Many suggest that the key political tension behind 1 Corinthians was a local leadership squabble that associated itself especially with the external figureheads of Paul and Apollos. I am in agreement with this perspective. So what role did Apollos actually have in all of this?
I have possibly posted about this topic before, but I was just thinking about it and decided I wanted to get some things down so that I don’t forget them. This is just off the top of my head – I don’t have a Bible or other resources in front of me, so it might not be completely specific in details.
We meet Apollos in Acts 18, where he is a learned (or eloquent) man who has been teaching about Jesus in accordance with what he had learned from John the Baptist. Luke tells that Apollos left for Corinth at around the same time that Paul arrived from Corinth; and there are parallel stories of the ‘correction’ of unripe Christian conviction: Apollos is instructed by Paul’s co-workers Priscilla and Aquila, and then some believers who only knew John’s baptism are instructed by Paul. Presumably Luke intends us to recognise that the latter group have a problem similar to the shortcoming of Apollos. So could it be that the correction also involved elements of similarity? In other words, just as the unripe believers learn that there is a Holy Spirit who enables tongues and prophecy, is this something Apollos also learned from Priscilla and Aquila?
Anyway, Apollos then goes to Corinth and publicly convinces fellow Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. It seems he became something of a hero to some in the Corinthian church. Could it be that, for the first time in early Christianity, Apollos also – perhaps unwittingly – provoked the adoption into church life of phenomena that had until then been signals of missionary expansion: tongues and prophecy? (Perhaps this is why Luke, as Paul’s advocate, wanted to show that, behind the scenes, Paul was actually not inferior to Apollos in these matters, but was effectively his corrector.)
By the time Paul writes to the Corinthians, Apollos has moved on, and is unwilling to quickly return, perhaps because he is thrown by what has developed since he left: some members, resistant to local leadership, have attempted to exert influence, and have found it expedient to link themselves to the newer, more eloquent, more ‘spiritual’ style of Apollos. Others, in reaction, have aligned themselves with Paul (or other figureheads). The issue of baptism has especially come to the fore. Paul wants to respond in a way that shows solidarity with Apollo, while addressing the factionalism and underlying ‘spiritual’ pride in the community.