Adventures in Acts

Acts 18 - Paul at Corinth

The map of Greece, like that of Scotland, has a lovely hourglass shape. Corinth was located precisely at the thin neck of the Greek hourglass, making the city a cosmopolitan centre for both people and their philosophies. In Acts chapter 18, we discover what happened when Paul arrived at Corinth with ‘the preaching of the cross’, 1 Cor. 1. 18.


Can the gospel message prosper in a godless culture? The answer from Corinth is a resounding yes! Paul spent at least eighteen months in this ancient city, Acts 18. 11. Classical Corinth had a reputation for drunkenness. Barclay1 cites Aelian, the Greek dramatist, when he writes, ‘If ever a Corinthian was shown upon the stage in a Greek play, he was shown drunk’. The city’s other claim to fame was its temple to Aphrodite, the pagan goddess of love. In classical Greek thought, as much as today, love can mean mere lust, leading to sexual immorality and perversion. The Christian conception of love is entirely different, 1 Cor. 13.


Upon his arrival in Corinth, Paul encountered two colleagues: Aquila and Priscilla. These tent-making partners soon become Paul’s friends and supporters in his ministry. Aquila and Priscilla were a well-travelled couple. They are associated with four different places in this chapter alone: Pontus, v. 2, Rome, v. 2, Corinth, v. 1, and Ephesus, v. 19. The topsy-turvy Roman Empire, like today’s society, meant people often had to move from one region to another. However, the consistency of this pair is remarkable. Wherever we find them in the New Testament, they are named together as a couple – an inseparable ‘item’. They are a tremendous example to husbands and wives setting up homes today. In their partnership, they were ready to support evangelism, Bible teaching, and church fellowship. They had their priorities right, willing to make sacrifices for Christ’s sake, Rom. 16. 4.


Souls were saved, just a few at first, but later ‘many’, v. 8. All had the same basic experience, v. 8: first, they heard, then they believed, then they were baptized. This is the same sequence that followed Peter’s original gospel message on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2. 41. Paul, naturally, preached the same message at Corinth as elsewhere, 1 Cor. 15. 1. However, in Corinth there were great results, which is not the case everywhere. Why is there such variability? We might ask the same question in our local circumstances. Ultimately, we must trust in the sovereignty of God. The great encouragement from Corinth is that God can shine light in the darkest environment, 2 Cor. 4. 6.


Paul received a ‘vision’ one night, v. 9. Nocturnal communications from God to Paul were not uncommon, e.g., Acts 16. 9; 27. 23. When he went to bed, Paul certainly did not waste time counting sheep – instead, he spoke with his Shepherd. The Lord’s command had three parts: mentally, Paul was not to be afraid; verbally, Paul was to speak up; physically, Paul was not to hold back. His evangelism had power, given this direct assurance from God. Paul was promised divine presence and protection, v. 10. Further, he was given insight into God’s purpose: ‘I have much people in this city’. This seemed to indicate God’s election, rather than His foreknowledge. The Corinthian converts were ‘chosen’ by God, 1 Cor. 1. 27-28.


As usual, opposition followed blessing. The Jews evicted Paul from the synagogue early on, v. 6. This did not deter Paul from persistent evangelism for eighteen months, v. 11. Eventually, the Jews brought Paul before the local government official, v. 12. Gallio rightly decided that the complaint had no substance and dismissed it, v. 15. In common with other ‘mighty’ and ‘noble’ people, 1 Cor. 1. 26, Gallio appeared to be apathetic with regard to the gospel. However, Paul was not discouraged nor dissuaded from continuing the work, v. 18. After a brief visit to Ephesus, v. 19, Paul returned to Antioch, v. 22. This was the conclusion of his second missionary journey.


The young assembly at Corinth was never far from Paul’s heart or his prayers, 1 Cor. 1. 4. Over subsequent months and years, he wrote a series of letters to the local church at Corinth. He corrected failings, answered questions, taught new truth, and reminded them of things they heard during his original visit. Paul’s primary concern for the Corinthians was that he did not want them to be ‘ignorant’, 12. 1. How do we avoid spiritual ignorance today? We need to be engaged in careful Bible reading, supported by regular, systematic instruction from gifted and reliable teachers. But more of this next time, when we travel with Paul on a return visit to Ephesus.



William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, St Andrew Press, 1954.