Remember Priscilla and Aquila?
Paul was at a real low point in his life, out of cash, out of work, out of friends, and leaving Athens behind with only 4 or 5 believers in it. Soon after arriving in Corinth, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, Jewish tent makers who had until recently been living in Italy, and had moved to Corinth when Claudius ordered all Jews to leave Rome. They made room for Paul in their mutual tent-making trade and in their home, offering him friendship, fellowship, and hospitality for the year and a half that Paul remained there.
At some point during his ministry in Corinth (or possibly later, in Ephesus), Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives for Paul in a situation Paul would write about later in his letter to the believers in Rome. When Paul was ready to go back into the mission field, Priscilla and Aquila went with him.
At Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila opted to stay, establish their home and host a church, while Paul continued on to Jerusalem.
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus.
He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He 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. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue.Acts 18:24-26 (NIV)
Apollos was a Jew born in Alexandria, a city known for its serious scholarship, and home to one of the great Jewish philosophers of that day, Philo, who had translated much of the Old Testament into Greek.
- Apollos was a learned man. He had impressive credentials, having what we might call a Ph.D.
- Apollos had a thorough knowledge of Scriptures. He knew the Old Testament, probably through Philo, maybe even having studied under him, as Paul had studied under Gamaliel.
- Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord. He knew and was able to teach about Jehovah, the law, and the prophets.
- Apollos spoke with great fervor. He was noted for his eloquence, energy, and conviction. He was skilled in oratory, he had the gift of holding an audience’s attention in the palm of his hand, but even more so, he spoke from the heart.
- Apollos taught about Jesus accurately. He understood that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah, and he may also have known about Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Yet, with all these endorsements, there was something foundational missing in Apollos’ life of faith, and consequently his teaching. He knew only the baptism of John.
John the Baptist was a well-known celebrity before Jesus, the center of a wide-spread revival that Jews in the diaspora would have known and heard about when they came to Jerusalem three times a year for the great feasts.
John’s message was to repent, be baptized, and prepare for the Messiah. Each day of his ministry, John would baptize people in the Jordan, saying he was baptizing them with water, but Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit. It is likely that in visiting Jerusalem, at least during Passover, Apollos would have come in contact with John the Baptist, and heard his teaching on Jesus, the Lamb of God.
Because he knew scripture, and he knew God, he believed John the Baptist and was baptized by him in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.
Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside to teach him more fully in what was called The Way of God. Calling Jesus’ teachings and spiritual new birth The Way may have been in response to recent weeks in which the Jews had been trying to defend what -they- avowed were God’s ways. They had brought their indictments to the proconsul, saying Paul was persuading people to worship God in ways contrary to God’s Law.
What was this furor over?
It was about the core teaching of the Hebrew Bible:
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.Deuteronomy 5:7-10 (NIV)
Can you see where this is going? The capstone is just a chapter away,
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIV)
This verse is so important it has a name—it’s called the Shema, and to this very day, Jews put this scripture in what’s called a mezuzah, and nail it to their doorposts.
Jews who rejected Paul’s teaching were asking,
- If God is one God, how could Paul be preaching the worship of Jesus?
- How could Paul be talking about the baptism of the Holy Spirit?
- How could Paul be speaking of God in terms of Father AND Son AND Spirit?
No one really understands the full nature, innermost nature, of God. The best we can do is to try to understand what the Bible tells us about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and try to relate the three persons of the one Godhead without making too many mistakes or distortions.
Paul had taught the Athenians that God the Father created the universe, the Father shows His kindness to all people, He sustains all by the power of His word, and has made Himself available to be found by all who seek Him. God the Father is revealed chiefly in the Hebrew Bible, and is said to have planned salvation through redemption.
Paul preached Jesus as Messiah, and called Him Lord. Jesus Christ, God the Son, fulfilled God’s plan of salvation by His sacrificial death and resurrection, and now reigns over His body, the church, as Lord. Who Jesus is, is revealed chiefly in the Gospels.
Then we meet Apollos, he knew only of the baptism of John, and not of the Holy Spirit. It is God the Holy Spirit Who calls men and women to faith in Christ, making them alive with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, and makes believers increasingly like Jesus through the work of sanctification. God the Holy Spirit is revealed chiefly in the Epistles.
Apollos, in verse 24, had a thorough knowledge of the scriptures. Throughout this passage Luke assures us all of this teaching comes from God’s word—verses 9-11 recorded the Lord Jesus speaking Himself to Paul, and then Paul teaching from the word of God for the next year and a half. Then in verse 28, Apollos was well received as he proved from the scriptures that Jesus was Messiah.
It’s not like the apostles and teachers skipped over the difficult bits in the Bible. They knew the Bible does clearly teach there is one God. But God also exists in three persons, as Jesus told His disciples to baptize all believers in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
In this passage we see the word God, the words Lord and Messiah, and a greater baptism than John’s referred to. These are references to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Although they are distinct, both the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are every bit as much God as God the Father is. All work together with one mind in all things.
Paul was very low by the time he got to Corinth. He was all alone, he was concerned about the converts he had left behind, he was flat broke, and he was fiercely opposed in what he was teaching, this mysterious concept about a triune God, this mysterious concept about salvation by grace. Yet what Paul was proclaiming was literally life-giving.
And this is what Priscilla and Aquilla did for Apollos. They explained about the Holy Spirit. Apollos did not know the whole gospel, because he was not aware the Holy Spirit was come to live in all who had faith in Him.
Apollos had everything you could possibly want to be effective: he had education, talent, skill and experience. But until Apollos had the Holy Spirit, his ministry was not effective.
Upon receiving the Spirit of Jesus, the last verses of Acts 18 reveal a changed man. Instead of a lone ranger, Apollos became a part of the Body of Christ, welcomed, encouraged, and commended by the brothers. He was a great help to the believers, and had a powerful ministry in both Corinth and Achaia.
When 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.
For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.Acts 18:27-28
By the power of the Holy Spirit, Apollos didn’t just teach accurately, he proved from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
Only the indwelling Holy Spirit can empower your service
It took confidence in God’s word, in its truth and in the power of God Himself in His Word (the Spirit of Christ), to be brave enough to approach a man like Apollos with the gospel. But Priscilla and Aquila weren’t thinking about themselves, they were thinking about Apollos, what he needed, and what God would do through him once he was empowered by the Holy Spirit.
“The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1831.
Mosaic detail from one of the side chapels in the Rosary Basilica of Lourdes.]