“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.
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.