Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Apollos: Talk Like An Egyptian (Acts 18:24)

Who is specifically mentioned as coming from the city of Alexandria? Apollos (Acts 18:24)

Apollos was a leader in the early Christian movement who is referenced ten times in the New Testament, twice in the book of Acts and eight times in the letters of Paul (Acts 18:24, 19:1; I Corinthians 1:12, 3:4, 5, 6, 22, 4:6, 16:12; Titus 3:13). He influenced the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 1:12) and served with Paul in Ephesus (Acts 18:24; I Corinthians 16:12).

The most descriptive picture of Apollos comes from his introduction in the book of Acts:

Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (Acts 18:24-26 NASB)
Apollos makes an abrupt entrance and immediately enters into doctrinal disputes at the synagogue. From his designation as an “eloquent man”(aner logios) to being described as “mighty” (dunatos), Acts leave know doubt that Apollos’ strength was his rhetorical skills.

Despite being remembered most as a great orator, not one of Apollos’ words remains in Scripture. He may have been remembered more for how well he spoke than for what he actually said. Maya Angelou (b. 1928) said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Who is the best preacher you have heard (other than me, of course)? What made them great? How did they make you feel?

Apollos is the only Biblical character said to be from Alexandria, Egypt (Acts 18:24). This detail has led many to speculate that he was the anonymous author of Hebrews. The Epistle to the Hebrews is better described as a long exhortation or even a sermon (Hebrews 13:22). The first to posit the theory that Apollos was the preacher who delivered it was the great reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546 ,Sermons 6.167). As this selection fits with many aspects of modern scholarship that developed centuries later, Luther’s hypothesis has been deemed a lucky guess.

Though there is not a lot of data regarding Apollos, it is suggestive and fits all of the assumptions that scholars have deduced about Hebrews’ author. It has been assumed that the author was highly educated, probably formally trained in rhetoric, as the Greek is the most sophisticated in vocabulary and style of any book in the New Testament. It has also been assumed that the writer was a powerful preacher whose style could be differentiated from Paul’s (I Corinthians 1:12). As Hebrews sets to establish Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament promises, especially Psalm 110, it has been concluded that the author was also well versed in the Scriptures. Apollos fits all of these assumptions (Acts 18:24-26).

For the many who support Apollos as the book’s author, his connection to Alexandria is the telltale fact. It has been surmised that the Hebrews penman did not speak or write in Aramaic or Hebrew due to the extensive use of the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. The Septuagint was composed in Alexandria.

More strikingly, many have seen Alexandrian theology as having shaped Hebrews. Alexandria, with its exhaustive library, was one of the academic capitols of the ancient world. It was known as a center for Platonic philosophical studies. Many have found that the theology of Hebrews mirrors its Alexandrian predecessor, Philo Judaeus (20-50), and successor, Clement (150-250). Even the literary style of Hebrews is comparable to Philo. Harold W. Attridge (b. 1946) concludes: “...there are undeniable parallels that suggest that Philo and our author (of Hebrews) are indebted to similar traditions of Greek-speaking and -thinking Judaism (Attridge, Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible), 29).”

Given the evidence, many scholars have jumped on Luther’s bandwagon and supported his brilliant guess. Even so, the conclusion is not unanimous. While Hebrews contains strong similarities with Alexandrian thought, some scholarship has seen the divergences to be equally great (David L. Allen (b. 1957), Lukan Authorship of Hebrews, 44). In his foundational study, Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews (1970), Ronald Williamson even argues against the influence of Platonism. The biggest complaint, however, against Apollos penning the work is that no early tradition argued for it, not even the Alexandrian school (Pantaenus [d. 200], Clement [150-215], Origen [184-253], Dionysius [d. 265], Athanasius [296-373]).

We will never know for certain who wrote Hebrews. Later Alexandrian scholar Origen (184-253) famously wrote “But as to who actually wrote the epistle, God knows the truth of the matter (Eusebius [263-339], Historia Ecclesiastica, 6.25.11-14).”

Despite the argument being inconclusive, it is telling that one of the primary supporting factors for Apollos having written Hebrews is the place of his birth. It is assumed that our own place of origin impacts our theology.

How does the area you in which you were raised affect your religious beliefs? Were you born elsewhere, how difficult would it be for you to believe as you do? Are you sensitive to this factor when presenting your views to others with different backgrounds?

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