19 Apr 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Acts. 18:2-6. Paul stays with Aquila and Priscilla.
*There in Corinth, he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome* (2a). This married couple, whom Paul later called his ‘fellow-workers in Christ Jesus’, who had ‘risked their lives for him’ (Rom. 16:3-4), exemplified an extraordinary degree of mobility. Born in Pontus on the southern shore of the Black Sea, Aquila had migrated to Italy. We are not told why, nor whether this move was before or after his marriage to Priscilla. It was together, however, that they left Rome for Corinth, and on account of an imperial edict. Suetonius referred to this in his *Life of Claudius* (25:4): ‘as the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (*impulsore Chresto*), he banished them from Rome’. The people he expelled he called ‘Jews’, but ‘Chrestus’ seems to mean Christ (the pronunciation of ‘Christus’ and ‘Chrestus’ will have been very similar), in which case the Jews were Christians and the disturbances in the Jewish community had been caused by the gospel. Presumably, then, Aquila and Priscilla were already believers before they reached Corinth. They later undertook a further move, this time from Corinth to Ephesus in the company of Paul, and the church, or a portion of it, met in their house (18:18, 19, 26).
Paul now *went to see them (2b), and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them* (3). They shared the same trade as well as the same faith. What was it? Virtually all English versions translate *skenopoios* ‘tentmaker’, since *skene* or *skenos* is a tent. Some commentators prefer ‘leather worker’ or ‘saddler’, however, ‘since the tents of antiquity were usually made of leather’. Another possibility is ‘cloth worker’, and it is at least plausible (though not proven) that Paul wove a coarse fabric from the thick goats’ hair of his native Cilicia. Called in Latin *cilicium*, it was used for curtains, rugs and clothing as well as tents. What is certain is that he worked with his hands. Indeed, Rabbis were required to learn a trade, and urged all young men to do the same. True Paul also insisted several times on the right of Christian teachers to be supported by their pupils (e.g. Gal.6:6; 1 Cor.9:4ff.). But he himself voluntary renounced this right, partly so as not to be a ‘burden’ to the churches (1 Thess.2:9; 2 Thess. 3:8; 2 Cor.12;13) and partly to undercut the accusation of ulterior motives by preaching the gospel free of charge (1 Cor.9:15ff.; 2 Cor. 11;7ff.). ‘Tentmaking ministries’ have rightly become popular in our day. The expression describes cross-cultural messengers of the gospel, who support themselves by their own professional or business expertise, while at the same time being involved in mission. Dr. J.Christy Wilson has written about it in his book *Today’s Tentmakers*. The principle of self-support is the same, and the desire not to burden the churches, but the main motivation is different, namely that this may be the only way for Christians to enter those countries which do not grant visas to self-styled ‘missionaries’.
While Paul worked at his trade on every weekday, every *Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade* (an imperfect tense expressing his persistence) *Jews and Greeks*, the latter being ‘God-fearers’ who attended synagogue worship (4). *When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia*, however, after staying in Berea (17:14) and visiting Thessalonica (1 Thess.3;2), they brought with them not only the good news of the Thessalonians’ faith and love (1 Thess. 3:6), but also a gift (cf. Phil.4:14ff; and 2 Cor. 11:8-9). As a result Paul was able to give up his tentmaking. Instead, he now *devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ* (5), or (RSV, cf. NEB) ‘that the Christ was Jesus’. Either way, it was the identity of the historical Jesus and the expected Christ which mattered. But this Jewish mission met with stubborn resistance, which led Paul to repeat the drastic step he had taken in Pisidian Antioch (13:46, 51) and to turn to the Gentiles. This time he expressed his decision in a dramatic gesture and statement *But, when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest* (so that ‘not a speck of dust from the synagogue might adhere to’ them) *and said to them*, echoing Ezekiel (see Ezk.33:1ff), ‘*Your blood be upon your heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’* (6).
Tomorrow: Acts. 18:7-11) Paul turns to the Gentiles.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.