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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 and crossThe 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 (here and here).

Acts 18:18-23

Paul Returns to Antioch

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

22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

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Last week’s post described the violent tribunal scene in Corinth before Gallio, the proconsul.

That post also has a biography of Gallio, who was a most learned man and brother of Seneca the Younger, the great poet. Matthew Henry’s commentary says there is evidence to suggest that Gallio might have met privately with Paul afterwards (emphases mine below):

Some tell us that Gallio did privately countenance Paul, and took him into his favour, and that this occasioned a correspondence between Paul and Seneca, Gallio’s brother, which some of the ancients speak of.

After the tribunal incident, Paul stayed on in the city. Readers following this series would have recalled an earlier verse in Acts 18:

11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

After that time, Paul took leave of the congregation in Corinth and sailed to Syria. Priscilla and Aquila, the converts with whom he had been living and working, joined him (verse 18). They were not natives of Corinth, so probably had no particular tie to the city. It was the place where they lived, having been exiled from Rome along with the rest of the Jews.

Henry explains:

He took with him Priscilla and Aquila, because they had a mind to accompany him; for they seemed disposed to remove, and not inclined to stay long at a place, a disposition which may arise from a good principle, and have good effects … There was a great friendship contracted between them and Paul, and therefore, when he went, they begged to go along with him.

They went to Cenchreae, which Henry tells us:

 … was hard by Corinth, the port where those that went to sea from Corinth took ship

There, Paul cut his hair because he was under a Nazarite vow. That might sound strange to us, knowing that Paul was such a committed follower of Christ. However, John MacArthur explains that Paul continued with some Jewish observances, as they were a fundamental part of his upbringing:

Paul was yes, in every whit a Christian. Being a Christian is a momentary miracle,but the transition takes time and old features of Judaism died slowly even in Paul’s life. By the time he gets to the book of Philippians, a lot more of them have died off. He says, after saying that, “I was a Jew, and I was a Hebrew, I was a Hebrew and a Pharisee and all,” he says in the next verse, “But what things were gained in me? Those I—” what? “Counted lost.”

In other words, those things used to be what made up my life, but I let them go, and I considered only Christ. From now on, I’m not interested in ceremonies. I’m not interested in rituals. I only know one thing—I want to know Him. That’s what he said to the Colossians. That’s all. “I want the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.”

Later on, more of the old things begin to die, but as we see Paul here, in chapter 18, most significantly, he is in transition.

Henry has a few important facts about the Nazarite vow:

Those that lived in Judea were, in such a case, bound to do it at the temple: but those who lived in other countries might do it in other places. The Nazarite’s head was to be shaved when either his consecration was accidentally polluted, in which case he must begin again, or when the days of his separation were fulfilled (Numbers 6:9,13:18), which, we suppose, was the case herethe vow of the Nazarites, though ceremonial, and as such ready to vanish away, had yet a great deal of moral and very pious significance, and therefore was fit to die the last of all the Jewish ceremonies. The Nazarites are joined with the prophets (Amos 2:11), and were very much the glory of Israel (Lamentations 4:7), and therefore it is not strange if Paul bound himself for some time with the vow of a Nazarite from wine and strong drink, and from being trimmed, to recommend himself to the Jews; and from this he now discharged himself.

MacArthur thinks that Paul took the 30-day vow as a form of thanksgiving:

they took it out of gratitude to God for some great deliverance and he had just experienced a great deliverance in the city of Corinth and very likely took a 30-day Nazarite vow. And a Nazarite would touch nothing from the fruit of the vine at all. He would restrict himself to holiness under God. He would let his hair grow as an outward sign to others and to himself, touch no dead body. It was just an abstinence from everything in order that he might set himself unto God to express his gratitude for God’s deliverance. This was common in the Old Testament.

Men who took a Nazarite vow had to keep the cut hair, which they took to the temple to offer as a burnt sacrifice:

… in the Old Testament, the hair that he cut off had to be taken to Jerusalem and burned with an offering in order to complete the vow, and so he’s got to hustle to Jerusalem.

When the three reached Ephesus, Paul left Priscilla and Aquila there to start spreading the Gospel message. Ephesus — Efes — is in modern-day Turkey, ancient Asia Minor. It is an important port city dating back to the 10th century BC.

However, Paul did not leave Ephesus without preaching in the synagogue first (verse 19). The Jews in Ephesus were receptive to Paul’s reasoned discussion of Christ and ancient Scripture. They asked him to stay (verse 20). Although he declined the invitation, he said he would return if it were God’s will (verse 21).

This positive reaction from a Jewish congregation was unusual in Paul’s ministry. Paul normally had trouble and often had to leave. Henry has this explanation:

These were more noble, and better bred, than those Jews at Corinth, and other places, and it was a sign that God had not quite cast away his people, but had a remnant among them.

Having left Ephesus, Paul continued on his way home to Jerusalem, a long journey.

He arrived to greet the church in Caesarea (verse 22). Peter founded this church when he spoke with Cornelius, the Roman centurion. Cornelius and his whole household converted. Cornelius was the first Gentile — and Italian — convert. Acts 10 has his and Peter’s dramatic story:

Acts 10:1-8 – Cornelius, divine vision, angel, Peter, God-fearer

Acts 10:9-16– Peter, divine vision, allegory, animals, Gentiles, forbidden food is now clean

Acts 10:17-23— Peter, Holy Spirit, obedience, Gentiles, hospitality

Acts 10:24-29 — Peter, Cornelius, Jewish converts, Gentile converts

Acts 10:30-33 – Peter, Cornelius, Jew, Gentile, Jesus Christ

Acts 10:44-48 – Peter, Cornelius, the Holy Spirit, baptism, Gentile, Jew

Verse 22 tells us that after Paul left Caesarea, he went to Antioch, but John MacArthur says Paul went to Jerusalem after visiting nearby Caesarea:

When he landed, verse 22, at Caesarea, he went and greeted the church. Then he went to the church in Jerusalem and finished his vow, met with the church for just a brief time and then went to Antioch.

Paul then visited all the churches he had founded in that part of the world to strengthen the disciples (verse 23). Luke documented these churches in Acts: Antioch (Syria), Perga and Antioch (Pisidia), Iconium and Lystra. For some of these congregations, it was the second time Paul made a return visit, having made his first return trip with Barnabas (Acts 14).

Paul was an excellent preacher and servant for Christ. He really loved his flocks and expended a lot of physical and emotional energy on them for the Lord’s sake. What a shining example he set for the Church.

Next time — Acts 18:24-28

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.

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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

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe 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 17:32-34

32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

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Yesterday’s post discussed Paul’s address about Christ and the Resurrection at the Areopagus — Mars Hill — in Athens. That passage is in the Lectionary but provides the context for today’s verses.

The philosophers and learned people listening to Paul could not wrap their heads around the resurrection of the dead (verse 32). Some made fun of Paul and his message. Others told him that they would listen to him discuss it again. Some in this group were procrastinators and not that interested, while others probably were sincere in wishing to hear more but wanted to think about what he had said first.

So, Paul left the Areopagus (verse 33). Matthew Henry’s commentary states that for those who did want to learn more:

it is likely, with a promise to those that were willing to hear him again that he would meet them whenever they pleased.

However, Paul did make some converts that day who joined him and believed (verse 34). Older translations use the verb ‘cleaved’ or ‘clave’. John MacArthur explains the Greek verb (emphases mine):

I love this, verse 34, “Nevertheless certain men joined him.” There’s a Greek word kollao and it means glue. The word join here is kollao, it’s the verb. They just glued themselves to Paul. They were curious, they wanted to know more. They followed Paul out of there and then it says, “The ones who were the curious ones believed.”

Luke, the author of Acts, thought it fitting to mention two of the converts.

The first, Dionysius the Areopagite, was a most learned man. Henry gives us a summary of what the ancients, including Eusebius, wrote about him:

Dionysius the Areopagite, one of that high court or great council that sat in Areopagus, or Mars’ Hill–a judge, a senator, one of those before whom Paul was summoned to appear; his judge becomes his convert. The account which the ancients give of this Dionysius is that he was bred at Athens, had studied astrology in Egypt, where he took notice of the miraculous eclipse at our Saviour’s passion,–that, returning to Athens, he became a senator, disputed with Paul, and was by him converted from his error and idolatry; and, being by him thoroughly instructed, was made the first bishop of Athens. So Eusebius, lib. 5, cap. 4; lib. 4, cap. 22.

Dionysius the Areopagite lived and died in the 1st century AD. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

That is important, because Dionysius — present day Den(n)is — was a common name for centuries. As such, it led to confusion through the ages, particularly during the first Millennium.

Wikipedia tells us:

In the early 6th century, a series of writings of a mystical nature, employing Neoplatonic language to elucidate Christian theological and mystical ideas, was ascribed to the Areopagite.[2] They have long been recognized as pseudepigrapha, and their author is now called “Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.

Dionysius has been misidentified with the martyr of Gaul, Dionysius, the first Bishop of Paris, Saint Denis. However, this mistake by a ninth century writer is ignored and each saint is commemorated on his respective day.[3]

The Talk page for that entry explains that the men handing down the Areopagite’s teachings through the ages were also called Dionysius. The last entry says:

Instruction about the Gods was first systematised by Dionysius the Areopagite, the pupil of the apostle Paul. It was however not written down until the 6th century. This is why scholars deny the existence of Dionysius the Areopagite and speak about the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius, as though it was in the 6th century that old traditions were first put together. The truth of the matter can only be substantiated by reading in the Akashic Chronicle. The Akashic Chronicle does however teach that Dionysius actually lived in Athens, that he was initiated by Paul and was commissioned by him to lay the foundation of the teaching about the higher spiritual beings and to impart this knowledge to special initiates. At that time certain lofty teachings were never written down but only communicated as tradition by word of mouth. The teaching about the [g]ods was also given in this way by Dionysius to his pupils, who then passed it on further. These pupils in direct succession were intentionally called Dionysius, so that the last of these, who wrote down this teaching was one of those who was given this name.

Denis, the Bishop of Paris, lived during the 3rd century AD. He was born in what is now Italy. His Wikipedia entry also discusses the confusion with Dionysius the Areopagite. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

This is the first mix-up between the two:

Saint Denis was a legendary 3rd-century Christian martyr and saint. According to his hagiographies, he was bishop of Paris in the third century and, together with his companions Rusticus and Eleutherius, was martyred for his faith by decapitation. Some accounts placed this during Domitian‘s persecution and identified St Denis of Paris with the Areopagite who was converted by St Paul and who served as the first bishop of Athens. Assuming Denis’s historicity, it is now considered more likely that he suffered under the persecution of the emperor Decius shortly after AD 250. Denis is the most famous cephalophore in Christian legend, with a popular story claiming that the decapitated bishop picked up his head and walked several miles while preaching a sermon on repentance. He is venerated in the Catholic Church as the patron saint of France and Paris and is accounted one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. A chapel was raised at the site of his burial by a local Christian woman; it was later expanded into an abbey and basilica, around which grew up the French city of Saint-Denis, now a suburb of Paris.

This is the second, which will make your head spin. Interestingly, even Pierre Abelard got involved in the controversy and brought a fourth Dionysius into the mix:

Since at least the ninth century, the legends of Dionysius the Areopagite and Denis of Paris have often been confused. Around 814, Louis the Pious brought certain writings attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite to France, and since then it became common among the French legendary writers to argue that Denis of Paris was the same Dionysius who was a famous convert and disciple of Saint Paul.[8] The confusion of the personalities of Saint Denis, Dionysius the Areopagite, and pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, the author of the writings ascribed to Dionysius brought to France by Louis, was initiated through an Areopagitica written in 836 by Hilduin, Abbot of Saint-Denis, at the request of Louis the Pious. “Hilduin was anxious to promote the dignity of his church, and it is to him that the quite unfounded identification of the patron saint with Dionysius the Areopagite and his consequent connexion with the apostolic age are due.”[14] Hilduin’s attribution had been supported for centuries by the monastic community at Abbey of Saint-Denis and one of origins of their pride. In Historia calamitatum, Pierre Abelard gives a short account of the strength of this belief and the monastery’s harsh opposition to challenges to their claim. Abelard jokingly pointed out a possibility that the founder of the Abbey could have been another Dionysius, who is mentioned as Dionysius of Corinth by Eusebius. This irritated the community so much that eventually Abelard left in bitterness. As late as the sixteenth century, scholars might still argue for an Eastern origin of the Basilica of Saint-Denis: one was Godefroi Tillman, in a long preface to a paraphrase of the Letters of the Areopagite, printed in Paris in 1538 by Charlotte Guillard.[15] Most historiographers agree that this conflated legend is completely erroneous.[5]

Orthodox Wiki has this about Dionysius the Areopagite. Note the similarities between his story and that of Denis of Paris, including their deaths and a woman finding the head/burying the body. Also note the mention of Gaul:

Prior to his baptism, Dionysius grew up in a notable family in Athens, attended philosophical school at home and abroad, was married and had several children, and was a member of the highest court in Greece, the Areopagus. After his conversion to the True Faith, St. Paul made him Bishop of Athens. Eventually he left his wife and children for Christ and went with St. Paul in missionary travel. He travelled to Jerusalem specifically to see the Most Holy Theotokos [Mary] and writes of his encounter in one of his books. He was also present at her Dormition.

Seeing St. Paul martyred in Rome, St. Dionysius desired to be a martyr as well. He went to Gaul, along with his presbyter Rusticus and the deacon Eleutherius, to preach the Gospel to the barbarians. There his suffering was equalled only by his success in converting many pagans to Christianity.

In the year 96, St. Dionysius was seized and tortured for Christ, along with Rusticus and Eleutherius, and all three were beheaded under the reign of the Emperor Domitian. St. Dionysius’ head rolled a rather long way until it came to the feet of Catula, a Christian. She honorably buried it along with his body.

The Orthodox Wiki entry also talks about Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite with no distinction made between him and the original. Someone on the Talk page wisely suggested:

It might be easiest just to create a new page for the Dionysian Corpus, or for Pseudo-Dionysius.

Pseudo-Dionysius is not a saint.

Dionysius the Areopagite is a saint in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. He is the patron saint of lawyers, and his feast day is October 3 or October 9.

Denis’s feast day is also October 9. However, he is not connected with lawyers but rather:

France; Paris; against frenzy, strife, headaches, hydrophobia, San Dionisio (Parañaque City), possessed people.

Returning to today’s passage, the second convert Luke thought it important to mention was Damaris.

I researched her, too. Only John MacArthur says she was a woman of common birth:

a woman by the name of Damaris who was given no title or credentials indicating a common woman. Here we see the beauty of the gospel it reaches the highest level of Athens and the lowest level, the common woman in town. Isn’t that beautiful that two people at those ends of the post got saved on the same sermon? That’s the power of the gospel to bridge the gaps.

Matthew Henry says:

The woman named Damaris was, as some think, the wife of Dionysius; but, rather, some other person of quality

Wikipedia puts forward all the theories about her identity:

As usually women were not present in Areopagus meetings, Damaris has traditionally been assumed to have been a hetaera (courtesan, high-status prostitute);[1] modern commentators have alternatively suggested she might also have been a follower of the Stoics (who welcomed women among their ranks)[2] or a foreigner visiting Athens.[3] The Georgian text of Acts makes Damaris the wife of Dionysius.[4]

Damaris is a saint in the Orthodox Church. Her feast day is the same as that of Dionysius the Areopagite or, alternatively, October 2.

She is also a saint in the Catholic Church, where she is known as Damaris of Athens. Her feast day is October 4. Catholics believe she was Dionysius the Areopagite’s wife.

Bible Gateway tells us that Damaris means ‘heifer’:

This female convert of Paul’s witness at Mars Hill (Acts 17:34), must have been a well-known Athenian. Her name is from the form of Damalis, meaning a “heifer,” and in use signified a young girl. Singled out with Dionysius the Areopagite, one of the court judges, indicates personal or social distinction (Acts 17:12). There is no evidence that she was the wife of Dionysius, as some writers affirm.

I hope this adds to our knowledge about Dionysius the Areopagite and Damaris.

Acts 17 is the last chapter with Lectionary readings. From here on out, all being well, every verse in every chapter from Acts 18 through Acts 28 will feature in Forbidden Bible Verses.

Next time — Acts 18:1-4

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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 17:16-21

Paul in Athens

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

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My past two posts explained the first part of Acts 17: Paul’s establishing churches in Thessalonica and Berea.

These were important developments, as Paul wrote letters to the Thessalonians, who became very devout Christians. Berea appears in the Bible only this one time, but the Bereans are good Christian role models because, even before their conversion, they read Scripture regularly and properly discerned it.

As my posts explain, Paul, Silas and Timothy had to leave Thessalonica, where they were persecuted. The mob from that city then travelled to Berea to persecute the three again. Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea for a time, until Paul received a divine command to summon them to Athens, where Bereans had escorted him.

As Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was overcome by the idolatry that pervaded the city (verse 16). Even though Paul was well versed in Greek philosophy, he found the sheer number of idols disturbing.

John MacArthur reminds us (emphases mine below):

Now I want us to set the picture, it’s a man and a city. It’s a simple thing. One man against one city. Look at the man. Let’s see what kind of a man he was. He was a Jew. And as a Jew he was beyond just being a Jew he was a Pharisee, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a student of the great teacher Gamaliel. He was expert in the law, he was expert in ceremonies, he was a leader,-..he was a teacher, he was an expert in the Old Testament. Beyond being a Jew he was a Roman, he was a Roman citizen. And with his Roman citizenship came that kind of special skill in secular affairs that belonged to the Romans, that special knowledge of the military and of politics. Beyond that he was a Greek, not by virtue of his heritage but by virtue of his environ­ment, he was raised in a place called Tarsus which was tremendously influenced by Greek culture. He was a Hellenistic man, he was exposed to Greek art and Greek philosophy. And so he had all of the bests of all of the worlds. He was a man who was cosmopolitan in every sense. And adding to those particu­lar things he had a brilliant and keen mind. He had an intense commitment to the cause he believed in. He was a tireless pursuer of any goal that he set. He was a matchless orator. He was a fearless preacher. He was a brilliant question and answer dialogue man. He was well read, he was well travelled. He was an extraordinary man.

MacArthur gives us a glimpse of Athens’ supremacy at the time, even though it was under Roman rule by then:

… some historians said Athens at the time of Paul was the intellectual center and the university of the world. The minds of that part of the world congregated in Athens. In fact, it was such – it was such a proud city that it even called its university The Eye of Greece and the Mother of Arts. And Athens offered a home, incidentally, to almost every god in existence. In a place called the Pantheon they had a god for everything. They had every god there and every public building in Athens was a shrine to a god. The record house, for example, like the Hall of Records today, was dedicated to the Mother of gods. The Council House housed a statue of Apollo and Jupiter and everything was religious. As I told you last week, some comments were made such as – You can easily find a god in Athens rather than a man. Gods were everywhere. And it was a pagan city in the fullest sense, super cultured. And all of its art had false deities in mind, great monuments were built, great beautiful buildings were built as tributes to gods. Apart from its religion was its tremendous philosophical bent. Socrates and Plato were from Athens. Athens was the adopted city of Aristotle, Epicurus who founded the Epicureans and Zeno who founded the Stoics. And here was the great mind of the world as it were. And from it came the directions that resulted in the activities of other parts of the world. So Athens was some city. Master­pieces of architecture, masterpieces of art, sculpture, the greatest orators who ever lived gave orations in Athens.

As he always did, Paul went to the synagogue to preach and he also went to the marketplace every day to discourse (verse 17). The Greek word for marketplace is agora. Matthew Henry has more …

He entered into conversation with all that came in his way about matters of religion: In the market–en te agora, in the exchange, or place of commerce, he disputed daily, as he had occasion, with those that met with him, or that he happened to fall into company with, that were heathen, and never came to the Jews’ synagogue.

… as does MacArthur:

The marketplace is interesting, it’s the word agora, and in the towns in those times they had a center place, maybe a large area, court kind of a thing, you know, the public buildings were there, the temples were there and around this big area would be a colonnade. And in the colonnade would be little shops and farmers would even bring on the outside areas their cattle in and any goods they’d raised on the countryside and it was a big marketplace. And in the middle area philosophers would walk around with their little groups, you know, and there was always a group of people in the agora, many different kinds, you know, there were peripatetic teachers, philosophers, magicians, hucksters, you know, step right up, folks – that kind of thing, sleight of hand artists.

Paul could debate with the most educated of men, and did so with the Stoics and Epicureans he encountered (verse 18).

Henry explains the Epicureans’ philosophy:

The Epicureans, who thought God altogether such a one as themselves, an idle inactive being, that minded nothing, nor put any difference between good and evil. They would not own, either that God made the world or that he governs it; nor that man needs to make any conscience of what he says or does, having no punishment to fear nor rewards to hope for, all which loose atheistical notions Christianity is levelled against. The Epicureans indulged themselves in all the pleasures of sense, and placed their happiness in them, in what Christ has taught us in the first place to deny ourselves.

MacArthur tells us:

… they got their name from Epicurus who was a philosopher in Athens who has started this movement. He was born in about 342 B.C. so he was long dead and this is like 400 years later but his movement is still going great. Now Epicureans just to give you a little identification believed – 1. that everything happened by chance. They believed everything happened by chance. There was no real reason or rhyme for anything and nobody was running the show. They were the rationalists, see. Second thing, death was the end of everything. You died and that was it. Three, there were gods, they believed in all the gods but they figured the gods were remote and didn’t get involved and didn’t care. Now if you believe everything happens by chance and death is the end of everything and nobody up there cares then the fourth principle of Epicureans is very easy, – pleasure is the main purpose in life. Translated into the modern day – grab all the gusto you can get – you only go around once. See. Which is a very, – which is a beer version of existentialism. Pleasure is the chief end of men. Listen if you believe everything happened by chance and everything was random and you believed that death was the end of everything and you just went into the grave and it was over and you believed that there weren’t any gods who cared what you did, you’d be an Epicurean too, wouldn’t you? Atheistic rationalism ends up in pleasure is the chief end of men. Grab it here, grab it now, do your own thing, live it up. This is ancient existentialism.

Henry describes Stoicism as follows:

The Stoics, who thought themselves altogether as good as God, and indulged themselves as much in the pride of life as the Epicureans did in the lusts of the flesh and of the eye; they made their virtuous man to be no way inferior to God himself, nay to be superior. Esse aliquid quo sapiens antecedat Deum–There is that in which a wise man excels God, so Seneca: to which Christianity is directly opposite, as it teaches us to deny ourselves and abase ourselves, and to come off from all confidence in ourselves, that Christ may be all in all.

MacArthur has this:

… the Stoics. They were the nice guys. They weren’t out each for themselves. They were sort of the humanitarian bunch. They believed, first of all, that everything was God … You know what pantheism is? It’s atheism. If everything’s God, nothing’s God. So everything is God. Secondly, everything is the will of God. No matter what happens in the will of God wills it. They were fatalists. See. The will of God [is] everything. And they believed every so often the world disintegrated and then started all over again. It goes through that cycle every so many years. And, of course, for them believing that every­thing was God, everything was sort of divine and they were Gods and they had to act like Gods and they had to treat everybody else like Gods

The one attribute that both commentators left out about Stoicism is actually a good one: the lack of extreme emotion — no tears, no anger, no complaining.

Some of the Stoics and Epicureans were interested in conversing with Paul (verse 18). While some called him a babbler, others were intrigued by what they understood to be a foreign deity and a resurrection.

Henry explains ‘babbler’, which has always had negative connotations as someone spouting whatever comes into his head:

Some called him a babbler, and thought he spoke, without any design, whatever came uppermost, as men of crazed imaginations do: What will this babbler say? ho spermologos houtos–this scatterer of words, that goes about, throwing here one idle word or story and there another, without any intendment or signification; or, this picker up of seeds. Some of the critics tell us that the term is used for a little sort of bird, that is worth nothing at all, either for the spit or for the cage, that picks up the seeds that lie uncovered, either in the field or by the way-side, and hops here and there for that purpose–Avicula parva quæ semina in triviis dispersa colligere solet; such a pitiful contemptible animal they took Paul to be, or supposed he went from place to place venting his notions to get money, a penny here and another there, as that bird picks up here and there a grain. They looked upon him as an idle fellow, and regarded him, as we say, no more than a ballad-singer.

MacArthur says the babbler is a gutter-sparrow, or guttersnipe:

It was referred to a gutter-sparrow. The gutter-sparrows, you know, they go around and pick up little bits and pieces and scraps of stuff and, you know, that’s how they live. And so this common term which really refers to gutter-sparrows became used for paupers who prowled around the marketplace, parasites who lived off what they could pick up. And it was translated into the philosophy thing and what they were saying was, – Paul, you’re not telling us a philosophy you’re nothing but a philosophical seed-picker. You’ve picked up bits and pieces of philosophy and religion and slapped it all together and you’re trying to pawn it off as knowledge. See. It’s like calling him an eclectic in a negative sense. What an uneducated babble you’re trying to pawn off, bits and scraps of all kinds of random philosophies and religions being passed off as information that is true. And so they mocked him.

As brainy as these fellows were, they did not understand the truth of Christ and the Resurrection, but interpreted both as new gods. Henry gives us the Greek expression:

Ton Iesoun kai ten anastasin, “Jesus they took for a new god, and anastasis, the resurrection, for a new goddess.” Thus they lost the benefit of the Christian doctrine by dressing it up in a pagan dialect, as if believing in Jesus, and looking for the resurrection, were the worshipping of new demons.

Wow.

But, don’t Christians run into similar opposition today? It’s a pity this passage isn’t in the three-year Lectionary. MacArthur gave the sermon I’m citing in 1973 at his church in southern California. Even then, atheism was rife, but, of course, it’s always been around. Atheists continue to give the same objections they always have:

You know, it’s an old story with Christianity but everybody who really believes the Bible and really preaches it at one time or another runs into the mockers who say you’re … intellectually not with it, you – you just, I mean, that’s old wives tales, that’s for old ladies and little kids that believe that Christianity bit. I mean, we intellectuals[,] we’re past that. You know, I get that when I go on a college campus. And I don’t pose to be an intellectlual. But, you know[,] you always hear well, you know Christianity is not even intelligent, well, it’s not even reasonable all that stuff in [the] Bible.

YES!!!

One of the reasons I keep writing Forbidden Bible Verses is to show the truth of the Scripture to those who doubt it. (The other is to learn it better myself.)

But I digress.

The interested philosophers took him to the Areopagus to give him an audience for his ‘new teaching’ (verse 19). There is much to unpack in that verse.

First, Areopagus, translated into English, is Mars Hill. Ares was the Greek god of war. Mars was the Roman god of war. Pagus means hill.

The Areopagus was the most important and most learned place in Athens, as Henry describes. Furthermore, it was the place where new gods could be approved. The philosophers thought Paul would put forward a new deity for approval:

… it was the town-house, or guildhall of their city, where the magistrates met upon public business, and the courts of justice were kept; and it was as the theatre in the university, or the schools, where learned men met to communicate their notions. The court of justice which sat here was famous for its equity, which drew appeals to it from all parts; if any denied a god, he was liable to the censure of this court. Diagoras was by them put to death, as a contemner of the gods; nor might any new god be admitted without their approbation. Hither they brought Paul to be tried, not as a criminal but as a candidate.

Secondly, anything ‘new’ in Athens at that time was seen as intriguing and novel (verse 21). Enquiring minds wanted to know. This is why we call current affairs and any recent information ‘news‘.

Paul explained the risen Christ to them in words they could understand, i.e. from a pagan perspective. More on that next time.

Next time — Acts 17:32-34

Bible kevinroosecomThe 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 16:35-40

35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

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My last post was about the conversion and baptism of the purple goods seller Lydia and her household in Philippi. Lydia ‘opened her heart’ to Paul’s words. Lydia was the start of the church in Philippi, and that was the church Paul addressed in his letters to the Philippians.

Acts 16:16-34 is the Year C reading for the Seventh Sunday after Easter. A summary follows, because it provides the context for today’s verses. The four men — Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke (the author of Acts) — were on their way to pray when a slave girl with divination powers approached them. Her owners made a lot of money from her divination:

17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Paul was angry, because she had an evil spirit within her. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

a “spirit of divination.” The literal Greek…I want you to get this, a most fascinating thing…the literal Greek is, she had a spirit, a python. That’s the same as a python snake, the same term…a spirit, a python, or a python spirit. You say, well, what is a python spirit? Well, in Greek mythology…and this is all mythology…in Greek mythology, there’s a place called Pytho, and Pytho was at the foot of Mount Parnassus. Now, at Pytho, there was a dragon. The dragon guarded Pytho…that area…and the dragon’s name was Python. Stay with me. This dragon guarded the oracles of Delphi. Now you may have heard of that. Delphi was a place where oracles were given. Now, you say, what’s an oracle? I’ll give you the definition. The term “oracle,” which is an occult term, means either a place where mediums consult demons or it means the revelation the demons give themselves. So it can refer to the place or the demonic revelation. The oracles at Delphi…Delphi was a place that was a monstrous temple and in this temple were all these medium priestesses and these priestesses were conjuring up demons and giving out information. Now, you say, what about the dragon? Well, supposedly, long ago in Greek mythology, this dragon guarded these oracles. Apollo, who was the third son of Jupiter in mythology, came down and slew the dragon. All of the oracle power of the dragon was then transferred to Apollo and he took on the name Pythias. And so the python idea ties in with Apollo who received the dragon’s power and was able, then, to contact these demon spirits at Delphi. Now, let me say this just so you’ll understand. They believed, the people in this world believed, in that world of that day, they believed that the gods were alive. They believed in Apollo and Jupiter and Venus and Mars and all those people, Cupid and everybody else. Now, they believed that Apollo…that Apollo spoke through the oracles at Delphi. And so the term python means any kind of medium contact with the god Apollo. This girl, then, was one of the thousands of priestesses from Delphi who were called pythons because they were plugged into Apollo whose other name was Pythias. Now, if you’re confused, don’t feel bad; I am, too (laughter). But, nevertheless, people would consult this girl, or these priestesses…and they had temples all over the place. In fact, it got to be a universal kind of worship. They would consult these priestesses and they would then think that Apollo, the god, was giving them the information. Now, we know who it really was, right?…Satan and his demons. Let me give you another footnote that’s just absolutely fascinating. The term “python” then became synonymous with ventriloquist and is used as such. Ventriloquists were called pythons. You say, why. Do you know what a demon-possessed medium is? He is a dummy for a demon ventriloquist. She was nothing but a demonic Charlie McCarthy (laughter)…essentially the same thing…nothing but a mouth through which a demon spoke…and this is the word ventriloquist. In Isaiah 8:19, the Bible says that the people were to watch out for mediums that peep and mutter and the word in the Greek…it’s in Hebrew in the Old Testament, but the Greek translation, they use the word [engastrímythos]which means ventriloquist. They were to watch out for ventriloquist demons who used the voice of humans. You say, then that girl was a dummy and demons talked through her.

When her owners found out Paul had, via divine means, driven the demon out of her, they were furious. They had lost a steady stream of income. So, they dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace in Philippi and denounced them. The crowd turned into a mob and magistrates joined in:

22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.

MacArthur says this was no ordinary beating:

Now, the magistrates had a group of guys that were local police. They were called lictors … and they were a kind of policeman. They carried around, for the purpose of punishment in these places where Greek people live, like, a pile of rods wrapped together. They were like birch rods, very hard. And they would wrap them all together. And in the middle they would insert an axe. And the axe was for the purpose of capital punishment when it was needed. On the spot, they could execute. When they didn’t need the axe, they laid the axe aside, take the bundle of rods and just flail people with them. Well, that’s what they decided to do. This was a Roman punishment. Incidentally, Paul got it three times. “Thrice was I beaten with rods,” II Corinthians 11:25…three times. It’s a fantastic thing to even conceive of this kind of a beating. And Paul says in II Corinthians 11:23, he says “in stripes above measure.” There were so many wounds inflicted by this mass of sticks flailing away that you couldn’t count them. No trial, no nothing!

Paul and Silas were then thrown in the inner prison and put in the stocks under constant guard.

Around midnight, the prisoners listened to Paul and Silas sing hymns and pray when a mighty earthquake shook the foundations of the prison. The doors opened and the shackles unfastened. The guard was terrified, because if any prisoner escaped, he would be executed. He considered killing himself before that happened:

28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

Once the cell was lit again, the guard trembled with fear and fell down in front of Paul and Silas, asking what he must do to be saved:

31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

During the earthquake, the guard had been asleep at home, which MacArthur says would have been next to the prison. He was beside himself in rushing to the prison only to find it in such a state. Then, of course, there were the consequences he would face from the Roman governor if anyone had escaped. The guard had those uncontrollable shakes from extreme fear that take time to dissipate.

Paul and Silas spoke ‘the word of the Lord’ to the guard and his household. The guard washed their wounds — no doubt many — after which, Paul and Silas baptised him and his household:

34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

What an amazing story.

At that point, the church in Philippi had two groups that could then meet: Lydia and her household and the guard and his. God had a plan.

Now on to today’s verses.

When daylight broke, the magistrates sent the police to the jailer saying that Paul and Silas could walk free (verse 35). The jailer relayed the news to Paul (verse 36).

Paul expressed his indignation at the treatment that he and Silas — both Roman citizens — received. That beating was meant for Greeks, non-Romans under Roman rule. Paul stood on principle and told the guard that the police could release him and Silas themselves (verse 37).

MacArthur tells us more:

You see, it was forbidden under Roman law to ever corporeally inflict a wound on a Roman citizen. That was against the law. All a Roman had to do was say, I am a Roman citizen and they couldn’t put one wound on his body. That was the right of Roman citizenship. You know what happened? They had violated Roman law. You say, well, why didn’t Paul say it earlier? God didn’t want him to, because if they hadn’t got beaten, they wouldn’t have got to jail. If they hadn’t got to jail, this whole family wouldn’t have gotten saved. But here, Paul now says, I am a Roman. Now, he says, they threw us in prison, now are they gonna thrust us out so quietly and privately? “Nay, verily”…well, he is really in control…he says, “let them come themselves and fetch us out.” He says, you go tell those boys I got something to say to them.

This is why the magistrates were afraid when the police reported back to them (verse 38). They could have lost their jobs or worse. So, ‘they’ in verse 38 refers to the magistrates, who personally apologised to Paul and Silas before escorting them away with a request to leave Philippi (verse 39).

Before they left the city, they stopped by to meet with Lydia and her fellow converts to encourage them in the faith (verse 40).

MacArthur makes interesting points about this story. One is that Timothy and Luke were not jailed because they fit a Gentile profile. Another is that, when Paul returned to Philippi, the authorities never bothered him again. Another interesting point is this:

Isn’t that beautiful to see Paul care for his flock? And incidentally, he left Luke there to care for them, too.

Acts 17 returns to the third person, meaning that Luke was no longer with Paul, Silas and Timothy.

The establishment of the church in Philippi followed the same fascinating pattern as many of the churches featured in Acts: emotionally moving conversions, demons (although not always), persecution and strengthened faith.

In closing, this is what Matthew Henry had to say about Philippi, with words of encouragement for present-day clergy:

Though the beginnings here were small, the latter end greatly increased; now they laid the foundation of a church at Philippi, which became very eminent, had its bishops and deacons, and people that were more generous to Paul than any other church, as appears by his epistle to the PhilippiansLet not ministers be discouraged, though they see not the fruit of their labours presently; the seed sown seems to be lost under the clods, but it shall come up again in a plentiful harvest in due time.

Next time — Acts 17:16-21

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 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 16:11-15

The Conversion of Lydia

11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the[a] district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

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Last week’s entry was about the travels of Paul, Silas and Timothy in Asia Minor and the vision Paul received one night of a call to Macedonia. Luke, the author of Acts, joined the three in Troas. It is likely he lived there.

The four were on their way across the Aegean Sea to Samothrace (Thracia in the map below). From Troas, the journey would not have been far. This map by Caliniuc — ‘Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58363914’ — on Wikipedia will help understand their travels. Those needing a larger image can click on the map, which will open in a new window:

They then went to Neapolis (verse 11) and on to Philippi, home to the Philippians and an important city of Macedonia (verse 12).

The map below shows the area centuries before Paul, Silas and Timothy travelled through it, but we get an idea of geographical location nonetheless. This file comes from Wikipedia and was created by Marsyas (French original); Kordas (Spanish translation) derivative work: MinisterForBadTimes, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons:

In the map, Philippi is inland in the southern part of Thrace.

Luke wrote that the four stayed in the Roman colony of Philippi for several days. Matthew Henry’s commentary gives the rationale for beginning the Macedonian ministry there (emphases mine):

they began with the first city, because, if the gospel were received there, it would the more easily spread thence all the country over. (2.) It was a colony. The Romans not only had a garrison, but the inhabitants of the city were Romans, the magistrates at least, and the governing part. There were the greatest numbers and variety of people, and therefore the most likelihood of doing good.

John MacArthur tells us more about Philippi:

One of the reasons it was important was it was located on what was called the Egnatian Highway Now the Egnatian Highway was one of those massive Roman accomplishments, it was a road 490 miles long. Now that would have been built by hand … The Romans had built this road as a military access to the east. It ran from the western coast of Macedonia on the Adriatic Sea to across Macedonia to the Aegean Sea up and then right across the top area there and it went right through Philippi. So Philippi was a very important area. It was an area where there was much traffic and trade and military movement. Incidentally that road was built in about 146 B.C. Another footnote on that, if you took the Egnatian west you’d finally hit the Adriatic Sea. You take a boat across the Adriatic Sea and it would connect up with another road in Italy called the Appian Way which you may be familiar with. Well, that was one long extension of highway just separated by two of those little, that little sea the Adriatic and the Aegean. And so they were well-known geographical areas.

On the Sabbath, the four men went outside the city gates to the riverside to talk to women who had gathered for prayer (verse 13). Henry’s commentary says there was no synagogue and they were not going to preach in a pagan temple. Also note that the man who appeared in Paul’s vision was not to be found in Philippi. Hence the ministry among the women. MacArthur makes an important point:

You say, – You mean that the whole gospel spread in Europe is going to begin with a bunch of women? Listen, my dear friend, the gospel spread all over the world has been beginning with women for years. Just check out the nearest list of missionaries that you have and find out. In Christ there is neither male nor female.

He says that the women were probably exiled Jews:

There’s a sad thing, you know, they loved their temple, they didn’t have that. And you remember when they had been carried off into Babylon they founded those places called synagogues, remember Psalm 137, they sat by the rivers of Babylon and yes, we wept, it says in Psalm 137. And here were some exiled and only women, no men to lead them, no men to teach them. But they faithfully met.

MacArthur surmises that Paul found out where these women worshipped. A waterside location would have also been important for them for ritual cleansing purposes.

One of the women listening to the four was Lydia from Thyatira, later home to one of the churches in Revelation. Lydia sold purple goods (verse 14). Purple goods refers to dye and/or cloth. Thyatira was a long way from Philippi. Lydia probably moved there for better business opportunities.

MacArthur tells us:

Incidentally, Thyatira was famous for purple dye. Homer in the Iliad says the art of the women in Thyatira and the area is the art of dyeing with purple. So we have historical evidence that this woman came from the right place and she did what the women in that area did.

Proper purple was reserved for the wealthiest people in those days, and there was a cheaper kind of dye for everyone else. MacArthur explains the dyeing process and thinks Lydia was involved with the cheaper dye:

There were two kinds of dyes they used. The first kind was for the rich people. You know, most of the purple stuff was for, you know, royalty and all that. And they used to extract this purple dye drop by drop from a little thing called a murex which was a shellfish. And they would catch these shellfish and they would extract drop by drop this precious purple dye and really super rich people would have purple dye from the murex shellfish for their garments. And like everything, once the elite get it all of us peons want to get in on the thing, so the next thing you know they had to come up with a second class dye and they got it from an extraction from a madder root and they used that for the commoner’s dye. Well, she was in this business. And she was the one that the Lord had in mind, unbelievable, as Paul’s first convert in Europe. God was going to begin the work with a woman

Luke included two spiritual details about Lydia: she worshipped God and she opened her heart to Paul’s words.

MacArthur thinks that Lydia was probably a Gentile who became a God-fearer, the name the Jews gave to Gentile worshippers who did not fully convert or follow all aspects of Mosaic law.

Divine grace was working in her as she took in Paul’s words. She and her household were baptised (verse 15). She then invited the four to stay at her house, provided, she said, they judged her as being faithful to the Lord. They must have been reluctant, because Lydia ‘prevailed upon us’, meaning that she insisted they be her guests.

No doubt, she wanted to learn more from them. Henry has this:

She desired an opportunity of receiving further instruction. If she might but have them for awhile in her family, she might hear them daily (Proverbs 8:34), and not merely on sabbath days at the meeting. In her own house she might not only hear them, but ask them questions; and she might have them to pray with her daily, and to bless her household. Those that know something of Christ cannot but desire to know more, and seek opportunities of increasing their acquaintance with his gospel.

MacArthur says the church in Philippi was in Lydia’s home and tells us what happened later when Paul wrote his letters to the Philippians:

Lydia’s house became the place where the church meets. Look at verse 40; “They went out of the prison and returned entered into the house of Lydia and when they had seen the brethren they comforted them and departed.” Now the church met in Lydia’s house. So Lydia became a leader in the church. The little prosukee by the river became God’s ekklesia, God’s church in Philippi. You say, – But it was only womenYou say, – Well, where are the men? Ah, they’re there, verse 40. I don’t know – they must have been in Lydia’s household and the jailor and maybe his household. They [our four preachers, referring to the next part of Acts 16, coming next week] went out of the prison and went into the house of Lydia where they had seen the what? The brethren, there’s got to be some men, that’s a collective term but if it was only women they wouldn’t have used brethren. So there were some men there. But you know, what’s interesting. In later date, that little church that began with that group of women, some of those women still wanted to run things. They did … Phil. chapter 4, you know Paul loved the church at Philippi, he just loved them so much. Look at chapter 1 for a minute verse 3; he says, Phil. 1; “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.” He says, I’m just so excited about all of you, “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day“, what was the first day? We’ve Just been there, haven’t we? For that first day by the river. Oh, did he love them. But he says, You’ve got one problem named Euodias and Syntyche, both ladies. Verse 1, pardon me, verse 2 of chapter 4, “I beseech Euodias and beseech Syntyche that they be of the same mind in the Lord.” Now he says, I’m going to ask you true-yoke-fellow, the Greek is suzugos and it is likely a proper name so he says, Suzugos, help those ladies, get that issue straightened out. Here were a couple of women who were problematic. Now there’s no hierarchy in the body of Christ, men and women, male and female are one in Christ. But in the church the men are set to put things in order. So he says to this man, Suzugos, you take charge over these women and get them together. They are dear women who labored with Clement and with me in the gospel.

I enjoy reading about Lydia, a great female role model from the ancient world: a good businesswoman, a good hostess — and a good Christian. The world could certainly use more Lydias.

Next time — Acts 16:35-40

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe 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 16:6-10

The Macedonian Call

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul[a] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

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Last week’s post introduced Timothy, who was from the area around Derbe and Lystra, where Paul and Silas were visiting the churches that the Apostle and Barnabas had established. They showed the churches the letter from the Council of Jerusalem about not having to be circumcised and follow Mosaic law.

Now the men were going into Asia Minor. John MacArthur tells us:

Paul was there, Silas was there, Timothy was there …

This map by Caliniuc — ‘Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58363914’ — on Wikipedia will help understand their travels. Those needing a larger image can click on the map, which will open in a new window:

The preachers went to Phyrgia and Galatia (see the centre of the map), but the Holy Spirit forbade them from going further eastward (verse 6). Matthew Henry’s commentary explains why (emphases mine below):

They were forbidden at this time to preach the gospel in Asia (the country properly so called), because it did not need, other hands being at work there; or because the people were not yet prepared to receive it, as they were afterwards (Acts 19:10), when all those that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord; or, as Dr. Lightfoot suggests, because at this time Christ would employ Paul in a piece of new work, which was to preach the gospel to a Roman colony at Philippi, for hitherto the Gentiles to whom he had preached were Greeks.

As for Phyrgia and Galatia:

it should seem, the gospel was already planted, but whether by Paul’s hand or no is not mentioned; it is likely it was, for in his epistle to the Galatians he speaks of his preaching the gospel to them at the first, and how very acceptable he was among them, Galatians 4:13-15.

They then travelled northwest to Mysia and tried to go northeast from there to reach Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow it (verse 7).

John MacArthur explains that the men — Paul, in particular — would have accepted these divine decisions and sought to know where to go instead:

if you understand something of the persistence of Paul, you will know that he managed to wiggle a fine line between Bithynia and Asia and go along like that. And here was the persistence of a man that made him what he was. And in a sense we may believe that God actually closed all the visible doors in order to prove the faithfulness and the determination of this man Paul which would make him, really, the kind of man that God was really going to use. And it’s a great thing for us, you know, when you see doors slam, keep moving that may be God’s test of your faithfulness and out of that test may grow your capacity to do the job that really needs to be done. If you find yourself balking and folding when the first door closes it may be that you’ll never see much of a door again after that. But if you’re persistent as they were God will open some marvelous things.

So they ‘passed by’ — or through, probably preaching in — Mysia on their way westward to Troas, on the coast (verse 8). Henry gives us some insight about Mysia, which was not the nicest of places:

They came to Mysia, and, as it should seem, preached the gospel there; for though it was a very mean contemptible country, even to a proverb (Mysorum ultimus, in Cicero, is a most despicable man), yet the apostles disdained not to visit it, owning themselves debtors both to the wise and to the unwise, Romans 1:14.

Troas’s major city was Troia, or Troy, home of the Trojans. MacArthur explains:

Now Troas was named Alexander Troas for Alexander, Alexander the Great. It was a town that became somewhat well-known, ten miles away from Troas was the city of Troy and I’m sure we’re all aware of Trojans which comes from that.

Now this particular place had been a Greek city, a free Greek city until Caesar Augustus made it a Roman Colony. So Troas became a Roman Colony. This whole territory along the coast there on the eastern seaboard of the Aegean Sea was very famous. Helen of Troy, the great heroes of the Trojan War, Homer, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Thales, Heraclitus a lot of very, very famous Greek names came from that area there. It was as Greek really as the land of Greece just across the Aegean Sea. It had been saturated and infiltrated by these Greek people.

In Troas, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia urging him to ‘help us’ (verse 9) and recognised this as divine intervention. MacArthur elaborates:

God immediately gave them direction in verse 9. “A vision appeared to Paul. He saw a Macedonian man” perhaps he recognized him because of his attire or maybe the man said he was from Macedonia, apart from what he did say. “He said, Come over into Macedonia and help us.” There was the call of God in a dream, in a vision, at night.

The men prepared to go to Macedonia. The map below shows the area centuries before Paul, Silas and Timothy travelled through it, but we get an idea of geographical location nonetheless.

This file comes from Wikipedia and was created by Marsyas (French original); Kordas (Spanish translation) derivative work: MinisterForBadTimes, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons:

It is interesting to look at the cities on the map. We find some of the names or people in the New Testament, specifically in Paul’s letters (e.g. Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth) and in Revelation (Smyrna).

In closing, note a change of person in verse 10: ‘we’, meaning that Luke, the author of Acts, joined the men in Troas. It is likely he lived there.

MacArthur tells us:

Here, somehow, Luke joins up. Now we don’t know the circumstances. We do know that Luke was a doctor, he was a physician, and it may have been that Paul had one of his chronic ailments act up in Troas and they managed to find a local doctor. When this local doctor plugged into Paul they had a house physician from then on because he went with them. But here, apparently, Luke joins up and it becomes a ‘we’ so the author is indicating himself in the situation.

It isn’t much of a journey by boat from Troy to reach Thrace.

More on their mission next week.

Next time — Acts 16:11-15

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