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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Acts 19

 

 

Verse 1

Acts 19:1. Paul having passed through the upper coasts. The eastern districts of Asia Minor were known by the appellation of the upper districts or country. The English word ‘coasts’ is liable to mislead. So Herodotus speaks of the neighbourhood of Sardis as ‘the upper (districts) of Asia.’ In this term, however, were included, as in the present instance, many of the districts lying far inland. The term naturally sprang from a comparison of the more elevated regions of the interior with the low-lying country round the capital city, Ephesus.

Came to Ephesus. Ephesus was one of the great commercial cities of the world, singularly adapted both for inland and maritime commerce; it lay on the main road of traffic between the east and west. It possessed a capacious harbour called Panormus, formed by the river Cayster, known in Homeric story. It was built by Androclus the Athenian, and rapidly increased in wealth and magnificence. In the Alexandrian age it took a fresh departure, and became gradually a chief emporium of the world. The Romans made it the capital of the rich province of Asia, and history speaks of it as the metropolis of five hundred cities. It was the residence of a Roman proconsul, but ranked as one of the free cities of the Empire, enjoying its own peculiar form of government. Its theatre, which, notwithstanding the desolation of the once proud city, may still be traced, is the largest which has yet been discovered, and is said to have been capable of containing some 30,000 persons; still a building capable of containing even 20,000 must have been of colossal dimensions. But the glory of the city was the stately temple of Artemis of the Ephesians (Diana), for an account of which see the note on Acts 19:24 in this chapter. The grandeur of Ephesus received its death-blow in the third century in the reign of the Emperor Gallianus, when it was sacked and laid waste by the Goths who came from beyond the Danube. From that time it sank gradually into decay, its commerce being eventually diverted to Constantinople. In Christian story it was famous not only for the long residence of Paul and Timothy, but subsequently it was known as the abode of the Virgin Mary, and the home of the old age of the Apostle John. The graves of Mary and of John were here. The site of the once splendid Asian metropolis is now utterly desolate. Shapeless piles of ruined edifices occupy the ground where once the great city stood; and the harbour, once the resort of the ships of all nations, is now a confused morass. Not one stone of the celebrated temple remains above another. The few remaining inhabitants are lodged in a miserable Turkish village called Ayasaluch or Asalook, said to be a corruption of Hagios-Theologus ( ἂγιος θεολόγος), the name by which St. John was known.

And finding certain disciples. See the remarks on this strange incident in the note on Acts 19:24 of the preceding chapter. It is clear that in a sense these disciples of John the Baptist were Christians, for St. Paul’s question to them respecting the Holy Ghost relates to the period since they believed ( πιστινσαντες). But there is no question that their knowledge was imperfect even concerning the doctrine of Jesus Christ, while they knew nothing at all relating to the Holy Spirit.


Verse 2

Acts 19:2. Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? The more accurate rendering is far more emphatic and clear, ‘Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?’ Did its mighty influence in any way affect you at the time of your baptism? ‘We are left to conjecture what prompted the question. The most natural explanation is, that St. Paul noticed in them, as they attended the meetings of the church, a want of spiritual gifts, perhaps also a want of the peace and joy and brightness that showed itself in others; they presented the features of a rigorous asceticism like that of the Therapeutae, the outward signs of repentance and mortification, but something was manifestly lacking for their spiritual completeness’ (Prof. Plumptre).

We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. Again here the more accurate translation of the original Greek guides us to the true interpretation of the answer of these followers of the Baptist, ‘On the contrary, we did not’ (at the time of our baptism) ‘so much as hear whether the Holy Ghost was given.’ Dean Alford renders, ‘We did not so much as hear Him mentioned.’ The words as rendered in the English Version are certainly likely to mislead. No Jew—and the majority, though perhaps not all, of John’s disciples would have been Jews—but had heard of the Holy Spirit (see, for instance, such well-known passages as 2 Samuel 23:2-3, where the ‘Spirit of the Lord’ and the ‘God of Israel’ are interchangeable terms; compare, too, Isaiah 63:10-11; Isaiah 63:14; Isaiah 61:1, and a vast number of similar passages). No Israelite could possibly have been unfamiliar with the name of the ‘Holy Spirit.’ ‘They could not have followed either Moses or John the Baptist,’ says Bengel, ‘without hearing of the Holy Ghost. But they were doubtless ignorant that the Holy Ghost was already given, that His mighty influence was no longer confined, as under the old dispensation, to a few favoured individuals. They were ignorant of the first Christian Pentecost and its marvels! They knew nothing of His miraculous influences. It is not probable that they shared at all in the life of the Christian brotherhood. It was as Jews Paul found them out, members of some Ephesian synagogue, though, no doubt, his attention had been specially called to them as having been hearers of the famous Baptist or his disciples. It has been suggested that these men were the results of Apollos’ preaching at Ephesus before Priscilla and Aquila found him. This is unlikely. There were, we may well conceive, followers of the Baptist in many foreign lands. His stirring call to repentance, his burning summons to Israel with the old prophetic fervour to turn again to their Lord, found a response in many a world-weary heart far beyond the desert where he preached; and as we have stated above, this whole narrative, first concerning Apollos, and now of these unknown ones, is introduced to tell us that in ways similar to the one here narrated, through the instrumentality of believers like Priscilla and Aquila and Paul, the great majority of the heaters of the Baptist were brought to the full knowledge of the faith of Christ


Verse 3

Acts 19:3. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? Unto what—as the object of faith and confession—then were ye baptized?’ for it is clear by your own words that you had not been baptized, to use your master John’s own expression, ‘with the Holy Ghost’ (see Matthew 3:11). St. Paul well knew that the faith of these disciples of the forerunner was at best but a very imperfect faith, and that the baptism of John was but an imperfect rite.

And they said, Unto John’s baptism. They had been baptized into a faith in a coming Messiah—a Messiah who was even then on the earth—with a confession, too, of the necessity of repentance. But their knowledge of the effects of His sufferings, of the work of the precious blood, was very dim, very uncertain, and of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit they confessed that they knew nothing.


Verse 4

Acts 19:4. Then raid Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying onto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him. Dr. Hackett well paraphrases Paul’s reply to them: ‘John, indeed, preached repentance and a Saviour to come’ (as you know); ‘but the Messiah whom he announced has appeared in Jesus, and ye are now to believe on Him, as John has directed.’ The whole purpose of John’s baptism was to prepare for another and more complete baptism, a rite far higher, and one that would confer, indeed, a grander blessing. His own words were, ‘He that cometh after me shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.’


Verse 5

Acts 19:5. And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. The willingness on the part of these followers of John the Baptist to be baptized anew in the name of the Lord Jesus, tells us that they had committed no error in doctrine, no mistake in looking upon their master John as Messiah; they confessed by submitting to the Christian rite that the baptism of John was simply provisional and preparatory. And so these passed in Ephesus, as doubtless did many another disciple of the great Forerunner in other lands, from the imperfect to the perfect Christianity, giving up nothing of their former belief, only adding to it the higher doctrines, especially those relating to the results worked by the death and resurrection of the Messiah and the later outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This verse has been the subject of much controversy among the early Protestant divines, who—to oppose the Anabaptists and out of hatred to Rome, a very positive doctrine having been laid down by the Council of Trent on the question of the difference between the baptism of John and that of Christ—haw attempted to give it a very unnatural meaning. They understand it thus: ‘When they—namely, the hearers of John—heard this testimony of his concerning Christ, they were baptized by John in the name of Jesus,’ thus denying their re-baptism by Paul. But now that the Anabaptist danger is a thing of the past, now that decrees of the Council of Trent, if they embody an obvious truth, as is the case here, can quietly be accepted by Protestant as well as Romanist, the plain meaning of the text is generally received, and all expositors now agree that these disciples of John were re-baptized with the Christian baptism. That this had taken place before is almost certain, for on the day of Pentecost we read (Acts 2:41) how three thousand of the hearers of Peter and his companions were baptized. It is probable that among this multitude some, perhaps many, had already received the baptism of John.


Verse 6

Acts 19:6. And they spake with tongues. The immediate effect of their baptism, after that Paul had laid his hands upon them, was the visible presence of the Holy Ghost among them manifesting itself in the form of supernatural gifts. These gifts took the form of ‘speaking with tongues’ and ‘prophesying.’ Of the last of these it is uncertain whether the miraculous influence showed itself in what we terra a strange and peculiar power of preaching, an especial gift for the purpose of winning men to the side of Christ, or whether it included as well an insight into futurity, the prediction of future events; possibly both these powers were conferred on these ‘twelve.’

We have very little knowledge of the gift of speaking with tongues. Not long after this incident was that famous 14th chapter of the first Corinthian letter written, which really contains all we know on this mysterious subject (the various questions have been discussed previously in an Excursus on the Pentecost Miracle of the 2d chapter of these ‘Acts’) which St. Paul wrote. The passage in the first Corinthian epistle was written some two years later, or two and a half years at most after this incident. He must, among other instances of the exercise of this gift of tongues, have had this special one in his mind. We can therefore lay down with some certainty the following conclusions respecting the nature of the gift then conferred on these disciples of John the Baptist:—

It did not edify any beyond the man who spoke (1 Corinthians 14:4). To be of any service, it needed a specially gifted interpreter (1 Corinthians 14:5-27). Men did not as a rule understand it, though God did (1 Corinthians 14:2). He who used this gift was to those who listened to him as a barbarian or a foreigner (1 Corinthians 14:11). It was therefore no power of speaking in a language which had not been studied in the ordinary way, but it was clearly an ecstatic utterance of rapturous devotion. There were phenomena certainly attending the first exercise of the gift on ‘the Pentecost’ morning (Acts 2) which could not have been subsequently repeated; for while at ‘Pentecost’ the speakers were understood in their ecstatic utterances by men of various nationalities, the account of the 14th chapter of the first Corinthian epistle clearly tells us that all speaking with tongues without an interpreter was utterly unintelligible. This mysterious power remained, however, but a very little season among men. At a very early date in the history of the Church, it appears to have ceased altogether.


Verse 7

Acts 19:7. And all the men were about twelve. Thus, out of the history of this foundation of the early Church, these men who came forward so abruptly disappeared as suddenly. The little episode is introduced to show how groups of men who were attached to an evidently widespread but imperfect form of Christianity were won over by the preaching of Paul and his school, and incorporated in the ranks of the true Church of the Lord Jesus. What happened at Ephesus in the case of Apollos and this little solitary group of followers of the Baptist, was simply an instance of what was taking place constantly in other centres of the new faith.


Verse 8

Paul’s Work during the Three Years’ Residence at Ephesus, 8-41.

Acts 19:8. And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months. Very short is the account which the writer of the ‘Acts’ gives us of the long residence of Paul at Ephesus, nearly three years altogether. It was, perhaps, the most successful period of the busy stirring career. It was a comparatively quiet time. Before it and after it were long missionary journeys, alternating with periods of comparative rest, but none for so long as this. Some seventeen years had passed since the event on the Damascus journey, and the name of Paul was known and his influence acknowledged in Jerusalem and Syrian Antioch, in the highlands of Asia Minor, in well-nigh all the great merchant cities of the Grecian and Asiatic coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. In these three quiet eventful years, not only were the foundations of the great Ephesian Church laid by Paul and his chosen companion, but also the early stories of those famous Christian congregations known as the churches of Asia as well as the churches of the Lycus, Colossæ, Laodicæa, and Hierapolis. These names we are well acquainted with, but no doubt the restless activity of Paul was not confined even to these. The synagogue where he first taught was doubtless the same Jewish congregation which (Acts 18:20) had before his Third Missionary Journey prayed him to tarry with them. Josephus tells us that there were not only numerous Jews at Ephesus, but that many of them were Roman citizens.

Disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. We can form some idea of these disputes and arguments from the well-known dialogue of Justin Martyr with the Jew Trypho, the scene of which was laid at Ephesus only a few years after Paul’s work in that city.


Verse 9

Acts 19:9. But when divers were hardened . . . but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them. It was the old story which in Paul’s weary life-work had so often been enacted and re-enacted, as at Thessalonica and Corinth, and in many another centre of his devoted work. His own countrymen, either spurred on by advices from Jerusalem and the Holy Land, or themselves jealous and disturbed at the thought of the hated Gentile sharing in their loved hopes, set themselves to mar and spoil his labours. Here, as in other places, these opposing Jews seemed to have worked upon the easily excited feelings of the multitude, those of the lower class, so often discontented, usually so ripe for an uproar.

He departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. Paul at once leaves the Jewish centre where he had been working, and separating his own disciples, Jew as well as Gentile, from the hostile Jews, he began daily to teach in the private synagogues, for this is most probably what the ‘school of Tyrannus’ was,—Beth-Midrasch it would have been termed by the Jews, a school where rabbinical traditions were taught. Some have suggested that this was a school and lecture hall of a Greek teacher of rhetoric or philosophy hired by Paul. Professor Plumptre states the name ‘Tyrannus’ was not an uncommon one among slaves and freedmen, and suggests that he was a physician, and not improbably a friend of Luke. The name Tyrannus has been found in the Columbarium of the household of Livia on the Appian Way, and as belonging to one described as a ‘Medicus.’ Both names and professions, he remarks, were very commonly hereditary; hence the suggestion. The MS. Codex D (Bezæ) has a very singular addition here; after the word Tyrannus or Tyrannias it reads ‘from the sixth to the tenth hour,’ thus particularizing the exact hour of Paul’s public teaching.


Verse 10

Acts 19:10. And this continued by the space of two years. We must reckon this period from the time when Paul separated the disciples from the synagogue. The ‘two years’ probably terminated before the events related in the 21st and following verses; the regular fixed work appears to have come to an end from the statement of Acts 19:22, when his stay in Asia after his disciples’ departure seems mentioned as something supplementary to his long Ephesian work. Paul (chap. Acts 20:31) mentions his whole stay at Ephesus as a space of ‘three years.’

So that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. By Asia is signified ‘Proconsular Asia;’ of this rich and fertile and populous province Ephesus was the capital. The term ‘Asia’ is always a little vague. It sometimes includes all Mysia, Phrygia, Lydia, and Caria. But Paul probably wrote the term more in the old Homeric sense:

‘In Asian meadow by Cayster’s streams.’ Ephesus was a great commercial city, and people resorted to it from all parts of the surrounding country. Here the apostle would have numberless opportunities to preach to strangers as well as to the regular inhabitants of the city. The great temple and shrine of Diana also attracted a vast concourse of pilgrims; in addition to which not only the apostle, but his companions and friends, such as Aquila, Luke, Timothy, Titus, Epaphras, and others would constantly be journeying to and fro between Ephesus and the neighbouring cities laying the foundations of fresh churches. As we shall see in the 23d and following verses, the rapid growth of the Christian brotherhood in Ephesus created no little alarm among the population who lived on the commerce connected with the great shrine of the Ephesian Artemis (Diana),for the popularity of the new teaching positively told upon the number of pilgrims to the idol shrine. It was only forty years from this time that Pliny, in his famous letter to the Emperor Trajan, speaks of the swarms of Christians in the province of Bithynia (no great distance from Ephesus), of which he was governor. Numbers, he says, of all ages, of all ranks, of both sexes, not only in the cities of his province, but in the very villages and remotest country districts, were infected with this superstition (Christianity).


Verse 11

Acts 19:11. And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul ‘Special,’ uncommon, extraordinary, because they were performed without the personal agency and not in the presence of the apostle. A similar expression is used by Longinus when alluding to Moses as ‘no ordinary man’ ( οὐχ ὁ τυχοὶν ἀνήρ). We have had no record of any miracle worked by Paul since he healed the possessed slave first at Philippi some five years before (see Acts 16:18). What these uncommon miracles were is detailed in the next verse.


Verse 12

Acts 19:12. So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them. σουδά ρια (Lat. sudaria) are the ordinary handkerchiefs so common in use in the East, and which are used to wipe the sweat from the brows or face. The aprons, σιμικί νθια (Lat. semicinctia), is the same word as in Luke 19:20, John 11:44; John 20:7, is translated ‘napkin,’ and seems to have been used as the term for an ordinary linen cloth. Its literal meaning, and in this sense it is used here, is an apron worn by a workman when engaged at work. Apparently the ‘handkerchief and apron’ used by the apostle as he worked at his tent cloths were frequently begged from him and used as a precious garment, which conveyed the supernatural gift of healing which the wearer exercised. The same uncommon miraculous power we hear of in the Old Testament, but very rarely. We might instance the cloak of Elijah, under whose stroke the Jordan waters parted; the staff or rod of Moses; the bones of Elisha; but perhaps the best instances are the miracles worked by the touch of the fringe of the Saviour’s garment (Matthew 9:20), and the shadow of Peter as he passed by (Acts 5:15). The comment of Dean Alford here is admirable: ‘In this and similar narratives, Christian faith finds no difficulty whatever. All miraculous working is an exertion of the direct power of the All-powerful, a suspension by Him of His ordinary laws; and whether He will use any instrument in doing this, or what instrument, must depend altogether on His own purpose in the miracle, the effect to be produced on the recipients, beholders, or hearers. Without his special selection and enabling, all instruments are vain; with these, all are capable. In the present case, it was His purpose to exalt His apostle as the herald of His gospel, and to lay in Ephesus the strong foundation of His Church; and He therefore endues him with this extraordinary power.’

And the evil spirits. On these evil spirits, see note on the exorcists of the next (Acts 19:13) verse.


Verse 13

Acts 19:13. Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits. There were, as heathen writers tell us, numbers of these Jews in various parts of the world, who wandered about trading on the credulity of men and women, professing to be magicians, fortune tellers, practising the exorcism of evil spirits. Among the Hebrew race there seems always to have existed a strange hankering after these dealings with unlawful arts, and we find in the Pentateuch repeated laws and enactments against these sorcerers, witches, dealers in enchantments, and the like. At the time of our Lord many of the Jewish exorcists pretended to possess a power of casting out evil spirits by some occult art, which they professed was derived from King Solomon. This legend Josephus relates in the following terms: ‘God enabled Solomon to learn the art of expelling demons; he left behind him the method of using exorcism by which demons are driven away so that they never return, and this manner of cure is of great power unto this day.’ These impostors, seeing with their own eyes that Paul could really do what they only pretended to do, attempted to use what they fancied was his powerful incantation; powerful it was indeed, only they were ignorant how that glorious name alone could be used!


Verse 14

Acts 19:14. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. Many suppositions have been hazarded respecting this title of Sceva the Jew, ‘chief of the priests.’ Some imagine he must have been head of one of the twenty-four courses into which the priests of the Temple were divided. But surely one holding such a dignified position in the proud Hebrew hierarchy of Jerusalem, never would have stooped to the occupation of a charlatan and an impostor. Others have suggested that he was once the high priest at Jerusalem, and had been deposed, as we know was not unfrequently the case, by the Roman imperial government. But no such name appears in the list of high priests that we possess. It is more probable that the rank he held was purely a local one in the synagogue of Ephesus, a city where we should not be surprised to find, even among her most distinguished citizens, dabblers in these occult arts.


Verse 15

Acts 19:15. And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? The possessed man, like the Gadarene demoniac of the Gospel, identifying himself with the evil spirits, replied: ‘Jesus, whom ye invoke, I know: I know Him well, and His authority, and His power; and Paul too, the servant of the Highest, I am acquainted with; but who are ye?’ ‘The question was not one of ignorance, but of censure, because they arrogated to themselves what belonged not to them, and of contempt, because they considered not their own and their opponents’ strength, but with rashness dared to contend with one more powerful, to whom it was mere play to overcome them’ (Raphelius, quoted by Gloag).

The whole question of demoniacal possession, which comes before us on several occasions in the Gospel narrative, and again, though not so frequently, in the ‘Acts,’ is surrounded with difficulties. The main difficulty may, however, be summarised as follows: (1) Was that ‘demoniacal possession’ alluded to by the New Testament writers something peculiar to that period of the world’s history, and has it since disappeared from the face of the earth? or (2) Was this terrible state, into which certain human beings had fallen, merely what is now termed ‘dumbness,’ ‘blindness,’ ‘epilepsy,’ and the many and varied forms of insanity?

If we accept (2), as some expositors would seem to press, we should be much perplexed when we read the very positive words on this subject spoken in the Gospel and Acts by the Saviour and His disciples. They certainly treated the unhappy ones as positively possessed by evil spirits; and on more than one occasion a dialogue was held between the Saviour and the lost spirit. On many grounds we must reject (2).

As regards (1), it does seem as though the first age of Christianity was a time—considering its extreme sensuality (never equalled in the world’s history in any period), considering, too, the general absence of all religious belief, and consequently of all moral restraint—in which a more direct influence over the souls and bodies of men and women, on the part of the powers of evil, would probably exist. That there was, indeed, some such unholy influence then, we have not only the witness of the New Testament writers, but also that of Josephus, Plutarch, and other Greek authors. In no other age do we possess such varied and ample testimony to these strange and unholy influences. Gloag well remarks, after calling attention to the fact that madness seemed to have been an inseparable accompaniment of possession, that ‘we are not at all sure that it has entirely ceased in our days; at least, cases occur which bear a close resemblance to the descriptions of demoniacal possession given in the New Testament. For all that we know, such possessions may occur in our days. If we had the power of discerning spirits, it might be discovered that such cases were not unknown. . . . We live in a spiritual world; there are powers and agencies around us and within us; and in the case of mental disease especially, it is impossible to say whether the mere derangement of the physical organs or some spiritual disorder is the cause of the disease.’


Verse 16

Acts 19:16. And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them. Strong, like the poor man at Gadara (Mark 5:3-4), whom no man could bind, because the chains and fetters had been often plucked asunder by him, so now, this one, before whom the impostor exorcists were standing, threw himself in a wild fury on the wretched imitators of Paul. The reading of the older authorities, ‘leaped on them, having overcome both,’ seems to imply that only two of the seven sons of Sceva were attempting to cast out the evil spirit. Ewald suggests another way of rendering the Greek, and preserving the old idea of the ‘seven sons’ standing before the demoniac, ‘leaped on them and mastered them on both sides,’ that is, when they stood before him, and afterwards from behind when they fled from him.


Verse 17

Acts 19:17. And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. In Ephesus, where hidden arts were so extensively practised, and where so many were deceived and captivated by pretended dealings with the supernatural, such a scene as the one just related would be likely to have made a deep impression. The feeling of an undefined dread at this power in a name—the name, too, the stranger Paul the tentmaker was constantly alluding to in his well-known teaching in the school of Tyrannus—stole over the hearts of many in Ephesus, such a fear as came upon all the Church in the first days, when Ananias and his wife were struck dead on account of their rash, false dealings with the unseen Power that dwelt in the brotherhood of the Lord Jesus.


Verse 18

Acts 19:18. And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds. The ‘fear’ of the Unseen came not only upon the superstitious idolaters of Ephesus, but, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira above related, upon the Church. It was a saddening confession, however, for the inspired writer of the ‘Acts’ to put down. But such a statement pleads with strange power for the truth of the whole story. St. Luke, or whoever wrote the history of the first days, never hesitates to chronicle the Church’s shame as well as the Church’s glory. It was indeed a humiliating confession, which told how many of Paul’s converts at Ephesus, men and women who apparently has devoted their lives to Paul’s Master, who had accepted with the lips, at least, the doctrine of the precious blood, had all the time been living lives and committing deeds utterly at variance with the pure and holy religion they professed.


Verse 19

Acts 19:19. Many of them also which used curious arte. This specifies the practices of some of these professing believers, notwithstanding their professions of faith. Many of these nominal Christians, some no doubt by way of trade and commerce, others because they shrank from giving up their old belief in incantation, love philtres, and other dark and superstitious arts, still while worshipping in the assembly of believers in Jesus, while repeating the solemn Christian formulas, while listening with apparent attention to the words of a Paul, no doubt while partaking in the most solemn Christian rites,—many, we read, still were using curious, that is, unclean, superstitious rites, such as were common in Ephesus.

Brought their books together, and burned them before all men. These books were, no doubt, parchment or papyrus volumes, filled with these partly Jewish, partly heathenish incantations, recipes for love philtres, formulas more or less ancient to be used in casting out evil spirits, and the like. Ephesus, we know, swarmed with magicians and astrologers; and a portion of the trade of the city, whither resorted so many pilgrims to the shrine of Diana, consisted in these works and formularies of incantation. The famous’ έφίσια γράμματα, ‘Ephesian letters’ or spells, to which allusion is frequently made by heathen writers, no doubt formed part of this unholy property which these Christians, at last awakened to the knowledge of their own inconsistent lives, burned in this public fashion ‘before all men.’ These ‘Ephesian letters’ were small slips of parchment in silk bags, on which were written strange cabalistic words and sentences, mysterious and often apparently meaningless. These, men and women were in the habit of carrying about on their persons as charms or amulets to shield them from danger and from harm, or to procure them good fortune in their undertakings. We read how Crœsus, when on his funeral pile, repeated these ‘Ephesian spells.’ Again we are told, how once in the Olympian games an Ephesian wrestler struggled successfully with his opponent from Miletus, because he had wound round his ankle some of these ‘Ephesian charms,’ but that being deprived of them he was twice overthrown (Eustathius, quoted by Gloag).

And they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. If these pieces of silver referred to were Jewish money (shekel), the sum would be enormous, about £7000, which would represent a much larger sum if we take into consideration the present purchasing power of money. It is, however, far more probable that in an Asiatic, or rather Grecian, city under Roman rule, the Roman denarius or Attic drachma was the piece of silver alluded to. The amount would then be roughly about £1800, this, of course, representing a much larger sum considering the diminished value of money in our day. This great amount must be accounted for by remembering that the books in question were, no doubt, of exceeding rarity, and possessed a peculiar value of their own from the precious secrets they were supposed to contain.


Verse 20

Acts 19:20. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed. Somewhere about this time Paul wrote his First Epistle to the Corinthians. It is more than probable that when he penned the words, ‘For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries’ (1 Corinthians 16:9), the apostle was alluding to the events at Ephesus just related, and which led to the state of things the writer of the ‘Acts’ summarised by ‘So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.’


Verse 21

Acts 19:21. After these things were ended. ‘These things were ended’ probably refer to the completion of the work of laying the foundation-stories of churches in Ephesus and the neighbouring Asian cities; the public mission work, so to speak, of the Asian district for this time was complete-Some two years and three months had been spent by Paul and his companions in this work. The little society of missionaries was now broken up. Two of them, we find from the next verse, were despatched by Paul before him into Europe. He himself intended, with a diminished staff, to stay a little longer in the centre of his past scene of labours. His own prolonged stay seems to have been suggested by the events which have been related as just having taken place at Ephesus. A new opening, on the one hand, seems to have presented itself among the Heathen population, and there was also a grave necessity for consolidating and strengthening his work among many of the professing believers (see Acts 19:18-19).

Paul purposed in the spirit. Too much emphasis must not be laid on this expression. It does not signify a direct intimation of the Spirit through a vision or by a voice. It was probably, however, owing to a secret impulse of the Spirit that he formed the purpose of this long and hazardous journey.

When he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem. In Macedonia and Achaia had been planted those well-loved churches of his, at Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth. He had a twofold object in purposing to visit these congregations. The first was to stir up their faith, and correct and set in order any disorders which might be disturbing their progress and development, such as we know were at that time distracting the peace of the Church of Corinth. The second was to bring to a close the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem. Paul evidently hoped much from this generous coming forward on the part of the Gentile churches to the help of their distressed Jewish Christian brethren at Jerusalem. He felt that such an unsought-for gift would do much to move the stubborn hearts of the jealous and exclusive party among the Jewish Christians, who still grudged with a fierce jealousy any concession which admitted the Gentiles to a share in the kingdom of God. This was the reason of Paul’s deep anxiety on this subject. It is interesting to note that this relief fund, which had been in the course of collection for some time, and which Paul gathered up on this journey, and then carried to Jerusalem, was the first of the many acts of love and charity since shown by strangers to strangers for the love of Christ. This example of Paul has been followed in many an instance in the long story of Christianity. Similar acts of apparently uncalled-for generosity, which loves to be independent of race and nationality, shine bright among the evil selfish deeds of our own time.

After I have been there, I must also see Rome. This had been evidently a long and cherished plan of Paul’s. He alludes to it very distinctly in the Roman epistle, Acts 1:13 : ‘I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you’ (see, too, in the same epistle, Acts 20:23-24; Acts 20:28). He must have heard much of that little faithful congregation in Rome, gathered together, we have reason to think, in those very early days which immediately succeeded the Church’s first Pentecost, in the Suburra, the poor, remote quarter where the Jews of Rome mostly dwelt. Priscilla and Aquila, Paul’s dearest friends, had been, before they came under the mighty influence of the Gentile apostle, members of that primitive Roman congregation, and from them he had heard, no doubt, many times of the burning faith and devotion of the poor despised brotherhood gathered under the shadow of the great palaces of imperial Rome.

Paul longed to visit them, and to endue them with some of his own ardent aspirations and high thoughts of work for the Master. The long - cherished desire of years was at length to be accomplished; and the journey, as he planned it, as far as regards the place visited, was carried out, and at length the apostle finds his ardent wish gratified, and sees Rome with his own eyes. When at Ephesus, after his successful work, he made his plans, Paul little thought how, through weariness and painfulness, he would at length reach the Rome of his dreams, but as a prisoner and in chains!


Verse 22

Acts 19:22. So he sent into Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him, Timotheus and Erastus. It was at Ephesus, and about this time, that Paul wrote his First Epistle to the Corinthians. From a passage in that epistle, we learn some of the reasons why one of these two friends of Paul was sent over into Europe before his master. Of Timothy’s special mission in Macedonia we know nothing, but from 1 Corinthians 4:17-19 we learn that this trusted companion of the Gentile apostle was directed to pass on to Corinth, to prepare the church there for the approaching visit of the apostle (Acts 19:19). Erastus was most likely the same as the person alluded to in Romans 16:23 as the chamberlain of Corinth, and was not improbably chosen as the companion of Timothy on this difficult and delicate mission with which he was charged, on the supposition that his rank and station among the citizens would he a support to Timothy, who was the bearer of Paul’s stern, grave message to his well loved church.

But he himself stayed in Asia for a season. For the reason of this prolonged stay of Paul’s, see note on Acts 19:21. He appears to have gone on with his work for several months after the effect produced by the failure of the pretended exorcist family of Sceva the priest and the subsequent burning of the precious works on magic, until the uproar excited by the panic-stricken artificers who lived on the pilgrims to the great Diana shrine. This tumult evidently cut short this renewed period of Paul’s activity, and he seems to have left Ephesus and his work there with some precipitancy. It is more than probable that the state officials privately desired him to leave a city where his presence in their opinion was provocative of disorders.


Verse 23

Acts 19:23. No small stir about that way. ‘The way’ seems to have been a term in the Christian phraseology of the first days used familiarly as a term signifying the disciples of Christ (see chap. Acts 9:2,Acts 19:9, Acts 22:4, Acts 24:14; Acts 24:22). Plumptre suggests
with great force that this ‘name’ for the disciples or their religion originated in the words in which Christ had claimed to be Himself the
‘Way, as well as the ‘Truth’ and the ‘Life,’ or in His language as to the strait way that led to eternal life; or perhaps again to the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3,cited by the Baptist, Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, as, to preparing the ‘way’ of the Lord. Prior to the general acceptance of the term ‘Christian,’ it served as a convenient mutual designation by which the disciples could describe themselves, and which might be used by others who wished to speak respectfully of the ‘brotherhood.’ Many evidently preferred it to the opprobrious epithet of the ‘Nazarenes.’


Verse 24

Acts 19:24. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana. The temple of Artemis or Diana, the glory of Ephesus, was built of white marble on an eminence at the head of the harbour, and was esteemed by the ancients as one of the wonders of the world. The sun, it was said, in its course saw nothing more magnificent than the temple of Diana at Ephesus. There were three temples built in succession on the spot to the goddess. Of the earliest, which was erected in the days of the Athenian colonists, we know little or nothing. The second temple was erected previous to the Macedonian reign, and its adornment was shared in by all the cities of Asia. Crœsus, king of Lydia, was among those who contributed. The work was begun before the Persian war, and was slowly continued even through the Peloponnesian war; its dedication was celebrated by a poet contemporary with Euripides. On the night in which Alexander the Great, king of Macedon, was born, a fanatic named Herostratus set the buildings on fire and the temple was destroyed. It rose, however, again speedily from its ashes, and was adorned with more sumptuous magnificence than before. History tells us how the ladies of Ephesus gave their jewellery to assist in the restoration work. The citizens were never tired of adding to the grandeur and stateliness of their temple. So late as the second century, a long colonnade was built which united the fane with the city. When the Goths sacked Ephesus in the reign of Gallienus, the Diana temple was robbed of its treasures and defaced. It was never restored; and as Paganism gradually, during the third and fourth centuries, sank into disrepute and oblivion, the famous temple of Ephesus remained a deserted ruin—serving, however, as a quarry whence precious stones and marbles were hewn out for the decoration of cathedrals and churches where the God whom Paul the wandering tentmaker had originally preached in Ephesus was alone worshipped. Its stately remains are still to be found in some of the Italian churches, but more especially in the desecrated mosque of Stamboul, once Justinian’s proud cathedral of St. Sophia, the metropolitan church of the East.

The temple at Ephesus dedicated to Artemis (Diana) was of vast size and of exquisite proportions, 425 feet in length and 220 feet in breadth. It was supported by columns sixty feet high. There were 127 of these pillars, each of them, we are told, the gift of a king; the folding-doors were of cypress wood; the part which was not open to the sky was roofed over with cedar; the staircase was formed of the wood of one single vine from the island of Cyprus. In the temple treasury in its palmy days a great treasure was supposed to be laid up. A large establishment of priests, priestesses, and attendants was kept up for the service of the goddess. Provision was made for the education of the young connected with this great centre of idolatrous worship, which was visited annually by a vast concourse of pilgrims from all parts of the known world.

Brought no small gain unto the craftsmen. The pilgrims worshipping at the shrine were in the habit, before they left Ephesus, of buying as memorials of their visit small models of the temple, and a shrine possibly containing a little image of the goddess. These were made in wood, and gold, and silver. The workmen of Demetrius used the last-named material. These little models of temples were very common among pagan peoples, and were termed άφιδρύματα. They were often set up in their homes on their return as objects of worship, and were not unfrequently of such a size as could be carried about upon the person, and were looked on in the latter case as charms or amulets which had the power to avert diseases and other dangers. These models were not only sold in Ephesus, but were sent as articles of traffic into distant countries. The little shrines of Diana of Ephesus are expressly mentioned by Dionysius of Halicarnassus.


Verse 25

Acts 19:25. Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation. No doubt this Demetrius, who was probably chief of the ‘guild’ of silversmiths, as we should say, summoned a meeting of the various trades who derived their livelihood in one way or another from the temple of Diana and the pilgrims who resorted to her shrine.

[image]


Verse 26

Acts 19:26. Not only at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people. This testimony of the ‘shrine-maker’ of Ephesus to the singular and rapid success of the early preaching of Christianity is thoroughly borne out by witnesses outside the New Testament writers. The words of Pliny in his letter to the Emperor Trajan have already been quoted (see the note on Acts 19:10). Tertullian of Carthage, at another extremity of the Roman Empire, in the far west of the north of Africa, writing towards the end of the second century, a little more than a hundred years after these words were spoken by Demetrius at Ephesus, says: ‘We are a people of yesterday, and yet we have filled every place belonging to you, cities, islands, castles, towns, assemblies, your very camp, your tribes, companies, palaces, senate, forum: we leave your temples only’ (Apologeticum, chap, xxxvii.).

Saying that they be no gods which are made with hands. The comment of Professor Plumptre on these words of the ‘shrine-maker is admirable. ‘The wrath of the mob leader leads him virtually to commit himself to the opposite statement that the idol is the god. Philosophers may speak of symbolism and ideal representation, but this was and always has been and will be the conclusion of popular idolatry.’

With these strange sad words of the idol artificer should be compared the striking picture of an idol image made to be worshipped, painted by Isaiah 44:9-18. The enthusiasm, however, here displayed for the maintenance of the old religion was based upon the most sordid feelings. The master-worker of these makers of the silver shrines feared that if the old religion fell into disrepute, his craft would be brought to nought, there would be an end to his gains. It is true that in the next verse another and a more disinterested plea is put forward to excuse his vehement appeal to his fellow - citizens. It is, however, evidently only an after-thought.


Verse 27

Acts 19:27. But also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth. This temple was popularly called ‘the temple of Asia.’ The month of May was consecrated to the goddess ‘Artemis of the Ephesians:’ all kinds of games and contests were celebrated in the city annually during this month, which became a national Ionian festival. Crowds from the neighbouring cities were in the habit of being present at these games and religious ceremonies. The officials who presided over these great festivities were elected annually by the whole province (see note on Acts 19:31). It was scarcely to be wondered at that popular indignation was so quickly aroused, when it seemed probable that Ephesus might lose through the influence of the foreign preacher Paul all this splendour. It was no difficult matter to show its tradesmen and citizens how the commerce of the place would suffer if strangers were no longer attracted to the shrine of Artemis and to the festivities held in her honour.


Verse 28

Acts 19:28. Great is Diana of the Ephesians ‘Great’ ( μεγά λη) was a special title belonging to the Ephesian Artemis. The ‘idol’ itself shrined in the magnificent temple, to which all this strange homage was paid during so many centuries, was very different to the fair form of the huntress Diana with which we are so familiar in Grecian art—a rude, fourfold, many-breasted female figure ending below the breasts in a square pillar curiously carved with ancient symbols of bees, and corn, and flowers. Black with age, the venerated image was more like a Hindoo than a Greek idol. In common with other prized images, it was reputed to have fallen from heaven. The history of the idol is lost in remote antiquity. It evidently had survived the burning of the temple by Herostratus. Probably the early Greek colonists in Ionia found it, a relic of a bygone worship, and adopted by them as their national idol.


Verse 29

Acts 19:29. And the whole city was filled with confusion. We can well understand how easily, when it was reported that a hitherto despised company of foreign Jews—for as such the Christians of the first century were necessarily regarded—were engaged in a conspiracy to discredit the worship of the goddess which was the source of the fame and wealth of their city, a vast crowd of Ephesians of all ranks and callings would rapidly be gathered together, and how soon the city would be disturbed by their excited questionings and cries.

And having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia. Gaius is the Greek equivalent for the well-known Latin name of Caius. Three other persons called ‘Gaius’ are mentioned in the New Testament: Gaius of Derbe, Acts 20:4; Gaius of Corinth, 1 Corinthians 1:14; Gaius of Ephesus, to whom the Third Epistle of St. John was addressed. Aristarchus accompanied Paul on his journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4) which ended in his arrest by the Romans. He was with Paul in the memorable voyage which terminated in the shipwreck off Melita (Acts 27:2). He seems to have been the apostle’s companion during his first imprisonment at Rome, as he is mentioned in the Epistle to the Colossians, chap. Acts 4:10, and in the little letter to Philemon, Acts 19:24. Subsequent history speaks of him as suffering martyrdom with Paul, and by a similar death. There is another tradition which alludes to him as Bishop of Apamæa.

They rushed with one accord into the theatre. The theatre of Ephesus was of vast size, and capable of accommodating, according to the usual computation, at least 20,000 persons. These mighty buildings were used not only for dramatic representations, but also for great shows of gladiators, who fought sometimes one with the other, sometimes with wild beasts. They were also favourite meeting-places for the citizens when on any momentous occasion they were called together. This was the custom in Greek, not in Roman cities.


Verse 30

Acts 19:30. The disciples suffered him not. Paul with his customary chivalrous courtesy would not suffer his ‘companions in travel’ to be exposed to danger without his being at their side to defend them. He wished, too, to plead the Christian cause, so unwarrantably attacked, before the people of Ephesus. ‘But the disciples’—no doubt men of Ephesus converted by Paul, who knew well their countrymen’s feelings on the subject of their goddess—would not suffer the brave-hearted man to expose himself so uselessly to a deadly peril.


Verse 31

Acts 19:31. And certain of the chief of Asia. Literally, ‘Asiarchs.’ These officials were ten in number, chosen annually to superintend and preside over the games and festivals held in honour of the emperor and the gods. They were selected from the cities of Proconsular Asia, generally, according to Strabo, from Tralles, as the citizens of that place were reckoned among the most wealthy in Asia. Upon these men fell the expense of providing these costly games—the hiring gladiators, the importing of wild beasts, and many other smaller expenses. The games of Ephesus were termed the Artemision, and were held in the month of May in honour of Diana (Artemis) of the Ephesians. It is generally supposed that one of these ten was selected as president, but that the total expenses incurred were shared among the ten. We read, not many years after this uproar in the Ephesian theatre, of another Asiarch,Philip,’ being asked at Smyrna to let loose a lion on Polycarp, and declining to do so.

Which were his friends. It has been often observed in the course of St. Paul’s anxious, toilsome life, how singularly courteous, even friendly to him were so many of those in high official position with whom he was brought into contact; for instance, the great Roman officials in Cyprus and in Achaia, Sergius Paulus and Gallio, Felix and Festus in Cæsarea, these chiefs of Asia; the centurion who had charge of Paul in the voyage of the 27th chapter. It is, however, probable that among these ‘Asiarchs’ were some secret members of the brotherhood of Christ, and that these influenced their colleagues. Paul’s influence, we know, must have been very great, and his Master’s religion had already struck deep root in Ephesus and the neighbouring Asian cities; Christian converts were by no means confined to the lower stratum of society.


Verse 32

Acts 19:32. Some cried one thing and some another. Evidently this is a ‘memory’ of some one who was present. A vast concourse of people had been gathered together, all moved by some vague sense of injury, but all uncertain what the injury was, or what they really desired to bring about. The trade of their city was suffering, the number of pilgrims to the shrine of the national goddess was falling off, and these pestilent foreign Jews in some way or other were the cause. The meeting was turbulent and the speeches pointless and angry. There seemed a high probability of the assembly resulting in a general riot. Now this, as we shall see, would have worked grave injury to the city in the eyes of the powerful rulers in Rome.


Verse 33

Acts 19:33. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. The abrupt way in which this man is introduced into the narrative by the writer, seems to indicate that ‘Alexander’ was no unknown name to the brethren of the Church of the first days. There was no need to enter into any details. The readers contemporary with the writer of the ‘Acts’ all evidently knew ‘Alexander’ the Jew who would have spoken on the day of the Ephesian meeting when Demetrius stirred men up against Paul and the Christians.

If we identify him with that ‘Alexander the coppersmith’ whose bitter and relentless hostility to Paul won him that solitary notice in the last epistle of the apostle (see 2 Timothy 4:14), then the abrupt mention here of ‘Alexander’ is explained,—all would at once recognise the deadly foe of the Gentile apostle, who subsequently acquired so painful a notoriety among the Christians.

The Jews on this occasion, well aware of the dislike and mistrust with which they were generally regarded by the Gentile populations among whom they dwelt, fearful lest they—as was only too probable—should be confounded with Paul and his disciples, put forward one of their people to explain to the Ephesians that the Jews, far from being inculpated with Paul and his school, hated these men with a hatred equal to or even greater than theirs. If, as we suppose, this man was identical with Alexander the coppersmith, his trade might have led him into certain relations with Demetrius and his fellow-craftsmen who also worked in metal.


Verse 34

Acts 19:34. But when they knew that he was a Jew. The old Gentile hate of the Jews at once flames out. His features, his foreign accent probably, and his dress told of his nationality, and the crowd refused to hear him, no doubt confounding him with the friends of Paul.

All with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. This strange repetition was no mere tumultuous cry; nor was it only an expression of fervid loyalty to the goddess, whose shrine they thought made Ephesus rich and prosperous; but it was no doubt an act of worship. Compare a similar procedure on the part of the worshippers of Baal in the days of Ahab and Jezebel, who ‘from morn even until noon cried, saying, O Baal, hear us!’ (1 Kings 18:26), and see Matthew 6:7. The custom of the Mohammedans and the worshippers of Brahma in India to this day is well known, and they often for entire days practise these vain senseless repetitions.


Verse 35

Acts 19:35. And when the town-clerk had appeased the people. This official was a personage of great importance in these free Greek cities. He was a magistrate whose functions in some respects corresponded to those fulfilled by the recorder of modern times in England. His immediate duty consisted in the guardianship and tabulation of the state paper and archives of the city, and in drawing up the public records, and in sending them out to the public civic assemblies. This officer also was authorised to preside over public gatherings of the citizens. We find the name γραμματεύς; (recorder) engraved on marbles set up as memorials of some public ceremony. It seems probable that this office was a permanent one, unlike that of the Asiarch, which merely lasted a year. This would account for the ‘town-clerk’ addressing and dismissing the people. His influence was no doubt greater than even the presiding Asiarch of the year. There is a strong contrast between the effect of his words on the people and that of ‘Alexander the Jew.’ The people evidently listened with all attention to the harangue of the ‘town-clerk,’ and seemed at once to have dispersed at his request.

The city of Ephesus is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana. The Greek word rendered ‘worshipper’ is a remarkable one ( νεωκό ρον ). Its literal meaning is ‘temple-sweeper’ (Lat. aedituus). It answers to the Christian ‘Sacristan,’ originally a title of one employed in the lowest offices connected with a temple. Its connection with the divinity supposed to dwell within the hallowed walls of the fane, invested the appellation with an unearthly dignity; and the proudest cities became eager to appropriate a title which seemed to connect them in a peculiarly close relation with the deity of whose earthly house they were the recognised guardians. So in the case of great and magnificent Ephesus, the city’s proudest title to honour was its loving care for the worship of the great Artemis (Diana). It assumed the title νεωκόρος, paraphrased rather than translated by ‘worshipper,’ and we find it constantly on the city coins. This singular title was assumed not unfrequently by individuals who claimed to have rendered special services to the goddess or her temple. So, for instance, the Roman Emperors Hadrian, Elagabalus, Caracal la, and Geta, each styled himself the neokoros of the Ephesian Artemis. The better MSS. omit the Greek equivalent for ‘goddess,’ the ‘great Artemis’ of Ephesus being so well known as to need no prefix of goddess. We find some Ephesian inscriptions in which she is described as ‘the greatest,’ ‘the most high.’

The appeal of the ‘town-clerk’ to his fellow-citizens to preserve order would at once conciliate every Ephesian heart by this ready and graceful allusion to the well-known favourite appellation of the city. It was as though he said, ‘My fellow-citizens, why imperil your cherished privileges and affront Rome by an unseemly uproar about a question which after all no sensible man could ever entertain; for, does not all the civilised world know how loyal Ephesus is to her great protecting goddess? These strange men—these poor, shabby, homeless Jews—can never shake our allegiance to and the world’s belief in that mighty Artemis there,’ no doubt pointing to the proud and stately temple in full view of the crowded audience.

Of the image which fell down from Jupiter. Like many other venerated idols of the old Pagan world, the strange and hideous statue of the Ephesian Artemis was supposed to have fallen from the skies. In like manner tradition ascribed a heavenly origin to the Diana of Tauris, the Minerva (Athene), Polias of Athens, the Ceres of Sicily, the Cybele of Pessinus, and the Venus of Paphos; to these we may add the Palladium of Troy and the Ancile at Rome. It is not improbable that some of them may have been meteoric stones, possibly employed by the sculptor in ancient times, when he was shaping the idol.


Verse 36

Acts 19:36. Ye ought to be quiet. The ‘town-clerk’ seems to be throughout his harangue intensely anxious that his city should not through any riotous behaviour incur the displeasure of Rome.


Verse 37

Acts 19:37. Neither robbers of churches. This rendering is liable to mislead the modern reader. In the time when the English Version was made, it was by no means unusual to style a heathen temple a ‘church’ or a ‘chapel.’

Nor yet blasphemers of your goddess. Deeds of violence belonged to an age long subsequent to the apostles. To undermine the Pagan religions, they adopted other means than pillage or destruction. St. Paul’s address to the Athenians on the Hill of Ares (Mars) was an instance of his treatment of the ancient superstition. He hurt no ancient prejudices, no time-honoured customs, by rude invective. He was no blasphemer of the ancient gods of Greece and Rome, but led men to the knowledge of the truth by gentle but far more effective means. We can imagine the painful surprise with which St. Paul would read the coarse language and the bitter, angry eloquence of one like Tertullian. St. Paul and his immediate followers no doubt owed not a little of their wonderful influence over men’s hearts to their winning and graceful courtesy, to their chivalrous consideration for the feelings of others. Paul’s Master, on whom the great disciple modelled his ways of life, was ever gentle to those utterly ignorant of the truth. His fiery wrath was especially reserved for those who knew their Lord’s will and only pretended to do it.


Verse 38

Acts 19:38. If Demetrius and . . . have a matter against any man, the law is open. It was clear that these men with whom Demetrius and his fellow-craftsmen were so incensed had committed no crime of which public cognisance would be taken. If some trade law, some civic regulation, had been infringed, let Demetrius and the others proceed against Paul and his friends. Demetrius would be sure of all sympathy and even favour in such a trial in which the prosperity of the city was involved. ‘The law is open;’ literally, ‘court days are now going on.’ Ephesus was what we should now term an assize town, and the Roman officials held courts at intervals in all these. It was also an urbs libera, and had its local courts and magistrates. It is not improbable but that the words of the town-clerk signified, ‘At this instant the proconsul is on circuit, and is just now at Ephesus.’

There are deputies. Literally, ‘there are proconsuls.’ In the time of Paul, ‘Asia’ being a senatorial province, was governed by a proconsul. The only difficulty in the term is, that it is in the plural (‘proconsuls’), while only one of these officials held office in the senatorial province. It has been suggested that the term includes the proconsul and his assessors. It is, however, more probable that the term is used in a general sense, as we should say, ‘The province of Asia, with its capital Ephesus, is governed by proconsuls.’

Let them implead one another.. This is a legal technical phrase in the original Greek, as in the English.


Verse 39

Acts 19:39. It shall be determined in a lawful assembly. The crowd of citizens he was then addressing was simply a popular gathering; their decisions could have no weight. Such a meeting would only tend to damage the city in the eyes of the Roman government. The ‘lawful assembly’ ( ἐ κκλησί ᾳ) was one formally summoned. A free city like Ephesus had the right to call such a meeting together for the purpose of deliberation.


Verse 40

Acts 19:40. For we are in danger to be called in question for this day’s uproar. Men of the rank of the ‘town-clerk’ of Ephesus well knew how probable it was that a tumultuous meeting which endangered the public peace would be inquired into by the Roman officials. The prized liberties of their city might in consequence have been forfeited. There was a Roman law which made it a capital offence to raise a riot. ‘Qui cœtum et concursum fecerit capitate sit’ (Seneca, Controv. iii. 8). ‘Qui cœtum et concursum fecerit capite puniatur Sulpicius Victor’ (Instit. orat., quoted by Gloag).

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 19:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/acts-19.html. 1879-90.

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