“An eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures”
In this chapter we will be introduced to Apollos, the Alexandrian Jew, a most interesting and brilliant man, but first we would note the events leading up to his appearance. Paul had been in Corinth for a year and a half and had there met Aquila and Priscilla, close friends and among his most faithful helpers. When Paul left Corinth and came to Ephesus he was accompanied by Acquila and Priscilla. At Ephesus Paul went into the synagogue, as was his custom, and reasoned with the Jews. Contrary to what usually happened he here struck a responsive chord and these Jews desired him to remain, but he had taken a vow which had to be completed at Jerusalem and he wanted to be there in time to keep the Passover feast, so he sailed away, leaving Acquila and Priscilla behind at Ephesus. God’s hand was in this as there was a work for them to do. They had been with Paul at Corinth for eighteen months and had learned from him. Now they would have the opportunity to teach another. We have the story in Acts 18:24-28, “And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue, whom when Acquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.”
Here we meet Apollos. What brought him to Ephesus we do not know. The Bible says he was a Jew of Alexandria, the city founded by Alexander in 332 B.C. Located on the coast of Egypt, Alexandria was a great mercantile and commercial center. From its port Egyptian wheat was exported to Italy and other parts of the world. Two of the vessels on which Paul journeyed to Rome were described as ships of Alexandria. The lighthouse Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, shined in its harbor. With the decline of Athens, Alexandria had become the cultural and intellectual center of the world. Here flourished the schools of Greek philosophy in which Apollos was educated and it is more than likely that Philo himself was one of his teachers. The greatest library in the world was located in Alexandria and was burned to the ground by Omer, the Muslim caliph, in the seventh century, a great loss to mankind. From the Christian perspective perhaps the greatest thing to distinguish Alexandria was that it was here that seventy scholars translated the Old Testament from the Hebrew to Greek. This was the Greek Septuagint and was the Bible used by the apostles.
Apollos was doubtless an imposing figure, with an attractive personality and a commanding presence. He must have made a deep impression on Luke judging by the language used to describe him. We plainly see the writer’s respect and admiration. The first thing noted is that he was an eloquent man. Eloquence is a rare gift but eloquence alone is not sufficient. A person may be an eloquent speaker yet not be proclaiming the truth. Paul warned of such when he wrote to beware of those who “by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:18). Paul himself evidently was not noted for eloquence. His critics said his speech was contemptible. Thankfully, Apollos was eloquent in proclaiming the truth for he was mighty in the Scriptures and was instructed in the way of the Lord. He had a firm grasp of the Book and was thoroughly familiar with the Old Testament and the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. He was fervent in spirit, a trait sadly lacking in many preachers. Fervent means to boil, to glow, to exude warmth. What Apollos knew of the Scriptures was as a fire in his soul and he put forth the Word in such fervid fashion that the hearts of the hearers were warmed. All too often we listen to a sermon and then leave with hearts as cold as when we came in. There is no afterglow. The reason is that, unlike Apollos, the preacher’s heart has not been set aglow by the truth he is seeking to make known.
From the above we would have to conclude that Apollos was well qualified and had much to commend him, but … he knew only the baptism of John. What he knew of this must have been learned from one of John’s disciples who had come to Egypt. He knew only what John had preached, that Jesus was the Messiah, that men should repent because the kingdom was soon to be set up, and to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. He knew little, if anything, of the cross. He knew nothing of the resurrection of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit, or that the kingdom was being put in postponement and God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, offering to save by grace anyone who would put their trust in the redemptive work of His Son. In other words he knew only of Jesus in the flesh, of His wonderful life and His ethical and moral teaching, or as Criswell puts it he preached the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. It is tragic but true there are tens of thousands today who are just like that. They have only a historical Jesus, one who was a great teacher and by His life became a great example, that we should follow in His steps. They know nothing about His sacrificial and substitutionary atonement putting away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. They know nothing about His glorious resurrection and His present session at God’s right hand. Salvation by grace and God’s purpose in this present age is still a mystery to them. They know only the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. And shame on us that we haven’t told them more. In the case of Apollos there were two faithful saints who would tell him more.
The Authorized Version of Acts 18:25 reads, “He spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord.” This is not a good translation. The correct translation is “He spake and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.” Coming to Ephesus Apollos began to preach John’s message in the synagogue with great boldness, preaching the things concerning Jesus and proving from the law and prophets that Jesus was the Messiah. In the audience were Aquila and Priscilla. They rejoiced to hear this bold preaching, but having been taught by Paul they immediately discerned that something was lacking. There is much preaching today in which something is lacking. It is not so much what is said as what is left unsaid. There is a lack and it is usually the key ingredient that is missing. With Apollos, the godly couple, Aquila and Priscilla, determined to do something about it. We read, “They took him unto them.” They made friends with him, lovingly inviting him to their home, and then as they discussed the Scriptures they prayerfully and tactfully “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly,” making known to him the great truths they had learned from the Apostle Paul.
Here we see the noble character of Apollos. Here was the powerful and eloquent preacher on whose lips hung the multitude and he is sitting at the feet of two lowly tent-makers and being taught by them. He was both humble and teachable. Not many of the so-called clergy would be willing to sit and learn from lay people who had little or no formal education. Why, they have been to Bible school or seminary and have a degree and they are the ones who should be doing the teaching. Apollos was truly marked by his humility and is to be commended. He was also teachable. Aquila and Priscilla told him of the secret made known to Paul by the risen Christ, of the present outcalling, the Church, the Body of Christ, sinners saved by grace and made one with the Son of God’s love and destined for eternal glory. Apollos received this wonderful good news with gladness and we can be certain that he proclaimed the newfound truth with even greater boldness and with more fervency of spirit than ever before.
When Apollos now began to preach this new truth he had learned from Aquila and Priscilla he no doubt found that his audience was not quite so receptive. The Jews might listen to him speak eloquently from the Old Testament showing the prophecies of the coming kingdom and of the Messiah who would deliver His people Israel, but when he began to preach about something not revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures they would not listen to that. It is the same today. The mystery revealed through Paul, hid from ages and generations past, is still a mystery to most Christians, and it would be to all Christians if not for God’s superabounding grace in causing the light to shine upon our darkened souls.
Apollos’ ministry at Ephesus being thus curtailed he had a desire to go into Achaia, to Corinth. Perhaps some from Corinth had heard him at Ephesus and invited him, or perhaps Aquila and Priscilla felt he was needed there. At any rate he went, bearing letters of commendation, and was greatly used among the Corinthian saints, for we read, “When he was come (to Corinth) he helped them much which had believed through grace: for he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ” (Acts 18:27- 28). Paul had laid a good foundation and Apollos built thereon. Paul had planted the seed and Apollos watered but it was God that gave the increase.
We come now to a perplexing question. Practically all the expositors tell us that when Apollos came to Corinth his coming inadvertently caused a division among the saints. They surmise that some of the Christians were so impressed with his eloquent preaching that they formed an Apollos party, while others took the position that Paul had planted the church at Corinth and he was their spiritual father and so they formed the Paulist party. If this was so and they were in opposition to one another it is certainly not stated in any of Paul’s letters. It is true there were contentions, or quarrels, among the Corinthian saints resulting in divisions, or schisms. Paul had been so informed by the house of Chloe. These differences were evidently of recent origin, at the time that Paul was writing, and not something that began five years earlier with Apollos’ arrival at Corinth. What was going on in Corinth was what is all too common in the churches today. Many churches have been hurt and hindered and even wrecked because of factions gathered around local leaders who are guilty of envy, pride, and a desire for the spotlight. Each one should examine themselves to make sure there is no taint of this sin in their hearts. These factions at Corinth were not gathered around Paul, Apollos or Peter. These rival groups were headed by some of the leaders right there in the local church, such as Brother Doitmyway or Mrs. UppityUp. In his correction Paul does not use the names of these local leaders who were dividing the saints but he speaks figuratively using his name and that of Apollos to show how foolish it is to be following men instead of all following the Lord. Dr. Harry Ironside has written concerning this very thing:
“Paul said, ‘It hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.’ There was division right in the local assembly of Corinth. Then he uses an illustration to show what he means. ‘Every one of you saith, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ.’ Those were not the actual names that were used. In chapter 4:6 we read, ‘These things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes: that ye might learn in us not to think of man above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.’ Paul is saying, ‘You see, I have simply used this figuratively.’ It was not actually Paul and Apollos, it was men in their own local group, and they were saying, ‘Well, I am for this brother and I am for this other one.’ … And so Paul put in his own name and that of Apollos and Cephas to illustrate how wrong this was.”
Note again Paul’s words in I Corinthians 4:6. “And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes: that ye might learn in us not to think of man above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.” The following is from the Jamison, Fausset and Brown Commentary, in which they sort of paraphrase these words of Paul:
“I have represented under the persons of Apollos and myself what really holds good of all teachers, making us two a figure or type of all the others. I have mentioned us two, whose names have been used as a party cry: but under our names I mean others to be understood, whom I do not name, in order not to shame you.”
We do not know how long Apollos stayed at Corinth, nor where he went later, but it would seem evident that he was a powerful force in spreading the message of God’s grace and the truth concerning the Body of Christ. We know from the record that he was active over a long period of time. Five years after his visit to Corinth Paul was writing to the Corinthians and Apollos was with him at that time. In his letter Paul states that he wanted Apollos to return to Corinth but Apollos was unwilling to go at that time (I Corinthians 16:12). And then five years after that Paul is writing to Titus and telling him to come to Nicopolis, where he planned to winter, and to bring Apollos with him (Titus 3:13). From all this we may conclude that Apollos and Paul were companions on the trail for a good many years.
In their travels together Apollos and Paul made an ideal team. We have seen how Apollos preached in the synagogues and mightily convinced the Jews, and also preached publicly, showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ. He was well suited to have an effective ministry directed to the Jews while Paul’s chief aim was toward the Gentiles. A number of scholars believe that Apollos was the author of the Book of Hebrews and in that book we have a sample of his preaching to the Jews. Others have said that if he were not the author of Hebrews it would have to be someone just like him.
It is certain that the Apostle Paul greatly appreciated every one of his companions and fellow-workers, all of whom, like him, had the one great desire to reach out with the gospel and to make all see what is the dispensation of the mystery. We have just been told, though, not to get our eyes on men, even though we highly esteem them in love for their work’s sake. If we are blessed by looking at Apollos and these other dear saints it is only because we see Christ in them. May we by their example be motivated to live in such fashion that others will see Christ in us.