Put this ancient Greek city’s name in verb form and it means “to practice whoredom” (Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon). Welcome to Corinth.
Corinth lay on an isthmus between the province of Achaia and the Peloponnese. Eastern and western ports, as well as the isthmus land-bridge, made the city a key commercial center. Cicero (2nd century B.C. Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator) wrote, “Maritime cities suffer corruption and degeneration of morals, for they receive a mixture of strange languages and customs, and import foreign ways as well as foreign merchandise.”
“The cosmopolitan mix of ‘local Greeks, freedmen from Italy, Roman army veterans, businessmen and government officials, Orientals, . . . including a large number of Jews,’ lived in a ‘rip-roaring town’ where, as Horace (leading Roman lyric poet in the 1st century B.C.) put it, ‘none but the tough could survive’ (The Book of Acts, F. F. Bruce). Corinth catered to pleasure. If it were the 21st century, Corinth would have advertised on billboard, TV and Internet. Target audience? People with money to burn.
Worship-by-priestess-prostitutes staffed the temple of the goddess Aphrodite. All sorts of other Greek and Roman gods filled the city, including Poseidon, god of the great waters. The city’s elite favored the imperial cult in which the Emperor, his ancestors and family were venerated.
Lest we picture ancient Corinth a hybrid of New York, Las Vegas and wild west Dodge City, we should note that Corinth (population 200,000) served as capital of Achaia Province, making the city a political base, as well as a commercial, religious and sex center.
After [making only a few converts] . . . Paul left Athens and went on[50 miles] to Corinth (Acts 18:1).
I imagine Paul entering the city, walking slowly, “scoping it out”, confirming what he already knows: Corinth will make a strategic center for planting the gospel. Along the way he meets two Jews recently arrived from Rome. A year or two earlier (49 A.D.) Emperor Claudius had expelled all Jews from the city. Suetonius (1st century B.C. Roman historian) wrote: “As the Jews were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus, he banished them from Rome.” It’s likely that “Chrestus” was Christ. If so, Christians might be found in the city within 20 years of the crucifixion/resurrection. Again if so, it would have begun from Jews returning home from Pentecost (Acts 2:10).
There he met a Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, for Emperor Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and stayed and worked with them, because he earned his living by making tents, just as they did (Acts 18:2,3).
The meeting was providential. Both Aquila and Priscilla (already believers in Christ Jesus) and Paul crafted leather goods for a living. “It was not considered proper for a scribe or rabbi to receive payment for his teaching” (The Book of Acts, F. F. Bruce). So Paul plied his trade to support his preaching. Between the married couple and Paul a life-long friendship and a foundation for ministry were formed. According to Paul’s custom . . .
He held discussions in the synagogue every Sabbath, trying to convince both Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:4).
A commercial center, Corinth had a sizable Jewish population. They were joined in synagogue by Greek God-worshipers. We don’t know how many weeks Paul spent “trying to convince both Jews and Greeks” that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament messianic prophecies. But it turns out, as we shall see, mostly fruitless—except for a few God-surprises.
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul gave his whole time to preaching the message, testifying to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. When they opposed him and said evil things about him, he protested by shaking the dust from his clothes and saying to them, “If you are lost, you yourselves must take the blame for it! I am not responsible. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” So he left them and went to live in the house of a Gentile named Titius Justus, who worshiped God; his house was next to the synagogue.Crispus, who was the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his family; and many other people in Corinth heard the message, believed, and were baptized (Acts 18:5-8).
Silas and Timothy return from Macedonia Province, where they had delivered Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians and received a financial gift from the church at Philippi. This allowed Paul to give “his whole time to preaching the message . . . [that] Jesus is the Messiah.” But the synagogue Jews repudiated Paul. Paul shakes the dust from his clothes to say, “I’m done with you. If you’re lost, it’s your fault not mine. I’m going to the Gentiles.”
But the Holy Spirit had two surprises to spring from Jewish opposition. We’ll discover them next time. For now, . . .
What can we take away from our “welcome to Corinth”?
Corinth was the most worldly city Paul encountered. A hybrid of New York City, Las Vegas and Dodge City may not be far from the mark. Pagan cults flourished. Prostitution was sacred worship. “To practice whoredom” was a fitting slogan. People blew much money on pleasure. Politicians schemed. Commercial interests kept the city at the top of the charts. For people who rejected the God of the Jews, gods of their own creation were just fine, thank you. Corinth had all her citizens needed and wanted. Virtually impossible for them to do anything but reject a new foreign God who supposedly had risen from the dead.
And yet, and yet . . .the church got planted there. And that’s the overriding message author Luke is narrating. No matter how strong the opposition, no matter how worldly people are, and how disorderly the church is, the gospel goes marching on capturing unlikely people God has chosen for himself in Christ . The church gets messy at times. Doesn’t appear impressive or “in touch with the times.” But the church with her gospel rolls on, because the crucified/risen Christ is her head and God is her Father.