In contrast to Paul’s naming of Epainetos as “the first convert in [the Roman province of] Asia” (Rom 16:5), which can be relatively dated to Paul’s winter in Corinth (56-57 A.D.), from whence the letter to “God’s beloved in Rome” was written before he set sail for Syria (Acts 20:3) [cf. Grant 1963: 187-188], or to his greetings to “the household of Stephanus [who] were the first converts in [the Roman province of] Achaia” (1 Cor 16:15), the New Testament nowhere identifies who might have similarly been first in the Roman provinces of Africa or Cyrene or Egypt. But instead we are made aware of one already partially, if not yet fully [or precisely put, “more accurately” (akribesteron)], entered into this newer Christian “Way of God” (Acts 18:26).
This man named Apollos comes specifically as a Hellenized “Jew” from his native locale of Alexandria, the capital city of the Roman province of Egypt, precisely to assist in the Christianizing work within Ephesus of the Roman province of Asia, having been trained in rhetoric as well as “powerfully” grounded in the Scriptures, from which by virtue of previous “instruction” [katˆkhˆmenos = some kind of “primary catechism”] in the “Way of the Lord,” he was able to speak from a fervent spirit and to teach with a basic accuracy that which mattered concerning Jesus, though he only understood as introductory ritual procedure for the conversion of others “the baptism of John” (Acts 18:24-26).
Thus Apollos was found “speaking with an open boldness” in the synagogue at Ephesus – just as Saul, transformed into Paul, had done upon his conversion in the synagogue at Damascus (Acts 9:27), or with Barnabus in the synagogue at Iconium (Acts 14:3) – by Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:26), themselves but newly come arrivals as a consequence of the expulsion of Jews from Rome by Tiberius Claudius Drusus Caesar (10 B.C. - A.D. 54; reigned from A.D. 41) in 49 A.D. (Acts 18:2), according to the Roman historian Suetonius precisely because these “Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus” (Claudius 25). It was this coupled pair who took Apollos aside to enhance his expository capacities, though obviously not yet his baptismal understanding.
While textual variants complicate the exact sequence of the movements of all three of these significant personalities in taking the message of the new faith across the Aegean Sea into the Roman province of Achaia, unto its once-destroyed (by Lucius Mummius Achaicus 146 B.C), but refounded (by Julius Caesar 44 B.C.), capital city at Corinth, it is clear that all three of these Hellenized Jews of Christian persuasion were present some time before the arrival of the Apostle Paul. And of Apollos there is some specific indication that while “he wanted to cross over to Achaia” (Acts 18:27 standard text), he was assisted by “certain Corinthians living in Ephesus” who, having heard him preach, “urged him to cross over with them to their native land; and when he consented, the Ephesians wrote to the disciples in Corinth, that they should receive this man” (Acts 18:27 Codex Bezae, cited by Carrington 1957: I.129-130, cf. Greek text among “rejected readings” in Westcott/Hort 1948: 597). Aspects of these rather exacting details remain vague.
Paul’s presence in Corinth, where he had arrived from Athens, and initially found and then stayed with Priscilla and Aquila, since they were of the same tent-making trade as he (Acts 18:1-3; cf. Hock 1980: 29-31), for a period of “a year and six months” (Acts 18:11), can be dated to the years 50-52 A.D., since “[Lucius Junius] Gallio [Annaeanus; brother of the famed philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca, both of whom were forced to commit suicide by the emperor Nero in 65 A.D.] was proconsul of Achaia [which is documented by Latin inscription; cf. OCD3 95]” when Paul was brought before this tribunal (Acts 18:12). But from the letters back to Corinth from Paul after he had moved on to Ephesus, we become aware that Apollos had not himself been present simultaneouly with Paul. Though by virtue of what Paul subsequently found relative to baptismal procedures which had impacted a cluster of “about twelve” disciples in Ephesus, who had not received “the Holy Spirit” at their own baptism, but only that “of repentance” according to the mode of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-7), Apollos had clearly left his mark upon both incipient Christian communities (cf. I Cor 1:12-16; 3:4-22; 4:6, and the discussions in Winter 2001: 41-42 and in Grant 2001: 10-11, 25).
Whatever might have been the full ramifications of the divisions at Corinth, it would appear that Paul could provide some positive recommendation for Apollos, at the conclusion of his First Epistle to the Corinthians, whereat he could both identify him as “our brother” and state that he had “strongly urged him to visit you with the other brethren, but it was not His [God’s] will for him to go now.” Rather, “he will come when he has opportunity” (1 Cor 16:12). All of this in a context of comments upon and greetings to that “church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor 1:1) from specifically known persons – including among others from “the churches of Asia,” the “Aquila and Prisca” identified previously, as well as “the church that meets in their house” (1 Cor 16:19). This kind of appreciative testimony is enhanced, but in a less well-defined context, by reference to whatever is the situation and the date from which the “Pastoral Epistle” of Paul to Titus recommends that Titus might do his best “to speed Zenas the lawyer [nomikos] and Apollos on their way,” adding that he “see that they lack nothing” (Tit 3:13).
Nothing further on Apollos can be adduced from the New Testament, and he does not appear again in other early Christian literature, except for the recollection of those divisions between competitive parties (still in evidence in Corinth at the end of the first century), claiming to be “of Paul” or “of Cephas” (not always recognized as Simon Peter) or “of Apollos,” found in Paul’s Corinthian correspondence by Clement of Rome according to his own letter to the Corinthians (1 Clement 47:3).
In the nineteenth century George Salmon saw as connecting link between the use of “Logos” in Philo Judaeus of Alexandria and in the Johannine Gospel, the figure of “the Alexandrian Jew Apollos who taught in Ephesus,” the place to which that gospeler John is most closely associated within the Tradition (1889: 73-74; cf. Runia 1993: 71). Birger Pearson has seen behind Clement of Alexandria “a first-century religious Platonism represented on the Jewish side by Philo and on the Christian side by Apollos” (1986: 149). On the connection of John with Ephesus, Eusebius cites as earliest witness, Papias, whom he has preserved (H.E. 3.39.5-7), though he knows from later dates as additional evidence: Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses; Clement of Alexandria, Quis dives salvetur?; and the epistle of Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, to the Romans (respectively at H.E. 3.23.1-4, 23.5-19, and 31.2-3). But Eusebius has no awareness of an Apollos!
In an aside when trying to think who might have authored the Epistle to the Hebrews, Salmon also observed that Luther had guessed it had been Apollos, of which for Salmon himself “no conjecture could be more happy, for it seems to fulfil every condition,” yet he also had to admit in conclusion “if anyone prefer to say Apollos I shall not object, though Barnabas seems to me the more probable” (1889: 465; cf. Runia 1993: 74). In the twentieth century, Philip Carrington again considered that “If we had to choose from among the church leaders known to us, we would pick the learned and literary Apollos” (1957: I: 373); and Robert McQueen Grant also gave voice to the prospect that “We should go beyond the evidence were we to ascribe the book to Apollos . . . but such an identification remains possible” (1963: 218).
Clyde Curry Smith
Bibliography (see link to abbreviations table below):
Carrington 1957 The Early Christian Church, by Philip Carrington. Cambridge: At the University Press. 2 volumes.
Paul in the Roman World: The Conflict at Corinth, by Robert McQueen Grant. New York and Evanston: Harper and Row.
Historical Introduction to the New Testament, by Robert McQueen Grant. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
The Social Context of Paul’s Ministry: Tentmaking and Apostleship, by Ronald F. Hock. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
“Earliest Christianity in Egypt,” by Birger A. Pearson, in The Roots of Egyptian Christianity, ed. by Birger A. Pearson and James E. Goehring. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 132-159.
Philo in Early Christian Literature: A Survey. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
A Historical Introduction to the Study of the Books of the New Testament: Being an Expansion of Lectures delivered in the Divinity School of the University of Dublin, by George Salmon. 4th edition; London: John Murray.
The New Testament in the Original Greek, the text revised by Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort. New York: The Macmillan Company.
After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change, by Bruce W. Winter. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
This article, received in 2004, was researched and written by Dr. Clyde Curry Smith, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History and Religion, University of Wisconsin, River Falls.