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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Acts 19

 

 

Verse 1

Acts 19:1. While Apollos was at Corinth — Preaching with considerable success, Acts 18:27-28; Paul, having passed through the upper coasts Of the Lesser Asia, namely, Galatia and Phrygia; came to Ephesus — According to his promise, Acts 18:19; Acts 18:21, with a purpose of making some stay there. Ephesus, at this time, was the metropolis of the province of Asia, and an exceedingly populous city. For, not to speak of its native inhabitants, who were very numerous, a great concourse of strangers always resorted to it, some to worship the goddess Diana, whose rites were celebrated with great magnificence, in a temple erected to her there at the expense of all Asia; others to learn the arts of sorcery and magic, which were taught and practised at Ephesus with such reputation, that the magical words, or sentences, used in the practice of these arts, had their names from Ephesus; being called εφεσια γραμματα, Ephesian letters: others came to prosecute law-suits, or to solicit offices from the Roman governor of the province, who had his residence there; others took Ephesus in their way to and from Europe; and others, after the manner of the easterns, abode there occasionally for the sake of commerce. Ephesus, therefore, being a place of such general resort, and the very throne of idolatry, superstition, and magic, the apostle, when he formerly left that city, resolved, as we have seen, to return and attack these impieties in their strongest hold. Wherefore, having discharged his vow in Jerusalem, he made no stay there, nor even at Antioch, but travelled through Syria and Cilicia, and the countries above mentioned, as expeditiously as was consistent with his purpose in visiting them, and then came to Ephesus, where he abode three years, and gathered a very numerous church; the members of which were peculiarly dear to him, as is manifest from his epistle to them, and the discourse addressed to their elders, Acts 20:17, &c.


Verses 2-7

Acts 19:2-7. Having found certain disciples — Who had been formerly baptized by John the Baptist, and since imperfectly instructed in Christianity, he said, Have ye received the Holy Ghost? — The extraordinary gifts, as well as the sanctifying graces of the Holy Spirit; since ye believed — These disciples were converts to the Christian faith, that is, they believed that Jesus was the Christ; but Paul inquires whether they had received the Holy Ghost, whose operations on the minds of men for their illumination, conviction, conversion, sanctification, and comfort, were revealed some time after the doctrine of Jesus being the Christ was made known. He asks whether they had been acquainted with this revelation; and had been made partakers of this blessing. This was not all. Extraordinary gifts of the Spirit had been conferred upon the apostles, and other disciples, presently after Christ’s ascension, and these had been frequently communicated since upon certain occasions; and he inquires whether they had received these; whether they had had that seal of the truth of Christ’s doctrine in themselves. Observe, reader, although we have now no reason to expect any such extraordinary gifts as were given then, the canon of the New Testament having been long since completed and ratified, and it being our duty to depend upon that as the most sure word of prophecy; yet there are graces of the Spirit, given to all true believers, which are to them seals of the truth of their faith, and earnests of their future inheritance in their hearts, (2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:13,) and it concerns us all, who profess the Christian faith, seriously to inquire whether we have received these. The Holy Ghost is promised to all believers, who sincerely, earnestly, and importunately ask his influences, Luke 11:13. But many are deceived in this matter, and think they have received the Holy Ghost, when really they have not. As there are pretenders to the gifts of the Spirit, so there are to his graces and comforts. We should therefore strictly examine ourselves on this subject; and inquire whether we have received the Holy Ghost since we believed? The tree is known by its fruits. Do we bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, &c., all goodness, righteousness, and truth. Are we led by the Spirit? Do we live and walk in the Spirit? Do we experience his renovating power, and are we under his government? See Galatians 5:22; Galatians 5:25; Ephesians 5:9; Romans 8:14; Titus 3:5. We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost — They had heard and knew that the Holy Ghost was promised in the Old Testament, to be given in the days of the Messiah, and they did not doubt that that promise would be fulfilled in its season; but they had been so much out of the way of receiving information in this matter, that they had not yet heard that the Holy Ghost had actually been communicated to any, especially in his extraordinary gifts. It is probable that they were Hellenist Jews, natives of a remote country, who, having been in Judea (perhaps attending some of the feasts at Jerusalem) upward of twenty years since, had heard John preach, and had received his doctrine concerning the Messiah; but, having returned to their own country, had not been made acquainted with the effusion of the Holy Spirit on the day of pentecost, and with the progress of Christianity since that period. And he said, Unto what were ye baptized? — Into what dispensation? to the sealing of what doctrine? It seems, those who were baptized by the apostles, commonly received the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit. They said to him, Unto John’s baptism — We were baptized by John, and believe what he taught. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance — John called sinners to repentance, to prepare the way of the Lord, and admitted the penitent to the baptism of water, saying, that they should believe on him that should come after — That is, the whole baptism and preaching of John pointed at Christ. After this John is mentioned no more in the New Testament. When they heard this — Their hearts were so impressed with it, that they readily complied with the direction and advice of the apostle, and were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus — So that they were baptized twice, but not in the same manner, or with the same baptism; John did not baptize in the manner Christ afterward commanded, that is, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. And — After their baptism; Paul laying his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came upon them; and, as a proof of it, they spake with tongues and prophesied. These brethren being the first in Ephesus who received the Holy Ghost in his extraordinary gifts, it is probable the apostle afterward ordained, at least, some of them, elders of that church. If so, they may have been among those elders of Ephesus who came to Miletus, and received from Paul the pathetic exhortation recorded Acts 20:18-35.


Verses 8-10

Acts 19:8-10. And he went into the synagogue — As he used to do in other places; and spake boldly — Greek, επαρρησιαζετο, he spake with freedom and confidence; for the space of three months, disputing — Greek, διαλεγομενος, reasoning, or discoursing; and persuading, &c. — That is, reasoning in proof of the things which concerned the gospel dispensation, and persuading the Jews to believe these things. But when divers were hardened, and believed not — But still continued in their infidelity and rebellion, perceiving, probably, the drift of his discourses to be, that men were justified by faith in Christ and his gospel, without obeying the law of Moses; and spake evil of that way — The Christian way of worshipping God; before the multitude — The people in the synagogue; representing it as utterly subversive of the revelation made by Moses and the prophets; he departed from them — Leaving them and their synagogue to themselves; and separated the disciples — From the Jews, whom he found to be incorrigible; and discoursing in the school of one Tyrannus — Who was either himself converted, or let his school to the apostle for hire to preach in. In this school, which we do not find was any otherwise consecrated than by preaching the gospel there, Paul discoursed daily, and not on the sabbaths only. And this continued — This was done by Paul, and was his daily practice, for the space of two years, so that all they which dwelt in the proconsular Asia — That is, all the inhabitants of the country who desired it; heard the word of the Lord — Though for some peculiar reason he had been forbidden to preach it there in his former journey, chap. Acts 16:6; both Jews and Greeks — It seem, the fame of the apostle’s doctrine and miracles brought multitudes to Ephesus from distant parts; and these, by what they heard and saw, being converted, preached the gospel when they returned to their own cities, and founded those churches which the apostle tells the Colossians, (Colossians 2:1,) had not seen his face in the flesh.


Verse 11-12

Acts 19:11-12. And God — To add the greater efficacy and success to this important doctrine; wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul — Who, as he abode longer at Ephesus than at any other city we read of, so he wrought more and greater miracles than in any other. So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs, or aprons — Greek, σουδαρια η σιμικινθια, sudaria vel semicinctia. These two words, originally Latin, have been differently rendered, but the etymology of the first plainly determines it to signify pieces of linen with which they wiped the sweat from their faces, and the latter word signifies things round their waists, doubtless girdles or sashes. Aprons made no part of the ordinary dress of the Greeks; yet they might possibly be occasionally used, both by men and women, to preserve their clothes clean, while they were engaged in some particular kind of work. Dr. Macknight thinks, that these handkerchiefs and aprons belonged to the sick, from whom they were brought to touch Paul’s body, and then taken back to them, when they had the effect here mentioned. And the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits — Which occasioned many of these diseases, though they might appear purely natural; went out of them — In this respect Paul was equal to Peter, whose shadow, as he passed by, overshadowing the sick, who were laid on couches in the streets of Jerusalem, cured them of their distempers, Acts 5:15. Hence we may infer, that it was in a great measure owing to the multitude and greatness of Paul’s miracles, that so many of the inhabitants of Ephesus, and of the province of Asia, embraced the gospel.


Verses 13-16

Acts 19:13-16. Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists — Dr. Whitby, and several other critics, have produced many passages from Irenæus, Origen, Epiphanius, and Josephus, to prove that several of the Jews, about this time, pretended to a power of casting out devils, particularly by some arts or charms derived from Solomon. These men are called vagabond Jews, and exorcists, because they strolled through the countries of the Lesser Asia, practising that magic which was in such vogue among the heathen. But when they came to Ephesus, hearing of the wonderful things which Paul performed in the name of Jesus, and, perhaps, seeing some of them, they took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits, the name of the Lord Jesus — Vain undertaking! Satan laughs at all those who attempt to expel him, either out of the bodies or souls of men, except by divine faith. Saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth — They do not say whom we believe in, or depend upon, or have authority from; but whom Paul preacheth — As if they had said, We will try what that name will do. The exorcists in the Roman Church, who pretend to cast the devil out of melancholy people, by spells and charms which they understand not, and for which they have not any divine warrant, and, therefore, cannot use them in faith, are the followers of these vagabond Jews. There were seven sons of one Sceva — A Jewish chief priest, who did this, desirous of the honour or profit which they thought would redound from such cures, and imagining there was some secret charm in the name of Jesus, to which these infernal agents would submit. But the evil spirit — Contemning their adjuration; answered, Jesus I know, and Paul I know — I know the authority and power of Jesus and Paul, and am ready to obey them; but who are ye? — What power have you to command us in his name? Or, who gave you any such power? And the man, in whom the evil spirit was, leaped, or sprung, on them, and overcame them — To such a degree, as to tear off their clothes from their backs, and beat them with great violence; so that they fled out of the house — In which they had attempted the cure; naked and wounded — And became public spectacles of scorn and derision, in a city where these things were peculiarly regarded. This is written for a warning to all those who name the name of Christ, but do not depart from iniquity. The same enemy, that overcomes them with his temptations, will overcome them with his terrors, and their adjuring him in Christ’s name to let them alone, will be no security to them. If we resist the devil by a true and lively faith in Christ, he will flee from us; but if we think to resist him by the bare using of Christ’s name, or any part of his word, as a spell or charm, or by merely professing his religion, he will prevail against us.


Verses 17-20

Acts 19:17-20. And this — Acknowledgment of the divine authority of Jesus and Paul, made in the absence of both; or this fact, concerning the possessed man, thus prevailing against the sons of Sceva; was known to all the Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus — And became, doubtless, the common subject of conversation; and fear fell on them all — For in this instance they saw a striking proof of the malice of the devil, whom they served, and of the power of Christ, whom they opposed; and both were awful considerations. They saw that the name of Christ was not to be trifled with, or taken into their mouths rashly, nor his religion confounded with the pagan superstitions. Hence his name, by which his faithful servants cast out devils and cured diseases, without any resistance, was the more magnified — For now it appeared to be a name above every name. And many — Who had formerly been professors of unwarrantable arts, but who now believed — Being strongly impressed by what had happened, and struck with the power of the evil spirit over the sons of Sceva; came — To Paul, of their own accord; and confessed — That they had attempted to cure diseased persons by charms and other magical practices; and showed their deeds — The devices by which they had deceived the multitude; or made a public declaration of their unlawful practices. Many of them also, who used these curious arts — Magical arts, to which that soft appellation was given by those that practised them, now firmly believing the gospel; brought their books — In which the different forms of incantation for different diseases were prescribed, the method of making these incantations was showed, the herbs and other medicines to be used with these incantations were pointed out, and the seasons for using them were fixed. And burned them before all men — Who were present; and — A great many of them being judged of high value in that place; they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver — If these be taken for Jewish shekels, and valued at three shillings each, (which are the principles of Dr. Benson’s computation,) the sum will amount to seven thousand five hundred pounds sterling; or, setting it at two shillings and sixpence, to six thousand two hundred and fifty pounds. Nevertheless, the owners of them made a willing sacrifice of them to truth and piety; because the arts themselves being unlawful, it was not fit that the books which taught them should be in the possession of any person whatever. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed — So remarkable was the triumph of the gospel over all considerations of honour or interest that could be opposed to it on this, or on any other occasion.


Verse 21-22

Acts 19:21-22. After these things, &c. — After the extraordinary cures performed, and conversions made, at Ephesus, which have been mentioned above, Paul, being much concerned about the spiritual welfare of his former converts, and very solicitous to promote the progress of the gospel; purposed in spirit διελθων, having passed through Macedonia and Achaia — Where he had planted so many flourishing churches some time ago; to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome — That I may bear my testimony to the gospel in that metropolis of the world. “Paul sought not to rest, but pressed on, as if he had yet done nothing. He is already possessed of Ephesus and Asia. He purposes for Macedonia and Achaia. He has his eye upon Jerusalem; then upon Rome; afterward on Spain, Romans 15:26. No Cesar, no Alexander the Great, no other hero, comes up to the magnanimity of this little Benjamite. Faith, and love to God and man, have enlarged his heart even as the sand of the sea.” — Bengelius. Providence, accordingly, brought Paul to Rome, though in a manner different from that in which he had expected to visit it. So he sent Timotheus and Erastus into Macedonia — To give the churches notice of his intending to visit them, and to get their collection ready for the poor Christians in Judea. And soon after, he wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians, designing to follow it himself, as appears, 1 Corinthians 4:17-19. For the present, however, he himself stayed in Asia — In the country about Ephesus, founding churches and instructing the new converts.


Verses 23-27

Acts 19:23-27. The same time there arose no small stir ταραχος ουκ ολιγος, no small tumult, about that way — The way of worshipping God, and securing a happy immortality, which Paul taught. For Demetrius, a silversmith — A man of considerable influence; who made silver shrines for Diana — Greek, ναους αργυρους αρτεμιδος, literally, silver temples of Diana; that is, silver models, or representations in miniature, of the temple of Diana, and of the image which, as they said, fell down from Jupiter. The tabernacles of Moloch, mentioned Acts 7:43, which the Israelites carried about in the wilderness, seem to have been things of the same kind with Diana’s shrines. See Hammond and Whitby. These little temples, or shrines, were in great request, not only in Ephesus, but in other parts of Asia, as being curious and beautiful ornaments, and used for idolatrous purposes. And in this business, it appears, Demetrius employed a great number of workmen, much to their advantage as well as his own. But, perceiving there would be an end of the trade if Paul’s doctrine were suffered to spread, he called together — Those whom he employed; with the workmen of like occupation — Employed by others; and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft — This manufacture of silver shrines; we have our wealth — Not only our subsistence, but riches, and, therefore, on no account must we suffer this craft to grow into contempt. It is natural for men to be jealous for that, whether right or wrong, by which they get their wealth: and many have, for this reason alone, set themselves against the gospel of Christ, because it calls men off from those employments which are unlawful, how much wealth soever is gotten by them. Moreover, ye see and hear — That is, ye see what is done in Ephesus, and ye have information of the state of things in other places; that this Paul hath persuaded much people — Greek, ου μονον εφεσου, αλλα σχεδον πασης της ασιας, not only of Ephesus, but of all Asia; and turned them away — From the established religion; saying, that they be no gods which are made with hands — And could any truth be more plain and self- evident than this affirmed by Paul? or any reasoning more cogent and convincing than that of the prophet, The workmen made it, therefore it is not god? The first and most genuine notion that we have of God is, that he has his being of himself, and depends upon none; but that all things have their being from him, and their dependance on him: from which it must follow, that those are no gods which are the creatures of men’s fancy, and the work of men’s hands; and yet, what is here said manifestly shows that the contrary opinion did in those ages generally prevail, namely, that there was a real divinity in the images of their supposed deities; though some of the latter heathen have spoken of them just as the Papists do now. So that not only our craft is in danger to be set at naught — To come into disgrace and be ruined, which must be the necessary consequence of Paul’s success; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised — No wonder a discourse should make a deep impression, which was edged both by interest and superstition; and her magnificence, or majesty, destroyed — Miserable majesty, which was capable of being thus destroyed! Whom all Asia and the world — That is, the Roman empire; worshippeth — Although under a great variety of titles and characters, as the goddess of hunting, of travelling, child-birth, enchantments, &c.; as Luna, Hecate, Lucina, Proserpine, and so on. Under one or other of which views, she had, undoubtedly, a vast number of votaries. Her temple, raised at the expense of all Asia, was two hundred and twenty years in building, and was four hundred and twenty-five feet long, two hundred and twenty broad, and supported by one hundred and twenty-seven marble pillars, erected by so many kings. It was also adorned with many most beautiful statues, and was considered as one of the seven wonders of the world. It was burned down on the day on which Socrates was poisoned; then again on the night when Alexander the Great was born, by Erostratus, purely that he might be remembered in after ages; and destroyed the last time in the reign of Constantine, pursuant to the edict of that emperor, commanding all the heathen temples to be demolished.


Verse 28-29

Acts 19:28-29. And when they heard, &c., they were full of wrath — The inflammatory speech of Demetrius, addressed to the superstition and avarice of the multitude, immediately produced the desired effect; the craftsmen, and all who were employed about the temple, were exasperated to the highest degree: and, enraged to think that both their trade and their religion were in danger, they ran about the city; and cried out, with great violence, Great is Diana of the Ephesians — Elsner has shown how frequently this epithet of great was given by the heathen to Jupiter, Diana, and others of their superior deities. And the whole city was filled with confusion — The common and natural effect of an intemperate zeal for a false religion; they rushed with one accord — Demetrius and his company, with the multitude that was gathered about them; into the theatre

Where criminals were wont to be thrown to the wild beasts; dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus — When they could not find Paul. Probably, they hoped to oblige them to fight with the wild beasts, as some think Paul had done before.


Verses 30-32

Acts 19:30-32. When Paul would have entered in to the people — Being above all fear, to plead the cause of his companions, and prove they were not gods which were made with hands; the disciples suffered him not — Because, if he had gone in, there would have been no possibility of restraining the multitude. And certain of the chief of Asia — Greek, των ασιαρχων, of the Asiarchs, or principal officers of Asia, probably priests of Diana, who presided over the public games, which, it is thought, they were then celebrating in her honour; who were his friends — Not converts to Christianity, or his disciples, which they could not have been, and yet have remained Diana’s priests; but friendly to him, as an ingenuous, benevolent man. For, although they derived both dignity and profit from the established idolatry, yet their love of order, and attachment to good morals, led them to befriend Paul on this occasion; sent, desiring that he would not adventure himself into the theatre — Since the rage of the people was such, that it would have been with the utmost hazard of his life. Some therefore — As they stood together in the theatre; cried one thing, and some another — According as their passions influenced them, or as the zeal of others prompted them. For the greater part knew not wherefore they were come together — Which is commonly the case in such an assembly.


Verse 33-34

Acts 19:33-34. And they — Namely, the artificers and workmen; drew — Greek, προεβιβασαν, thrust forward; Alexander — Probably some well- known Christian whom they saw in the crowd; the Jews — Whom he had offended by embracing the gospel; pushing him forward — To expose him to the enraged multitude, as one who was active in destroying the established religion. And Alexander, beckoning with his hand — In token of desiring silence; would have made a defence — For himself and his brethren. But, when they knew he was a Jew — And consequently an enemy to their religion and the worship of images, they would not suffer him to speak; but all with one voice (the whole multitude uniting as one man) vociferated, Great is Diana of the Ephesians — This was all the cry for two hours together; and it was thought a sufficient confutation of Paul’s doctrine, that they are no gods which are made with hands! and thus the most sacred truths are often run down with nothing else but noise and clamour and popular fury! It was said of old, (Jeremiah 50:38,) concerning idolaters, that they were mad upon their idols; and here is an instance of it: Diana made the Ephesians great, for the town was enriched by the vast concourse of people from all parts to her temple there, and therefore they are concerned, by all means possible, to keep up her sinking reputation, and hope to do it effectually with, Great is Diana of the Ephesians!


Verses 35-41

Acts 19:35-41. And when the town-clerk — Greek, ο γραμματευς, the scribe; probably the proconsul’s secretary, to whom the direction of the affairs of the city was committed; had appeased the people — So far as to produce a degree of silence, the rioters, by their violent outcries so long continued, having spent their rage; he said, What man is there in the world, that has any intelligence of things at all, that knoweth not that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper — Greek, νεωκορον, the temple-keeper, of the great goddess Diana — The expression is compounded of words which, taken together, signify to sweep or clean a temple, being used of a priest or priestess, or other person, whose business it was to look after the temple of any god or goddess, and see that it was not only kept in good repair, but also neat and clean, and beautified in a proper manner. This title was given also to those cities which had the care of the games celebrated in honour of any god or goddess. And of the image which fell down from Jupiter — They believed that very image of Diana, which stood in their temple, fell down from Jupiter in heaven. Perhaps this town-clerk, or secretary, designed to intimate that this image, as falling down from Jupiter, was not made with hands, and so was not of that sort of idols which Paul had said were no gods. Seeing then these things cannot be denied — But are plainly incontestable; ye ought to be quiet — Gentle in your proceedings; and to do nothing rashly — By which you may run yourselves into vast inconveniences and dangers before you are aware. In this speech, the secretary took hold of the multitude by their prejudices; for without speaking any thing concerning Paul’s doctrine, that images made with hands were no gods, he desired the Ephesians to consider that their privileges, as keepers of the temple of Diana, and of her heaven-descended image, were so universally acknowledged, that there was no danger of their losing that honour through any thing Paul had spoken. For ye have brought these men, Gaius and Aristarchus, hither, which are neither robbers of churches — Greek, ιεροσυλους, robbers of temples, or sacrilegious persons; nor yet blasphemers of your goddess — The apostles had simply preached the one God, and the vanity of idols in general. The secretary further told them, that the men whom they had brought into the theatre were not yet proved to be guilty of those crimes which they appeared to lay to their charge; because, though they might have spoken against the images made by the craftsmen, they had said nothing against the image which Jupiter had given them: and added, that if Demetrius and the craftsmen had these, or any other crimes, to lay to their charge, of which they could prove them guilty, there were deputies. — Roman proconsuls, to whom they might apply, as the proper judges in such cases; and the courts of law were open — Where the matters might be fairly tried. But if ye inquire any thing concerning other matters — If ye inquire whether the temple of Diana or her worship be in danger, or what persons or religions should be tolerated in the city, these are public matters, which should be determined in a lawful assembly — An assembly regularly appointed, and such as has authority to judge in religious and political affairs. For we are in danger to be called in question by the Romans for this day’s uproar — Greek, εγκαλεισθαι στασεως, to be accused of sedition; there being no cause — No sufficient cause; whereby we may give an account of — May justify; this concourse — He wisely calls it by an inoffensive name. Fire, inundations, the sudden invasion of enemies, &c., might have excused a sudden concourse of people rushing together with some violence: but the secretary, with great propriety, observes that there was no such cause, nor any other adequate one, to be assigned in this instance. It must be observed, there was a Roman law which made it capital to raise a riot: Qui cœtum et concursum fecerit capite puniatur. And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly — And set Gaius and Aristarchus at liberty. The secretary’s conduct on this occasion shows that he had a good opinion of the Christian preachers. We may therefore believe, that in preaching against the established worship, Paul and his assistants had spoken nothing against Diana in particular, though their doctrine struck at all the heathen deities in the general: and even that in speaking against the established idolatry, they had used a becoming decency of language. The secretary, therefore, observing their prudence, entertained a good opinion of the cause they were engaged in.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 19:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/acts-19.html. 1857.

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Sunday, January 19th, 2020
Second Sunday after Epiphany
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