Acts Wednesday: Chapter 19, Ephesus


Imagine Paul, outwardly road weary but inwardly growing warm with spiritual fervor as he neared the thriving metropolis and port city of Ephesus, in the height of its glory.


Temple of Artemis
Cafeennui / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Soaring above all other buildings, dominating the skyline, was the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, erected 800 years before Paul had been born. Its centerpiece was a stone that represented the goddess herself, and worshipers claimed it had fallen from the sky, possibly it was a meteorite. (Here is a 5 minute video on the Temple of Artemis.)


Artemis of Ephesus
Naples National Archaeological Museum / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)

Artemis was the patron goddess of Ephesus, thought to have been born there, and her shrine was accepted as an asylum. She was considered a protector of fertility, usually depicted with a vest of gourds (a fertility symbol in the ancient near east), and connected to other Anatolian mother goddesses, such as Cybele, a 5,000 year old cult deity, considered the Great Mother of all the gods.

Ephesus was famous for its Ephesia grammata or ‘Ephesian letters.’ These were occult formulae written on scrolls and talismans copied from the original inscriptions in the Artemis temple. There were many universities in Ephesus, connected with gymnasiums.  They were designed for people of leisure, with spas, all inlaid beautiful marble, benches to eat and drink, places to exercise, swim, then relax in the café with cappuccinos and bisciotti to have intellectual conversation about philosophy, religion, politics.


Now walking past the great temple, Paul would have headed towards the Jewish quarter, hoping to find lodging and a meal with his dear friends Prisca and Aquila. Imagine his great joy in hearing their stories of Apollos, and of the growth, both spiritually and in numbers, of their community in Christ. Soon, Paul fell into a daily rhythm, tent-making from pre-dawn to around 11 a.m., then using his midday siesta to teach and preach.

As was his pattern, Paul began by teaching in the synagogue. Inevitably, a schism grew between those who believed in Jesus, and those who rejected Paul’s message, so that in the course of three months, Paul was once again ejected from his own people.


When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.

Acts 19:9-10 (NRSV)

Evidently, Paul used his own money to rent a lecture hall in one of the many gymnasiums in Ephesus, and taught from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

He instructed in the classical style of Socrates, asking questions, then disputing and teaching to the answers.  After this he went door to door, teaching and evangelizing.  For the whole of his time there Paul taught night and day, with tears, because he loved them.  Eventually, all of Asia, Luke recorded, heard the word of God.  Paul was supernaturally empowered to live with such a heavy schedule of manual labor, teaching, evangelizing, and shepherding because this was God’s call for him, and by the power of the Spirit, he was able.

It seems early on in his evangelism efforts, Paul met with a group of believers who were very like Apollos in their understanding of the gospel—evidently, these twelve men, though disciples, were missing the same vital element of faith that Apollos had been missing. When Paul asked them,


“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.”

Acts 19:2-3 (NRSV)

They were like the pre-resurrection disciples, they believed only in the human Jesus, but had not yet come to understand the full truth about the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ. They had received a water baptism that symbolized their desire to wash away sin and be made ready for the Messiah, and they believed that Jesus was the Messiah of the Old Testament, but they had not personally received Him as their Savior and their Lord, and been filled with the Holy Spirit.

They had no idea what was about to happen to them!

Paul laid his hands on those twelve followers of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:6, NRSV)

The significance of this whole concept of the Holy Spirit coming to live in a person, permanently, in the way Jesus was indwelt, is central to Christianity.


On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

 John 7:37-39 (NRSV)

It’s not certain why they spoke in other languages, as well as prophesied. Maybe it was an echo of the great movement of fire and wind that happened in Acts 2. It is very likely there were many in the surrounding crowd who came from other places in the world, for Ephesus was one of the great cosmopolitan cities of its day.

One thing is certain, being filled with the indwelling Holy Spirit is to be filled with the Spirit of Christ Himself, the Spirit of Jesus, and the overwhelming inspiration will be to speak of Him, to declare the word of God.


Ephesus | Tom Jutte of Flickr, CC BY-ND-NC 2.0

Ephesus, Selçuk, Izmir, Turkey – 2467

Ephesus in Turkey was one of the seven churches of Asia cited in the Book of Revelation. The Gospel of John might have been written here. It is also the site of a large gladiator graveyard.Ephesus (Efes) in Turkey is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Published by Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer

Speaker and Author Bible Teacher and partner with Ancient Voices, Sacred Stories

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