Commentary on Acts 18:9-18
We pick up on yesterday’s reading and Paul is still in Corinth.
His missionary work is going well. He now receives encouragement in a vision in which the Lord tells him to keep speaking out. The Lord is with him, he has many friends in the city and no harm will come to him. This is just one of three visions of the Lord which Paul is said to have had. So Paul stays in the city for a year and a half preaching the Good News. It is possible that, during this time, he may have extended his evangelising work to other parts of the province of Achaia, where Corinth was situated.
However, as often was the case, during this time some Jews in the city who were opposed to him brought him to the civil court accusing him of telling people to worship in ways which were against the law. They brought their case to Gallio, the pro-consul of Achaia. Achaia was the Roman province in southern Greece in which Corinth was situated.
We know a certain amount about this Gallio, who was a brother of the famous Roman philosopher and tutor of the emperor Nero, Seneca. The NIV Bible notes: “Gallio was admired as a man of exceptional fairness and calmness. From an inscription found at Delphi, it is known that Gallio was proconsul of Achaia in AD 51-52. This information enables us to date Paul’s visit to Corinth on his second journey as well as his writing of the Thessalonian letters.”
The Jews accused Paul of breaking the law but did not specify whether it was Jewish or Roman law. But the Jews were claiming that Paul was advocating a religion not recognised by Roman law, as Judaism was. However, if he had been given the opportunity to speak, Paul could have argued that the message he was preaching arose from the faith of his fellow-Jews and thus was actually within the terms of Roman law.
After listening to their arguments, Gallio decided they were fighting over the interpretation of purely religious matters in which he personally had no competence or interest. If it had been a case of a crime or malicious fraud, he said he would have taken it more seriously. Instead, he summarily dismissed the charge.
The disappointed plaintiffs then set on a man called Sosthenes, a leader in the synagogue, and beat him up in the presence of the court. It is not clear whether it was the crowd in general who picked on Sosthenes as an excuse to attack the Jews or whether it was his own people beating their synagogue ruler for losing the case. Whatever the reason, Gallio showed no interest whatever in what was going on.
In the opening of the First Letter to the Corinthians Paul refers to “our brother Sosthenes”. If it is the same person, then he was the second ruler of a synagogue to become a Christian in Corinth as a result of Paul’s preaching.
When he felt the time was right, Paul, in the company of his friends and fellow-workers, Priscilla and Aquila, set off home for Antioch in Syria, the headquarters of the missionary church where they would report their experiences. Priscilla’s name is put first which may indicate either her more prominent role in the church or her higher social standing.
Finally, before embarking at the port of Cenchreae, Paul shaved his head because of a vow he had taken. The original Greek is not clear and it seems that it was Paul, not Aquila, took the vow. To take a vow was to be nazir for the period it covered, usually 30 days, and among other obligations it meant leaving the hair uncut during that time. (Samson was a Nazirite and we know what happened when Delilah gave him a haircut!) Different vows were frequently taken to express thanks for deliverance from grave dangers and indeed Paul’s time in Corinth had been relatively free from trouble.
It is not known whether the vow was taken by Paul at Cenchreae or whether it expired there. Later on in Acts, Paul will again perform the rite with four other Jews in fulfilment of a vow.
Perhaps contrary to his expectations, those 18 months had been extremely fruitful and many had found their way to Christ. We still have two wonderful letters, which are perhaps the condensation of four letters altogether, sent by Paul to his converts in the city. Letters which still have a great deal to say to us about following Christ.
In due course, we will be reading them during our Sunday and weekday Masses.