Acts 19:21 – 20:2
Luke has just concluded the story of Sceva the Sorcerer and his seven sons. In co-opting Paul’s authority by claiming to cast out demons by imitating Paul’s use of the name of Jesus Christ, they suddenly were confronted, basically shredded, and physically cast out (of the building) themselves by a whirling dervish of a demon who acknowledged the authority of Jesus Christ over him, was well-versed in the ministry and doctrine of Paul, but sarcastically wanted to know who they thought they were! Ephesus apparently was a seat of a mixture of Judaism and black magic. As a result of this episode, this community of sorcery was shaken to its roots, a king’s ransom in sorcery books was burned, and many came to believe in Christ.
As always, I encourage you to read this entire passage for yourself in a reliable translation before proceeding to the following discussion. Always hold the Word of God in higher authority than my words, and not the other way around!
Once the furor had died down, Paul “purposed in the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem, backtracking through Macedonia and Achaia. “…purposed in the spirit” in the Greek text is hetheto… hen tow pneumati. This is a common Greek phrase that today would be expressed by “made up his mind.” The Greeks thought of “mind” and “spirit” differently than we do, so they would have said “made up his spirit”. The King James English capitalizes all references to God in any form, so when speaking of the Holy Spirit, the word spirit is capitalized, as opposed to the “spirit of man” where it is not. But the Greek uses no such mechanism to indicate if it is Paul’s human spirit or the Holy Spirit spoken of here.
“…hen tow…” gives us no clue either. Tow is an indefinite pronoun without gender. It would be overreach to translate this as “his.” It would be better translated as “one’s,” making the entire phrase “make up one’s spirit.” As such, it lends greater credence to the notion that this phrase is in effect a Greek cliché that refers to Paul’s human spirit, not the Holy Spirit.
Here is the root of an ancient controversy among theologians. Did Paul go to Jerusalem under the direction of the Holy Spirit? If only under the desire of his own spirit, was his journey to Jerusalem outside the will of God? I submit it doesn’t matter! Luke records the events that took place there and thereafter faithfully, and we see how although they looked terrible at the time (years in prison, etc.), God used them to spread – and preserve – Paul’s Gospel more than it would have if it relied only on Paul’s ability to travel freely! God is certainly able to take what appears to be temporary evil in our lives and turn it to His purposes and eternal good, for “All things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Paul is going to Jerusalem, no matter who made up his mind!
Paul intended not only to go to Jerusalem, but then on to “see Rome.” Rome was, of course, farther west than any of his missionary journeys had yet taken him. Perhaps he wondered if his Good News might be spread farther and faster from that Capital of the World. And he may, by that time, have heard rumors of believers in Rome.
In preparation for his trip to Jerusalem, he sent Timothy and Erastus ahead into Macedonia, no doubt to visit the churches he had planted and to prepare them for Paul’s coming visit. But Paul remained in Ephesus “for a season,” or as the NASB puts it, “for a while.”
C. R. Stam provides some background for the remainder of this chapter in his 3rd volume of “Acts Dispensationally Considered” series regarding the Ephesian’s false deity Diana(later known as Artemis):
“It was actually Diana who incited ‘no small stir’ about the ‘way’ which Paul proclaimed, for the real ‘Diana’ back of that carved statue, was a fallen angel or group of fallen angels. It is they, the demons, who were behind all idolatry… all idols represented attempts by Satan to pervert truth and divert worship away from God… Diana of Ephesus (the later Artemis) was, unlike her various predecessors, the many-breasted personification of fruitfulness and bounty in nature, and as a woman, she called forth a fanatical loyalty from her devotees.
“The image of Diana was supposed to have fallen from heaven, sent down to earth by Jupiter, but it is easily possible, especially considering its unshapely form, that it was nothing more than a meteor made into a crude statue.”
Luke records that Demetrius was a central figure among a guild of silversmiths who derived their income from the manufacture and sale of miniature shrines of the Temple of Diana with the figure of Diana herself in the center.
Paul now had ministered in Ephesus for three years, and had gained enough influence that his preaching of Jesus Christ had made significant dents in the worship of Diana by the populace and apparently a sharp decline in the sale of the Diana miniatures.
Luke tells the story in a straight-forward manner. In verses 24-27 he reproduces Demetrius’ speech, and in verses 28-29 he describes its effect. His fellow silversmiths were “filled with rage,” chanting and rioting in the streets. The city at large was “filled with confusion,” and the rioters rushed single-mindedly into the “theater” (like the city auditorium). Not finding Paul himself, they dragged his ministry associates Gaius and Aristarchus with them.
Paul apparently heard of these events, and wanted to go into the theater himself to speak to the rioters, but his fellow believers wouldn’t let him. Some of the officials of the province who had become his friends also urged him repeatedly to not go into the theater (vv. 30-31). Meanwhile, confusion reigned in the theater, and the majority didn’t even know the reason for the gathering. One Alexander, a Jew, was put forward by the Jewish community, and some decided the riot was about him. He motioned for the rioters to be quiet and listen to his defense, but it had the opposite effect. When they figured out he was a Jew, it resulted in two more hours of shouting the battle cry, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” (vv. 32-34)
Apparently news of the uproar eventually began to reach officials, in particular a man described in English translations as a “town clerk.” The Greek word, grammateus, is based on the word grapho, (“writing”) and refers to one who writes – a scribe, an expert in Jewish law. In this case, he would have been an expert in Roman law and appointed as a “recorder” of all things governmental in Ephesus under Roman rule. Conybeare and Howson in their classic work The Life and Epistles of St. Paul describe this official:
“Asia was always a favored province, and Ephesus must be classed among those cities of the Greeks, to which the conquerors were willing to pay distinguished respect. Her liberties and her municipal constitution were left untouched, when the province was governed by an officer from Rome… Like other free cities, Ephesus had its magistrates, as Thessalonica had its politarchs, and Athens its archons. One of these was that officer who is described as ‘town clerk’ in the [KJV] of the Bible… we may assert from the parallel case of Athens, and from the Ephesian records themselves, that he was a magistrate of great authority, in a high and very public position. He had to do with State papers; he was keeper of the archives; he read what was of public moment before the senate and assembly; he was present when money was deposited in the temple; and when letters were sent to the people of Ephesus, they were officially addressed to him… Hence, no magistrate was more before the public at Ephesus. His very aspect was familiar to all the citizens; and no one was so likely to be able to calm and disperse an angry and excited multitude.” (pp. 426-427)
Luke proceeds to quote this official’s words to the unruly citizens before him. Once again Conybeare and Howson summarize his approach to restoring order:
“The speech is a pattern of candid argument and judicious tact. He first allays the fanatical passions of his listeners by this simple appeal: ‘Is it not known everywhere that this city of the Ephesians is Nocoros (lowly handmaiden) of the great goddess Diana and of the image that came down from the sky?’ The contradiction of a few insignificant strangers could not affect what was notorious in all the world. Then he bids them remember that Paul and his companions had not been guilty of approaching or profaning the temple, or of outraging the feelings of the Ephesians by calumnious expressions against the goddess. And then he turns from the general subject to the case of Demetrius, and points out that the remedy for any injustice was amply provided by the [annual courts] which were then going on, — or by an appeal to the proconsul. And that such an uproar exposed the city of Ephesus to the displeasure of the Romans: for, however great were the liberties allowed to an ancient and loyal city, it was well known to the whole population, that a tumultuous meeting which endangered the public peace would never be tolerated. So, having rapidly brought his arguments to a climax, he tranquilized the whole multitude and pronounced the technical words which declared the assembly dispersed. The stone seats were gradually emptied. The uproar ceased, and the rioters separated to their various occupations and amusements.” (p. 432)
In retrospect, why did God through the Holy Spirit inspire Luke to include this episode in the Bible? Luke could easily have jumped from describing Paul’s desire to go to Jerusalem right into the beginning of the journey? It’s worth remembering that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17) So how, then, does this anecdote instruct, reprove, correct, and furnish us for God’s good work? Once again, I think Conybeare and Howson have some wisdom for us:
“Thus God used the eloquence of a Greek magistrate to protect His servant, as before He had used the right of Roman citizenship [Acts 16:35-38], and the calm justice of a Roman governor [Acts 18:12-16].” (p. 432)
God is in control. Even when circumstances have turned to mob violence, He is able to protect His own and accomplish His perfect will, even if it means using the likes of a Philippian jailor, a crass politician representing secular government (as was Gallio), or a level-headed Ephesian town recorder facing rioting citizens. Governments receive their power and authority from God, and He is able to bend them to His will even when they are His enemies and do not realize they are doing His work.
Next time… Eutychus, the Fall Guy