Apollos Arrives in Ephesus

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A short time before Paul's extensive stay in Ephesus a man, gifted in speaking, arrives in the city. He will soon play a significant role in the expansion and direction of the early New Testament church. His name is Apollos.

Apollos is a native of Alexandria in Egypt (Acts 18:24), a city which was founded by Alexander the Great. Apollos came, at this time, to Ephesus either directly from Egypt by Aquila or Priscilla from Corinth, or by some route through the intermediate countries. This visit occurred at a critical time. While it led to the further establishment of Christian truth, it also, unintentionally, led to the growth of parties in the church.

Apollos was acquainted with Christianity and the gospel only so far as it had been made known by John the Baptist (Acts 18:25). Many Jews from other countries received from the Baptist their knowledge of the Messiah, and carried with them this knowledge on their return from Palestine.

We read of an heretical sect, at a much later period, who held John the Baptist to have been himself the Messiah. But in a position intermediate between this deluded party, and those who were traveling as teachers of the full and perfect Gospel, there were doubtless many, among the floating Jewish population of the Empire, whose knowledge of Christ extended only to that which had been preached on the banks of the Jordan.

Second century A.D. Alexandria coins showing its famous lighthouse
Alexandria coins (2nd century A.D.)
showing its famous lighthouse

That such persons should be found at Ephesus, the natural meeting place of all religious sects and opinions, is what we would expect. Their own connection with Judea, or the connection of their teachers with Judea, had been broken before the day of Pentecost. They were ignorant of the full meaning of the death of Christ. They possibly were not even aware of His resurrection. But they knew, like Apollos, that the times of the Messiah were come, and that one had appeared in whom the prophecies were fulfilled.

A distinguished disciple

In some respects, Apollos was distinguished from the other disciples of John the Baptist, who are alluded to at the same place and nearly at the same time (Acts 19:1 - 7). There is much significance in the first fact that is stated, that he was "born at Alexandria." In the establishment of a religion which was intended to be the complete fulfillment of Judaism, and to be universally supreme in the Gentile world, we should expect Alexandria to bear her part, as well as Jerusalem. The Hellenistic learning fostered by the foundations of the Ptolemies might be made the handmaid of the truth, no less than the older learning of Judea and the schools of the Hebrews.

As regards Apollos, he was not only an Alexandrian Jew by birth, but he had a high reputation for an eloquent and forcible power of speaking, and had probably been well trained in the rhetorical schools on the banks of the Nile. But though he was endued with the eloquence of a Greek orator, the subject of his study and teaching was the Scriptures of his forefathers.

The character which Apollos bore in the Synagogues was that of a man "mighty in the Scriptures" (Acts 18:24). In addition to these advantages of birth and education, he seems to have had the most complete and systematic instruction in the Gospel which a disciple of John could possibly receive.

Whether from the Baptist himself, or from some of those who traveled into other lands with his teaching as their possession, Apollos had received full and accurate instruction in the way of the Lord. We are further told that his character was marked by a fervent zeal (Acts 18:25) for spreading the truth. Thus we may conceive of him as traveling, like a second Baptist, beyond the frontiers of Judea. He expounded the prophecies of the Old Testament, announcing that the times of the Messiah were come, and calling the Jews to repentance.

Hence Apollos was, like his great teacher, diligently "preparing the way of the Lord." Though ignorant of the momentous facts which had succeeded the Resurrection and Ascension, he was turning the hearts of the "disobedient to the wisdom of the just," and "making ready a people for the Lord" (Luke 1:16, 17) whom he was soon to know more perfectly.

Thus burning with zeal, and confident of the truth of what he had learnt, Apollos spoke out boldly in the Synagogue (Acts 18:26). An intense interest must have been excited about this time concerning the Messiah in the synagogue at Ephesus. Paul had been there briefly during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19 - 21) and departed with the promise of return. Aquila and Priscilla, though taking no forward part as public teachers, would diligently keep the subject of the Apostle's instruction before the mind of the Israelites.

Now an Alexandrian Jew presented himself in Ephesus, bearing testimony to the same Messiah with singular eloquence, and with great power in the interpretation of Scripture. Thus an unconscious preparation was made for the arrival of the Apostle Paul, who was even now traveling towards Ephesus through the uplands of Asia Minor.

The teaching of Apollos, though eloquent, learned, and zealous, was seriously defective. But God had provided among his listeners those who could instruct him more perfectly. Aquila and Priscilla felt that he was proclaiming the same truth in which they had been instructed at Corinth. They could inform him that they had met with one who had taught with authority far more concerning Christ than had been known even to John the Baptist. They could recount to him the miraculous gifts, which attested the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Thus they attached themselves closely to Apollos, and gave him complete instruction in the "way of the Lord."

Helping the Corinthians

Apollos' providential meeting with Aquila and Priscilla in Asia became the means of promoting the spread of the Gospel in Achaia. Now that he was made fully acquainted with the Christian doctrine, his zeal urged him to go where it had been firmly established by Paul (Acts 18:27). It is possible, too, that some news received from Corinth might lead him to suppose that he could be of active service there in the cause of truth. The Christians of Ephesus encouraged him in this intention, and gave him "letters of commendation" to their brethren across the Aegean.

Apollos, on his arrival at Corinth, threw himself at once among those Jews who had rejected the Apostle Paul, and argued with them publicly and zealously on the ground of their Scriptures. He thus "greatly helped those who had believed through grace" (Acts 18:27, HBFV). He proved with power that Jesus, who had been crucified at Jerusalem, and whom Paul was proclaiming throughout the world, was indeed the Christ. Thus he watered where Paul had planted, and God gave an abundant increase (1Corinthians 3:6). And yet, evil grew up side by side with the good.

For while he was a valuable aid to the Christians, and a formidable antagonist to the Jews, and while he was honestly co-operating in Paul's great work of evangelizing the world, he became the occasion of fostering party-spirit among the Corinthians. He was unwillingly held up as a rival of the Apostle himself. In this city of rhetoricians and sophists, the erudition and eloquent speaking of Apollos were contrasted with the unlearned simplicity with which Apostle Paul had studiously presented the Gospel to his Corinthian hearers.

Thus many attached themselves to the new teacher, and called themselves by the name of Apollos, while others ranged themselves as the party of Paul (1Corinthians 1:12), forgetting that Christ could not be "divided," and that Paul and Apollos were merely ministers by whom they had believed (1Corinthians 3:5).

We have no reason to imagine that Apollos himself encouraged or tolerated such unchristian divisions. A proof of his strong feeling to the contrary, and of his close attachment to Paul, is furnished in the first letter to the Corinthians. The apostle wrote, after vehement rebukes of the schismatic spirit prevailing among the Corinthians, that Apollos was unwilling to return to them at that particular time even though Paul strongly encouraged him to do so (1Corinthians 16:12).

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