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Bible readingThe 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 omit — 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.

Romans 16:3-6

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert[a] to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.

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Last week’s post was about Phoebe, the first person Paul commended to the Romans in the final part of his letter to them.

John MacArthur explains the significance of naming so many people he had met during his ministry who were now in Rome (emphases mine):

… the first insight into his love and into his relationships with people, his accountability, his dependency is related to this commendation. Now let’s look at the second one and that’s his cordiality. And that takes us from verse 3 all the way to verse 23 with a little break in verses 17 to 20 … But starting in verse 3 we begin a list of names that runs down to verse 16 and then stops where there’s a greeting. And then we pick up more names in verse 21 to 23. Now all of these names really extend to us insight into Paul’s love, because it’s a whole lot of cordiality, a whole lot of loving greeting to everybody. It is a real display of open love. He greets the saints. I love the fact that he knows who they are. I mean, they’re not a lot of nameless folks. This is not a man who is so isolated from reality, who is so into his own thing, who has reached such a level of esteem in the minds of everybody and in himself that he just loses touch with everybody. Not at all.

We see here, Paul knew who was his helper. Paul knew who stood by him. And he loved them and they were an essential part of his life. The breadth of his ministry, the sweep of it can be seen in the fact that though he has never been to Rome he names here 24 individuals, 17 men and seven women, and he names two households along with some unnamed brothers and unnamed sisters in the Savior who are at Rome. Though he had never been there he had been instrumental in winning so many to Christ who had gone to Rome and were now there as a part of that church in that great city. Undoubtedly what we have in these 24 individuals and two households and unnamed sisters and brothers is a catalogue of very choice Christians.

The next people he mentions were Prisca — Priscilla — and her husband Aquila (verse 3), formerly of Rome but exiled when the emperor Claudius decreed that all Jews had to leave the city. They went to live in Corinth, in Greece.

Those who know the Book of Acts or who read my series on it, will remember this couple from Acts 18:1-4. My post has a description not only of Corinth but also of this couple, who, like Paul, were tent makers. They welcomed Paul into their home and the three became close friends. He stayed with them for quite a while, then the three moved on to Ephesus, where Priscilla and Aquila founded the church there (Acts 18:18-19).

While they were in Ephesus, they instructed Apollos more precisely in scriptural doctrine enabling him to prove in his preaching that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 18:24-28).

Many Bible scholars believe that Priscilla is named before her husband because she had a more dominant personality. Others say that her command of Scripture was better than her husband’s. In any event, she was the first female preacher.

Priscilla and Aquila were still in the city when young Timothy was preaching (2 Timothy 4:19).

They had risked their lives for Paul (verse 4). Corinth was a dangerous place for Christians. Phoebe hosted worship services for Corinthians in her house in Cenchreae, the port outside of Corinth.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

They exposed themselves to secure Paul, hazarded their own lives for the preservation of his, considering how much better they might be spared than he. Paul was in a great deal of danger at Corinth, while he sojourned with them; but they sheltered him, though they thereby made themselves obnoxious to the enraged multitudes, Acts 18:12,17. It was a good while ago that they had done Paul this kindness; and yet he speaks as feelingly of it as if it had been but yesterday.

Paul says that all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

MacArthur says that is because they protected Paul:

Why are they thankful? Because they’re all a product of Paul’s ministry, right? And a dead Paul means the end of everything.

So it’s not only that I’m thankful for them, everybody else is thankful for them. I mean, we don’t know that story. We say, “Oh the apostle Paul, the apostle Paul, isn’t it marvelous, what a man.” But do we need to be reminded that it may have been that there would have been nothing but a dead body had it not been for these two rather obscure dear people who were willing to lay their head on a chopping block to spare the life of that man they knew God had anointed? That’s great devotion, great devotion.

MacArthur points out that Paul refers to Prisca rather than Priscilla:

Priscilla is a diminutive form which is used by Luke. Luke favors the diminutive forms on many names whereas Paul favors the more classical formal forms. This is true not only of Prisca and Priscilla, but of Silas and Silvanus. That tends to be a difference between Luke and Paul.

Once Claudius died, Prisca and Aquila moved back to Rome:

… they had returned to Rome because of the death of Claudius, so the banishing of the Jews was a past matter.

They held worship in their house in Rome (verse 5). As it was a large city, Christians worshipped in various people’s houses. Prisca and Aquila’s home was but one of those locations.

MacArthur says:

Now here they are in Rome and their house is open to house the church. Oh this is a magnanimous couple. On the one hand they have laid down their life for the great apostle Paul. On the other hand they have opened their home to the church. Now you’ll get a flow as we go through here and you’ll find out that the church in Rome met in several places. The church in Rome was not always meeting in one place, they had no building. So they were meeting in varying homes. They were really a whole lot of Flocks, a whole lot of home Bible studies and since the church could only come together in a public place, perhaps outdoors for maybe the Lord’s Table or a love feast or a communion or a great celebration of some kind, its weekly meetings would have to be held in the homes of those who were gracious enough to open them for the use of the church.

The next person Paul mentions is Epaenetus, the first convert in Asia (verse 5), which in those days meant Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).

The King James Version states ‘Achaia’ rather than ‘Asia’. If that is true, then Epaenetus came from Greece, as that is where Achaia is located.

Henry says:

Of Epenetus it is further said that he was the first-fruit of Achaia unto Christ; not only one of the most eminent believers in that country, but one of the first that was converted to the faith of Christ: one that was offered up to God by Paul, as the first-fruits of his ministry there; an earnest of a great harvest; for in Corinth, the chief city of Achaia, God had much people, Acts 18:10. Special respect is to be paid to those that set out early, and come to work in the vineyard at the first hour, at the first call. The household of Stephanas is likewise said to be the first-fruits of Achaia, 1 Corinthians 16:15. Perhaps Epenetus was one of that household; or, at least, he was one of the first three; not the first alone, but one of the first fleece of Christians, that the region of Achaia afforded.

MacArthur leans towards Asia Minor and says that Epaenetus had reason to move to Rome:

Now who is Epaenetus? He is the first fruits of Asia unto Christ, the first convert in Asia Minor, which is now modern Turkey. Asia Minor had the city Ephesus and all the other cities mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3, the cities of Laodicea, Philadelphia, Smyrna, Sardis, and Thyatira, Pergamos and Ephesus, they were all there in Asia Minor. The first convert in Asia was Epaenetus and now he is in Rome, a part of the church at Rome, moved there for whatever reason. He calls him, and here you get to see the love of Paul, “My well beloved.” There’s little doubt in my mind that there was something significant about the first convert in Asia, don’t you think? The first one that came to Christ, Epaenetus, had a special place of affection in the heart of Paul. And he is the first fruits. Now the fact that he was the first fruits means that many others followed, right? He doesn’t say he’s the only fruit, he says he’s the what? The first fruit, the first fruit not unto me, but “the first fruit unto Christ.”

And you know, don’t you, that he is the one to whom all the first fruits are offered. Go back to chapter 15 verse 16, how Paul says that he offers up the Gentiles to God as a sacrifice, an offering, and the first…the first fruits of his ministry in Asia that he offered to Christ is none other than Epaenetus, who has a special place in his heart. We know nothing more about this man at all. But Paul loved him greatly and Paul knew where he was, I like that, he knew he was in Rome. He followed these people. He understood where they were because they were so deeply ingrained in his life.

The next person Paul mentions is a lady named Mary, who has ‘worked hard’ for the church in Rome (verse 6).

MacArthur says that the Greek word used means that she worked tirelessly, to the point of exhaustion:

The word is a strong word, it means to labor to the point of weariness, it’s that very familiar verb kopia. It means to work to sweat and exhaustion. And he says greet her who bestowed much labor on you.

He surmises that Prisca and Aquila must have told Paul about Mary:

the best idea is that Aquila and Priscilla who had come from Rome would have informed Paul about her and this dear lady that had given so much labor to the church was known to him through the testimony of Aquila and Priscilla. And the idea of much labor expresses the fact that she probably had been an early part of the church at Rome. The fact that it’s in the past tense indicates that by now she may have been very old and her labor was much behind her. And he commends with a loving greeting this woman who in the past rendered much labor to the establishing and the developing of the church of the believers in Rome.

Henry’s commentary says that Paul might have met Mary elsewhere during his ministry:

Some think this Mary had been at some of those places where Paul was, though now removed to Rome, and had personally ministered to him; others think Paul speaks of her labour as bestowed upon him because it was bestowed upon his friends and fellow-labourers, and he took what was done to them as done to himself.

It is fascinating that the names of these people have been recorded and will be forever remembered in the New Testament.

We can be grateful to Bible scholars who made the effort to research their lives through the ages. MacArthur mentions JB Lightfoot, an Anglican priest from the Victorian era and  William Barclay, a 20th century Church of Scotland minister:

we could just read names and say, well, we don’t know who they are, and go on. But there are some in history who couldn’t do that and we’re grateful to them. A great exegetical commentator by the name of J.B. Lightfoot seemed to be preoccupied with finding out who all these people were. And he has some fascinating data. William Barclay, also personally preoccupied with trying to find out who all these people were, adds some very important and interesting data and I want to intersect with a little bit of that, anyway, as we go through because I want you to see that these are flesh and blood real people. And some of them, even the New Testament gives us a little information about.

There are plenty more names and insights to follow in the weeks ahead.

Next time — Romans 16:7-10

Bible treehuggercomThe 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 18:24-28

Apollos Speaks Boldly in Ephesus

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit,[a] he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 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. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

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Last week’s passage was about Paul’s return to Caesarea, probably Jerusalem — although St Luke, the author of Acts, did not say — and then on to the churches in Syria and Asia Minor that he had founded.

Meanwhile, Paul’s friends from Corinth — Priscilla and Aquila — were ministering in Ephesus (Efes in Turkey).

During that time, Apollos, a learned Jew from Alexandria (Egypt) arrived in the port city. He was very well spoken and knew his Scripture equally well (verse 24).

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur state that Alexandria had a large Jewish population. MacArthur says that there were four different Jewish districts in the city.

Henry’s commentary tells us that Alexandria’s Jews numbered greatly because they had been sent into exile:

there were abundance of Jews in that city, since the dispersion of the people, as it was foretold (Deuteronomy 28:68): The Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again.

Henry also explains Apollos, the name (emphases mine):

His name was not Apollo, the name of one of the heathen gods, but Apollos, some think the same with Apelles, Romans 16:10.

As for Apollos the man, he tells us:

He was a man of excellent good parts, and well fitted for public service. He was an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures of the Old Testament, in the knowledge of which he was, as a Jew, brought up. (1.) He had a great command of language: he was an eloquent man; he was aner logios–a prudent man, so some; a learned man, so others; historiarum peritus–a good historian, which is an excellent qualification for the ministry: he was one that could speak well, so it properly signifies; he was an oracle of a man; he was famous for speaking pertinently and closely, fully and fluently, upon any subject. (2.) He had a great command of scripture-language, and this was the eloquence he was remarkable for. He came to Ephesus, being mighty in the scriptures, so the words are placed; having an excellent faculty of expounding scripture, he came to Ephesus, which was a public place, to trade with that talent, for the honour of God and the good of many. He was not only ready in the scriptures, able to quote texts off-hand, and repeat them, and tell you where to find themHe understood the sense and meaning of them, he knew how to make use of them and to apply them, how to reason out of the scriptures, and to reason strongly; a convincing, commanding, confirming power went along with all his expositions and applications of the scripture. It is probable he had given proof of his knowledge of the scriptures, and his abilities in them, in many synagogues of the Jews.

Apollos was a Messianic Jew, one who knew of the Messiah’s imminent coming as prophesied by John the Baptist (verse 25). There were many followers of John the Baptist who evangelised his prophecy throughout the ancient world. Whoever taught Apollos did so carefully and accurately. Many of John the Baptist’s followers who evangelised did not know that much about Jesus’s ministry or that He died on the Cross, rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. (Had John the Baptist lived, they would have.) Apollos was one of these people.

Note that verse 25’s words, ‘fervent in spirit’, carry an explanatory footnote: ‘Or “in the Spirit”‘. On this point, our two commentators disagree somewhat.

Henry says:

Though he had not the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, as the apostles had, he made use of the gifts he had; for the dispensation of the Spirit, whatever the measure of it is, is given to every man to profit withal. And our Savior, by a parable, designed to teach his ministers that though they had but one talent they must not bury that … He was a lively affectionate preacher; as he had a good head, so he had a good heart; he was fervent in Spirit. He had in him a great deal of divine fire as well as divine light, was burning as well as shining. He was full of zeal for the glory of God, and the salvation of precious souls. This appeared both in his forwardness to preach when he was called to it by the rulers of the synagogue, and in his fervency in his preaching. He preached as one in earnest, and that had his heart in his work. What a happy composition was here! Many are fervent in spirit, but are weak in knowledge, in scripture-knowledge–have far to seek for proper words and are full of improper ones; and, on the other hand, many are eloquent enough, and mighty in the scriptures, and learned, and judicious, but they have no life or fervency. Here was a complete man of God, thoroughly furnished for his work; both eloquent and fervent, full both of divine knowledge and of divine affections.

MacArthur is less generous:

He was a powerful man in terms of teaching. And let me just say at this point that his power at this point was the natural. He was not a Christian at this point, so consequently, did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. So the power in his life was expressed really through his natural abilities, not yet having the Gifts of the Spirit as we know them. Later on, when he comes to Christ and he receives the Holy Spirit and gets the Gift of the Spirit in those areas, I mean, he becomes so devastating … But in this point, in the natural–and by that, I don’t mean that the Spirit didn’t touch his life, because nobody can know anything apart from the Holy Spirit, right, in any dispensation. So, I’m not disqualifying the Spirit. He had the Spirit’s work in his life in a very general sense, not in the specific sense of the Gift and the indwelling that the New Testament Saint knows. But he could, in his own natural ability, speak and communicate and was learned in the Old Testament. And believe me, it didn’t take him long to make an impression.

Priscilla and Aquila heard him speak in the synagogue and understood that he did not have the story of Jesus Christ as Paul had related it to them. So, they took him to one side and explained it to him, as they had been taught (verse 26). MacArthur thinks they might have shared a meal with him followed by a long discussion about the life of Jesus and how He fulfilled Scripture.

The well educated Apollos learned from two tent makers. Henry tells us:

[2.] See an instance of truly Christian charity in Aquila and Priscilla; they did good according to their ability. Aquila, though a man of great knowledge, yet did no undertake to speak in the synagogue, because he had not such gifts for public work as Apollos had; but he furnished Apollos with matter, and then left him to clothe it with acceptable words. Instructing young Christians and young ministers privately in conversation, who mean well, and perform well, as far as they go, is a piece of very good service, both to them and to the church. [3.] See an instance of great humility in Apollos. He was a very bright young man, of great parts and learning, newly come from the university, a popular preacher, and one mightily cried up and followed; and yet, finding that Aquila and Priscilla were judicious serious Christians, that could speak intelligently and experimentally of the things of God, though they were but mechanics, poor tent-makers, he was glad to receive instructions from them, to be shown by them his defects and mistakes, and to have his mistakes rectified by them, and his deficiencies made up. Young scholars may gain a great deal by converse with old Christians, as young students in the law may by old practitioners. Apollos, though he was instructed in the way of the Lord, did not rest in the knowledge he had attained, nor thought he understood Christianity as well as any man (which proud conceited young men are apt to do), but was willing to have it expounded to him more perfectly. Those that know much should covet to know more, and what they know to know it better, pressing forward towards perfection.

MacArthur says that learning from Priscilla and Aquila was the moment of conversion for Apollos:

They told him the fullness of the facts regarding Christ. Oh, man, there’s the conversion of Apollos right there in those verses. And the Spirit doesn’t say much about it. Why? Because it wasn’t much of a change. He was already a saint.

Henry had good words for Priscilla:

Here is an instance of a good woman, though not permitted to speak in the church or in the synagogue, yet doing good with the knowledge God had given her in private converse. Paul will have the aged women to be teachers of good things Titus 2:3,4.

It is thought that Priscilla had more spiritual depth than her husband Aquila, which is probably why Luke put her name before his so often.

Apollos decided to go to Achaia, so the men from the church in Ephesus sent a letter of introduction (verse 27). Achaia was the province where Corinth was located. Corinth was the centre of government for Achaia. Paul appeared before Achaia’s proconsul, Gallio.

Luke did not state why Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, however, a few possibilities spring to mind. First, the Jews in Ephesus were largely receptive to Paul’s teaching, and Priscilla and Aquila were building a solid congregation there. Secondly, Corinth might have resembled Alexandria with regard to intellectual life. Thirdly, and most importantly, Apollos might have wanted to finish the job that Paul had started. Corinth still had Jews who were hostile to the Gospel message.

When Apollos arrived in Achaia, his eloquence and precision reassured the converts (verse 27). Furthermore, he was also able to powerfully refute the errors of the Jews in scripturally demonstrating that Jesus is the Messiah (verse 28).

Henry explains verse 28:

Unbelievers were greatly mortified. Their objections were fully answered, the folly and sophistry of their arguments were discovered, so that they had nothing to say in defence of the opposition they made to the gospel; their mouths were stopped, and their faces filled with shame (Acts 18:28): He mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, before the people; he did it, eutonos–earnestly, and with a great deal of vehemence; he took pains to do it; his heart was upon it, as one that was truly desirous both to serve the cause of Christ and to save the souls of men. He did it effectually and to universal satisfaction. He did it levi negotio–with facility. The case was so plain, and the arguments were so strong on Christ’s side, that it was an easy matter to baffle all that the Jews could say against it. Though they were so fierce, yet their cause was so weak that he made nothing of their opposition. Now that which he aimed to convince them of was that Jesus is the Christ, that he is the Messiah promised to the fathers, who should come, and they were to look for not other. If the Jews were but convinced of this–that Jesus is Christ, even their own law would teach them to hear him.

Apollos was a highly important church leader in Corinth, as Paul readily acknowledged in 1 Corinthians 3:6:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

MacArthur also says he was a better public speaker than Paul and had a better physical presence:

He was probably without equal as a speaker. You say, “Was he greater than Paul?” Well, very possibly. He was a greater preacher than Paul. Paul said to the Corinthians, in I Corinthians 2:1, “I, Brethren, when I came to you came not with excellency of speech.” Paul never did really value his preaching ability. Interesting. I don’t know if you ever read this verse. Interesting. II Corinthians 10:10, it says, “His letters say they are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible.” So he’s a lot better writer than he was a body, and he was an even better body than he was a speaker. Now, that’s a interesting little insight into the possibility that Paul perhaps was not as great an orator as was Apollos, and I’m only making the comparison because I want you to know the stature of this man. He was without peer, as far as we could see in the New Testament, as a preacher, as a speaker.

Shortly after Apollos arrived in Corinth, a church schism arose. Wikipedia has a simple explanation about the purpose of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

Paul’s Epistle refers to a schism between four parties in the Corinthian church, of which two attached themselves to Paul and Apollos respectively, using their names[9] (the third and fourth were Peter, identified as Cephas, and Jesus Christ himself).[10] It is possible, though, that, as Msgr. Ronald Knox suggests, the parties were actually two, one claiming to follow Paul, the other claiming to follow Apollos. “It is surely probable that the adherents of St. Paul […] alleged in defence of his orthodoxy the fact that he was in full agreement with, and in some sense commissioned by, the Apostolic College. Hence ‘I am for Cephas’. […] What reply was the faction of Apollos to make? It devised an expedient which has been imitated by sectaries more than once in later times; appealed behind the Apostolic College itself to him from whom the Apostolic College derived its dignity; ‘I am for Christ.'”[11] Paul states that the schism arose because of the Corinthians’ immaturity in faith.[12]

MacArthur says that Apollos left Corinth for a time because the schism distressed him:

And such a holy man was he that later on when he saw the factions in Corinth, it so grieved his heart that in I Corinthians 16:12, Paul had asked him to go back and he wouldn’t go back to Corinth. The factions that came in Corinth weren’t Apollos’ fault any more than they were Peter’s fault, Paul’s fault or Christ’s fault. But they grieved him.

Wikipedia has more interesting information about St Apollos, venerated by the Orthodox churches, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod:

Apollos’ origin in Alexandria has led to speculations that he would have preached in the allegorical style of Philo. Theologian Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, for example, commented: “It is difficult to imagine that an Alexandrian Jew … could have escaped the influence of Philo, the great intellectual leader … particularly since the latter seems to have been especially concerned with education and preaching.”[14] Pope Benedict suggest there were those in Corinth “…fascinated by his way of speaking….[13]

Apollos is mentioned one more time in the New Testament. In the Epistle to Titus, the recipient is exhorted to “speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way”.[16]

Jerome states that Apollos was so dissatisfied with the division at Corinth that he retired to Crete with Zenas; and that once the schism had been healed by Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, Apollos returned to the city and became one of its elders.[17] Less probable traditions assign to him the bishop of Duras, or of Iconium in Phrygia, or of Caesarea.[9]

Martin Luther and some modern scholars have proposed Apollos as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, rather than Paul or Barnabas.[9] Both Apollos and Barnabas were Jewish Christians with sufficient intellectual authority.[18] The Pulpit Commentary treats Apollos’ authorship of Hebrews as “generally believed”.[19] Other than this, there are no known surviving texts attributed to Apollos.

Hebrews is one of my favourite books in the New Testament. If Apollos wrote it, you will see — if you don’t already know — how persuasive and clear he was.

Next time — Acts 19:1-7

Bible croppedThe 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 18:1-4

Paul in Corinth

18 After this Paul[a] left Athens and went to Corinth. 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, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

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Last week’s entry concluded Paul’s brief ministry in Athens. The good news was that he was not persecuted there. The bad news was that he did not make many converts in a city devoted to paganism. However, ‘some men’, including Dionysius the Areopagite and Damaris (a lady) converted and Paul taught them away from the Areopagus. My post also discussed who these two at length, because Luke — the author of Acts — thought fit to mention them by name.

To close on Acts 17, when Paul left Berea because the Thessalonians persecuted him there, he went to Athens:

15 Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.

Acts does not state whether Silas and Timothy found Paul in Athens, however, John MacArthur explains that Paul’s letters indicate that the three met up and were returned to the new churches (emphases mine below):

Here’s what happened, “Timothy and Silas came to Athens and met Paul.” You know what they did as soon as they got there? They said, “Paul, we’re here.” Probably, “We’re here.” He said, “Good, now I want you to go back.” And he sent Timothy to Thessalonica to check on the saints.

Remember our earlier studies of Acts, how we saw that Paul was so concerned with the saints and their growth? So they just arrived. He’d been waiting for them in Athens. They get there, and he says, “Now I want you to go back to Thessalonica.” So old Timothy turns around and off he goes to Thessalonica. And he says to Silas, “Silas, you go to Philippi and check on Luke and what’s going on in the church up there.”

So off they go againNow, the reason we know they come again is in 3:1 and 2 of 1 Thessalonians. “Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone.” You see, for a while he was not alone at Athens. But finally, he realized we can’t wait any longer. I’ve got to send you guys back to check on those churches.

Verse 2: “We sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow worker in the Gospel of Christ, to establish you and to comfort you concerning your faith.” And who is this “you” to whom he’s writing? The Thessalonians. So he sent Timothy from Athens back to the Thessalonians. And you say, “Well, where did he send Silas?” Well, he sent him to Philippi. You say, “Where does he say that?” It doesn’t say that. But I’ll tell you what it does say. Something pretty exciting.

Look at Philippians chapter 4. Now he’s writing to the Philippians. Now, you Philippians know, also, that in the beginning … “When I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me as concerning giving and receiving but you only.” Now, wait a minute. Stop right there. The Philippian church sent him money, didn’t they? No church supported me but you Philippians. How did that money get to them? Go to 2 Corinthians 11:9.

This is exciting. Watch this. He said, “When I was present with you, and lacked, I was chargeable to no man. For that which was lacking to me, the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in all things, I have kept myself from being burdensome.” The brethren who came from Macedonia brought him this. Now, apparently, Silas and Timothy, verse 5 of Acts 18: When Timothy and Silas were come from Macedonia, they’re a friend. I have some brethren from Macedonia.

Once Paul left Athens, he went to Corinth (verse 1), which is approximately 70 miles away from Athens. If Athens was Greece’s intellectual capital, Corinth was the capital of trade and politics.

Here’s a modern day map of Corinth courtesy of Wikipedia:

MacArthur explains the importance of its location with regard to trade:

Now, you’ll notice that the two parts are connected by a simple little strait there, and that’s only five miles wide, and it was precisely the center of that the city of Corinth existed some 50 miles from Athens. Now, Paul, all alone, finds himself in Corinth. Now notice anybody at all from northern Greece to southern Greece, or vice versa, any north-south traffic, had to go through Corinth.

So the trade was constantly trafficking through city of Corinth. Another interesting thing is that it was called The Bridge of Greece, not only because of its north-south traffic, but because of its east-west traffic. Ships wanting to go, say, from the western shore of Greece to the eastern shore would not sail clear around. They would shortcut it through here.

In fact, this was known as the Cape of Malea, and it was sort of like sailing around the Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope. It was a very treacherous journey. The Greeks used to say, “Any man who sails around the Cape might well write his will before he leaves.” Very treacherous …

It was also a 200-mile shortcut to go this way. You say, “Well, what did they do when they got to land?” Well, very often, they would unload their entire cargo. They would carry it across on the backs of slaves, or pull it in some kind of apparatus, and they would lower it onto a different ship here. So the ships would just run half circuits going both ways.

In fact, it was such an advantage to go across there that many ships were placed on rollers, and the whole ship was rolled five miles across the land, and dumped back in the water to continue the journey east, or vice versa, to the west.

Now, this area here, was a very important gulf, the Saronic Gulf, and this is the Corinthian Gulf. And there were two very important cities; Cenchreae and Lechaeum on the shore. And from those cities, everything went to Corinth. So Corinth held a very strategic location. You might say to yourself, “Why didn’t somebody build a canal?” Well, Julius Caesar had the idea, and Nero started it, and it was finished in 1893. So it took a while, but there’s one there now.

Now, the result of this particular location was the fact that there was a tremendous amount of traffic there. And as I said, it became a place where all kinds of activities went on, mostly to entertain the traffic, and so it lent itself greatly to the kind of immorality that became common and synonymous with its name.

Before I get to the immorality, here is MacArthur’s description of the city’s political importance:

Corinth was really the county seat, although you might call it the provincial capital. It was to Greece what Washington D.C. is to America in a sense. It was a provincial capital, which meant that the proconsul of Rome stayed there, and the headquarters were there.

It has been said by some writers that Corinth was the vanity fair of the Roman Empire …

Now for the immorality:

And if Athens is the city of learning, Corinth is sin city. At best, we could probably name it that. It was the most debauched and debased city in that world of that day. In fact, the actual name Corinth became a common term. And “Corinthian” meant immoral.

If you said, “Joe over there is a Corinthian kind of guy, you meant he was immoral.” The name became synonymous with vice. To say that that woman is a Corinthian woman meant she was a prostitute, because that’s what the women did in Corinth. And the verb, to Corinthianize, meant to go a-whoring. That’s exactly what the common use of Corinthianize was.

Now, Corinth was vile to the very core. It wasn’t just the slaves or the middle class; it was the upper crust. The whole city was debased, and there were some reasons for that. It was the center of trade and travel, and sailors were going through it all the time, and caravans. And it was a fitting place for entertainment of lust

Now, Corinth was also a familiar city to many because of the fact that it had what was called the Isthmian Games, which were second only to the Olympics. So it was a center of sports. The people in Corinth were characterized all around the world as vile people.

You know, the Greeks used to love stage plays. They used to put on all kinds of plays, morality plays, and all kinds of things, Greek tragedies, the whole thing. And whenever a Corinthian was in a play, he was always depicted drunk just because of the character of Corinth. If you were from Corinth, you were drunk and immoral.

Now, in the city of Corinth, there was a giant hill that dominated like a bog fortress, and it was a pretty impregnable hill. It is called the Acropolis, and some of you may have heard of it. But the Acropolis was more than just a fortress, it was more than just a hill. It was a temple. And on the top of the Acropolis was built a massive temple to the goddess Aphrodite, who was sort of the goddess of sexual activity.

Now ministering, and I use the word loosely, in Aphrodite’s temple, were a thousand priestesses, and their particular ministry was the ministry of prostitution. And so every evening, these thousand priestesses descended from the Acropolis, and infiltrated the city of Corinth and plied their trade. And so it was a wide-open carnival atmosphere. The whole city was nothing but a great big hustling territory for professional prostitutes.

Now, if you think Paul had a rough time in a city of intellectuals, you can imagine the change when he got into this place. If Athens glorified the mind, Corinth glorified the body.

This is why Paul told the Corinthian women to cover their hair. Their hairdos were overly elaborate and did not belong in a place of worship.

In Corinth, Paul met a Jew from Rome, Aquila, who was born in Pontus in Asia Minor, and Aquila’s wife Priscilla (verse 2). They were in exile in Corinth because of Claudius’s edict that the Jews should leave the city.

The story of the church in Rome, the Jews there and their expulsion is every bit as much a rabbit hole as Dionysius the Areopagite‘s identity. I will address those three topics in a separate post, but for now, here is Matthew Henry’s concise summary:

Suetonius, in the life of Claudius, speaks of this decree in the ninth year of his reign, and says, The reason was because the Jews were a turbulent people–assiduo tumultuantes; and that it was impulsore Christo–upon the account of Christ; some zealous for him, others bitter against him, which occasioned great heats, such as gave umbrage to the government, and provoked the emperor, who was a timorous jealous man, to order them all to be gone.

Both Henry and MacArthur believe that the couple became converts in Rome. The church there was already established.

The couple are saints in the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church. They were martyrs for the faith.

Of Aquila, tradition says:

Aquila did not long dwell in Rome: the Apostle Paul is said to have made him a bishop in Asia Minor. The Apostolic Constitutions identify Aquila, along with Nicetas, as the first bishops of Asia Minor (7.46).

Priscilla had a higher profile. MacArthur points out:

It’s interesting, I think, to know here that Aquila is mentioned first. But from now on, the remaining verses, most of them mention Priscilla first. I think it’s two out of three.

You say, “Well, why would that be?” Well, really it’s three reasons. If you want to count hen-pecked, but we’ll eliminate that one. The other two reasons that Aquila would be mentioned after Priscilla: One, Priscilla may have been a very noble Roman woman. And Aquila may have married into really highbrow society-type stuff. And so Priscilla kind of ranks as Priscilla first.

The other possibility is that Priscilla became the strength spiritually; that Priscilla really grew spiritually, and consequently she’s named first; whichever one, we really don’t know. But it is interesting that she is named first, either because of her Roman heritage, if that is the case, or because of her spiritual dimension.

In fact, some Bible scholars hold that Priscilla is the author of the Book of Hebrews:

Priscilla was a woman of Jewish heritage and one of the earliest known Christian converts who lived in Rome. Her name is a Roman diminutive for Prisca which was her formal name. She is often thought to have been the first example of a female preacher or teacher in early church history. Coupled with her husband, she was a celebrated missionary, and a friend and co-worker of Paul.[8]

While the view is not widely held among scholars, some scholars have suggested that Priscilla was the author of the Book of Hebrews. Although acclaimed for its artistry, originality, and literary excellence, it is the only book in the New Testament with author anonymity.[2] Hoppin and others suggest that Priscilla was the author, but that her name was omitted either to suppress its female authorship, or to protect the letter itself from suppression.[2][9]

She is the only Priscilla named in the New Testament. The fact that she is always mentioned with her husband, Aquila, disambiguates her from different women revered as saints in Catholicism, such as (1) Priscilla of the Roman Glabrio family, the wife of Quintus Cornelius Pudens, who according to some traditions hosted St. Peter circa AD 42, and (2) a third-century virgin martyr named Priscilla and also called Prisca.[10]

We will read that the couple accompanied Paul in part of his ministry.

As for the rest of their life story, Bible Wiki tells us:

It is believed that Aquila and Priscilla returned to Rome, because Paul sent them greetings in his letter to the Romans.[4]

However, Got Questions says:

Paul’s last reference to them is in his last letter. Paul was imprisoned in Rome and writing to Timothy one last time. Timothy was pastoring the church at Ephesus, and Aquila and Priscilla are there with him, still faithfully ministering (2 Timothy 4:19). To the end, Aquila and Priscilla were offering hospitality to other Christians, spreading the gospel they had learned from Paul, and rendering faithful service to the Master.

Regardless of where they ended up, they were a devout couple, devoted to proper doctrine as they nourished newcomers to the faith.

All three were tentmakers by trade (verse 3). So, Priscilla wasn’t at home all day, she was earning a living. This further demonstrates the equality present in Greece and Macedonia at that time. Last week’s post described Damaris as likely to be an educated woman if she was at the Areopagus (MacArthur seems to be the only one who posits she was common). We also know that Lydia had her own career as a dealer in purple goods. She was also the first European convert and inspired her whole household to embrace the faith when she did.

Returning to the notion of earning one’s own living, Paul was careful not to ask for a stipend from any of the churches. It is difficult for us to reconcile such a well educated, privileged man making tents. Henry explains that this is partly because of his upbringing and partly because of his conversion:

1. Though he was bred a scholar, yet he was master of a handicraft trade. He was a tent-maker, an upholsterer; he made tents for the use of soldiers and shepherds, of cloth or stuff, or (as some say tents were then generally made) of leather or skins, as the outer covering of the tabernacle. Hence to live in tents was to live sub pellibus–under skins. Dr. Lightfoot shows that it was the custom of the Jews to bring up their children to some trade, yea, though they gave them learning or estates. Rabbi Judah says, “He that teaches not his son a trade is as if he taught him to be a thief.” And another says, “He that has a trade in his hand is as a vineyard that is fenced.” An honest trade, by which a man may get his bread, is not to be looked upon by any with contempt. Paul, though a Pharisee, and bred up at the feet of Gamaliel, yet, having in his youth learned to make tents, did not by disuse lose the art. 2. Though he was entitled to a maintenance from the churches he had planted, and from the people to whom he preached, yet he worked at his calling to get bread, which is more to his praise who did not ask for supplies than to theirs who did not supply him unasked, knowing what straits he was reduced to. See how humble Paul was, and wonder that so great a man could stoop so low; but he had learned condescension of his Master, who came not to be ministered to, but to minister. See how industrious he was, and how willing to take pains. He that had so much excellent work to do with his mind, yet, when there was occasion, did not think it below him to work with his hands. Even those that are redeemed from the curse of the law are not exempt from that sentence, In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread. See how careful Paul was to recommend his ministry, and to prevent prejudices against it, even the most unjust and unreasonable; he therefore maintained himself with his own labour that he might not make the gospel of Christ burdensome, &c.; 2 Thess. iii. 8, 9. 3. Though we may suppose he was master of his trade, yet he did not disdain to work at journey-work: He wrought with Aquila and Priscilla, who were of that calling, so that he got no more than day-wages, a bare subsistence.

MacArthur says that although the expression used is ‘tent maker’, all tent makers were leather workers. They obtained the hair for the tent material from goatskin and tanned the hides:

… they were scanopoioi” … Literally, it means leather workers.

And Paul apparently would tan the leather, and then having made the hair, he would keep the leather, do something with the leather. He was a leather worker. So were they.

MacArthur also thinks there is reason to believe that Paul met the couple at synagogue:

Everybody would be sitting according to their trades. Like we’d have all the carpenters over here. We’d have all the bricklayers over there. We’d have all the artists over here. In other words, some historians indicate that in synagogues, it was common to divide people in sections according to their trade.

On the Sabbath, Paul was in the synagogue reasoning with the Jews and the Greek Gentiles (verse 4). ‘Reason’ is the key word here. Henry’s commentary says:

1. He reasoned with them in the synagogue publicly every sabbath. See in what way the apostles propagated the gospel, not by force and violence, by fire and sword, not by demanding an implicit consent, but by fair arguing; they drew with the cords of a man, gave a reason for what they said, and gave a liberty to object against it, having satisfactory answers ready. God invites us to come and reason with him (Isaiah 1:18), and challenges sinners to produce their cause, and bring forth their strong reasons, Isaiah 41:21. Paul was a rational as well as a scriptural preacher.

2. He persuaded them–epeithe. It denotes, (1.) The urgency of his preaching. He did not only dispute argumentatively with them, but he followed his arguments with affectionate persuasions, begging of them for God’s sake, for their own soul’s sake, for their children’s sake, not to refuse the offer of salvation made to them. Or, (2.) The good effect of his preaching. He persuaded them, that is, he prevailed with them; so some understand it. In sententiam suam adducebat–He brought them over to his own opinion. Some of them were convinced by his reasonings, and yielded to Christ.

Those are good things for us to remember as we share the Gospel with others. Let us reason with others when we present the Good News.

Next time — Acts 18:5-11

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