Renaming in Paul’s churches The Case of Crispus-Sosthenes Revisited -- By: Richard G. Fellows

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 56:2 (NA 2005)
Article: Renaming in Paul’s churches The Case of Crispus-Sosthenes Revisited
Author: Richard G. Fellows

Renaming in Paul’s churches
The Case of Crispus-Sosthenes Revisited

Richard G. Fellows


If Crispus was Sosthenes we no longer need to hypothesise that there were two Sosthenes (Acts 18:17 and 1 Cor. 1:1) or two ἀρχισυνάγωγοι (synagogue rulers) who became believers (Acts 18:8 and 18:17; 1 Cor. 1:1). The idea that Crispus was re-named ‘Sosthenes’ creates a remarkably consistent picture of the individual. Luke presents him as a synagogue ruler who caused many others to become Christians (Acts 18:8), and tells us that the Jews singled him out for a beating (Acts 18:17). The authority that his name carried among the believers in Corinth explains why Paul included him as a co-sender (1 Cor. 1:1). Paul named him ‘Sosthenes’, meaning ‘saving strength’, because, through his power and influence, he secured the viability of the fledgling Christian community in Corinth. This style of naming is in keeping with other examples.

1. Introduction

Crispus (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:14) is introduced in Acts as the synagogue ruler (ἀρχισυνάγωγος) who became a believer. A few verses later (Acts 18:17) Sosthenes is given the same title, and we are told that he was beaten. It was the opinion of John Chrysostom1 that Crispus and Sosthenes were one and the same person, and this suggestion has recently been taken up by Augustine Myrou.2 This Crispus-Sosthenes question is important, not only for our understanding of Acts 18, but also because of its implications for Pauline chronology.

The majority of commentators, however, assume that Crispus and Sosthenes were distinct. The purpose of this paper is to explore whether the Crispus-Sosthenes hypothesis makes better sense of the data, or whether the majority assumption is preferable after all.

Acts 18:8–17 is our main text. Various interpretations of the passage are possible, but two principles can be used to decide between them. Fi...

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