of eternal salvation come not from observing the law but by trusting in what Jesus Christ did for mankind on the cross of Calvary.

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey – 5. Corinth and Antioch

“I was with you [the church in Corinth] in weakness and in fear and in much trembling,” confessed Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:3 (ESV; all Biblical quotations are in the ESV). His feeling that way is understandable considering the response to his ministry in Greece before his coming to Corinth. Despite being called to Macedonia (in northern Greece) in a vision, he’d been driven out of the three Macedonian cities in which he ministered–Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. Although he wasn’t driven out of the next city in which he ministered, Athens (in Achaia in southern Greece), it doesn’t seem as if there was much positive response to his ministry there. Thus undoubtedly he was discouraged when he arrived in Corinth (also in Achaia). In this article I’ll consider his ministry in Corinth and the rest of his second missionary journey, which is described in Acts 18.

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Aquila and Priscilla

1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

Corinth was not only the capital of the Roman province Achaia, but also its largest and most prosperous city. It was also noted for its immorality, the verb “to corinthianize” meaning to be sexually immoral. Luke doesn’t say how Paul “found” Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth. Possibly on entering it he asked where he could find a master tentmaker or leather worker from whom he could ask for a job so that he could support himself at his trade.

Besides having the same trade as Paul, Aquila and Priscilla were also Jews and, since Luke doesn’t refer to their becoming believers after meeting Paul, likely Christians. They’d come to Corinth from Italy recently because the Emperor Claudius had banished all Jews from Rome because they were “indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus” (Suetonius, Life of Claudius 25.4; quoted in F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988, page 347). Although Chrestus may have been an otherwise unknown troublemaker, probably Suetonius was referring to Christ, whom he mistakenly thought was in Rome at the time of the riots. Paul stayed with Aquila and Priscilla and worked at his trade.

Because Corinth had large enough of a Jewish colony to have a synagogue, Paul was able to follow his usual practice of witnessing in the local synagogue on the Sabbaths. Luke tells us that Paul “reasoned” with those gathered, “trying to persuade” both Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. He may have hoped that by using a moderate approach he would avoid the violent reaction to his ministry that had taken place in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.

Paul’s Ministry in Corinth

5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

In Paul’s Second Missionary Journey – 3. Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens I said, “After bringing Paul to Athens, those escorting him returned to Berea, taking with them a command from Paul for Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens as soon as possible.” They must have done so because Paul told the Thessalonians in a letter written from Corinth, “willing to be left behind at Athens alone…we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Apparently he also sent Silas to Philippi or Berea, as Luke refers here to both Silas and Timothy’s arriving in Corinth from Macedonia.

Timothy brought “good news of [the Thessalonians’] faith and love,” about which Paul wrote, “We have been comforted” (1 Thessalonians 3:6-7). However he also shared with Paul a concern that the Thessalonians had over whether Christians who had died would take part in Jesus’ second coming. In response to their concern, Paul wrote two letters to them–1 and 2 Thessalonians, specifically addressing their confusion over Jesus’ return in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3:5.

Moreover Silas and Timothy brought Paul financial help from the Macedonian churches (2 Corinthians 11:9). Thus after their arrival Paul was able to wholly devote himself to preaching the gospel. Now his witnessing in the synagogue brought about about such opposition that he left it, shaking out his cloak as a sign of his rejection of it. The owner of a house beside the synagogue, a God-fearing Gentile who presumably believed Paul’s message, invited Paul to use his house. As a result of Paul’s ministry, many Corinthians, including the ruler of the synagogue and his household, believed and were baptized. In addition “the Lord” (Jesus) assured Paul in a vision that no harm would come to him in Corinth. Thus Paul stayed in Corinth, teaching the gospel, for a year and a half.

Paul before Gallio

12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

The promise given to Paul in the vision was that no harm would come to him, not that no problems would occur. Shortly after Gallio (a brother of the Stoic philosoper Seneca) became proconsul of Achaia in A.D. 51, the Jews took Paul before him, charging that Paul was preaching an illegal religion and thus breaking Roman law. However they weren’t able to convince Gallio, who viewed their objection to Paul as just a difference within the Jewish religion and refused to hear their case. The beating of the synagogue ruler by the crowd was apparently an expression of anti-Semitism, which hopefully Christians attending the trial didn’t participate in.

According to Richard N. Longenecker, Paul’s appearance before Gallio was Luke’s chief interest in Acts 18, Luke’s describing it: “(1) to demonstrate that one of the wisest of the Roman proconsuls had declared Christianity to be a religio licita and (2) to warn that if Rome began to persecute the church, it would be acting contrary to Gallio, a ruler renowned for his urbanity and wit” (“The Acts of the Apostles,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 10, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1981, page 479).

Paul’s Return to Antioch

18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch.

Thanks to Gallio’s favourable ruling Paul was able to continue ministering in Corinth. However after some time he sailed for Syria, accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla. At Cenchreae, Corinth’s main port to the Aegean Sea, he had his hair cut, having completed a vow that he had taken. He may have taken the vow to express thanksgiving, perhaps for God’s promise of protection, or to seek God’s blessing for an undertaking. If it were a formal Nazarite vow, it would have required strict purity and abstinence from strong drink as well as letting the hair grow long.

When they came to Ephesus, Paul visited its synagogue but declined an invitation to stay longer, perhaps feeling that fulfilling his vow at Jerusalem (see below) took priority over everything else. However he left Aquila and Priscilla there and he promised to return if God willed. Apparently Aquila and Priscilla transferred their business from Corinth to Ephesus, as a few years later Paul refers in a letter written from Ephesus to their hosting a church in their house there (1 Corinthians 16:19).

After landing at Caesarea, the port city of Jerusalem, Paul visited the church in Jerusalem and then went to Antioch in Syria, the church which had originally commissioned him to take the gospel to the Gentiles. While in Jerusalem Paul not only would have greeted the church but also, if his vow was a formal Nazarite vow, would have fulfilled it by presenting his shorn hair and offering sacrifices to God. Paul’s return to Antioch marked the end of his second missionary journey.