A transition

The last stop on Paul’s second missionary journey was Ephesus, a “leading commercial city of Asia Minor, the capital of provincial Asia and the warden of the temple of Artemis (Diana)” (note on Acts 18:19). The temple of the great goddess Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was the glory of Ephesus. It was “425 feet long and 220 feet wide, having 127 white marble columns 62 feet high and less than 4 feet apart. In the inner sanctuary was the many-breasted image supposedly dropped from heaven” (note on Acts 19:27). It says in Acts 18:19 that after Paul arrived in Ephesus, he “entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.” The Greek words translated reasoned, dia (dee-ah’) and lego (leg’-o) suggest that Paul had a dialogue with the Jews in Ephesus, rather than just preaching the gospel to them. Paul seemed to be showing respect to the Ephesian Jews and may have been aware of the fact that in spite of tremendous pressure to conform to the Ephesian culture, these Jews had remained loyal to Jehovah (note on Acts 19:33).

Paul’s brief stay in Ephesus was followed by a visit from a man named Apollos who was described as “an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures” who “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” (Acts 18:24-25). Apollos was an ordinary man who apparently took it upon himself to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ without having any official capacity to do so. Apollos’ arrival in Ephesus marked an important transition from Paul’s formal effort to spread the gospel through his missionary journeys to a more informal method of teaching the scriptures in churches that had already been established. Rather than rebuke or criticize Apollos because he didn’t have an adequate understanding of the gospel message, Paul’s companions, Aquila and Priscilla, took Apollos aside privately and “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26). Afterward, it says in Acts 18:27 that Apollos went to Corinth and “helped them much which had believed through grace.”

Apollos’ background in secular history may have contributed to his success in teaching the Jews at Corinth about Jesus (Acts 18:28). Apollos was from Alexandria, a town founded by Alexander the Great around 332 B.C. It says in Acts 18:24 that Apollos was not only an eloquent man, but he also had a good command or understanding of the scriptures. Paul’s failure to reach the Corinthian Jews, contrasted with Apollos’ success suggests that a cultural connection rather than a divine anointing was necessary to preach the gospel effectively. It seems likely there was a cultural barrier that kept the secular Jews from understanding Paul’s concept of grace. It’s possible that the Corinthian Jews’ compromised lifestyle made them more defensive and unreceptive when Paul explained to them that Jesus Christ had been crucified for their sins. It says of Apollos in Acts 18:28 that “he mightily convinced the Jews,” meaning he left them without a shadow of a doubt that what he was saying was actually true, Jesus was Christ.

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