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Bible Gemz 1756 - Apollos' Inadequacy - He Only Knew about John's Baptism (Acts 18:24-28)

February 11, 2018

Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt.

He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism.

When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately.

Apollos had been thinking about going to Achaia, and the brothers and sisters in Ephesus encouraged him to go. They wrote to the believers in Achaia, asking them to welcome him. When he arrived there, he proved to be of great benefit to those who, by God’s grace, had believed.

He refuted the Jews with powerful arguments in public debate. Using the Scriptures, he explained to them that Jesus was the Messiah. (Acts 18:24-28)



If as F. F. Bruce wrote: “Apollos combined great biblical learning and accurate knowledge of the story of Jesus with spiritual enthusiasm” where then was his inadequacy? Why was it that Priscilla and Aquila needed to take him aside to explain the way of God more accurately? And what was it they told him, when he was “an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, trained in Alexandria, had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with enthusiasm and accuracy?


What exactly was it that they needed to teach him? 

Was it only concerning baptisms that he required tutoring or more?


There is difference of opinion over what exactly it was which made Apollos’ teaching inadequate. Some commentators think that his ability in speaking and his delivery of the material was “accurate” but that he lacked sound “doctrine”. Others think the first reference to accuracy was only in the facts related to Jesus but where he lacked was his understanding of the doctrine of the promise of the Spirit and His performance and role. That however seems to me to say more about the one who comes up with such a doctrinal focus. 


Interpreting the words written for us in Scripture can often indicate the theological position of the interpreter rather than the intention of the writer behind the words. 


Here are some perspectives clipped from the Commentaries 



Knowing only the baptism of John - Whether it seems that the knowledge of John’s preaching and baptism had been propagated extensively in other nations beside Judea. The Messiah was expected about that time. The foreign Jews would be waiting for him; and the news of John’s ministry, doctrine, and success would be rapidly propagated from synagogue to synagogue in the surrounding nations. John preached repentance, and baptized with reference to him that was to come after him and this doctrine Apollos seems to have embraced.



Surely it is possible for a man to teach accurately what he knows; and it is possible that another, who possesses more information on the subject than the former, may teach him more accurately, or give him a larger portion of knowledge. Apollo knew the baptism of John; but he knew nothing farther of Jesus Christ than that baptism taught. Aquila and Priscilla were acquainted with the whole doctrine of the Gospel: the doctrine of Christ dying for our sins, and rising again for our justification; and in this they instructed Apollo; and this was more accurate information than what he had before received, through John’s ministry.



knowing only the baptism of John; which must be understood, not of the ordinance of baptism singly, but of the miracles of Christ, or of his death and resurrection from the dead, and the benefits and effects thereof; and of the pouring out of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles, and the light and knowledge which were communicated thereby.


IVP Commentary

If Luke had not added the qualification he knew only the baptism of John, we would be inclined to think Apollos was a Christian, for he knew the gospel, the way of the Lord, which is to be identified with "things about Jesus" . Luke normally presents Christian baptism as the outward sign that the inward reception of the Spirit at conversion has taken place (Acts 2:38-39, Acts 9:17-18, Acts 10:44-48). To present Apollos as having the Spirit without having obtained Christian baptism would be an anomaly. Some may see the lack of reference to Christian baptism as an indicator that Apollos is considered to have the Spirit and therefore not to need baptism.

We encounter less difficulty, though, if we take Apollos to be a knowledgeable, fervent but unregenerate disciple of John the Baptist who believes Jesus is the Messiah but does not understand the present saving significance of his death and resurrection. Further, he is unaware of what Pentecost means for all who are baptized in the name of Jesus. The way of the Lord that he knows, then, is not the gospel, but God's way of salvation set forth in the promises of the Old Testament Isa 40:3-5 / Luke 3:4-6). The "boiling over of spirit" with which he speaks is the fervor of his own spirit (NIV) and not the Holy Spirit's glow. 

The best analogy to Apollos today is a nominal, cultural Christian raised in the liberal theological tradition of the West. Such a person may display the same fervor and the same knowledge about the earthly Jesus' life and teachings. These concerns rightly answer the venerable question "What would Jesus do?" But since they focus only on human effort, they trap such people in a life of humanly induced goodness and, at worst, the emptiness of dull religious practice. Salvation by grace and the blessing of the indwelling Holy Spirit are completely missed.


Jamieson, Fausset & Brown

This man was instructed in the way of the Lord ... knowing only the baptism of John — He was instructed, probably, by some disciple of the Baptist, in the whole circle of John’s teaching concerning Jesus, but no more: he had yet to learn the new light which the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost had thrown upon the Redeemer’s death and resurrection.


Pentecostal Interpreters

claim this verse indicates Apollos knew nothing of the baptism of the spirit, not just the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost rather than the infilling or the fullness of the Spirit which comes with the second blessing. In short that Apollos did not speak in tongues and therefore did not have the sign gift of the baptism of the Spirit.  



Knowing only the baptism of John. We cannot attempt to describe with any precision the amount of knowledge which this ‘knowing only the baptism of John’ included. Apollos, while knowing well the story of the great events of the life of the Holy One and Just, would certainly be ignorant of much if not all of the sacramental teaching of the Lord Jesus. He had probably never heard or only dimly comprehended the signification of the outpouring of the Spirit on the first Pentecost morning after the resurrection. Indeed, these disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:2-3) appear to have been in total ignorance respecting the person and office of the Holy Spirit.



Knowing only the baptism of John. It is difficult at first sight to conceive how at this time anyone could know the baptism of John without knowing further that of Christ. But a possible account of it is that Apollos living at Alexandria, where as yet there was no Christian Church. had met some Jews who had been in Judaea at the time of John’s ministry, and had heard from them of John’s baptism and preaching, and of his testimony to Jesus as the Messiah, but had had no further opportunity of careful instruction in the faith of Jesus Christ till he happened to come to Ephesus and make the acquaintance of his compatriots, Aquila and Priscilla. They hearing him speak with fervor and eloquence, but perceiving that his knowledge was imperfect, immediately invited him to their house, and instructed him in the fullness of the truth of the gospel. This necessarily included the doctrine of Christian baptism, which we cannot doubt was administered to him.



What conclusions do you come to concerning what Luke meant when he wrote, “however, he knew only about John’s baptism.”?




People should be rewarded for exceptional performance, not for showing up. Frank Sonnenberg


The man who does more than he is paid for will soon be paid for more than he does. Albert Einstein


There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them. George Orwell


The greatest danger for most of us is not that our goal is too high and we miss it, but it is too low and we reach it. Michaelangelo 


God gave us an ordinary world filled with the raw materials to create the extraordinary. Within is the seed to be extra ordinary. 



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