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)