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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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The name occurs twice in the NT. In Acts 18:17 a Sosthenes is ‘the ruler of the synagogue’ in Corinth. Although in the Diaspora this title gained a more extended sense than in Palestine as an honorary title, there seems to have been only one ruler of the synagogue in Corinth. In that case Sosthenes must have been recently appointed when Crispus became a Christian; and probably he took a prominent part in the proceedings when ‘the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul, and brought him before the judgement-seat’ (Acts 18:12). The charge having been dismissed, Sosthenes was laid hold of and beaten before the judgment seat, but Gallio (q.v. [Note: .v. quod vide, which see.] ) ‘cared for none of these things’ (Acts 18:17). Revised Version , dropping οἱ Ἕλληνες, favours the idea that it was the Jews who beat Sosthenes, venting on their own leader their rage over their disappointment. Another view has been that Gallio allowed the Jews to console themselves by beating Sosthenes, who was a Christian. Both these views are, however, rejected as historically inconceivable. Probably the reading οἱ Ἕλληνες has dropped out through a misapprehension of the scene due to the fact that a Sosthenes is mentioned with St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:1. It cannot be decided whether these two men are the same person. The name was common; and nothing is said in the NT which identifies them. What happened when Gallio dismissed the charge against St. Paul was that ‘the Greeks, who always hated the Jews, took advantage of the marked snub which the governor had inflicted on them, to seize and beat Sosthenes, who had been appointed to replace Crispus as Archisynagogos,’-a ‘piece of “Lynch law,” which probably seemed to him [Gallio] to be a rough sort of justice’ (Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, p. 259). If Acts 18:17 and 1 Corinthians 1:1 refer to the same person, Sosthenes must have been converted subsequently and become a Christian leader. There is nothing impossible in this. If one ruler of the synagogue was converted, why not another? It is conceivable that his sufferings in a religious riot may have turned his mind again to St. Paul’s teaching. As a former ruler of the synagogue, his presence with St. Paul in Ephesus is explicable on two grounds: (a) his presence in Corinth as a Christian might irritate the Jews and make Christian work harder; (b) his social position and ability would probably mark him out as a suitable fellow-worker with St. Paul, who would delight to make an ally of a persecutor. It is certainly in favour of this identification that St. Paul mentions Sosthenes not as an amanuensis but as a Christian of standing, whose name is well known in Corinth and will carry authority with the Church. It has been suggested also that his subsequent conversion would account for St. Luke’s exceptionally preserving the name of St. Paul’s assailant. Whilst these considerations favour the identification, it cannot be proved. But it would be an interesting coincidence that both Crispus and Sosthenes should be mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1, if both were converted rulers of the synagogue.

Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.) i. 12) states that Sosthenes was one of the Seventy; but probably this is a worthless tradition. Tradition is responsible also for the statement that he became bishop of Colophon.

Literature.-W. P. Dickson, article ‘Sosthenes’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ; W. M. Ramsay, article ‘Corinth,’ ib. i. 482a; C. von Weizsäcker, Apostolic Age, i. 2 [London, 1897] 113, 306-310; A. Harnack, Expansion of Christianity, i. 2 [London, 1908] 321; F. Godet, Commentary on 1st Corinthians (Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1886); Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Acts,’ London, 1900, p. 391, and ‘1 Corinthians,’ do., p. 758; W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, London, 1895, pp. 257-259.

J. E. Roberts.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sosthenes'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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