Paul’s 2nd missionary journey continues through chapter 18. Corinth was quite a large city by 1st century standards, comprised of perhaps 650,000 persons, 400,000 being slaves. Why has the world so often built its fortune on the back of slavery? Corinth was a commercial crossroads, featuring the Diolkos, which was a dry pathway for hauling smaller ships across the neck of land known as the isthmus of Corinth. The city of Corinth was home to the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Thousands of prostitutes served at this temple of sin. Adherents honored her with fornication and adultery. No wonder Corinth is most remembered for its immorality. To such a city Paul brought the gospel of Christ.
It was in Corinth that Paul met the Jewish Christian couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who would be great friends and supporters for years to come. They were in Corinth because emperor Claudius had ordered Jews to depart from Rome. This edict was issued in A.D. 49. Paul earned his living with his hands, making tents, in addition to preaching the gospel. When Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul, he then “devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” (18:5). After exhausting this effort, Paul turned to Gentile listeners. Although they would bring baggage with them, Gentiles were often more eager to hear than the Jews. Though they had been the chosen people of God, the Jews had for centuries frustrated God. They believed salvation to be an entitlement, regardless of their conduct. To Gentiles the gospel truly was good news.
As a summary report of the gospel’s success in Corinth, Luke writes, “Many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized” (18:8). By this obedience, they were saved. Compare the words of Paul: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:13). The gospel is the great equalizer; salvation is for all and there is one way of salvation.
The Lord reassured Paul that he could safely stay and work in Corinth: “For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (12:10). This meant that many potential converts were present in Corinth and that God would protect Paul as he sought them out. Thus, he stayed a year and a half in Corinth, his major stop on the 2nd journey. God’s protection is illustrated in the failed attempt by the Jews to prosecute Paul in court. The proconsul saw the matter for what it was, a religious matter not connected to his civil court.
Eventually, Paul and company headed back to Antioch, the place from whence they had departed on this journey. A brief stop in Ephesus was well received, and Paul left Aquila and Priscilla there. Paul promised to return to Ephesus, which happens in chapter 19. The end of the 2nd journey is recorded in 18:22. The 3rd missionary journey occupied the years A.D. 53-57, recorded in 18:23-21:17. Paul’s helpers on this journey were Titus and Luke. Ephesus was the main center of activity.
The teacher Apollos is introduced at the end of chapter 18. He worked in Ephesus and then in Achaia. Significantly, Luke records that Apollos “knew only the baptism of John” (18:25). He was an effective teacher but did not know the terms of forgiveness under the gospel of Christ. Resisting debate on the matter, Priscilla and Aquila privately taught Apollos the complete gospel of Christ. Apollos had preached accurately on the life and nature of Jesus Christ, but now he learned how teach obedience to the gospel. In chapter 19 we will see how Paul handles the case of those who had been baptized by Apollos, with John’s baptism instead of gospel baptism. John’s baptism was based on repentance toward God, with the intent to accept the Christ when he arrived. That baptism was not valid after the preaching on Pentecost in Acts 2. When we study with people, it is a good idea to determine where they are on their journey to Christ, and what they have been taught before. But let us speak with love and care (Eph. 4:15; Col. 4:6). We do not seek to win arguments, but to win souls.
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.