I love reading detective novels and crime thrillers and often am drawn to books which have pithy or intriguing titles. The author Scott Moriani (whose hero, Ben Hope, combines all the strength and determination of a former SAS officer with the moral scruples of one who originally studied theology at Oxford) often chooses titles which draw me in: ‘The Alchemist’s Secret’, ‘The Doomsday Conspiracy’, ‘The Martyr’s Curse’ and so on. Perhaps it’s in homage to this series that I’ve entitled this post ‘The Gallio Incident.’
Titles are intended to draw us in, and once hooked, the reality may well be far more mundane than the title implies. Here, the ‘Gallio’ of the title was the Roman proconsul mentioned in Acts 18. Gallio was the younger brother of Seneca, the Stoic philosopher and tutor of the youthful Nero, and we know that he was the proconsul in the province of Achaia between 51 and 52 A.D. This gives us a definite time-frame for Paul’s missionary journeys. We know that he was in Corinth for 18 months (Acts 18:11), and therefore we have a rough starting-date for this visit of late 49 A.D. or early 50 A.D. As with so much of Luke’s narrative, we have a fixed historical point for the events he narrates; we have definite locations that can be investigated. Christianity is not an imaginary faith; it’s a faith which is rooted in history and geography because it deals with real life (and a real God!) Eugene Peterson comments that we may resent this very practical combination of faith with everyday life, but in truth, ‘the only place you have to be human is where you are right now. The only opportunity you will ever have to live by faith is in the circumstances you are provided this very day: this house you live in, this family you find yourself in, this job you have been given, the weather conditions that prevail at this moment.’ (‘Run With The Horses’, Eugene Peterson) God is always there, always present, always working in our world, whether we recognise this or not.
Gallio is important in this story because he effectively rules decisively that the disputes Paul was having with the Jews in the synagogue did not come under Roman jurisdiction. (Acts 18:14-16) In Achaia, Christianity could now presume to share such permitted status as the Jews enjoyed, and therefore, for a while at least, his ruling ‘provided a very welcome breathing-space for the church, at least in southern Greece.’ (Tom Wright) More than once in Scripture, we read how pagan rulers and officials end up doing God’s will, whether they realise it or not. God is able to use whomever He wishes to fulfil His plans and the Gallio incident, therefore, underlines for us that God is sovereign and will do whatever it takes to see His kingdom come on earth. (Which is immensely reassuring for us!)