18:1-17 Planting the Church in Corinth
It was a two or three day walk from Athens to Corinth, which was a busy seaport city (it is now located inland from the harbor). Paul had received some financial help in Athens from the church of Philippi, probably via Luke and Lydia (Acts 16:40,Philippians 4:10, 15-17). But that money had run out, and he again had to work to support himself (as he did in Ephesus, 20:34, and Thessalonica, 1Thessalonians 2:9). As usual, he began attending and teaching in the Jewish synagogue. When Silas and Timothy arrived, he was able to gather the new disciples in the home of a gentile (18:7). As a result the ruler of the Jewish synagogue was baptized with his family (18:8) and many were added to the Church of Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 1:2).
During his stay in Corinth Paul and his team planted a church in Cenchraea (see Romans 16:1), which was the seaport 8 miles away on the east side of the Isthmus (where the Corinth canal now cuts across). As he was leaving Greece he cut his hair in Cenchraea as a sign of a vow he made (18:18). What was this vow? A guess might be "Lord, you prevented me from establishing a church next to the temple of Diana in Ephesus (Asia, 16:6). If you help us do that, I will go and preach the good news to the emperor in Rome" (see note on "those regions" in 20:2 and his longing expressed in Romans 15:22-25). That did happen ten hard years later (compare the vow in 21:23-24), but not as he expected..
18:1-3 When Paul arrived in Corinth he quickly found a refugee family to stay with in the city. They were tent makers, originally from Pontus (see 1 Peter 1:1) on the south shore of the Black Sea. From there they had moved to find work in Rome. But they were expelled by the Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD), and had recently arrived in Corinth. Tent makers made tents for the Roman legions, but they also made sails and canvas awnings for ships in the busy harbor of Corinth, so there was plenty of work to do.
18:4 Paul's church planting method was first to begin in the Jewish synagogue, where he was recognized as a rabbi (as in 13:5, 14, 14:1, 17:1, 10). He spoke both to the Jewish members and the Greeks who attended the synagogue without submitting to circumcision and the kosher food laws (see 13:43, 14:1, 15:19).
18:5-6 Paul had been separated from other members of his team while he was in Athens. Now Silas and Timothy (see 17:14-15) were finally able to join him in Corinth. Shaking the dust off one's sandals or clothes was a visible sign of rebuke for those who refused to listen (as in 13:51, Matthew 10:14, Luke 9:5, 10:11). So Paul used this sign to indicate he was now turning from ministry to his own Jewish people to meet the needs of the Gentiles in the city. "Your blood be upon your own head" was a warning used by prophets (Ezekiel 33:4-5).
18:7 He began gathering the disciples (enrolled by baptism as in 16:15, 16:33, 18:8, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19-20). They were able to meet for teaching in the house of "a worshiper of God." This indicates that Titus Justus was a Gentile, who probably read the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, and attended the synagogue next door, but did not submit to circumcision and other Jewish traditions (see 10:1-2, 15:19, 21).
18:8 Crispus was the archisunagogos which meant he was chairman of the board of synagogue elders (as in 18:17, Luke 8:41). Throughout the book of Acts those who wanted to become disciples were baptized with their family members (10:2, 47, 16:15, 33). This probably included children (2:39), who would sit at the Christian family table (as happens in Jewish Passover and other family celebrations), learn what they could, and be part of the church's mutual submissions (Ephesians 6:1-4, Colossians 3:20). The result was that large numbers believed the good news preached by Paul, and were added to the church (2:41, 47, 5:14, 6:1) by baptism.
18:9-10 Rapid church growth always results in persecution, and Paul could see another beating and imprisonment coming his way (as in 14:5, 19, 16:22, 17:5, 18:12). Perhaps he couldn't sleep, so the Lord came personally by night to encourage him (see 27:23, 2 Timothy 4:17). The "I am with you" echoes Jesus words to his apostles (Matthew 28:20).
18:11 Paul worked as a tentmaker continuously for 18 months to plant and establish the church in Corinth (similarly he worked to support himself and his team for 3 years in Ephesus, 19:10, 20:34). During those five years he also had to face what he called "the daily pressure" of "anxiety for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11:28).
18:12-13 A proconsul (anthupatos) was the head of a Roman province, in this case of Achaia which was the area of Greece south of Macedonia. As usual, Luke makes careful connections with Roman history (see 18:2, Luke 3:1-2). Paul was brought before Gallio's tribunal and accused of persuading people to worship God illegally.
18:14-16 Gallio pointed out that this was actually a dispute about the Messiah among Jews, and his job was to administer Roman law. So he dismissed the charge, and Paul was freed to continue his work..
18:17 In frustration they grabbed Sosthenes, who had succeeded Crispus (18:8) as chairman of the board of elders in their synagogue and beat him up in the court room, while Gallio looked on with total Roman disdain. Sosthenes must later have been baptized and become a greatly loved brother in Paul's team (1 Corinthians 1:1).
18:18-23 Ephesus, Crete, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia
We might assume (from 18:18) that Paul was going to sail directly back from Corinth to his home church in Syrian Antioch. That was his final destination, but for some reason Luke condensed many months of travel in that direction into four brief verses. (His book had to fit into one scroll or Codex, and he perhaps felt that he had to focus on details relevant to Paul's case in Rome, Acts 25:10-12, 26:32.
When Paul left Ephesus (18:21) he must have taken a ship due south for the two or three day journey (200 miles) to Crete. This was only slightly out of his way, and he did not stay long. In his letter to Titus, Paul wrote "I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you" (Titus 1:5). Scholars have often argued that Paul's visit to Crete must be placed much later, perhaps after he had been in Rome. But a visit before the end of the second missionary journey fits very well into the movements of Paul's team as described in Acts, and the letters to Timothy and Titus. The late date often assumed for the Pastoral Epistles is based on placing Paul's reference to his imprisonment and near death (2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-17) during a persecution under Nero in Rome. As we will see, the imprisonment and being thrown to face a lion probably took place in Ephesus during the third missionary journey (see note on Acts 20:1).
18:18 Paul had stayed in Corinth for eighteen months (18:1) before he was arrested and brought before Gallio. As explained in the introduction to this section, Paul now wanted to close off his second missionary journey and move back towards his home church in Antioch. He took Priscilla and Aquila with him. Cenchreae was a seaport six miles east of Corinth, and Paul and his team had planted a church there. He later sent Phoebe, the deaconess (servant) of that church with his letter to Rome (Romans 16:1-2). Paul had his hair cut as a sign of a vow that he made (see the introduction to this section).
18:19-21 Paul left Priscilla and Aquila to prepare the ground for his return (19:1) when the church of Ephesus would be established (19:9). Paul visited the synagogue, and had some discussion with the Jewish members, but it was only a very short preliminary visit, and he promised to return. As explained in the introduction to this section, he traveled on a ship to Crete (which was on the way to his destination in Caesarea). He made a brief evangelistic tour in the main cities, and left Titus to organize churches in each place (Titus 1:5).
18:22 He found a big ship (as opposed to small coastal vessels in 21:1-8) which after the winter could sail the 500 miles straight east across the Mediterranean to Caesarea. He did not stay long with the church in that city (planted by Philip, 8:40, added to by Peter welcoming a Roman congregation, 10:44-48, and later visited by Paul, 21:8). He could have walked up to Jerusalem to greet the church there (see 6:1, 15:1), and got back in time to rejoin the ship (after it had unloaded and reloaded cargo) to travel up the coast to Antioch.
18:23 After spending some time with his home church in Antioch, Paul probably visited his home church in Tarsus, and then traveled west across present-day Turkey to strengthen the disciples in Derbe, Lystra, and the two main cities of Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia (see 13:14-14:23). Then he went further west through Phrygia and down from the mountains to Ephesus on the coast (which he had briefly visited toward the end of his second missionary journey (18:19-20).
18:24-28 Apollos of Alexandria
At this time Alexandria (founded by Alexander the Great, 331 BC) was next to Rome in importance, and it was famous for its libraries. The Greek Old Testament Septuagint (LXX) was translated there. Apollos was a member of the large Jewish community (2:10, 6:9), and he was already famous as a well-known enthusiastic speaker (18:24-25). He was "well versed in the Scriptures" (18:24), he had been enrolled by baptism as a disciple of John the Baptist, and had gained a correct picture of Jesus' life and teaching (18:25). What was missing was an experience of the Holy Spirit (see 19:2-6). According to tradition it seems that no Christian church was formed in Alexandria till Mark went there (see notes on 12:12, 25,13:13).
When Apollos came from Alexandria to Ephesus as a traveling rabbi, Priscilla (now named before Aquila, her tent-making husband, see 18:2) heard him speak in the Ephesus synagogue. She invited him for a meal at their home, and she and her husband helped him into the fulness of life in the Spirit (18:26). Apollos moved on from Ephesus to be a great help to the church in Corinth.
18:24-25 Apollos was a well known traveling speaker among the Jews of Alexandria (see the introduction to this section). He was eloquent, enthusiastic, and knew the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament (translated in Alexandria). He had probably heard John the Baptist when he preached and made disciples by the Jordan river (Luke 3:3-18), and belonged to a synagogue of John's disciples in his home city of Alexandria. As a result he knew much about Jesus' life and death, and probably held him in high respect.
18:26 Priscilla and Aquila had been left in Ephesus by Paul to prepare for his return to found the church there (18:19). They heard Apollos speak in the Jewish synagogue, invited him to their home and introduced him to life in the Spirit (see 19:1-6, as Paul explained in Romans 8:2-16, 1 Corinthians 12:4-13).
18:27 Traveling speakers have to move on, and Apollos decided to take a ship across the Adriatic to the churches in Cenchrea and Corinth (see notes on 18:11, 18). A letter was sent to recommend him to the churches there, and they were helped by his teaching. This even resulted in an Apollos party in Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 1:11, 3:5-9).
18:28 Apollos also had the eloquence and debating skills needed to prove from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Lord, Sovereign King, Messiah who was addressed in the Psalms and the Prophets.