Acts 18-20 They were tentmakers by trade

From Acts 18-20

44 twelve apostles

Paul was called to preach the gospel. Woe to him if he did not preach it. Yet there were times when he had to stop because he needed money to buy food, clothing and shelter. Paul needed to work. His trade was tentmaking. Today we look at a passage that describes Paul’s gospel ministry while he was working as a tentmaker.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Acts Timeline

Passage and Comments

44 Pauls second mission map (Norris, D. T. 1997. Logos Deluxe Map Set. Oak Harbor, WA Lexham Press.)

Paul is nearing the middle of his second missionary journey. He’s had a fair amount of success leaving Christian churches behind in his wake.

18 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:1–4)

Note the Roman emperor Claudius commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.

“The Roman biographer and historian Suetonius wrote that “because the Jews of Rome were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus he [Claudius] expelled them from the city.” The writer could easily have been uncertain of the spelling, because Chrestus, a common slave name, was pronounced virtually the same as Christus. It appears that Suetonius sought to convey to his readers that Chrestus was the founder of a movement.” (Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 395). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.)

This movement could very well have been Christianity. The Jews were rioting because of Christian teaching regarding the law of Moses.

Along the way Paul had been supported by the churches he ministered to. But occasionally he had to work to support himself so he can keep eating. This is one such instance. Paul, Priscilla and Claudius were all tentmakers. It was hard work and labour intensive. On the side he preached the gospel in the synagogue.

Do you know many tentmakers? People who have normal jobs and then share the gospel in their spare time?

44 Typical synagogue (Brand, C., Draper, C., England, A., Bond, S., Clendenen, E. R., Butler, T. C., & Latta, B. Eds. 2003. In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN Holman Bible Publishers)

5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” (Acts 18:5-6)

Paul’s team was still in the process of catching up with him (cf. Acts 17.15). A faithful servant of Jesus, when they find Paul in Corinth, they find him preaching the gospel.

Paul is involved in debate. The Jews disagree with what he is saying. They don’t believe Jesus is the Christ. Paul has had enough.

“The first part of Paul’s response is the prophetic action of “shaking out his clothes” (18:6), a reminder of when he and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet in Antioch (13:51). Such shaking of clothes probably alludes to the actions of Nehemiah when he dealt with the unjust actions of some Israelites during a time of financial difficulty (Neh 5:1–13). Nehemiah reported how he warned the people to make restoration for all their unjust actions, and then he noted: “I shook out the fold of my garment,” a symbolic action which stood as a metaphor for the impending divine judgment (Neh 5:13).” (Squires, J. T. (2003). Acts. In J. D. G. Dunn & J. W. Rogerson (Eds.), Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (p. 1249). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)

44 Paul turns to the Gentiles

Paul gives them the solemn warning and lets them know he is going to the Gentiles. The heads up is meant to shame them. Of all the nations, as God’s people they should have responded positively to God’s word. Provided the Gentiles respond favourably, they may also be inspired to jealousy and believe.

7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:7-8)

Paul leaves the synagogue and goes next door. I assume many of the Jews in the synagogue saw this. Some think Paul’s actions presented an ongoing hope they would come to believe.

The man he visited next was Titius Justus. He probably attended the synagogue on a regular basis. Paul must have done some door knock evangelism I suspect to get in the house. The text doesn’t say explicitly, but it looks like he is later baptised.

So is another. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue. Crispus may well have heard Paul’s original message in the synagogue, later came to faith after Paul went next door. He too with others were baptised.

9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. (Acts 18:9-11)

The apostles throughout Acts have been receiving encouraging visions from the LORD. Paul is included among them. He is encouraged to persevere despite the opposition he is facing.

The LORD speaks to people in visions.

Paul responds affirmatively to the vision. He remains another year and a half, teaching the word of God. Presumably among the Gentiles.

12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. (Acts 18:12–17)

The Jews continue to try and put a stop to Paul. They try and get political help from the Romans. They speak about their law which does not have the effect they desired. Why would a non-Jew care about their law?

‘Paul was about to open his mouth’. Paul liked to stand up to opposition publicly. Quite often it presented him with an opportunity to talk about Jesus even if his audience is hostile to his message.

Do you publically speak up before unbelievers? Not everyone has to, but some do.

Gallio doesn’t care about their law, so he can’t see what all the fuss is about. He releases Paul and in a fit of anger they seize their own ruler who failed to see Paul punished and beat him. Go figure.

“The incident set an important precedent. Proconsular decisions over such unusual cases were often followed by Roman officials in other provinces. Had Gallio decided against Paul, it would have been a dangerous precedent that not only would have ended his effectiveness in Achaia but hindered his witness elsewhere.” (Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 389). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)

About Mission

Paul’s tentmaking sets an interesting precedent for gospel ministry. Not all evangelists called to preach the gospel are in full time paid jobs. No doubt God puts in them a desire to share Jesus with others, yet they find themselves in positions where they have to work as well.

Paul once said;

8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. (1 Cor 9:8–18)

Pray for those who preach the gospel free of charge.

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.