For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough

19:1.  “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,”

19:2.  “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.”

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 indwelt anyone.

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.

19:3.  “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 millennial kingdom.

19:4.  “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.”

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 kingdom.

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.

19:5.  “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.

19:6.  “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.

19:7.  “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.

19:8.  “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.”

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.

19:9.  “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 minority.

“Were hardened” 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.

19:10.  “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.”

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.

19:11.  “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.

19:12.  “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.”

“... 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 evil spirits.

19:13.  “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.”

“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 Christ.

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.

19:14.  “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).

19:15.  “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 fasting.”

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.

19:16.  “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.”

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.

19:17.  “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.”

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).

19:18.  “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.

19:19.  “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.”

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.

19:20.  “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.

19:21.  “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.”

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 visit Rome.

19:22.  “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 servants.

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.

19:24.  “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 Cybele.”

19:25.  “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.

19:26.  “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:”

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.

19:27.  “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.”

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.

19:28.  “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 his conduct.

19:29.  “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 theater (amphitheater).”

19:30.  “And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not.” 

19:31.  “And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the 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.

19:32.  “Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.”

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.   

19:33.  “And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward.  And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defense unto the people.”

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.

19:34.  “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.”

His attempted defense went for nothing: the mob refused to listen.  

19:35.  “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 Jupiter?”

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 pretended.

19:36.  “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.

19:37.  “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.

19:38.  “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.”

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.

19:39.  “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.

19:40.  “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.”

As an aid to securing their compliance, he was careful to identify himself with them - notice his use of the word “we.”

19:41.  “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 done.

[Acts 20]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough