We have here an account of some disturbance given to Paul and his friends at Corinth, but no great harm done, nor much hindrance given to the work of Christ there.
I. Paul is accused by the Jews before the Roman governor, Acts 18:12, 13. The governor was Gallio, deputy of Achaia, that is, proconsul; for Achaia was a consular province of the empire. This Gallio was elder brother to the famous Seneca; in his youth he was called Novatus, but took the name of Gallio upon his being adopted into the family of Julius Gallio; he is described by Seneca, his brother, to be a man of great ingenuous and great probity, and a man of wonderful good temper; he was called Dulcis Gallio—Sweet Gallio, for his sweet disposition; and is said to have been universally beloved. Now observe, 1. How rudely Paul is apprehended, and brought before Gallio; The Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul. They were the ringleaders of all the mischief against Paul, and they entered into a confederacy to do him a mischief. They were unanimous in it: they came upon him with one accord; hand joined in hand to do this wickedness. They did it with violence and fury: They made an insurrection to the disturbance of the public peace, and hurried Paul away to the judgment-seat, and, for aught that appears, allowed him no time to prepare for his trial. 2. How falsely Paul is accused before Gallio (Acts 18:13): This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law. They could not charge him with persuading men not to worship God at all, or to worship other gods (Deut. 13:2): but only to worship God in a way contrary to the law. The Romans allowed the Jews in their provinces the observance of their own law; and what then? Must those therefore be prosecuted as criminals who worship God in any other way? Does their toleration include a power of imposition? But the charge was unjust; for their own law had in it a promise of a prophet whom God would raise up to them, and him they should hear. Now Paul persuaded them to believe in this prophet, who was come, and to hear him, which was according to the law; for he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it. The law relating to the temple-service those Jews at Corinth could not observe, because of their distance from Jerusalem, and there was no part of their synagogue-worship which Paul contradicted. Thus when people are taught to worship God in Christ, and to worship him in the Spirit, they are ready to quarrel, as if they were taught to worship him contrary to the law; whereas this is indeed perfective of the law.
II. Gallio, upon the first hearing, or rather without any hearing at all, dismisses the cause, and will not take any cognizance of it, Acts 18:14, 15. Paul was going about to make his defence, and to show that he did not teach men to worship God contrary to the law; but the judge, being resolved not to pass any sentence upon this cause, would not give himself the trouble of examining it. Observe,
1. He shows himself very ready to do the part of a judge in any matter that it was proper for him to take cognizance of. He said to the Jews, that were the prosecutors, “If it were a matter of wrong, or wicked lewdness,—if you could charge the prisoner with theft or fraud, with murder or rapine, or any act of immorality,—I should think myself bound to bear with you in your complaints, though they were clamorous and noisy;” for the rudeness of the petitioners was no good reason, if their cause was just, why they should not have justice done them. It is the duty of magistrates to right the injured, and to animadvert upon the injurious; and, if the complaint be not made with all the decorum that might be, yet they should hear it out. But,
2. He will by no means allow them to make a complaint to him of a thing that was not within his jurisdiction (Acts 18:15): “If it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look you to it: end it among yourselves as you can, but I will be no judge of such matters; you shall neither burden my patience with the hearing of it, nor burden my conscience with giving judgment upon it;” and therefore, when they were urgent and pressing to be heard, he drove them from the judgment-seat (Acts 18:16), and ordered another cause to be called. Now, (1.) Here was something right in Gallio’s conduct, and praise-worthy—that he would not pretend to judge of things he did not understand; that he left the Jews to themselves in matters relating to their own religion, but yet would not let them, under pretence of that, run down Paul, and abuse him; or, at least, would not himself be the tool of their malice, to give judgment against him. He looked upon the matter to be not within his jurisdiction, and therefore would not meddle in it. But, (2.) It was certainly wrong to speak so slightly of a law and religion which he might have known to be of God, and with which he ought to have acquainted himself. In what way God is to be worshipped, whether Jesus be the Messiah, whether the gospel be a divine revelation, were not questions of words and names, as he scornfully and profanely called them. They are questions of vast importance, and in which, if he had understood them himself aright, he would have seen himself nearly concerned. He speaks as if he boasted of his ignorance of the scriptures, and took a pride in it; as if it were below him to take notice of the law of God, or make any enquiries concerning it.
III. The abuse done to Sosthenes, and Gallio’s unconcernedness in it, Acts 18:17. 1. The parties put a great contempt upon the court, when they took Sosthenes and beat him before the judgment-seat. Many conjectures there are concerning this matter, because it is uncertain who this Sosthenes was, and who the Greeks were that abused him. It seems most probable that Sosthenes was a Christian, and Paul’s particular friend, that appeared for him on this occasion, and probably had taken care of his safety, and conveyed him away, when Gallio dismissed the cause; so that, when they could not light on Paul, they fell foul on him who protected him. It is certain that there was one Sosthenes that was a friend of Paul, and well known at Corinth; it is likely he was a minister, for Paul calls him his brother, and joins him with himself in his first epistle to the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:1), as he does Timothy in his second, and it is probable that this was he; he is said to be a ruler of the synagogue, either joint-ruler with Crispus (Acts 18:8), or a ruler of one synagogue, as Crispus was of another. As for the Greeks that abused him, it is very probable that they were either Hellenist Jews, or Jewish Greeks, those that joined with the Jews in opposing the gospel (Acts 18:4, 6), and that the native Jews put them on to do it, thinking it would in them be less offensive. They were so enraged against Paul that they beat Sosthenes; and so enraged against Gallio, because he would not countenance the prosecution, that they beat him before the judgment-seat, whereby they did, in effect, tell him that they cared not for him; if he would not be their executioner, they would be their own judges. 2. The court put no less a contempt upon the cause, and the persons too. But Gallio cared for none of these things. If by this be meant that he cared not for the affronts of bad men, it was commendable. While he steadily adhered to the laws and rules of equity, he might despise their contempts; but, if it be meant (as I think it is) that he concerned not himself for the abuses done to good men, it carries his indifference too far, and gives us but an ill character of him. Here is wickedness done in the place of judgment (which Solomon complains of, Eccl. 3:16), and nothing done to discountenance and suppress it. Gallio, as a judge, ought to have protected Sosthenes, and restrained and punished the Greeks that assaulted him. For a man to be mobbed in the street or in the market, perhaps, may not be easily helped; but to be so in his court, the judgment-seat, the court sitting and not concerned at it, is an evidence that truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter; for he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey, Isa. 59:14, 15. Those that see and hear of the sufferings of God’s people, and have no sympathy with them, nor concern for them, do not pity and pray for the, it being all one to them whether the interests of religion sink or swim, are of the spirit of Gallio here, who, when a good man was abused before his face, cared for none of these things; like those that were at ease in Zion, and were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph (Amos 6:6), like the king and Haman, that sat down to drink when the city Shushan was perplexed, Est. 3:15.