Paul’s last mission trip
Paul goes back to Ephesus1 While Apollos visited the city of Corinth, Paul went to the city of Ephesus. Paul traveled through the hill country until he finally arrived in Ephesus and met some of the believers there. 2 He asked them, “Did the Holy Spirit come to you when you decided to put your trust in Jesus?” “Holy Spirit?” they said. “What’s a Holy Spirit? No one told us there’s a Holy Spirit.” 3 Paul said, “What in the world kind of baptism did you get?” They said, “The kind John the Baptist gave. We got wet.” 4 “That’s not enough now,” Paul said. “To qualify for John’s baptism, you had to commit to living a godly life and saying no to sin. But John himself said we were to follow another spiritual leader who would come next. He was talking about Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they got themselves baptized again—this time invoking the name of Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on the people in this group, the Holy Spirit came to them. They spoke in other languages. They prophesied, too. 7 There were about a dozen men in this group.
Paul, two years a guest speaker8 Paul taught in the Ephesus synagogue for three months. He spoke with confidence, talking with the people and persuading them to believe what he had to say about God’s spiritual kingdom. 9 Some Jews got plain ol’ stubborn on him. They weren’t going to believe him no matter what he said. Period. Right out in public they started saying nasty things about this religious movement called the Way. So Paul left the synagogue. He took the believers with him. He started teaching people each day at the Tyrannus Learning Center. 10 Paul taught there for two years. Words he spoke about the Lord got picked up, carried, and quoted to Jews and non-Jews all over the Roman province of Asia.
Paul’s miracle handkerchiefs11 God gave Paul the power to do some pretty unusual miracles. 12 When Paul touched a piece of cloth, like a handkerchief or an apron, it had the power to heal. It cured the sick of diseases. It exorcized demons from the demon-possessed. 13 A group of exorcist Jews arrived in town. They had been traveling around, trying to drive demons out of people. In Ephesus, they tried to do that by invoking the name of Jesus like it was a magical word: “Come out! We command it, using the name Paul uses: ‘Jesus.’” 14 The Jews doing this were the seven sons of Sceva, one of the top Jewish priests. 15 A demon answered the men: “I know Jesus. I recognize Paul. Who are you?” 16 Then the demon-possessed man charged into the group. He tore them up—all seven of them. They ran out of the house, beat up and naked. 17 Everyone in town heard about it, Jews and non-Jews alike. It scared people. But it also got more folks treating Jesus with respect. 18 Many of the new believers felt compelled to confess their sins by describing them. 19 Some of the new believers had practiced magic. They brought their magical how-to books and burned them in public, for everyone to see. Someone tallied up the cost of those books: 50,000 pieces of silver. 20 Paul’s message about Jesus spread all over, and people took it seriously. 21 Paul felt that God’s Spirit wanted him to move on, and head up to Macedonia and Achaia, and then back to Jerusalem. He said, “After Jerusalem, I have to go see Rome.” 22 He sent two advance men to Macedonia: Timothy and Erastus. But he stayed a bit longer in the province of Asia.
Paul sparks a riot in Ephesus23 While he was still there, the Christian movement known as the Way got swept up into a huge problem in the city. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius owned a business in town that produced silver idols of the city’s patron goddess, Artemis. His business produced a lot of money for local artisans. 25 He called a meeting of all the people in his business network, including those in affiliated trades. He gave a speech: “Gentlemen, I don’t need to tell you that we make a lot of money from this business of ours. 26 You also know that a guy named Paul has convinced huge numbers of people in Ephesus and all over the province of Asia to stop worshiping our gods. He has convinced these people that gods we make with our human hands are no gods at all. 27 Think of it. This man is disrespecting our entire industry and convincing others to disrespect it as well. We’re all at risk of losing the respect we’ve enjoyed. So is our great goddess Artemis. She’s not going to seem so great anymore. Not here. Not in Asia. Not anywhere in the world that has honored her magnificence.” 28 Business associates who heard this got mad fast. They started to chant, “Great is Artemis of Ephesus!” 29 They turned the city into an uproar as they grew into a mob and ran through the streets. They rounded up two of Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia: Gaius and Aristarchus. They carried the men off to the amphitheater. 30 When Paul found out what was going on he wanted to go there. But the believers wouldn’t let him. 31 Paul had some friends among the Asia officials. They concurred. They rushed a message to him, pleading with him not to go to the theater. 32 The scene at the theater was absolute chaos. People were screaming all kinds of things. Most of the people had no idea what was going on. 33 Some Jews prodded one of their representatives to address the crowd, a man named Alexander. He tried to silence the mob by using hand gestures, so he could defend the Jews. 34 As soon as the crowd realized he was a Jew, they shouted him down. For two hours they chanted, “Great is Artemis of Ephesus!”
The mayor calms the rioters35 Eventually, the mayor managed to quiet the crowd. He said, “People of Ephesus, listen to me. Who on earth doesn’t know we are the caretakers of the temple of the great Artemis? Who doesn’t know that we alone are the keepers of her image that fell from the skies? 36 Everybody knows it. Nobody can deny it. So don’t get worked up about this. Don’t do anything stupid. 37 Look at what you’ve already done. You’ve dragged these men here who have done nothing wrong. They haven’t robbed the temple. They haven’t badmouthed our goddess. 38 If Demetrius and his business associates have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open for business. Judges are on duty. Let Demetrius and his people file a complaint. 39 If you want something more than that, we can settle that legally, too. 40 As is, we’re already in danger of being held accountable to the Romans for this riot—because there’s no reason for what has been done here today. There’s nothing we can say to explain it away.” 41 With that, the mayor told the people to go home.
Ephesus was one of the four largest cities in the Roman Empire, possibly the third-largest. It sat on the west coast of what is now Turkey. Its port served as Rome’s main gateway into and out of what is now the Middle East. It was a melting pot of cultures and religions, and was already 1000 years old by the time Paul got there. It was also home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Temple of Artemis, four times larger than the Parthenon of Athens.
“Hill country” is a guess. The writer used a vague Greek word translated “upper country” (New American Standard Bible), “interior regions” (New Living Translation), and “some places” (New Century Version). Some Bible experts guess that Paul bypassed a more common route through southland cities like Laodicea and Colossae. Instead, he may have traveled the east-west route further north, along the Cayster River valley, which feeds into Ephesus.
Bible experts debate whether or not these “believers” were Christian. The believers hadn’t been baptized in the name of Jesus (19:5) and they hadn’t heard of the Holy Spirit (19:2). Yet many scholars say the believers were authentic Christians who simply hadn’t heard the whole story yet.
Literally, “in the name of Jesus.” Jesus said, “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13 New Living Translation). In baptism, a person is asking to be recognized as a follower of Jesus and a citizen of God’s kingdom.
It’s unclear if they spoke in languages known to folks on earth (Acts 2:11), or with babbling-like sounds that “people won’t be able to understand” (1 Corinthians 14:2).
Why do you think the first Christians called their movement the Way? The writer doesn’t say why, so guesses are allowed. One guess: The first known church manual, Teaching (Didache, in Greek), called it “the way of the Lord.” Another guess: Jesus told his followers, “I am the way…No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 New Living Translation).
The Greek word describing the facility could mean a school or a lecture hall. A man named Tyrannus may have owned the building or donated a lot of the money to pay for it.
In Roman times, Asia did not refer to the Far East. It was the territory on what is now Turkey’s west coast. It was home to one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire: Ephesus.
It’s unclear what the cloths were. The handkerchiefs seemed to have something to do with the head or face. They may have been sweatbands. The aprons seemed to be a cloth worn by field workers or servants. They may have been waist belts to catch sweat from the upper body.
Similar commands invoking the name of Jesus show up in ancient writings. Example: “I command you by the God of the Hebrews, Jesus.” This shows up in a magical how-to list from the AD 200s, called Paris papyri 4.
About 475 pounds (215 kg) of silver. Each coin, a Greek drachma, represented a typical day’s wage for the average working grunt. Today, someone making $15 an hour would make $120 a day. Tally $120 by 50,000 days and you get $6 million. That’s a lot of books.
Macedonia and Achaia were Roman provinces in what is now the countries of Greece and Macedonia.
Possibly the same Erastus mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:20 and Romans 16:23.
Artemis, also known by her Roman name of Diana, was the patron goddess of Ephesus. She was known as the goddess of hunting as well as the goddess who helped women in childbirth. A Temple in Ephesus devoted to her was four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens. Ancient writers classified it as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
This business meeting may have involved not just artisans who worked in silver, but silver miners along with merchants and traders who sold the products as well.
The city of Ephesus, now in ruins, features the remains of an amphitheater that seated an estimated 20,000 people.
Many Bible experts say Alexander was probably no friend to Paul. They say he probably wanted to disassociate the Jewish religion from the emerging Christian movement known as the Way.
The mayor refers to a legend about a sacred stone falling from the sky, possibly a meteorite.
Bible experts aren’t sure how to explain who the believers are that Paul met in Ephesus. They hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit: “What’s a Holy Spirit?” (19:2). Given what the writer says about them, how would you describe them?
Paul told the believers in Ephesus that John’s baptism was “not enough now” (19:4). Were they not Christian? Or did they simply need to mature, and take their faith to the next step by learning more about Jesus and what it means to live a life guided by God’s Spirit?
Paul typically didn’t stay very long in a city. He told the story of Jesus and then moved on. Years later, he would typically swing back by to check on how the believers were doing. Ephesus, like the city of Corinth, was an exception. If you had to guess why he stayed here for at least “two years” (19:10), what would you guess?
The short verse about Paul producing handkerchiefs and aprons that could heal people sounds a little out of place to some readers (19:12). What do you make of it? Does it sound like an authentic part of the story, or does it sound more like something that someone added afterward? Also, do you think it’s possible for an object like this to mysteriously produce a healing effect?
Some exorcist Jews had heard of Paul driving out demons by using the name of Jesus. So they tried to do the same thing, without success (19:13-16). Christians today often use the name of Jesus as though it has some special power. We often close our prayers by saying “in the name of Jesus, Amen.” What’s the point of using the phrase like that? Isn’t the power in the man and not the name?
“Many of the new believers felt compelled to confess their sins by describing them” (19:18). Does that sound like a good idea or just about the dumbest thing you ever heard?
It’s usually impossible to know the reason why people do what they do. But if you had to guess why Demetrius called the business meeting that produced a mob (19:25), would you say it had more to do with profit margins or professional respect or devotion to the goddess Artemis?
LIFE APPLICATION. Some denominations don’t allow their ministers to baptize people a second time. If a person is baptized as a baby, for example, they can’t be baptized as an adult. Yet these Ephesus believers who had been baptized according to the teachings of John decided to get baptized again. If you were a member of a church that didn’t allow a second baptism and you were trying to defend your one-and-done baptism, how would you explain this Bible story?
LIFE APPLICATION. Most people today who convert to Christianity do not seem to speak “in other languages” (19:6) or prophesy, as believers did in Ephesus when they received the Holy Spirit. Are we missing something?
LIFE APPLICATION. Christians who had formerly practiced magic decided to burn what amounted to a massive library of how-to magic books (19:19). Some would say that burning books sounds so Medieval—and that it’s the kind of thing ignorant people would do when they want to stay ignorant. Do you think there are some books today that are best left unread? Or is there value in reading even books that say the opposite of everything for which we stand?