Corrections and Conversions in Ephesus

We will begin the commentary on the last of the detailed conversions within the New Testament with the text commencing in chapter 18 and verse 24 and concluding in the 19th chapter with verse 10. What follows in the text constitutes the most complex example of conversion listed in the NT.

Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.

And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”

Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.

And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

Two separate events are mentioned. The first is the correction to the teaching of Apollos, and the second, the conversion of “about” twelve “disciples” to Christ.

Both events took place at Ephesus (although there is a distinct separation in time between the two), with Aquila and Priscilla the teachers in the first incident mentioned, while Paul at some later point is at the center of the second.

In the first instance, the teacher Apollos is introduced to the readers of the NT. The record clearly states that Apollos “had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord…” So then, the main question for this part is — with that being true, how is it he was able to teach “accurately the things of the Lord,” while “he knew only the baptism of John?”

In the second record, the record of conversions, the twelve men had been baptized “into John’s baptism.”

That something appears contradictory between these two cases is obvious from the questions asked and from the information received and the conclusion of each case.

Logic dictates that there are only so many possible solutions to these apparent inconsistencies or difficulties with the text. Therefore, I suspect we can come to agreement on a finite list of possible explanations. I will list the four possibilities that I know of and will comment on each after the introduction of all.

Theory one is that Apollos’ condition was identical in fact to that of the others mentioned later. That although not mentioned in the text that he too had to be baptized into Christ as part of his being taken “aside and explained… the way of God more accurately.”

The second is that Apollos was the teacher of the others, and that he too was sincere (hence their designation as disciples) and that when corrected he personally did not submit to baptism for himself, or was baptized with nothing mentioned of it, similarly to the above, but they (the others) felt compelled to be immersed by the apostle.

The third is that the only point of similarity is the mentioned phrase “baptism of John” and that it may be striking at different conclusions in two dissimilar accounts. And that this phrase is the only point of comparison.

The fourth theory is that Apollos’ had been baptized under John’s baptism some time back, but in spite of that or in consideration of that, that he was still looking for but not then aware of the Christ and his having been glorified. While teaching the truth, his immersion of repentance for the remission of sins was still looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. He was without knowledge of the ministry of Christ, of his death and resurrection. He was laboring under an illusion that things still were yet to be fulfilled.

In my examination, these are the only possibilities I have been able to identify. Let us see which if any stands.

For the first, I would suggest that this explanation stands outside of the information listed in the narrative. For as noted, Apollos is said to have known the truth and that he both spoke and taught the way of the Lord accurately. Therefore it is rejected as unacceptable when weighed against the scriptures. It simply is not reasonable that Apollos would be exempted from the type of instruction given to the others, or that the recorder (the Holy Spirit through Luke, most probably) just overlooked the detail of baptism in the case of Apollos. This is the most used explanation by teachers when they approach this. But I find it bereft of reason and without a scriptural base.

The second theory lends itself to even more supposition than the first, as nothing at all is said of Apollos being associated with the twelve men and nothing is said of any baptism into Christ of Apollos, but only that he was taught more accurately the way. So, for me it too must be rejected. God does not leave us hanging and does not teach one thing one day and another the next.

The third is certainly accurate, but it is not without difficulties. That is – the only points of comparison between the two events are that they both mention a “baptism of John,” and that both took place in the same city. While this is true — in that a baptism of John is mentioned means that the outcome should have been the same with both cases. But it was not. And as the conditions mentioned are different in the two cases this theory leaves little wiggle room, with the further implication that regardless of what theory we may hold and post, the text itself indicates that the two events are in fact representative of two dissimilar situations, with two distinct sets of detail and outcomes. Therefore, the only thing we can count on is what is stated in the text.

That leaves the fourth theory as the base for the only plausible explanation.

As noted: Apollos’ condition was different from the twelve men in that the record states that he knew and taught Christ, yet knowing only the baptism of John. The record also implies that the twelve men in the second event knew nothing of Christ, but had been immersed under the baptism of John. That John had baptized and taught disciples to baptize is not of consequence here, but only what is meant by the phrase the “baptism of John” as it is used in context. I suggest that it may have a slightly different meaning and bear a different implication due to the distinguishing characteristics found within each portion of the narrative.

Without this or some similar understanding (or without accepting the first theory listed here) you can never come to a suitable understanding of these incidents. While Apollos was a teacher of Christ, yet under and obviously holding “John’s baptism,” the others clearly had no understanding of Christ at all and yet were under “John’s baptism.” How then are we to make sense of this and find balance?

This then leads me to my conclusions, and that explanation begins when Paul first asked the twelve men, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Their answer was, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” At this point the apostle knows something is wrong and then ask, “Into what then were you baptized?” The answer: “Into John’s Baptism.”

That Christ needed to be taught these men is clear from Paul’s response to them: “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”

The inference is that these men had never before heard of the Holy Spirit and yet stated that they were baptized “into John’s baptism.” The only satisfactory explanation as to what follows for me is that Paul had to conclude that they had been taught a false doctrine and had never before heard of Christ. I believe this is clear from Paul’s reply to them here.

That John was not the messiah was the absolute central point of his ministry. As this was widely misunderstood and that John yet had disciples while yet alive belies the notion that not all understood and acted on that. This is why the apostle John in his gospel takes pages to dispel the notion that John was the messiah and the prophet of Israel. There were hard heads out there that didn’t see the Light. It was the foundation to John the Immerser’s mission to prepare the way of the Lord, not that he was in any way or in any time to be worshipped. He taught just that. And yet these fellows obviously had no idea at all who Christ was or what John had really taught.

Therefore, for whatever reason, to me it is clear that as these men had never before heard of Christ, that they had never been taught correctly and then could not have followed after the true teaching and example of John.

This did not mean that they were insincere. But it does mean that although they were called disciples that they were nonetheless following after the wrong things, just as we might do today if we were to be taught and then sent out improperly, and we were never to examine the truth of the proposal. They were sincere but following after a false religion. It is also certainly and necessarily inferred that they had been led astray by false teachers, those who were deluded and who themselves did not know the truth, for neither John nor any of his true disciples would ever have taught such things. Then all of these, both teachers and learners had been following a completely failed and false cause — a religion with no purpose.

Once again, John had not taught these men (nor had any other true disciple). That is why they had to be taught Christ and had to be baptized into Christ, because they did not know of Christ and they had not been baptized for repentance for the remission of sins in the manner that had already some time ago been prescribed by God. As they had not known Christ they had not been baptized into Christ. They had been immersed into some unknown, false and fabricated religion.

Apollos had been laboring under a less critical condition, as he did know of Christ and was in fact teaching Christ correctly. The implication there is that Apollos did not then know that Christ had come and had been glorified. This is the only possible course based upon the text that I can identify.

The others had been without the central and overriding premise of the Good News, and so their religion was completely and utterly in vain. Apollos’ religion was simply misdirected.

What this means is that there had to have been at least one convert who did not know of the proceedings in Jerusalem of some two plus decades earlier. At the same time it also means that there were other people moving about that were teaching a dead form of religion during that same period. This is a lesson in what happens to truth over time and in the hands of the unscrupulous.

Apollos was still watching and waiting when Aquila and Priscilla took him aside. You might wonder how he could get so far at it, to fly below the radar for so long until Aquila and Priscilla took note of things. But, aren’t there people with similar circumstance or near similar around today? What of those who have been taught for a generation incorrectly of the purpose of baptism, of the Holy Spirit’s part in salvation, of the application of spiritual gifts since the apostles died — what of understanding marriage and divorce? Things must be known to be corrected.

Therefore, while Apollos condition amounted to one issue of needed instruction, whoever it was in the case of the twelve that had taught them had done them great wrong by wielding a false doctrine, as they left out the premium points for success: that John “was not He.” They had failed to note that you must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and you must follow him and that you should be baptized in his name, and not in John’s, and that you must serve him in order to be saved and to have your sins remitted.

Personally I doubt that John ever baptized in “his name” as we immediately think of such things today. For when this is stated it means Apollos was baptized under the consent of John, as it stated that he “knew” only John’s baptism. The twelve were baptized “into” John’s baptism to the same effect but from different points of understanding. When such phrases occur they mean the event took place with the authority of the person named, or by his authority and consent. The scriptures only tell us that John baptized for repentance for the remission of sins. The only persons to baptize in anyone’s name were the apostles and the disciples of Christ. One is correctly stated to be about John’s Baptism (Apollos’ knowledge) while the second misapplied the whole notion of being baptized “into John’s baptism,” something which had not really happened.

If these things are sound, then this examination should dispel the notion that the true baptism of John was somehow different from the baptism of Christ. Both baptisms were to the same end, the only difference being that one looked to the coming of the messiah and the cross and the other looked beyond it. For someone twenty years on to be going about and baptizing in John’s name would be a serious departure from truth, especially noting that they had not taught the truth of the ministry of John. The authority for the baptism of John was from the exact same place as was the authority of the baptism into Christ (see Matthew 21).

With this explanation I can offer a suitable explanation as to why the twelve men “had” to be baptized but that Apollos only needed to be taught better. I believe that Apollos was teaching Christ as the record noted, but nothing is said of his baptizing men and women in the name of John or into John’s baptism — that does not occur in the text. The record only states this: “This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John” (v.25). So, he was one-step better than the others. He taught Christ but had been seeking Christ while abiding under the particulars of John’s teaching.

To get on to the elements for salvation, nothing new is mentioned here either. It is still hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized. I suspect this also lets down the believers that hold that as Apollos was not listed as having to be baptized into Christ, but only taught, that they too need not be immersed. If you hang your soul on such things I can only wish you good luck in the future (I believe that luck won’t avail too much however).

This also includes another example that dispels the notion that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is baptism for salvation. The twelve were first baptized in water as is implied, and afterward they received the Holy Spirit through the laying on the apostle’s hands – the only way it could be transferred. The scriptures in no place pretend that a baptism of the Holy Spirit is necessary to anyone’s salvation and it must be taken similarly with the notion of an indwelling of the Spirit being some signatory of discipleship. This has been the case throughout.

We have already established in several lessons on this site, that John’s baptism did not include, and was not a baptism of the Holy Spirit. John had said and taught just exactly that, and that notion is again proven here.

You and I must hear and respond to the word of God. We must repent, and confess the name of Christ and be baptized into Christ, and we will then have put on Christ. Once that is accomplished, we are then promised that we will all receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (as will ALL disciples) but that hasn’t a thing to do with some other worldly envelopment or internal invasion of the Holy Spirit. It has to do with being recipient to the gift of salvation, of which the Holy Spirit acted to confirm through the hands of the chosen apostles and disciples — it does not in this passage or in any other convey that ALL Christians will enjoy an indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And though you may try, you can never prove otherwise through the Word of God.

You may not agree with my comments on these events but you cannot but agree that in each of the nine cases the instructions were always the same. That in order to come to Christ you must first hear His Word, then you must believe the truth of the word of God and give yourself over to it. You must turn away from and repent of your sins and finally, you must then complete the commands and be baptized into Christ to put on Christ. What remains then is to follow the Word obediently in this life to gain the prize held in the heavenly places when this life is over.

Would it not be wise to examine this and to follow the instructions as they have been given?