The Church at Ephesus

September 24, 2005

Read: Acts 19, 20:17-38

Paul’s Experience in Ephesus: Before coming to Ephesus (Acts 19) to work Paul had briefly stopped there on his way back to Antioch and engaged in a discussion in the Jewish synagogue (18:18-21). They asked him to stay but he could only promise to come back, which he did. He returns overland through Galatia and Phrygia and finds twelve “disciples” in Ephesus (19:1). When the word mathetes (disciples) is used absolutely like this it usually refers to Christians. They had only had the baptism of John, so they were baptized and when Paul laid his hands on them they received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues and prophesied. Just before this in 18:24-28 a man by the name Apollos had come to Ephesus and preached “the way of the Lord” although he also had only received the baptism of John. Priscilla and Aquila instructed him further and baptized him. These are the only instances of re-baptism in the New Testament. He subsequently went to Corinth. From what Paul writes in 1 Cor 1-4 Apollos must have been a very gifted speaker.

Paul spends three months in the synagogue trying to persuade the Jews about the kingdom of God (Here Luke refers to earliest Christianity as “the Way.”). Because of the opposition of some Jews, Paul took the twelve and moved his place of mission to the lecture hall of Tyrannus. Some ancient manuscripts add that Paul continued his mission there “from eleven o’clock in the morning to four in the afternoon.” This fits the culture. Tyrannus would have lectured till eleven and then like most Mediterraneans he and his hearers would have gone for their five hour “mid-day” nap to escape the heat of the day. That Paul could get an audience during this time says something both about his message and, if not just curiosity, then also the longing of people for truth so as to forego their normal time of rest.

From Acts 19:11-20 we also learn here of Jewish itinerant exorcists who tried to imitate the miracles of healing God did through Paul. It is both instructive and humorous when they try to use the names of Jesus and Paul to cast out evil spirits to observe the response, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” This brought praise to Jesus and conviction to those who became believers. Those who had practiced magic made a public bonfire of magic scrolls to the tune of 50,000 silver coins, probably drachmae (ca. 0.151678 ounce each= ca. $55,286.00 at our current silver prices). Ephesus was renown for magical writings in the ancient world. Also, public bonfires of scrolls are events attested by ancient writers to symbolize one’s repudiation of the content.

The success of Paul’s mission and the level of interest in “the Way” began to concern the silver smiths who made a considerable profit on silver shrines of Artemis. Proposing that the worship of Artemis was in jeopardy because Paul preached that “gods made with hands are not gods, “they stirred up sentiments that led to a budding riot. The town clerk was successful in dispersing this danger to Paul by warning them that a riot without justifiable cause would bring a dangerous charge, ostensibly from the Roman authorities who saw political threat behind any kind of public disturbance. It is interesting to note that among those who anxiously prevented him from going out into the crowd were some of the “Asiarchs” who were his friends. These were foremost persons of the city from among whom high priests of the cult of Rome and the Emperor were annually elected. This indicates two things, i.e., that Roman policy was not hostile to the spread of Christianity at this time (probably because Judaism was a legal religion, and “the Way” would have been regarded as a Jewish sect), and also that the more educated classes may not have been as prone to be hostile to Christianity as the more superstitious, less educated masses

It is interesting to note that Artemis of the Ephesians was different from the Greek virgin goddess of the same name. She was actually the great Mother-goddess of Asia Minor whose worship dates back into prehistoric times. She is depicted with her chest covered by many breasts which is indicative of her primary function as a goddess of fertility. Her priests were eunuchs. The shrines referred to as being made of silver are frequently found in terra-cotta. This is the only reference we have to silver ones. They represented the goddess in a niche with lions beside her. They were taken to the temple by persons who worshiped her to be dedicated.

In Acts 20:17-38 we find Paul visiting Ephesus on his way from Greece to Jerusalem. He reminds the believers of his message of repentance to God and faith in Christ preached for three years. He exhorts them to be on guard against false teachers and to care for the church. He defends his integrity by referring to his self-supporting ministry. In a culture where there were many itinerant philosophers who peddled their teaching for monetary support and who were often regarded as charlatans who adjusted their message to attract the money, he was sensitive about this. He informs them that in many places he has been the Holy Spirit has testified that he will be imprisoned and afflicted in Jerusalem, so that he will never see them again.

Questions to Think About: Both Apollos and the disciples found in Ephesus had received the baptism of John which was a “baptism of repentance.” Why would this not be sufficient since John witnessed to Jesus as the Messiah? What are the implications of and the difference between baptism of repentance ‘from sin’ and baptism “into the name of Jesus Christ”? What would be biblical grounds for re-baptism for people today?

When we baptize people today why is it that we do not expect those baptized to speak in tongues and prophecy as manifestations of the reception of the Holy Spirit? How could we today recognize whether one has “received” the Holy Spirit? Do we have any other criteria in Scripture for such a recognition? Acts 19:2 seems to imply that such a recognition was important. Why would it be important then? Should it be important today also?

Why do you think that earliest Christians referred to themselves as “the Way”? Does this reflect an emphasis on theology or practice, concept or experience? Obviously both would be important.

What does Luke’s account about the miracles of healing and exorcism tell us about their true purpose and character? Especially from the perspective of why the seven sons of Sceva, the Jewish high priest, could not use the names of Jesus and Paul to heal? Would Paul have been comfortable with anyone trying to heal in his name?

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