ACTS - CHAPTER 19
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2001 James Melough
“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,”
“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
Other Scriptures confirm
that the correct translation of verse 2 is not “since,” but “when ye
believed.” It is clear beyond any
shadow of doubt that every believer receives the Holy Spirit the instant he believes
in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior.
Speculation as to whether
these men were believers is unnecessary. Had
there been any question in Paul’s mind, he would not have said “since (when) ye
believed.” They were in exactly the
same position as had been the disciples, and all other OT believers, prior to the day
of Pentecost. They had faith to believe
in the coming of a Savior Messiah. Their
lack of the knowledge that what they anticipated by faith had already occurred, in no
way diminished the value of their faith. It
was the same anticipatory faith that saved Abraham and every other OT saint.
They received from Paul the assurance of the fulfillment of their
anticipation, i.e., the Messiah had already come, but it was a coming vastly
different from what they had expected. He
had come, not in power and glory, but as God’s Lamb, His death and resurrection
making atonement for sin, and assuring the justification of every believer.
His coming in power and glory to inaugurate the millennial kingdom was still
future, though, as already discussed, it could have been within seven years of His
resurrection. All who had had the same
faith during the Lord’s lifetime, and who were themselves still living on the day
of Pentecost, had had the same experience as was now to be that of these Ephesian
believers - they had received the Holy Spirit to indwell and seal them until the
moment when they would enter heaven. Prior
to Pentecost the Holy Spirit had come upon men, but He had never permanently
Relative to their saying
that they hadn’t heard whether there was a Holy Spirit, it is much more likely that
they hadn’t heard of His taking up permanent residence in the bodies of believers,
than that they hadn’t heard of His existence.
The men of the OT age certainly knew of the Holy Spirit, and John also had
spoken of Him. The ASV rendering of this
verse is, “We did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given.”
It should be noted also that
the difference between John’s baptism and that of Christ is that John’s was
simply with water, but that of Christ was with the Holy Spirit, as John himself had
taught his disciples.
“And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.”
John’s baptism was one
associated with the offer of the millennial kingdom to Israel.
It was the outward sign of the repentance that was necessary to enter that
kingdom, i.e., it was the sign of genuine faith, though it may not be presumed that
all who submitted to his baptism were true believers, any more than are all who
submit to Christian baptism. Just as
only genuine believers will enter heaven, so will only genuine believers enter the
“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.”
This confirms that it was
meant to be the sign of true repentance, requiring the same faith to believe in the
Lord Jesus Christ, as is required today. The
only difference was that the faith of the OT age was anticipative, that of the NT age
retrospective. The OT believers looked
for His coming to set up the millennial kingdom, though it is doubtful that they were
aware that He must first die to make atonement for sin, and rise again, His
resurrection to be followed by seven years of Tribulation, at the end of which He
would return in power and glory to judge the nations, and inaugurate the millennial
His designation of the Lord
as Christ Jesus, is in keeping with the context of these verses, for clearly these
few believers were looking for His return as the Jewish Messiah to set up the
Millennial kingdom, and Christ is synonymous with Messiah.
Jesus, on the other hand is the name uniquely associated with Him as Savior.
“When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
This new baptism added
nothing to their salvation, for the anticipative faith of the OT believer was no less
efficacious than is the retrospective faith of the NT saint.
Their knowledge was more complete, as was that of Apollos after the tutoring
of Aquila and Priscilla, but their salvation was no more certain.
As those who had passed from the Jewish expectation of an earthly Millennium,
they now anticipated better blessings - those which we also anticipate.
This is not to say that the millennial kingdom wasn’t still being offered to
Israel. It was, though God by His
foreknowledge knew it would be rejected.
Note that the Lord is now
described as Lord Jesus. Having been
their Savior He is now also to be their Lord. Faith
and obedience go together. Baptism is
one of the first steps of obedience to be taken by the new convert.
“And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them;
and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.”
These men may have been Jews
or proselytes: hence the laying on of hands, for there was no laying on of hands in
connection with the Gentiles’ receiving the Holy Spirit, see Ac 10.
Their speaking in tongues
and prophesying were also appropriate to an age in which the millennial kingdom was
still being offered; but they have no validity beyond that age, which ended in AD 70.
“And all the men were about twelve.”
The fact that the number was
about twelve, and not the exact number, indicates that the Holy Spirit may
have chosen it arbitrarily, for it is the number of divine government on display,
e.g., the twelve tribes of Israel, and the Church built on the foundation of the
doctrine of the twelve apostles, both being responsible to display that they are
under God’s government. This may be to
remind us that all believers are responsible to demonstrate by their obedience that
God controls them.
he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing
and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.”
This witness in the
synagogue was in accordance with his standard policy of presenting the gospel to the
Jews first. By argument (reasoning and
discussion) and persuasion he sought to win his countrymen, for he loved them dearly,
but the majority rejected his words, and in doing so damned their own souls, as does
everyone who rejects the gospel.
Scholars are disagreed as to
whether “the kingdom of God” here is exclusively the eternal kingdom, or whether
it embraces also the millennial kingdom. Having
regard to the fact that it was still the Jewish age, I see no reason to reject the
thought of the millennial kingdom as well as the eternal.
“But when divers (some) 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
(lecture hall) of one Tyrannus.”
Many commentators believe
that large numbers believed, and that the “divers (some)” were a vociferous
doesn’t mean that God had hardened them, but rather, that like Pharaoh, they
themselves were hardening their own stubborn hearts.
God would eventually make that hardening irrevocable, but that point had not
yet been reached. It is a fearful thing
in the life of a man or a nation when that experience occurs, for then there is no
hope, see Pr 29:1. Jewish unbelief was
sealing the fate of the nation. Nor was
their unbelief passive. They were fierce
in their active opposition to the gospel, and are to this day.
Paul’s departure from
them, with his disciples, is a foreshadowing of the total departure of God from them,
and the time of that departure was not far off.
There is solemn warning in this for those who reject the Gospel, see Ge 6:3.
His departure, however, didn’t end the preaching of the Gospel: it simply
made it more readily available to the Gentiles, and to the Jews who were willing to
listen to reason.
“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.”
Paul continued to proclaim
the Gospel, so that by God’s overruling, the evil intent of the unbelieving Jews
was turned to good, and “all ... in Asia heard the word....” - far more than
would have heard it had he continued in the synagogue.
A practical lesson to be
learnt from this is that we should never fear any circumstance, however adverse, as
long as we are in the path of God’s will, for, “All things work together for good
to them that love God,” Ro 8:28.
“And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:”
As He had authenticated the
ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ through miracles, so did God also here validate the
ministry of Paul; but again it is emphasized that miraculous manifestation was not to
continue beyond the early apostolic age. There
is in fact no evidence of its having continued beyond AD 70. We
are not to be looking for such signs today. All
such phenomena belong exclusively to the Jewish age.
“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.”
“... from his body”
means simply that handkerchiefs, aprons, etc., which Paul had touched, were carried
to the sick, who apparently by touching them, were healed instantly.
The KJ version seems to
imply that evil spirits were the cause of the diseases.
The thought is that there was healing of sickness and also the exorcism of
“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.”
“Vagabond” is literally
wandering: itinerant, and apparently such traveling Jewish exorcists were not
uncommon. That some may indeed have
possessed this ability is indicated in Mt 12:27 for example, “And if I by Beelzebub
cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out?”. These, undoubtedly envious of Paul’s power, sought to add
to their existing methods, that which he employed, the invocation of the name of the
Lord Jesus Christ. “... whom Paul
preacheth” implies that they themselves enjoyed no relationship with that same
A legitimate question is,
Just how did these unbelieving Jews exorcize evil spirits? for as noted above, Mt
12:27 clearly implies that they did, and since the Lord’s words in Mt 12 indicate
that it was not by Satan’s power, the only explanation seems to be that even though
they were unbelievers, God gave them the power so that at least some afflicted people
might be delivered from the power of the demons.
“And there were seven sons of one Sceva, (meaning mind reader), a
Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.”
His being “chief of the
priests” means, not that he was the high priest, but rather, one who was in charge
of one of the twenty-four courses into which the priests were divided (1 Ch 24).
“And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but
who are ye?”
There is unmistakable
sarcasm in the demon’s question, “but who are ye?” and in this we are reminded
that puny man in his own power is no match for these evil spirits of the air, and it
seems evident that the power God may have given these Jewish exorcists was limited to
expelling only certain classes of demons. A
similar instance of such limitation of power, even to the Lord’s disciples, occurs
in Mt 17:14-21, when they, having failed to exorcize a demon which the Lord did
expel, asked Him, “Why could not we cast him out?” His reply was, “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and
That the evil spirits know
the Lord Jesus Christ and His power, is beyond question, not only by the confession
of this one, but by the confession of the one who spoke for the legions mentioned in
Lk 8. That knowledge, however, carries
with it no power to be saved. It is the
same knowledge possessed by all who know, but spurn the way of salvation.
They are without hope.
“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
The power of these evil
spirits is indicated in the phenomenal strength possessed by those they indwell, as
is evidenced here, and in Mk 5:3-4. A
few translations indicate that there were only two men involved in the attempt to
exorcize this evil spirit, but there seems little reason not to accept the number as seven.
In their literal naked,
wounded state, we see a picture of their spiritual state, for clothing represents
righteousness: either the filthy rags of self-righteousness, or the righteousness of
Christ which clothes the believer. These
men lacked that righteousness; and no one will deny that sin wounds mentally,
emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
“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.”
The fact that fear fell upon
them, and that the name of the Lord Jesus Christ was magnified, doesn’t necessarily
imply that they were saved. There are
many instances in the NT of those who feared without being converted. Fear is an essential part of salvation, but it must lead to
repentance and faith in Christ. The
deaths of Ananias and Sapphira produced fear that deterred unbelievers from seeking
to join the company of believers (Ac 5:13), but it didn’t lead to their salvation.
Felix trembled, but wasn’t saved (Ac 24:25).
“And many which believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.”
The incident with the
exorcists and the demoniac resulted in the conversion of many who had practiced
magical arts, leading them to publicly confess the evil of their former lives.
“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.”
Others have noted that if we
were willing to burn some of our books our lives would be happier and our testimonies
more effective. We can’t be tempted to
read books that aren’t in our houses - and I’m not necessarily referring only to
books that are bad, but to those which, while not bad in themselves, will do nothing
to help our Christian walk, the time given to reading them stealing time that could
be far more profitably given to the study of God’s Word.
Nor should we miss the
lesson of the cost involved: not only the cost of the books (about $10,000), but the
loss of revenue from the practices associated with those books, practices the
converts now no longer engaged in. We
might well ask ourselves what we are willing to lose for Christ’s sake.
“So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.”
In view of the selfless
spirit of these former heathen, it is small wonder that such blessing attended the
preaching of the Gospel. It is to be
feared that our selfishness often hinders blessing.
“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.”
Much controversy centers
around the question of whether Paul was here obeying the impulse of his own spirit,
or of the Holy Spirit; but there is nothing to indicate that after his conversion he
ever acted apart from the will of God.
In the course of his visits
to the churches in Macedonia and Achaia he hoped to raise money for the relief of the
needy believers in Jerusalem; and after delivering that money his purpose was to
“So he sent into Macedonia Timotheus and Erastus; but he himself stayed in
Asia for a season.”
Above and beyond the literal
ministry of these whose names mean honoring God and beloved
respectively, we might note that he himself, impelled by a love that is the perfect
expression of obedience (see Jn 14:15), sought always to honor God.
19:23. “And the
same time there arose no small stir about that way.”
This must have been a
particularly distressing time for Paul, for it is believed that it was just about
this time that he learned of the declension in the Corinthian church, and of the evil
effects among the Galatian churches of the wrong doctrine of the Judaizing teachers
who were seeking to place the believers again under law. It was in the midst of this that Demetrius incited the riot of the
Ephesian silversmiths. Satan is
ceaseless in his attempts to frustrate the purposes of God, and to discourage His
In connection with the
reference to that way, it is to be noted that this is how Christianity was
generally spoken of at that time: it was referred to as the way.
“For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines
for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen;”
Demetrius means of mother
earth, reminding us that while there were those in Ephesus who valued the eternal
welfare of their souls more than earthly gain, there were many others who remained
“of the earth, earthy” (1 Co 15:47), valuing literal silver rather than the
infinitely more precious thing it symbolizes - redemption.
While some would worship God for the eternal riches that were theirs in Christ
(the silver of redemption), others would prostrate themselves before a goddess, who
not only could bestow no blessing, but who, as the object of their false worship,
condemned the souls of her votaries.
It is clear, however, that
under the guise of concern for the honor of Diana, the real cause of their
apprehension was related to their own possible loss of income.
How myopic is the view of the natural man!
He values the worthless things of time above those which are eternal; the
world’s silver above the salvation of his soul, in spite of the warning of God,
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own
soul?” Mk 8:36.
The gain seemed great in the
dim light of earth. How small it must
look to those men now in the light of eternity!
The worthlessness of the thirty pieces of silver which Judas valued so highly,
wasn’t revealed until he discovered that they had cost him his soul. Many a man will make the same terrible discovery when it will be
eternally too late.
One sad commentary upon this
centers on the attitude of Christians. Is
it any wonder the unconverted value eternal things so little when we who have been
redeemed by the precious blood of Christ frequently manifest that we also value
earthly things more than spiritual?
Incidentally, according to
the Wycliffe Bible Commentary “Ephesus was the seat of the worship of the great
goddess Artemis (Diana in AV, vv. 24,27,28,
is an inaccurate use of the Latin equivalent for the Greek Artemis).
Artemis was ... the ancient mother-goddess of Asia Minor, commonly known as
“Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said,
Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth.”
Were we as energetic in
calling men together to consider spiritual matters, we would see more success in the
preaching of the Gospel.
“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:”
This unwitting testimony to
the success that had attended Paul’s preaching of the Gospel, should evoke the
question whether success attends our efforts, and if not, why?
Can all the blame be laid at the feet of an indifferent or hostile world, or
is it possible that disobedience on my part is the real cause of lack of blessing
upon the seed sown?
Whether he had any question
in his own mind regarding the divinity of man-made images, the fact remains that to
hold such a belief is to bear testimony to the power of Satan to blind men’s minds.
How great that power is may be measured in the millions who hold such a
belief. Nor is idolatry confined to what
is generally referred to as the heathen: this superstitious veneration of statues,
pictures, icons, etc., is an integral part of Roman Catholicism.
“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.”
He testified, not only to
his real concern, but also to the extent of the idolatry associated with this
Ephesian goddess: it was virtually world wide. Idolatry
confirms that man, made in the image of God, has what the animal creation has not: a
spirit. No animal has ever evinced in
the slightest degree the possession of the faculty to worship; but man, whether
primitive or sophisticated, displays the very opposite: he has an innate impulse to
worship, either God, or some object of his own creation.
“And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out,
saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.”
Clearly, as not
infrequently, reason was being made to give place to emotion, for an emotional
outburst is usually the resort of one who fails to find in reason justification for
“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 theater (amphitheater).”
“And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered
“And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him,
desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theater.”
These men “of the chief of
Asia” were called Asiarchs, officials who superintended the month-long annual
festival in honor of Diana. We aren’t
told whether these friends were believers, but the very fact of their being friends
of Paul makes it clear that his preaching had had some influence upon them.
We may perhaps gather also that they weren’t entirely convinced of the
divinity of Diana, but, like the silversmiths and others, were willing to profit to
whatever extent they could, from the gullibility of the people.
“Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was
confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.”
This is characteristic of
mob mentality. It functions apart from
reason, and is therefore the more dangerous, for it links together the desire for
evil, with the power to execute that desire.
“And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward.
And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defense unto the
Commentators are divided as
to the exact meaning of this verse, though it is clear that Alexander was chosen by
the Jews to address the multitude, but it is unclear just what he was attempting to
defend, the KJ version indicating that it was himself; other translations indicating
that it was Gaius and Aristarchus, though this is highly unlikely, since the Jews
were bitterly opposed to Christianity. Many
believe that the Jews, always unpopular because of their religion, and now afraid of
being linked with the Christians, had chosen him as their spokesman to explain to the
mob that they were also vehemently opposed to Christianity.
“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.”
His attempted defense went
for nothing: the mob refused to listen.
“And when the town clerk 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
worshiper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from
It isn’t difficult to see
why this man had risen to prominence: he skillfully defused the anger of the crowd by
assuring them that action on their part was unnecessary - the whole world (except for
this little handful of no-account Christians) agreed with them concerning Diana.
It is very doubtful that a man of such obvious intelligence believed that
Diana was a goddess, or that her image had fallen down from Jupiter, but his own ends
were better served by pretending that he did. Many
equally intelligent men foolishly deem their best interests to be served by mere
verbal acquiescence relative to something they don’t believe, forgetting that
salvation of the soul requires, not only faith in the heart, but the verbal
confession of that faith, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord jesus,
and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt
be saved,” Ro 10:9. Faith in the Lord
Jesus Christ requires the disavowal of all other beliefs, even those which are
“Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be
quiet, and do nothing rashly.”
Having convinced them that
their emotional outburst was rational, he then proceeded to consolidate his initial
victory by an appeal to that pretended rationalism.
The clinching evidence of the wisdom that saw Diana as a goddess whose reality
was beyond dispute, would be the peaceful dispersal of the mob, they being induced to
believe that they themselves were making that decision.
“For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of
churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess.”
As an inducement to disperse
peacefully, he assured them that Paul and his companions had been guilty of no crime.
“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
This man displayed all the
skill of a seasoned politician. Having
quelled the uproar, he then proceeded to drive a wedge between the mob and those who
had incited the riot, making it very easy for the multitude to distance themselves
from Demetrius without losing face, while at the same time making it difficult for
Demetrius to make them his instrument a second time.
“But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be
determined in a lawful assembly.”
Back in control, the town
clerk then proceeded to exercise that control by informing the crowd that any
questions they themselves had, would be dealt with in the courts.
“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.”
As an aid to securing their
compliance, he was careful to identify himself with them - notice his use of the word
“And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.”
This man appears to have
been a superb student of human nature, reminding us of what is written in Lk 16:8,
“... for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children
of light.” Did we display in spiritual
matters half the wisdom we do in earthly things, God’s work would often be better