Bible and crossThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 19:8-10

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.[a] 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.


Last week’s entry was about Paul’s return to Ephesus.

Today’s passage from Acts 19 describes his pattern of ministry there. As was his wont, Paul preached in the synagogue on the Sabbath and did so for three months (verse 8).

Luke, the author of Acts, wrote that Paul spoke ‘boldly, reasoning and persuading’ the congregation. ‘Boldly’ is a word that appears frequently in Acts. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

You start out in the book of Acts and what do you find in chapter 4, verse 29. “They speak boldly.” They started getting persecuted and they had a prayer meeting. They said, “Lord they’re threatening us. Help us to have all boldness.” And you go to the book of Acts, everybody’s bold and bold and bolder. Something to be said for boldness, believe me.

Boldness creates flack and flack creates action. And that’s good. In Ephesians, just a terrific insight into Paul. And Paul’s always giving prayer request about himself. He didn’t hesitate to ask people to pray for him. He says “pray for me” verse 19. “That utterance may be as this is Ephesians 6. “That utterance may be given unto me that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the Gospel for which I am an ambassador in bonds that in this I may speak boldly as I ought to speak.

Paul says, boy there’s only one way to talk. That’s bold. That doesn’t mean stupid dogmatism when you have no rights to be dogmatic, and doesn’t mean riding your hobby horse to the point where everybody is driven crazy with it. It means that when you have a right to speak truth, you speak it with boldness. Fearlessness. Confidence is the idea. So for three months he fired away. And I think the Spirit tells us this because it’s hard to believe that he stayed three months and somebody might say, well he probably watered down a whole deal, see, or he would have never been able to hang around three months. No, no, he fired it out.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains Paul’s portrayal of the ‘kingdom of God’ in light of Christ Jesus:

What he preached to them: The things concerning the kingdom of God among men, the great things which concerned God’s dominion over all men and favour to them, and men’s subjection to God and happiness in God. He showed them their obligations to God and interest in him, as the Creator, by which the kingdom of God was set up,–the violation of those obligations, and the forfeiture of that interest, by sin, by which the kingdom of God was pulled down,–and the renewing of those obligations and the restoration of man to that interest again, by the Redeemer, whereby the kingdom of God was again set up. Or, more particularly, the things concerning the kingdom of the Messiah, which the Jews were in expectation of, and promised themselves great matters from; he opened the scriptures which spoke concerning this, gave them a right notion of this kingdom, and showeth them their mistakes about it.

Henry has this on Paul’s ‘reasoning and persuading’:

How he preached to them. (1.) He preached argumentatively: he disputed; gave reasons, scripture-reasons, for what he preached, and answered objections, for the convincing of men’s judgments and consciences, that they might not only believe, but might see cause to believe. He preached dialegomenos–dialogue-wise; he put questions to them and received their answers, gave them leave to put questions to him and answered them. (2.) He preached affectionately: he persuaded; he used not only logical arguments, to enforce what he said upon their understandings, but rhetorical motives, to impress what he said upon their affections, showing them that the things he preached concerning the kingdom of God were things concerning themselves, which they were nearly concerned in, and therefore ought to concern themselves about, 2 Corinthians 5:11, We persuade men. Paul was a moving preacher, and was a master of the art of persuasion. (3.) He preached undauntedly, and with a holy resolution: he spoke boldly, as one that had not the least doubt of the things he spoke of, nor the least distrust of him he spoke from, nor the least dread of those he spoke to.

Although many Jews in Ephesus gladly heard what he had to say, some resisted. Those resisters spoke ‘badly of the Way’, meaning Christ and Christianity. They did this before the synagogue congregations, so Paul began teaching and preaching in the hall of Tyrannus (verse 9). Henry says that the Jews were more welcoming when Paul made his initial, albeit brief, visit because he had not yet gone into detail about the Gospel. Upon his return, he was able to delve deeply into Scripture to persuade them of the truth of Christ as Messiah. That is when opinion became divided and hostile; consequently, Paul felt he could no longer preach there:

… he left the synagogue, because he could not safely, or rather because he could not comfortably and successfully, continue in communion with them. Though their worship was such as he could join in, and they had not silenced him, nor forbidden him to preach among them, yet they drove him from them by their railing at those things which he spoke concerning the kingdom of God: they hated to be reformed, hated to be instructed, and therefore he departed from them. Here we are sure there was a separation and no schism; for there was a just cause for it and a clear call to it.

MacArthur goes further:

And so they refused to believe. Well they just weren’t passive in their non-belief, they were active. They spoke evil. And that word in Matthew and Mark, same word is translated, they cursed. They cursed the Way. That should be in quotes. The Way was the name that was given Christianity. Because the Christians were always saying we’re the way to God, we’re the way to God.

Henry’s research gives us two possibilities as to what the hall of Tyrannus was:

Some think this school of Tyrannus was a divinity-school of the Jews, and such a one they commonly had in their great cities besides their synagogue; they called it Bethmidrash, the house of enquiry, or of repetition; and they went to that on the sabbath day, after they had been in the synagogue. They go from strength to strength, from the house of the sanctuary to the house of doctrine. If this was such a school, it shows that though Paul left the synagogue he left it gradually, and still kept as near it as he could, as he had done, Acts 18:7. But others think it was a philosophy-school of the Gentiles, belonging to one Tyrannus, or a retiring place (for so the word schole sometimes signifies) belonging to a principal man or governor of the city; some convenient place it was, which Paul and the disciples had the use of, either for love or money.

MacArthur thinks the hall of Tyrannus was a school of philosophy, and that Paul was allowed to preach there during the middle of the day, when classes were not held:

The church of Jesus Christ can meet anywhere in the purity of its identity and it’s doctrine. So they separated the disciples disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. You know if you were a guy who had a philosophy who started a school and had a bunch of people coming, if they wanted to, to learn your philosophy.

So here was Tyrannus and whatever he was teaching, he was teaching, people were coming. But it was available for some time during the day. Now let me add a note that’s very interesting. There’s an ancient Greek manuscript that adds the fact that Paul taught in this hall of Tyrannus from the 5th to the 10th hour. Now that would be from 11:00am to 4:00pm. Five hours. Notice it says he did it every day.

… Now the Ionian cities like Ephesus had an interesting schedule. Everybody worked until 11 and stopped and started again at four. Say why? The oppressive heat. And the time from 11 to four was go to sleep time. In fact one Asian writer says there’s more people awake in Ephesus at 1:00am then there are at 1:00pm. Why? Because they’d go from 11, they’d try to go to sleep and sleep through the heat until four, get up and finish the work the rest of the day.

So Tyrannus would teach in the morning in his school, probably resume a little in the evening and the time period that was available was when everybody else was asleep from 11 to four.

Using the hall of Tyrannus gave Paul the advantage of speaking to Gentiles — ‘Greeks’ — as well as Jews, so that he reached ‘all the residents of Asia’ during a two-year period (verse 10). It was a huge commitment, as MacArthur explains:

So, couldn’t keep that up too long. No, only two years, verse 10. Two years, five hours every day, seven days a week

Paul just moved in from 11 to four and gave 365 five hour sermons twice over. You say man, that says something. Yes it does. It says two things. It says something for the commitment of Paul. Well as a teacher, let me tell you, that’s work. Now I’ll tell you it says something for the tremendous commitment of the Christians. I mean can you imagine sacrificing sleep for five hour sermons? Praise the Lord.

MacArthur has a good description of Ephesus as a port city, which makes Paul’s ministry there even more meaningful:

Ephesus was a really interesting place. It was the real heart of the Roman [province] of Asia Minor. And Asia Minor was a fairly important area. It had many famous cities there, famous to the Christian world. The city of Ephesus probably ranked with Corinth as a two most important cities on the road east from Rome. In the eastern division of the Roman Empire, the three main cities would be Antioch, Alexandria and Ephesus. So it was a big time place. It was a commercial center.

Four main roads criss crossed right there in Ephesus. It was a port city. It was three miles inland, but the Caster River flowed into and it was navigable even though they had a dredging problem. They dredged it periodically and they navigated and so it was a place where ships traded and where caravans traded. It was a very important place. It was a rich place. It was an immensely populous place. Ferar said its “air was salubrious.” And we live in Southern California could use some salubrious air. That means healthy or wholesome.

Its population was diverse and immense. Its markets glittered with the products of the art of that world. In fact John was there. In fact John was exiled from there off the coast a little ways to Patmos. And when John wrote Revelation 18, and the Lord gave him all that picture of the sophisticated system of the world and the world wealth and the world’s commerce, John may well have had in his mind that which he had seen in Ephesus. This is what it says in Revelation 18:12. This could be a description of Ephesus.

The merchandise of gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, fine linen, purple silk, scarlet, fine wood, all kinds of vessels of ivory, all kinds of vessels of most precious wood, bronze, iron, marble, cinnamon, incense, ointments, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, horses, chariots, slaves, and the souls of men.

That’s Ephesus all bunched into two verses. Now that is not the description of Ephesus, but that may have been what was suggested in John’s mind as he thought of it. Now of course the number one feature of Ephesus was the Temple of Diana. The worship of Diana or Artemis that grotesque ugly god that they worshipped. And of course it was a prostitute kind of worship, orgies which couldn’t even be spoken of. It was a sanctuary for criminals, so any criminal from around the world got king’s ex as soon as he jumped into the temple and that settled it and so it just became a harbor and a haven for these people.

It was the bank of the Mediterranean area, so it was just a very complex system. We’re going to get more into that feature in chapter 19 because a real riot breaks out. But here comes Paul to Ephesus. And it was a place where sorcery existed and witchcraft existed and all kinds of perversions and there were magical imposters and exorcists all over the place. No wonder Paul wrote back to the Ephesians. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers against the rulers of the darkness of this world against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places or high places”.

What we will see in the rest of Acts 19 follows the same pattern as all of the other churches as they developed. It took a bit longer in Ephesus, however, today’s passage recounts the hardening of Jewish hearts so that their criticism of Christianity became vile. In the rest of the chapter, we will see that demons and sorcerers were also present — again, another characteristic as new churches developed. At the end of Acts 19, we read of a riot, a third characteristic that the early Christians had to endure.

Next time — Acts 19:11-16