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‘And it came about that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found certain disciples, and he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
When Paul arrived in Ephesus he ‘found’ certain disciples. Perceiving the lack of any signs of the Holy Spirit in these men, in spite of what they appeared to believe, Paul asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Without the Holy Spirit they were not members of the body of Christ, nor were they full Christians.
‘Found certain disciples.’ They would probably be Jews whose faith had been extended by acceptance of the teaching of John the Baptiser and belief in the Coming One. They were ‘almost-Christians’. They followed ‘the way of righteousness’ and have therefore to a certain extent entered under the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 21:31-32). Indeed a number of the Apostles had once been such disciples of John. They can be classed as ‘disciples’ because in their own way they are believers in Jesus and desire to follow Him (although we should note that Luke does not necessarily always refer to true believers when he speaks of ‘disciples’ - Luke 6:17; Luke 19:37; Luke 19:39). We are not told how he found them. Note that they are honoured by being given precedence to his visit to the synagogue. They are dealt with first and are seen as a unique and precious harvest-field to be garnered. Perhaps he had learned of them from a previous visit and had now sought them out.
Paul Sets Out on His Third Missionary Journey: Ministry Among The Disciples of John The Baptiser (18:23-19:7).
Paul Sets Out On His Third Missionary Journey.
The Third Missionary Journey And The Ministry of Apollos (18:23-19:20).
This section from Acts 18:23 to Acts 19:20 follows the section which has described Paul’s ministry from first leaving Antioch for his first missionary journey to his arrival back in Antioch after his second missionary journey (Acts 12:25 to Acts 18:22), in between which was sandwiched the enquiry at Jerusalem. It is thus not part of the Acts 12:25 to Acts 18:22 chiasmus. However, it is still a part of the section from Acts 12:25 to Acts 19:20 which ends with the subscription in Acts 19:20, ‘mightily grew the word of the Lord and prevailed’. It forms its own chiasmus.
It commences with Paul revisiting the churches in Asia Minor and then deals primarily with ministry in Ephesus, the largest city in Asia Minor and third largest city in the Roman Empire (Syrian Antioch was the second largest after Rome). It includes the remarkable activity of Apollos, and the conversion of the disciples of John the Baptiser, followed by Paul’s ministry there. It is characterised by a lack of persecution, and this in spite of the opposition of the Jews at Ephesus. (Although it may be that any persecution which took place is simply unmentioned. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:8). Such persecution will, however, certainly result in Ephesus in the next section of Acts). On the other hand it has all the appearance of the early days of Acts.
One reason for this subsection being here would appear to be in order to demonstrate that God had raised up another champion to take over the care of the churches in the face of Paul’s coming arrest and journey to Rome. It was saying that God would not leave the churches without someone to minister to them. When Paul was arrested the work among the Gentiles would still go on, for God always has His replacements. The word would continue to multiply. A second reason would appear to be in order to deal with the vexed question of disciples of John the Baptiser. We know from elsewhere that there were many of these in synagogues around the Roman world and it was important that the way into the church of Jesus Christ should be opened to them, while making clear to them that they did still require something more. But a third reason may well be in order to reproduce the atmosphere of the early part of both Luke and Acts so as to demonstrate that the same Spirit was at work at this time as from the beginning, and this as a preparation to commencing Paul’s journey to Jerusalem and then to Rome, which to a certain extent parallels Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Thus this subsection tells us that his coming journey was to be seen against the background of the powerful and continually maintained triumph of the Gospel which had gone forward right from the beginning without hindrance (see analysis below).
We may analyse it as follows (giving comparisons with Luke and early Acts with the analysis):
a The ministry of the disciples of John through Apollos expands into the full proclamation of Jesus (Acts 18:24-28). Compare here Luke 3:3-22; Acts 1:5.
b The disciples of John the Baptiser are incorporated into the church by the Holy Spirit coming on them in power and they speak in other tongues and prophesy (Acts 19:1-7). Compare here Luke 3:21-22; Luke 4:1 and Acts 2:1-13.
c The Good News of the Kingly Rule of God is declared to the Jews, who are revealed to be hardened (Acts 19:8-9 a), and then to the Gentiles in a continually successful ministry so that all in Asia heard ‘the word of the Lord’ (Acts 19:9-10). Compare Luke 4:16-43. See especiallyLuke 4:43; Luke 4:43 which with its ‘also’ demonstrates that Jesus saw the whole passage as preaching the Kingly Rule of God, and Acts 18:24-27 which illustrate Jewish hardness and Gentile success. Compare also Acts 2:14 to Acts 12:24 and Acts 12:25 onwards.
d Great wonders and signs continue to be performed by God through Paul (whereas John did no miracle). Even aprons and handkerchiefs (or headbands and leather aprons) taken from his body are God’s instruments in the performing of such signs and wonders (Acts 19:11-12). Compare Luke 4:18 to Luke 9:50, and Acts 4:30; Acts 5:1-16; Acts 6:8; Acts 8:6-7; Acts 8:13.
c Hardened Jews who deal in the occult are defeated, and the name of the Lord, even Jesus, is magnified (Acts 19:13-17). There are no direct parallels with this in Luke and early Acts but the idea of the conflict with the powers of Satan appears constantly in Luke, and in Luke 9:49-50 we have a contrasting story of one who also used the name of Jesus to cast out evil spirits but was acceptable because his heart was right. See also Acts 5:16; Acts 8:7; Acts 13:8; Acts 13:10-11.
b The books which are the instruments of Satan are burned in fire (Acts 19:18-19). These acts are symbolic of the destruction of Satan himself (Revelation 20:10) and depict the rejection and defeat of Satan as in Luke 4:33-37; Luke 9:37-43; Luke 10:18; Luke 11:14-22 and finally at the cross. See also again Acts 5:16; Acts 8:7. For destruction by fire see Luke 3:17; Luke 17:29-30; Acts 2:19.
a The word of the Lord grows mightily and prevails (Acts 19:20).
In ‘a’ the ministry of John develops into the ministry of Jesus, and in the parallel mightily grows the word of God and prevails. In ‘b’ the disciples of John are immersed in the Holy Spirit and speak in other tongues, in the parallel the books which are the instruments of Satan are dealt with by being immersed in fire. We are reminded of John’s words, ‘immersed in the Holy Spirit and in fire’. In ‘c’ the Jews as a whole are hardened (and thus become false witnesses), while the Gentiles continually respond so that all Asia hear the word of the Lord, and in the parallel the hardened Jews who are false witnesses are defeated, while the name of the Lord Jesus is magnified by ‘all’. Central to all in ‘d’ are the signs and wonders which confirm Paul’s ministry to be of God and to be continuing what happened at Pentecost. The whole section demonstrates the bringing to completion of the ministry of John and the atmosphere of the days following Pentecost as a reminder that Pentecost still goes on.
‘And they said to him, “No, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given.” ’
Their reply explained why it was that there was no obvious open evidence within their lives of the Spirit. They claimed that they had not known that the Holy Spirit, Whom John had promised would come through the Messiah, had in fact been given. (Literally, ‘whether the Holy Spirit (Whom John had promised) was,’ that is, had come).
‘And he said, “Into what then were you baptised?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” ’
This lack of the Spirit puzzled him because he knew that they had been baptised. How could they have been baptised having not experienced the Spirit? So he asked them the nature of their baptism and was told that it was the baptism of John.
‘And Paul said, “John baptised with the baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on him who would come after him, that is, on Jesus.” ’
Then Paul explained to them that John’s baptism had pointed ahead to the need for a change of mind and heart about sin, so that they might receive the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). And he reminded them that John had also pointed forward to the Coming One, calling on all his disciples to believe on Him (Mark 1:7-8; John 1:23-34). This Coming One, he informed them, was Jesus. So while Apollos was declaring that the Messiah was Jesus in Corinth, this group of disciples were learning the same truth from Paul in Ephesus.
‘And when they heard this, they were baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus.’
When they heard this their hearts responded to the message. The fact that they believed is assumed, for that is what Paul had directed them to do (Acts 19:4). And on believing they were baptised into the name of the LORD Jesus. Note that the baptism was into the name of Jesus as ‘the LORD’. Baptism ‘into the Name’ is always in the Name of the LORD, a title which signifies the God of Israel (Matthew 28:19).
‘And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke with tongues, and prophesied.’
But the Holy Spirit did not come on them until Paul laid his hands on them and identified them with the Christian church. It was necessary that this be so, so that it would be crystal clear that initially the disciples of John had only ‘received the Spirit’ on becoming united with the Christian church through the laying on of hands of an Apostle.
The laying on of hands is always a mark of identification. Where it takes place under the strict direction of God the result will always be that the Holy Spirit comes on the one who has hands laid on him if he has not previously known the Spirit. It can also result in a special enduement with the Spirit on one chosen by God. But it is not the laying on of hands that ensures either. It is the fact that God has made His will known, and His people then identify those whom God has chosen. Once God has made His will known the identification by holy men of that one will ensure the coming of the enduement of power. But where the will of God is lacking, any laying on of hands will be an empty ceremony.
This incident is similar to that with the Samaritans Acts 8:16-17, and in contrast with that of Cornelius Acts 11:44, in that the coming of the Holy Spirit is delayed until the recipients have been directly identified with an Apostle by the laying on of hands. This would seem to be because both were examples of distinct bodies who already saw themselves as worshipping the God of Israel and who were both therefore in danger of being satisfied with what they were and thus not uniting with the whole church of God. Thus in both cases it had to be made clear that their reception of the Spirit came though the one true church of Jesus Christ founded by the Apostles. For Cornelius and his group the word which gave life came directly through an Apostle and there was therefore no danger of schism.
We also learn that when the Holy Spirit came on these men they ‘spoke with tongues and prophesied’. This would identify them with Pentecost, and with Cornelius and his men, for the same thing happened in both cases. They too were being received by God on the same basis as both Jew and Gentile, through the reception of the Spirit. It was sealing the fact that the disciples of John were now being united in the body of Christ, and that without that union what they had experienced was only partial and insufficient.
We have no reason for assuming that such an experience of the coming of the Holy Spirit on men as witnessed by tongues and prophecy was commonplace for Paul. It is the first time in Acts that he is associated with such an experience. Seeing the effect of the Holy Spirit coming on the men accompanied by tongues and prophecy would be seen by him as a fulfilment of Pentecost before his eyes, a reminder that what Pentecost had brought for men was still as real there in Ephesus as it was previously. We note that while all spoke in praise of God, only some spoke in tongues. But the tongues were necessary so that they might all recognise that they were entering into the same experience as the infant church had at Jerusalem. They too were being ‘baptised into the body of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 12:13). The remainder praised and glorified God in their own language. In this case we are not told whether the tongues were identifiable to anyone, but the group, even though small, may well have been multi-racial. It may even be that the prophesying was in Greek or Aramaic while the tongues were their own native tongues, and that the fact of their spontaneous praise in this way was really the important sign (both tongues and prophesying are mentioned together).
‘’And they were in all about twelve men.’
The men to whom this happened numbered ‘about twelve’ (when citing numbers Luke always says ‘about’). The clear purpose of mentioning ‘twelve’ here is to link these new believers with the new Israel founded on the twelve Apostles (Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14). They are now Christ’s men and members of the Israel of God. They have been established on the foundation of the Apostles. But there may be a further significance in the figure. They may have been the leaders in Ephesus, similar to the twelve Apostles, of a larger contingent of disciples of John (it is difficult to conceive of the possibility that there could only be twelve men baptised by John in a prominent place like Ephesus so near to Jerusalem. John’s impact had been huge). If so the word of God would now go back to these earnest already half-converted Jews so that they would come to be baptised and would become a part of what follows.
There seems little doubt that one main reason that Luke had for describing this incident was precisely because it was a kind of re-enactment of Pentecost. There too those who had been baptised by John received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues and prophesied. It was a seal on Paul’s ministry preparatory for what was to come.
Note on The Followers of John.
The death, resurrection and enthronement of Jesus necessarily brought about a difficult situation for us as we look at the New Testament. To us believers are simply those who believe in the crucified and risen Christ and are thereby saved. But of course at that point in time there were large numbers of true ‘believers’ who knew nothing about His death and resurrection. Many were humble Jewish believers around the world who loved God and sought to walk with Him, fulfilling all the requirements of their faith, similar to those described in Luke 1:2. Especially there were many who had listened to John the Baptiser and had responded to his message and were seeking to live by it, looking forward to the One Whom he had promised as coming. Some would even have heard him after he began specifically to point to Jesus. All these people did not immediately become ‘disenfranchised’ from the grace of God by the resurrection. Their genuineness would only be tested when they were brought face to face with the Good News at the mouth of a Spirit inspired man. Until that time they were seen by God as true believers, for he knew their hearts. And he knew that when they did hear the Good News they would respond wholeheartedly. Thus these were truly ‘disciples’ here and they were true believers. It is just that Paul was privileged to bring them from the light that they enjoyed to the greater light of the Light of the world.
End of note.
‘And he entered into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for the space of three months, reasoning and persuading as to the things concerning the Kingly Rule of God.’
Encouraged by this experience Paul entered the synagogue and for three months boldly ‘reasoned and persuaded’ about the ‘things concerning the Kingly Rule of God’. For ‘reasoned’ compare Acts 17:2; Acts 17:17; Acts 18:4; Acts 18:19 where it is always in the synagogue or with the Jews. However in Acts 19:9 he also ‘reasons’ daily in the school of Tyrannus in the new group that he has formed, which marks a new beginning. For ‘persuaded’ as used of seeking to win men for Christ see Acts 13:43; Acts 17:4; Acts 18:4; Acts 28:23-24.
‘Concerning the Kingly Rule of God.’ Acts commences with (Acts 1:3) and ends with (Acts 28:31) the proclaiming of the Kingly Rule of God. See also Acts 8:12; Acts 14:22; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23. It is the equivalent of proclaiming ‘the Gospel’. The call is for men to come under the Kingly Rule of God in order that in the end they may enjoy the everlasting Kingdom.
In this he parallels Jesus who also went out to the Jews proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God. He too found that ‘the Jews’ (the unresponsive ones) hardened their hearts against His Message.
‘‘And he entered into the synagogue.’ The singular probably signifies ‘the sphere of the synagogue’. There would be a number of synagogues in Ephesus and he probably visited a number of them.
Paul’s Continuing Ministry in Ephesus (19:8-20).
Meanwhile we are reminded that Paul’s’ ministry continues in Ephesus in the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God (compare Acts 1:3; Acts 8:12; Acts 14:22; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31). Like the working of the Holy Spirit, and the expansion of ‘the word’ this idea of the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God lies at the root of the book all the way through. And now, having ensured the giving of the Holy Spirit in the same way as at Pentecost, he reveals Pentecostal power in his ministry and in signs and wonders and in the disorientation of the world of evil spirits and destruction of the books used in the occult by burning in fire. God inundates ‘in the Holy Spirit’ and ‘by fire’ (Luke 3:16). The Spirit of Pentecost is still active.
‘But when some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.’
Such continual efforts could only result in some being ‘hardened’ because they refused to accept the message. Note that this is also described as being ‘disobedient. For ‘hardening’ compare Romans 9:18; Hebrews 3:8; Hebrews 3:13; Hebrews 3:15; Hebrews 4:7. When used in the New Testament the word is always used of Israel/Jews. In the Old Testament it was used of Pharaoh in his attitude towards God during his battles with Moses, and elsewhere in the Old Testament of Israel, with this significance of a heart that is gradually hardened because of a refusal to submit to God. The idea in the New Testament is that those who had the Scriptures hardened their hearts against its message.
The result was that they spoke evil of ‘the Way’ before the whole congregation. That this is to be seen as more than simply disagreeing comes out in the consequences. It was on open and determined attack, no doubt including blasphemy against Jesus Christ. It presumably made further teaching in the synagogue impossible. These may well have been the ‘wild beasts at Ephesus’ (1 Corinthians 15:32). If so it suggests that Luke is toning the situation down.
‘The Way.’ A regular description of the new teaching (Acts 9:2; Acts 19:23; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14; Acts 24:22) indicating that those who followed it lived in a special way, the way of holiness. It may well have been a name that they gave to themselves. If so it would be because they were saw themselves as walking in God’s new way, and following a way of life different from all others, although it may also have connection with Jesus’ claim to be ‘The Way’ in John 14:6. Alternately it may be a title applied to them by observers, who noted their punctilious way of life, a title which they then took over for themselves.
The idea of ‘the way of holiness’ can be found in the Old Testament, especially in Isaiah 35:8-9; compare Isaiah 26:7-8; Isaiah 30:21; Isaiah 42:16; Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 48:17 The idea that it represents is that of walking before the Lord in cleanness and purity, and in following God’s Instruction (Torah), in this case in terms of the teaching of Jesus (compare Isaiah 2:3), steadfastly and truly. Those who walk in that way desire only to please Him. It was thus a very suitable title. It was ‘the way of God’.
‘He departed from them, and separated the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.’ Realising that the synagogue could no longer be a suitable place for speaking of Christ Paul moved the disciples in their entirety to the School of Tyrannus. There could now be no true worship in the atmosphere of the synagogue. From now on the church would meet in the School of Tyrannus, and it was there that the future evangelistic activity would take place, and where Paul established his own outreach. It would make him more accessible to Gentiles. We can compare the similar response in Corinth in Acts 18:7.
It was possibly partly with regard to this situation that he wrote to the Corinthians, ‘a great door and effectual is opened to me, and there are many adversaries’ (1 Corinthians 16:9).
‘The School of Tyrannus.’ Tyrannus was presumably a philosopher who had set up a school in Ephesus. He may have hired out the building during the periods when he was not teaching (the Western text has an addition which says that Paul preached there ‘from the fifth to the tenth hour’,that is from 11:00 to 16:00 indicating the period of siesta). Or he may have become a Christian and have gladly shared his building with Paul. In view of the length of time in which Paul ministered there we can be almost certain that he was friendly disposed towards him.
‘And this continued for the space of two years, so that all those who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.’
The move was successful and, far from hindering the church, resulted within two years in the spreading of ‘the word of the Lord’ throughout the whole of Asia Minor, among both Jews and Gentiles. ‘All those’ is an exaggeration indicating the widespread nature of the spreading of the word. From this evangelism would arise the ‘seven churches of Asia’ to which John writes in Revelation. Also established would be churches at Laodicea, Colossae and Hierapolis, although not by Paul himself (Colossians 2:1). It was indeed a great door that had been opened.
‘And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul, (in so much that to the sick were carried away from his body cloths or aprons), and the evil spirits went out.’
It was a period also of great signs and wonders, such that God wrought special miracles ‘through the hands of Paul’ in an unprecedented way, probably literally. He laid hands on the sick and they recovered. He cast out evil spirits. On top of the wonders he himself performed, cloths (see Luke 19:20; John 11:44; John 20:7) and aprons were take from his body, and the suggestion would appear to be that these resulted in men and women being healed. But there is no need to see this as having been widespread. It is mentioned as unusual. The cloths may have been worn around his head as sweatbands, and the aprons have been worn while he was at work. Both may have been taken without his knowledge. This was no indication of a precedent to be followed.
The deliverance from evil spirits is probably a separate issue as they would be responsive to commands given in the name of Jesus (see following verses). Evil spirits are never cast out by the laying on of hands (and laying hands on a spirit possessed person is foolish for it encourages possession for the one who does it). They are cast out by the name of Jesus. But the whole point is that the wonders of the early days are being repeated (or are continuing), with Messianic healings and demonstrations of the defeat of the tyranny of Satan. This last was now to be highlighted by events that followed.
‘But certain also of the strolling Jews, exorcists, took on themselves to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches”.’
Ephesus is here revealed to be a centre of the occult. This was so much so that the phrase 'Ephesian writings' (Ephesia grammata) was common in antiquity for documents containing spells and magical formulae. We have already encountered Bar-jesus in Cyprus (Acts 13:6). Jews especially appear to have been involved in exorcisms, and there was a recent history of exorcism in Judaism as is evident from the literature at Qumran (compare Luke 11:19), which exorcism (probably spuriously) dated itself back to the time of Solomon, and even Abraham. Here in Ephesus, seeing the wonders performed in the name of Jesus, Jewish exorcists took His name and added it to their armoury. Their failure to appreciate Who He was or to seek to have any relationship with Him comes out in the way in which they are said to have used the name, ‘by Jesus Whom Paul preaches’. They are in total contrast with the one of whom Jesus spoke in Luke 9:49.
Interestingly a papyrus that has been discovered mentions the use of the name of Jesus in exorcisms in the form ‘I adjure you by Jesus, the God of the Hebrews’, while the Rabbinic prohibition of using the name of Jesus in exorcisms indicates that it certainly occurred. Thus there is no good reason for doubting the historicity of these verses.
‘And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, a chief priest, who did this, and the evil spirit answered and said to them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?” ’
Included among these exorcists were seven sons of Sceva, a chief priest (which suggests connection with one of the Jerusalem hierarchy, a member of a high priestly family). They also sought to use the name of Jesus in order to cast out evil spirits. The ‘seven sons’, the divinely perfect number, would be seen as signifying that working together they had ‘sevenfold’ effectiveness. Their connection with ‘a chief priest’ would be considered to further proof of their effectiveness. So if any could succeed these could. But when they made the attempt the spirit replied through his victim, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?” The reply is significant to Luke. The realm of evil were very much aware of Jesus and Paul. But of connections with the chief priests they knew nothing.
We do not know who this chief priest was. He may even have been an exaggeration of the seven as they sought to bolster their powers of exorcism by suggesting that they knew the hidden secrets of Jerusalem and the hidden name of God. But Luke saw this connection with the ‘chief priest’ of whatever kind as conveying an important message. Christianity was now revealed as the main enemy of Satan, not Judaism. Judaism was now irrelevant, and no longer recognised by Satan as a threat. The sevenfold sons of Sceva with their claimed Jerusalem connections were dismissed by him. Indeed later Christians would speak of synagogues as being ‘synagogues of Satan’ because of their fierce attacks against Christians (Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9).
‘And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and mastered both of them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.’
The possessed man was then moved to violence, leaping on the seven men and ‘mastering them and prevailing against them’. This suggests that he had supernormal strength, although he would have been helped by the element of surprise and the fears that his condition aroused. But the fact that he was able to tear off their robes and wound them demonstrates the fierceness of the attack. The result was that they fled from the house, bleeding, leaving their robes behind, their discomfort and defeat clear for all to see. We can compare this possessed man with the Gadarene demoniac who also revealed his possession by violence (Luke 8:26-39).
‘And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who dwelt at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.’
And the result of this demonstration, both of the power of the name of Jesus, and of the treatment of exorcists who misused it, became widely known in Ephesus, both among Jews and Gentiles. And all were filled with awe. And the name of the LORD Jesus was magnified.
So as a result of the activities of Paul through the successful proclamation of the word of the LORD (Acts 19:10) and the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 19:8), and the performing of signs and wonders (Acts 19:11-12), and the casting out of evil spirits (Acts 19:12), and as a result of this abject failure of the sons of Sceva as they misused the name of the LORD Jesus and suffered for it (Acts 19:13-16), so that the power of the Name was further revealed, great glory came to the Name of the LORD Jesus. Many in Ephesus whose usual cry had been ‘Great is Artemis (Diana) of the Ephesians’ (Acts 19:28; Acts 19:34), now instead cried ‘Great is the Name of the LORD Jesus’. For while one had a magnificent Temple and lured men into the occult, and into buying silver shrines, and into possession by evil spirits, the Other transformed men’s lives, healed those who were sick, triumphed over evil spirits and rid men of them, and delivered men from their sins and from the occult and caused them to burn their books which were worth large amounts of silver (Acts 19:19). We are reminded of the contrast in the words of Peter in Acts 3:6, ‘silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give you, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk’.
‘Many also of those who had believed came, confessing, and declaring their deeds.’
It resulted in a widespread awareness of the seriousness of sin in God’s eyes, and especially of being involved with the occult, and believers came and admitted to their secret sins. This suggests a period of true revival. In periods of true ‘revival’, when the presence of God is experienced in a new way in the community, open confessions of sin become a regular feature as people seek to bring all out into the open for cleansing. Like Isaiah of old they have seen the Lord and they cry, ‘Woe is me, for I am undone’ (Isaiah 6:5) because they are horrified at their sins as they see them in the light of God’s presence (compare John 3:19-21). That is clearly what was happening here.
‘And not a few of those who practised magical arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all, and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.’
And the result was that a goodly number of them who had practised magical arts brought their books and burned them openly in the sight of all. They were now only too glad to get rid of them and destroy them for they recognised them for what they were. Satan was in full retreat. It may well be that Luke saw here a sense in which the Holy Spirit had come in fire to purge the believers from their sins and to destroy the evil that was among them.
‘And they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.’ This unusual note emphasises the quantity and value of what was being burned in terms of silver. These were thus in direct contrast with Demetrius and his fellows in Acts 19:24-25 who for the sake of silver would put the world in uproar. These now wanted to bring the world peace. And as the amount spoken of reveals, this was not just a matter of a few deviant Christians, it was evidence that many had still been dabbling in the occult, possibly without being aware of its inconsistency. In total the value was fifty thousand pieces of silver, a huge sum, demonstrating (even though books were expensive) how many were involved. It revealed that along with Satanism Mammon was also being ‘destroyed’. The believers, unlike the followers of Artemis, now had no thought for either.
‘So mightily grew the word of the Lord and prevailed.’
Thus was the mighty working of the word revealed. The word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed, and this in contrast to the word of Satan which was doomed to the fire. But while applying to what had just happened this also applies to the whole section from Acts 12:25. God’s word had gone forth and had accomplished its purposes in both Asia Minor and Europe and was triumphant.
From this point on the narrative takes on a new perspective. It concentrates on Paul’s set determination to make a journey to Jerusalem, which will then result in his journey under restraint, to Rome, although we are still assured that God was active through it.
‘Now after these things were ended (were fulfilled), Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, it is necessary also for me to see Rome.” ’
‘After these things were fulfilled’ probably refers to the whole section from Acts 12:25 - Acts 19:20. He has ministered throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece. Now all that remains for him is to testify in Jerusalem and in Rome.
As suggested above ‘he purposed in the Spirit’ must probably be seen as indicating the inner compulsion of the Spirit. It is by the Spirit’s impulsion that he now goes forward. And this interpretation is supported by the ‘it is necessary’ which regularly indicates the divine compulsion. Yet even if we took it to mean ‘purposed in (his own) spirit’ our conclusion must be little different, for our knowledge of Paul is such as to recognise that he would only have this purpose if he believed it to be of God. Prior to his visit, however, it was his intention first to visit the European churches that he had founded in Macedonia and Achaia.
PAUL’S JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM AND THEN TO ROME (19:21-28:31).
Here we begin a new section of Acts. It commences with Paul’s purposing to go to Jerusalem, followed by an incident, which, while it brings to the conclusion his ministry in Ephesus, very much introduces the new section. From this point on all changes. Paul’s ‘journey to Jerusalem’ and then to Rome has begun, with Paul driven along by the Holy Spirit.
The ending of the previous section as suggested by the closing summary in Acts 19:20 (see introduction), together with a clear reference in Acts 19:21 to the new direction in which Paul’s thinking is taking him, both emphasise that this is a new section leading up to his arrival in Rome. Just as Jesus had previously ‘changed direction’ in Luke when He set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), so it was to be with Paul now as he too sets his face towards Jerusalem. It is possibly not without significance that Jesus’ ‘journey’ also began after a major confrontation with evil spirits, which included an example of one who used the name of Jesus while not being a recognised disciple (compare Acts 19:12-19 with Luke 9:37-50).
From this point on Paul’s purposing in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem on his way to Rome takes possession of the narrative (Acts 19:21; Acts 20:16; Acts 20:22-23; Acts 21:10-13; Acts 21:17), and it will be followed by the Journey to Rome itself. And this whole journey is deliberately seen by Luke as commencing from Ephesus, a major centre of idolatry and the of Imperial cult, where there is uproar and Paul is restricted from preaching, and as, in contrast, deliberately ending with the triumph of a pure, unadulterated Apostolic ministry in Rome where all is quiet and he can preach without restriction. We can contrast with this how initially in Section 1 the commission commenced in a pure and unadulterated fashion in Jerusalem (Acts 1:3-9) and ended in idolatry in Caesarea (Acts 12:20-23). This is now the reverse the same thing in reverse.
Looked at from this point of view we could briefly summarise Acts in three major sections as follows:
· The Great Commission is given in Jerusalem in the purity and triumph of Jesus’ resurrection and enthronement as King. The word powerfully goes out to Jerusalem and to its surrounding area, and then in an initial outreach to the Gentiles. Jerusalem reject their Messiah and opt for an earthly ruler whose acceptance of divine honours results in judgment (Acts 19:1-12).
· The word goes out triumphantly to the Dispersion and the Gentiles and it is confirmed that they will not be required to be circumcised or conform to the detailed Jewish traditions contained in what is described as ‘the Law of Moses’ (Acts 13:1 to Acts 19:20).
· Paul’s journey to Rome commences amidst rampant idolatry and glorying in the royal rule of Artemis and Rome, and comes to completion with Paul, the Apostle, triumphantly proclaiming Jesus Christ and the Kingly Rule of God from his own house in Rome (Acts 19:21 to Acts 28:31).
It will be seen by this that with this final section the great commission has in Luke’s eyes been virtually carried out. Apostolic witness has been established in the centre of the Roman world itself and will now reach out to every part of that world, and the command ‘You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth’ is on the point of fulfilment.
This final section, in which Paul will make his testimony to the resurrection before kings and rulers, may be analysed as follows.
a Satan counterattacks against Paul’s too successful Ministry in Ephesus and throughout Asia Minor and causes uproar resulting in his ministry being unsuccessfully attacked by the worshippers of ‘Artemis (Diana) of the Ephesians’. This city, with its three ‘temple-keepers’ for the Temple of Artemis and the two Imperial Cult Temples, is symbolic of the political and religious alliance between idolatry and Rome which has nothing to offer but greed and verbosity. It expresses the essence of the kingly rule of Rome. And here God’s triumph in Asia over those Temples has been pictured in terms of wholesale desertion of the Temple of Artemis (mention of the emperor cult would have been foolish) by those who have become Christians and will in the parallel below be contrasted and compared with Paul freely proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God in Rome (Acts 19:21-41).
b Paul’s progress towards Jerusalem is diverted because of further threats and he meets with disciples for seven days at Troas (Acts 20:1-6).
c The final voyage commences and a great sign is given of God’s presence with Paul. Eutychus is raised from the dead (Acts 20:7-12).
d Paul speaks to the elders from the church at Ephesus who meet him at Miletus and he gives warning of the dangers of spiritual catastrophe ahead and turns them to the word of His grace. If they obey Him all will be saved (Acts 20:13-38).
e A series of maritime stages, and of prophecy (Acts 19:4; Acts 19:11), which reveals that God is with Paul (Acts 21:1-16).
f Paul proves his true dedication in Jerusalem and his conformity with the Law and does nothing that is worthy of death but the doors of the Temple are closed against him (Acts 21:17-30).
g Paul is arrested and gives his testimony of his commissioning by the risen Jesus (Acts 21:31 to Acts 22:29).
h Paul appears before the Sanhedrin and points to the hope of the resurrection (Acts 22:30 to Acts 23:9).
i He is rescued by the chief captain and is informed by the Lord that as he has testified in Jerusalem so he will testify in Rome (Acts 23:11).
j The Jews plan an ambush, which is thwarted by Paul’s nephew (Acts 23:12-25).
k Paul is sent to Felix, to Caesarea (Acts 23:26-35).
l Paul makes his defence before Felix stressing the hope of the resurrection (Acts 24:1-22).
k Paul is kept at Felix’ pleasure for two years (with opportunities in Caesarea) (Acts 24:23-27).
j The Jews plan to ambush Paul again, an attempt which is thwarted by Festus (Acts 25:1-5).
i Paul appears before Festus and appeals to Caesar. To Rome he will go (Acts 25:6-12).
h Paul is brought before Agrippa and gives his testimony stressing his hope in the resurrection (Acts 25:23 to Acts 26:8).
g Paul gives his testimony concerning his commissioning by the risen Jesus (Acts 26:9-23).
f Paul is declared to have done nothing worthy of death and thus to have conformed to the Law, but King Herod Agrippa II closes his heart against his message (Acts 26:28-32).
e A series of maritime stages and of prophecy (Acts 19:10; Acts 19:21-26) which confirms that God is with Paul (27.l-26).
d Paul speaks to those at sea, warning of the dangers of physical catastrophe ahead unless they obey God’s words. If they obey Him all will be delivered (Acts 27:27-44).
c Paul is delivered from death through snakebite and Publius’ father and others are healed, which are the signs of God’s presence with him, and the voyage comes to an end after these great signs have been given (Acts 28:1-13).
b Paul meets with disciples for seven days at Puteoli and then at the Appii Forum (Acts 28:14-15).
a Paul commences his ministry in Rome where, living in quietness, he has clear course to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 28:16-31).
Thus in ‘a’ the section commences at the very centre of idolatry which symbolises with its three temples (depicted in terms of the Temple of Artemis) the political and religious power of Rome, the kingly rule of Rome, which is being undermined by the Good News which has ‘almost spread throughout all Asia’ involving ‘much people’. It begins with uproar and an attempt to prevent the spread of the Good News and reveals the ultimate emptiness of that religion. All they can do is shout slogans including the name of Artemis, but though they shout it long and loud that name has no power and results in a rebuke from their ruler. In the parallel the section ends with quiet effectiveness and the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God being given free rein. This is in reverse to section 1 which commenced with the call to proclaim the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 1:3) and ended with the collapse of the kingly rule of Israel through pride and idolatry (Acts 12:20-23).
In ‘b’ Paul meets with God’s people for ‘seven days, the divinely perfect period, at the commencement of his journey, and then in the parallel he again meets with the people of God for ‘seven days’ at the end of his journey. Wherever he goes, there are the people of God.
In ‘c’ God reveals that His presence is with Paul by the raising of the dead, and in the parallel His presence by protection from the Snake and the healing of Publius.
In ‘d’ we have a significant parallel between Paul’s warning of the need for the church at Ephesus to avoid spiritual catastrophe through ‘the word of His grace’ and in the parallel ‘d’ the experience of being saved from a great storm through His gracious word, but only if they are obedient to it, which results in deliverance for all.
In ‘e’ and its parallel we have Paul’s voyages, each accompanied by prophecy indicating God’s continuing concern for Paul.
In ‘f’ Paul proves his dedication and that he is free from all charges that he is not faithful to the Law of Moses, and in the parallel Agrippa II confirms him to be free of all guilt.
In ‘g’ Paul give his testimony concerning receiving his commission from the risen Jesus, and in the parallel this testimony is repeated and the commission expanded.
In ‘h’ Paul proclaims the hope of the resurrection before the Sanhedrin, and in the parallel he proclaims the hope of the resurrection before Felix, Agrippa and the gathered Gentiles.
In ‘i’ the Lord tells him that he will testify at Rome, while in the parallel the procurator Festus declares that he will testify at Rome. God’s will is carried out by the Roman power.
In ‘ j’ a determined plan by the Jews to ambush Paul and kill him is thwarted, and in the parallel a further ambush two years later is thwarted. God is continually watching over Paul.
In ‘k’ Paul is sent to Felix, to Caesarea, the chief city of Palestine, and in the parallel spends two years there with access given to the ‘his friends’ so that he can freely minister.
In ‘l’ we have the central point around which all revolves. Paul declares to Felix and the elders of Jerusalem the hope of the resurrection of both the just and the unjust in accordance with the Scriptures.
It will be noted that the central part of this chiasmus is built around the hope of the resurrection which is mentioned three times, first in ‘h’, then centrally in ‘l’ and then again in ‘h’, and these are sandwiched between two descriptions of Paul’s commissioning by the risen Jesus (in ‘g’ and in the parallel ‘g’). The defeat of idolatry and the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God have as their central cause the hope of the resurrection and the revelation of the risen Jesus.
We must now look at the section in more detail.
‘And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.’
As a preliminary to this he sent two of his assistants, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he remained a little longer at Ephesus. This coming visit might have been intended to be the last that he would make to them (Romans 15:23). One of its purposes was in order to receive the collection which they had been making (1 Corinthians 16:1-5; 1 Corinthians 2:0 Corinthians 8-9) in order to take it on to the needy people of Judaea, but Luke clearly intends to pass over this whole visit as briefly and as uninformatively as possible.
This is the first mention that we have of Erastus (compare 2 Timothy 4:20), which was a fairly common name. It is a reminder that Paul’s missionary parties may always have been larger than we might have gathered from Acts. Luke, for example, never tells us about the presence of Titus, but judging by Paul’s letters he must often have been with Paul.
‘And about that time there arose no small stir concerning the Way.’
It was at this stage, as his successful ministry in Ephesus was coming to an end, that a crisis came that may even have threatened his life. What follows might be what he was describing in 2 Corinthians 1:8 when he wrote, ‘our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life’.
‘No small stir’ means a fairly large one, and it was an attack on ‘the Way’ which could have been successful had not God prevented it. It arose partly due to the fact that Ephesus, with its silting up harbour, was becoming more and more dependent on revenues associated with the worship of Artemis, and partly because of the grip that the occult had on the worshippers of Artemis. Thus anything which affected those revenues or her name was seen as threatening.
A Stirring in Ephesus On Account of the Name of Artemis (19:23-41).
In considering what follows we should note two things about its context:
· Firstly that it introduces the final section of Acts (Acts 19:21 to Acts 28:31) which leads up to the triumph of the Kingly Rule of God in Rome (Acts 28:30-31), by illustrating the emptiness of the royal rule of Artemis and of Rome, a royal rule which seeks to undermine those who proclaim the Name of Jesus.
· Secondly that it follows up Acts 19:17-19 where the previous main section has ended with the idea of ‘the Name of the Lord Jesus was magnified’ and the equivalent of 50,000 pieces of silver were burned up by Christians in full rejection of the occult as they turned their backs on it because they were following the Way. Here at the commencement of this new section which leads up to the triumph in Rome, what follows reveals that it is greed for silver obtained through the sale of occult items which causes an attack on the Way, and it is the name of Artemis which is continually held up for idolatrous worship. ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians’ is set up in opposition to the Name of Jesus, and is rebuked by its own leadership.
‘For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis (Latin: Diana), brought no little business to the craftsmen, whom he gathered together, with the workmen of like occupation, and said, “Sirs, you know that by this business we have our wealth.” ’
Behind the trouble was a business magnate, Demetrius, who operated in silver. He may have been an overseer of the silversmiths’ guild. His business made ‘silver shrines’, and he employed the services of many people and cooperated in business activity with many more. Until Paul arrived all had been going very well, and trade was brisk. Silver shrines sold like hot cakes. But Paul’s coming had affected trade. People who became Christians were not interested in shrines which were ‘gods made with hands’, and due to the widescale advance of the word, they had consequently all lost many good customers.
So he called together all who were involved in the trade to discuss what should be done. He pointed out to them that their wealth depended on selling the silver shrines. If the market dried up they would be ruined. It is very probable that we have here in this gathering an example of a trade guild, in which members of a trade would gather together. There were many such guilds for different professions, and the Romans were not very keen on them and sought to limit them by legislation. There were severe laws about illegal associations. But they were popular because they provided a means of mutual support and trade protection, although their main purpose was social interaction. They presented a problem to Christians who worked in those trades for they tended to have idolatrous associations.
The reasons behind the Roman objection to such guilds comes out in the much later reply of the Emperor Trajan to Pliny when he wanted to form a fire brigade. He replied, ‘It is to be remembered that societies of this sort have greatly disturbed the peace of the province --- whatever name we give them, and for whatever purpose they may have been founded, they will not fail to transform themselves into factious assemblies’. This was always a danger with ‘unofficial’ gatherings of any kind.
The ‘shrines’ may have been replicas, on a small scale, of the image of Artemis (which could be seen in the temple) which was considered to have ‘fallen from heaven’. That was very possibly a meteorite, the appearance of which with a number of protuberances on it had been seen as suggestive, and which may then have been shaped into a likeness of the goddess with her many breasts.
Or the ‘silver shrines’ may have consisted of small plaques of shrines containing such an image, of which examples have been discovered. They would be sold as mementoes, votive offerings, burial items and in order to grace idol shelves in homes. They would be made of various materials such as silver, terracotta, lead or marble to suit all tastes and pockets.
This Artemis was not the same as the divinely beautiful Artemis of the Greeks, although they were often equated, but was the ancient Anatolian fertility goddess who was worshipped all over Asia Minor in the form of a nature religion, and depicted as rather ugly and many breasted, her main image probably being an asteroid with suggestive protuberances, possibly partly shaped in a rough way by priests, and revered because it had fallen from the gods. Her worship was conducted by a high priest who was a eunuch, and there were other eunuch priests and three classes of priestess courtesans. Her fertility rites would undoubtedly have encouraged very loose sexual behaviour (compare Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:20) as fertility rites regularly did. Her huge temple, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was supported by over one hundred massive pillars. It was a major treasury for the ancient world, acting as a bank where large sums of money could be kept safe under the protection of the goddess. Cult and business enterprise were thus closely linked, and its importance to Ephesus, and the world, is clear.
“And you see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they are no gods, which are made with hands.”
Then he turned their attention to their major problem. Throughout the whole region, as they could see and had no doubt heard, many people had ceased buying silver shrines, and the reason was because Paul had turned them away from worshipping gods which were made with hands and were therefore not gods at all. The drop in trade was wholly his fault.
This admission was, of course, evidence that what was done in the Name of Jesus had proved far more powerful and effective than anything connected with the name of Artemis of the Ephesians. Her followers might yell her name for hours, but she was totally ineffective, whereas all had seen earlier what the Name of Jesus could do (Acts 19:11-17).
‘This Paul.’ Paul was a much loved figure by Christians, but he was also much hated. His very success was his undoing. Here many important people in Ephesus hated him because of the effect he had had on their Temple trade. We can compare how around that part of the world many Jews who had rejected the name of Jesus also hated him so much that in many cities they were constantly seeking means to kill him, something which we constantly discern throughout Acts (Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 17:13; Acts 20:3; Acts 21:30-31; Acts 22:22; Acts 23:12; Acts 25:3), to such an extent that they were willing to travel some distances to do so. This intense hatred cannot be described as normal even in those days. Such intense hatred was directed at no one else as far as we know. He took the blame for all their anger directed at the name of Jesus. Even some extreme Judaisers among the Christians hated him. It was probably they who had tried to make the Corinthian church hate him. He was possibly the most loved and the most hated man in the world.
“And not only is there danger that this our trade come into disrepute; but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis (Diana) be made of no account, and that she should even be deposed from her magnificence whom all Asia and the world worship.”
But while Demetrius could probably see that the entrepreneurs like himself were agreeing strongly and nodding at the thought of losing profits, he also probably recognised that many of the lower level workers present were not too impressed. Drop in trade had not yet affected them too much, and was not so obviously important for them. So he now changed his tack. Not only was there the danger that their trade would come into disrepute (a slight exaggeration. Those who worshipped idols were still well in the majority) but they should also take into account the effect of it all on the worship of Artemis with its huge Temple. If things went on as they were Artemis herself would be degraded and her magnificence lost. Her very name would be brought into disrepute. Did not all the world look to Artemis? Yet here was this Paul deposing her from her magnificence, and, if things went on as they were, visitors would cease coming because of her lost reputation.
Economically speaking it was, of course, an argument with little basis. The grand temple remained, the famous statue of Artemis was still in place, and those who came from worldwide to see her would not be affected by what was virtually a minority religion in Asia. While sales had undoubtedly been lost, that would only be in the local and regional market, and had already happened, although it had been sufficient to cause this stir. It would, however, not at this stage very much affect their worldwide and souvenir trade. But what stirred a chord more with the lower level workers was the possibility of Artemis being humiliated. It is doubtful if Demetrius and some of the other entrepreneurs were too bothered about that side of things, but the lower level workers certainly were.
‘All the world.’ Over thirty sites around the Roman Empire from Spain to Syria have been located where the worship of Artemis was carried on, while according to Pausanias this cult achieved the most extensive and most supreme worship in the ancient world. People flocked to Ephesus from all over the Empire in order to participate in the Games, take part in the festivities, and enjoy the religious orgies (compare Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:20). Gifts and coins from many different countries, discovered at the site of the Temple, bear witness to the worldwide nature of her appeal. Thus when the Emperor married Agrippina commemorative coins were struck at Ephesus with the profiles of the newlyweds on one side and a figure of the statue with the legend "Diana Ephesia" on the other. She was seen as extremely important.
‘And when they heard this they were filled with wrath, and cried out, saying, “Great is Artemis (Diana) of the Ephesians.”
When they heard the suggestion that Artemis would be humiliated they were filled with fervour and anger and began to cry out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”. This was a common formula of prayer and invocation and is found on inscriptions. And gradually they became incensed and the idea took over their actions. Note here at once how the emphasis is placed on the name, a name which they revere and hold dear, and this in contrast with those who have rather turned to the name of Jesus at which every knee will bow, and which every tongue will confess to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).
‘And the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed with one accord to the theatre, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel.’
They poured out of their meeting and raced in large numbers down the main street which led to the theatre, yelling ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians’ and harassing people, and as they went, calling them to come to an unofficial assembly. And at one point they came across, and were able to seize, Gaius and Aristarchus, two Macedonians who were working with Paul as companions and assistants. Whether this was by going to where they were staying or from the unfortunate circumstance of their being in the street at the time we are not told. Then they dragged them to the large theatre calling for an informal public assembly to be held (something of which Rome did not approve) so that they could be given rough justice. All were to behold their humiliation.
For Aristarchus, who came from Thessalonica, see Acts 20:4; Acts 27:2; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24. If this Gaius was a Macedonian he was probably not the Gaius in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14; Romans 16:23) or the Gaius of Derbe (Acts 20:4). Gaius was a very common name).
‘And when Paul was of a mind to enter in to the people, the disciples did not let him.’
On recognising the situation, and concerned for his companions who had been seized, Paul bravely wanted to go into the theatre to assist their defence before the people. He was never afraid to put his head in the lion’s mouth. But the disciples knew that while Gaius and Aristarchus might come away from the situation only having been roughed up, if Paul showed his face there he was liable to be torn to pieces. He was Public Enemy Number One. Thus they prevented him from going, no doubt pointing out that while he was free his companions were less likely to be in such deep trouble. It was not his companions that they were after, it was him.
‘And certain also of the Asiarchs, being his friends, sent to him and besought him not to venture himself into the theatre.’
This thought also occurred to certain of the Asiarchs who were friends of Paul’s. They had no doubt been called to the theatre as a result of the uproar, and hurrying there recognised the full truth about the situation. So knowing Paul they sent him a message advising him to keep well away from the theatre and not to venture there.
The Asiarchs were men of great power and influence who controlled the league of cities of the province of Asia. They were chosen annually from the wealthiest and most aristocratic citizens, and probably kept the title when they retired. From their ranks were drawn the honorary high priests of the provincial cult of Roma and the Emperor, established by the league which had its headquarters at Pergamum. Among other things they were responsible for the organisation and running of the Games, much common provincial business and the cult of Roma and the Emperor, of which there were at this time at least two temples in Ephesus. Paul had clearly won the esteem of some of them and Luke mentions them because it would demonstrate to any sceptical reader that the most important and loyal men in the province were on Paul’s side. Thus it drew attention to the fact that what he was doing was clearly legal and acceptable to the authorities.
‘Some therefore cried one thing, and some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and the majority did not know why they were come together.’
But while the silversmiths and their employees knew exactly why they were there, the larger proportion who had been gathered by the commotion had no idea. They had only come because they had been hustled into it, or because they felt that it was their responsibility to do so when a situation like this arose. Thus the assembly became confused, and the majority were still asking what it was all about.
‘And they brought Alexander out of the crowd, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made a defence to the people.’
Then a man called Alexander was put forward by the Jews, who would not be favourable to Paul. This might well have been because sinister rumours were spreading around that Paul was a Jew, and they were afraid that it would arouse feelings of anti-Semitism, something that they knew could only too easily be aroused. They wanted to ensure that the Jews did not share the blame for Paul’s activities. Alexander then beckoned with his hand in order to obtain a hearing, and explain things to the assembly, which would probably not have boded Paul’s companions any good.
‘But when they perceived that he was a Jew, all with one voice for about the space of two hours cried out, “Great is Artemis (Diana) of the Ephesians.” ’
However, the sight of a Jew inflamed their feelings even more. They knew that the Jews too looked down on Artemis their goddess. So they shouted him down and for two hours chanted, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians’. The whole matter had got totally out of hand (although the attention seems to some extent have turned away from Gaius and Aristarchus). After two hours the first fervour would have died down.
Luke may have mentioned this attempt by Alexander because it confirmed the uselessness of Paul’s wish to enter the theatre and speak. He too was a Jew, and a monotheist, and as such he would have been given no more opportunity to speak than Alexander. Such people were clearly not welcome in the theatre at this time, whoever they were, Paul most of all. He could be sure from this that his presence would certainly not have done any good at all.
‘And when the city clerk had quietened the crowd, he says, “You men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple-keeper of Artemis (Diana) the Great, and of the image which fell down from heaven (or ‘from Zeus’)?” ’
Then the city clerk hushed the crowd and spoke to them. With the Asiarchs there, and the city clerk, the meeting had become quasi-official, exactly the kind of unofficial meeting not approved of by the Romans who kept an eye out for such things. He pointed out that he was on their side, but that they were making a fuss about nothing, for everyone knew that the city of Ephesus was the temple-keeper of ‘Artemis the Great (a title found on inscriptions) and that its image ‘fell down from heaven’. This was probably a meteorite which happened to have protuberances on it which suggested breasts, the whole possibly even having been manually shaped to suit her reputation. Meteorites are know to have been worshipped in other great cities. They were naturally seen by the ignorant as from the world of the gods.
His argument was subtle. These people were declaiming because Paul had taught that idols made with hands could not be true gods. Well, in this case that was irrelevant. Was it not known to all that the image of Artemis had fallen from heaven? It was thus not made with hands! Therefore Paul’s words had not been spoken against Artemis.
He was not, of course, aware of what had been the original grievance, the trading losses of the silversmiths. For by being transformed into a religious quarrel the initial complaint had been lost sight of. Demetrius had probably not expected such a swift intervention by the authorities. He had possibly hoped that he and his colleagues would find Paul and ensure that he was ‘accidentally’ severely beaten up, or died in the riot, before any hearing actually took place.
‘Temple-keeper (literally ‘temple-sweeper’).’ This was an official title indicative of connection with the Imperial cult. Thus by the use of this phrase the Temple of Artemis is seen as directly connected with the Imperial cult. A later Ephesian coin shows that at some later stage there were four official temple-keepers in Ephesus, the temple-keeper of Artemis, and the temple-keepers of the three Imperial cult temples. But at this stage there were probably only the Temple of Artemis and two Imperial cult temples, the Temples of Dea Roma and Divus Julius, established with the permission of the Emperor Augustus. These latter were Imperial Cult temples erected with the permission of Augustus in honour of his adoptive father Julius Caesar and of the goddess Roma who signified Rome. The cult of Artemis and the cult of Roma and the Emperor are thus seen to go hand in hand, as related to the Imperial cult. Rome and the goddess ruled together. Depicted by Luke in terms of the Temple of Artemis (as it had to be. The Imperial cult Temples were best not mentioned in a negative way) they were the very antithesis of the Kingly Rule of God.
“Seeing then that these things cannot be gainsaid, you ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rash.”
So the city clerk pointed out that as no one could deny these things they should take matters quietly and not do anything rash. They needed to be calm and look at matters sensibly, or otherwise they would simply bring down trouble on them all.
“For you have brought here these men, who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess.”
For they needed to recognise that there was no real excuse for holding this meeting. The men whom they had arraigned were not guilty of anything tangible. They had neither robbed Temples nor blasphemed their goddess (had such charges been brought they might at least have been seen as justifying an extraordinary city meeting). So the Roman authorities would not like it at all.
‘These men.’ They were seemingly still stood there, a little battered but unharmed.
“If therefore Demetrius, and the craftsmen who are with him, have a matter against any man, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them accuse one another.”
If Demetrius and his craftsmen really did have a criminal charge against these men, or against anyone, then the periodic courts were available, and they could bring the matter before the proconsuls. Let them accuse one another there, and not in this unofficial way, which could only cause trouble.
The plural for proconsuls may simply be a general reference, indicating the generality of proconsuls, as there would normally be only one in the region. On the other hand it is an interesting historical fact that around this time there was a short period when there were seemingly two proconsuls in this region.
“But if you seek anything about other matters, it shall be settled in the regular assembly.”
If it was a civil matter then they should wait for the regular assembly, where such matters could be dealt with, not at an ad hoc meeting gathered like this by a riotous crowd which would only be seen by Rome as reprehensible.
“For indeed we are in danger of being accused concerning this day’s riot, there being no cause for it, and as touching it we shall not be able to give account of this concourse.”
For the truth was that they were all in danger of being called to account by the Roman authorities for this days riotous behaviour and this clandestine meeting. For they could produce no real grounds to excuse the one or authorise the holding of the other. (Had it been a matter of a charge of blasphemy or the robbing of a Temple it would have been a different matter. It might have been seen as justifying such a meeting).
‘And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.’
Then having spoken in this way he quickly dismissed the assembly hoping that its convening, and his part in it, might not have been noticed or might be overlooked. But in Luke’s eyes it was a clear and unequivocal declaration that the authorities saw nothing about the Christian church to disapprove of.
We can summarise a number of lessons that Luke wishes us to see from this passage:
1) That the Christian church was publicly approved of by those set in authority by Rome including the respected and loyal Asiarchs.
2) That it reinforces the idea of the unquestionable and widespread impact that Christianity had made on the whole of Asia Minor
3) That it brings out how Paul’s ministry was becoming more and more difficult in this area, and indeed in many areas round about. He had too great a reputation. It is in complete contrast with chapter 28 where Paul can calmly continue his witness to his heart’s content, and has no reputation (Acts 28:21; Acts 28:30-31).
4) That the political-religious alliance of Ephesus, with its temple dedicated to a prestigious local deity combined with its temples dedicated to Roma and the imperial cult, is the very antithesis of the Kingly Rule of God. The cults of Ephesus were for the Gentiles what Herod Agrippa had been for the Jews (Acts 19:12). It must surely be significant that Acts opens with the sending forth of the message freely and without restraint in Jerusalem and that this led up to the false religious and political alliance in Jerusalem in chapter 12. Now here we have the false religious and political alliance in Ephesus (subtly symbolic of the Roman Empire), which will lead up to the message of the Kingly Rule of God going out in Rome without restraint in chapter 28. Having been rejected by Jerusalem Christ is seen as having ‘conquered’ Rome.
5) That the magnifying of the name of the LORD Jesus (Acts 19:17), stands over against the magnifying of the name of Artemis, the one defeating the powers of evil and rejecting the occult, burning its instruments in fire, the other exalting the powers of evil and the occult and manufacturing its occult instruments. What happened to the sons of Sceva illustrated what would one day happen to the cult of Artemis.
Thus this was God’s message to Paul that He intended to take him away from this parody of Royal Rule to Rome where he would be able to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God freely. Luke no doubt saw it as ironic that Satan chased Paul out of his ministry at Ephesus in order that he might set up his ministry in Rome.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 19". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13