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Monday Extra: All About Corinth

22/03/2021

Monday Extra – Corinth.

Text:  Acts 18:1-4  

In Acts 18:1 we read that Paul, now departed from Athens after his aborted sermon at the Areopagus, arrived in Corinth.  What would he have found when he arrived there in the late summer or autumn of AD50?  In this study  we’ll look at the city of Corinth, and at Paul’s settling-in period in his new home, where he will live for 18 months.  This preliminary study will help us when we look at the text of Acts 18, and when we read Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth.  Firstly, let’s see what the city itself was like…

Corinth – Image by neufal54 from Pixabay

1 Paul Gets to Corinth.

Corinth was certainly an extraordinary city. When Paul visited Corinth the old ancient Greek city was long gone.  It was destroyed in 146BC when Corinth had played a leading part in a rebellion of Greek states against Rome.  The Romans levelled the old city to the ground and sold its entire population into slavery.  But in 44BC, under Julius Caesar, when the population of Rome was getting out of control, the city was rebuilt, and repopulated with freed slaves and roman citizens.  Now it was a middle class city, with around 75,000 inhabitants.  

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The city had a cultural aspect.  Every couple of years there was the Ichthian Games, an athletic contest that was second only to the Olympic Games in the importance of Greece in that era.  In his 18 months in the city of Corinth Paul must have attended the games, for in some of his water letters he illustrates points with references to the practices, customs and traditions of the games. 

Reading Exercise – Read and copy out the following verses, and note how Paul talks about athletics and sport:-

1 Corinthians 9:24-26, 

Philippians 3:14, 

2 Timothy 4:8, 

1 Corinthians 9:24, 

Philippians 4:1, 

1 Timothy 4:7-8, 

2 Timothy 2:5

What made it so attractive to rebuild the city was its geographical position for it was built on an isthmus, a narrow strip of land at the place where the Peloponnesian peninsula joined with mainland Greece.  The isthmus was around 5 miles wide and Corinth had a port on either side of the city.  If you were walking through the streets of Corinth, you would often see boats being trailed on rollers through the streets. It was easier to trail the ships across the isthmus than to sail them round – and at Corinth there were plenty of slaves to do the trailing. 

All the trade from mainland Greece to the vast Peloponnesian Peninsula had to travel along that isthmus too, so you can imagine that Corinth was a constant hive of activity, with east west and north south trade all being routed through the city.  All those sailers and commercial travellers contributed, not only to the trade of the city, but to its tourism and nightlife.  In Greek drama, a Corinthian was always represented as a drunkard. In fact Corinth was an actual tourist centre for Roman citizens, I’ve even heard that a citizen of Rome could book a package tour to Corinth!

What made this city so popular was its immorality.  Corinth was an extremely immoral city.  It was so immoral that the expression, to ‘Corinthianise’ became, in Greek society an indication of how far into debauchery a person would go.  Towering over the city was a flat topped mountain, the Acrocorinth, upon which stood the temple of Aphrodite, the so-called ‘goddess of love.’  It was the workplace of 1000 pagan priestesses, all of them slaves and prostitutes, and in the evenings they would flood down into the city streets to ply their trade.   

It was into this well to do, metropolitan, sexually corrupt city that Paul arrived, called by God to preach the Gospel, and tell sinners that there is a way to God, through Christ; that their sins can be forgiven and they can have eternal life.  Now, let’s see his settling-in period.

2 Paul Gets New Friends.  V2  

It’s at this point that we are introduced to Priscilla and Aquila.  We’ve learned that Corinth was a Cosmopolitan city, and had been colonised by Rome.  There was a large Jewish community.  The Jews were a legitimate religion, and were allowed to practice their religion, and build their synagogues.  In AD49, the Jews were expelled from Rome, for constantly causing trouble.  One secular author and historian of the time, Suetonius, recorded that the troubles fomented by the Jews at Rome were because of Christ.  We know that Jews everywhere were constantly trying to stymie the spread of the gospel, and were guilty of levelling false accusations at the Christian missionaries wherever they went, wanting them arrested and expelled from every city.  We also know that Nero had persecuted the church at Rome in AD50, – so there had been Christians in Rome from the earliest days, – after all, every road led to Rome, and ships docked at the Rome’s port from all over the world.  The Gospel arrived there very early. Some of those Christians were converted Jews, and were expelled with all the other Jews in AD49, and many would have gone to Corinth, to swell the already large Jewish population there. Among their number were Aquila and Priscilla, two Jewish Christians.  Paul never claims them for his own converts, so they must have been converted to Christ in Rome, and been part of the Church there.  

They seem to have been a wealthy couple, with business interests throughout the empire. They became lifelong friends and ministry partners with Paul, gave him work and a home while at Corinth, and supported his ministry.  When Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, he meant to teach them a lesson, to make life difficult for them.  God meant it for good, for at exactly the right time, when Paul arrived at Corinth, new friends were waiting, sent by God to help him.

3 Paul Gets a Job. V

When you’re in a new city, without somewhere to stay, and with no income you really need a job, and Paul had a trade.  There’s no surprise in that.  Nowadays there is a certain snobbery among the professional clergy.   As if having to work in a trade or a business is a degrading thing.  It’s not, it’s an honourable thing.  For a Rabbi like Paul, it would be expected, for the Jews considered work as a highly valuable part of life.  God worked, in creation, and so should we.  The Rabbi would have a trade, an honourable trade, and would study and teach after his day’s work was done.  He would not be paid for teaching, or expect to be paid, and would never ask for money for his religious work.   

Reading Exercise – Read and copy out the following verses, and note how Paul talks about his ministry support:-

1 Thessalonians 2:9   

2 Thessalonians 3:8   

2 Corinthians 11:9   

A Godly pastor is not ‘in it for the money.’  While Paul admitted that a labourer is worthy of his hire, (1 Timothy 5:18) there is something seriously unsettling about wealthy Christian pastors, who have accrued their wealth from the support they have received from other Christians. The first disciples were sent forth by Jesus without money.  Matthew 10:8b-10   Paul was a tentmaker by trade (Gk tekno /same trade ὁμότεχνος – homotechnos).  He came from Cilicia, and there was a breed of goat native to the region which had a fleece very suitable for making cloth used in tents and curtains.  The word Tentmaker in Acts 18 implies a highly skilled worker in leather and cloth.   At exactly the right time, two Christian businesspeople, Aquila and Priscilla both of Jewish descent, and owners of a tent making business, are in Corinth, and looking for workers.  The  AV and came unto them in the Greek text tells us that Paul ‘approached’ them. προσέρχομαι (proserchomai).  He perhaps went for a job, and he not only got work, but in the providence of God he got a home and fellowship and support and companionship.

4 Paul Gets to Work.  V4  

Paul goes back to his missionary strategy, visiting the synagogue, debating with the Jews – διαλέγομαι (dialegomai) – 

and persuading them of the claims of Christ.  We know exactly what his message was here, for in 1 Corinthians 2 he tells us,  1 Corinthians 2:1-5

So, we have seen the first steps of Paul in Corinth, a place where he would be greatly used of God and where a new church would be established, to the Glory and Praise of God.  But what about Paul himself.  Ministry, months and months travelling by foot on the road, loneliness and beatings and pain and imprisonment.  What was going on in Paul’s heart and mind?  We shall see in our Next Lord’s Day service…

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