J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on ActsActs 18
Verses 2, 3
Having met with so little encouragement in the literary
capital of Greece, the apostle next resorts to its chief commercial
(1) "After these things Paul departed from Athens, and went
This city was situated on the isthmus which connects the
Peloponnesus with Attica. Through the Saronic Gulf and Ægean Sea
on the east, it had direct communication with all the great Asiatic
cities, and with Rome and the west through the Gulf of Corinth and
the Adriatic. It was, therefore, a place of great commercial advantages;
and, at the time of Paul's visit, was the chief city of all Greece.
Its advantages for trade had attracted the large Jewish population
which the apostle found there.
Paul entered this large city a stranger, alone, and penniless.
What little means he had brought with him from Macedonia was exhausted,
and his first attention was directed to the supply of his daily
wants. He knew what it was to suffer "hunger and
thirst;" [2 Corinthians 11:27.]
but he had been taught to look to heaven and pray, "Give us this day our
A kind Providence found him lodging and means of
(2) "And having found a certain Jews named Aquila, born in
Pontus, and Priscilla his wife, lately come from Italy because Claudius
had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome, he went to them.
and because he was of the same trade, he remained with them, and worked;
for they were tent-makers by trade."
To be thus under the necessity of
laboring as a journeyman tent-maker was certainly a most discouraging
condition for one about to evangelize a proud and opulent city.
From the calm and unimpassioned style in which Luke proceeds with
the narrative, we might imagine that Paul's feelings were callous
to the influence of such circumstances. But his own pen, which often
reveals emotions that were not known to Luke, gives a far different
representation of his feelings. Writing to the Corinthians after long
years had passed away, and all transient emotions had been forgotten,
he says, "I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much
trembling." [1 Corinthians 2:3.]
Though keenly sensitive to all the distressing influences which
surrounded him, he had, withal, so strong confidence in the power of
truth, and so gloried in the very humility of the gospel, that he never
despaired. The companionship of two such spirits as Aquila and
Priscilla afterward proved to be, was, doubtless, a source of great
encouragement to him.
Verses 4, 5
Notwithstanding all the discouragements of his situation, he
devoted the Sabbaths, and whatever portion of the week his manual
labor would permit, to the great work.
(4) "But he discoursed every
Sabbath in the synagogue, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.
And when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was
pressed in spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ."
will be recollected by the reader, that Silas and Timothy, whose arrival
is here mentioned, had tarried in Berea, and that Paul had sent back
word to them, by the brethren who conducted him to Athens, to rejoin
him as soon as
possible. [Acts 17:14,15.]
He had also "waited for them in
before his speech in the Areopagus. We would suppose, from Luke's
narrative, that they failed to overtake him there, and now first rejoined
him in Corinth. But Paul supplies an incident in the First Epistle to
the Thessalonians, which corrects this supposition. He says: "When
we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left alone in
sent Timothy to establish you and to comfort you concerning
your faith." [1 Thessalonians 3:1,2.]
This shows that Timothy, at least, had actually rejoined
him in Athens, and had been sent back to learn the condition
of the congregation in Thessalonica. His present arrival in Corinth,
therefore, was not from his original stay in Berea; but from a recent
visit to Thessalonica. Probably Silas had remained till now in Berea.
The arrival of Silas and Timothy brings us to a new period in the
life of Paul, the period of his letter-writing. We have already made
some use of his epistles to throw light upon the somewhat elliptical
narrative before us; but we shall henceforth have them as cotemporary
documents, and will be able to fill up from them many blanks in
Paul's personal history. The First Epistle to the Thessalonians was
written from Corinth soon after the arrival of Timothy, as is proved
by the concurrence of the two facts, that, on the return of Silas and
Timothy, as seen in the text, just quoted, they found Paul in Corinth,
and that, in the epistle itself, Paul speaks of their arrival as having
just taken place at the time of
Several statements in this
epistle throw additional light upon the state of Paul's feelings during
his first labors in Corinth. He was not only "pressed in spirit," as
stated by Luke, "in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling," as he
himself says to the
Corinthians [1 Corinthians 2:3.]
but he was racked with uncontrollable
anxiety concerning the brethren in Thessalonica, for whom he would
have been willing to sacrifice his own life, and who were now suffering
persecution. [1 Thessalonians 2:8,14-16.]
The good report brought from them by Silas
and Timothy gave him much joy, but it was joy in the midst of distress.
He says: "When Timothy came to us from you, and brought
us good tidings of your faith and love, and that you have remembrance
of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you,
therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction
and distress by your faith: for now we live, if you stand fast in the
It was, therefore, with a zeal newly kindled from almost
utter despair, by their good report from Thessalonica and the arrival of
his fellow-laborers, that he now so "earnestly testified to the Jews that
Jesus is the Christ."
Verses 6, 7
The increase of Paul's earnestness was responded to by an
increased virulence in the opposition of the unbelieving Jews.
"But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said
to them, Your blood be upon your own head; I am clean. Henceforth I
will go to the Gentiles.
(7) And he departed thence, and went into the
house of a man named Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was
adjacent to the synagogue."
When they began to resist his preaching
with passion and violent imprecations, he could no longer hope to do
them good, and to press the subject further upon them would be to
cast pearls before swine.
Upon leaving the synagogue, he was not driven
into the streets for a meeting-place; but, as was usually the
case, while he was urging, with so little success, the claims of Jesus
upon the Jews, at least one Gentile, who had learned to worship the true
God, heard him more favorably, and offered him the use of his
private dwelling, which stood close by. Justus was not yet a disciple,
but, as suits the meaning of his name, he was disposed to see justice
done to the persecuted apostle.
Although he left the synagogue in apparent discomfiture, he
was not without fruits of his labors there.
(8) "But Crispus, the
chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord, with all his house;
and many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were immersed."
was very seldom that men of high position in the Jewish synagogues
were induced to obey the gospel. It is greatly to the credit of Crispus,
therefore, that he was among the first in Corinth to take this position,
and this, too, at the moment when the opposition and blasphemy of
the other Jews were most intense. He must have been a man of great
independence of spirit and goodness of heart--the right kind of a man
to form the nucleus for a congregation of disciples.
The conversion of these Corinthians is not detailed so fully as that
of the eunuch, of Saul, or of Cornelius, yet enough is said to show
that it was essentially the same process. "Many of the Corinthians,
hearing, believed, and were immersed." They heard what Paul
preached, "that Jesus is the Christ."
This, then, is what they believed.
That they repented of their sins is implied in the fact that
they turned to the Lord by being immersed. To hear the gospel
preached, to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and to be immersed, was
the entire process of their conversion, briefly expressed.
Verses 9, 10
Although his success, when about leaving the synagogue
must have been a source of some comfort to Paul, an incident occurred
just at this period, which shows that he was far from being relieved,
as yet, from the "weakness and fear, and much trembling,"
which had oppressed him.
(9) "Then the Lord said to Paul in a vision by
night, Be not afraid; but speak, and be not silent;
(10) for I am with
you, and no man shall assail you to hurt you. For I have many people
in this city."
The Lord never appeared by a vision to comfort his servants,
except when they needed comfort. The words "Be not afraid"
imply that he was alarmed, and the assurance that no one should hurt
him implies that his alarm had reference to his personal safety. His
very success had, doubtless, fired his opponents to fiercer opposition,
and his recent sufferings at Philippi seemed about to be repeated.
But, at the darkest hour of his night of sorrow, the light of hope suddenly
dawned upon him, and he was strengthened with the assurance
that many in the city would yet obey the Lord.
In the declaration, "I have many people in this city," the Lord
called persons who were then unbelievers, and perhaps idolaters, his
people. This would accord with the Calvinistic idea that God's people
are a certain definite number whom he has selected, many of whom
are yet unconverted. But it can not prove this doctrine, because it
admits of rational explanation upon another hypothesis. He knew
that these people would yet believe and obey the gospel, and he could,
therefore, with all propriety of speech, call them his by anticipation.
Such is no doubt the true idea.
An expression similar to this occurs in the
eighteenth chapter of Revelations,
where the angel, announcing the downfall of the mystic
Babylon, cries: "Come out of her, my people, that you be not partakers
of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues." It has been argued,
from this, that God has a people in the apostasy, who are already
accepted as his own. But the language, like the statement, "I have
many people in this city," may be used simply in anticipation. The
most that can be argued from it, is that he knew a people would come
out of Babylon whom he could accept, and that he called them his
people on account of that fact.
Under the assurance given by the Lord in the vision, Paul was
encouraged to continue his labors.
(11) "Then he continued there a
year and six months, teaching among them the word of God."
of the more usual expression, "preaching the word of God," we have
here "teaching the word of God." This change of phraseology is not
without a purpose. It indicates that Paul's labor, during this period,
consisted not so much in proclaiming the great facts of the gospel, as
in teaching his hearers the practical precepts of the Word. He was
executing the latter part of the commission as recorded by Matthew:
"Teaching them to observe and do all that I have commanded you."
Verses 12, 13
The next paragraph introduces an incident which occurred
within this period of eighteen months, and which is worthy of special
notice, because of several peculiarities not common to the scenes of
(12) "While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the
Jews, with one accord, rose up against Paul and led him to the
(13) saying, This man is persuading men to worship God contrary
to the law."
Here we have the same charge, in form, which was preferred
against Paul at Philippi and Thessalonica, causing all the
trouble which befell him in those
cities. [Acts 16:20-23; 17:5-10.]
But the charge, in those
instances, was preferred by Greeks, with reference to the Roman law;
while, in the present, the Jews had the boldness to prefer it in their
own name, with reference to their own law. This fact indicates a degree
of confidence in their own influence which we have not seen
exhibited by the Jews in any other Gentile city.
In this case, however, they had to deal with a man of far
different character from the magistrates of Philippi,
or the city rulers
Gallio was a brother of Seneca, the famous Roman
moralist, who describes him as a man of admirable integrity, amiable,
and popular. [Life and Ep., vol. 1, p. 418, and note.]
Such was the character which he exhibited on this
occasion. Instead of yielding to popular clamor, as did so many provincial
and municipal officers, before whom the apostles were arraigned,
he examined carefully the accusation, and seeing that it had reference,
not to any infraction of the Roman law, but to questions in regard to
their own law, he determined at once to dismiss the case.
when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, If it
were a matter of injustice or wicked recklessness, Jews, it would be reasonable
that I should bear with you.
(15) But since it is a question concerning
a doctrine and words, and your own law, do you see to it; for I
do not intend to be a judge of these matters.
(16) And he drove them from the judgment-seat."
This is the only instance, in all the persecutions
of Paul, in which his accusers were dealt with summarily and justly.
The incident reflects great credit upon Gallio.
Prompt and energetic vindication of the right, on the part
of a public functionary, will nearly always meet the approbation of
the masses, and will sometimes even turn the tide of popular prejudice.
Whether the disinterested public were favorable or unfavorable
to Paul before the decision, we are not informed; but when the case
was dismissed, the spectators were highly gratified at the result.
"Then all the Greeks seized Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue,
and beat him before the judgment-seat; and Gallio cared for none of
For once, the heart of the unconverted multitude was
with the apostle, and so indignant were they at the unprovoked attempt
to injure him, that when it was fully exposed, they visited upon
the head of the chief persecutor the very beating which he had laid
up for Paul. Sosthenes was most probably the successor of Crispus,
as chief ruler of the synagogue, and may have been selected for that
position on account of his zeal in opposing the course which Crispus
had pursued. The beating which the Greeks gave him was a riotous
proceeding, which Gallio, in strict discharge of his duty, should have
suppressed. That he did not do so, and that Luke says, "Gallio
cared for none of these things," has been generally understood to
indicate an easy and yielding disposition, which was averse to the
strict enforcement of the law. This, however, is inconsistent with the
promptness of his vindication of Paul, and his indignant dismissal of
I would rather understand it as indicating a secret
delight at seeing the tables so handsomely turned upon the persecutors,
prompting him to let pass unnoticed a riot, which, under other
circumstances, he would have rebuked severely. The rage and disappointment
of the Jews must have been intense; but the rough handling
which their leaders experienced admonished them to keep quiet
for a time.
This incident occurred some time previous to the close of the
eighteen months of Paul's stay in Corinth, as we learn from the next
(18) "Now Paul, having still remained for many days, bade the
brethren farewell, and sailed into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila,
having sheared his head in Cenchrea; for he had a vow."
It is after the
arraignment before Gallio, and previous to his departure from Corinth,
that we best locate the date of the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians.
That it was written in Corinth is determined chiefly by a comparison
of its contents with those of the First Epistle. The congregation was
still suffering from the same persecution mentioned in the First
Epistle, [Compare 2 Thessalonians 3:9,1Th+2:14-16; 3:1-4.]
and there was still among them some improper excitement in
reference to the second coming of the
Lord. [Compare2:1-3,1Th+4:13; 5:3.]
Both these circumstances
indicate that it was written shortly after the first; as soon, perhaps,
as Paul could hear from them after their reception of the first. That
it was after the arraignment before Gallio, is sufficiently evident, I
think, from the absence of those indications of distress in the mind of
the writer, which abound in the First Epistle. He did not enjoy this
comparative peace of mind until after the persecutions of the Jews
culminated and terminated in the scene before Gallio's judgment-seat.
Many eminent commentators have contended that it was Aquila, and
not Paul, who sheared his head at Cenchrea. The argument by
which they defend this position is based upon the fact that the name
of Aquila is placed after that of his wife Priscilla, and next to the
having sheared, for the very purpose of indicating
that the act was performed by
him. [See Bloomfield and Howson.]
Others, who insist that it was
Paul, reply that the order of the names is not conclusive, inasmuch
as they occur in this order in three out of the five times that they are
mentioned together in the New
Testament. [Acts 18:26; Romans 16:3,1Co+16:19,2Ti+4:19;also, Hackett and Olshausen.]
My own opinion is that
it was Paul, and my chief reason for so thinking is this: the term
Paul is the leading subject of the sentence, to which all the verbs and
participles must be referred, unless there is some grammatical necessity
for detaching one or more of them, and referring them to another
subject. Priscilla and
Aquila are subjects of the verb
"Paul sailed into Syria, and with him (sailed) Priscilla and
Aquila." But if it was intended also to refer the act of shearing to
Aquila, the English would require the relative and verb instead of the
participle: "with him Priscilla and Aquila who had sheared his
head," instead of "Priscilla and Aquila, having sheared his head."
The Greek, in order to express this idea, would also have required
the article or
Aquila. In the absence of such a modification
of the construction, we must refer the terms keiramenos,
had, to the leading subject of the sentence, with
which agree all the other verbs, prosmeinas,
took leave of;
sailed away. The objection that Paul could not
have taken such a vow consistently with his position in reference to
the law of Moses, is fallacious in two respects. First, It assumes a
degree of freedom from legal observances on the part of Paul which his
conduct on subsequent occasions shows that he had not
attained. [See Com. xxi: 24.]
Second, It assumes, without authority, that this vow was one peculiar
to the law, which it would be improper for Christians to observe.
The vow of the Nazarite would certainly be improper now, because
it required the offering of sacrifices at its
termination. [See Com. xxi: 24.]
But this was
not that vow, seeing the hair was sheared in Cenchrea; whereas the
Nazarite's hair could be sheared only at the temple in
Jerusalem. [See Com. xxi: 24.]
What the exact nature of the vow was, we have now no means of
The only practical value of this incident arises from its bearing
upon present practice. But this is altogether independent of the question
whether it was Paul or Aquila who had the vow. If we admit
it was Aquila, the presence of Paul, and the approbation indicated by
his silence, gives to it the apostolic sanction. We conclude, therefore,
that disciples would be guilty of no impropriety in making vows, and
allowing their hair to grow until the vow is performed. But it must
not be inferred, from this conclusion, that we are at liberty to make
wicked vows, which would be better broken than kept.
Embarking at Cenchrea, which was the eastern port of
Corinth, on a voyage for Syria, the frequent commercial intercourse between
Corinth and Ephesus [Life and Ep., vol. 1, p. 423.]
very naturally caused the vessel to touch
at the latter city, which was the destination of Priscilla and Aquila.
(19) "And he went to Ephesus, and left them there. He himself went
into the synagogue and discoursed to the Jews.
(20) They requested him
to remain longer with them, but he did not consent,
(21) but bade them
farewell, saying, I must by all means keep the coming feast in Jerusalem;
but I will return to you, God willing.
(22) And he set sail for
Ephesus; and having gone down to Cæsarea, he went up and saluted the
Church, and went down to Antioch."
The context plainly implies that
the Church which he "went up and saluted" was that in Jerusalem,
and not, as some have supposed, that in Cæsarea; for it had just
been said that he must reach Jerusalem, and the statement that he
"went up," especially as it occurs after reaching Cæsarea, implies
that he went up where he had intended to go. The final termination
of his journey, however, was not Jerusalem, but Antioch, whence he
had started with Silas on his missionary tour. The two missionaries
had gone through Syria and Cilicia;
had revisited Derbe,
Lystra, and Iconium;
and had taken a circuit through Phrygia, Galatia,
and Mysia, to Troas on the Archipelago.
Thence they had sailed
into Europe, and had made known the gospel throughout Macedonia
and Achaia, planting Churches in the principal cities.
Setting sail on
their return, Paul had left an appointment in Ephesus,
where he had
formerly been forbidden by the Spirit to preach the
Word; [Acts 16:6.]
Jerusalem, and was now at the end of his circuit once more to
gladden the hearts of the brethren who had "commended him to the
favor of God," by rehearsing all that God had done with him, and
that he had opened still wider "the door of faith to the Gentiles."
Whether Silas had returned with him we are not informed. What
changes had taken place in Antioch during his absence is equally unknown.
The historian has his eye upon stirring events just ahead in
Ephesus, and hastens all the movements of the narrative to bring us
back to that city.
In accordance with this plan, he gives but a brief glance at the
apostle's stay in Antioch, and the first part of his third missionary
(23) "Having spent some time there, he departed, passing through
the district of Galatia, and Phrygia, in order, confirming all the
The historian now leaves Paul in the obscurity of this journey
among the Churches, and anticipates his arrival in Ephesus, by
noticing some events there, which were, in the providence of God,
opening the way for his hitherto forbidden labors in that city.
(24) "Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born in Alexandria,
an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus.
This man was instructed in the way of the Lord, and, being fervent in
spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning the Lord,
understanding only the immersion of John.
(26) He began to speak boldly
in the synagogue. But Aquila and Priscilla, having heard him, took him
and expounded to him the way of the Lord more accurately."
distinguished position which Apollos acquired, after this, in the Church
at Corinth, and the familiarity of his name among disciples of all
ages, renders it a matter of some interest to acquire an accurate
conception of his personal endowments and his subsequent history.
The former are set forth in the two statements, that he was "eloquent,"
and that he was "mighty in the Scriptures." The gift of eloquence is
a natural endowment, but culture is necessary to its effective development.
That he was an Alexandrian by birth gives assurance that he
was not wanting in the most thorough culture; for Alexandria, being
the chief point of contact between Greek and Jewish literature, was
the chief seat of Hebrew learning in that and some subsequent generations.
The Alexandrian Jews, who constituted a large element in the
population of that city, were noted for their wealth and their learning.
That he was "mighty in the Scriptures," shows that he had been
educated to a thorough knowledge of the word of God. The apostles,
being inspired, and able to speak with miracle-confirmed authority,
were not entirely dependent upon purely scriptural proofs. But he,
being uninspired, was entirely dependent upon the use of the prophesies
and types of the Old Testament, in proof of the Messiahship. In
a day when a knowledge of the word of God had to be acquired from
manuscripts, and in which the art of reading was acquired by only a
few, it was no ordinary endowment to be familiar with the Scriptures.
Such an attainment is rare, even in the day of printed Bibles, and
among preachers who profess to devote their lives chiefly to the study
of the Bible. Indeed, the amount of clerical ignorance now extant
would astonish the masses of men, if they only had the means of detecting
What were the exact attainments of this distinguished man in reference
to the gospel is a question of some difficulty, though in reference
to it there is a very general agreement among commentators. It is
generally agreed that he understood no more of the gospel than was
taught by John the Immerser; and of this the statement that he understood
only the immersion of John is considered sufficient proof.
But I confess myself unable to reconcile this supposition with two
other statements of the historian, equally designed to give us his religious
status. The first is the statement that he was "instructed in
the way of the Lord;" and the second, that he "taught
things concerning the Lord." That the term Lord refers to the Lord
Jesus Christ can not be doubted by one who consider's Luke's style,
and observes the connection of thought in the passage. But for Luke
to say, at this late period, that a man was instructed in the way of the
Lord and taught it accurately, certainly implies a better knowledge of
the gospel than was possessed by John; for he preached him as one
yet to come, and knew nothing of his death, burial, or resurrection.
The two expressions combined would, if unqualified, convey the idea
that he understood and taught the gospel correctly, according to the
apostolic standard. They are qualified, however, by the statement
that he "understood only the immersion of John." This is the only
limitation expressed, and therefore we should grant him all the knowledge
which this limitation will allow. Whatever a man must lack,
then, of a thorough knowledge of the gospel, who knows no immersion
but that of John, we must grant that Apollos lacked; yet the other
things of the Lord he taught accurately. His ignorance had reference
to the points of distinction between John's immersion and that of the
apostles, which were chiefly these, that John did not promise the
Holy Spirit to those who were immersed, and did not immerse into the
name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Whatever
confusion of thought upon kindred topics is necessarily involved
in ignorance of these two things, Apollos must also have been subject
to; but we are not authorized to extend his ignorance any further than
this. On these points he was instructed by Priscilla and Aquila, and
was then able to teach the things concerning the Lord more accurately.
There is no evidence whatever that he was
reimmersed. [See further, Com.xix: 1-7.]
Verses 27, 28
For some reason unexplained, Apollos concluded to leave
Ephesus, and visit the Churches planted by Paul in Achaia.
"And when he desired to cross into Achaia, the brethren wrote, urging the
disciples to receive him. When he arrived, he afforded much aid to those
who through favor had believed:
(28) for he powerfully and thoroughly
convinced the Jews in public, clearly showing by the Scriptures that Jesus
is the Christ."
This is the earliest mention of letters of commendation
among the disciples. It shows that they were employed simply to
make known the bearer to strange brethren, and commend him to their
The parties to whom Apollos afforded much aid were not, as some
have contended, "those who believed through
his gift;" [Olshausen.]
for the term
charis is never used in the sense of either a spiritual or a
Neither, for the same reason, can we render the clause, "he aided
through his gift those who
believed." [See Bloomfield.]
Favor is the true meaning of
the original term, and it stands connected in the sentence with the participle
rendered believed. If there were any incongruity in the idea of
believing through favor, we might, with Bloomfield, connect it with
the verb, and render the clause "he afforded much aid, through favor,
to those who believed." But through this is the only instance in which
parties are said to have believed through the favor of God, it is true of
all disciples; for the favor of God both supplies and the object of faith, and
brings before men the evidence which produces faith. Luke's own
collocation of the words, therefore, should guide us, and it rules us to
the rendering, "he afforded much aid to those who through favor had
Apollos mightily convinced the Jews in Achaia; whereas Paul's
converts had been mostly among the Gentiles. This was, no doubt,
owing to the peculiarity of his endowments, giving him access to some
minds which were inaccessible to Paul. A variety of talents and acquirements
among preachers is still necessary to the success of the
gospel among the immense variety of the minds and characters which
make up human society.