The ripple effect: Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

Ancient Ephesus thrived as a commercial hub for successive empires—Persian, Greek, and Roman—for three reasons: location, location, location. Several busy Asian trade routes reached their end at Ephesus (on the western coast of today’s Turkey). Ephesus’ port then provided easy access to a web of sea lanes that fanned to southern Europe and North Africa. While the apostle Paul lived and worked three years there, he knew well the city’s bustling Square Market, newly renovated by Caesar’s decree. The market stretched some 120 yards on each side, edged by graceful pillars and rimmed by stalls and shops. Everything about Ephesus said, “Open for business.”

A profitable exchange

Yet for all the goods ever traded in that great city—all the grain, wine, olive oil, pottery, precious metals, all the glass going east and the silk coming west, all that camels could carry and ships could haul—there was never a more profitable exchange at Ephesus than the one made between Paul and the Corinthian Christians. They swapped letters in about A.D. 55. What a bargain for the Corinthians! Those struggling Christians traded hard questions about difficult problems for good and enduring answers.

Three men from Corinth, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, apparently enabled this exchange. Circumstantial evidence within Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians points to them as the bearers of “the matters you [Corinthians] wrote about” (7:1). Paul happily noted, “They have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also” (16:17,18).

In other words, the three added nuance and clarification to what the Corinthians had written about their difficulties. They filled in what Paul could not read between the lines of the letter from Corinth. Then the three carried Paul’s letter back to Corinth (16:12), words inspired by God’s Spirit and preserved by him to this day.

Important message-bearers

Who were Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus? The first name is Greek; the second two, Latin, but that tells us little, other than that they were probably Gentiles, like nearly all Corinthians. We know a bit more about Stephanas: his household had been baptized by Paul (1:16). They were the first converts to the faith in Achaia (16:15). Stephanas and his family had thereafter devoted themselves to service.

We don’t know whether the three Corinthians walked to Ephesus, a journey of about 900 miles, or spent a week or more crossing the Aegean Sea by ship. We can’t even tell whether the trip to Ephesus was a specially commissioned assignment or a regular part of other responsibilities that brought them to the area anyway.

But this we know: Out of love for Jesus they served God and people well in a humble, but vital, task. They reliably carried two letters and linked a pastor to his people. Thus in his letter Paul could speak timely words to urgent problems and timeless truth.

By the rippling power of Pentecost, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus had come to faith and had taken their places among Jesus’ “witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). For the words they spoke to Paul, for the miles they walked or sailed, and for the deliveries they made, the apostle wrote, “Such men deserve recognition” (16:18).

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the fourth article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.

 

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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

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