The Wrath in Corinth (and the Wrath of Cain)–Acts 18:12-17

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Acts 18:12-17

But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 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. 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.” And he drove them from the tribunal. 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

So the Jewish community there in Corinth brought Paul before the Roman tribunal. But the local ruler, the proconsul, Gallio, refused to hear their case. He didn’t want any part of a theological debate. (I have to admit, I can relate to that sentiment.) And he drove them from the tribunal. It’s even possible Gallio’s attendants used their rods to physically drive them out.

Law courts during this time in that place could be loud and crowded and a place where people expressed their outrage. That may have been the case here because we see that the crowd beats Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue. According to Keener there are several possible explanations behind this beating.

It may be that Sosthenes had become a Christian sympathizer and the Jews beat him for that reason. Later in 1 Corinthians 1:1 we see Paul refer to Sosthenes as a brother in Christ. So yes, that’s a possibility but we need to keep in mind that Sosthenes was a fairly common name so it could be a different person.

Maybe the Jews beat their synagogue ruler because they blamed him for getting them in trouble with the proconsul Gallio.

Or maybe, seeing Gallio express his anti-Jewish sentiments, the Gentiles in the crowd thought they could get away with beating a Jew.

You and I may not know why they beat Sosthenes, but the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. (1 Chronicles 28:9)

The one thing that seems apparent though, is there were people in the crowd who were angry.

Genesis 4:2-8

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

Genesis 4:2-8

The Wrath of Cain

The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.(v.4-5) It could be that there’s a problem with Cain’s sacrifice. It may be that a blood sacrifice was required, as the word says in Hebrews 9:22, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Different Bible scholars teach it different ways. But without question there’s a problem with Cain’s heart. The way of Cain is identified in Jude 1:11 as a way that is polluted by a problem with the heart. We don’t know for certain what that problem is but a clue is given in Hebrews 11:4 where we’re told that By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. (Hebrews 11:4) We don’t know for certain what was at the heart of the issue, but Cain did, and God did. Two people standing next to each other in church, both singing the same praise song or hymn, perhaps God respects the worship of one but perhaps not the worship of another. Two give the same amount of tithe, perhaps God respects the giving of one but perhaps not the giving of the other. You and I may know that the same amount is given, we may hear the same song, but as I mentioned earlier, the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. (1 Chronicles 28:9)

So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (v. 5-7) Here, barely four chapters into the Bible, God’s grace is manifested yet again when he comes to Cain. Adam and Eve were hiding after their sin, and God came looking to help them. Cain is angry, having sin in his heart, and God comes looking for him. God always comes looking for sinners, but, unfortunately, not all sinners go looking for God. We can hope that those in the crowd in Corinth who beat Sosthenes repented after, and sought God’s help moving forward.

Like our passage from Acts, there’s one thing we know for sure, someone is angry. In Acts it’s the unnamed people from crowd, in Genesis it’s Cain. Often times behind anger lies jealousy, and always behind jealousy lies pride. Maybe we’re seeing it in our passage from Acts. As it happened with Jesus, it could be the Jews brought Paul to the tribunal because they’re jealous of the way Paul is attracting the hearts of the people. I’m amazed sometimes by the things that make people jealous. We get jealous because someone gets a cubicle that’s a little bigger than ours, or someone gets assigned a better parking space than we did, or someone’s son or daughter plays a sport better than ours does, or someone makes more money than we do. God help us. We each have a little bit of Cain within us, don’t we. We all want our desires to be God’s desires, and when God does what God does that’s not consistent with our own wants, how angry it can make us.

The Wrath of the Cousin

First cousins Willy and Georgie never got along well. Willy was especially envious of his cousin Georgie, which isn’t all that unusual among cousins. But the consequences of Willy’s jealousy and envy were different than those of other children, it carried on into adulthood and ultimately effected most of the world. You see cousin Willy was Kaiser Wilhelm II, ruler of Germany. And cousin Georgie was King George V of England. Cousin Willy, in his adult years, was jealous of cousin Georgie’s far flung British Empire. Also, at the annual yacht races Germany lost regularly to Britain which contributed to cousin Willy’s intense envy of the British navy. Many don’t realize the great extent to which Kaiser Wilhelm’s envy of his cousin George contributed to the start of World War I. The world is still living with the repercussions of Willy’s envy and anger today.

Sin is Crouching at Your Door

God in His mercy warned Cain that “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (v. 7) God is saying, don’t treat jealousy lightly. If you allow it to take up residence you’ll soon find yourself in the grip of a power greater than you thought possible. In Romans 12:15 God teaches us to rejoice with those who rejoice; and to mourn with those who mourn. But envy turns that all around. When we envy, or when we’re jealous we often rejoice when that certain person mourns and we mourn when that certain person rejoices. Therefore, rid yourselves of all envy. (1 Peter 2:1) Or you’ll find yourself doing things that you never thought you would do. I’ve lived it, I’ve been there, take heed. Rid yourself of it for who can stand before jealousy? (Proverbs 27:4) And envy rots the bones. (Proverbs 14:30)

If only Cain had responded differently. What might have happened had Cain asked God for His help. What might have happened if Cain had said, like David, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love (Psalm 51:1) Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10) This is what Cain could have done. This is what you and I must do whenever we encounter anger, jealousy, pride, envy, or any other sin. We must return to the Father like the prodigal son. (see previous post) But Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:8)

Anger, jealousy, pride, envy, they’re all cousins. They’re all emotions that are related and intertwined with each other:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

James 1:19-21


Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, IVP Academic; 2nd edition, January 3, 2014, pp. 380-381

Image of man controlling his anger via Jenny Kaczorowski — Creative Commons

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One Comment on “The Wrath in Corinth (and the Wrath of Cain)–Acts 18:12-17

  1. Pingback: Why Venting Your Anger and Frustration is a Terrible Idea | God Running

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