Luke, Gallio and Sosthenes

08 Mar

It is difficult at times to know what to include in my blog to make it informative, on the one hand, but not adding so much information that I leave more questions in the end than answers. Therefore, before bringing Paul’s second missionary journey to an end, I would like to address certain questions, concerning both Luke and what occurs in Corinth involving Gallio’s court and Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler.

First, if Acts was written late as some scholars suggest, how does Luke get Gallio’s tenure as proconsul of Achaia correct? His account of Paul’s stay in Corinth fits perfectly with what we know about the time Gallio was proconsul in Achaia. We might even ask, how does Luke even know that Gallio was, indeed, the proconsul there at all, if he isn’t writing from his own personal experience, or that of his sources?

It may come as a surprise to some folks, but the ancients weren’t as interested in doing historical research as we are today. Unless the historical data was included from personal experience or one’s immediate sources, those details would probably not find their way into an author’s document. Moreover, even if Luke had a desire to do some historical research, he probably would have come up empty, because the Roman provinces didn’t keep permanent records. For example, Pliny, the Roman governor of the province of Bithynia, complained in a letter written near the beginning of the 2nd century CE that there were no records existing of any of his predecessors, and Bithynia had been a Roman province since it was organized into such by Pompey (65-63 BCE). So, sources for historical details are lacking in ancient times and are included into an ancient authors work only if they are a part of his personal experience or part of the data contained in his sources.

While historical data such as Gallio’s proconsulship could, no doubt, be found in the ancient archives of the Roman Senate, who would argue that Luke was of high Roman rank, who alone would have had such access? If he was of high Roman rank, why would so many of today’s scholarship doubt his sources against that of Josephus? Finally, since no coins were minted in Greece with the names of Roman proconsuls thereon, Luke is pretty much limited to personal experience or that of his source concerning Gallio’s tenure as governor of Achaia.

Secondly, who is Sosthenes (Acts 18:17)? Is he the same person Paul names in 1Corinthians 1:1 as co-writer of his epistle? It has been argued he is, but this may or may not be true. If the two are the same person, Sosthenes appears in Acts as the ruler of the synagogue and should be considered as one of Paul’s accusers, undoubtedly the leader of the insurrection made against him (Acts 18:12). It would be quite odd if he was beaten but Luke doesn’t mention his status as a believer.[1] In fact, why him and not Paul, if the Jews were the ‘all’ who beat Sosthenes? On the other hand, if the Greeks are intended, why would they beat the ruler of the synagogue before Gallio’s court? It has been argued that Gallio was at least moderately anti-Semitic, but would he have permitted such a scene to occur right before him in his court? It is difficult to believe the Jews wouldn’t have had just cause to accuse Gallio to Caesar, if this were the case.

If this is anti-Semitism, why would the gentile Corinthians use this opportunity to vent their prejudice on Sosthenes in particular? If other anti-Jewish behavior was also included, I could agree that this act was an act of bigotry, but I hesitate to do so, because Paul was also a Jew, and he wasn’t beaten. Why would anti-Semitism discriminate between Sosthenes and Paul? It seems more likely (at least to me) that the Greeks were Roman believers, whose lives and families were put in jeopardy through Sosthenes’ accusation against Paul. Had Gallio ruled against Paul, these Romans could have been considered traitors and executed for treason. Looking at Luke’s comment in this manner puts Gallio’s apparent lack of concern in a different light. Without completely excluding his leaning toward anti-Semitism, he probably thought it appropriate, considering the threat Roman citizens were under had the ruling gone against Paul.


[1] Some ancient sources have “all the Jews” took Sosthenes, but the better sources have “all the Greeks”. Both phrases are probably additions to the original text for still other ancient sources merely have “all” without any explanation. It would be difficult to argue why anyone would try to make the text unclear; rather the additions were inserted to make the text clear.

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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in Paul's 2nd Missionary Journey, Textual Criticism


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