Introduction and Background
"And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus" (Acts 18:24). Recently, a very good radio preacher, while preaching from this text, made this statement: "I hope that on my tombstone can be these words, Mighty in the Scriptures, although I have much work to do to qualify." This struck me forcefully, reminding me of how important the written Word of God really is. There are indeed few who qualify as being "Mighty in the Scriptures." May God be pleased to raise up a new generation of young people who sincerely love, study, memorize, and labor in God's precious Word. Nothing is more important for the future of the church than this. To that end, let us look briefly at Apollos for some help and encouragement.
Alexandria was a leading city of Egypt, and had a large university and library. Named for Alexander the Great, a large colony of Jews was there, making up about one-third of the population in the first century. Having a Greek name, Apollos was assuredly a product of the philosophy, culture, and learning of this Alexandrian school, noted throughout the Roman Empire. He was a student of the Hebrew Scriptures, and possibly also the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which had been produced in Alexandria earlier). In the flow of the narrative of the book of Acts, after Paul's second missionary journey closes, Apollos is here introduced. He had crossed the Mediterranean Sea, coming to Ephesus in Asia (modern Turkey), about 56 A. D.
The Eloquent, Fervent Jew
Several things of note are said about Apollos. First, he was learned, or "eloquent," learned in words and in speech. Secondly, he was "mighty in the scriptures," which is actually dunatos, or "powerful" in his knowledge of the Old Testament. Thirdly, he was "instructed in the way of the Lord," meaning Apollos had been "taught repeatedly orally." Fourthly, he was "fervent in the spirit," like boiling water or yeast (only here, and in Romans 12:11). Fifthly, this man was a "diligent" teacher, teaching rightly what he knew. But lastly, Apollos knew "only the baptism of John" (v. 25). This evidently means Apollos had been taught only up through the life of John the Immerser, knowing actually nothing of the Messiah's death and resurrection, or of the great Day of Pentecost.
The Useful Couple
Think about this man now. Here was a young Jew, a profound thinker and orator, having the great qualities of learning and diligence, who in Ephesus "began to speak boldly in the synagogue" (v. 26). So far so good. But now something else is said. The narrative introduces a couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who after hearing Apollos speak, "took him" (most probably to their home), "and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." What needful lessons we all must learn here! Note, even those "learned" and "eloquent" need further teaching -- especially in divine things (and note, even women are used to teach others, though in the proper context). "Expounded" is from a Greek word simply meaning "to set forth, explain," already used in Acts 11:4. "More perfectly" means "more accurately," or "more carefully," from a comparative adverb of akribos. This was "more accurately than he already knew." All teachers of others should study this text "carefully." Aquila and Priscilla become our examples here, not abusing Apollos, but lovingly and tenderly teaching him "the fuller story of the life and work of Jesus, and of the apostolic period, to fill up the gaps in his knowledge" (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament).
The Gospel Herald
After having been taught more fully, now the "encouraged" Apollos is recommended by the brethren at Ephesus, who send a warm, sincere letter to the brethren at Corinth, urging them "to receive him" (v. 27). What brotherly love and commendation of others we see here in the early church. And Apollos proves he was worthy of such, "who, when he was come, contributed much to the ones having believed through grace." Isn't this pure Christianity if ever there was such? Now Apollos, with new insights, and the fresh revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ within his heart, goes public to the Corinthian Jews, "mightily convincing" them ("proving") "through the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ" (v. 28). Having not yet met Paul, Apollos preaches with clarity and power the same gospel preached by the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 17:3), and later Paul most definitely commends his friendship with "brother Apollos" (I Corinthians 16:12). Some scholars even believe Apollos may have been the author of the book of Hebrews.
The Idolized Orator
Sadly, some believers began to make an idol of Apollos (as men often do of learned orators, I Corinthians 1:12). But Paul is clear about himself and all other gospel preachers, stating that all of us are mere clay jars, and are just seed planters and waterers. "I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase" (I Corinthians 3:6). God alone must bring forth the fruit, and men (even the most useful and learned) are in reality "nothings," according to I Corinthians 3:7. "Nothings" amount to zeros, just "broken, discarded" pottery. Therefore, let us never glory in, worship, or idolize any Apollos. "But he who glories, let him glory in the LORD" (I Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17). "For we preach NOT ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord." And who are we? "Slaves for Jesus' sake," and only "earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians 4:5, 7). None of us were "crucifed" for one single sinner, no one has been "baptized" in "our name," so therefore Christ cannot be "divided" (I Corinthians 1:13). A "party spirit" is foreign to the glorious gospel of the Son of God, and should always be abhorred by every member of the Body of Christ. And surely if Apollos were here to teach us, he would say exactly the same, that we must always be "Looking unto JESUS, the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). All glory to Christ alone!