Summary: Being eloquent isn't as important as who you are eloquent for.
Apollos the Eloquent
Today we are introduced to Apollos, who would become part of Paul’s ministry team. But who was Apollos? Let us take a look at one of the major personages of the early Christian Church and from this learn what it means for us today.
A little background information will help make things more clear for us. The text says that Apollos came from Alexandria, a city in Egypt named after Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great conquered a great empire which included Palestine and Egypt. Even though he was a warrior king, he was schooled well in Greek learning by his tutor Aristotle, one of the most famous Greek philosophers and was an excellent student. Even though he was of Macedonian in origin, he was thoroughly Greek in culture. As a result of this conquest, it was his desire to spread Greek culture and learning to his entire empire.
Even though Alexander died young, and his empire suffered political and military setbacks, the social change that Alexander promoted spread throughout the Mediterranean. This process of spreading Greek culture and learning was called Hellenization. The Jewish people were influenced by this Hellenization for over three hundred years. Even though various movements like that of the Maccabees rose up in opposition, the influence of the Greeks was so great that even Jerusalem had Greek-speaking synagogues.
This Hellenization led to the scattering of the Jewish people throughout the world. This was not an exile caused by political setbacks, but rather a voluntary one as the opening of the Greek world to the Jews presented economic opportunities for them. They established communities everywhere including Ephesus and Alexandria.
Of course, as this world opened up to the Jews, they were also introduced to Greek learning and philosophy. Others in the Greek world were also introduced to them as well. This gave the Jews opportunity to share their faith in Yahweh. The Jews were a monotheistic religion and could find some affinity with the Greek philosophers who held to some sort of monotheism as well, even if their God was an idea or could not be personally known. The Jews were asked to translate their Scriptures into Greek, and this was done by seventy Jewish scholars, probably in Alexandria.
In Apollos day, there was another eloquent Alexandrian Jew named Philo Judaeus, or Philo the Jew. It is interesting to see his name is at least part Greek as the name Philo means “friend” or “love” and is part of the root for “philosophy” which means “lover od wisdom.” Philo was someone who deeply wanted to make Jewish belief relevant to the Greeks as well as to keep his fellow Jews from losing their faith and being assimilated en toto to the Greek world and lose their identity. He held to the idea that the Greeks actually got many of their views from Moses, making Moses the chief of philosophers. In this presentation of Moses as a philosopher he used what is called allegorization of the Scripture. What was inspired was not the historical accounts themselves but the moral truths they taught. If Apollos lived today, his approach would be called neo-orthodox. There was a tendency then in turning Scripture into a series of myths or at least reduce the historicity of Scripture in lieu of what these sagas taught.
It cannot be determined whether Apollos knew Philo personally. He was somewhat younger, but due to Philo’s standing in Alexandria, it it probable that he knew of him and of his teaching. Besides being told that Apollos came from Alexandria, it also says that he was a man of learning and by implication eloquent of speech. We see from Corinthians that he certainly was considered to be a much better public speaker than Paul, which Paul himself admits.
Apollos was also thoroughly acquainted with the Holy Scripture. We don’t know how much of his interpretation of Scripture was influenced by his Alexandrian roots, but it is probably fair to say, much. But somewhere, he also was introduced to the teaching of John the Baptist and his followers, perhaps in Ephesus itself as Scripture records a Community of those influenced by the Baptist. John the Baptist could hardly be called a Greek Jew. Apollos was introduced to a radically different means of interpretation of the meaning of Scripture and took to it. He became eloquent in preaching about the Messiah who John said was coming, having been thoroughly taught. Not only with eloquence, but with fervency of Spirit, Apollos preached about the coming Messiah. And here in Acts, it says that he taught this accurately, as far as he went with that message. The way was being prepared for Paul’s message, or what Paul Harvey would say “the rest of the story.”
Paul briefly passed through Ephesus, being pressed to strengthen believers on the way back to giving a report to his home church of Antioch and then to Jerusalem to attend a feast. But he left Aquila and Pricilla behind as a sort of advance team. We know they were tentmakers like Paul, and it would take them a little while to establish their business there. The tent business brought on by the Isthmian games at Corinth had probably diminished leading to seeking opportunity elsewhere. So they left Corinth with Paul.