By Jenny Fulton
How It Began: Insights from Act 18
Acts 18 gives us the beginning of the 1 Corinthians story. It describes how Paul first came to Corinth, provides us with an overview of his ministry there, and introduces some key figures who show up later in his letters.
If you have a chance, and if you haven’t already, you should definitely read this chapter before you dive into a study on 1 Corinthians.
If you haven’t read this chapter, here’s an overview
- Paul left Athens and went to Corinth where he met Aquila and Priscilla: a Jewish couple who were tent-makers like Paul and had recently fled from Rome after Claudius kicked out all the Jews.
- At first, Paul went into the synagogue to preach on the Sabbath and worked as a tent-maker during the rest of the week, but after Silas and Timothy arrived, Paul began preaching on a full-time basis.
- While some of the Jews in the synagogue listened to Paul’s words and began following Christ, others among the Jews there didn’t like his message. So, Paul stopped teaching in the synagogue and declared his intention to go to the Gentiles.
- A man named Titius Justus, who lived near the synagogue opened up his home as a place for Paul to stay and preach.
- Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord. Paul baptized Crispus and his household.
- The Lord came to Paul in a vision at night and said, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”
- After a year and a half, the unbelieving Jews in the synagogue became so angry with Paul and his message that they grabbed him and brought him to Gallio, the proconsul.
- However, this Roman official didn’t have any patience with the Jews and refused to hear their case, so the Jews vented their anger upon Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him up in the presence of Gallio. Gallio didn’t care.
- Paul left Corinth with Priscilla and Aquila. They traveled to Ephesus, and for a short time, Paul stayed and preached in the synagogue, but then he left Priscilla and Aquila there while he traveled on to Caesarea.
- Back in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila heard a passionate and educated Jew named Apollos preaching about Jesus. However, because Apollos only knew about the baptism of John, the couple privately pulled him aside and told him the rest of the story so that his teaching would be more accurate.
- After awhile, Apollos went to Corinth where “he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”
Observations and Take-Aways
Paul’s journey to Corinth was significant in several respects. It was in this city that he met Aquila and Priscilla (referred to in other places as Prisca). This couple would go on to minister to Paul and with Paul to the churches (Romans 16:3, 1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Timothy 4:19).
Two leaders of the synagogue, first Crispus and then Sosthenes, believed in Jesus and left their post to join Paul and the Corinthian church. Crispus was baptized by Paul, along with the rest of his household. Sosthenes apparently accompanied Paul, as he is mentioned in I Corinthians 1:1.
The church at Corinth was a mixture of Jews from Corinth, both leaders and attenders, Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2), Greeks who had likely grown up with the polytheistic religion of their city, then converted to Judaism and began worshiping at the synagogue (Acts 18:4) before leaving to follow the Christian faith. There were also Greeks who weren’t exposed to the Jewish faith but converted to Christianity after Paul left the synagogue to go to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6). In addition, it seems there were Romans in the Corinthian church since Rome occupied the territory and Titius Justus is a Roman name.
This group included both wealthy people and poor people. Crispus the leader of the synagogue and Titius, who owned the house Paul went to after he left the synagogue, were obviously wealthy while Priscilla and Aquila, Jewish tentmaking refugees from Rome, would have been on the poor side. Members of Crispus’ household who were baptized would have included not only his family, but also his servants (based on the cultural definition of ‘household’ at that time). This was definitely a religiously, culturally, and economically diverse group that was coming together to learn about and worship God – to hear the life-changing news of His Son Jesus and the significance of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
Two key verses about this church can be found in Acts 18:9-10 (NASB). “And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”
Isn’t that a great commentary from God about the city and the church within it? “I have many people in this city.” Paul had already been through many hardships by the time he reached Corinth, and here, God told Paul he was safe. Many of those at Corinth were on God’s side. In addition to the care He would give Paul, God also knew His people in the city could be trusted to take care of this traveling apostle.
Take-Away: God is already at work before we arrive. Before He takes us somewhere He prepares both us and the people and place He’s sending us.
Although a year and a half may not seem like a real long time to be living in one place, it would have been long enough for Paul to become familiar with the people there and to teach them all he could about the ways of God. I mean, seriously, wouldn’t you love to be under Paul’s instruction for a year and a half?
When Apollos later went to the Corinthian church, it says, “he greatly helped those who had believed through grace” (Acts 18:28, NASB).
This church consisted of people from a diverse assortment of cultures, religious backgrounds, and socio-economic statuses, but it was strong. Would it remain so?
Take-Away: God brought together a diverse group of individuals to love each other as they learned about and worshiped Him together. God loves diversity and He obviously expected the people to get along with and love one another. His loves and longings haven’t changed. God still loves to bring different people together to love and worship Him in unity.
What Do You Think?
Have you ever studied 1 Corinthians?
Have you ever thought about Act 18 in connection to Paul’s letter to that church?
What stands out to you the most about the Corinthian church from Acts 18?
In this Series
The Church in Acts 18
1 Corinthians Bible Study
For the last couple of months, the book of 1 Corinthians has weighed heavy upon my heart. In May, I joined a women’s online fellowship site, Bloom.com, and decided to lead a Bible study on this book. These musings are a summary of my findings and the relevance/application I see surrounding us today. If you’re a woman and would like to participate in the study, head on over to www.Bloom.com and join the 1 Corinthians Bible Study group where you’ll find study guides to follow and discussion threads to participate in.