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Bible Commentaries
Acts 19

Barclay's Daily Study BibleDaily Study Bible

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Verses 1-41

Chapter 19

IN EPHESUS ( Acts 19:1-7 )

Acts 19:1-41 is mainly concerned with Paul's work in Ephesus. He stayed longer there than anywhere else, almost three years.

(i) Ephesus ( G2181) was the market of Asia Minor. In those days trade followed the river valleys. Ephesus stood at the mouth of the Cayster and therefore commanded the richest hinterland in Asia Minor. Revelation 18:12-13 gives a description of the trade of Ephesus. She was known as "The Treasure House of Asia" and someone has called her, "The Vanity Fair of Asia Minor."

(ii) She was an Assize Town. That is to say, at specified times the Roman governor came there and great cases of justice were tried. She knew the pomp and pageantry of Roman power and Roman justice.

(iii) She was the seat of the Pan-Ionian Games which the whole country came to see. To be president of these games and to be responsible for their organization was a greatly coveted honour. The men who held this high office were called Asiarchs and are referred to in Acts 19:31.

(iv) She was the home of criminals. The Temple of Diana possessed the right of asylum. That is to say, any criminal reaching the area round the temple was safe. Inevitably, therefore, Ephesus had become the home of the criminals of the ancient world.

(v) She was a centre of pagan superstition. She was famous for charms and spells called "Ephesian Letters." They were guaranteed to bring safety on a journey, to bring children to the childless, to bring success in love or business enterprise. From all over the world people came to buy these magic parchments which they wore as amulets.

(vi) The greatest glory of Ephesus was the Temple of Artemis. Artemis and Diana were one and the same, Artemis ( G735) being the Greek name, Diana the Latin. This Temple was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was 425 feet long by 220 feet wide by 60 feet high. There were 127 pillars, each the gift of a king. They were all of glittering Parian marble and 36 were marvellously 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, signifying 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.

INCOMPLETE CHRISTIANITY ( Acts 19:1-7 continued)

19:1-7 It happened that when Apollos was in Corinth Paul went through the upper districts and came to Ephesus and found certain disciples there. He said to them, "When you believed, did you receive the Holy Spirit?" They said to him, "No, we never even heard that the Holy Spirit exists." He said to them, "With what. then, were yon baptized" They said, "With the baptism of John." Paul said. "It was the baptism of repentance that John administered and he told the people that it was on him who was to come after him that they must believe and this is Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands on them the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. In all there were about twelve of these men.

In Ephesus Paul met some men who were incomplete Christians. They had received the baptism of John but they did not even know of the Holy Spirit in the Christian sense of the term. What was the difference between the baptism of John and baptism in the name of Jesus? The accounts of the preaching of John ( Matthew 3:7-12; Luke 3:3-11) reveal one radical difference between it and the preaching of Jesus. The preaching of John was a threat; the preaching of Jesus was good news, John's preaching was a stage on the way. He himself knew that he only pointed to one still to come ( Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16).

John's preaching was a necessary stage because there are two stages in the religious life. First, there is the stage in which we awaken to our own inadequacy and our deserving of condemnation at the hand of God. That stage is closely allied to an endeavour to do better that inevitably fails because we try in our own strength. Second, there is the stage when we come to see that through the grace of Jesus Christ our condemnation may be taken away. Closely allied with that stage is the time when we find that all our efforts to do better are strengthened by the work of the Holy Spirit, through whom we can do what we could never do ourselves.

These incomplete Christians knew the condemnation and the moral duty of being better; but the grace of Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit they did not know. Their religion was inevitably a thing of struggle and had not reached the stage of being a thing of peace. The incident shows us one great truth--that without the Holy Spirit there can be no such thing as complete Christianity. Even when we see the error of our ways and repent and determine to change them we can never make the change without the help which the Spirit alone can give.

THE WORKS OF GOD ( Acts 19:8-12 )

19:8-12 He came into the synagogue and for three months he spoke with boldness, debating and persuading people about the things connected with the kingdom of God. When some made themselves difficult and would not believe, and when they spoke ill of The Way before the congregation he left them and withdrew the disciples from them and debated daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all who lived in Asia, Jews and Greek alike, heard the word of God; and God kept on doing extraordinary works of power through Paul's hands, so that sweat-bands and aprons which had touched his body were taken away to the sick and their diseases left them and the evil spirits departed.

When work in the synagogue became impossible because of the embittered opposition, Paul changed his quarters to the hall of a philosopher called Tyrannus. One Greek manuscript adds a touch which sounds like the additional detail an eye-witness might bring. It says that Paul taught in that hall from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Almost certainly that is when Paul would teach. Until 11 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Tyrannus would need the hall himself. In the Ionian cities all work stopped at 11 a.m. and did not begin again until the late afternoon because of the heat. We are told that there would actually be more people sound asleep in Ephesus at 1 p.m. than at 1 a.m. What Paul must have done was to work all morning and all evening at his trade and teach in the midday hours. It shows us two things--the eagerness of Paul to teach and the eagerness of the Christians to learn. The only time they had was when others rested in the heat of the day and they seized that time. It may well shame many of us for our talk of inconvenient times.

Throughout this time wonderful deeds were being done. The sweat-band was what a workman wore round his head to absorb the sweat as he worked. The apron was the girdle with which a workman or servant girded himself. It is very significant that the narrative does not say that Paul did these extraordinary deeds; it says that God did them through Paul's hands. God, said someone, is everywhere looking for hands to use. We may not be able to work miracles with our hands but without doubt we can give them to God so that he may work through them.


19:13-20 Some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists tried naming the name of Jesus over those who had evil spirits. They said, "I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches." There were seven sons of a certain Scaeva, a Jewish chief priest. who did this. The evil spirit answered them. "Jesus I know and Paul I understand, but who are you?" And the man, in whom the evil spirit was, leaped on them and mastered them all and overpowered them so that they fled naked and battered from that house. This became known to all the Jews and Greeks who lived in Ephesus; and awe fell upon all of them; and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. Many of those who had believed came and confessed their faith and revealed the spells which they had used. Many of those who had practised magic brought then books and burned them in the presence of all. They calculated the value of them and found that it amounted to about L2,500. So the word of the Lord increased mightily and prevailed.

This is a vivid bit of local colour from the Ephesian scene. In those days everyone believed that illness and disease, and especially mental illness, were due to evil spirits who settled in a man. Exorcism was a regular trade. If the exorcist knew the name of a more powerful spirit than that which had taken up residence in the afflicted person, by speaking that name he could overpower the evil spirit and make him depart. There is no reason to disbelieve that these things happened. The human mind is a strange thing and even misguided and superstitious faith has its results in the mercy of God.

When some charlatans tried to use the name of Jesus the most alarming things happened. The result was that many of the quacks, and also many of those who were sincere, saw the error of their ways. Nothing can more definitely show the reality of the change than that in superstition-ridden Ephesus they were willing to burn the books and the charms which were so profitable to them. They are an example to us. They made the cleanest of clean cuts, even though it meant abandoning the things that were their livelihood. It is all too true that many of us hate our sins but either we cannot leave them at all or we do so with a lingering and backward look. There are times when only the clean and final break will suffice.

THE PURPOSE OF PAUL ( Acts 19:21-22 )

19:21-22 When everything was completed, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and go to Jerusalem. He said, "After I have been there I must see Rome too." He sent Timothy and Erastus, two of his helpers, into Macedonia and he himself extended his stay in Asia.

It is only by the merest hint that Luke gives us an indication here of something which is filled out in Paul's letters. He tells us that Paul purposed to go to Jerusalem. The church in Jerusalem was poor; and Paul aimed to take a collection from all his Gentile churches as a contribution to it. We find references to this collection in 1 Corinthians 16:1 ff.; 2 Corinthians 9:1 ff.; Romans 15:25-26. Paul pressed on with this scheme for two reasons. First, he wished in the most practical way to emphasize the unity of the Church. He wished to demonstrate that they belonged to the body of Christ and that when one part of the body suffered all must help. In other words, he wished to take them away from a merely congregational outlook and to give them a vision of the one universal Church of which they were part. Second, he wished to teach them practical Christian charity. Doubtless when they heard of the privations of Jerusalem they felt sorry. He wished to teach them that sympathy must be translated into action. These two lessons are as valid today as ever they were.

RIOT IN EPHESUS ( Acts 19:23-41 )

19:23-41 It happened that at this time there was a great disturbance about The Way. A certain man called Demetrius, who was a silversmith and who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought very considerable profit to the craftsmen. He called them together, with the workers who were engaged in like crafts, and said, "Men, you know that our prosperity depends on this craft; and you see and hear how not only in Ephesus but throughout nearly the whole of Asia this fellow Paul has won over and led away a great number of people telling them that gods made with hands are not gods at all. There is risk for us that not only our business may come into disrepute but also that the shrine of the great goddess Artemis may come to be held of no importance, and that she whom the whole of Asia and the civilized world worships should be robbed of her greatness." When they heard this they were filled with anger and they kept shouting, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians." So the whole city was filled with confusion. By common consent they rushed to the theatre; and they seized Gaius and Aristarchus who were fellow-travellers of Paul's. Paul wished to go in to the people but the disciples would not let him. Some of the Asiarchs, who were friendly to him. sent to him and urged him not to venture into the theatre. Some kept shouting one thing and some another. The meeting was confused and the majority had no idea why it had met. At the proposal of the Jews, some of the crowd put forward Alexander. Alexander made a gesture with his hand and wished to make a defence to the people. When they realized that he was a Jew one shout arose from them all as for about two hours they kept crying, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians." But the town secretary quietened the crowd. He said, "Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of Ephesus is the temple-guardian of the great Artemis and of the image which fell from heaven? Since these things are beyond dispute we must remain quiet and do nothing reckless. You have brought in these men who are neither temple-robbers nor blasphemers of our goddess. If Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, sessions are held and there are proconsuls. Let them bring a case against each other. If you are anxious for further steps to be taken, the matter can be settled in a properly constituted assembly. For we are running the risk of being charged with a riot for this day's events since there is no cause which we could advance as a reason for this uproar." And with these words he dismissed the assembly.

This thrilling story sheds a great deal of light on the characters in it. First, there are Demetrius and the silversmiths. Their trouble was that their pockets were being touched. True, they declared that they were jealous for the honour of Artemis; but they were more worried about their incomes. When pilgrims came to Ephesus, they liked to take souvenirs home, such as the little model shrines which the silversmiths made. Christianity was making such strides that their trade was threatened.

Second, there is the man whom the King James and Revised Standard Versions call the "town clerk". He was more than that. He kept the public records, he introduced business in the assembly; correspondence to Ephesus was addressed to him. He was worried at the possibility of a riot. Rome was kindly but the one thing she would not stand was civil disorder. If there were riots in any town Rome would know the reason why and the magistrates responsible might lose their positions. He saved Paul and his companions but he saved them because he was saving his own skin.

Third, there is Paul. Paul wished to face that mob but they would not let him. Paul was a man without fear. For the silversmiths and the town clerk it was safety first; for Paul it was always safety last.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 19". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dsb/acts-19.html. 1956-1959.
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