Gallio Got It Right: Acts 18:12-17
“12) But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, 13) saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” 14) But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; 15) but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.” 16) And he drove them away from the judgment seat. 17) And they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat. But Gallio was not concerned about any of these things.” Acts‬ ‭18‬:‭12‬-‭17‬
This story is almost comical. The Jewish leaders that opposed Paul, brought him before Gallio who was the Roman Proconsul of Achaia to seek a judgement against him. Though they had a dispute with Paul about the Jewish Law, they had no case based on Roman Law.
Here is the irony, no Greek or Roman living in Achaia recognized or kept the Jewish Law. Roman custom allowed religious and moral freedom as long as it did not threaten Caesar or Roman rule. Gallio himself and most Corinthians were guilty of not worshipping God according to Jewish Law! Legalistic people and religious zealots always try forcing their values on others.
So they tried a slightly different charge against Paul. They were trying to build the case that Paul was creating civil unrest. Yet, they were the ones stirring up emotions and public controversy. The same ploy is often used today. Those guilty of civil unrest accuse others of the crime.
It is at this point that this text gets very interesting and contemporary. Get ready to wrestle with some very challenging concepts.
There is a place for secular legal intervention in civil matters, but we must retain a separation between the secular and sacred. God has established civil government for a reason as seen in Romans 13:1-8, but He wants the church to govern its own affairs.
This issue of taking religious matters before secular court became a tragic problem in Corinth even among Christians. Paul actually addressed it at length in 1 Corinthians chapter six. It seems that a number of Christians in Corinth were suing one another in secular courts. The church was doing a poor job of conflict resolution.
As his argument builds, Paul moves into a discussion of sexual and moral issues. (See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11) He recognized that God had radically different standards of morality than Greek or Roman Law. He did not want secular government to dictate Christian morality. It is always foolish to give what is holy to dogs or throw your perils before swine. They see no value in the “Holy”. (Matthew 7:6)
Paul then opens his discussion of Christian morality by saying; “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) What was his point? (It’s time to put on our thinking caps!)
Many things that were legal under Roman Law were not good or moral for Christian conduct. There is a huge disconnect between secular morals and Christian holiness. Many things that are legal in the secular Law code are classified as sinful in the Bible. God calls His people to a higher standard. But the whole notion of defining some forms of moral behavior as “sinful” is offensive to the world.
It is vital for Christians to look to God and the Bible to establish morals and personal ethics rather than to secular government. This is as true today as it was in the days of the early church under Roman law.
Now back to our text. According to Acts 18:12-17, Gallio made a profound ruling. He recognized that their religious dispute was not under his civil jurisdiction. He rightly acknowledged the separation of church and state. Religious freedom is only possible when the state does not infringe on sacred matters. This text suddenly becomes very relevant to our day.
Keep in mind, there were many religions practiced in Rome and they had to peacefully coexist without government intrusion. This is a difficult balance to maintain for two reasons.
First, with the formal establishment of a state religion, all other religions and religious practices become illegal and oppressed. Such is the case today in nations where radical Islam rules. Such was also the case in the dark ages when the Catholic Church ruled many European countries. The end result was Protestant persecution.
There is no getting around this fact. The establishment of a formal State Religion always becomes oppressive, persecution follows and religious freedom is lost for many people.
Second, when secular government steps over its jurisdiction and intrudes in religious matters, the end result is the loss of that which is deemed as “sacred and holy.” Government will soon make laws forcing people to live and act contrary to their personal religious conscious.
This is the tension in the United States today. Secular government is starting to bully its way into controlling church and religious matters of morality and personal conscious. Religious freedom is being lost.
So, what is the balance? Acts chapter 18 with a backdrop in the city of Corinth, and Paul’s writings in the book of 1 Corinthians makes a compelling case for peaceful coexistence between the secular and the sacred. Because Corinth was filled with many different religions, the same respect and freedom was extended to those who practiced other religions.
Christians were to treat all non-Christian’s with love, respect and dignity while seeking to share the gospel with them. Those who came to Christ were forgiven, transformed by the Spirit of God into new people and joined to the church. They were then expected to live holy lives. This is the rational behind 1 Corinthians chapter 5.
Let me make a closing observation. Though Christians were often persecuted in the New Testament, it is impossible to find a case where the Christians persecuted others. They lived and practiced Agape love toward all people.
As we close this text, I take my hat off to Gallio. He got it right. He nailed the balance between the separation of church and state. He saw the danger in proceeding with this religious case before the secular proconsul. It would have opened to door for excessive government intrusion in religious matters.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global