Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 18:12-17

12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews[a] 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.

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Acts 18 begins with Paul’s arrival in the debauched city of Corinth, where St Luke — the author of Acts — recorded that Paul met, worked and lived with Priscilla and Aquila.

Silas and Timothy travelled from Macedonia to join Paul there. Paul preached in the synagogue, and some of the Jews did not want to hear what he had to say. It was significant that Crispus, the synagogue leader, converted as did Titius Justus, who let Paul preach in his house — which was next door to said synagogue. Many of the Corinthians who heard Paul converted.

That said, there was so much tension that Paul was ready to throw in the towel, but he didn’t (emphases mine below):

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.

Nonetheless, the Jews who rejected Paul wanted him silenced (verse 12). A man named Gallio was the Roman proconsul — governor — of Achaia, the district of which Corinth was a part. Bringing Paul before a tribunal, the Jews told Gallio that Paul was speaking against worshipping God according to ‘the law’ (verse 13).

It’s worth knowing who Gallio was. Wikipedia has a short but informative entry on Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus, originally named Lucius Annaeus Novatus. He was the son of Seneca the Elder and the brother of Seneca the Younger. He was born in Córdoba (Spain) — part of the Roman Empire — around 5 BC. Note how beloved he was yet how his life ended:

His brother Seneca, who dedicated to him the treatises De Ira and De Vita Beata, speaks of the charm of his disposition, also alluded to by the poet Statius (Silvae, ii.7, 32). It is probable that he was banished to Corsica with his brother, and that they returned together to Rome when Agrippina selected Seneca to be tutor to Nero. Towards the close of the reign of Claudius, Gallio was proconsul of the newly-constituted senatorial province of Achaea, but seems to have been compelled by ill-health to resign the post within a few years. He was referred to by Claudius as “my friend and proconsul” in the Delphi Inscription, circa 52.

Gallio was a suffect consul in the mid-50s[1] and Cassius Dio records that he introduced Nero’s performances.[2] Not long after the death of his brother, Seneca, Gallio (according to Tacitus, Ann. 15.73) was attacked in the Senate by Salienus Clemens, who accused him of being a “parricide and public enemy, though the Senate unanimously appealed to Salienus not to profit “from public misfortunes to satisfy a private animosity”.[3] He did not survive this reprieve long. When his second brother, Annaeus Mela, opened his veins after being accused of involvement in a conspiracy (Tacitus, Ann. 16.17), Gallio seems to have committed suicide, perhaps under instruction in 65 AD at the age of 64.[4]

Wikipedia confirms that the tribunal scene in Acts would have taken place between 51 and 52 AD:

Therefore, the events of Acts 18 can be dated to this period. This is significant because it is the most accurately known date in the life of Paul.[6]

At the tribunal, Paul did not say anything. He was ready to speak, but did not have the opportunity to do so.

Gallio simply told the Jews that Paul advocated no crime that would violate Roman law and that their grievance against him was a religious one they would need to discuss among themselves (verses 14 and 15).

John MacArthur explains the Roman view of Judaism and Christianity:

Christianity officially was viewed as a sect of Judaism. The Romans saw it as a sect of Judaism, therefore, it came under what the Romans called “religio licita.” They had a category called “permitted religions.” Although they believed in emperor worship, and you know all about that, they had category of permitted religions. Judaism was one of the permitted ones. Christianity was seen as a sect of Judaism.

Gallio was no dumbbell. He was cool, and I’m sure he’d heard Paul preach. He knew enough about the Jewish religion assuredly to know that the Jews had this and that and the other kind of standard, and they believed in a Messiah, and they were looking for their Messiah. All that Paul was announcing was that Jesus is that Messiah. Therefore, Gallio could see that Paul’s brand of Christianity was, in fact, just a form of Judaism in his own mind.

Gallio’s dismissal disappointed the Jews greatly. They were hoping Gallio would have set a legal precedent silencing Paul. If Paul went elsewhere, other proconsuls would rule against him as they hoped Gallio would have done. MacArthur explains how harmful that would have been for the Church:

If he had judged against Paul, as I said, Christianity’s history would’ve been drastically changed for 10-12 years, because it would’ve become the standard judgment against Christianity. Paul wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere.

But, nothing can prevail against Christ’s Bride:

God prevented it. Later on, God had him bring different verdicts and finally, Paul lost his life, but that was in God’s plan, too, at a different time, a different place. Here, Gallio says, “Nothing doing. You don’t even have an issue.”

Gallio drove them out of the tribunal (verse 16), which might imply that they stayed to argue with Gallio. MacArthur says:

They probably really hung around and persisted. Finally, he called his lictors and said, “Get them out.” He drove them out of there.

Those lictors had those little things that they used, and whack! whack! and away you go. Chased them out. “Clear the court!” he said, in effect.

A lictor carried a big bundle of switches tied together, which he used to maintain order. Lictors could also hide an axe in the bundle to behead someone, if ordered.

In their anger at having been refused, ‘they’ then set upon Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue and beat him up. Gallio paid no attention (verse 16).

There is much to explain in this verse.

Matthew Henry explains who Sosthenes probably was:

Many conjectures there are concerning this matter, because it is uncertain who this Sosthenes was, and who the Greeks were that abused him. It seems most probable that Sosthenes was a Christian, and Paul’s particular friend, that appeared for him on this occasion, and probably had taken care of his safety, and conveyed him away, when Gallio dismissed the cause; so that, when they could not light on Paul, they fell foul on him who protected him. It is certain that there was one Sosthenes that was a friend of Paul, and well known at Corinth; it is likely he was a minister, for Paul calls him his brother, and joins him with himself in his first epistle to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:1), as he does Timothy in his second, and it is probable that this was he; he is said to be a ruler of the synagogue, either joint-ruler with Crispus (Acts 18:8), or a ruler of one synagogue, as Crispus was of another. As for the Greeks that abused him, it is very probable that they were either Hellenist Jews, or Jewish Greeks, those that joined with the Jews in opposing the gospel (Acts 18:4,6), and that the native Jews put them on to do it, thinking it would in them be less offensive. They were so enraged against Paul that they beat Sosthenes; and so enraged against Gallio, because he would not countenance the prosecution, that they beat him before the judgment-seat, whereby they did, in effect, tell him that they cared not for him; if he would not be their executioner, they would be their own judges.

In older translations such as the one Henry would have read, this verse says ‘the Greeks’ seized Sosthenes, but more modern translators say the original manuscripts did not specify Jew or Greek. MacArthur explains:

Who are these all that beat them? That’s interesting to think about. Some people say it was the policemen, the lictors of verse 16 that beat Sosthenes up, because he kept persisting in the case. Others say, “No, it was the Jews. They were so mad at him, even though he was the chief ruler of the synagogue, they were so mad at him that he blew the case that his own Jews beat him up.” Others say, “No. Because of the rough stuff that was going on and the hassle and the chasing and the driving them out, the Jews, already being hated, the people who were anti-Semitic, the crowd who didn’t like the Jews, anyway, took the opportunity, and the Greeks beat up Sosthenes.”

Whoever did it, Sosthenes got it. We really don’t know who beat up Sosthenes, but somebody really let him have it. They beat him right in front of the judgment seat and Gallio “cared for none of these things.” Gallio just turned an indifferent eye. He just said, “I’m not going to get involved in this deal.” Which in a sense makes me think that perhaps it was the Jews who were beating up Sosthenes for handling the case so poorly.

Henry says that Gallio should have stepped in to have the violence stopped:

Gallio, as a judge, ought to have protected Sosthenes, and restrained and punished the Greeks that assaulted him. For a man to be mobbed in the street or in the market, perhaps, may not be easily helped; but to be so in his court, the judgment-seat, the court sitting and not concerned at it, is an evidence that truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter; for he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey, Isaiah 59:14,15. Those that see and hear of the sufferings of God’s people, and have no sympathy with them, nor concern for them, do not pity and pray for them, it being all one to them whether the interests of religion sink or swim, are of the spirit of Gallio here, who, when a good man was abused before his face, cared for none of these things; like those that were at ease in Zion, and were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph (Amos 6:6), like the king and Haman, that sat down to drink when the city Shushan was perplexed, Esther 3:15.

That makes me wonder about Gallio’s death, which seems a strange way for such a beloved man to die. Hmm.

The aforementioned verse from Isaiah 59 resonates.

Next time — Acts 18:18-23

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