Acts 18:1–17 (ESV)✞: Paul in Corinth
Two passages ago we saw Paul in Thessalonica and Berea, where his approach was to focus on preaching to his fellow Jews in the synagogues, using the Scriptures to “reason” that Jesus was the Christ, though many non-Jewish people also came to Christ in both cities. Then in the last passage he was in Athens where he took the same approach, though the passage focused more on a speech he gave to Gentiles.
In this passage he starts out the same way again, arriving in the city of Corinth and staying with some fellow Jews (who are tentmakers, which happens to be Paul’s trade as well), and going to the synagogue every Sabbath to reason with his fellow Jews from the Scriptures about Christ. However, verse 6 (ESV)✞ tells us it goes so badly that he eventually gives up:
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 so what does he do? He moves into the house of a man named Titius Justus, a Christian, who lives next door to the synagogue.
Some thoughts on this from my favourite study Bible:
Acts 18:7 Paul did not completely give up on witnessing to the Jews of Corinth, as his relocating next door to the synagogue indicates. Paul’s Jewish opponents cannot have been very pleased about his choice of a new location in such close proximity to the synagogue. …
ESV Study Bible
We are also told that a man named Crispus, ruler of the synagogue, also “believed in the Lord,” which I’m assuming means in this context that he is Christian, not just a devout Jew with whom Paul gets along. In fact many Corinthians are coming to the Lord and being baptized. So many that God actually makes a point of confirming to Paul that He wants him to stay in Corinth:
9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
But this can only go on for so long before the Jewish religious leaders feel they need to get rid of Paul, so they bring him to a tribunal in front of the proconsul, Gallio, and make a case that Paul is “persuading people to worship God contrary to the law” (verse 13 (ESV)✞).
And so we should prepare ourselves for another well-reasoned, articulate exposition of the Gospel by Paul as he defends himself, right?
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.
I really feel Luke is emphasizing the humour of this; especially when he includes Paul just about to open his mouth to speak when Gallio cuts him off to reject the entire proceeding!
Not satisfied with this outcome, the Jewish religious leaders take a man named Sosthenes, who is “the ruler of the synagogue,” and have him beaten right in front of the tribunal, but Gallio still pays no attention to any of it.
Acts 18:17 Sosthenes may have been a Jewish convert to Christianity, for Paul mentions someone by that name as his “coauthor” in 1 Cor. 1:1. In Acts 18:8, Crispus had been called “the ruler of the synagogue,” but Sosthenes may have succeeded him when Crispus became a Christian, or there may have been more than one person with this office in that synagogue.
ESV Study Bible
First off, this is another post that makes me uncomfortable to write because there are various mentions of “the Jews,” and I know there is enough antisemitism in the Church that some people are going to read the phrase “the Jews” in a negative light. Others might assume I mean the phrase in a negative light. (There is enough antisemitism in the Church that I couldn’t blame someone from reading my text in that light. It’s hard to pull the racist Christians apart from the non-racist Christians, and there are enough racists among us that we’ve made it even harder – why should someone have to give me the benefit of the doubt?)
There’s a sense in which the Jewish people of Paul’s day had a history with God that should have prepared them to accept Christ, but there’s another sense in which the Law was actually preventing them from believing in Him, so I’m not even of the “they should have known better” opinion. In a number of places the early Christians had success preaching to their fellow Jews and in other places they didn’t; in a number of places the early Christians had success preaching to Gentiles and in a number of other places they didn’t. There are cases like this where the Jewish religious leaders stir up a city’s politicians to try to get Paul and his companions ejected or even killed; there are other cases where Gentiles (such as the idol makers) do the exact same thing.
So yes, this passage and this post are referring to the people in Corinth who were Jewish, but not with any malice or ill feelings. Paul was Jewish so his heart was to preach to his fellow Jews, therefore Acts sometimes focuses on them.
And, speaking of which…
Preaching to the Jews?
I mentioned above the progression in focus away from the Jews and toward the Gentiles in the last three passages (including this one), and it seems like Paul reaches a turning point in verse 6 (ESV)✞ when he says, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” But how firm of a change in approach is that? Are we going to see Paul ignoring or de-emphasizing the Jews for the rest of Acts? I’m blogging through the book as I get to it, so I’ll have to keep reading and blogging and see what happens, but I don’t think this is a firm, hard, “I’m never evangelizing to the Jews again” kind of a break for Paul. In his letters we’ll see that he continues to desire his fellow Jews to come to Christ.
My lack of biblical knowledge and timelines comes into play once again; maybe he is going to de-emphasize preaching to the Jews from this point forward. Maybe everything he wrote about his fellow Jews was written before his decision in Acts 18:6, not after. But I don’t think so, I think he’s just moving away from the Jews in Corinth. I think this is a decision he makes in one particular city, about one particular set of people.
Quoting from the ESV Study Bible again:
Acts 18:6 when they opposed and reviled him. Paul will spend much time with audiences where there is interest and response, even if they don’t immediately believe (see v. 4), but he will not spend time where he simply faces hostile opposition. … Your blood be on your own heads reflects Ezekiel’s words about God’s prophetic watchman (Ezek. 33:1–7). “Blood” means “the responsibility for your judgment by God.” Paul had faithfully discharged his responsibility, so that at the final judgment no part of these Jews’ failure to believe could be attributed to his failure to tell them about Christ … .
ESV Study Bible