“But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters. And he drave them from the judgment seat. Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.” (Acts 18:15–17, AV)
In 1991, a man named Rodney King led police in Los Angeles on a high-speed chase. He was finally stopped and charged with driving under the influence. At some point during the arrest, a bystander took a video of four police officers beating King. The police officers were then charged with excessive force. Their case went to trial and the result was that all four were acquitted. The verdict incited outrage among many and what resulted was a full-blown riot. During the ensuing riot, there were fires and destruction that resulted in more than one-billion-dollars in damage, 12,000 arrests and over 64 deaths. Certain events will arise passions in people that often result in bizarre responses.
In this passage, we see a situation that results in a bizarre scene. Here, the Jews who did not believe that Jesus was their promised Messiah joined together in order to silence Paul’s message. They took Paul before the governor of Achaia, Gallio, for judgment. Gallio heard their charge and before Paul utters a word, Gallio interrupted and declared this was not a civil matter, but one of Jewish law. They must handle the situation by themselves. It was case-closed, not under the jurisdiction of Roman law. When the Jews heard the decision, they seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and publicly beat him in front of the judgment platform. Despite the public beating, Gallio paid no attention to this.
What strikes us as odd in this event is that the Jews beat their synagogue leader, a Jew, because of Gallio’s decision. There is no explanation as to why they did this. Why pick Sosthenes? Why not Paul or someone else. This leaves us with a degree of speculation. Perhaps they were upset with Sosthenes for leading the charge against Paul and failing. Perhaps he expressed belief in Paul’s message as there is a possibility that he, Sosthenes, came to faith in Jesus (1 Cor 1:1). The fact is that we really do not know why they decided to beat him other than as some sort of protest that was driven by their passions.
A person’s ideology is an area of deep conviction and passion. Here, the Jews could not stand to see their ideology, that of being justified by obedience to the law, challenged. Paul challenged their flawed ideology and they just could not control their emotions. In the area of ideologies, passions run so deep that the resultant emotions can cause people to exhibit bizarre behaviors. The issue is that their emotions control them and they often respond in ways contrary to the moral laws of God.
We as believers in Christ are not immune to passions either. We also have an ideology. Ours is a true one, but one in which we have great passion also. The difference is in the way we respond when our ideology comes under attack. We have the ability to allow the Spirit to control our actions or our fleshly emotions. It is a battle, but if we “Walk in the Spirit,” we will not gratify our fleshly passions and display bizarre and ungodly behavior (Gal 5:16). Therefore, we must be careful regarding our response to attacks on our Christian beliefs. We must be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) so that He will lead us in the path of righteousness in our response.