3

Acts 18:24

And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.

The word usually rendered here as "scriptures" is γραφαῖς (graphais), which can also refer to writings in general.

Is this passage saying that Apollos was well-versed in the Tanakh, or in literature in general, or something else?

Is it possible to read this to mean that he was a skilled writer?


Related question about γραφή here

3

In English we make mention of the 'bible' or the good 'book' or the 'scriptures'. None of these words, in their origin, are exclusive to any one body of writing.

In certain circles 'bible' may refer to any central body of reference. Arthur Vogel's extensive production can be referred to as 'the organic chemist's bible'.

But within (let us say) Protestant circles there would be no doubt what was being referred to if one said 'bible' or 'scripture' or 'the good book' or even 'the book'. It would be that collection of writings which begins with Genesis and ends with Revelation.

Go back a hundred and fifty years and it would be very close to a certainty that one was talking about the Authorised Version of 1611 (1769).

Similarly, in the first century, at a time before any apostle had yet recorded anything written, to refer to graphe Strong 1124 (graphais, in Acts 18:24, being the dative plural and conveying a collection of what is written) it would be very obvious what was in view.

My 1,700 page Special American Edition of Liddel & Scott makes it clear that in profane Greek literature the term was not specific and, if anything, would principally refer to pencil work, artwork, or a painting as well as to a piece of writing or a legal document such as an indictment.

But within the writings of the apostles it is abundantly clear that they all use the term graphe to refer to holy scripture. That is to say, at the time of which Luke writes in Acts 18:24, the law and the prophets, as Jesus refers to the Hebrew scriptures, for example in Matthew 22:40.

Later, Peter uses the same term to refer to Paul's writings, 2 Peter 3:16, saying than many are wont to 'wrest' his words, making them seem to be other than they really are.

Paul, himself, then uses another word gramma Strong 1121 in referring to Timothy's upbringing, 2 Timothy 3:15, that, from a 'babe' he had known the 'sacred letters' perhaps conveying that Timothy had been taught to read, learning his letters out of the Hebrew bible, the word being more specifically focussed on what is actually, individually, on the page, rather than graphe which I would suggest refers to the pictorial shape (and therefore, by implication, the sense) of an entire word.

The word graphe occurs 51 times in the TR and in the KJV it is translated 'scripture' or 'scriptures' every single time (1). Glancing down the list it would appear to me that no other word, in context, would be suitable in any of this list.

As to Apollos, he was an eloquent man, mighty in the scriptures, this suggesting that, his eloquence being put first, the following mention of 'mightiness' - in respect of the graphe - would convey the meaning that his eloquence was centred on the Hebrew scripture and it was his spoken word, closely aligned with the holy writings, that was so powerful, so persuasive and so 'mighty'.

(1) Source is Robert Young's Analytical Concordance, 9th edition.

6
2

The text seems to imply that he was well-versed in the Tanakh, literature (I'll explain), as well as other disciplines. It's impressive that Apollos was speaking and teaching the things concerning Jesus -- especially only being acquainted with the baptism of John. Had he encountered Christ somewhere before? The NAS reads:

Acts 18:24-26: 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.

The disciples must have felt this faithful man was a blessing from God ("being fervent in spirit"). There may have been very few as well-versed in New Covenant teaching as is related in the next few verses regarding Apollos:

Acts 18:28: [He] powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

It seems that since he was such an eloquent man, mighty in the Scriptures (the only Scriptures they yet possessed were largely the O/T), and in speaking and teaching, it stands to reason that he was well-educated. That education would surely include writing, no doubt from a prestigious Greek institution. I have often wondered if Apollos was the author of Hebrews.

2
  • Can you support the mention of a 'prestigious Greek institution' and could you, perhaps, indicate what were, specifically, available in the vicinity ?
    – Nigel J
    Apr 17 at 8:24
  • @Nigel The best I can offer is that Alexandria was a cultural center which contained one of the greater libraries in the ancient world. It makes sense that if the Septuagint (LXX) was translated in Alexandria, that certain respected institutions were also located there as well, but I cannot enumerate them. I found it interesting how those such as Euclid (mathematics) and Philo (philosophy) emerged from Alexandria. Apollos' skills, it seems to me, reflect a culture of superior learning. I'm not sure if this helps much.
    – Xeno
    Apr 17 at 9:40
2

This is actually quite uncomplicated. The noun γραφή (graphé) occurs 51 times in the NT. In ALL instances, without exception, it refers to "sacred scripture" (BDAG). For example:

Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: "'The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? Matt 21:42 [ = 1st in NT]

This is also true of Matt 22:29, 26:54, 56, Mark 12:10, 24, 14:49, 15:28, Luke 4:21, 24:27, 32, 45, John 5:39, etc.

Thus, γραφή in NT times would presumably refer to:

  • What we now call the Old Testament
  • According to 2 Peter 3:16, it began to include some of the writings of Paul in Peter's day:

He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Peter 3:16 [ = last instance in NT]

Therefore, if γραφή applies to anything other than sacred scripture, it is the only such case in all the NT. That γραφή refers to sacred Scripture is confirmed by the very next verse, of Acts 18:24-26 -

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, well versed in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord and was fervent in spirit. He spoke and taught accurately about Jesus though he knew only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue.

Thus, Apollos was using "Scripture" to prove that Jesus was Messiah.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.