Acts (Part 29) - Great is Artemis?

06/10/2011 07:56


Ephesus was the magic capital of Asia Minor. Magic was thought of as the ability to control spirits to do your bidding or work to your advantage. In Acts 19:11-20, Luke begins by describing the miracles of God performed by Paul particularly in the matter of healing and exorcism. The aprons or belts or handkerchiefs that touched his skin could be carried to the sick or possessed with the effect of healing. Of course, no special magic skin cells were transferred by this activity. God was performing the healings and exorcisms, but tying them to the message that Paul was proclaiming.

Luke’s emphasis is not so much on the miracles through Paul as it is merely on introducing the subject of the spirit world. The idea of dabbling in the spirit world—performing magic—was so much a part of the culture of the Ephesians that newly converted Christians continued the practice, perhaps even thinking that their Christian experience may increase their own effectiveness. But an incident occurs that changes their thinking. Seven sons of a member of the Jewish high priestly family were in Ephesus, no doubt having come to the magic capital because they themselves practiced exorcisms. Upon witnessing what they considered Paul’s remarkable control over the spirit world by invoking the name of Jesus, they too tried this approach. But when facing a particularly malicious demon, the demon replies to them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” just before leaping on them and overpowering them. The text tells us that they ran naked and wounded from the scene. This incident was told all over the city and had the good effect of causing Christians to turn away from their involvement in the world of evil spirits (19:18).

Paul, believing through the Spirit that his work in Ephesus has drawn to a close, announces that he would head to Macedonia (Philippi and Thessalonica) and Achaia before returning to Jerusalem. He also adds that he must see Rome. This declaration is no mere insistence of desire as some tourist may remark in wanting to see a special site (e.g., “I have to visit Paris!”). Paul is announcing the impression set on him by the Holy Spirit. He knows God wants him to go to Rome.

In anticipation of his immediate visit to Macedonia, Paul sends Timothy and Erastus on ahead. The purpose for this is indirectly explained in 2 Corinthians. Paul had written 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. He would write 2 Corinthians after arriving in Macedonia, before finally actually visiting Corinth again. In 2 Corinthians 9:1-5 Paul discusses the collection of an offering. This is a specific offering that Paul is collecting to take with him back to Jerusalem. Paul informs the Corinthians that he has been telling those about him in Macedonia of the eagerness of the Corinthians to take part in this offering. But he wants to ensure that they are indeed ready by sending “brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction” (2 Cor 9:5). The point is that Paul does not want to arrive and spend his time begging them for the money. He sends workers ahead of him to organize the collection. What he does here for the Corinthians, then, is what occurs in our Acts 19 passage as Paul sends workers ahead to Macedonia while he is still in Ephesus.

Just before Paul leaves Ephesus, a harrowing incident occurs involving much of the city. An artisan named Demetrius who made a living making and selling silver miniatures of the temple of Artemis has noticed his business declining as Paul proclaims the gospel. He gathers several others of his trade to discuss the problem. His begins logically noting the economic problem Paul has caused, but then attempts to stir up his fellows in an emotional appeal to their religion and ultimately their political situation. These tradesmen do indeed become emotionally stimulated, crying out “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Of course, the cry is one in which the whole city could join in, and so others do join this crowd, although they may not have known exactly what prompted the display of religious fervor. Luke does his best to show the confusion of the mob and therefore the danger involved in this uprising. The crowd drags Gaius and Aristarchus, two of Paul’s co-workers, into the temple arena so as to focus their angry outcries at specific people.

The temple of Artemis was a huge construction over four times the size of the Parthenon. The place could seat 24,000 worshippers, and became known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was here as well that Ephesians gathered to witness gladiator contests against each other and animals, cheering and being entertained by the blood spilling and death resulting from these struggles. It is no wonder that when Paul seeks to enter the temple to try to talk to the crowd, his friends hold him back. Even some Asiarchs, local public officials whom Paul knew, advised him to stay away from that literal life-threatening mob. Luke continues to show the wild confusion in Alexander’s attempt to speak to the crowd. Alexander was a Jew. He tried to quiet the crowd to speak, no doubt wanting to inform them that the Jews also were on their side, disturbed with Paul and the Christians. But immediately when the crowd recognized him as a Jew, lumped him together with Paul the Jew in their antagonism and cried out for two hours more, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

The situation is finally controlled by an Ephesian official, worried how Rome would react to the incident if left to foment even more. He quiets the crowd and then tries to reason with them, appealing to their religious notions. He says basically that if Artemis is truly great and truly built the temple that all the world worships, then surely Artemis does not need them to defend her. If Demetrius has a problem, he can go to the courts. If the question is of false religion, they can go to the regular assembly. But that angry assembly there was in danger of being thought of as a riot, which would not look good to the Roman rulers. The crowd accepts his reasoning and, being dismissed, files out.

A couple of statements in Luke’s telling have been thought as comic relief. In verse 34 he tells us that in the confusion, most that had gathered didn’t even know why they had come together. And it does seem comical that this rioting crowd would so easily be calmed by the town clerk so that the whole incident concludes quickly with no fanfare: “And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly” (19:41). But I don’t believe the incident was for comic relief. As mentioned, those not knowing what had provoked the incident were still intent at cheering for Artemis. Luke merely attempts to show the confusion in the mob.

The purpose of the passage appears to highlight God’s protection and sovereignty, and for that purpose Luke attempts not comic relief but a demonstration on the danger this incident involved. Here is the third detailed instance of Paul in danger in Greek cities. In Philippi, Paul was arrested and thrown in prison, but still God’s protection was seen as he came out unharmed. In Corinth, he was arrested and brought to trial but never imprisoned as Gallio threw his case out. Now in Ephesus, he is opposed by an angry mob, but God continues to protect disbanding the crowd. These incidents are shown to us so that we understand God does protect and he does order events as he chooses. This is an important lesson because in the rest of the book we see Paul arrested, imprisoned, and eventually executed. From the background Luke has shown us we know that it was not that God could not protect Paul, but rather that his final arrest, imprisonment, and execution were in the will and organizational control of God.

The incident was harrowing. Paul writes of it in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 saying that they were “utterly burdened beyond our strength” and that they “despaired of life itself.” They felt as though they “had received the sentence of death.” Yet it made them trust in God.

Chapter 20 verses 1 through 6 speed through the next several months. Paul leaves Ephesus soon after the Demetrius affair, heading for Macedonia. After spending time there (during which he wrote 2 Corinthians), he continues to Achaia and stays three months in Corinth. When interested in leaving to sail to Jerusalem, Paul learns of a plot to take his life. So instead of boarding the ship, he retraces his route through Macedonia, sailing from Philippi first to Troas.

Did God want Paul to retrace through Macedonia? The obvious answer is yes. God is in sovereign control. It is also in Philippi that Paul reunites with Luke who becomes a fellow traveler through the rest of this journey, possibly inspiring him to write this account. But that reunion would not have taken place had Paul merely sailed from Corinth to Jerusalem. It was through the sinful workings of evil men that Paul’s plans were interrupted and changed. This provides clear demonstration that although evil is in the world, God sovereignly coordinates, even using the evil impact, to accomplish his will.

Notice that verse 6 says the sailed from Philippi. Philippi is a landlocked city. Obviously Luke meant that they first traveled over land the short distance to Neopolis, the port city, before boarding a ship to sail away. Is this an error? We wouldn’t call something like this an error because we know what Luke meant. But it is something we must address when we say that the Bible is inerrant. After all, inerrancy means free from error.

Paul Feinberg has developed a good definition of inerrancy. He says inerrancy is “the view that when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences.” But considering our concern about “sailing from Philippi” some qualifications have to be added. He adds the following eight qualifications:

Inerrancy does not--

1. Demand strict adherence to the rules of grammar

2. Exclude the use either of figures of speech or literary genres

3. Demand historical or semantical precision

4. Demand the technical or observational language of modern science

5. Require verbal exactness in the citation of the OT by the NT

6. Demand that the sayings of Jesus have the exact words of Jesus, only the exact voice (i.e., indirect discourse)

7. Guarantee the exhaustive comprehensiveness of any single account or of combined accounts

8. Demand the infallibility of inerrancy of the non-inspired sources used by biblical writers

(A brief note on #8—This is not as open-ended as it may sound. Surely Luke had sources for every account in the Gospel he wrote. Qualification 8 is not to say that those non-inspired sources may have been all in error so that the Gospel accounts may not have happened but we still call the Bible inerrant because Luke recorded it faithfully. Qualification 8 is meant to cover a quotation such as Stephan’s speech in Acts 7. Qualification 8 tells us that inerrancy will have Luke faithfully quoting Stephen, but that does not guarantee that everything Stephen, the non-inspired source, said was inerrant.)

Some people have thrown up their hands at the number of qualifiers to say, “Do not all these exceptions make inerrancy meaningless? Why hold on to this word?” Just about all one-word labels need qualification. There is no other word we can assign to the idea to capture all we mean. Inerrancy is a good word. Infallibility (which means incapable of error) is a good word. But neither one can be applied without qualification. Making it even more difficult is the fact that inerrancy applies only to the original autographs. They are now lost. So we cannot apply inerrancy to any manuscript known to currently exist. What good then is the term?

The intent of all these terms is to get from the understanding of inspiration by God to the authority of God for what we read. That, I think, includes inerrancy of the originals. It includes the concept of infallibility. It includes divine preservation and direction in our examining, compiling, and determining original wording based on manuscript evidence.

Don’t be hung up on labels. Don’t include or exclude someone from fellowship based on a label. The issue is complicated, and therefore it is incumbent on us to examine the doctrines to be satisfied.