Sunday, July 25
The Post-Solomonic Kingdoms, Part One: A singular prosperity and peace had characterized the long reign of Solomon, 961-922. His father David, taking advantage of the decline of Babylon at the eastern end of the Fertile Crescent and the geopolitical vacuum created by the lackluster 21st dynasty of Egypt at its western end, had carved out a small empire, subduing the Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites and Syrians, and making important mercantile arrangements with the seagoing Phoenicians to the north. When David died in 961, Solomon fell heir to all of this good fortune.
It is arguable that Solomon had no equal, in all of history, in his ability to read both maps and ledgers. His father having incorporated the Edomites to the south, Solomon controlled the port and Gulf of Aquaba (Elath) and thereby access to the Red Sea. This extensive waterway afforded access to ports along the west coast of the Arabian peninsula, the east of Africa and, through the Indian Ocean, a thousand other places. To the north Solomon's kingdom was bordered by the Phoenicians whose myriad seagoing merchants were delivering and picking up cargoes at ports all around the Mediterranean Basin and up in the Black Sea.
Beholding all this mercantile geography, in short, Solomon decided to go into business, serving as the middle man between the Phoenician markets in the Mediterranean and the sundry mercantile opportunities around the Red Sea. It would prove to be a time of booming material affluence.
Besides the favorable geographical and geopolitical situation, several other recent developments aided the prosperity attendant on Solomon's reign.
First, it was the beginning of the Iron Age in that part of the world, with its greatly improved axes, hoes, scythes, plowshares and other tools and farming implements, leading to less labor and increased productivity.
Second, the extensive use of lime to seal cisterns and wells, allowing for improved water conservation and irrigation, greatly increased agricultural yields. The enhanced nutrition led to a lowered mortality rate among infants and an earlier menarchy among girls, thus increasing birthrate. This meant a larger work force.
Third, the adoption of a common alphabet in the eastern Mediterranean world permitted more efficient bookkeeping, uniform bills of lading, invoices, and the other forms of written communication essential to commerce.
Fourth, there was a greater domestication of the camel. This animal, already important for a long time to the economy of the Fertile Crescent, would serve as Solomon's chief vehicle of commerce along the overland trade routes extending north-south between the Gulf of Aquaba and the Phoenician ports of Tyre and Sidon.
Solomon's reign, therefore, was a period of enormous prosperity, in describing which the Bible speaks repeatedly of gold. This word appears 9 times in 1 Kings 10 in narrating the era of Solomon.
Monday, July 26
The Post-Solomonic Kingdoms, Part Two: Besides economic prosperity Solomon's reign was also a period of several attendant social changes that would prove significant as time went on.
First, the prosperity itself, especially the greater agricultural productivity, enhanced the diet of the population, lengthening the average life expectancy, reducing the age of puberty, extending the years of female fertility and thereby increasing the population.
Second, the new need for labor in the commercial sector would draw many farmers from the land in order to enjoy the easier, less toilsome life of merchants, caravan drivers, shopkeepers and so forth. This would mean fewer and larger farms, now rendered more productive by better tools and a greater water supply. The enhanced food production, at first available at lower prices, would thus come under the control of fewer people.
Third, this development itself raised the percentage of citizens now working in cities, swelling the urban work force.
Fourth, the centralization of commerce under Solomon's political control would lead to higher taxes and a breakdown of the local tribal loyalties that has served, up to that point, to give provide traditional stability to the people.
Fifth, and related to the higher taxes, among the ten northern tribes there was growing discontent against the south, especially the royal and priestly establishment at Jerusalem. The better farmland and the bulk of the nation's wealth was found in the north; yet, the capital, Jerusalem, was in the south, and the king was a member of the tribe of Judah, a southern tribe. To many northerners this southern establishment appeared to be draining excessive resources from the north, solely for the benefit of the south. It is this discontent that will lead to civil war and northern secession after Solomon's death in 922.
Tuesday, July 27
The Post-Solomonic Kingdoms, Part Three: The Bible gives us several indications that a political and social crisis was already on the horizon toward the end of Solomon's reign. To the south, the strong Pharaoh Shishak inaugurated the 22nd dynasty in Egypt. It was he who gave asylum to Solomon's enemy Jeroboam, the very man would come back and start the civil war and the secession of the Northern Kingdom after Solomon's death in 922. Shortly afterwards, Shishak himself would invade the Holy Land and bring it under his overall political control.
Relative to the history of the new Northern Kingdom, Israel, between 922 and 722, there are two considerations mainly to be weighed.
First, the prosperity of the Solomonic era was at an end. The swelling of the urban work force, the result of Solomon's economic policies and the shift of many families from the farms to the cities, inevitably in due course led to lower wages, while the control of agricultural output into fewer hands eventually resulted in higher prices.
Thus, through the 9th and 8th centuries, in both Judah to the south and rebellious Israel to the north, there was a growing economic inequality — the juxtaposition of great wealth with grinding poverty. This situation, prevented in earlier periods by the maintenance of farms and other real estate within the inheritance of individual families, is reflected in the archeology of the period, which shows the remains of manorial dwellings side-by-side with the hovels of the poor. This theme of the oppression of the poor by the rich will become a major part of the 9th and 8th century prophets: Elijah, Amos, Isaiah, Micah.
Second, this social injustice was accompanied by official religious apostasy, particularly in the Northern Kingdom, by reason of the destructive influence of Phoenician religion. In the 9th century, much to the chagrin of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, the Kingdom of Israel was joined to Phoenicia by special ties (most specifically by the marriage of King Ahab to the Phoenician princess Jezabel). What had started out as a simple mercantile arrangement finished by wreaking cultural and religious havoc, as the Israelites embraced pagan attitudes and pagan practices, most notably the sacrificing of their infant children to the Phoenician god, Baal.
Wednesday, July 28
Acts 21:1-14: Luke now carefully traces the stages of Paul’s journey southward, first noting his arrival at Cos that Sunday evening. This island, dedicated to Asklepios, the god of healing, was perhaps special to the “beloved physician” as the homeland of Hippocrates, the father of Greek medicine, who sat under the famous plane tree and instructed his medical students in the art of healing. Paul’s company arrives at Rhodes on Monday and at Patara on Tuesday.
Leaving this coastline vessel, they embark on a sea-going ship on their way to the Phoenician city of Tyre, some four hundred nautical miles to the southeast, sailing around Cyprus. Finding Christians at Tyre (cf. 15:3), they remain for a week, and then press on to Ptolemais, twenty-five miles to the south, and then Caesarea, forty miles further (or thirty-two miles if they went by land).
One nearly gains the impression that Luke is copying out notes from a journal that he maintained on the trip, and one of the general effects of this listing of ports is to heighten the suspense of Paul’s approach to Jerusalem. Even back at Miletus he had spoken of the prophetic warnings that he was receiving with respect to this trip to Jerusalem (20:23), warnings later repeated at Tyre (21:4). Here at Caesarea, however, such forebodings are intensified by the prophecies of Agabus, whom we met earlier in 11:27, and the daughters of Philip the deacon (21:8-11).
Finally, Luke’s attention to detail, with which he narrates each step of this journey, renders all the more remarkable the omission of Antioch. After both the first (14:25) and second (18:22) missionary journeys, Paul took care to report back to the church at Antioch, but on this occasion, and with only a hint of explanation (20:16), he does not do so. Clearly, Paul is looking elsewhere now; his eyes are on Rome, as he had suggested in a recent letter to that city (Romans 1:8-15; 15:22-28).
Thursday, July 29
Acts 21:15-25: The day after his arrival in Jerusalem, Paul goes to pay his respects to James, the Lord’s “brother,” who appears to be the chief pastor of the church in that city and the leader of its presbyters. This impression is consonant with the early preserved lists of the bishops of the churches, where James is listed as Jerusalem’s first bishop (along with Mark as Alexandria’s, Evodius as Antioch’s, Linus as Rome’s, and so on).
Unlike the earlier gathering at Jerusalem in Acts 15, this meeting does not mention the “apostles.” Apparently these latter have by now left Jerusalem and gone to preach the Gospel in other lands, some of which have preserved memories of earlier apostolic evangelization. There is evidence that the apostle Thomas preached in India, for example, Philip in Phrygia, Matthew in Syria and Ethiopia, and Andrew in Thrace. The apostle Peter had moved westward by this time, but the absence of his name from Paul’s letter to the Romans (written earlier this same year) indicates that Peter had not yet reached the Empire’s capital, where he would, like Paul, suffer martyrdom.
Meanwhile, at Jerusalem Paul’s report greatly heartens James and the presbyters (verses 19-20), but they express concern about certain misrepresentations of Paul being circulated among the Jewish Christians. Because of Paul’s frequent encounters with hostile Jews in various cities, he can hardly be surprised by such reports, and James is eager to put them to rest.
Paul, desiring to be all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Romans 7:12), acquiesces in James’s suggestion for how to go about neutralizing the rumors current among the “tens of thousands” (myriads — verse 20) of Jewish Christians. This suggestion involves the rather elaborate public fulfillment of a Nazirite vow (verses 23-24; Numbers 6:1-21).
Friday, July 30
Acts 21:26-34: On the next day Paul begins daily worship in the temple as the sponsor of the four men under vow, to provide the offering required on such occasions (verse 26). A week later he is recognized in the temple by some of the same Asian Jews with whom he has already had so many painful experiences (verse 27; 18:19; 20:19).
It is important to observe that the objections to Paul at Jerusalem do not come from the Jewish Christians living there, but from the Diaspora Jews, whose presence in Jerusalem is occasioned by the feast of Pentecost (20:6,16), a normal time for pilgrimage to the temple. On the streets of the city they had already recognized Trophimus, a Christian from Asia, who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem for the purpose of transporting the collection of money for the poor (20:4; cf. also 2 Timothy 4:20).
The Jews from Ephesus accuse Paul of introducing this Gentile into the temple beyond the Court of the Gentiles. The gravity of their accusation is indicated in the wall inscription, written in both Greek and Latin, which separated that court from the Court of Women (Josephus, Jewish War 5.5.2; Antiquities 15.11.5 ; cf. also Ephesians 2:14). That inscription, discovered by C. S. Clermont-Ganneau in 1871, says: “No foreigner [non-Jew] is to enter within the balustrade and the embankment that surrounds the sanctuary. If anyone is apprehended in the act, let him know that he must hold himself to blame for the penalty of death that will follow.”
After ejecting Paul from the temple, his accusers close the gates to prevent his seeking refuge therein (verse 30). Because such riots in the temple are by no means rare, particularly during pilgrimages, a Roman guard of a thousand men is stationed in the nearby Fortress Antonia, and news of the disturbance reaches the commander of this unit, Claudius Lysias (23:26), who promptly takes Paul into custody to prevent his being murdered. It was at this very place that an earlier crowd of Jews had insisted to Pilate, “Take Him away!” [Aire touton in Luke 23:18] with respect to Jesus, the same insistence now being made with respect to Paul [Aire auton in Acts 21:36].
Saturday, July 31
Acts 21:35—22:5: To apprehend Paul and put a stop to the riot, the soldiers had descended a long flight of stairs that leads up to the entrance of the Fortress Antonia. Now practically carrying their prisoner, they ascend those stairs, which will effectively give Paul an elevation from which to address the crowd.
Perhaps the commander of the fortress had received a bulletin to be on the lookout for a famous Jewish revolutionary from Egypt (described in considerable detail by Josephus, incidentally). In any case, he mistakes his new prisoner for that individual and is surprised when Paul speaks to him in Greek. Thus taken by surprise, he grants Paul’s request to address the mob.
Speaking to them in Aramaic, Paul is deferential in tone (“Men, brothers and fathers”) and patient in the development of his theme, which consists essentially in another narrative of his conversion. The story is told as a form of personal apologetics (apologia in verse 1). Paul insists, “I am a Jew” (verse 2). He tells of his education in Jerusalem under the tutelage of Rabbi Gamaliel, his adherence to the strictness (akribeia ) of the Torah, his zeal (literally “God’s zealot” — Theou zelotes), which zeal he compares with their own (verse 3; Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:6). Paul too once opposed the new “way” (hodos), he tells them, as zealously as they are doing today. All this, however, changed dramatically, as he rode to Damascus.
Sunday, July 18
Acts 17:16-34: Standing not very many yards from the spot where Socrates defended his philosophy to the citizens of Athens, the apostle Paul now delivers his own defense of the Gospel to the philosophers. Luke notes two philosophical schools in particular, the Stoics and the Epicureans (verse 18).
These two philosophical schools interpret the world in radically different ways. The Epicureans believe themselves to be living in an entirely meaningless, completely subject to chance, a world of “incident” but not “destiny” (to use Spengler’s helpful distinction). While the Epicurean world is devoid of either purpose or direction, it does give man a great deal of room for freedom, not only in the sense of his being able, by his choices, to escape the constraints of external forces, but also in the sense of not being answerable to an eternal moral law backed up by divine sanctions. The Epicurean’s happiness depends on how his uses this vast freedom, and he chooses to do so by living for pleasure. Not the base pleasures of the flesh, but the higher enjoyments of the mind and the refined senses. Epicureanism, then, is the philosophy of cultivated, refined pleasure. Ironically, then, the ethics of the Epicurean is an ethics of self-discipline and restraint.
The Stoic world, on the other hand, is far from meaningless. Indeed, it is utterly suffused with meaning (logos). Existence, for the Stoic, has so much intrinsic meaning that man is really quite unable to add any meaning to it. So what dimensions of existence are left to man’s freedom in the Stoic perspective? Just how is man to live, if human existence is already determined by a profound meaning that man does not put there, and to which man is unable to make a personal contribution? The Stoics answer that man properly lives by inwardly accepting the way things are, by purging his heart and mind from those passions and desires that would cause him to depart of the meaning at the heart of existence. The world is already under control; man must learn to control himself. The ethics of the Stoic, then, is also an ethics of self-discipline and restraint.
To these two groups Paul preaches a theology of history, according to which the deeds of men will be judged, not by themselves in accord with their varying moral theories, but by the God who “has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (verse 31).
In this earliest encounter of the Gospel with two pagan philosophies, we observe especially the difficulty experienced by these philosophies in dealing with the material world (the Resurrection!) and the moral structure of history. Paul can barely begin this discussion, so great is the opposition (verses 32-33). His converts in Athens appear to be few, but they include a woman philosopher named Damaris (verse 34).
Monday, July 19
Acts 18:1-11: When he arrives in Corinth, coming from Athens, Paul is supremely depressed (1 Corinthians 2:3), perhaps from his relative failure at Athens, and probably also because he has not yet heard back from the delegation from Macedonia. It is now near or at the beginning of the year 50, and Paul will remain in Corinth until the summer of 51 (Acts 18:11).
The congregation that Paul establishes at Corinth will be among the most contentious Christian churches of antiquity. There will be so many problems within that congregation that Paul himself will be obliged to write them at least four epistles, of which two are preserved in the New Testament (or three, if 2 Corinthians is a composite of two epistles). In addition, before the end of the century the church at Corinth will receive yet another letter from Clement, the third Bishop of Rome, reprimanding them yet again for the same sorts of dissension, rebellion, and contentiousness that had so grieved Paul at the earlier period. A modern scholar, K. Stendhal, remarked about the church at Corinth that it “had almost all the problems that churches have had through the ages, except the chief problem of our churches today: it was never boring.”
Under the guidance of divine providence, of course, those Corinthian troubles have worked unto our own spiritual profit, for without them we would not have some of the most important pages of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 13, for instance).
The city of Corinth joins two major seaways separated only by a half-mile of isthmus, which bears the same name as the city. Thus, the latter has major ports on both sides and was a very bustling commercial center. (In modern times a canal across the isthmus joins those two waterways more directly.) Although Cicero called it “the light of all Greece,” the philosopher Diogenes, who certainly knew the place better (and would eventually die in it), said that he went there only because a wise man should go where the most fools are to be found.
The first people to meet Paul in Corinth, however, were not fools. They were a couple, Aquila and his wife, newly arrived from Rome. The wife’s name is Prisca (1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19), though Luke always calls her by the affectionate diminutive name, Priscilla (“little Prisca”) (verse 2). It is also curious that Luke twice names the wife before the husband (18:18,26), which may hint which of the two impressed him as the stronger and more striking personality. Like Paul they are leather-workers (skenopoioi), a profession involved in making tents, saddles, and such things.
Meanwhile, Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia (verse 5), bringing reports from the congregations at Philippi, Thessaloniki, and Beroea. In response to one of these reports, Paul writes the First Epistle to the Thessalonians early in the year 50, including the names of Silas and Timothy as joint-authors (1 Thessalonians 1:1).
Here in Corinth Paul also has his usual troubles with the Jews (verse 6), so he simply takes his teaching next door to the synagogue (verse 7), and he takes the leader of the synagogue with him. This was Crispus (“Curly”), who will appear later in 1 Corinthians 1:14-16.
Tuesday, July 20
Acts 18:12-22: From an inscription found at Delphi, we know that Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeus, older brother to the philosopher Seneca, was the proconsul of Greece (Achaia) from the early summer of A.D. 51 to the early summer of the year 52. Along with Claudius’s expulsion of the Jews from Rome in 49, this inscription is one of our most important controls on the dating of the events narrated in the Acts of the Apostles. It enables us to “fix” the time of Paul’s appearance before Gallio, the story told in these verses, in May or, more probably, June of the year 51. The judgment place (bema) of Gallio, where Paul appeared, may be visited even now in the excavations at Corinth.
Concerned solely with the preservation of the civic order, Gallio is not impressed by the vague accusations brought against Paul by his Jewish detractors (verses 13-15). They, frustrated by the governor’s insouciance, begin to beat one of their own leaders, who had recently become a Christian (verse 17). This is Sosthenes, who will later serve at Paul’s secretary in the composition of 1 Corinthians (1:1).
Some time after this incident, Paul goes to the nearby coastal city of Cenchrea (home town of the deaconess Phoebe, who several years later will carry the Epistle to the Romans to its intended destination — cf. Romans 16:1).
We may surmise that Silas (Silvanus) was left at Corinth, because at this point he disappears entirely from Luke’s narrative. He certainly left Corinth within the next five years, because he does not appear in the Corinthian epistles, a thing unthinkable if he were still in the city. We do not hear of Silas again until the early 60s, when we find him at Rome (cf. 1 Peter 5:12).
At Cenchrea Paul has his head shaved, part of the ritual in a thirty-days’ period of special fasting and devotion (cf. also 21:26; Numbers 6:1-21; Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War 2.15.1). Paul then boards a ship, along with Aquila and Priscilla, to journey to Ephesus, where after some days he leaves these two companions.
Paul boards another ship that takes him south to the coastal city of Caesarea. There he pays his respects to the local church, the original nucleus of which consists in the family and friends of Cornelius. From there Paul goes overland to Antioch, the church which had commissioned his second missionary journey. This latter is thus brought to an end. Paul will remain at Antioch for the winter, until the spring of 52. Meanwhile, as we shall see, Aquila and Priscilla will be very busy with the ministry at Ephesus.
Wednesday, July 21
Acts 18:23—19:7: We now come to Paul’s third missionary journey. Though he once again begins from Antioch, this point of departure is more implied than stated (verse 23), and in fact the focal center of Paul’s activity will now shift from Antioch to the Asian city of Ephesus.
To prepare us for this shift, Luke shares some of the background of this new church at Ephesus. During the winter that Aquila and Priscilla spent there without Paul, they became acquainted with an Alexandrian Jew, a follower of John the Baptist with an imperfect knowledge of Jesus and the Gospel. This man, Apollos, they further instructed and brought into the fullness of the Christian faith (verse 26).
Prior to Paul’s arrival at Ephesus, Apollos went on to Corinth, carrying a letter of recommendation to that church (verse 27; cf Romans 16:1; 2 Corinthians 3:1-6; Colossians 4:10). At Corinth his eloquence and learning (verses 24 & 28) brought to the faith a whole new wave of converts easily distinguished from those whom Paul had converted in the same city. Indeed, within a few years the two groups at Corinth would begin squabbling in a very disedifying way (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-12; 3:4-11,22; 16:12).
After Apollos leaves Ephesus for Corinth, Paul arrives at Ephesus in the summer of 52 (19:1). He finds more disciples of John the Baptist, whom he brings into the fullness of the Gospel (19:2-6). There is reason to believe that a remnant of the disciples of John the Baptist was to be found at Ephesus even for decades to come.
When the apostle John wrote his gospel at Ephesus near the end of the first century, he took special care to relate the ministry of John the Baptist entirely to Jesus, even informing us (nor would we otherwise know it) that some followers of John the Baptist were to be found even among the first apostles of Jesus (cf. John 1:29-37).
Although the explicit evidence is sparse, it appears that many of John the Baptist’s disciples, and perhaps most, joined the Christian Church within the next generation or so. Their presence in the Church would go far to explain the great reverence and devotion in which that greatest of the prophets has always been regarded in Christian piety from the earliest times. Without exception to this day, an icon of John the Baptist is found in all the Eastern Orthodox places of worship.
Thursday, July 22
St. Mary Magdalene: From very early centuries, Christians in both the East and the West devoted this day to the veneration of the repentant sinner, out of whom Jesus cast seven demons (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). This is still Mary Magdalene’s feast day in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. Any Christian who feels disposed to observe this day in her memory is urged to read any Gospel account of her, and we particularly recommend John 20:11-18, the winsome story of her meeting with Jesus at the empty tomb on Easter morning.
A word of introduction may be useful for this reading. There are two types of Resurrection stories in the Gospels. The first is what we may call “kerygmatic” or “apologetic” account. That is to say, this kind of narrative has to do with the Church’s witness to the rest of humanity about the stunning reality of Jesus’ rising from the dead. This kind of story is “official;” there are designated, authorized witnesses (Acts 1:21f.), an early list of whom is found in I Corinthians 15:5-8, written about the year 55. This official list had already been standard and traditional five or so years earlier, when Paul had first preached to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:1-3).
In this first sort of story, reflective of the Church’s witness to the world, Jesus is readily recognized as the same Jesus who died on the cross. The emphasis is on the reality of the Lord’s risen body, as distinct from a ghost (Luke 24:39); he can be touched (verse 40; John 20:20,27; I John 1:1); he continues to eat earthly food (Luke 24:41-43; John 21:12f.). In short, the Resurrection is too real, too apparent, too obvious to be denied.
There second kind of Resurrection story, however, containing what we may call an “in house” or family narrative, and its characteristics are quite different. The witnesses to the Resurrection is this sort of story were not named in that official list in I Corinthians 15. In this sort of narrative Jesus is not immediately recognized by either voice or sight (Luke 24:15-39; John 20:14f.). On the contrary, he seems to be hiding himself from the witnesses, as though playing or teasing with them, until the dramatic moment when he is recognized.
This kind of story seems intended, not for the official witness to the world, but more particularly to nourish the personal faith of Christians themselves, called to recognize the risen Lord who intimately reveals himself in word (Luke 24:25-27,32,45) and sacrament (verses 30f.,35) within the Church.
The story of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb clearly belongs to this second sort. Like the bride in the Song of Solomon (3:1-4), she rises early while it is still dark (John 20:1) and goes out seeking him whom her soul loves. She searches for the one whom she calls “my Lord” (John 20:13) and, in an image reminiscent of both Genesis and the Song of Solomon, she comes to the garden where he was buried (19:41).
Indeed, Mary Magdalene first takes Jesus to be the gardener (v. 15), which, as the new Adam, he most certainly is. Her eyes blinded by tears, she does not at once know him. He speaks to her (v. 15), but even then she does not recognized his voice. The dramatic moment of recognition arrives when the risen Jesus pronounces her own name: “Mary” (v.16). Only then does she know him as “Rabbouni,“ “my Teacher.”
In this story, then, Christians perceive in Mary Magdalene an image of themselves meeting their risen Lord and Good Shepherd: “... the sheep hear his voice; he calls his own sheep by name . . . , for they know his voice” (John 19:3f.). This Narrative of Mary Magdalene is an affirmation that Christian identity comes of recognizing the voice of Christ who speaks our own.
Friday, July 23
Acts 19:8-22: Paul will spend the next three years (summer of 52 to summer of 55) in Ephesus, which becomes a center for the evangelization of neighboring cities in Asia Minor, such as Colossae, Laodicea (cf. Colossians 4:16; Revelation 3:14-22), Smyrna, Philadelphia, and elsewhere (cf. “churches of Asia” in 1 Corinthians 16:19).
From Ephesus, during these three years, Paul will be directing the missionary activity of his associates, both in Asia Minor (such as Tychicus and Trophimus [Acts 20:4])and elsewhere (such as Erastus [Acts 19:22; cf. also 2 Timothy 4:20], Epaphroditus [Philippians 2:25-30; 4:18] and Timothy [Acts 19:22; Philippians 2:19; 1 Corinthians 16:10]).
He will write the Epistles to the Galatians in the earlier part of these three years and1 Corinthians toward the end. The present daily notes will also argue that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Philippians during this time. Of these three years in Ephesus, Paul spent three months regularly attending the synagogue (Acts 19:8) and two years lecturing daily in a rented hall (19:9-19).
This activity, which accounts for twenty-seven months, leaves nine more months for which Luke gives no account. It is likely that Paul spent the remainder of that time in prison at Ephesus, the experience to which he seems to be referring in 1 Corinthians 15:32 and 2 Corinthians 1:8. Jailed at Ephesus, which was the capital of Asia, Paul would have been under the jurisdiction of a unit of “praetorian” guard, which was usual in capitals under a royal governor. His references to such a guard (Philippians 1:13; also cf. 4:22) seem to indicate that he wrote the Epistle to the Philippians while imprisoned in Ephesus sometime during these three years.
Paul’s extended missionary activity is undoubtedly helped by the working of miracles (verses 11-12), and the subsequent and amusing story of the sons of Sceva illustrates the dangers of attempting such spiritual exploits without the faith to sustain them (verses 13-16). The conversions prompted by this incident lead to a burning of books dealing with matters of the occult (verse 19). The study of satanic theories was sometime prominent in Asia Minor (cf. Revelation 2:24). Since such books come from hell, fire seems the appropriate way of getting rid of them.
While in Ephesus Paul conceives the idea of going to Rome, an idea that Luke ascribes to divine inspiration (verse 21). How Paul finally makes that journey to Rome will be, of course, one of the great ironies of the book! Meanwhile, he begins to make more immediate plans to visit Greece, in order to set things right in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 16:5-7; 2 Corinthians 1:15—3:3), and to Jerusalem, in order to convey much needed funds for the relief of the poor (1 Corinthians 16:1-3; 2 Corinthians 8—9; Romans 15:25-29; Acts 24:17). Luke makes a point of dating these plans before the Ephesian riot that he will now go on to describe.
Saturday, July 24
Acts 19:23-41: The excavations at Ephesus, which is the world’s largest archeological site, show it to have been a tightly populated city, the sort of place where a riot could be easily incited and quickly spread. In addition, as we know from informal inscriptions carved into the flagstones of the streets, the silversmiths of the city had their shops concentrated in an area very near the amphitheater of Ephesus. This amphitheater, which easily seats up to 25,000 people, is still in an excellent state of preservation, and on most days is full of the thousands of pilgrims and tourists who arrive by boat from Greece. The present writer has traveled there twice in this way.
The “Artemis” worshipped at Ephesus, in spite of her name, was not the virgin huntress of the Greeks but a fertility goddess, roughly the equivalent of the Phoenician Astarte and the Phrygian Cybele, portrayed with twenty-eight breasts, one for each day of the lunar menstrual cycle. She was often represented in figurines of silver and terra cotta, and, according to the present text, so was her famous shrine at Ephesus, recognized in antiquity as one of the seven wonders of the world (cf. Strabo, Geography 14.1.20).
Because Paul and his team have been so successful in their preaching (supported, as we have seen, by miraculous healings), the silversmiths at Ephesus understandably feel that their idol-making business is under threat. Moreover, because the shrine at Ephesus has for a long time drawn pilgrims from far and wide, a loss of interest in that city’s famous shrine would have an even more devastating effect on the municipal economy (verse 27).
Such a fear, of course, is identical to that expressed at Philippi in Acts 16:19, and the impact of the Christian Gospel on pagan religion is readily obvious to thoughtful pagans (cf. Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96.10).
Two of Paul’s companions, then, who happen to be nearby, are abducted and dragged into the amphitheater, where the riot becomes concentrated. The situation grows tense and dangerous. Both of the apprehended Christians come from out of town, Aristarchus being a Thessalonian (Acts 20:4; 27:2; Philemon 24) and Gaius a Lycaonian from Derbe (Acts 20:4).
Paul’s various friends and the other Christians prudently restrain him from entering the amphitheater, which has meanwhile become a scene of utter confusion, many of the rioters unsure why are rioting. Fearing that this situation might pose some special threat for the Jews, who in any case were never popular at Ephesus (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 16.6.1), a Jew named Alexander endeavors to disassociate the Jews from the Christians (verse 33), but mobs do not readily recognize distinctions so subtle. Besides, one of the abducted Christians is a Jew (cf. Colossians 4:10-11)!
The riot could have ended very badly, but the Roman insistence on common sense and good order saved the day (verses 35-41). (If, as I have earlier suggested, Paul spent some time in jail at Ephesus, this was likely the occasion.)
A single man’s ability to restore order amidst such confusion should be credited, in no small measure, to the extraordinary acoustics of that amphitheater. Some decades ago when I began to read this entire account there to about twenty pilgrims in a slightly elevated stage-voice, all throughout the place several scores of tourists, only a handful of them known to me, suddenly grew quiet, sit down, and listened to the story attentively.