Acts 18:1-18 by Robert Dean
What if you were an Old Testament believer living away from Jerusalem in the first century? How long after Christ died, rose again, and ascended would you have heard about the changes that had taken place? Listen to this lesson to learn that the book of Acts tells of a gradual transition that was being made from the Mosaic Law to the Church Age. See how the Apostle Paul in his exhausted state was given three personal promises by God. Find out about Paul's vow and possible reasons why he shaved his head.

Transitions: The Holy Spirit Expands the Church
Acts 18:1-18

Acts 18:6 NASB "But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, 'Your blood {be} on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.'"

Blasphemy here refers to their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and His claims to be the Messiah. Shaking out the garments was a very Jewish thing to do, a part of their culture, and it is a physical symbol of the fact that Paul was leaving them and basically saying they were taking the responsibility for their decision, and he was moving on down the road. What he means by "Your blood be on your own heads" is they are responsible now for their eternal destiny. They have rejected the truth, so blood here is a metaphor standing for life. He says he is clear because he has made the issue clear, and now he is going to the Gentiles. As is seen in other studies this is one thing that really angered the Jewish audience because in second temple Judaism at this time in the first century there was the idea that they were a spiritual elite that simply because of their descent from Abraham they were automatically guaranteed a destiny in heaven. In some forms of rabbinical teaching at that time the Gentiles were not.  

Acts 18:7 NASB "Then he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue." In these verses there are two converts that are going to be mentioned. Titius Justus is a Gentile proselyte. Not a full proselyte because he is simply referred to as one who worshipped God, a God-worshipper. His house was next door to the synagogue. We know from the location of the synagogue in Corinth that this was a wealthy area, and so this was a rather large house because this then becomes the place where the new church in Corinth is going to meet. On Saturday the Jews would gather and on Sunday the Christians would gather next door at the house of Justus, and this must been something that really irritated the Jewish community because they were so close, right next to their synagogue.

Acts 18:8 NASB "Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized." Crispus is also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:14 as one who Paul baptized. We are told in this verse that he "believed in the Lord." This is standard vocabulary in the Scripture on how to be saved. How are we saved? By inviting Jesus into our heart? No, that is not what the Scripture says. People have all kinds on non-biblical terminology and that is why it is so hard to understand what the Bible says to be saved. It doesn't mean commit your life to Jesus, give your life to Jesus, make Christ part of your life, or invite Him into your life. Again and again there is this simple terminology: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe means to trust, to believe something to be true and to rely upon it. 

So Crispus believes in the Lord, and his whole household. So his whole family trusts in Christ as their savior, the one who died on the cross for their sins. Along with this "many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and were baptized." The word for hearing is a present active participle of the word akouo, meaning to hear. But it also implies in many contexts to listen to a command and to obey it. The gospel is a command to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. As a participle it has a temporal sense to it, so it should be translated to give it a little more clarity, "when they were hearing the gospel they believed." It is an imperfect tense, indicating that this is continuous action. The idea here is that as Paul is proclaiming the gospel, dialoguing with the Jews and explaining the Old Testament passages there was a continuous stream of people who were hearing it and responding to the illumination of God the Holy Spirit and the call of the Word of God, and were putting their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. And again we see that their response was just like Crispus, to believe.

What did they do after they believed? They were baptized. They didn't wait for a period of time.

There is a view about baptism that has been taught by a group known as hyper-dispensationalists. The word "dispensationalism" means the believe that God administers His plan in history in different ways in different ages. There are different levels of degrees of revelation. What Abraham knew was not as much as what David knew, what David knew was not as much as what Paul knew. There is a progress in revelation down through the ages and as God gives a new level of revelation there are new responsibilities and new requirements during that new era or new age. The age prior to the cross we call the age of Israel. It began with the call of Abraham in approximately 2000 BC and it ends at the cross. In the age of Israel the focal point is on Israel, but that age is subdivided into what we call dispensations. A dispensation is a period demarcated by divine revelation as to how God is administering human history. So we have one period of that administration we call the patriarchs (from Abraham to Moses) in preparation for bringing the Jewish nation out of Egypt in approximately 1446 BC. And at that time new revelation was given with the Mosaic Law—new requirements, new obligations, and that introduced the dispensation of the Law. The dispensation of the Law began in 1446 with the giving of the Law and it ends at the cross. Then with the day of Pentecost some 50 days after the crucifixion—that 50-day gap is not the dispensation of the Law, it is still the age of Israel but it is a hinge period, a transition—a new era begins, new revelation, God the Holy Spirit comes to indwell each and every believer, and the church age extends until the Rapture of the church which removes all church age believers from the earth. That is what ends the church age.

A lot of people think that the Rapture begins the Tribulation period, but it doesn't. The Tribulation period is a seven-year period that is defined in Daniel 9:27-29 that begins when the "prince who is to come" (the future Antichrist) signs a peace treaty with Israel. That signing (not the Rapture) starts the timer. So once again there is going to be a transition period of unknown length between the end of the church age and the beginning of the Tribulation.

Back around 1915 or 1916 there was a book called Dispensational Truth by Clarence Larkin. Larkin said that if the Rapture were to occur in his day—the Rapture is a signless event, nothing has to happen for the Rapture to occur, there is no prophecy to occur first, it can occur at any moment—it would be at least fifty or sixty years before the Tribulation could begin because of very little Jewish presence in the land, no Jewish nation in the land, no temple built on the temple mount. There were none of the structures that we see as necessary to be present in Israel at the beginning of Daniel's seventieth week and he recognized that it would take all of these things to be put into place.

Now some 100 years later we look back on the events of the 20th century and we see the vibrant Jewish nation. The population of Israel is about five and a half million Jews and another million or so Arabs. There are almost as many Jews in the land as outside of the land. Never in history since the destruction of the northern kingdom in 722 BC has there been as many Jews in the land as there are today. So we see that the stage is being set. That doesn't mean that the Rapture going to occur tomorrow, it just means that more and more things are in place so that that transition period between the Rapture and the beginning of Daniel's seventieth week doesn't need to be quite as long. So it is probably going to be a shorter period of time than what Clarence Larkin perceived.

There are certain things that are distinct in each dispensation related to the covenants. For example, in the Old Testament the sign of the Abrahamic covenant was circumcision; the sign of the Mosaic covenant was the observance of the Sabbath. The sign of the church is baptism—water baptism by immersion—because it teaches a spiritual principle. It teaches that we are identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. This identification with Christ (baptism by the Spirit) began on the day of Pentecost.

There are some dispensationalists who came along called hyper-dispensationalists who said the church really didn't begin on the day of Pentecost because there is still this Jewish thing going on; it didn't begin until Paul was converted in Acts chapter nine. Others say that it didn't begin until Peter took the gospel to Cornelius in Acts chapter ten and Paul began to take the gospel to the Gentiles on the first missionary journey. Others, real hyper-dispensationalists, say that the church really didn't begin until after the close of the book of Acts when Paul began to truly write about the mystery doctrine of the church age in the prison epistles. Hyper-dispensationalists say that baptism was only for that interim period; it was temporary. They also try to build the argument that it is like the sign gifts—tongues, knowledge, prophecy—that were temporary.

The fact is, the church began on the day of Pentecost. And Paul continued to baptize both Jew and Gentile; he never treated baptism like it was something distinctive for the Jews or for Jewish converts. God has a purpose for baptism that extends beyond just being a significant event for Jewish people. It was to teach a principle, that we are identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. Positional truth is a term used to describe this doctrine.

Acts 18:9 NASB "And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, 'Do not be afraid {any longer,} but go on speaking and do not be silent…' Paul still has some anxieties going on about his ministry. [10] for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.'"

There are three promises made here. The first is, "I am with you." In a similar sense He is always with us. Jesus promised He will never leave us or forsake us, and that no matter what the circumstances might be He is always with us and will always sustain us and strengthen us. Then specific to Paul: "no man will attack you in order to harm you." That would not apply to anybody else; we can't extrapolate any principle from that, it is a promise to Paul is a particular situation and a particular time. Then the third thing He promises is that he has many people in this city. In other words, God is saying there are going to be many people here who respond to the gospel message. And this was indeed the case, in contrast to Athens where there were few who responded there were so many that Paul stayed a year and a half in Corinth.

Acts 18:11 NASB "And he settled {there} a year and six months, teaching [didasko] the word of God among them." As we go through this section we will see that there are several different words used for the communication of the Word of God. This word didasko is a basic word for instruction and teaching. So Paul is going through the Word of God, and what does that mean? It means the Old Testament. Here is the apostle to the Gentiles, the apostle to the church, and he is teaching them the Old Testament. If you don't understand the Old Testament you can't grasp a lot of the things that are going on in the New Testament. The Old Testament is our foundation for New Testament truth.

This teaching generates a reaction. The Jews launch a united attack against Paul and they are going to bring him before the judgment seat in Corinth.

Acts 18:12 NASB "But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat."

Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews identifies various Jewish privileges that were given under Roman law around the Roman empire, and that included the right to observe certain ancestral customs, to worship their own God, and to follow the Mosaic Law. What is happening here is that the Jews are basically coming and bringing a theological charge against Paul that he is causing disruption among the Jewish community.

Gallio is a proconsul about whom we have a lot of information. His brother was famous because he was a famous Stoic philosopher and a tutor for Nero when he was young. The family of Gallio was originally Spanish. Gallio was an aristocrat, well educated, and for these reasons he was set up to be the proconsul in Achaia. He had great tact and people skills, and therefore he could handle an environment where there might be some opposition. But unfortunately he had an anti-Semitic strain, which was typical of Roman aristocrats as well as his own family. Gallio wasn't proconsul for long and therefore it is easy to date his time there—around 51-52. He came down with some sort of disease and had to give up his post and went back to Rome. Later he was executed under Nero.    

Acts 18:13 NASB "saying, 'This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.'" At this point the text says that Paul was about to open his mouth. The reason is because it was a standard that for someone who was brought before the proconsul to swear an oath on a particular column. Gallio interrupted the proceedings.

Acts 18:14 NASB "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; [15] 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. [16] And he drove them away from the judgment seat."

Then all of the Gentiles look at this, because of how he has handled this, as an opportunity to beat up on the Jews and express their anti-Semitic attitudes. 

Acts 18:17 NASB And they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and {began} beating him in front of the judgment seat. But Gallio was not concerned about any of these things." Crispus was the ruler of the synagogue before but he defected; he became a Christian. After this Sosthenes defects and becomes a Christian, and when Paul writes the epistle to the Corinthians he says he is writing it with Sosthenes. Sosthenes became his amanuensis, his secretary who would write down things for him, so he later travelled with Paul. Here Gallio has given his tacit approval to beat up on the Jews and riot against them. This is often a way in which anti-Semitism expresses itself.    

Then we see the conclusion of Paul's stay. Acts 18:18 NASB "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."

He does something unusual. He is going to take what appears to be a Jewish vow but it seems a little unusual. He leaves from the port of Cenchrea and their first stop will be Ephesus.

"…for he was keeping a vow." What this means is that sometime earlier he had taken a vow and at the conclusion of the period of the vow he would have his head shaved. During the period of the vow he was letting his hair grow long. One view is that this was a Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:1-21). At the end of the vow they would go to Jerusalem to have their head shaved. But this was extremely expensive for someone living in the diaspora and not in Judea. Paul is a long way away, he is not getting his hair cut in Jerusalem, and so maybe it is something else. The second option is that it is some form of Jewish vow of thanksgiving to God for preserving him. It could be some other form of Jewish vow and probably the correct interpretation is that this is a vow that was taken by Paul but had been modified for the Jews in the disapora so that they don't have to go back to Jerusalem to have their head shaved there; they can have it done within a local synagogue. A third option that some have come up with is that maybe this is a vow related to a Greek background, but that doesn't fit Paul at all and it is a silly notion. Then there is the way liberals think: it really didn't happen, Luke just put it in there for color.    

What we see here is part of this idea of transition. The question that people have is why Paul is taking a vow. Doesn't he know it is the church age? Doesn't he know that the Law is over with? Sure he does. He is the one who is teaching this, the one who emphasized these things at the Jerusalem Council. But Paul is still Jewish. The Mosaic Law is part of his cultural heritage. It gives him a framework for being able to express a vow of praise and thanksgiving to God. So he is applying that, not because it sets him apart as something special, not because it is a special form for sanctification; but because it is a way he can in terms of his cultural background express his gratitude to God for what has taken place. This is part of what we have talked about in terms of the transitional nature of Acts.

Why is this doctrine of transition important?

It is important because it helps us understand how to read the book of Acts, how to understand some of these things that are going on that have a very strong Jewish flavor and background. And yet they have to do with the church age. How do we put these things together? Paul says in Galatians 5 that anyone who circumcises his male children because of the Law are completely wrong. Then at the same time he writes that he has Timothy circumcised. It is because of two different reasons. The reason he makes the statement he does in Galatians 5 is because in Galatians they are being taught that this has spiritual significance both for justification and for sanctification. He rejects that. But with Timothy he is not bringing any kind of spiritual significance to it, he just knows that Timothy has a reputation. People in the Jewish community know that he is Jewish—his mother was Jewish, his father was Gentile—and if he is going to have any kind of a hearing in the Jewish community then he needs to be circumcised because of the way the Jews separated themselves from Gentiles. He is doing this as a matter of convenience and being able to open doors for the gospel. It has no spiritual significance whatsoever. The difference was whether or not it was being done for a spiritual reason.

Transition means that in some senses (plural), not every sense, there is an overlap of features from one dispensation to the next. Some things change. Some things that have been normative in the age of Israel are going to end. Some things that will be normative in the church age will begin. Some things are going to take place during that transitional period that are temporary—like the sign gifts. We know what is temporary because they are specifically stated to be temporary. Some features of one dispensation continue for a short time into the subsequent dispensation because it takes time for the new revelation to be revealed or disclosed and then disseminated in the new dispensation.

This does not mean that an absolute break between the dispensations doesn't occur. There is a clear break. When Christ died on the cross for our sins, at that point we quit looking forward to a fulfillment of the promise and we looked at its completed nature on the cross. Salvation is different. It is specific after that Passover that salvation was in Jesus only and Hi death on the cross.

But there are transition periods. Fifty days before Pentecost, when the church begins—almost 2 months—Christ died on the cross and He is the end of the Law. If Christ is the end of the Law what is the standard between the death on the cross and the day of Pentecost? The Holy Spirit comes and He doesn't bring a New Testament. What do you do? The Law ended; what does that mean? You are in a whole new era; things have changed. And God doesn't give all that information except over a thirty-year period of time.

Think about this. From Passover in AD 33 we know salvation was no longer future but is a past completed action. But how many people knew that? Word didn't travel that fast. What if you were an Old Testament saint living in a Jewish community in Alexandria, Babylon or Rome? You have been believing the promises like Simeon at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. It is now about AD 35 and somebody has just come who has heard the gospel. You are like the disciples of John the Baptist in Acts 19 and haven't heard about Jesus yet. So even though it is a couple of years after the cross you are technically just an Old Testament believer.

After the cross the Holy Spirit doesn't descend for another fifty days and initially it is only to the disciples and Jewish believers. It is not to Gentiles until you get to Acts chapter 10. The Holy Spirit only comes upon the disciples and Jewish believers, and then incrementally to other groups. It is two years plus before He comes to the Samaritan believers. It is another five or six years before the Gentiles come in. This is some seven or eight years after the cross before the Gentiles get the Holy Spirit. What happens in between? Then the Old Testament saints like the disciples of John the Baptist in Acts 19 don't get the Holy Spirit until almost twenty years after the cross. It is a transition period. They are still functioning under the revelation by John the Baptist. There were other Jews who were just functioning under the information given in Rome because there hasn't been a dissemination of New Testament truth yet. It is a transition period.