Acts 18:1-4 – Paul in Corinth

As usual, Paul attends the synagogue meetings in the city and argues that Jesus is the Messiah.  This ministry is more successful when Silas and Timothy catch up to Paul, allowing him to devote himself to preaching. It is as a result of this synagogue ministry that there is another “rejection” of the Jews, parallel to Acts 13 and 28.  Paul declares that from that time on he will go to the Gentiles, as he did in Acts 13 as well.

Two key converts are mentioned – Titius Justus, a god-fearing Gentile and Crispus, the leader of the synagogue (See the comments for Richard Fellow’s view on Crispus and Sosthenes).  A third convert is implied in Romans 16:23 – Erastus, the “director of public works” (NIV) or city treasurer. It is unusual for Paul to identify a person by title like this, but this is an important title (Theissen, 76) What makes this person of particular significance is that in 1929 an inscription was discovered honoring Erastus, identified as the aedilis of Corinth, a title normally translated by the Greek agoranomos. The title given in Romans is that of oikonomos of the city. While this is not exactly equivalent, it is close enough that many have made the connection between this convert in Romans 16:23 and the city manager of Corinth in the mid-50’s.

Erastus Inscription from Corinth

Erastus Inscription from Corinth (January 2019)

Paul may have been concerned that his success would breed a violent back-lash from the synagogue, as it had in Thessalonica. In fact, Paul has seen this happen before.  The normal pattern is for him to enter the synagogue and face serious persecution.  He is not afraid for his own life, in fact, he seems more than willing to suffer physically for the Gospel.

1 Cor 2:3-4 indicates that Paul was afraid his ministry was destined for failure.  He does not yet know of the fate of the Thessalonican believers, perhaps even Berea is unknown to him.  Athens likely did not result in a church.  Will Corinth go just as badly?  Yet in 1 Cor 2, Paul claims that any success in Corinth was based solely on the the power of the Holy Spirit, not his own rhetorical ability.

1 Corinthians 2:3-4 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.

In Acts 18:9-10 Luke tells us that Paul has a vision in which the Lord tells Paul that he will not be harmed in the city of Corinth and that there are many people in the city that are “the Lord’s.”  There are three short, related commands: Do not fear, continue to speak, and do not be silent.

If these commands reflect Paul’s mood prior to Silas and Timothy’s return, then it is possible that Paul considered, like Jeremiah before him, do remain silent and not open himself up to further persecution (Jer 20:7-12).  Like Jeremiah, Paul cannot keep the Gospel to himself, he must be what he is, the light to the Gentiles.  Even if this means he will be persecuted.  This vision encourages him to continue, since his Gospel message will be received in Corinth.

He will remain in the city 18 months, Paul’s longest place of ministry since his commission from Antioch in Acts 13.

Bibliography:

H. J. Cadbury, “Erastus of Corinth” JBL 50 (1931) 42–58; J. Murphy-O’Connor, “The Corinth That Saint Paul Saw” BA 47 (1984) 147–59; Gerd Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity. Essays on Corinth (Philadelphia:  Fortress, 1982); Bruce Winter, After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2001)

10 thoughts on “Acts 18:1-4 – Paul in Corinth

  1. I think your solution in the article is elegant and satisfies me, at least. I have never been convinced by “two Sosthenes.” While there is something attractive about Paul converting not only one, but two synagogue leaders, I just do not think that is clear from Acts / 1 Cor. I read your paper quite a while ago, but I will give it another look this weekend, thanks for the link.

    Like

  2. Thanks, Phillip. From inscriptions we know that synagogue rulers were benefactors of the synagogue community. I suggest that, after his conversion, Crispus diverted at least some of his benefactions towards (uncircumcised) believers (leaving less for the Jews). This explains why:
    1) “many hearing become believers”.
    2) The Jews resented the inclusion of those (uncircumcised) who “worship God in ways that are contrary to the Law”.
    3) Crispus was named “Sosthenes” (saving strength).
    4) He was beaten by Jews (who would have felt that he had not met his obligations as their benefactor). A.D 51 was probably a time of food shortage in Corinth. In the ancient world it was common for the people to attack high status individuals whom they held responsible for their hunger.
    5) He was included as co-sender of 1 Corinthians (his role as founding benefactor gave his name authority).

    I think this tightens the arguments for Crispus-Sosthenes.

    Like

  3. God told Paul to stay in Corinth because He had “many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). It seems that this vision is the main reason for Paul staying in Corinth. It is a good thing he did, because his ministry to the Gentiles in this city was wildly important to the growth of the early church. Paul started his ministry in Corinth in the synagogue, similar to the way he did in most other cities. The Jewish people blatantly rejected his message though. This brought him a lot of discouragement, but he stayed because God told him to. Paul left the synagogue and went to the home of Titius Justus, where people of The Way met for worship of God. His home was noted as a hospitable place, compared to the synagogue that Paul with great hostility (Jipp 93). This in important part of the story because it is interesting that the Gentile people are who Paul greatly impacts in this city. He intention was to reach the Jewish people, but God had a different plan. The Gentile people were reached in a radical way in this city because of this ministry. The gospel message was reaching people in Corinth (Long). Even people who would generally not accept religion, or those who were normally dedicated to the Jewish tradition believed. There were great people of mighty force who accepted the message Paul brought, which further confirms the need for him in Corinth. It was so important for him to be there that even when Paul faced persecution of teaching and preaching in Corinth, he stayed on, because that was his calling. God needed him to be there to reach the important people in the city who could then further spread the good news of Christ.

    Like

  4. Paul was successful in his trip and mission in Corinth. But one thing to keep in mind is the fact that Paul was in Corinth simply because of the vision that God sent him and with the factor that there were many individuals in the city. Paul would proclaim the Gospel and spread words of truth all around the city. He would proclaim it in the synagogues where people would come and listen to him speak and he would speak to people one on one as well. But there would be times where his message would be pushed aside and people would be hard-hearted and reject the truth that he was proclaiming. Throughout his time in Corinth, he had people welcome him in their home and provide him a place to stay. Titius Justus was the individual that was willing to provide Paul with a safe place, where he could live and speak the truth in a safe environment. There were people who would accept his truth and people would decline the truth. It is important to understand that in today’s society we will come across people who will regret what we tell them and will push aside the truth of the Gospel. No matter what Paul stayed in Corinth and he knew the trouble and persecution that was in store for him. We must keep our eyes on the reality of what is ahead of us and understand that our purpose is to bring God glory.

    Like

  5. Paul visited Corinth for eighteen months. He only remained in the city for so long because God spoke to him in a vision and told him to stay there because God would be with him and no one would hurt him. He also told Paul that he had many people in the city (Acts 18:10). During his time in Corinth, Paul was able to reach so many Gentiles. Paul had originally tried to preach to the Jews, but when he faced opposition, Paul told them that he was not going to preach to the Gentiles. After the opposition in the synagogue, Paul went to Titius Justus’ house because he was also a believe in the Way. While it may have been Paul’s plan to reach the Jews of the city, God had planned for Paul to reach many of the Gentiles of Corinth. This can happened to us in our lives today too. We plan out our lives and where we think they should go and God shows us the plan that He has for our lives. Typically, God’s plan is much different from our own. God’s plan is always much greater than our plans and Paul’s experience is such a great example of that.

    Like

  6. I realize that Paul was under the impression that persecution was imminent in Corinth, but I wonder if his main concern for leaving was due to the stubbornness of the Jewish people? He seems to be unconcerned for his own physical well-being (as mentioned in this post and seen in Acts 14:19-20 when Paul is stoned, then returns to the city once more to preach). I think that Paul is quite frustrated with the Jewish people and decides to stop seeking their specific people-group (Acts 18:6).

    I see verse 6 as an exasperated declaration of frustration with the Jews, and as the motive for the vision that Paul receives from the Lord. It would have probably made sense, if Paul was not going to preach to the Jews, that he would leave the synagogue to preach to the Gentiles in Corinth before moving on toward another city. However, God tells him in a vision not to leave Corinth because of the many that are there who belong to Him. What I see in this part of the passage is that God knows that not all Jews are going to be as stubborn as the religious leaders in the synagogue that Paul has had to deal with, and many Gentiles have yet to have heard the message. If Paul waits longer in Corinth, his companions will rejoin him (Silas and Timothy [Acts 18:5]) and the mission will have a chance to succeed.

    The specific names mentioned in Crispus (ESV) and Titius Justus seem to illustrate that Paul’s message is not only reaching “people” but it is reaching people of powerful standing in the society (both Jewish and Gentile). Paul might not be converting the religious leaders in the synagogue, but the conversion of someone like Crispus shows that some Jews are still receiving the message.

    I see this as an encouragement to us in our circumstances to continue to push forward in ministry even if our words seem to fall on deaf ears. It may be the case that we don’t know who is being impacted by our words and thoughts, or it may be that we just don’t realize that others find faith through our message. In a small way, I see this as Paul showing a reflection of God’s grace to the Corinthians by staying longer and sharing the message.

    Like

  7. Paul’s extended stay in Corinth was one that was very interesting to evaluate. He really did a lot of effective ministry, and it was rather interesting to see how God really placed a lot of direction in his life. There was not a lot of direction in the sense that Paul was brought to a lot of different places, and the fact that 18 months was the longest that Paul got to stay somewhere speaks a lot to the things that Paul got to do in his time doing ministry.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.