The touch of genius does not belong to many. When a man of marked individuality confronts us, he at once attracts attention. We have various phrases that more or less conceal our ignorance of the subtle quality that charms us. We call it personal magnetism when we cannot otherwise distinguish the element of power. Apollos had the note of distinction. He was a marked man in any gathering and left his impress whenever he spoke. A man who could divide honours with Paul in Corinth is worthy of study. We are indebted to Luke (Acts 18:24-19:1) and to Paul (1 Cor. 1:12-4:21; 16:12; Tit. 3:13) for all that we really know about him. It is argued by some that he wrote the Wisdom of Solomon before becoming a Christian and the Epistle to the Hebrews after he learned to serve Jesus. But there is no real evidence for either theory. Paul calls him an apostle like himself, in 1 Corinthians 4:9, though it was true of him only in a general sense, since he had not seen the risen Christ and was not a personal follower while Jesus lived on earth.
Luke speaks of him as "a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race." Schmiedel ("Encyclopaedia Biblica") and McGiffert ('The Apostolic Age," p. 291) seek to discredit the statements of Luke in various particulars, but they admit this statement. The Bezan text (D) gives the longer form of the name, Apollonius. This is one OF the few times that Alexandria is mentioned in the New Testament, though the influence of the Alexandrian teaching is discernible in various passages, as in John 1:1-18; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-3. In Alexandria the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible was made, and this Greek Old Testament exerted a tremendous influence on the Jews of the Dispersion and upon early Christians. Alexandria had the greatest library of antiquity and a great university. The Jews were very numerous and were treated with much favour there. Alexandria was thus a centre of Hellenism and of Judaism. Plato and Moses met in Alexandria in the Greek tongue. The Jews there read the Septuagint and spoke the vernacular koine. Thousands of papyri fragments now reveal to us the Greek of Egypt in the first century a.d.
One of the greatest Jews of all times lived in Alexandria in that century. Apollos could have studied, or at least read, the philosophy of Philo, the chief exponent of the Jewish-Alexandrian philosophy. Grammar, rhetoric, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, geography, were all subjects of lectures by learned professors in Alexandria. Apollos lived in this atmosphere of culture and is thus like Paul, who came from the environment of the University of Tarsus. Christianity and culture have not always understood one another. In some university circles to-day Christ is taboo. The Renaissance led to the Reformation, but Erasmus and his Greek Testament did not hold all lovers of the new learning. Paganism still has its grip upon some modern scholarship. In Alexandria Philo sought to reconcile Plato and Moses. He did it by the allegorical method that won great favour in the later Christian school of theology in Alexandria under Origen and Clement of Alexandria. It was a favourite method of certain rabbis, and Paul is familiar with it. Apollos undoubtedly knew the new eclectic philosophy that combined Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, and Mosaism, and the new exegetical method. He was at home with the new rhetoric and knew how to express his opinions with force. Luke calls him "an eloquent man" (λόγιος), but the word means also "learned." In fact it includes both learning and eloquence (Knowling, Acts, in loco). The early Christians had none too many men of literary culture. Paul, Luke, and the author of the Hebrews are the outstanding ones. Apollos is a welcome addition to this small circle.
Apollos was "able" (δυνατός) in the use of the Scriptures. A man may have a considerable knowledge of the Bible and yet not be able to use his knowledge effectively. But Apollos was no "Doctor Dry-as-dust." He did not have his learning laid away in an attic or in cold storage. He had learned much of the Old Testament by heart and knew how to find what he wanted. D. L. Moody was not as great a technical scholar as some men, but he knew how to use the sword of the Spirit with tremendous power; it was no Saul's armour to this David. Spurgeon was as remarkable for his knowledge of the Scriptures as for his skill as a preacher; his Treasury of David is a treasury indeed. Alexander Maclaren's "Expositions of Holy Scriptures" reveal the richness of Scripture knowledge possessed by this prince of preachers. John A. Broadus was another preacher of great pulpit power who gloried in the Scriptures. The last lecture that Broadus delivered to his New Testament class in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was on Apollos. He made a thrilling appeal to young ministers to be "mighty in the Scriptures."
It is not possible to be powerful in the use of the Scriptures without an adequate knowledge of the books of Scripture. One, if possible, should have technical acquaintance with the problems of scholarship, the language, the history, the religious ideas, the social conditions, the relations to other religions and peoples, the development in response to new ideas, the transforming power of Christ's life and teachings upon mankind. The word for "mighty" is used in Acts 7:22 of Moses, who was slow of speech: "And he was mighty in his words and works." He "was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." So was Apollos, only his Egyptian equipment included the addition of Hellenism and Judaism. Herodotus applies the word for "eloquent" (λόγιος) to knowledge of history, and Plutarch uses it of eloquence (Cf. Knowling, Acts in loco). Ramsay ("St. Paul the Traveller," p. 267) calls Apollos "a good speaker, and Well read in the Scripture." He is apparently the first Christian preacher who expounds Christianity from the standpoint of the philosophy of Alexandria. Some Philonian speculations may well have been intermingled with his profound knowledge of the Scriptures. The allegorical method of exegesis would seem novel and wonderful, and the orator's touch gave a magic spell to his oratory. Such a man was bound to win a hearing and a following. As a loyal Jew he had devoted his learning and eloquence to the exposition of Scripture (Rackham, "Acts," p. 341).
Here we confront a difficult problem. Precisely how much did Apollos know of Jesus? The Bezan Text (D) says that "he had been instructed in the way of the Lord in his native land" (οὗτος ἦν κατηχημένος τὴν ὁδὸν τοῦ Κυρἵου). This means that Apollos learned what he knew of Jesus in Alexandria. There is nothing impossible in that idea. The knowledge of Apollos may well represent the condition of Christianity in Alexandria when he left. Luke says that he knew "only the baptism of John" and yet he was "instructed in the way of the Lord" and "spake and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus." McGiffert ("The Apostolic Age," p. 291) says that this statement of Luke can hardly be accurate "because it seems contradictory." Schmiedel ("Encyclopaedia Biblica") would make these verses later additions, and Wendt (Meyer, Komm. "Acts") would erase verse 25. Harnack ("Expansion of Christianity," i, 33in) says that "the whole narrative of Acts at this point is singularly coloured and obscure." There is obscurity, beyond a doubt, but it is not impossible to form an intelligent idea of what the theological standpoint of Apollos was when he came to Ephesus. It is not necessary to know whether he had learned what he knew of Jesus from a written document, one of the early attempts to set forth the work of Jesus (Luke 1:2). He may have had an early copy of Mark's Gospel if it ended at 16:8, as Blass suggests ("Philology of the Gospels," p. 31). Even if the word for "instructed" (κατηχημένος) implies oral instruction, as Wright argues (The Expository Times, Oct., 1897, p. 9f.), books were often read aloud. The point is not decisive. Catechists may have come to Alexandria, even though no Christian church may have existed there.
What we need to do is to approach Apollos from the standpoint of John the Baptist, not from that of Paul. John came "in the way of righteousness," Jesus said (Matt. 21:32). John was put to death before Calvary, before the Resurrection of Jesus, and before the great Pentecost. John went on with his work after Jesus began His ministry, but he clearly identified Jesus as "the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29) and as "the Son of God" (John 1:34). He said that the Messiah would baptise with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8). He saw some of his disciples leave him to follow Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:37). John's work exerted a tremendous influence on Judaism, and it went on after his death. It is not strange that some of his disciples were caught in the transition stage and did not know all the rapid developments of Christianity. The disciples of John who became Christians were not baptised again. John's baptism is all the baptism that Jesus had, or His first six disciples. It was sufficient. Baptism is probably used by Luke in Acts 18:25 for the whole work of John as Jesus employed it in Matthew 21:25. Apollos, then, occupied the pre-Pentecostal standpoint, though a sincere follower of Jesus (Robertson, "John the Loyal," p. 293). He interpreted the things of Christ accurately as far as he knew them. He had imperfect knowledge rather than erroneous information. He was in no sense a heretic, though he was sadly deficient in important points.
It is argued by some (Roberts, for instance, in Hastings's "Dictionary of the Apostolic Church") that Apollos not only "had an imperfect 'hearsay' acquaintance with the story of Jesus," but he really know no more about Him than the twelve misguided disciples of John whom Paul encounters in Ephesus after Apollos has gone (Acts 19:1-7). In fact these twelve men are regarded by this theory as disciples of Apollos and as an index of the knowledge possessed by him. It is, I believe, wholly unlikely that these men were disciples of Apollos, and, if so, they, as often happens, failed to understand their teacher. Luke could not have used the adverb "accurately" about the teaching of Apollos if he knew no more than these twelve men. They were ignorant of the Holy Spirit, of repentance, and of Jesus. John the Baptist had taught all these things, which, of course, Apollos knew. These men were sadly misguided disciples of John whom Paul instructs and baptises. There is no hint that Apollos was baptised again. Luke contrasts their condition with that of Apollos. These men were raw and uncouth in their knowledge of the elements of Christianity. They represent the stage of some of the disciples of John who hung on the very fringe of Christianity. Apollos is much further along. He lacked knowledge of the great events from the death of Christ to Pentecost and the great missionary propaganda. It was a pity for so gifted a man to remain with so limited a knowledge of Christianity. It is always a tragedy for a minister to be deficient in his knowledge of the cross of Christ. Only the Spirit of God can teach him fully.
It is possible that Apollos first began to speak and to teach privately, and then "he began to speak boldly in the synagogue" (Acts 18:26) as Paul did afterwards for three months (19:8). Luke uses the same word for this "bold" speaking by Apollos and Paul (παρρησιάζομαι). It is employed in the New Testament only by Luke and Paul and always of the bold declaration of the truths of the Gospel. Apollos did not lack the courage of his convictions and was careful in his statements about Jesus to keep within the bounds of his definite knowledge. This admirable trait of minute accuracy is all the more noticeable since Apollos was "fervent in spirit" (ζέων τῷ πνεύματι). An enthusiastic temperament is sometimes exuberant in expressions that are more florid and rhetorical than accurate. Paul commends fervency (Rom. 12:11) as one of the marks of sincerity. The word means literally boiling over (our "zeal").
It was in the synagogue that Apollos attracted the attention of Priscilla and Aquila, whom Paul had left in Ephesus when he went on to Caesarea and Antioch (Acts 18:21f). The mention of Priscilla before Aquila here, though the Western and Syrian types of text have Aquila and Priscilla, may mean that Priscilla took the leading part in the further instruction of Apollos. They were evidently surprised and delighted with this remarkable preacher and saw at once the obvious defects in his knowledge of the Gospel. But they did not stop with this discovery, nor did they indulge in public criticism of the limitations of Apollos as an expounder of the faith. They could easily have closed the door of service for this brilliant man. But they apparently invited him home after worship, probably for dinner. "They took him unto them" (προσελάβοντο αὐτόν, indirect middle, took him to themselves).
Criticism is a delicate task, a sort of spiritual surgery, and, though greatly needed, is very difficult to perform without doing more harm than good. Preachers, like musicians, are highly sensitive, particularly about their sermons and their knowledge of the Gospel which is their specialty. Apollos had a great acquaintance with the Scriptures and philosophy and rhetoric. He was lacking in some important items about Jesus. It would have been easy to give him offence and to add to his eccentricity. But Priscilla was beyond a doubt a woman of tact. They "expounded unto him the way of God more accurately." This is simply superb. It was done thoroughly, neatly, and smoothly (ἀκριβέστερον αὐτῷ ἐξέθεντο). Fortunately they did not have to contravene any of his positions. He was correct as far as he went. Only he did not go far enough.
One can easily imagine how the heart of Apollos burned within him and how his eyes glistened as he learned of the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Pentecostal Power of the Holy Spirit, the Gentile campaign for world conquest. He was an eager pupil and doubtless cheered the hearts of his hosts and teachers. Evidently Apollos exhibited profound gratitude for the new light that had been turned upon the great problems of Christianity. He readily saw the bearing of it all upon what he already knew so well.
There is hope for the man who is ready to learn. One is never too old to learn. The minister who is always learning will always have a hearing. There is no dead line for him. That comes the minute one stops learning. Apollos is a rebuke to the preacher who is content to preach his old sermons through the years without reading the new books or mastering the old ones. Here is a profound student of the Scriptures, a master in Old Testament interpretation, who is glad to sit at the feet of Priscilla and Aquila and learn more of Jesus. That is the place for all of us, at the feet of anyone who can teach us more about Jesus. We cannot know too much about Him. We cannot be too accurate in our knowledge of Him. The passion of Paul in his later years was to know Jesus, for Christ always eludes us just a bit. There is always more to learn about the unsearchable riches of Christ.
The Bezan text (D) has this: "And there were certain Corinthians sojourning in Ephesus, and when they heard him they besought him to cross over with them to their country. And when he had consented, the Ephesians wrote to the disciples in Corinth that they should receive the man." This is quite likely the real origin of the way that Apollos came to go to Corinth, though it is clearly not the original text of Acts. So Apollos "was minded to pass over into Achaia," and "the brethren encouraged him" (προτρεψ-άμενοι, "putting him forward). He seemed to be just the type of man that would suit the situation in Corinth. Priscilla and Aquila knew Corinth well; and the Corinthian brethren in Ephesus no doubt felt that they had made a great "find" for their church in the metropolis, just like a modern pulpit committee. There was apparently no organised church as yet in Ephesus, though some Christians were there, besides Aquila and Priscilla. Apollos was fully equipped with a cordial letter of commendation. Paul will later comment on the fact that he himself needed no "epistles of commendation to you or from you" "as do some" (2 Cor. 3:1).
Apollos soon justified the wisdom of those who had Brought him. "He helped them much that had believed through grace" (Acts 18:27). He seems to have addressed himself chiefly to those already Christians who had been converted under Paul's ministry. Evidently Apollos was less evangelistic than Paul. These hearers had already "believed through grace," and Apollos "helped them much" (συνεβάλετο πολύ). He gave them a constructive interpretation of Christianity with the fresh glow of the new knowledge acquired in Ephesus and, in particular, "he powerfully confuted the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ" (Acts 18:28). It will be recalled that in Corinth the Jews had blasphemed Paul for preaching this very doctrine (Acts 18:6) and had brought Paul before Gallio, much to their sorrow (18:12-17). The issue was still sharply drawn between Jews and Christians in Corinth. Apollos was doubly welcome because of his great knowledge of and skill in the use of the Scriptures. He "argued them down" (διακατηλέγχετο; note imperfect tense and double compound). He did not necessarily convince the Jews though he disputed "vehemently" (εὐτόνως; cf. Luke 23:10).
But the powerful apologetic of Apollos made a profound impression upon the Christians in Corinth. He was hailed, and rightly so, as a champion of the faith. Apollos was a new type to them. The scholastic and philosophical turn of his mind was pleasing in Corinth. Paul did not have the excellency of speech from the rhetorical standpoint or the persuasive words of wisdom (1 Cor. 2:1-4) that Apollos had and that many of them liked. It is one of the blessings of life that men have different gifts. God can use them all. It would be a great misfortune if preachers were just alike in intellectual equipment and in style of speech.
"I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase" (1 Cor. 3:6). Paul "as a wise master-builder" (3:10; cf. Lock, "St. Paul the Masterbuilder") had laid the foundation that should underlie every church, Jesus Christ (3:11). "Another buildeth thereon," he said, with probable reference to Apollos. Both Paul and Apollos had been "God's fellow workers" (θεοῦ συνεργοί), while the Corinthian church was "God's building" (θεοῦ οἰκοδομή), "God's husbandry" (θεοῦ γεώργιον), to change the figure (3:9). Paul was the architect (ἀρχιτέκτων), but he simply carried out God's plan for the building. It required many men and long years to build a cathedral which the German shells demolished in an hour. But each man through the years carried on the work according to the great plan laid down. So Paul rejoiced in the work of Apollos who succeeded him in Corinth, as Jesus rejoiced in the work of John the Baptist who preceded Him (John 4:36f). The one who sows and the one who reaps rejoice together. Each preacher enters into the labour of others. There is no cause for jealousy, but only ground for gratitude. It is part of the preacher's business to learn how to fit his work into that of the man who preceded him. He must be a constructive builder, not a destructive critic. It is beautiful to see how Paul rejoices in the work of his coworkers. He had apparently not seen Apollos until he had finished his work in Corinth and had returned to Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:12).
We do not know why Apollos left Corinth. He may have had premonitions of trouble. Divisions exist in the church when Paul writes to them, that arose primarily out of partisan preferences for Apollos or Paul. Weizsäcker ("The Apostolic Age in the Christian Church," vol. i, p. 320) thinks that "an Apollos party was only formed some time after his departure. And this supposition is in turn confirmed by the fact that no shadow of blame fell on Apollos for the creation of the party." This judgment is in accord with the facts as we know them. We know nothing of the unfortunate schisms in Corinth, except what Paul tells us himself, save that the trouble was still there when Clement wrote his "Epistle to the Church." Paul recognises frankly the differences between his manner of preaching and that of Apollos. Men are not made after the same pattern. There are diversities of gifts from the same Spirit (1 Cor. 12:1-7). Apollos had rhetorical eloquence and used the language of the Alexandrian philosophy (wisdom), but Paul was not jealous of these gifts, since God had given him the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit. Paul was their spiritual father, and Apollos could only be their pedagogue (1 Cor. 4:15). They had each his own place and work, and each would receive his own reward from God as steward of the mysteries of God (4:1-5).
It is evident that Paul regarded the work of Apollos as a continuation of his own, and he and Apollos were on excellent terms in Ephesus. The free way in which he uses his name shows this (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4). Paul is not writing out of any jealousy of Apollos or of bitterness towards him. It is quite likely that Paul conferred with Apollos regarding the critical situation that had arisen in Corinth. They understood one another on this point (Kerr, "Int. Stand. Bibl. Encycl."). Apollos was no more responsible for the spirit of faction in Corinth than was Paul or Peter.
"Nor has he reproached Apollos with seeking to overshadow him by his own mode and style" (Weizsäcker, ibid. p. 321). Paul tells us why he speaks so plainly about Apollos: "Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred [μετεσχημάτισα] to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things that are written; that no one of you be puffed up for the one against the other" (1 Cor. 4:6). This is the secret of the whole matter. "This sensitiveness on this point was directed not against Apollos but against the party" (Weizsäcker, ibid.). Paul speaks plainly that the schismatics may see the point. It was folly to split the church over three preachers (Paul, Apollos, Cephas) as they were doing (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4), when these preachers were only coworkers and they could love them all (3:22f). Sometimes preachers are put in the light of opposition when they are wholly innocent.
Paul has some severe words about teachers who destroy the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16-21). He undoubtedly has in mind the factional leaders in Corinth. It is bad enough when a man builds with wood, hay, stubble on the good foundation (3:12-15). Fire will test the quality of every preacher's and teacher's work. He may himself be saved, but all his preaching goes up in smoke, dry enough as some of it is. That is pathetic enough from the preacher's standpoint, but it is far worse for a preacher to be the cause of the ruin of a church. Some men are church-builders; others are church-destroyers and wreck church after church.
These men should be banished to a desert island. But the best of men may be the occasion of strife in spite of all that they can do.
After Apollos had left Corinth the members of the church began to discuss the relative merits of Paul and Apollos as preachers and teachers. The very eccentricities of the two men were exaggerated and pitted over against each other. Apollos' "brilliancy and Alexandrian modes of thought and expression readily lent themselves to any tendency to form a party, who would exalt these gifts at the expense of Paul's studied plainness" (Robertson and Plummer, "Int. Crit. Comm.," p. 11). "The difference between Apollos and St. Paul seems to be not so much a difference of views as in the mode of stating those views; the eloquence of St. Paul was rough and burning; that of Apollos was more refined and polished" (F. W. Robertson). But, after this issue was made partisans of each sprang up and heat was engendered. It is possible that Peter made a brief visit to Corinth, but at any rate the Judaisers came and were only too glad to find opposition to Paul's leadership in Corinth. These men sought to win the whole church away from Paul by playing Peter against Paul and Apollos as the chief apostle and the exponent of the real orthodoxy, free from the Gentile laxness of Paul and the Alexandrian philosophy of Apollos. This petty partisanship so disgusted some that they actually made a partisan use of Christ's name and started a Christ party (1 Cor. 1:12).
So the wheels went round, to the disgust of Paul and of Apollos. The household of Chloe brought news of the dreadful situation (1:11). Paul wrote in great eagerness to quell the narrow spirit of selfishness before the church was ruined. He even begged Apollos to go over and see what he could do (16:12), as some of them may have requested: "But as touching Apollos the brother, I besought him much to come unto you with the brethren; and it was not at all his will to come now; but he will come when he shall have opportunity." Apollos was right to stay away, and not to fan the flame by going back himself. He had not caused the trouble; he would not add to it. Paul himself is reluctant to go as yet (4:18f.). They both set a good example for preachers when a church is divided over the ministers. The world is wide and Apollos went elsewhere. We last hear of him in Crete as the bearer with Zenas the lawyer of Paul's Epistle to Titus (Tit. 3:13). Some of the early writers say that he went back to Corinth after some years; but it is plain that Apollos and Paul continued to be friends. A gifted man like Apollos is the very kind of man to cause misunderstanding by his brilliant epigrams and the charm of his style. One can only do the best that he can and go on. But God has use for a brilliant scholar like Apollos, yes, and like Paul. Each must do his work in his own way. If people praise him, well and good. If not, "then shall each man have his praise from God" (1 Cor. 4:5). "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you" (4:3). Paul is not resentful or defiant in these words, but he does hold himself above the petty scorn or praise of the gossips in Corinth. The froth and the foam pass away, but the name and the work of Apollos remain as part of the glory of Christianity.
—Types of Preachers in the New Testament