Acts 19
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,

(1) Paul having passed through the upper coasts.—This implies a route passing from Galatia and Phrygia through the interior, and coming thence to Ephesus. The “coast,” in the modern sense of the term, St. Paul did not even approach.

He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
(2) Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?—Better, as connecting the two facts in the English as in the Greek, Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?i.e., on your conversion and baptism. We are left to conjecture what prompted the question. The most natural explanation is that St. Paul noticed in them, as they attended the meetings of the Church, a want of spiritual gifts, perhaps, also, a want of the peace and joy and brightness that showed itself in others. They presented the features of a rigorous asceticism like that of the Therapeutæ—the outward signs of repentance and mortification—but something was manifestly lacking for their spiritual completeness.

We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.—The standpoint of the disciples so exactly corresponds to that of Apollos when he arrived at Ephesus, that we may reasonably think of them as having been converted by his preaching. They must, of course, have known the Holy Spirit as a name meeting them in the Sacred Books, as given to the olden prophets, but they did not think of that Spirit as a living and pervading presence, in which they themselves might claim a share. They had been baptised with the baptism of repentance, and were leading a life of fasting, and prayers, and alms, but they had not passed on to “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17). It lies on the surface that they were Jewish, not Gentile, disciples.

And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism.
(3) Unto what then were ye baptized?—The answer of the disciples had shown (1) an imperfect instruction, falling short of that which catechumens ordinarily received before they were admitted to the new birth by water and the Spirit; (2) an imperfect spiritual experience. Could those who made it have been admitted into the Church of Christ by baptism in His name? The answer to that question showed their precise position. They were practically disciples of the Baptist, believing in Jesus as the Christ, and thinking that this constituted a sufficient qualification for communion with the Church of Christ.

Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
(4) John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance.—The words may fairly be regarded as giving the summary of what was actually a fuller teaching. The distinctive point in it was that the baptism of John was, by his own declaration, simply provisional and preparatory. He taught his disciples to believe in Jesus, and belief implied obedience, and obedience baptism in His name. It is not without significance that the list of elementary doctrines in Hebrews 6:1-4, addressed, we may believe, by Apollos to those who had once been his disciples, includes what those who are now before us might have learnt from him in their spiritual childhood, and that he then passes on to describe the higher state of those who had been “illumined,” and had “tasted of the heavenly gift,” and been made “partakers of the Holy Ghost” (Hebrews 6:4-6).

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
(5) They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.—On the use of this formula in connection with the baptism of Jewish converts, see Notes on Acts 2:38; Matthew 28:19.

And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
(6) They spake with tongues, and prophesied.—Better, they were speaking with tongues and prophesying, the verbs implying continuous action. As to the nature and relation of the two gifts, see Notes on Acts 2:4; Acts 10:46. Here all the facts of the case confirm the view which has there been stated. The mere power of speaking foreign languages without learning them, as other men learn, seems a much less adequate result of the new gift than that which we find in the new enthusiasm and intensity of spiritual joy, of which the gift of tongues was the natural expression. It is not without interest to remember that the discussion of the two gifts in 1 Corinthians 14, in which the connection of the “tongues” with jubilant and ecstatic praise is unmistakable (1Corinthians 14:14-16), was written not very long after this incident, and while the facts must yet have been fresh in St. Paul’s memory. On the “laying on of hands,” which was the “outward and visible sign” of the “inward and spiritual grace,” see Notes on Acts 8:14-18, where the laying-on of hands is followed by a gift of the Holy Ghost.

And all the men were about twelve.
(7) And all the men were about twelve.—Better, The men were in all about twelve. The whole narrative seems to imply that they were not individual cases, occurring here and there from time to time, but were living together as a kind of ascetic community, attending the meetings of the Church, yet not sharing the fulness of its life.

And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.
(8) Spake boldly for the space of three months.—We pause for a moment to think of the amount of work of all kinds implied in this short record. The daily labour as a tent-maker went on as before (Acts 20:34), probably still in partnership with Aquila and Priscilla. The Sabbaths saw him evening and morning in the synagogue preaching, as he had done elsewhere, that Jesus was the Christ, and setting forth the nature of His work and the laws of His kingdom.

But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.
(9) When divers were hardened and believed not.—Better (the verb implying continuous action), when some were growing hardened and disobedient.

Spake evil of that way before the multitude.—Better, as before, of the way. (See Note on Acts 9:2.) The unbelieving Jews acted at Ephesus as at Thessalonica, and tried to wreak their hatred against St. Paul by stirring up suspicion among the Gentiles, especially, as before, among those of the lower class, who were always ready for a tumult.

Disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.—The Greek word for “school” had a somewhat interesting history. Originally meaning “leisure,” it was applied to leisure as bestowed on study, then, as here, to the place in which study was pursued; lastly, as in our phrase, “the school of Zeno or Epicurus,” as a collective term for the followers of a conspicuous teacher. In this case, it was probably a lecture-room which, as the private property of the owner, was lent or let to the Apostle.

Of the Tyrannus here mentioned nothing more is known with certainty, but the name is connected with one or two interesting coincidences that are more or less suggestive. Like its Latin equivalent, Rex it was not uncommon among the class of slaves or freed-men. It is found in the Columbarium of the household of Livia on the Appian Way, and as belonging to one who is described as a Medicus or physician. Both names and professions in this class were very commonly hereditary, and the hypothesis that this Tyrannus was also a physician, and that, as such, he may have known St. Luke, or, possibly, may have been among the Jews whom the decree of Claudius (Acts 18:2) had driven from Rome, and so shared the faith of Aquila and Priscilla, fits in with and explains the facts recorded. An unconverted teacher of philosophy or rhetoric was not likely to have lent his class-room to a preacher of the new faith. (See also Note on Acts 19:12.)

And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.
(10) So that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.—Here also there is a gap which can only be partially filled up by inference or conjecture. Ephesus, probably, came to be the centre of St. Paul’s activity, from which journeys were made to neighbouring cities; and hence we may legitimately think of the other six churches of Revelation 2, 3 as owing their origin to him. The growth of the new community among both sections of the population became a conspicuous fact, and began to tell upon the number of pilgrims who brought their offerings to the shrine of Artemis, or carried away memorials from it.

And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:
(11) And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul.—The Greek phrase is negative: no common works of power—not such as one might meet with any day. (See Note on Acts 28:2, where the same phrase recurs.) The noun is that which was technically used by physicians for the healing “powers” or “virtues” of this or that remedy, and is so far, though used freely by other writers, characteristic of St. Luke.

So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.
(12) So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons.—Both words are, in the original, transliterated from the Latin, the former being sudaria, used to wipe off sweat from brow or face; the latter semicincta, the short aprons worn by artisans as they worked. We ask how St. Luke, passing over two years of labour in a few words, came to dwell so fully on these special facts. The answer may be found (1) in St. Luke’s own habit of mind as a physician, which would lead him to dwell on the various phenomena presented by the supernatural gift of healing; (2) a further explanation may be found in the inference suggested in the Note on Acts 19:9. Such a report of special and extraordinary phenomena was likely enough to be made by a physician like Tyrannus to one of the same calling, and probably of the same faith. The picture suggested is that of devout persons coming to the Apostle as he laboured at his craft, and carrying away with them the very handkerchiefs and aprons that he had used, as precious relics that conveyed the supernatural gift of healing which he exercised. The efficacy of such media stands obviously on the same footing as that of the hem of our Lord’s garment (see Note on Matthew 9:20-21), and the shadow of Peter (see Note on Acts 5:15), and, we may add, of the clay in the healing of the blind (see Note on John 9:6). The two conditions of the supernatural work of healing were a Divine Power on the one hand, and Faith on the other, and any external medium might serve to strengthen the latter and bring it into contact with the former. Cures more or less analogous, ascribed to the relics of saints, admit, in some measure, of a like explanation. Without pretending to draw a sharp line of demarcation between the natural and supernatural in such cases, it is clear that a strong belief in the possibility of a healing work as likely, or certain, to be accompanied by any special agent, does much to stimulate the activity of the vis medicatrix Naturæ which before was passive and inert. It is not unreasonable to see in the works of healing so wrought a special adaptation to the antecedent habits of mind of a population like that of Ephesus. It was something for them to learn that the prayer of faith and the handkerchief that had touched the Apostle’s skin had a greater power to heal than the charms in which they had previously trusted.

Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.
(13) Certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists.—The men belonged to a lower section of the class of which we have already seen representatives in Simon of Samaria or Elymas of Cyprus. (See Notes on Acts 8:9; Acts 13:6.) They practised exorcisms as a profession, and went from city to city, pretending with charms and spells to cure those who were looked on as possessed with demons. Many of these were said to have come down from Solomon. In Layard’s Nineveh and Babylon (c. 22) there is an interesting account of several bronze bowls containing such formulæ. To them “the name of the Lord Jesus,” which was so often in St. Paul’s lips, was just another formula, mightier than the name of the Most High God, or that of the archangels Raphael or Michael, which were used by others.

And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.
(14) Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests.—Better, a Jewish chief priest. The word might mean that he was at the head of one of the twenty-four courses into which the priests of the Temple were divided. (See Notes on Matthew 21:15; Luke 3:2.) It is hardly probable, however, that one in that position would have taken to this disreputable calling, and it seems more likely that the title itself was part of the imposture. He called himself a chief priest, and as such St. Luke, or Tyrannus, described him. The scene is brought vividly before us. The seven exorcists, relying partly, we may believe, in the mystical virtue of their number, stand face to face with a demoniac, frenzied and strong like the Gadarene of Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:3-4.

And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
(15) Jesus I know, and Paul I know . . .—Better, Jesus I acknowledge. The two verbs are different in the Greek, the one implying recognition of authority, the latter, as colloquially used, though originally it had a stronger meaning, a more familiar acquaintance. The possessed man, identifying himself, as the Gadarene did, with the demon, stood in awe of the Name of Jesus, when uttered by a man like St. Paul; but who were these seven pretenders, that they should usurp authority over him?

And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
(16) And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them.—The demoniacal possession brought with it, as in the case of the Gadarene, the preternatural strength of frenzy, and the seven impostors (men of that class being commonly more or less cowards) fled in dismay before the violent paroxysms of the man’s passionate rage.

Naked and wounded.—The first word does not necessarily imply more than that the outer garment, or cloak, was torn off from them, and that they were left with nothing but the short tunic. (See Notes on Matthew 5:40; John 21:7.) It may be noted, as an indication of truthfulness, that the narrative stops here. A writer inventing miracles would no doubt have crowned the story by representing the man who baffled the impostors as healed by the power of the Apostle.

And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
(17) Fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.—The fact thus narrated had shown that the sacred Name stood on quite a different level from that of the other names which exorcists had employed. It was a perilous thing for men to use it rashly, without inward faith in all that the Name implied. Men thought more of it than they had done before, because they saw the punishment that fell on those who had profaned it.

And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.
(18) And many that believed.—More accurately, many of those that had believed. The word is probably used, as in Acts 19:2, for the whole process of conversion, including baptism, confession in this instance following on that rite, instead of preceding it. The words do not definitely state whether the confession was made privately to St. Paul and the other teachers, or publicly in the presence of the congregation; but the latter is, as in the confession made to the Baptist, much the more probable. (See Note on Matthew 3:6.) The feeling of a vague awe at this contact with the Unseen in some, the special belief in Christ as the Judge of all men in others, roused conscience into intense activity; the sins of their past lives came back upon their memories, and it was a relief to throw off the burden by confessing them.

Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.
(19) Many of them also which used curious arts . . .—The Greek word expresses the idea of superstitious arts, overbusy with the supposed secrets of the invisible world. These arts were almost, so to speak, the specialité of Ephesus. Magicians and astrologers swarmed in her streets (comp. the reference to them as analogous to the magicians at the court of Pharaoh in 2Timothy 3:8), and there was a brisk trade in the charms, incantations, books of divination, rules for interpreting dreams, and the like, such as have at all times made up the structure of superstition. The so-called “Ephesian spells” (grammata Ephesia) were small slips of parchment in silk bags, on which were written strange cabalistical words, of little or of lost meaning. The words themselves are given by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. v., c. 46), and he interprets them, though they are so obscure as to baffle the conjectures of philology, as meaning Darkness and Light, the Earth and the Year, the Sun and Truth. They were probably a survival of the old Phrygian cultus of the powers of Nature which had existed prior to the introduction of the Greek name of Artemis.

And burned them before all men.—This, then, was the result of the two sets of facts recorded in Acts 19:12; Acts 19:16. The deep-ingrained superstition of the people was treated, as it were, homœopathically. Charms and names were allowed to be channels of renovation, but were shown to be so by no virtue of their own, but only as being media between the Divine power on the one hand and the faith of the receiver on the other; and so the disease was cured. The student of the history of Florence cannot help recalling the analogous scene in that city, when men and women, artists and musicians, brought the things in which they most delighted—pictures, ornaments, costly dresses—and burnt them in the Piazza of St. Mark at the bidding of Savonarola. The tense of the verb implies that the “burning” was continuous, but leaves it uncertain whether it was an oft-repeated act or one that lasted for some hours. In this complete renunciation of the old evil past we may probably see the secret of the capacity for a higher knowledge which St. Paul recognises as belonging to Ephesus more than to most other churches. (See Note on Acts 20:27.)

Fifty thousand pieces of silver.—The coin referred to was the Attic drachma, usually estimated at about 8½d. of English money, and the total amount answers, accordingly, to £1, 770 17s. 6d., as the equivalent in coin. In its purchasing power, as determined by the prevalent rate of wages (a denarius or drachma for a day’s work), it was probably equivalent to a much larger sum. Such books fetched what might be called “fancy” prices, according to their supposed rareness, or the secrets to which they professed to introduce. Often, it may be, a book was sold as absolutely unique.

So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
(20) So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.—The verbs imply a continuous growth. The better MSS. give, “the word of the Lord.”

After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome.
(21) Paul purposed in the spirit.—Better, perhaps, in spirit. The Greek word, however, implies a reference to something more than human volition. The spirit which formed the purpose was in communion with the Divine Spirit. (See Notes on Acts 17:16; Acts 18:5.)

We learn from the First Epistle to the Corinthians what were the chief antecedents of this purpose. There had been intercourse, we may believe, more or less frequent, with the churches of both Macedonia and Achaia during the two years which St. Paul had spent at Ephesus; and there was much to cause anxiety. It had been necessary for him to send a letter, not extant, to warn the Corinthians against their besetting impurity (1Corinthians 5:9). The slaves or freed-men of Chloe had brought tidings of schisms, and incestuous adulteries, and grave disorders in ritual and discipline. (See Introduction to the First Epistle to the Corinthians.) These things called for the Apostle’s presence. With these was joined another purpose. He wished to revisit Jerusalem, and to appear there as the bearer of a munificent contribution from the Gentile churches to the suffering church of the Hebrews. (See Notes to 1Corinthians 16:1; 2Corinthians 8:1.)

After I have been there, I must also see Rome.—This is the first recorded expression of a desire which we learn from Romans 1:13; Romans 15:23, had been cherished for many years, possibly from the time when he was first told that he was to be sent far off unto the Gentiles (Acts 22:21). It was doubtless strengthened by personal contact with the numerous disciples from that city whom he met at Corinth, some of them dating their conversion from a time anterior to his own (Romans 16:7), and by the report which he heard from them of the faith and constancy of their brethren (Romans 1:8). His work would not seem to him complete until he had borne his witness in the great capital of the empire.

So he sent into Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him, Timotheus and Erastus; but he himself stayed in Asia for a season.
(22) Timotheus and Erastus.—Light is thrown on the mission of the former by 1Corinthians 4:17. He was sent on in advance to warn and exhort, and so to save the Apostle from the necessity of using severity when he himself arrived. St. Paul exhorts the Corinthians (1Corinthians 16:10) to receive him with respect, so that he might not feel that his youth detracted from his authority. He was to return to St. Paul, and was accordingly with him when he wrote the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (2Corinthians 1:1). Erastus may fairly be identified with the chamberlain or steward of Corinth of Romans 16:23, and was chosen probably as the companion of Timotheus because his office would carry weight with it. Sosthenes, who was with St. Paul when he wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians (1Corinthians 1:1), had probably been staying some time at Ephesus, and as having been ruler of the synagogue, was naturally coupled by the Apostle with himself, as a mark of respect and confidence.

And the same time there arose no small stir about that way.
(23) About that way.—Better, as before, the way. (See Note on Acts 9:2.)

For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen;
(24) Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana.—The worship of Artemis (to give the Greek name of the goddess whom the Romans identified with their Diana) had from a very early period been connected with the city of Ephesus. The first temple owed much of its magnificence to Croesus. This was burnt down, in B.C. 335, by Herostratus, who was impelled by an insane desire thus to secure an immortality of renown. Under Alexander the Great, it was rebuilt with more stateliness than ever, and was looked upon as one of the seven wonders of the world. Its porticos were adorned with paintings and sculptures by the great masters of Greek art, Phidias and Polycletus, Calliphron and Apelles. It had an establishment of priests, attendants, and boys, which reminds us of the organisation of a great cathedral or abbey in Mediaeval Europe. Provision was made for the education of the children employed in the temple services, and retiring pensions given to priests and priestesses (reminding us, in the latter instance, of the rule of 1Timothy 5:9, which it may indeed have suggested) after the age of sixty. Among the former were one class known as Theologi, interpreters of the mysteries of the goddess; a name which apparently suggested the application of that title (the Divine, the Theologus) to St. John in his character as an apocalyptic seer, as seen in the superscription of the Revelation. Large gifts and bequests were made for the maintenance of its fabric and ritual, and the city conferred its highest honours upon those who thus enrolled themselves among its illustrious benefactors. Pilgrims came from all parts of the world to worship or to gaze, and carried away with them memorials in silver or bronze, generally models of the sacellum, or sanctuary, in which the image of the goddess stood, and of the image itself. That image, however, was very unlike the sculptured beauty with which Greek and Roman art loved to represent the form of Artemis, and would seem to have been the survival of an older cultus of the powers of nature, like the Phrygian worship of Cybele, modified and renamed by the Greek settlers who took the place of the original inhabitants. A four-fold many-breasted female figure, ending, below the breasts, in a square column, with mysterious symbolic ornamentation, in which bees, and ears of corn, and flowers were strangely mingled, carved in wood, black with age, and with no form or beauty, this was the centre of the adoration of that never-ceasing stream of worshippers. As we look to the more elaborate reproductions of that type in marble, of which one may be seen in the Vatican Museum, we seem to be gazing on a Hindoo idol rather than on a Greek statue. Its ugliness was, perhaps, the secret of its power. When art clothes idolatry with beauty, man feels at liberty to criticise the artist and his work, and the feeling of reverence becomes gradually weaker. The savage bows before his fetiche with a blinder homage than that which Pericles gave to the Jupiter of Phidias. The first real blow to the worship which had lasted for so many ages was given by the two years of St. Paul’s work of which we read here. As by the strange irony of history, the next stroke aimed at its magnificence came from the hand of Nero, who robbed it, as he robbed the temples of Delphi, and Pergamus, and Athens, not sparing even villages, of many of its art-treasures for the adornment of his Golden House at Rome (Tacit. Ann. xv. 45). Trajan sent its richly sculptured gates as an offering to a temple at Byzantium. As the Church of Christ advanced, its worship, of course, declined. Priests and priestesses ministered in deserted shrines. When the empire became Christian, the temple of Ephesus, in common with that of Delphi, supplied materials for the church, erected by Justinian, in honour of the Divine Wisdom, which is now the Mosque of St. Sophia. When the Goths devastated Asia Minor, in the reign of Gallienus (A.D. 263), they plundered it with a reckless hand, and the work which they began was completed centuries later by the Turks. The whole city, bearing the name of Aioslouk—in which some have traced the words Hagios Theologos, as applied to St. John as the patron saint—has fallen into such decay that the very site of the temple was till within the last few years a matter of dispute among archæologists. Mr. George Wood, however, in 1869, commenced a series of excavations which have led to the discoveries of strata corresponding to the foundations of the three temples which had been erected on the same site, enabled him to trace out the ground-plan, and brought to light many inscriptions connected with the temple, one in particular, the trust-deed, so to speak, of a large sum given for its support, from which we learn more than was known before as to its priesthood and their organisation. (See Wood’s Ephesus, pp. 4-45.)

The word for “shrine” is that which, though translated “temple” in John 2:19 (where see Note) and elsewhere, is always applied to the inner sanctuary, in which the Divine Presence was supposed to dwell, and therefore, here, to the chapel or shrine in which the statue of the goddess stood. It was to the rest of the building what the Confession and the Tribune are in Italian churches.

Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth.
(25) The workmen of like occupation.—The “craftsmen” of the previous verse represent the higher class of what we call skilled labour. Here we have the unskilled labourers whom they employed. The former were, in a sense, artists, these were artisans.

Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth.—Literally, Men, the word used being different from that in Acts 16:30. The word for “craft” is the same as that translated “gain” in Acts 16:19, where see Note. The opening words of Demetrius bring before us, with an almost naive simplicity, the element of vested interests which has at all times played so prominent a part in the resistance to religious and political reforms, and entered largely into the persecutions against which the early preachers of the gospel had to contend. Every city had its temples and priests, its flamens, its oracles or sanctuaries. Sacrifices and feasts created a market for industry which would otherwise have been wanting. In its later development, the Christian Church, employing the services of art, encouraging pilgrimages, organising conventual and collegiate institutions, created a market of another kind, and thus gave rise to new vested interests, which in their turn were obstacles to the work of reformation. At first, however, the absence of the aesthetic element in the aims and life of the Church seemed to threaten those who were occupied in such arts with an entire loss of livelihood, and roused them to a fierce antagonism.

Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands:
(26) Not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia.—The language of Demetrius, though, perhaps, betraying the exaggeration of alarm, confirms the statement of Acts 19:10 as to the extent of St. Paul’s labours. Pliny, in his Epistle to Trajan (Epp. x. 96), uses language, half a century later, which is hardly less strong, speaking of “deserted temples,” “worship neglected,” “hardly a single purchaser” (rarissimus emptor) found for sacrificial victims.

Saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands.—The wrath of the mob-leader makes him virtually commit himself to the opposite statement that the idol is the god. Philosophers might speak of symbolism and ideal representations, but this was, and always has been, and will be, the conclusion of popular idolatry.

So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.
(27) Not only this our craft.—The English word conveys, perhaps, too much the idea of art. Our business, or our interests, would be a somewhat better equivalent. The Greek word is not the same as that so translated in Acts 19:25.

The temple of the great goddess Diana.—The adjective was one specially appropriated to the Artemis of Ephesus, and appears on many of the coins and medals of the city.

Should be despised.—Literally, should come to an exposurei.e., should become a laughing-stock and a by-word. Panic is sometimes clear-sighted in its previsions, and the coppersmith of Ephesus becomes an unconscious prophet of the future.

And her magnificence should be destroyed.—The connection between the substantive and the received epithet is closer in the Greek than in the English. The great goddess was in danger of being robbed of her attribute of greatness.

Whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.—Asia is, of course, the proconsular province, and the “world” is used conventionally, as in Luke 2:1, for the Roman empire. Apuleius uses language almost identical with that of Demetrius, “Diana Ephesia cujus nomen unicum . . . totus veneratur orbis.”

And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.
(28) They were full of wrath, and cried out.—Better, they went on crying out, the tense implying continued action.

Great is Diana of the Ephesians.—The cry was probably the usual chorus of the festivals of Artemis. Stress was now laid on the distinctive adjective, “Great she was, whoever might attack her greatness.”

And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.
(29) The whole city was filled with confusion.—The loud shouts from the quarter in which Demetrius and his workmen met would, of course, attract attention. A rumour would spread through the city that the company of strangers, who had been objects of curiosity and suspicion, were engaged in a conspiracy against the worship which was the pride and glory of their city. It was natural, in such circumstances, that they should flock together to the largest place of public concourse, and drag thither any of that company on whom they might chance to light. We may compare, as an interesting historical parallel, the excitement which was caused at Athens by the mutilation of the Hermæ-busts at the time of the Sicilian Expedition under Alcibiades (Thuc. vi. 27).

Gaius and Aristarchus.—The former name represents the Roman “Caius.” It was one of the commonest of Latin names, and appears as belonging to four persons in the New Testament: (1) the Macedonian mentioned here; (2) Gaius of Derbe (but see Note on Acts 20:4); (3) Gaius of Corinth, the host of St. Paul, whom he baptised with his own hands (Romans 16:23; 1Corinthians 1:14); (4) Gaius to whom St. John addressed his third Epistle; (3) and (4), however, may probably be the same. (See Introduction to the Third Epistle General of John.) Of Aristarchus we learn, from Acts 20:4, that he was of Thessalonica. As such he had probably had some previous experience of such violence, and had, we may believe, shown courage in resisting it (1Thessalonians 2:14). He appears as one of St. Paul’s companions in the journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4), probably as a delegate from the Macedonian churches. He appears, from Colossians 4:10, to have been a Jewish convert, and to have shared the Apostle’s imprisonment at Rome, either as himself under arrest, or, more probably, as voluntarily accepting confinement in the Apostle’s hired house (Acts 28:30), that he might minister to his necessities. The description given of them, as “Paul’s companions in travel” is not without significance as implying a missionary activity beyond the walls of Ephesus, in which they had been sharers.

They rushed with one accord into the theatre.—The theatre of Ephesus was, next to the Temple of Artemis, its chief glory. Mr. Wood, the most recent explorer, describes it as capable of holding twenty-five thousand people (Ephes. p. 68). It was constructed chiefly for gladiatorial combats with wild beasts and the like, but was also used for dramatic entertainments. The theatre of a Greek city, with its wide open area, was a favourite spot for public meetings of all kinds, just as Hyde Park is with us, or as the Champ de Mars was in the French Revolution. So Vespasian addressed the people in the theatre of Antioch (Tacit. Hist. ii. 80; comp. also Apuleius, Metamorph., bk. iii.).

And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not.
(30) When Paul would have entered in . . .—We almost see the impetuous zeal which urged the Apostle not to leave his companions to bear the brunt of the attack alone, and the anxious fear which made his friends eager to prevent a step which would probably endanger his own life without helping his friends. He refers probably to this when he speaks of having, as far as man was concerned, “fought with beasts at Ephesus” (1Corinthians 15:32); not that there was any actual danger of martyrdom in that form, but that the multitude in their fanatic rage presented as formidable an ordeal. So Ignatius (Ep. ad Rom. c. 3) speaks of himself as “fighting with wild beasts” (using the same word as St. Paul), and describes the soldiers who kept guard over him in his journey from Antioch to Rome as the “ten leopards” who were his companions.

And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre.
(31) And certain of the chiefs of Asia, which were his friends.—Better, Asiarchs. The title was an official one, applied to the presidents of the games, who were selected from the chief cities of the province. The office was an annual one. They were ten in number, and the proconsul nominated one of them as president. Their duties led them now to one city, now to another, according as games or festivals were held, now at Ephesus, now at Colophon, or Smyrna. As connected both with the theatre and with the worship of Artemis, they were probably officially informed of the occasion of the tumult. If, as seems probable from 1Corinthians 5:6-8, that Epistle was written at, or about, the time of the Passover, we may place the tumult at some period in the spring, when the people were keeping or expecting the great festival in honour of Artemis, in the month, named after the goddess, Artemision, spreading over parts of April and May (Boeckh. Corp. Inscript. Græc. 2954), and were therefore more than usually open to excited appeals like that of Demetrius. This would also account for the presence of the Asiarchs at Ephesus.

There is something significant in the fact that the Asiarchs were St. Paul’s friends. The manliness, tact, and courtesy which tempered his zeal and boldness, seem always to have gained for him the respect of men in authority: Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7), Gallio (Acts 18:14-17), Festus and Agrippa (Acts 25:9; Acts 26:28; Acts 26:32), the centurion Julius (Acts 27:3; Acts 27:43). The Asiarchs, too, from different motives, took the same course as the disciples. They knew that his appearance would only excite the passions of the crowd, be perilous to himself, and increase the disturbance in the city.

Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.
(32) Some therefore cried one thing, and some another.—Better, kept on crying. The graphic character of the whole narrative makes it almost certain that it must have come from an eye-witness, or possibly from more than one. Aristarchus or Gaius, who travelled to Jerusalem with St. Luke (Luke 20:4), and were with him also at Rome, may have told him the whole tale of the scene in which they had borne so prominent a part. Possibly, also, following up the hint thrown out in the Note on Acts 19:12, we may think of Tyrannus as having written a report of the tumult to St. Luke. The two conjunctions translated “therefore” (better, then) seem to carry the narrative back to what was passing in the theatre, after the parenthetical account of what had been going on between the Apostle, the disciples, and the Asiarchs outside it.

For the assembly was confused.—It is not without interest to note that the Greek word for assembly is the ecclesia, with which we are so familiar as applied to the Church of Christ. Strictly speaking, as the town-clerk is careful to point out (Acts 19:39), this mob gathering was not an ecclesia, but the word had come to be used vaguely.

And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defence unto the people.
(33) And they drew Alexander out of the multitude . . .—The fact that he was put forward by the Jews indicates, probably, that they were anxious to guard against the suspicion that they were at all identified with St. Paul or his companions. If we identify this Alexander with the “coppersmith” of 2Timothy 4:14, who wrought so much evil against the Apostle on his third and last visit to Ephesus, we may assume some trade-connection with Demetrius which would give him influence with the crowd of artisans. His apologia, or defence, was obviously made by him as the representative of the Jews. The whole scene is again painted vividly—the vain attempt to gain a hearing by signs and gestures, the fury of the people on recognising his Jewish features and dress, their ready assumption that all Jews were alike in abhorring idols. Perhaps, also, they may have known or suspected that that abhorrence was sometimes accompanied by a readiness to traffic in what had been stolen from the idol’s temple. St. Paul’s words in Romans 2:22 may have had a personal application. The language of the town-clerk in Acts 19:37 suggests the same thought. He could point to Aristarchus and Gaius, and say emphatically, “These men are not robbers of temples, whatever others may be.”

But when they knew that he was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.
(34) When they knew that he was a Jew.—Better, when they recognised.

And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?
(35) And when the townclerk had appeased the people . . .—The Greek word is the same as the “scribe” of the Gospels, and the familiar English expresses his function with adequate correctness. He was the keeper of the records and archives of the city. The title appears in many of the inscriptions in Mr. Wood’s volume, often in conjunction with those of the Asiarchs and the proconsul. If, as is probable, his office was a permanent one, he was likely to have more weight with the people than the Asiarchs, who were elected only for a year, and who were not all of Ephesus. The language of the public officer is as characteristic in its grave caution as that of Demetrius had been in its brutal frankness. He, like the Asiarchs, obviously looks on St. Paul and his companions with respect. He has no feeling of fanaticism, and would not willingly be a persecutor. He dares not oppose the multitude, but he will try and soothe them with the loud profession of his attachment to the religion of his country. 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.

A worshipper of the great goddess Diana.—The substantive as well as the adjective belonged to the local vocabulary. Its literal meaning is “temple sweeper,” or “sacristan”—one consecrated to the service of the goddess. The Greek word (neôkoros) is found on coins and inscriptions of Ephesus as applied to the inhabitants, sometimes in relation to the Emperor, sometimes to the goddess. They looked to her as their guardian and protector. One inscription claims for the city the honour of being the “nurse” of the great goddess (Boeckh. 2954, ut supra). She was, as it were, to borrow a phraseology which presents only too painful an analogy, “Our Lady of Ephesus.” It is a curious fact that the same month was consecrated to Flora in Rome, and is now the “Mois de Marie” in France and Italy. The omission of the word “goddess” in nearly all the best MSS. is significant. She was, even without that word, emphatically “Artemis the Great” In some of the inscriptions of Ephesus she is described as “the greatest,” the “most High.”

The image which fell down from Jupiter.—The name was often given to old pre-historic images—as, e.g., to that of Athenè Polias at Athens. It may have been merely a legendary way of stating that no one knew what artist had sculptured the image, or when it had been first worshipped. Possibly, however, the word may have had a more literal meaning as applied to a meteoric stone which had been employed by the sculptor, or was worshipped in its original form. The many-breasted image of Aitemis described in the Note on Acts 19:24 is, however, reported to have been made of olive-wood. The word image is not in the Greek, and one familiar word (diopetes) was sufficient to express what requires seven in the English paraphrase.

Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly.
(36) Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against . . .—The language of the town-clerk has the ring of an official acceptance of the established cultus rather than of any strong personal devotion. Such language has often been heard from the defenders of institutions which were almost on the verge of ruin.

Ye ought to be quiet.—The verb is the same as that of the transitive “appeased” in Acts 19:35. In the exhortation “to do nothing rashly” we hear the voico of a worldly prudence, reminding us partly, as has been said, of Gamaliel, partly of the well-known maxim of Talleyrand, Surtout, point de zele.

For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess.
(37) These men, which are neither robbers of churches.—Better, robbers of temples. It was not unusual for the writers of the Elizabethan age to apply the term, which we confine to Christian buildings, to heathen temples. They would speak, e.g., of the “church” of Diana, or the “chapel” of Apollo. The corresponding noun for “robbing temples,” or “sacrilege,” is found in inscriptions discovered by Mr. Wood (vi. 1, p. 14) among the ruins of the Temple, as denoting a crime to which the severest penalties were attached. The testimony to the general character of St. Paul and his companions, as shown both in word and deed, indicates the quietness and calmness with which they had preached the truth. They persuaded, but they did not ridicule or revile. This was, probably, more than could be said for Alexander and the Jews who put him forward. (See Note on Acts 19:33.)

Wherefore if Demetrius, and the craftsmen which are with him, have a matter against any man, the law is open, and there are deputies: let them implead one another.
(38) The law is open.—Literally, the court, or forum, days are going on. The words may either indicate that the proconsul was then actually sitting to hold trials in the agora or forum, or may be taken as a colloquial idiom for “there are court days coming.”

There are deputies.—The Greek word is (as in Acts 13:7; Acts 18:12) the equivalent for proconsul. Strictly speaking, there was only one proconsul in each province, and we must therefore assume either that here also the expression is colloquial, or that the assessors (consiliarii) of the proconsul were popularly so described, or that some peculiar combination of circumstances had led to there being two persons at this time at Ephesus clothed with proconsular authority. There are some grounds for adopting the last alternative. Junius Silanus, who was Proconsul of Asia when St. Paul arrived in Ephesus (A.D. 54), had been poisoned by Celer and Helius, the two procurators, at the instigation of Agrippina; and it seems probable that they for a time held a joint proconsular authority.

Let them implead one another.—The English word exactly expresses the technical force of the Greek. Demetrius and his followers were to lodge a formal statement of the charge they brought against the accused. They in their turn were to put in a rejoinder, and so joining issue, each side would produce its witnesses.

But if ye inquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly.
(39) It shall be determined in a lawful assembly.—Better, in the lawful assembly. The argument is that, should the alleged grievance be one that called for legislative rather than judicial action, the matter would have to be referred to the regular meeting of the ecclesia, which the town-clerk had probably the right to summon. There they could present their gravamen, and petition for redress. Here also the inscriptions discovered by Mr. Wood (vi. 6, p. 50) give an interesting illustration of the official phraseology. An image of Athena is to be placed “above the bench where the boys sit,” at “every lawful (or regular) ecclesia.”

For we are in danger to be called in question for this day's uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse.
(40) We are in danger to be called in question.—The “we” as used to include the rioters. The “called in question” is the same verb as that rendered “implead” in Acts 19:38. There was a risk of which Demetrius and his party had to be reminded, that they might find themselves defendants, and not plaintiffs, in a suit. A riotous “concourse” (the town-clerk uses the most contemptuous word he can find, “this mob meeting”) taking the law into its own hands was not an offence which the proconsuls were likely to pass over lightly. It would hardly be thought a legitimate excuse that they had got hold of two Jews and wanted to “lynch” them.

An interesting inscription of the date of Trajan, from an aqueduct at Ephesus, gives nearly all the technical terms that occur in the town-clerk’s speech, and so far confirms the accuracy of St. Luke’s report: “This has been dedicated by the loyal and devoted Council of the Ephesians, and the people that serve the temple (Neôkoros), Peducæus Priscinus being proconsul, by the decree of Tiberius Claudius Italicus, the town-clerk of the people.”

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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