The (Feigned) Worship War and The Haircut Heard ‘Round the World

Acts 18:12-23

But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.” And he drove them away from the judgment seat. And they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat. And Gallio was not concerned about any of these things. And Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow. And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. And when they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent, but taking leave of them and saying, “I will return to you again if God wills,” he set sail from Ephesus. And when he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and went down to Antioch. And having spent some time there, he departed and passed successively through the Galatian region and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

Once again, after a year and a half and another time of being brought​ up on charges by the Jews, Paul eventually leaves Corinth and goes into another synagogue. For​ the apostle to the gentiles, Paul spends an inordinate amount of time speaking in the synagogues, even considering his year and a half long hiatus. Nevertheless remember, he found a church right nextdoor​. Paul was always within an earshot of the synagogues. I never really paid attention to how many synagogues there were in those days.

Paul has had a relative time of peace, compared to the beatings, stonings and prison sentences but as always, when one makes waves, we expect an ebb and flow. The tides are about to turn on Paul in Corinth, but not severely. Paul has been protected by the Lord and his people, “But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, saying, ‘This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.’ But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.'”

Presumably Paul is preaching many days a week within the hearing of the Jewish people of the synagogue. We consider the context here, therefore we remember that Paul has devoted himself to full-time ministry upon the arrival of Silas and Timothy. We can take our Vitamin E, Expository Exegesis of Examples, and read 1 Corinthians to get an idea of what this looked like. We will look at a few things Paul writes to the church in Corinth to get a feel for his ministry there. “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, that no man should say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void; my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. I gave you milk to drink.” 

Paul preached–some baptisms–Crispus being noteworthy but the context is clear, Paul was there to preach, speak, exhort, tell and teach, proclaiming “nothing but Christ crucified.” That is litotes, a literary and rhetorical device that understates for ironic effect. Think of all the ramifications of preaching “Christ Crucified.” The atonement, the fulfillment of the Law, the fulfillment of the prophets, the Old Testament examples and anti-types such as Abraham and Isaac–“the Lord will provide the sacrifice.” Paul could probably have preached twice a day for that year and a half and still never scratched the surface. Yet, his focus was clear of preaching Christ crucified.

Therefore I believe that by now, the synagogue was sick of Paul’s preaching. Look at today’s text, remembering what Paul himself has said in his letter to the Corinthians. In today’s text we read, “The Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, saying, ‘This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.'” Ah, the ages old worship wars. Honestly, was the synagogue the only religious gig in town? This was Corinth! They had a temple to Poseidon and other pagon places of worship. Why would the Jewish people want to wage worship wars against Paul and not Poseidon? Why would they care about Paul’s worshiping ways, which were at least in line with monotheism, when Poseidon in the pagan temple was part of a plurality of deities?

It’s okay, you can think it, you see where a careful consideration of the context leads. Even if this is your first time reading one of my missives, stumbling upon this sight, you are starting to see the sublime string. Here, we realize that unless we are learning for ourselves, we only know what we have been taught. The Scriptures have been twisted, tied up by our traditions. The word of God has been CAGED by our presuppositions and preconceived notions. Therefore we use the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics to unlock the CAGED Scripture. Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to his Audience are Apex, Genre is the General, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth, either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions.

Therefore we consider the continuing and cultural context, jive with the genre, explore examples, letting the Scripture interpret Scripture. Let’s divide rightly; Paul stormed out of the synagogue and founded a church right nextdoor; quit his job to minister full time; didn’t do much baptizing but preached persistently “Christ crucified,” right nextdoor to the synagogue. When preaching Christ crucified, may we assume that Paul preached who killed him as well? Indeed it was the very same people of whom the Jewish people in the synagogue followed, they instituted their system of worship. The system was set up by the high priest, the scribes and Pharisees. Essentially, the Jewish people, in one accord, lied about Paul. It was not about songs sung, prayers prayed or even the following of the Sabbath. Poseidon would have been a much better target than Paul. It was not about the worship but Paul’s persistent preaching of Christ crucified. And, it was almost in their face. Culturally, the synagogue would have taken things to the streets, Paul would have as well. Eventually the people of the synagogue reached their boiling point and hoped to have a friend in Gallio. But he wasn’t about to get in between the two groups, or do anything at all.

“But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.’ And he drove them away from the judgment seat.” Notice Gallio mentioned names. One guess as to who was the biggest name in dispute? Jesus was only crucified less than 20 years prior to this. They new who he was and what had happened. They were not that far removed from Jerusalem, plus, Paul told them when he arrived in Corinth. Remember he stormed out and said, your blood be on your own heads.” Notice also that Gallio mentioned words, and their own Law–Names, words and Law. I would guess that they dropped the name of Moses based on Gallio’s mentioning of names and Law. It is because of the testimony and the same old song and dance. We’ve seen it before with these one-trick ponies, “obey the Law of Moses.” Ironically, the only person in the history of the planet to obey the Law of Moses was Jesus Christ. And I am sure that Paul was waiting in the wings to proclaim that to them once again but he never got the opportunity. A victory is a victory but I am sure Paul was more than ready to make a defense. Yet we also have seen the huge hand of the Lord working in the life of Paul. Ready or not to give a defense, God wouldn’t allow it.

“And he drove them away from the judgment seat. And they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat. And Gallio was not concerned about any of these things.” As far as Gallio’s indifference, it’s ironic. We could see his indifference before but now we see his utter hypocrisy. Notice; “If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you;” then Sosthenes is beaten right in front of him and he shows no concern.

Problem: other than being the leader of the synagogue, like Crispus before him whom Paul baptized, we are not sure who Sosthenes was or whose side he was on. One leader of the synagogue had already converted, it is possible Paul’s persistence also paid off in Sosthenes. We notice in Paul’s letter to the very same Corinthians; “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth.” If not probable, it’s at minimum plausible, that this was the same man beaten in front of the judgement seat. I believe it to be probable, to a very high degree based upon the context and flow. It appears to me that the second convert from the leaders of the synagogue was beaten in front of Gallio. To me, no other scenarios work. I believe that Sosthenes, having known Crispus converted, studying the Scripture and hearing Paul preach, eventually converted and was beaten for it. Perhaps even, it was a preemptive beating. Perhaps he sat on the sidelines while the rest, in one accord, brought charges against Paul. We simply don’t know because we are not told. Even with a heavy dose of all that is written about Sosthenes, and the overall themes, noticing how and why the Jews became violent, we cannot ascertain Luke’s aspiration about this, other than the utter hypocrisy of Gallio. Another assumption is that Sosthenes was a different Sosthenes than in 1 Corinthians but that would make little sense. In this scenario it is the Greeks who beat Sosthenes. Huge problem; the Greek people are not mentioned and there is this thing called grammar. The context, while certainly not crystal clear, is relatively clear. Notice; “Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.’ And he drove them away from the judgment seat. And they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat.” My opinion is that they smelled a rat in Sosthenes and questioned his leadership. But again, we are not told, therefore we move on.

“And Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow. And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there.” After many days Paul knew that it was time to move on. After all,  he’d been in Corinth almost as long as his first missionary journey lasted in total. Taking the other tent makers with him, he traveled the short distance,  south east to Cenchrea, where he got a haircut. Pet peeve: some would say, “didn’t he get all of them cut?” Trying to be wise, they make themselves fools. Hair can be plural. For example, pick up all of that hair on the floor. Try it their way: pick up all of that hairs on the floor. Sorry–pet peeve. Anyway Paul was keeping a vow but the time had come for him to get a hairs cut. Luke does not tell us specifically what this vow was but it seems like the Nazarite vow. Other than avoiding all grape products, the book of Numbers describes the vow; “All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long.” Picture Paul as a hippie in Corinth and then writing to them; “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him.” Context is king, Paul never says that a man cannot have long hair. My guess is that you didn’t know that. We hold to teachings and traditions, not the Scripture. Two of my male cousins have extremely long hair and it drove my aunt nuts; based on tradition, ripped from a text that refered to their culture,  in which Paul had long hairs. Put aside your presuppositions and think, how does nature suggest that men shouldn’t have long hairs? It doesn’t. Consider the fact that Paul had long hairs when he was in Corinth, is Paul then a huge hypocrite? No, we simply lack the cultural context. But we are not here to debate 1 Corinthians, we are here to consider the context of Acts. If Paul had taken a Nazarite vow in Corinth, the accusations against him from the Jews is even more errant. Paul was being the chaste of the chaste, holding himself to the highest standard for a time. A high standard that required him to let his hairs grow. Alright, enough with the hairs.

But now his vow is over and he gets his hair cut shortly after leaving Corinth. But we are left with the impression of how much Paul put into his ministry at Corinth, even going so far as to take a temporary vow. It was like fasting on steroids. After the vow ended and Paul had his hair cut, they set sail and went west, stopping in Ephesus, where Paul not only left Priscilla and Aquila, but resorted back to his tradition of teaching in the synagogue. Priscilla and Aquila settled in Ephesus as missionaries. I write Priscilla’s name first because 2/3ds of the time, the Bible does as well–it was unheard of in those days, for a woman to be mentioned before her husband, but the Bible does it. Priscilla and Aquila are left in Ephesus as missionaries, that is Luke’s main aspiration to his audience. But after reasoning with the Jews, who actually wanted to hear more, Paul heads back to the land of his birth and the several cities in which he first preached the gospel. It has been at least two years since he has seen them.

“And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. And when they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent, but taking leave of them and saying, ‘I will return to you again if God wills,’ he set sail from Ephesus. And when he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and went down to Antioch. And having spent some time there, he departed and passed successively through the Galatian region and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.”

I believe that Paul had great faith in Priscilla and Aquila. Based upon the context. Paul normally stays when people want to hear more but this time he departed. I think Paul desperately wanted to check on the churches of which he and Barnabas first attended. I also think that Paul is on the edge of burnout, we forget he’s human. He may have even been a little homesick. But more than any of those excuses, I believe Paul knew that Ephesus was in good hands. I look at the simple mentioning of having his hair cut. Why would Luke include a haircut but not why Sosthenes was beaten or even what they had for dinner. I think it’s foreshadowing the end of Paul’s second missionary journey. The vow was over and soon this 3-plus-years, mission trip will be over. Paul was the super apostle to us but we must remember that he was still a human being. My guess is that Paul preached for 42 months, and also worked at times. I think it’s time for Paul to be encouraged and have his batteries recharged. However, it is relatively short lived.

“And having spent some time there, he departed and passed successively through the Galatian region and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.” After some time in his “home church” in Antioch, where he and Barnabas were set apart by the Spirit to go on the first missionary journey. And from where he and Barnabas split, Paul taking Silas on the second missionary journey. Paul now departs for his third missionary journey. Paul begins by retracing his early steps of his second missionary journey. From Antioch Paul proceeded to go north and then west. Through Galatia and Phrygia he strengthened the christian churches–people, not walls.

 

 

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