Acts 18:23–20:6. Paul's Third Missionary Journey. Ephesus.

Key Notes: Ephesus and the goddess Artemis. Magic attacked. Goddess deserted. Riot. Four dimensions of knowledge, Christian and otherwise.

Paul did not go on to new territory during his third journey, but concentrated on Asia Minor, and spent most of his time in Ephesus. He will reach Italy and Rome only as a prisoner. Ephesus was a commercial city in decline because its harbor had become silted in and it was turning from commerce to tourist business, emphasizing the worship of Artemis (Diana of the Romans).

18:23–19:7 Paul went overland from Syrian Antioch into Galatia and Phrygia until he came to Ephesus. He was preceded in Ephesus by Apollos, an orator with thorough Scriptural knowledge, mainly Old Testament, but with fervor and boldness to refute the Jews. His knowledge appears to stop after Jesus' early ministry because he knew only the baptism of John. He would be able to preach "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29), John's powerful message to Judaism. If he had heard of Jesus' post-resurrection command to baptize in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, he would have probably also have known of the Ascension, Pentecost, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the early Church. So his message was limited.

Priscilla and Aquilla brought him up to date. Apollos went on to preach in Greece (Corinth in Achaia) with a greatly expanded message. Paul spoke well of him (ICor.3:1–23) and the Corinthians were happy to divide their loyalties among Apollos, Peter, Paul and Christ. ICor.1:10–17

Paul arrived in Ephesus to find some disciples who may have been instructed by Apollos, and who had been baptized with John's baptism in preparation for the coming of Jesus. They did not know of the Holy Spirit. Paul baptized them in the Name of Jesus and when he laid hands on them the Holy Spirit came upon them in power.

"Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" Note that this question was not addressed to Christians but to Jewish disciples of John the Baptist. It is not a question to be addressed to those who have accepted Christ as Savior. "Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him." Rom.8:9

19:8–10 Paul preached in the synagogue for three months until he was rejected by the Jews, and then went to the Hall of Tyrannus (a Greek teacher, "the Tyrant") where he taught or dialogued for two years. The Western Text adds the words "from the fifth to the tenth {hour}". If correct that Paul preached five hours a day, during siesta, he could have given 2000 hours of instruction to the people of Ephesus and Asia minor. It would have been the equivalent of a seminary education.

What would Paul have been able to say in that much time?
He could have taught OT books, the history of Israel, Messianic prophecy, the life of Christ, early church history (the first 30 years), theology (God, Scripture, Man and Sin, the Atonement, the Church, the End Times), ethics and apologetics, Hebrew and Aramaic.

19:11–22 God granted Paul a dispensation of miracles, to heal the sick and cast out demons. [We think of Paul as an itinerant missionary and theologian; we do not think of him occasionally healing the physically sick and exorcising demons.] This was important because Ephesus was interested in magic. Itinerant Jewish exorcists attempted to use a formula that included the name of Paul's Jesus, as if the Word were magic, and failed painfully. The story was widely told, and had an impact on believers and skeptics alike. Jesus' name was extolled. New believers repudiated their magic practices and destroyed magic books worth 50,000 pieces of silver (like the denarius--the day's wages of a laborer). Paul anticipated leaving for a revisit to the churches of Macedonia and Greece, and sent off Timothy and Erastus.

Note that the demons recognized Paul and Jesus but not Jewish exorcists. We knew that the demons recognized Jesus from their defeats in the Gospels, but it is a pleasant surprise to find that a mere mortal endowed with the Spirit of God would also be powerful in the spirit-world.

19:23–41 The opposition to the Gospel now came from the guild of silver-smiths who were losing business because Artemis worship was in decline. Small idols were in less demand. They ran into the theater with Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's companions and began chanting "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians".[This out-door theater still exists, and seats about 25,000 people.] A mob joined them. Alexander, a presumed defender of the Jews, could not be heard. Paul wanted to go on stage, but friendly Asiarchs (city officials) prevented him. After two hours, the town clerk was able to get their attention. They were probably hoarse and exhausted by then. He agreed with all that they believed about Artemis, and added that they had no grounds to attack believers who had not blasphemed the goddess nor committed sacrilege. [Paul almost never attacked paganism directly.] They should use the courts and not engage in riots.This is a fine example of a pagan official protecting believers.

20:1–6 Paul then revisited Macedonia, Greece and returned to Troas. Luke omits a great deal that happened during this period, including the writing of Romans and II Corinthians.

Artemis of the Ephesians was also know as Demeter, Athene, Diana (Latin), and later, Great Mother. She was the goddess of maternity, chastity, and fertility so that her worship had sexual connotations. One of her statues still exists. The Temple to Artemis was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Each of the 127 columns was donated by a king. Column fragments (green jasper) from the temple have been found in the dome of St. Sophia in Istanbul and in Italian churches. The temple also contained a meteorite (Acts 19:35), increasing the awe that the temple created. The entire month of May was celebrated in her honor and athletic contests were held, sponsored by wealthy city patrons, called Asiarchs. ("Artemis." in Int. Stand. Bibl. Encyclo.,’79.)

The work in Ephesus can be organized around ideas of knowledge and motivations First, the motives.
The silversmitths were driven by money--their loss of income. The magicians and exorcists were motivated by power. Moderns who dabble in the occult are also said to be seeking power.

The four ideas of knowledge:

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of Truth." (IITim. 2:12 KJV).