Chapter 19

19:1-7   Disciples of John are baptized in the Holy Spirit

In 18:22-23 we suggested that Paul traveled to Crete on his way to Ceasarea and Jerusalem. Then he went back to his home church in Antioch. After "some time there" he set out on his third missionary journey. He first traveled west right across present-day Turkey strengthening the disciples in the churches which he and Barnabas had planted. When he arrived back in Ephesus (as he had promised, 18:21), he rejoined Priscilla and Aquila (18:18, 26) and they must have reported some progress since the visit of Apollos (18:24-27).

One problem was that a dozen disciples of John the Baptist (as Apollos had been, 18:25) still remained loyal to their teacher. Paul must have convinced them that John the Baptist had pointed to the baptism of the Spirit which Jesus disciples would experience (Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16). As a result they were baptized to become disciples of Jesus, and when Paul prayed and laid hands on them, as the apostles had done in Samaria (8:12 and 8:15-17), they were formed into a congregation of the Spirit. Immediately the gifts of the Spirit emerged among them (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

Paul continued attending the main Jewish synagogue in Ephesus until the opposition there made his teaching ministry impossible. So he began teaching in a lecture hall (probably rented) where the new disciples from all over the city, and the whole Province of Asia, could come and learn. As a result churches were established in Colossae and Laodicea (Colossians 4:16) and later in four other cities of the province (Revelation 2 and 3).

19:1 These disciples were disciples of John the Baptist who knew and believed in Jesus as the Messiah (as Apollos had done, 18:25), but they had no experience of life in the Spirit.

19:2 Paul clearly distinguished believing in Jesus and becoming part of a community of the Holy Spirit. As disciples of John the Baptist, these men must have heard of his statement that "I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark1:8). What they had not heard of, or experienced, was life in the Spirit (a very common experience among church members).

19:3-4 They had been baptized into the circle of the disciples of John the Baptist, and learned about Jesus from him until he was beheaded (Mark 6:14-29). They honored his teaching, and the tomb that contained his headless body (Mark 6:29). They also knew they were meant to become disciples of Jesus and begin learning from him (see John 4:1). But there was no opportunity for them to do this until a church was established in Ephesus (just as there wasn't yet a church in Alexandria for Apollos (18:24-25).

19:5-6 Paul decided this was the time to baptize them, and immediately form them into the first congregation of the Christian church in Ephesus. Luke clearly distinguishes baptism and life in the Spirit (2:38, 8:12, 14-17, 9:17-18), though in some cases the experience of baptism in the Spirit may precede baptism with water (10:44-48). Baptism in the Spirit is normally a group experience of being part of a body (1 Corinthians 12:13) in which all the gifts of the Spirit can be exercised (as in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Prophecy often emerges out of speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:3, 13-15, see The Church 7, 8) and these are among the first gifts to appear. The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) usually emerge much more slowly.

19:7 The Jews required twelve men (with their families) to form a new synagogue in a city. These twelve were therefore the first Messiah believing congregation (synagogue) of what would become the large Church of Ephesus with elders from many gatherings in the city (20:17, see Romans Commentary on 16:3-16).

19:8-9 Whenever he could Paul began announcing the good news in the Jewish synagogues (13:5, 14, 14:1, 17:1, 10, 17, 18:4). It is interesting that he did this for three months before he was forced out. He then rented a hall where he could teach all who came to learn from him. Tyrannus was probably a Sophist teacher (see note on 17:18) who had built a building for a full time school, but for lack of students was glad to rent it out.

19:10 As congregations of the church in Ephesus mushroomed in the city, disciples who wanted to learn more could come in for teaching. Churches were also planted in Colossae and Laodicea (Colossians 4:15-16) which were inland over a hundred miles away. When Luke wrote that "all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord" it did not mean that Paul talked to every single person in the huge province of Asia. What happened was that churches were established in each city (listed in Revelation 2 & 3), and these had many congregations of the Spirit in and around them. As a result every family in the area heard the gossip about Jesus and the good news of the Gospel. This explains why Paul could say "From Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum (present day Croatia) I have fully proclaimed the good news of the Messiah" (Romans 15:19). During this time Timothy was sent to Thessalonica, and came back with a good report of that church (1 Thessalonians 3:5-6).

19:11-20  Signs and Wonders and Occult Opposition

In most pioneering missionary situations God encourages the preaching in extraordinary miraculous ways. "God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit" (Hebrew 2:4). Usually the local shamans, witchdoctors, soothsayers, necromancers, mediums, witches, and exorcists will oppose and duplicate these signs by their magic arts (as in Exodus 7:11, 22, 8:7, 18). In Ephesus it was some Jewish exorcists who tried to do this (19:13-14). But as a church grows there is always a residue of occult practices and magic rituals in the homes of Christian disciples. Discarding these is not required as a condition of baptism, but the Holy Spirit will in due course make clear that he refuses to share a human heart with rival occult practices (contact with the dead, Ouiji boards, spiritism, witchcraft, horoscope astrology, Tarot cards, fortune telling by palm and teacup reading, etc.). You cannot receive guidance from the Holy Spirit and from other sources at the same time. Which is why occult practices were already condemned in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, 27 Deuteronomy 18:10-11).

19:11-12 We need not believe that there was some spiritual force that was carried in the pieces of cloth that had touched Paul's body. It seems more likely that Paul helped people to believe that Jesus could intervene in various kinds of dis-ease and spirit possession. Jesus often made physical contact with those who were sick, but he could also heal at a distance (Matthew 8:13). The pieces of cloth acted as "outward and visible signs" (like a handshake, kiss, greeting card) to help people believe Paul's message without actually hearing him preach.

19:13-15 Exorcism of people who are possessed by uncontrollable forces is practiced with more or less success in many religions. There is no reference to exorcism in the Old Testament but Jesus referred to successful exorcisms in his day among Jews. "If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? (Matthew 12:27). Exorcists usually use some ritual or incantation. These seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva had presumably failed to cast out an evil spirit, but having observed the power of exorcism in the name of Jesus, they tried using the name of "Jesus whom Paul proclaims." But the evil spirit refused to admit this second hand authority.

19:16-17 People who are possessed often have superhuman strength. In this case the possessed man was in his own home, and he overpowered and ripped the clothes off these seven exorcists who were observed fleeing in terror. This became public knowledge all over the city, and many more recognized Jesus as Lord.

19:18-20 As a church grows there is always a residue of occult practices and magic rituals in the homes of Christian disciples. Discarding these is not required as a condition of baptism, but the Holy Spirit will in due course make clear that he refuses to share a human heart with any rival occult practice . Which is why such practices were condemned in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, 27, Deuteronomy 18:10-11). You cannot receive guidance from the Holy Spirit and from other sources at the same time. Luke records that this huge public burning of very expensive occult books again resulted in further church growth in the city.

19:21-41 The Silversmiths riot against Paul's team in Ephesus

The city of Ephesus was proud of its worship of Artemis, the Greek goddess of wild animals. Among Romans her Latin name was Diana and she was often depicted as carrying a bow and arrow. She was also viewed as the goddess of fertility, and the goddess of the moon (as with other female deities such as Ashera, Ashtoreth, in Canaan). The temple of Diana in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the world. As in other places the temple had been promoted as a tourist attraction with hundreds of prostitutes entertaining the visitors who sailed in from all over the Mediterannean. The silversmiths sold thousands of little shrines as souvenirs (19:24, as did perhaps, Alexander the coppersmith, 2 Timothy 4:14). When the church grew rapidly in Ephesus (19:10, 20), the province of Asia (19:26), and in other cities, the temple of Diana was neglected, and the tourist trade suffered. Angry opposition from the business community was inevitable.

19:21-22 Paul had intended to visit the churches in Macedonia (Philippi, Beroea, Thessalonica) and Achaia (Corinth, Cenchrea), but he was not able to do this till after the uproar in Ephesus (20:1). He did eventually visit Rome, but only when he was taken there as a prisoner (28:16, 30).

19:23 In the Book of Proverbs wisdom is described as a walk in the right way and the right paths (Proverbs 2:8, 20, 3:6, 17, 4:11, 18, 6:23, 8:32, 9:6, etc. It is easy to deviate from that way (Proverbs 1:15, 2:12, 4:14, 14:12, etc., Matthew 7:14). When Jesus said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), he must have been thinking of "The Way of the Lord" (Proverbs 10:29, as in Mark 1:3). Before his conversion Paul tried to arrest "any who belonged to the Way" (9:2, 22:4). And Christian faith is described as "the Way of the Lord" (18:25, 26, 24:14).

19:24-27 Demetrius convened a meeting of the guild of silversmiths in the city, and reminded them that "we get our wealth from this business" by making souvenir shrines for tourists. Their livelihood and the status of their guild was threatened by Paul turning people away from idolatry. But instead of this obvious commercial reason, citizens should be warned that their temple would lose its influence, and the great goddess Artemis would be dishonored.

19:28-29 It was this religious reason that enraged the crowd who rushed into the Roman theater. Agitators got them shouting "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians." Since they  could not find Paul (19:30), they dragged in two of Paul's travel companions. Gaius and Aristarchus were Christians from churches Paul had established in Macedonia. Aristarchus was imprisoned in Ephesus with Paul as a result of this riot (Colossians 4:10, see note on 20:1) but he continued with Paul on further perilous journeys (20:4, 6, 27:2). One ancient text lists Gaius as coming, not from Derbe, but from douberios a city in Macedonia (20:4). In that case he also continued with Paul as part of his team.

19:30-31 Paul had wanted to go into the crowd but he was restrained by his Christian friends, and some of the friendly officials of the city sent a message telling him to keep away.

19:32-34 There was great confusion in the theater for two hours. The crowd had turned on the Jews in the city, and Alexander was pushed forward probably to explain that the Jewish synagogue was made up of loyal citizens and had nothing to do with Paul and the Christians (see 19:8-9). This Alexander must have been the coppersmith who did Paul much harm (2 Timothy 4:14). And he probably pressed the case against him (2 Timothy 4:16).

19:35-37 The town clerk, equivalent to the mayor of the city, was directly responsible to the Roman emperor for keeping order (19:40). He finally managed to silence the crowd, and read the riot act with a speech in typical Roman style. He quoted the tradition that Ephesus was responsible for the temple of Diana. Several great centers of worship (e.g. Paphos in Cyprus, the Kaaba in Mecca) had a black meteorite stone "fallen from heaven" and the one in Ephesus must have been carved to represent the goddess. The mayor pointed out that Paul's companions had not robbed their temple or blasphemed their goddess.

19:38-39 Then he reminded them that Roman law required that matters of law should be settled in the courts by the appointed judges. And questions of city administration should be debated in a proper assembly (ecclesia which was also the word used for a church assembly, from which we get the term "ecclesiastical").

19:40 Roman administration did not approve of rioting by the populace. And the Mayor did not want to be blamed for this commotion. By then the city police would have arrived on the scene, and when he had dismissed the unlawful assembly, they all left sheepishly. But we will see that, although Luke carefully avoided recording this, Alexander and others must have had Paul charged, imprisoned, and thrown to face a lion in the arena (see note under 20:1).

Chapter  20