In the breathless account of the gospel’s progress throughout the world, the author of Acts sometimes slows down the pace to focus on needed fine-tuning. In chapter 15 he tells about the big meeting in Jerusalem to settle the question of circumcision. In chapters 18-19 he clears the way by dealing with John’s baptism, in what appear to be two related stories.
Though separated by a chapter number, the two events show similarities in vocabulary and content that tie them together. Both begin mentioning that Apollos and Paul “came to Ephesus” (Acts 18:24; 19:1). Both Apollos and Paul speak boldly in the Ephesian synagogue (Acts 18:26; 19:8). In the former narrative, Priscilla and Aquila correct Apollos; in the latter, Paul leads the 12 disciples to a proper obedience. In both several themes appear as well.
1. Truth matters
Since truth cannot be left aside, enlightenment must take place. These two events tell us it’s important to get the facts right, to be sure we have the story straight.
Sincerity is not a trump card that cancels truth. Ignorance does not excuse one from responsibility. Neither is grace a blanket that covers falsehood. Grace and truth belong together, work hand in hand (John 1:17).
When our Lord taught a Samaritan woman, he risked alienating her over a truth that would soon no longer matter. “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:21-22 NET). Why would he say this to her, unless truth made a difference in one’s life?
Jesus framed his incarnation and his entire ministry in truth terms: “For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world – to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). His followers can do no less.
2. Reason matters
Baptism, like other Christian practices, is not a sacrament or ritual that has validity independent of the understanding of the person baptized. There are reasons and truths that make baptism what it is. One’s motives count for God, purposes mean everything. The why cannot be separated from the what.
If baptism had no relationship to salvation, there would have been no need to repeat an outward act. But this was no repeat. The 12 disciples were not “rebaptized.” Such a word never occurs in Scripture. They were baptized “in [or “into;” Greek, eis] the name of the Lord Jesus.” This phrase is not a formula to be spoken over a person, but designates the purpose of uniting the person with Christ. One becomes a follower of Christ, a subject upon whom the benefits of the cross are heaped. It is understood that even though the disciples received a baptism earlier, they sustained no relationship with Christ.
Just so, many people have received a baptism whose purpose and reason are contrary to that specified in Scripture. They need to be baptized in order to be identified with and connected to Jesus.
3. Correction matters
Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and taught him more accurately the way of God. Paul, rather than just teach what the 12 disciples lacked and going on from there, had them baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5). They took pains to correct deficiencies in understanding. So must we, since the Scriptures are “useful … for correction” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Among truths that should be corrected in the understanding of many are these:
A. Jesus’ divinity. Christ said, “Before Abraham came into existence, I am” (John 8:58), appropriating the name of God for himself. When he said, “the Father and I are one,” the Jews tried to stone him, because they understood, rightly, that he was “claiming to be God” (John 10:30-33). Jesus is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
B. Jesus’ Lordship. Many call him Lord, but so few obey him (Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 6:46). Almost no one in the religious world teaches that the Lord in his grace saves those who obey him (Hebrews 5:9). On the preaching of Jesus as “Lord and Christ,” the hearers cried out, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:36-37). And rightly so.
C. Jesus’ church. There is but one body, which is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4). One church is not as good as another, because Jesus built his (Matthew 16:18), and the rest are created by man. People who believe otherwise must be corrected and brought into the church which belongs to the Lord.
These are all kingdom issues and truth questions. They cannot therefore be dispensed with. Just as Priscilla and Aquila taught the way of God to Apollos more accurately, and just as Paul corrected the 12 disciples’ understanding, we must help others to know the truth of God’s gospel, that grace may abound.