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Bible Commentaries
Acts 19

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

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Verse 1


Chapter 14


Acts 18:19-21; Acts 18:24-26; Acts 19:1

EPHESUS has been from very ancient times a distinguished city. It was famous in the religious history of Asia Minor in times long prior to the Christian Era. It was celebrated at the time of the Roman Empire as the chief seat of the worship of Diana and of the magical practices associated with that worship; and Ephesus became more celebrated still in Christian times as the city where one of the great Œcumenical Councils was held which served to determine the expression of the Church’s faith in her Divine Lord and Master. It must then be of great interest to the Christian student to note the first beginnings of such a vast transformation as that whereby a chief seat of pagan idolatry was turned into a special stronghold of Christian orthodoxy. Let us then devote this chapter to tracing the upgrowth of the Ephesian Church, and to noting the lessons the modern Church may derive therefrom.

St. Paul terminated his work in Corinth some time about the middle or towards the close of the year 53 A.D. In the early summer of that year Gallio came as proconsul to Achaia, and the Jewish riot was raised. After a due interval, to show that he was not driven out by Jewish machinations, St. Paul determined to return once more to Jerusalem and Antioch, which he had left some four years at least before. He went down therefore to Cenchreae, the port of departure for passengers going from Corinth to Ephesus, Asia Minor, and Syria. A Christian Church had been established there by the exertions of St. Paul or some of his Corinthian disciples. As soon as an early Christian was turned from sin to righteousness, from the adoration of idols to the worship of the true God, he began to try and do something for Him whose love and grace he had experienced. It was no wonder that the Church then spread rapidly when all its individual members were instinct with life, and every one considered himself personally responsible to labour diligently for God. The Church of Cenchreae was elaborately organised. It had not only its deacons, it had also its deaconesses, one of whom, Phoebe, was specially kind and useful to St. Paul upon his visits to that busy seaport, and is by him commended to the help and care of the Roman Church. {Romans 16:1-2}

From Cenchreae St. Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla sailed for Ephesus, where, as we have already hinted, it is most likely the latter pair had some special business avocations which led them to stay at that city. They may have been large manufacturers of tents, and have had a branch establishment at Ephesus, which was then a great mercantile emporium for that part of Asia Minor.

An incidental remark of the sacred writer "having shorn his head in Cenchreae, for he had a vow," has raised a controverted question. Some refer this expression to Aquila, and I think with much the greater probability. It was customary with the Jews at that time when in any special danger to take a temporary Nazarite vow, binding themselves to abstain from wine and from cutting their hair till a certain definite period had elapsed. Then when the fixed date had arrived, the hair was cut off and preserved till it could be burned in the fire of a sacrifice offered up at Jerusalem upon the individual’s next visit to the Holy City. The grammatical order of the words naturally refer to Aquila as the maker of this vow; but I cannot agree in one reason urged for this latter theory. Some have argued that it was impossible for Paul to have made this vow; that it would, in fact, have been a return to the bondage of Judaism, which would have been utterly inconsistent on his part. People who argue thus do not understand St. Paul’s position with respect to Jewish rites as being things utterly unimportant, and, as such, things which a wise born Jew would do well to observe in order to please his countrymen. If St. Paul made a vow at Corinth it would have been simply an illustration of his own. principle, "To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order that I might gain the Jews." But further, I must say that the taking of a vow, though derived from Judaism, need not have necessarily appeared to St. Paul and the men of his time a purely Jewish ceremony. Vows, in fact, naturally passed over from Judaism to Christianity. Vows, indeed, of this peculiar character, and with this peculiar external sign of long hair, are no longer customary amongst Christians; but surely special vows cannot be said to have gone out of fashion, when we consider the wide spread of the teetotal movement, with its vows identical in one important element with that of the Nazarites! But viewing the matter from a still wider standpoint, people, when contending thus, forget what a large part the tradition of ancient customs must have played in the life, manners, and customs of St. Paul. All his early life he was a strict Pharisaic Jew, and down to the end of life his early training must have largely modified his habits. To take but one instance, pork was the common and favourite food of the Romans at this period. Now I am sure that St. Paul would have vigorously resisted all attempts to prevent the Gentile Christians eating bacon or ham; but I should not be in the least surprised if St. Paul, trained in Pharisaic habits, never once touched a food he had been taught to abhor from his earliest youth. Life is a continuous thing, and the memories of the past are very powerful. We can to this day trace among ourselves many customs and traditions dating back to the times antecedent to the Reformation, and much farther. The fires still lighted on St. John’s Eve throughout Ireland, and once customary in Scotland, are survivals of the times of Druidical paganism in these islands. The ceremonies and social customs of Shrove Tuesday and Hallow E’en are survivals of the rude mirth of our pre-Reformation forefathers, on the nights before a celebrated fast, Ash Wednesday, in one case, before a celebrated feast, All Saints’ Day, in the other. Or perhaps I may take another instance more closely analogous still which every reader can verify for himself. The use of the Church of England has to this day a curious instance of the power of tradition as opposed to written law. There is a general rubric placed in the Book of Common Prayer before the first Lord’s Prayer. It runs as follows: "Then the minister shall kneel and say the Lord’s Prayer with an audible voice; the people also kneeling and repeating it with him, both here, and wheresoever else it is used in Divine Service." This rubric plainly prescribes that clergy and people shall always say the Lord’s Prayer conjointly. And yet, let my readers go into any church of the Anglican Communion on Sunday next, I care not what the tone of its theological thought, and observe the first Lord’s Prayer used at the beginning of the Communion Service. They will find that this general rubric is universally neglected, and the celebrating priest says the opening Lord’s Prayer by himself with no voice of the people raised to accompany him. Now whence comes this universal fact? It is simply an illustration of the strength of tradition. It is a survival of the practice before the Reformation handed down by tradition to the present time, and overriding a positive and written law. In the days before the Reformation, as in the Roman Catholic Church of the present day, the opening Dominical or Lord’s Prayer in the Mass was said by the priest alone. When the service was translated into English the old custom still prevailed, and has lasted to the present day. This was only human nature, which abhors unnecessary changes, and is intensely conservative of every practice which is linked with the fond memories of the past. This human nature was found strong in St. Paul, as in other men, and it would have argued no moral or spiritual weakness, no desire to play fast and loose with gospel liberties, had he, instead of Aquila, resorted to the old Jewish practice and bound himself by a vow in connection with some special blessing which he had received, or some special danger he had incurred. When we are studying the Acts we must never forget that Judaism gave the tone and form, the whole outer framework to Christianity, even as England gave the outward shape and form to the constitutions of the United States and her own numberless colonies throughout the world. St. Paul did not invent a brand-new religion, as some people think; he changed as little as possible, so that his own practice and worship must have been to mere pagan eyes exactly the same as that of the Jews, as indeed we might conclude beforehand from the fact that the Roman authorities seem to have viewed the Christians as a mere Jewish sect down to the close of the second century.

I. Let us now take a rapid survey of the extensive journey which our book disposes of in very concise fashion. St. Paul and his companions, Aquila and Priscilla, Timothy and Silas, sailed from Cenchreae to Ephesus, which city up to this seems to have been untouched by Christian influences. St. Paul, in the earlier portion of his second tour, had been prohibited by the Holy Spirit from preaching in Ephesus, or in any portion of the provinces of Asia or Bithynia. Important as the human eye of St. Paul may have viewed them, still the Divine Guide of the Church saw that neither Asia nor Bithynia, with all their magnificent cities, their accumulated wealth, and their political position, were half so important as the cities and provinces of Europe, viewed from the standpoint of the world’s conversion. But now the gospel has secured a substantial foothold in Europe, has taken a firm grasp of that imperial race which then ruled the world, and so the Apostle is permitted to visit Ephesus for the first time. He seems to have then paid a mere passing visit to it, lasting perhaps while the ship discharged the portion of her cargo destined for Ephesus. But St. Paul never allowed time to hang heavy on his hands for want of employment. He left Aquila and Priscilla engaged in their mercantile transactions, and, entering himself into the principal synagogue, proceeded to expound his views. These do not seem to have then aroused any opposition; nay, the Jews even went so far as to desire him to tarry longer and open out his doctrines at greater length. We may conclude from this that St. Paul did not remain during this first visit much beyond one Sabbath day. If he had bestowed a second Sabbath day upon the Ephesian synagogue, his ideas and doctrines would have been made so clear and manifest that the Jews would not have required much further exposition in order to see their drift. St. Paul, after promising a second visit to them, left his old friends and associates, Aquila and his wife, with whom he had lived for nearly two years, at Ephesus, and pushed on to Casarea, a town which he must have already well known, and with which he was subsequently destined to make a long and unpleasant acquaintanceship, arriving at Jerusalem in time probably for the Feast of Tabernacles, which was celebrated on September 16, A.D. 53. Concerning the details of that visit we know nothing. Four years at least must have elapsed since he had seen James and the other venerated heads of the Mother Church. We can imagine then how joyously he would have told them, how eagerly they would have heard the glad story of the wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles through the power of Jesus Christ. After a short sojourn at Jerusalem St. Paul turned back to Caesarea, and thence went on to Antioch, the original seat of the Gentile mission for the propagation of the faith. After refreshing himself with the kindly offices of fraternal intercourse and conversation at this great Christian centre, where broad liberal sentiment and wide Christian culture, free from any narrow prejudices, must have infused a tone into society far more agreeable to St. Paul than the unprogressive Judaising views which flourished in Jerusalem, St. Paul then determined to set off upon his third great tour, which must have begun, at the earliest, some time in the spring of A.D. 54, as soon as the snows of winter had passed away and the passes through the Taurus Range into the central regions of Asia Minor had been opened. We know nothing more concerning the extended journey he took on this occasion. He seems to have avoided towns like Lystra and Derbe, and to have directed his march straight to Galatia, where he had sufficient work to engage all his thought. We have no mention of the names of the particular Churches where he laboured. Ancyra, as it was then called, Angora as it is now named, in all probability demanded St. Paul’s attention. If he visited it, he looked as the traveller does still upon the temple dedicated to the deity of Augustus and of Rome, the ruins of which have attracted the notice of every modern antiquary. Glad, however, as we should have been to gratify our curiosity by details like these, we are obliged to content ourselves with the information which St. Luke gives us, that St. Paul "went through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, in order, stablishing all the disciples," leaving us a speaking example of the energising power, the invigorating effects, of a visitation such as St. Paul now conducted, sustaining the weak, arousing the careless, restraining the rash, guiding the whole body of the Church with the counsels of sanctified wisdom and heavenly prudence. Then, after his Phrygian and Galatian work was finished, St. Paul betook himself to a field which he long since desired to occupy, and determined to fulfil the promise made a year previously at least to his Jewish friends of the Ephesian Synagogue.

II. Now we come to the foundation of the Ephesian Church some time in the latter part of the year 54 A.D. Here it may strike some reader as an extraordinary thing that more than twenty years after the Crucifixion Ephesus was as yet totally untouched by the gospel; so that the tidings of salvation were quite a novel sound in the great Asiatic capital. People sometimes think of the primitive Church as if, after the Day of Pentecost, every individual Christian rushed off to preach in the most distant parts of the world, and that the whole earth was evangelised straight off. They forget the teaching of Christ about the gospel leaven, and leaven never works all on a heap as it were; it is slow, regular, progressive in its operations. The tradition, too, that the apostles did not leave Jerusalem till twelve years after His ascension ought to be a sufficient corrective of this false notion; and though this tradition may not have any considerable historical basis, yet it shows that the primitive Church did not cherish the very modern idea that enormous and immediate successes followed upon the preaching of the gospel after Pentecost, and that the conversion of vast populations at once occurred. The case was exactly contrary. For many a long year nothing at all was done towards the conversion of the Gentile world, and then for many another long year the preaching of the gospel among the Gentiles entirely depended upon St. Paul alone. He was the one evangelist of the Gentiles, and therefore it is no wonder he should. have said in 1 Corinthians 1:7, "Christ sent me not to baptise, but to preach the gospel." He was the one man fitted to deal with the prejudices, the ignorance, the sensuality, the grossness with which the Gentile world was overspread, and therefore no other work, no matter how important, was to be allowed to interfere with that one task which he alone could perform. This seems to me the explanation of the question which might otherwise cause some difficulty, how was it that the Ephesians, Jews and Gentiles alike, inhabiting this distinguished city, were still in such dire ignorance of the gospel message twenty years after the Ascension? Now let us come to the story of the circumstances amid which Ephesian Christianity took its rise. St. Paul, as we have already said, paid a passing visit to Ephesus just a year before when going up to Jerusalem, when he seems to have made a considerable impression in the synagogue. He left behind him Aquila and Priscilla, who, with their household, formed a small Christian congregation, meeting doubtless for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in their own house while yet frequenting the stated worship of the synagogue. This we conclude from the following circumstance, which is expressly mentioned in Acts 18:26. Apollos, a Jew, born in Alexandria, and a learned man, as was natural coming from that great centre of Greek and Oriental culture, came to Ephesus. He had been baptised by some of John’s disciples, either at Alexandria or in Palestine. It may very possibly have been at Alexandria. St. John’s doctrines and followers may have spread to Alexandria by that time, as we are expressly informed they had been diffused as far as Ephesus. {Acts 19:1-4} Apollos, when he came to Ephesus, entered, like St. Paul, into the synagogue, and "spake and taught carefully the things concerning Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John." He knew about Jesus Christ, but with an imperfect knowledge such merely as John himself possessed. This man began to speak boldly in the synagogue on the topic of the Messiah whom John had preached. Aquila and Priscilla were present in the synagogue, heard the disputant, recognised his earnestness and his defects, and then, having taken him, expounded to him the way of God more fully, initiating him into the full mysteries of the faith by baptism into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This incident has an important bearing upon the foundation and development of the Ephesian Church, but it bears more directly still upon the point on which we have been dwelling. Apollos disputed in the synagogues where Aquila and Priscilla heard him, so that they must have been regular worshippers there, notwithstanding their Christian profession and their close intercourse with St. Paul for more than eighteen months. After a little time further, Apollos desired to pass over to Greece. The little Christian Church which met at Aquila’s house told him of the wonders they had seen and heard in Achaia and of the flourishing state of the Church in Corinth. They gave him letters commendatory to that Church, whither Apollos passed over, and rendered such valuable help that his name a year or two later became one of the watchwords of Corinthian party strife. The way was now prepared for St. Paul’s great mission to Ephesus, exceeding in length any mission he had hitherto conducted, surpassing in its duration of three years the time spent even at Corinth itself. His own brief visit of the year before, the visit and work of the Alexandrian Jew, the quiet conversations, the holy lives, the sanctified examples of Aquila and Priscilla, these had done the preliminary work. They had roused expectation, provoked discussion, developed thought. Everything was ready for the great masterful teacher to step upon the ground and complete the work which he had already so auspiciously begun.

I do not propose to discuss the roads by which St. Paul may have travelled through the province of Asia on this eventful visit, nor to discuss the architectural features, or the geographical position of the city of Ephesus. These things I shall leave to the writers who have treated of St. Paul’s life. I now confine myself to the notices inserted by St. Luke concerning the Apostle’s Ephesian work, and about it I note that upon his arrival St. Paul came in contact with a small congregation of the disciples of John the Baptist, who had hitherto escaped the notice of the small Church existing at Ephesus. This need not excite our wonder. We are apt to think that because Christianity is now such a dominant element in our own intellectual and religious atmosphere it must always have been the same. Ephesus, too, was then an immense city, with a large population of Jews, who may have had many synagogues. These few disciples of John the Baptist may have worshipped in a synagogue which never heard of the brief visit of a Cilician Jew, a teacher named Saul of Tarsus, much less of the quiet efforts of Aquila and Priscilla, the tentmakers, lately come from Corinth. St. Paul, on his second visit, soon came in contact with these men. He at once asked them a question which tested their position and attainments in the Divine life, and sheds for us a vivid light upon apostolic doctrine and practice. "Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?" is plainly an inquiry whether they had enjoyed the blessing connected with the solemn imposition of hands, from which has been derived the rite of confirmation, as I showed in the previous Part. The disciples soon revealed the imperfect character of their religion by their reply: "Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Ghost was," words which led St. Paul to demand what in that case was the nature of their baptism. "Into what then were ye baptised?" and they said, "Into John’s baptism."

Now the simple explanation of the disciples’ ignorance was that they had been baptised with John’s baptism, which had no reference to or mention of the Holy Ghost. St. Paul, understanding them to be baptised disciples, could not understand their ignorance of the personal existence and present power of the Holy Ghost, till he learned from them the nature of their baptism, and then his surprise ceased. But then we must observe that the question of the Apostle astonished at their defective state - "Into what then were ye baptised?" - implies that, if baptised with Christian baptism, they would have known of the existence of the Holy Ghost, and therefore further implies that the baptismal formula into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, was of universal application among Christians; for surely if this formula were not universally used by the Church, many Christians might be in exactly the same position as these disciples of John, and never have heard of the Holy Ghost! St. Paul, having expounded the difference between the inchoate, imperfect, beginning knowledge, of the Baptist, and the richer, fuller teaching of Jesus Christ, then handed them over for further preparation to his assistants, by whom, after due fasting and prayer, they were baptised, and at once presented to the Apostle for the imposition of hands; when the Holy Ghost was vouchsafed in present effects, "they spake with tongues and prophesied," as if to sanction in a special manner the decided action taken by the Apostle on this occasion.

The details concerning this affair, given to us by the sacred writer, are most important. They set forth at greater length and with larger fulness the methods ordinarily used by the Apostle than on other similar occasions. The Philippian jailor was converted and baptised, but we read nothing of the imposition of hands. Dionysius and Damaris, Aquila and Priscilla, and many others at Athens and Corinth were converted, but there is no mention of either baptism or any other holy rite. It might have been very possible to argue that the silence of the writer implied utter contempt of the sacraments of the gospel and the rite of confirmation on these occasions, were it not that we have this detailed account of the manner in which St. Paul dealt with half-instructed, unbaptised, and unconfirmed disciples of Christ Jesus. They were instructed, baptised, and confirmed, and thus introduced into the fulness of blessing required by the discipline of the Lord, as ministered by His faithful servant. If this were the routine observed with those who had been taught "carefully the things of Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John," how much more would it have been the case of those rescued out of the pollutions of paganism and called into the kingdom of light!

III. After this favourable beginning, and seeing the borders of the infant Church extended by the union of these twelve disciples, St. Paul, after his usual fashion, flung himself into work amongst the Jews of Ephesus upon whom he had previously made a favourable impression. He was well received for a time. He continued for three months "reasoning and persuading as to the things concerning the kingdom of God." But, as it was elsewhere, so was it at Ephesus, the offence of the Cross told in the long run upon the worshippers of the synagogue. The original Christian Church was Jewish. Aquila and Priscilla, Apollos and Timothy, and the disciples of John the Baptist would have excited no resentment in the minds of the Jews; but when St. Paul began to open out the hope which lay for Gentiles as well as for Jews in the gospel which he preached, then the objections of the synagogue were multiplied, riots and disturbances became, as elsewhere, matters of daily occurrence, and the opposition became at last so bitter that as at Corinth, so here again at Ephesus, the Apostle was obliged to separate his own followers, and gather them into the school of one Tyrannus, a teacher of philosophy or rhetoric, whom perhaps he had converted, where the blasphemous denunciations against the Divine Way which he taught could no longer be heard. In this school or lecture-hall St. Paul continued labouring for more than two years, bestowing upon the city of Ephesus a longer period of continuous labour than he ever vouchsafed to any place else. We have St. Paul’s own statement as to his method of life at this period in the address he subsequently delivered to the elders of Ephesus. The Apostle pursued at Ephesus the same course which he adopted at Corinth, in one important direction at least. He supported himself and his immediate companions, Timothy and Sosthenes, by his own labour, and that we may presume for precisely the same reason at Ephesus as at Corinth. He desired to cut off all occasion of accusation against himself. Ephesus was a city devoted to commerce and to magic. It was full of impostors too, many of them Jewish, who made gain out of the names of angels and magical formulae derived from the pretended wisdom of Solomon handed down to them by secret succession, or derived by them from contact with the lands of the far distant East. St. Paul determined, therefore, that he would give no opportunity of charging him with trading upon the credulity of his followers, or working with an eye to covetous or dishonest gains. "I coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel. Ye yourselves know that these hands ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me," is the description he gave of the manner in which he discharged his apostolic office in Ephesus, when addressing the elders of that city. We can thus trace St. Paul labouring at his trade as a tentmaker for nearly a period of five years, combining the time spent at Ephesus with that spent at Corinth. Notwithstanding, however, the attention and energy which this exercise of his trade demanded, he found time for enormous evangelistic and pastoral work. In fact, we find St. Paul nowhere else so much occupied with pastoral work as at Ephesus. Elsewhere we see the devoted evangelist, rushing in with the pioneers, breaking down all hindrances, heading the stormers to whom were committed the fiercest struggle, the most deadly conflict, and then at once moving into fresh conflicts, leaving the spoils of victory and the calmer work of peaceful pastoral labours to others. But here in Ephesus we see St. Paul’s marvellous power of adaptation. He is at one hour a clever artisan, capable of gaining support sufficient for others as well as for himself; then he is the skilful controversialist "reasoning daily in the school of one Tyrannus"; and then he is the indefatigable pastor of souls "teaching publicly, and from house to house," and "ceasing not to admonish every one night and day with tears."

But this was not all, or nearly all, the burden the apostle carried. He had to be perpetually on the alert against Jewish plots. We hear nothing directly of Jewish attempts on his life or liberty during the period of just three years which he spent on this prolonged visit. We might be sure, however, from our previous experience of the synagogues, that he must have run no small danger in this direction; but then when we turn to the same address we hear something of them. He is recalling to the minds of the Ephesian elders the circumstances of his life in their community from the beginning, and he therefore appeals thus: "Ye yourselves know from the first day that I set foot in Asia, after what manner I was with you all the time, serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind, and with tears, and with trials which befell me with plots of the Jews." Ephesus again was a great field wherein he personally worked; it was also a great centre for missionary operations which he superintended. It was the capital of the province of Asia, the richest and most important of all the Roman provinces, teeming with resources, abounding in highly civilised and populous cities, connected with one another by an elaborate network of admirably constructed roads. Ephesus was cut out by nature and by art alike as a missionary centre whence the gospel should radiate out into all the surrounding districts. And so it did. "All they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks," is the testimony of St. Luke with respect to the wondrous progress of the gospel, not in Ephesus alone, but also throughout all the province, a statement which we find corroborated a little lower down in the same nineteenth chapter by the independent testimony of Demetrius the silversmith, who, when he was endeavouring to stir up his fellow-craftsmen to active exertions in defence of their endangered trade, says, "Ye see and hear that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people." St. Paul’s disciples laboured, too, in the other cities of Asia, as Epaphras, for instance, in Colossae. And St. Paul himself, we may be certain, bestowed the Lifts and blessings of his apostolic office by visiting these local Churches, as far as he could consistently with the pressing character of his engagements in Ephesus. But even the superintendence of vast missions throughout the province of Asia did not exhaust the prodigious labours of St. Paul. He perpetually bore about in his bosom anxious thoughts for the welfare, trials, and sorrows of the numerous Churches he had established in Europe and Asia alike. He was constant in prayers for them, mentioning the individual members by name, and he was unwearied in keeping up communications with them, either by verbal messages or by written epistles, one specimen of which remains in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, written to them from Ephesus, and showing us the minute care, the comprehensive interest, the intense sympathy which dwelt within his breast with regard to his distant converts all the while that the work at Ephesus, controversial, evangelistic, and pastoral, to say nothing at all of his tent making, was making the most tremendous demands on body and soul alike, and apparently absorbing all his attention. It is only when we thus realise bit by bit what the weak, delicate, emaciated Apostle must have been doing, that we are able to grasp the full meaning of his own words to the Corinthians: "Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the Churches."

This lengthened period of intense activity of mind and body terminated in an incident which illustrates the peculiar character of St. Paul’s Ephesian ministry. Ephesus was a town where the spiritual and moral atmosphere simply reeked with the fumes, ideas, and practices of Oriental paganism, of which the magical incantations formed the predominant feature. Magic prevailed all over the pagan world at this time. In Rome, however, magical practices were always more or less under the ban of public opinion, though at times resorted to by those whose office called upon them to suppress illegal actions. A couple of years before the very time at which we have arrived, workers in magic, among whom were included astrologers, or mathematicians, as the Roman law called them, were banished from Rome simultaneously with the Jews, who always enjoyed an unenviable notoriety for such occult practices. In Asia Minor and the East they flourished at this time under the patronage of religion, and continued to flourish in all the great cities down to Christian times. Christianity itself could not wholly banish magic, which retained its hold upon the half-converted Christians who flocked into the Church in crowds during the second half of the fourth century; and we learn from St. Chrysostom himself, that when a young man he had a narrow escape for his life owing to the continuance of magical practices in Antioch, more than three hundred years after St. Paul. It is no wonder that when Diana’s worship reigned supreme at Ephesus magical practices should also flourish there. If, however, there existed a special development of the power of evil at Ephesus, God also bestowed a special manifestation of Divine power in the person and ministry of St. Paul, as St. Luke expressly declares: "God wrought special miracles by the hand of Paul, insomuch that unto the sick were carried away from his body handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits departed from them." This passage has often been found a stumbling-block by many persons. They have thought that it has a certain legendary air about it, as they in turn think there is a certain air of legend about the similar passage in Acts 5:12-16, which makes much the same statement about St. Peter. When writing about this latter passage (Chap. XII above), I offered some suggestions which lessen, if they do not quite take away, the difficulty; to these I shall now only refer my readers. But I think we can see a local reason for the peculiar development or manifestation of miraculous power through St. Paul. The devil’s seat was just then specially at Ephesus, so far as the great province of Asia was concerned. The powers of evil had concentrated all their force and all their wealth of external grandeur, intellectual cleverness, and spiritual trickery in order to lead men captive; and there God, in order that He might secure a more striking victory for truth upon this magnificent stage, armed His faithful servant with an extraordinary development of the good powers of the world to come, enabling him to work special wonders in the sight of the heathen. Can we not read an echo of the fearful struggle just then waged in the metropolis of Asia in words addressed some years later to the members of the same Church, "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places"? We make a great mistake when we think of the Apostles as working miracles when and as they liked. At times their evangelistic work seems to have been conducted without any extraordinary manifestations, and then at other times, when the power of Satan was specially put forth, God displayed His special strength, enabling His servants to work wonders and signs in His name. It was much the same as in the Old Testament. The Old Testament miracles will be found to cluster themselves round the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, and its Reformation at the hand of Elijah. So, too, the recorded miracles of the Apostles will be found to gather round St. Peter’s earlier work in Jerusalem, where Satan strove to counter-work God’s designs in one way, and St. Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, where Satan strove to counter-work them in another way. One incident at Ephesus attracted special attention. There was a priestly family, consisting of seven sons, belonging to the Jews at Ephesus. Their father had occupied high position among the various courses which in turn served the Temple, even as Zacharias, the father of the Baptist, did. These men observed the power with which St. Paul dealt with human spirits disordered by the powers of evil, using for that purpose the sacred name of Jesus. They undertook to use the same sacred invocation; but it proved, like the censers of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, a strange fire kindled against their own souls. The man possessed by the evil spirit recognised not their presumptuous efforts, but attacked them, and did them serious bodily injury. This circumstance spread the fame of the man of God wider and wider. The power of magic and of the demons fell before him, even as the image of Dagon fell before the Ark. Many of the nominal believers in Christianity had still retained their magical practices as of yore, even as nominal Christians retained them in the days of St. Chrysostom. The reality of St. Paul’s power, demonstrated by the awful example of Sceva’s sons, smote them in their inmost conscience. They came, confessed their deeds, brought their magical books together, and gave the greatest proof of their honest convictions; for they burned them in the sight of all, and counting the price thereof found it fifty thousand pieces of silver, or more than two thousand pounds of our money. "So mightily grew the word of the Lord and prevailed" in the very chosen seat of the Ephesian Diana.

Verses 23-28

Chapter 15


Acts 19:23-28

ST. PAUL’S labours at Ephesus covered, as he informs us himself, when addressing the elders of that city, a space of three years. The greater portion of that period had now expired, and had been spent in peaceful labours so far as the heathen world and the Roman authorities were concerned. The Jews, indeed, had been very troublesome at times. It is in all probability to them and their plots St. Paul refers when in 1 Corinthians 15:32 he says, "If after the manner of men I fought with beasts at Ephesus, what doth it profit me?" as the unbelieving Gentiles do not seem to have raised any insurrection against his teaching till he felt his work was done, and he was, in fact, preparing to leave Ephesus. Before, however, we proceed to discuss the startling events which finally decided his immediate departure, we must consider a brief passage which connects the story of Sceva’s sons and their impious temerity with that of the silversmith Demetrius and the Ephesian riot.

The incident connected with Sceva’s sons led to the triumph over the workers in magic, when the secret professors of that art came and publicly acknowledged their hidden sins, proving their reality by burning the instruments of their wickedness. Here, then, St. Luke inserts a notice which has proved to be of the very greatest importance in the history of the Christian Church. Let us insert it in full that we may see its bearing: "Now after these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome. And having sent into Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while." This passage tells us that St. Paul, after his triumph over the practices of magic, and feeling too that the Church had been effectually cleansed, so far as human foresight and care could effect it, from the corroding effects of the prevalent Ephesian vice, now determined to transfer the scene of his labours to Macedonia and Achaia, wishing to visit those Churches which five years before he had founded.. It was full five years, at least, since he had seen the Philippian, Thessalonian, and Beroean congregations. Better than three years had elapsed since he had left Corinth, the scene of more prolonged work than he had ever bestowed on any other city except Ephesus. He had heard again and again from all these places, and some of the reports, especially those from Corinth, had been very disquieting. The Apostle wished, therefore, to go and see for himself how the Churches of Christ in Macedonia and Achaia were faring. He next wished to pay a visit to Jerusalem to consult with his brethren, and then felt his destiny pushing him still westwards, desiring to see Rome, the world’s capital, and the Church which had sprung up there, of which his friends Priscilla and Aquila must have told him much. Such seem to have been his intentions in the spring of the year 57, to which his three years’ sojourn in Ephesus seems now to have brought him.

The interval of time covered by the two verses which I have quoted above is specially interesting, because it was just then that the First Epistle to the Corinthians was written. All the circumstances and all the indications of time which the Epistle itself offers conspire to fix the writing of it to this special date and place. The Epistle, for instance, refers to Timothy as having been already sent into Macedonia and Greece: "For this cause I have sent unto you Timothy, who shall put you in remembrance of my ways which be in Christ." {1 Corinthians 4:17} In Acts 19:22 we have it stated, "Having sent into Macedonia Timothy and Erastus." The Epistle again plainly tells us the very season of the year in which it was written. The references to the Passover season-"For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ; wherefore let us keep the feast"-are words which naturally were suggested by the actual celebration of the Jewish feast, to a mind like St. Paul’s, which readily grasped at every passing allusion or chance incident to illustrate his present teaching. Timothy and Erastus had been despatched in the early spring, as soon as the passes and roads were thoroughly open and navigation established. The Passover in A.D. 57 happened on April 7, and the Apostle fixes the exact date of the First Epistle to Corinth, when in the sixteenth chapter and eighth verse he says to the Corinthians, "I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost." I merely refer now to this point to illustrate the vastness of the Apostle’s labours, and to call attention to the necessity for comparing together the Acts and the Epistles in the minute manner exemplified by Paley in the "Horae Paulinae," if we wish to gain a complete view of a life like St. Paul’s, so completely consecrated to one great purpose.

Man may propose, but even an apostle cannot dispose of his fate as he will, or foretell under ordinary circumstances how the course of events will affect him. St. Paul intended to stay at Ephesus till Pentecost, which that year happened on May 28. Circumstances, however, hastened his departure. We have been considering the story of St. Paul’s residence in Ephesus, but hitherto we have not heard one word about the great Ephesian deity, Diana, as the Romans called her, or Artemis, as St. Luke, according to the ordinary local use, correctly calls her in the Greek text of the Acts, or Anaitis, as her ancient name had been from early times at Ephesus and throughout Asia Minor. If this riot had not happened, if our attention had not been thus called to Diana and her worship, there might have been a total blank in St. Luke’s narrative concerning this famous deity, and her equally famous temple, which was at the time one of the wonders of the world. And then some scoffers reading in ancient history concerning the wonders of this temple, and finding the records of modern discoveries confirming the statements of antiquity, might have triumphantly pointed to St. Luke’s silence about Diana and the Ephesian temple as a proof of his ignorance. A mere passing riot alone has saved us from this difficulty. Now this case well illustrates the danger of arguing from silence. Silence concerning any special point is sometimes used as a proof that a particular writer knew nothing about it. But this is not the sound conclusion. Silence proves in itself nothing more than that the person who is silent either had no occasion to speak upon that point or else thought it wiser or more expedient to hold his tongue. Josephus, for instance, is silent about Christianity; but that is no proof that Christianity did not exist in his time, or that he knew nothing about it. His silence may simply have arisen because he found Christianity an awkward fact, and not knowing how to deal with it he left it alone. It is well to bear this simple law of historical evidence in mind, for a great many of the popular objections to the sacred narratives, both of the Old and New Testaments, are based upon the very dangerous ground of silence alone. Let us, however, return to Diana of the Ephesians. The worship of the goddess Artemis dominated the whole city of Ephesus, and helped to shape the destinies of St. Paul at this season, for while intending to stay at Ephesus till Pentecost at the end of May, the annual celebration of Artemisia, the feast of the patron deity of the city, happened, of which celebration Demetrius took advantage to raise a disturbance which hastened St. Paul’s departure into Macedonia.

We have now cleared the way for the consideration of the narrative of the riot, which is full of the most interesting information concerning the progress of the gospel, and offers us the most wonderful instances of the minute accuracy of St. Luke, which again have been illustrated and confirmed in the fullest manner by the researches so abundantly bestowed upon Ephesus within the lifetime of the present generation. Let us take the narrative in the exact order given us by St. Luke: "About that time there arose no small stir about the Way." But why about that special time? We have already said that here we find an indication of the date of the riot. It must have happened during the latter part of April, A.D. 57, and we know that at Ephesus almost the whole month of April, or Artemisius, was dedicated to the honour and worship of Artemis. But here it may be asked, How did it come to pass that Artemis or Diana occupied such a large share in the public worship of Ephesus and the province of Asia? Has modern research confirmed the impression which this chapter leaves upon the mind, that the Ephesian people were above all else devoted to the worship of the deity? The answers to both these queries are not hard to give, and serve to confirm our belief in the honesty and accuracy of the sacred penman. The worship of Artemis, or of Anaitis rather, prevailed in the peninsula of Asia Minor from the time of Cyrus, who introduced it six or seven centuries before. Anaitis was the Asiatic deity of fruitfulness, the same as Ashtoreth of the Bible, whom the Greeks soon identified with their own goddess Artemis. Her worship quickly spread, specially through that portion of the country which afterwards became the province of Asia, and through the adjacent districts; showing how rapidly an evil taint introduced into a nation’s spiritual life-blood spreads throughout its whole organisation, and when once introduced how persistently it holds its ground; a lesson taught here in New Testament times, as in Old Testament days it was proclaimed in Israel’s case by the oft-repeated statement concerning her kings, "Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam [king after king] departed not." The spiritual life and tone of a nation is a very precious thing, and because it is so the Church of England does well to bestow so much of her public supplication upon those who have power, like Cyrus and Jeroboam, to taint it at the very foundation and origin thereof. When, for instance, St. Paul landed at Perga in Pamphylia, on the first occasion when he visited Asia Minor as a Christian missionary, his eye was saluted with the splendid temple of Diana on the side of the hill beneath which the city was built, and all over the country at every important town similar temples were erected in her honour, where their ruins have been traced by modern travellers. The cult or worship introduced by Cyrus exactly suited the morals and disposition of these Oriental Greeks, and flourished accordingly.

Artemis was esteemed the protectress of the cities where her temples were built, which, as in the case of Ephesus and of Perga, were placed outside the gates like the temple of Jupiter at Lystra, in order that their presence might cast a halo of protection over the adjacent communities. The temple of Diana at Ephesus was a splendid building. It had been several times destroyed by fire notwithstanding its revered character and the presence of the sacred image, and had been as often rebuilt with greater splendour than before, till the temple was erected existing in St. Paul’s day, which justly excited the wonder of mankind, as its splendid ruins have shown, which Mr. Wood has excavated in our own time at the expense of the English Government. The devotion of the Ephesians to this ancient Asiatic deity had even been increasing of late years when St. Paul visited Ephesus, as a decree still exists in its original shape graven in stone, exactly as St. Paul must have seen it, enacting extended honours to the deity. As this decree bears directly upon the famous riot which Demetrius raised, we insert it here in full, as an interesting confirmation and illustration of the sacred narrative: "To the Ephesian Diana. Forasmuch as it is notorious that not only among the Ephesians, but also everywhere among the Greek nations, temples are consecrated to her, and sacred precincts, and that she hath images and altars dedicated to her on account of her plain manifestations of herself, and that, besides, the greatest token of veneration paid to her, a month is called after her name, by us Artemision, by the Macedonians and other Greek nations and their cities, Artemisius, in which month general gatherings and festivals are celebrated, and more especially in our own city, the nurse of its own, the Ephesian goddess. Now the people of Ephesus deeming it proper that the whole month called by her name should be sacred and set apart to the goddess, have resolved by this decree, that the observation of it by them be altered. Therefore it is enacted, that the whole month Artemision in all the days of it shall be holy, and that throughout the month there shall be a continued celebration of feasts and the Artemisian festivals and the holy days, seeing that the entire month is sacred to the goddess; for from this improvement in her worship our city shall receive additional lustre and enjoy perpetual prosperity." Now this decree, which preceded St. Paul’s labours perhaps by twenty years or more, has an important bearing on our subject. St. Luke tells us that "about this time there arose no small stir about the Way"; and it was only quite natural and quite in accord with what we know of other pagan persecutions, and of human nature in general, that the precise time at which the Apostle had then arrived should have been marked by this riot. The whole city of Ephesus was then given up to the celebration of the festival held in honour of what we may call the national religion and the national deity. That festival lasted the whole month, and was accompanied, as all human festivals are apt to be accompanied, with a vast deal of drunkenness and vice, as we are expressly told in an ancient Greek romance, written by a Greek of whom little is known, named Achilles Tatius. The people of Ephesus were, in fact, mad with excitement, and it did not require any great skill to stir them up to excesses in defence of the endangered deity whose worship was the glory of their city. We know from one or two similar cases that the attack made upon St. Paul at this pagan festival had exact parallels in these early ages.

This festival in honour of Diana was generally utilised as the meeting-time of the local diet or parliament of the province of Asia, where deputies from all the cities of the province met together to consult on their common wants and transmit their decisions to the proconsul, a point to which we shall later on have occasion to refer. Just ninety years later one of the most celebrated of the primitive martyrs suffered upon the same occasion at Smyrna. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John, lived to a very advanced period, and helped to hand down the tradition of apostolic life and doctrine to another generation. Polycarp is, in fact, through Ireaeus, one of the chief historic links uniting the Church of later times with the apostles. Polycarp suffered martyrdom amid the excitement raised during the meeting of the same diet of Asia held, not at Ephesus, but at Smyrna, and attended by the same religions ceremonies and observances. Or let us again turn towards the West, and we shall find it the same. The martyrdoms of Vienne and Lyons described by Eusebius in the fifth book of his history are among the most celebrated in the whole history of the Church, and as such have been already referred to and used in this commentary. These martyrdoms are an illustration of the same fact that the Christians were always exposed to peculiar danger at the annual pagan celebrations. The Gallic tribes, the seven nations of the Gauls, as they were called, were holding their annual diet or assembly, and celebrating the worship of the national deities when their zeal was excited to red-hot pitch against the Christians of Vienne and Lyons, resulting in the terrible outbreak of which Eusebius in his fifth book tells us. As it was in Gaul about 177 A.D. and in Smyrna about 155 A.D., So was it in Ephesus in the year 57; the month’s festival, celebrated in honour of Diana, accompanied with eating and drinking and idleness in abundance, told upon the populace, and made them ready for any excess, so that it is no wonder we should read, "About that time there arose no small stir about the Way." Then too there is another circumstance which may have stirred up Demetrius to special violence. His trade was probably falling off owing to St. Paul’s labours, and this may have been brought home to him with special force by the results of the festival which was then in process of celebration or perhaps almost finished. All the circumstances fit this hypothesis. The shrine-makers were, we know, a very important element in the population of Ephesus. and the trade of shrine-making and the manufacture Of other silver ornaments conduced in no small degree to the commercial prosperity of the city of Ephesus. This is plainly stated upon the face of our narrative: "Ye know that by this business we have our wealth, and ye see and hear that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath turned away much people." Facts which could not have been more forcibly brought home to them than by the decreasing call they were experiencing for the particular articles which they produced.

Now the question may be proposed, Was this the fact? Was Ephesus celebrated for its shrine-makers, and were shrines and silver ornaments a favourite manufacture in that city? Here modern research comes in to testify to the marked truthfulness, the minute accuracy of St. Luke. We do not now need to appeal to ancient authors, as "Lives of St. Paul" like those written by Mr. Lewin or by Messrs. Conybeare and Howson do. The excavations which have taken place at Ephesus since the publication of these valuable works have amply vindicated the historic character of our narrative on this point. Mr. Wood in the course of his excavations at Ephesus discovered a vast number of inscriptions and sculptures which had once adorned the temple of Ephesus, but upon its destruction had been removed to the theatre, which continued in full operation long after the pagan temple had disappeared. Among these inscriptions there was one enormous one brought to light. It was erected some forty years or so after St. Paul’s time, but it serves in the minuteness of its details to illustrate the story of Demetrius, the speech he made, and the riot he raised. This inscription was raised in honour of a wealthy Roman named Gaius Vibius Salutarius, who had dedicated to Artemis a large number of silver images weighing from three to seven pounds each, and had even provided a competent endowment for keeping up a public festival in her honour, which was to be celebrated on the birthday of the goddess, which happened in the month of April or May. The inscription, which contains the particulars of the offering made by this Roman, would take up quite too much space if we desired to insert it. We can only now refer our readers to Mr. Wood’s book on Ephesus, where they will find it given at full length. A few lines may, however, be quoted to illustrate the extent to which the manufacture of silver shrines and silver ornaments in honour of Artemis must have flourished in Ephesus. This inscription enumerates the images dedicated to the goddess which Salutarius had provided by his endowments, entering into the most minute details as to their treatment and care. The following passage gives a vivid picture of Ephesian idolatry as the Apostle saw it: "Let two statues of Artemis of the weight of three pounds three ounces be religiously kept in the custody of Salutarius, who himself consecrated them, and after the death of Salutarius, let the aforesaid statues be restored to the town-clerk of the Ephesians, and let it be made a rule that they be placed in the public meetings above the seat of the council in the theatre before the golden statue of Artemis and the other statues. And a golden Artemis weighing three pounds and two silver deer attending her, and the rest of the images of the weight of two pounds ten ounces and five grammes, and a silver statue of the Sacred Senate of the weight of four pounds two ounces, and a silver statue of the council of the Ephesians. Likewise a silver Artemis bearing a torch of the weight of six pounds, and a silver statue of the Roman people." And so the inscription proceeds to name and devote silver and golden statues literally by dozens, which Salutarius intended to be borne in solemn procession on the feast-day of Diana. It is quite evident that did we possess but this inscription alone, we have here amply sufficient evidence showing us that one of the staple trades of Ephesus, one upon which the prosperity and welfare of a large section of its inhabitants depended, was this manufacture of silver and gold ornaments directly connected with the worship of the goddess. For it must be remembered that the guild of shrine-makers did not depend alone upon the chance liberality of a stray wealthy Roman or Greek like Salutarius, who might feel moved to create a special endowment or bestow special gifts upon the temple. The guild of shrine-makers depended upon the large and regular demand of a vast population who required a supply of cheap and handy shrines to satisfy their religious cravings. The population of the surrounding districts and towns poured into Ephesus at this annual festival of Diana and paid their devotions in her temple. But even the pagans required some kind of social and family religion. They could not live as too many nominal Christians are contented to live, without any family or personal acknowledgment of their dependence upon a higher power. There was no provision for public worship in the rural districts answering to our parochial system, and so they supplied the want by purchasing on occasions like this feast of Diana, shrines, little silver images, or likenesses of the central cell of the great temple where the sacred image rested, and which served as central points to fix their thoughts and excite the gratitude due to the goddess whom they adored. Demetrius and his fellow-craftsmen depended upon the demand created by a vast population of devout believers in Artemis, and when this demand began to fall off Demetrius traced the bad trade which he and his fellows were experiencing to the true source. He recognised the Christian teaching imparted by St. Paul as the deadly enemy of his unrighteous gains, and naturally directed the rage of the mob against the preacher of truth and righteousness. The actual words of Demetrius are deserving of the most careful study, for they too have been illustrated by modern discovery in the most striking manner. Having spoken of the results of St. Paul’s teaching in Asia of which they all had had personal experience, he then proceeds to expatiate on its dangerous character, not only as regards their own personal interests, but as regards the goddess and her sacred dignity as well: "And not only is there danger that this our trade come into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana be made of no account, and that she should be deposed from her magnificence whom all Asia and the world worshippeth." Demetrius cleverly but lightly touches upon the self-interest of the workmen. He does not dwell on that topic too long, because it is never well for an orator who wishes to rouse his hearers to enthusiasm to dwell too long or too deeply or too openly upon merely selfish considerations. Man is indeed intensely selfish by nature, but then he does not like to be told so too openly, or to have his own selfishness paraded too frequently before his face. He likes to be flattered as if he cherished a belief in higher things, and to have his low ends and baser motives clothed in a similitude of noble enthusiasm. Demetrius hints therefore at their own impoverishment as the results of Paul’s teaching, but expatiates on the certain destruction which awaits the glory of their time-honoured and world-renowned deity if free course be any longer permitted to such doctrine. This speech is a skilful composition all through. It shows that the ancient rhetorical skill of the Greeks still flourished in Ephesus, and not the least skilful, and at the same time not the least true touch in speech was that wherein Demetrius reminded his hearers that the world were onlookers and watchers of their conduct, noting whether or not they would vindicate Diana’s assailed dignity. It was a true touch, I say, for modern research has shown that the worship of the Ephesian Artemis was world-wide in its extent; it had come from the distant east, and had travelled to the farthest west. We have already noted the testimony of modern travellers showing that her worship extended over Asia Minor in every direction. This fact Demetrius long ago told the Ephesians, and ancient authors have repeated his testimony, and modern travellers have merely corroborated them. But we were not aware how accurate was Demetrius about the whole world worshipping Artemis, till in our own time the statues and temples of the Ephesian goddess were found existing so far west as Southern Gaul, Marseilles, and the coast of Spain, proving that wherever Asiatic sailors and Asiatic merchants came thither they brought with them the worship of their favourite deity.

Let us pass on, however, and see whether the remainder of this narrative will not afford us subject-matter for abundant illustrations. The mob drank in the speech of Demetrius, and responded with the national shout, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians," a cry which has been found inscribed on altars and tablets all over the province of Asia, showing that it was a kind of watchword among the inhabitants of that district. The crowd of workmen whom Demetrius had been addressing then rushed into the theatre, the usual place of assembly for the people of Ephesus, dragging with them "Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel." The Jews too followed the mob, eager to make the unexpected tumult serve their own hostile purposes against St. Paul. News of the riot was soon carried to the Apostle, who learning of the danger to which his friends were exposed desired to enter that theatre the magnificent proportions and ornamentation of which have been for the first time displayed to modern eyes by the labours of Mr. Wood. But the local Christians knew the Ephesian mob and their state of excitement better than St. Paul did, and so they would not allow him to risk his life amid the infuriated crowd. The Apostle’s teaching too had reached the very highest ranks of Ephesian and Asiatic society. The very Asiarchs, being his friends, sent unto him and requested him not to enter the theatre. Here again we come across one of those incidental references which display St. Luke’s acquaintance with the local peculiarities of the Ephesian constitution, and which have been only really appreciated in the light of modern discoveries. In the time of King James I, when the Authorised Version was made, the translators knew nothing of the proof of the sacred writer’s accuracy which lay under their hands in the words, "Certain of the Asiarchs or chief officers of Asia," and so they translated them very literally but very incorrectly, "Certain of the chief of Asia," ignoring completely the official rank and title which these men possessed. A few words must suffice to give a brief explanation of the office these men held. The province of Asia from ancient times had celebrated this feast of Artemis at an assembly of all the cities of Asia. This we have already explained. The Romans united with the worship of Artemis the worship of the Emperor of the City of Rome; so that loyalty to the Emperor and loyalty to the national religion went hand in hand. They appointed certain officials to preside at these games, they made them presidents of the local diets or parliaments which assembled to discuss local matters at these national assemblies, they gave them the highest positions in the province next to the proconsul, they surrounded them with great pomp, and endued them with considerable power so long as the festival lasted, and then, being intent on uniting economy with their generosity, they made these Asiarchs, as they were called, responsible for all the expenses incurred in the celebration of the games and diets. It was a clever policy, as it secured the maximum of contentment on the people’s part with the minimum of expense to the imperial government. This arrangement clearly limited the position of the Asiarchate to rich men, as they alone could afford the enormous expenses involved. The Greeks, specially those of Asia, as we have already pointed out, were very flashy in their disposition. They loved titles and decorations; so much so that one of their own orators of St. Paul’s day, Dion Chrysostom, tells us that, provided they got a title, they would suffer any indignity. There were therefore crowds of rich men always ready to take the office of Asiarch, which by degrees was turned into a kind of life peerage, a man once an Asiarch always retaining the title, while his wife was called the Asiarchess, as we find from the inscriptions. The Asiarchs were, in fact, the official aristocracy of the province of Asia. They had assembled on this occasion for the purpose of sitting in the local parliament and presiding over the annual games in honour of Diana. Their interests and their honour were all bound up with the worship of the goddess, and yet the preaching of St. Paul had told so powerfully upon the whole province, that even among the very officials of the State religion St. Paul had friends and supporters anxious to preserve his life, and therefore sent him a message not to adventure himself into the theatre. It is no wonder that Demetrius the silversmith roused his fellow-craftsmen into activity and fanned the flame of their wrath, for the worship of Diana of the Ephesians was indeed in danger when the very men whose office bound them to its support were in league with such an uncompromising opponent as this Paul of Tarsus. St. Luke thus gives a glimpse of the constitution of Ephesus and of the province of Asia in his time. He shows us the peculiar institution of the Asiarchate, and then when we turn to the inscriptions which Mr. Wood and other modern discoverers have unearthed, we find that the Asiarchs occupy a most prominent position in them, vindicating in the amplest manner the introduction of them by St. Luke as assembled at Ephesus at this special season, and there interesting themselves in the welfare of the great Apostle.

But now there comes on the scene another official, whose title and office have been the subject of many an illustration furnished by modern research. The Jews who followed the mob into the theatre, when they did not see St. Paul there, put forward one Alexander as their spokesman. This man has been by some identified with Alexander the coppersmith, to whom St. Paul refers {2 Timothy 4:14} when writing to Timothy, then resident at Ephesus, as a man who had done much injury to the Christian cause. He may have been well known as a brother-tradesman by the Ephesian silversmiths, and he seems to have been regarded by the Jews as a kind of leader who might be useful in directing the rage of the mob against the Christians whom they hated. The rioters, however, did not distinguish as clearly as the Jews would have wished between the Christians and the Jews. They made the same mistake as the Romans did for more than a century later, and confounded Jews and Christians together. They were all, in any case, opponents of idol worship and chiefly of their favourite goddess, and therefore the sight of Alexander merely intensified their rage, so much that for the space of two hours they continued to vociferate their favourite cry, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians."

Now, however, there appeared another official, whose title and character have become famous through his action on this occasion: "When the town-clerk had quieted the multitude, he saith, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there who knoweth not that the city of the Ephesians is the temple-keeper (or Neocoros) of the great Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?" Here we have several terms which have been illustrated and confirmed by the excavations of Mr. Wood. The town-clerk or recorder is introduced, because he was the chief executive officer of the city of Ephesus, and, as such, responsible to the Roman authorities for the peace and order of the city. The city of Ephesus was a free city, retaining its ancient laws and customs like Athens and Thessalonica, but only on the condition that these laws were effective and peace duly kept. Otherwise the Roman authorities and their police would step in. These town-clerks or recorders of Ephesus are known from this one passage in the Acts of the Apostles, but they are still better known from the inscriptions which have been brought to light at Ephesus. I have mentioned, for instance, the immense inscription which Mr. Wood discovered in the theatre commemorating the gift to the temple of Diana of a vast number of gold and silver images made by one Vibius Salutarius. This inscription lays down that the images should be kept in the custody of the town-clerk or recorder when not required for use in the solemn religious processions made through the city. The names of a great many town-clerks have been recovered from the ruins of Ephesus, some of them coming from the reign of Nero, the very period when this riot took place. It is not impossible that we may yet recover the very name of the town-clerk who gave the riotous mob this very prudent advice, "Ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rash," which has made him immortal. Then, again, a title for the city of Ephesus is used in this pacific oration which is strictly historical, and such as would naturally have been used by a man in the town-clerk’s position. He calls Ephesus the "temple-keeper,"or "Neocoros," as the word literally is, of the goddess Diana, and this is one of the most usual and common titles in the lately discovered inscriptions. Ephesus and the Ephesians were indeed so devoted to the worship of that deity and so affected by the honour she conferred upon them that they delighted to call themselves the temple-sweepers, or sextons, of the great Diana’s temple. In fact, their devotion to the worship of the goddess so far surpassed that of ordinary cities that the Ephesians were accustomed to subordinate their reverence for the Emperors to, their reverence for their religion, and thus in the decree passed by them honouring Vibius Salutarius, who endowed their temple with many splendid gifts, to which we have already referred, they begin by describing themselves thus: "In the presidency of Tiberius Claudius Antipater Julianus, on the sixth day of the first decade of the month Poseideon, it was resolved by the Council and the Public Assembly of the Neocori (of Artemis) and lovers of Augustus." The Ephesians must have been profoundly devoted to Diana’s worship when in that age of gross materialism they would dare to place any deity higher than that of the reigning emperor, the only god in whom a true Roman really believed; for unregenerate human nature at that time looked at the things alone which are seen and believed in nothing else.

The rest of the town-clerk’s speech is equally deserving of study from every point of view. He gives us a glimpse of the Apostle’s method of controversy: it was wise, courteous, conciliatory. It did not hurt the feelings nor outrage the sentiments of natural reverence, which ought ever to be treated with the greatest respect, for natural reverence is a delicate plant, and even when directed towards a wrong object ought to be most gently handled. "Ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius, and the craftsmen that are with him, have a matter against any man, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls: let them accuse one another." Modern research has thrown additional light upon these words. The Roman system of provincial government anticipated the English system of assize courts, moving from place to place, introduced by Henry II for the purpose of bringing justice home to every man’s door. It was quite natural for the proconsul of Asia to hold his court at the same time as the annual assembly of the province of Asia and the great festival of Diana. The great concourse of people rendered such a course specially convenient, while the presence of the proconsul helped to keep the peace, as, to take a well-known instance, the presence of Pontius Pilate at the great annual Paschal feast at Jerusalem secured the Romans against any sudden rebellion, and also enabled him to dispense justice after the manner of an assize judge, to which fact we would find an allusion in the words of St. Mark, {Mark 15:6} "Now at the feast he used to release unto them one prisoner, whom they asked of him."

It has been said, indeed, that St. Luke here puts into the town-clerk’s mouth words which he could never have used, representing him as saying "there are proconsuls" when, in fact, there was never more than one proconsul in the province of Asia. Such criticism is of the weakest character. Surely every man that ever speaks in public knows that one of the commonest usages is to say there are judges or magistrates, using the plural when one judge or magistrate may alone be exercising jurisdiction! But there is another explanation, which completely solves the difficulty and vindicates St. Luke’s minute accuracy. Three hundred years ago John Calvin, in his commentary, noted the difficulty, and explained it by the supposition that the proconsul had appointed deputies or assessors who held the courts in his name. There is, however, a more satisfactory explanation. It was the reign of Nero, and his brutal example had begun to debauch the officials through the provinces. Silanus, the proconsul of Asia, was disliked by Nero and by his mother as a possible candidate for the imperial crown, being of the family of Augustus. Two of his subordinates, Celer and Ælius, the collectors of the imperial revenue in Asia, poisoned him, and as a reward were permitted to govern the province, enjoying perhaps in common the title of proconsul and exercising the jurisdiction of the office. Finally, the tone of the town-clerk’s words as he ends his address is thoroughly that of a Roman official. He feels himself responsible for the riot, and knows that he may be called upon to account for it. Peace was what the Roman authorities sought and desired at all hazards, and every measure which threatened the peace, or every organisation, no matter how desirable, a fire brigade even, which might conceivably be turned to purposes of political agitation, was strictly discouraged.

The correspondence of Pliny with the Emperor Trajan, some fifty years or so later than this riot, is the best commentary upon the town-clerk’s speech. We find, for instance, in Pliny’s "Letters," Book 10., No. 42, a letter telling about a fire which broke out in Nicomedia, the capital of Bithynia, of which province Pliny was proconsul. He wrote to the Emperor describing the damage done, and suggesting that a fire brigade numbering one hundred and fifty men might be instituted. The Emperor would not hear of it, however. Such clubs or societies he considered dangerous, and so he wrote back a letter which proves how continuous was Roman policy, how abhorrent to the imperial authorities were all voluntary organisations which might be used for the purposes of public agitation: "You are of opinion that it would be proper to establish a company of fire-men in Nicomedia, agreeably to what has been practised in several other cities. But it is to be remembered that societies of this sort have greatly disturbed the peace of the province in general and of those cities in particular. Whatever name we give them, and for whatever purposes they may be founded, they will not fail to form themselves into factious assemblies, however short their meetings will be"; and so Pliny was obliged to devise other measures for the security and welfare of the cities committed to his charge. The accidental burning of a city would not be attributed to him as a fault, while the occurrence of a street riot might be the beginning of a social war which would bring down ruin upon the Empire at large.

When the recorder of Ephesus had ended his speech he dismissed the assembly, leaving to us a precious record illustrative of the methods of Roman government, of the interior life of Ephesus in days long gone by, and, above all else, of the thorough honesty of the writer whom the Holy Spirit impelled to trace the earliest triumphs of the Cross amid the teeming fields of Gentile Paganism.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Acts 19". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/acts-19.html.
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