Acts (Part 28) - Paul in Ephesus
Paul left Priscilla and Aquila and the rest of his helpers in Ephesus to carry on the work there as he traveled to Jerusalem to complete the ritual involved with his vow. We will discuss Paul’s keeping of old covenant ritual more fully when we reach Acts 21. Paul’s trip to Jerusalem, then to Antioch of Syria, and then over land through Galatia, revisiting the churches there, probably took at least six months. During that time that he was gone, a man named Apollos came to Ephesus to preach.
Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria. Alexandria, located along the coast of Egypt, was the largest city in the world at that time. Rome, of course, was the most notable city of the world, but Alexandria was next on the list. It was a city known for its library, great learning, and oratorical/rhetorical skills.
Alexandria also contained the largest Jewish community in the world; more Jews lived there than even in Jerusalem. The city, however, was very Hellenistic (as could be guessed by its name). Greek was the primary language of Alexandria, so much so that even the large Jewish population spoke Greek. That presented a problem for the Jews whose Scriptures were written in Hebrew. Fewer and fewer of the Jewish population were able to read the Scriptures as knowledge of Hebrew waned. For this reason, it was in this city that the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, was undertaken (begun about the 3rd century BC and completed by 132 BC). From Alexandria’s collection of New Testament documents we have today our oldest existing NT manuscripts.
In this city of great learning and oratory, Apollos thrived. In Acts 18:24, Luke informs us that not only was he eloquent, but he was competent in the Scriptures. Interestingly, we learn in verse 25 that he “taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.” The Jewish leadership (the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jerusalem) had failed in understanding Scripture and the prophetic word concerning the Messiah. They presumed that he would be some national leader to secure their nation from control by others (such as Rome). But Apollos understood accurately the direction that Scripture pointed regarding the Messiah (although he did not know that Jesus was the fulfillment). So when he preached in Ephesus and Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they recognized this missing knowledge in his message. Apollos spoke as John the Baptist spoke—accurately of a coming Messiah to establish a kingdom of restored relationship with his people. Priscilla and Aquila pulled him aside to let him know that that “coming” kingdom had indeed arrived through Jesus, the Christ.
Here we see a magnificent difference between Paul and Apollos. Paul, as Saul, had bought in to the Jerusalem understanding of Messiah as a national hero. When on the road to Damascus, Paul saw the light and heard the Lord proclaim that he was Jesus, Paul’s world was shaken. We find from his testimony in Galatians that Paul went to Arabia basically to spend three years in reorienting his understanding of Old Testament Scripture to its fulfillment in Jesus. But with Apollos, we find him learning the gospel news of Jesus in verse 26 and being competent to preach it in verse 27. His immediate grasp of the fulfillment found in Jesus was enabled by his “accurate” understanding of the Old Testament’s witness.
Apollos, no doubt hearing from Priscilla and Aquila of the Corinthian Christians and their struggles against the Jews, determines to go to Achaea to support them. The Jews of Corinth had no recourse with the law. They could not impose their own sentence of stoning amid Greek society. And Gallio had already proved disinterested to judge the Christians according to Greek law. The Jews, therefore, could resort to nothing but argumentation. And when Apollos arrived from Ephesus, he “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (18:28).
Luke transitions in 19:1 from Apollos to the 12 disciples who also (like Apollos) knew only the baptism of John. After Apollos has gone to Corinth, Paul arrives again in Ephesus. He finds these disciples, and based on their discussion, releases that something is missing in their understanding. Noting its absence, he asks them whether they received the Holy Spirit, and they reply negatively.
These twelve are called disciples, but that should not confuse us as to their state in regard to the gospel. Here is the only time in all of Luke-Acts in which Luke uses the word for disciples without the definite article. That, along with his use of the word disciples in relation to John the Baptist (Luke 5:33; 7:18-19), should erase misgivings concerning the word disciples, so that we may understand that though these are disciples of John the Baptist, they are not disciples of Christ.
Paul immediately tells these twelve about Jesus, and they (as Apollos) make the appropriate connection and accept the gospel message. But Luke is showing us something important in the way he structures this interchange. He is very clear to juxtapose John’s baptism with Christ’s baptism. Four previous times in the book of Acts, Luke includes mention of John’s baptism with clarifying comment, and this episode is the culmination for our understanding of moving from John’s old covenant baptism to Christ’s new covenant baptism.
The first two clarifications of John’s baptism regard how the baptism is performed. In Acts 1:5 Jesus is speaking to his disciples prior to his ascension. He says, “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Then in Acts 11:16, in relating the story of Cornelius’s conversion to the Jerusalem church, Peter says, “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”
The next two clarifications are in regard to the purpose of the baptisms. As Paul addresses the people in Antioch of Pisidia in Acts 13:24-25, he says “Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’” Notice that the clarification shows the purpose of John’s baptism was for repentance and pointing toward the coming of Christ. In the incident with Apollos discussed earlier, Luke explains in 18:25, “He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.”
Keeping in mind these four clarifying passages, we turn now to our passage in Acts 19. Notice first Paul’s insistence in specifying the purpose for the baptism in 19:4: “And Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” The purpose of the old covenant baptism of John was for repentance and a forward look to the coming Messiah. The purpose of Christ’s baptism is an embrace of the relationship with God made possible by Jesus.
Notice carefully, then, Luke’s narrative in verses 5 and 6: “On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues & prophesying.” First, the “in” in verse 5 carries more the idea of “into,” as in verse 3 when Paul asks, “Into what then were you baptized?” and they answer, “Into John’s baptism.” Both those “intos” are from the same Greek word mistakenly translated “in” in verse 5 in the ESV. (Note the NIV correctly uses “into.”)
Second, the first word of verse 6 in the ESV is “and.” The Greek word is kai, and that is usually translated as “and.” However, the word has subtle other meanings based on its use. For example, in Acts 22:17, we read “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple….” The “and” included here (also translated from kai) has the connotation of providing more specific not just additional information. In other words, we could understand this to mean: “When I had returned to Jerusalem, more specifically, when I was praying in the temple….” The KJV catches this implication by translating kai as “even” in this verse. A look at a concordance will reveal that kai is often translated with words other than “and” in order to show these nuances of meaning (translated as e.g., also, even, both, then, so, likewise, as well as several others). Now, concerning the verse we are examining, Acts 19:6, I believe we should note this “and” as an instance like Acts 22:17 showing greater specificity. Being “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (verse 5) is shown in more specificity in verse 6 as “the Holy Spirit came on them.” The “and” beginning verse 6 should be changed to “indeed” to allow this understanding to come through. The two verses, then, would read: “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus; indeed, when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues & prophesying.” Notice that understanding the verses in this sense is exactly the same then as we have been taught by Luke through the four previous clarifying discussions of John’s baptism. John’s baptism was set as opposed to Christ’s baptism in that John’s was of water whereas Christ’s was of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5; 11:16). So here as Luke again contrasts John’s baptism and Christ’s baptism, we should recognize Christ’s baptism in verses 5 and 6, not of water, but of the Spirit.
Verse 6 also tells us that they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. Only two other occurrences in Acts do we find the recently converted speaking in tongues. In Acts 2, the Jews who have undergone the change from old covenant to New Covenant speak in tongues. In Acts 10, the Gentiles who have been initiated into the New Covenant speak in tongues. Here in Acts 19, those who undergo the change from John’s old covenant baptism to Christ’s New Covenant baptism speak in tongues. In all occurrences speaking in tongues is a sign of movement from old covenant to New Covenant.
In Acts 19:8-10, Luke presents Paul’s ministry in Ephesus as following the pattern in other cities. Paul first preaches in the synagogue. He does so for three months thoroughly explaining the gospel fulfillment in Christ. Only after he is convinced that the Jews understand his message (3 months of preaching) and after they begin to revile the gospel message (19:9 “speaking evil of the Way”) does Paul turn from the Jews, as he did in Corinth and Antioch of Pisidia, and meets elsewhere to preach the gospel then with a focus on the Gentiles.
Often in Ephesus and other major Greek cities, halls were rented for the purpose of oratory. Whether Tyrannus was a Christian and offered his hall or someone with means of the Christian community rented it, Paul was able to continue preaching daily for the next two years in Ephesus so that “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (19:10).