The Brilliant Alexandrian: Apollos
October 29th, 1978 @ 8:15 AM
THE BRILLIANT ALEXANDRIAN APOLLOS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-29-78 8:15 a.m.
This morning, as you can see, Gary Moore has a little different form, and the Chapel Choir looks a little different in kind; this is our Clarion Choir. And I asked on my way what was, and they said every fifth Sunday the Clarion Choir sings. Is that right? Every fifth Sunday; and this is why the choir program in our church is so magnificently blessed of God. We start with these brilliant and gifted and beautiful young people, and they come right on up into the days that follow after, and finally when they become Sanctuary Choir members they sing like archangels. God be praised for you!
On the radio you are sharing the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Brilliant Alexandrian Apollos. And I pray the Lord will help me to make it as meaningful to you as it is to me to prepare the sermon. It is a study like this that means so very much to my own heart. In our preaching through the Book of Acts we are in chapter 18, and now come to the concluding verses. So we begin at verse 24, Acts chapter 18:
And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at 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 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 the Lord more perfectly.
And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia—
the capital of which is Corinth. And in verse 1 of chapter 19: “It came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth” [Acts 1:19]; so this means he went to Corinth:
The brethren wrote, the brethren from Ephesus wrote to the brethren in Corinth, 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 publicly, showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ, the anointed Messiah of the Old Testament Scriptures and the Savior of the world.
Now all of this happened between the second and the third missionary journeys of the apostle Paul. In verse 19 of chapter 18 we are told that Paul left Corinth and came to Ephesus, and there he left Aquila and Priscilla [Acts 18:18-19]. And in verse 21, we learn that Paul says to the people in Ephesus that, “I will come back to you, after I go to Jerusalem, if God will” [Acts 18:21]. Now on the second missionary journey he leaves Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus, promising to come back to Ephesus [Acts 18:19-21]. And on the third missionary journey, that’s what he did. Paul returned to Ephesus, stayed there three years [Acts 19:1, 10]; one of the greatest ministries the world has ever known, when all Asia heard the gospel, and the seven churches of Asia, to whom the Lord addressed His letter called the Revelation [Revelation 2:1-3:22]; those were founded in that marvelous ministry in Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia.
Now, between the second missionary journey of the apostle Paul that brought him to Ephesus, and the third missionary journey that brought him back to Ephesus, between those two journeys, a wonderful thing happened in Ephesus: “A certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria,” and evidently Dr. Luke had a marvelous appreciation of the gifts of this unusual Alexandrian, he’s called “an eloquent man, mighty in the Scriptures, fervent in the Spirit, speaking diligently and boldly” [Acts 18:24-26]. Out of all time, all history, there are two men that I would love to have heard preach. One, I would love to have heard Isaiah. He was an eloquent man; he is a court preacher. When Amos speaks, you can smell the fresh turned furrow out in the field; he’s a country preacher. But when Isaiah speaks, he speaks in high flown and beautiful perorations. Seven hundred fifty years before Christ, he speaks as though he were standing at the foot of the cross. Oh! I wish I could have heard Isaiah deliver the prophetic message of God [Isaiah 53:1-12]. The second man of all of the men in God’s kingdom I would love to have heard preach is this man Apollos. I think that he wrote the Book to the Hebrews, which is in the form of an Alexandrian homiletical sermon. If Apollos did not write it, then somebody exactly like Apollos wrote it. It follows the beautiful cadences of Alexandrian rhetoric and oratory. And whoever wrote it follows the Alexandrian Septuagint text. I think Apollos wrote it; a friend of Paul, and an incomparable orator and rhetorician.
It says here he’s from Alexandria. That in itself immediately rivets a marvelous and significant attention. This man Apollos is an eloquent Alexandrian [Acts 18:24]. As the centuries passed, and Athens began to decay, Alexandria became the cultural, intellectual center of the civilized world. It was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC; but he never dreamed of the grandeur and glory that was to visit that marvelous city at the mouth of the Nile River. Alexandria had in it the greatest library the world has ever known. Nor has there ever been a disaster that afflicted mankind as when Omar, the Muslim caliph, burned that library in the seventh century AD, saying, “If what was in the library was not in the Koran, it wasn’t needed. And if it was in the Koran, it wasn’t needed.” So he burned it to the ground, the greatest library the world has ever known.
In the city of Alexandria, the greatest version, the greatest translation mankind has ever known, was made: the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. And it was that Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was the Christians’ Bible. When those apostles and first emissaries preached the gospel of the Son of God, the Book they held in their hand was that Greek Septuagint, made in Alexandria. In Alexandria was the greatest mathematician and geometrician who ever lived: Euclid, whose book on geometry was used as a textbook for two thousand years; and in some areas is the textbook on geometry today. Significant of Alexandria was the great Pharos, the lighthouse that was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
In Alexandria was the last great discourse in Hellenistic Greek philosophy, called Neoplatonism, directed by two of the greatest Greek minds that ever lived, Plotinus and Porphyry. In Alexandria lived the greatest of the Greek fathers of the church: Origen and Athanasius. And in Alexandria lived Philo, the greatest Jewish philosopher who’s ever lived; and doubtless Apollos sat at the feet of this Jewish philosopher Philo. What Philo did was, he took Greek philosophy and applied it to Hebrew literature; and so did it that he made the Hebrew Scriptures read like a page from Plato’s Timaeus. For example, the Alexandrian way of teaching and speaking and interpretation was always allegorical; it was an allegorical method of interpretation and preaching.
By that I mean this: let’s take an example. Philo would take the story, say, of the garden of Eden [Genesis 2:8-3:1], and he would make it teach Greek philosophy. And the way he did it was this: Philo would say, now the garden of Eden represents the mind, and all the trees in the garden represent the thoughts that are in the mind. And the tree of life represents the good thoughts in the mind, and the tree of the knowledge of evil represents the evil thoughts in the mind. And the serpent represents the lust of the world that leads us down to the dust. And the four rivers that are in the garden of Eden represent the four great cardinal virtues of Greek philosophy: prudence, and temperance, and fortitude, and justice.
Now that was Greek Alexandrian philosophy as Philo made it apply to the Holy Scriptures. So this man Apollos is a product of Alexandrian allegory and rhetoric and philosophy. He is a learned man and mighty in the Scriptures [Acts 18:24].
You can’t help but think of those two men, Apollos and Paul, how differently they were educated. Paul was educated at the feet of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3], in the tradition of the strictest of the Pharisees [Acts 23:6]. That is, he was taught the tradition of the elders, since then, written down in what we call the Talmud. And he was trained in all the casuistry and disputations of those schools of Hebrew thought and philosophy of Hillel and Shammai. And Paul when he studied and taught, he was taught in Hebrew and spoke in Aramaic. That’s the education of the apostle Paul. The education of Apollos was in an altogether different world. Almost certainly he sat at the feet of the great Philo, or at least in the school of Philo. And his book was the Greek Septuagint Bible; and his method of interpretation was allegorical. And he wrote in great, beautiful cadences and in oratorical flights.
Now, this man Apollos, eloquent Alexandrian, when he came to Ephesus began to speak boldly and eloquently of the Lord Jesus Christ: but knowing only the life of our Lord up to the crucifixion; knowing only the life of our Lord as John the Baptist knew Him [Acts 18:25-26]. Now that is an amazing and an interesting thing because it is descriptive of so much of modern day preaching: like the knowledge of the Lord by Apollos at this time. What do you mean “knowing only the baptism of John”? What he knew of the Lord Jesus was this: he knew the ethical Lord Jesus; he knew the Lord Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29]; and what he preached was a glorified spiritualized Judaism. He knew all of the story of the Lord Jesus as a marvelous teacher and as a great historical figure, and as a man who taught the way of righteousness. So when Apollos preaches in Alexandria, and when Apollos preaches in Ephesus and then in Corinth, that’s the way he preaches. The great watchword of his message is repentance, righteousness; and the great sign of his message is the immersion in water. It is a message that is ethical and full of righteousness and goodness. That’s the way that he preached.
Well, that’s the way that I’d say all modernists and liberals preach: they preach a Jesus of high ethics. They preach a gospel of righteousness and goodness, which is wonderful in itself, but the gospel message is something else and beyond! The gospel message is also not only one of repentance and righteousness [Mark 1:15], reformation, but the gospel message is one of redemption: it is one of blood atonement [1 Peter 1:18-19], it is one of resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7], it is one of ascension [Acts 1:9], it is one of intercession [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25], and it is one of ultimate triumph in the return of our Lord to the earth [Acts 1:11; Revelation 19:11-21]. Isn’t it a wonderful thing if a preacher can ever be converted, and instead of delivering a message just of righteousness or of ethics, or of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], also he preaches now the atoning grace of the Lord [Romans 5:11], that is able to deliver us from our sins and to justify us in the sight of God, we who are sinners by nature [Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5].
One of the great men in my life was E. F. Hallock, Preacher Hallock. When I was pastor at Chickasha, he was pastor at Norman, where the University of Oklahoma is located, and being seventeen years my senior in the ministry—oh! that man meant so much to me in the beginning days of my pastoral work. Well, E. F. Hallock was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pittsburg, Kansas, preaching a liberal gospel, preaching an ethical gospel, just like Apollos. And upon a day, in the First Baptist Church in Pittsburg, Kansas, after he had done his message, E. F. Hallock came around, came down the aisle, gave his hand to the chairman of the deacons, confessed his faith in Christ: he’d been a liberal before; he was converted, he was saved! And he was baptized on that confession of faith, and thereafter he began to preach the glorious gospel of the redemptive blood of Christ [1 Peter 1:18-19], of His marvelous resurrection [Luke 24:1-7], and of His coming again [Acts 1:11]. E. F. Hallock, pastor of that church forty-eight years, died just not long ago. God rest him, and give him a great reward in heaven.
That is Apollos. Now it says here in the text, in the story, as Luke writes it, that when Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they invited him to dinner; they invited him to their home. They took him, and they expounded to him the way of God more perfectly [Acts 18:26]. They told him about not only the Jesus whom he had known of, the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], but they told Apollos about the Jesus of the cross [Matthew 27:32-50], who died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]. They told him about the Jesus of the resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7], who was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:4]. And then about the Jesus who is at session in heaven [Luke 22:69], and is coming again for us who have found refuge in Him [John 14:1-3]. And now I have a part of my sermon to describe the noble character of this man, Apollos—and no wonder Luke describes him in such marvelous and glowing terms.
First of all, will you notice his humility? This man, this man is a brilliant rhetorician and Greek philosopher. He sat at the foot of one of the greatest teachers of all time, Philo of Alexandria. Just read the Book of Hebrews and see how eloquent he is and how mighty he is in the Scriptures. And yet, look at him: as learned as he is and as trained as he is and as eloquent as he is, he is now seated at the feet of two tentmakers by the name of Aquila and Priscilla; and he learns the way of God from them [Acts 18:26]. That’s great! He learned his eloquence and his oratory and his rhetoric from the illustrious in Alexandria; and he got his religion from the humble tentmakers named Aquila and Priscilla.
Man, isn’t that a combination! Trained in the secular world in oratory and secular thought, and the expression of great imagery and eloquent speaking; and then get his religion from some humble somebody that the world never heard and never knew. That’s Apollos of Alexandria: humble before the Lord, teachable, learning the deep things of Christ from some, maybe, humble person who knows the Lord, and maybe doesn’t know a lot of things in the books. That’s Apollos.
All right, number two: I want you to know how free this man is from personal envy and fractious spirit and ambition. Now you look at it. So he wants to go to Corinth; he goes to Corinth, the capital of the Roman province of Achaia [Acts 18:27]. And in Corinth, there he speaks mightily, the whole gospel message of Christ, all of Him now: not only the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], but he’s preaching now the Jesus of the cross [Matthew 27:32-50], and the Jesus of the empty tomb [Matthew 28:1-7], and the Jesus our intercessor and justifier and mediator in heaven [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25, 12:24], and Jesus who is coming again our King [Revelation 19:16]. That’s what he’s preaching now. And when he preached in Corinth, the church there was simply swept off of its feet. They never heard man preach like that, with such eloquence and such oratory, with such glowing and rising perorations.
And the inevitable happened. And you know what happened before I spell it out: those people in Corinth said, “Did you ever hear anything like that? Did you ever hear anything like that? Why, the apostle Paul is a pygmy by the side of that man. He’s slow and awkward compared to the flights of glory and oratory of this man.” So they divided up in Corinth. Some of them said, “Well, let’s read it. Let’s read it.” The apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, he says, in chapter 1 of the first epistle to the Corinthians, he says, “Now this I say,” in verse 12, “that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and another party says, I am of Apollos; and another one says, I am of Cephas, Simon Peter; and another one says, I am of Christ [1 Corinthians 1:12], a plague on all of your houses.” Now look over here in the third chapter of 1 Corinthians, beginning at verse 3: “Are ye not carnal, ye Corinthians: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal? For one saith, I am of Paul; and another saith, I am of Apollos” [1 Corinthians 3:3-4]. They divided up over those two men. “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 that gave the increase” [1 Corinthians 3:5-6]. Look over here at verse 22, third chapter: “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours” [1 Corinthians 3:22]. And then in chapter 4, verse 6: “These things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against the other” [1 Corinthians 4:6].
Now, how did Apollos take all of that adulation? How did he take it? He just swept that church off of its feet, so much so that some of those people in that church said, “Now you may be an admirer of Paul, and you may be a follower of Paul, but I tell you I’m a follower of Apollos. He’s my man!” How did he do it? All right, let’s look how Apollos reacted. In the sixteenth chapter of this letter that Paul wrote, his first letter to Corinth, 1 Corinthians chapter 16:12, look at him: “As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren: but his will was pantos ouk, absolutely not, wholly entirely in every way not to come!” [1 Corinthians 16:12]. Well, why isn’t Apollos, the brethren are going over there to Corinth, why isn’t Apollos willing to come? Why isn’t he? The answer is very obvious: Apollos said, “Paul, I am your man by your side, walking with you. I am your friend, and I am not going to be party to any kind of fractious division in the church. And I am not going now, because they have a tendency there to say some of them for you, and then some of them for me. That’s not right, Paul,” said Apollos, “we’re both together in the Lord. And I have no envy of you, and I have no personal ambition above you. And I’m not going, Paul.”
Now look at Paul: “As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you” [1 Corinthians 16:12]. Paul says to Apollos, “Apollos, don’t think of me. You go on. You go visit the church. You go on. I will not be hurt if they say you are a greater preacher than I. I will not be cast down because they’d rather hear you and have you, than to have me. You go on, Apollos.” And Apollos says, “Not so, Paul. I am never going to be used in any way as a tool to raise fractions in the church and as a tool to put you down.”
You know, that’s a marvelous thing. I mustn’t speak much longer, but bear with me as I bring this to us. That’s a marvelous thing, when you can live without envy and without personal ambition. The curse of the church is that. Here is from one of our magazines, just let me read it to you:
Before Bishop Hilander’s trial was concluded, Swedish papers quoted the Dean of Homstead, Kanut 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 pastors, said Dean Norberg, there had too often been, quote, “Slander, intrigue, quarreling between factions, half-truths and lies, careerism, and everything else mixed into a beautiful witch’s brew,” end quote. 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 their democratic and equalitarian nature. There is no conceivable kind of church organization, ranging all the way from the tight discipline of monastic orders in the Salvation Army to the loose association 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.
The sin of the ministry is that: envious of that fellow over there, or personally ambitious to rise in this denominational group here, or to look on that man whom God is blessing with a jaundiced eye.
Whether it is you in the part in God’s kingdom in which God has placed you, or whether it is I up here in the pulpit, all alike—God help us—we ought to be brothers and sisters in Jesus. And if I can promote you, and further your cause, and bless you, and exalt you, God help me to do it, help me to do it. And if God blesses you, help me, Lord, to rejoice in the favor of heaven upon you. Not I, but Christ [Galatians 2:20].
If the wide world stood row on row,
And stones that you began to throw
I’d boldly out with them to fight,
Saying they were wrong and you were right.
If every bird on every tree,
With note as loud as loud could be,
Sang endlessly in your dispraise,
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’m 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, title unknow]
That’s Apollos, and that’s Paul.
Paul said, “Apollos, I’m standing by your side. I’m your friend.” And, said Paul to Apollos, “Apollos, I rejoice in the grace and gifts of God bestowed upon you. And when the people love you and exalt you, I rejoice in the favor and smile of heaven upon you.” Isn’t that a marvelous way to live? Without envy, without personal ambition, just serving God with the gifts that He has bestowed upon us; some of us with this gift, some of us with that gift, some of us with yet a different gift, but what we have devoting it to God and no one envying anyone else, and no one of us ambitious to rise above another, but all of us sweet brothers and sisters in the Lord, loving Jesus alike, praising His name alike. And as our differing gifts can be used to glorify His name, Lord, where I stand, and what I can do, help me to make it count for You. That’s Christian. That’s Jesus. And that’s these two great preachers of the gospel: Apollos and Paul.
We must sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, believing in the Lord, loving the Lord, walking and pilgrimaging in the way of the Lord, come and welcome. The sweetest life in the world is the life we know in Christ Jesus. The most heavenly way to raise your children known to man is the love and nurture of the blessed Jesus. This is the way to put your home together, this is the foundation upon which to build your work, this is the cornerstone in your business, this is our entree into the wisdom of Him who knows all things. To have a partner in Jesus is like having God by your side; loving us, dying for us, raised for us, coming for us. What a heavenly privilege to give Him the issue of your life. “Every golden tomorrow, Lord, in Your hands; I entrust it to You.” God bless you as you give your life to Jesus [Romans 10:9-13].
It’s the crowning glory of a man or a woman to walk in the knowledge and in the way of the Lord. To accept Him as your Savior, opening your heart to Him [Ephesians 2:8], to put your life with us in this dear church, to pray and worship God with us, to pilgrimage to heaven by our sides, when we sing this song, make the decision for God in your heart, and when you stand up, stand up walking down that stairway, see, on either side at the front and the back, there is time and to spare. Or down one of these aisles, “Pastor, today I have decided for God, and here I am.” Do it, while we stand and while we sing.