Saturday of Week 6 of Easter – First Reading

Commentary on Acts 18:23-28

Today we begin the Third, and final, Missionary Journey of Paul. After leaving Corinth, Paul, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila, crossed over to Ephesus on the west coast of present-day Turkey. He separated from them there and went to preach in the local synagogues. In spite of the unwelcome reception he so often got from his fellow-Jews, he always made a point of approaching them first when he arrived in a new place. He apparently did well there, because they asked him to stay longer. However, he was clearly anxious to get back to Syrian Antioch, but he promised that he would return – and he did.

On reaching Palestine, he landed at Caesarea where he greeted the local church before going on northwards to Antioch, and it is at that point that today’s reading begins.

He stayed in Antioch for an unspecified length of time before setting out on his third – and final – missionary journey. He began by revisiting the places where he had planted the church almost 10 years previously. He followed the same route he had taken when beginning his second journey but in the reverse order. The only places mentioned are “region of Galatia and Phrygia” which are in the southern part of present-day central Turkey.

We are then introduced to Apollos, who had just arrived from Ephesus in Lydia, on the west coast. He was a Jew and a native of Alexandria, which was on the north coast of Egypt and, at the time, the second largest city of the Roman Empire. It also had a large Jewish population.

Apollos is spoken of very highly as a man of eloquence, well-versed both in the Hebrew scriptures and:

…instructed in the Way of the Lord…

Apollos also:

…spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.

He was a clearly deeply spiritual person. It is strange though, that in spite of all that Apollos knew about Jesus, he had not yet been properly baptised in the name of Jesus. Basically, like John the Baptist, he was still looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. His baptism was based on repentance for sin rather than full incorporation through the gift of the Spirit in the Christian community.

In Ephesus, he became an enthusiastic preacher and spoke fearlessly in the Jewish synagogue there. Here he drew the attention of Paul’s friends, Priscilla and Aquila, who took him to their house and gave him a deeper understanding of the new Way.

Perhaps because of what he had heard from Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos was anxious to go across to Achaia, in other words to Corinth, and letters were written to guarantee him a warm welcome. There he gave great encouragement to the believers while continuing to debate with his fellow-Jews, proving from the scriptures that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

It is clear that Apollos had a very special charism for evangelisation, so much so that cliques began to form in the community where some were for Paul and others for Apollos. These developed into quarrelling factions. Paul would later deplore this development in one of his letters (see 1 Cor 1:12 and 3:4-11).

These remarks about Apollos have something in common with the description of what we find in the next chapter (chap 19) that describes Paul’s arrival in Ephesus. Here, we are told that the disciples there were only baptised:

…into John’s baptism [and had] not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.

Paul had all these people baptised in the name of Jesus.

Despite the quarreling factions that arose, we should take inspiration from the insights and zeal of Apollos for the Way of Jesus in the context of evangelisation today.

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