The Jews versus Apostle Paul!

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´╗┐Paul, shortly after his arrival in Corinth during his second missionary journey, became concerned about the high level of resentment the Jews harbored against him and the gospel. This was due, in no small part, to the local synagogue losing members, including its "chief ruler," to Christianity (Acts 18:4 - 8).

Paul's concern about how the Jews might attempt to thwart the establishment and growth of the fledgling church in Corinth weighed heavily on his mind. He was also a bit worried about his own safety in such a large city. God, however, calmed the fears of Paul through a rare vision that assured him safety in the midst of those, like the Jews, who opposed the truth.

And the Lord said to Paul in a vision in the night, 'Do not be afraid; but speak, and do not be silent, For I am with you; and no one (e.g. the Jews) shall set upon you to mistreat you because I have many people in this city' (Acts 18:9 - 10, HBFV).

With assurance directly from God, Paul continued to evangelize Corinth and build up the new church for a period of about one and one half years (Acts 18:11). The Jews, however, continued to maintain their anger against the apostle. The arrival of a new Roman governor offered them an opportunity to exact revenge on the one who, in their minds, caused their synagogue great loses.

Jews in the synagogue
Jews in the synagogue
Rembrandt, 1648

The new Roman proconsul who was sent out to govern the province of Achaia (which included Corinth) during Paul's stay in the city was Gallio (Acts 18:12). His original name was Annaeus Novatus, and he was the brother of Annaeus Seneca the philospher. The name under which he was known to us in sacred and secular history was due to his adoption into the family of Junius Gallio the rhetorician.

The coming of a new governor to a province was an event of great importance. As regards the personal character of Gallio, the inference we should naturally draw from the words of Luke closely corresponds with what we are told by Seneca. His brother speaks of him with singular affection, not only as a man of integrity and honesty, but as one who won universal regard by his amiable temper and popular manners. He did not allow himself, like Pilate, to be led into injustice by the clamor of the Jews (Acts 18:14) and yet he overlooked, with easy indifference, an outbreak of violence which a sterner and more imperious governor would at once have arrested (Acts 18:17).

Enemies of the gospel

The Jews, anxious to profit by a change of administration, and perhaps encouraged by the well-known compliance of Gallio's character, took an early opportunity of accusing Apostle Paul before him. They had already set themselves in battle array against him, and the coming of the new governor was the signal for a general attack (Acts 18:12). It is quite evident that the act was preconcerted and the occasion chosen in which to entrap Paul.

Making use of the privileges they enjoyed as a separate community, and well aware that the exercise of their worship was protected by the Roman State, the Jews accused Paul of violating their own religious Law. They seem to have thought, if this violation of their law could be proved, that Apostle Paul would become amenable to the criminal law of the Empire. Had Gallio been like Festus or Felix, this might easily have happened, and then Apostle Paul's natural resource would have been to appeal to the Emperor on the ground of his citizenship. But the appointed time of his visit to Rome was not yet come, and the continuance of his missionary labors was secured by the character of the governor of Corinth and Achaia.

Gallio is seated on that proconsular chair from which judicial sentences were pronounced by the Roman magistrates. Before this Heathen authority the Jews are preferring their accusation with eager clamor. Their chief speaker is Sosthenes, the successor of Crispus, or (it may be) the ruler of another synagogue. The Greeks are standing round, eager to hear the result, and to learn something of the new governor's character and, at the same time, hating the Jews, and ready to be the partisans of Apostle Paul.

Quick to judge

At the moment when Paul is about to open his mouth (Acts 18:14), Gallio will not even hear his defense, but pronounces a decided and peremptory judgment!

Gallio's answer was that of a man who knew the limits of his office, and felt that be had no time to waste on the religious technicalities of the Jews. Had it been a case in which the Roman law had been violated by any breach of the peace or any act of dishonesty, then it would have been reasonable and right that the matter should have been fully investigated. However, since it was only a question pertaining to the Jewish religion, and to names of no public interest (e.g. Paul), he utterly refused to attend to it. Gallio, without further delay, drove the Jews away from before his judicial chair (Acts 18:16)!

The effect of this proceeding must have been to produce the utmost rage and disappointment among the Jews. With the Greeks and other bystanders the result was very different. Their dislike of a superstitious and misanthropic nation was gratified. They held the forbearance of Gallio as a proof that their own religious liberties would be respected under the new administration and, with the disorderly impulse of a mob which has been kept for some time in suspense, they rushed upon the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in the very presence of the proconsular tribunal. Meanwhile, Gallio took no notice of the injurious punishment thus inflicted on the Jews, and with characteristic indifference left Sosthenes to his fate.

Accusers shamed

Thus the accusers were themselves involved in disgrace. Gallio obtained a high popularity among the Greeks and Apostle Paul was enabled to pursue his labors in safety in spite of the Jews. Had he been driven away from Corinth, the whole Christian community of the place might have been put in jeopardy. But the result of the storm was to give shelter to the infant Church, with opportunity of safe and continued growth. As regards Paul himself, his credit rose with the disgrace of his opponents.

At length the time came when the Apostle deemed it right to leave Achaia and Corinth and revisit Judea. Before his departure he took a solemn farewell of the assembled Church (Acts 18:18). From Cenchrea Paul began his long voyage to Syria and the home of the Jewish nation. His first stop was, for a short time, in Ephesus. He then sailed, without stopping, to Caesarea. Paul ended the second half of his second missionary journey, which had begun in Corinth, by walking to Jerusalem.

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