The Lord Fulfills His Word on Paul’s Behalf through the Pagan Proconsul
Well we read yesterday that the Lord told Paul while he was in Corinth not to fear, that no one would harm him, and that He was with him. Today we read that Paul was indeed attacked, but as the Lord promised, not harmed. In this case, rather than stirring up the people, the Jews made their accusation before the Proconsul themselves: “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” Now there is more to this accusation than meets the eye and I had to go to scholars to get it. Judaism maintained legal status under Roman law; Christianity did not. Indeed at this early date, Christianity would still have been flying below Rome’s radar. If Roman officials had noticed Christianity at all, they probably would have considered it an off-shoot of Judaism and thus having legal status. So when the Jews said, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law,” what they were saying before the Roman tribunal was, “They are not one of us. They don’t believe like us or worship like us. They believe that some man who died a convict on a cross in Judea some twenty years ago is the Christ, and they call him the Son of God. We don’t.” In other words, they are saying, “They are not legit!” (Bruce, NICNT, 353-54)
Now Paul was about to address the crowd, but before he could, the Proconsul Gallio rendered the decision without further ado. As far as he was concerned, this was all a matter concerning Jewish religion, law, names, and words, and as a good Roman official, he wanted no part of it. As far as the Romans were concerned, as long as everyone obeyed the laws and paid their taxes, live and let live. Scholars say that this might have been a crucial and precedent-setting decision for the gospel. Corinth was the seat of administration for all of Achaia and Gallio was a respected Roman official with connections. His judgment allowed Christianity to continue under the radar as occupying legal status; after all, Christianity was of Jewish origin (and still is). This meant that Paul and other evangelists could continue preaching the gospel under the protection of legal status. In other words, here is an instance where God not only protected Paul but used a melee for the spread of the gospel.
The rest of the passage covers Paul’s finally leaving Corinth, fulfilling a vow (probably related to the Nazirite, see Numbers 6:1-21), visiting the churches in Jerusalem and Antioch, and then the ones he had already planted in Galatia and Phrygia. And he could do so without fear of reprisal, thanks to God’s work through a pagan Roman official who had no idea what he did.