I burned up a lot of years of my life in just going to school, more and more – until there weren’t any more degrees to get. Looking back now much later, I’m surprised I did that, because I honestly didn’t especially like the rigors and pressures of academia.
And I sometimes wonder about the value of it all. I don’t regret it, and indeed the academic skills learned at Dallas Theological Seminary are a part of just about every day of my life. Even so, the experience gained in the large church in Dallas where I was privileged to serve on the eight-pastor staff as minister of music was even more influential and enriching.
Just this past weekend I made a biblical Greek reference in a local pastors’ forum – a remark that I thought was rather basic for clergy with a biblical education. But it apparently blew over everyone’s head except for one guy who caught the humor in it. I could tell that others thought it was just strange, at best. Oh well.
Sometimes people seem a bit in awe of formal theological education, as if I had spent years at the very feet of Jesus and gained a level of insight they could never attain. Other times I have encountered people who make off-the-wall theological assertions fully in error, and when I politely attempt to bring a biblical precision to the issue, they blow it off as the foolishness of a know-it-all who wasted his life in a classroom.
The enrichment that can come from a formal program of biblical and theological education can be a wonderful tool in life. Yet such is not a necessity for a person to have a very high-level, working knowledge of the Scriptures – that informs one’s own life and positions a person to instruct and disciple others.
We will see in today’s passage both types of people in Apollos and in the couple Priscilla and Aquila. All of them were a part of Paul’s close acquaintances and co-workers in ministry for the establishment of the local church throughout the Roman world. Recall from our earlier discussion that Aquila and Priscilla were Jews who shared the same occupational skill as Paul: tent making. They had interpersonal skills and leadership abilities, surely having been discipled by Paul while they stitched leather together. And this couple meets a true academic in a fellow name Apollos, a highly-educated university fellow.
Apollos was from Alexandria in Egypt, which was a significant center of education. As a man who would stand and teach in the synagogue, his messages were true to the Old Testament Scripture; and he was accurate about the Messiah in the same vein of teaching as was heralded by John the Baptist. However, he was unfamiliar with the rest of the story and its fulfillment in Jesus. Priscilla and Aquila take him aside and explain all of this to him. Get the picture here? Tentmakers are teaching the slick university dude! And it works. Apollos becomes a great early spokesman for the cause of the Gospel and heads out on his own tour of proclamation, crossing the Aegean and going presumably to Corinth.
Here is the passage …
Acts 18:24 – Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor[a] and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.
Formal education is a grand thing when it is available. But that is not the only way to be biblically literate at a high level. This is especially true in our modern era where advanced learning is only a few clicks away. If you’ve been in my office you know that I have thousands of books, many of them of the reference sort. They were expensive when purchased during my seminary years, as we were encouraged to build our own personal libraries. Now, most of those resources are available online for a fraction of the cost.
We live in a time with a wealth of information available to us. If there was ever a time when there was little excuse for not knowing the Scriptures, it is now. Paul encouraged Timothy with this timeless truth: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.