Featured Items Ritchie Christian Media

Paul's Second Missionary Journey (4): Conversions at Corinth (Acts 18.1-22)

J Gibson, Derby

Corinth was the chief city of the Roman senatorial province. It was "dominated by the Acrocorinth (566 meters), a steep, flat topped rock surmounted by the acropolis, which in ancient times contained, inter alia, a temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love" where more than 1,000 religious prostitutes served. Set on an isthmus between the Ionain and Aegean seas, Corinth was labelled "the city of the two seas". Having three harbours – Cenchrea eastward (v.18), Lechaeum westward, and Schoenus where the isthmus was narrowest – Corinth developed into a successful trading centre.1 Corinth's population, of about 100,000, was constantly changing, the relatively short stay of Aquila and Priscilla not being unusual (Act 18.2,18). This rapid turnover of inhabitants, coupled with the stability of peace throughout the Roman Empire, made Corinth an ideal place to preach the gospel, since the message could spread rapidly throughout the region.

The unusually high concentration of Jews in Corinth at that time, due to Emperor Claudius' recent expulsion of them from Rome, swelled Paul's immediate audience in the synagogue (vv.2,4). It also demonstrated an underlying Gentile anti-Semitism, which has showed itself in the harsh treatment of Jewish people throughout the centuries. En route through Europe to the Holy Land "the barbarous crusaders…offered Jews baptism or death."2 Having confiscated Jewish assets, in AD 1290 Edward I expelled all Jews from Britain.3 Sadly, even professing Christians have entertained this anti-Semitic worldview. In his last ever public sermon, Martin Luther, the great reformer, "pleaded that all Jews should be expelled from Germany".4

Gallio was Corinth's proconsul (v.12). He had been adopted into the family of Julius Gallio, a famous rhetorician,5 and, because of his affable disposition, was nicknamed "Dulcis [sweet] Gallio".6 While diligent in his work, he was also wise enough not to get involved in petty Jewish squabbles, in this case their religious accusations against the Apostle Paul (vv.14-17). This discretion preserved Paul from a further beating as well as giving local Gentiles the opportunity to vent their anti-Semititic tendency by beating Sosthenes the chief ruler of the synagogue (v.17). Interestingly, it seems that Sosthenes was subsequently converted (1 Cor 1.1).

The preacher

Paul lived a turbulent life, marked by relentless change and huge challenges (2 Cor 11.23-28). In this case he travelled from Athens to Corinth, moving "from a quiet provincial town to the busy metropolis of a province.7 But in every situation he was content (Phil 4.11-12), always toiling beyond the call of duty. At Thessalonica he had laboured "night and day, because [he] would not be chargeable unto any of [them]" (1 Thess 2.9). Similarly, at Corinth he forewent the rights of apostles and gospel preachers to be financially funded (1 Cor 9.1-18; 2 Cor 11.7-9), working as a tent maker to support himself. By doing this Paul eliminated any implication that he served for financial gain (1 Thess 2.5), he provided a godly example of the importance of work (1 Thess 4.11-12), and he avoided overburdening the Corinthian believers (2 Cor 12.13).

As was his pattern, Paul began preaching in the synagogue (v.4). And this he did with unshakeable conviction. "Reasoned" (v.4) translates the Greek word dialegomai, meaning "to ponder, then, to dispute with others".8 Paul's strong belief in his message was bolstered by years of intensive Bible study, because it is a "firm grasp of the Word of God and an ever-growing absorption of its truthfulness into the fabric of one's life [which] are the underpinning upon which convictions rest".9 With steadfastness he preached "every Sabbath" (v.4; cp 1 Cor 15.58), his fervour only increasing with the arrival of Silas and Timothy. Being "pressed in the Spirit, [he] testified to the Jews that Jesus [of Nazareth, whom they had rejected] was Christ [God's anointed]" (v.5). In spite of his immense intellect and comprehensive education, at Corinth Paul kept his message simple, preaching "Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor 2.1-2). Of course, Jesus Christ is the One who forms the foundation of each local church (1 Cor 3.10-11).

Paul faced fierce and unflinching Jewish opposition. He reacted to this resistance by turning from them: "he shook his raiment, and said unto them, your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles" (v.6). Howbeit, his yearning for his Jewish brethren meant that he did not go far – to a "house joined hard to the synagogue" (v.7) – still giving them opportunity to repent. What was the result? "Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized" (v.8).

As seen at Corinth, church planting takes a long time; it needs the Lord's power and protection and it should follow the instructions established in the great commission: "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen" (Mt 28.18-20). At Corinth God showed his power to touch any life by saving the chief ruler of the synagogue. Those who believed the Gospel message were baptized (v.8). The Lord allayed Paul's fears with the words: "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them" (vv.9-11). This protracted period of Bible teaching ensured that the newly formed church was well established in the truth of God.

The people

The church at Corinth has been described in various ways, each depiction emphasizing different aspects of its character. As "the church of God which is at Corinth" the believers were shown to be a called out company of people, separated to the God of heaven, "sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints" (1 Cor 1.2). As "God's husbandry" (1 Cor 3.9) the assembly was likened to a field in which God worked, with fruitfulness being the goal. The figures of a "building" or "temple" remind us that God, by His Holy Spirit, indwells each local church (1 Cor 3.9,16,17). A body implies unity amongst the members and the diversity of functions played by each (1 Cor 12.27). As a "chaste virgin" the church at Corinth was expected to be holy (2 Cor 11.2). As "the epistle of Christ" the assembly was read by others (2 Cor 3.3). That is to say, unbelievers marked carefully the behaviour of local saints, and they still do today.

As it developed, the assembly had many positive features. It was "enriched…in all utterance, and in all knowledge" (1 Cor 1.5), spiritually gifted and consciously awaiting Christ's return (1 Cor 1.7). Having been bought with a price (1 Cor 6.20), the Christians' lives had been transformed at conversion (1 Cor 6.9-11). They were zealous of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 14.12), keen to support poor saints (1 Cor 16.1-2; 2 Cor 9.1-2) and to pray for the Apostle Paul (2 Cor 1.11).

Sadly, the church at Corinth also went on to have severe deficiencies. It became a divided church (1 Cor 1.11; 11.18-19), with saints going to law against each other (1 Cor 6.1) and using their spiritual liberty thoughtlessly (1 Cor 8.9-13; 10.24). Full of envy (1 Cor 3.1-3) and pride (1 Cor 4.6,7,8,10,18), the assembly remained spiritually underdeveloped, preventing it from coping with advanced Christian doctrine (1 Cor 3.1-3). Fornication (1 Cor 5.1), idolatry (1 Cor 10.14), ungodliness (2 Cor 12.21; 13.2), and even a denial of the resurrection (1 Cor 15.12) infiltrated its ranks. Some members were audacious enough to challenge Paul's apostleship and godly character (1 Cor 9.1-3; 2 Cor 10.2). Denying headship (1 Cor 11.13-16) and exhibiting selfishness in love feasts, which were directly linked to the Lord's Supper, eventually led to the disciplinary illness and even the death of some local saints (1 Cor 11.20-22,30). Because such failures can appear quickly in a local church it is vital for all believers, especially elders, to remain constantly vigilant.

Homeward bound

Accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla, Paul sailed from Corinth to Ephesus and onwards to Caesarea. Having gone up to Jerusalem "and saluted the church" Paul returned to Antioch, where he undoubtedly gathered the believers and rehearsed all that God had done during this second missionary journey.


1 Baker Encyclopaedia of Bible Places (Inter-Varsity Press, 1995), p.92.

2 Horner BE. Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged (B&H Academic), p. 24.

3 ibid, p.26.

4 ibid, p.26.

5 Conybeare WJ & Howson JS. The Life and Epistles of St. Paul (Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company; Reprinted 1992), p. 326

6 Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol.6 (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), p.191

7 Conybeare WJ & Howson JS. The Life and Epistles of St. Paul (Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company Reprinted 1992), p. 297

8 Vine WE. Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Hendrickson Publishers), p. 934

9 Irvin A Busenitz in Macarthur JF. Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry (Word Publishing, 1995), p. 129


Back issues are provided here as a free resource. To support production and to receive current editions of Believer's Magazine, please subscribe...

Print Edition

Digital Edition

Copyright © 2017 John Ritchie Ltd. Home