Paul at Ephesus

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Apostle Paul's third missionary journey begins in the summer of 53 A.D. By autumn of 54 he finally arrives in Ephesus. Like his extended stays in Syrian Antioch and Corinth, he lives in the city for a significant period (a little more than three years).

Among those whom Apostle Paul met on his arrival in Ephesus was the small company of Jews who professed the imperfect Christianity of John the Baptist. By this time, Apollos had departed to Corinth. Those "disciples" who were now at Ephesus were in the same religious condition in which he had been when Aquila and Priscilla first spoke to him, though doubtless they were inferior to him both in learning and in zeal.

Paul found, on inquiry, that the twelve men in Ephesus had only received John's baptism, and that they were ignorant of the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, in which the life and energy of the Church consisted. They were even perplexed by his question. He then pointed out, in conformity with what had been said by John the Baptist himself, that that prophet only preached repentance to prepare men's minds for Christ, who is the true object of faith. On this they received Christian baptism. After they were baptized, Paul performed the laying on of hands ceremony and, as others, they displayed some of the spiritual gifts of God.

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There is no doubt that Paul "reasoned" in the Synagogue at Ephesus with the same zeal and energy with which his spiritual labors had been begun at Corinth (Acts 18:4). He had been anxiously expected, and at first he was heartily welcomed. A preparation for his teaching had been made by Apollos and those who instructed him.


Preaching of Paul at Ephesus
Preaching of Paul at Ephesus
(note the burned books at bottom of pix)
Eustache Le Sueur, 1649

For three months, Paul continued to speak boldly in the Synagogue, "reasoning and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God" (Acts 19:8). The hearts of some were hardened, while others repented and believed. In the end, the Apostle's doctrine was publicly slandered by the Jews before the people. On this he openly separated himself, and withdrew the disciples from the Synagogue. The Christian Church, therefore, at Ephesus became a distinct body, separated both from the Jews and the Gentiles.

As the house of Justus at Corinth had afforded Apostle Paul a refuge from the false accusations leveled against the gospel, and an opportunity of continuing his public instruction, so here he had recourse to "the school of Tyrannus" (Acts 19:9). This was probably a teacher of philosophy or rhetoric converted by Paul to Christianity. His labors in spreading the gospel were here continued for two whole years. For the incidents which occurred during this residence, for the persons with whom the Apostle became acquainted, and for the precise subjects of his teaching, we have no letters to give us information supplementary to the book of Acts. Although Paul wrote the book of Ephesians, it gives us no personal or incidental details.

But we have, in his last address to the elders of Ephesus at Miletus, an affecting picture of Paul's labors. From that address we learn that his voice had not been heard within the school of Tyrannus alone, but that he had gone about among his converts, instructing them from house to house, and warning each one of them affectionately with tears (Acts 20:20, 31).

Labors so incessant, so disinterested, and continued through so long a time, could not fail to produce a great result at Ephesus. A large Church was formed over which many presbyters were called to preside. Nor were the results confined to the city. Throughout the province of Asia the name of Christ became generally known, both to the Jews and the Gentiles. There is little doubt that many smaller groups were also founded, whether in the course of journeys undertaken by Paul himself, or by means of those with whom he became acquainted, as for instance by Epaphras, Archippus, and Philemon, in connection with Colossae, and its neighbor cities Hierapolis and Laodicea.


Rampant paganism

It is during this interval that one major characteristics of the people of Ephesus comes prominently into view. This city was renowned throughout the world for the worship of Diana and the practice of magic. Though it was a Greek city, like Athens or Corinth, the manners of its inhabitants were half Oriental. The image of the tutelary goddess resembled an Indian idol rather than the beautiful forms which crowded the Acropolis of Athens. The enemy which Apostle Paul had to oppose was not a vaunting philosophy, as at Corinth, but a dark and Asiatic superstition. The worship of Diana and the practice of magic were closely connected together.


The Goddess of Nature (Diana)
The Goddess of Nature
Attributes of Artemis (Diana)
adapted for antique vase.
Niccolo Tribolo, c. 1529

Eustathius says, that the mysterious symbols called "Ephesian Letters" were engraved on the crown, the girdle, and the feet of the goddess. These Ephesian letters or monograms have been compared by a Swedish writer to the Runic characters of the North. When pronounced, they were regarded as a charm and were directed to be used by those who were in the power of evil spirits. When written, they were carried as amulets.


Paul's unique miracles

Luke tells us that while the apostle was in Ephesus that, "God worked special works of power by the hands of Paul" (Acts 19:11, HBFV). We are not to suppose that any of the Apostles were always able to work miracles at will. An influx of supernatural power was given to them at a particular time and according to the circumstances that required it.

The character of miracles manifested through the apostles was not always the same. They were accommodated to the peculiar forms of sin, superstition, and ignorance they were required to oppose. Here, at Ephesus, Apostle Paul was in the face of magicians, like Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh. The implication of Acts 19:11 is that he was given the ability to perform miracles which were unique even for him.

We know, in the case of Jesus' miracles, that though the change was usually accomplished on the speaking of a word, intermediate agency was sometimes employed. This was the case when the blind man was healed at the pool of Siloam. A miracle which has a closer reference to our present subject is that in which the hem of Christ's garment was made effectual to the healing of a poor sufferer and the conviction of the bystanders.

On this occasion in Ephesus, Paul's garments were made the means of communicating a healing power to those who were at a distance, whether they were possessed with evil spirits, or afflicted with ordinary diseases (Acts 19:12). Such effects, thus publicly manifested, were a signal refutation of the charms, amulets and mystic letters of the pagans.

These miracles through Paul must have produced a great effect upon the minds of those who practiced curious arts in Ephesus. Among the magicians who were then in this city, in the course of their wanderings through the East, were several Jewish exorcists (Acts 19:13). This is a circumstance which need not surprise us. The stern severity with which sorcery was forbidden in the Old Testament (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:27, Deuteronomy 18:10 - 11) attests the early tendency of the Israelites to such practices. The Jewish Talmud bears witness to the continuance of these practices at a later period and so it is therefore not surprising that Jewish magicians spread through various parts of the Roman Empire.

One specific instance in Ephesus is recorded of those who attempted to cast out evil spirits by the "name of Jesus." Those presuming to have such authority were seven brothers who were the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:14). But the demons, who were subject to Jesus, and by His will subject to those who preached His Gospel, treated with scorn those who used His Name without being converted to His truth. The demons told the brothers, "Jesus I know, and Paul I have knowledge of; but you, who are you?" And straightway the man who was possessed sprang upon them and attacked with such frantic violence that the seven brothers fled wounded and naked (verse 16)!

This fearful result of the profane use of that Holy Name which was proclaimed by Paul soon became well known both among the Greeks and the Jews. Consternation and alarm took possession of the minds of many. Even among those who had given their faith to Apostle Paul's preaching, some appear to have retained their attachment to the practice of magical arts. Their conscience was moved by what had recently occurred and they publicly forsook their deeds of darkness.

The fear and conviction at Ephesus seems to have extended beyond those who made a profession of Christianity. A large number of the sorcerers themselves openly renounced the practice which had been so signally condemned by a higher power. They brought together the books that contained their mystic formularies and burnt them before Paul and all the people (Acts 19:19).

This scene must have been long remembered at Ephesus. It was a strong proof of honest conviction on the part of the sorcerers, and a striking attestation of the triumph of Jesus Christ over the powers of darkness. The workers of evil were put to scorn, like the priests of Baal by Elijah on Mount Carmel (1Kings 18).

With this narrative of the burning of the books, we have nearly reached the end of Apostle Paul's three plus year residence at Ephesus. Before his departure, however, he will experience an uproar in the Ephesian theater related to the worship of Diana.

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