Holman Bible Dictionary
(ehf' uh ssuhss) One of the largest and most impressive cities in the ancient world, a political, religious, and commercial center in Asia Minor. Associated with the ministries of Paul, Timothy, and the apostle John, the city played a significant role in the spread of early Christianity. Ephesus and its inhabitants are mentioned more than twenty times in the New Testament.
Location The ancient city of Ephesus, located in western Asia Minor at the mouth of the Cayster River, was an important seaport. Situated between the Maeander River to the south and the Hermus River to the north, Ephesus had excellent access to both river valleys which allowed it to flourish as a commercial center. Due to the accumulation of silt deposited by the river, the present site of the city is approximately five to six miles inland.
Historical Background The earliest inhabitants of Ephesus were a group of peoples called Leleges and Carians who were driven out around 1000 B.C. by Ionian Greek settlers led by Androclus of Athens. The new inhabitants of Ephesus assimilated the native religion of the area, the worship of a goddess of fertility whom they identified with the Greek goddess Artemis, the virgin huntress. (Later the Romans identified Artemis with their goddess Diana.)
Around 560 B.C. Croesus of Lydia conquered Ephesus and most of western Asia Minor. Under Croesus' rule, the city was moved farther south and a magnificent temple, the Artemision, was constructed for the worship of Artemis. In 547 B.C., following the defeat of Croesus by Cyrus of Persia, Ephesus came under Persian control. Disaster struck the city in 356 when fire destroyed the Artemision.
Alexander the Great, who was reportedly born on the same day as the Artemision fire, took over the area in 334 B.C. His offer to finance the ongoing reconstruction of the temple was diplomatically declined. The rebuilt temple, completed about 250 B.C., became known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Lysimachus, one of Alexander's generals, ruled over Ephesus from about 301 to 281 B.C., when he was killed by Seleucus I. Under Lysimachus the city was moved again, this time to higher ground to escape the danger of flooding. City walls were built; a new harbor was constructed; and new streets were laid out. After the death of Lysimachus, Ephesus fell under the control of the Seleucids until their defeat by the Romans in 189 B.C. Rome gave the city to the king of Pergamum as a reward for his military assistance. In 133 B.C., at the death of the last Pergamum ruler, the city came under direct Roman control.
Under the Romans, Ephesus thrived, reaching the pinnacle of its greatness during the first and second centuries of the Christian era. At the time of Paul, Ephesus was probably the fourth largest city in the world, with a population estimated at 250,000. During the reign of the emperor Hadrian, Ephesus was designated the capital of the Roman province of Asia. The grandeur of the ancient city is evident in the remains uncovered by archaeologists, including the ruins of the Artemision, the civic agora, the temple of Domitian, gymnasiums, public baths, a theater with seating for 24,000, a library, and the commercial agora, as well as several streets and private residences. Also discovered were the head and forearm of a colossal statue of the emperor Domitian. Today the Turkish town of Seljuk occupies the site of ancient Ephesus.
Ephesus in the New Testament Paul stopped at Ephesus at the end of his second missionary journey, left Priscilla and Aquila there, and returned to Antioch (Acts 18:18-21 ). Apollos preached in Ephesus soon thereafter and met Priscilla and Aquila who “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26 ). Paul, on his third journey, spent more than two years in Ephesus teaching and preaching in the synagogue and in the hall of Tyrannus. The success of his preaching at Ephesus triggered a riot headed by the silversmiths who feared that their business of selling miniature replicas of Artemis (Diana) or her temple would suffer severely (Acts 19:24-41 ). After the town clerk quelled the disturbance, Paul left Ephesus for Macedonia. At the conclusion of this missionary endeavor, on his way back to Palestine, Paul stopped at Miletus and sent for the elders of the church in Ephesus so that he might speak with them (Acts 20:17 ).
Ephesus is also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:32 . Paul noted that he had fought with beasts at Ephesus. Many commentators understand this statement to be only a figurative reference to strong and dangerous opposition. At the close of 1Corinthians, Paul wrote that he would remain at Ephesus until Pentecost “for a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9 ).
Elsewhere in the New Testament Ephesus appears as the location of one of the seven churches addressed in Revelation (Revelation 1:11; Revelation 2:1 ). Ephesus, the leading city of Asia Minor, is appropriately the first of the seven churches. In the opening verse of the letter to the Ephesians some manuscripts describe the recipients of the letter as the saints who are “at Ephesus.” The earliest and most reliable manuscripts, however, do not include the reference to Ephesus. In 1,2Timothy, Ephesus is mentioned three times. Timothy was urged to remain at Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3 ); reference is made to Onesiphorus and “in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus” (2 Timothy 1:16-18 ); and the writer stated that Tychicus had been sent to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:12 ).
Christian tradition from the second century and later claimed that the apostle John moved to Ephesus, and after living to an old age, died a natural death there. Another, more dubious tradition states that Mary the mother of Jesus also died in Ephesus. See Asia Minor; Ephesians; Revelation, Book of; Timothy .
Mitchell G. Reddish
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