We left Paul in Athens last week. We expected Timothy and Silas to join him. Actually, they did, but Luke doesn’t mention it in the account in The Acts of The Apostles, but Paul tells us in a letter to the church at Thessalonica that he will write from the city of Corinth. And he tells us that both Timothy and Silas came down from Berea to Athens, but he immediately sent them back, sending Timothy back to Thessalonica, and probably Silas. In chapters 18 and 19, Luke describes Paul’s visits to Corinth and Ephesus. They follow a similar pattern to what we have seen, namely the evangelization of the Jews, their opposition to the gospel, his deliberate turn to the gentiles and the vindication for his decision.
Paul has been in the capitol of learning and the cultural center at least of a former world; maybe by the first century it wasn’t quite what it had been in the second or third century or fourth century B.C., but Athens was still a place of great culture. If you want culture, you go to Athens.
Corinth was base. Corinth was a city of licentiousness. What goes on in Corinth stayed in Corinth. Corinth had had this reputation as the sex capitol of the ancient world. The Isthmus Games took place in Corinth, second only to the Olympic Games in Olympia. The Isthmus Games took place every two years. At those games they would run races, and throw the javelin and the discus, and boxing, and wrestling–and all in the nude. The Romans frowned on it, but the Greeks did that.
Paul may have made his journey by sea, landing at the port city of Cenchrea to the east of Corinth. It was there that the temple to Aphrodite was to be found, clothed in the armor of the war god Ares. On the plain below would be the rest of the city. It was a decidedly Greek city. Although the Romans had 150 years before conquered the city, Julius Caesar ordered that it be rebuilt as a kind of home away from home for the Romans. You can imagine how the Romans would have loved the Vegas of the ancient world, especially the soldiers away from home for sometimes years and years and years on end. It was a city second only to Ephesus. Interesting, isn’t it, that it’s in Corinth and in Ephesus that Paul stays a long time.
This was a strategic city. It was strategic from a worldly point of view, from a cultural point of view, from an economic point of view, from a political point of view; but it was strategic also from a gospel point of view. It was necessary to have in Corinth a strong church (perhaps as it was necessary in Ephesus to have a strong church because of where it was located), because from Corinth Christians could go to all the parts of the world. They could sail off to North Africa, and probably many of them did. And some of them could go north and be God’s ambassadors and missionaries.
Paul makes a journey from Corinth to the port city of Cenchrea, to the east; then across the Aegean to Ephesus; taking with him Priscilla and Aquila, he leaves from there. Then by sea, along the Mediterranean he makes his way to Caesarea. He may have gone to Jerusalem. Then he went north to the home church, Antioch…Antioch in Syria. Having spent some time in Antioch in Syria, he then makes his way back by land, going to places that we looked at on Paul’s first missionary journey (Iconium, Derbe, Lystra), and then by a land route back to Ephesus. It’s about 1200 miles, 1300 miles, and Luke summarizes it all in just a few verses.
Here’s this Egyptian. He comes from this great city of Alexandria. Alexandria was one of the great cities. It was where the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Septuagint, the enormously important document…it was the Bible version…it was the translation of the Bible that most people in Paul’s day were actually reading. Many of them were no longer reading the Hebrew Scriptures, they were reading the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. This man Apollos comes to preach in the great city of Ephesus. Now he’s Jewish, but there’s no hint in Luke…Luke doesn’t tell us anything at all, but he was unacceptable to enter the church in Ephesus because of his ethnicity. He was perfectly acceptable, as it should be, because in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, bond nor Scythian . We are all one in Christ Jesus. What Luke tells us is that this man was eloquent (verse 24); he was competent in the Scriptures (verse 25); he was a follower of the Way. But he was fervent in spirit; he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus. He was a great preacher. He was an eloquent preacher. There’s something that’s not quite right. He only knew the baptism of John. He seems as though he doesn’t know anything about Christian baptism. And that’s where Priscilla and Aquila come in.
Here’s a wonderful demonstration of how the New Testament actually supports and encourages the education of women in theological matters, and there is no reluctance whatsoever in the New Testament of saying that Priscilla can actually instruct Apollos without in any way contravening her responsibility to her husband to be subject to him in all things, and to be silent in the church in that sense, and to do this in her home. And here is a wonderful example of a very talented woman. And there’s no hint here of course of any office or any call to the ministry. That isn’t even on the agenda or on the page here at all. It’s just a positive affirmation that here is the New Testament affirming the right of women to be educated in the things of the gospel. When Paul gets back to Ephesus after this breathless journey of his, he writes a letter to the church in Corinth. Now meanwhile, Apollos has been sent there, and sent there with letters of recommendation from people like Priscilla and Aquila and others recommending him to the church in Corinth.
Ministry in Ephesus
And when Paul writes that first letter to the Corinthians, right at the end of First Corinthians 16, he talks about the church, the church sending greetings, the church which meets in the house of Priscilla and Aquila. He’s sending greetings from Ephesus to the church in Corinth (1Co 16:19).
Paul spent two years in Corinth, and he will spend upwards of three years here in Ephesus. We think of the Ephesian letter as one of the most profound letters in the New Testament, along perhaps with Romans. It is the most theologically profound and erudite of all Paul’s letters, giving perhaps an indication of the strength and vitality and growth of this church in Ephesus that Paul spent three years in ministry to them.
Ephesus was a free city. It had its own government; it wasn’t ruled by Roman officials. It had a Greek constitution. It was a large city. It had an amphitheater. Ephesus was also known for its commerce, as the capital of the Roman province of Asia. It was one of the principal religious centers of the Graeco’-Roman world.
The agora, the marketplace, the business center of Ephesus was some 360 feet square. It had a magnificent library comparable to the magnificent library in Alexandria. The remains of that library can still be seen. The building is more or less still standing today. (left)
It of course had the great magnificent temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Temple of Diana, was a Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis. It was located in Ephesus. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it was completely rebuilt three times before its final destruction in 401 AD. It was the city eventually where Timothy will be sent as a bishop, as an elder…one who would teach and continue the teaching that Paul had established here in Ephesus.
People that worshiped Artemis in ancient Greece believed that she would help them with their life and answer their prayers. Artemis was believed to inflict diseases upon women who angered her or went against her wishes. Artemis was the goddess of wild beasts and the hunt. Also, besides being the goddess protector of human young, she was also regarded as the protector of young animals.
Luke gives us a graphic description of Paul’s ministry in the synagogue. He uses two particular verbs: that he reasoned and persuaded in the synagogue. “He entered the synagogue [verse 8] and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading ….”.
Luke says that he did it boldly. It’s one of Luke’s favorite words in The Acts of The Apostles to describe Paul’s preaching. He preached with boldness, without fear of men, without fear of any individual. He was bold in his preaching and in his assertion of the reality of Christ and who He was. And what did he preach? Luke says he preached the kingdom of God. None of the gospel writers bother to explain to us what “the kingdom of God” means, because those who heard John and those who heard Jesus understood what the expression kingdom of God meant, even though it only occurs in the Old Testament four times. It’s the idea that God is King; that God is sending a Redeemer who will rule and reign over His people. That idea is everywhere in the Old Testament. And Paul is preaching the kingdom of God.
Luke certainly wants us to see that for this period of two years Paul has this tremendous success in evangelism. He’s made the gospel known throughout the whole of Asia, it appears. It’s enormous success. And Paul exits. He realizes that he is preaching pearls before swine now, and he has to leave. And he takes the disciples with him, and he goes, just as he went in Corinth (he went next door). This time he goes to a rented hall, a hall of a man called Tyrannus. He goes there daily.
These are unconverted men trying to usurp, trying to mimic, trying to copy what Paul was doing, and aren’t able to do so because the power to exorcise demons is only given to those who know the Lord.
Ephesus of course was a notorious center for the occult and magic arts. It was the center of the occult. They were burning their own books. They weren’t being confiscated; they were bringing their own books. It was a demonstration, do you see, of their repentance; a public demonstration that they no longer wanted to follow that old way of life. They no longer wanted to worship their old idols. They no longer believed in the powers of darkness. They believed in the power of Jesus now.
After his extended stay in Ephesus, Paul realized that the Holy Spirit was leading him to travel on. Continuing his third missionary journey, Paul sent Timothy and Erastus ahead to Macedonia (Acts 19:21–22). But before Paul left, a silversmith named Demetrius, who made shrines of Artemis and resented the decrease in business he’d seen since Paul’s arrival, gathered other workmen and started a riot (verses 23–34).
While neither Alexander nor Paul could get a hearing from the crowd, the city clerk did. Notice that even he did not get an immediate hearing, however. This man seems to have been very wise.
While the argument of Alexander begins with profits and self-interest, ending with the worship of Artemis, the clerk’s argument begins with the worship of Artemis and ends with economic concerns. With this argument, the crowd was persuaded and went home. And with this disturbance, Paul was persuaded to move on. After calling the saints together and encouraging them, Paul set out to fulfill his plans. And so the great Ephesian campaign ends, at least so far as Paul’s presence is concerned.
Christianity was for some time, from this point on, protected by Rome rather than persecuted by her, because of the decision of a ruler who did not like Jews, believe in Christ, or care about Paul. God’s means of protecting Paul from the harm that would have been done to him by cruel, unbelieving men (often unbelieving Jews) was by means of those who were often cruel, unbelieving men (Roman soldiers).
Claudius was fed up with the trouble-making of the Jews in Rome and ordered them out. Gallio was fed up with the efforts of the Jews in Corinth to use Rome to silence the gospel as un-Jewish and anti-Roman. The Jews are losing their “clout.” Rome will now restrain the Jews and protect Paul. It will not be that long (70 A.D.) before Rome is so fed up with the revolutionary Jews in Jerusalem that Titus will be sent to deal with them once and for all, by the sacking of that city and the execution of thousands (or more) of Jews.
Next week we will see the completion of Paul’s 3rd missionary journey.