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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Acts 19:21-41 – The makers of Artemis cause trouble

Luke reveals that Paul had several helpers with him in Ephesus, a reminder that he did not usually work by himself. The doctor also informs us that Paul was thinking ahead, making plans for his work in the future. From Ephesus, he intended to visit churches in Greece and then go to Jerusalem. On his heart, there was also an intended visit to Rome.   

Moreover, Paul sent out others to prepare for his arrival in Greece. We might have assumed that he would want to keep Timothy with him because of his gifts. Erastus was a civic official in Corinth, and maybe he had come to Paul in Ephesus because of problems in Corinth. If that was the case, then we can see why Paul would send Timothy there. 

Luke then describes an event that threatened the church in Ephesus. Local craftsmen had been losing money because the gospel had affected their income. They made mini-idols of Artemis, but sales were down because so many Ephesians and others had become Christians. The complaint of the craftsmen is a powerful testimony to the success of the gospel throughout the province of Asia.  

It does not seem to have crossed the minds of the craftsmen that Artemis had been unable to prevent the growth of the church. Of course, their god was not really her, but the money that was provided by the adherents of that false religion. They were not the first to make a lot of money out of a religion. 

The complaint of the craftsmen was presented craftily when they suggested that if the church was allowed to continue the temple of Artemis would cease to be of significance. This suggestion enraged the people and they proceeded to affirm their estimation of her. They could not find Paul, but they took hold of two of his companions and dragged them to the theatre, perhaps for a trial. 

Paul did not want to leave his companions by themselves, but he was prevented from going to the theatre by the church. Luke mentions in an aside that Paul had managed to become friends with some of the leading people of the community, and they also advised him not to go to the theatre. 

The charge against the Christians was that they said that something made by human hands was not divine. They were not the only ones who made that claim – the Jews would also have held that belief. It looks as if the Jews wanted to distance themselves from the Christians and arranged for one of their number to explain their position. Yet the mob were not willing to accept that distinction, and proceeded to affirm the existence and the greatness of Artemis. 

The town clerk came to the rescue by pointing out that their gathering was illegal and they were in danger of punishment from the authorities. He does not seem to have made much effort to find out what the Christians thought about Artemis because his words indicate that he thought they had nothing bad to say about her. Or he may have meant that there had not been a court case before which they had been accused of sacrilege and blasphemy. Such a path was open to Demetrius if he wished to pursue his allegations. 

The threat of civil punishment brought an end to the riot. While the town clerk was not pro-Christian, his action is an example of why Paul later instructed Timothy to teach that believers should pray that the civil authorities would provide a peaceful environment in which the church could serve God. 

The problem described here in Ephesus shows the complexity in the situation faced by the church as it witnessed in that community. There was resentment from a trade guild, antagonism from followers of other religions, confusion of identity with the Jews, uncertainty about the law, and the needs of churches elsewhere. We face similar circumstances today, but like the church in Ephesus we can look to the God of providence to overrule the intentions of the opponents of the church.

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