Acts Lesson Thirty-eight: Acts 18:18-28 – Paul Returns to Antioch and Apollos Appears

18 So Paul, having stayed on for many days, said good-bye to the brothers and sailed away to Syria. Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He shaved his head at Cenchreae because he had taken a vow. 19 When they reached Ephesus he left them there, but he himself entered the synagogue and engaged in discussion with the Jews. 20 And though they asked him to stay for a longer time, he declined, 21 but he said good-bye and stated, “I’ll come back to you again, if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 

22 On landing at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and went down to Antioch. 23 And after spending some time there, he set out, traveling through one place after another in the Galatian territory and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. 

24 A Jew named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, an eloquent man who was powerful in the use of the Scriptures, arrived in Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught the things about Jesus accurately, although he knew only John’s baptism. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him home and explained the way of God to him more accurately. 27 When he wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers wrote to the disciples urging them to welcome him. After he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace. 28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. (HCSB)

This lesson is comprised of two parts.

  • The conclusion of Paul’s second missionary journey and the start of the third – verses 18-23.
  • The introduction of Apollos – verses 24-28.

Paul Returns…and Sets Out Again

Verses 18-22 are a transition point between Paul’s second and third missionary journeys. This section concludes the second journey and introduces the third. Let’s look at the information regarding this section of the passage.

  • Paul “stayed on for many days.”
    • The fact that Paul was able to stay in Corinth for an extended period of time underscores the  importance of Gallio’s refusal to hear the case against Paul.
    • The period of time that Paul spent in Corinth was approximately eighteen months.
  • Priscilla and Aquila accompanied Paul to the port of Cenchreae and sailed with Paul to Ephesus.
  • What is the idea behind Paul shaving his head because of a vow that he took?
    • The vow that Paul took was likely a Nazarite vow that is explained in Numbers 6.
      • The vow itself was voluntary in nature.
      • Paul was not abandoning grace by taking the vow.
      • It was a declaration of personal devotion to God.
      • Paul let his hair grow for a specific length of time before cutting it once the vow was complete. He would also abstain from using any fruit of the vine in any form.
    • The passage doesn’t explain why Paul took the vow. However, there are a few plausible reasons.
      • It may have been a dedication during the early and challenging times of Paul’s ministry in Corinth.
      • It could have been an expression of gratitude to God for all He had done for Paul and those working with him.
    • It was customary for the person to complete the vow in Jerusalem and throw the cut hair into the fire as part of the burnt offering. However, some historical writings indicate it was also acceptable to cut the hair in another location and then go to Jerusalem to make the sacrifice. 
    • The fact that Paul would make a Nazarite vow would signal that he hadn’t left his Jewish roots even though he was a follower of Christ. This would serve as a bridge in reaching the Jewish communities where he evangelized.
  • The passage doesn’t indicate how long Paul stayed in Ephesus, but there is every indication that it was a short stop.
    • It would appear that the Jews in Ephesus were receptive to Paul’s teaching on the Gospel.
    • They wanted Paul to stay longer, likely to learn more from him.
    • However, Paul felt it was necessary to continue his journey. It could be because of the completion of the Nazarite vow and the necessity of making the sacrifice in Jerusalem.
    • But Paul did desire to return to the believers in Ephesus.
  • Priscilla and Aquila stayed in Ephesus while Paul continued his journey.
  • Paul arrived at Caesarea and went to the church in Jerusalem.
    • The phrase “he went up and greeted the church” must not be viewed as a geographical statement but rather as a topographical statement. Going up didn’t mean going north; it meant going to a higher elevation. Moving from the port to Jerusalem would require an ascent from the port to the city.
    • Going to Jerusalem immediately after arriving would also allow Paul to offer his hair as a sacrifice, essentially completing the vow.
    • Visiting Jerusalem would also allow Paul to greet the believers there and tell them about his work with the Gentiles. 
    • Paul then traveled back to his sending church in Antioch. At this point, he had been gone for about two years, possibly more, and the believers there were likely overjoyed to see him and hear about the work God was accomplishing with the Gentiles.
  • Luke doesn’t specify how long Paul stayed in Antioch. However, most theologians believe it was about one year before he set out again.
  • Paul then begins his third missionary journey.
    • The journey from Antioch to Ephesus, with the stops along the way, was likely close to 1,300 miles…on foot. The journey would have been much easier by sea, but Paul shows the importance of revisiting the previously planted churches to check on them and provide additional teaching if required.
    • The route Paul took likely led to stops in the following locations.
      • Tarsus.
      • Derbe.
      • Lystra.
      • Iconium.
      • Pisidian Antioch.
      • The reference to Galatia and Phrygia might mean Paul traveled further north and could be evidence Paul established churches in the northern portions of Galatia on his second journey.
    • Paul’s desire to return to Ephesus, where his previous visit had been cut short, didn’t lead him to neglect the other churches he had planted.
  • While Paul traveled to Ephesus, Luke switches the narrative to introduce Apollos.

The Introduction of Apollos

Before we look at the content of this passage, let’s consider what is known about Apollos.

  • He came from Alexandria, which at the time was the second most important city in the Roman Empire.
    • Alexandria was a center for education and philosophy and contained a university with about 700,000 volumes.
    • The population was a mix of Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, and Jews. The Jewish population was about 25% of the total, and they were very influential.
  • It is likely that Apollos was well educated because of where he grew up. We also know that Apollos was well versed in Old Testament Scripture.
  • He was eloquent in his manner of speech.
  • Apollos appears in this passage of Acts, in Titus 3:13, and 1 Corinthians 1:1-4:21.
  • Some, including this writer, believe that Apollos was the author of Hebrews.

Now, let’s look at the passage.

  • It is likely that Apollos had received instruction “in the way of the Lord” while living in Alexandria.
  • At the same time, there were holes within his theology.
  • Since he only knew of John’s baptism, it is logical that we infer his instruction and knowledge of Jesus came from some of John’s disciples who traveled to Alexandria prior to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
    • There was no knowledge of Calvary.
    • There was no knowledge of the resurrection.
    • There was no knowledge of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
    • Apollos had the desire but lacked complete spiritual knowledge.
  • There is theological disagreement over what is meant by “fervent in the spirit.”
    • Some believe it means the Holy Spirit.
    • Others believe it means Apollos’ spirit, his zeal.
    • I believe the second makes more sense. If Apollos were filled with the Holy Spirit, it wouldn’t make sense that he only knew of John’s baptism or he had gaps in his theology.
  • Apollos had both zeal and boldness as he began to teach in the synagogue.
  • While teaching, the holes in Apollos’ theology were discovered by Priscilla and Aquila.
    • Since the couple was already believers before meeting Paul, they already had a foundation in the Christian faith. In addition, Paul would have addressed any weak areas in their knowledge of the Gospel during their time together.
    • Now, Priscilla and Aquila were able to help Apollos grow in his faith just as Paul had helped them.
    • In this example, we see a perfect illustration of discipleship. 
      • Believers begin with limited knowledge and grow under the tutelage of mature believers.
      • Then, as they mature, they are able to fill the same role as tutor those less mature spiritually.
      • Under the tutelage of Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos was able to grow his faith and understanding, leading to him being a powerful servant for Jesus.
    • Apollos then decided he wanted to go to Achaia, where Corinth is located and where Paul had already established a church.
    • Why did Apollos desire to go there? There are a couple of plausible answers.
      • Corinthian Christians passing through Ephesus may have invited him to go there.
      • While being discipled by Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos may have desired to travel to where Paul was and learn further or help Paul in his work.
    • The believers in Ephesus wrote a “letter of recommendation” for Apollos to take to the church in Corinth. 
    • Apollos became a great help and encouragement to the congregation in Corinth. 
      • Apollos appears in the early chapters of 1 Corinthians, and the Corinthian church was grateful for his ministry.
      • Since Apollos was “powerful in the use of Scripture,” he was well suited to present the Gospel to the Jews in Corinth.
    • We can also infer from the text that Apollos was able to outdo the Jews in the debate on whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. 
    • It’s unfortunate that later on we’ll read about factions arising between the different evangelists, something that none of them would have wanted, and Paul addresses quite forcefully.

Applications

  • If you were responsible for starting any ministry group and then handed it over to another believer to lead, make sure you periodically visit to ensure the spiritual health of the group. Sometimes, this can be a fine balancing act between being concerned and intrusive. It would help to let the person to whom you are passing the leadership, to understand that you will check in, at least until you are certain the ministry is running well.
  • It is the responsibility of spiritually mature Christians to help those less mature. Discipleship is a recurring cycle from new believers to spiritual leaders.
  • We need to make sure that we correctly know and understand the Gospel before we begin our evangelism efforts. Apollos’ heart was in the right place, but he lacked a complete understanding. I’m sure we’ve seen or heard a Gospel message that had holes or wrong teaching. This could have either been intentional or accidental. In either case, it can lead people astray. 

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