3 June 2011

Acts 18:9-18

"Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, 'If it were a matter of crime or serious villainy, I would be justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews; but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves, I do not wishes to be a judge of these matters.'" (vv. 14-15)


Proclaiming the gospel (good news) provokes a range of reactions. This has already been noted in the previous chapter (Acts 17:32-34). In today's passage, Paul is now in Corinth and, encouraged by a vision (v. 9), he has been preaching boldly for 18 months.

Now a more concerted effort is made by those who oppose his message and Paul is brought before Gallio the proconsul. Gallio's response is one of indifference. To him the matters that are brought by Paul's opponents are simply "questions about words and names and your own law" and are therefore of no importance to him.

Gallio's actions are interesting. At first glance his reluctance to get involved seems positive, and indicates a desire not to take sides in what appears, to him, to be an internal theological debate among the local Jewish population. However, this detachment is seen even in the face of the physical violence involving the official of the synagogue, Sosthenes (v. 17). It is not clear from the text exactly what provoked the violence or indeed who the "all of them" of verse 17 actually were, but clearly Gallio decided not to act even with the evidence of his own eyes.

For us there are a number of issues which arise from this incident. We might wonder how to react to those who treat the message of Jesus as irrelevant and as a debate about "words and names and your own law". In a post-modern context, there are increasing challenges as we seek to commend Christ to those who respond by saying 'That may be true for you but it has no relevance to me'.

On a wider level there are questions here about the relationship between Church and state. We may not want the government to interfere in matters of belief or doctrine - but there is another scenario when those in authority stand at a distance and fail to protect those who are attacked - verbally or physically - because of their faith.

To Ponder

What do you feel should be the relationship between Church and state?

How might you encourage someone who dismisses talk of Jesus as no more than "words and names" to be more inquisitive about him?

Bible notes author

The Revd Chris Blake

Chris Blake is a Methodist minister and principal of Cliff College in Derbyshire. His background is as a biochemist, and he has previously served in Barking and Dagenham as an industrial chaplain, in Dorset in the Wimborne Circuit and as chair of the Cornwall Methodist District.