Monday, February 18, 2013

Overlooked People In the Bible: Sosthenes

Have you ever sat down to read the Bible and you had one purpose in mind, but then another came out of it?  Well that’s what happened to me and how I ended up on this topic.  One evening as I laid in bed, I started to read 1 Corinthians starting at verse one.  As I read it, I ran across a name that I had glossed over before and never paid any attention, but this time the Holy Spirit prompted me to not skip over this name.  This is how I found the man Sosthenes.

First and foremost let’s go to the scripture at where he jumped out of the pages at me:

1 Corinthians 1:1-3:  
(1) This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Sosthenes. (2) I am writing to God’s church in Corinth,[a] to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus,[b] just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. (3) May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

As you can see, you didn’t have to go far to find Sosthenes name, but I probably read a couple more verses past verse three before I had that “hey, wait a minute” moment.  I didn’t recall this name before and I gone through the entire New Testament. So, why is he popping out now?  For that matter, who is he and is he mentioned anywhere else in the Bible?  To answer these questions, I did a search through the Biblegateway.com and low and behold he is mentioned in the book of Acts (which of course is before Corinthians).  So how did I miss him?

In his introduction in the letter to the Corinthians, Paul identified himself and also Sosthenes.  Not only was he called by name, but he was identified as “our brother”.  With this description, we know that he was a follower of Christ.  This is all that is mentioned from this point onward of Sosthenes, but why is it important to mention him? Would the people at Corinth know who he was?  To answer that question, we’d have to travel back to the book of Acts.

In Acts 18, we find that Paul traveled from Athens to Corinth where he met a Jew named Acquila along with his wife Priscilla.  In these verses, Paul would go to the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath and preach to them about Jesus Christ.  However, at around Acts 18:6, the Jews were not happy with what Paul was doing.  As such, they “...opposed and insulted him...” and “...Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, ‘Your blood is upon your own heads—I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles.’”  Paul ends up staying for over a year in Corinth preaching the gospel, but at some point the Jews had had enough.  They wanted Paul dealt with so they brought him before the new governor of Achaia.

Acts 18:12-17 says, “(12) But when Gallio became governor of Achaia, some Jews rose up together against Paul and brought him before the governor for judgment. (13) They accused Paul of “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to our law.”  (14) But just as Paul started to make his defense, Gallio turned to Paul’s accusers and said, “Listen, you Jews, if this were a case involving some wrongdoing or a serious crime, I would have a reason to accept your case. (15) But since it is merely a question of words and names and your Jewish law, take care of it yourselves. I refuse to judge such matters.” (16) And he threw them out of the courtroom.  (17) The crowd[c] then grabbed Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him right there in the courtroom. But Gallio paid no attention.

At this point in time, this is where we see the other mentioning of Sosthenes.  From verse 17, we find that Sosthenes was the leader of the synagogue.  In order to be the leader of a synagogue meant that he was a Jew!  But wait a minute, didn’t we just establish that later in 1 Corinthians 1-3 that he was also a follower of Christ?  If he was a Jew why would the Jewish people beat up their own leader?  I think it is highly unlikely that they would beat up their own leader without just because a Christian could not have judgement brought upon him by the new governor, Gallio.  Not only did they beat him up, but they “threw him out the courtroom”.  At this point, we have no more mention of Sosthenes until 1 Corinthians 1:1.  We know that he converted at some point but we do not know when.  Or do we? One of the things that made me curious about Sosthenes was why was he mentioned twice without a mention of when he was converted to Christianity.  If it was important to mention his name as a brother in the letter to the church at Corith, then clearly there was more to this man.  

What I am about to go into is a topic that I have discovered in my research.  This topic surrounds the idea that Sosthenes and Crispus is one in the same person.  As I began to read a little more into this it made a lot of sense and it answers some confusion in Acts 18.  I believe in correction, so if you see something completely wrong with this I am open to discussion and reproof,  so where we go.

You may be wondering where the name Crispus comes from. If you read Acts 18, you will notice that I skipped over a few verses (on purpose).  What I wanted to do was circle back to this name as it is important to who Sosthenes was.  Remember, in Acts 18:6, Paul upset the Jews to the point where he was no longer welcomed in the synagogue. Let’s go to Acts 18:7-8.  It says,

“(7) Then he [Paul] left and went to the home of Titius Justus, a Gentile who worshiped God and lived next door to the synagogue. (8) Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, and everyone in his household believed in the Lord. Many others in Corinth also heard Paul, became believers, and were baptized.

Verse 8 tells us that Crispus was baptized along with some other Jews in the synagogue.  We know this because Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:14, “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius” 1.  Paul baptized Crispus, but what does this have to do with Sosthenes?  Let’s look back at verse 8 of Acts 18.  An important thing to easily overlook is that Crispus was “the leader of the synagogue”.  Keep in mind that in Acts 17, when Sosthenes was mentioned, he was identified as “the leader of the synagogue”.  There is only one leader of the Jewish synagogue, so one would have to wonder why aren’t these the same people.  The Jewish people would not beat up one of their own people without cause.  However, if their leader had converted to Christianity, then they would no longer have a reason to be loyal to him and would have every reason to cause harm to him2.  Keep in mind, it did not say that they beat up Crispus, but rather the name Sosthenes was used.

So, we have drawn all of these conclusions but what of Sosthenes?  It would seem that the use of his name in 1 Corinthians is important to mention because he was once a leader but now a brother in Christ.  He was once a leader of a synagogue who probably many of the converted Jewish Corinthians were quite familiar with as they may have attended the same synagogue.  Maybe his name was used a reminder to them at how the church at Corinth got its start versus what it had become.  At the end of the day, I believe there is merit to Sosthenes and Crispus being the same person based on the idea that some converts to Christianity were given new names3.  After all, Paul, was originally Saul, and he began to go by another name. (see Acts 13:1-12).  

Be Blessed,

Antoine E. Hall

1.  BibleStudyTools.com.  Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible.  Acts 18
2.  Crispus-Sosthenes
3.  PAUL AND CO-WORKERS.  The Renaming of Benefactors.


P.S. Here are some additional links I read on Crispus and Sosthenes being the same person.
StudyLight.org - http://www.studylight.org/dic/hbd/view.cgi?number=T5972
Sothenes was Crispus - http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/corpus-paul/20110504/003397.html


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