Early Church History: Part 12--Paul Journeys On
Aug 09, 2007
When the earthquake set the prisoners free in Philippi (Acts 16:26), the prison warden's life was in danger, because he was held personally responsible for all the prisoners. Any prison escape would have cost him his life under Roman law. This is why he "was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped" (16:27).
But Paul called out to him and told him that "we are all here!" Obviously, Paul had told all the prisoners to remain in the prison, and they were all so awestruck by the miracle that they willingly obeyed. No doubt there were no more unbelievers in that prison. The warden himself and his family became believers and doubtless formed the basis of the Philippian Church, along with the young woman who had been delivered of the spirit of python.
Lydia, of course, was actually from Thyatira, but Acts 16:40 seems to say that she had a house in Philippi. The word "house" is actually not in the Greek text (note the italics in most versions), but yet it is implied. We are not told if this was a rented house or if she owned it, but the implication is that this is where Paul and Silas established the Philippian Church.
When morning arrived, the civil magistrates tried to release Paul and Silas and strongly advised them to leave town (16:36). But they knew they needed to remain a while and establish the new home church. So they refused to leave town without first being given an official apology.
In fact, Paul struck fear in their hearts by informing them that he and Silas were Roman citizens and had been beaten unlawfully. The irony of the situation is that the civil magistrates now treated Paul and Silas very well and would not oppress them further--even at the instigation of the idol makers--because Paul and Silas could end their careers by appealing to Roman law.
But after visiting with Lydia and telling her of the warden's conversion, they left town and went west to Thessalonica. They spent three weeks there teaching and discussing Jesus Christ in the local synagogue. A number of people believed the Word, "a great multitude of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women" (17:4). This included a man named Jason (17:5). Interestingly enough, Jason is one of the Greek forms of the name "Jesus."
The Jewish leaders finally became alarmed that so many were coming to believe in Jesus, and so they accused Jason of harboring treasonous people--those who taught that there was a king other than Caesar (17:7). Recall that this had been one of the charges laid upon Jesus Himself (Luke 23:2). The Jews themselves affirmed, "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15). Again, the irony here is that the Jewish mindset was largely rebellious against Caesar, and within 15 years the entire Judean nation would be in open revolt. And yet they accused Jesus and Jason and all Christians of being rebellious against Caesar!
Jason, then, like his Namesake (Jesus), was accused of treason, for Jason was a type of Christ. He was arrested and was set free only by paying bond (Acts 17:9). Meanwhile, Paul and Silas had been hidden and escaped arrest. They left town that night and went southwest to Berea a short distance away.
There Paul and Silas visited the synagogue, and finally they seemed to find people who were more open to hearing the gospel. Acts 17:11 says,
" (11) Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so. (12) Many of them therefore believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men."
Take note that the Greek believers were always more open to the Gospel than the Jews themselves. This would be natural, because the Gospel treated them as equals, rather than as second-class citizens of the Kingdom. God was not grudgingly throwing them a few crumbs, but was making them co-heirs with Christ. That revelation alone was enough to make them rejoice.
But news of this acceptance of the Gospel reached the Jews in Thessalonica, and they immediately sent men to Berea to stir up trouble for Paul and Silas. So Paul was escorted by the brethren to Athens, while Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea (17:15). In this time of separation, Paul saw that Athens was full of idolatry. He continued to bear witness of Christ with Jews, Greek proselytes, and with philosophers among the Stoics and Epicureans.
Paul was well versed on the various philosophies of the day, as is clearly seen in all of his writings. Though he seldom mentions them, he deals with their questions thoroughly. In fact, it seems clear that Paul admits to having been an Epicurean at one time. But a study of Paul's refutation of Greek philosophies will have to be discussed at another time. That is one of my favorite topics, since Philosophy was my major at the University of Minnesota many years ago.
The philosophers encouraged Paul to discuss his teachings at the Hill of Areopagus, or Mars Hill. (Ares was the Greek form of Mars, the Roman god.) There Paul told them about "The Unknown God," to whom they had erected a monument (17:23). He even cites one of their own prophet-poets, Aratus, who had lived about 270 B.C. in Cilicia:
" (28) For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His offspring.' (29) Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man."
When Paul finally got to the part about the resurrection of the dead, some sneered, but others wanted to hear more. Two notable believers came out of this witness: Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, along with "others" (17:34). But no church was formed in Athens at this time.
Paul then went to Corinth, where he spent eighteen months (18:11), establishing a strong church body, which met at the home of Aquila and Priscilla. They were tentmakers, as was Paul, and so it is likely that they met while Paul was looking for work to support himself.
Meanwhile, Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia to join Paul in Corinth. They reported the usual Jewish opposition to the Gospel, finally telling them, "Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentiles [ethnos]." In the light of the experience of Jason, the type of Jesus Christ, it is noteworthy that they referred to that hated statement in Matt. 27:25, "His blood be upon us and on our children."
However, the contrast with the Corinthian synagogue is striking, for there Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, came to believe in Christ (18:8). This opened the door for many of the Jews to believe in Christ, for as we see so often, people follow the example of their leaders.
Even so, there were other Jews, led by Sosthenes, who appealed to Gallio, the proconsul (judge). Sosthenes either had succeeded Crispus as leader of that synagogue, or was the leader of a different synagogue. At the trial, Gallio was wise enough to see that this was purely a matter of religious difference and not a matter needing justice, so he threw the case out of court (18:16). The crowd, which was hostile to the Jews anyway, gave Sosthenes a beating, while Gallio did nothing to stop it.
The Corinthian Church was the main success that came of this second missionary journey. From there Paul, accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla, sailed from the Corinthian port of Cenchrea across the Aegean Sea to Ephesus, then to Caesarea in Syria, and finally back to Antioch.
This is the twelfth part of a series titled "Early Church History." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones