24 Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures.
25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John;
26 and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
27 And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace,
28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. NAU
Under Acts 18:24-19:7, we presented the main point and the historical background of the stories of Apollos and some Ephesian disciples. Now, we will focus on Apollos and his teachers, Priscilla and Aquila..
Apollos was a Jew and "an Alexandrian by birth." As Lenski points out (p. 769), Luke means a Jewish person rather than Gentile, not a Jew in contrast to a Christian. Alexandria had been founded by Alexander the Great. It was the type of city that afforded much opportunity for education and training. Lenski (p. 769) states:
Two of this city's five sections were inhabited by Jews. It had a great university and a library and was the main seat of Jewish-Hellenistic learning. The Jewish-Alexandrine philosophy was developed here; its chief exponent, Philo, was still living. Here the LXX had been translated, a work that was of more influence than any other translation of the Old Testament. The inspired New Testament writers quoted from it. Although they regarded Jerusalem as the great center of their religion, the Alexandrine Jews had their own temple at Leontopolis.
Apollos was an "eloquent man." Luke uses the Greek work logios. This can mean either "eloquent" or "educated," "skilled in speech" or "skilled in knowledge." It can also mean that Apollos was a man of "reason or ideas." Apparently, Apollos had an excellent general education. His popularity as a speaker supports the idea that he was eloquent also. There is no reason to limit the meaning of logios with regard to Apollos. All of these meanings can go together.
In addition Apollos was "mighty in the Scriptures" and "instructed in the way of the Lord." According to Menzies (p. 220), "The phrase he odos (the way) is frequently used in Acts with reference to Christian belief and practice (9.2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14; 14.22), and kurios naturally suggests the Lord Jesus." (Transliteration mine) As Menzies says (p. 221), the phrase "instructed in the way of the Lord "indicates that, at the very least, Apollos was acquainted with the chief points of Jesus' ministry and teaching."
Where did Apollos get his instruction? Bruce (p. 2) points out that the Western text says that Apollos was "instructed in his own country." If so, this would be an indication that the gospel already had been preached in Alexandria. In any case, Apollos knew about the "way of the Lord."
Moreover, Luke clearly states that Apollos "was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus." According to Menzies (p. 221), this "phrase, descriptive of Paul's preaching in 28:31, suggests that Apollos preached the Christian gospel." All the things that Apollos taught, he taught accurately. He did not reach beyond his knowledge to say things that were inaccurate.
Apollos was fervent in spirit or Spirit. Does Luke refer to the spirit of Apollos or the Holy Spirit? A similar question arises in connection with Romans 11:12. Either view is entirely possible. My own view is that the human spirit of Apollos was inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This view, too, is quite possible. It would be in harmony with Luke's approach to the Spirit.
Apollos spoke out "boldly" in the synagogues. This description also supports the idea that Apollos was inspired of the Spirit. In Acts 4:31, for example, Luke says that the disciples were filled with the Spirit and "began to speak the word of God with boldness."
There was a shortcoming, however, in the preaching of Apollos. He was "acquainted only with the baptism of John." The clear implication is that he did not know the baptism in the name of Jesus. Considering how much Apollos knew about the way of the Lord, this seems unusual, but it was so.
We can assume that Apollos knew much about the teaching of John the Baptist as well as the baptism itself. Also, as we have seen, he taught accurately the things concerning Jesus. He undoubtedly had heard about death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and even the Day of Pentecost. This kind of news travels rapidly. Anyone with his interest in Christ and his background in the Scripture is likely to have heard the news.
When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, "they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately." Luke does not tell us what they taught Apollos, but we can surmise a couple of points. Because Apollos knew only the baptism of John, it is natural to assume that they taught him about baptism in the name of Jesus. Luke does not say whether or not Apollos was baptized again. Most scholars hold that he was not.
Obviously, Priscilla and Acquila must have taught Apollos what they already knew. They had sat (Acts 18:2, 11) under the teaching of Paul for 18 months in Corinth. Much of our doctrine about Christ was revealed to Paul and shared with the world through his preaching and epistles. No doubt they shared much about Paul's interpretation of Jesus.
According to Paul, there is a difference (I Corinthians 3:2) between "milk" and "solid food." The milk was the elementary form of the gospel. The "solid food" was not a different gospel, but rather the more developed form of it. Apparently, Priscila and Aquila presented Apollos with "solid food," or a fuller interpretation of the gospel.
After Priscilla and Aquila explained the gospel further to Apollos, he went to the province of Achaia in Greece. Corinth was the capital of Achaia. The brethren at Ephesus encouraged him and wrote a letter of introduction to the disciples. When he arrived, they welcomed him. He helped greatly those who had believed through grace.
There, Apollos continued his ministry. He "powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ." This was not something entirely new in the preaching of Apollos. He knew the baptism and, not doubt, the teaching of John. According to Paul (Acts 19:4), John was "telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus."
The major point of the story about Apollos is that background, skill, eloquence, and fervency in spirit (or Spirit) is not enough; the evangelist must also have a full knowledge and understanding of the gospel. Apollos knew much, was fervent in Spirit, and preached powerfully, but to some degree his knowledge was limited. That deficiency was corrected, and Apollos became an outstanding minister of the gospel in the early church.
George M. Flattery
Beasley-Murray, G. R. Baptism in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Bruner, Frederick Dale. A Theology of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1970.
Dunn, James D. G. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. London: SCM Press Ltd. 1970.
Fernando, Ajith. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
Gangel, Kenneth O. Acts: Holman New Testament Commentary. General Editor: Anders, Max. Nashville: Holman Reference, 1998.
Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971.
Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1981.
Lampe, G. W. H. The Seal of the Spirit. London: SPCK, 1967. Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Menzies, Robert P. Empowered for Witness. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991.
Mounce, William D. Basics of Biblical Greek. Grand Rapids: Zondervan , 1993.
Rea, John. Bible Handbook on the Holy Spirit. Orlando: Creation House, 1998.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Turner, Max. Power from On High. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. 1996.
© Copyright 2003. GMF.