UNIFORM LESSON FOR NOVEMBER 29, 2015
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Acts 18:1-11, 18-21a
After a brief stay in Athens with a mixed response to his preaching, Paul moved on to Corinth. This important commercial center with a reputation for religious and ethnic diversity was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. There was a significant Jewish community in Corinth. A Greek verb meaning “to act like a Corinthian” retained Corinth’s earlier notoriety for sexual immorality. Paul stayed in Corinth for approximately 18 months. After he left he wrote at least two epistles to the Christian congregation there. These letters illustrate the challenges as well as the joys new believers experienced as they struggled to live faithfully as followers of Jesus.
Acts 18:1-3 — Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla
First-century Jewish rabbis and some Hellenistic philosophers supported themselves by working in a secular occupation. Luke describes Paul as a tent-maker, which implies that he was skilled in the use of cloth and leather from which tents and other items were made. This may have brought him in contact with other Jewish tent-makers including Priscilla and her husband Aquila, a native of Pontus, a region on the southern coast of the Black Sea in northern Asia Minor. Paul worked with Aquila and Priscilla, who provided him with hospitality and an opportunity to ply his trade. According to Romans 16:4-5, this couple later hosted a house church in their home and they “risked their necks” to protect Paul.
Aquila and Priscilla had been living in Rome, but in 49 C.E. the emperor Claudius issued an edict banishing Jews from Rome. According to the second-century Roman writer Suetonius, Jews in Rome had created a disturbance involving “Crestus,” which most likely refers to Christ. It is reasonable to assume that unnamed Christian missionaries had created dissension within the large Jewish community in Rome. This corroborates Luke’s description of Aquila and Priscilla as recent refugees from Rome.
Acts 18:4-6 — Paul changes strategy
Luke consistently portrays Paul’s evangelistic outreach as starting with a visit to the Jewish synagogue wherever he is traveling. Corinth is no exception. On the Sabbath day, Paul went to the synagogue in Corinth to try to convince his hearers, both Jews and Greeks who entered into the discussions there, that Jesus was the Messiah.
When Silas and Timothy came to Corinth, Paul seemed to have devoted most if not all of his time to preaching and teaching. However, the response Paul received was largely negative. Luke reports that many of his hearers “opposed and reviled” him.
Paul was stung, perhaps even angered, by this negative response. He answered with strong words of his own: “Your blood be on your own heads!” (cf. 2 Samuel 1:16; 1 Kings 2:33). From then on, Paul intended to shift his attention more fully to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:46).
Acts 18:7-11 — Paul extends his stay in Corinth
True to his word, Paul left the synagogue and resumed his preaching in the house of Titius Justice, a God-fearing Greek whose house was right next door to the synagogue. Luke almost seems to take special delight in reporting that a synagogue leader, Crispus, and his whole household became followers of Jesus. And this started a trend in which many Corinthians were baptized as Christians.
Although Paul was probably encouraged by these positive responses to his preaching, he must also have been concerned that a hostile reaction might occur. In fact, a hostile attempt to get city officials to intervene and stop Paul’s preaching is reported in Acts 18:12-17. To assuage this fear, Luke reports that Paul had a vision in which God urged him to continue preaching and assured him of divine protection. As Luke has stressed elsewhere in his account, God is the initiator and the sustainer of the missionary endeavor of the early church.
Acts 18:18-22 — Paul departs for Syria
With his co-workers, Aquila and Priscilla, Paul left Corinth and set sail for Syria, intending to return to Antioch by way of Ephesis, Caesarea and Jerusalem. While still in Greece, Paul either fulfilled or began to practice a Nazarite vow (see Numbers 6:1-21) by cutting his hair. While the details of this act are not clear, Luke’s intention is to underline Paul’s consistent adherence to Jewish traditions.
Paul changed the focus of his evangelistic efforts by leaving the synagogue and focusing on Gentile audiences. What changes in evangelistic strategy would be effective today for Presbyterians? What are the plusses and minuses of a tent-making ministry like Paul’s? What are the plusses and minuses of full-time paid professional pastors? What options do congregations that cannot afford a full-time pastor have?