Turkey Day 6 – Didyma, Miletus and Priene

This day was a series of firsts for me since I have not visited any of these three locations on previous tours of Turkey. Since this is a “missionary journeys of Paul” tour I wanted to include Miletus, the location of Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20), although we will not be visiting Ephesus (Acts 19) until tomorrow morning. Since we are driving all the way over to Miletus, it made good sense to start the day in Didyma, then visit Miletus and Priene after lunch.

Temple of Apollo at DidymaUnfortunately, it rained heavily on the drive from Izmir to Didyma on the Aegean Sea. Although it was barely sprinkling when we arrived, we had to deal with mud and slippery marble while exploring the Temple of Apollo and Artemis (the twins implied by the name Didyma). The Temple was founded sometime after Alexander the Great took the territory from the Persians, the temple was designed by the same architect as the temple of Artemis in Ephesus. A ten-mile sacred road connects Miletus and Didyma.

Even though the temple was not completed it functioned as an oracle. This gave me an opportunity to talk about how oracles functioned in the Greek world and I related this to Paul’s encounter with the slave girl in Philippi (Acts 16:16-18). Alexander the Great, Seleucus I and Seleucus II all received oracles from the temple at Didymas. The temple was finally closed by under Theodosius I (A.D. 379-395).

One of the nice side-benefits to this day is the drive through the countryside of the south western end of Turkey. The area between each of these sites is largely agricultural (cotton, but also fruit trees and olives).

At Miletus we walked from the parking area to the theater. Once again, it rained while we were driving, but as soon as we got out of the minibus the rain stopped and for most of our visit it was sunny. The main thing to see in the is a seat with a Greek inscription mentioning the God-fearers. The God-fearers were Gentiles who chose to worship the God of the Jews and even keep most of the Law, although the men stopped short of full conversion because of the stigma of circumcision. Both Cornelius (Acts 10) and Lydia (Acts 16).

Theater at Miletus

After lunch (a lamb kabob), we drove back to Priene. This is a beautiful site but is a long steep hike from the parking area to the Hellenistic city. The first half of the hike is on a broad, smooth path, but eventually the path becomes a stairway of Roman stones, very uneven and rough. But the hard walk is worth it since this is one of the more beautiful archaeological sites I have visited. There are pine trees shading most of the area and there is a constant view of the a forbidding Mount Mycale behind the city and the fertile plain below.

Temple of Athena at Priene

There are several highlights, including a small theater. Even though it is small, there are five thrones for elite members of the audience right at the floor level. Each has animal feet carved into the base and inscriptions below the seat (I took photographs to work on later). From the theater we moved into a later Byzantine church and made our way to the temple of Athena. Like the temple at Didyma, this impressive structure was initially sponsored by Alexander the Great but never completed. It is comparable to Didyma or Sardis, but only five of the massive pillars have been re-assembled. The whole area of the temple is a maze of pillar drums, although I cannot imagine how anyone could do a major restoration project on the top of this hillside. Nevertheless, the Temple is very impressive. Prine also has a small synagogue with two or three small graffiti menorahs. Other than these marks, there is little in the building to hint at the use as a synagogue.

We are staying at a very nice hotel right on the Aegean Sea (an advantage of off-season travel) and will visit Ephesus in the morning.

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 20:25-31 – Savage Wolves

Sheep Stealing

Paul’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.

This 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).

SheepIt 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 20:25-31 – Beware the Savage Wolves!

Paul then warns the elders 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.

Paul sets himself up as the model for their ministry.  they are to recall that for three years he did not stop warning them – a reference to his continual ministry in the city.  As Witherington comments, this is not a “bestowal of leadership” on the elders; Paul is not creating some sort of apostolic succession here. It is the Holy Spirit who has compelled them to be elders and to shepherd the flock of God (Acts, 623).

This 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.

The false teachers seem to have made “converts” among the young widows in Ephesus. Perhaps this accounts for the proportionally high amount of “correction aimed at women in the church. (2 Tim 3:6-9; 2:9-15, 5:3-16).  The key to understanding the role of the young widows in Ephesus is 5:13.  This sounds a bit harsh – the women are gossips, busybodies, idlers, etc.  If we read this with the classic stereotyped “old bitty” in mind, we will miss the problem entirely.  These women are going around “house to house” saying things they ought not, gossip and etc.  This is polemic language used to describe the false teachers (myths etc., see 4:1-2 concerning the false teachers of the last days), and the “house to house” is not a social call, but likely a reference to the house churches scattered around Ephesus.

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.