The word of the day is “instructed.” We never outgrow our need for teaching. Even the most learned among us can benefit from instruction that deepens our faith and guides us in the way of discipleship. Today in our reading of Acts 18:22-28, Luke introduces us to an erudite and persuasive teacher. Yet, for all his knowledge, he still needed to be instructed so that “he could teach the faith more correctly” (vs. 26). Thus, Luke, the historian of Acts, writes, “When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (OSB vs. 26).
Today, the example of a cultured man named Apollos teaches us that humility is required for us to grow in the knowledge of God and the faith in Jesus Christ.
In today’s reading, Paul has departed Corinth. Then, in a hurry to attend a coming feast in Jerusalem, he has left his companions and fellow tentmakers, Pricilla, and Aquila, in Ephesus (Acts 18;18-21). In his absence, a learned man has arrived in the city. He is Apollos from the renowned city of Alexandria.
Known for Its Library and Its Knowledge
The metropolis of Alexandria was considered the capital of knowledge because it had the largest library in the Roman Empire. It was the place where the “seventy” translated the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek Septuagint. And it was the home of Philo of Alexandra (20 BC to 50 AD) and other philosophers, scientists, doctors, geographers, and literary scholars. The church there developed an influential catechetical school in which Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD) taught. In turn, Clement taught the brilliant Bible scholar Origen (185-254)AD,[i] the founder of scholarly biblical criticism and promoter of the allegorical method of biblical interpretation.
Luke describes Apollos as “logios.” The term is variously translated as eloquent or learned. It comes from the image of an orator who is both (Strong’s #3052, 152). Luke says that this powerful speaker had been “instructed in the way of the Lord” (OSB vs. 25). The Greek term translated as “instructed” comes from the idea of “sounding” or declaring something into another’s ears. Thus, it has the sense of indoctrinating pupils by verbal teaching (Strong’s #2727, 135-36).
Apollos Taught Accurately but Incompletely
Luke does not tell us who “catechized” Apollos, but Luke says he was “fervent in spirit” (vs. 25). That is, he was boiling with zeal, as the Greek term suggests (Strong’s #2204, 109). In his earnestness, he taught the faith “accurately.” The Greek word means that he taught “the things of the Lord” carefully and exactly (Strong’s #199, 12).
Yet this eminent scholar and stirring preacher still needed further instruction. His teachers had only acquainted him with John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance. He knew nothing of the baptism that gives new birth “by water and the Holy Spirit” (John 3:5).
After hearing Apollos preach boldly in the synagogue, two of Paul’s closest friends took him aside and privately explained “the way of God more accurately” (OSB 18:26). This couple had left their home in Rome and fled to Corinth when Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from the city. This was around 49 AD. Paul found them when he arrived in Corinth soon after (OSB Acts 18:2). Paul, Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers, and Paul worked side by side with them and even stayed with them (OSB Acts 18:1-3).
Laypersons Who Taught a Great Teacher
When Paul left Corinth, Priscilla and Aquila joined him. But for unknown reasons, the couple stayed in Ephesus while Paul went on to Caesarea and Antioch. However, soon Paul returned to Ephesus and stayed there two years. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus (1 Corinthians), the couple was still there, and Paul sends greetings to the church in Corinth from them “and the church that is in their house” (1 Corinthians 16:19).
These companions of Paul were the ones who taught Apollos “more accurately.” But neither of them was ordained, and Luke does not mention that they held any official office in the church. They did host a church in their house, but that was in Ephesus well after they had to take Apollos aside in Corinth.
We note the humility that it took for Apollos to listen to these laypersons who set him straight about the “way of the Lord.” His natural inclination might have been to dismiss their instruction. He might have insisted that he would investigate the matter himself or that he would consult some higher authorities. But this tendency comes from the spirit of pride.
Pride refuses to learn anything, for it thinks it knows everything. Pride refuses to be taught by anyone because it thinks it knows more than everyone. Pride closes the door to learning and shuts up the soul in the room of its own delusions.
Of the spirit of pride in one’s knowledge, St. Paul said, “And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:2). And the deuterocanonical book of the Wisdom of Sirach says, “The greater you are, the humbler you must be, and you will find grace before the Lord (OSB Wisdom of Sirach 3:18).
Humility Opens the Door to the Knowledge of God
The Orthodox Study Bible comments, “Humility is essential to true spiritual works and opens the door to God’s immeasurable grace” (OSB comment on Wisdom 3:18). Then too, humility also opens the door to the knowledge of God. The Almighty’s wisdom is infinitely greater than our own. And His knowledge is far deeper than anything we know. The Creator of Heaven and Earth is not honored by the trifles of our learning. But “He is honored by the humble” (Wisdom 3:10).
Therefore, as the Lord Jesus bids us, we must learn from Him (Matthew 11:29). And should His teaching come from tentmakers, fishermen, shepherds, or children, then that should be a sign for us that we can only learn the Lord’s ways if we in lowliness set aside our pride and accept His instruction. In the same vein, St. Isaac the Syrian said, “Shroud your soul’s perceptions and moments with the veil of chastity and humility’.” By this means, you will discover Him that is within you since ‘mysteries are revealed to the humble’” (St.-Isaac-the-Syrian 1984, 35).
St.-Isaac-the-Syrian. 1984. The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian. Translated by Holy Transfiguration Monastery. Brookline, Mass. Holy Transfiguration Monastery.
[i] The Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople declared some of Origen’s teachings as heretical. But the church fathers St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzus collected his works and promoted his teachings.