Through the Bible In One Year

Day 226

Acts 19:23-41

Yesterday we saw Paul arrive in Ephesus for the second time.  And this time we are given a detailed account of the events that took place while Paul was in Ephesus.  We saw a great deal of people in Ephesus come to accept Christ as their savior, and today we are going the uproar this caused among a certain group of Ephesians.  And that group was the craftsmen who made “sliver shrines” to the goddess Artemis (for more information about the city of Ephesus see “Through the Bible in One Year, Day 225”), who started a riot because of the conversions they were seeing take place.

About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”—19:23-27

The relationship between a silversmith named Demetrius and the craftsmen is that Demetrius ran and procured the business, while the craftsmen actually worked the metal.  Large numbers of Ephesians turning from idolatry meant sure financial ruin for them.  The Ephesian Artemis was not the Greek goddess but an ancient local deity, a mother-goddess of Asia Minor.  Demetrius declared three risks posed by Christianity: business disrepute, goddess disregard and goddess diminishment.  While the exclamation that Artemis was worshipped in the whole world was exaggeration, the cult was popular.  Modern day archaeologists have discovered 33 temples to Artemis throughout Asian Minor.  Many other shrines were likely lost to time, and more may be unearthed with further excavations.

When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.—19:28-31

People worked up by Demetrius seized the Macedonians Gaius (not the man from Derbe mentioned in Acts 20:4) and Aristarchus (likely from Thessalonica; Acts 20:4) and dragged them to the theater.  The disciples and some officials of the province, who were Paul’s friends, did not allow Paul to go.  The situation must have been very dangerous.  And before Paul agreed not to go, he may have received some assurances from the officials that his friends would be safe.

The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander to the front, and they shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”—19:32-34

The scene at the theater can only be described as chaos.  The crowd did not know why they were there but were raucous anyway.  A Jew named Alexander was pushed forward to speak.  Motioning with one’s hand was a common gesture before beginning a speech.  When the crowd realized Alexander was a Jew, they chanted in favor of Artemis for two hours.  In other words Alexander’s stance on idolatry was not welcome in this assembly.

The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.—19:35-41

The city clerk refers to the chief executive magistrate in the city—the one who implemented the decrees of the public assembly.  His argument was twofold.  First, the status of Ephesus as guardian of an image had not been diminished by the growth of Christianity.  Second, the men who had been arrested had broken no laws.  These men had not been seen trying to rob treasuries of the temple (something the Ephesians feared from previous attempts).  Moreover, they had not slandered the goddess.  Thus, with no legal basis for the assembly, the official dismissed it.  To be sure Christian evangelists did not endorse idolatry in any way.  And that is where we will pick up tomorrow as Paul moves into Macedonia and Greece for the last time.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Nehemiah 9:22-10:39, 1 Corinthians 9:19-10:13, Psalm 34:1-10 and Proverbs 21:13

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