But when Gallio became governor of Achaia, some Jews rose up together against Paul and brought him before the governor for judgment. They accused Paul of “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to our law.” But just as Paul started to make his defense, Gallio turned to Paul’s accusers and said, “Listen, you Jews, if this were a case involving some wrongdoing or a serious crime, I would have a reason to accept your case. But since it is merely a question of words and names and your Jewish law, take care of it yourselves. I refuse to judge such matters.” And he threw them out of the courtroom. The crowd then grabbed Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him right there in the courtroom. But Gallio paid no attention.Acts 18:12-17
A quick reading of this passage must inevitably leave you with questions. There are some disturbing elements to the story just from a logical perspective. But also from the point of view of trusting the words that God had given Paul in the vision given the event which followed.
“Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.”Acts 19:9-10
Only to have a crowd of Jews rise up suddenly and drag him before the tribunal must surely have dented Paul’s confidence in what he saw and heard in the vision. Have you ever had a “word from the Lord” – either in vision from, in a dream, in spontaneous words which came to your spirit when you were least expecting it – only to have them cast into doubt by the events or the happenings which followed? That must have been the case with Paul after he was told no one will attack you and harm you and then to experience being grabbed off the street and dragged before the tribunal.
- What was going through Paul’s mind?
- What would be going through your mind?
The words [homothumadon] “with one mind” and the verb [katephistamai] “to rise up and take a stand against someone” indicate a crowd of Jews suddenly and spontaneously rushed at Paul and grabbed him and dragged him before the tribunal. It appears from the words they could stand his words no longer and acted impetuously. It is almost like they had no case to present but the suddenness of their action was meant to carry weight by the sheer numbers of them who reacted. [ago] was a specific term meaning “to lead away” or “to take into custody”. It was an official legal term but carried out by Jews, not Romans and a spontaneous action by a crowd not thought through nor legal. Nonetheless one would expect they would have roughed Paul up a little in doing what they did. Hence Paul must have questioned the validity of the words he “heard” spoken in the vision. “So if no one is going to attack me and harm me, what am I experiencing now?”
There is debate as to when in Gallio’s term of office this happened. It seems from the words that it happened at the beginning of his term of governor but equally it could have happened during his term of office. Gallio was referred to in Roman writings as “sweet Gallio” as he had a reputation for being amiable and easy going. Perhaps that inspired these Jews to take a chance and grab Paul off the streets and take him before Gallio, the governor of the region. Paul was dragged before the [bema] which was the sitting court held regularly by the judiciary to hear cases of public dispute. These Jews must have figured if they stormed the court their numbers and angry actions would carry the day. Besides Gallio was soft, maybe that is why he did nothing when Sosthenes was beaten.
They try the same thing that has been done before. They attempt to label this Way or these “people of God” as an illicit new religion and therefore one needing to be outlawed by Greeks and Romans. It seems Paul did not get a chance to speak or plead his case in his defence. He was not shouted down by his accusers, rather it is the Governor, Gallio himself, who addresses Paul’s accusers. He states clearly they have no case to bring. It was just a matter of “words” or “a parcel of questions”; nothing of substance. So deal with it yourselves. In Gallio eyes, this Christian Way was an off-shoot of Judaism. As a Roman governor, Gallio had no intention of hearing a religious matter in a Roman civil court. “Take care of this matter yourselves.” Gallio had no intention of dealing with a matter he knew nothing about, neither was he interested.
Two readers have asked, if Gallio said that why didn’t the Jews hold a mock court like they did with Jesus and punish Paul themselves? Simply because they had no authority to do Paul any harm. They could debate the nature of what he was saying in a Jewish religious council but they could not do him harm. As far as Gallio was concerned, Christianity was an off shoot of Judaism and so was part of the religio licita – approved religion. So the Jews could not touch Paul nor do him harm. Unlike Pilate who caved in to the Sanhedrin’s request, amiable Gallio was not going to be persuaded and stood his ground.
Gallio threw this angry Jewish rabble out of the court. The same two readers have asked
- How if they were thrown out of court were they able to beat the leader of the Jewish synagogue in the court?
- Was Sosthenes a follower of Jesus himself?
- There is a Sosthenes mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1.
- Is this the same guy? I am confused Ian as to what is happening here. It all seems a bit of a mess.
- Why would they beat up on another follower of Jesus (and/or Paul) when the case has been thrown out of court?
- And why does the governor do nothing?
For the moment, I will highlight the hints in the text which can help you solve the confusion.
- First notice that the leader of synagogue Luke tells us became a believer was Crispus. (18:8).
- Sosthenes here in this story is not necessarily the same Sosthenes who is mentioned in 1 Cor 1:1.
- This Sosthenes was now the leader of the synagogue in Corinth. Assumedly he has replaced Crispus.
- Luke does not mention Sosthenes as being one of those who became a believer.
- Who are the crowd who grabbed Sosthenes and beat him?
- Are they the same crowd as mentioned at the beginning of this encounter?
- What is interesting is that Luke states clearly that Gallio does nothing about it! Why?
Take time to puzzle over the evidence and I will give you my conclusions in the next Gem.
People may reject you but God has accepted you! What more do you need? If God be for me who can be against me?Ian Vail
People may call you a mistake but God calls you a masterpiece; His masterpiece.Ian Vail
Man was made at the end of the week when God was tired.Rick Godwin
But after God had made man God announced, “Very good”. IanIan Vail
But angels held their breath when God created people, seeing them turn their back on such a God of love.Ellis Deibler (from his song “I Heard the Angels Sing”)
I Heard the Angels Sing by Ellis Deibler
- I heard the angels sing “Glory, Hallelujah”
- A mighty chorus way up high
- I heard the angels sing “Praise the name of Jesus”
- Singing in God’s choir in the sky
- I heard a thousand trumpets sounding out His glory
- Telling the story how He came to earth to die
- I heard a million voices praise the name of Jesus
- Singing in God’s choir in the sky
- They say the angels sang to praise the Lord of glory
- When God made light begin to glow,
- They saw the earth established, mountains rose from valleys –
- And heard the Lord tell all the plants to grow.
- But angels held their breath when God created people
- Seeing them turn their back on such a God of love
- They wished that we would join them praising God the Father
- Singing in God’s choir up above.
- The angel Gabriel was sent upon an errand
- That made the other angels cheer
- That Mary’s boy would be the promised seed of David
- The Saviour sent to bring salvation here
- They told some shepherds resting, watching o’er their sheepfolds
- “Go see the baby! God’s messiah sent to die”
- Then angels, thousands, praised the God of heaven,
- Wanting us to join them by and by.
- And now I know that some day I will join the angels
- In thanking God for all He’s done.
- I’ll join with those of every tribe and tongue and nation
- Singing out the praises of God’s son.
- But I will sing with joy unmatched by heaven’s angels.
- Telling how Jesus died for sinners such as I;
- I’ll join the millions who have been redeemed by Jesus
- Singing in God’s Choir in the sky.