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Bible Commentaries
Acts 19

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1. Paul’s Return to Ephesus; or, the Re-Baptism of some Disciples of John (Acts 19:1-7).


2. A Three Years’ Ministry in Ephesus; or, a Great Door opened for the Gospel (Acts 19:8-12).


3. An Incident in Ephesus; or, the Story of Scæva’s Sons (Acts 19:13-20).


4. Paul’s Last Days in Ephesus; or, Contemplating New Plans (Acts 19:21-22).


5. A Popular Tumult in Ephesus; or, the Temple of Diana endangered (Acts 19:23-41).

Verses 1-7


Acts 19:1. While Apollos was at Corinth.—A note of time for the incidents narrated in the present chapter. The upper coasts, or the upper country.—The district mentioned above (Acts 18:23) as the region of Galatia and Phrygia, and commonly regarded as the territory of Northern Galatia (see on Acts 16:6), though Prof. Ramsay explains the term “upper coasts,” or “higher districts,” as the elevated mountain country of Phrygia which separates the Sangarios from the salt lake Anava, both of which were situated in Low Phrygia, and understands Luke to intimate that instead of pursuing the ordinary caravan route to Ephesus, which “passed along the coast of Lake Anava as it descends to Laodicea,” Paul “traversed the higher districts—i.e., preferred the shorter hill road practicable for foot passengers, but not for wheeled traffic, by way of Seiblia” (The Church in the Roman Empire, p. 94). Came to Ephesus, and finding, should, according to the best authorities, be read came to Ephesus, and found. One MS. (Codex D) begins the verse thus: “But Paul, desirous according to his own plan to proceed to Jerusalem, the Spirit told him to turn aside into Asia.” (See “Critical Remarks” on Acts 18:19.) Certain disciples.—Baur detects a contradiction, and therefore a sign of untruthfulness, in these men being called disciples when they had not been baptised.

Acts 19:2. Whether there be any Holy Ghost.—Better, whether a Holy Spirit is; probably (as in John 7:39) whether a Holy Spirit is given at baptism or on profession of faith.

Acts 19:4. Omit verily and Christ. The verse is not to be read as if Paul intended to say that John baptised in order that the people should believe (Meyer), but his meaning is that while John baptised he spoke to the people that they should believe.

Acts 19:7. Twelve men.—The truthfulness of this story is impeached on three grounds:

(1) the unlikelihood of Paul’s meeting accidentally with these, when Aquila could have told him about them before; and
(2) the improbability that none of these twelve had ever heard of the Messiahship of Jesus and of the baptism of the Holy Ghost from some one of their own kind who had been converted (Wendt); and
(3) the difficulty of seeing why they should have required to be baptised and Apollos not (Holtzmann). But, perhaps
(1) Paul knew of their existence before he met them;
(2) they may never have met with Apollos or Aquila; and
(3) Apollos may have been baptised.


Acts 19:1-7. Paul’s return to Ephesus; or, the Re-Baptism of some of John’s Disciples

I. The Apostle’s meeting with these disciples.—

1. When he encountered them. On returning to Ephesus, which he reached

(1) by way of the upper coasts (or country), meaning probably the mountainous regions (as distinguished from the lower elevations (see “Critical Remarks”) of Phrygia or of Asia as distinguished from the low ground on which Ephesus was situated, and

(2) after Apollos had departed and was established in Corinth, where he laboured in the gospel with such acceptance as to draw around himself a considerable body of adherents who recognised him as their spiritual teacher (1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 3:4-6).

2. Who they were. Certain disciples—i.e., believers in the Christian faith, twelve in number, “living,” probably, “together as a kind of ascetic community, attending the meetings of the Church, yet not sharing the fulness of its life” (Plumptre)—who, like Apollos (Acts 18:25), had some knowledge of the way of the Lord as proclaimed by the Baptist, and had even been baptised by the forerunner or one of his disciples—it is not certain that Apollos was baptised (but see “Critical Remarks,” Acts 19:7)—but were totally unacquainted with the later facts of Christ’s history, and with the Spirit baptism of Pentecost.

3. His surprise at meeting them. The credibility of the narrative is half suspected by Holtzmann on the ground that Paul should not have felt any surprise at falling in with the twelve followers of the Baptist, since Aquila must have prepared him for such a meeting by relating his experience with Apollos; while Wendt is half inclined to doubt whether the disciples spoken of could have been so ignorant as they are represented, if they were really converted; and Ramsay cannot understand how these men could have “escaped the knowledge of Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos, and yet attracted Paul’s attention before he went to the synagogue.” But

(1) Paul may have met these disciples on his first arrival in the city and before he had resumed acquaintance with his old friends Aquila and Priscilla.
(2) The disciples in question may easily enough have accepted the Baptist’s account of Christ and submitted to baptism without having subsequently learnt about the Resurrection and Ascension, with the Pentecostal effusion of the Holy Ghost. And
(3) it is gratuitous to assume that Paul did not learn of the existence of John’s followers from Aquila and Priscilla, while his knowledge of the state of imperfectly developed Christianity in which Apollos was, may have been the very circumstance which led him to suspect that the disciples now spoken of were in a similar condition.

II. The Apostle’s conversation with these disciples.—

1. The first question addressed to them by Paul. “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” or “Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?”

(1) The import of this question was, not whether they were acquainted with the personality of the Holy Spirit, or whether they had received the Holy Spirit at any period subsequent to their believing, but whether on the occasion of their first profession of faith (by baptism) they had been the subjects of any supernatural endowment with spiritual gifts.
(2) The object of the question was to ascertain whether they had been baptised after a full and distinct profession of faith in the crucified and risen Christ.
(3) The sufficiency of the question arose from this, that had they been baptised with true Christian baptism, then undoubtedly they must have received some spiritual gift (compareActs 10:44-45; Acts 10:44-45; Romans 1:11), whereas if they had not received any such gift, then they could not have been baptised with Christian baptism, and must still be imperfectly instructed Christians.

2. The answer returned by them to Paul. “We have not so much as heard” (or, we did not so much as hear) “whether there be any Holy Ghost” (or, whether the Holy Ghost was given). Again

(1) the sense of this reply can hardly have been that they had never heard of the existence of a Holy Spirit (Hackett), since, as Bengel remarks, they could scarcely have been followers either of Moses or of the Baptist without attaining to such knowledge (Exodus 31:3; Exodus 35:31; Numbers 27:18; Matthew 3:11); but

(2) must have been that when received into the faith either nothing had been said about the Holy Spirit at all (Alford), or nothing had been spoken about a dispensation of the Spirit being connected with the act of reception into the Church by faith (Lechler).
3. The second question addressed to them by Paul. “Unto” or into “what then were ye baptised?” What was the object of your faith and the subject of your confession when ye were baptised? The questions presuppose that some declaration was made either by them of their faith, or by the administrant of the baptismal rite of the significance of the ordinance, perhaps by both.

4. The second answer returned by them. “They said, Unto (or into) John’s baptism.” Not unto John as the Messiah, or unto John as their spiritual leaders which would certainly have been “opposed to the humility and the entire character of the Baptist” (Lechler); but into that repentance and faith in the coming Messiah which John preached, and to the exercise of which he took those bound who submitted to the rite of baptism.

5. The further instruction supplied them by Paul. This consisted in

(1) an exposition of the true purport of John’s baptism, which was designed to point his hearers to a Messiah who was to come and commit them to faith in that Messiah when he did come, and
(2) an intimation that that Messiah had come in the person of Jesus, on whom therefore it was now their duty to believe.
6. The response given by them to this instruction. When they heard it they did not dispute the correctness of the apostle’s teaching, but believed. This, though not stated, must be assumed.

III. The Apostle’s re-baptism of these disciples.—

1. The fact of it. The text cannot be read in this way—“When they (John’s disciples) heard (what their Master, John, said) they were baptised (by John) in the name of the Lord Jesus,” as if it were a continuation of Paul’s remarks (Beza and others),—even to wrest it from the Anabaptists. That the baptism was performed by Paul is as clear as it is true that John never baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus.

2. The manner of it. Most likely, as was Paul’s usual practice (1 Corinthians 1:14), by the hands of another than himself, though this is not absolutely certain.

3. The accompaniment of it. The laying on of hands upon the baptised disciples. This was performed by the apostle, and was instantly followed by the descent upon them of the Holy Ghost so that they forthwith “spake with tongues and prophesied” (compare Acts 10:44-46).

4. The inference from it. Not that re-baptism is always necessary when conversion intervenes after the first. It is not demonstrable that those who had been baptised by John’s baptism were always re-baptised on becoming Christian disciples. Doubtless among the thousands baptised at Pentecost were many who had been baptised by John; but no evidence appears that the apostles who had only received John’s baptism were re-baptised. Possibly in their case the baptism with fire at Pentecost rendered the repetition of the water rite unnecessary. The re-baptism of Apollos is also problematical.


1. That genuine faith may coexist with very imperfect knowledge of Christian truth.
2. That sincere faith will always be ready to receive further enlightenment.
3. That a properly instructed faith always looks towards and rests on the name of the Lord Jesus.
4. That true faith is always followed by the reception of the Holy Spirit.
5. That Christian baptism once received does not need to be repeated.


Acts 19:2. On receiving the Holy Ghost.

I. The necessity of receiving the Holy Ghost.—That one who has believed in Jesus must also receive the Holy Ghost was: I. The express declaration of prophecy. See the utterances on this subject of Isaiah, Joel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, John the Baptist.

2. The explicit promise of Christ Himself. As, for instance, to the woman of Samaria (John 4:14) and to the Jews in the temple (John 7:38-39); to the twelve at the supper table (John 14:16-17; John 15:26; John 16:7), and again to the eleven after His resurrection (Luke 24:49).

3. The unambiguous assertion of Christ’s apostles. Examine the language of Peter (Acts 2:38, Acts 5:32), of Paul (Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:13), and of John (1 John 3:24).

II. Marks by which the Holy Ghost’s presence in the heart may be known.—In the early apostolic age of the Church the descent of the Holy Ghost upon a believer revealed itself in certain miraculous endowments which were thereby communicated to him, such as the gift of tongues (Acts 19:6), the gift of prophecy, or of healing or of discerning spirits, or of interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:9-10). Now it is recognised by such signs as:

1. Inward illumination, the Holy Ghost being a spirit of truth (John 14:17), whose office it is to guide into all truth (John 16:13); compare 1 John 2:20.

2. Growing sanctity, the Holy Ghost being a spirit of purity, as His name implies, and bringing holiness into the heart as He imparts light to the understanding (Ephesians 5:9).

3. Habitual devotion, the Holy Ghost being essentially a spirit of grace and supplication (Zechariah 12:10).

III. Advantages that result from receiving the Holy Ghost.—The reception of the Holy Spirit by a believer constitutes

1. A true bond of union between the believer’s soul and Christ. The union of Christ to His people and of believers to Christ is not merely external, forensic, legal, but also internal, moral, and spiritual (1 John 4:13).

2. A seal of the believer as Christ’s purchased possession. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ, as it were, claims the believer as His own (Ephesians 1:13).

3. An earnest of the believer’s inheritance. The indwelling of the Holy Ghost is the foretaste of future glory (Ephesians 1:14).

Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? The influences of the Holy Spirit are extraordinary and ordinary. His ordinary influences are those which are exerted in conversion and after conversion. It is of the Spirit’s work in believers I shall now speak.

1. Have ye received the Holy Ghost as a teacher? Believers need instruction. They do not receive a new revelation. The author of the Book explains it to them. On what subjects? The house of the interpreter.
2. Have ye received the Holy Ghost as a guide? Believers need guidance as well as instruction. Practical religion. No Urim and Thummim. The Bible a guide-book. Ministers and Christian friends convey information about the route. The Holy Spirit is the guide. Mentor.
3. Have ye received the Holy Ghost as a sanctifier? Believers do not learn all at once the plagues of their own heart. They are led from one apartment to another of the chambers of imagery. They desire to be holy as the miser desires gold, or the scholar knowledge, or the statesman power. They use the means, but rely on the Holy Spirit.
4. Have ye received the Holy Ghost as a comforter? He is a comforter because He administers consolation to believers in seasons of affliction. But more. He supplies to them strength adequate to every exigency. And more. He bestows on them true and lasting happiness.
5. Have ye received the Holy Ghost as an intercessor? Distinguish between the intercession of the Spirit and that of Christ.—G. Brooks.

Acts 19:3. On the Import of Baptism.—“Into what were ye baptised?” Into

I. Repentance of sin.
II. Faith in Jesus Christ

III. Resolution after new obedience.
IV. Submission to the leading of the Holy Ghost.

Acts 19:3; Acts 19:5. The two Masters, John and Christ.

I. Human masters may transmit their words; Christ only can impart His Spirit.
II. Human masters may teach the elements; Christ only can conduct to the goal.
III. Human masters may establish schools; Christ only can found a Church.—Gerok.

Acts 19:6. The Tongues which the Holy Ghost gives.

I. The tongue of the wise.—The tongue of truth, the tongue of knowledge (Proverbs 15:2; Malachi 2:7; Ephesians 4:25).

II. The tongue of the holy.—The tongue of righteousness, the tongue of purity (Psalms 35:28; Psalms 39:1; 2 Peter 1:21).

III. The tongue of the loving.—The tongue of kindness, the tongue of soft speech (Proverbs 31:26; Ephesians 4:15).

IV. The tongue of the learned.—The tongue of eloquence, the tongue of persuasive speech (Isaiah 1:4; Psalms 45:1).

V. The tongue of the earnest.—The tongue of fire, the tongue of zealous utterance (Isaiah 6:7; Acts 2:3).

Verses 8-12


Acts 19:9. Believed not might also be rendered mere disobedient. The way.—See on Acts 9:2. Tyrannus.—Otherwise unknown. Hardly the possessor of a private synagogue (Meyer); may have been a professor of philosophy or rhetoric, who rented his academy to Paul (Zimmermann), or, if converted, gave the use of it free. From the circumstance that the name occurs in the Columbarium of the household of Livia on the Appian Way, and as belonging to one who is described as a medicus, Plumptre thinks Tyrannus may have been a physician whom Luke knew, if not also a Jew who, like Aquila and Priscilla, had been expelled from Rome by Claudius’s decree, and who also shared their faith. It is uncertain whether Tyrannus may not have been dead, or at least removed from Ephesus (Overbeck), though his name still adhered to the building in which he had taught.

Acts 19:10. All they who dwelt in Asia heard the word.—This might well be, considering that Ephesus constituted the commercial centre for the whole of Asia Minor.

Acts 19:11. Special miracles.—Not to be met with every day (compare Acts 28:2), uncommon, extraordinary: in which Paul acted as an instrument in God’s hand. On the ground that these miracles resembled those performed by Peter’s shadow (Acts 5:15), their historical credibility has been assailed (Baur, Zeller, Holtzmann). But if Peter’s shadow worked a miracle, why should not Paul’s aprons have done the same? And if the Holy Spirit found occasion to use such uncommon methods with Peter, why not also with Paul? The special circumstances of Paul in a superstitious city, whose population believed in magic, called for special exhibitions of Divine power. (Compare on Acts 5:15.)

Acts 19:12. Handkerchiefs.—Lit., sweat-cloths (σουδάρια, a translation of the Latin sudaria)—i.e., cloths for wiping the sweat from the face; made of white linen or cotton, and used alike by kings and common people. Aprons (σμικίνθια, also formed from the Latin semicincta) were such linen garments as artizans and servants were accustomed to wear at work.


A Three Years’ Ministry in Ephesus; or, a Great Door opened for the Gospel (1 Corinthians 16:8-9)

I. Three months in the synagogue of the Jews.—

1. Paul’s unchanging theme. “The things concerning the kingdom of God.” “This one thing I do” (Philippians 3:13), constituted Paul’s motto in preaching. “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” formed his unvarying text, whether in Corinth or Ephesus.

(1) He knew none loftier to set before the human intellect, or
(2) better suited to his hearers’ wants, or
(3) more worthy of the consecration of all his powers to proclaim. Besides
(4), it had been assigned him by his exalted Master, and
(5) possessed for him exhaustless fulness of meaning as well as of perennial interest. The preacher or evangelist, minister or missionary, who substitutes for this any branch of secular science has both mistaken his calling and thrown away his best weapon for combating the ills of life and saving the souls of men.
2. Paul’s customary manner.

(1) Reasoning and persuading, addressing himself to the intellects and hearts of his hearers (compareActs 18:4; Acts 18:4).

(2) And doing so not apologetically, which is apt to degenerate into apologisingly, but boldly, as one who knew that what he spoke was true and understood that he had a secret ally in the bosom of every man and woman who listened to him (2 Corinthians 4:2).

3. Paul’s usual experience. “Divers were hardened and believed not, but spake evil of that [or the] way” (compare Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13, Acts 18:6); which implies that some were subdued by the apostle’s preaching and led to believe. The same gospel that softens some hardens others. It is a savour either of life or of death to every man who hears.

II. Two years in the school of Tyrannus.—

1. The place here mentioned was the building or semicircle in which one Tyrannus, otherwise unknown, but probably a teacher of philosophy or rhetoric, or a physician (Plumptre)—perhaps one of Paul’s converts—was accustomed to instruct his pupils or cure his patients. Whether it was rented by the apostle and his friends, or freely opened to them by Tyrannus, as Justus’s house had been (Acts 18:7), cannot be decided.

2. The work carried on in this school was the old business that had occupied the apostle in the synagogue—viz., preaching, “disputing,” or reasoning. Nor was it only on the Sabbaths, but on all the weekdays, that the apostle so laboured.

3. The result of his efforts was that, in spite of the exertions of his enemies to hinder the progress of the gospel, “all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” If all who heard were not converted, many were; and these in turn would help to bear the truth into regions beyond.

III. Three years with the people of the city.—For this item of information we are indebted to Paul’s subsequent address to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:31). His occupation during this period was varied.

1. Preaching in the synagogue on Sabbaths for a space of three months, as above stated.

2. Teaching in the school of Tyrannus for two years, as just mentioned.

3. For nine months more, or for three years in all, visiting from house to house, and testifying both to Jews and Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (20, 21).

4. Working, or God working through him, miracles of a special kind—i.e., greater than ordinary—lit., not such as may be met with any day (compareActs 28:2; Acts 28:2), because of the special circumstances in which he was placed, in the midst of a heathen population that trusted in “charms, amulets, and mystic letters.” Amongst these miracles were healings of diseased and demonised persons, which were effected by the apostle’s handkerchiefs or aprons (lit., sweat-cloths, for wiping the sweat from the brow or face, or girdles, such as artizans and servants were accustomed to wear when about their work) being seized upon and brought into contact with the bodies of the afflicted. These miracles were obviously like those wrought by the hem of Christ’s garment (Luke 8:43-46), and by Peter’s shadow (Acts 5:15). (See “Critical Remarks”).

5. Writing an epistle to the Corinthians—probably a letter which is now lost (1 Corinthians 5:9), but certainly the first of the two letters which have been preserved.

6. Paying a brief visit to Corinth, of which Luke has handed down no account (see 2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:1).

7. Working at his trade. An additional item of information derived from the address at Miletus (Acts 20:34). Compare Acts 18:3.


1. That Christ’s people have in every age been evil spoken of.
2. That Christ’s ministers and people should not resist evil, but retire from before it.
3. That a faithfully preached gospel cannot be kept from spreading throughout the land.
4. That God can work miracles by any sort of means, and even, if need be, without means.
5. That Christ’s gospel is the most powerful remedial agency the world has ever seen.


Acts 19:9. Speaking Evil of the Way.—A sin—

I. Common.—Christianity is slandered by every class of its opponents.

II. Old.—Christianity has been exposed to such treatment ever since it began its victorious career.

III. Foolish.—To tell lies about Christianity is not the way to prove it untrue; to call it bad names does not show it to be bad; to insinuate against it will not eventually hinder it.

IV. Mean.—Most of those who advance charges against Christianity know these charges to be groundless.

V. Heinous.—To speak evil of the way is to speak evil of Him whose way it is; and God will not hold him guiltless who slanders His son. “For this is an heinous crime; yea, it is an iniquity to be punished by the judges” (Job 31:11).

Acts 19:9. Separation and Schism.

I. The separation of believers from unbelievers a duty.—

1. For a testimony against the unbelievers.
2. For the protection of believers, who might otherwise be both hindered in their work and tainted in their characters.

II. The separation of believers from each other a sin.—

1. Because they are commanded by Christ to remain together.
2. Because they need the countenance and help of each other.
3. Because by withdrawing into separate communities they mar the unity of the body and weaken each other’s hands.

Acts 19:10. Hearing the Word of God.

I. A glorious privilege.
II. A solemn duty

III. A high responsibility.

Two Years’ Work in Ephesus. “In these two successful years, when Paul taught in Ephesus, four Churches were collected in the province of Asia; besides the stem Church in Ephesus, the branch Churches of Colosse, planted by a helper of Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:22), the Colossian Epaphras Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12), Laodicea (Colossians 4:15-16), and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13). Three times four Churches of apostolic planting have we therefore seen blooming forth (unnumbered the Churches in the upper lands), twelve trees to the praise of the Lord sprouted from the root of Jesse (Romans 15:12), four in Lycaonia and Pisidia, four in Macedonia and Greece, and four in the province of Asia” (Besser, Bibelstunden, ii., 343, 344).

Acts 19:8-12. How Ministers should Preach.

I. Boldly.—Like men who fear God, know the truth and value of their message, and tremble not before their fellows.

II. Daily.—Embracing every opportunity, allowing no day to pass without telling the good news.

III. Intelligently.—Like leaders who understand their lesson.

IV. Persuasively.—Endeavouring not to coerce, but to win the judgment.

V. Persistently.—Not abandoning the sacred work after a short while, but continuing steadfast unto the end.

VI. Effectively.—So that their gospel may gain adherents, and spread.

Verses 13-20


Acts 19:13. Vagabond.—I.e., wandering about, or strolling Jews, exorcists, by profession (compare Matthew 12:8). “They appear to have regarded Paul as one of their own class, but of a higher order” (Hackett). For we read I.

Acts 19:14. Which did so should be doing this, as a habit—i.e., pretending to do so, because it cannot be assumed that they did so in reality. Christ’s language (Matthew 12:27) does not necessarily imply that the Jewish exorcists could successfully expel demons.

Acts 19:16. And overcame them.—The best MSS. read both instead of “them.” Naked need not signify more than “stripped of their outer garment.” Compare Mark 14:52; John 21:7.

Acts 19:17. And this was known should be rendered and this became known. Fear fell.—ἐπέπεσε φόβος, as in Luke 1:12.

Acts 19:18. Many that believed.—Rather, of those who had believed—i.e., not of those who were newly converted by this occurrence (Alford, Meyer, Holtzmann), but of those who had believed and were still believers (Lechler, Zöckler, Plumptre, Spence). Confessed and shewed would be better translated confessing and declaring. Their deeds.—Not their sins in general (Kuinoel), but their superstitious practices (Olshausen, Meyer, Holtzmann).

Acts 19:19. Those who used curious arts.—Lit., practised things over-wrought—i.e., superfluous, curious things—a mild expression for magical arts. Their books.—Those which contained their spells, charms, magical formulæ, and such like. The so-called “Ephesian letters,” γρἁμματὰ Ἑφέσια, were “small slips of parchment in silk bags, on which were written strange cabalistic words, of little or of lost meaning” (Plumptre).

Acts 19:20. With regard to the preceding verses Ramsay (St. Paul, etc., 273) says:—“In this Ephesian description one feels the character, not of weighed and reasoned history, but of popular fancy; and I cannot explain it on the level of most of the narrative.… The puzzle becomes still more difficult when we go on to Acts 19:23 and find ourselves again on the same level as the finest part of Acts. If there were many such contrasts in the book as between Acts 19:11-20; Acts 19:23-41, I should be a believer in the composite character of Acts. As it is, I confess the difficulty in this part; but the existence of some unsolved difficulties is not a bar to the view maintained in the present treatise”—the view, namely, of the historical credibility of Acts as a whole. The literary contrast may be perfectly explained by supposing that Luke compiled this chapter from papers written by separate authors.


An incident in Ephesus; or, the Story of Sceva’s Sons

I. Their social standing.—

1. Their father’s name. Scæva, or Skeva, Σκευᾶ, otherwise unknown. The number of obscure individuals whose names have found a place in Holy Writ is remarkable. Fathers of no celebrity have frequently had sons who have risen to celebrity or achieved notoriety.

2. Their father’s dignity. A Jewish chief priest. Whether an actual high priest who had been deposed, or an individual connected with the high priest’s family, or the head of one of the twenty-four courses that officiated in the temple, or a priest of the higher class, or head of the priests attached to the local synagogue, cannot be determined. “There is no warrant in the text for the view sometimes advocated that Scæva was merely an impostor who pretended to be a chief priest” (Ramsay).

II. Their professional character.—“Vagabond”—i.e., wandering “exorcists.” According to the best information, the whole Orient at this time was full of such worthies, exorcists of demons, interpreters of dreams, fortune-tellers, charmers, masters of the black art, jugglers; which renders the presence of such a detachment of this fraternity as Scæva’s sons formed perfectly credible.

III. Their ill-advised experiment.—

1. The nature of it was to attempt the expulsion of demons by calling over such as were possessed the name of the Lord Jesus, and saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.”

2. The motive which impelled them was undoubtedly a consciousness that Paul, by employing the name of Jesus, could do in reality what they with their incantations and mystic arts only pretended to do, but were well aware they did not and could not do (see “Critical Remarks”).

3. The number of those who took part in the particular attempt recorded is not clear. According to one view, while all the seven addicted themselves to this practice of imitating Paul, only two (after the best reading in Acts 19:16) were engaged in this special instance (Lechler, Alford). Another explanation runs that though all the seven employed themselves about the business, only two, who acted as ringleaders, were set upon by the demon. A third suggestion (but not so good) is that all were overcome by the demon on both sides—i.e. when they stood before and afterwards when they fled from him (Ewald).

IV. Their richly-merited punishment.—

1. From whom it proceeded. The man in whom the evil spirit was, and who now fiercely turned on the impostors. As, however, the man was more or less the involuntary instrument of the demon, the real author of their punishment was the “spirit” rather than the man.

2. To what extent it was carried. The man leaped upon them with wild fury, and, endowed like the Gadarene demoniac, with almost preternatural strength (Mark 5:3-4), overcame and prevailed against them both, stripping their (outer) garments from them and inflicting on them bodily wounds, so that, like the cowards they were (and all like them are), they were glad to flee from the house in a semi-nude and, perhaps, bleeding condition.

3. By what argument it was justified. This was contained in the saying of the man, “Jesus I know (or recognise) and Paul I know; but who are ye? “For the moment the consciousness of the man was taken possession of by the demon, who, as in the similar instance mentioned in the gospels (Matthew 8:29; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28), acknowledged the authority of Christ, and, as in the case of the pythoness at Philippi (Acts 16:17), recognised that of the apostle as Christ’s servant; but had no knowledge whatever of the sons of Scæva.

4. To what good results it led.

(1) To the impression of the public mind. Becoming known it caused a tremendous sensation in the city among both Jews and Greeks. “Fear fell upon them all” (compare Acts 5:11).

(2) To the exaltation of the name of the Lord Jesus. The occurrence showed that Christ’s name, which Paul preached in the school of Tyrannus, stood on a different platform from that of any of the names which had been employed by the exorcists (see Philippians 2:9).

(3) To the repentance of many in the Church. This humiliating admission that many of those who had professed to believe under Paul’s ministry in the city had been leading lives wholly inconsistent with the holy gospel, to the extent even of trafficking with these “vagabond exorcists,” indirectly proves the historic faithfulness of Luke; while the confessions of the converts themselves offered no small testimony to the impression created by the incident and to the sense of the unseen felt by the Ephesian Christians. Whether this confession was made to Paul in private or in public before the Church is not stated. The Romish Church accepting the former hypothesis grounds on this text the institution of the confessional.
(4) To the conversion of not a few of the exorcists themselves. The practisers of curious or magical arts, literally of things over-wrought, curious and recondite, were so struck with awe that they renounced their superstitious practices, collected their books which contained their magical incantations, charms, nostrums and such like, to the value of fifty thousand pieces of silver—nearly £2000 of English money—and burned them in the sight of all. “It was a strong proof of honest conviction on the part of the sorcerers, and a striking attestation of the triumph of Jesus Christ over the powers of darkness” (Conybeare and Howson).

(5) To the accelerated progress of the gospel. “The word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed,” as it did years before in Jerusalem on the death of Herod (Acts 12:24).


1. The danger of using Christ’s name unlawfully.
2. The sin of preaching Christ’s gospel without knowing Christ Himself.
3. The involuntary testimony Christ can extract from His foes.
4. The certainty that all who oppose either Christ or His gospel will ultimately suffer loss.
5. The impossibility of hindering the progress of the gospel.
6. The duty of believers acknowledging their sins.
7. The power of the truth to excite to repentance.
8. The great sacrifices to which Christianity sometimes calls its adherents.
9. The absolute exclusiveness of Christianity which admits of no compromise.


Acts 19:13. The Name of the Lord Jesus.

I. The most exalted in the universe.

1. In heaven higher than that of principalities and powers.
2. On earth more widely known than that of any other teacher or founder of religion.
3. In the Church, more trusted, loved and honoured by believers than any other.

II. The most powerful in the universe.—

1. The Healer of disease.
2. The conqueror of Satan.
3. The Saviour from sin.
4. The awakener from death.

III. The most permanent in the universe.—“His name shall endure for ever.”

Jesus whom Paul preacheth.

I. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, sent forth in the fulness of the times and declared to be God’s Son by His resurrection from the dead.

II. Jesus, the sinner’s substitute, set forth to be a great propitiation through faith in His blood.

III. Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, proved to be so by the meeting in Him of Old Testament prophecies.

IV. Jesus, the Saviour of believers, who accept God’s testimony concerning Him, and trust in His finished work, who renounce their own righteousness and embrace the righteousness which is of God by faith.

V. Jesus, the conqueror of the devil, who came indeed to destroy the works of the devil, and who triumphed over the principalities and powers of darkness through His cross.

Acts 19:15. Jesus and Paul.

I. The Saviour and the saved.
II. The Lord and the servant

III. The agent and the instrument.

IV. The sovereign and the ambassador.
V. The subject and the preacher

Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?”—A sermon by an evil spirit; or the (sound) doctrines of devils.

I. That Jesus is the Son of God and the conqueror of the devil (Matthew 10:29; Luke 4:34; Hebrews 2:14).

II. That the gospel is a message of salvation for guilty men, or of deliver ance from the bondage of the devil (Luke 4:18; Hebrews 2:15).

III. That the ministry is an institution appointed by Jesus Christ for the propagation of this gospel of soul emancipation.

IV. That those who preach the gospel without themselves standing in personal relation to Jesus Christ or having been appointed by Him are false teachers and cannot really harm them, the devils (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:1).

V. That false teachers will eventually bring upon themselves swift destruction (2 Peter 2:1).

Acts 19:17. The Name of the Lord Jesus magnified. This happens—

I. When it is openly, widely and courageously preached as by Paul.

II. When it is explicitly, extensively and firmly believed in.

III. When it is seen to be powerfully influential over men’s hearts and lives, leading the unbelieving to faith, and the faithful to repentance and self-sacrifice.

Magnifying the Name of the Lord Jesus.—The Ephesians saw in this, and so should Christians to day—

I. The founder of God’s kingdom on the earth.

II. The author of salvation in the individual soul.

III. The conqueror of the devil and his emissaries.

IV. The deliverer of the captives of Satan and sin.

V. The ruler of His people’s hearts

Acts 19:19. The Burning of the Books.

I. Some books have been burnt which should have been preserved.—E.g., many noble volumes of science, philosophy and literature in the library of Alexandria.

II. Some books are preserved which should be tossed into the flames.—E.g., “the pernicious fugitive pieces of a frivolous superficial knowledge, the seductive works of an impure light literature, and the arrogant decrees of an unchristian tyranny of the conscience.”

III. Some books, though cast into the fire, will not burn.—The magical books of the Ephesians perished; but the sacred books of the Old and New Testaments though they have often been committed to the flames, have always come forth again fresher, livelier and with more power than ever.

Acts 19:20. The Growth and Power of the Word of God.—Exemplified in Ephesus.

I. The word grew.—Mightily:

1. In clearness of exposition. This to be expected considering that Paul was the preacher.

2. In intensity of impression. Also natural, remembering what was Paul’s theme—the things concerning Jesus and the kingdom of God, and who was Paul’s keeper—the Holy Ghost.

3. In extensiveness of reception. “All they which dwelt in Asia.” heard the word, while “many believed.” Scarcely less wonderful, seeing that Paul’s word was accompanied by special signs.

4. In productiveness of fruits. It led to marvellous deeds of self-renunciation as well as to the manifestation of great solemnity and joy.

II. The word prevailed.—Also mightily.

1. Over the corruption of the natural heart. Leading those who heard the gospel to turn from dead idols to serve the living God.

2. Over the opposition of the powers of evil. Manifested in the exposure of Scæva’s sons and the deliverance of the man possessed.

3. Over the besetting sins of believers. Enabling those who had received the word to shake themselves free from the love of magic and the fascinations of money.

Acts 19:8-20. A Three Years’ Mission in Ephesus.—During this period the cause of the gospel as represented by Paul was—

I. Energetically pushed.—Paul’s activity was remarkably displayed in three directions.

1. In preaching the word of God (Acts 19:8; Acts 19:10).

2. In working miracles, or signs of the Holy Ghost (Acts 19:11).

3. In founding churches of Jesus Christ. Though not stated, it was doubtless during this period that the Churches of Ephesus, Colossæ, Laodicea, and Hierapolis were founded.

II. Vehemently opposed.—By the attempted imposture of Scæva’s sons.

1. The form it took. Attempting to exorcise an evil spirit by naming over it the name of Jesus.

2. The motives inspiring it. Many. Perhaps

(1) On the part of the devil, to counterfeit the work of the Holy Ghost.
(2) On the part of the Jews, to oppose the work of Paul as a preacher of the cross.
(3) On the part of the jugglers, to make money, since they saw that Paul’s charm was more effective than theirs.
3. The result to which it led. Defeat, exposure, and damage. So will every attempt to hinder Christ’s cause eventually recoil on its author’s head.

III. Wondrously prospered.—The impression made upon the community as well as on the Church was deep and lasting.

1. On the community. It led to fear and veneration, if not to conviction and conversion.

2. On the Church. It stirred to confession and reformation, both voluntary—“they came”—and real—they burned “their books.”

Verses 21-22


Acts 19:22. Timothy.—See on Acts 16:1. Erastus.—Whether the city treasurer of Corinth (Romans 16:23) or Paul’s helper in Rome (2 Timothy 4:20), or whether both were the same individual is debated. For the nature of this mission of Timothy and Erastus see 1 Corinthians 4:17-19, and compare “Hints.”


Paul’s Last Days in Ephesus; or, Contemplating New Plans

I. A run through Macedonia and Achaia.—These the main divisions, northern and southern, into which Greece under Roman rule was divided. The apostle’s object in this second crossing into Europe was to visit the Churches which had there been established, as e.g., in the towns of Philippi

(16), Thessalonica and Berœa
(17), and Corinth

(18), for the twofold purpose of first establishing them in the faith, and correcting such disorders as he knew had crept in among them, and secondly of bringing to a close the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem, which had for upwards of a year been going on among the Churches there. This part of the apostle’s plan was subsequently carried out (Acts 20:1-2); but in the meanwhile he remained in Ephesus, and sent over Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia.

II. A visit to Jerusalem.—“As the Redeemer, when He had fulfilled His course, set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), so Paul also turns back to that city where the Lord was crucified, and where He had founded His first Church” (Lechler). Why he wished again to journey to Jerusalem is not stated by Luke, but from the Epistles to the Romans (Acts 15:26) and Corinthians (1 Acts 16:1-4, Acts 8:1), it may be inferred that he contemplated bearing to the poor saints there the above mentioned munificent contribution from the Churches of Macedonia and Achaia. That he carried out this his fifth and last visit to Jerusalem is reported by Luke (Acts 20:16, Acts 21:17).

III. A journey to Rome.—The first notice of any desire on the apostle’s part to visit the metropolis of the Gentile world. That he actually had this desire and really used the words ascribed to him by Luke is confirmed by his letters to the Romans (Acts 1:10-15, Acts 15:23). The necessity which constrained him does not appear to have been any externally revealed intimation of the divine will, but a strong inward impulse in this direction which had been imparted to his spirit, doubtless by the Holy Spirit. The plan projected by himself was after visiting Jerusalem to start upon a fourth missionary tour, proceed to Rome and travel westward as far as Spain. How different this was from God’s plan for him will afterwards appear.


1. The propriety of forming purposes always in subordination to the divine will (James 4:15).

2. The wisdom of avoiding undue haste in carrying out our plans.
3. The advantage of always waiting upon God to direct one’s path.


Acts 19:21. “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” Compare with Romans 1:13; Romans 15:23-28. “The conformity between the history and the epistle is perfect. In the first quotation from the Epistle we find that a design of visiting Rome had long dwelt in the apostle’s mind; in the quotation from the Acts we find that design expressed a considerable time before the Epistle was written. In the history we find that the plan which Paul had formed was to pass through Macedonia and Achaia; after that to go to Jerusalem; and when he had finished his visit there to sail for Rome. When the Epistle was written, he had executed so much of his plan as to have passed through Macedonia and Achaia, and was preparing to pursue the remainder of it by speedily setting out towards Jerusalem; and in this point of his travels he tells his friends at Rome that when he had completed the business which carried him to Jerusalem he would come to them, when he should make his journey into Spain.” Also “the very inspection of the passages will satisfy us that they were not made up from one another.… If the passage in the Epistle was taken from the Acts, why was Spain put in? If the passage in the Acts was taken from the Epistle, why was Spain left out? If the two passages were unknown to each other, nothing can account for their conformity but truth.”—Paley, Horœ Paulinœ, chap. II., iii.

Acts 19:22. The Mission of Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia.—“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. 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 be a support to Timothy, who was the bearer of Paul’s stern, grave message to his well-loved Church.”—Spence.

Presumption or Piety—Which?—“After I have been there I must also see Rome.”

I. Presumption.—This Paul’s utterance might have been had he formed the resolution it expresses in his own mind and with dependence for carrying it out in his own strength. In this case, the signs of sinful arrogance would have been—

1. The double use of the pronoun “I,” whereas he should have remembered God and connected his purpose with Him, who alone orders and guides man’s ways.
2. The taking for granted that he would ever reach Jerusalem, which he might never have done, and certainly could not have done without the divine help and protection.
3. The self-confident assertion that he must see Rome, whereas again he ought to have said, “If the Lord will!” remembering that there can be no “must” in any plan or purpose outside of God’s arrangement or permission.

II. Piety.—This Paul’s utterance was because—

1. The purpose to which it referred was
(1) Formed under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Though not expressly stated this may be inferred.
2. Indicative of his love for the brethren—at least if his motive in desiring to visit Jerusalem was to carry gifts to the poor saints residing there.
3. Expressive of ardent zeal for the extension of the gospel. In this way must the desire and resolution to visit Rome be regarded.
4. Perhaps also suggestive of the loftiness of Paul’s faith, which confided in the divine assistance and support until these great desires of his heart were accomplished.

Timothy and Erastus.

I. Diverse.—

1. In race. Timothy a half Jew and half Greek: Erastus either a whole Jew or a whole Greek.

2. In birthplace. Timothy a native of Lystra: Erastus most likely of Corinth (Romans 16:23), or perhaps of Ephesus.

3. In station. Timothy the son of an obscure father: Erastus, if of Corinth, the treasurer of the city.

II. United.—

1. In Christian discipleship. Both believers and adherents of the way.

2. In relationship to Paul. Both numbered among his helpers.

3. In missionary service. Both sent into Macedonia.

Verses 23-41


Acts 19:23. The way.—See on Acts 9:2.

Acts 19:24. Demetrius.—The name has been found in an inscription, exhumed in Ephesus and supposed (Hicks) to belong to A.D. 50–60, recording a public honour decreed to the Neopoioi or temple wardens of Ephesus in the year of Demetrius. Silver shrines for (rather of) Diana.—Not silver coins stamped with the picture of the temple (Beza, Scaliger, Piscator), but miniature representations in silver of the temple, which strangers visiting the city were accustomed to purchase. No small gain should be either no little business (R.V.), or no small wages (Hackett) to the craftsmen.

Acts 19:27. The temple of the great goddess Diana.—Reckoned one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This was in 1869, after having for centuries been buried, rediscovered by the late Mr. J. T. Wood, F.S.A., who found remains of three separate buildings about a mile from the nearest (or N.E.) city gate. The earliest of the three temples had been commenced B.C. 480, by Ctesiphon and his son Metagenes, completed by Demetrius, a priest of Diana, and Pæonius, an Ephesian, and destroyed soon after. The second was erected on the same site by an unknown architect, and burnt down by Erostratus on the day Alexander was born, B.C. 356. The third, of which Dinocrates, a Macedonian, was the designer, was in course of erection when Alexander, having visited Ephesus, offered to complete it at his own expense if the people would allow him (which they would not) to dedicate it, when finished, to Artemis in his own name. This building, which was octostyle, having eight columns in front, and dipteral, having two ranks of fluted columns in the peristyle, was 163 feet 9½ inches in width from face to face of columns, and 342 feet 6½ inches in length. The cella or naos of the temple was 70 feet wide, and was doubtless hypæthral, or open to the sky. (See Modern Discoveries on the Site of Ancient Ephesus: Bypaths of Bible Knowledge, pp. 73, 77, 81.)

Acts 19:29. The theatre.—Explored in 1866, this was found to have been built against the steep western side of Mount Coressus, to have been 495 feet in diameter, to have had a palpitum or stage 22 feet deep and 110 feet in diameter, and to have been capable of containing 24,500 persons (Ibid., p. 33).

Acts 19:31. Certain of the chief of Asia.—οἱ Ἁσιαρχαί. These were the ten presidents of the Sacred Rites and public games, “officials of the imperial cultus” (Ramsay), in pro-consular Asia (Enseb, H. E., iv. 15). In the same way other districts were provided with similar officers; as, e.g., Galatia with Galatiarchs, Bithynia with Bithyniarchs, Syria with Syriarchs. These were commonly “selected chiefly on account of their wealth, and sometimes against their will” (Ramsay).

Acts 19:33. Alexander.—His identification with the individual named in 2 Timothy 4:14 is at least doubtful. (See “Homiletical Analysis.”)

Acts 19:34. Great is Diana (or Artemis) of the Ephesians.—Μεγάλη ἡ Αρτεμις Ἑφεσίων. Codex D reads, Μεγάλη Ἄρτεμις, Great Diana (Antemis), which, says Professor Ramsay, formed “a stock phrase of Artemis-worship,” in which it was usual to insist upon the great power of the goddess. He adduces “the invocations ‘Great Apollo’ at Dionysopolis, ‘Great Anaitis’ in the Katakekaumene, ‘Great Artemis’ in Lesbos,” as affording “complete corroboration of the title ‘Great Artemis’ mentioned in Acts” (The Church in the Roman Empire, pp. 135–139). He further cites as parallels an inscription in which the Cappadocian god, Zeus of Venasa, is addressed as “Great Zeus in heaven”; and several coins found at Laodicea, on the Lycus, which bear the legend Ζευς Αϲειϲ, signifying, with probable accuracy, as M. Waddington has suggested, “Mighty Zeus.” Prof. Ramsay even thinks that the Baal worshippers on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:26) may have used the epithet “great” (Ibid., p. 142).

Acts 19:35. The town-clerk.—Often mentioned in Ephesian inscriptions. A worshipper.—Lit., temple keeper. νεωκόρος, a term founded on Ephesian coins struck about Paul’s time, originally signified a temple servant whose business it was to sweep out and decorate the temple, and ultimately grew to be an epitheton ornans, or honorary title of towns in Asia Minor which were specially devoted to the service of any divinity, and possessed a temple consecrated to that divinity. The image which fell down from Jupiter was the celebrated statue of the many-breasted Artemis (Diana multimammia, Jerome), made, according to Vitruvius, of cedar wood, according to Pliny, of vine wood, according to Xenophon, of gold, and covered with mystical inscriptions on brow, girdle, and feet. The tradition of its origin—similar to that which prevailed concerning a statue of Artemis in Tauris (Eurip., Iph. in T., 977), and one of Pallas at Athens (Iph. in I., xxvi. 6)—suggests that it was probably “a large aerolite, such as are found in Norway, and which, shaped by a sculptor of the day, might have been pieced out and made to assume a form similar to the well-known statues of Diana in the Museo Reale at Naples, and in the museum at Monreale, near Palermo” (Modern Discoveries on the Site of Ancient Ephesus, pp. 77, 78).

Acts 19:37. These men were Gaius and Aristarchus (Acts 19:29). Robbers of churches, or temples (R.V.). “The temples among the heathen contained votive offerings and other gifts, and were often plundered” (Hackett). Compare Jos., Ant., XVIII. iii. 5.

Acts 19:38. The law is open.—Better, the courts are open, or court days are being held. Deputies should be pro-consuls (see on Acts 13:7). “The coins of Ephesus show that the proconsular authority was fully established there in the reign of Nero” (Hackett).

Acts 19:39. A lawful, or, the regular assembly.—The ordinary civil tribunal, or popular gathering, called and presided over by the chief magistrate of the city. This assembly is mentioned in the Ephesian inscriptions (Wood, p. 38).

Acts 19:40. To be called in question for this day’s uproar; or, to be accused of riot concerning this day.—The town clerk frightened them with the prospect of a Roman “execution” or investigation into the tumult, for which he said “there was no cause,” rather than “for which no one was the cause” (Vulgate).


I. Against.—“It is certainly possible, and even probable, that zeal for the great Artemis, the boast of the city, and the interests attached to her cultus, occasioned Paul’s distress in Ephesus; it is possible that the name of Demetrius, the leader of the movement against him, is historical, that some such episode as that associated with Alexander took place, and that Gaius and Aristarchus were menaced with Paul. But the description of events cannot be correct—i.e., according to the facts—and its separate points possess merely the value of a faint and shadowy outline of actual reminiscences” (Weizsäcker, The Apostolic Age [E. T.], i. 391).

II. For.—“It is impossible for any one to invent a tale, whose scene lies in a foreign land, without betraying in slight details his ignorance of the scenery and circumstances amid which the event is described as taking place. Unless the writer studiously avoids details, and confines himself to names and generalities, he is certain to commit numerous errors. Even the most laborious and minute study of the circumstances of the country in which he is to lay his scene will not preserve him from such errors …” But “the more closely we are able to test the story in Acts (Acts 19:23-41), the more vivid and true to the situation and surroundings does it prove to be, and the more justified are we in pressing closely every inference from the little details that occur in it. I entertain the strong hope that the demonstration which has now been given of its accuracy in disputed points will do away with all future doubt as to the faithfulness of the picture that it gives of Ephesian society in A.D. 57” (Prof. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire, p. 141).


A Popular Tumult in Ephesus; or, The Temple of Diana Endangered

I. The speech of Demetrius, the silversmith.—

1. Its hearers. The masters and workmen of the guild of silversmiths, with others, employers and employed, of a like occupation; Demetrius, himself one of those master silversmiths, employed a large number of craftsmen, or skilled artisans with high wages, and carried on an extensive trade in manufacturing and selling silver shrines of Diana (or Artemis). These were portable miniature temples containing a statue of the goddess, which were purchased by the inhabitants of the city as well as by strangers visiting it, and either dedicated to the goddess at the temple, or set up on returning home as objects of worship, and sometimes even carried about on the person as amulets or charms. Having collected his brother-tradesmen in some convenient building, if not upon the street, Demetrius, perhaps the chairman of the guild, directed their attention to a danger to which their business was growingly exposed.

2. Its object. To stir up hostility against Paul, or as Demetrius contemptuously said, “this (fellow) Paul,” who, according to Demetrius’s admission, had been carrying on a successful work of evangelisation in the city, not only preaching such abominable (!) doctrine as that “they be no gods which are made with hands”—a doctrine of which the Hebrew Scriptures are full (Psalms 115:4-8; Isaiah 44:19; Isaiah 46:6-7; Jeremiah 10:5; Jeremiah 16:19; Hosea 8:6)—but doing this with such persuasive eloquence as “not alone at Ephesus but almost throughout all Asia” to turn away much people from the worship of Diana. A splendid testimony to the success of the gospel in Ephesus!

3. Its motive. Fear of losing his trade. “The most sensitive part of ‘civilised’ man is his pocket” (Ramsay). Hence one may fairly be doubtful whether Demetrius would have been concerned about Diana’s honour, if his business had not been injured and his profits reduced by her decline in popular estimation. It may even be questioned whether Demetrius would have been distressed about the “turn over” of his brother-silversmiths going down, if his own had increased, or even kept up. But in any case it is significant that Demetrius’s opposition to this fellow Paul had its origin in this, that Paul’s preaching was interfering with his (Demetrius’s) pocket. The like phenomenon is not unknown to-day. Men frequently oppose the gospel because the gospel goes against their trade. Yet the converse phenomenon is not unknown. Men profess to believe the gospel so long as the gospel, or their profession of it, favours their financial prosperity. NOTE.—The account here given of the origin of Demetrius’s assault has been challenged as incorrect by Canon Hicks (Expositor, June 1890, pp. 401–422), who on the strength of the inscription already referred to (“Critical Remarks”) holds the hostile action against Paul to have been due to the priests of Artemis, whose “jealousy only waited for an opportunity of attacking the apostle;” but Prof. Ramsay (The Church in the Roman Empire, pp. 130, 200) convincingly shows that “the first way in which Christianity excited the popular enmity outside the Jewish community was by disturbing the existing state of society and trade, and not by making innovations in religion.”

4. Its arguments.

(1) From self-interest. This the most persuasive argument that can be addressed to the ordinary human mind. The wealth of Demetrius and his guild, in fact, their living depended on the making and selling of these Diana shrines, and the selling, at least, of them was absolutely incompatible with Paul’s further preaching in the city. Already their trade receipts had gone down. The market for their wares was declining. Unless in some way they asserted themselves they would be ruined. If this contemptible little Jew were allowed to continue denouncing Diana and her temple nobody would want their silver shrines and such like articles as they traded in, and then what would become of themselves, their wives and families? A modern trades unionist could hardly have spoken better.
(2) From religious zeal. “Not only,” said Demetrius, “will our trade be endangered, but what is of vaster moment (one wonders if he believed this!), the temple of the great goddess Diana will be made of no account, and she whom all Asia and the world worshippeth will be deposed from her magnificence.” The language, though extravagant, contained an element of truth. The temple at Ephesus had been built at the common expense of all the Greek cities of Asia Minor, and was visited by pilgrims from all nations and countries (see “Critical Remarks”).
5. Its results.

(1) The populace were filled with indignation, not at the loss of Demetrius’s profits, but at the dishonour done to Diana. Even false religions exercise a wondrous fascination over men’s hearts, and are capable of exciting strong enthusiasm in their behalf (see 1 Kings 18:26).

(2) The air was rent with shouts in praise of their patron goddess—“Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” This cry, which may have been “the usual chorus of the festivals of Artemis” (Plumptre), was kept up for some time—in all perhaps “about the space of two hours” (Acts 19:34)—and was designed to vindicate the insulted majesty of the goddess, to whom the epithet “great” was considered to rightfully belong (Xenophon, Ephes., 1:15). One would say her honour had not been much hurt if the hurt was repaired by three hours of hurrahing, shouting, and yelling.

(3) The whole city was plunged in to confusion. The loud shouts of Demetrius and his workmen attracted towards them the mob, who, catching up the idea that some one had been attempting to overturn their accepted worship, naturally broke out into wild and fanatical excitement—all the wilder and more fanatical because they properly had no idea what it was all about.

(4) Two of Paul’s companions were arrested. Having learnt that the daring assailants of Diana were the Jewish strangers who had for some time past been residing in the town, and in particular that fellow Paul, with one accord they rushed to the apostle’s lodging, or to the school of Tyrannus where he taught, in the hope of apprehending him; but not finding him, he having been absent, as had been the case at Thessalonica (Acts 17:6), they seized on Gaius (see 1 Corinthians 1:14), and Aristarchus (Acts 20:4, Acts 27:2), two of his companions, men of Macedonia, and dragged them off to the theatre, an immense building capable of holding twenty thousand persons, where it was the custom to hold public meetings and transact public business, as well as celebrate public sports (see “Critical Remarks”). What object they had in view in making these arrests and crowding to the theatre with their prisoners, they most likely could not state and did not know. The whole movement was a tumultuous proceeding for which they could offer no explanation except this, that somebody had been meddling with their goddess, and they had apprehended the two Macedonians on suspicion.

II. The proposal of Paul the Apostle.

1. Brave. Having come to know what had happened, the apostle, with that courageous chivalry for which he was distinguished, wished to force his way into the theatre

(1) to intercede for his two companions who had been arrested without causue;
(2) to take upon himself the full responsibility for any dishonour that had been done to the goodess; and
(3) to explain the nature of his gospel to the multitude there and then assembled, in the hope, doubtless, that in this way the uproar would be stilled and the tumult allayed.
2. Imprudent. At least, so it seemed to certain of the chief officers of Asia, literally, Asiarchs. These were public functionaries, ten in number, who were chosen annually from the chief towns of proconsular Asia, and from the wealthier citizens in those towns, whose business it was to provide at their own expense and superintend in their own persons the games and festivals held every year in honour of the gods and Roman emperor. Being friendly disposed to the apostle, and knowing their countrymen better than the apostle, they entreated him not to venture into the theatre. That they succeeded, though not without a struggle, in preventing him from carrying out his expressed intention may be inferred; and the recollection of this passage in his history when, had his friends permitted him he would have plunged into the heart of the frantic mob, was probably the inspiration of the well-known phrase about his fighting with wild beasts at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32).

III. The interposition of Alexander the Jew.—

1. The personality of this individual. That he was a Christian Jew or an adherent of the new faith has been supposed by not a few expositors (Calvin, Baumgarten, Meyer, Alford, and others), but the greater likelihood is that the name belonged to an unconverted Jew (Kuinoel, Neander, Olshausen, Lechler, Hackett, and others) who formed one of Demetrius’s guild. Whether he and the coppersmith of that name, whom Paul afterward mentioned to Timothy

(2.Acts 4:14; Acts 4:14) as one who had done him much evil (Zöckler), were one and the same person, must remain undetermined,—though the supposition is by no means impossible. If he was, and if the Alexander who made shipwreck of his faith (1 Timothy 1:20) was the same person—both of which points, however, are doubtful—then he appeals to have at a later time become a Christian, though only in name and of pronounced Judaistic proclivities.

2. The reason of his coming forward. His countrymen, having detected him among the crowd and laid hold of him, thrust him forward—if a Christian Jew, that he might serve as a victim for the popular fury, or if an unbelieving Jew, that he might shift the guilt of vilifying Diana from their shoulders to those of the Christians. In either case the Jews were apprehensive lest at any moment the senseless rage of the mob might swing round and direct itself against them, both because the heathen multitude did not as yet with sufficient clearness distinguish between Jews and Christians, and because even from them at that time literary assaults upon the worship of the gods, and especially of the Ephesian Artemis, were not unknown (Zimmerman, quoted by Holtzmann). (Compare Hausrath’s Der Apostel Paulus, p. 347; see “Hints” on Acts 19:34).

3. The failure of his attempt. No sooner had he opened his mouth in defence of his countrymen, having first beckoned to the multitude with his hand for a hearing, than “with a divine irony of fate similar to that which was manifested before Gallio’s tribunal” (Zöckler), they, the multitude, recognising him for a Jew, drowned his words in a volley of frenzied exclamations, shouting, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” as Demetrius and his workmen had done, and keeping up the outcry for a space of two hours. (Compare1 Kings 18:26; 1 Kings 18:26; and see Matthew 6:7.) “The Mahommedan monks in India at the present time often practise such repetitions for entire days together” (Hackett).

IV. The address of the town-clerk.—

1. His official designation. The state-scribe, or recorder; a public functionary whose business it was to register the various laws and preserve the legal documents of the city; who was authorised to preside over public assemblies, and who is mentioned on the marbles as acting in that capacity. Unlike the Asiarchs who were appointed annually, the town-clerk was probably a permanent official.

2. His influential character. The instant he appeared upon the rostrum the cries of the multitude were hushed. Different from their dealing with Alexander, they made no attempt to howl him down, but listened to him in respectful silence; and at the close of his harangue allowed themselves to be quietly dispersed. “He was, if we may so speak, the Gamaliel of Ephesus, not without parallels among the princes and statesmen and prelates who have lived in the critical times of political and religious changes, and have endeavoured to hold the balance between contending parties” (Plumptre).

3. His dexterous oration.

(1) He humoured their vanity by reminding them of their religious loyalty to the great goddess Diana, whose magnificent temple adorned their city; of which temple also and of the image it contained—an image which had fallen from heaven or from Jupiter—their city was known throughout the world as the keeper (see “Critical Remarks”). To suppose then that anything said or done by these poor infatuated Jews could either dim the majesty of their world-renowned goddess or tarnish their loyalty was surely the height of folly and, in fact, wholly ridiculous.

(2) He set before them the legal bearing of the then situation. The men they had arrested had been guilty of no crime against either Diana or her temple—they were neither “robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess”—and accordingly should not be treated as criminals. If the cause of this indignation against Paul and his companions was some private grievance, as, for instance, about some trade law or civic regulation which had been infringed, then Demetrius and his brother craftsmen should proceed against them before the proconsuls in the ordinary law courts which were at that moment open, Ephesus being an Assize town and the proconsul on circuit having arrived thither (Acts 19:37-38); if the cause was any matter that concerned the public, then it should be dealt with in a lawful, i.e., a regularly called and constituted assembly (Acts 19:39), and not before a disorderly rabble like that then collected in the theatre.

(3) He played upon their fears by suggesting that they might be brought to book by their Roman masters and asked to explain the cause of such a riotous proceeding as that of which they had been guilty—an explanation they would not find it easy to give.

Note.—As has often been remarked, this speech of the town-clerk was a complete vindication of Christianity and Christians in apostolic times, with regard to the groundless charges of lawlessness and violence which were so frequently preferred against them by their enemies. “This address is so entirely an apologia of the Christians,” says Ramsay (St. Paul, etc., p. 282), “that we might almost take it as an example of the Thucydidean type of speech, put into the mouth of one of the actors, not as being precisely his words, but as embodying a statesmanlike conception of the real situation. At any rate it is included by Luke in his work, not for its mere Ephesian connection, but as bearing on the universal question of the relations in which the Church stood to the empire.”


1. The world-disturbing character of the religion of Christ.
2. The power of self-interest to hinder a reception of the truth.
3. The supremely foolish behaviour of idol worshippers.
4. The virtue of flattery in appeasing a mob.
5. The unconscious testimony sometimes given by the world to Christianity and Christians.


Acts 19:23. No small Stir about that Way; or, Reasons why Men oppose Themselves to Christianity.—Because it

I. Interferes with their (sinful) gains.

II. Explodes their foolish delusions.

III. Disturbs their cherished ease.

IV. Subverts their accustomed practices.

Acts 19:24. Demetrius of Ephesus.

I. A wealthy tradesman.
II. An influential citizen

III. A blind idolater.

IV. A dexterous orator.

Acts 19:24-27. Demetrius and his Brother Craftsmen; or, Ancient Types of Modern Men.

I. Of the abject slaves of business who in the pursuit of temporal gain have lost all regard for eternity.

II. Of the blind adherents of established customs, who, from every fresh movement of the Spirit fear the disturbance of their ease, indeed, the destruction of the world.

III. Of the self-satisfied priests of the beautiful who in idolatrous veneration for nature and art acknowledge no consciousness of sin and no need of grace.—Gerok.

Acts 19:26. Hand-made Gods.

I. Widely worshipped.—All nations outside of revelation have drifted into idolatry.

II. Strongly condemned.—

1. By Scripture, which proclaims them to be vanities.
2. By reason, since the less cannot make the greater or the creature its creator.
3. By experience, which has shown them to be useless, gods that neither hear nor help, neither see nor save.

III. Certainly doomed.—

1. To exposure. Of their worthlessness.
2. To desertion. By their followers. This process Demetrius observed had begun.
3. To destruction. “The idols He will utterly abolish.”

Acts 19:28. Diana and Jesus.

I. Great was Diana of the Ephesians in her (supposed) divinity; but greater is Jesus of the Christians in His (real) Godhead.—Diana was an idol; Jesus is the true God. Diana was a manufactured goddess; Jesus is the Almighty Maker of the universe. Diana was a creation of the degraded and benighted human intellect; Jesus is the “Word of the Father, in our flesh appearing.”

II. Great was Diana of the Ephesians in the magnificence of her temple; but greater is Jesus of the Christians in the shrines which He inhabits.—The temple of Diana was a structure decorated by the highest art of the day, but at the best was only a limited and mean habitation; the temples of Jesus are first the boundless universe, next the Christian Church, and lastly the soul of the believer—the first of which has lavished on it all the wisdom and power of an infinite mind, and the second and third of which are being beautified by all the glory that divine grace can impart to them.

III. Great was Diana of the Ephesians in the number of her worshippers; but greater is Jesus of the Christians in the multitude of His disciples.—All Asia and the world worshipped Diana, said Demetrius; but to day the name of Jesus is adored by more millions than at that time inhabited the globe.

IV. Great was Diana of the Ephesians in the enthusiasm of her devotees; but greater is Jesus of the Christians in the love of His people.—Diana’s admirers spent much time and physical energy in their insane orgies, and if howling and shouting could do her honour she was a Lighly exalted divinity; but the homage paid to Jesus is of a more spiritual, rational and beneficent sort, consisting of the consecration to His service of loving hearts and holy lives.

V. Great was Diana of the Ephesians in the duration of her reign; but greater is Jesus of the Christians in the permanence of His.—For long centuries the superstition of Diana worship sat like a nightmare upon the souls of men, though it is now for ever perished and gone; but the name of Jesus shall endure for ever. “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun,” etc.

Acts 19:35. The Town-clerk of Ephesus.

I. His fearless courage.—In facing the frenzied mob.

II. His admirable tact.—In humouring the crowd by endorsing their estimate of Diana.

III. His prudent advice.—In exhorting the people to do nothing rashly.

IV. His impartial justice.—I admitting the innocence of Gaius and Aristarchus.

V. His great influence.—In calming and dismissing the assembly.

Acts 19:40. The Uproar at Ephesus.—A picture of rebellion against the gospel.

I. In the dark heathen world; on the part of brutal, yea, Satanic heathen nature.—Pictures of persecution from the missionary field.

II. In unconverted Christendom; on the part of the carnal mind, which will not suffer itself to be rebuked by God’s word, and of the materialistic spirit of the age which will know nothing of heavenly things.

III. In the hearts of true Christians; on the part of proud reason, of the self-righteous heart, and of the flesh which shuns the cross.—Gerok.

Acts 19:24-41. A Group of Typical Characters.

I. Paul.—A type of

1. Evangelical zeal. Preaching in Ephesus.
2. Christian influence. Persuading much people.
3. Heroic self-sacrifice. Willing to rescue his companions by rushing into the theatre.

II. Demetrius.—A type of

1. The successful merchant, who makes no small gain from his trade.
2. The hypocritical religionist, who worships because it pays.
3. The crafty demagogue, who plays upon the ignorance of his townsmen.

III. Gaius and Aristarchus.—Typical of those who

1. Suffer on account of their religion;
2. Bear the consequences of other people’s Acts , ,
3. Come safely out of their tribulations.

IV. Alexander.—Typical of the man

1. Who is disliked for his religion. The Ephesians refused to hear him because he was a Jew.
2. Who is punished by mistake. The Ephesians confounded him with the Christians who also were regarded as Jews.
3. Who is not allowed to speak in his defence, but is condemned without being heard.

V. The Town-clerk.—Typical of

1. The influential citizen.
2. The prudent counsellor.
3. The just judge.

NOTE.—The Jews and the Temple of Diana. It has been suggested that the opposition shown to Alexander by the Ephesian mob may have been occasioned by the assaults which the Jews were known to have made against the worship of Diana. On this subject the following sentences may be read with interest:—“Long before the days of Paul and Apollos the synagogue of Ephesus had waged war against the prevailing heathenism; and, if Paul and John pitched their tents here, that was only because others before them had hewed a clearance in this primeval forest of superstition. From of old the synagogue at Ephesus had found the better class of citizens actively disaffected towards the existing religion, and by means of this prepared the way for Christianity. For a long time had Jews existed in Ephesus. Already the Diadochi had allowed them, contrary to the opinion of the settled citizens, to call themselves Ephesians, and their speedy transition to Rome (as her subjects) bore for them here also good fruits. They knew how to acquire for themselves, from Dolabella and other Roman authorities, numerous privileges concerning which Josephus communicates information. Their religious worship was placed under the protection of the Archons, whilst their youth were exempted from military service. From their petitions about free intercourse with the temple, as also from the fortunes of the apostle Paul, one may gather in how lively commerce with Jerusalem the Jewish quarter in Ephesus continued. Even the narratives in the Acts give the impression of a very vigorous religious life. So zealous a community must have felt itself doubly called forth to open a propaganda among its heathen fellow-citizens, seeing that all the intelligent among these were weary of the disorder of the Diana worship. The apostolic history itself points to this, that only the material interests of Ephesus as a place of pilgrimage, of the vendors of images, and of those who were entitled to the rich endowments of the Diana temple sufficed to keep up the wild cultus. Accordingly from Jewish circles in Ephesus numerous attempts were made to waken up against this condition of things the moral susceptibilities of their Greek fellow-citizens. Even before the abolition by Domitian of the Eunuch worship (Suet., Dom., 7; Pseudo-Heraclit., Ep. 9), and therefore in the time of the first Cæsar, a Jew undertook a bold assault against the temple of Diana, regardlessly uncovering all the evils of the holy disorder, and, through keen satire generally directed against idolatry, pressing to the recognition of the One God. A pretended letter of the philosopher Heraclitus suggested to this Jewish writer the thought to avail himself for the purpose of his raillery of the solemn mask of the people-deriding philosopher, of whom the story ran that he had declared the entire manhood of Ephesus to be deserving of strangulation. He, as no other, was qualified to castigate the Ephesians, and so, like one well-versed in Scripture and well read in Aristotle’s ethic, this son of the synagogue composed some fictitious letters in which the obscure Heraclitus explained to the Ephesians why he had never in his life laughed. Entirely from an Old Testament standpoint Heraclitus proposes the question why it goes well with the wicked, and why their city flourishes in spite of all its vice, and arrives at the Biblical solution:—That God punishes not by the withdrawal of riches, but rather He gives these to the evil that they, by being in possession of means, might sin on to conviction; adding with a grim glance upon the wealth in the haven of Panormus, ‘so may your good fortune never fail that your wickedness may call forth chastisement.’ Then, proceeding to direct his weapons against the excesses of the Ephesian idolatry, with the complacency of hatred he dissects all its institutions, in order to abandon every one of them to contempt. Because the cell in which the idol image is accustomed to stand receives its light for the most part only from the door, and accordingly is half dark, he makes fun of the god placed in the darkness. Because it is an insult (especially to a god) to say that it ‘is of stone’ (Odyss., xix. 163), he finds every stone god blasphemous. Even the narrow pedestal of the idol is a mockery of Him whom heaven and earth cannot contain. Next from idolatry generally the author turns himself to the Artemis (Diana) worship in particular, which he finds below the practices of the beasts. Should not the chief priest in the first instance curse the wooden image, since, in order to serve it, he requires to be mutilated? And is it not foolish to charge the goddess herself with unchastity when only eunuchs are allowed to approach her? But the essence of all wickedness to him are the orgies of the worship of Cybele, the nightly torch feasts, and all the ancient rites which exist only for the purpose of covering with their mantle abomination and crime. ‘On this account,’ says the pretended Heraclitus, ‘have I given over laughing. I feel lonely in the town. To a wilderness have you made me through your wickedness. Should I laugh when you go round about as mendicant priests with the kettle-drum, each one filled with a separate vice? Should it move me to laughter when I see men do such like things, or when I consider your clothing and your beards, or when I see what useless labour is expended on your head-gear; when I see how a mother seizes her child for poisoning; how the substance of minors is devoured, how a citizen is robbed of his wife; how a maid, during pious night festivals, is forcibly deprived of her virginity; how a girl not yet arrived at womanhood is the victim of all woman’s troubles; how one who is only a youth is the lover of the whole town; or when I see the squandering of oil or of ointment, or the extravagance of mirth in the social meals got up by the pledging of rings; or the assembled town gatherings at which truly very important judicial decisions in matters of the plays are published? On account of these things have I discontinued laughing.’ This lively representation of the domestic and public life at Ephesus is only the basis from which the author seeks to lead to faith in the true God” (Hausrath: Der Apostel Paulus, pp. 346–349).

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Acts 19". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/acts-19.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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