Thursday

01 June 2017

“Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks.” (vv. 2-4)

Psalm: Psalm 17


Background

While Athens was an intellectual centre of the Roman Empire, Corinth, also in Greece, was a great commercial hub, and so Paul took a different approach. According to his usual practice, he first sought out the Jewish community and quickly met Aquila and Priscilla, banished from Italy under the edict of Emperor Claudius around AD49 (v. 2). The Roman historian, Suetonius, tells us that the Jews were expelled because they were causing disturbances "at the instigation of Chrestus", which seems to mean Christ. It is possible, therefore, that Aquila and Priscilla were already Christians when Paul met them, and that he found in them colleagueship in mission as well as in trade. Luke tells us that Paul's trade was in the cloth industry - since tents were made from leather it is not quite clear from the Greek whether Paul was a tentmaker or a more generic leather-worker (verse 3). In any case, Paul worked to support himself and only engaged in part-time missionary activity, preaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath (verse 4). In this situation, local colleagueship seems to have been important to him in establishing himself in the community. Probably Silas and Timothy brought funds from the new Christian community in Macedonia, as their arrival seems to have freed Paul to work full time as a missionary.

As in other places, Paul encountered resistance and hostility from the Jewish community, but this opposition in Corinth seems to have significantly shaped the future of Paul's ministry. In shaking off the dust of the synagogue (verse 6), Paul followed Jesus' advice to his followers to know when to leave and not to waste regrets on those who are not ready to hear the Word (Luke 9:5; 10:11). Paul went further, however, saying, "'Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent" (v. 6). Luke may have included this colourful statement to justify Paul's significant turn away from the Jewish community to the Gentiles. This heightens the significance of the moment as a turning point in Paul's ministry, as it is in Corinth that he is endorsed as missionary to the Gentiles.

This endorsement comes in three forms. First, he got results! "Many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized" (v. 8); that this included the official of the synagogue, despite the strength of animosity between Paul and the Jewish community, is supposed to emphasise the success of his mission.

Second, he was encouraged by God in a dream (verses 9-10) and third, he was not condemned by the Roman authorities (verses 14-16). This last may seem a slim endorsement, but in fact it is highly significant. In refusing even to try Paul, the proconsul, Gallio, who ruled the province on behalf of the Roman Senate, was giving tacit permission for Christian mission in the Roman Empire. This was certainly no great victory or vindication, but it was a free pass for Paul's future mission.


To Ponder

  • How helpful is it, like Paul, to become embedded in the community in order to share the love of God? How might you do that both individually and as the church?
  • How do you discern when to stop pursuing a particular project or leave a particular place? And how might you make a good ending?

 
Bible notes author:  The Revd Anna Bishop

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