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Bible Commentaries
Acts 19

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-41

Paul returned to Ephesus, as he had promised. Of course there was an assembly there already, as chapter 18:27 intimates; but he found certain disciples who, at his questioning, tell him they had not even heard that the Holy Spirit had come. They had been baptized, but only with John's baptism. Therefore they were Jewish, of course. No doubt they had believed John's message that announced the Messiah as coming after him, but they had not been baptized to the name of the Lord Jesus. This shows clearly that Christian baptism is totally distinct from that of John. We have seen in Acts 2:36-38 that Jews were required to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ before they would receive the Holy Spirit.

Here now are Jews outside their own land. The Old Testament had never intimated that Jews would be blessed anywhere but in the land of promise. Could these then be publicly received as Christians by the gift of the Spirit? God gives the answer plainly when Paul baptizes them and lays his hands on them as an indication of fellowship. This is the fourth occasion of a public bestowing of the Spirit of God with such signs as speaking with tongues. Each of these occasions involves a different class of people; first Jews at Jerusalem (Ch.2); secondly Samaritans (Ch.8); thirdly Gentiles (Ch.10); and in this case Jews outside their own land.

There were about twelve men here: the number of women is not mentioned, for it is the public side of things emphasized. This reminds us that whenever we are told of the public giving of the Spirit, this was always to a number of people, never to an individual. Also, there was always an apostle present, for the work must be maintained in unity with other assemblies: there must be no independency of assemblies. Certainly these would then be found in the fellowship of the assembly at Ephesus, though at this time the Jewish disciples were apparently also continuing to attend the synagogue (v.9).

For three months Paul continued to speak in the synagogue, so long as there was any willingness on the part of the Jews to listen to his message. This comes to an end, however, when a number became hardened in opposition. Then it became necessary for the disciples to be separated from the synagogue. Paul himself, however, was evidently welcomed to a school operated by a man named Tyrannus, where he continued disputing daily with others who attended there. For two years this was maintained, the school evidently being so well known as to attract the attention of all the people, particularly when a message so marvellous was being declared. From this center the Word went out to all Asia, at that time a Roman province in present day Turkey.

At this time in Ephesus God backed His Word by working special miracles through Paul, with napkins and aprons which had touched him being brought to the sick, who were healed only by this contact, some also having evil spirits dismissed from them. This is so unusual as to be the only case of this kind recorded in scripture, though many were healed before this in only touching the hem of the garment of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 14:36). Certain would-be healers have attempted to imitate this, but this is not faith.

Of course this could not but attract attention, and we are told of itinerant Jewish exorcists, men evidently claiming the ability to expel evil spirits, who recognized greater power than their own in the name of Jesus. Seven sons of one man attempted then to merely imitate Paul, adjuring evil spirits "by Jesus whom Paul preaches." This brings opposite results from what they expected. The evil spirit acknowledges Jesus and Paul, but despises the exorcists, causing the possessed man to assault them severely, tearing off their clothes and injuring them. Let no-one dare to use the name of Jesus in this way without having a true knowledge of Him.

These things were soon made known to both Jews and Greeks who lived at Ephesus, awakening a serious fear of God in recognizing the holiness of the name of the Lord Jesus. Believers were made to realize that faith in Christ was no light matter. Ephesus was a renowned center of magic arts, this no doubt having attracted the sons of Sceva. But believers now confess their unholy association with these things, with many bringing their books and publicly burning them. Their cost had been fifty thousand pieces of silver, but they rightly suffered the loss of this rather than selling the books to others. Such was the precious power of the Word of God.

The Word having achieved such results, Paul purposed in his spirit (not by the Spirit of God) to go to Jerusalem after seeing Macedonia and Achaia. After that he desired to visit Rome also. (This did take place, but not in the way he expected.) Yet he delayed his going to Macedonia and Achaia, evidently because he feared what he might find at Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:15-23). He did however send Timothy and Erastus before him (1 Corinthians 4:17), probably hoping that their ministry would help to correct wrong practices there before he himself came.

However, Satan could not stand by and see one of his great strongholds attacked and weakened by the power of the Spirit of God. He succeeds in working upon the greed of Demetrius, a silversmith, to suggest to him that Paul's doctrine was robbing him of customers for his idolatrous silver shrines. Calling together other such silversmiths, he impresses them with the need of protecting their financial interests. This is his first consideration, though he adds that Paul's teaching was also endangering the magnificence of their great goddess Diana. He knew well that this latter accusation would likely have more weight with the people. His fellow-tradesmen recognized this too, and being angry at the prospect of losing any trade, began an uproar by crying out in the streets, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians."

Men's protest demonstrations have often since that time occasioned the same senseless confusion. Some were able to catch two of Paul's traveling companions, rushing with many others into the city theatre, the place teeming with a milling, noisy crowd. Such a crowd being gathered together, Paul saw this as an opportunity to speak to them, and intended to go in. The disciples, however, wisely dissuaded him from this. In fact, he was further urged not to go in by certain "Asiarchs" who were his friends. These were elected officials, who, at their own expense, furnished festivals in honor of the gods. The fact of their being Paul's friends indicates clearly that, though Paul faithfully declared that gods made by hands are not gods at all, yet he was not offensive in contesting against such idolatry.

It is good to see that God took care of the matter without the help of Paul. The Jews, however, sought to take advantage of the situation by advancing one of their number, Alexander, to take the platform. Paul later wrote of him to Timothy, "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil" (2 Timothy 4:14). His intention to antagonize the people against Paul was defeated when the people realized he was a Jew, and for two hours the senseless uproar continued.

After two hours of riotous confusion, the town clerk of Ephesus was eventually able to gain the attention of the people and to quieten them. At least he was a reasonable man, and appealed to the fact that everyone knew that Ephesus worshiped Diana and the image that (they claimed) fell down from Jupiter. The image was manifestly a man-made thing, symbolizing the generative and nutritive powers of nature, and for this reason having many breasts. Its base was a block covered with mystical inscriptions and animals. But idolatrous men will accept any kind of superstitious deception.

He calls for calmness and refraining from any rash action, telling them that the men they had caught (Gaius and Aristarchus) were neither temple plunderers nor blasphemers of their goddess. He knew that these men were not agitators, but that Demetrius was causing the agitation. He tells them therefore that if Demetrius and the other craftsmen want to lay a civil charge against anyone, the courts were fully available, and attorneys also. If there were other matters (political for instance), these would require a duly arranged assembly in subjection to proper government. For, as he says, the Roman authorities would likely closely question the reason for such an uproar, and they could give them no satisfactory answer. It was certainly the Lord's mercy that the matter ended in this way.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Acts 19". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/acts-19.html. 1897-1910.
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