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

by John Lowe
(Laurens, SC)

3 And because he was of the same craft5, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.

Paul mentioned working to support himself in his letters (1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 11:7). In Acts 20:346 he reminded the Ephesian elders that while in Ephesus he had supported himself and his coworkers with the labor of his own hands.

Only in Acts 18:3 are we told the trade by which he supported himself—that of “tent maker.” Exactly what this involved is often debated. A number of the early church fathers rendered the term used here by a more general word, “leatherworker.” This is quite possible. Tents were often made of leather, and tentmakers probably used their skills on other types of leather products as well. Some interpreters have suggested, however, that Paul may not have worked in leather at all but rather in ciliciun, a cloth of woven goat’s hair that was often used as a material for tents. Since ciliciun originated in and was named for Paul’s native province of Cilicia, he may well have learned the trade there. The later rabbinic writings required students of the law to adopt a trade in order to keep the mind from becoming idle and so that they would never need to depend on profit from the teaching of the Torah. Paul may well have been influenced by this idea. First Corinthians 9:127 particularly reveals such an attitude, where Paul spoke of forgoing any support from the Corinthians in order to avoid any obstacle to the Gospel; but seeing that he worked at the same trade as Aquila and Priscilla, he takes up his lodging with them at Corinth, and works at their trade. Perhaps Paul used his work as an opportunity for witnessing.

Paul continued to work as a tentmaker until Silas and Timothy joined him (18:5). When Silas and Timothy came, they brought an offering from the church in Philippi, where the Philippian jailer was converted. They took up an offering and sent it to Paul, and when they came with this offering for Paul, then it was no longer necessary for him to work, and so he gave full time to the ministry there in Corinth. So Paul was the kind of person who if he needed money he was willing to go out and work with his hands to acquire it. But if the Lord would provide, such as He did with the Philippian’s offering, then he was eagerly willing to give himself full-time to the work of the Lord.

The obstacle he had to overcome, in the case of the Corinthians may well have been the distrust they had for those who went about making profit from their message. Paul may have been particularly careful in places like Corinth to avoid any associations with the street preachers who preached for profit.

4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.

The Apostle went to the synagogue every Sabbath, where he attempted to persuade both “the Jews” and God-fearers that Christ is the Messiah (see 17:2-4). But regardless of whether he did so while at work or after work, during the week or on the Sabbath, Paul followed his customary pattern in Corinth, going first to “the synagogue.” He shows an intense desire to plant a Christian church at Corinth, and through his preaching to bring the Jews of Corinth to embrace the Gospel.

Note: Men may speak persuasively, but onlyGod can persuade.

The gist of the verse is that the apostle succeeded in bringing many to faith in Jesus Christ, but not as many as he hoped.

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.

They came to Paul in response to the request which he had sent by the brethren who accompanied him from Thessalonica: “Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible” (Acts 17:15, NIV). Silas seems to have stayed a considerable time at Berea: but Timotheus had come to the apostle while he was at Athens, and been sent by him to comfort and confirm the Church at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5). But at long last, both “Silas and Timotheus” came to the apostle at Corinth.Paul’s zeal for God was greatly excited by the company of these two good men—“Iron sharpens iron, so does the face of a man’s friend.”

When Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth from Macedonia they brought a contribution for Paul’s ministry. Second Corinthians 11:8 speaks of the support of other churches while Paul ministered in Corinth, and Philippians 4:15 speaks of the generous support of that congregation in his continuing mission endeavor. Now Paul was freed to witness more continually, not just on Sabbath’s.

“Paul was pressed in the spirit,” meaning he was urged or motivated by an unusual impulse coming from the Holy Spirit. It was deeply impressed upon him that it was his duty to proclaim Christ in Corinth.His love for Christ was so great, and his conviction to preach the truth so strong, that he labored to make known to them the truth that Jesus Was the Messiah.The Greek word rendered “in spirit” means in his mind; in his feelings.

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.

The seemingly inevitable results followed, however, and Jewish opposition arose. Paul turned from the synagogue and turned to the Gentiles. The pattern was the same as in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (13:44-47), and it would be repeated again, right up to the end of Acts (28:23-28; 19:8-9). Why did Paul keep returning to the Jews after he seemingly had turned decisively to the Gentiles, and especially when he knew the almost certain resistance that would arise? Perhaps he gave us a clue in his statement that the Corinthian Jew’s blood would be on their own heads, not on his hands. Paul always fulfilled his role of witness to his fellow Jews. When it was no longer possible to bear that witness, he moved to the Gentiles. But in the next city, he would go back to the synagogue, blowing his warning trumpet.

And when they opposed themselves (to him and his message), and blasphemed.”Their opposition was a repeat of what had transpired in Antioch in Pisidia:“But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming” (Acts 13:45, KJV). “Blasphemed” is a word that is seldom heard today; we have replaced it with words like cussed, cursed, took the Lord’s name in vain, used profanity, and damned. The gist is evidently that they rebuked and vilified Jesus of Nazareth; they spoke of Him with contempt and scorn. They were opposed to the doctrine that Jesus was the Messiah; that the Messiah would be humble, lowly, despised, and put to death. They contradicted the apostles while in their presence (Acts 13:468), and that evidentially led to great turmoil and disorder. When people are enraged, they have little regard for what they say, and don’t care what God thinks of them. When people do not have any good arguments to support their position, they attempt to overwhelm their adversaries with bitter and outrageous words. People frequently utter blasphemy more often than they will admit. Pure biblical doctrines are often vilified because we do not believe them; and the heart of the Savior is pierced once again, and His cause bleeds from the wrath and wickedness of his professed friends.

How did Paul react? “He shook his raiment” as an act expressive of shaking off the guilt of their condemnation; and he did it to show that he was resolved to have nothing to do with them in the future; and perhaps, also, to express the fact that God would soon shake them off, or reject them.

He must have really stirred them up when he said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads,” for you alone are the cause of the destruction that is coming upon you, and you must bear the guilt. “I am clean,” I am not to blame for your destruction. I have done my duty. The Gospel had been fully explained and offered to all, and then deliberately rejected; and Paul was not to blame for their ruin, which he saw was coming upon them.

When he realized that they would not accept his witness, he avowed, “From henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.” But he did not go to them exclusively. He did NOT break off all interaction with the Jews even at Corinth, but he would no longer preach in their synagogues.

1Lasciviousness is defined as indicating sexual interest and is expressive of lust or lewdness.
2 Claudius commenced his reign in 41 A.D. and was poisoned in 54 A.D.
3 The fact that he describes Aquila as a Jew may imply that he was not yet a Christian. Some expositors are of the opinion that they were converted at Corinth, but most would say they were already Christians when they met Paul for the first time, as do I.
4 Because there were perhaps 50,000 Jews in Rome, Claudius may have had difficulty enforcing his edict; and it may have been confined to the leaders. In any event, there was a Jewish community in Rome eight years or so later when Paul arrived there (Acts 28:17-28).
5 Craft—occupation.
6 (Acts 20:34, NIV) “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.”
7 (1 Corinthians 9:12, NIV) “If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
8 (Acts 13:46, NIV) “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”

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