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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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In Acts 18:24-25 Apollos is described as ‘a Jew, an Alexandrian by race, a learned man, mighty in the Scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in spirit,’ who came to Ephesus when Aquila and Priscilla had been left there by St. Paul to do pioneering work pending the Apostle’s return. Apollos ‘spake and taught carefully the things concerning Jesus’; but his knowledge of Jesus was limited, for he knew ‘only the baptism of John.’

It is not easy to elucidate the meaning of the rather obscure phrases in Acts 18:25-26. Schmiedel cuts the knot by making Acts 18:25 c, Acts 18:26 bc later accretions. Wendt throws out the whole of Acts 18:25, regarding Apollos as a Jew having no connexion with John or with Jesus, McGiffert is of opinion that the description of Apollos as ‘instructed in the way of the Lord’ and as teaching ‘the things concerning Jesus’ is erroneous; Acts 18:25 a must have been added by St. Luke. ‘We are to think of Apollos as a disciple of John who was carrying on the work of his master and preaching to his countrymen repentance in view of the approaching kingdom of God’ (Apostolic Age, 219f.). Harnack says: ‘Apollos would appear to have been originally a regular missionary of John the Baptist’s movement; but the whole narrative of Acts at this point is singularly coloured and obscure’ (Expansion of Christianity, i. 331 n. [Note: . note.] ).

Without falling back on any of these somewhat contradictory explanations, we gather that Apollos had an imperfect hearsay acquaintance with the story of Jesus, though enough to convince him of His Messiahship. If the twelve men found in Ephesus by St. Paul (Acts 19:1-2) may be treated as disciples of Apollos, he had not heard ‘whether the Holy Ghost was given.’ His bold eloquence in the synagogue attracted Aquila and Priscilla (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ), who ‘took him unto them and expounded the way of God more carefully.’ This indefinite expression does not carry us very far. It seems unlikely that Apollos was baptized at Ephesus, for the twelve disciples are still ignorant of baptism, nor was there a Christian Church in Ephesus until after St. Paul’s return later. In this connexion, the Western reading is interesting: that ‘the brethren’ who encouraged Apollos to go to Achaia were Corinthian Christians. Perhaps they recognized the need of fuller instruction than could be given in Ephesus for such a promising disciple, who was likely to become a powerful Christian teacher.

The work of Apollos in Corinth is described as ‘helping them much which had believed through grace’ (Acts 18:27). St. Paul’s mission must have left a number of uninstructed Christians in Corinth. These converts had been persuaded to ‘believe through grace.’ But the Christian life of some was undeveloped; and the powerful preaching of Apollos did much to help them.

This conception of the work of Apollos in Corinth is in accord with St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:6, ‘I planted; Apollos watered.’ It is justifiable also to recognize Apollos in St. Paul’s reference to men who ‘build on the foundation’ he had laid (1 Corinthians 3:11-12), and to ‘tutors in Christ’ (1 Corinthians 4:15) in contrast to himself as their ‘father,’ Evidently Apollos’ work was not so much preaching the gospel to the unconverted as buttressing the faith of Christians, partly by an eloquent exposition of the OT, and partly by a powerful apologetic which silenced opponents and strengthened believers.

But this confirming work done by Apollos in Corinth had other effects which were less useful. It appears to have been influential in determining the subsequent character of the Church. Preaching to recent converts whose intellectual equipment was slender and whose Christian knowledge must have been elementary, Apollos, whose own instruction had been imperfect, would inevitably put the impress of his own mode of thinking upon them. Thus there arose a party in the Corinthian Church with the watch-word ‘I am of Apollos.’ Although some of these had been converted by St. Paul’s preaching, they had been ‘much helped’ by Apollos. Under the influence of their ‘tutor in Christ,’ their interpretation of Christian truth and duty took on the hue of Apollos rather than of St. Paul.

The distinctive elements in the preaching of Apollos may be gauged from two considerations. (1) He was ‘a Jewish Christian versed in the Alexandrian philosophy,’ whose ‘method of teaching differed from that of Paul, in the first place in being presented in a strikingly rhetorical form, and also by the use of Alexandrian speculation and allegorical interpretation of Scripture.… Apollos sought to reinforce the Gospel which was common to both [Paul and himself], by means of the Alexandrian philosophy and methods of exegesis’ (Pfleiderer, i. 145f.). It is questionable, however, whether the gospel he preached was in all respects ‘common to both Paul and himself.’ It cannot be without significance that St. Paul has to emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit so definitely as he does in 1 Cor. (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:10-16; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 12:1-4). Apollos when he arrived in Ephesus did not know of the giving of the Holy Spirit. Even in Corinth his efforts were to show by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 18:28). It seems likely that his preaching had this Jewish tone all through, and lacked the spiritual note so dominant in St. Paul’s preaching. It was not Judaistic; it was ‘a middle term between Paulinism and Judaism’ (Pfleiderer, i. 148).

The last NT reference to Apollos (Titus 3:13) connects him with ‘Zenas the lawyer,’ probably a convert from the Jewish scribes. This confirms the idea that Apollos maintained a Hebraistic type of preaching, though his Alexandrian training differentiated him from the ‘Judaizers’ who pursued St. Paul so relentlessly, Apollos did not recognize that he was anti-Pauline. But the inevitable result of his preaching was to produce a different type of Christian from the type St. Paul desired.

(2) Despite Weizsäcker’s disclaimer, some of the results of the teaching of Apollos can he recognized in those irregularities in the Corinthian Church to which St. Paul refers in 1 Corinthians. Would not his eloquence, his philosophical bent, and his reiterated emphasis on Jesus as the Christ, lead to imperfect conversions? And may not the preference for the gift of tongues, or the difficulties about marriage, be traced naturally to this eloquent ascetic? In Corinth, St. Paul resolved ‘not to know anything save Christ, and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2). Apollos was less conscious of the dangers of another mode of preaching; and his convincing eloquence might win converts who had not ‘believed through grace.’ This judgment is in harmony with St. Paul’s references to Apollos. They scarcely justify the remark of Pfleiderer that St. Paul and Apollos were ‘on the best of terms’ (i. 146). The relations were correct, but hardly cordial. The two men were friendly; but they occupied different standpoints, and could not always agree. St. Paul was very anxious to avoid friction in Corinth. Therefore he wrote about ‘the parties’ in a conciliatory spirit, acknowledging generously the work of Apollos. In the same spirit, Apollos did not accept the invitation of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:12). But there are hints that St. Paul did not reckon Apollos among the great Christian teachers. He is not mentioned among the founders of the Church in 2 Corinthians 1:19. In 1 Corinthians 16:12 he is referred to only as ‘the brother,’ whore other people’s work is described with enthusiasm. St. Paul’s references to his own preaching ‘not in wisdom of words’; to ‘wood, hay, stubble’ as possibly built on the foundation he has laid; to ‘ten thousand tutors in Christ’ who may conceivably mislead: these are compatible at least with St. Paul’s fear lest the work of Apollos might be somewhat subversive of his own. Then in Titus 3:13 St. Paul links Apollos with Zenas in a kindly spirit, but not as if he were an outstanding leader. Probably, whilst sincerely respecting each other, they recognized frankly the differences between them; and in a very creditable manner each man went on his own way. Like St. Paul, Apollos tried to avoid fomenting the party spirit in Corinth; and the NT leaves him in Crete, as a travelling preacher.

Several scholars favour the theory, suggested by Luther, that Apollos was the author of ‘Hebrews.’ Probably we must accept Bruce’s summing up: ‘Apollos is the kind of man wanted. With this we must be content’ (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii. 338a).

Literature.-articles in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and Encyclopaedia Biblica on ‘Apollos,’ ‘Corinth,’ ‘Corinthians’; W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, London, 1895, pp. 252, 267ff.; O. Pfleiderer, Prim. Christianity, do. 1906, i. 145-160; C. v. Weizsäcker, Apostolic Age, i. 2 [do. 1897] 319-322, ii. [1895] 97; A. Harnack, Expansion of Christianity2, do. 1908, i. 79; A. C. McGiffert, Apostolic Age, Edinburgh, 1897, p. 290ff.; A. Wright, Some NT Problems, London, 1898, p. 309; A. Deane, Friends and Fellow-Labourers of St. Paul, do. 1907, p. 20; F. J. A. Hort, Journal of Theological Studies , Oct. 1905; and Schaff-Herzog [Note: chaff-Herzog The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia (Eng. tr. of PRE).] , article ‘Apollos.’ For authorship of ‘Hebrews,’ see Comm. on Heb. by M. Dods (Expositor’s Greek Testament ), 229, and article in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) on ‘Hebrews, Epistle to.”

J. E. Roberts.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Apollos'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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