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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Acts 18

 

 

Verse 1

(1) There can be no doubt that the “vow” was that of the temporary Nazarite, as described in Numbers 6:1-21. It implied a separation from the world and common life (this was the meaning of the word “Nazarite”), and while under the vow the man who had taken it was to drink no wine or strong drink, and to let no razor pass over his head or face. When the term was completed, he was to shave his head at the door of the Tabernacle, and burn the hair in the fire of the altar. It will be noted that the Nazarites in Acts 21:24, who are completing their vow, shave their heads. Here a different word (“shorn”) is used, which is contrasted with “shaving” in 1 Corinthians 11:6. It was lawful for a man to have his hair cut or cropped during the continuance of the vow, and this apparently was what St. Paul now did. But in this case also the hair so cut off was to be taken to the Temple and burnt there, and this explains the Apostle’s eagerness “by all means” (Acts 18:21) to keep the coming feast at Jerusalem.


Verse 2

(2) We cannot exclude from the probable motives the strong feeling of thankfulness for deliverance from danger, following upon fear which, as in nearly all phases of the religious life, has been the chief impulse out of which vows have grown. We have seen the fear, and the promise, and the deliverance, in the record of St. Paul’s work at Corinth, and the vow of self-consecration, for a season, to a life of special devotion was the natural result. St. Paul had not learnt to despise or condemn such expressions of devout feeling.


Verse 3

(3) We may add to this motive the principle on which St. Paul acted of being “all things to all men,” and, therefore, as a Jew to Jews (1 Corinthians 9:20). A Nazarite vow would testify to all his brethren by blood that he did not despise the Law himself nor teach other Jews to despise it. (See Notes on Acts 21:21-24.) Such a vow, involving, as it did, for a time a greater asceticism than that of common life, furnishes a link in the succession of thoughts in 1 Corinthians 9:22-25, between the Apostle’s being made “all things to all men” and his “keeping under his body, and bringing it into subjection.”


Verse 4

(4) So far we have found reasons for the vow. But taken by itself, the vow would seem to have involved a continuous growth of hair rather than cropping it. How was that act connected with the vow? A probable answer to the question is found in the Apostle’s language as to social customs in matters of this kind, in 1 Corinthians 11:14. He condemns long hair as effeminate. But the Nazarite vow led to long hair as its natural consequence, and there was, therefore, the risk that while practising a rigorous austerity, he might seem to outside observers to be adopting an unmanly refinement. At Corinth men would, perhaps, know what his act meant, but in the regions to which he was now going it was wise to guard against the suspicion by a modification of the vow, such as Jewish law allowed.

Cenchreæ was, as has been said, the eastern harbour of Corinth on the Saronic Gulf. Romans 16:1 indicates the existence of an organised Church there. The warm language of gratitude in which St. Paul speaks of Phœbe, the deaconess of the Church there, is best explained by supposing that she had ministered to him as such when he was suffering from bodily pain or infirmity, and this, in its turn, may afford another probable explanation of the vow.


Verse 5

(5) And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia.—We learn from 1 Thessalonians 2:18, that the latter had come to St. Paul at Athens, but had been almost immediately sent back to Thessalonica to bring further news about the converts, for whose trials the Apostle felt so much sympathy and anxiety. They brought a good report of their faith and love (1 Thessalonians 3:6), possibly also fresh proofs of their personal regard, and that of the Philippians, in the form of gifts (2 Corinthians 11:9). This may, however, refer to a later occasion. The First Epistle to the Thessalonians was probably sent back by the brethren who had accompanied Silas and Timotheus on their journey to Corinth. The reader will note the parallelism (1) between the passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, which treats of the Second Advent, with the teaching of 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, and (2) between the few words as to spiritual gifts, in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, with the fuller treatment of the same subject in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Paul was pressed in the spirit.—The better MSS. give, “he was constrained by the Word.” The words describe something of the same strong emotion as the “paroxysm” of Acts 17:16. The Word was within him as a constraining power, compelling him to give utterance to it. His “heart was hot within him, and while he was musing the fire kindled” (Psalms 39:4). Whether there was any connection between the arrival of Silas and Timotheus and this strong feeling is a question which there are no sufficient data for answering. It is hardly satisfactory to say, as has been suggested, that they probably brought pecuniary supplies from Macedonia (2 Corinthians 11:9), and that he was therefore relieved from the obligation of working for his livelihood, and able to give himself more entirely to the work of preaching. There is no indication of his giving up tent-making, and 1 Corinthians 9:1 is decidedly against it. A more probable explanation may be found in the strong desire—of which he says, in Romans 15:23, that he had cherished it for many years—to see Rome and preach the gospel there. Now he found himself brought into contact with those who had come from Rome, who formed, in fact, part of its population, and the old feeling was stirred to a new intensity.


Verse 6

(6) And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed.—The latter word includes the reviling of which the Apostle himself was the object, as well as blaspheming against God. Assuming what has been suggested in the Note on Acts 18:2, we may think of these disturbances as reproducing what had already taken place at Rome. We may, perhaps, trace an echo of such blasphemies in the words “Anathema be Jesus,” of which St. Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 12:3 as having been uttered as with the vehemence of a simulated inspiration, against which men needed to be warned.

He shook his raiment.—On the symbolic significance of the act, see Note on Matthew 10:14. As done by a Jew to Jews no words and no act could so well express the Apostle’s indignant protest. It was the last resource of one who found appeals to reason and conscience powerless, and was met by brute violence and clamour.

Your blood be upon your own heads.—The phrase and thought were both essentially Hebrew. (See Note on Matthew 27:25.) We can hardly think of the Apostle as using them without a distinct recollection of the language which defined the responsibility of a prophet of the truth in Ezekiel 3:18-19.

From henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.—The words are almost identical with those in Acts 13:46, and are explained by them. It is obvious in each case that the words have a limited and local application. The Apostle did not renounce all future work among the Jews, but gave up preaching to those at Corinth.


Verse 7

(7) And entered into a certain man’s house, named Justus.—On the name, see Note on Acts 1:23. It may be added here that it occurs also in early Christian inscriptions in the Vatican Museum, in one case at the bottom of a glass cup, in the Museo Christiano, in conjunction with the name of Timotheus. In some of the better MSS. the name Titus is prefixed to Justus, and it will be noted that both in Acts 1:23, and Colossians 4:11, the latter is used as an epithet after the names of Joseph and of Jesus. It is found by itself in the Jewish cemetery above referred to. (See Note on Acts 18:1.) It would be rash to infer from this the identity of this Titus Justus with the Titus of Galatians 2:3, as the disciple left in Crete. The name Titus was, like Gaius or Gains, one of the commonest Roman names, and, if the reading be genuine, we may think of the epithet as added to distinguish the Titus of Corinth from his namesake. On the other hand, to state the evidence on both sides fairly, the Titus who appears in 2 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 7:14; 2 Corinthians 8:16; 2 Corinthians 8:23, was obviously very closely connected with the Church of Corinth, and was not unlikely to be sent to Crete to exercise a mission analogous to that which he had been entrusted with at Corinth, and the combination of the names Timotheus and Justus, above referred to, as equally entitled to reverence, is more intelligible if we assume that the latter name belonged to Titus, and that both stood therefore in the same relation to St. Paul as disciples and friends. In any case the Justus who is here named was, like Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile, attending the synagogue as a proselyte of the gate. Up to this time apparently, St. Paul had been lodging in the house of a Jew, in some region of Corinth analogous to the Ghetto of modern Rome, in the hope of conciliating his brethren according to the flesh. Now, in sight of the wild frenzied fanatics, he goes into a house which they would have shrunk from entering, even though it was next door to the synagogue, and though the man who lived in it was a devout worshipper.


Verse 8

(8) And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord.—The article does not necessarily show that there was only one ruler—commonly, as at the Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:15), there were more—but that this Crispus was thus distinguished from others of the same name. The office was one which gave its holder an honourable position, and, as in inscriptions from the Jewish catacombs now in the Lateran Museum, was recorded on tombstones (Alfius Archisynagos) as a personal distinction of which the family of the deceased were proud. In favour of so conspicuous a convert, St. Paul deviated from his usual practice, and baptised Crispus with his own hands (1 Corinthians 1:14).

Many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.—The tense of the two verbs implies a process going on daily for an undefined period. Among the converts we may note Gaius, or Caius, probably a man of higher social position than others, who made his house the meeting-place of the Church, and at St. Paul’s second visit received him as a guest (Romans 16:23), and the household of Stephanas, who, as “the first-fruits of Achaia,” must have been among the earliest converts (1 Corinthians 16:15). These also St. Paul baptised himself (1 Corinthians 1:14-15). Fortunatus and Achaicus, and Chloe, a prominent female convert (1 Corinthians 1:11), with Quartus, and Erastus the chamberlain of the city (Romans 16:23), and Epænetus, also among the “first-fruits of Achaia” (Romans 16:5), may also be counted among the disciples made now or soon afterwards.


Verse 9

(9) Then spake the Lord to Paul.—We note the recurrence of these visions at each great crisis of the Apostle’s life. He had seen the Lord at his conversion (Acts 9:4-6), he had heard the same voice and seen the same form in his trance in the Temple at Jerusalem (Acts 22:17). Now he saw and heard them once more. “In visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men,” he passed from the strife of tongues into the presence of the Divine Friend. The words “Be not afraid” imply that he too was subject to fear and depression, and felt keenly the trial of seeming failure and comparative isolation. His converts came chiefly from the slave or freed-man class, and those of a culture like his own, whether Greeks or Jews, were slow to accept his preaching (1 Corinthians 1:26-27). And then, too, he carried, as it were, his life in his hands. The reviling of the Jews might any hour burst into furious violence or deliberate plots of assassination. No wonder that he needed the gracious words, “Be not afraid.” The temptation of such a moment of human weakness was to fall back, when words seem fruitless, into the safety of silence, and therefore the command followed, “Speak, and hold not thy peace.” We are reminded of the like passing mood of discouragement in one great crisis of Elijah’s life (1 Kings 19:4-14), yet more, perhaps, of its frequent recurrence in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6-8; Jeremiah 15:15-21).


Verse 10

(10) For I am with thee.—The command was followed by a promise which met the special trial of the time. Men might be against him, but Christ was with him. The general promise given to the Church at large, “Lo! I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20), received a personal application, “I am with thee;” and though called to a life of suffering, there was for the time an assurance that the wrath of men should be restrained, and that his work should not be hindered.

I have much people in this city.—The words remind us once more of those which Elijah had heard at a moment of like weakness, “Yet have I left me seven thousand men in Israel” (1 Kings 19:18). Even in the sinful streets of Corinth, among those plunged deepest into its sin (1 Corinthians 5:10-11), there were souls yearning for deliverance, in whom conscience was not dead, and was waiting only for the call to repentance.


Verse 11

(11) And he continued there a year and six months.—This obviously gave time not only for founding and organising a Church at Corinth itself, but for work in the neighbouring districts, such as the port of Cenchreæ, where we find in Romans 16:1 a church duly furnished not only with presbyters and deacons, but with a sisterhood of deaconesses. The superscription of 2 Corinthians 1:1, “to the Church that is in Corinth and to all the saints that are in all Achaia, clearly indicates an extension of evangelising work beyond the limits of the city. The unimpeded progress of this period came to him as an abundant fulfilment of the Lord’s promise, and prepared him for the next persecution when it came.


Verse 12

(12) And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia.—“Deputy” stands, as before (see Note on Acts 13:7), for “proconsul.” Here, also, St. Luke shows his characteristic accuracy in the use of official titles. Achaia, which included the whole of Greece south of the province of Macedonia, had been an imperial province under Tiberius (Tacitus, Ann. i. 76), and had been governed by a prætor, but had been recently, in the same year as the expulsion of the Jews from Rome, restored to the senate by Claudius, as no longer needing direct military control (Suetonius, Claud. c. 25). Gallio, or to give his full name, M. Annæus Novatus, who had taken the agnomen of Gallio on his adoption by the rhetorician of that name, was the brother of L. Annæus Seneca, the tutor of Nero. The philosopher dedicated to him two treatises on Anger and the Blessed Life; and the kindliness of his nature made him a general favourite. He was everybody’s “dulcis Gallio,” was praised by his brother for his disinterestedness and calmness of temper, as one “who was loved much, even by those who had but little capacity for loving” (Seneca, Ep. 104). On the whole, therefore, we may see in him a very favourable example of what philosophic culture was able to do for a Roman statesman. On the probable connection of the writer of the Acts with his family, see Introduction to the Gospel of St. Luke.

Made insurrection . . . against Paul. Better, perhaps, rose up against, or rushed upon, our word “insurrection” having acquired the special meaning of a revolt of subjects against rulers.

And brought him to the judgment seat.—The habit of the Roman governors of provinces was commonly to hold their court in the agora, or marketplace on certain fixed days (see Note on Acts 19:38), so that any one might appeal to have his grievance heard. Gallio was now so sitting, and the Jews, having probably preconcerted their plans, took advantage of the opportunity.


Verse 13

(13) This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law.—It is obvious that in this appeal to the proconsul the Jews must have meant, not the law of Moses, but that of Rome. Their contention was that though Jews had been banished from Rome as a measure of policy, Judaism as such was still a relligio licita, tolerated and recognised by the State. Their charge against the Apostle was that he was preaching a new religion, which was not so recognised. The words “this fellow,” though the substantive is an interpolation, fairly expresses the contempt implied in the use of the Greek pronoun.


Verse 14

(14) When Paul was now about to open his mouth.—The phrase always implies, as has been noticed (see Note on Acts 8:35), the beginning of a set discourse. St. Paul was about to begin a formal apologia. This, however, proved to be unnecessary.

Gallio said unto the Jews.—The proconsul could hardly have resided in Achaia for eighteen months without hearing of the new movement. He knew the Jews. He probably knew something of St. Paul. On the assumption already referred to (see Note on Acts 18:12) the knowledge may have been fuller than appears on the surface. In any case, from his standpoint, as philosopher and statesman, it was not a matter for his tribunal. He was not anxious to draw a hard and fast line as to the relligiones licitæ recognised by the State.

A matter of wrong or wicked lewdness.—Better, a matter of crime or fraud. “Lewdness,” which to us suggests a special class of crimes, is used as “lewd” had been in Acts 17:5. The Greek word is very closely connected with that translated “subtlety” in Acts 13:10. Both words were probably used in a strictly forensic sense—the first for acts of open wrong, such as robbery or assault; the second for those in which a fraudulent cunning was the chief element.

Reason would that I should bear with you.—The very turn of the phrase expresses an intense impatience. Even in the case supposed, his tolerance would have required an effort. As it was, these Jews were now altogether intolerable.


Verse 15

(15) But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law.—The second noun is in the singular number in the Greek. St. Paul was known as a speaker, one who preached the word of God, and with that, as distinct from acts, Gallio had nothing to do. The “names” were those which he had probably heard of at Rome, even before he came to Corinth. (See Note on Acts 18:2.) Was a teacher whom both parties spoke of as Jesus the Nazarene entitled also to bear the name of Christos? In the emphasis laid on “your law” (literally, the law which affects you), the judge intimates that he sees through their appeal to law. It is Jewish, and not Roman law, which they are seeking to vindicate, and he will not make himself, as Pilate, after a weak protest (John 18:3), had done (Gallio may well have known the history), the executioner of an alien code. With a strong emphasis on the pronoun, he ends with, “I, for my part, have no wish to be a judge of these things.”


Verse 16

(16) He drove them from the judgment seat.—The words imply a magisterial act. The order was given to the lictors to clear the court, and the Jews, who did not immediately retreat were exposed to the ignominy of blows from their rods.


Verse 17

(17) Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue.—The better MSS. omit the word “Greeks,” which was probably inserted as an explanatory interpolation by some one who thought it more likely that a ruler of the synagogue should have been assaulted by the Greek bystanders than by those of his own race. Taking the better reading, and assuming the natural construction of the sentence to be “all of them (sc., the Jews) took Sosthenes and beat him,” we have to ask for an explanation of conduct which seems so strange. This is probably found in the appearance of the same name in 1 Corinthians 1:1, as associated with St. Paul in the Epistle to the Church of Corinth. It is a natural inference that Sosthenes, like his predecessor or partner in office (it does not necessarily follow that he succeeded him) became a convert to the new faith. If so, it is probable that he was already suspected of tendencies in that direction, and when the Jews at Corinth found their plans frustrated, it was natural that they should impute their failure to the lukewarmness or treachery of the man who ought to have carried them to a successful issue. They did not shrink from giving vent to their rage even before the tribunal of the proconsul.

And Gallio cared for none of those things.—More accurately, And Gallio cared nothing for these things. The words have become almost proverbial for the indifference of mere politicians and men of the world to religious truth. We speak of one who is tolerant because he is sceptical, as a Gallio. It may be questioned, however, whether this was the thought prominent in St. Luke’s mind as he thus wrote. What he apparently meant was that the proconsul was clear sighted enough to pay no regard to the clamours of St. Paul’s accusers. If they chose, after failing in their attack on Paul, to quarrel among themselves, what was that to him? “Laissez faire, laissez alter” might well be his motto in dealing with such a people. The general impression, however, as to his character is not without its truth. The easy-going gentleness of his character ill fitted him to resist the temptations of Nero’s court, and after retiring from Achaia in consequence of an attack of fever (Sen. Ep. 104), he returned to Rome, and, to the distress of Burrhus and his own brother, Seneca, he took part in ministering to the emperor’s vices (Dio. lxi. 20). He finally fell under the tyrant’s displeasure, and, according to one tradition, was put to death by him. Another represents him as anticipating his fate by suicide; Tacitus, however (Ann. xv. 73), only speaks of him as terrified by his brother’s death, and supplicating Nero for his own life.


Verse 18

(18) And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while.—Literally, tarried yet many days, the phrase probably covering a period of some months. The fact is noted as following on Gallio’s repression of the enmity of the Jews. The Apostle could stay and work on without molestation. The time of his voyage was probably, as in the second journey from Corinth to Jerusalem, after the Passover, and before Pentecost. (See Note on Acts 2:1.) It was the most favourable time of the year for travelling, and it brought the Apostle into contact with a larger number both of Hellenistic Jews and Hebrews than were found at other times. We can only infer, more or less conjecturally, the motives of his journey. (1) As afterwards, in Acts 20:3-4, he may have wished, in carrying out the terms of the compact with the Church of Jerusalem (Galatians 2:10), to be the bearer of alms collected for the disciples there. By some writers, however, this visit is identified with that of which St. Paul there speaks. (2) The vow which he had taken (see Note below) required a visit to the Temple for its completion. (3) There might be a natural wish to report, as in Acts 15:4, the results of his ministry among the Gentiles, in what, from the stand-point of Jerusalem, would seem the remoter regions of Macedonia and Achaia.

Priscilla and Aquila.—On the priority given to the name of the wife, see Note on Acts 18:2.

Having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.—The grammatical structure of the Greek sentence makes it possible to refer the words to Aquila as well as St. Paul, but there is hardly the shadow of a doubt that the latter is meant. (1) If Aquila had taken the vow he too would have to go to Jerusalem instead of remaining at Ephesus. (2) The language of St. James in Acts 21:23-24, implies a conviction, as resting on past experience, that St. Paul would willingly connect himself with those who had such a vow. It remains to inquire (1) as to the nature and conditions of the vow; (2) as to St. Paul’s motives in taking it.


Verse 19

(19) He came to Ephesus, and left them there.—The better MSS. give, “They came to Ephesus.” What follows seems to imply that he no longer continued to work with them, as at Corinth, but leaving them to establish themselves in their craft, began, under the pressure of his eagerness to reach Jerusalem, an independent course of teaching in the synagogues.

The first mention of Ephesus calls for a short account of its history. It had been one of the early Greek colonies on the western coast of Asia Minor. It fell under the power of Alyattes, King of Lydia, and his successor, Croesus. It had from the first been celebrated for the worship of Artemis (see Note on Acts 19:14); and her Temple, with its sacred image, and stately courts, and its hundreds of priests and priestesses of various grades, was visited by pilgrims of all nations. It was one of the cities in which East and West came into close contact with each other, and the religion of Greece assumed there a more Oriental character, and was fruitful in magic, and mysteries, and charms. The Jewish population was sufficiently numerous to have a synagogue, and St. Paul, as usual, appeared in it as a teacher.


Verse 20

(20) When they desired him to tarry longer time with them.—This was, obviously, a hopeful sign, the earnest of the fruitful labours that followed. Nowhere, among the churches that he founded, does St. Paul seem to have found so great a receptivity for spiritual truth. While he looked on the Corinthians as being children requiring to be fed with milk (1 Corinthians 3:2), he saw in the Ephesians those to whom he did not shun to declare “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), to whom he could, at a later date, appeal as able to measure his knowledge of the mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 3:4).


Verse 21

(21) I must by all means keep this feast that Cometh.—Literally, the coming, or, the next feast. This was, probably, as has been said, the Feast of Pentecost. (See Note on Acts 18:18.) If he missed that, there would be no other feast till that of Tabernacles; and then, in October, travelling, whether by sea or land, became dangerous and difficult. (See Note on Acts 27:9.)

If God will.—In this resting in the thought of the will of the Father as ordering all things well—even in their use of almost the same formula, to them much more than such a formula as the Deo volente has often become in the lips of Christians—we find another point of agreement between St. Paul and St. James (James 4:15).


Verse 22

(22) And when he had landed at Cæsarea.—It is obvious that a great deal is covered by the short record of this verse. In the absence of any data in the Acts for settling the question, we may possibly refer to some casualty in this voyage, one of the three shipwrecks of 2 Corinthians 11:25. At Cæsarea, we may believe, he would probably renew his intercourse with Philip the Evangelist. At Jerusalem there would be the usual gathering of the Church, the completion of his Nazarite vow in the Temple, a friendly welcome on the part of St. James and the elders of the Church. Peter was probably at Antioch (Galatians 2:11), or possibly at Babylon (1 Peter 5:13). To this visit to Antioch we may probably refer the scene which St. Paul narrates in Galatians 2:11-14. His long absence from Antioch had left the Judaising party time to gather strength and organise a new attack on the freedom of the Gentiles, and they brought a fresh pressure to bear upon the element of instability which still lingered in St. Peter’s character, and he had not been able to resist it. It is, however, possible that the incident may have occurred before Paul and Silas had left Antioch. (See Note on Acts 15:39-40.)


Verse 23

(23) Went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order.—It is clear from the Epistle to the Galatians that on this visit he found few traces, or none at all, of the work of the Judaisers. The change came afterwards. Some falling away from their first love, some relapse into old national vices, he may have noticed already which called for earnest warning (Galatians 5:21). As he passed through the churches he had founded on his previous journey, he gave the directions for the weekly appropriation of what men could spare from their earnings (the term, a weekly “offertory,” though often employed of it, does not represent the facts of the case), to which he refers in 1 Corinthians 16:2. What churches in Phrygia were visited we are unable to say. A possible construction of Colossians 2:1 might lead us to think of those of the valley of the Lycus, Colossæ, Hierapolis, Laodicea, as having been founded by him, but the more probable interpretation of that passage is, that he included them in the list of those who had not seen his face in the flesh.


Verse 24

(24) And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria.—The name was probably a contraction of Apollonius or Apollodorus. The facts in the New Testament connected with him show that he occupied a prominent position in the history of the Apostolic Church. Conjectures, more or less probable, indicate a yet more representative character and a wider range of influence. Luther, looking to the obviously Alexandrian character of the Epistle to the Hebrews and to the mystery which shrouds its authorship, and which led Origen to the conclusion that God alone knew who wrote it, hazarded the thought that Apollos was the writer. Later critics have adopted the hypothesis, and have brought it to a closer approximation to certainty by an induction from numerous parallelisms in thought and language between the Epistle and the writings of Philo, who lived between B.C. 20 and A.D. 40 or 50. The present writer has carried the inquiry one step further. Among the ethical books of the LXX. there is one, the Wisdom of Solomon, the authorship of which is also an unsolved problem. It is not named or quoted by any pre-Christian writer, Clement of Rome being the first writer who shows traces of its influence, just as he is the first who reproduces the thoughts of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It has been ascribed to Philo partly on the external evidence of a doubtful passage in the Muratorian Canon, partly on the internal evidence of numerous coincidences with his writings. A careful comparison of the two books shows so close an agreement in style and language between the Wisdom of Solomon and the Epistle to the Hebrews that it is scarcely possible to resist the inference that they must have come from the same pen, and that they represent, therefore, different stages in the spiritual growth of the same man. Those who wish to carry the inquiry further will find the subject discussed at length in two papers, “On the Writings of Apollos,” in Vol. I. of the Expositor. Without assuming more than the probability of this inference, it is yet obvious that a Jew coming from Alexandria at this time could hardly fail to have come under Philo’s influence, and that his mode of interpreting the Scriptures would naturally present many analogies to that of the Alexandrian thinker. To him accordingly may be assigned, without much risk of error, the first introduction of the characteristic idea of Philo that the Unseen Godhead manifests itself in the Logos, the Divine Word, or Thought, as seen in the visible creation, and in the spirit and heart of man (Wisdom of Solomon 9:1-2; Wisdom of Solomon 9:4; Wisdom of Solomon 16:12; Wisdom of Solomon 18:15; Hebrews 4:12). It will be remembered that Jews of Alexandria were among those who disputed with Stephen (Acts 6:9). Some of these may have been more or less persuaded by his. preaching, and have carried back to their native city some knowledge, more or less complete, of the new faith.

An eloquent man.—The Greek adjective implies learning as well as eloquence. It was applied pre-eminently to those who wrote history with fulness and insight (Herod. i. 1; ii. 3, 77). The treatment of the history of Israel both in Wisdom 10, 11, 18, and Hebrews 11 might well be described by it.


Verse 25

(25) This man was instructed in the way of the Lord.—Better, had been instructed. The verb is the same as that used in Luke 1:1 (where see Note), and was afterwards used technically in the form of Catechumen to describe the status of a convert preparing for baptism. The “way of the Lord” is used in a half-technical sense, as in the phrase “those of the way” (see Note on Acts 9:2), as equivalent to what, in modern speech, we should describe as the “religion” of Christ.

And being fervent in the spirit.—The noun is obviously used, as in the identical phrase in Romans 12:11, for the spirit of the man, not for the Holy Spirit of God.

He spake and taught diligently.—Better, he was speaking and teaching accurately. Both verbs are in the tense which implies continuous action.

The things of the Lord.—The better MSS. give, “the things concerning Jesus.” We ask in what the teaching, which is thus described as accurate, was yet defective. The position of Apollos at this stage was, it would seem, that of one who knew the facts of our Lord’s life, and death, and resurrection, and had learnt, comparing these with Messianic prophecies, to accept Him as the Christ. But his teacher had been one who had not gone beyond the standpoint of the followers of the Baptist, who accepted Jesus as the Christ during His ministry on earth. The Christ was for him the head of a glorified Judaism, retaining all its distinctive features. He had not as yet learnt that “circumcision was nothing” (1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:6), and that the Temple and all its ordinances were “decaying and waxing old, and ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13).

Knowing only the baptism of John.—The words are full of interest, as showing a wider extent in the work of the Baptist, as the forerunner of the Christ, than is indicated in the Gospels. Even at Alexandria, probably among the ascetic communities of the Therapeutæ, whose life was fashioned upon the same model, there were those who had come under his influence.


Verse 26

(26) Whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard . . .—Many of the best MSS. put Priscilla’s name first, as in Acts 18:18. The fact mentioned is interesting as showing (1) that Aquila and his wife continued to attend the services of the synagogue, and (2) that Apollos appeared there, as St. Paul had done, in the character of a Rabbi who had a message to deliver, and was therefore allowed, or, it may be, requested (as in Acts 13:15), to address the people.

And expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.—Better, as maintaining the right relation of the comparative to the positive adverb of the previous verse, more accurately. The prominence given to Priscilla in this instruction implies that she was a woman of more than ordinary culture, a student of the older Scriptures, able, with a prophetic insight, to help even the disciple of Philo to understand them better than he had done before. It follows of necessity that “the way of God” which they “expounded” to him was the gospel as they had learnt it from St. Paul, perhaps as they had learnt it, at an earlier stage, from the lips of Stephen or his followers. (See Note on Acts 18:2.) It would include, to put the matter somewhat technically, the doctrines of salvation by grace, and justification by faith, and the gift of the Spirit, and union with Christ through baptism and the Supper of the Lord. It would seem to follow almost necessarily, as in the case of the twelve disciples in the next chapter (Acts 19:1-6), that Apollos, who had before known only the baptism of John, was now baptised into “the name of the Lord Jesus.”


Verse 27

(27) And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia.—In the absence of the name of any city in the province, Corinth naturally suggests itself as the place to which he went. Acts 19:1, and the mention of Apollos in 1 Corinthians 1:12, turns this into a certainty. He felt, we may believe, that his training in the philosophical thought of Alexandria qualified him to carry on there the work which St. Paul had begun both there and at Athens. One who had written, or even read, the noble utterances of Wisdom 1, 2, was well qualified to carry an aggressive warfare into the camp of the Epicureans, while thoughts like those of Wisdom 7, 8, especially Wisdom of Solomon 8:7, with its recognition of the four cardinal virtues of Greek ethics, “temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude,” would attract the sympathy of the nobler followers of Zeno.

The brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him.—This is the first instance of what were afterwards known technically as “letters of commendation” (see Note on 2 Corinthians 3:1), written by one church to another in favour of the bearer. The fact that they were given by the Christian community at Ephesus shows now favourable an impression Apollos had made there. It is probable that St. Paul alludes indirectly to these letters in the passage just referred to. The partisans of Apollos had referred to them as one of the points in which he excelled St. Paul. He had come with letters of commendation. He had received them when he left Corinth. The Apostle answers the disparaging taunt in the language of a noble indignation. He needed no such epistle. The church which he had planted was itself an epistle, “known and read of all men” (2 Corinthians 3:3).

Helped them much which had believed through grace.—The two last words admit, in the Greek as in the English, of being taken either with “helped” or “believed.” The former construction seems preferable. It was through the grace of God, co-operating with the gift of wisdom, that Apollos was able to lead men to a higher stage of thought. It will be noted that this exactly corresponds with the account which St. Paul gives of his relation to the teacher whom some set up against him as a rival: “I have planted; Apollos watered,” “I have laid the foundation and another buildeth thereon” (1 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 3:10).


Verse 28

(28) He mightily convinced the Jews.—The conclusion to which he led the Jews was the same as that which St. Paul urged on them. The process was, perhaps, somewhat different, as the line of argument in the Epistle to the Hebrews differs from that in the Epistle to the Galatians. To lead men on, after the manner of Philo, into the deeper meanings that lay beneath the letter of Scripture, to deal with them as those who were pressing forwards to the perfection of maturity in spiritual growth (Hebrews 5:11-14), instead of treating them as children who must be fed with milk and not with “strong meat” (i.e., solid food), as St. Paul had done (1 Corinthians 1:2)—it was natural that this should attract followers to the new preacher, and give him a larger measure of real or apparent success in dealing with the Jews than had attended the labours of St. Paul. As Apollos does not appear again in the Acts, it may be well to bring together what is known as to his after-history. At Corinth, as has been said, his name was used as the watchword of a party, probably that of the philosophising Jews and proselytes, as distinguished from the narrower party of the circumcision that rallied round the name of Cephas (1 Corinthians 1:12). Not a word escapes from St. Paul that indicates any doctrinal difference between himself and Apollos, and as the latter had been instructed by St. Paul’s friends, Aquila and Priscilla, this was, indeed, hardly probable. It would appear from 1 Corinthians 16:12, that he returned to Ephesus, probably with letters of commendation from the Church of Corinth (2 Corinthians 3:1). St. Paul’s confidence in him is shown by his desire that he should return once more to Corinth with Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus. His own reluctance to be the occasion even of the semblance of schism explains his unwillingness to go (1 Corinthians 16:12). After this we lose sight of him for some years. These, we may well believe, were well filled up by evangelising labours after the pattern of those which we have seen at Ephesus and Corinth. Towards the close of St. Paul’s ministry (A. D. 65) we get our last glimpse of him, in Titus 3:13. He is in company with Zenas, the lawyer (see Note on Matthew 22:35), one, i.e., who, like himself, had a special reputation for the profounder knowledge of the Law of Moses. St. Paul’s feeling towards him is still, as of old, one of affectionate interest, and he desires that Titus will help him in all things. He has been labouring at Crete, and there also has gathered round him a distinct company of disciples, whom St. Paul distinguishes from his own; “Let our’s also learn to maintain good works” (Titus 3:14). After this, probably after St. Paul’s death, he wrote—if we accept Luther’s conjecture—the Epistle to the Hebrews, addressed, as some have thought, to the Jewish Christians of Palestine, and specially of Cæsarea, but, more probably, as I have been led to believe, to the Christian ascetics, known as Therapeutæ, trained, like himself, in the school of Philo, with whom he had formerly been associated at Alexandria. The mention of disciples of, or from, Italy in Hebrews 13:24 suggests a connection with some other Italian Christians than those of Rome, probably with those of Puteoli. (See Note on Acts 28:14.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Acts 18:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/acts-18.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, January 28th, 2020
the Third Week after Epiphany
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