A Commentary by John Stott
4). Paul’s strategy for urban evangelism.
In spite of the obvious cultural differences between first-century cities in the Roman Empire and the great urban complexes of today, there are also similarities. We may learn from Paul in Corinth and Ephesus important lessons about the where, the how and the when of urban evangelism.
a) The secular places he chose.
It is true that in both Corinth and Ephesus he began in the Jewish synagogue; that was his custom. But when the Jews rejected the gospel, he withdrew from the synagogue and moved to a neutral building instead. In Corinth he chose a private house, the home of Titius Justus, while in Ephesus he rented the lecture hall of Tyrannus. And easily the greater part of his evangelistic ministry in both cities was spent in these secular situations.
In our day we still have to evangelize the religious. The equivalent to the synagogue in our culture is the church. It is here that the Scriptures are read, prayer is offered, and ‘God-fearers’ congregate, people on the fringe who are attracted but not committed. The gospel must be proclaimed to them. But we must not limit our evangelism to the religious and neglect the irreligious. If religious people can be reached in religious buildings, secular people have to be reached in secular buildings. Perhaps the equivalent to Paul’s use of the house of Titius Justus is home evangelism, and the equivalent to his use of the hall of Tyrannus is lecture evangelism. People will come to a home, to listen to an informal talk and engage in free discussion, who would never darken the door of a church, and there is an important place for apologetic and/or explanatory Christian lectures in the local college or university or in some other neutral, public place.
b). The reasoned presentation he made.
Luke uses several verbs to describe Paul’s evangelistic preaching. But two of them stand out in these chapters. Each occurs four times, almost equally divided between his ministry in Corinth and Ephesus. They are the verbs to ‘reason’ or ‘argue’ (*dialegomai*) and to ‘persuade’ (*peitho*). In Corinth ‘every Sabbath he *reasoned* in the synagogue, trying to *persuade* Jews and Greeks’ (18:4). In consequence, the Jews complained to Gallio that ‘this man is *persuading the people…*’ (18:13). In Ephesus Paul spoke boldly in the synagogue for three months, ‘*arguing persuaively* [literally, “arguing and persuading”] about the kingdom of God’ (19:8), and then after withdrawing from the synagogue he ‘had discussions daily’ [RSV, ‘*argued* daily’] in the hall of Tyrannus (19:9). Thus both in the religious context of the synagogue and in the secular context of the lecture hall, Paul combined argument and persuasion. As a result Demetrius was able to complain that ‘this fellow Paul has *convinced* [RSV, “persuaded”]…large numbers of people…’ (19:26). Martin Hengel conjectures plausibly that Paul’s letters (especially Romans and parts of 1 and 2 Corinthians) ‘contain brief summaries of lectures and…the much reduced quintessence of what Paul taught’ during those years in Tyrannus’ lecture theatre.
This vocabulary shows that Paul’s presentation of the gospel was serious, well reasoned and persuasive. Because he believed the gospel to be true, he was not afraid to engage the minds of his hearers. He did not simply proclaim his message in a ‘take it or leave it’ fashion; instead, he marshalled arguments to support and demonstrate his case. He was seeking to convince in order to convert, and in fact, as Luke makes plain, many were ‘persuaded’. Luke indicates, moreover, that this was Paul’s method even in Corinth. What he renounced in Corinth (see 1 Cor.1 and 2) was the wisdom of the world, not the wisdom of God, and the rhetoric of the Greeks, not the use of arguments. Arguments of course are no substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit. But then trust in the Holy Spirit is no substitute for arguments either. We must never set them over against each other as alternatives. No, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and he brings people to faith in Jesus not in spite of the evidence, but because of the evidence, when he opens their minds to attend to it.
Tomorrow: c). The extended periods he stayed.
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.