Acts 20:25-31 – Paul and the Ephesian Shepherds

Bad WolfPaul’s plan is to by-pass Ephesus and meet the Elders at Miletus, thirty miles from Ephesus. What was the purpose of this plan? Paul’s desire is to get to Jerusalem as rapidly as possible, so he may have simply wanted to avoid Ephesus. Had he stopped there, he would have had so many obligations that he would have never been able to meet his schedule. He would lose more time in Ephesus than if he  meets the elders in Miletus. Another possibility is that Paul’s ship was scheduled to stop in Miletus, not Ephesus. One did not book travel on a passenger ship in the ancient world, all travel was on cargo ships and one was often at the mercy of the cargo-schedule

When the elders arrive, Paul warns them of trials they will have to face in the near future (Acts 20:25-31). Paul employs a common metaphor to warn the elders from Ephesus that they are about to face trials.  Since elders are appointed by the Holy Spirit to the task of shepherding the flock, the natural metaphor for an attack against the flock is a “savage wolf.”  The elders are to keep watch over the church in order to guard it against enemies.  But this also involves watching themselves – they are to be worthy shepherds! These “wolves” seek to tear the congregation apart, and at this point may refer to elements in Ephesus, whether Greek or Jewish, that see Christianity as a threat.

Paul also warns of threats which will arise from within the congregation itself.  Perhaps the most disturbing prediction is that these wolves may very well arise from within their congregation – some men will arise, distort the truth, and draw disciples away after them.

SheepThis is exactly the situation we find in 1 Timothy, a letter written by Paul several years later to Timothy while he worked in Ephesus.  The false teachers are “insiders,” people from within the church that are distorting the truth.  Based on 1 Timothy and  Acts 20:30, it appears that the false teachers were elders from within the Ephesian church. The are teachers (1 Tim 1:3, 7, 6:3) and the task of teaching in the church is given to the elders (1 Tim 3:2, 5:17).

It is important that we not read this with a 21st century view of church in mind.  The elders are likely presiding over small house churches.  A city the size of Ephesus would likely have had many house churches by the time 1 Timothy is written.  There may have been a few elders who hosted a church in their home that have departed from the body of teaching Paul taught for the three years he was in Ephesus.  It is these elders that Paul wants to discipline.

At this point in Acts, the “savage wolves” are in the future – or are they?  Paul’s plan is to by-pass Ephesus and meet the Elders at Miletus, thirty miles from Ephesus.  While it is possible Paul simply wanted to avoid obligations to meet with many people in Ephesus in order to get to Jerusalem as soon as possible, it seems to me that the problems which 1 Timothy addresses are already surfacing.  This meeting at Miletus, then, is a gathering of loyal elders who still can be trusted by Paul.

Is it possible that Paul’s speech reflects the situation of the post-apostolic church?  What happens when Paul dies? Who “takes over”?  It seems to me that Paul is telling these shepherds that they are now in charge of the flock, and they have to be on guard against internal and external threats to the health of the church.

This “guarding” function is an important application for modern churches since most threats against the church are not coming from the outside (the government is not our greatest enemy, believe it or not!), but from other Christians, “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Acts 20 – What is the Collection for the Saints?

Collection PlatePaul leaves Ephesus with the intention of returning to Jerusalem for the purpose of delivering the collection to the Jerusalem church at Pentecost. The collection was a gift from the Gentile churches to the Jerusalem believers.  Romans 15:26 states that “Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem,” a text written from Corinth in the three-month period after Paul’s Ephesian ministry.

Paul has does this sort collection for Jerusalem before.  Before the first missionary journey in Acts 13, Paul delivered funds to Jerusalem collected by the Antioch church.  This visit is the subject of Gal 2:1-10.  In Gal 2:10 Paul said that the James had only encouraged him to “remember the poor.”  The “poor” in mind here are the members of the Jerusalem church, the very people the famine visit was intended to help.

The Jerusalem appears to be still living in a sort of shared community, supported by gifts.  Given a famine (and possibly a Jubilee year), the poor believers in Jerusalem were even more dependent on Antioch than ever.  Ben Witherington wonders if the handshake was an agreement to continue the financial arrangements between the Antioch church and the Jerusalem church (Acts, 429). This is possible since the same sort of language appears in Acts 15 as well, although the collection is not mentioned.

The Collection was unique in the ancient world.  The Greco-Roman world has a system of public benefaction, but nothing like a modern “fund-raiser” where people are solicited for money which is then distributed to the poor.  Likewise, in Judaism the poor received Alms from individuals, but money was not collected in mass for re-distribution to the poor.  Which the exception of Queen Abiabene, who brought relief to Jerusalem (Antiq. 20:51-51), there are no other examples of this sort of collection of funds.

Since Paul is collecting this money in the Greek world, it would have been unprecedented and would have looked very suspicious. Likely as not, the inclusion of representatives of the churches was meant to give confidence to the churches that Paul was not going to steal the funds and disappear.  Notice that in Acts 20:4 there is a list of names traveling with Paul, all likely representatives of Paul’s churches in Macedonia (Thessalonica, Berea) Asia Minor (Derbe) Paul was careful to separate his own ministry from the Collection for the Saints.  While he did not require churches to give to support him, he is adamant that churches “give what they can” to the Collection.

What is unusual is that Luke does not mention the collection at all, although that seems to be the point of the large part traveling back to Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost. Why Luke would omit this collection is a mystery – some have speculated that the collection was not well-received by the Jerusalem church, perhaps even rejected.  The scene is rather tense in Jerusalem when Paul arrives with a large contingent of Gentiles to deliver the gift.

What was the “point” Paul was trying to make with this collection?  If the collection was rejected, why would James (or the Jerusalem Christians)  reject the generosity of the Gentile churches?

Bibliography: Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, 932-947; S. McKnight, “The Collection for the Saints” in DPL, 143-147. The collection is mentioned in 1 Cor 16:1-4, 2 Cor 8-9 and Rom 15:25-32.

Acts 19 – Who is Artemis?

The chant of the Ephesians in Acts 19 is “Great is Artemis!”  In order to better understand the impact of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, it is a good idea to know a few things about this important god.  Since footnoting is difficult in the blog format, I will simply state that the following essay draws on a number of sources, including appropriate articles in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, The Dictionary of Deities and Demigods, and Ben Witherington’s commentary on Acts.

Artemis / Diana

Artemis / Diana

The goddess Artemis was a virgin huntress and was worshiped throughout the ancient world.  She is the daughter of Zeus by Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo and is usually included in the 12 Olympian gods.   The origin of her name is disputed; it may come from the Greek artamos, “butcher,” or arktos, “bear.”  On the other hand, Pausanias lists 64 different local variations on the name of Artemis (By way of comparison, Zeus has 67 local variations, Athena has only 59). The Latin Vulgate used the Latin form of her name, Diana; the form appears in Luther’s version and the KJV as well.  She has the ability to turn people (or gods) into animals.  In one legend she changed here hunting companion (Callisto) into a she-bear.  When Orion tried to rape her, she transformed him into a scorpion.

She is usually depicted with a bow and accompanied by deer, and was extremely beautiful.  She is also often combined with the “mother goddess” and therefore a fertility goddess and protector of young children.   But in fact she is rarely portrayed as a helpful goddess. This aspect has a dark side, since Artemis is given the right to kill women at childbirth (Iliad 21.479-488), and she is sometimes combined with Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. She is usually shown wearing a crown with 12 stars, indicating her power over fate (ie., the zodiac). While women called on her for protection during childbirth, they also feared here because the goddess may cause the death of a child as well as she might protect it.  Since she is associated with women, Artemis is sometimes associate with the moon and menstruation.  In the earliest legends (Hesiod, for example), Helios (the sun god) and his sister Selena (the moon god) are roughly equivalent to Apollo as the sun god and his sister Artemis.  Philo of Alexandria calls Artemis the moon god (De decal. 54) When boys and girls came of age they sacrificed a hair-lock to the goddess on the third and last day of the Apatouria or clan festival.  Girls made a similar sacrifice when they married, boys when they entered into their father’s clan.

Artemis was worshiped in many locations, but the temple in Ephesus was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. While Ephesus is known to have worshiped as many as 25 other gods, Artemis was consider the city’s chief god.  An inscription calls her “the goddess who rules our city” (SIG 867,29).  Artemis was worshiped from Spain to Syria, Strabo (Geog 4.1.5) lists thirty three other temples of Artemis in the ancient world.  Inscriptions from Ephesus describe Artemis as a goddess who answers prayer (I.Eph 26.1, 18) and she is called “savior” (I.Eph 26.4, 18), although this salvation is likely healing from sickness and disease.

The temple at Ephesus was used as a bank.  “Dio Chrysostom of Prusa describes it as a place where people from all over the Roman empire, private persons, allied kings and townships, had deposited large sums of money (Or. 31, 54).”  It is possible money was lent by the temple as well, although this is disputed.

The temple hosted festival and processions during the month of Artemision.  Every day during this month was a holy day and all judicial activity was to cease during the month.  The image of Artemis would have been dressed and adorned beautifully, and placed in a cart to travel through the city, accompanied by the worshipers. Little is known about the nature of the sacrifices, although there were many during the month long festival.  It may be that Artemis was particularly identified with magic, since she was often identified with Hecate, the goddess of magic.  Tatian in the second century simply states: “Artemis is a magos” (Or. ad. Gr. 8, 2).

Since Artemis was such an important part of Ephesian culture, the success of Paul’s gospel would be interpreted as an attack on the culture and economy of the city.

Acts 19 – Exorcists in Ephesus

Acts 19:11-17 reports the amusing story of the Sons of Sceva who attempt to cast out demons in the name of Jesus and Paul. Jewish exorcists are well known in the ancient world. Legends about Solomon’s great power of demons were well-known. Josephus says God gave Solomon great wisdom, but also remarkable magical powers (Antiq. 8.42-49).

“God also enabled him to learn that skill which expels demons, which is a science useful and sanative to men. He composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated. And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return, and this method of cure is of great force unto this day.”

He goes on to describe a Jew by the name of Eleazar who cast out demons in the presence of the emperor Vespasian and many other witnesses. The method Eleasar used to cast out the demon was strange: “He put a ring that had a root of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him to return into him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed.”

Solomon is not the only Jewish name thought to have magical powers. In Paris Papyri 574, the exorcist says to the demon, “I abjure you by Jesus the God of the Hebrews,” and “hail God of Abraham, Hail God of Isaac, hail God of Jacob, Jesus Chrestus, Holy Spirit, Son of the Father.”

seven-sonsIn Ephesus, at least some Jewish exorcists attempted to use the names of both Jesus and Paul as “power words” to cast out demons. This is the only place in the New Testament where the Greek ἐξορκιστής (exorcist) is used.  When commanded, the demon reverses the usual process and “exorcizes” the exorcists! This humorous scene shows that the God of Paul is not to be manipulated like the other gods of the ancient world.

The news of beating of the sons of Sceva spreads quickly.  The text says that the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor (μεγαλύνω).  This does not necessarily mean people became believers. The word appears in Acts 5:13 to refer to the reputation the apostles gained in Jerusalem (“held in high regard by the people”), but certainly in that context people were not converted to Christianity.

What are the implications for modern evangelism and/or church life? While I suspect this will have a different application in the West as opposed to other parts of the world where a belief in demons is more vivid, American Christianity is not immune from using the name of Jesus as a quasi-magical word that someone guarantees we “get what we wished for.” This kind of neo-paganism is common, but very dangerous.

Acts 19:13-20 – The Magicians of Ephesus

Most people in the ancient world believed in the power of protective magic.  According to Clint Arnold, Jewish magic was famous in the ancient world (Acts, 193).  In his monograph Magic in Ephesus he details magical practices in the Ephesus as well as Jewish use of magic and talismans to ward off evil.  It is no surprise to find people in Ephesus who are not only using magical items, but that Jews functioned as exorcists and magicians may come as a shock.  Many Jews found a lucrative trade selling incantations and amulets in Ephesus.

Jewish exorcists are well known in the anEphesian Amulet 1cient world, especially in Ephesus (see for example, Josephus Antiq. 8.42-49) and Jews were especially famous for magic. Jewish names were especially thought to have magical powers, as is illustrated by Paris Papyri 574, “I abjure you by Jesus the God of the Hebrews,” and “hail God of Abraham, Hail God of Isaac, hail God of Jacob, Jesus Chrestus, Holy Spirit, Son of the Father.”

Some of these Jewish exorcists have begun to use the names of both Jesus and Paul as “power words” to cast out demons. This is the only place in the New Testament where the Greek ἐξορκιστής (exorcist) is used.  Sceva is identified as a chief priest (not the high priest), although it is his sons who are attempting to cast out this demon.  When commanded, the demon reverses the usual process and “exorcizes” the exorcists! This humorous scene shows that the God of Paul is not to be manipulated like the other gods of the ancient world.

The news of beating of the sons of Sceva spreads quickly.  The text says that the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor (μεγαλύνω).  This does not necessarily mean people became believers. The word appears in Acts 5:13 to refer to the reputation the apostles gained in Jerusalem (“held in high regard by the people”), but certainly in that context  people were not converted to Christianity.

Luke reports that many who were already believers openly confessed their sin of magic and publicly burned their scrolls. Luke uses the perfect tense to describe these magicians – they have already believed in Jesus and were saved, but they had not given up their magical practices quite yet.  Perhaps burning their scrolls is an act of “self preservation,” as Witherington puts it.  Other magicians and exorcists had to be amazed at what had happened to the sons of Sceva, even if they were not willing to have a saving faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts, 582).

Ephesian Amulet 2The people public confess their evil deeds.  This likely means they made public spells and magical words which were kept in secret.  Public confession would render them ineffective (Bruce, Acts of the Apostles, 412).  In addition to the public confession of guilt, many others bring magic texts to voluntarily burn. Public book burnings are common in the Greco-Roman world, subversive or dangerous texts were destroyed.  The best example is Augustus himself, who collected Greek Sibylline oracles and had them destroyed since they could be used to foment rebellion against the empire.

This points out that the new converts in Ephesus were not yet “de-paganized.”  Like the Corinthians, the converts in Ephesus struggled to integrate Christ and their culture.  What strikes me as odd is that the disciples of John the Baptist were not Christians because they had not yet received the Holy Spirit, but these magicians were in fact Christians (having received the Spirit), despite the fact they continued in a pagan practice after becoming “in Christ.”  I seriously doubt that Paul and the other missionaries approved of the practice, but there must have been some toleration at first since it took some time before the magicians renounced their trade.

What are the implications for modern evangelism, either in America or in other missions work?

Further reading in Magical Papyri: H. D. Betz, “Introduction to the Magical Papyri,” in The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986).

Book Giveaway Winner – James L. Papandrea, A Week in the Life of Rome

Last week I offered my extra copy of James L. Papandrea, A Week in the Life of Rome (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2019) to one of the readers of this blog. I do this from time to time when I have an extra copy of something I think people might like. Sometimes I buy a book and discover later I already had a copy (people often associate this with impending old age, but I blame almost anything else). I said I would give it away yesterday, but I got busy with other things and completely forgot.

There were twenty-one entries this time, and I was happy to see several new names from previous giveaways. I sorted the names randomly and then used to generate the winner. And the winner is….

Matt Lantz

Everyone congratulate Matt (or curse his luck). Matt, contact me via plong at or a direct message on Twitter (@plong42) with a mailing address and I will get this right out to you.

About the book: Since the “week in the life of” series are novels by biblical scholars, about half the book is academic side-notes explaining the background details of the story. I have read all three of the currently available volumes and find them to be entertaining and easy reading. These are not academic books, but they do present the history and archaeology of the Roman world for a popular audience. I reviewed the book a few weeks ago, concluding “this book offers an entertaining insight into the relationship of Christianity and Rome in the mid-first century. Papandrea draws out the agonizing decisions a person living in the Roman world would have to make in order to be a Christian in an entirely pagan world. The book will be an easy introduction for readers interested in the background of the Roman world and early Christianity.”


Acts 19:2-7 – Disciples of John the Baptist

Luke intended this paragraph to be read along with the previous unit, the introduction of Apollos as a disciple of John.  Just as Luke contrasted Barnabas with Ananias in 4:36-28 and 5:1-2, Apollos and the other disciples of John stand in contrast  One disciple heard John and accept Jesus as the Messiah (although not fully understanding the implications of the resurrection, most likely with respect for Gentile salvation), the other disciples heard John but were ignorant of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist The dozen disciples of John indicate that even 20 years after John’s death there was a movement amount the Jews that held John to be a prophet and in some way kept his teachings alive. Perhaps the gospel of John gives us a similar hint, especially if it can be show that John wrote from Ephesus near the end of the first century.

These disciples cannot be considered Christians at this point since they had not yet received the Holy Spirit.  While Luke only uses “disciple” for believers in every other case in Acts, his use of μαθητής here is without a definite article, the such example in Acts.  At the very least these are unusual Christians, perhaps “fringe” Christians, similar to the “unusual, fringes of Judaism described in the first half of the book.  Paul’s question – did you receive the Holy Spirit – is equivalent to asked, “are you believers?”  Not only have these disciples not received the Holy Spirit, they do not even know that there is a Holy Spirit!

Paul asked them “into whom” or “into what” they were baptized.  The NIV obscures this a bit, interpreting the question as “who baptized you,” rather than “what was the medium in which you were baptized.” Witherington comments that the image of being immersed into the Holy Spirit was common in the early church, see Rom 6:3, 1 Cor 1:13, 15, 10:2, 12:13, Gal 3:27).  His point is that the “whom” of this verse cannot refer to water; he sees the baptism of the Holy Spirit as entry into saving faith, while baptism in water is entry into the Christian community (Acts, 571).

Since they had been baptized “in John’s baptism,” Paul explains that John’s baptism was not enough, it was a “baptism of repentance,” which looked forward to the ministry of Jesus.  One could not be saved at this point in history only by accepting the message of John, it is only through faith in Jesus that one can be saved (as Acts has made abundantly clear prior to this point in the book!)

As has happened at several points in the book of Acts already, there is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit (tongues and prophesy) after Paul lays hands on these disciples. There is no consistent “order of events” in Acts, sometimes the Spirit comes prior to baptism (10:44-48, Cornelius) and other times baptism is prior (19:1-7), and in the case of Apollos, there is no mention of a re-baptism or of the coming of the Spirit.   Perhaps this is because he properly understood the message of John as pointing forward to Jesus, but that is not clear.

In fact, this is the only case of re-baptism in the New Testament, even the twelve were not re-baptized into the name of Jesus, they only had experienced the baptism of John (although one wonders about Matthew, since he was called to be an Apostle after John’s ministry.)  The point of this brief narrative is to show that it is possible to have a limited knowledge of Jesus which is not enough to be saved – theologically there was nothing wrong with these disciples except that they did not quite believe enough.  They did not believe something that was wrong, but they did not take their belief to the full extent needed for salvation.

Here is another problem for Applying Acts – what do we make of these disciples?  Are these  disciples “partial believers” who have participated in a ritual (John’s Baptism) but did not believe enough to be actually Christians?  What is it that “saved” these disciples?   In any case, it is the reception of the Holy Spirit which demonstrates they are in fact now Christians.