The Book of ACTS
James J. Barker
PAUL GOES TO CORINTH
- After Athens, the apostle Paul moved on to Corinth (18:1). Corinth was about forty miles west of Athens.
- Corinth was an important Greek city (second only to Athens), with three good harbors. Because of these harbors, Corinth commanded the traffic of both the eastern and the western seas.
- Corinth was a great commercial city, strategically located between the Aegean and the Ionian Seas. Therefore, many merchants and tradesmen and sailors passed through Corinth, along with many crooks and drunkards and prostitutes.
- In fact, Corinth was so wicked that sex was a religion. In the great temple of Aphrodite there were a thousand religious prostitutes.
- To "act like a Corinthian" was a popular expression meaning, "to be very immoral." Interestingly, the people in Corinth responded much better to Paul's preaching than the people did in Athens.
- The International Bible Encyclopedia says that in its "early days Corinth held a leading position among the Greek cities; but...she soon sank into the second class. But when Athens, Thebes, Sparta and Argos fell away, Corinth came to the front again as the wealthiest and most important city in Greece...When Julius Caesar restored Corinth a century later (46 B.C.), it grew so rapidly that the Roman colony soon became again one of the most prominent centers in Greece. When Paul visited Corinth, he found it the metropolis of the Peloponnesus (peninsula in southern Greece). Jews flocked to this center of trade (Acts 18:1-18), the natural site for a great mart, and flourishing under the lavish hand of the Caesars; and this is one reason why Paul remained there so long (Acts 18:11)."
- Like Athens, it was an idolatrous city. The Corinthians worshipped Aphrodite, Athena, Poseidon, and many of the other pagan deities.
- The Romans conquered Corinth in 146 BC, but Julius Caesar rebuilt the city in 46 B.C., and restored it to its former prominence.
- Today Corinth is no longer an important city, but it was thriving when Paul went there about 54 AD. When Paul went there it had a population of about 400,000 people, including many Jews.
PAUL WORKED AS A TENT-MAKER.
- For financial reasons, Paul did some tent-making (18:3). Paul referred to this several times in the New Testament. In Acts 20:34, Paul said to the elders of Ephesus, "Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me."
- In I Corinthians 4:12, Paul said, "We...labour, working with our own hands."
- In I Corinthians 9:6, Paul said to the church in Corinth, "Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?" Paul meant he had the right to refrain from working as a tentmaker.
- He alluded to it again in II Corinthians 11:7 -- "Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely?"
- Paul humbled himself and worked as a tentmaker in order that he could preach the gospel "freely," that is "free of charge."
- Paul said in I Thessalonians 2:9, "For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God."
- And in II Thessalonians 3:8, "Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you."
- Personally, I think it is good (if possible) for a church-planter to work temporarily at secular employment.
- Matthew Henry said, "Though he (Paul) was bred a scholar...he was a tent-maker, an upholsterer; he made tents for the use of soldiers and shepherds, of cloth or stuff, or (as some say tents were then generally made) of leather or skins, as the outer covering of the tabernacle...Dr. Lightfoot shows that it was the custom of the Jews to bring up their children to some trade, yea, though they gave them learning or estates."
- Matthew Henry quoted a rabbi, who said, "He that teaches not his son a trade is as if he taught him to be a thief."
- Through his tent-making work, Paul became acquainted with Aquila and his wife Priscilla (18:2). They had come to Corinth because the emperor Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome (18:2).
- Luke also mentions Claudius in Acts 11:28.
PAUL WAS PRESSED IN THE SPIRIT.
- Verse 5 says, "when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ."
- The word "pressed" means "constrained." The same Greek word is used in II Corinthians 5:14, which says, "For the love of Christ constraineth us."
- Our Lord used the same word in Luke 12:50, when He said, "But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!"
- He also used it in Luke 19:43, "For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side." (The idea is "hemmed in").
- The King James Version translators did not capitalize the s in the word "spirit" (18:5), but I think this is clearly a reference to the Holy Spirit. The Greek word is pneuma, from whence we get our English words pneumonia and pneumatic, etc.
- We see something similar in Acts 18:25, where it says Apollos was "fervent in the spirit." The margin of the Scofield Study Bible says this refers to the Holy Spirit, and that is probably right though it could refer to both Apollos' spirit and the Holy Spirit.
- The vast majority of times this word refers to the Holy Spirit, but not all the time. For example, our Lord said in Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
- John Phillips believes the word here in Acts 18:5 refers to Paul's spirit, not the Spirit of God. He said the expression means, Paul "was engrossed in his witness. It totally absorbed him" (Exploring Acts).
- Of course, a preacher can be engrossed in his witness, and be totally absorbed by it, and still be pressed in by the Holy Spirit! I believe Acts 18:5 describes how the Holy Spirit works in man's mind and heart -- "pressed" -- producing holy zeal and fervor.
- A.T. Pierson said the Holy Spirit creates "a holy pressure which must find vent in testimony, a spiritual ardor and fervor which must be relieved by preaching and teaching" (The Acts of the Holy Spirit).
- This is what Paul meant when he said, "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" (I Cor. 9:16). Paul was pressed in the spirit!
- Paul was stirred by the Holy Spirit as he "testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ" (18:5b).
- When Paul testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ, his listeners "opposed themselves, and blasphemed" (18:6). Because of their blasphemy (railing), Paul "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" (18:6).
- To understand what Paul meant, one must be familiar with Ezekiel 3:18 and 33:8. Paul also said something similar to the elders of Ephesus, "Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:26, 27).
PAUL WAS ENCOURAGED BY OUR LORD.
- Paul left the synagogue and entered into a certain man's house, named Justus, whose house was right next door to the synagogue (18:7). We are told that Justus "worshipped God" (18:7).
- This was a very convenient (or dangerous, depending upon your perspective) location. Furthermore, "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" (17:8).
- We see here that the first church in Corinth was established right next door to the Jewish synagogue, and the chief ruler of the synagogue was one of the charter members.
- W. Graham Scroggie said, "Some of the Jews walked out of the one into the other: and didn't ask for a transfer!" (The Acts of the Apostles).
- Undoubtedly the Jews were unhappy with the growth of this new church, and soon "the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul" (18:12).
- You will recall that Paul was under attack everywhere he went. He was arrested and beaten in Philippi, and he was forced out of Thessalonica and Berea. There is no record of Paul getting into trouble at Athens, but the implication is that most of the Athenians did not respond favorably to his preaching.
- To encourage and strengthen Paul, our Lord appeared to him in the night by a vision (18:9-11).
- Paul was given this vision at the beginning of his ministry in Corinth. The Lord encouraged Paul by saying, "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" (18:9, 10).
- This was exciting news: the Lord had "much people" in the city of Corinth. There was a great harvest in Corinth, though Paul could only see it through the eyes of faith.
- The harvest was not great in philosophical and intellectual Athens, but there was a big harvest in dirty, immoral Corinth.
- Corinth in Paul's day was very much like New York City today. We often get discouraged ministering here in this wicked city, but we need to encourage ourselves in God's Word.
- Romans 5:20 says, "But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
- Let us believe what Jesus said, "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few" (Matt. 9:37).
- The problem is not with the harvest. The problem is with the labourers.
- John Phillips said this about the great harvest in Corinth: "But here at Corinth, in the filth capital of the world, were many hungry hearts. There were lonely people, people disillusioned by pleasure and worldliness, people who had drunk from Satan's broken cisterns and poisoned wells, desperate people, people who were not only lost but who knew they were lost. There were sailors, tired of lives of drunkenness and debauchery; there were the broken women, the castoffs of the temples where sin was their daily bread; there were successful businessmen whose money could buy them everything but happiness; there were housewives struggling for a decent home life in a city as foul as Sodom; there were young people whose ideals had been blighted by the diseased state of the society in which they lived; and there were those who were disgusted alike by heathen religion and Jewish hardness and hypocrisy. Over this vast, seething city the Holy Spirit brooded as once He had over the darkened deep on creation's morn. 'I have much people in this city,' was the Lord's comforting word to Paul. The field was ripe for the reaper. What an outlook for the missionary" (Exploring Acts).