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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 18–23
Verses 18–23

We have here Paul in motion, as we have had him at Corinth for some time at rest, but in both busy, very busy, in the service of Christ; if he sat still, if he went about, still it was to do good. Here is,

I. Paul’s departure from Corinth, Acts 18:18. 1. He did not go away till some time after the trouble he met with there; from other places he had departed when the storm arose, but not from Corinth, because there it had no sooner risen than it fell again. Some tell us that Gallio did privately countenance Paul, and took him into his favour, and that this occasioned a correspondence between Paul and Seneca, Gallio’s brother, which some of the ancients speak of. After this he tarried there yet a good while, some think, beyond the year and a half mentioned, Acts 18:11. While he found he laboured not in vain, he continued labouring. 2. When he went, he took leave of the brethren solemnly, and with much affection, with suitable comforts and counsels, and prayers at parting, commending what was good, reproving what was otherwise, and giving them necessary cautions against the wiles of the false apostles; and his farewell sermon would leave impressions upon them. 3. He took with him Priscilla and Aquila, because they had a mind to accompany him; for they seemed disposed to remove, and not inclined to stay long at a place, a disposition which may arise from a good principle, and have good effects, and therefore ought not to be condemned in others, though it ought to be suspected in ourselves. There was a great friendship contracted between them and Paul, and therefore, when he went, they begged to go along with him. 4. At Cenchrea, which was hard by Corinth, the port where those that went to sea from Corinth took ship, either Paul or Aquila (for the original does not determine which) had his head shaved, to discharge himself from the vow of a Nazarite: Having shorn his head at Cenchrea; for he had a vow. Those that lived in Judea were, in such a case, bound to do it at the temple: but those who lived in other countries might do it in other places. The Nazarite’s head was to be shaved when either his consecration was accidentally polluted, in which case he must begin again, or when the days of his separation were fulfilled (Num. 6:9; 13:18), which, we suppose, was the case here. Some throw it upon Aquila, who was a Jew (Acts 18:2), and retained perhaps more of his Judaism than was convenient; but I see no harm in admitting it concerning Paul, for concerning him we must admit the same thing (Acts 21:24, 26), not only in compliance for a time with the Jews, to whom he became as a Jew (1 Cor. 9:20), that he might win upon them, but because the vow of the Nazarites, though ceremonial, and as such ready to vanish away, had yet a great deal of moral and very pious significance, and therefore was fit to die the last of all the Jewish ceremonies. The Nazarites are joined with the prophets (Amos 2:11), and were very much the glory of Israel (Lam. 4:7), and therefore it is not strange if Paul bound himself for some time with the vow of a Nazarite from wine and strong drink, and from being trimmed, to recommend himself to the Jews; and from this he now discharged himself.

II. Paul’s calling at Ephesus, which was the metropolis of the Lesser Asia, and a sea-port. 1. There he left Aquila and Priscilla; not only because they would be but burdensome to him in his journey, but because they might be serviceable to the interests of the gospel at Ephesus. Paul intended shortly to settle there for some time, and he left Aquila and Priscilla there in the mean time, for the same end as Christ sent his disciple before to every place where he himself would come, to prepare his way. Aquila and Priscilla might, by private conversation, being very intelligent judicious Christians, dispose the minds of many to give Paul, when he should come among them, a favourable reception, and to understand his preaching; therefore he calls them his helpers in Christ Jesus, Rom. 16:3. 2. There he preached to the Jews in their synagogue; though he did but call there in his journey, yet he would not go without giving them a sermon. He entered into the synagogue, not as a hearer, but as a preacher, for there he reasoned with the Jews. Though he had abandoned the Jews at Corinth, who opposed themselves, and blasphemed, yet he did not, for their sakes, decline the synagogues of the Jews in other places, but still made the first offer of the gospel to them. We must not condemn a whole body or denomination of men, for the sake of some that conduct themselves ill. 3. The Jews at Ephesus were so far from driving Paul away that they courted his stay with them (Acts 18:20): They desired him to tarry longer with them, to instruct them, in the gospel of Christ. These were more noble, and better bred, than those Jews at Corinth, and other places, and it was a sign that God had not quite cast away his people, but had a remnant among them. 4. Paul would not stay with them now: He consented not; but bade them farewell. He had further to go; he must by all means keep this feast at Jerusalem; not that he thought himself bound in duty to it (he knew the laws of the feasts were no longer binding), but he had business t Jerusalem (whatever it was) which would be best done at the time of the feast, when there was a general rendezvous of all the Jews from all parts; which of the feasts it was we are not told, probably it was the passover, which was the most eminent. 5. He intimated his purpose, after this journey, to come and spend some time at Ephesus, being encouraged by their kind invitation to hope that he should do good among them. It is good to have opportunities in reserve, when one good work is over to have another to apply ourselves to: I will return again to you, but he inserts that necessary proviso, if God will. Our times are in God’s hand; we purpose, but he disposes; and therefore we must make all our promises with submission to the will of God. If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that. I will return again to you, if the Spirit suffer me (Acts 16:7); this was included in Paul’s case; not only if providence permit, but if God do not otherwise direct my motions.

III. Paul’s visit to Jerusalem; a short visit it was, but it served as a token of respect to that truly mother-church. 1. He came by sea to the port that lay next to Jerusalem. He sailed from Ephesus (Acts 18:21), and landed at Caesarea, Acts 18:22. He chose to go by sea, for expedition and for safety, and that he might see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. Joppa had been the port for Jerusalem, but Herod having improved Caesarea, and the port at Joppa being dangerous, that was generally made use of. 2. He went up, and saluted the church, by which, I think, is plainly meant the church at Jerusalem, which is emphatically called the church, because there the Christian church began, Acts 15:4. Paul thought it requisite to show himself among them, that they might not think his success among them, that they might not think his success among the Gentiles had made him think himself either above them or estranged from them, or that the honour God had put upon him made him unmindful of the honour he owed to them. His going to salute the church at Jerusalem intimates, (1.) That it was a very friendly visit that he made them, in pure kindness, to enquire into their state, and to testify his hearty good-will to them. Note, The increase of our new friends should not make us forget our old ones, but it should be a pleasure to good men, and good ministers, to revive former acquaintance. The ministers at Jerusalem were constant residents, Paul was a constant itinerant; but he took care to keep up a good correspondence with them, that they might rejoice with him in his going out, and he might rejoice with them in their tents, and they might both congratulate and wish well to one another’s comfort and success. (2.) That it was but a short visit. He went up, and saluted them, perhaps with the holy kiss, and made no stay among them. It was designed but for a transient interview, and yet Paul undertook this long journey for that. This is not the world we are to be together in. God’s people are the salt of the earth, dispersed and scattered; yet it is good to see one another sometimes, if it be but to see one another, that we may confirm mutual love, may the better keep up our spiritual communion with one another at a distance, and may long the more for that heavenly Jerusalem in which we hope to be together for ever.

IV. His return through those countries where he had formerly preached the gospel. 1. He went and spent some time in Antioch, among his old friends there, whence he was first sent out to preach among the Gentiles, Acts 13:1. He went down to Antioch, to refresh himself with the sight and conversation of the ministers there; and a very good refreshment it is to a faithful minister to have for awhile the society of his brethren; for, as iron sharpeneth iron, so doth a man the countenance of his friend. Paul’s coming to Antioch would bring to remembrance the former days, which would furnish him with matter for fresh thanksgiving. 2. Thence he went over the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, where he had preached the gospel, and planted churches, which, though very briefly mentioned (Acts 16:6), was yet a glorious work, as appears by Gal. 4:14, 15, where Paul speaks of his preaching the gospel to the Galatians at the first, and their receiving him as an angel of God. These country churches (for such they were [Gal. 1:2], and we read not of any city in Galatia where a church was) Paul visited in order as they lay, watering what he had been instrumental to plant, and strengthening all the disciples. His very coming among them, and owning them, were a great strengthening to them and their ministers. Paul’s countenancing them was encouraging them; but that was not all: he preached that to them which strengthened them, which confirmed their faith in Christ, their resolutions for Christ, and their pious affections to him. Disciples need to be strengthened, for they are compassed about with infirmity; ministers must do what they can to strengthen them, to strengthen them all, by directing them to Christ, and bringing them to live upon him, whose strength is perfected in their weakness, and who is himself their strength and song.