Paul in Corinth: Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos


Acts 18:1-28

Text Comment

v.1

Corinth, with Ephesus, was the most important city Paul visited on his missionary tours (at least those covered in Acts), so it is not surprising that he spent a substantial period of time in each, a year and a half in the case of Corinth, as we read in v. 11.

Corinth was a city notorious for its wickedness among the cities of the Greco-Roman world. (A Greek verb — korivthiazomai — lit. “to act the Corinthian” was a synonym for “to fornicate.”)

v.2

There was a Jewish synagogue in Corinth, as we would have expected of an important commercial center as Corinth was. The remains of the inscription from over the door of the synagogue have been discovered dating from this time.

v.3

This is the persecution that Suetonius, in his history [Claudius, 25], says resulted from Jews “constantly making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus.” Chrestus was not an uncommon name, but, since Chrestus and Christus would have been pronounced the same way and since Tacitus refers to Christians as Chrestiani, it has long been suspected that the expulsion arose as a consequence of the controversy about Christ within the Jewish community, very like the controversy that occurred in Corinth as we will see.

The persecution was not terribly severe and could not have been carried out against the entire Jewish population of Rome. In any case, by the time Paul writes his letter to the Romans, a few years after his ministry in Corinth, Priscilla and Aquila have already returned to Rome (Romans 16:3). She is referred to as Prisca in Paul’s epistles but as Priscilla in Acts, Priscilla being the diminutive of Prisca.

The suggestion is clearly that they were already Christians by the time Paul met them, otherwise Luke would have mentioned their conversion. They are always mentioned together in the NT, sometimes Priscilla being mentioned first, sometimes Aquila.

Paul and Aquila shared a trade, tent-making or leather-working (the term can mean either and the trades overlap in any case as tents were made either out of goat’s hair cloth or leather).

v.4

Paul’s usual entre into the evangelism of a city. “Greeks” here meaning the “God-fearing” gentiles who attended the synagogue services.

v.5

We know from other information that when Timothy and Silas rejoined Paul, they brought news of the steadfastness of the Thessalonian converts (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:6) as well as some questions that they had, prompting Paul to write his first letter to the Thessalonians, and, further, brought with them a gift of money from the Philippian Christians (cf. Philippians 4:15 with 2 Corinthians 11:8-9). The gift relieved him of need to work for his living for a time and he could devote himself exclusively to his evangelistic preaching and teaching.

v.6

By now a familiar scene (fulfillment of Romans 11 and the rejection of the Jews and the inauguration of the time of the Gentiles). But the strongest opposition to the gospel has always come from within the church. That has been true in Gentile Christian history as well.

v.7

Titius was his nomen (his clan name), Justus his cognomen (or family name), but what was his praenomen (or first name)? It is suggested by some that it was Gaius and so he was the Gaius whom Paul refers to as Gaius “my host” in Romans 16:23 (Romans was written from Corinth on a later visit to the city), who would then, apparently, also be the Gaius of 1 Corinthians 1:14, one of the few Paul baptized with his own hand.

You will notice that Paul’s action in setting up next door to the synagogue was hardly likely to win Jewish friends.

v.8

Again, as in similar texts before, the NIV has rendered the text less literally and has, perhaps, obscured the meaning. It does not say that Crispus and his family believed, but Crispus with his entire household. This is significant because it does not imply, as it stands written, that everyone in the household necessarily believed but that the household came with Crispus in his belief. For example, look at 21:5. There you have the same phrase and the same NIV translation of “with” with “and.” But the sense is not that the children “escorted” Paul except in the sense that they were brought along by their parents. “With” and “and” are not the same word, and the NIV should have respected the difference so that the nuance was preserved.

v.11

Another of Luke’s artless predestinarian texts: Christ has his people in the city and they must be called, and called, they will follow him. Paul is Luke’s player, but Christ is the real actor and the hero. Note that “people” (laos) is the term used for Israel as God’s chosen nation; now Corinthian pagans are, by faith in Christ, the “laos theou.”

v.17

The Lord hadn’t promised Paul that he wouldn’t be attacked if he kept preaching in Corinth, only that he would come to no harm when attacked!

That Gallio was proconsul of Achaia during this time is an important piece of information for dating the ministry of Paul and his letters. Gallio’s proconsulship is known, on Roman evidence, to have begun in A.D. 51. He was a brother of the Roman stoic philosopher, Seneca. Judaism was a religio licita, a lawful religion, in the empire at this time and so the charge of the Jews amounted to Christianity being an unlawful religion (that is a religion not recognized in Roman law). But Gallio judged this dispute to be an intra-mural Jewish dispute (that is, he took Christianity to be a variation of Judaism), and so his judgment gave Christianity, at that moment in Corinth at any rate, an implied legitimacy — a legitimacy that would not be withdrawn until A.D. 62 when Nero married an adherent of Judaism. So, as so often, “the clouds ye so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.”

Now, there are two opinions about what happened next. One is that “they all” in v. 17 was the Greek population who, once they realized that Gallio wasn’t going to interfere, vented their anti-jewish feeling against the ruler of the synagogue. But, another, perhaps more likely suggestion, is that Sosthenes was already a Christian sympathizer. You may remember there is a Sosthenes who appears in 1 Corinthians 1:1 as a co-author of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. His conversion would have been particularly galling, for he would have been the second ruler of the synagogue in a row to convert to Christianity. If so, it would have been the Jews, administering their justice — the 39 stripes — knowing that Gallio would let them do it and not interfere.

v.18

temporary Nazirite vow, perhaps as an act of thanksgiving on Paul’s part for the Lord’s protection of him during his Corinthian ministry. During the time of the vow the hair would not be cut; its conclusion would be marked by shaving the head and a sacrifice at the temple. The hair could be cut at any time, the sacrifice given later. It is another striking demonstration of Paul’s full acceptance of the Jewish law and tradition, so long as it was not being practiced in the service of a principle that violated the gospel — e.g. when it was demanded of Gentiles. He would later offer sacrifices in the temple (Acts 21). The idea, held by too many evangelicals, that the OT practices were expressive of an inferior system and were abolished at the cross or at Pentecost is not supported by the facts and certainly not by the behavior of the apostles.

Some people still think vows too Jewish or too Roman Catholic to be evangelical, but, the truth is that the lack of vows may simply be a proof of too little seriousness. Promising something special to God and performing it!

v.20

He was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem (to fulfill his vow? for Passover?) as he would be later at the end of his third missionary journey.

v.22

“the church” = almost certainly the church in Jerusalem, from which one would have gone “down” to Antioch. This would mean that each of Paul’s journeys ended in Jerusalem so that his work began from and ended in Jerusalem — a way of cementing his ministry with that of the other apostles and his churches with the mother church.

v.23

The beginning of the third missionary journey.

v.25

That is, he knew the OT, the ministry of John, and the ministry of Christ, but did not know of the apostolic developments. We do not know when Apollos became a Christian or where. His experience is a window into what must have happened in many ways in that period when news travelled slowly and not always accurately. The debate that is conducted here usually concerns why it is not mentioned that Apollos was baptized (as the men in Ephesus in 19:1ff.).

v.26

That is, acquainted him with the history he had not heard and the Pauline teaching all of which he was delighted to learn and then to proclaim as part of his preaching and teaching.

v.28

His great learning a special help for the new Christians who would have had difficulty in debate with the Jews, better educated in their theology than the Christians were yet in theirs.

I want to consider with you this evening but one matter that arises in this exceedingly interesting history of the gospels advance into Corinth. And that is the centrality of the Christian home in the work of the kingdom of God. We have already spoken of the prayer meeting in the home of Mary the mother of John Mark in Acts 12, of hospitality given in the home of Simon the tanner in Joppa, of Lydia in Philippi and also of evangelistic meetings in the homes of Cornelius the centurion and the Philippian jailer. But here we have two more important examples: Titius Justus extending the hospitality of his home not only as a place for Paul to stay but, apparently, as a place for him to preach and teach and Priscilla and Aquila using their home for the discipling of Apollos.

We in the West in the last few centuries have come to think more and more of the church building as the center of Christian activity and ministry — with many exceptions of course — but it was not so, could not have been so in the days of the apostles, when the church did not have buildings of its own. But, even when there was a place where meetings were held, the home was still used as a natural center of ministry. (So in Scotland today!)

Its informality, its natural, familiar, comfortable atmosphere made the home especially suitable for ministry. We might think of the church as a salt mine and the homes of its members as salt shakers.

We can so easily imagine Priscilla and Aquila sitting at the kitchen table with Apollos telling him of all they had heard and seen. We can even see him sitting there with his legal pad and pen taking down notes to enter into the margins of his wide-margin NIV or into his lecture notes. I’m only half joking. The fact is homes are homes; and in most respects they are the same today as then. People are today in their homes as they were long ago. And for the same reason homes were particularly suitable places for Christian ministry in those days, they are today. We can especially see this if we have had ourselves some experience of homes that are used for ministry in these ways.

  1. L’abri, for example, was simply the unintended and unimagined extension of the Schaeffers’ ministry in their Swiss mountainside home. And through its years it continued to maintain the flavor of a home ministry — conversations around the table, continued in the living room, etc.
  1. Ian Tait’s ministry at Guessens in Welwyn resulted in a number of young men coming to faith through the years. [Describe.]

I’m not saying that all Christians will find their homes expanding into ministries such as these, but rather that there ought to be so much ministry in so many homes that, not only do we find much good work in men’s hearts being done heart by heart in many different homes, but that from these many homes would come one or two from time to time that gather strength from God’s blessing and turn into something much larger, grander.

And so it has always been, from the beginning to the present and so it must continue to be.




  1. Certainly one of the reasons why Paul required marriage “only in the Lord” was that it made a home fit for ministry. Mixed marriages were often not so. There is the famous case of Pomponia Graecina, the wife of the conqueror of Britain, Aulus Plautius, who was herself a Christian but found her high position in society an impossibly demanding challenge to maintain as a Christian. Devoted as she was to what Tacitus calls her “foreign superstition,” she used the murder of her cousin, Julia, to retire from public life, and under the cover of protracted mourning for her — it lasted 40 years! — lived so as to draw less attention to herself and place herself less often in situations where her Christianity would be compromised by the expectations of her society. [Perhaps she had some success after all. In the oldest part of the catacomb of Callistus in Rome is a second century inscription recording the burial of a certain Pomponius Graecina — the same cognomen and nomen as Pomponia’s — suggesting perhaps a blood relationship, but no one can know this for sure.]




  1. One of the things that early Christians did that we do and can do today as a way of both identifying ourselves as Christians to our guest and inviting the comment that might produce a conversation about Christ is to add Christian decoration. There is, for example, a home at Pompeii, destroyed in moments in A.D. 79 — indeed seven children were trapped in one of the rooms off the central atrium, and their skeletons have been recovered –. This was, almost certainly a Christian home. The impluvium, which is the basin in the floor to catch the rainwater that came through the open ceiling of the atrium — the entrance hall of the larger Roman home, has a mosaic in it that has a face that seems to have been Jesus because on the left are two crossed fish and on the right a lamb. One wonders how many evangelistic conversations may have been begun standing with newly arrived visitors in that atrium.




  1. One of the best examples of the early Christian ministry of the home is that of the home of a single man, Origen. Gregory was the son of an affluent home in Pontus. He was going to Beirut to study law when passing through Caesarea he met Origen who prevailed on him to remain and study “philosophy” which was a synonym, to Origen, of Christian truth and the teaching of Holy Scripture. In his Panegyric written to Origen years later, Gregory, while not specifically mentioning meeting in Origen’s home, gives the impression of long conversations that almost certainly took place there where, through Origen’s powerful argument and warm Christian example, Gregory was won to the faith. Later he became one of the most important missionary bishops of 3rd century Christianity. Indeed, on his deathbed, he is said to have given thanks to God that he was leaving to his successor a diocese in which there were no more non-Christians (some 17) than there had been Christians when he had begun his ministry.




  1. Gregory’s personal history reminds us of Robert Haldane in Geneva in the early 1800s. When he came there the students were being taught pure unbelief in the Genevan Academy, the seminary Calvin had begun to champion the reformation. But soon he had moved into a large apartment and gathered around a long table were twenty or thirty divinity students hearing for the first time in their lives a reverent exposition of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Some years later, Merle D’Aubigne, the famous historian of the Reformation, who was himself greatly influenced by the Haldane revival, walked by that apartment where those young men had met, and pointing to the apartment said to a French minister who was with him, “Voila le berceau de la Seconde Reformation de Geneve” (“There is the cradle of the second reformation of Geneva”).




  1. Our large PCA church in Annapolis had its beginnings in the home of a Naval Academy professor who brought cadets home with him on Sunday’s and weekday evenings to disciple the converted and evangelize those not yet saved. (Gutzke) [Michael Green, the author of Evangelism in the Early Church, has for years had home-based evangelistic Bible Studies.]




  1. Of course, Christian homes were centers not only of evangelism but of care for the sick and the needy as well. We think of the Newtons giving care for so long to William Cowper.




  1. And for every other kind of ministry: discipleship (as Priscilla and Aquila here with Apollos); prayer (as John Mark’s mother); fellowship, etc.


And so it has gone through the history of the church — Christian homes as centers of vital ministry, as points of contact between the kingdom of God and the unbelieving world.


Nothing prepares us for this or so easily opens the way to such ministry in our homes — and such effective ministry for the atmosphere and for the length of time that having someone in your home makes possible — as simply having our neighbors and our workmates in our homes. Inviting them for meals, for parties, for casual fun. There must be a complete repudiation of the fortress mentality that so many Americans have concerning their homes — the place to which they retire, drawing up the drawbridge behind them, in which to seek solace from the world. No, for us the open door, the welcome mat.


Gerry Gutierrez — a PCA minister working in his homeland of Peru –, humanly speaking, is a Christian today because a home was opened to him (Hugh Powlison) and so, when in a fix, running from the police after a student riot which he had been an instigator of — as the leader of the Marxist students on the campus of the University of Ayacucho — he thought to run to that house to find safety. He didn’t suppose anyone would find him there and he didn’t think those folk would turn him in. They didn’t. In fact they spirited him out of the city, through a police roadblock, hidden under a blanket in the back seat of their car! He was a Christian soon after and what a difference he has made in Peru, Chile, and the United States. Here is the lesson — get unbelievers into your home and the opportunities will materialize in all kinds of ways.


In our day of organized institutions the church has often replaced the home as the center of ministry and the result has been a very great loss because Christians have not made as much use of the most natural and effective venue for ministry, their own homes. But if we are going to prevent a concentration of effort in church-based programs, we must have activity in many homes. To have the families of the church stay at home but not have ministry there would be the worst result of all.


I urge you, as I do myself, to think again of the possibilities. How many of us could have someone in our home for ministry if we made the effort! A neighbor, workmate, friend — for a long conversation about Christ and salvation in that special atmosphere created by a good meal, or so much else.