Paul's Work in the Synagogue: Part 1 of 2

by John Lowe
(Laurens, SC)

April 3, 2015

Acts of the Apostles
Acts 18:1-6 (KJV)

1 After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;
2 And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them.
3 And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.
4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.
5 And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.
6 And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he 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.


Corinth in Paul’s day was the largest, most cosmopolitan city of Greece. Located at the southern end of the isthmus that connects the Peloponnesus with the Greek mainland, it was a major center for commerce. It had two ports, Lechaeum on the west, which gave access to the Adriatic Sea and Cenchrea on the east, opening into the Aegean Sea. The isthmus is only three and a half miles wide at its narrowest point. Nero began a canal there, but it was not completed. In Paul’s day, ships were often unloaded at one of the ports and the load carried overland the short distance and reloaded on another ship at the other port. Small boats were placed on carts called diolkoi and transferred from one port to the other by means of a roadway specially designed for that purpose. Either method was generally preferable to hazarding the treacherous waters around the Peloponnesus. All of this made Corinth the Greek center for east-west trade. With it came some of the undesirable elements that often plagued a maritime center. Among the Greeks, the word translated “to live like a Corinthian” meant to live immorally.

In Paul’s day, Corinth was a new city. No major building was more than 100 years old. It was also the most Roman city in Greece, with its extensive group of the resettled colony as the core of its citizenry. As in Athens, the religion of the Corinthians seems to have been primarily that of the traditional Greek gods. The temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love, commanded the city from its perch on the Acrocorinth, the 1,900-foot hill that dominated the city from its perimeter. Inside the city walls, close to the Agora, stood the temple of the sun god Apollo, the patron god of the city. Just inside the city wall excavations have uncovered the temple to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. Elaborate canals and reservoirs connected with the temple provided water for the various healing rights.

The worship of God was present in the city before Paul’s time. There was a Jewish settlement in Corinth, however, and it was with them that Paul began his mission (18:4).

Luke’s brief account of Paul’s establishment of the work in Corinth provides an invaluable supplement to Paul’s letters to that congregation. The two Corinthian letters date from a later period—that of Paul’s third mission. The Acts account deals with Paul’s founding of the church during his second missionary period.


1 After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;

“After these things”—the Arabic version renders it, "after these words, or discourses"; after the apostle's debate with the philosophers, and his sermon in the Areopagus, the effects of which are related in the previous lesson. Paul did not stay in “Athens” very long. The philosophers there were too well-to-do, too lazy, and too wise in their own eyes to receive the Gospel.

Corinth was approximately 50 miles from Athens and almost due west. It was one of the most populous and wealthy cities of Greece, and at the same time one of the most luxurious, effeminate, flamboyant, and degenerate. Lasciviousness1 was not only practiced and allowed, but was sanctioned by including it in the worship of Venus, the goddess of love; and much of the wealth and splendor of the city arose from the offerings made by those indulging in unrestrained passion in the very temples of this goddess. No city of ancient times was more self-indulgent and depraved. It was the Paris of ancient times; the seat of splendor, and show, and corruption. Yet even here, in spite of all the disadvantages of prosperity, overindulgence, and depravity, Paul began the work of rearing a church; and he was eminently successful at getting the work done.

2 And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them.

When Paul arrived in the city, he quickly met a Jewish couple by the name of “Aquila” and “Priscilla.” The couple is also mentioned in Paul’s letters (Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19). Paul and Luke always mention them together, never separately. Paul referred to the wife as Prisca, which was her formal name. Luke’s “Priscilla” was a less formal designation, the form that would be used among acquaintances. Luke often used the more “familiar” form of a name. This is similar to his use of “Silas” in lieu of Sylvanus. “Aquila” is a Latin name and derives from the word for “eagle.”

Some have surmised from Luke’s giving the detail that “Aquila” came from “Pontus,” the Roman province along the Black Sea, that he may have been a Roman citizen; but that is not sufficient evidence. Others have wanted to see “Priscilla” as the Roman citizen, basing this on the fact that there was a Roman patrician family by the name of Prisca and on the fact that Priscilla is generally named first (18:18, 24; Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19). That she is usually mentioned before her husband is indeed remarkable for first-century usage but probably it is less due to her social status than to her prominence in Christian circles. Not to detract from Aquila’s ministry, but Priscilla seems to have been one of those women like Lydia whose service in the Christian community stood out.

Luke only mentioned as an incidental detail that the couple had recently come from Italy because the emperor Claudius2 had expelled the Jews from Rome; all who were Jews by birth, regardless of whether they were Jews or Christians3 by religion, because they were too pompous to make a distinction. According to the historian Suetonius, Claudius expelled all the Jews who were constantly exciting turmoil under their leader, “Chrestus.” Though the command of Claudius applied only to Rome, yet it was probably deemed unsafe for Jews to remain in the country, or it might have been difficult for them to find work in any part of Italy. Later on, the church historian Orosius dated this event during the ninth year of Claudius, i.e., between January 25, 49 and January 24, 50. If Orosius’ date can be trusted, this sets a certain date for Paul’s arrival in Corinth. Since Aquila and Priscilla preceded him there, it is not likely Paul would have arrived in Corinth before the middle of A.D. 49.

The reference by Suetonius is significant for other reasons as well. Likely, his attributing the turmoil among the Jews to “Chrestus” resulted from his confusion over the name “Chrestus,” the Latin for Christ. This is evidence that Christianity had already reached Rome by A.D. 50. How would it have done so? Here is the perfect example before us—by Christians like Priscilla and Aquila traveling the routes of trade and commerce and carrying their faith wherever they went. Priscilla and Aquila likely were Christians already when they left Rome. The Jewish Christians would have been seen as ringleaders in the Jewish unrest over “Chrestus” and would have received the brunt of Claudius’s edict4. Luke said nothing about Paul’s witnessing to the couple, and one would assume Paul readily took up with them because they were not only fellow Jews and fellow tentmakers but, most important of all, fellow Christians.

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