June 2, 2015


Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe



Topic #IV: The Church Advancing to the End of Earth (Acts 13-28)   


Subtopic D: The Third Missionary Journey (18:23-19:19)                                                               



         Lesson: IV.D.2: Apollos Goes from Ephesus to Corinth (18:24-28) 




Acts 18:24-28 (KJV)


24 And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.

25 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.

26 And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.

27 And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace:

28 For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.






Paul began his third mission by visiting for the third time the churches established on his first missionary journey.  His ultimate destination was Ephesus, where he had left Priscilla and Aquila.  Before Paul’s return, the two encountered Apollos, who came to Ephesus from Alexandria.  Luke describes him as a Jew who knew of Jesus and taught accurately about Him.  But he was deficient in his Christian knowledge, knowing only of Johns’ baptism (v. 25).  Priscilla and Aquila soon instructed him more accurately.  He eventually went to Corinth.  Paul in 1 Corinthians referred to Apollos’s ministry in Corinth a number of times.


This episode (18:24-28) and the following (19:1-7) underscore the transitional nature of this phase of church history.  It may be assumed from 19:1-7 that Apollos had not received Christian baptism and probably had not received the Holy Spirit.







24 And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.


It is evident the Lord intended that there be a major breakthrough for the gospel at “Ephesus.”  First Paul had visited the city at the end of his second missionary journey, and had captured the interest of the entire Jewish community.  Then Aquila and Priscilla decided to stay there, set up in business, and cultivate the ground in preparation for Paul’s return.  During the time Paul was absent from Ephesus a church had been started, probably under the influence of Aquila and Priscilla.  Now comes Apollos[1] of “Alexandria,” gifted, eloquent, scholarly, and convinced that Jesus was Savior and Lord. 


“Alexandria,” situated on the Nile delta in Egypt, was the second largest city (600,000-800,000) in the Roman Empire.  It was famous for its lighthouse on the narrow island of Pharos, for its museum, for its university, and for its library, which ultimately contained 700,000 volumes.  There was a large Jewish colony in the city. In New Testament times Jews made up about one-third of the population of the city.  It was at Alexandria that the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into the Greek Septuagint version.  There was a Jewish temple in Alexandria.  The great center of the early church moved from Jerusalem and Antioch to Alexandria, and it remained important for several centuries of early church history.  Alexandria was the home, too, of the Jewish scholar Philo, who lived there shortly after the birth of Christ.  Philo, deeply influenced by the philosophy of Plato, tried to wed Biblical revelation to Platonic ideology. Athanasius, Tertullian, and Augustine, three great men of the early church, came from there.  Apollos was obviously influenced by this background.


“And a certain Jew named Apollos,” “came to Ephesus.” His name, “Apollos,” is Greek.  So he was a Hellenistic “Jew” of the Diaspora.  He was a sufficiently important figure in the early church to warrant this mention of his coming to the metropolis of Ephesus.  It shows us something of what was going on there before Paul’s return.  By that time, Apollos had gone, but later Paul and Apollos were together in Ephesus, and it is clear from a number of references in Paul’s own writings that he regarded Apollos as a friend and a valued colleague (1 Corinthians 3:5-9; 16:12; Titus 3:13 (NIV)—“Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need.”).


Apollos was a Jew “born at Alexandria,” which meant he had the background of the Mosaic Law. Somewhere along the line Apollos had been brought in touch with the gospel, had become a believer, and his great talents and abilities were placed wholeheartedly at the command of the Lord.  One of his travels brought him to Ephesus, where he found that the gospel seeds had already been planted by Paul.  He at once began to water the ground (1 Corinthians 3:6 (KJV)—“I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase”).  Soon God did give the increase.


Apollos was “an eloquent man,” trained in rhetoric and philosophy, whom God had endowed with considerable gifts, one of which was the ability to effectively preach that portion of God’s Word that he was familiar with at that time.


Apollos was not only a great communicator, he was well educated “and mighty in the scriptures.” More specifically, he had a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament “Scriptures.” This was the basis of his preaching in both Ephesus and Corinth.  There is no way to tell how much of this man’s superior preaching was due to a gift of the spirit and how much was pure natural ability.  If he had never been a Christian man, he would have been a mighty orator, and a leader of men.  If a man has no gift of speech by nature, do not imagine God wants that man for a preacher, because He does not. (Some of you might disagree with that statement, and that’s all right; it is only my opinion.)  He may have equally important work for him to do, but a preacher is born, not made.  This man was “mighty in the scriptures,” and was gifted by nature with a gift which every man does not possess.  It was a distinct ability, a natural power to know “the Scriptures,” and to see their inter-relationships.  He was familiar with all their meanings and their relevance.  He had a familiarity with “the Scriptures” which enabled him to impart to others that which he knew.  This man, therefore, by birth and training, was remarkably well fitted for work in these Greek cities.


Apollos “came to Ephesus” while Paul was making the journey described in the previous verse [Lesson: IV.D.1: Paul in Galatia and Phrygia (18:23)].                                                                          



25 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.


“This man was instructed in the way of the Lord,” which, in his case, probably indicates that he was already a Christian when he arrived at Ephesus.  This implies that there was some kind of gospel preaching in Egypt by about a.d. 50.  Apollos was well informed about the story of Jesus[2], and he yearned to make Him known to his fellow Jews. 


There was one flaw in the teaching of this godly Jewish believer: he knew only the baptism of John.  It has been concluded from this that his brand of Christianity could not have originated in Jerusalem, where the baptism of Jesus was certainly known.  More likely it came to him via Galilee, where the baptism of John was well-known but where the baptism of Jesus, proclaimed by Peter on the day of Pentecost, was not so well known.


“This man”Apollos “was instructed in the way of the Lord,” This did not include the Christian faith (v. 26).  The Old Testament uses the phrase to describe the spiritual and moral standards God required His people to observe (Genesis 18:19; Judges 2:22; 1 Samuel 12:23; 2 Samuel 22:22[3]; 2 Kings 21:22; etc.). His instruction came by word of mouth, not by revelation.


The author of Acts seems to imply that Apollos already possessed the Holy Spirit apart from Christian baptism for Dr. Luke says of him “And being fervent in the spirit,” whichis an expression that means literally “to boil in the spirit,” that is, his own human “spirit,” and so perhaps “to bubble over with enthusiasm”—The NIV puts it this way: “He spoke with great fervor.” But, perhaps the best meaning to apply to this phrase is not that Apollos own “spirit” was “fervent,” but that he was literally “boiling” with the energy of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:11, “aglow with the Spirit”)—he had a passion for the things of God. It is not clear from Luke’s description whether he means his spirit or the Holy Spirit. In any case, Apollos arrived in Ephesus full of zeal to fan the flames of revival already smoldering in the city as a result of Paul’s visit.


“He spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord,” indicates that he was an enthusiastic witness for the Lord, and this led him to speak and to teach all that he knew about Jesus, though what he knew turned out to be insufficient.  He was a disciple of John, and in obedience to John had been baptized unto repentance, and to expectation of the coming of Messiah; but he did NOT know the meaning of the Cross.


Though Johns’ purpose was to announce to the Jews the coming of their long anticipated Messiah, John did teach some things that were new to most Jewish ears.  For example, John announced a future baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11, NIV—“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Also see Mark 1:8) which took place on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:5).  Apollos knew about the promises, but he did not know about their fulfillment.  He was a redeemed Old Testament believer (v. 24).


Where did Apollos get his message to begin with?  Since Alexandria was a famous center for learning, it is possible that some of John the Baptist’s disciples (Matthew 14:12; Luke 11:1) had gone there while Christ still ministered on earth, and shared with the Jews as much as they knew.  The expression “taught diligently” means “catechized” and suggests that Apollos had personal formal training in the Scriptures.  However, that training was limited to the facts about the ministry of John the Baptist.  Apollos’s message was not inaccurate or insincere it was just incomplete.


“Knowing only the baptism of John”; his knowledge of Christ’s teaching and life was incomplete, and therefore, he would NOT have been able to preach all the gospel.  And, since John’s baptism was for the remission of sins and not salvation, he had NOT received Christian baptism.  It would be up to Priscilla and Aquila to explain “unto him the way of God more perfectly” (v. 26). If the disciples (see 19:1-7) are any indication, then we must suppose that he did not yet know of the Pentecost event—the gift of the Spirit as a sign that the age of salvation had come (2:17[4])—and the significance that it gave to baptism.  For unlike Johns’ which merely anticipated the age of salvation, Christian baptism belonged to the new age, marking (among other things) the believer’s entry into the gift of the Spirit (2:2[5], 2:38, 19:4).  Apollos may have accepted that Jesus was the Messiah without knowing the full extent of His messianic achievement.  One wonders whether he even knew of the resurrection of Jesus.


You may wonder how one could have known only the “baptism of John” and yet have received the Holy Spirit; it’s hard to understand.  Equally confusing is the reference to Apollos’s teaching about Jesus accurately.  Obviously the teaching was not complete, or he would have known about Christian baptism as well.  Still, Luke depicted Apollos as a Christian.  Apollos knew the way of the Lord, taught accurately about Jesus, and may have experienced the Spirit.


What exactly was the deficiency?  Scholars have had a field day trying to define it more precisely.  Apollos has been depicted as a disciple of John the Baptist, a heretical Alexandrian Christian, a Charismatic Christian, even a Jewish missionary and not a Christian at all.  The trouble with all such views is that they concentrate on only one part of Luke’s description and do not sufficiently account for his total picture.  Perhaps it is best to leave the matter with Luke’s description and not try to go beyond it.  Evidently it was not unsatisfactory so that he needed further baptism.  Luke did not relate his being rebaptized as were the disciples of John (19:5[6]), only of his being further instructed by Priscilla and Aquila.



26 And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.


Whatever his deficiencies, the indication we get from the statement, “And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue,” is that he had the courage of his convictions.


Priscilla and Aquila had remained in Ephesus to carry on the work there until Paul’s return (18:18), and it appears that they still attended services at the synagogue.  Evidently the ministry in Ephesus had not yet extended beyond the synagogue.  They had been there about a year “When Aquila and Priscilla had heard” Apollo speak in the synagogue for the first time. They were impressed by his preaching and ability to capture and hold the attention of his listeners, but they detected at once the flaw in his preaching.  With rare tact, however, they made no attempt to correct him in front of anyone.  They did not buttonhole him after the service and argue with him.  They had a better way.


After they heard him speak, “they took him unto them,” that is, Aquila and Priscilla took him home with them, and made him feel welcome in their home and provided him with a Sabbath meal.


After the three had eaten and talked about their work, Aquila and Priscilla gently and lovingly filled in the gaps in his knowledge of the truth; particularly as it pertains to Christian baptism; or as Luke puts it, “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.”. And no doubt in the process they told him something about themselves and the great apostle Paul, and of the tremendous work that had been done in Corinth. “The way of God” that they explained to him is an accurate summary of the theme that runs through all the early speeches of Acts, namely that God “had foretold through all the prophets” the things concerning the Messiah (3:18, 21[7]; etc.) and that those things have now been fulfilled in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and in the gift of the Spirit.  Luke does not say whether Apollos receive Christian baptism, but if he did it was probably at the hands of his instructors. 


Very little is recorded concerning his ministry in Ephesus and Corinth.  He was commended by Christians in Ephesus for his natural ability, for his zeal, and for that simplicity of character which had been revealed in his willingness to learn from a tentmaker and his wife.



27 And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace:


“And when he was disposed (‘of a mind’, ‘resolved’) to pass into Achaia”—these references seem always to indicate Corinth (19:1).  Apollos’s work in Corinth is well documented by 1 Corinthian 1:12; 3:4-6, 22; 4:6.  He planned to cross from Asia Minor (modern Turkey) to Corinth on the Greek mainland (19:1).  Why he decided to go there is not stated.  The Western text provides an explanation, greatly expanding verse 27 by saying that some Corinthian Christians who were sojourning in Ephesus invited him to minister in their native town.  Aquila and Priscilla more likely aroused his interest in Corinth, however, for they surely shared with him their ministry with Paul in that city.


“The brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him” can mean either (1) the believers in Ephesus encouraged the move, or (2) the same believer’s wrote to the church in Achaia and encouraged them to “receive him” (v. 27).  The idea of his going may have come from Priscilla and Aquila, thinking that Apollos’ training and learning would attract the attention of a Corinthian audience.


The giving of letters of commendation to assist a believer from one place to find ready acceptance in another church was a lovely custom of the early church.  It is a custom we could emulate today—not in any legalistic way, but in a loving, cooperative, informative way.  The fact that Apollos could have been given such a letter by “the brethren” shows that some had already been saved at Ephesus.  It would be surprising indeed if the joint labors of Aquila and Priscilla and Apollos, not to mention the testimony of visiting Christians from Corinth and other parts, had not produced some fruit.



“Who, when he was come,” refers to Apollos.  Armed with letters of recommendation he moved on to Corinth, where he was warmly received by the Christian community.  In Corinth he wielded a remarkable influence, and his eloquence was warmly appreciated, as we learn from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians.


Apollos “helped them much which had believed through grace;” or perhaps it was that he was able to help “by his (gift of) grace,” that is, by the knowledge and eloquence given to him by God.  Either meaning is possible from the Greek.


28 For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.


At all events, the Corinthians found him to be a champion who was able to match the Jews in public debate in the synagogue.  Apollos “met the opposing arguments in turn and brought them down to the ground.” The idea is that he brought home moral blame to them. It isn’t that he was able to convince them, but, by bringing them to the test of Scripture, at least showing that their objections to Jesus as the Messiah were unwarranted.  And not only was Apollos a help to believers, he was also used to bring some pagans into the fold (1 Corinthians 3:5[8]). 


He made a great impact on the Jewish community in Corinth, by “shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.” Much like Peter with the “Jews” of Jerusalem, he would have used the Old Testament to demonstrate that the Messiah must suffer and rise and that consequently Jesus was the promised Messiah. 


Evidently Apollos returned to Ephesus.  When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, probably in the latter part of his Ephesian Ministry, Apollos was with him in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:12).The Holy Spirit is never without His instruments.  The “Jews” had driven Paul out, so the Holy Spirit found in Apollos another messenger to bring the same proofs to them in a different way and with a different personality.


These verses give the impression that the church in Corinth had been under some pressure from the “Jews” since Paul’s departure and that it was by his grasp of the “Scriptures” especially that Apollos was best able to help.  But it was not long before he was back in Ephesus, and we find him in 1 Corinthians 16:12[9] refusing Paul’s pressing request that he should revisit Corinth.  The reason is not hard to find.  In Corinth the people had begun to compare him with Paul, often to Paul’s disadvantage.  Apollos’ eloquence and Alexandrian culture may have seemed superior to the simplicity of Paul’s preaching.  Partisan feeling was aroused, and the two men who only wanted to be fellow workers (1 Corinthians 3:3-10) were represented as rivals (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4, 22; 4:6[10]).  Evidently this was as painful for Apollos as it was for Paul.


This then, was the man Apollo, a man Paul came to appreciate greatly and of whom he always spoke with terms of respect and affection.



End Notes

[1] Apollo (Apollos) is an intriguing figure.  He has often been seen as a ringleader of Paul’s opposition at Corinth, but Paul doesn’t seem to have depicted him as such. 

[2] Many competent Bible commentators have concluded that he didn’t know anything about Jesus.

[3] (2 Samuel 22:22, NIV) “For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I am not guilty of turning from my God.”

[4] (Acts 2:17, NIV) “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”

[5] (Acts 2.2, NIV) “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.”

[6] (Acts 19:5, NIV) “On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

[7] (Acts 3:18, 21, NIV) “But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer . . . Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”

[8] (1 Corinthians 3:5, NASB) “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.”

[9] (1 Corinthians 16:12, NASB) “But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all his desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity.”

[10] (1 Corinthians 4:6, NASB) “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.”The Corinthians were guilty of pitting the two ministers against each other, but Paul did not indicate any personal antagonism between them.