Posted in theology

Gallio- a biography

By Elizabeth Prata

EPrata photo. Rome Forum

Have you ever read a Bible passage and a name is mentioned and you wonder, ‘Who was that guy? I’d like to know more about him!’ I do. I find it helps to delve into the background of things mentioned in the Bible. How do they make linen from rushes? What is winnowing? What did their wine taste like and why did Paul suggest it for Timothy’s stomach? How many mollusks did they need to make purple dye? Like that.

When you read the Bible, ask question of it. And then search for the answer.

I was reading Acts and the name ‘Gallio’ is mentioned three times. We read of him in Acts 18:12, Acts 18:14, and Acts 18:17. Before we get to a bio of the man, let’s look at what happened, what happened according to the Bible.

Paul had been in Achaia about 18 months, and the Jews had had enough because many were converting to Christianity. So the leader of the local synagogue in Corinth, Sosthenes, hauled Paul before proconsul Gallio.

But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews rose up together against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, (Acts 18:12).

Paul appeared before Gallio, the local authority. Their claim was, “This man is inciting the people to worship God contrary to the law.” (v. 13.)

But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of some crime or vicious, unscrupulous act, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; (Acts 18:14).

But they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat. And yet Gallio was not concerned about any of these things. (Acts 18:17).

Gallio was not indifferent, he determined that it was not a major dispute under his authority, but simply an internal Jewish matter. More on that in a moment.

The first question we ask is, what is a proconsul?

Encyclopedia Brinannica:

Under the empire (after 27 BC), governors of senatorial provinces were called proconsuls. 

A Consul’s term was only 1 year. With the Empire expanding and so many wars, it became necessary to extend the term, so a proconsul was a former consul whose term had been extended.

The difference between a consul and a proconsul is that a consul was one of the two top-most leaders of the Roman Republic, and a proconsul was the governor of a specific province of the Republic (and thus answered to the consuls). However, in order to become a proconsul, one must have already served a term as consul of the Republic. (Source)

A proconsul had all the authority of a governor who was given the specific region to govern.

In Gallio’s case he had been given Achaia to govern. Right click to see map larger. Achaia is to the right of Italy’s heel and down a bit. When Rome conquered Greece, they split the area into two regions, Macedonia to the north and Achaia to the south. The city of Corinth was in Achaia.

Roman Empire 125 AD.
CC BY-SA 3.0 Andrei N. (Wikipedia Commons user Andrein)

Did you know that Gallio was the famous philosopher Seneca’s brother? Seneca was in the Stoic camp of philosophy. Stoicism -“It is a philosophy of personal virtue ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world, asserting that the practice of virtue is both necessary and sufficient to achieve eudaimonia (happiness, lit. ’good spiritedness’): one flourishes by living an ethical life. The Stoics identified the path to eudaimonia with a life spent practicing virtue and living in accordance with nature” says Wikipedia. I mention this because when Paul was in Athens, a group of Stoics began debating him (Acts 17:18). Anyway…rabbit trail over-

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible explains Acts 18:12-

And Gallio – After the Romans had conquered Greece they reduced it to two provinces, Macedonia and Achaia, which were each governed by a proconsul. Gallio was the brother of the celebrated philosopher Seneca, and was made proconsul of Achaia in 53 AD. His proper name was Marcus Annaeus Novatus, but, having been adopted into the family of Gallio assumed the name Gallio after his adoption by the senator Junius Gallio, a rhetorician.

One of the reasons we can pinpoint Paul’s journey to Achaia and his stay there was due to the fact that Roman records pinpoint Gallio’s term so definitely.

Barnes’ Notes again – He is mentioned by ancient writers as having been of a remarkably mild and amiable disposition. His brother Seneca (“Praef. Quest.” Nat. 4) describes him as being of the most lovely temper: “No mortal,” says he, “was ever so mild to anyone as he was to all: and in him there was such a natural power of goodness, that there was no semblance of art or dissimulation.”

Gallio’s temperament is important here. His mildness and ‘sweetness’ is mentioned consistently in many different writings of the time. Though modern writers since then have charged Gallio with indifference to religion, or indifference to justice, this was not so. It was not a reproach to say “he cared not for these things” but a statement of commendation or at least, neutrality. Some have interpreted it as Gallio was calm enough to see through the Jews’ machinations. Others such as Barnes, have said-

“That he did not deem it to be his duty, or a part of his office, to settle questions of a theological nature that were started among the Jews.
2) that he was unwilling to make this subject a matter of legal discussion and investigation.
(3) that he would not interfere, either on one side or the other, in the question about proselytes either to or from Judaism. So far, certainly, his conduct was exemplary and proper.
” end Barnes

Interestingly the legal implications would have been far-reaching. We read in MacArthur’s Commentary in Acts,

“This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” Judaism was officially tolerated by the Romans, who at this early date viewed Christianity as nothing more than a sect of Judaism. Their charge challenged that conventional wisdom by saying that since Paul’s Christian teaching was outside the bounds of Judaism, Christianity should not receive the tolerance from the Romans that Judaism did. Had Gallio ruled in the Jews’ favor Christianity could have been banned not only in Corinth but also throughout the Empire. Gallio however was not to be easily duped.” –End MacArthur

Gallio would not allow Paul even to speak, he issued what we say today is a ‘summary judgment,’ and dismissed the case. In other words, he saw through the Jews right away.

As for doing nothing about Sosthenes’ beating, perhaps Gallio thought justice was being done. They had wrongly brought Paul before him, beaten and unjustly accused, and now Sosthenes was receiving the same treatment.

Gallio was an intelligent man from a strong Roman family. He was of even temperament, amiable, gentle and kind.

Gallio’s brother, Seneca, described him as a person exempt from vices, and who particularly disliked flattery, which could not sway him.  He wrote of his character in his famous book Naturales Quaestiones, and dedicated it to his brother Gallio. (source)

How Providential God is to install just such a leader at just such a time as Paul would need him, at a critical moment in Christian history. You never knew there was so much about Gallio for context in just those 3 short verses, did you? Me either. This is why it pays to study God’s word deeply. It’s an amazing book, and thoroughly interesting!!


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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