Friday, November 2, 2007

Acts 18

Acts 18:1-17: From Athens, Paul travels to Corinth, a city about which we will come to know much more as we explore Paul’s writings to the Christian community there. Among those he found there were a couple – Aquila and Priscilla (Prisca in Paul’s letters), a married couple who had been expelled with other Jews from Rome under the reign of Claudius. This occurred in 49 CE. The reason the Jews were expelled from Rome seems to be the infighting among them regarding the preaching about Jesus. Claudius made no distinction between Jews and Jews who had become a part of the Jesus movement. Paul stayed with this couple as they shared a vocation – tentmaking. The Greek term may simply mean a leatherworker. Paul was both supported by the emerging Christian communities in his work and worked some himself.

Along with his leather work, Paul continues his preaching ministry, engaging in conversation with Jews and Greeks (probably here referring to Greeks who were also part of the Jewish religious community, though that is a little unclear). When his message was not well-received, Paul engaged in symbolic action and spoke metaphorically to say that he would take his message elsewhere – they symbolic action is shaking dust, and the metaphoric phrase is “your blood be upon your own heads.” This is a stark phrase, but its meaning is simply that they are responsible for their own lives and spirituality. Paul has done all he can to share his perspective with them. In chapter 20, Paul will use a similar phrase with members of Christian community to say something similar – that he has done all he can do. Frankly I am glad that this phrase is no longer with us!

As Paul declares that he will now go to the Gentiles, though his concern for his fellow Jews remains life-long, we hear about some Jews who came to believe in Paul’s message about Jesus. Many others also respond and Paul has a vision encouraging him to continue his work. The image in the vision suggests that God’s Spirit is always out ahead of those who would also seek to share the good news about God’s love. God’s Spirit touches people before the preacher arrives. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism used the term “prevenient grace” to put words to the movement of God’s Spirit that happens often before a person is even aware of God.

Paul stays in Corinth for quite some time, and during part of that time a concerted effort is made to thwart his work. Some Jewish leaders seek to enlist the imperial authorities in their quest to silence Paul. The charge they bring is that Paul is encouraging worship that is against Roman law, but the Roman authority sees this not as a matter of Roman law, but as “a matter of questions about words and names and your own law.” I wonder how often intra-Christian disputes come across to others as little more than questions about words and names. Some of the Jewish leaders turn on one of their own who is probably sympathetic to the Jesus cause and have him beaten. Still, the Roman authorities do not intervene.

Acts 18:18-23: Paul once again moves on, though this time after a rather lengthy stay. We get some interesting if seemingly trivial detail here. Paul gets a hair cut! Is this Bill Clinton or John Edwards? Luke is probably trying to portray Paul as both a Christian and yet still a faithful Jew, here one who had made certain vows. The rest of the verses here are an itinerary of Paul’s next stops. Luke’s interest goes beyond a travelogue. He wants to say something about the way the Jesus movement spread throughout the empire.

Acts 18:24-28: Paul had been in Ephesus, but has moved on. Afterwards another man, a Jew named Apollos who has become a Christian. Apollos is from Alexandria, one of the four principle cities of the Roman Empire, and one of the most important cities in the ancient world. The narrative here is a little confusing. On the one hand we are told that Apollos had been instructed in the way and with burning enthusiasm accurately taught the things concerning Jesus. On the other hand, there seem to be things that he just doesn’t get quite yet and needs the way of God explained more accurately. Maybe that is the situation with most of us. Notice, however, his ministry did not wait until he had his theology all figured out.

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