19. And he came to Ephesus, and left them there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
Now Paul comes to Ephesus. This was a great city in what was called Asia under the Romans, but which we would consider to be just a small province in what is often called today Asia Minor. At the time, though, even call all of Asia Minor was not called “Asia,” but just this province. Ephesus was an important city in the province of Asia, and was the capital of what was called Ionia. It was a city Paul had not yet reached, and we will read extensively of the work Paul did there in the following chapters.
Now in Ephesus, Paul leaves Priscilla and Aquila. It is interesting to note that Priscilla, the wife, is mentioned before her husband Aquila, since the rule in Greek was to mention the most important one first. It seems that Priscilla was the stronger person in this couple, something that is not unheard of today, but was probably rarer at that time. Perhaps she was the more enthusiastic follower of the Lord, so she is given the first position. That they were both faithful to the Lord and great friends to Paul cannot be doubted, however.
Priscilla and Aquila stop following Paul at this point, so apparently the plan is for him to continue to Jerusalem to fulfill his vow, and then return to them to continue his work in Ephesus. However, he does have time to at least begin the work before moving on to Jerusalem, and he does that here.
Now Paul enters into the synagogue of the Jews and reasons with them. This shows that his standard conduct, the pattern of going to the Jews first and primarily that he has followed all throughout Acts, has not changed after what happened in Corinth. Though in verse 6 of this chapter he had said, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles,” it is clear from this verse that what he meant was only in Corinth. As soon as he is in a new city, his policy of going to the synagogue and speaking to the Jews is restored. That was the work God gave him to do, and that was the primary focus in the book of Acts. To deny this is simply to deny the clear testimony of the Word of God.
20. When they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent,
It seems that the Jews in the synagogue in Ephesus are quite interested in what Paul has to say, and want to hear more from him. Things seem to be going quite well for Paul here, and he does not yet seem to be facing the opposition he did in other places. However, Paul does not stay long in the city, but plans his departure. The Jews there are not ready to see him go after such a short time, and ask him to stay with them longer. While their request was certainly a good one, Paul does not consent to it.
21. but took leave of them, saying, “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.” And he sailed from Ephesus.
Here we learn why Paul refused their request to stay longer, as he explains it to them himself as he is leaving them. He tells them that he must by all means keep the coming feast in Jerusalem. There can be little doubt but that this is what his vow was about that we read about in verse 18. He had vowed to keep the coming feast, whatever feast it was, in Jerusalem, as the law commanded. While he was out on his journeys throughout the world, he was kept from keeping the feast in the place where God chose to place His name, the city of Jerusalem. It has been years now since Paul was last able to keep one of the three yearly feasts in Jerusalem, but it seems that he has made a vow that for this next one, he is going to celebrate it as the law requires.
So Paul reveals that he must leave the Ephesians for now. However, he does promise them that he will return again to them once he has kept this feast, as God is willing. And so he gets passage on a ship and sails from Ephesus.
One interesting thing to note here is that Paul considered the keeping of his vow, and the keeping of the feast in Jerusalem, even more important than proclaiming the Word of God in Ephesus. Some have the idea that nothing is more important than the sharing of the gospel, and that any sin committed is permissible as long as it is for the purpose of spreading the truth of salvation to a lost person. However, it does not seem at all that Paul takes this view of things. To him, whether it is proclaiming the gospel now or waiting until later, all must be done in obedience to God. How they are reached, and whether or not it is in obedience to the Lord he is seeking to bring them to, is important to Paul. He knows that he cannot serve God while breaking a vow made to God. He must fulfill the obligation his vow placed him under before he can continue his work with the Ephesians.
Was Paul then foolish to make the vow? Was this something he never should have done? I do not think so. For Paul certainly did not “learn his lesson” here, but apparently did the same thing in Acts 20:16 (compare with Acts 21:23-24.) While serving others was important, serving God was of primary importance. Paul knew that the keeping of the feasts that God gave to Israel was still an important thing. He demonstrated this by his zeal to do so, even to the point of making a vow that he would accomplish this. This was not a bad vow. God’s apostle had made it, and he knew what was expected of him at this time. It was good for him to keep these feasts, and he made this vow to prove his eagerness to do so.
22. And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up and greeted the church, he went down to Antioch.
So Paul’s ship lands on the coast of Israel at Caesarea. From there, he goes up to greet the ekklesia. This brief statement describes his trip to Jerusalem, and his time there to keep the feast. This is called greeting “the church” because he did meet with them and fellowshipped with them during the feast. Probably they celebrated this feast together. What that celebration was is hard to say, as the text does not specify which of the feasts this was.
So what was this “church” the ekklesia that Paul greeted and spent the feast with? As we have discussed before, an ekklesia is an out-positioned group of people. It does not mean all the people, or even all the believers. It has to do with a separate group of people, often a leadership group. The ekklesia that Paul met with here was the leadership group in Jerusalem, which would have included the twelve apostles and those with them. These are the people whom God had chosen to form His new, kingdom ekklesia of the Acts period. They were His leaders, chosen to replace the wicked scribes, chief priests, and Pharisees who had rejected the Lord Jesus Christ and His words. Ever since Acts 9, Paul has had the right to fellowship with these people, and he has done so whenever he has gone to Jerusalem, though his own jurisdiction is out among the other nations, and he is not really a part of the ekklesia in the land. So Paul upon coming to this feast greets the ekklesia there, and spends the feast with them. Then, he departs, and returns to his own territory: his home base of Antioch in Syria.
23. After he had spent some time there, he departed and went over the region of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.
So Paul has come full circle once again, and is back in the city from which he had originally been sent out on his mission for the Lord. However, this time is a little different from the last time. When Paul and Barnabas returned in Acts 14, they had completed the work which God had sent them out to do, and so they remained in Antioch awaiting further orders, which apparently Paul eventually received. This time, however, while Paul has returned, he has left unfinished work behind him, and so if the Lord wills he must quickly return to it. Moreover, there is no great crisis going on in Antioch, as there was the first time in Acts 15, to demand his attention. Thus, though he spends some time in Antioch, it is not too long before he again departs.
Now Paul does not head immediately back to Ephesus. Instead, he goes over the region of Galatia and Phrygia in order. If we compare this to Acts 16:6, it would seem that this is a description of those same regions Paul traveled to on his first mission with Barnabas. “In order” probably means that he visited them in much the same order as that in which he had originally come and proclaimed to them in Acts 13 and 14. As he visits them, his task is to strengthen all the disciples.
We might wonder why Paul would visit these places, rather than sailing straight back to Ephesus, where he had left his work unfinished? No doubt the Lord had given him direction regarding this. Perhaps He knew that the disciples in these places needed the encouragement and strengthening that Paul by his presence could provide. Moreover, by land these places were on the way to Ephesus, so Paul was at least moving generally in the right direction to get back to his work there. So at any rate, whatever the reason for it, this is how Paul proceeds.
24. Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus.
Now we are introduced to this certain Jewish man named Apollos, who at this time, while the people there are still waiting for Paul to return, arrives at Ephesus. Apollos means “Given by Apollo” in Greek, Apollo being the Greek god of speech. It is interesting that a man who is described as a “Jew” was given such a name. Yet whatever the reason, that was his name. He was born at Alexandria, we read, that famous city in Egypt, where many learned Jews were known to reside. In fact, it was in Alexandria that the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures, was made. So Apollos was “a citizen of no mean city,” as Paul said of his own city of Tarsus in Acts 21:39.
Now this man, named after the god of speech, lives up to his name, as we learn, for he is an eloquent man in speech. Moreover, his skill extends not merely to empty words, for he is also mighty in the Scriptures. A most impressive thing indeed! Few today seem willing to take the time even to be adequate in the Scriptures, not to mention “mighty.” This Apollos took the words of God seriously, and he had taken the time and put in the effort to get to know them very, very well. This speaks highly of the man indeed!
25. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John.
Apollos was not ignorant of the way of the Lord Jesus Christ. He had been instructed in this, we read. Moreover, he was of a fervent spirit, and so was eager to speak and teach the things he knew to others. The things he taught were accurate, we read, so he was doing a good work for the Lord. However, there was a gap in his knowledge. The only baptism, the only identification he knew of, was the identification of John. This identification, as we know from reading the gospels on the subject, had to do with metanoia or submission, and was accompanied by a water ritual.
Now while the baptism of John was a true identification and was very appropriate during the time when John performed it, the Lord has now revealed a new identification, and His people are now to be identified with holy spirit, that is, holy power. Yet Apollos knows nothing of this. He is behind on the times. He is stuck in the past work of God, and has not moved on to present truth. How many are very like him today! They are trying to pattern their thinking and behavior after God’s old work in the book of Acts, not realizing that God has moved on. They do not know His new truth for today, as it is revealed in the books of Paul written after the second great turning point in the New Testament.
Why did Apollos not know more than this? It is likely that he had been in Israel at some point and had learned the things that he knew. Perhaps he had been a disciple of John for a time, and perhaps even a follower of the Lord. He may have been there during the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and learned about these things. However, it seems that he departed from the land at this point, and had missed out on the things that happened at Pentecost and all that followed. As such, he was missing the knowledge that he would have gotten had he been there to see, experience, and learn from these things. How exactly this came about we are not told, but this is apparently what happened, and so here is Apollos, knowing some good and true things, but not enough.
26. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
This Apollos begins speaking boldly in the synagogue in Ephesus. His message must have revolved around John’s baptism, that these people should identify themselves with the metanoia ones, the submissive ones, in Israel. While this was good, it was not the most current truth. Paul’s companions Aquila and Priscilla, whom Paul had left behind him there in verse 19, heard him speaking these things. Rather than correct this fervent man in public, they take him aside privately. Then, they explain to him the way of God more completely. No doubt they filled him in on the things he had missed, and the details of the new work God was now doing since the identification of John. Perhaps Apollos had been one of the disciples of John the Identifier, and had left Jerusalem before the giving of the Holy Spirit. At any rate, he now learns what he had not known before.
The really impressive thing about Apollos here is that this eminent, scholarly, well-spoken man is willing to listen to and learn from a tentmaker and his wife. This would be like a college professor learning from someone with barely a high school education. Moreover, he was willing to learn not just from Aquila, but also from his wife Priscilla. It was most unusual for a man to listen to a woman regarding anything, or to condescend to be taught by her. It shows the honest and humble spirit of Apollos that he was willing to learn from such people. Yet he was willing, and by them he came to know the truth more accurately. Let us all strive to have such an attitude, and to be willing to hear the truth, no matter whom the people might be who bring it to us.
The word “accurately” here has to do with accurateness and completeness. Apollos quite simply had a hole in his knowledge, as I said. He did not know everything about the work God was currently doing, but instead was stuck in an old work that was not up-to-date. He needed to learn more completely the things of the Lord Jesus, and this Aquila and Priscilla his wife act to do. We too can seek to help others who are stuck in past dispensations to get up-to-date on what God’s current work is, and what He is doing. Hopefully, there are men like Apollos whom we can help to see these truths. Unfortunately, many are not only stuck in the past, but also insist on being so, and refuse to move on to God’s current truth. Let us never be like this, but rather be diligent to learn what the completeness of truth for today entails.
27. And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace;
Apollos determines to leave Ephesus and head west over to Achaia, which we call Greece. The brethren in Ephesus apparently are quite supportive of Apollos and of his plans, and so they write a letter of commendation for him to the brethren in Achaia, telling them to receive him. That way, these believers will not have to find out for themselves that Apollos is a fervent and eloquent disciple. They will be able to take it from the letter from the brethren in Ephesus. Remember, Aquila and Priscilla had been in Corinth while Paul was there, and so these believers will know them quite well, and will trust any letter of recommendation from them as being an accurate statement of the truth. Their testimony along with that of the others in Ephesus, therefore, will be sure to convince those in Achaia to take Apollos in as a brother, and to listen to what he has to say.
So Apollos goes on his journey to Greece, and when he arrives, he is received by the believers there. His knowledge of the Scriptures as well as his fervent spirit are a great benefit to those believers, and he helps them greatly.
We learn that Apollos helped those who “had believed through grace.” This is an interesting phrase. We know that it is by His grace that God has held out salvation to the world of men, and it is through this grace that we are made believers and come to belong to Him. Without His grace, our faith would not be possible. Without His grace, our faith could not save us. Praise God for the opportunity we all have to believe through grace!
28. for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.
Clearly the Jews who had rejected the truth about Christ had not gone away in the time since Paul left Achaia. They are still active, and they oppose the things that Apollos has to say. They have no chance against Apollos, however. He publicly refutes their arguments against the truth of the Lord Jesus. His arguments are not just based on his own cleverness or oratorical skill, either. He is able to show from the Scriptures that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Of course, this is not the New Testament Scriptures that are referred to here. The Jews only recognized the Old Testament, and it is from these books that Apollos demonstrates the truth of Christ. So these Jews not only have Apollos against them, but also the Word of God. There is little they can do in the face of opposition like this! No wonder the believers in Achaia were greatly helped by Apollos.