In the short stay which Paul had made at Ephesus on his return from his second journey, he had promised to come again to that city, if the providence of God should allow it. This promise he was enabled to fulfil, after a hasty visit to the metropolis of the Jewish nation, and a longer sojourn in the first metropolis of the Gentile Church.
It would lead us into long and useless discussions, if we were to speculate on the time spent at Antioch, and the details of the Apostle’s occupation in the scene of his early labors. We have already stated our reasons for believing that the discussions which led to the Council at Jerusalem, took place at an earlier period, as well as the quarrel between Peter and Apostle Paul concerning the propriety of concession to the Judaizers.
But without knowing the particular form of the controversies brought before him, or the names of those Christian teachers with whom he conferred, we have seen enough to make us aware that imminent dangers from the Judaizing party surrounded the Church, and that Antioch was a favorable place for meeting the machinations of this party, as well as a convenient starting-point for a journey undertaken to strengthen those communities that were likely to be invaded by false teachers from Judea.
It is evident that it was not Apostle Paul's only object to proceed with all haste to Ephesus: nor indeed is it credible that he could pass through the regions of Cilicia and Lycaonia, Phrygia and Galatia, without remaining to confirm those Churches which he had founded himself, and some of which he had visited twice. We are plainly told that his journey was occupied in this work, and the few words which refer to this subject imply a systematic visitation. He would be the more anxious to establish them in the true principles of the Gospel, in proportion as he was aware of the widely-spreading influence of the Judaizers.
Another specific object, not unconnected with the healing of divisions, was before him during the whole of this missionary journey, - a collection for the relief of the poor Christians in Judea. It had been agreed, at the meeting of the Apostolic Council (Galatians 2:9, 10), that while some should go to the Heathen, and others to the Circumcision, the former should carefully "remember the poor;" and this we see Apostle Paul, on the present journey among the Gentile Churches, "forward to do." We even know the "order which he gave to the Churches of Galatia" (1Corinthians 16:1, 2). He directed that each person should lay by in store, on the first day of the week, according as God had prospered him, that the collection should be deliberately made, and prepared for an opportunity of being taken to Jerusalem.
It may be considered, on the other hand, probable, if not certain, that Timothy was with the Apostle through the whole of this journey. Abundant mention of him is made, both in the Acts and the Epistles, in connection with Apostle Paul's stay at Ephesus, and his subsequent movements. (See Acts 19:22; 1Corinthians 4:17, 16:10; 2Corinthians 1:1; Romans 16:21; Acts 20: 4). Of the other companions who were undoubtedly with him at Ephesus, we cannot say with confidence whether they attended him from Antioch, or joined him afterwards at some other point. But Erastus (Acts 19:22) may have remained with him since the time of his first visit to Corinth, and Caius and Aristarchus (Acts 19:29) since the still earlier period of his journey through Macedonia.
Perhaps we have stronger reasons for concluding that Titus, who, though not mentioned in the Acts, was certainly of great service in the second missionary journey, traveled with Paul and Timothy through the earlier part of it. In the frequent mention which is made of him in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, he appears as the Apostle’s laborious minister, and as a source of his consolation and support, hardly less strikingly than the disciple whom he had taken on the previous journey from Lystra and Iconium.
Whatever might be the exact route which the Apostle followed from Antioch to Ephesus, he would certainly, as we have said, revisit those Churches which twice before had known him as their teacher. He would pass over the Cilician plain on the warm southern shore, and the high table-land of Lycaonia on the other side of the Pass of Taurus. He would see once more his own early home on the banks of the Cydnus; and Timothy would be once more in the scenes of his childhood at the base of the Kara-Dagh.
After leaving Tarsus, the cities of Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium, possibly also Antioch in Pisidia, would be the primary objects in the Apostle’s progress. Then we come to Phrygia and Galatia, both vague and indeterminate districts, which he had visited once, (Acts 16:6) and through which, as before, we cannot venture to lay down a route. Though the visitation of the Churches was systematic, we need not conclude that the same exact course was followed.
Since the order in which the two districts are mentioned is different from that in the former instance, we are at liberty to suppose that he traveled first from Lycaonia through Cappadocia into Galatia, and then by Western Phrygia to the coast of the. Aegean. In this last part of his progress we are in still greater doubt as to the route, and one question of interest is involved in our opinion concerning it.
The great road from Ephesus by Iconium to the Euphrates passed along the valley of the Maeander, and near the cities of Laodicea, Colossae and Hierapolis; and we should naturally suppose that the Apostle would approach the capital of Asia along this well-traveled line. But the arguments are so strong for believing that Apostle Paul was never personally at Colossae, that it is safer to imagine him following some road farther to the north, such as that, for instance, which, after passing near Thyatira, entered the valley of the Hermus at Sardis.
Thus, then, we may conceive the Apostle arrived at that region, where he was formerly in hesitation concerning his future progress, (Acts 16:6-8) - the frontier district of Asia and Phrygia, the mountains which contain the upper waters of the Hermus and Maeander.
And now our attention is suddenly called away to another preacher of the Gospel, whose name, next to that of the Apostles, is perhaps the most important in the early history of the Church. There came at this time to Ephesus, either directly from Egypt by Aquila or Priscilla from Corinth, or by some route through the intermediate countries, like that of Apostle Paul himself, a "disciple" named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. This visit occurred at a critical time, and led to grave consequences in reference to the establishment of Christian truth, and the growth of parties in the Church; while the religious community (if so it may be called) to which he belonged at the time of his arrival, furnishes us with one of the most interesting links between the Gospels and the Acts.
Apollos, along with twelve others, (See Acts 19:1-7) who are soon afterwards mentioned at Ephesus, was acquainted with Christianity only so far as it had been made known by John the Baptist. They "knew only the baptism of John" (Acts 18:25. Compare Acts 19:3). From the great part which was acted by the forerunner of Christ in the first announcement of the Gospel, and from the effect produced on the Jewish nation by his appearance, and the number of disciples who came to receive at his hands the baptism of repentance, we should expect some traces of his influence to appear in the subsequent period, during which the Gospel was spreading beyond Judea. Many Jews from other countries received from the Baptist their knowledge of the Messiah, and carried with them this knowledge on their return from Palestine.
We read of an heretical sect, at a much later period, who held John the Baptist to have been himself the Messiah. But in a position intermediate between this deluded party, and those who were traveling as teachers of the full and perfect Gospel, there were doubtless many, among the floating Jewish population of the Empire, whose knowledge of Christ extended only to that which had been preached on the banks of the Jordan.
That such persons should be found at Ephesus, the natural meeting-place of all religious sects and opinions, is what we might have supposed a priori. Their own connection with Judea, or the connection of their teachers with Judea, had been broken before the day of Pentecost. Thus their Christianity was at the same point at which it had stood at the commencement of our Lord’s ministry. They were ignorant of the full meaning of the death of Christ; possibly they did not even know the fact of His resurrection; and they were certainly ignorant of the mission of the Comforter (Acts 19:2). But they knew that the times of the Messiah were come, and that one had appeared in whom the prophecies were fulfilled.
That voice had reached them, which cried, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord" (Isaiah 40:3). They felt that the axe was laid to the root of the tree, that "the kingdom of Heaven was at hand," that "the knowledge of salvation was come to those that sit in darkness" (Luke 1:77), and that the children of Israel were everywhere called to "repent."
Such as were in this religious condition were evidently prepared for the full reception of Christianity, so soon as it was presented to them; and we see that they were welcomed by Apostle Paul and the Christians at Ephesus as fellow-disciples of the same Lord and Master.
In some respects Apollos was distinguished from the other disciples of John the Baptist, who are alluded to at the same place, and nearly at the same time. There is much significance in the first fact that is stated, that he was "born at Alexandria." Something has been said by us already concerning the Jews of Alexandria, and their theological influence in the age of the Apostles. In the establishment of a religion which was intended to be the complete fulfillment of Judaism, and to be universally supreme in the Gentile world, we should expect Alexandria to bear her part, as well as Jerusalem. The Hellenistic learning fostered by the foundations of the Ptolemies might be made the handmaid of the truth, no less than the older learning of Judea and the schools of the Hebrews.
As regards Apollos, he was not only an Alexandrian Jew by birth, but he had a high reputation for an eloquent and forcible power of speaking, and had probably been well trained in the rhetorical schools on the banks of the Nile. But though he was endued with the eloquence of a Greek orator, the subject of his study and teaching was the Scriptures of his forefathers. The character which he bore in the Synagogues was that of a man "mighty in the Scriptures." In addition to these advantages of birth and education, he seems to have had the most complete and systematic instruction in the Gospel which a disciple of John could possibly receive.
Whether from the Baptist himself, or from some of those who traveled into other lands with his teaching as their possession, Apollos had received full and accurate instruction in the "way of the Lord." We are further told that his character was marked by a fervent zeal (Acts 18:25) for spreading the truth. Thus we may conceive of him as traveling, like a second Baptist, beyond the frontiers of Judea, - expounding the prophecies of the Old Testament, announcing that the times of the Messiah were come, and calling the Jews to repentance in the spirit of Elias.
Hence he was, like his great teacher, diligently "preparing the way of the Lord." Though ignorant of the momentous facts which had succeeded the Resurrection and Ascension, he was turning the hearts of the "disobedient to the wisdom of the just," and "making ready a people for the Lord," (Luke 1:16, 17) whom he was soon to know "more perfectly." Himself "a burning and a shining light," he bore witness to "that Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world," (John 5:35, 1:9) - as, on the other hand, he was a "swift witness" against those Israelites whose lives were unholy, and came among them "to purify the sons of Levi, that they might offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness," (Malachi 3:3- 5) and to proclaim that, if they were unfaithful, God was still able "to raise up children unto Abraham" (Matthew 3:9).
Thus burning with zeal, and confident of the truth of what he had learnt, he spoke out boldly in the Synagogue. (Acts 18:26) An intense interest must have been excited about this time concerning the Messiah in the synagogue at Ephesus. Paul had recently been there, and departed with the promise of return. Aquila and Priscilla, though taking no forward part as public teachers, would diligently keep the subject of the Apostle’s instruction before the mind of the Israelites. And now an Alexandrian Jew presented himself among them, bearing testimony to the same Messiah with singular eloquence, and with great power in the interpretation of Scripture. Thus an unconscious preparation was made for the arrival of the Apostle, who was even now traveling towards Ephesus through the uplands of Asia Minor.
The teaching of Apollos, though eloquent, learned, and zealous, was seriously defective. But God had provided among his listeners those who could instruct him more perfectly. Aquila and Priscilla felt that he was proclaiming the same truth in which they had been instructed at Corinth. They could inform him that they had met with one who had taught with authority far more concerning Christ than had been known even to John the Baptist; and they could recount to him the miraculous gifts, which attested the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Thus they attached themselves closely to Apollos; and gave him complete instruction in that "way of the Lord," which he had already taught accurately, though imperfectly; and the learned Alexandrian obtained from the tent-makers a knowledge of that "mystery" which the ancient Scriptures had only partially revealed.
This providential meeting with Aquila and Priscilla in Asia became the means of promoting the spread of the Gospel in Achaia. Now that Apollos was made fully acquainted with the Christian doctrine, his zeal urged him to go where it had been firmly established by an Apostle (Acts 18:27). It is possible, too, that some news received from Corinth might lead him to suppose that he could be of active service there in the cause of truth. The Christians of Ephesus encouraged him in this intention, and gave him "letters of commendation" to their brethren across the Aegean.
On his arrival at Corinth, he threw himself at once among those Jews who had rejected Apostle Paul, and argued with them publicly and zealously on the ground of their Scriptures, and thus became "a valuable support to those who had already believed through the grace of God;" for he proved with power that that Jesus who had been crucified at Jerusalem, and whom Paul was proclaiming throughout the world, was indeed the Christ. Thus he watered where Paul had planted, and God gave an abundant increase (1Corinthians 3:6). And yet evil grew up side by side with the good.
For while he was a valuable aid to the Christians, and a formidable antagonist to the Jews, and while he was honestly co-operating in Paul’s great work of evangelizing the world, he became the occasion of fostering party-spirit among the Corinthians, and was unwillingly held up as a rival of the Apostle himself. In this city of rhetoricians and sophists, the erudition and eloquent speaking of Apollos were contrasted with the unlearned simplicity with which Apostle Paul had studiously presented the Gospel to his Corinthian hearers.
Thus many attached themselves to the new teacher, and called themselves by the name of Apollos, while others ranged themselves as the party of Paul (1Corinthians 1:12), forgetting that Christ could not be "divided," and that Paul and Apollos were merely "ministers by whom they had believed" (1Corinthians 3:5).
We have no reason to imagine that Apollos himself encouraged or tolerated such unchristian divisions. A proof of his strong feeling to the contrary, and of his close attachment to Apostle Paul, is furnished by that letter to the Corinthians, which will soon he brought under our notice, where, after vehement rebukes of the schismatic spirit prevailing among the Corinthians, it is said, "touching our brother Apollos," that he was unwilling to return to them at that particular time, though Apostle Paul himself had "greatly desired it."
But now the Apostle himself is about to arrive in Ephesus. His residence in this place, like his residence in Antioch and Corinth, is a subject to which our attention is particularly called. Therefore, all the features of the city - its appearance, its history, the character of its population, its political and mercantile relations - possess the utmost interest for us. We shall defer such description to a future chapter.
Among those whom Apostle Paul met on his arrival was the small company of Jews above alluded to, 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.
Apostle Paul found, on inquiry, that they 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; and after they were baptized, the laying-on of the Apostle’s hands resulted, as in all other Churches, in the miraculous gifts of tongues and of prophecy.
After this occurrence has been mentioned as an isolated fact, our attention is called to the great teacher’s labors in the Synagogue. Doubtless, Aquila and Priscilla were there. Though they are not mentioned here in connection with Apostle Paul, we have seen them so lately instructing Apollos (Acts 18), and we shall find them so soon again sending salutations to Corinth in the Apostle’s letter from Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16) , that we cannot but believe he met his old associates, and again experienced the benefit of their aid. It is even probable that he again worked with them at the same trade: for in the address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (Acts 20:34) he stated that "his own hands had ministered to his necessities, and to those who were with him;" and in writing to the Corinthians he says (1Corinthians 4:11, 12), that such toil had continued "even to that hour."
There is no doubt that he "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.
"For three months," Paul continued to speak boldly in the Synagogue, "arguing, and endeavoring to convince his hearers of all that related to the kingdom of God." (Acts 19:8). The hearts of some were hardened, while others repented and believed; and, in the end, the Apostle’s doctrine was publicly calumniated by the Jews before the people. On this he openly separated himself, and withdrew the disciples from the Synagogue; and the Christian Church 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 calumny, and an opportunity of continuing his public instruction, so here he had recourse to "the school of Tyrannus," who was probably a teacher of philosophy or rhetoric, converted by the Apostle 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 Acts, as in the case of Thessalonica and Corinth: inasmuch as that which is called the "Epistle to the Ephesians" enters into no personal or incidental details.
But we have, in the address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus, an affecting picture of an Apostle’s labors for the salvation of those whom his Master came to redeem. 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. Compare verse 19). The subject of his teaching was ever the same, both for Jews and Greeks, - "repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21).
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; and, doubtless, many daughter-churches were founded, whether in the course of journeys undertaken by the Apostle 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.
It is during this interval, that one of the two 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: and 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.
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, especially by those who were in the power of evil spirits. When written, they were carried about as amulets. Curious stories are told of their influence. Croesus is related to have repeated the mystic syllables when on his funeral-pile; and an Ephesian wrestler is said to have always struggled successfully against an antagonist from Miletus until he lost the scroll, which before had been like a talisman. The study of these symbols was an elaborate science: and books, both numerous and costly, were compiled by its professors.
This statement throws some light on the peculiar character of the miracles wrought by Apostle Paul at Ephesus. We are not to suppose that the Apostles were always able to work miracles at will. An influx of supernatural power was given to them, at the time, and according to the circumstances, that required it. And the character of the miracles 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; and it is distinctly said that his miracles were "not ordinary wonders;" (Acts 19:11) from which we may infer that they were different from those which he usually performed.
We know, in the case of our blessed Lord’s miracles, that though the change was usually accomplished on the speaking of a word, intermediate agency was sometimes employed; as 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. So on this occasion 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 and amulets and mystic letters of Ephesus.
Yet was this no encouragement to blind superstition. When the suffering woman was healed by touching the hem of the garment, the savior turned round, and said, "Virtue is gone out of me" (Luke 8:46. Compare 6:19). And here at Ephesus we are reminded that it was God who "wrought miracles by the hands of Paul" (verse 11), and that "the name," not of Paul, but "of the Lord Jesus, was magnified" (verse 17).
These miracles must hare 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 (See Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10, 11; 1Samuel 28:3, 9) attests the early tendency of the Israelites to such practices: the Talmud bears witness to the continuance of these practices at a later period; and we have already had occasion, in the course of this history, to notice the spread of Jewish magicians through various parts of the Roman Empire.
It was an age of superstition and imposture - an age also in which the powers of evil manifested themselves with peculiar force. Hence we find Apostle Paul classing "witchcraft" among the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:20), and solemnly warning the Galatians both in words and by his letters, that they who practise it cannot inherit the kingdom of God; and it is of such that he writes to Timothy (2Timothy 3:13) - that "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." This passage in Apostle Paul's latest letter had probably reference to that very city in which we see him now brought into opposition with Jewish sorcerers. These men, believing that the name of Jesus acted as a charm, and recognizing the Apostle as a Jew like themselves, attempted his method of casting out evil spirits. But He to whom the demons were subject, and who had given to His servant "power and authority" over them (Luke 9:1), had shame and terror in store for those who presumed thus to take His Holy Name in vain.
One specific instance is recorded, which produced disastrous consequences to those who made the attempt, and led to wide results among the general population. In the number of those who attempted to cast out evil spirits by the "name of Jesus," were seven brothers, sons of Sceva, who is called a high priest, either because he had really held this office at Jerusalem, or because he was chief of one of the twenty-four courses of priests. 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. "Jesus I recognize, and Paul I know; but who are ye?" was the answer of the evil spirit. And straightway the man who was possessed sprang upon them with frantic violence, so that they were utterly discomfited, and "fled out of the house naked and wounded."
This fearful result of the profane use of that Holy Name which was proclaimed by the Apostles for the salvation of all men, soon became notorious, both among the Greeks and the Jews. Consternation and alarm took possession of the minds of many; and in proportion to this alarm the name of the Lord Jesus began to be reverenced and honored. 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 came and made a full confession to the Apostle, and publicly acknowledged and forsook their deeds of darkness.
The fear and conviction seem 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; and they brought together the books that contained the mystic formularies, and burnt them before all the people. When the volumes were consumed, they proceeded to reckon up the price at which these manuals of enchantment would be valued. Such books, from their very nature, would be costly; and all books in that age bore a value which is far above any standard with which we are familiar.
Hence we need not be surprised that the whole cost thus sacrificed and surrendered amounted to as much as two thousand pounds of English money. 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; (1 Kings 18) and the teaching of the doctrine of Christ ‘increased mightily and grew strong."
With this narrative of the burning of the books, we have nearly reached the term of Apostle Paul's three-years’ residence at Ephesus. Before his departure, however, two important subjects demand our attention, each of which may be treated in a separate chapter:— the First Epistle to the Corinthans, with the circumstances in Achaia which led to the writing of it, - and the uproar in the Ephesian theater, which will be considered in connection with a description of the city, and some notice of the worship of Diana.