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Bible Commentaries

Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Acts 19

Acts 19

AS WE OPEN this chapter, we find Paul arriving at Ephesus after Apollos had left, and there finding certain disciples, who were in a similar state of ignorance as to the full gospel message. They were truly “disciples,” and they had believed as much of the facts concerning Christ as they had heard. The Holy Ghost is given to those who believe “the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation” ( Eph_1:13 ). They had not believed it, because they had not heard it, and consequently they had not received the Spirit. Like Apollos, they had only heard the earliest beginnings of things, connected with John the Baptist, and had been baptised with his baptism. When Paul had instructed them further, and they had been baptised as owning the Lordship of Jesus, and Paul had laid his hands on them, the Spirit came on them and they both spoke with tongues and prophesied. Thus impressive evidence was granted that they had now entered into the full Christian state.

Paul did not in any way blame these twelve men. The transition to the full light of the Gospel was gradual in those days of slow communications. In the beginning of Hebrews 6.0 , we do get things said which imply reproach. There were those amongst the Jewish believers who were blameworthy for not “leaving the word of the beginning of Christ” (margin), and going on to the perfection of the full Gospel. John’s ministry had a great deal to say as to “repentance from dead works,” and of “baptisms,” and of “eternal judgment,” but by the time that Epistle was written the full truth of Christ had been sounded abroad, and they ought to have embraced it, even if it cut across many of their Jewish thoughts. There is no excuse for us, if we do not go on to perfection.

These men being blessed, Paul turned his attention to the synagogue, where he had briefly testified on his earlier visit, and for three months he reasoned with the Jews, persuading them of the Gospel. At the end of that time he perceived that his work there was finished. The remnant according to the election of grace was manifest, and the rest were hardened, so he made the cleavage complete by leaving the synagogue and carrying the disciples with him, to continue his service in the school of Tyrannus just as at Corinth he had left the synagogue for the house of Justus. Thereby it was made quite manifest that what God was establishing was not a fresh group of enlightened believers amongst the Jews, but a new thing altogether, embracing both Jews and Gentiles.

So distinct and powerful a work was wrought there that Paul spent two years of labour in that city. God supported him by miraculous manifestations of a special nature, and the whole province was evangelised. As is ever the case, a powerful working of God unmasks the working of Satan, and excites his opposition. The rest of this chapter shows how this came about at Ephesus.

The first move was to oppose by way of imitation. The seven sons of Sceva thought that they too might cast out demons by using the name of the Lord Jesus. But they did not know Him. He was not really Lord to them, and so they could only speak of Him as “Jesus whom Paul preacheth,” omitting His title as Lord. The demon at once showed that he did not know them, and he was not deceived by their second-hand use of the name of Jesus. The seven men were utterly discomfited, and their disgrace was known to all. In result the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.

This led to a great and public triumph over Satan and the dark arts, by which men sought to maintain contact with him. Many that had believed were moved to confess how formerly they had been entangled, and the evil things they had done. Many others moved away from this dreadful evil and publicly burned the books that dealt with these things, in spite of their monetary value. The Word of God grew and prevailed, and this Satanic evil grew less and suffered defeat. It is a sorrowful reflection for us that in our day less attention than formerly is being paid to the Word, and spiritist practices are on the increase.

In these practices Satan approaches men with all the wiles of the serpent. Defeated thus, on this occasion, he had recourse to action in which he revealed himself as the roaring lion. He worked through the cupidity of men. The success of the Gospel had imperilled the trade of the silversmiths, and it was not difficult to attempt to revive their trade under cover of zeal for the reputation of their goddess Diana. Was her greatness to be despised and her magnificence to be destroyed? Here was excellent camouflage for their real concern as to their own money-making prospects!

Their cry of “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” was a spark that set the whole city alight, for Satan had been at work manufacturing the inflammable material. There ensued the alarming riot, to which the Apostle alludes in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, when he and his friends “were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” ( 2Co_1:8 ). The excited Ephesians were ready to put the sentence of death upon Paul, but as he goes on to tell us, “we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.” God did deliver him “from so great a death,” but evidently the danger was so overwhelming that Paul likens his deliverance to a resurrection from the dead.

From the account in Acts we can see how God made use of one and another in working the deliverance certain of the chiefs of Asia; Alexander, who distracted attention from Paul; the town clerk with his diplomatic talk. The majority of the wild demonstrators had no idea exactly why they were demonstrating, and the town clerk reminded them that the Roman authorities might turn the tables on them and accuse them of sedition. It is worthy of note that he was able to say of Paul and his companions, they are “neither temple-plunderers, nor speak injuriously of your goddess” (New Trans.); which shows that they had carefully avoided all that might have given offence. They went in for the positive preaching of the Gospel rather than the negative work of exposing the follies of idolatry.

This great uproar ended Paul’s service in Ephesus, and he departed for Macedonia, as the first verse of Acts 20.0 records. It is of interest at this point to turn again to 2 Corinthians, and read 2Co_2:12 , 2Co_2:13 , and then 2Co 7.5-7.7 . From these verses we gather that Paul made a short stay at Troas on his outward journey to Macedonia, but owing to his anxiety to meet Titus and hear news of the Corinthian saints, he left for Macedonia,

in spite of the open door for service. Arrived in Macedonia, he was still in great disquietude and trouble, yet there Titus did appear and he was comforted. So, evidently the trouble in Ephesus was followed by further trouble both at Troas and in Macedonia. Yet all this side of things is passed over in silence as far as Acts is concerned. Luke could hardly put on record these more intimate details of the Apostle’s experiences: we learn of them from his own pen.

Verses 1-99

Acts 19

AS WE OPEN this chapter, we find Paul arriving at Ephesus after Apollos had left, and there finding certain disciples, who were in a similar state of ignorance as to the full gospel message. They were truly “disciples,” and they had believed as much of the facts concerning Christ as they had heard. The Holy Ghost is given to those who believe “the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation” ( Eph_1:13 ). They had not believed it, because they had not heard it, and consequently they had not received the Spirit. Like Apollos, they had only heard the earliest beginnings of things, connected with John the Baptist, and had been baptised with his baptism. When Paul had instructed them further, and they had been baptised as owning the Lordship of Jesus, and Paul had laid his hands on them, the Spirit came on them and they both spoke with tongues and prophesied. Thus impressive evidence was granted that they had now entered into the full Christian state.

Paul did not in any way blame these twelve men. The transition to the full light of the Gospel was gradual in those days of slow communications. In the beginning of Hebrews 6.0 , we do get things said which imply reproach. There were those amongst the Jewish believers who were blameworthy for not “leaving the word of the beginning of Christ” (margin), and going on to the perfection of the full Gospel. John’s ministry had a great deal to say as to “repentance from dead works,” and of “baptisms,” and of “eternal judgment,” but by the time that Epistle was written the full truth of Christ had been sounded abroad, and they ought to have embraced it, even if it cut across many of their Jewish thoughts. There is no excuse for us, if we do not go on to perfection.

These men being blessed, Paul turned his attention to the synagogue, where he had briefly testified on his earlier visit, and for three months he reasoned with the Jews, persuading them of the Gospel. At the end of that time he perceived that his work there was finished. The remnant according to the election of grace was manifest, and the rest were hardened, so he made the cleavage complete by leaving the synagogue and carrying the disciples with him, to continue his service in the school of Tyrannus just as at Corinth he had left the synagogue for the house of Justus. Thereby it was made quite manifest that what God was establishing was not a fresh group of enlightened believers amongst the Jews, but a new thing altogether, embracing both Jews and Gentiles.

So distinct and powerful a work was wrought there that Paul spent two years of labour in that city. God supported him by miraculous manifestations of a special nature, and the whole province was evangelised. As is ever the case, a powerful working of God unmasks the working of Satan, and excites his opposition. The rest of this chapter shows how this came about at Ephesus.

The first move was to oppose by way of imitation. The seven sons of Sceva thought that they too might cast out demons by using the name of the Lord Jesus. But they did not know Him. He was not really Lord to them, and so they could only speak of Him as “Jesus whom Paul preacheth,” omitting His title as Lord. The demon at once showed that he did not know them, and he was not deceived by their second-hand use of the name of Jesus. The seven men were utterly discomfited, and their disgrace was known to all. In result the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.

This led to a great and public triumph over Satan and the dark arts, by which men sought to maintain contact with him. Many that had believed were moved to confess how formerly they had been entangled, and the evil things they had done. Many others moved away from this dreadful evil and publicly burned the books that dealt with these things, in spite of their monetary value. The Word of God grew and prevailed, and this Satanic evil grew less and suffered defeat. It is a sorrowful reflection for us that in our day less attention than formerly is being paid to the Word, and spiritist practices are on the increase.

In these practices Satan approaches men with all the wiles of the serpent. Defeated thus, on this occasion, he had recourse to action in which he revealed himself as the roaring lion. He worked through the cupidity of men. The success of the Gospel had imperilled the trade of the silversmiths, and it was not difficult to attempt to revive their trade under cover of zeal for the reputation of their goddess Diana. Was her greatness to be despised and her magnificence to be destroyed? Here was excellent camouflage for their real concern as to their own money-making prospects!

Their cry of “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” was a spark that set the whole city alight, for Satan had been at work manufacturing the inflammable material. There ensued the alarming riot, to which the Apostle alludes in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, when he and his friends “were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” ( 2Co_1:8 ). The excited Ephesians were ready to put the sentence of death upon Paul, but as he goes on to tell us, “we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.” God did deliver him “from so great a death,” but evidently the danger was so overwhelming that Paul likens his deliverance to a resurrection from the dead.

From the account in Acts we can see how God made use of one and another in working the deliverance certain of the chiefs of Asia; Alexander, who distracted attention from Paul; the town clerk with his diplomatic talk. The majority of the wild demonstrators had no idea exactly why they were demonstrating, and the town clerk reminded them that the Roman authorities might turn the tables on them and accuse them of sedition. It is worthy of note that he was able to say of Paul and his companions, they are “neither temple-plunderers, nor speak injuriously of your goddess” (New Trans.); which shows that they had carefully avoided all that might have given offence. They went in for the positive preaching of the Gospel rather than the negative work of exposing the follies of idolatry.

This great uproar ended Paul’s service in Ephesus, and he departed for Macedonia, as the first verse of Acts 20.0 records. It is of interest at this point to turn again to 2 Corinthians, and read 2Co_2:12 , 2Co_2:13 , and then 2Co 7.5-7.7 . From these verses we gather that Paul made a short stay at Troas on his outward journey to Macedonia, but owing to his anxiety to meet Titus and hear news of the Corinthian saints, he left for Macedonia,

in spite of the open door for service. Arrived in Macedonia, he was still in great disquietude and trouble, yet there Titus did appear and he was comforted. So, evidently the trouble in Ephesus was followed by further trouble both at Troas and in Macedonia. Yet all this side of things is passed over in silence as far as Acts is concerned. Luke could hardly put on record these more intimate details of the Apostle’s experiences: we learn of them from his own pen.

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Acts 19". "Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbh/acts-19.html. 1947.