(September, a.d. 51)

Fall was as good a time as any to leave Corinth.

Standing at the prow of a merchantman anchored in the harbor of Cenchrea, Paul stared off into the Saronic Gulf, watching the blue of the sea and the hazy smudge of Attic coast to the north. He kept his face to the wind, letting the breeze blow away the lingering memories of summer’s heat.

The wind felt strange on his head. It swirled around his ears and reached down his neck with an unaccustomed intimacy.  He’d shaved his head before boarding—an act of consecration to prepare him for his return to the city of his fathers, a token of gratitude for God’s protection in the City of Aphrodite.

Aquila and Priscilla sat with their trunks and bags in the lee of the small deckhouse near the stern. The others—who had walked with them to Cenchrea and see them to the boat—were gone, back to Corinth and whatever had to be faced in that fickle city. Paul was alone for a few moments, feeling the wind on his fresh-shaved skin and trying to swallow his regrets about leaving.

The sea smelled so good—fresh and promising. Paul always associated the sea with the future. His legs were betrayers, carrying him away from people he loved, distancing him from the past. But boats sailed on tomorrow’s seas—bearing him to far places and gifting him with new opportunities and people. Paul loved the smells and the hope of the sea.

He needed the hope as much as anyone, after all.



The itch stopped bothering him almost as soon as he’d told the Corinthians he was going.  

Oh, his back still twinged on occasion and reminded him of other places, of other leavings. But the nagging in his mind—the insistent, tingling pester that played in his head and picked at his heart—let him alone once he made the decision to go.  He still heard the voices—calling, calling—but they were no longer shrill and disruptive. They had granted him a temporary truce.

He was glad of it, relieved to be left in peace. It was time. Time to give himself to other purposes.

That had not made telling the Corinthians any easier, of course. The night he’d broken the news, he still had to contend with their eyes. Hester blinked at him, silent and uncertain. Stephanas just smiled and looked away. Cratulus swallowed hard and acted as though he’d tasted something bitter.  Claemia refused to look at him at all.

Only Gaius seemed unperturbed by his decision. Only Gaius seemed content to let him go.

Their faces floated before him now. But he shook his head and forced his eyes to the horizon. 

They would weigh anchor soon. Soon he would meet other faces, the ones that matched the voices in his head. And he would start it all over again.


Some kinds of faith came hard for Paul.

Not faith in God. Not his confidence that the Spirit would remain with the Corinthians even if Paul could not.

It was faith in people that troubled him. He had too much experience with their shallow and hard and thorny hearts. He knew how quickly they could fold. He knew how little it took for some to let go.

Not all were that way, he admitted. Sometimes, their courage took him by surprise. He thought of Crispus and Hester, the day they walked out of the synagogue. He remembered Claemia’s long climb from the gutter, and Portensus wrestling with issues so much larger than himself, and reckoned they were strong enough to survive. But there were the others he was not so sure of. Cratulus. Sosthenes. Abi. Would they make it?

He chided himself for his doubts. He knew he should have more confidence in what God was doing … in the people God was forming. He recognized in it a kind of pride, a readiness to see in himself a fortitude he found hard to attribute to others. He admitted that such doubts led him to questions he could not answer—about the ways of God in a broken, faithless world.

But then he thought of Gaius. And he knew with a dull, aching certainty that Gaius would cause problems in the future. While Paul was back in Jerusalem, while Paul wandered wherever God would lead next, Gaius would be here.  Gaius would be mixing Corinth into this church, one subtle, poisonous drop at a time.

They’ll be fine, he’d told Priscilla.

They’ll be fine, he told himself again now.

But he wondered if they would.

The afternoon he left Corinth, Paul stood in the prow of a boat and prayed fitfully—torn between the faces of people he loved and was leaving, and the unfamiliar voices calling to him from across the sea.

[End Matter]

[Beginning of the novel]

© 2012 by Tim Woodroof. Reproduction of this material requires permission from the author.