The Brilliant Alexandrian: Apollos
October 29th, 1978 @ 10:50 AM
THE BRILLIANT ALEXANDRIAN APOLLOS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-29-78 10:50 a.m.
So we are once again debtors to you, our choir and instrumentalists. And debtors to the thousands and the thousands who pray for us so faithfully—who are listening to this hour of the First Baptist Church in Dallas on radio and on television. This is the grateful pastor bringing the message entitled The Brilliant Alexandrian Apollos. In our preaching through the Book of Acts we have come to chapter 18, and the reading of the text begins at verse 24, reading to the end of the chapter. Acts chapter 18, beginning at verse 24 [Acts 8:24].
And a certain Jew named Apollos, born in Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus.
This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.
And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.
And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia—
the first verse of the nineteenth, the following chapter, he came to the capital city of Achaia to Corinth—
And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia to Corinth, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace:
For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publically, showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ.
In the first part of this passage, we have the record of Paul on his second missionary journey going from Corinth to Ephesus, the great Greek city in the Roman province of Asia, and there in Ephesus, he left Aquila and Priscilla [Acts 18:18-19]. Then he himself went down to Jerusalem, and thus again to Antioch [Acts 18:21-22]. Then, on his third missionary journey, he came to Ephesus. When he left Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus, they begged him to remain, but he said, “I will return again unto you if God will” [Acts 18:21]. And on the third missionary journey, he came back to Ephesus.
Now between the visits of Paul to Ephesus—between his second missionary journey, when he left there Aquila and Priscilla, and the third missionary journey, when he returned to that Asian city—between those two missionary journeys, there came to Ephesus this Alexandrian. He impressed Dr. Luke mightily. You will not find in the Scriptures a more ardent presentation—deeper in respect and admiration than the beloved physician presents this eloquent Alexandrian. His name is Apollos [Acts 18:24]. Luke describes him as “an eloquent man, mighty in the Scriptures . . . instructed in the way of the Lord .. . . fervent in spirit, and speaking diligently of the things of the Lord Jesus” [Acts 18:24-25].
There are two men in all history that I would love to have heard preach. One is Isaiah, the court preacher in Jerusalem. When you listen to Amos, you could smell the fresh turned soil of the plow in the furrow. He’s a country man. He speaks from the herd, from the flock, and from the field. But Isaiah is the court preacher belongs to the royal family, and when he preaches, he rises from one flight of glorious rhetoric and oratory to another. His perorations are incomparable. Living seven hundred fifty years before Christ, he speaks of the cross as though he stood on Golgotha itself [Isaiah 53:1-12]. I would love to have heard that court preacher Isaiah.
The second man I would loved to have heard preach is this man Apollos. In my humble persuasion, I think he wrote this epistle to the Hebrews out of which you just read. An eloquent Alexandrian; and the epistle to the Hebrews is a homiletical sermon, and whoever delivered it, if it was not Apollos, it was a man exactly like Apollos. The author uses the Alexandrian text of the Septuagint, and he follows all of those glorious flights of oratory and peroration as you would find in the finest of Alexandrian rhetoricians and orators. The Book says he was an Alexandrian [Acts 18:24].
In the decay of Athens, Alexandria became the center of the cultural and intellectual life of the civilized world and remained so for centuries. It was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. But even Alexander never dreamed of the glory and the grandeur that would become synonymous with a city called by his name. The greatest library the world has ever known was in Alexandria. There has never been a catastrophe that overwhelmed the human race greater than that Omar, the Muslim caliph, burned that library in the seventh century AD. The caliph said, “If what is in that library is not in the Koran, it is not needed. If it is in the Koran, it is not needed.” And he burned it to the ground, the world’s greatest library in Alexandria.
The greatest version of the Scriptures, and the most influential translation ever made in human speech, was made in Alexandria. It is called the Greek Septuagint. The translation, in Alexandria by the scholars of Alexandria, out of the Hebrew into the Greek; and the Greek Septuagint was the Bible of the apostles and of the first Christian missionaries and evangelists. The greatest geometrician and mathematician who ever lived was an Alexandrian; it was Euclid. And Euclidian geometry, Euclid’s actual textbook has been used in schools and colleges and universities for two thousand years, and is the textbook in geometry in many schools to this present day.
It is almost symbolic that the Pharos, the lighthouse—one of the Seven Wonders of the World—shined in the harbor of Alexandria. It was in Alexandria that Greek Hellenistic philosophy had its final and maybe ultimate presentation. It was called Neoplatonism, and its proponents were the incomparable Greek scholars Plotinus and Porphyry. In Alexandria lived the greatest of the Greek Christian fathers—Origen and the Orthodox “champion of the faith” Athanasius. And in Alexandria lived the greatest Jewish philosopher who has ever written. His name is Philo. And Philo, a contemporary of our Lord Christ—Philo took Greek philosophy, and he amalgamated it with the revelation of God in the Old Testament. He did it by allegory. And the Alexandrian method of interpretation and preaching and addressing an oratory is in allegory.
For example, Philo would take the story of Genesis—the garden of Eden [Genesis 2:8-3:1]. And this is how he would make it conform to Greek philosophy. He would say the garden of Eden really is the picture of a man’s mind. The trees in the garden are the thousands of thoughts in his mind. The tree of life are the thoughts of holiness and godliness. The tree of the knowledge of evil are the evil thoughts in our minds. The serpent represents the lust of the flesh, carnality, that brings us down to the dust of the ground. And the four rivers in the garden represent the four cardinal Greek virtues: prudence and temperance, fortitude and justice. And when Philo is through with the Bible, it sounds like the Timaeus of Plato himself.
All of this leads us to an interesting comparison between the education of Paul of Tarsus and Apollos of Alexandria. Paul was educated not only in the Greek schools in Tarsus but at the feet of Gamaliel in Jerusalem [Acts 22:3, 23:6, 26:5; Philippians 3:5]. And he was educated as a strict Pharisee; that is, he was taught all of the tradition of the elders later written down in what we know as the Talmud. He was learned in all of the cadastre and disputations of the Jewish schools of Hillel and Shammai. He studied in the Hebrew, and he spoke in the Aramaic. He was learned in all of the rabbinical lores that make for the background of a traditional Judaistic rabbi.
This man Apollos was educated in an altogether different world. He was educated in a world of rhetoric and of oratory and of perorations. His teacher was Philo or those who belonged to the school of Philo. And the language in which he worked was Greek. And the text of the Bible that he used was the Greek Septuagint. This man Apollos, when he came to Ephesus and began to speak boldly for the Lord knew only, it says here, the baptism of John [Acts 18:25-26]; that is, he knew just what John the Baptist knew which means that he knew the life of Christ—the other side of the crucifixion [Matthew 27:32-50] and the resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7] and the ascension [Acts 1:9-10] and the intercession in heaven, the session in glory [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25], and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4]. All of the post crucifixion life of our Lord was unknown to this eloquent preacher Apollos.
That meant that he preached Jesus as the great ethical leader; that is, he preached the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29]. He preached the Jesus of righteousness, the Jesus of reformation. This man Apollos mightily declaimed upon repentance and its sign, the immersion in water [Matthew 3:1-2, 5-6, 11]; reformation which is, I would suppose, a very typical and fulsome explanation and presentation of what you would find in practically all of the modern pulpits of modern day Christianity. They preach a faith, they preach a Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], of righteousness and justice which is fine, beautiful. But there is more to the Christian faith than just the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. What we need is the forgiveness of our sins [Acts 10:43, Acts 13:38, Colossians 1:14]. We need justification before God [Acts 13:39]. We who face death need Someone who can deliver us from the victory of the grave [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. And that is the preaching of the full-orbed gospel of the Son of God. He is not only the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount, but He is also the Jesus of the atoning blood [1 Peter 1:18-19]—the Jesus of the triumphant resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7]; the Jesus of the ascension into heaven [Acts 1:9]; and the session and Intercessor at the right hand of God [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25]; and the Jesus who is coming again to be King and Victor over all of the earth [Acts 1:11; Revelation 19:11-16].
Now when he came to Ephesus and spoke so eloquently and mightily and fervently in the synagogue, Aquila and Priscilla listening, invited him to dinner and spoke to him the full message of the atoning grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s wonderful [Acts 18:24-26].
One of the dearest friends I ever had in the earth was Preacher Halleck—E. F. Halleck. When I went to be pastor at Chickasha, in Oklahoma, in the same Chickasha association belonged the First Baptist Church of Norman—where the University of Oklahoma is located. And Preacher Halleck was my predecessor. He was my senior in the association for seventeen years. He was pastor of that First Church in Norman, Oklahoma, for forty-eight years—died just recently. Halleck was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, Kansas. And he was a preacher of the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. He was the preacher of Jesus as a great ethical teacher. He was a liberal. He was a modernist. And one Sunday morning at the eleven o’clock hour, when he had finished his message, he went down to the front, told the people he had been marvelously converted, he had found the Lord as the Savior of his soul, in His atoning blood on the cross. And he asked to be received for baptism. Thereafter, Preacher Halleck was a different kind of a man, and a different kind of a preacher, the one that I knew as my friend in these beginning days of my pastoral ministry; a great man of God.
That’s what happened to this one Alexandrian named Apollos. As Aquila and Priscilla listened to him, ah, with what tact, and maybe with what timidity and reluctance did they ask him home and began to speak to him about the Lord [Acts 18:26]. For you see, they were just tentmakers. They were just humble, menial artisans who worked with their hands, but this Alexandrian was eloquent and learned and brilliant.
Now I speak of the character of Apollos. One: he was noble. He was great because he was also humble and teachable. He could have said to those tentmakers, “What? You who know nothing except to cut cloth and to sew pieces together, you teach me the way of the Lord, you?” Not so. This mighty man of the Word, this eloquent man of Alexandria, this student and pupil of the most brilliant schools the world has known, he listened humbly to the tentmakers and came into the full knowledge of the Lord through their witness and understanding. I say, that is a great man. He gained his secular education in the schools of Alexandria [Acts 18:24-25], and under their brilliant teachers like Philo, the greatest the world has ever known. And he gained his religion, his faith from humble people like Aquila and Priscilla who made tents [Acts 18:26-28]. That is great!
Number two: this man Apollos, he came to Corinth into the church that the apostle Paul had established [Acts 18:27]. And the inevitable happened. And you can already know what it was before I describe it. When that mighty man, that great learned orator, that brilliant perorationist—when he began to speak of the mighty word of God, and the power of the Lord Jesus, he simply swept that church off of its feet. They had never heard oratory like that, rhetoric like that, preaching like that, mighty and eloquent. You read that Book of Hebrews and you will know a little of what I mean.
And the church at Corinth was simply swept off of its feet. “Never like that—why, Paul our founder never preached like that; nor did any man we ever heard of, Demosthenes or any other ever speak like that.” So a thing happened in Corinth that you would expect. Some of them said, “Man, we are followers of Apollos.” And others said, “No, we are going to stay by Paul our father and our founder” [1 Corinthians 3:4-5]. And others say, “Not either one of them is an apostle. We are going to stay by Peter, Simon Peter Cephas.” And others say, “A plague on all of your houses, we are going to follow Christ” [1 Corinthians 1:12]. So in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the first Corinthian letter, chapter 1, verse 12, he says, “Now this I say, that every one of you saith.” They all were in on it. They had a real first class dogfight. “Some of you, “every one of you saith, I am of Paul; or I am of Apollos; or I am of Cephas; or I am of Christ” [1 Corinthians 1:12]. Now, I turn the page and here in the third chapter, beginning at verse 3, he starts again. First Corinthians chapter 3, verse 3—
. . . whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal? . . .
For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
I have planted, Apollos watered: but it is God who gave the increase.”
[1 Corinthians 3:3-6]
In that same third chapter, verse 22: “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all of yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” [1 Corinthians 3:22*23]. Chapter 4 verse 6, “These things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that you might learn in us not to think of above men what is written, and be puffed up one against the other” [1 Corinthians 4:6]. That thing happened in Corinth due to the brilliance of the eloquent preaching of this man Apollos. Church just divided over it. Some of them: “I am staying by Paul.” And some of them: “I am following Apollos” [1 Corinthians 3:3-4]. They began to fraction and to divide among themselves.
Don’t you know it would have been something for Apollos to have said, “Think of it: as great as is this mighty apostle Paul, they are choosing me above him. They think I am a greater preacher than he,” and to have been lifted up and proud in his spirit, and to have furthered the spirit of factionalism and division in the church. How easy it would have been. Practically every denomination that has come into existence has come because of the personal ambition of men in the church. You could have had a Pauline church denomination in Corinth. And you could have had an Apollos: denomination and church in Corinth—easily. Look at this man Apollos, when I turn to the sixteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, verse 12, I see this man as he is in his soul and in his heart: “As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren: but his will was”—pantos ouk—“absolutely not”; pantos, “wholly, entirely, in every way, no” [1 Corinthians 16:12].
Look at those two men. Apollos: “I am not going to Corinth. I am not going back. I am not going to be a party to a division, Paul, between you and me, I am not going back. Not now.” And on the other hand, Paul greatly desired him that he go. “Paul,” says Apollos, “I am not going. They are pitting me against you. They are trying to make an Apollos party and a Pauline party. Not so, Paul, I am walking by your side. I am with you. And if there is to be in any party at all, it will all be you. There is not going to be a division between us. I am with you, Paul.”
And Paul replies to Apollos, “Apollos, I am not envious of your great abilities, your eloquent oratory and your mighty preaching. I urge you to go, to return, to preach to them the gospel of Christ.” That’s great. That’s great.
You look at this. Before Bishop Helander’s trial was concluded, Swedish papers quoted the Dean of Hamstad, Canuik Norberg, as confessing that guilt for the state of affairs disclosed lay on the entire church. Both in the election of bishops and in the selection of pastor, says Dean Norberg, there are—there had too often been—and I quote from him—“slander and intrigue, quarreling between factions, half-truths and lies, careerisms and everything else mixed into a beautiful witch’s brew.” But the destruction caused by ambition is not confined to episcopally organized churches. It plays havoc in every kind of church, including those that boast of democratic and equalitarian nature. There is no conceivable kind of church organization ranging all the way from the tight discipline of the monastic orders and the Salvation Army to the loose associations of Full Gospel Tabernacles; where the corrosion of ambition is not a constant threat. Nor as long as the Christian ministry remains immortal and therefore sinning hands can the destruction caused by the seductions of ambition be wholly escaped. It is the one sin in the ministry and it is the one sin in the church—envy, pride, personal ambition, green-eyed monstrous.
In the city of London was a marvelous Baptist preacher of the last century named F. B. Meyer. And there came to the city of London, a youth nineteen years of age and he preached like an archangel. And immediately there were thousands and thousands who waited upon him. You could not find a hall big enough to hold the uncounted thousands who waited on the ministry of that young fellow, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. F. B. Meyer says, “That when I looked at the immediate world-famed glory of young Charles Haddon Spurgeon, I was filled with envy and personal consternation.” F. B. Meyer says, “I took it to the Lord. I got down on my knees before God. And I promised God I was going to pray for that young, rising star.” And F. B. Meyer says, “Every day I prayed for that young, brilliant, sermonizer, orator, preacher of the gospel, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” And he said, “The day soon came when every victory Spurgeon won, I had it in my heart to rejoice as though I had had a part in it myself—for I had prayed for him, and held him up before the Lord, and when God blessed him, it was an answer to my prayers, and I rejoiced in the favor of Jesus upon him.” That’s great—standing by the side of your brethren and rejoicing in the grace gifts God has bestowed upon them.
If the wide world stood row on row
And stones at you began to throw,
I’d boldly out with them to fight,
Saying, They were wrong, You were right.
If every bird on every tree
With note as loud as loud could be
Sang endlessly in your disgrace,
One graceless thought, it would not raise.
If all the great and wise and good
Upon your sins in judgment stood,
They’d simply waste their valued breath
For I am your friend through life and death.
If I were wrong and they were right,
I’d not believe for all their might,
Not even if all they said were true
For you love me and I love you.
[W. A. Chapman, aka D. Mountjoy, untitled]
We are together in the Lord. And what grace gifts God has given to you, I praise God as you magnify the name of the Lord with them. And I love you. And I pray for you. And if any seed or root of bitterness ever enters my heart in envy or jealously, may God take it away. For I want to walk by your side. And the different gifts that we have, may the Lord be magnified in them all. Did you know, it closes in that note of love and concern [1 Corinthians 16:24].
After he was delivered from the Mamertine dungeon Paul wrote to Titus, and he said to him in one of his last words, “Bring Zenas the lawyer.” We don’t know who Zenas is, only time he’s ever mentioned. “Bring Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey diligently, that nothing be wanting unto them” [Titus 3:13]. That’s great. Paul and Apollos, refusing to be divided by ambition, or envy, or the plaudits of the world, together in the Lord. “I am with you, Apollos,” said Paul. “And I am with you, Paul,” said Apollos. “And we will walk in the glory and the goodness of the Lord together.”
That’s great. That will make a great church. That will make a great denomination. That will make a great kingdom. It will make a great heart, a great soul, and a great life. It will bless you and me and the people of God forever.
Sweet people, it is just another way of saying it. It is grand to be a Christian. It is grand. It is the most beautiful life to live known to man. It is a foundation upon which to build your house and home. It is the glory in which to rear your children in the love and nurture of the Lord. It is the most immovable foundation of strength upon which to erect your business and your life. It is the way to live. It is the way to die. It is the way to look up to the glory that God has in store for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].
And that is our sharing with you this hour. To give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]; to walk with us in the fellowship of this precious church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; to love the Lord and to grow in the likeness of His goodness and grace, come and welcome; pilgrimage with us. A thousand times, God love you and be good to you, as you answer with your life, down one of these stairways coming, front to back and on either side, and time to spare; if you are in that topmost last seat in the balcony, come. God bless you as you answer with your life. Down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor, I am giving you my hand. I’ve given my heart to God [Ephesians 2:8]. We are walking with you.” May angels attend you in the way as you respond, while we stand and while we sing.