These unsaved Jews took Paul to court (v.12) and charged him with worshipping God “contrary to the law” (v.13). In the past, unsaved Jews charged Paul with worshipping God contrary to Roman law (17:7). But if that’s what they meant here, that’s not how the deputy took it (18:14-16).
The “words” they must have charged Paul (v.15) with saying were probably the same “blasphemous words” they charged Stephen with saying against the law (6:11,13). But that was not true of Stephen or Paul. The “names” (18:15) the deputy refused to hear them argue about were the names of Jesus, and whether He deserved to be called by the name Messiah.
Gallio the deputy wasn’t the only one upset with the Jews that day. All the Greeks in his courtroom got so mad at them that they began beating their leader (v.17). If that seems like an overreaction for wasting the court’s time, what you’re seeing is the hatred men have always had for Jews. Gallio must have hated them too, because he was completely carefree about it. Judges today would have a bailiff restore order.
We know Sosthenes (v.17) was the new “chief ruler of the synagogue,” because the old one got saved (18:8). Sosthenes must have also gotten saved, because Paul mentions him in I Corinthians 1:1. And it was no coincidence that synagogue rulers kept getting saved. They’d usually be men who knew the Scriptures well, and men like that would know what it meant when the Gentiles in the church next door spoke in tongues. They’d know God gave tongues to Jews to help them share the gospel with Gentiles in the kingdom (cf. Zech.8:22,23). So they’d know God gave the Jews tongues in Acts 2:4 as a sign He was about to bless them with the kingdom. But they’d also know God gave tongues to Gentiles as a sign He was judging the Jews, not blessing them. We know this because when Paul was explaining to the Corinthians why they had the gift of tongues, he quoted Isaiah 28:11,12 (ICor.14:21). God had been telling the Jews to repent in Hebrew, but they wouldn’t listen. So He said, “I’ll speak to you in the only language you seem to understand, that of judgment. I’ll let the Babylonians conquer you, and speak to you in their language.” And He did! Half of Daniel was written in Chaldee. And since men of the other nations that Babylon conquered were always coming and going in Babylon, they heard their languages too. And when those Jews heard those tongues, they knew God judged them. And when the leaders of the Corinthian synagogue heard Gentile tongues, they knew God judged them for rejecting their King.
Why’d Paul take a vow found in the law while telling others we’re not under the law? To save the Jews (ICor.9:20,23)—the Jews who took him to court! That’s love! But it was a voluntary vow the law didn’t require, so he didn’t have to put himself under the law to do it. It involved a sacrifice (Num.6), but priests will offer them in the kingdom (Ezek. 45). Later, God prevented Paul from offering one, so we know He didn’t want sacrifices to continue in our age.
Paul’s tactic worked! The Jews listened to him (Acts18:19, 20). So he left to do something equally Jewish—keep a voluntary feast in Jerusalem (v.21cf.Jo.10:22). After he landed in “Caesarea” (v.22), Jerusalem’s seaport, he went “up” to Jerusalem (elevation 2,474ft.). But after sailing 1200 miles, he only kept the feast and greeted the 12. He sailed that much to show Jerusalem Jews he took that vow, so they would go home and tell Jews in their synagogues about his vow, so when Paul arrived in their synagogues, they’d listen.
Paul also stopped in his home church of Antioch (v.22) because he knew they’d have heard he took the vow, and he wanted them to know he wasn’t a hypocrite. Then he went to Galatia (v.23) to prove to those Jews he didn’t disrespect the law. This is more proof he did nothing hypocritical. If he had, he wouldn’t have dared show his face in Galatia, after the letter he wrote them scolding them about the law!
A video of this message is available on YouTube: “The Tale Of A Carefree Deputy” Acts 18:12-23