Converting an Eloquent Preacher

By Connie W. Adams

Paul cut short his visit to Ephesus. He “entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews” and some “desired him to tarry longer time with them.” But Paul was in a hurry this time. “He consented not” but promised to come back, God willing. Paul left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus and continued his journey into Syria (Acts 18:18-28).

Apollos of Alexandria

Sometime later, a very able, learned and fervent preacher came to Ephesus. He was Apollos of Alexandria. When Alexander the Great founded the city of Alexandria in northern Egypt, he settled it in part with learned and wealthy Jews. It became a show place for Grecian culture. Its library was known far and wide. It was here that the Septuagint translation was made. Seventy scholars were assembled to translate the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek. Jesus and his apostles later used this translation.

Apollos was not just an educated preacher. He was “mighty in the scriptures” (Acts 18:24). His was not a casual knowledge. It was deep It was also precise for he taught “accurately” the things of the Lord (v. 25, NKJV). Somewhere in his travels, possibly into Judea, he had learned of the work of John the Baptist and of his baptism. He had a clear understanding of the work John was to do and that means he knew well the prophecies which foretold the work of John the Baptist but also of the Messiah for whom John came to prepare the way. The trouble was, he did not know that the one whose way John came to prepare had indeed come and accomplished his work.

Apollos was no ordinary speaker. Luke says he was “an eloquent man” (Acts 18:24). He had a way with words. Not many speakers are able to capture the imagination of an audience and hold it spell-bound. Further, his style was enhanced by fervency in the spirit. He poured out his heart in his work. He was neither dry nor boring. There was nothing cold or matter-of-fact with him. What a combination we have here: a well trained man who was mighty in the Scriptures, eloquent, fervent and precise. What more could be wanted?

Apollos Needed More Instruction

This powerful preacher knew “only the baptism of John.” But that baptism was only for Israel and was preparatory in nature. It was to cause those who submitted to it to believe on him who should come after. There is no indication that Apollos was attempting to persuade Gentiles to submit to the baptism of John. In Ephesus he was involved in boldly speaking in the Jewish synagogue (v. 26). That’s where Priscilla and Aquila heard him. No doubt they marveled at his knowledge, speaking ability and fervent manner. But they also saw that something was lacking. John’s baptism had served its purpose. The one whose way John prepared had come, had died, had been gloriously raised and was now seated at the right hand of the Father.

A Primer in Personal Evangelism

There is a time for a head-butting confrontation. There are also times when something else is better. Priscilla and Aquila, this devoted husband and wife, these tentmakers, “took him aside and explained unto him the way of God more accurately” (v. 26). How did they know he would be receptive? They did not. That was his choice to make, not theirs. They were not intimidated by his knowledge and ability. They did not search for a thousand reasons to put off trying to teach this man. They were not awed by the fact that they were common laborers, or at best small business people, and this man had obviously been given the best of training. They knew something he did not know and which he needed to know. So they told him. They did not try to match oratory with him in a public forum. They “took him aside” for their teaching.

We learn a great deal about the true character of this man. With all his knowledge and skill as a speaker, he was yet humble. He received their instruction. We next find him taking leave of the disciples at Ephesus and going into Achaia. When he left, he took with him a letter from the brethren to introduce him to disciples he would meet there. People with honest hearts will accept help wherever they can find it. The power to change the thinking of Apollos did not reside in the skill or eloquence of either Priscilla or Aquila, but in the gospel itself. It is God’s power to save (Rom. 1:16).

Apollos — A Faithful Worker for Christ Shortly after learning the way more accurately, he was found utilizing the same scriptural knowledge (now with added application), the same eloquence with the same boldness and fervency of spirit to preach the whole counsel of God. His arrival in Achaia “helped them much which had believed through grace.” It should be the simple desire of every preacher of the gospel to “help much” believers where they go. Some men prove to be a hindrance rather than a help. Not Apollos.

He was not only effective among the brethren in building them up, but he was a powerful weapon for good in teaching the unbelieving Jews. “He mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, shewing by the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ” (v. 28). Notice he did not convince them through his Alexandrian training, nor his power to paint word pictures, nor by flamboyance of style. While these might have been natural to his delivery, the reason he convinced the Jews was that he showed them “by the scriptures.” It is the business of every preacher to be sure that the ultimate appeal to hearers is to the Scriptures. Knowledge, eloquence, fervency and boldness are powerless without that. Without Scripture, we may succeed in eliciting the adoration and awe of those who hear us, but we cannot lead them to the Lord.

This good brother worked effectively at Corinth. Paul said he had planted but it was Apollos who watered and “God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:4-6). Paul used himself and Apollos to teach the brethren not to honor men above “that which is written” (I Cor. 4:6). Let us learn well the lesson that knowledgeable, eloquent, bold, fervent preachers must always be measured by “that which is written.”

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 7, p. 3-4
April 1, 1993