Jerusalem To Rome

The Acts of the Apostles

By Charles Fremont Sitterly


Advance from the Capital of the Province to that of the Empire A. D. 44 To A. D. 62

Chapter 19

Paul’s Third Missionary Tour



It was while Apollos was at Corinth that Paul after passing through the upper provinces came down to Ephesus, where he found some disciples.

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he asked of them.

“No,” they responded. “We did not even hear that there was a Holy Spirit.”

“Tnto what, then,” he asked, “were you baptized?”

“Tnto the Baptism of John,” they answered.

“John baptized,” said Paul, “with the baptism of repentance, and said to the people that they should believe on One who was coming after him, that is on Jesus.”

When they heard this they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus, and after Paul had laid his hands on them the Holy Spirit came upon them. They began to speak with tongues and prophesied. There were in all about twelve men.  


Apollos is not altogether an exceptional case of those who only received a partial conception of the new Way. We learn from the Gospels that John the Baptist had a much wider vogue than Jesus among a certain type of Jews, and that his baptism was peculiarly popular. Since many who sincerely accepted his preaching and teaching as far as they could understand it were of the Pilgrim class, who only went up to Jerusalem from the cities of the Dispersion once in a lifetime, they had heard no other gospel. This accounts for the cases of Apollos of Alexandria and the Twelve at Ephesus, and there were doubtless many others. The case of the Twelve has been wondered at as still being in the dark even after Aquila and Priscilla had shown the Alexandrian preacher “a more excellent way.” In so large a city as Ephesus they might easily have escaped either giving or receiving any notice or attention until discovered by Paul. If Paul’s eyesight was poor, he had other senses which amply made up for the handicap. He could find people to help wherever he moved, and his whole life was now given to enlarging the spiritual horizon of his contemporaries. Of this his Epistles are permanent witness. Falling in with this devoted group of disciples on reaching Ephesus, he saw their lack of spiritual power and freedom, and his first question brought out the reason. They had not learned of Pentecost. They had not even been baptized into the name of Christ. They were truly penitent and truly pious but had not learned that the Messiah, whom John had heralded, had really come, nor that the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised, had been given to men. Under Paul’s guidance these two steps are taken at once. To the baptism of the Baptist is added that of Jesus and then that of the Holy Spirit. As true repentance has been followed by “fruits,” so the spiritual outpouring was accompanied by “signs,” and these were the same as at Jerusalem and Samaria, Caesarea and Antioch. This group of twelve thus fully endowed at the beginning of Paul’s great epoch at Ephesus explains the fact Luke mentions later that soon “all Asia . . . heard the word of the Lord.” Paul seems to develop new leaders wherever he goes, and to leave plenty of work for them to carry out and complete on his departure.  

Then Paul went into the synagogue and for three months he kept speaking out fearlessly, reasoning with his hearers and trying to persuade them about the Kingdom of God. As some, however, began to be obstinate and to refuse to believe, speaking evil of the Way before the throngs, he left the synagogue, withdrew the disciples, and held discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the inhabitants of Asia, Jews as well as Greeks, heard the Word of the Lord. God also wrought no ordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that people even carried to the sick, towels or aprons which he had used, and their diseases would leave them and evil spirits would depart.  

A synagogue, the same which Paul had visited and spoken in on returning from his former tour and which had cordially invited him to stay, doubtless as cordially welcomed him back. For three months he has unparalleled freedom as a Christian Apostle in the leading synagogue in the leading city of Asia. It is rather difficult to understand why the issue did not come sooner unless we attribute it to the unusually liberal type of opinion prevailing in that Hebrew colony, as well as to Paul’s greater exercise of diplomacy and forbearance than appears to have been his custom with his own stiffed-necked nationals. He seems to have left the synagogue of his own option and to have withdrawn his disciples in part at least, lest a rupture arise and to avoid strife with those who were beginning to “speak evil of the Way” before the synagogue audiences. As at Corinth, he still had a great popular following, and hired the daily use—very ancient texts read “from eleven to four o’clock”—of a lecture hall and for fully two years continued almost undisturbed to teach and preach and send out missionaries to the many rich and populous cities lying along the seaboard and even a hundred miles or so inland throughout the Province Asia. His remark about fighting the wild beasts at Ephesus in the Corinthian letter (xxv, 32) is purely rhetorical, and even the great uproar which came at the end of his long ministry there was signal proof of his extraordinary success. A man whose teaching is so powerful that one hundred thousand dollars worth of books are burned at his feet as a personal tribute, a man who is assailed because he had “deluded and led off a vast number of people,” and thereby endangered not only the chief business interests but the worship of the titular deity of Ephesus, surely does not need to apologize for any failure. It was here too that Paul had such marked influence as a miracle-worker and healer, rivaling Peter’s demonstration at Jerusalem of like gifts some two decades earlier. His prowess in conflict with evil spirits, the real beasts of Ephesus, is proved by an instance which Luke records.  


Paragraph 3. THE EPISODE OF SCEVA'S SEVEN SONS. Verses 13-20.

Moreover, there were some wandering Jewish exorcists who tried to invoke the name of Jesus over those who had the evil spirits, and they said,

“I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” There were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, doing this.

“Jesus I know,” said the evil spirit, “and Paul I have heard of. You, however—who are you?”

And the man who had the evil spirit sprang on them, overcame them both, and so completely overpowered them that they rushed out of the house, stripped and wounded. This came to be known to every-one living at Ephesus, Jews as well as Greeks, and they were awe-struck and kept magnifying the name of the Lord Jesus. Many, moreover, of those who believed kept coming out and freely confessing and openly acknowledging their evil practices. Also several who had practiced magical arts collected their books and publicly burned them. The sum total of their value was found to be about fifty thousand pieces of silver. Thus, the word of God kept increasing steadily and prevailed.  

  The compliment of attempted counterfeit is now paid Paul. The magicians have always attempted to mimic Moses and Aaron. Jewish exorcisers were then common all over the empire, and, as we have seen at Samaria, Paphos, and Philippi, in one or another form opposed Christ’s Apostle as they had the Master. Sceva, with his seven sons, saw Paul rescue demon-possessed men by using the name of Jesus and set out to make capital by utilizing the same charm. The disastrous outcome only served to deepen the already strong popular appreciation of the adorable Name, and the work of Paul was thereby strengthened. But the further outcome in the utter repudiation by hundreds of people of anything which had to do with magical tendencies is the fact which Luke wishes to emphasize. Ephesus, perhaps more than even Alexandria, was a world center of the sort of literature referred to in this paragraph. The discoveries of our own time amply indicate that even in Egypt charms, amulets, formule, letters, and incantations from Ephesus were known and widely employed. That believers still clung to and kept in their possession these documents is proof of the wide-reaching influence they exerted over the community. Such phenomena and their literary discussion, not to say enthralling fascination, engage the minds of enlightened men to this day. But the Christians at Ephesus saw a new light under Paul’s teaching and largely freed themselves from this bondage. So many notable cases of actual repudiation of their books dealing with these subjects took place that as they were brought to the burning a note of their value seems to have been made and the aggregate is stated to have totaled fifty thousand denarii, representing a purchasing power to-day of well-nigh one hundred thousand dollars. Under such conditions the Word of God could not help prevailing.


Paragraph 4. THE LABOR RIOT OF THE SILVERSMITHS. Verses 21-28.
After all this was done Paul set his heart on going through Macedonia, Achaia, and then on to Jerusalem. “After I get there,” he said, “I must also see Rome.” So he sent off to Macedonia two of his assistants, Timothy and Erastus, while he himself stayed some time longer in Asia. It was just at that time when a great disturbance broke out over the Way. A silversmith, named Demetrius, who manufactured silver shrines of Diana used to furnish a good deal of business to his mechanics. These he called together, along with workmen in similar trades.

“Men,” he said, “you well know that our prosperity depends upon this business. Moreover, you constantly see and hear that not only at Ephesus but almost all over Asia this Paul here has deluded and led off a vast number of people. He says that gods made by men’s hands are not gods at all. So there is not only danger that this business of ours will be discredited but that even the temple of the great goddess Diana will fall into utter contempt, and that before long she will be despoiled of her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worships!” 3

When they heard this, bursting with rage, they began shouting,

“Great is Diana of the Ephesians.”


Paul has had his opportunity at last of preaching in Asia and now considers his mission in Ephesus for the time at least ended. He has been in correspondence with the churches in Greece and the province of Galatia and is planning on his return to Jerusalem to carry gifts from all these fields, as well as from Asia, to the mother church. Then he must see Rome. Messengers have supplemented his Epistles, and Timothy and Erastus have just left for Macedonia on this business, expecting Paul to follow soon, when an unawaited incident turns Ephesus upside down. It seems that not only the black-art publishers had suffered sad decline in their business through Paul’s two years’ course of evangelistic and enlightening services in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, but that the guild of silversmiths, whose trade was largely interested in making shrines of Diana, was also disastrously affected. Even the call for their goods from the outlying provinces had fallen to a low ebb. Demetrius, however, uses not alone the commercial argument in raising his labor riot but cleverly plays upon the nerve of religious pride and bigotry. He must have dropped in and heard Paul himself speak, for he quotes him accurately in the words, “Gods made by human hands are not gods at all.” Besides the worship of Diana must be upheld no matter how the silver trade stands! Thus, it appears that “this Paul” is undermining good religion as well as good business. It is the religious appeal which carries the mob. “Great is Ephesian Artemis!” is their cry.



Thus the city was filled with uproar. The populace rushed with one impulse into the theater, dragging along with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s traveling companions. But when Paul wanted to go into the assembly the disciples would not let him; moreover, some of the high officials of the province who were friends of his sent word and kept appealing to him not to risk himself in the theater. Meanwhile, they were shouting, some one thing and some another, for the assembly was all in confusion; indeed, the majority did not know why

they had come together. Then some of the crowd con-’ cluded it was Alexander whom the Jews were pushing to the front. So Alexander, waving his hand, wanted to make a defense before the people. When, however, they recognized that he was a Jew, one shout broke from them all as they roared for about two hours,

“Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

Finally the Recorder quieted down the crowd.

“Men of Ephesus,” he said, “where is there any-one who does not know that the city of Ephesus is guardian of the temple of the Great Diana and of the statue which fell down from heaven? As all these facts are unquestioned, you ought to be calm and do nothing rash. On the other hand, you have brought these men here who are neither guilty of sacrilege nor blasphemers of our goddess. If then, Demetrius and the workmen with him have a grievance against any-one, there i attic ea a are court days and there are Proconsuls; let them prosecute one another. If, however, you seek anything further than this, it will have to be decided in the legal assembly. For there is even danger of our being proceeded against for to-day’s riot, there being not the slightest cause for it, nor shall we be able to answer for this disorderly gathering.”

With these words he dismissed the assembly.  


When the rioters reached Paul’s lecture hall, he was not there. So they seized two men from Macedonia, Gaius and Aristarchus, who acknowledged themselves his traveling companions and had possibly just come after him. Then they swept on to the great theater where Ephesian affairs of civic importance were usually determined by open action. After they had left his hall Paul appears, ready it may be to start for Macedonia. He learns what has happened and insists on going to the theater but his friends detain him until certain Ephesian officials, “Asiarchs,” namely, commissioners of religious festivals and public games, hastily send peremptory word from the theater that Paul must in no case come into that part of the city. Here again the highest state officers are found to be not only disposed to favor the Apostle but actually taking unasked measures to protect his life. They knew Paul and liked him, and not seeing him at the center of the mob, knew that if he were still in the city he would come to the theater at any personal risk in order to cover his friends and the Way. A period of not altogether unanimous din serves as easement to the throng. Meanwhile, some hostile Jews have had time to organize a way to utilize this misspent energy. They are now seen in a compact group surrounding a big Hebrew agitator, one pretty well known as an unscrupulous bidder for favor among the coppersmiths. Luke mentions the fact of associate trades being involved in the day’s movement. But the Hebrews have overshot the mark. To the silver trade and to native Greeks, a Jewish peddler who worshiped a Jewish God only adds fuel to the fame. The multitude has no objection to the interests he represents, but that those interests should be given the place of precedence and the people of Ephesus instructed in their rights by such a man is impossible! For two hours longer they take up their popular yell—“Great is Ephesian Artemis!” By this time the Asiarchs have conferred with the city Recorder, an officer holding a position which from many standpoints was the most influential in the metropolis. With easy hand he takes the reins and tools the mob into reason, addressing them somewhat as follows:

“Surely, no one present disputes the supremacy of Artemis, nor the fact that Ephesus is proud to be known the world over as doorkeeper to her temple and guardian of her relics which fell down from Zeus, but even religious enthusiasm must be seemly. Are they so frantic as to demand the blood of two Greek gentlemen and Romans from Macedonia who have not questioned these things nor committed any act of sacrilege? As for social conditions or matters of complaint on the part of tradesmen or working people, no city in the empire was more democratic in its government. Did they not have three regular town meetings every month? Were there no courts nor city attorneys? Had the Proconsuls resigned? Was Cesar dead? Why, what is this beautiful theater built for and embellished at vast public expense? Did they not know that one of the fundamental laws of the empire had been trampled underfoot for half a day by this disturbance of the public peace and most disorderly strike? Not only the various trades but the bazaars, banking-houses, and even the temple of great Diana were deserted and damaged. Let every man now take off his headcovering and quietly walk out of this theater and disperse either to his home or his place of business.”