[18:1-22]. Paul at Corinth.
By now we have outlined Luke’s “filigree drawing”, so we will focus on some new details. At Corinth the usual pattern repeats itself, with the variation that the head of the synagogue Crispus gets converted (v. 8), but is not followed by the majority of the Jews who indeed, after a year and a half (v. 11) tried in vain to have Paul arrested, and went to beat the new ruler of the synagogue Sosthenes (v. 17); evidently he too had become a believer and had kept the charge in the synagogue.
The Lord told Paul in a vision that no one would lay hands on him, because at Corinth there were many who were prepared to believe (vv. 9-11). In fact, Paul was able to stay at Corinth for a year and a half (v. 11) and then «many more days» (v. 18), without the hostility of the Jews to prevent him in any way, and then leaving of his own accord (v. 18).
A side reflection: if Jesus was in control of the situation and could protect Paul while he was at Corinth, he evidently did not see fit to avoid the beatings taken at Philippi (16:23). It is difficult for us to accept that God allows certain things; it seems that for Paul, instead, the two events went equally well, because he had first lived and then written the famous passage of Romans 8:28: «And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good». At Philippi he was not spared from the trial, but sustained in the trial and the fruits of his suffering were immediately visible. At other times the fruits of suffering ripen more slowly and it is more difficult to see them, but Paul’s example and words are a great help, so as to not lose the way.
At this stage, the church of Antioch appears more and more in the background and Paul seems to act with great autonomy. For example, in bringing together new collaborators, as he did with Timothy (16:1-3), as he did with Aquila and his wife Priscilla (18:1-3), as he would shortly afterwards with Apollo and others (18:24 to 19:1; Titus 1:12). Even on the financial level Paul appears increasingly autonomous from Antioch, both working as a craftsman (v. 3, a good Jewish “rabbi” had to be able to sustain himself with work!), and moderately accepting gifts from the churches he had helped to establish (Philippians 4:15-20).
Reference is made to the expulsion of the Jews from Rome ordered by Claudius (v. 2) and this allows us to establish that we are in the year 52. It also allows us to reiterate a concept repeatedly expressed: the “Christians” Aquila and Priscilla were expelled from Rome because they were Jews!
Paul decided to return quickly from Corinth and so travelled by sea, finally arriving at the church of Antioch from which he had departed, thus ending his “second missionary journey” (vv. 18-22).
[18:23-28]. Start of the third journey.
Paul felt the weight of the missionary work entrusted to him and so, after having remained in Antioch «some time» (v. 23), he left again for his third missionary tour. He began by revisiting the evangelised area of the first tour (v. 23), and then landed at Ephesus (19:1), where meanwhile his collaborators Aquila and Priscilla had met and recruited a sort of “second Paul”, who appears to be Apollo: «an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures» (v. 24) who, after further instruction by Aquila and Priscilla, «powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus» (v. 28).
Further Insight n. 9
OVERVIEW OF PAUL’S JOURNEYS
Let us now summarise Paul’s four missionary journeys, both to have a general picture of the work accomplished, and to orient ourselves better in the final part of Acts.
FIRST JOURNEY (Chap. 13-14) AND “APOSTOLIC COUNCIL” (15:1-35)
Paul and Barnabas depart from Antioch, focusing their action in a not distant and not wide region within present-day Turkey (Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derba). After returning to Antioch, they participate in the “Apostolic Council” in Jerusalem, in which the problems related to the spread of non-circumcised churches are resolved.
SECOND JOURNEY (15:36 to 18:22)
Separated from Barnabas, Paul departs from Antioch with Silas, but then gathers other collaborators (Timothy, Aquila, and Priscilla). After returning again to the area of his first trip, he wishes to evangelise the surrounding areas, but the Spirit guides him to Greece, which he travels from the north (city of Philippi, region of Macedonia), to then target specifically the capital Athens and the very important Corinth. He returns in haste by ship, finally arriving again at Antioch.
THIRD JOURNEY (18:23 to 21:17), ARREST AT JERUSALEM (21:18 to 23:22)
According to his custom, Paul revisits the areas evangelised previously, but Luke is fast-paced in describing these returns, focusing on the most significant work: that in the city of Ephesus, the capital of a region then called Asia, which was the seat of the cult of Diana. Before returning to Antioch, Paul wants to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost, despite being aware of the danger: indeed, he is arrested, thus concluding this journey.
FOURTH JOURNEY (23:23 to 28:31)
Paul as a prisoner, departing from Jerusalem and remaining more than two years in Caesarea (24:17), undertakes the adventurous journey that will take him to Rome, where Luke ends his story, but where it is known that Paul – after having resounded the Gospel – will die a martyr (2 Tim 4:6).
Before Paul, Christianity was a “niche” religion, while with Paul it is rooted in many Jews of the diaspora and in the various layers of Greek culture (people, nobles, philosophers, worshippers of Diana), until it breaches into the very heart of the empire, in Rome (Philippians 1:12-14). In short, Christianity after Paul would have been a widespread and consolidated fire by now, which would continue to spread with great force.