All great stories have back-stories and subplots, and they often involve minor characters. The Bible is no different. From Genesis to Revelation, a parade of people are mentioned of whom we know little other than the single mention of their name. Others are known to extra-biblical history, so we have a bit more info.
In Acts 18 we meet a man named Gallio who was the Roman senator of Achaea based in Corinth. He was the brother of the famous Seneca who among other things was Nero’s tutor. Seneca wrote of Gallio’s charm and his good disposition was also alluded to by the poet Statius. Nero, as you know was famous for his ego and Gallio must have been both humble and eloquent because the Cassius Dio records that he introduced Nero’s performances.
He is important for one big reason as well. His health wasn’t great and he only served in his role at Corinth from 51-52 AD. An inscription found at Delphi, dating to the early summer of 52, mentions Gallio. Much of what can be established about Paul’s chronology hinges upon the dating of Gallio’s tenure.
Well, on to the story.
The first century Jews were always upset by what they considered the blasphemy of Christianity. When Paul was establishing the church in Corinth, the Jews arrested him and dragged him before Gallio to accuse him of being a troublemaker. The head of the synagogue was a man named Sosthenes and he would have been the lead prosecutor.
In Acts 18 we see the court scene. It didn’t go well for the Jews. After the accusations were made, even as Paul was about to make his defense, Gallio stopped the whole proceeding saying “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes, O Jews, there would be reason why I should bear with you. But if it is a question of words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of such matters.”
Well, this did not bode favorably for poor Sosthenes who failed to make the case and the Bible says the Greeks took him and beat him right there on the spot. Gallio was indifferent.
Flash forward to years later when we find Paul in Ephesus writing the letter that would become 1 Corinthians. He didn’t write it by himself. At the beginning of the letter he writes “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth…” These are the only two mentions of that unusual name and Paul’s casual mention indicates he was well known to the Corinthians. It’s easy to see he was one and the same.
We don’t know how Sosthenes came to be a Christian after his massive failure as the synagogue leader, but I like to think the old Pharisee Paul dusted him off and explained it to him one on one.
Sometimes it takes a good whipping to get a man’s attention.
When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him to the judgment seat, saying, “This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” And when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes, O Jews, there would be reason why I should bear with you. But if it is a question of words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of such matters.” And he drove them from the judgment seat. Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things.