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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Ephesus

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(Ἔφεσος, a graecized form of a native Anatolian name)

The town of Ephesus was a little south of latitude 38°N., at the head of a gulf situated about the middle of the western coast of Asia Minor. It lay on the left bank of the river Cayster, at the foot of hills which slope towards the river. In ancient times the river reached to the city pates, but its mouth has gradually silted up so that the city is now some four to six miles from the sea. The effect of the river’s action has been to raise the level of the land all over. The ruins, the most extensive in Asia Minor, give an idea of how large the ancient city was. The extent of the area covered by it cannot now be exactly estimated; but, as the population in St. Paul’s time was probably about a third of a million, and in ancient times open spaces were frequent and ‘sky-scrapers’ unknown, the city must have been large, even according to our standards. The temple of Artemis (see Diana), the ruins of which were discovered by Wood, lies now about five miles from the coast, and was the most imposing feature of the city. Its site must have been sacred from very early times, and successive temples were built on it. Other notable features of the city were the fine harbour along the banks of the Cayster, the aqueducts, and the great road following the line of the Cayster to Sardis, with a branch to Smyrna. The heat in summer is very great, and fever is prevalent. The harvest rain storms are violent. The site was nevertheless so attractive that it must have been very early occupied. The ancients dated the settlement of Ionian Greeks there early in the 11th cent. b.c., and the city long before St. Paul’s time had become thoroughly Greek, maintaining constant intercourse with Corinth and the rest of Greece proper.

The history of the city, with its changing government, need not be traced here. It fell under Roman sway, with the rest of the district, which the Romans called ‘Asia’ (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ) by the will of Attalus iii. (Philometor), the Pergamenian king, in 133 b.c. In 88 b.c. the inhabitants sided with Mithridates, king of Pontus, and slaughtered all resident Romans. They were punished in 84 by Sulla, who ravaged the city. During the rule of Augustus the city was embellished by a number of new buildings.

When Ephesus came into contact with Christianity, it still retained all its ancient glory. With its Oriental religion, its Greek culture, its Roman government, and its world-wide commerce, it stood midway between two continents, being on the one hand the gateway of Asia to crowds of Western officials and travellers, as Bombay is the portal of India to-day, and on the other hand the rendezvous of multitudes of Eastern pilgrims coming to worship at Artemis’ shrine. Traversed by the great Imperial highway of intercourse and commerce, it had all nationalities meeting and mingling in its streets. No wonder if it felt its ecumenical importance, and believed that what was said and done by its citizens was quickly heard and imitated by ‘all Asia and the world’ (ἡ οἰκουμένη, Acts 19:27).

In Ephesus a noble freedom of thought and a vulgar superstition lived side by side. The city of Thales and Heraclitus contained many men of rich culture and deep philosophy, who were earnest seekers after truth. Prominent citizens like the Asiarchs (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ), who were officially bound to foster the cultus of Rome and the Emperor, yet regarded St. Paul and his message with marked friendliness (Acts 19:31). Nothing but a wide-spread receptivity to fresh ideas can account for the wonderful success of the first Christian mission in the city, and for the reverberation of the truth ‘almost throughout all Asia’ (Acts 19:26). The best mind of the age was wistfully awaiting a new order of things. Having tried eclecticism and syncretism in vain, it was ‘standing between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born.’ When, therefore, the startling news came from Syria to Ephesus that the Son of God had lived, died, and risen again, it ran like wildfire; its first announcement created another Pentecost (Acts 19:6); and in two years ‘all they who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks’ (Acts 19:10).

Every spiritual revival has ethical issues, and Ephesus quickly recognized that the new truth was a new ‘Way’ (Acts 19:23). The doctrine now taught in the School or Tyrannus, formerly the home of one knows not what subtle and futile theories, had a direct bearing upon human lives. That was why it made ‘no small stir’ (Acts 19:23). The message which St. Paul delivered ‘publicly and from house to house’ (Acts 20:20), admonishing men ‘night and day with tears’ (Acts 20:31), was morally revolutionary. It was a call to repentance and faith (Acts 20:21); and, though no frontal attack was made upon the established religion of Ephesus, and no language used which could fairly be construed as offensive (Acts 19:37), yet it soon became apparent that the old order and the new could not thrive peacefully side by side. The gospel of mercy to all was a gage of battle to many. St. Paul, therefore, found that, while Ephesus opened ‘a door wide and effectual’ (ἐνεργής) there were ‘many adversaries’ (1 Corinthians 16:9). This did not surprise or disappoint him. The fanatical hatred of Ephesus was better than the polite scorn of Athens. As the city of Artemis lived largely upon the superstition of the multitude, not only the priests who enjoyed the rich revenues of the Temple, but also the artisans who made ‘shrines’ for pilgrims, felt that if Christianity triumphed their occupation would be gone. Religion was for Ephesus a lucrative ‘business’ (ἐργασία, Acts 19:24-25), and the ‘craft’ (τὸ μέρος, this branch of trade) of many was in danger. Indeed, the dispute which arose affected the whole city, being regarded as nothing less than a duel between Artemis and Christ. If He were enthroned in the Ephesian heart, she would be deposed from her magnificence, and the greatest temple in the world ‘made of no account’ (Acts 19:27). The situation created a drama of real life which was enacted in and around the famous theatre of Ephesus. The gild of silversmiths, led by their indignant president Demetrius (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ); the ignorant mob, excited to fanatical frenzy; the crafty Jews, quick to dissociate themselves from their Christian compatriots; the brave Apostle, eager to appear before ‘the people’ (τὸν δῆμον) of a free city; the friendly Asiarchs, constraining him to temper valour with discretion; the calm, dignified, eloquent Secretary (γραμματεύς), stilling the angry passions of the multitude; and behind all, as unseen presences, the majesty of Imperial Rome, the sensuous charm of Artemis, the spiritual power of Christ-these all combined to give a sudden revelation of the soul of a city. The practical result was that a vindication of the liberty of prophesying was drawn from the highest municipal authority, who evidently felt that in this matter he was interpreting the mind of Rome herself. To represent Christianity as a religio licita was clearly one of the leading aims of St. Luke as a historian.

The fidelity of St. Luke’s narrative in its political allusions and local colour has received confirmation from many sources. As the virtual capital of a senatorial province, Ephesus had its proconsuls (ἀνθύπατοι, Acts 19:38), but here the plural is merely used colloquially, without implying that there could ever be more than one at a time. As the head of a conventus iuridicus, Ephesus was an assize town, in which the judges were apparently sitting at the very time of the riot (Acts 19:38). Latin was the language of the courts, and ἀγοραῖοι ἄγονται is the translation of conventus aguntur. As a free city of the Empire, Ephesus had still a semblance of ancient Ionic autonomy; her affairs were ‘settled in a regular assembly’ (v, 39), i.e. either at an ordinary meeting of the Demos held in the theatre on a fixed day, or at an extraordinary meeting called by authority of the proconsul. Irregular meetings of the populace were sternly prohibited (Acts 19:40) and, indeed, the powers of the lawful assembly were more and more curtailed, till at last it practically had to content itself with registering the decrees of the Roman Senate. The proud claim of Ephesus to be the temple-warden (νεωκόρον, lit. [Note: literally, literature.] ‘temple-sweeper’) of Artemis (Acts 19:35) is attested by inscriptions and coins (W. M. Ramsay, Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, 1895, i. 58; Letters to the Seven Churches, 232). The Asiarchs who befriended St. Paul had no official connexion with the cult of Artemis; they were members of the Commune whose function it was to unite the Empire in a religious devotion to Rome.

St. Paul’s pathetic address at Miletus to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:16-35), in which he recalls the leading features of his strenuous mission in the city-his tears and trials (Acts 20:19), his public and private teaching (Acts 20:20), his incessant spiritual and manual toil (Acts 20:31-34)-and declares himself pure from the blood of all men (Acts 20:26), presents as high an ideal of the ministerial vocation as has ever been conceived and recorded. There is no reason to doubt that it gives an approximate summary of his original words (cf. J. Moffatt, Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., p. 306).

With the religious history of Ephesus are also associated the names of Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:18), Apollos (Acts 18:24, 1 Corinthians 16:12), Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21), Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3, 2 Timothy 4:9), and especially John the Apostle and John the Presbyter. After the departure of St. Paul the Ephesian Church was injured by the activity of false teachers (Acts 20:29-30; Revelation 2:4), but the Fall of Jerusalem greatly enhanced its importance, and the influence of the Johannine school made it the centre of Eastern Christianity. In the time of Domitian it had the primacy among the Seven Churches of Asia (Revelation 2:1). The Letter to the Church of Ephesus is on the whole laudatory. The Christian community commanded the writer’s respect by its keen scrutiny of soi-disant apostles, by its intolerance of evil, and its hatred of the libertinism which is the antithesis of legalism. But it had declined in the fervent love which alone made a Church truly lovable to the Apostle. A generation later, however, Ignatius in his Ep. to the Ephesians uses the language of profound admiration:

‘I ought to be trained for the contest by you in faith, in admonition, in endurance in long-suffering (§ 3); ‘for ye all live according to the truth and no heresy hath a home among you; nay, ye do not so much as listen to any one if he speak of aught else save concerning Jesus Christ in truth’ (§ 6); ‘you were ever of one mind with the Apostles in the power of Jesus Christ’ (§ 11).

Ephesus had a long line of bishops, and was the seat of the council which condemned the doctrine of Nestorius in a.d. 431. The ruins of the ancient city, on Coressus and Prion, are extensive and impressive. The theatre in which the riot (Acts 19) Look place is remarkably well preserved, and in 1870 the foundation of the Temple of Artemis was discovered by J. T. Wood. The modern village lying beside the temple bears the name of Ayasoluk, which is a corruption of ἄγιος θεολόγος, the title of St. John the Divine which was given to the Church of Justinian.

Literature.-W. M. Ramsay, Letters to the Seven Churches, 1904; Murray’s Handbook to Asia Minor, 1895; G. A. Zimmermann, Ephesos im ersten christl. Jahrhundert, 1874; article ‘Ephesus’ in Pauly-Wissowa [Note: auly-Wissowa Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyklopädie.] , v. [1905]; J. T. Wood, Discoveries at Ephesus, 1876; E. L. Hicks, Ancient Greek Inscriptions in the Brit. Museum, iii. 2 [1890]; D. G. Hogarth, Excavations in Ephesus: the Archaic Artemisia, 2 vols., 1908.

Alexander Souter and James Strahan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ephesus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/e/ephesus.html. 1906-1918.

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Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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