What can be known for sure about Apollos?
Steve - Troy, AL - July 10, 2011
I would like to know if he wrote the letter Hebrews in the Bible. I have heard that it might have been the Apostle Paul, but also that it was possibly Apollos. What can we know about who wrote this NT book? If "certain" knowledge is not possible, what can be reasonably speculated about the author from the documents that exist?
I am not a New Testament scholar. Having said that, I did some research on this issue in my Ph.D. studies while attempting to connect the dots between Clement of Alexandria and the earliest forms of Christianity in Egypt (I will explain this connection below). Clement claimed to have a "secret" oral tradition that went back to Jesus which had been "handed down" through the years to the leadership of the Egyptian church. You can read some of my research on this topic (see the footnotes for scholarship behind the data - F.F. Bruce did some very good work on this):
The Minority Egyptian Tradition in the New Testament and the Early Church.
Now to Paul, Apollos, and the Letter to the Hebrews.
Anyone who has taken enough Greek and is able to read the Greek New Testament can tell a difference between various NT Greek texts. For example, the writings of John (his gospel in particular) are very easy to read. Luke's writings (Luke and Acts) are noticibly written in better Greek than almost all the other NT texts, certainly better than the letters of the Apostle Paul. Paul's letters are decent Greek, but if you compare Paul's Greek with the text of Hebrews you see a real difference. In fact, ANY NT scholar will tell you that the Greek text of Hebrews is the best Greek in the New Testament.
When I make these statements I want to make it clear that I am also not a Greek scholar. I am communicating fairly common knowledge among scholars of the NT. Having said this, I have taken three semesters of Greek, translated a few NT books, and studied Clement of Alexandria in Greek. My first semester of Greek at the University of Alabama was Homeric Greek. My second semester was classical Greek, reading Xenophon of Athens (4th cent BC). Students of Greek use Xenophon because his Greek represents a "higher" use of the language. I do not mean "better," but possibly more sophisticated. My third semester of Greek (in Scotland), was Koine Greek. Koine (or NT Greek) is the common Greek spoken on the street.
When one reads the Greek text of Hebrews it is closer to classical Greek than anything in the NT. Brooke Foss Westcott says of Hebrews: "The language of the Epistle is both in vocabulary and style purer and more vigorous than any other book of the NT....It includes a large number of words which are not found elsewhere [in the NT]." [The Epistle to the Hebrews: the Greek texts with notes and essays (London 1892), p.xliv] "The style is even more characteristic of a practiced scholar than the vocabulary." [p.xlvi]
In my opinion (and many scholars would say this) Hebrews is clearly not Paul's writing, but scholars have questioned whether the writer was in the "Pauline" school of thought. While there are some "Pauline" motifs in Hebrews, there are also some interesting differences. Along with some other scholars, I think Apollos is a good guess for who wrote the letter, better described as a long exhortation (even a sermon). Beyond what I think, here are some of the things many scholars agree on regarding the author of Hebrews:
- he was highly educated, probably formally trained in rhetoric
- he did not speak/write in Aramaic/Hebrew
- he quotes from the Greek OT (LXX)
- he was probably from Alexandria, Egypt
- he was familiar with the apostle Paul and maybe Philo
- he appears to share the intellectual background of Philo
- it is likely that he knew some of Philo's writings
In Acts 18 we have the introduction of Apollos onto the scene:
Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John....he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus. v.25ff
Numerous items stand out:
1. Apollos comes from Alexandria.
2. He was highly educated.
3. He knew the Scriptures very well.
4. He was already a Christian, but only knew John's baptism.
Apollos arrives on the scene rather abruptly and immediately begins to refute the Jews. Luke's description of Apollos as aner logios deserves some attention. The use of this adjective, along with Luke's descriptive dunatos (18:24) indicates that one of the strengths of Apollos was rhetorical skill.
But Luke makes it clear that Apollos was not just a rhetorician; "he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately." (Acts 18:25) Luke also says that "he had been instructed (he uses the Greek word for catechesis) in the way of the Lord." The use of katecheo here is significant; the context demands that Apollos had been well-trained in the Christian faith prior to his arrival, yet he needed further instruction about baptism. We do not know how Apollos came to faith, but it is very important because it shows that Christian faith was spreading beyond apostolic reach and this is a type of pre-Pauline Christianity.
If you compare what scholars hold to be true regarding the author of Hebrews with what we see in Luke's description of Apollos - it lays out good potential for Apollos being the author.
What else do we know about Apollos?
The only other significant New Testament information we have on Apollos is in the first Corinthian letter. Paul opens this letter with a fairly stern rebuke,
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters...that all of you agree with one another...that there be no divisions among you....some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Cor 1:10-13
The apostle is bringing strong correction on the Corinthian church for having divisions. After comments about the gospel not being the "wisdom" of men, he outlines how many of the Corinthian believers had not been of noble birth nor wealthy or influential. He then goes on to say that his presentation "was not with eloquence or human wisdom," but that he kept his message basic: "Jesus Christ and Him crucified."
Next, Paul goes back to the theme he used to open the letter,
You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?....For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 1 Cor 3:3-5
In the opening of the letter Paul uses himself, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ, but now when he comes back to this theme it is only Paul and Apollos. But he goes further in the discussion, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow." He then talks about how he and Apollos are "only servants." From this point forward in the letter Paul is defending himself against some unnamed group of critics (see Ch 9 in particular; 14:36ff; 15:9) while answering questions that must have been sent to him in a letter (see 7:1; 7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1).
Some scholars believe that the group of Paul's critics in Corinth are in the camp of Apollos (ie. the "I follow Apollos" crowd). This would explain why Paul defends his gospel as one of simplicity, not with "wise and persuasive words," but only "Christ and Him crucified." The "fans" of Apollos were impressed with the rhetorical skills, the polished Greek, and the fluid use of the scriptures - next to this it seems that Paul is being described as "unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing." 2 Cor. 10:10
Some scholars have suggested that Apollos was actually an opponent against Paul [Pier Franco Beatrice, "Apollos of Alexandria and the Origins of Jewish-Christian Baptist Encratism," is the main example]. Some think it is this pro-Apollos group to whom Paul does not hold back:
Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit? 1 Cor 4:18-21
Just prior to this rebuke Paul tells the Corinthians that he will be sending Timothy: He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus. (4:17)
What can we say about the relationship between Paul and Apollos?
If you read 1 Corinthians you see Paul comparing himself with Apollos without ANY attack. In fact, Paul seems to speak very positively about Apollos. He refers to him as a "servant" (3:3), "co-worker" (3:9), "leader" (3:21), and then at the end of the letter Paul says:
Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity. 1 Cor 16:12
It seems clear that Paul does not have any problems directly with Apollos. The real sense is that Paul holds Apollos in high regard, acknowledging that "Apollos watered," making the work of these two men close to equal. According to Luke's account in Acts 18-19 it appears that Apollos and Paul missed meeting each other at first, but obviously eventually get to know each other.
I will conclude with a comment from F.F. Bruce about Apollos (which is the end of his chapter on the Hellenists, [Men and Movements, pp.84-85]),
Any attempt to reconstruct the course of early Alexandrian Christianity, and of Hellenistic Christianity in general, must reckon seriously with the implications of the little we are told about Apollos, this cultured Alexandrian Jew with a mastery of the scriptures and an accurate knowledge of the story of Jesus, who for a brief space traverses the Pauline circle and endears himself to its members and their leader, makes a powerful impression on fellow-Jews and fellow-Christians in Ephesus and Corinth, and then vanishes from our sight.
I have not finished my answer of this question, but feel free to offer comments and/or ask questions below.
What is revealed in Hebrews that is not found in other NT writings?
This is more than just intellectual bantering IF you are willing to see, or at least give room for the idea that Apollos positively influenced the apostle Paul.
Check on the dates of Gal, 1 Cor. - did Apollos have enough time to influence Paul?
Questions, Comments or Criticisms:
You can send an email to directly to me Al Baker, CH101.
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