A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 18:1-19:41. Corinth and Ephesus. (Continued)
Corinth was above all a great commercial centre, a world famous emporium. Situated close to the isthmus which joined mainland Greece to the Peloponnesian peninsula, it commanded the trade routes in all directions, not only north-south by land but also east-west by sea. For before the Corinthian canal was cut for three and a half miles across the isthmus, there was a *diolkos* or slipway along which cargoes and even small vessels could be hauled, thus saving 200 miles of perilous navigation round the southern tip of the peninsula. In consequence, Corinth boasted two ports, Lechaeum on the Corinthian Gulf to the west and Cenchrea on the Saronic Gulf to the east. Thus ‘through its two harbours Corinth bestrode the isthmus, with one foot planted in each sea’, which led Horace to call it *bimaris* or ‘two-sea’d’. So Corinth was a city of seafarers, of maritime merchants, and it is hardly surprising that Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, whom the Romans called Neptune, was worshipped there. F.W.Farrar imagined its markets stocked with cosmopolitan goods – ‘Arabian balsam, Egyptian papyrus, Phoenician dates, Libyan ivory, Babylonian carpets, Cilician goats’-hair, Lycaonian wool, Phrygian slaves’. Paul must have seen its strategic importance. If trade could radiate from Corinth in all directions so could the gospel.
Ephesus was also famed for its commerce. Barclay calls it ‘the market of Asia Minor’. It has political importance as well, as the capital of the Roman province of Asia. But in particular Ephesus was one of the principal *religious* centres of the Graeco-Roman world. The imperial cult flourished there, and at one time the city boasted as many as three temples dedicated to the worship of the Emperor. Above all, Ephesus was famed as ‘the guardian of the temple of Artemis’ (19:35). In classical mythology Artemis (whom the Romans called Diana) was a virgin huntress, but in Ephesus she had somehow become identified with an Asian fertility goddess. Ephesus guarded with immense pride both her grotesque many breasted image (probably in origin a meteorite) and the magnificent temple which housed it. This structure had more than one hundred Ionic pillars, each sixty feet high, and supporting a white marble roof. Being four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens, and adorned by many beautiful paintings and sculptures, it was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world. In addition, under Diana’s patronage, superstitions and occult practices of all kinds flourished. And the magic words and formulae, which were sold to the credulous, were known as ‘Ephesian Letters’.
Here, then, were three major cities of the Graeco-Roman world, all of them in different degrees being centres of learning, trade and religion. Luke plainly understands their significance for the spread of the gospel. Having portrayed the apostle Paul among the philosophers in Athens (17:16ff), he now describes his visits to Corinth (18:1ff) and to Ephesus (18:18ff and 19:1ff). These visits followed a similar pattern, namely the evangelization of Jews, their opposition to the gospel, the apostle’s deliberate turn to the Gentiles, and the multiple vindication of his dramatic decision. This is Luke’s underlying theme in Chapters 18 and 19.
First, in both cities Paul began with the serious and sustained attempt to ‘persuade’ his Jewish hearers in the synagogue that Jesus was the Christ (18:4-5; 19:8).
Secondly, in both cities Paul responded to Jewish rejection of the gospel by leaving the synagogue and turning to Gentile evangelism, using as his base the house of Titius Justus in Corinth and the lecture hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus (18:6-7; 19:9).
Thirdly, in both cities Paul’s bold step was vindicated by many people hearing and believing the gospel (18:8; 19:10).
Fourthly, in both cities Jesus confirmed his word and encouraged his apostle – in Corinth by a night vision and in Ephesus by extraordinary miracles (18:9-10; 19:11-12).
Fifthly, in both cities the Roman authorities dismissed the opposition and declared the legitimacy of the gospel – in Corinth through the proconsul Gallio and in Ephesus through the town clerk (18:12ff; 19:35ff).
Tomorrow: Acts 18:1-18a. 1). Paul in Corinth.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.