The history of the church in Achaia initially originated from the Thessalonian disciples in the province of Macedonia. When Paul, Silas and Timothy left Philippi, they passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, and then came to the city of Thessalonica (At 17:1). There was great receptivity of the gospel in Thessalonica, and thus, the newly converted disciples evidently said to the two evangelists, Paul and Silas, that they would take ownership of Macedonia. They said to the evangelists that they should to go on to the city of Berea, and then to the province of Achaia. So they sent Paul and Silas on to Berea, while Timothy stayed in Macedonia (At 17:10).
Paul was then accompanied by some of the Berean brethren on his way to Athens where he again preached Jesus as the Christ and Son of the one true and living God (At 17:15). After Athens, Paul ended up in the city of Corinth that was located in the province of Achaia (At 18:1). If Aquila and Priscilla were already Christians when Paul arrived, we could assume that the church already existed in Achaia upon Paul’s arrival.
The Thessalonian disciples truly took ownership of their responsibility as disciples of Jesus to reach out from Thessalonica in order to preach the good news of Jesus. It was only about six months after Paul left Thessalonica when he wrote back to the Thessalonians the following words:
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord … so that you were examples to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place … (1 Th 1:6-8).
By the time Paul arrived in the province of Achaia, the “word of the Lord” had already spread throughout the province through the mission efforts of the disciples in Thessalonica. Upon his arrival in Achaia, the word of God had gone into all the province because of the efforts of some very zealous disciples who wanted to share the opportunity to unbelievers to come out of idolatrous religiosity and into the fellowship of the Son of the one true and living God.
We might assume that since Paul found Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth, these two may have been contacted first by the Thessalonians in their evangelistic outreach to Achaia (At 18:1-3). For some reason, it was easy for Paul to find these two Jewish disciples when he arrived. Some have assumed that he connected with them because they too were in the tentmaking business. This may be true. But the most probable reason why Paul and the tentmaking couple connected was because Aquila and Priscilla were already disciples at the time Paul arrived, possibly being the result of the evangelistic efforts of the disciples in Thessalonica. Stephanas and his household, whom Paul personally baptized (1 Co 1:16), were the firstfruits of Achaia that Paul baptized (1 Co 16:15). But since Aquila and Priscilla were from Pontos and Rome, they were not considered the “firstfruits” of Achaia. We might assume, therefore, that they were already Christians by the time Paul met them in Corinth.
With the help of Aquila and Priscilla, Paul’s personal preaching to all Achaia originated first from the city of Corinth (At 18:1-3). In order to understand the organic unity of the body of Christ throughout all Achaia, we must understand that Paul was not the only evangelist who preached throughout the many cities and towns of the province. We must come to some justified conclusions concerning his ministry in Achaia in order to develop a better understanding of what actually transpired throughout Achaia in reference to the preaching of the gospel and the organic unity of the body. Our conclusions concerning the existence of the church in Achaia lead us to a better understanding of the nature of the unity of the body of Christ as the members reached into all the world with the preaching of the gospel.
A. Peter and Apollos preached in Achaia.
The division among some of the disciples that prevailed throughout Achaia manifested itself when the whole community of believers came together for the love feast/Lord’s Supper that was probably held in the city of Corinth (1 Co 11:17,18). The context of the 1 Corinthians 11 love feast/Lord’s Supper assembly is better understood with the view that this was an occasional meeting of all the Achaian disciples, not just those who resided in the city of Corinth. In the context of this assembly for the regional love feast/Lord’s Supper, the opportunity presented itself for some disciples to manifest their inconsiderate attitudes and divisive behavior that were contrary to the nature of the unity of the body. Some disciples who had to come from great distances to the occasion were marginalized by the behavior of those who were quite inconsiderate and sectarian. The situation was so grave that some were even left hungry after they had journeyed a great distance to be at the meeting. Because of the ungodly situation that prevailed, we must determine what was happening during the assembled fellowship in order to understand the exhortations that Paul wrote to correct the situation.
- Exhortation for unity: Paul began the Corinthian exhortations on unity with the general admonition of 1 Corinthians 1:10:
Now I urge you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
This is the foundational statement that helps us understand the nature of the organic function of all the saints in Achaia, not just those of the municipality of Corinth. We need to determine if the preceding statement of Paul was an impossible mandate that was bound on the individuals of any particular group of disciples, or if it is a reference to all the members to maintain their fellowship with one another throughout all Achaia.
Taken literally, the statement might seem to enjoin on the disciples an almost cultic principle of unity if the mandate is to the members of any group of saints who were meeting in someone’s house. A dominant leader could certainly use this passage to bind what he considered the “same thing” on those over whom he dictatorially reigned in a particular house assembly. But we feel that this is far from the truth of the passage, and thus, we need to go further in our investigation of what Paul meant in order to understand what he was mandating in reference to the unity of the body of Christ.
2. The Achaian ministry of three preachers: Consider the fact that the personalities around which some of the division was occurring were the three evangelists, Paul, Apollos and Cephas (Peter). The fact that some of the Christians in Achaia were dividing over personalities was not the fault of any of the three evangelists. The fault of division was with those who sought an opportunity to call themselves after those they highly respected. This is something that is human nature, but can become the opportunity for those who have a sectarian spirit to divide the body of Christ. However, we must not ignore the fact that Apollos was a Gentile and Peter was a Jew. Those who claimed to be of Apollos were possibly the Gentile converts in Achaia and those who claimed to be of Peter were possibly the Jewish converts. This is only an assumption concerning the nature of the division, but one that should not be ignored.
The disciples were calling themselves after these three personalities, whom, we could correctly assume, preached in all or portions of Achaia by the time Paul wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. We know Apollos preached in some places of Achaia (At 19:1). Notice carefully Apollos’ initial desires in his contact with Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus: “And when he [Apollos] desired to go to Achaia …” (At 18:27).
It was Apollos’ initial desire to go to the province of Achaia. He did initially go to all of Achaia, but first went to the principle city of the province, which was Corinth (At 19:1). However, we cannot assume that while he was in Achaia that he limited his preaching only to the city of Corinth. Since his original desire was to go to Achaia, we would assume that he ministered the word of God far beyond the city of Corinth. This seemed to be the nature of Apollos, for he was an adventurous evangelist, and true evangelists by nature continually seek to go to new places in order to preach the gospel.
We are not told when Peter (Cephas) was in Achaia. The only evidence that we have of him preaching in the region is Paul’s mention of his name when he, Paul, rebuked the Corinthian disciples for using him as an occasion for division over personalities. We would not assume that the Gentiles of Achaia would have used his name as an occasion for division simply because Peter’s reputation had spread to the region by the time Paul wrote the 1 Corinthian letter. The only valid conclusion would be that Peter was personally in the province sometime after Paul left Achaia, but before he wrote 1 Corinthians.
The ministry of the three preachers not only produced fruit through the preaching of the gospel, but those who were converted were naturally attracted to the personality who initially preached the gospel to them. The Achaian disciples had their favorite preachers, which favoritism eventually became one of opportunities to manifest a divisive spirit among them.
We would not assume that all three preachers (Paul, Apollos and Peter) restricted their preaching to the “city limits” of Corinth. This would have been most unnatural in reference to the work of an evangelist. We do not know how long either evangelist stayed in the province. But one thing would certainly be true if their preaching began in Corinth. Visitors from all Achaia who came to Corinth and heard the message of the gospel, would have asked them continually to come to their areas throughout all Achaia and also preach the gospel. We would correctly assume that Paul, Peter and Apollos would certainly have answered these pleas. If they did not have the time to answer these “Macedonian calls,” then the visitors themselves would have returned to their towns and villages throughout all Achaia with the message of the gospel.
B. The correction letter to all the disciples of Achaia:
In order to understand the unity about which the Holy Spirit wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:10, we need to determine exactly those to whom the exhortation was written. Once this is determined, then some surprising light is shed on our understanding of the meaning of the passage.
We must remind ourselves of a very important historical fact concerning the early assemblies of the church in the first century. Because we are often so prejudiced by our belief in autonomous assemblies, we must continually remind ourselves that such a belief and practice was foreign to the organic function of the early disciples. They never considered separating themselves from one another because of their necessity to meet at different locations. They never considered functioning independently of one another.
We must keep in mind that autonomous function is a modern-day behavior and theology that is read into the function of the early church. It is a theology, unfortunately, that is so strong among some today that it is considered almost heresy to even submit the possibility that the early Christians had no concept of behaving independently from one another because they met at different locations in assembly. The early Christians did not consider their assembly locations to be an opportunity by which they would denominate from one another in the organic function of the body. Therefore, we must guard ourselves from reading into the earthly organic function of the early church something that is unique to us today, but is foreign to the Scriptures. We must simply keep in mind that it was the church that was in the cities, not churches. Focus in the New Testament was on people as the church, not assemblies as the identity of the people as the church.
The assertion of the “autonomous” theology is so common today among religious groups that many have led themselves to believe that when a particular group of disciples is mentioned in the New Testament, then there must have been only one single assembly of the disciples of the church in the mentioned city. In other words, when in Revelation Jesus addressed the seven churches in seven cities of Asia, it is assumed that there was only one assembly (“one church”) in each of the seven cities that are mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3. We feel that such is not only an erroneous historical conclusion, but as previously stated, an attack against the organic unity and early growth of the church in the first century.
If we assume the late date of the writing of Revelation to be around A.D. 96, then the autonomy doctrine would assert that from the time of the massive conversion in Ephesus of Acts 19 in the middle 50s, to the date of writing of Revelation in A.D. 96, the church in Ephesus grew to only one single assembly in the city, and that assembly was meeting in the home of some disciple. We believe that such a conclusion is essentially preposterous, if not a denial of the early organic function of the body of members, not only in Ephesus, but also in all the major cities of the first century. We find it quite erroneous to believe that by the time the New Testament letters were written, that there was only one single assembly of disciples in Rome, Corinth, Thessalonica, Philippi, Ephesus, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Colosse. Such a conclusion seems to be the opposite of the Holy Spirit’s historical statement that the early Christians turned the world upside down for Jesus (See At 17:6).
We must also reconsider the autonomous single-assembly theology in reference to the early meetings of the disciples in the homes of the members. Again, there was no such thing in the first century as church buildings, school halls or civic centers in which the early Christians could meet. During times of Jewish persecution, which later moved into the state persecution of the Roman Empire, it would have been counter productive for the disciples to advertise the location of their assemblies by meeting in public places (compare At 8:3).
When the church went underground and met in caves (the catacombs) under the city of Rome during the heat of the state persecution of Rome, we think it would have been quite unreasonable for groups of disciples to function autonomously from one another in reference to their assemblies. The Christians were struggling together for survival, not to survive in order to be denominated from one another. While enduring the heat of persecution, the early Christians were drawn together, not separated from one another into independent groups.
With the understanding that the one church consisted of multiple-assemblies within the regions or cities of the first century, we approach mandates for unity that are expressed in statements as 1 Corinthians 1:10. We understand these statements with the view that the text is teaching that the disciples remained united. 1 Corinthians 1:10 was written in the historical context of some disciples denominating over personalities. Paul wrote the exhortation in order to encourage the fact that Christ is not divided, and thus, they could not, as the body of Christ, be divided into independent groups (1 Co 1:13).
We consider exhortations as 1 Corinthians 1:10 to be exhortations that the disciples not allow their regular assemblies to become the opportunity to draw away from one another as independent groups. Our understanding of the organic unity of the disciples who regularly met at different places, and possibly different times on Sunday, does not canonize for us any theology on assembly. The early Christians’ multiple-house assemblies were simply out of necessity. However, sometimes their meetings in different houses became the opportunity for them to manifest a sectarian spirit on the part of some. Meeting in only one place was not Paul’s answer to the problem. His answer was to correct their relationships with one another because they were all “of Christ.” They were all “of Christ” because they had all been baptized in the name of Christ (1 Co 1:12,13).
We do not, therefore, argue against the sin of division by offering a divisive doctrine of either legal union or cloning within or among autonomous assemblies. We do not argue for autonomy in order to promote a superfluous unity that is actually a union. We seek to deal with the sectarian attitudes that often prevails among disciples, regardless of where the disciples sit on Sunday morning. And in order to do this, there are some very interesting facts concerning those to whom the letters of 1 & 2 Corinthians were directed.
- Stephanas and his household were the firstfruits of Achaia. In 1 Corinthians 16:15, Paul wrote, “… brethren, you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia ….” Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus had come to Paul in Ephesus to minister to Paul “what was lacking on your [the Achaians’] part” (1 Co 16:17). As they brought support from Achaia to Paul, they also reported to Paul what was happening among the disciples in Achaia.
In considering this statement in reference to the conversion of Stephanas and his household as the first ones to be converted in Achaia, why would we assume that Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus were only from the city of Corinth? Paul certainly addressed his first letter to the disciples in the area “to the church of God that is at Corinth” (1 Co 1:2). But we make a wrong assumption by not considering the second letter that was written to the same people. Because of the preceding statement, we wrongly assume that 1 Corinthians was directed only to the disciples who lived in the city of Corinth. But in the passage quoted above in reference to Stephanas (1 Co 16:15), Paul did not say that he was the firstfruits of the city of Corinth. Stephanas and his household were the firstfruits of Achaia, though they may have lived in the city of Corinth. It seems more logical to conclude that Paul was writing to all the disciples in all of the province of Achaia, not just to those in the city of Corinth. In other words, his letters were not exclusively to the disciples in Corinth simply because he mentions this city in the introduction of the first letter. When we get to the follow-up letter (2 Co), this point is made very clear.
The occasion for much of the division was when all the disciples of Achaia came together in the city of Corinth to celebrate the love feast/Lord’s Supper. This would be particularly true in reference to their provincial and occasional assemblies in one city for the Lord’s Supper. But the division among all the disciples throughout the province was not simply in Corinth. It was a provincial problem. The problem only manifested itself during the periodic regional assembly of all the members when they came together in Corinth for the love feast/Lord’s Supper. (More on this in chapter 11.)
So in Paul’s reference to Stephanas as a representative of Achaia in 1 Corinthians 16:15, we could assume that Stephanas was not from Corinth, but from some other town in Achaia. In fact, Paul commended those who sent the representatives of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus to him with their support. The uniqueness of Stephanas and his household was that they had “dedicated themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1 Co 16:15). This was to the ministry of the saints in all Achaia.
In 1 Corinthians 16:15 Paul said, “You know the household of Stephanas ….” Paul’s mention of the household of Stephanas was not an introduction to this household. It was simply a statement concerning a household that they already knew. The knowledge of this household throughout Achaia, therefore, assumes that the three men, Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, were representatives to Paul from all the saints of Achaia, not just Corinth.
Stephanas and his household were known throughout Achaia because they had dedicated themselves to serve the saints throughout the province. When we investigate this matter in the second letter, the ministry of this household was certainly far beyond the city of Corinth. The division among the disciples was provincial, and thus, the one who was familiar with all the divided parts within the body was a household of dedicated servants who moved among the disciples throughout the province.
Those to whom 2 Corinthians was directed clarifies those to whom 1 Corinthians was directed. With the comments of the previous point in mind, consider Paul’s introduction in the second letter:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia (2 Co 1:1).
Paul specifically addressed the second letter to the saints in the city of Corinth, but he tied these saints to all the saints in Achaia with the word “with.” This is one of the strongest statements in the New Testament that teaches the organic unity of the body of Christ in any particular region where there are Christians.
We deduct from Paul’s introductory statements in both letters that he was addressing all the saints in Achaia representatively through the saints who were in Corinth. The problem of disunity that Paul discussed was not exclusively with the saints in the city of Corinth. Those who claimed to be “of Apollos” or “of Cephas” or “of Paul” were scattered throughout the province of Achaia. They were scattered throughout the province because the former ministry of Paul, Peter and Apollos extended throughout the province.
3. All Achaia was ready to contribute to the famine in Judea. When Paul moved on in 2 Corinthians to his discussion of the special famine contribution for Judea, his commendation concerning contributions about which he wrote to the Macedonian Christians was not simply in reference to the saints in Corinth.
Concerning the ministry of the saints, it is not needful to me to write to you, for I know the willingness of your mind, of which I boast of you to those of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago. And your zeal has stirred up the majority (2 Co 9:1,2).
Paul boasted that the saints in all Achaia had prepared for the contribution. His boast was not in reference to the saints in the city of Corinth alone. The commendation was concerning all the saints in all Achaia. We conclude, therefore, that this statement ties the recipients of both 1 & 2 Corinthians together to be addressed to all the saints in Achaia. For this reason, Paul’s encouragement through the boast had to go to all the saints in all Achaia, the saints whom he addressed in both letters.
The pronoun “you” in 2 Corinthians 9:1,2 referred to all the Christians in Achaia, and thus, the letter of 2 Corinthians was written to all the Christians in Achaia. Therefore—and please note this—when Paul uses the pronoun “you” throughout the letter of 2 Corinthians, we must conclude that he was addressing all the saints in all Achaia. And we would go one step further in our conclusion. The problems that Paul addressed in 2 Corinthians reflected on the problems with which he dealt in the first letter. Since this would be a logical conclusion, we would assert that 1 Corinthians was also directed to all the saints in Achaia who were dealing with some problems in reference to the unity of the saints.
It was in the context of his address to all the saints in all Achaia that the plea of 1 Corinthians 1:10 was made. Paul’s exhortation in reference to unity in both letters, therefore, was that the individual saints of Achaia not denominate themselves from one another, regardless of where they lived, with whom they assembled, or who they favored as their leader. Paul’s mandates for unity were not written to autonomous groups to be united as a network of churches. His instructions were directed to individual members to be united with one another as the one universal body of Christ. If the members maintained their unity with one another, then the members of all their assemblies would be united.
4. Paul supported himself while preaching in all Achaia. One thing is certain concerning Paul’s preaching when he went to Corinth. He preached in all the province of Achaia, not just in the city of Corinth. Notice carefully the wording of his statements in 2 Corinthians 11:9 in reference to his support. He made the statements, “present with you” and, “I was not a burden to anyone …. I have kept myself from being burdensome to you.” In 2 Corinthians 11:10 he concluded these remarks with the statement, “As the truth of Christ is in me, no one will stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia.” It is evident that he was addressing in 2 Corinthians all the disciples in all Achaia, not just those in the city of Corinth. As he traveled about preaching the gospel in all Achaia, he supported himself in order not to be a burden to any of the new converts.
Paul’s ministry was to the province of Achaia when he was personally in the province. The problems of the church of Achaia with which he dealt in the second letter, were problems he mentioned in 1 Corinthians. And since the second letter was directed to all the disciples in Achaia, then we must conclude that the first letter was also directed to all the disciples in Achaia.
In the context of the problem that he addressed in 2 Corinthians 11 concerning divisions surrounding the Lord’s Supper, we must assume that when he wrote both letters, they were addressed to all the Christians in the province of Achaia. The purpose for which the members of the church in Achaia came together for the love feast/Supper was actually lost in their independent behavior of being exclusive in some of their home assemblies. In order to correct their disconnected assemblies, Paul sought to correct their relationships with one another.
[Next lecture: October 31]