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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

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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

bible-wornThe 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 (also here).

Acts 18:5-11

5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 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.” 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. 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.

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Last week’s entry introduced Corinth, a corrupt, vice-filled centre of trade and government.

My post also provided information about Priscilla and her husband Aquila, fellow tent makers with whom Paul lodged during his lengthy stay in Corinth. Aquila was a converted Jew. Scholars are unclear as to whether Priscilla — full name Prisca — was a converted Jew or Gentile. The couple were exiled from Rome along with other Jews, by edict of the emperor Claudius.

Some will ask if there really was a church in Rome at that time. Scholars say that there was, and that it could have started after Roman visitors to Jerusalem for the first Pentecost returned and told their fellow Jews about Christ. This led to dissension among Roman Jews over ‘Chrestus’. Dissension turned into riots, and that is why Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. Paul and Peter later gave the church in Rome a defined structure with strong doctrinal foundations. See my post for more detail.

Last week’s post also discussed Paul’s stay in Athens, where Silas and Timothy met up with him as instructed. It is thought Paul sent them back to shepherd the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica, respectively.

At this point, Paul sent for Silas and Timothy to be with him in Corinth, where he had been preaching to the Jews in the synagogue that Christ was Jesus — the Messiah (verse 5).

Their reunion was a happy one indeed, as both brought Paul good tidings. Timothy reported that the church in Thessalonica was growing. Silas also brought with him a monetary gift from the Philippians. John MacArthur explains that Paul mentioned both in his letters. Paul wrote to the Philippians and the Thessalonians during his time in Corinth (emphases mine below):

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.

So Silas had gone to Philippi, and the Philippian church had taken a love offering, and he brought that, and Timothy brought news that the Thessalonians were moving out and growing. Listen, now you know why that was a joyous reunion. It was terrific.

In 1 Thessalonians 3:6, listen to this. Now watch, here’s some more historical notes. As soon as Timothy arrives, he says, “Paul, the gang in Thessalonica is growing, and they’re comforted, and they’re strong.” And he was so excited. Paul sat right down and took out his little whatever he wrote with, and he wrote 1 Thessalonians. 1 Thessalonians was written right there in verse 5 of Acts 18:5. when Timothy and Silas arrived, Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians.

You know what he says to them? Listen to this: 1 Thessalonians 3:6, “But now when Timothy came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and love, and that you have good remembrance of us always, and are engrated to see us as we all sort of see you; therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you an all our affliction and distress.” He was hurting ____ the comfort game when he heard Timothy’s words about the Thessalonian Christians. And I love verse 8. He says, “For now, we live if you stand fast in the Lord.”

Thanks to the donation from the Philippians, MacArthur says that Paul was able to stop his day job making tents and fully devote his time to preaching:

He quit making tents, and completely devoted himself to the Word. Now you see how God comforts a disheartened saint: with companionship. What a joyous time.

The Jews in Corinth were angry at what Paul preached, so the Apostle shook their dust off his garments and told them that he would go preach instead to the Gentiles (verse 6).

We have seen throughout Acts how angry Paul’s Jewish audiences were. Although many Jews who heard him in the synagogue converted, just as many took against him and, where there were Gentiles, stirred them up against him, too.

Yet, wherever he went, Paul addressed the Jews first and usually in the synagogue.

In Corinth, he had had enough. Verse 6 says that the Jews ‘opposed and reviled’ him. Older versions say ‘opposed themselves’ and also include ‘blasphemed’. Matthew Henry’s commentary breaks it down for us. Note the etymology of blasphemy:

they opposed themselves and blasphemed; they set themselves in battle array (so the word signifies) against the gospel; they joined hand in hand to stop the progress of it. They resolved they would not believe it themselves, and would do all they could to keep others from believing it. They could not argue against it, but what was wanting in reason they made up in ill language: they blasphemed, spoke reproachfully of Christ, and in him of God himself, as Revelation 13:5,6. To justify their infidelity, they broke out into downright blasphemy.

MacArthur looks at ‘opposed’:

And the word oppose means they had an organized opposition. It’s the word that indicates organized resistance. They came to a deliberate and ultimate final decision that this was wrong; that Jesus was not Messiah. They organized themselves. They set themselves against, and they blasphemed Christ.

Paul shook his garments at them, returning their dust to them. Remember the New Testament passages about shaking the dust from one’s feet. MacArthur walks us through the reasoning behind this gesture:

You know, the Jews had a saying about shaking the dust off your feet. And it was used in reference to Gentile countries. Whenever a Jew traveled in a Gentile country, when he left he would shake the dust off his feet because he didn’t want to take any Gentile dust to soil the dust of Israel.

And you see, the idea of the shaking of dust was the Jews’ way of sort of casting degrading statements toward the Gentiles. Well, you know what Paul does? He turns it around, and he takes his cloak off, and he just starts shaking all the dust out of it in the faces of all those Jews, and saying in effect, “You don’t like Gentile dust on your shoes. I don’t want Jewish dust on my cloak.” And he shook it right out in their face.

Now you know if they weren’t mad by then, they were really hopping when that was done. That flagrant kind of insult must’ve absolutely torn them to pieces. He was done with them. Shook out his whole cloak.

Then, he said, ‘Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent’. Oh, man alive, that was the ultimate, especially since he followed with ‘From now on I will go to the Gentiles’. Whoa!

Blood being upon one’s head is an expression that runs through the Bible. Paul had preached eloquently and truthfully to the Corinthian Jews, but most would not accept what he said. So, he told them that he was innocent — i.e. he did all that he could to exhort (encourage) them to turn to Christ as Messiah. Since they were engaging in crude and blasphemous behaviour, Paul told them he had no choice but to devote his energy to the Gentiles.

MacArthur explains the significance of this and adds that Paul’s statement points to individual spiritual responsibility:

He said, “Your blood be upon your own heads.”

That’s again a statement that the Jews made. It’s in Joshua 2:19, 2 Samuel 1:16,, 1 Kings 2:37, and perhaps elsewhere. And do you remember in Matthew 27:25? “That the Jews, when Jesus was being crucified, cried out ‘His blood be upon us and our children.'” They wanted to accept the responsibility for Christ’s death. The phrase means we accept the responsibility for His death. And Paul is saying here, Your blood is on your own hands. I’m clean. Why? I fulfilled my responsibility. I delivered the Gospel. I presented it clearly. You are responsible for what you do.

People say to me, “John, do you believe the bible teaches individual responsibility?” There it is, my friend. If you die without Jesus Christ, your blood is on your own head. And I can say to you this morning what Paul said: “I’m clean. I presented you the Gospel. What you do with it will determine your eternal destiny, and the responsibility is your own.”

After Paul left the Jews, he went to the house next door to the synagogue — yes — where a man named Titius (Titus) Justus lived (verse 7). Titius Justus was a ‘worshipper of God’, meaning that he was a Gentile who took part in Jewish worship and probably certain Mosaic customs without full conversion.

Oh, how God’s plans work. Paul leaves the Jews to their synagogue and goes next door to a God fearing Gentile’s house to continue preaching.

Just as important was the fact that Crispus, the synagogue leader, also converted to Christianity (verse 8).

MacArthur says that Titius Justus is the Gaius whom Paul refers to in his letters. Paul also mentioned Crispus:

Titus Justus. That’s interesting. It’s a Roman name. He was a Gentile, god fearer, who attended the synagogue. And you know, he’s the same apparently as the man called Gaius, G-A-I-U-S, in Romans 16:23. And in 1 Corinthians 1:14, Paul says, “I baptized only two; Gaius and Crispus.”

Apparently, this is Gaius, and his Roman name, and there were often three names, would be Gaius Titus Justus. So this man became a Christian. They had a church in his house next door to the synagogue. Kind of like we are right here with the temple about three doors down. And he began to bear fruit. Now if you think that was something, look at verse 8, absolutely thrilling. “And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord and his entire household.” Can you imagine that?

So, we have Titius Justus, Crispus and his household — and many more Corinthians — who converted when they heard Paul speak (verse 8).

Henry reminds us of the wicked nature of the Corinthians, yet, they converted:

Many of the Corinthians, who were Gentiles (and some of them persons of bad character, as appears, 1 Corinthians 6:11, such were some of you), hearing, believed, and were baptized.

Note how conversion — and salvation — occur:

First, they heard, for faith comes by hearing. Some perhaps came to hear Paul under some convictions of conscience that the way they were in was not right; but it is probable that the most came only for curiosity, because it was a new doctrine that was preached; but, hearing, they believed, by the power of God working upon them; and, believing, they were baptized, and so fixed for Christ, took upon them the profession of Christianity, and became entitled to the privileges of Christians.

MacArthur says the same thing:

… verse 8: “Hearing, believed and were baptized.” Notice the sequence, would you? That’s the order of salvation. You hear the Gospel. You what? You believe it. You publicly proclaim it in baptism.

Also here:

… many of the Corinthians, imperfect tense verbs, were hearing, were believing, and were being baptized; showing a daily sequence of growth.

Despite this, the crisis that had occurred with the Jews must have upset Paul, because the Lord came to him in a vision (verse 9). MacArthur says that this only happened when Paul was unsure as to what to do next. Acts 18 was not the last time. Acts 22, 23 and 27 also recount visions. Looking at the previous ones:

God has special times for Paul when Paul just got against the wall and was just about at the end of his rope. I think the first time was he had tried to go to Asia Minor. The Spirit said no. He tried to go to Bithynia. The Spirit says no. He can’t go backwards. He’s been there. He walks the little thin line. He finally gets to the sea and he’s at the end of his rope. God says, “No, no, no, no.” He doesn’t know what to do, and immediately what happens? He comes to the edge of Macedonia, chapter 16, verse 9, “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night.”

He was at the point where he didn’t know what to do, where to go; at the end of his rope. And God comes to him and sends the man to Macedonia. He said, “Come to Macedonia and help us.” And he gets direction from God, and he takes off. The next time he had a vision is in chapter 18

So here again, at the end of his rope, not knowing where to go, God comes personally and speaks.

God told Paul not to be afraid and to speak freely and boldly (verse 9):

Now this implies that Paul was getting kind of a little tentative about whether he ought to keep preaching. The thing was getting so hot, he figured maybe I’ll cool it a while.

God says, “Paul, don’t stop.”

The Lord reassured Paul by telling him no harm would come to him in Corinth because He had many people there to be saved (verse 10). Henry explains:

He gave him a prospect of success: “For I have much people in this city. Therefore no man shall prevail to obstruct thy work, therefore I will be with thee to own thy work, and therefore do thou go on vigorously and cheerfully in it; for there are many in this city that are to be effectually called by thy ministry, in whom thou shalt see of the travail of thy soul.”

That verse points towards the concept of election:

Laos esti moi polys–There is to me a great people here. The Lord knows those that are his, yea, and those that shall be his; for it is by his work upon them that they become his, and known unto him are all his works. “I have them, though they yet know me not, though yet they are let captive by Satan at his will; for the Father has given them to me, to be a seed to serve me; I have them written in the book of life; I have their names down, and of all that were given me I will lose none; I have them, for I am sure to have them;” whom he did predestinate, those he called.

The first two purple highlights in that paragraph come from John 17, verses 6, 9 and 12 — coincidentally read on May 13, Exaudi Sunday.

So Paul stayed in Corinth for 18 months (verse 11).

In closing, MacArthur explains the paradox between election and personal spiritual responsibility:

You say, “John, do you believe in election?” Well, how else would you explain that verse? “I have many people in this city.” You say you believe that God chooses people to be saved? Of course. That’s what it says in Ephesians 1:4, “According as He hath chosen us in Him when before the foundation of the world.” You say, “John MacArthur, you believe that you are chosen to be saved before the foundation of the world?” Yes, that’s because the bible says that. You say, “Oh, but wait a minute.” Well, you wait a minute. Revelations 13:8 says, “My name is written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world.”

You say, “Well, what about human responsibility?” Oh, I believe that, too. Sure, look at verse 6, “Your blood be upon,” what? Your own heads. Listen; if you come to Jesus Christ, you know why you came to Him? Because you were chosen before the world began. If you reject Jesus Christ, it’s your own responsibility. You say, “Those two don’t go together.” Right. But I’ve told you before, and I say again, you must allow in the scripture for the paradox of sovereignty and responsibility. Realize that we have little pea brains, and God is the God bigger than the universe. And when God reduces His mind to the little pea brain, there’s got to be some spillage. So we are not rattled because we can’t justify sovereignty with responsibility. We just let the two exist, because you see, that paradox exists in every other major doctrine.

I’ll ask you this? Who wrote the book of Acts? You’ll say Luke. And then I’ll say the Holy Spirit. And which one is right? and yet it wasn’t Luke and the Holy Spirit working together. No, sir, every word was chosen by the Holy Spirit, and yet Luke himself had all those words in his own vocabulary. It was a perfect paradox. You say, “Who lives a Christian life?” I do. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Without me, you can do. He does. No, I do. He does. No, we both do together. No, he does and me. Well, that’s sort of it. It’s a paradox. What was Jesus Christ; God or man? Both. That’s a paradox; 100% God, 100% man. You can’t be 200% of something. That’s a paradox.

You see, in every major biblical doctrine where God reduces Himself to human terms, there is paradox. And I say this, “If a man goes to hell, it is his own responsibility for rejecting Christ.” The bible says, “If he goes to heaven, it is because he was chosen before the foundation of the world.” I’ll tell you what I love, though. I love the fact that the bible closes with these words, “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.”

Only God knows who the elect are. Therefore, we should approach everyone as if s/he is elect — even unbelievers who might not yet have understood or received the Good News.

Forbidden Bible Verses will return in a few weeks’ time.

Next time — Acts 18:12-17

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.

—————————————————————————————————————————–

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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