In this cosmopolitan city, where the worship of Aphrodite was flourishing, Paul met Priscilla and Aquila, a Jewish married couple, who in the year 49 were expelled from Rome according to the edict of Emperor Claudius, “since the Jews constantly caused disturbances at the instigation of Chrestos” (Suetonius, Claudius 25:11). The couple would later accompany Paul to Ephesus, where they would play an important role in the Church and in evangelization. In the year 54, after the death of Claudius, they would return to Rome and wait to welcome the Apostle, at that time a prisoner.
Paul, who wished “to work” in the same manner as the rabbis, in order to guarantee the gratuitousness of his apostolic service, associated with the couple and practiced their same trade of making tents. Every Shabbat, at the synagogue, he attempted to demonstrate to the doctors of the law the Messianism of Jesus. Crispus, the leading official of the synagogue, came to believe and was baptized along with his entire family. The Church of Corinth, which also received pagans, developed very rapidly. Corinth became Paul’s headquarters from the moment that Rome denied him entrance due to the decree of expulsion ordered by Claudius. He remained in Corinth 18 months.
At this time an issue arose ever more frequently: the synagogue authorities, who took advantage of the privileges they held, did not wish that Christians be confused with a dissenting Jewish sect, even though, effectively, they did not depend on them for any reason. Thus, they ended up accusing Paul of illicit religious propaganda before the proconsul Gallio (brother of Seneca, the philosopher). After having heard the accusations against him, Gallio refused to listen to Paul’s argument. He declared himself incompetent to judge such matters since Paul was a Jew and, from his point of view, this dispute would have to be resolved within the synagogue (cf. Acts 18:12-16). Thereafter, Paul sailed to Antioch and Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila, who would play a central role in creating the future community in the latter city.
Many historians hold that at the conclusion of this second journey, in the year 52, the “Council of Jerusalem” and the “Incident of Antioch” took place.
EPHESUS: PRISCILLA AND AQUILA LED THE CHURCH
According to the Acts of the Apostles, this is the third place where the Word was spread. Paul remained in this important center of exchange between East and West in the areas of culture, religion and trade for more than two years, and here he established a Church. His confrontation with Judaism gave way to an encounter with other religious currents, for example, at that time Artemis was considered to be the great Goddess of Ephesus. Priscilla and Aquila led the community there and taught with zeal. When they heard Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew who arrived in Ephesus, teaching in the synagogue, they explained “the Way (of God) more accurately” (Acts 18:26) to him. He would later have great success as a catechist in Ephesus and Corinth.
MILETUS: THE STRUCTURES OF THE CHURCH
On the way back to Jerusalem, Paul “compelled by the Spirit” (Acts 20:22), summoned the Elders of the Church of Ephesus. He foretold of his upcoming and inevitable imprisonment, persecution and death, as well as, the specific direction of his mission: “Go, I shall send you far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21). He exhorted them to be vigilant, hard workers, and to assist the poor and the weak: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). And finally, he left them as his last will and testament “building up the Church” (1Cor. 14:12), or, rather, he commended it to the power of the Word saying: “I commend you to God and to that gracious word of his that can build you up” (Acts 20:32). Thus, the activity of the Word is primary; it creates the Church.
This event concluded with deep emotion: the assembly knelt down and prayed and they threw their arms around Paul (cf. Acts 20:36-37). They all entrusted themselves to God and to His Word. This episode is important for the institutional history of the Church. For the Elders or the presbyters, who were summoned by Paul and whom he named pastors and bishops, appointed to give spiritual nourishment and guidance and to keep vigil (this is the meaning of the word bishop) over the people of God, did not receive their powers from the assembly of the faithful, but from the Spirit.
During the course of his “independent” ministry and in the face of some unusual situations, Paul had to adopt some doctrinal innovations in order to justify his continuous appeals to the believers to group together in united communities. Undeniably, Paul succeeded, wherever he went, in creating many Churches, extremely united in order to survive and develop outside the structures tied to the synagogues.