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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Acts 19

CHAP. XIX.

The Holy Ghost is given by Paul's hands: the Jews blaspheme his doctrine, which is confirmed by miracles. The Jewish exorcists are beaten by the man possessed by the evil spirit. Magical books are burnt. Demetrius, for love of gain, raiseth an uproar against Paul, which is appeased by the town clerk.

Anno Domini 57.

Verse 1

Acts 19:1. Paul—came to Ephesus Ephesus was the metropolis and principal mart not only of Ionia, but even of all the proconsular Asia, situated on the river Cayster, celebrated for its swans, on the side of a hill, which toward the west has the prospect of a lovely plain, watered and beautified with the pleasant circles of the river, turning and winding in so many curious mazes, that some travellers have mistaken it for the Meander; and this the rather, because the Turks have given it the name of Mendres. It was most celebrated for the magnificent temple of Diana, which was two hundred and twenty years in building, was reared at the common charge of all Asia Propria, and was accounted one of the seven wonders of the world. It was four hundred and twenty-five feet long, and two hundred and twenty broad, supported by a hundred and twenty-seven marble pillars, each of them sixty feet high; the work of a king, who erected them as a token of his magnificence. It had been twice burned down before this period: the first time was on the very day on which Socrates was poisoned, about four hundred years before Christ's incarnation; and the second was on the night in which Alexander the Great was born. It was then set on fire on purpose by Erostratus, who, being condemned to die for it, confessed, that he had destroyed so exquisite a structure purely that he might be remembered in future ages: upon which they not only put him to death, but made a decree, very fruitless indeed in its effects, that his name should never be mentioned more. It was again rebuilt,—the famous Denocrates, whom Alexander the Great afterwards employed in planning and building the magnificent city of Alexandria, being architect; and it was wonderfully adorned, especially by the Ephesians, the ladies contributing very largely towards it. After this, Nero plundered it of its riches; but in St. Paul's time it retained a great deal of its ancient grandeur. In the days of Gallienus the emperor, the Goths entirely destroyed it. It is at present become a mean and sordid village, with scarcely a single family of Christians dwelling in it: nay, indeed, the place where it stood is so little known, that it affords matter of conjecture to travellers. The only two buildings worth observing, are a strong and lofty castle situated on an eminence, and a beautiful church, honoured with the name of St. John, but now converted into a Turkish mosque; and, according to some travellers, there are a few stately ruins, which they suppose to be the remains of the once magnificent temple.

Verse 2

Acts 19:2. He said unto them, Have ye received, &c.— St. Paul found at Ephesus twelve disciples, who either had been converted there, or, as is more probable, had come to Ephesus out of some remote country since he had left that city;—for these men, it is most likely, were pious Jews, who, having waited for the kingdom of God, and being many years before baptized by John, or some of his disciples, had, on receiving something of the evidence of Christianity, believed in Jesus; but perhaps coming, as we have observed, out of some distant and obscure country, they had not enjoyed an opportunity before of being instructed in any thing relative to the Holy Spirit, more than might be learnt from the Old Testament. As it was his usual custom to impart the Holy Spirit to all the adult converts wherever he came, if they had not already received the divine gift, he asked these twelve, whether they had received the Holy Spirit since they believed? To which they answered, "We have not so much as heard that the Holy Spirit is poured out, or that any person has been favoured with that extraordinary gift, which the prophets foretold, and John the Baptist frequently intimated, would be granted." Ainsworth, on Exo 28:30 has rightly observed, that by the Holy Spirit is here meant the gifts of the Spirit, in prophesy, tongues, &c. as it follows, Acts 19:6. The Holy Spirit came on them, and they spake with tongues, and prophesied; which gifts having before ceased, were restored by the gospel: an evident proof that Christ was come. See Joel 2:28; Joel 2:32.Acts 4:17-18; Acts 4:17-18.

Verse 5

Acts 19:5. When they heard this, &c.— I think it evident, beyond all dispute, that the baptism of John and of Christ were in their own nature quite different; and that it is plain in fact, that when persons in general were converted to Christianity, they were baptized of course without inquiring whether they had, or had not, received the baptism of John; which we know vast numbers did, (Matthew 3:5-6.) who probably afterwards received Christian baptism. (Comp. Acts 2:38-41; Acts 4:4; Acts 6:7.) This is evident also from the words of St. Peter to those thousands that heard him, Be ye baptized every one you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost: for since he spake to the men of Jerusalem in general and of Judaea, Act 2:14 and since Jerusalem and all Judaea were baptized of John, says St. Matthew, Mat 3:6 all, or at least many of those to whom he spake, must already have been baptized with the baptism of John; and yet he makes it necessary for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Whence two things are perfectly evident, and consequent from each other: 1. That St. Peter exhorts those who had been baptized with John's baptism, to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ: 2. That therefore they who were baptized with John's baptism, were not baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus; which is also most evident in the words of St. Paul here. We may add, 3. As our Saviour never said openly and expressly to the Jews in general that he was the Christ, so he charges his apostles to tell no man that he was so, till his resurrection: but to what end should he do this, if both the Baptist and his disciples had before baptized all into this faith that he was the Christ, and so had published this faith to all Judaea? Only here note, that this is no ground for re-baptizing any now, by reason of the great difference between the baptism of John, and the baptism in the name of Jesus after his resurrection.

Verses 8-9

Acts 19:8-9. He—spake boldly for the space of three months, Lord Barrington supposes, that after St. Paul had been some time at Ephesus, he visited the neighbouring towns of Asia, and then returned to Ephesus again; and it seems not improbable, that the foundation of some others of the seven churches in Asia, so particularly favoured by the epistles of our Lord, might now be laid. Comp. Acts 19:10, St. Paul frequented the synagogue of the Jews for three months; but, when several of the leading men among them were hardened beyond all conviction, and not only refused to believe themselves, but even cast wicked and injurious reflections upon the Christian religion before the multitude, and did all that they could to deter others from believing;—the apostle left the synagogue, and taking with him the converts whom through divine grace he had made, he went and taught daily in the school of one Tyrannus, or Turnus; who probably was a converted Jew; and his school, perhaps, what the Jews call Bethmidrash, or a divinity school; in which they used to handle intricate questions and difficult doctrines. There St. Paul kept his assembly for two years together; and, according to two ancient manuscripts he taught five hours a day; that is to say, fromeleven o'clock in the morning to four in the after-noon. By his indefatigable diligence for so long a time, Christianity spread very much; for all the inhabitants of proconsular Asia, whether Jews or Gentiles, had thereby an opportunity to learn the true Christian doctrine, and to see it confirmed by mighty and convincing attestations. See Acts 19:11.

Verse 12

Acts 19:12. Handkerchiefs or aprons, The words Σουδαρια η σιμικινθια, were originally Latin words,—Sudaria and Semicincthia. The etymology of the first plainly determines it to signify a piece of linen, with which the sweat was wiped from the face; and as the latter, literally rendered, signifies things girt half round the waist, it is properly enough rendered aprons. Some read it sashes. It is justly observed by many writers, that these cures wrought upon absent persons, some of them perhaps at a considerable distance from Ephesus, might, under the blessing of God, conduce greatly to the success of the gospel among those, whose faces St. Paul had never seen.

Verse 13

Acts 19:13. Vagabond Jews, exorcists, Several of the Jews about this time pretended to a power of casting out demons, particularly by some arts and charms pretended to be derived from Solomon. Some of these strolling exorcists, observing that St. Paul, by invoking the name of Jesus, did real miracles in the casting out of demons, resolved to attempt the same; the consequence of which was, not only the preventing such impostors from abusing the sacred and venerable name of Jesus in future, but the rendering it more aweful.

Verse 15

Acts 19:15. And the evil spirit answered Not to insist on the demonstration arising from thepresent history, that this demoniac was not merely a lunatic, we may observe that the evil spirit, under whose operation this man was, seems either to have been compelled by a superior power to bear an unwilling testimony to Jesus, or craftily to have intended it, to bring St. Paul under a suspicion, as acting in confederacy with himself; and if the latter of these was the case, God, as in other instances, over-ruled this artifice of Satan to the destruction of his own cause and kingdom.

Verses 18-20

Acts 19:18-20. And many that believed came, &c.— Exorcisms and incantations had been very much practised at Ephesus: the Gentiles there imagined that Diana, or the moon, presided over their incantations; but upon the disaster which befel these exorcists, many of them who had lately embraced the Christian religion came to the apostle, acknowledging that they also had formerly been guilty of sorcery and exorcisms, and confessed that they now looked upon such things as highly criminal. Nay, several of them even brought with them their books, which contained Εφεσια γραμματα, Ephesian letters, or the mysteries and institutions of that magic art; such as the methods of incantation, the words to be made use of, and the proper seasons and places for making use of them;—and they threw those books into the fire, and burned them publicly, in the face of the whole city. The value of them being computed, was found to be fifty thousand pieces of silver. By a piece of silver, αργυριον, is meant a Jewish shekel: See Matthew 26:15; Matthew 27:3-9. Dr. Arbuthnot says, that a shekel was equal to two shillings, three-pence, and three eighths of a penny, of our money. According to that valuation; fifty thousand shekels would amount to 5,703£. 2s. 6d. of our English money; and yet, though the books were valued at that large sum, they now cheerfully burned them. So, mighty was the divine evidence of the Christian religion, and so great its effects! as appeared particularly in the disinterested piety of these men; for they would not sell those books to others, because the art was in itself unlawful, and ought not to have been practised by any one: and being enlightened by the knowledge of the gospel, and animated with the prospect of a better and more enduring substance, they made no account of that large sum of money, in comparison of an honourable and faithful discharge of their

Verse 21

Acts 19:21. After these things—Paul purposed, &c.— It is not certain from the original, whether this relates to a determination to which St. Paul was moved by the Holy Spirit, by whom he was directed in his journeys, or to a purpose which he formed in his own mind: but as we find that he delayed the execution of it, and was led by several circumstances to alter his intended course,and to continue longer in his progress than he first designed, it seems more reasonable to refer it to his own spirit; and therefore Beza and Stephens render the original, "He resolved, or determined in himself." Many events referred to in the epistles happened during this period. It is probable that Philemon, a convert of St. Paul, and Epaphras, afterwards a minister of the church of Colosse, were converted about this time. Theapostle was also visited by several Christians, from neighbouring parts, during his abode here; and there is great reason to believe, that he wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians from hence, and about this time.

Verse 22

Acts 19:22. Timotheus and Erastus: Timothy was a person very proper to be employed on this occasion; not only on account of his excellent character, but also as he had formerly been at Macedonia with St. Paul, and had assisted in planting the churches there. Erastus, who was joined with him, was chamberlain at Corinth; and they were charged with a commission to promote the collection which St. Paul was making, both in the European and Asiatic churches, for the poor Christians in Judea; which is afterwards so largely urged in the second epistle to the Corinthians, ch. 8 and 9.

Verse 24

Acts 19:24. Demetrius—which made silver shrines for Diana, These shrines, it has been generally supposed, were little models of the famous temple of Diana, with folding-doors; which being opened, the image of the idol goddess was seen placed therein. The votaries of Diana who came to worship at Ephesus, used to purchase them; and it is not unlikely, that upon their return home, they set them up, and consecrated them in their private or domestic heathen chapels. This opinion is rendered probable by a variety of passages in ancient authors. Beza, however, and others conjecture, that the business of Demetrius might possibly be, making a sort of coins or medals, on the reverse of which the temple was represented: and in Beza's Greek Testament, we have a print of one of these medals, in which the image itself is exhibited as seen through the open doors of the temple. It is possible that this company of workmen might take in those who wrought in all these idolatrous commodities; and likewise those who made a kind of pageants, intended for public processions, in which Diana was represented in a kind of moveable chapel, resembling her great temple, in a larger proportion than these supposed shrines or models.

Verse 26

Acts 19:26. That not alone at Ephesus, &c.— That this Paul has persuaded great numbers of people, not only of Ephesus, but of almost all the provinces of Asia, as they have occasionally visited us; and has turned them aside from the established religion, saying, that they are not true deities, which are made with hands, nor worthy of being at all worshipped or regarded. The last clause of this verse plainly shews, that the contrary opinion generally prevailed; namely, that there was a kind of divinity in the images of their supposed deities; which Elsner fully shews that the heathens didthink; though some of them, and particularly Maximus, Tyrias, and Julian, had learned to speak of them just as the Papists do now; who indeed seem to have borrowed some of their apologies from these late heathens.

Verse 27

Acts 19:27. Whom all Asia and the world worshippeth. As Diana was known under a great variety of titles and characters, as the goddess of hunting, of travelling, of childbirth, of enchantments, &c. as Luna, Hecate, Lucina, Proserpine, and so on,—she had undoubtedly, in one or other of these views, a vast number of votaries. She was one of the objects of the Eleusinian mysteries, which were resorted to from the remotest regions. The Ephesian Diana was of a singular form, being always represented with several tiers or rows of breasts, intimating her to be the mother of mankind: and in this form it appears from a curious manuscript preserved in the British museum, that she was known even to the Druids.

Verse 28

Acts 19:28. Great is Diana, &c.— This epithet of great, was frequently given by the heathens to Jupiter, Diana, and others of their superior idol deities: the ascription of it to the true God, is in scripture called magnifying him.

Verse 29

Acts 19:29. Aristarchus—of Macedonia,— Aristarchus was afterwards imprisoned with St. Paul, his friend and companion, at Rome, in the cause of the gospel. See Colossians 4:10. The famous games in honour of Diana were celebrated in the theatre here mentioned, which was the usual place of concourse at public times.

Verse 31

Acts 19:31. And certain of the chief of Asia, It has been conjectured by many from this and the following passage, that the people at Ephesus were then celebrating the public games in honour of Diana: and as it is not likely that in such a tumultuous hour several of the chief of Asia, as they are here termed, should have sent to him at once with such a message, unless they had been in the theatre together, this opinion seems exceedingly probable; though it is certain that the theatres were places in which the Greeks often met for the dispatch of public business, when there were no shows exhibited. Some would render the original word used here, 'Ασιαρχοι, Asiarchs, or primates of Asia, which appears to be a very just translation: and as they were persons of great dignity, and some of them priests too, this civil message from them was at once a proof of their candour, and of the moderation wherewith St. Paul had behaved, which made them thus kindly solicitous for his safety. Dr. Benson thinks they recollected the danger to which St. Paul had been exposed in a combat with wild beasts in this very theatre; to which some have supposed that the apostle refers, 1 Corinthians 15:32.

Verses 33-34

Acts 19:33-34. Alexander, &c.— Many writers suppose that this was Alexander the coppersmith, who was one of the most violent judaizing Christians, consequently one of the greatest enemies of St. Paul, and most in favour with the unbelievingJews, of any who professed Christianity; and, if so, no wonder that the Jews should be desirous of his making his oration to the people. But when he himself would have spoken, and beckoned with his hand for silence, the people would not hear him; for they knew that he was of the race of the Jews, and consequently an enemy to Diana, and to their idolatry. But though Alexander was hereby prevented from speaking in public, he afterwards did the apostle and the Christian interest a great deal of harm by his private treachery, and opposing the liberty of the Gentile converts; that is, their freedom from the Mosaic law. See 1 Timothy 1:20. 2 Timothy 4:14.

Verse 35

Acts 19:35. The town clerk The word Γραμματευς literally signifies a scribe, or secretary; but as this person appears to have been of some authority as well as learning, the word chancellor, or recorder, seems to be very properly used by several learned translators. Mr. Biscoe endeavours to prove that the office referred not to the city of Ephesus, but to the games; and that the person who bore it, represented Apollo, one of the chief of their deities, and the supposed brother of Diana; which, if itwere indeed the case, would give great weight to his interpretation. He appears, by this speech, a person of considerable prudence and abilities; for he urged in a few words that there was no need of a public declaration that they were votaries of Diana, since every body knew it; Act 19:35-36 that the persons accused were not guilty of any breach of the law, or any public offence, Act 19:37 that if they were, this was not a legal method of prosecuting them, Act 19:38-39 and that they were themselves liable toprosecution for such a tumultuous proceeding, Acts 19:40. The word Νεωκορος, here rendered a worshipper, properly signifies a priest or priestess devoted to some particular idol deity; whose business it was to look after the temple, and see that it was not only kept in good repair, but also neat and clean, and beautified in a proper manner. It appears by ancient inscriptions on marbles and coins, and by other authentic testimonies, that there were some particular persons at Ephesus who bore this office. As for the tradition of this image's failing down from Jupiter, there was the like legend concerning several other images among the heathens; as there is likewise concerning some pictures of the Virgin Mary in popish churches. The reader will find many learned quotations on these images in Biscoe, p. 307.

Verse 37

Acts 19:37. Men, which are neither robbers of churches, &c.— It is very ungenerous in Orobio to insinuate from hence, that the fear of suffering kept St. Paul from declaring against the established idolatries here; and it is much more so in Lord Shaftesbury, to represent the apostle and his companions as acquiescing in this defence of the chancellor, and sheltering themselves under it, though it maintained that they allowed the divinity of Diana and her image. Now not to insist on the remark, that nothing said against gods made with hands could affect an image which was supposed to have fallen down from heaven; nor to urge St. Paul's absence, though that puts him quite out of the question as to any reply to this speech,—it is obvious to answer, that the chancellor's assertion is only this, "That the persons in question had not disturbed the public peace by any riotous attempt to plunder or demolish the temple or altar of Diana, nor did they abuse her by scurrilous language." This was much to their honour: but in how serious, strenuous, and courageous a manner the apostles bore an open, though always peaceable testimony against idolatry, the whole series of their history and writings shews.

Verse 38

Acts 19:38. The law is open, &c.— "The courts are held, in which they may have justice done them, if they have a charge of any private injury to offer; and there are the proconsuls, (Celer and AElius, then joint proconsuls,) if they have any crime relating to the state to allege." The word Αγορα originally signifies a congregation or assembly of people, and thence it comes to signify likewise the place of assembly,—the forum, whether understood of a market, or a court of judicature. We may just observe, that the word implead is a forensic term, and alludes to the methods practised in the Grecian courts. After the plaintiff had delivered in the name of the person against whom he brought his action, with an account of his offence,—the magistrate finding it to belong to his cognizance, and worthy of a public trial, the plaintiff was allowed to call upon or summon his adversary to appear in court; to answer the complaint: and this summons is what is alluded to by the word εγκαλειτωσαν, here rendered implead. See Act 19:40 in the original.

Verse 39

Acts 19:39. But if ye inquire, &c.— "But if the cause be not properly either civil or criminal, and you are inquiring any thing concerning other matters relating to the common utility, or to religion, which may seem of a special nature, you need not doubt but it shall be determined, to the general satisfaction, in a lawful assembly of the Asiatic states; who will inquire into it impartially, and with a diligence proportionable to its importance."

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Acts 19". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/acts-19.html. 1801-1803.