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Bible Commentaries
Acts 19

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 6-20

C. The extension of the church to the Aegean shores 16:6-19:20

The missionary outreach narrated in this section of the book took place in major cities along the Aegean coastline that major Roman roads connected.

5. The results of ministry in Asia 18:23-19:20

Luke gave considerable information regarding Paul’s significant ministry in Asia Minor to record the advance of the gospel and the church on the eastern Aegean shores.

Verses 1-2

Two roads led into Ephesus from the east, and Paul travelled the northern, more direct route (cf. Acts 18:23). [Note: Cf. Ramsay, St. Paul . . ., p. 265.] Ephesus, like Athens, had reached its heyday and was in decline when Paul visited it. Its claim to fame was twofold. Its location on the west coast of Asia Minor near the mouth of the Cayster River made it an important commercial center. As commerce declined due to the silting up of the port at Ephesus, its religious influence continued to draw worshippers to the Temple of Artemis (Greek) or Diana (Roman). This magnificent temple was four times the size of the Parthenon at Athens and was renowned as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Alexander the Great had contributed much money for its construction in the fourth century B.C., and it lasted until A.D. 263 when the Goths destroyed it.

"It was 425 feet long by 220 feet wide by 60 feet high. There were 127 pillars, each of them the gift of a king. They were all of glittering Parian marble and 36 of them were marvelously gilt and inlaid. The great altar had been carved by Praxiteles, the greatest of all Greek sculptors. The image of Artemis was not beautiful. It was a black, squat, many-breasted figure, to signify fertility; it was so old that no one knew where it had come from or even of what material it was made. The story was that it had fallen from heaven. The greatest glory of Ephesus was that she was the guardian of the most famous pagan temple in the world." [Note: Barclay, p. 153.]

Emperor Justinian of Byzantium later used some of the pilars for the construction of the Hagia Sophia, where they still stand, in modern Istanbul. Ephesus was a hotbed of religious superstition and occult practices.

"Ephesus, for all her past splendour, was a dying city, pre-occupied with parasite pursuits, living, like Athens, on a reputation, and a curious meeting-place of old and new religions, of superstition and philosophy, of East and West." [Note: Blaiklock, pp. 154-55.]

It is difficult to determine whether the "disciples" whom Paul found in Ephesus were Christians or not. They seem quite similar to Apollos (Acts 18:25-26), and some students of Acts believe they were either Old Testament saints or untaught Christians. [Note: E.g., Kent, p. 150.] Another possibility is that they were not believers at all but only seekers after the truth. [Note: E.g., Longenecker, pp. 492-93; McGee, 4:597; and Morgan, p. 346.] The second alternative seems more probable to me. Elsewhere Luke used the word "disciple" to describe John’s followers (Luke 5:33; Luke 7:18-19). Clearly these men were disciples of John the Baptist, not Jesus. This is the fifth reference in Acts to John the Baptist’s role as precursor of Jesus (cf. Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16; Acts 13:25; Acts 18:25). Clearly John’s influence had been far reaching.

Paul asked these men about their possession of the Holy Spirit, probably because he saw some incongruity in their claim to be admirers of John and their evident lack of the Spirit. The correct translation is "when you believed" rather than "since you believed" (AV, cf. Acts 1:8). The Greek text implies no second work of grace. [Note: See The New Scofield . . ., p. 1192.] Paul’s question assumed two things: they were genuine Christians, since they professed to believe John the Baptist, and everyone who believes in Jesus possesses the indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13).

John had predicted the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; cf. John 1:32-33). Their response to Paul’s question probably indicates that they did not know that the Lord had given the Holy Spirit as John had predicted. This enabled Paul to see that his first assumption about these disciples was incorrect; they were probably not Christians.

Verses 1-7

The disciples of John the Baptist 19:1-7

This is the first of two incidents taken from Paul’s ministry in Ephesus that bracket Luke’s description of his general ministry there. The second is Paul’s encounter with the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-20).

Verses 1-20

Paul’s ministry in Ephesus 19:1-20

Luke’s account of Paul’s third missionary journey is essentially a record of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, the city he probably tried to reach at the beginning of his second journey (cf. Acts 16:6).

Verse 3

This discovery led Paul to raise another question to clarify his second assumption. What baptism had they experienced, or with whom did they identify in baptism? They replied that they had undergone John’s water baptism. This response told Paul that they had not experienced Spirit baptism and so were evidently unsaved. Another view is that they were saved, but they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. I favor the former view because I believe that by this time everyone who believed in Jesus received the Spirit at the moment of his or her conversion (cf. Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13).

"Like Apollos (Acts 18:25), they had been baptized as a symbol of repentance only." [Note: Neil, p. 203.]

Apollos seems to have become a Christian by the time he met Priscilla and Aquila whereas these men, I think, had not become believers in Jesus yet.

Verse 4

Paul explained to these disciples, as Priscilla and Aquila had undoubtedly explained to Apollos, that John’s baptism was good but insufficient. John had also instructed his disciples to believe in Jesus who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit normally accompanied faith in Jesus.

Verse 5

When these disciples of John heard that the Messiah had come, they believed in Jesus and submitted to water baptism in His name. This is the only explicit reference to re-baptism in the New Testament.

Verse 6

As with the new converts in Samaria, these Ephesian disciples received the Holy Spirit when an apostle, this time Paul, laid his hands on them (cf. Acts 8:17). They did not receive the Spirit by water baptism. In Samaria, this identification of the coming of the Spirit with Peter and John first authenticated God’s giving of the Spirit in a non-Jewish context. Here the identification of the coming of the Spirit with Paul authenticated God’s giving of the Spirit in a town in which demonic religious activity flourished (cf. Acts 19:13-19). As subsequent events would show, the Jesus whom Paul preached was the more powerful deity. These former disciples of John received the Holy Spirit when Paul laid his hands on them thus obviously connecting their endowment with Paul’s message and apostolic authority. There was no delay in the Spirit coming on Cornelius when he believed, and Peter did not have to lay his hands on him to impart the Spirit (Acts 10:44).

There are some interesting parallels between Spirit baptism as it took place in Ephesus in this chapter and how it occurred in Samaria in chapter 8.

"Chapter 8Chapter 19
1.Word is preached to the Samaritans (by Philip); many become disciples and are baptized (Acts 8:4-13).1.God’s Word is proclaimed to the men at Ephesus (earlier by Apollos?); some become disciples and are baptized (John’s baptism, Acts 18:24-26).
2.Peter and John come to Samaria and see that the presence of the Spirit is not evident in the disciples’ lives (Acts 8:14-16).2.Paul comes to Ephesus and notes that the presence of the Spirit is not evident in the disciples’ lives (Acts 19:1-5).
3.Peter and John lay hands on the disciples; the Holy Spirit comes upon them (Acts 8:17).3.Paul lays his hands on the disciples; the Holy Spirit comes upon them (Acts 19:6).
4.Peter and John’s ministry engages the interest of the magician Simon (Acts 8:20-24).4.Paul’s ministry stimulates the interest of exorcists; the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13).
5.A conflict arises between Peter and Simon. Simon is overwhelmed (Acts 8:20-24).5.A conflict arises between the exorcists and demons. The exorcists are overwhelmed (Acts 19:14-16).
6.Peter and John preach in many of the Samaritan villages before returning to Jerusalem (Acts 8:25).6.All those in Asia hear the Word of the Lord as a result of Paul’s teaching (Acts 19:10).
7.Many miracles are performed among the Samaritans by Philip (Acts 8:6-8).7.Paul performs special miracles by the power of God (Acts 19:11-12)." [Note: Harm, pp. 35-36.]

The phenomenon of the separate conversion and Spirit baptism experiences of some Christians that Luke recorded in Acts may need further clarification. It seems that God wanted to highlight the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that He would send the Holy Spirit to be in and with believers (John 14:16-18; John 14:26; John 15:26). To do so God made the coming of the Spirit obvious until the church generally appreciated the fact that it normally occurred at the time of regeneration.

"This story has often been used as the basis for doctrines about the reception of gifts of the Spirit subsequent to conversion; but it has no real connection with these. Rather Paul was dealing with an unusual situation which required special treatment. . . .

". . . it is safe to say that the New Testament does not recognize the possibility of being a Christian apart from possession of the Spirit (John 3:5; Acts 11:17; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Galatians 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:5 f.; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 6:4; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:13)." [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p. 305. See also Wiersbe, 1:481.]

"It should be noted that the reception of the Holy Spirit [by Christians] in Acts does not follow any set pattern. He came into believers before baptism (Acts 10:44), at the time of or after baptism (Acts 8:12-16; Acts 19:6), and by the laying on of apostolic hands (Acts 8:17; Acts 19:6). Yet Paul declared (Romans 8:9) that anyone without the Holy Spirit is not a Christian. Quite obviously the transitional Book of Acts is not to be used as a doctrinal source on how to receive the Holy Spirit (cf. comments on tongues, 1 Corinthians 13:8 to 1 Corinthians 14:25)." [Note: Toussaint, "Acts," p. 409. Cf. Harm, p. 38.]

"Ephesus was a polyglot city of the Roman Empire. There were many languages spoken there, just as there had been in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. East and West met all along that coast. . . . These men were now able to give the good news about Christ to the entire city." [Note: McGee, 4:597.]

This is the last reference to speaking in tongues in Acts (cf. Acts 2:4; Acts 10:46; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 12:30; 1 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Corinthians 13:8; 1 Corinthians 14). Is this gift still in the church today? Some charismatic Christians believe that it is. They argue mainly from experience, having heard someone, perhaps themselves, speak in what others refer to as tongues. In most cases what they call tongues is gibberish, not known languages. This is different from what the New Testament identified as tongues, namely, known languages (cf. 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Corinthians 14). In a few cases people have apparently spoken in known languages that they have not studied, the type of tongues-speaking that the New Testament describes.

The real issue is what the New Testament says about tongues, not what one may have experienced. It says that they would pass away or cease of themselves, as in petering out (1 Corinthians 13:8, middle voice of pauo). When would this happen? The New Testament does not specify when, but it implies that they would peter out before prophecy would end (lit. be terminated [by God], passive voice of katargeo, 1 Corinthians 13:8). I do not believe that any one verse indicates that tongues would cease or did cease in the apostolic period. However, I think it is safe to conclude that they did for two reasons. (Similarly we believe the doctrine of the Trinity not because there is a verse that clearly teaches it but because many verses lead us to conclude that God exists as a triune being.) First, other New Testament passages imply that they would and did cease then (Ephesians 2:20; Hebrews 2:3-4). Second, the early church fathers wrote that tongues petered out in the early history of the church even though there were rare instances of the phenomenon after that. [Note: Origen (ca. 185-ca. 254 A.D.), "Against Celsus," 7:8 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 4:614; Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.), "Homily 12 on Matthew," in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:77; idem, "Homily 14 on Romans," ibid., 11:447; idem, "Homily 29 on 1 Corinthians," ibid., 12:168; idem, "Homily 6 on 1 Corinthians," ibid., 12:31; Augustine (354-430 A.D.), "On Baptism, Against the Donatists," 3:16:21, ibid., 4:443; idem, "The Epistle of St. John," 6:10, ibid., 7:497-98; idem, "The Epistle of 1 John. Homily," 6:10, ibid., 7:497-98; idem, "The Answer to the Letters of Petition, to Donatist," 2:32:74, ibid., 4:548; and idem, "On the Gospel of St. John, Tractate," 32:7, ibid., 7:195. See also Dillow, Speaking in . . ., pp. 147-64, for further information about the historical cessation of the gift of tongues.]

Speaking in Tongues in Acts
Acts 2:1-4The Twelve
and possibly others
Unsaved JewsAfter salvationTo validate for Jews the coming of the Spirit
Acts 10:44-47GentilesSaved JewsSame time as salvationTo validate for Jews God’s acceptance of Gentiles
Acts 19:1-7Disciples of John the BaptistJews and GentilesSame time as salvationTo validate for Jews Paul’s message

How can we explain the instances of people speaking in languages they have not studied today? It may be that God occasionally gives people this ability today, though the evidence of this happening is rare. Practically no one, including respected charismatic leaders, claims that the ability to speak in a language that one has not studied exists today as it did in New Testament times. Obviously the ability to grasp a foreign language readily as one studies it is not the New Testament gift of tongues.

God evidently gave the gift of prophesying to each of these Ephesian disciples to enable them to assume leadership of the church and the church’s mission. This gift involves speaking forth the Word of God and leading the worship of God.

Verse 7

Luke may have intended this group of "about 12" to remind the reader of another core group, the 12 apostles, though these were not on the same level of authority. The Ephesian church became the center of Christian witness in western Asia Minor and the Aegean region as Antioch and Jerusalem had become earlier.

Verse 8

Paul followed his standard procedure of preaching to the Jews in the synagogue at Ephesus as long as possible. Here the Jews were more tolerant than they had been in some other towns that Paul had evangelized, and he was able to continue speaking there for three months. As usual, Paul reasoned and persuaded (Gr. dialegomenos kai peithon) there, meaning he reasoned persuasively. This is probably a hendiadys, a figure of speech in which the writer expresses a single complex idea by joining two substantives with "and" rather than by using an adjective and a substantive. Paul’s general subject was "the kingdom of God" (cf. Acts 1:3; Acts 1:6; Acts 8:12; Acts 14:22; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31). This phrase is often a shorthand expression for the whole message about Jesus Christ in Acts, namely, the gospel.

"Three months in a synagogue without a riot was something of a record for Paul. Perhaps the cosmopolitan nature of Ephesus caused the Jews there to be more tolerant." [Note: Toussaint, "Acts," p. 410.]

Verses 8-12

Paul’s general approach to ministry in Ephesus 19:8-12

"The further one proceeds in Acts 19, the clearer it becomes that Luke intends the material in this chapter and the next to depict the climax of Paul’s ministry and missionary work as a free man. It is here in Ephesus that he has the longest stable period of ministry without trial or expulsion, here that he most fully carries out his commission to be a witness to all persons, both Jew and Gentile (see Acts 22:15)." [Note: Witherington, p. 572.]

Verse 9

Eventually the Jews grew unresponsive and tried to discredit Paul’s preaching of the way of salvation. Paul, therefore, withdrew from the synagogue to a neutral site. In Corinth, this had been the home of Titius Justice (Acts 18:7). In Ephesus, it proved to be a lecture hall owned and or operated by Tyrannus. Tyrannus (lit. Tyrant, probably a nickname of this teacher and or landlord) made his auditorium available to Paul during the afternoons. The Western text (i.e., Codex Beza), one of the ancient copies of Acts, added that this was from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Normally this was siesta time when people rested before resuming work after the heat of the day had subsided.

"The old sequence of events unfolded, monotonously true to form. It was not lack of sad experience which led Paul in chapters ix-xi of the Epistle to the Romans to speak of the national rejection of Christ by the people privileged first to hear of Him. It was an essential part of Luke’s theme to underline that fact. Hence the careful record of Paul’s method, his scrupulous regard for the synagogue, his programme of patient teaching and persuasion, the crystallizing of opposition, and the altogether justifiable ’turning to the Gentiles’." [Note: Blaiklock, p. 156.]

Verse 10

Evidently Paul taught in Tyrannus’ public hall for two more years. Later Paul said that he had labored in Ephesus for a total of three years (cf. Acts 20:31). Paul evidently began his third missionary journey and his three-year ministry in Ephesus in A.D. 53, twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the day of Pentecost. As a result of this three years of work, the local Christians preached the gospel and established churches all over the province of Asia. Among these were the churches of Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis in the Lycus Valley (Colossians 4:13), though evidently Paul did not personally plant them (cf. Colossians 2:1; Colossians 4:13). Perhaps the other churches mentioned in Revelation 2, 3 (i.e., Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia) got their start at this time too.

"We may think of the ’hall of Tyrannus’ as the centre of Paul’s activity, attracting many Gentile enquirers from the province generally, who in due course became themselves, like Epaphras, faithful ministers of Christ on Paul’s behalf (Colossians 1:7)." [Note: Neil, p. 204.]

"The province was intensively evangelized, and became one of the leading centres of Christianity for centuries afterwards." [Note: Bruce, Commentary on . . ., p. 389.]

Many students of Acts do not adequately appreciate the significance of Ephesus as a center for the spread of the gospel. One must carefully note the clues in Acts and the epistles as well as later church history to understand what took place during the years Paul lived there. God had opened a wide door of opportunity for Paul, but there were many adversaries (1 Corinthians 16:8-9). Timothy and later the Apostle John followed Paul in ministry there. The Christians at Ephesus became the original recipients of at least three New Testament books (Ephesians , 1 and 2 Timothy) and possible as many as seven (1, 2, and 3 John, and Revelation).

Verses 11-12

Jesus continued to work the same supernatural miracles through Paul that He had demonstrated during His own earthly ministry (cf. Mark 5:27; Mark 6:56) and that he had manifested through Peter (Acts 5:15). Luke recorded Paul doing the same types of miracles as Peter. Both healed a lame man early in their ministries (Acts 14:8; cf. Acts 3:2). Both exorcised demons (Acts 16:18; cf. Acts 5:16), defeated sorcerers (Acts 13:6; cf. Acts 8:18), raised the dead (Acts 20:9; cf. Acts 9:36), and escaped from prison (Acts 16:25; cf. Acts 12:7). Evidently it was because of the multitudes of magicians and religious charlatans that worked Ephesus that God demonstrated His power in these supernatural ways. It was to the church in Ephesus that Paul later wrote his famous instructions about spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-20). Ephesus was a hotbed of satanic activity.

"The atmosphere of the city was electric with sorcery and incantations, with exorcists, with all kinds of magical impostors." [Note: Morgan, p. 350.]

". . . the phrase ’Ephesian writings’ (Ephesia grammata) was common in antiquity for documents containing spells and magical formulae (cf. Athenaeus Deipnosophistae 12.548; Clement of Alexandria Stromata 5.242)." [Note: Longenecker, p. 496.]

God healed indirectly through Paul’s garments in Ephesus too. The fact that God used Paul’s handkerchiefs (Gr. soudarion, or sweat-cloths) and aprons (simikinthion, lit. workman’s aprons) is unusual, but not without precedent. God had previously healed people who touched Jesus’ cloak (Luke 8:44). The fact that some modern charlatans have abused this form of healing should not lead us to conclude that God never used it.

"Paul is not said to have recommended the use of cloths from his own body as instruments of healing, but God was pleased to honor the faith of these people by granting these miracles." [Note: Kent, p. 151.]

"If God never honoured any faith save that entirely free from superstition, how about Christian people who are troubled over the number 13, over the moon, the rabbit’s foot? . . . God condescends to meet us in our ignorance and weakness where he can reach us." [Note: Robertson, 3:316.]

Verse 13

"But" introduces a contrast to the good miracles that "God was performing . . . by . . . Paul" (Acts 19:11). As had been Peter’s experience, some of Paul’s observers tried to duplicate his miracles (cf. Acts 8:18-19). They wrongly concluded that the simple vocalization of Jesus’ name carried magical power. Some people feared the Jews in the ancient world because they thought the name of God, which the Jews refused to utter, was the key to their powers, including their success in business. This was Paul’s third contact with demonic powers that Luke recorded (cf. Acts 13:6-12; Acts 16:16-18).

"The use of magical names in incantations to exorcise evil spirits was common in the ancient world, and it seems to have been especially prominent at Ephesus." [Note: Longenecker, p. 497. See Bruce M. Metzger, "St. Paul and the Magicians," Princeton Seminary Bulletin 38 (1944):27-30.]

Earlier Jesus’ disciple John had asked Jesus to rebuke someone who was casting out demons in His name, and Jesus refused to do so. He replied, "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you" (Luke 9:49-50; cf. Mark 9:38-40). This incident exposed an attitude of rivalry among the Twelve that existed toward other disciples of Jesus. This was not a problem of orthodoxy; that exorcist believed in Jesus. It was rather a problem of fellowship or association; he was not one of the Twelve. He appears to have been on the fringe of Jesus’ followers. The Twelve wanted to exclude him, but Jesus wanted to include him. Jesus’ reply was proverbial. He had stated the reverse truth earlier (Matthew 12:30). Disciples should regard people who do not oppose them as associates rather than as enemies. The exorcists whom Paul encountered in Ephesus, however, appear to have been unbelievers.

Verses 13-20

The seven sons of Sceva 19:13-20

The following incident throws more light on the spiritual darkness that enveloped Ephesus as well as the power of Jesus Christ and the gospel to dispel it. It also presents Paul as not only a powerful speaker (Acts 19:8-12) but also a powerful miracle worker.

Verses 14-16

Sceva may have been a chief priest or the head of a priestly family (cf. Acts 5:24), or he may have only claimed to be one. [Note: Bruce, The Book . . ., p. 390.] Compare Simon Magus, who claimed to be someone great (cf. Acts 8:9).

". . . whoever he [Sceva] was, he was not a Jewish high priest who had held office in Jerusalem, since their names are all known; nor is it likely that he even belonged to a high-priestly family. It is possible that he may have been a self-styled ’high priest’ of one of the innumerable pagan cults, who found that it paid him to pass himself off as a Jew." [Note: Neil, p. 205.]

Apparently two or more-the Greek word auton can mean "all" (NIV) as well as "both" (NASB) in Acts 19:16 -of Sceva’s sons participated in the exorcism that backfired. They were fortunate to have escaped from the house with their lives.

"The name of Jesus, like an unfamiliar weapon misused, exploded in their hands; and they were taught a lesson about the danger of using the name of Jesus in their dabbling in the supernatural." [Note: Longenecker, p. 498.]

Verse 17

News reports of this event greatly elevated the reputation of Jesus among all the Ephesians, both Jews and Gentiles.

Verses 18-19

Some people in ancient times believed that the power of sorcerers’ rites and incantations lay in their secrecy, as noted above. Magical secrets supposedly lost their power when they were made public. The fact that the converted Ephesian magicians disclosed these shows the genuineness of their repentance. Likewise the burning of books symbolizes the public and irreversible repudiation of their contents. Luke did not describe the silver coin to which he referred in enough detail to determine its value, though it was probably a drachma. Fifty thousand silver coins in any case represents much money and many converts. If these were drachmas, the value was 50,000 days worth of wages. That would amount to several million dollars worth of wages in present earning power.

"It is all too true that too many of us hate our sins but cannot leave them. Even when we do seek to leave them there is the lingering and the backward look. There are times in life when treatment must be surgical, when only the clean and final break will suffice." [Note: Barclay, p. 157.]

Verse 20

As a consequence of the repentance described in the preceding verses, the church became purer as well as larger (cf. Acts 5:1-11). Luke gave us this sixth progress report to mark the end of another section of his book. The section we have just completed (Acts 16:6 to Acts 19:20) records the church’s extension in the Roman provinces around the Aegean Sea.

While in Ephesus Paul had considerable contact with the church in Corinth. He wrote that church a letter that he called his former letter in 1 Corinthians 5:9. Then sometime later he wrote 1 Corinthians, probably near the spring of A.D. 56. Timothy travelled from Corinth to Ephesus, then evidently went back to Corinth, and returned later to Ephesus (Acts 18:5; 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10-11; Acts 19:22). Following Timothy’s visit to Corinth Paul evidently made a so-called "painful visit" to Corinth (2 Corinthians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:1-2) and returned to Ephesus. Then he wrote another "severe letter" to Corinth from Ephesus (2 Corinthians 2:3-4; 2 Corinthians 7:8-12; 2 Corinthians 12:18). These facts come to us through Paul’s two epistles to the Corinthians the first of which he wrote during the years he used Ephesus as his base of operations. He undoubtedly had other contacts with many other churches about which we know nothing. Luke’s purpose was not to give us a complete record of Paul’s ministry or the church’s growth as a whole. It was to document its advance to the heart of the Roman Empire (Acts 1:8) and to show by repetition how Jesus Christ was building His church (Matthew 16:18).

"Here is the climax of the account of Paul’s ministry as a free man; after this it is largely troubles, travels, and trials." [Note: Witherington, p. 583.]

1. Ministry on the way to Jerusalem 19:21-21:16

At this point in his ministry Paul began to focus his attention on taking the gospel to Rome. Luke recorded the events that led up to his arrival there to show how Jesus Christ extended His church to the center of the Roman (Gentile) world.

Verse 21

Paul evidently sensed that having laid a firm foundation in Asia Minor and the Aegean Sea region he needed to press on to Gentile areas yet unreached (cf. Romans 15:23). Though he had some short-range goals, he ultimately wanted to go to Rome (Romans 1:15; cf. Luke 4:43; Luke 9:22; Luke 9:51). In Romans 15:24 he wrote that he intended to go on from there to Spain, the westernmost frontier of the Roman Empire. Luke made no reference to Spain. It was evidently his purpose to end his record of the church’s expansion when the gospel reached the heart of the empire from which it then circulated everywhere.

"Although the phrase en to pneumati (’in the spirit’) could refer either to the human spirit or the Holy Spirit, there is reason to believe that the latter is at least included. It would be strange to attribute the journey to Jerusalem to a human decision while linking the trip to Rome to divine necessity, especially when Paul says he ’must [Gr. dei] also’ see Rome, implying some comparability between the two trips. Furthermore, in Acts 20:22-23 Paul refers to the same decision and speaks of himself going to Jerusalem ’bound in the Spirit’ and of the Holy Spirit testifying in every city of coming suffering. More than a strong human resolve is indicated." [Note: Tannehill, 2:239.]

"By the combination of en to pneumati and dei, Luke appears to be making the point in this programmatic statement that the aftermath of the Gentile mission and its extension into Rome were likewise under the Spirit’s direction, just as the Gentile mission itself had been." [Note: Longenecker, p. 500.]

The rest of Acts shows how Paul attained his purpose of reaching Rome in spite of many obstacles all of which he overcame. [Note: Bruce, "Paul’s Apologetic . . .," p. 380.]

"The purpose of S. Paul, which coincided with the will of God, was achieved; but, as in other cases, the means by which he was brought to Rome were far different from what he had wished or arranged. Thus we have presented to us a typical instance of divine overruling of human plans, but to the achievement of one and the same end." [Note: Rackham, p. 359.]

". . . in Paul’s eyes Rome was designed to replace Jerusalem as the centre of the Christian mission (and to inherit his own apostolic responsibility). Luke’s perspective was different from Paul’s but from Luke’s perspective too, as Jerusalem Christianity was henceforth unable to fulfill God’s saving purpose in the world, it was for Roman Christianity to take up the task and carry it forward." [Note: Bruce, "The Church . . .," p. 661.]

Paul wanted to collect money for the poor Judean saints from the more prosperous Christians in the Aegean region and then deliver it to them in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 24:17; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4). He realized that returning to Jerusalem would be dangerous for him (cf. Romans 15:30-32), but he determined to go nonetheless. Paul never let the possibility of danger to his person turn him away from doing God’s will.

Verses 21-22

Paul’s plans 19:21-22

This pericope gives the reason for what follows in the remainder of Acts.

Verses 21-31

D. The extension of the church to Rome 19:21-28:31

"The panel is introduced by the programmatic statement of Acts 19:21-22 and concludes with the summary statement of Acts 28:31. Three features immediately strike the reader in this sixth panel: (1) the disproportionate length of the panel, including one-third of the total material of Acts; (2) the prominence given the speeches of Paul in his defense; and (3) the dominance of the ’we’ sections in the narrative portions (cf. Acts 20:5-15; Acts 21:1-18; Acts 27:1 to Acts 28:16). It cannot be said that the length is related to the theological significance of the material presented. It seems rather to be related to the apologetic purpose of Luke, particularly in the five defenses, and to the eyewitness character of the narrative with its inevitable elaboration of details (cf. the Philippian anecdotes of Acts 16:11-40). The events narrated here span the time from approximately 56 through 62." [Note: Longenecker, p. 499.]

"This ending of the Acts forms a striking parallel to the ending of the [third] Gospel. There the passion of the Lord with all its immediate preparation is related in great detail; so here the ’passion’ of Paul is on a scale altogether disproportionate to the rest of the book. The Acts however does not end in fact with S. Paul’s death, but with a condition of renewed life; similarly at the end of Part I the ’passion’ of S. Peter had ended with a deliverance. Thus in each case there is a parallel to the resurrection in the Gospel." [Note: Rackham, p. 358.]

Verse 22

Paul apparently sent Timothy (cf. Acts 18:5; 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10-11) and Erastus to minister to the Macedonian churches. They also prepared for his coming by laying the groundwork for the collection for the poor Jerusalem saints (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-9). This Erastus was probably not the same man Paul mentioned in Romans 16:23, though he may be the one he wrote of in 2 Timothy 4:20.

Others who ministered to Paul included Silas and Titus, though Luke did not mention them here. Silas’ name appears in Acts nine times between the events recorded in Acts 15:40 and Acts 18:5, but Luke did not mention him again. Paul wrote that Titus was a faithful and active associate of his (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:6; 2 Corinthians 7:13-14; 2 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 8:16; 2 Corinthians 8:23; 2 Corinthians 12:18; Galatians 2:1; Galatians 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:10; Titus 1:4), but Luke did not mention him at all.

Paul evidently stayed in Ephesus several more months, and it was probably during this time that the following incident occurred.

Verse 23

Christianity, the Way (cf. Acts 19:9; Acts 9:2; Acts 16:17; Acts 18:25-26; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14; Acts 24:22), had such an influence in Ephesian society that the local pagan worship suffered.

"Cassidy has rightly pointed out that the use of the phrase ’the Way’ ’identifies the disciples as constituting a socially cohesive movement, a movement arising out of and grounded in their shared faith in Jesus.’ [Note: Footnote 106: R. Cassidy, Society and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles, p. 95.] What is interesting about Luke’s use of this terminology is that we find it chiefly in connection with the church in Jerusalem and its environs (see Acts 9:2; Acts 22:4) and with the church in Ephesus and its environs (see Acts 19:9; Acts 19:23). This emphasizes that the movement is heading west, is translocal, and can incarnate itself both at the heart of Jewish culture and at the heart of the somewhat Romanized Hellenistic culture found in Ephesus." [Note: Witherington, p. 584.]

The antagonism that Luke proceeded to record was not opposition to Paul personally; it was a reaction to the effect of the gospel in Ephesus.

". . . this is the major unit in Acts showing how the transfomation of a community affects the culture at large, making it so nervous that it reacts to stop the progress." [Note: Bock, Acts, p. 614.]

Verses 23-41

The riot in Ephesus 19:23-41

This incident reveals more about the effects of the gospel on Ephesian society and religion (cf. Acts 19:13-20).

"Luke’s purpose in presenting this vignette is clearly apologetic, in line with his argument for the religio licita status of Christianity (cf. Panel 5 [Acts 16:6 to Acts 19:20]) and in anticipation of the themes stressed in Paul’s speeches of defense (Panel 6, esp. chs. 22-26). Politically, Luke’s report of the friendliness of the Asiarchs (’officials of the province,’ NIV) toward Paul and of the city clerk’s intervention on his behalf is the best defense imaginable against the charge that Paul and Christianity threatened the official life of the empire." [Note: Longenecker, p. 502.]

Verse 24

There were two goddesses named Artemis (Greek) or Diana (Latin) that Gentiles worshipped in the Roman Empire at this time. One was the goddess of the hunt, usually pictured as a young woman carrying a hunting bow. The other was a fertility goddess portrayed as a woman with many breasts. The latter was the one especially venerated in Ephesus. There were at least 33 other places of Artemis worship in the ancient world, but the temple in Ephesus was the chief worship center. [Note: Ladd, "The Acts . . .," p. 1161. Strabo, Geography 4.1.5.] Pausanias, who wrote in the middle of the second century A.D., claimed that the Artemis cult was the most widely followed one in the ancient world. [Note: Pausanias, Description of Hellas 4.31.8, cited by Witherington, p. 587.]

The temple of Diana in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and many historians believe it was one of the most beautiful buildings ever built. [Note: See my comments on Acts 19:1-2 above.] It stood on the side of Mount Pion about a mile northeast of the city and served as a bank as well as a place of worship and cultic immorality. It could accommodate about 25,000 people and was probably the largest Greek temple ever built. Its centerpiece was evidently a meteorite that resembled a woman with many breasts. Other meteorites that became sacred cult objects were at Troy, Pessinus, Enna, and Emeas. [Note: See Longenecker, p. 502.]

The silversmiths in Ephesus took Artemis as their patron saint and, among their other wares, made miniature silver shrines containing images of the goddess that they sold to devotees. As Christianity spread, interest in Artemis and the market for her statuettes declined. The leader of the guild that made these trinkets was Demetrius.

"When pilgrims came to Ephesus they liked to take a souvenir home. These silversmiths were makers of little silver model shrines which were bought and sold as souvenirs." [Note: Barclay, p. 160.]

Alternatively, worshippers may have presented these model shrines as votive offerings when they visited the temple, as some people purchase candles that they proceed to light and leave in churches today. [Note: Witherington, p. 590.]

Verses 25-27

Demetrius’ words establish the extent to which the gospel had penetrated Asia and the effect it had. There is no stronger testimony than the words of a critic who acknowledges the success of his adversary. Obviously financial loss motivated Demetrius to organize this protest as much as, or perhaps more than, veneration for the goddess Artemis. Artemis was known as a major supporter of chastity, being a virgin goddess. [Note: Ibid., p. 587.]

". . . vested interests were disguised as local patriotism-in this case also under the cloak of religious zeal." [Note: Neil, p. 207.]

"In an honor-shame culture such as this one, public humiliation, or being seen as merely mercenary individuals, could ruin reputations and so one’s livelihood." [Note: Witherington, p. 592.]

"The guilds, and the problem they presented to the non-conforming Christian, haunt the background of the New Testament. They were societies not trade unions, primarily social, and multitudinous in ancient society. Records exist of guilds of bankers, doctors, architects, producers of woollen and linen goods, dyers, workers in metal, stone or clay, builders, carpenters, pastry cooks, barbers, embalmers and transport workers." [Note: Blaiklock, p. 158.]

The only other protest by Gentiles against the gospel that Luke recorded in Acts also resulted from financial loss (cf. Acts 16:16-24). The profit motive still opposes the spread of the gospel.

". . . you cannot step on a man’s pocketbook without hearing him say, ’Ouch!’" [Note: McGee, 4:600.]

Verses 28-29

The temple of Artemis was a source of civic pride to the Ephesians. In view of Ephesus’ commercial decline, it is easy to see how the silversmiths’ protest could have so quickly aroused popular opposition to the Christian missionaries. This was a case of mob violence; many of the protesters did not understand what the issue was. A major boulevard, the Arcadian Way, ran from the harbor to the theater, and it was probably this artery that the ringleaders used to collect citizens on their march to the theater.

Archaeologists have restored part of the Arcadian Way and the theater at Ephesus. This theater lay on the side of Mt. Pion in the town and seated 25,000 people in 66 rows. Its semi-circular design was typical of Roman outdoor theaters.

Gaius was a common Greek name. This Gaius seems to have been different from the men with the same name mentioned in Acts 20:4, Romans 16:23, and 1 Corinthians 1:14, since this one was a Macedonian. Some Greek manuscripts, however, indicate that it was only Aristarchus who was a Macedonian, in which case this Gaius may have been the resident of Derbe mentioned in Acts 20:4. Aristarchus does appear later in Acts (cf. Acts 20:4; Acts 27:2). He came from Thessalonica.

Verse 30

Evidently the silversmiths did not lay hands on Paul as they did on Gaius and Aristarchus. He seems to have been elsewhere in Ephesus when this demonstration broke out. Paul seems to have desired to use this occasion to preach the gospel to the assembled throng in the theater. However the other Christians sensed his danger and would not allow him to make himself a target of their violence.

Verse 31

The Asiarchs were educated citizens who were the political leaders of the cities of this Roman province.

They were "men of substance and influence in the cities of the province of Asia who were or had been presidents of the provincial council, which dealt principally with organizing the games and with ceremonial matters connected with Emperor-worship. During his term of office, the Asiarch was styled ’high-priest’ of the imperial cult." [Note: Neil, p. 208. See Longenecker, pp. 503-4; and Lily Ross Taylor, "The Asiarchs," in Foakes-Jackson and Lake, 5:252-62, for fuller descriptions of them.]

Some of these men were friends of Paul. This shows again that the attitude of many leaders was friendly to Christianity at this time. Their attitude doubtless reflected what was appropriate in the empire. The Asiarchs too wanted to prevent Paul from being injured.

"A sect whose leader had Asiarchs for friends cannot be dangerous to the state." [Note: Haenchen, p. 578.]

Notice that Paul had made friends with leading men of the city; he did not keep a low profile as he evangelized.

Verse 32

We should probably understand Luke’s reference to the confusion of the crowd as pertaining to the exact grievance of the silversmiths. Most of the people did not understand the reason for the gathering; they just went along for the excitement. The Greek word translated "assembly" (cf. Acts 19:39; Acts 19:41) is ekklesia, the normal translation of which is "church." This use illustrates the basic meaning of the word, which is an assembly of people called out of the mass for a special purpose.

Verses 33-34

The crowd’s reaction to Alexander showed distinct hostility toward him. Apparently Alexander was a leading unbelieving Jew who wanted the crowd to understand that even though Paul was a Jew the local Jewish community did not approve of him (cf. Acts 18:12-17). However, like Gallio in Corinth, this crowd did not distinguish between Christianity and Judaism. Both faiths stood against idolatry. Perhaps the crowd assumed Alexander wanted to defend Paul who was also a Jew. This Alexander may be the one Paul warned Timothy about (1 Timothy 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 4:14), but he may have been someone different since Alexander was a common name among both Jews and Gentiles. [Note: See Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 4:8:10.]

Verses 35-36

The "townclerk" (Gr. ho grammateus) was the equivalent of a modern mayor, the locally elected executive official most responsible for what took place in the city. Consequently he was eager to end this demonstration. He made four points in his address to the assembly. First, there was no danger whatsoever that people would conclude that Artemis was a goddess made with hands since everyone knew the image of her in her famous temple had fallen from heaven. "Do nothing rash" is still good advice. The townclerk was not a Christian, but he was a wise and diplomatic man.

The title "temple keeper" was an honor that Rome bestowed on selected cities that possessed temples of the imperial cult. [Note: Neil, p. 208.] Ephesus was one of these.

Verse 37

Second, Gaius and Aristarchus had done nothing worthy of punishment. They had neither physically damaged anything nor had they spoken against Artemis. Robbing temples and blaspheming other gods were common accusations that Gentiles made against Jews, including Jewish Christians, in antiquity (cf. Romans 2:22). [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 4:8:10.]

Verses 38-39

Third, if Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths had a complaint against the Christians they should handle it in the legally authorized way and take their adversaries to court. The court that would have dealt with this kind of complaint met three times a month in Ephesus. [Note: Bruce, Commentary on . . ., p. 402.] Proconsuls were provincial governors.

Verses 40-41

Fourth, the mayor reminded the citizens that if the provincial authorities concluded that there was no good reason for their rioting they could impose penalties on the city. Furthermore this riot was unjustified. This line of argument proved effective and the crowd disbursed.

This may have been the time Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives for Paul (Romans 16:4). This event may have been in Paul’s mind when he wrote of fighting wild beasts at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32) and of despairing of life as he faced a deadly foe (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

One wonders if the cooling of the Ephesian Christians’ love for Jesus Christ that took place in later years connects to the zeal for Artemis that characterized this community (cf. Revelation 2:1-7).

"The story [of the riot in Ephesus, Acts 19:23-41] is in effect a statement that Christians do not constitute a danger to the state and a plea that they be treated with toleration in a pluralistic society; only when properly defined criminal charges can he preferred against them should they be summoned before the courts." [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p. 314.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 19". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/acts-19.html. 2012.
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