18 At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus.
22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 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. 26 He began to speak 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. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. – Acts 18:18-28 ESV
When Paul left Corinth, he had Priscilla and Aquila with him. They made a stop in Cenchreae, just south of Corinth, and Luke indicates that, while they were there, Paul had cut his hair. This seems like a strangely personal note for Luke to add to his document, but the reason for it is found in the phrase, “for he was under a vow.” Evidently, Paul had made a vow to God. We are not given the context or content of the vow, but simply informed that one had been made. The fact that Paul was cutting his hair was indication that the vow had ended. It was more than likely some sort of Nazarite vow. The details surrounding this kind of vow are found in the Book of Numbers.
2 “Speak to the Israelites, and tell them, ‘When either a man or a woman takes a special vow, to take a vow as a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, 3 he must separate himself from wine and strong drink, he must drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from strong drink, nor may he drink any juice of grapes, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. 4 All the days of his separation he must not eat anything that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin.
5 “‘All the days of the vow of his separation no razor may be used on his head until the time is fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord. He will be holy, and he must let the locks of hair on his head grow long. – Numbers 6:2-5 NLT
It was at the end of the vow, once it had been fulfilled, that the individual was required to cut their hair. But according to the Book of Numbers, there was more involved. Paul would have been required to return to Jerusalem, where he would go to the temple and “take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire where the peace offering is burning” (Numbers 6:18 NLT). Again, Luke does not tell us whether the vow Paul made was a Nazarite vow or not. But he had made a promise to God, setting himself apart for God’s use and had determined to seal that promise with a binding vow. It could have been that Paul, finding himself traveling on his own for the first time once Silas and Timothy remained behind, felt the need to make a vow, asking for His divine favor. As Paul prepared to leave Greece, he must have felt his vow had been fulfilled.
Paul sailed to Ephesus, where he went to the local synagogue, but without Priscilla and Aquila. They were Gentiles who had become Christians, but not Jewish proselytes, so they would not have been welcome at the synagogue. The Jews with whom Paul reasoned begged him to stay and he told them he would, if it was in God’s will. This provides a telling insight into Paul’s growing dependence upon God. He knew that any agenda he had would have to take a backseat to the will of God. There were many times in Paul’s life when he wished to go somewhere or do something, but was prevented from doing so by God.
Paul left Ephesus, sailing all the way to Caesarea. This would have been a long and dangerous journey, and because of the time of the year, Paul would have been sailing on very rough seas. But he made it safely to Caesarea, and then on to Jerusalem, where he greeted the church there. It was probably in Jerusalem that Paul offered the sacrifice that fully fulfilled his vow. But from there he made his way to Antioch in Syria and then on to the regions of Galatia and Phrygia, where, as Luke indicates, he strengthened and encouraged all the disciples that had been made there. Paul was circling back, revisiting those places where he had originally shared the gospel and seen people come to faith in Christ. We tend to think of Paul as an evangelist, but these verses give us a glimpse into his passion for discipleship. He was determined to see those who came to faith in Christ, grow up in their salvation. The apostle Peter shared this same passion.
Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, – 1 Peter 2:2 NLT
Paul would later write to the believers in Ephesus, reminding them that he expected them to grow spiritually.
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:14-15 NLT
While Paul spent a great deal of his time traveling and preaching the gospel to those who were lost, he also dedicated much of his life to writing letters to those places he had been, encouraging the spiritually immature to grow up in their faith. And, at times, Paul could be very blunt and harsh, as he was when he wrote to the church in Corinth.
1 Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. 2 I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready… – 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 NLT
As Paul was making the rounds, revisiting all the places he had been before, the narrative takes us back to Ephesus, where he had left Priscilla and Aquila. They meet a man names Apollos, a Jew from Alexandria in Egypt. Luke describes him “an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24 ESV). But more importantly, he was a believer who “had been instructed in the way of the Lord” (Acts 18:25 ESV). This man, driven by his knowledge of the Old Testament and his newfound zeal for Jesus, was passionately speaking in the synagogue, sharing all he knew. But there were evidently deficiencies in his content, because Priscilla and Aquila pulled him aside and “explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26 ESV). One of the things that seems to have been missing from Apollos’ teaching was any knowledge regarding the need for the baptism of the Spirit. Luke indicates that all he knew was the baptism of John, which was a baptism of repentance. John the Baptist had been unable to offer the baptism of the Spirit because Jesus had not yet begun His ministry and, therefore, had not yet died and been resurrected. The Spirit had not come yet. But now, things were different. The baptism of John was not enough. Even John had told those who had come to him for baptism, “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am–so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11 NLT).
Apollos was a gifted man, who had been chosen by God, not only for salvation, but for the ministry of the gospel. Greatly aided by the input of Priscilla and Aquila, he departed with their blessing and headed into the region of Achaia. Once there, “he greatly helped those who through grace had believed” and “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:27-29 ESV). God had just added another weapon to His growing arsenal, and He did so by selecting an Egyptian who had first become a convert to Judaism and then a follower of Christ. This reveals God’s incredible creativity and the growing diversity of the church. Paul and Apollos could not have been any different. And yet, God had chosen both of them for His service. And each would bring a different set of gifts and abilities, making them uniquely qualified to do what God had called them to do.
New Living Translation (NLT)
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