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Excursus on Apollos.
The name of Apollos does not appear again in the ‘Acts.’ The episode was introduced evidently for the purpose of showing how the disciples of the Baptist joined the church of the apostles of Christ. They were without doubt very numerous, and were scattered far beyond the precincts of the Holy Land. In this short passage they are mentioned as dwelling in Ephesus and in Alexandria. Had it not been for this reason, it is doubtful if any mention of Apollos would have been made in the ‘Acts.’ It was, however, important to show, in the story of the origin of the Christian Church, that one of the most distinguished in the second rank among apostolical men had been carefully trained in the school of John the Baptist, and subsequently had joined a Christian church founded by and under the direct influence of Paul. We know, however, some details respecting the after career of this eminent Alexandrian Jew at Corinth, where Acts 19:1 leaves him. He appears to have preached and taught with marked success, so much so that his name at no distant period seems to have been used at Corinth as the watchword of a party. No hint, however, is ever given to us that the slightest jealousy ever sprang up between Apollos and Paul. Instructed at the first in what we may venture to term Pauline Christianity by Paul’s loving and devoted friends Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos never seems to have swerved from those doctrinal principles which at the first through the grace of God brought him to the full knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Devoted loyalty to that great master, whom he soon came to know in the flesh, seems to have been the guiding principle of Apollos’ self-denying life. After he left Corinth, the scene of his successful labours, he was urged by a numerous party to return thither and again take up the thread of his eloquent and winning teaching. Even Paul, ever above all earthly feelings of wrong and jealousy, pressed him to go back, though he must have felt that the popularity and influence of the younger man would probably efface him and his name from the memory of Corinth. But Apollos the loyal and faithful positively declined to return, thinking his presence would only fan the party spirit in the church, and would injure the influence of Paul. ‘As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come to you with the brethren: but his will was not at all to come to you at this time; but he will come when he shall have a convenient time’ (1 Corinthians 16:12). Once more we catch a glimpse of this great figure in apostolical story; in nearly the last of St. Paul’s letters (Titus 3:13) there is a little loving mention by the aged apostle, then so near the end of his great life, of the old friend and the possible rival. The words are few and on the surface unimportant, but they complete the story of a ten years’ friendship unbroken by differences of opinion, uninterrupted by jealousy or heartburning. The self-effacement of Apollos, one of the most brilliant and able of apostolical men so little known or thought of, shines conspicuously even in the pages of early Christian story, so bright with records of heroic chivalry and generous self-denial.
In this brief notice of one so little known, but who probably bore no small or undistinguished part in the work of laying the early stories of the great Christian temple, some mention would naturally be looked for of a supposition first put forth by Luther, that the unknown author of the Epistle to the Hebrews was this Apollos. The hypothesis of Luther has been widely adopted by scholars of various schools of thought in our own critical age.
The mystery which shrouded the authorship of this great epistle during the early ages of Christianity is well summarised by Origen, who exclaims, ‘God knoweth who is the writer of this letter.’ That so important and weighty a writing should exist, should be generally received in the churches as canonical, as proceeding equally with the Gospels and the well-known Epistles of Paul and Peter and John and James from the cabinet of the ever blessed Trinity, and yet be nameless, is a strange, inexplicable fact. Would it be too daring to supplement Luther’s hypothesis, which ascribes the writing to Apollos, by suggesting that the silence of Apollos on the subject of his own God-inspired writing is exactly what we should look for from that gifted servant of God, whose life as far as we are acquainted with its details was a life of entire self-effacement?
His brilliant winning powers at an early date placed him in the forefront of the Christian leaders. Some men evidently preferred him, and would have made him the equal, perhaps the rival, of the greatest of the apostles. But Apollos would never hear of being the rival or even the equal of Paul.
Is it not a thought at least worthy to be entertained, that the same nobility of heart which induced the Alexandrian Apollos to decline, even at Paul’s request, the mission to Corinth where men loved him and admired him with so great a love and admiration forbade him to put his name to his master-work, the Epistle to the Hebrews? He was Paul’s pupil his devoted friend; he would never be his master’s rival.
Acts 18:1. Came to Corinth. The Corinth which was so intimately connected with the life and work of Paul was a new city, comparatively speaking. The old city of the same name, so renowned in Grecian story, had been completely destroyed by the Roman Mummius, and for a hundred years the capital of the ‘Achaean League’ was left a heap of ruins. Its destruction was, indeed, so complete that it passed into a proverb. Some eighty-seven years before Paul’s visit, Julius Cæsar rebuilt the fallen city, and made it a ‘Colonia’ and at this period it was a city of the second rank in the Empire. The growth of the new city was strangely rapid; it soon surpassed its former opulence and splendour; it became a vast commercial centre, and was frequented by strangers from all parts. To a city so peopled, and possessing so great a trade, it can easily be believed that many Jews were attracted. The laxity of the morals of Corinth has been frequently commented upon; writers tell us there was, in this great and wicked city, one temple dedicated to Venus Pandemos, to which a thousand courtesans were attached.
It was in this great mercantile centre that Paul fixed his abode; and here for a year and a half he remained. His success in his missionary work was very marked; for in this dissolute city of traders from all parts of the world the ‘tent-maker’ founded a great and influential community, obedient to the commands of Christ. In the records of the Church of the first days, the Corinthian community in numbers, in stedfastness, in devotion, take rank with Antioch and Ephesus, Thessalonica and Rome.
Acts 18:2. And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla. It seems, on the whole, probable that Aquila and Priscilla two great names in early Christian story were Christians before they met with Paul. There is no mention in the ‘Acts’ of their conversion; and, as it has been well argued, Paul’s ‘finding these Jews out and consorting with them, affords a strong presumption in favour of their Christianity: only among Christians could the apostle feel himself at home.’ The friendship between Paul and the two tentmakers, Aquila, and Priscilla his wife, appears to have been very intimate and enduring. We read of them several times in his epistles. They were with him during his long residence at Ephesus; they were at Rome when he wrote the great letter to the Christians of that city; once (Romans 16:3-4), he tells us, these devoted friends laid down their necks for his (Paul’s) life. If, as we suppose (see note on the next sentence), these two Jews had embraced the faith of Jesus before the meeting with Paul, then Aquila and Priscilla are the two most ancient-known members of the primitive Church of Rome.
Because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Borne. Suetonius ( Claudius, 25) has a statement which exactly fits in with these words of the writer of the ‘Acts.’ He (the Emperor Claudius) banished the Jews from Rome, who were constantly making disturbances at the instigation of one ‘Chrestus.’ Christus was not unfrequently written or pronounced ‘Chrestus’ (see Tertullian, Apol.). It is more than probable, considering the constant communication that was taking place between Rome and Antioch and Cæsarea, that Christianity had been introduced into Rome by travelling Syriac Jews long before this (A.D. 51). At that first Pentecost, for instance, nearly twenty years before, we know strangers of Rome’ listened at Jerusalem to the inspired utterances of Peter and the eleven (Acts 2:10). We know that a large Jewish colony dwelt in the capital city; the causes, therefore, of the disturbance which occasioned the decree of the Emperor Claudius, are easily conceived. Jealousy on the part of the leaders of the Jewish community, was soon excited against the teachers of the new doctrines of Jesus; and what we have seen taking place at Antioch in Pisidia, at Lystra, at Philippi, at Thessalonica, no doubt on a larger scale took place in the crowded Jews’ quarter on the banks of the Tiber at Rome; and the result of the uproar was the imperial decree which banished for a season all the Jewish community from Rome. Among the victims of the decree were the tentmaker of Pontus and his wife, Aquila and Priscilla, whom Paul met with and joined at Corinth. This imperial decree which banished the Jews does not appear to have long continued in force. When Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans, some six or seven years later, Aquila and Priscilla had already returned to Rome; and when Paul was taken to the metropolis as a prisoner, he found many Jews there.
Acts 18:3. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought (for by their occupation they were tentmakers). We have here the first mention of the handicraft by which, during so many periods of that toilsome, anxious missionary life of his, Paul earned his daily bread. This trade, learned in his boyhood, gives us no clue to the circumstances of the family of Saul of Tarsus. We have good reason for assuming that the family were in affluent circumstances. Every Jewish boy was carefully taught a trade. Since the captivity, and the terrible misfortunes of the chosen people, the vicissitudes of life had taught the Rabbis the stern necessity which existed for every Jewish boy to be able at least to earn his daily bread in the foreign cities where the chances of war or persecution might transport him. We read in the Talmud, ‘What is commanded of a father towards his son? To circumcise him, to teach him the law, to teach him a trade.’ Rabbi Judah saith: ‘He that teacheth not his son a trade, teacheth him to be a thief.’ Rabban Gamaliel saith: ‘He that hath a trade in his hand, to what is he like? He is like a vineyard that is fenced.’ Tent making was a common occupation in Paul’s native Cilicia. These tents were made of the rough hair of the goats, which abounded in the Cilician hill country. It was a well-known trade in the markets of the Levant. This tent-cloth was generally known as ‘Cilicium.’ We read of it, this hair-cloth, in mediaeval works on penitential discipline. The word Cilicium is still retained in French, Spanish, and Italian.
It is probable that the work of Aquila and Paul was the making-up of this goat’s-hair cloth into tents. ‘Paul,’ writes St. Chrysostom, ‘after working miracles, would stand in his workshop of Corinth, and stitch the leather skins (the Greek father appears not to have known of the ordinary goat’s-hair cloth) with his hands, while the angels looked on him lovingly, and the devils with fear.’ At Miletus, when Paul took leave of the elders of Ephesus, with whom he had spent so long a time, he expressly alludes to the toil of his hands (Acts 20:34). Allusion is also made to it in 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2Th 3:8 ; 1 Corinthians 4:12.
Acts 18:4. And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath. According to his invariable custom, speaking the things of the kingdom, first to his own countrymen, and to the strangers who loved the God of the Jews, and worshipped with them in the synagogue. In the desert wanderings, when they came out from Egypt; in their own land, in the golden days of David and Solomon; in the captivity of Babylon; in the wide dispersion which immediately preceded and succeeded the fall of the city and temple; during the eighteen hundred years which have elapsed since that awful catastrophe; now, in our days, in almost every great city of the world, have this strange, unchanging race kept this solemn Sabbath rest, in accordance with the charge which the God of Israel delivered to His great servant, whom the Jews, in loving memory, still call ‘Moses our Rabbi.’
Acts 18:5. And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. The older MSS., instead of the words τω ͂ͅ πνευ ́ ματι , in the spirit, read τω ͂ͅ λόγψ in the word , the translation would then run, ‘Paul was constrained by the word,’ that is, when his two friends Silas and Timotheus came, their presence gave him a new impulse: he was able to work with better heart than when all alone he had to toil for his daily bread, and then, all weary and solitary, to meet the various checks and discouragements which so often perplex God’s true servants in their work. It is not improbable that the assistance Timotheus brought him from his dear converts at Thessalonica in part, at least, freed him from the necessity of hard, unremitting labour (see 2 Corinthians 11:9). The word translated ‘was pressed’ is a singular one; it was used once very solemnly by the Lord Himself (see Luke 12:50: ‘I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened (or pressed) till it be accomplished’). The word tells of an intense Divine impulse, urging to a work which brooks no delay or hesitation.
Acts 18:6. And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed. The more than usually violent opposition of the Jews which appears from these words, and also from the apostle’s sad, reproachful allusion in the First Epistle, written about this time, to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:14), was no doubt stirred up by the intense earnestness of Paul in his work after the arrival of Silas and Timotheus, when he was ‘pressed and constrained by the word.’
He shook his raiment. That is, he shook the very dust out of his garments a similarly symbolical action to the one related in chap. Acts 13:51, in Pisidian Antioch, when he shook off the dust of his feet. In each of these dramatic actions, so common among oriental peoples, Paul desired to show his complete renunciation of those Jews ‘displeasing to God, and enemies to all mankind,’ as he terms them in his Thessalonian letter; not even a particle of dust might remain on his feet or garments as a bond of union (see the direction of the Master in such cases, Matthew 10:14).
Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. I am pure, he would say, free from guilt and responsibility, although you, in your blind perverseness, perish. The terms of this terrible expression would be well known to the Jewish Rabbis and leaders at Corinth; they were from Ezekiel 33:4.
Acts 18:7. And he departed thence, and entered into a certain man’s house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue. As long as it was possible, Paul seems always to have made the synagogue, or the meeting-place of prayer for the Jews, his centre of work; but this usually, after a time, was closed to him. So at Rome we read of ‘his own hired house;’ at Ephesus, ‘the school of Tyrannus;’ at Corinth, it was the house of a proselyte close by the Jews’ synagogue, where Paul was in the habit of assembling the little Church of Christ, to instruct them in the gospel of his Master. The better MSS. here, instead of ‘Justus,’ read ‘Titus, or Titius Justus.’ It is possible this was the ‘Titus’ (Galatians 2:1) who subsequently became the celebrated companion of Paul, and in the end one of his successors in the rule of the churches. In this very uncertain reference we possess the only possible allusion in the ‘Acts’ to St. Paul’s famous companion.
Acts 18:8. And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house. On the solemn separation of Paul from the Jews, this ruler of the synagogue, evidently a man of high consideration, joined the Church of Jesus. He was one of the few persons in Corinth whom Paul baptized with his own hand (1 Corinthians 1:14). We have here another instance in which a whole family became Christians. A very old tradition speaks of this Crispus as subsequently Bishop of Egina.
And many of the Corinthians hearing believed. That is, many of the idolatrous inhabitants of Corinth, in distinction to the Jews and proselytes before alluded to.
Acts 18:9. Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision. A form most probably appeared to the apostle when he heard the voice bidding him be of good courage (see for a similar vision, when a form appeared and a voice was heard, Acts 16:9, Acts 22:18).
Acts 18:10. I have much people in this city. ‘How great is the mercy of God! Nineveh, Sodom, Corinth, no city is so corrupt that He does not send preachers of righteousness to the people. . . . Paul accomplished a greater work in the wicked city of Corinth than in the learned city of Athens; Paul had the pleasure of changing these impure and sinful souls into pure brides, whom he conducted to Christ, and to whom he could afterwards say, Ye were thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners; but ye are washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the spirit of our God. . . . All this teaches us not to grow weary, even when we are dealing with the worst of men’ (Starke and others, quoted by Lange on this passage).
Acts 18:11. And he continued there a year and six months. This year and a half was the whole period of his residence at Corinth. It was during this lengthened stay that the apostle wrote the two epistles to the church of Thessalonica, the earliest letters we possess of St. Paul.
Acts 18:12. And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia. The Greek verb rendered ‘was the deputy,’ should be translated ‘was the proconsul.’ Gloag remarks that the Roman province of Achaia was almost of the same extent with the modern kingdom of Greece. It included the Peloponnesus and the rest of Greece proper; whereas Macedonia, Epirus, Thessaly, and part of Illyria formed the province of Macedonia. These provinces were transferred from the government of the senate to that of the emperor, and vice versa, more than once. The writer of the ‘Acts,’ however, with his usual scrupulous historical accuracy, speaks of the governor of the province of Achaia as proconsul. Suetonius expressly mentions that Claudius the emperor gave up to the senate the provinces of Achaia and Macedonia, which would account for the governor being styled proconsul, the title of the senate’s official. The proconsul had been adopted by the rhetorician L. Junius Gallio, whose name he took, and was generally known as Junius Annæus Gallio, brother of Seneca, the famous philosopher and tutor of Nero. Gallio was one of the marked men of that age. He is mentioned by Tacitus, Statius, Seneca, and others. He appears to have been a cultivated and polished scholar, popular, and even beloved. Seneca writes of him with the tenderest affection: ‘My brother Gallio, whom every one loves too little, even he who loves him most.’ Statius gives him a beautiful but untranslateable epithet when he calls him ‘dulcis Gallio.’ Renan (St. Paul), writing of this Roman official, well sums up contemporary history in his words: ‘C’était un bel esprit et une âme noble, un ami des poêtes et des écrivains célèbres. Tous ceux qui le connaissaient l’adoraient. . . . Il semble que ce fut sa haute culture hellenique qui le fit choisir, sous le lettré Claude pour l’administration d’une Province (Achaia) que tous les gouvernements un peu éclairés entouraient d’attentions délicates.’
The Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul. It is not stated what circumstances directly led up to this attack on Paul. It has been suggested that the change of government on the arrival of Gallio encouraged the Jewish party, ever bitterly hostile to their old leader, to bring about his arrest. It was no doubt, however, devised at the suggestion of his sleepless enemies in the Holy Land, who watched continually his movements and his work.
And brought him to the judgment-seat. It was the custom of the provincial governors of the Empire to hold their courts on certain fixed days of the week. These sittings were commonly held in the Agora or market-place. The ‘judgment seat’ ( τὸ βῆμα ), mentioned again twice (see Acts 18:16-17), was of two kinds (1) fixed in some public place; or (2) moveable and taken about by the magistrate, to be set up in whatever spot he might wish to sit.
Acts 18:13. Saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law. There is no doubt but that the ‘law’ here alluded to was the law not of the Jews, but of the Empire; it was the Roman, not the Mosaic law, which the stranger Jew, Paul, was accused of violating, and the offence consisted in the attempt to promulgate a religion which was not sanctioned by the imperial government. There were, besides that form of Paganism which was the state religion of Rome, other systems of worship formally sanctioned and recognised by the state; among these, Judaism, although for a time banished from Rome itself, was ranked. The apostle was charged now before the proconsul’s court with preaching in Corinth a new and unlawful religion. From Gallio’s own comment in Acts 18:15, there is no doubt but that Paul was accused of introducing new deities as objects of worship. It was a novel and unprincipled method of action, and as the event showed, one seen through by the Roman official.
Acts 18:14. And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews. There is little doubt but that Gallio knew something about the Christian sect then becoming numerous in several of the cities of the Empire. One so high in favour as the proconsul of Achaia, who had been necessarily thrown in contact with so many of the chief personages of the Empire, was, of course, well acquainted with the outlines of the history of these Christians; and Gallio, in common with other noble Romans, regarded them simply as an offshoot of the great Jewish race, as dissenters, perhaps, from some of the ancestral superstitions, but fairly entitled, in common with their co-religionists, to the contemptuous toleration and even protection of Rome.
If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you. The Roman judge’s answer to the Jewish accusation against the Christian Paul was: If what you allege this stranger to have done partook of the nature either of ‘wrong’ ( α ̓ δι ́ κημα ́, an act of injustice, fraud, dishonesty) or of ‘wicked lewdness’ ( ρ ̔ α ͅ διου ́ ργημα πονηρο ́ ν , a wicked crime), then I would have gravely considered the charge; but, by your own showing, nothing of the nature of crime is involved in your accusation.
Acts 18:15. But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters. If the question turned merely upon a word [the Greek equivalent here is in the singular] and upon certain names, Gallio had most likely in Rome or elsewhere heard the name of Jesus, and how the Christians termed Him Christ, the Anointed One, their expected king Messiah; but as the Roman state records related how this Person had been put to death by the Procurator of Judea, Pilate, the Proconsul looked upon the whole matter as a harmless superstition on the part of Paul and his fellow-Christians. Certainly the majesty of the Empire was not called to interfere in these disputes about a dream or a phantom. Gallio saw that the grievance had nothing to do with Rome and her laws.
Acts 18:16. And he drave them from the judgment-seat. The language shows that some force had to be used to induce these importunate accusers to leave the court.
Acts 18:17. Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment-seat. The better MSS. simply read, ‘Then all took,’ etc.; the Greeks was a later interpolation. There is little doubt that ‘all’ refers here to the Gentile or Greek populace, who, ever ready to show their hatred to the Jews dwelling among them, took this opportunity, when the despised people were being driven ignominiously out of court, of venting their dislike upon the Jewish leader. Some commentators have, however, supposed that the ‘all’ refers not to the Greek populace, but to the Jews themselves, who, angry at finding their designs against Paul frustrated, fell upon their own leader, to whose want of skill or perhaps to whose treachery in the cause they ascribed their present failure before Gallio. This supposition is based in great measure on the possible identification of this Sosthenes with the Sosthenes mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1, and upon the hypothesis that he was already a secret friend of Paul’s, and at heart a Christian.
And Gallio cared for none of those things. The utter indifference of these great Roman officials to all religion is well painted in these few words. Such questions as had been brought before his tribunal that day were, to one trained in Gallio’s cheerless school, having, as he thought, no bearing direct or indirect on the present life, entirely without interest. Like Pilate, when One greater than Paul stood before him similarly accused, this Roman seemed to favour the accused, possibly owing to the popular dislike of the Jewish race. Pilate’s celebrated words, ‘What is truth?’ betray the same utter carelessness and indifference to religion and religious truth.
Acts 18:18. And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while. Some months’ additional work is covered by this expression. During this period, after the Proconsul Gallio’s dismissal of the complaint, Paul no doubt worked unhindered by his Jewish enemies, and was able to lay the foundations of one of the most flourishing churches of the first days at Corinth. The publicity attending on the arrest of St. Paul, and his trial before the court of Gallio, no doubt assisted him in his efforts to gain a hearing in that wicked and licentious city.
And sailed thence into Syria. Antioch in Syria was his ultimate destination. He embarked in the first instance for Ephesus in Asia Minor (see Acts 18:19).
Priscilla and Aquila. See note on Acts 18:2 of this chapter. In other passages (Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19) are these two intimate friends of the apostle named in this unusual order, the woman coming first. There is no doubt that it was her influence and powers, not her husband’s, which gave the couple so prominent a position in the early Christian Church. She was a distinguished instance of one of those bright earnest women whose powers were called into action by the work and teaching of Jesus Christ and His chosen friends, one of the pioneers of that devoted band of women-workers who have now for eighteen hundred years done such splendid work for their Lord’s cause in all climes and among all peoples.
Having shorn his head in Cenchrea. Kenchrea was the harbour on the eastern side of Corinth, distant about ten miles from the city. It served the commerce of Asia. There was, on the other side of the city and isthmus, another port, Lechæum, for the Italian and western trade. A Christian Church was very early planted at Kenchrea (see Romans 16:1), no doubt by St. Paul during his lengthened Corinthian residence.
For he had a vow. Our knowledge of the exact nature of ‘vows’ among the Jews at this period is not sufficient for us to describe with any detail the circumstances which attended the carrying out this ‘vow’ of St. Paul. It was certainly not a strict Nazarite vow, which would have required the shaving of the head in Jerusalem; and the hair cut off would in that case have been burnt as an offering in the Temple. There were, however, probably modifications of the original rules in the case of foreign Jews residing at a distance from the Holy Land.
The ‘vow’ was probably an expression of gratitude to the Eternal of hosts for having preserved him from evil, and for having prospered his work during his long stay at Corinth. It involved, of course, a lengthened period of abstinence and special prayer. It has been asked why such an one as St. Paul, by his own example, stamped with approval such an observance, which seems to belong to the old worn-out Jewish customs. To this we answer (1) St. Paul’s early association and training had familiarised him with these old cherished practices, and in such seasons of fasting and prayer for long years he had found special refreshment and help; and (2) he was always glad when, without injury to the great questions of Gentile liberty, and the perfect independence from the old Mosaic law of the Gentile peoples, he could show his loved brethren of the Jews that he did not despise the law. Nor did he ever teach other Jews to despise it; on the contrary, he was only too glad on solemn occasions to show his reverence for it, his love for its ancient precepts. We find Paul always seizing opportunities of devoting himself to win the Jews whenever he could do so without injuring his own especial work among the isles of the Gentiles: ‘To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews ... to the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
St. Paul returns to Antioch by way of Ephesus and Jerusalem, and there closes his Second Missionary Journey He then starts on his Third Missionary Enterprise, 19-23.
Acts 18:19. And he came to Ephesus, and left them there. For a note on Ephesus, see Acts 18:1 of the next chapter, where a lengthened sojourn of the apostle in that city is related. ‘Them,’ that is, Aquila and Priscilla, who had removed to Ephesus with a view of carrying on there their tentmaking trade. In the Syriac Version we read at the beginning of Acts 18:21, ‘And he left Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus, and he himself sailed and came to Cæsarea.’ The voyage from Corinth to Ephesus under favourable circumstances was then accomplished in two or three days, though Cicero relates how he once, and on another occasion his brother Quintus, occupied two weeks in sailing from Ephesus to Athens; but unusual delays in both of these cases retarded the voyages.
But he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. These words were evidently inserted in the narrative by the writer of the ‘Acts’ to make it clear that Paul’s purpose at Ephesus was to carry out no business plans with his old friends and associates, Priscilla and her husband. They came to Ephesus together; they remained behind when he left; and even while there, the apostle took no part in the old work of the tentmaking, but, as his custom was, preached and taught Paul’s association with Aquila and other workers was always only a temporary one, taken up and laid down when the necessity which had occasioned his working with his own bands had passed. His life shows the dignity of all labour, still Paul’s real work was something very different to that of an ordinary handicraftsman.
Acts 18:20. When they desired him to tarry longer with them. Ephesus appears to have been, from these days onward, favourably disposed to receive the gospel. This earnest request to Paul to stay longer with them on this the occasion of his first visit, no doubt induced him to fix upon the great Asian city as the centre of his work after his Third Missionary Journey. Ephesus, in the earliest Christian annals, occupied a foremost and most distinguished place. It was not only one of the churches founded by Paul, but it was trained up under his own personal superintendence nearly for three years. Timothy, Paul’s most intimate and perhaps his most loved disciple, after an interval, succeeded the apostle in the personal superintendence of the church at Ephesus, and later it was the home of St. John, who, according to universal tradition, spent the latter years of his eventful life in this city. Here, too, this friend of Christ was buried.
He consented not; Acts 18:21 . But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem. There is a curious variation in the readings in this verse; the words from ‘I must’ down to ‘Jerusalem’ are omitted in many of the ancient authorities; but as there is no conceivable reason for the insertion of such a clause, and some of the better MSS. and Fathers, and, above all, the Syriac Version, contain the words, it is better with many of the modern commentators to retain them as genuine. ‘The feast’ is most probably that of Pentecost, as the sea, either before the feast of Passover in the spring, or of Tabernacles in late autumn, would not have been considered safe for ships, it being hardly probable that under the circumstances, which did not seem very pressing, one like Paul would have undertaken an exceptionally expensive and dangerous voyage. This explains his words to the Ephesian Jews, ‘I must by all means keep the feast that cometh in Jerusalem.’ The next feast in rotation would be that of ‘Tabernacles’ in October. It is not unlikely that the means of transit from the great cities of the Mediterranean seaboard, for a Jew who wished to keep his ‘Pentecost’ in Jerusalem, were abundant and inexpensive. Large bodies of these Jewish pilgrims from distant countries were evidently present at the first Pentecost feast described in Acts 2:0 (see especially Acts 18:9-11).
But I will return again unto you, if God will. The apostle made haste to fulfil this promise (see Acts 19:1).
Acts 18:22. And when he had landed at Caesarea. This Roman capital of Judaea was the usual and most convenient port for travellers journeying to Jerusalem.
And gone up, and saluted the church. ‘Gone up,’ that is, from the lowlands surrounding Cæsarea to the highlands in the midst of which Jerusalem was situated. ‘The Church’ is, of course, the mother church of Christianity, the congregations of believers in Jerusalem. This was apparently Paul’s fourth visit, since his conversion, to the sacred city. He seems only to have remained a short time, and we hear of no events of any importance taking place during his stay. The very vague mention of it in this passage is the only allusion we find to it. He, no doubt, on this occasion met with James and his brother apostles, and recounted to them the progress of the faith in Corinth and Greece.
He went down to Antioch. Geographically speaking strictly correct, the position of Jerusalem lying much higher than Syrian Antioch. Thus terminated his Second Missionary Journey; it had occupied, roughly speaking, three years.
Acts 18:23. And after he had spent some time there. Many expositors suppose that during this residence of St. Paul at Antioch took place his famous interview with the leading apostle of the circumcision, on which occasion Paul, to use his own words, withstood Peter to the face, because he was to be blamed (see Galatians 2:11 and following verses).
He departed on his third great missionary journey, about A.D. 54. He probably went first from Syrian Antioch to Tarsus, and then in a north-west direction through Galatia; and then turning south-west, he journeyed through Phrygia and so to Ephesus, where for a long period he took up his abode.
Strengthening all the disciples. That is, in the various churches founded by him and his companions during the first two missionary journeys. Many things alluded to in the Galatian epistle, written sometime in the Ephesian residence which immediately succeeded this long journey, were suggested by notes made during this visit.
An Episode relating the Spread of the Teaching of John the Baptist and his School, with a short Account of one famous Disciple of the Baptist, A polios of Alexandria, Acts 18:24 to Acts 19:7.
Acts 18:24. And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria. Embedded in that portion of the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ which dwells exclusively on the mission and work of Paul among the Gentiles, we find a brief narration (Acts 18:24-28) concerning a certain learned and eloquent Alexandrian Rabbi who had been a pupil either of John the Baptist or of one of the great forerunner’s disciples. He comes, during a visit to Ephesus, under the influence of two of Paul’s most devoted followers, Priscilla and Aquila the tentmakers, then dwelling in that city. Paul was then either at Antioch or already engaged in his Third Missionary Journey. The Alexandrian pupil of the Baptist, convinced by the arguments of the two friends of the Gentile apostle, associates himself with Paul’s school of Christianity, and consecrates henceforth his great powers and learning to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus as taught by Paul A second narrative (chap. Acts 19:1-7) relates how Paul, closing his third missionary campaign at Ephesus, finds there a small knot of the Baptist’s disciples. These he carefully instructs in all that happened subsequently to the death of the Baptist, and they too join his congregation at Ephesus.
Among a mass of materials of early Christian history, the writer of the ‘Acts,’ under the direction of the Holy Ghost, no doubt selected this little episode to show how the disciples of John the Baptist, widely scattered evidently, and perhaps fairly numerous, were won to that broad, worldwide school of teaching of which Stephen the Deacon was the first master and Paul of Tarsus the second master, and in some points of view the real founder. No doubt, what Luke relates as having taken place at Ephesus happened in Alexandria and Corinth and in many another great commercial centre. What Priscilla and Aquila took upon themselves to do in their master’s absence, no doubt many another of the apostle’s pupils undertook, and with like success.
It is highly probable that the disciples of the school of the Baptist during the third decade of the ‘faith’ considerably swelled the number of Christian congregations. In later days, a few of John’s disciples, under the name of Zabeans, established a sect of their own, falsely asserting that, contrary to his own declaration, the Baptist was Messiah.
Apollos Apollonios in one great MS., Apelles in another; perhaps the name was a contraction from Apollodorus. A native of Alexandria and a disciple of the Baptist or one of his followers, he had been no doubt a hearer, possibly a pupil, of the great Alexandrian teacher Philo, and had come some time in Paul’s Third Missionary Journey to Ephesus, and as a stranger Rabbi of distinguished culture was allowed to speak publicly in the Ephesian synagogue. There he met with the Christian Jews Aquila and Priscilla, who took up and told him the story of Jesus Christ where his first master had left it.
An eloquent man. The Greek word λο ́ γιος , rendered here accurately ‘eloquent,’ also has the signification of ‘one learned in history,’ or one generally highly cultured. The next sentence, however, shows us that ‘eloquent’ is here the best and most likely sense.
Mighty in the Scriptures. That is, of the Old Testament. This is exactly the characteristic we should look for in an able and learned pupil of Philo the Alexandrian.
Acts 18:25. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord. The phrase ‘way of the Lord’ is used again in relation to the work of the Baptist (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3). ‘The Lord’ here signifies ‘Christ;’ the expression thus signifies ‘the doctrine of Christ.’ Apollos, as John had been, was a firm believer in the Messiahship of Jesus. But Apollos and the school of John had much to learn; they had no conception that Jesus was the Messiah of the world; they only regarded Him as ‘He who should redeem Israel.’ The grand thought, that the dwellers in the countless isles of the Gentiles, too, were now fellow-heirs of the kingdom, was a thought which never occurred to one trained like Apollos. But a short intercourse with souls like Priscilla and Aquila, on whom a portion of Paul’s broad generous spirit had fallen, threw a flood of light into the heart of Apollos, and the truth as preached by Paul flashed on him in all its length and breadth.
And being fervent in the spirit. Zealous, earnest in his disposition. It is better to understand ‘spirit’ here as used for the spirit of the man, not for the Holy Spirit of God. So Romans 12:11, ‘fervent in spirit,’ certainly must be understood.
He spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord. Or, as in the more ancient authorities, ‘the things concerning Jesus;’ that is, all he knew of the life of Jesus Christ. This no doubt included a great deal more than the mere facts of that life which happened during the career of the Baptist. It is certain that the main features of the crucifixion and the resurrection were well known to one instructed in the ‘way of the Lord;’ but though he knew the main facts of the gospel story, he was in ignorance of the special teaching which belonged to the later scenes of the Lord’s life.
Knowing only the baptism of John. We cannot attempt to describe with any precision the amount of knowledge which this ‘knowing only the baptism of John’ included. As we have said above, such an one instructed as was Apollos, while knowing well the story of the great events of the life of the Holy One and Just, would certainly be ignorant of much if not all of the sacramental teaching of the Lord Jesus.
He had probably never heard, or even if he had heard, only dimly comprehended the signification of the outpouring of the Spirit on the first Pentecost morning after the resurrection. Indeed, these disciples of John the Baptist (see Acts 19:2-3) appear to have been in total ignorance respecting the person and office of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 18:26. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. This was a usual custom with strangers. Our Lord, we know, was in the habit of thus speaking in strange synagogues, as was also Paul in the course of his many journeys.
Whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard. The presence in the Jewish synagogue, so long after their conversion to Christianity, of persons known to be so earnest, devoted to the faith, reminds us how close and intimate at the first were the bonds between the synagogue and the church. The Christian Priscilla and Aquila had no intention of deserting the old ancestral religion they loved so well. They were still Jews, only they knew Messiah had come.
They took him unto them, and expounded onto him the way of God more perfectly. It would be indeed interesting if we could see now some document containing the exposition of ‘the way of God’ by Priscilla and Aquila. They had, we believe, first learned the story of the Cross and the doctrines of Jesus at Rome from some pilgrim who had most likely been present at the first Pentecost at Jerusalem. They are the earliest members that we are acquainted with by name of the Church of Rome; and besides this early knowledge of the faith, they added a deep experience of the teaching and doctrines of Paul, whose intimate friends and associates they were.
Acts 18:27. And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia. No doubt it was to Corinth, where Apollos knew the early stories of a great and flourishing church had been laid by the very Paul of whom he had heard so much from Priscilla and her husband. He felt that there was a great work for him to do.
The brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him. It is an open question whether the Greek here should not be translated, ‘The brethren exhorted him and wrote to the disciples to receive him.’ One very ancient MS. (I), Beza) contains here the following remarkable reading: ‘And certain Corinthians sojourning in Ephesus, after hearing him [Apollos], besought him to pass over with them into their country; and after he consented, the Ephesians wrote to the disciples in Corinth to receive the man.’ This is the first instance we possess of the ‘letters of commendation’ which afterwards became so usual throughout the Christian Church. Professor Plumptre, in his comment on 2 Corinthians 3:1, observes on these ἐπιστολαὶ ουστατικαί that they deserve notice ‘as an important element in the organisation of the early Church; a Christian travelling with such a letter from any church was certain to find a welcome in any other. They guaranteed at once his soundness in the faith and his personal character, and served to give a reality to the belief in the “communion of saints” as the necessary sequel to the recognition of a Catholic or universal Church. It is significant of the part they had played in the social victory of the Christian Church, that Julian tried to introduce them into the decaying system of Paganism which he sought to galvanize into an imitative life’ (Sozomen, History, Acts 5:16).
St. Paul apparently refers to these letters of commendation granted to Apollos when about to proceed to Corinth, in his second letter to the Corinthian Church, Acts 3:1.
Who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace. The concluding words, ‘through grace,’ should be closely joined with ‘helped them.’ They were added apparently by the inspired writer of these ‘Acts,’ to impress on the reader that the real assistance, after all, which this eloquent and skilled man afforded to the believers of Corinth, was owing neither to his winning eloquence nor deep learning, but to the grace of God, to the Divine influence. St. Paul, with his usual generosity, bears his noble tribute to the work done by the man whom some wished to set up as his rival: ‘I have planted, Apollos watered;’ and, ‘I have laid the foundation and another buildeth thereon’ (1 Corinthians 3:6-10).
Acts 18:28. For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ. His special training in the Alexandrian school of Philo, coupled with his great knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures, eminently fitted the eloquent convert for the peculiar controversy which the Jewish frequenters of the synagogue delighted in. Apollos, we read, was singularly successful in convincing the Jews of Corinth, the very men perhaps who dragged Paul to the judgment seat of Gallio, that Jesus was the Christ. It was perhaps the knowledge of that bitter hostile spirit to Jesus of Nazareth on the part of his countrymen at Corinth which led Apollos, conscious of his powers in such controversies, to desire this Corinthian mission. The expression ‘publicly’ points especially to his work in public disputations in the synagogue and elsewhere.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 18". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany