Apollos—An Eloquent Proclaimer of Christian Truth
WHETHER they have been members of the Christian congregation for many years or for just a few, all Kingdom proclaimers should be interested in making progress as preachers of the good news. That implies increasing our knowledge of God’s Word and our ability to teach it to others. For some, it may mean facing challenges, overcoming difficulties, or making themselves available for increased activity.
The Bible contains several examples of devoted men and women of ancient times who, in different ways, succeeded in making great spiritual progress and reaped rewards for their efforts. One of them was Apollos. When the Scriptures introduce him to us, he is an individual with an imperfect understanding of Christian teachings; just a few years later, however, he is acting as a traveling representative of the first-century congregation. What enabled him to make such progress? He possessed qualities that all of us would do well to imitate.
“Well Versed in the Scriptures”
In about the year 52 C.E., according to the Bible writer Luke, “a certain Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent man, arrived in Ephesus; and he was well versed in the Scriptures. This man had been orally instructed in the way of Jehovah and, as he was aglow with the spirit, he went speaking and teaching with correctness the things about Jesus, but being acquainted with only the baptism of John. And this man started to speak boldly in the synagogue.”—Acts 18:24-26.
Alexandria, Egypt, was the second-largest city in the world after Rome and was one of the most important cultural centers of the time both for Jews and for Greeks. Likely, Apollos acquired his sound knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures and a certain eloquence as a result of an education in the large Jewish community of that city. Where Apollos had learned of Jesus is more difficult to surmise. “He was evidently a traveller—perhaps an itinerant merchant,” suggests scholar F. F. Bruce, “and he could have met Christian preachers in any one of a number of places which he visited.” In any case, even though he spoke and taught with correctness about Jesus, it seems that he had been witnessed to prior to Pentecost of 33 C.E., since he was “acquainted with only the baptism of John.”
As the forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist had given a powerful witness to the whole Israelite nation, and many were baptized at his hands as a symbol of repentance. (Mark 1:5; Luke 3:15, 16) According to a number of historians, among the Jewish population of the Roman Empire, many people’s knowledge of Jesus was limited to what had been preached on the banks of the Jordan. “Their Christianity was at the same point at which it had stood at the commencement of our Lord’s ministry,” say W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson. “They were ignorant of the full meaning of the death of Christ; possibly they did not even know the fact of His resurrection.” It seems that Apollos was also ignorant of the outpouring of holy spirit at Pentecost 33 C.E. Nevertheless, he had acquired some correct information about Jesus, and he did not keep it to himself. In fact, he boldly sought opportunities to speak of what he knew. However, his zeal and enthusiasm were not yet according to accurate knowledge.
Zealous but Humble
Luke’s account continues: “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him into their company and expounded the way of God more correctly to him.” (Acts 18:26) Aquila and Priscilla must have recognized that Apollos’ faith had much in common with their own, but wisely they did not attempt to correct his incomplete understanding in public. We can perhaps imagine that they had a number of personal conversations with Apollos, with the aim of helping him. How did Apollos, a man “powerful . . . in the Scriptures,” react? (Acts 18:24, Kingdom Interlinear) In all probability, Apollos had been preaching his incomplete message in public for some time before meeting Aquila and Priscilla. A proud person could quite easily have refused to accept any correction, but Apollos was humble and grateful to be able to complete his knowledge.
The same unpretentious attitude of Apollos is evident also in his willingness to accept a letter of recommendation from the Ephesian brothers to the congregation in Corinth. The account continues: “Further, because he was desiring to go across into Achaia, the brothers wrote the disciples, exhorting them to receive him kindly.” (Acts 18:27; 19:1) Apollos did not demand to be accepted on his own merits but modestly followed the arrangement of the Christian congregation.
The initial results of Apollos’ ministry in Corinth were excellent. The book of Acts reports: “When he got there, he greatly helped those who had believed on account of God’s undeserved kindness; for with intensity he thoroughly proved the Jews to be wrong publicly, while he demonstrated by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”—Acts 18:27, 28.
Apollos put himself at the service of the congregation, encouraging the brothers by his preparation and zeal. What was the key to his success? Apollos certainly had natural ability and was courageous in sustaining a public debate with the Jews. But more important, he reasoned using the Scriptures.
Though Apollos had a powerful influence among the Corinthians, unfortunately his preaching produced unexpected negative effects. How so? Both Paul and Apollos had done much good in planting and watering the seed of Kingdom truth in Corinth. Paul had preached there in about 50 C.E., some two years before the arrival of Apollos. By the time Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, in about 55 C.E., factions had developed. Some were viewing Apollos as their leader, while others favored Paul or Peter or held only to Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:10-12) Some were saying: ‘I belong to Apollos.’ Why?
The message preached by Paul and Apollos was the same, but they had different personalities. By his own admission, Paul was “unskilled in speech”; Apollos, on the other hand, was “eloquent.” (2 Corinthians 10:10; 11:6) He had abilities that enabled him to get a hearing among some of the Jewish community in Corinth. He succeeded in ‘thoroughly proving the Jews to be wrong,’ whereas Paul, not long before, had left the synagogue.—Acts 18:1, 4-6.
Could this have been the reason for a leaning toward Apollos on the part of some? A number of commentators theorize that the innate passion for philosophical discussion among Greeks may have led some to favor the more stimulating approach of Apollos. Giuseppe Ricciotti suggests that “[Apollos’] colorful language and his high-flown allegories had won him the admiration of many who preferred him to Paul, an unpretentious and unrefined orator.” If, indeed, certain ones wrongly allowed such personal preferences to create divisions among the brothers, it is easy to understand why Paul scathingly criticized the exaltation of “the wisdom of the wise men.”—1 Corinthians 1:17-25.
Such criticism implies no friction between Paul and Apollos, however. Though some have fancifully imagined that these two preachers were bitter opponents fighting to win the affections of the Corinthians, the Scriptures say no such thing. Far from trying to set himself up as the leader of a faction, Apollos had left Corinth, had returned to Ephesus, and was with Paul when he wrote the first letter to the divided congregation.
There was no disunity or rivalry between them; rather, the two were evidently cooperating to resolve the problems in Corinth with mutual confidence. Perhaps Paul had his misgivings about some in Corinth but certainly not about Apollos. The work of the two men was in complete harmony; their teachings were complementary. To quote Paul’s own words: “I planted, Apollos watered,” for both were “God’s fellow workers.”—1 Corinthians 3:6, 9, 21-23.
Like Paul, the Corinthians held Apollos in great esteem, desiring to receive another visit from him. But when Paul invited Apollos to return to Corinth, the Alexandrian declined. Paul says: “Now concerning Apollos our brother, I entreated him very much to come to you . . . , yet it was not his will at all to come now; but he will come when he has the opportunity.” (1 Corinthians 16:12) Apollos may have been reluctant to return because of fears of stirring up further division, or simply because he was busy elsewhere.
The last time Apollos is mentioned in the Scriptures, he was journeying to Crete and perhaps beyond. Again Paul shows particular regard for his friend and fellow worker, asking Titus to provide Apollos and his traveling companion, Zenas, with everything they might need for their trip. (Titus 3:13) By this time, after some ten years of Christian training, Apollos had made sufficient progress to be acting as a traveling representative of the congregation.
Godly Qualities That Facilitate Spiritual Growth
The Alexandrian preacher set a fine example for all modern-day publishers of the good news and, indeed, all who desire to make spiritual progress. We may not be as eloquent as he was, but we can certainly strive to emulate his knowledge and ability in the use of the Scriptures, thus helping sincere seekers of truth. By his example of zealous activity, Apollos “greatly helped those who had believed.” (Acts 18:27) Apollos was humble, self-sacrificing, and willing to serve others. He well understood that there is no room for rivalry or ambition in the Christian congregation, for we are all “God’s fellow workers.”—1 Corinthians 3:4-9; Luke 17:10.
We, like Apollos, can make spiritual progress. Are we willing to improve or expand our sacred service, putting ourselves in a position to be used more fully by Jehovah and his organization? In that case we will be zealous students and proclaimers of Christian truth.