Paul in Ephesus — A Dozen Disciples

At the end of the previous post I stated, “Remember that the Book of Acts describes a period when the Kingdom program with its accordant miracles and conferring of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands is on the wane but not yet gone, while the Age of Grace we have been discussing is still on the rise.  It should come as no surprise, then, to find Paul working miracles when the circumstances are appropriate… If the idea of dispensationalism has any validity at all, we must apply it as we study this passage and realize that because these believers in Ephesus needed these things, it does not mean that believers today need them!  In God’s eyes the authority of His Word, and in particular Paul’s authority as the apostle to the Gentiles for the Age of Grace, is a settled matter and no longer needs miracles to authenticate it.”  Remember that the purpose of miracles is always to authenticate the ministry of the one who performed them (prove that God is “with them”), especially to unbelieving Israel.

The first two anecdotes in Chapter 19 at first glance appear to have Paul working miracles as part of his commission to the Gentiles.  But a careful inspection of the passages will illustrate the ideas expressed above.  Remember also that in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he tells them that the sign gifts will pass into history — a future event from Paul’s perspective, but a past event from ours.

If you have not taken the time to read through Acts 19:1-10 yet, please do so now before reading the remainder of this post…

Welcome back!  Let’s begin a verse-by-verse analysis, using our best study methods and asking God to enlighten our minds through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us!

v1  Apollos has left Ephesus for Corinth, and has apparently been ministering there for some time.  Meanwhile, Paul has passed through Galatia and Phrygia (Luke calls it the “upper country” here) and has finally come around to Ephesus.  He immediately finds some “disciples” (gr. mathetes, a pupil who has adopted his tutor’s teachings).   Note that this word does not imply who their teacher was or what teachings they had adopted.  At the same time, these disciples were associated with some community of worshippers of the One True God, and were not disciples of any of the Greek schools of philosophy.  If they had been, Paul would not have asked them the next question…

v2  ”Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”  This is a diagnostic test from Paul’s understanding.  He is not asking if they received the Spirit, but rather when they received the Spirit.  They could have answered several ways:

  • We received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
  • We received the Holy Spirit when Peter laid his hands on us
  • We received the Holy Spirit the moment we accepted Jesus

Their answer is revealing:  ”No, we haven’t even heard if the Holy Spirit has been given yet.”  Note that they did not say, “What’s the Holy Spirit?”  As students of the Old Testament, they would have known about Him and that He would accompany the coming and ministry of the Messiah.  Their answer leads to Paul’s next question…

v3  ”Into what then were you baptized?”  If they didn’t know the Holy Spirit had already come, they had no knowledge of Pentecost or of any of the other events following it!  The last baptism before Pentecost would have been… “Into John’s baptism.”  In short, these “believers” were messianic Jews (or Jewish proselytes) who believed that John was the forerunner of Christ’s earthly ministry to Israel and who were looking for the coming Messiah.  They apparently had no knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah or of his death, burial and resurrection.  (If they did, then the events of the next two verses would have been unneeded.) They did not claim to have believed and been baptized under Peter’s, John’s, or any other apostle’s ministry following the Resurrection. This is, by the way, the same state that Apollos was in before he was taken aside by Priscilla and Aquila.   Some commentators suggest that they may have been associates of Apollos who were not as ready to hear “the rest of the story” as he had been.

vv4-5  ”John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.  And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  Be careful — do not read anything more into this verse than what Luke says, and do your best to cast off preconceived notions.

  • It does not say Paul baptized them.
  • It does not say they were re-baptized.
  • It does not say they were baptized with water
A careful look at the Greek grammar of this verse is profitable.  In its entirety it is “akousantes de ebapisthaysan eis to honoma tou kuriou Iaysou.”
  • akousantes (subject of sentence, plural, past completed action, active) from akouow (“hear”) = “those who heard”
  • de (conjunctive particle) = and, also, now, etc.
  • ebaptisthaysan (3rd person plural, past completed action, fact, recipient of action) = “they were baptized”
  • eis to denotes purpose or result = “to”
  • honoma (proper name) = “the Name”
  • tou = “of”
  • Kuriou Iaysou = “Lord Jesus”

A literal reassembly of the parts is, “Those who heard also they were baptized to the Name of Lord Jesus.”  Luke is using grammar that presents this event as a single completed past action.  In spite of the artificial separation of verses, vv4-5 should be read together as a single completed action, not a sequence of two separate actions.

v6  This verse describes Paul’s involvement in this process as an extension of the single action described in the previous two verses.  The immediate visible result was that they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.  Today we don’t see this when someone becomes a believer, but at this particular point in the History Book of Acts, God deemed it necessary for the sake of His chosen people Israel who were present in that synagogue in Ephesus.

v7  God is the great arranger of circumstances, and this verse is an apt conclusion to the similarities between this isolated group and what happened at Pentecost.  It is no mere coincidence that there were “in all about twelve men,” just as there were twelve Apostles present at Pentecost (having just elected Matthias to fill Judas Iscariot’s position by lot) awaiting a promise of twelve thrones to rule over twelve tribes! This is truly a “mini-Pentecost,” staged by God for the benefit of the Jewish on-lookers of the synagogue, and inexorably links this episode to the Kingdom principles of the Jerusalem church, even though it was facilitated through the great Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul.

v8  On the strength of this miraculous certification of Paul’s authority, he was able to boldly present his case for Jesus as the Messiah for three months in the synagogue — with the twelve “disciples” in attendance (as indicated in the next verse).

vv9-10  The similarities with Pentecost continued — unfortunately.  Just like the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, some of those in the synagogue at Ephesus also hardened their hearts, rejected Paul’s message (became “disobedient”), and spoke evil concerning faith in Jesus before the entire synagogue. (This wasn’t unexpected — it parallels exactly what happened at Corinth.)  As a result, Paul withdrew from the synagogue, taking these twelve new believers with him to the school of one Tyrannus, where he taught daily for two whole years.  The result was that “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”

Next time:  More miracles from Paul the Apostle


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