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Acts 18:1-5 & 1 Corinthians 2:1-3 by Robert Dean
Looking for a little fun and action in a party town? In the 1st century you would head for the bustling, wealthy port city of Corinth with its many temples, games, and sensual pleasures. Find out how the Apostle Paul received personal guidance from the Holy Spirit to go there. Learn how he arrived dead tired and found a tent-making couple, Priscilla and Aquila, and joined with them in their business. See how he presented the gospel weekly by going to the synagogue and reasoning with the Jews in Corinth.

Also includes 1 Corinthians 4:12, 1 Thessalonians 2:9

Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 39 secs

From the Intellect to the Sensual
Acts 18:1-5

Corinth was the seat of lust, lasciviousness and sensuality in the ancient world. It was the good-time city of the Roman empire and there wasn't anything that didn't happen there. Paul has just left Athens and is somewhat down. He has had a tough year from being beaten and flagellated physically at Philippi by the Romans, facing opposition in Thessalonica and Berea, and then going to Athens where he has very little impact. In fact, Paul was almost dragging into Corinth with his tail tucked between his legs. And he says that in his first epistle to the Corinthians (2:1).  

1 Corinthians 2:1 NASB "And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. [2] For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." He had a completely different style of teaching, one that did not fit the norms and standards of oratory and rhetoric at the time. He wasn't trying to appeal to them in the ways that oratory appeals to people. He is trying to appeal to them in terms of laying out a strong, rational biblical case for Jesus being the Messiah. [3] "I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling." The term for weakness there is the Greek word asthenes which shows up numerous times in Scripture. In about half of its uses it means physical weakness or illness, mostly in the Gospels. But even in the Gospels about a third of the uses have to do with a spiritual weakness or just a mental attitude tiredness. In the epistles it reverses its emphasis. There are a few cases where asthenes refers to physical illness or sickness but in most cases if refers to spiritual weariness, a mental attitude weariness.

Paul has had a tough time, and it is important to understand that because of two passages in Acts chapter 18, one of which he is compelled by the Holy Spirit to go to the synagogues and to teach, and in the other one Jesus appears to him personally in revelation and encourages him. In both cases these are unique manifestations of God's presence in the life of an apostle. We have to understand that Paul and the other apostles were not like any other believer in history. They were a unique class of Christians according to Ephesians 2:20. The apostles and prophets were the foundation of the church. When you build a house you know that you never lay the foundation but once. Once it is laid everything else is constructed upon that. So in the early church there was the apostolic ministry, which laid doctrinal foundation for the church and it was validated by the miracles. They performed signs and wonders that in 2 Corinthians 12 are identified as the signs of an apostle. That is how an apostle was identified. Not every Christian performed miracles. And the apostles didn't perform them very frequently, but they did because that validated their authority as an apostle. That is what set them apart as a leader and founder of Christians thinking and doctrine.

Acts 18:1 NASB "After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth."

Corinth is approximately 50 miles west of Athens, about a two-day walk or a day's sail. The city was founded in the distant past, probably before 750 BC. It was one of the wealthiest cities because it was located between two ports. The city was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC, because there was a revolt against Rome at the time. All of the citizens of the city were killed or enslaved, all of its treasures were taken to Rome and according to Roman law the city was not allowed to rebuild for 100 years. In 44 BC it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar and was officially renamed Laus Julia Corinthus. It became a Roman colony that was settled by retired Roman military.

It served as the administrative center for the province from 27 BC on, which made it a strategic location for planting Christianity. From Corinth the Word could go out from converts on ships to all parts of the Roman empire and beyond.

The Isthmian Games were held near here as well, once every two years, and it is believed that near the time that the apostle Paul first came was when the Games were present. And so it was an opportunity for him to be in the tent-making business in order to provide tents for the people who were coming to the Games.

It is estimated that the population of Corinth was 250,000 to 300,000. It was an extremely prosperous city because of all of the trade and opportunities for business, and it was also a town that was noted for it licentiousness. In the ancient world to "Corinthianize" was a synonym for lewd, lascivious behavior; prostitutes were referred to simply as Corinthians girls. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was the most popular of the deities in Corinth and her temple was the center of worship where over 1000 cultic prostitutes plied their trade.    

Acts 18:2 NASB "And he found a Jew named Aquila …" It is interesting that Luke does not describe him as a disciple. "… a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them." This edict from Claudius probably refers to the decree in AD 49. He expelled the Jews because of various riots and civil disobedience that occurred at the instigation of Chrestus. This is either a misspelling or perhaps a reference to Christ, but it could indicate that a certain amount of disturbance and physical violence had erupted within the Jewish community over whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. It is a tantalizing reference; we just don't have enough information. Apparently from 41-49 the Romans were having increasing problems with the Jewish community in Rome, and when these riots and disturbances broke out in 49 Claudius just expelled all of the Jews.

The population of Jews at the time of the expulsion was about 50,000. So this was a significant event in the life of the Jewish community in Rome. Aquila's wife's name is mentioned here as Priscilla. That is the diminutive form of Prisca, which is the form used in several other passages. Luke uses Priscilla, which indicates more of a familiarity and closer friendship with them. Paul mentions them several other times. In Romans 16:3-5 he concludes his epistle to Rome (by this time the Jews were allowed back in Rome): "Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also {greet} the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia."

In 1 Corinthians 16:19 NASB "The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house." Apparently they travelled with Paul. He spent a year and a half in Corinth and then, as we will see in the rest of the chapter, he leaves and goes to Ephesus. He is on his way to Jerusalem and ends up spending two years in Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla are with him there, and then they will leave with him to go to Rome.

2 Timothy 4:19 NASB "Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus." At that point Timothy is in Ephesus. So at this time they are back. They apparently travelled and moved around quite a bit.

Paul worked hard as a tentmaker. Other passages allude to this. 1 Corinthians 4:12 NASB "and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure." Later on in chapter seven he talks about the fact that he did not take up a collection or live off of the grace offerings from the Corinthians. He worked to support himself even though he said that the apostles had every right to earn their living from the teaching of the Word.

Acts 18:3 NASB "and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers." There is also a lot of debate about this—whether or not this trade primarily meant dealing with leather goods, sowing leather and being involved with tanning and other things of that nature, or whether it was also involved in dealing with other textiles and other forms of materials. One source (in the Mishna) indicates that tent making was a common trade suggested for rabbis because they were not to profit from the teaching of the Torah and they were also not to be idle. So tent making was a commonly suggested trade for rabbis to be trained in.  

Acts 18:4 NASB "And he was reasoning …" Now we get into what Paul did. He arrives a little bit tired, a little bit weary, spiritually weary. He had faced a lot of opposition and didn't have a lot of impact in Athens. How many times do we get discouraged in our lives? Paul was no different. It doesn't mean he is out of fellowship or that he was a failure, it just means he was a human being. We get tired and weary. God is going to encourage Paul as he ministers in Corinth. "… in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks."

His pattern was always to take the gospel to the Jew first. We have to understand this. Some people have been heard to say that Paul didn't really understand that he was in the church age. Really? Paul didn't understand that? They have to be kidding. He understood that, nut he also understood that he was in a transition period. This is one of the aspects that many scholars and people have missed. You can't go to Acts and find prescriptive behavior. And there are a lot of denominations that do this. The whole Pentecostal-Charismatic movement has gone to Acts as if Acts tells them how to do church. Acts doesn't tell us how to do church; Acts tells us how the church was born historically. What happened isn't the same as what ought to happen. Just because things were done a certain way does not mean that that way is a prescribed way of doing it. We have to go to the epistles to understand what the prescriptions are, what the imperatives are, what the mandates are. In Acts we simply see what happened. It represented a unique time in history.

The temple was still in existence until AD 70. The church is given birth to on Pentecost in 33 AD. So there are roughly 37 years between the birth of the church and the collapse and destruction of the temple when there is a transition period going on. The Jews were still under obligation to observe certain customs and rituals in relation to the temple because God hasn't ended the temple worship yet. Not everything that went on in the temple had to do with salvation related sacrifices. Those were all fulfilled in Christ. The church has been given birth to but it is in its infancy; it doesn't have a complete canon of Scripture yet. It doesn't even have revealed through the apostles all of the unique aspects of the spiritual life of the church age. That comes incrementally through progressive revelation, primarily through Paul's epistles, beginning in approximately 48 or 49 with Galatians. But it is mostly through the fifties when he writes 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans and later the prison epistles in the early to mid-sixties that the Lord makes clear what He is doing through this new body of Christ. If we think about the prison epistles—Colossians, Philemon, Philippians, Ephesians—these are at the heart of our understanding of the Christian life in the church age. These were written by Paul between 60 and the time of his death (67 or 68) three years before the destruction of the temple.

Acts was in a transition when the message was still to Israel, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near." Peter offered the kingdom in Acts 2 and again in Acts 3. Paul is still following this pattern to the Jew first and then to the Gentile because God is still holding out the gospel to the Jew. It is not necessarily set in stone yet, although it most likely would be, but God is still extending grace before judgment throughout this period of time before it becomes definite that the temple is going to be destroyed. The option was still legitimately being offered and so Paul is still giving the gospel to the Jews in a distinct way. Their rejection of it was also providing further and further evidence of the necessity for the judgment of AD 70 that was coming.    

So Paul goes into the synagogue and reasons every Sabbath. This implies more than one or two. Remember that he was only there for a short time, three weeks or so, when he was in Thessalonica. Now it seems a much longer period of time when he reasoned in the synagogue. This is the Greek verb dialegomai, from which we get our word dialogue, but he is not in a dialogue. He is reasoning from the Scriptures and there would be question and answer at the end, but the word dialegomai is not to be understood as a dialogue. It has more to do with arguing or presenting a case for his view. It is an imperfect case, which indicates continuous action in past time as opposed to an aorist, which just summarizes the action. The imperfect tense has several nuances and this is probably an inceptive imperfect, which means that he began to do this.

So he began to reason in the synagogue, and he "persuaded"—peitho, imperfect active indicative. This wouldn't be an inceptive imperfect; it would be an iterative imperfect. Iterative refers not just to an ongoing action in past time, but let's say that last month you exercised every day. You didn't exercise continuously every day, you got up every morning and you exercised. So it is referring to periodic activity that continued over time. That is the idea here. So as he is reasoning in the synagogue there are Jews here and there, and Gentiles as well, who are becoming persuaded. To persuade here is the main idea of the verb peitho and it means to bring someone to an understanding and conviction of the truth. The result of that is that they believed. So this is a summary of what Paul was doing at the beginning of his ministry in Corinth. He is building his case; he is explaining the gospel from the Old Testament—something we all should be able to do.

In verse five there is a paragraph shift, a change of topic. Acts 18:5 NASB "But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul {began} devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ." There is a textual problem here in this verse. In a KJV or NKJV it reads very differently from the NASB, NIV, NET, ESV, or any of the other translations based upon what is known as the Westcott-Hort theory of textual criticism.

In the NKJV it says, "… Paul was compelled by the Spirit." "Was compelled by" indicates a translation of a passive verb. Paul as the subject of the verb is receiving the action of the verb: Paul is compelled by the Spirit. In the NASB we have a translation where it says, "Paul began devoting himself." That is more of an active voice idea. Paul is the grammatical subject of the verb "devote," he performs the action of devoting. "Himself" indicates a reflexive action, and this indicates a middle voice in the Greek which has to do with reflexive action. There we read, "he devoted himself completely to the word." In the Majority Text it has the word pneuma there—he is "compelled by the Spirit." In some of the North African MSS, some of the uncials, the older MSS, it has the word "spirit" there.

Older isn't necessarily better when it comes to textual criticism because a more recent copy that is a perfect copy of an original text is a better copy, even though it may be 800 years more recent, than a bad copy that is older. So age really isn't a significant factor.

In the late 19th century Westcott and Hort, Anglican scholars, developed a theory of how to properly organize and handle these kinds of copyist errors and differences in MSS. One of their primary theories was that these older MSS that had been found—Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, and some others—because they were older were better. So there are about three or four of these Alexandrian MSS from North Africa where if any two or three of them agree it basically goes, that's it' that is what it should be. But North Africa was a hotbed of heresy in many ways in the early church and so that wasn't exactly an area where theological accuracy was the best. Further north across the Mediterranean in Greece and Turkey there is a vast storehouse of MSS. They are not as old but there are many hundreds more of them, and more are being discovered, and from that has become what is a certain text type known as the Majority Text.

The KJV and NKJV is based on a very small group of not so old MSS known as Textus Receptus or Received Text from the Middle Ages. At the time of the Protestant Reformation a Roman Catholic scholar by the name of Erasmus put together the first critical text. A critical text is where several different MSS are compared. There may be some disagreements in them but you make notations in the margin at the bottom as to where the disagreements might be. A scholar can consult that and see the listing of the different readings of that particular MSS. The first edition of Erasmus used only eight or nine Greek MSS, the oldest of which went back to the eighth century. As he studied more he found other MSS and at most he only used thirteen, and they weren't that old and weren't very good. Now we have hundreds and hundreds more of that same text type, so those 9-13 MSS that Erasmus used were not the best but represented a certain type of MSS or region. That's why they are also sometimes called the Byzantine text type. The KJV and NJKV fits that pattern. We like to use it but it is not always the best.

The verb sunecho is used but in the NASB it is an imperfect middle indicative—"devoting himself completely to the word." In the NKJV and KJV in what is called the Majority Text it is an imperfect passive form. So the voice is different. Also there is the difference of being compelled by the Spirit in the Majority Text, or by the word or to the word in Textus Receptus. To complicate things, this word sunecho has a huge range of meanings. It can mean to sustain, to guard, to seize, to distress (even with the idea of being ill), to control, to occupy one's attention fully, to urge, to direct, or to control. How do you choose? Context!

Which fits the context better? The context is a time when Paul indicates he is fearful, concerned, distressed. The Lord is going to appear to him in a vision in verse 9—"Do not be afraid {any longer,} but go on speaking and do not be silent." The Lord wouldn't say that if Paul weren't a little bit fearful at this particular time. He just needed a little additional encouragement. So the idea of Paul's being specifically compelled or led by the Spirit to go to Corinth at this time fits the context that Paul needed this direction.

The Holy Spirit doesn't lead every believer like this. This is unique to the apostles and the apostolic era. It is not qualified anywhere else in the New Testament. We don't even know how the Holy Spirit did this.

We have this word used in one other place in a similar context. 2 Corinthians 5:14 NASB "For the love of Christ controls (or, compels) us…" This compelling of something doesn't necessarily have to be a "feeling" as much as it may be through the Word. In other places in the Scripture the Holy Spirit works through the Word. So when the Holy Spirit is compelling Paul it could be that as Paul is reflecting upon the promises of God to sustain him in difficult circumstances God the Holy Spirit is using that to strengthen him and encourage him to ahead to Corinth and face whatever challenges there may be, similar to the ones he has already faced.

"… testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ." This is another important word that we find in the Greek. It is summartureo which means to witness together with something. It is the word that is used most commonly in the Scripture. The "testifying" is used about nine times in the New Testament. As in Acts 2:40; 8:25; 10:42; 20:21; 20:24; 23:11. Paul is fulfilling his ministry as an apostle to be a witness. Remember Acts 1:8, a key verse in Acts, the Lord's parting words to the apostles were, "you shall be My witnesses." The use of this word here is just one way Luke is reminding us that Paul is fulfilling his mission, and he is going to the Jews and giving testimony that Jesus is the Messiah.

Another use of the main verb martureo which is used several times in Acts, but not in the same sense, is in Acts 14:3 NASB "Therefore they spent a long time {there} speaking boldly {with reliance} upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace …" So this idea of bearing witness is common in Acts.