Acts 19 - Outline of Acts (MENU page)
In the previous chapter (Acts ch. 18), we traced the end of Paul's second missionary journey, which took him across Asia Minor, through Macedonia, and Greece and back to Jerusalem and Antioch. In Corinth, as in many other places, Paul's message that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, met stiff opposition at the local synagogue. But God protected Paul and gave him a long and fruitful ministry there. Many Jews, had believed, and had gone on to win and disciple others. Prime examples were Acquila and Priscilla, who later accompanied Paul when he departed Corinth enroute to Jerusalem. They decided to stay in Ephesus, where Paul visited briefly along the way.
     While they were there, they were impressed by a traveling preacher, named Apollos, who had spoken in the synagogue, with eloquence, zeal and great knowledge of the Word. But when they realized that his knowledge went only as far as John the Baptist, stopping short of the One for whom John had prepared the way, they took Apollos home and taught him how the Old Testament pointed to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Apollos went out from there to proclaim the Gospel powerfully, publicly and irrefutably.
     While Acquilla and Priscilla were discipling Apollos in Ephesus, Paul had completed his journey to Jerusalem and Antioch, and had started out on his third missionary journey (18:22,23). He worked his way through Phrygia and Galatia, encouraging the churches which he had established on his previous journeys. Eventually, his travels brought him back to Ephesus.
1. And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth,
Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,
2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?
And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized?
And they said, Unto John's baptism.
4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance,
saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
5 When they heard [this], they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
6 And when Paul had laid [his] hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them;
and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
7 And all the men were about twelve.
In Ephesus, Paul met "certain disciples" who had not yet received the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, this passage is confusing to some believers, who take it to mean that there is a delay between when a person believes in Christ and when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within him... and that some human action is required, such as the laying on of hands.
     The wording of v.2 contributes to this misunderstanding: "Have you received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" However, the verb tenses in the original language would be better expressed by: "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
Paul sensed that something was out of order with these disciples.
For "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Rom 8:9). "For by one Spirit are we all [ie., all who truly believe in Christ] baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink of one Spirit" (1Cor 12:13). "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal 3:26,27). Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, no one is saved: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:5,6).
     If they did not have the Holy Spirit, then they did not have Christ. Therefore, Paul asked them, "Unto what then were you baptized?" They answered: "Unto John's baptism."
Now, Paul understood the problem...
They were not disciples of Christ, but rather disciples of John the Baptist, having been won through the teaching of Apollos, during the time when he "knew only the baptism of John."
     Paul explained that the purpose of John's baptism was repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah (v.4). Paul's explanation was in harmony with what Apollos had told them. For John the Baptist had said: "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" (Mat 3:11).
     In the light of what John had said, his disciples should have been expecting to receive the Holy Spirit at some future time. So, it is possible that their statement in v.2 ("We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.") had the sense of: "We have never heard that any one has actually received the Holy Ghost."
Having heard and believed the Gospel of Christ, as testified publicly by their water baptism in His name (v.5),
they received the Holy Spirit. The laying on of Paul's hands did not convey the Spirit to them, for He came to indwell them at the moment of belief (as demonstrated by the Holy Spirit falling upon the believers in Cornelius' house, 'while Peter yet spake' (Acts 10:44-47).
     Paul's hands were a means of confirmation to these new believers that the Spirit they received was from the One whom Paul represented. Remember, this was a period of transition, during which the Lord was giving the Jewish people signs to confirm that Jesus is their Messiah (1Cor 14:21,22). The association of the signs (outward manifestations) of the Spirit, with the messengers of the Gospel was necessary to confirm their message. (See Acts 8:14-17 and also the Book Notes at that passage.)
...and all the men were about twelve...-
With these twelve men, Paul had begun to plant the church in Ephesus. As the chapter continues, we see that Paul spent more than two years in Ephesus, teaching the disciples and preparing them to take the Gospel to others. But, regardless of the apostle's teaching, if these men had not received the Holy Spirit, they would not have been empowered for the Lord's service.
     Ephesus, like other cities visited by Paul, was a central city teeming with people, languages and cultures from all regions of the Roman empire. Here, the Holy Spirit, who had already indwelt these new disciples, "came on them" with demonstration of His power, enabling them to speak with tongues as they prophesied, declaring the Word of God in the tongues of the hearers (as He had done in Jerusalem at Pentecost, Acts 2:3-8). This was the beginning of Paul's long ministry in Ephesus, from where the Gospel of Christ would go out to "all they which dwelt in Asia... both Jews and Greeks" (v.10).
     About ten years later, while Paul was a prisoner in Rome, he wrote the epistle to the Ephesian church, reviewing the way they had first come to faith through hearing God's Word, and reminding them of their inheritance in Christ, to whom they were sealed by the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:1-14
8. And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months,
disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.
9 But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude,
he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.
10 And this continued by the space of two years;
so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.
...he went into the synagogue...-
While Paul was in Corinth, he had determined to take his message to the Gentiles, when the Jews of that city opposed the Gospel to the point of blasphemy (Acts 18:6). But here, in Ephesus, he returned to the synagogue.
     "Salvation is of the Jews" (Joh 4:22), coming to the world through God's promises to Abraham, Isaac,and Jacob, and to David, and through the birth of His Son to a Jewish virgin. It is only right that those, through whom the Gospel came to us, ought to have opportunity to hear it for themselves. "The Gospel of Christ... is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Rom 1:16). But also, it was in the synagogue, where Paul would find men who had a grasp of the scriptures, which are foundational to the church of Christ.
     Paul devoted three months to 'disputing' {ie., 'reasoning,' in dialogue and two way discussion} with his kinsmen according to the flesh, as he sought to persuade them, to believe that Jesus is the Christ. But when certain Jewish leaders became hardened in their unbelief and began to publicly revile his teaching, he knew it was time to move on. The phrase "spake evil" is strong, meaning "to revile" or "to curse." (cp., the blasphemy of 18:6).
     What was it that they were cursing? "That way." Those who believed Paul's message were not following him, rather, they were following the One who is "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (Joh 14:6). Therefore, the opposition, in opposing Him, was blaspheming, against God the Son.
...he departed from them... separated the disciples...-
Paul moved from the synagogue to the school of Tyrannus (v.9). This was probably a secular institution, perhaps an extension of the university in Athens. Paul may have been considered a guest lecturer, or perhaps he rented a classroom where he discipled believers and sought to convince the skeptics.
     For two years he taught there, with the result that the Gospel was carried by his students from there to the far corners of Asia Minor. It was during this time that Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church (1Cor 16:7-9).
11 And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:
12 So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons,
and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.
Note that these were "special miracles" or "unusual powers" {'miracles' is GK=dunamis}.
These were granted by God for the specific purpose of demonstrating and verifying the Truth, which was being proclaimed in a center of satanic religion, rife with occultic powers. This is the only biblical record of this type of miracle.
     If it was so unusual then, we should not expect it to be repeated today. Yet, I have heard, perhaps you have too, the offers of TV preachers to send, in exchange for your best gift of $100 or more, a beautiful hanky, over which the preacher has personally prayed, in order to convey some miraculous blessing to the recipient.
     But what were these "handkerchiefs and aprons" which were taken "from [Paul's] body" to the sick? Handkerchiefs were used as they are today, to wipe the nose or to wipe the sweat from the brow. Aprons were the protective overcovering of a workman. These items were not taken new from the box, recently imported from China (as the TV preacher's hankies are). Rather, they were taken from Paul's body. They were the dirty cloths with which Paul had wiped away the sweat as he worked, whether in tent making or in teaching, in a hot humid climate where air conditioning was unknown.
     Where is the power... what is the value in dirty rags? Look, with me, at Revelation ch. 2, where the Lord Jesus is addressing the Ephesian church (Rev 2:1-5). The Lord commends them for their work. The words He uses describe hard and difficult work, the kind of labor that requires physical effort, and that produces sweat, and results in weariness even to the point of exhaustion. Yet, the Ephesians had already "lost their first love" barely 50 years since Paul had labored among them.
     'Paul, What motivates you to work so hard?' "For the love of Christ constraineth" me (2Cor 5:14). 'My prayer for the Ephesians, and for all believers is: Eph 3:16-21.' Paul would go on to tell us: "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Php 1:21). 'I'm dead to myself. I live for the love of Him.' "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).
     When your Savior is the love of your life, the center of your being, His power will exude through your pores. When the One who is "the Way, the Truth," has become your very "Life," He will touch the lives of others through you. People need the Lord, not a display of pious religious works. Do they see Him in you?
13. Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists,
took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus,
saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.
14 And there were seven sons of [one] Sceva, a Jew, [and] chief of the priests, which did so.
15 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
16 And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them,
and overcame them, and prevailed against them,
so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
17 And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus;
and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
18 And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.
Here were men who sought to counterfeit the power that went out from Paul.
The text says they were "vagabond Jews," which means that they traveled from place to place, making a circuit as religious practitioners. They were "exorcists" whose business was to cast out demons from demon possessed people. Apparently, they were losing business, because Paul's methods were more effective (v.12). The evil spirits truly departed from those touched by the power of God that went out from him.
     The satanic spiritual power upon which these exorcists depended had no interest in actually displacing demons, though it may have quieted them for a time. You would think that the sons of a Jewish priest would have called upon the God of Israel for help. But what power did they call upon? There is a clue in their father's name, 'Sceva.' Some believe the name is derived from a Latin word which means "mind reader." That practice, like that of exorcism, was usually associated with those who consult with familiar spirits, the work of wizards, soothsayers and necromancers.
      Perhaps it was because they were aware of such occultic practitioners, that Jesus' enemies attributed His miraculous powers to occultic practices. The answer He gave His accusers contrasted the true power of God with the deceptive power of Satan. Luk 11:14-20
     When the seven sons of Sceva tried to move the finger of God, by using the names of Jesus and Paul in their incantation, the demon turned violently against them: "Jesus I recognize. Of Paul I am aware. But who are you?" 'Jesus' is not a magic word. It is He Himself who is the Power. The devils know who He is and fear Him as their Judge (Mark 1:23-28).
     The embarrassing failure of Sceva's sons had caused them to flee in terror. The news of their failure had similar effects on the population of Ephesus (v.17,18):
  • They were seized with terror, for they lived under the influence of Satan's kingdom.
    The evident value of spiritual Truth had overcome and devalued the counterfeit powers.
  • The people were powerfully and increasingly confronted with the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (ie., with the reality of who Jesus is).
  • Many believed... - confessing their sins openly and specifically,
    - taking radical action to separate themselves from their former ways...
19 Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together,
and burned them before all [men]:
and they counted the price of them, and found [it] fifty thousand [pieces] of silver.
20 So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
Those who had formerly practiced "curious arts" {GK=periergos, peripheral activities of doubtful worth, trivial pursuits}
gathered their occultic books together and destroyed them with fire. The value of the books for purchase or resale was 50,000 pieces of silver. (A silver shekel is 0.4 ounce. The total weight of silver would have been 20,000 ounces. At today's silver price of $31.50 per ounce, the total value would be $630,000.)
     For them, those books had no value compared to the Word of God. The Word of God will not grow and prevail in your life, while counterfeit trivial pursuits are allowed to remain, whether they be books, video games, movies, music, or whatever. What will you do with those things? The Ephesians destroyed the things that had bound them, to be free of them, and to prevent harm to others who might otherwise obtain them. Observe how the Lord blessed, as believers turned wholly to Him...
...So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed...- (v.20).
God's Word had an increasing influence on these people and their region, as it powerfully released many from bondage to sin and Satan's influence. Joh 8:31-36
21. After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit,
when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem,
saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome.
22 So he sent into Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him, Timotheus and Erastus;
but he himself stayed in Asia for a season.
Paul purposed in spirit {ie., in his own mind} to return to Jerusalem and to eventually make his way to Rome.
In preparation for that journey, he sent Timothy and Erastus to check on the churches of Macedonia. It is possible that they also carried his first letter to the Corinthians. Meanwhile, he began to bring his ministry at Ephesus to conclusion
23 And the same time there arose no small stir about that way.
24 For a certain [man] named Demetrius, a silversmith,
which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen;
25 Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said,
Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth.
26 Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia,
this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people,
saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands:
27 So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought;
but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised,
and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.
28 And when they heard [these sayings], they were full of wrath,
and cried out, saying, Great [is] Diana of the Ephesians.
The uproar raised by the silversmiths...
...was "concerning the way" (v.23)- The Way, the Lord Jesus Christ, is a divider of men (Mat 10:32-40):
  • Those who hold the Truth . . . [are separated from] . . . Those who cling to falsehood.
...was motivated by:
  • fear of financial loss (v.24,25)
    The silversmiths made small souvenir images of the goddess Diana (also known as Artemis), whose many breasted form symbolized the abundance of nature. The great temple to Diana in Ephesus was a wonder of the ancient world, having been built c.550BC, and then rebuilt in greater glory c.350BC. Tourists and pilgrims came from all over the Roman empire to worship and to spend their money.
         Demetrius and the silversmiths (like other unsaved men, eg., 16:16-20) were obsessed with monetary value, in stark contrast to the Ephesian believers who had found surpassing value in Christ and His Word (19:19).
  • offense to false religious traditions (v.26) -
    • Paul did teach that 'they be no gods which are made with hands' (eg., 17:29). Many people in the region were turning away from idols to worship the true and living God.
    • But if Diana and the great temple to her honor, were in danger of being set at nought, it was because they were in truth 'nothing,' despite the chants of her worshippers.
29 And the whole city was filled with confusion:
and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in travel,
they rushed with one accord into the theatre.
30 And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not.
31 And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him,
desiring [him] that he would not adventure himself into the theatre.
32 Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused;
and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.
33 And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward.
And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defence unto the people.
34 But when they knew that he was a Jew,
all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great [is] Diana of the Ephesians.
...the whole city was filled with confusion...-
Paul was kept back from entering the theatre (or stadium) to address the rioting crowd, at the insistence of believers and also by the advice of secular politicians. Perhaps Aquila and Priscilla hid him in their home, during this tumult, as Paul says (in Rom 16:3,4) that they had risked their lives to save his.
     Meanwhile, inside the theatre, where confusion reigned, the Jews put Alexander forward to address the crowd. Alexander was not a believer (as some suppose), but a spokesman for the Jews who, like the silversmiths, were opposed to "the Way" whom Paul preached. This is probably the same man mentioned by Paul eight years later (in 2Tim 4:14), as he wrote from prison in Rome, concerning his trial which he expected would soon lead to his execution: "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works..." There, the word 'coppersmith' means 'metal worker' which can refer to a craftsman who works with any metal, including silver.
     Although Alexander did not have opportunity to present his 'defense' or 'apology,' it seems likely that he intended to explain that the charges should not apply to all Jews, but only to Paul and to his followers.
     When the multitude understood that he was a Jew, they drowned out his words with their chant "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." Today, the daily news programs, continually show the destructive confusion of rioting crowds who also acclaim the greatness of their god, and shout down all other testimony. Today, as then, popular opinion, though repeated loud and long, does not make it so. Today, as then, politicians pursue a path of appeasement, rather than of truth.
35 And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, [Ye] men of Ephesus,
what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper
of the great goddess Diana, and of the [image] which fell down from Jupiter?
36 Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against,
ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly.
37 For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches,
nor yet blasphemers of your goddess.
38 Wherefore if Demetrius, and the craftsmen which are with him, have a matter against any man,
the law is open, and there are deputies: let them implead one another.
39 But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly.
40 For we are in danger to be called in question for this day's uproar,
there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse.
41 And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.
The townclerk calmed the crowd by appeasing the people, through...
  • affirming their spiritual error - ie., The false god whom you serve is true.
  • warning against rash action -
    • No blatant crime had been committed by the accused (ie., Paul and his companions).
    • They had not 'defamed temples.' The phrase 'robbers of churches' is a single word {GK=hierosulos, guilty of sacrilege}. Paul and the other believers were not guilty of that.
    • They had not blasphemed the goddess.
      We need to take a lesson from Paul here. Believers are to proclaim the truth concerning Christ. It is not our business to tear down the property or personal idols of others. Paul did not compromise the truth regarding idols in general, saying "we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one" (1Cor 8:4). Yet, he never attacked the name of Diana or any other false god specifically.
  • counseling that legal action, if appropriate, could be taken through established procedures and officials.
  • expressing fear that the city would be held accountable, by the Roman government, for the day's uproar, for which there was no reasonable explanation.
The first several verses of the next chapter (Acts ch. 20) follow closely from the events at the end of chapter 19.

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