Serious Trouble in Ephesus
About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis. He kept many craftsmen busy. He called them together, along with others employed in similar trades and addressed them as follows: “Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!”
At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the believers wouldn’t let him. Some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, also sent a message to him, begging him not to risk his life by entering the amphitheater. Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there. The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander forward and told him to explain the situation. He motioned for silence and tried to speak. But when the crowd realized he was a Jew, they started shouting again and kept it up for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
At last the mayor was able to quiet them down enough to speak. “Citizens of Ephesus,” he said. “Everyone knows that Ephesus is the official guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, whose image fell down to us from heaven. Since this is an undeniable fact, you should stay calm and not do anything rash. You have brought these men here, but they have stolen nothing from the temple and have not spoken against our goddess. “If Demetrius and the craftsmen have a case against them, the courts are in session and the officials can hear the case at once. Let them make formal charges. And if there are complaints about other matters, they can be settled in a legal assembly. I am afraid we are in danger of being charged with rioting by the Roman government, since there is no cause for all this commotion. And if Rome demands an explanation, we won’t know what to say.”
Then he dismissed them, and they dispersed.Acts 19:23-41
Now we have before us the details of the trouble that broke out in Ephesus following Paul’s consistent teaching over a long period of time. Clearly Paul taught more than Luke told us early. Note what Demetrius said about Paul’s teaching in verse 26; something Luke hasn’t told us before this.
This section divides into three sections.
- Demetrius’ speech
- The goings-on in the amphitheatre
- The Proconsul’s (Mayor) speech.
Look at each of these sections carefully.
The first line is interesting:
- serious trouble
- in Ephesus
- concerning the Way
The way this statement is put is fascinating. Literally in Greek it is – there arose no little disturbance / stir / commotion / trouble. Often in the English language we play something down in order to build it up. We do that frequently in New Zealand. It is a kiwi-ism to understate something for effect. “Wow that’s not bad” – meaning that’s really good.
It is called litotes which is a Greek word we have borrowed into English as a technical grammatical term for understating some for effect or to highlight it. The Greeks did it and now the Kiwis do it. No little [tarachos] – no little disturbance, no little trouble, no little tumult, no little uprising, no little commotion. All of those words infer trouble: tumult, commotion, uprising are strong words. There was a problem and it was a serious one, not a little fleeting ripple.
The trouble concerned The Way – this new upstart religion from Galilee in far flung Israel, a small unimportant part of the Roman Empire. Yet it was causing a stir everywhere this message went. It was shaking the long established, sanctioned religions of the then known world.
This all took place in Ephesus – Ephesus was the capital of the Province of Asia and as such had a Roman Proconsul governing it. Ephesus was the Asiarchate, the seat of religious power for the Province of Asia. The Roman authority to deal with all matters related to religion and religious affairs in order to maintain order between the multiple religions of the Empire. Right there in Ephesus was the shrine and temple to the Roman Goddess Diana, called Artemis in the Greek language. This was a big deal – or should I say no little religious problem. Diana was widely recognized as the goddess of the hunt, the moon, love and fertility. She was often depicted as having multiple breasts. This goddess was recognized across the Roman Empire. I can’t emphasize enough – this was no little issue. This was a big deal and a threat to Roman worship of the gods and goddesses. Yet according to Demetrius, Paul said these idols and hand-made gods were not gods at all.
I wonder where Paul got that idea from. Read on!
The Folly of Idolatry
How foolish are those who manufacture idols. These prized objects are really worthless. The people who worship idols don’t know this, so they are all put to shame. Who but a fool would make his own god—an idol that cannot help him one bit? All who worship idols will be disgraced along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—who claim they can make a god. They may all stand together, but they will stand in terror and shame.
The blacksmith stands at his forge to make a sharp tool, pounding and shaping it with all his might. His work makes him hungry and weak. It makes him thirsty and faint. Then the wood-carver measures a block of wood and draws a pattern on it. He works with chisel and plane and carves it into a human figure. He gives it human beauty and puts it in a little shrine. He cuts down cedars; he selects the cypress and the oak; he plants the pine in the forest to be nourished by the rain. Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire. With it he warms himself and bakes his bread. Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it and makes himself a god to worship! He makes an idol and bows down in front of it! He burns part of the tree to roast his meat and to keep himself warm. He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.” Then he takes what’s left and makes his god: a carved idol! He falls down in front of it, worshiping and praying to it. “Rescue me!” he says. “You are my god!”
Such stupidity and ignorance! Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see. Their minds are shut, and they cannot think. The person who made the idol never stops to reflect, “Why, it’s just a block of wood! I burned half of it for heat and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat. How can the rest of it be a god? Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?” The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes. He trusts something that can’t help him at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?”Isaiah 44:9-20
This was a big deal. If this had happened in Indonesia in the context of the major religion there and statements even half-way appeared to criticize the prophet, there would be public riots. It was no less serious in Ephesus in Paul’s day. Paul had dared to speak the truth about idol worship. Now you are getting a sense of what was happening in Ephesus the day Demetrius called together the Guild of the Silver Workers. Notice who he called – The Guild of the Silver Workers. If it was such a serious issue for Diana, the Great Artemis, why did he call the Silver Workers? It was a trade union meeting of silver workers and all the similar tradies. Why didn’t he call the religious leaders and all those given the role of maintaining religious peace? If it had been in Athens it would have required a meeting of the Areopagus.
- What is going on here?
- What do you think Demetrius’ motivation was?
- We will dissect and analyze Demetrius’ speech in the next Gem.
When you’re 18, you worry about what everybody is thinking of you; when you’re 40, you don’t give a darn what anybody thinks of you; when you’re 60, you realize nobody’s been thinking about you at all!Anon
The Scriptures contain, not the spotless biographies of saints, but the soiled resumés of sinners!Rick Godwin
The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.Anon
Your words expose your worldview. Listen long enough and you will discern the issues which underlie a person’s motivation, the things a person holds dear.Ian Vail
Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!” Demetrius – Yeah right!Acts 19:27