Acts 18:18–28 . . .
“Paul, Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos”
Following up on last week's summary discussion about Paul's vision that enabled him to be fearless when preaching in Corinth, and Gallio's refusal to play games with the Israelites, we come to the second half of chapter 18, highlighting the conclusion of Paul's second missionary journey, followed by the ministry of Apollos in Ephesus and Corinth. Alas, as you'll soon discover, numerous unanswered questions remain in today's text.
Luke's Acts volume covers a very interesting and unique period of history, showing us the church transitioning itself from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. In our text this morning we see two people in transition — Paul and Apollos — turning from Judaism's dedication to the Old Testament and the Laws of Moses to Christianity and the New Covenant filled with Jesus' grace and truth.
Paul’s Second Missionary Journey Ends; He Heads Home (18:18–23)
Paul stayed on in Corinth for “many more days” (v.18), having ministered there for a total of 18 months (see 18:11). He then left for Syria (Antioch), accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Syrian Antioch, you may recall, was the city in which Paul and Barnabas ministered (see Week 21's and 22's summaries); it later served as the starting and ending point for the so-called “first missionary journey” (see Week 24's, 25's, and 26's summaries). As a result, Paul likely felt the need to return to his home base in Antioch where he was determined to arrive as soon as possible.
Luke leaves us asking our first question of many in today's text when he includes in v. 18b a note about Paul cutting his hair at Cenchrea because he'd made a vow. Luke doesn't tell us why Paul made this “vow,” which appears to have been a Nazirite vow (as described in Numbers 6). It might have been Luke's intent to tell us about Paul’s vow so as to inform us that Paul (and other Jewish believers) who'd adopted the Christian faith were still free to observe such Old Testament rituals.
Paul was the kind of guy who hated wasting time and looked to seize opportunities. Rather than simply drop off Aquila and Priscilla and keep going, he went into the Ephesian synagogue on the Sabbath and preached Christ. However, in this case, there was a switcheroo of actions of both parties: Instead of the Israelites wanting Paul to leave their synagogue, and him wanting to stick around and continue converting many, the Ephesian Israelites wanted Paul to stay but he intentionally left!
So, having arrived in Ephesus, Paul went to the synagogue, as was the normal practice for him, where he addressed the Jews, demonstrating to them that Jesus was the Christ. Their initial response was similar to what he received in a few synagogues: Paul was encouraged to stay longer, in order to more fully explain his message. Rather surprisingly, Paul didn't accept their invitation to stay. Instead, he promised to return “if it is God's will." This second question arises without Luke answering it: Why wouldn’t Paul have stayed in Ephesus to effectively preach the gospel to interested listeners?
Paul set sail from Ephesus, leaving Priscilla and Aquila behind. When his ship landed at Caesarea, he made his way up to Jerusalem. We aren't told what he did there, but he likely worshiped in the synagogue and might have met with some of the saints there, reporting to them details of his second missionary journey. After Jerusalem, he went to Antioch, from where he'd commenced both of his missionary journeys. Nothing is said of Paul’s ministry in Antioch except that he spent some time there. When Luke tells us that Paul left Antioch and made his way through “the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples,” we sense that his second missionary journey had ended and the third had begun.
How long Paul spent in Antioch isn't revealed, not even whether it was days or years; but a reasonable chronology of the Acts volume doesn't allow a long period before he sets out on his third missionary journey. We may assume that he left Antioch after a few months at most.
He then toured existing churches in Galatia and Phrygia, the same region he'd visited during his previous missionary journeys (Acts 14:20–16:6). Therein we read that he went from city to city along a route that was always taking him westward. Stops along the way included Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch, where he found the strong churches he established years earlier during his first missionary journey.
Apollos Ministers in Ephesus and Corinth (vv. 24–28)
Apollos was from a large urban center, known for its learning and academics: Alexandria; the largest city in Egypt at that time had a huge Jewish population. It was founded by and named after Alexander the Great. Having one of the greatest libraries in the ancient world, Alexandria rivaled Athens as a hub of intellectual activity. It boasted a university with a library of 700,000 volumes and a population of about 600,000 people. That was Alexandria; now let's see how Luke "gets personal" with Apollos.
"He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures," Luke tells us in v. 24b. The Greek for "learned" is found only here in the New Testament: It combines the essence of (1) eloquence in speaking and (2) learning in education. Apollos was a guy who knew his stuff and was gifted as a communicator of truth. A powerful and forceful speaker, there were probably very few people in that day who could equal him as a speaker.
"He had been instructed in the way of the Lord” (v. 25a) is an expression that occurs many times in the Old Testament. It's simply a way of speaking about living a life that pleases God. Apollos knew Jehovah God, knew the Old Testament Scriptures well, and understood which ways of life honored and pleased God. Verse 25b's "he spoke with great fervor" suggests that he was speaking in a manner that could bring something or someone to boil. The phrase isn't speaking about the Holy Spirit, for at this point Apollos didn't have the Spirit of Jesus indwelling him. However, his own spirit was fervent, boiling over with the passion to proclaim the truth about God to others. Apollos' mind knew well of God’s truth; it was clear that his heart was aflame for Jesus.
"He began to speak boldly in the synagogue" (v. 26a) documents Apollos' ability to be heard and felt by his listeners. Wow, what a winning combination of attributes for a minister to have: eloquence, education, knowledge, fervency, and boldness! In Paul’s absence, Priscilla and Aquila played a crucial role in the life and ministry of Apollos.
What, then, did this mighty man, Apollos, lack? In the synagogues, Apollos "taught about Jesus accurately." Yet he “knew only the baptism of John.” How can this be? We must realize that while the knowledge of Apollos was limited, he was accurate and correct in what he taught. As far as his teaching about Jesus went, it was absolutely right. It fell short in that it went only as far as John’s baptism. Presumably from Luke's context, Apollos already knew the Old Testament revelation well; he lacked only specific knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth being the Christ, the promised Messiah.
Closing Questions. . . Our text shows us God’s work and God’s workers in process. It’s a passage of Scripture where we probably wish that the Lord had seen fit to have Luke give us more details than he did. We've already realized a few questions that Luke's text doesn't answer. Luke raises a lot of questions that he doesn’t seem to answer; there are many more in these eleven verses: What exactly was Paul’s vow? Why did he take it? Was he right or wrong to take a vow? Should Christians today take vows? Why didn’t Paul stay on at Ephesus when the Jews there were uncharacteristically open to his message? Why was his visit to Jerusalem so short? What happened there? Why does Luke skim over some fairly important details in Paul’s ministry here, such as the conclusion of his second missionary journey and the start of his third journey? What happened to Timothy and Silas? . . . Oh that you, Luke, would have revealed more to us your hearty disciples.
- Q. 1 Do you think that making vows is a healthy or unhealthy approach to spiritual growth? Why/why not?
- Q. 2 Seeing how Priscilla and Aquila adequately explained the way of God to Apollos (v. 26), what does this tell you about the role of women in the New Testament?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 18.]
† Watch this "Visual Bible" video clip: Acts 18:12–19:40, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos
18Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. 19They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.
23After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
24Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
27When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.