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Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 19:35-41

35 And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky?[a] 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further,[b] it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

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Last week’s entry was about the riot in Ephesus, brought about by the distraught silversmith Demetrius who was upset that fewer people were buying his little shrines of the goddess Artemis — Diana.

The town clerk managed to quieten the mob and asked who did not know that a) Ephesus was the centre of Artemis worship and b) that the goddess — great stone — had fallen from the sky to earth (verse 35).

‘Town clerk’ is a bit of a misnomer, because both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that he was a very important person in Ephesus.

Henry’s commentary tells us (emphases mine):

he is called, grammateus–the scribe, or secretary, or recorder; “the register of their games,” the Olympic games (so others), whose business it was to preserve the names of the victors and the prizes they won.

MacArthur says that he was akin to a mayor:

he was the chief citizen of the town, he was the chairman of the town assembly, the town council, he was the secretary of the town council. He was the guy who called the convening of the town meetings which occurred three times a month. He was the very important citizen. He finally quieted the people after two hours of standing in the middle of that place screaming their heads off.

He appealed to the Ephesians’ common sense: ‘Everyone knows that our city has the great temple to Artemis, who came to us from the sky in the form of a stone. Therefore, why are we getting into such a lather over a universally known fact?’ For them, Artemis was fact, not fiction.

MacArthur explains the stone:

this big, black, ugly image of Diana that they assumed had fallen from Jupiter; it probably was some sort of a meteorite. But nevertheless, the tradition had said it came down from Jupiter.

The town clerk then cautioned the mob against any rash violence (verse 36). This was because he would have to give an account to the Romans as to why he could not control the city over which he presided. That could have had serious consequences, as MacArthur says:

Now he’s smart man. He knows that the Romans are going to hold him responsible for all the trouble. Because he’s in charge of the town. He’s like the mayor. And he knows that the Romans could impose a fine on that city or the Romans could take away their right to free government because they were a free city like Athens was. And they could really be in trouble. So he jumps up and he says, “don’t you all know that this city is the worshipper” literally in the Greek, the temple warden of the great goddess Artemis.

Rationally, the town clerk continued his short discourse. He pointed out that the men the mob were angry with had not blasphemed the goddess or done anything destructive towards her (verse 37). MacArthur interprets his words as follows:

Why, nothing can affect our great goddess, a whole lot of these little preachers roaming around and be like shooting a peashooter at the Empire State Building. This is big time stuff. They’re not going to affect us. So he fires out a whole lot of nice glossy platitudes about the greatness of their god. And that nothing could ever change that.

The goddess power was undeniable and secure. Relax, he says, calm down. Verse 37. “For you have brought here these men who are neither robbers of temples, they have implundered the shrine of Diana, or Artemis.” And they’re not blasphemers of your goddess. They haven’t blasphemed your goddess.

Henry’s commentary says that the town clerk implied there was no way Artemis could be man made, as Paul said, because she fell from the heavens:

The temple of Diana at Ephesus was a very rich and sumptuous structure, but, it should seem, the image of Diana in the temple, because they thought it sanctified the temple, was had in greater veneration than the temple, for they persuaded the people that it fell down from Jupiter, and therefore was none of the gods that were made with men’s hands … Some take it thus: “Seeing the image of Diana fell down from Jupiter, as we all believe, then what is said against gods made with hands does not at all affect us.”

Both commentators indirectly refer to the theological concept of common grace, which asserts that Providence and/or the Holy Spirit maintains order in the world, even via unbelievers — in this case, the town clerk.

Henry has this observation:

See here, [1.] How the overruling providence of God preserves the public peace, by an unaccountable power over the spirits of men. Thus the world is kept in some order, and men are restrained from being as the fishes of the sea, where the greater devour the less. Considering what an impetuous furious thing, what an ungovernable untameable wild beast the mob is, when it is up, we shall see reason to acknowledge God’s goodness that we are not always under the tyranny of it. He stills the noise of the sea, noise of her waves, and (which is no less an instance of his almighty power) the tumult of the people, Psalms 65:7. [2.] See how many ways God has of protecting his people. Perhaps this town-clerk was no friend at all to Paul, nor to the gospel he preached, yet his human prudence is made to serve the divine purpose. Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth them out of them all.

MacArthur points out:

You know the Holy Spirit put this whole story in here for no other reason than just to have a pagan say verse 37.

The town clerk further called the mob to reason by saying that if Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths have legitimate grievances, they can follow the proper channels via the local courts and the proconsuls (verse 38). Anything else can be dealt with in the regular assembly (verse 39).

He closed by alluding to Roman authority: the riot could attract the government’s attention and the Ephesians would not be able to justify it (verse 40).

At that point, he dismissed the Ephesians (verse 41).

MacArthur says that the town clerk indirectly helped the church in Ephesus:

He took Christianity under his patronage. He said, they haven’t done anything. What have they done against us? Let’s let them be.

However, MacArthur surmises that the church in Ephesus became too comfortable without struggle. He says that Paul and Timothy were their first and last great pastors.

Recall the angel’s — messenger’s — warning to the church in Ephesus in my post on Revelation 2:1-7:

3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

St John (the Apostle and Gospel author) wrote Revelation around 95 AD. As I wrote in my post:

You may wonder what happened to the city of Ephesus. Sadly, it no longer exists. That great, bustling metropolis of the early world has disappeared. Over time, silt from the River Cayster accumulated to such an extent that it ruined the city and its harbour. It is now desolate. Would this have happened if the Ephesians heeded this letter?

John MacArthur says that only a little village nearby exists:

that doesn’t name one single Christian in its population.

One can tour the ruins in Ephesus. The following quote is from one tour company’s description. Note that Mary was believed to have spent her final days there:

You will firstly visit the Temple of Artemis which was once one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Our next stop will be Ephesus ancient city. You are going to visit the world famous ancient Greco-Roman City of Ephesus, the most well-preserved example in the world. After visiting this impressive site, we are going to have a break for lunch. After the lunch, you are going to visit the House of Virgin Mary, where it is believed she spent her last days. That is a holy place for both Christians and Muslims. Afterward, you are going to visit the Isabey Mosque.

And that is the story of Ephesus.

People say that God does not bring judgement anymore, that it stopped with the Bible. Looking at this history, we can see that He surely has brought judgement to the Church. A salutary lesson.

Next time — Acts 20:1-6

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Bible openThe 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 19:28-34

28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31 And even some of the Asiarchs,[a] who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32 Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

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Last week’s entry discussed the circumstances behind the riot in Ephesus, which was the centre of worship of Artemis, or Diana. Demetrius, a silversmith, got his fellow craftsmen together to say that Christianity, because of Paul’s preaching, was putting a dent in the money they made out of creating silver shrines to their goddess.

This enraged them to cry out in defence of Artemis (verse 28). Word quickly spread through the city and people went on the attack.

John MacArthur discusses the unhinged nature of attacks against Christianity, which often offends. This is going on around the world today, especially in Western nations:

And the world gets mad. Gets angry with Christianity. Sometimes people say[, ‘]I was so worried because I shared Christ and they got upset[‘]. Good. It’s very good. As long as they got upset about Christ and not about you …

Then he describes the atmosphere at that point in Ephesus:

These people just lost their cool, they were in a frenzy screaming, rioting, yelling the name of their goddess. You know that’s what happened, that kind of anger is what happened at the death of Christ. That the people were so infuriated because they started screaming and yelling. “Crucify Him; crucify Him, away with Him, away with Him.” And they turned into the frenzied mob. And the truth only angered them. Paul had tried every way that he could to get the truth across or at least allow them to concede something.

… So the first characteristic of a mob is anger. The second one is confusion. And I want you to see this. This is interesting. Verse 29. So there they all are screaming their heads off, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians.” And the whole city was filled with confusion. That’s the second characteristic of a mob. They don’t know what to do. Melee, chaos, disorder.

Verse 29 mentions a theatre, where everyone ran into, dragging with them Paul’s companions Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Macedonians.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the theatre in Ephesus was the place where men would wrestle with dangerous animals. The plan was either to get the two Macedonians to wrestle with animals or to suffer abuse from the angry mob (emphases mine below):

some think with design there to make them fight with beasts, as Paul had sometimes done; or perhaps they intended only to abuse them, and to make them a spectacle to the crowd.

It made no logical sense to drag Gaius and Aristarchus into the theatre, but, as Henry tells us:

this was their only crime, that they were Paul’s companions in travel, both in services and sufferings.

MacArthur tells us more about the two men, although I do not understand how Gaius of Derbe could be Macedonian when Derbe is nowhere near there:

We don’t know much about Gaius, he could be the same, well he is the same one mentioned in chapter 20, verse 4. Gaius of Derbe. We don’t know because there are several of that name in Scripture. We don’t know which ones they are. So we don’t know whether we know much about him or not. But Aristarcus … was a man of Macedonia …

Since Gaius has said in chapter 20, verse 4 to be from Derbe and Derbe was where? In Galatia. So Macedonia would be the assignment given to Aristarchus. He was a native of Thessalonica, he was a converted Jew. And he shared many things with Paul. In fact he was in prison in Rome with Paul. So he was really a beloved companion. So they grabbed these two guys, soon ___ fellow travelers, fellow companions and they haul them off into the theater.

Naturally, Paul wanted to be amongst the mob (verse 30), no doubt to speak reason to them. However, the disciples in Ephesus would not let him follow. Even the Asiarchs — Roman officials — who knew him would not allow him to enter the theatre (verse 31).

MacArthur tells us more about the Asiarchs and their possible relationship with Paul:

Certain of the chief[s] of Asia, Asiarcs they were called who were his friends. Apparently Paul had made some friends of the Asiarcs and that would be because he was a Roman citizen. Sent unto him besieging him that he would not venture into the theaters. So here came these political wheels, the Asiarcs, just a word about them.

Each province had assigned guys from the Roman government. In other words, the province was the Roman province and so the Romans would send in some guys to kind of run the province. They had really two responsibilities. They were to promote the worship of Rome or allegiance to Rome and the worship of the emperor. They were Roman PR men. They were to get those people to subscribe to Rome and worship the emperor. Now they were named by whatever province they were in. If they were in Galatia, they were called Galatarcs. If they were in Syria, they were called Syriarcs. If they were in Macedonia, they were called Macedoniarcs. If they were in Asia, they were called Asiarcs. And so that’s what it says there when it says Chief of Asia.

They were the Asiarcs. These were guys that were assigned to Asia Minor to keep the peace to make sure the people kept their allegiance to Rome and worshipped the emperor. Now emperor worship was a very broad and general thing. These guys also presided over the games. And that’s one of the reasons we believe that this was the month of May and the Artemisian games were going on because they were all there in Ephesus.

And they would normally probably be stationed all around Asia Minor. They were all there. And they knew that this was a possible volatile situation. And in order to keep the peace and keep everything calm and intact, they said, Paul don’t go in there. And apparently they had had some dealings with Paul before. They were his friend[s]. That doesn’t mean they were bosom buddies, but they were acquaintances. They knew Paul personally. And so because Paul was a Roman citizen, they desired to protect him.

He was a Roman citizen and this was basically a kind of a pagan area though it was now ruled by Rome. And so they were protecting Paul on the basis probably of his Roman citizenship. And they sure didn’t want more trouble. They saw what was going on with the mob and they just wanted to let it all die down. And if Paul went in there, they’d really have something going.

The mob was confused. Most did not even know why they were there (verse 32), but, as so often happens with human nature, people rush after the crowd, lemming-like. As Henry puts it:

upon such occasions, the greatest part come only to enquire what the matter is: they follow the cry, follow the crowd, increase like a snow-ball, and where there are many there will be more.

Then some in the crowd called for a man named Alexander to speak against Paul, and he agreed to do so, by making a hand gesture (verse 33).

Henry explains that the Jews there intended to confirm that Paul was their enemy and, consequently, put themselves in the good books of the pagans:

They drew Alexander out of the multitude, called him out to speak on the behalf of the Jews against Paul and his companions: “You have heard what Demetrius and the silversmiths have to say against them, as enemies to their religion; give us leave now to tell you what we have to say against him as an enemy to our religion.” The Jews put him forward to do this, encouraged him, and told him they would stand by him and second him; and this they looked upon as necessary in their own defence, and therefore what he designed to say is called his apologizing to the people, not for himself in particular, but for the Jews in general, whom the worshippers of Diana looked upon to be as much their enemies as Paul was. Now they would have them know that they were as much Paul’s enemies as they were; and those who are thus careful to distinguish themselves from the servants of Christ now, and are afraid of being taken for them, shall have their doom accordingly in the great day. Alexander beckoned with the hand, desiring to be heard against Paul; for it had been strange if a persecution had been carried on against the Christians and there were not Jews at one end or the other of it: if they could not begin the mischief, they would help it forward, and so make themselves partakers of other men’s sins. Some think this Alexander had been a Christian, but had apostatized to Judaism, and therefore was drawn out as a proper person to accuse Paul; and that he was the Alexander the coppersmith that did Paul so much evil (2 Timothy 4:14), and whom he had delivered unto Satan, 1 Timothy 1:20.

MacArthur’s take on Alexander is less severe:

Now we don’t know who Alexander was. He may have been a Christian Jew. And the Jews may have shoved him forward. See the Jews knew they were under pressure. Because everybody assumed that Christianity was a sect of Judaism, right? And so they were afraid. So maybe they shoved this Christian Jew Alexander up there so they were going to lay the blame on this Christian Jew and try to say it isn’t Jews, it’s Christian Jews that are messing up the place.

Or maybe he was a Jew. Not a Christian. Who just was pushed up there to tell everybody that the Jews had nothing to do with this. We don’t know whether he was a Christian Jew or a non-Christian Jew he was apparently put up there by the Jews to defend them somehow.

No one listened, because they said that Alexander was a Jew. Instead, the crowd shouted out in favour of their goddess for two hours (verse 34). They specifically called her ‘Artemis of the Ephesians’. Henry explains what they were thinking:

“Great is Diana of the Ephesians; whoever runs her down, be he Jew or Christian, we are resolved to cry her up. She is Diana of the Ephesians, our Diana; and it is our honour and happiness to have her temple with us; and she is great, a famous goddess, and universally adored. There are other Dianas, but Diana of the Ephesians is beyond them all, because her temple is more rich and magnificent than any of theirs.”

And that is what it all boiled down to — materialism, commerce and money:

Diana made the Ephesians great, for the town was enriched by the vast concourse of people from all parts to Diana’s temple there, and therefore they are concerned by all means possible to keep up her sinking reputation with, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.

How pathetic. Yet, that is what sinful man values.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 19:35-41

What follows are the readings for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 5, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

Readings from 2 Samuel continue. The story of David and Bathsheba progresses. David had her husband Uriah the Hittite killed in battle, so that he could take Bathsheba, who was carrying his child, for a wife. Through the words of the Lord, the prophet Nathan told David how seriously he had sinned.

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a

11:26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him.

11:27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD,

12:1 and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.

12:2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds;

12:3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.

12:4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”

12:5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die;

12:6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

12:7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul;

12:8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.

12:9 Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.

12:10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.

12:11 Thus says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.

12:12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”

12:13a David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

Psalm

The Psalm will be familiar to many, with the sinner’s prayerful request to be purged and cleansed of all sin. Note the reference to Original Sin in verse 5: we are all born with sin.

Psalm 51:1-12

51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

51:3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

51:4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

51:5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

51:6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

51:8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

51:9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

51:11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

First reading

The second choice of first readings go to various books in the Old Testament. Today’s is the well-known story of the Lord’s provision of manna from Heaven for the complaining Israelites. This ties in well with today’s Gospel.

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

16:2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.

16:3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

16:4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.

16:9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'”

16:10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

16:11 The LORD spoke to Moses and said,

16:12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'”

16:13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.

16:14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.

16:15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.

Psalm

The Psalm recalls the Lord’s merciful provision of manna for His people in the desert.

Psalm 78:23-29

78:23 Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven;

78:24 he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.

78:25 Mortals ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance.

78:26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind;

78:27 he rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas;

78:28 he let them fall within their camp, all around their dwellings.

78:29 And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.

Epistle

Readings from Paul’s letters to the Ephesians continue. The following verses, especially 4 through 6, will be most familiar. This is Christianity, concisely expressed and writ large.

Ephesians 4:1-16

4:1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,

4:3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,

4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,

4:6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

4:7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

4:8 Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.”

4:9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?

4:10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)

4:11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,

4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

4:13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

4:14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.

4:15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

4:16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Gospel

This ties in well with the aforementioned account from Exodus about manna. Jesus had fed the Five Thousand hours earlier. This is a continuation in Capernaum the next day. Note His rebuke to the people in verses 26 and 27. He also brings up the manna God provided the Israelites and says that He is the ‘bread of life’. This lost him many disciples (John 6:66) and also mentioned that one of the Twelve would betray Him (John 6:70-71).

John 6:24-35

6:24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

6:25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

6:26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

6:27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

6:28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

6:29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

6:30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?

6:31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

6:32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.

6:33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

6:34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

I jolly well hope that excellent sermons will enlighten churchgoers around the world on this particular Sunday. These are highly important readings upon which to reflect. John 6 is one of my favourite chapters in the New Testament. Jesus spoke many ‘home truths’ that day.

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 19:23-27

23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”

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Last week’s entry was about Paul’s future travel plans to extend Christianity.

The passage is where the story of the riot in Ephesus begins. Today, we discover the background to the riot.

Interestingly, St Luke — the author of Acts — once again wrote of ‘the Way’, which was the ancient term for Christ and Christianity. A previous use of ‘the Way’ was earlier in Acts 19, when some of the Ephesian Jews spoke vilely of it.

In today’s reading, the pagan silversmith Demetrius, along with others, was consterned about the increase of Christians in Ephesus. This was brought about by the failed exorcism of two of the Sons of Sceva which brought out converts who voluntarily confessed to practising the dark arts, which resulted in an equally voluntary ‘book’ (scroll) burning. The name of Jesus was glorified. The church in the port city grew and grew.

Ephesus had a huge following of the goddess Diana — Artemis — the huntress. Demetrius, along with other silversmiths, made silver shrines of her, which was a lucrative trade in the city for reasons which John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

The temple of Diana was big business, a monstrous place, 420 feet by 250 feet. A huge place. And hundreds of people preached to eunuchs, temple worshippers, priestesses, prostitutes, the whole thing, all worshipping up there. And this temple also was a treasure house for gold and silver. So it was a very, very, very, wealthy place. A very famous place, people from all over the world came there. In fact there were a whole multiple of pillars. And these pillars were donated by princes and rulers from all over the world.

So it was a very, very famous place. And periodically during the year it had a string of pilgrims making an influx into the city. So tourist traffic in the worship of Artemis was really big business. And the silversmiths made their living by selling these little shrines to the tourists. And to the people making pilgrimages to the city of Ephesus to worship at the shrine of Artemis. Now the best we can tell was that these were little models of the temple or else little statues of Artemis. Now this was an interesting thing.

It is thought that these were small ‘shrines’ that one could carry in one’s pocket or put in one’s home. As such, they were easy to transport, so that a pilgrim could take a few home to give to family and friends.

Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen made a comfortable and reliable living fashioning these shrines (verse 24). We do not know if Demetrius was the leader of the local silversmith’s guild or if he was a prominent member who took it upon himself to speak in a position of leadership.

Whatever the case, he gathered together these craftsmen and those in related trades to say that they had all made a lot of money by producing these Artemis-themed things (verse 25) and that Paul’s preaching against man-made gods was ruining their livelihood — not just in Ephesus but across Asia Minor (verse 26).

MacArthur surmises that Demetrius might have sounded the alarm during a high period of pilgrimage and found that his business was in a slump:

… this was probably according to some chronologists, the month of May and it was a big time and this was really the place that was filled with worshippers and this was the time of making big money. And what happened was the gospel had hit him right in the money bag. The gospel was fouling up their business. Because people were accepting the truth of Christ and turning from idols. Bad business.

Demetrius then said that they should all be very worried about the possible end results: a) that they personally could fall into disrepute and b) they might be put out of business if more people turn away from Artemis towards Jesus Christ (verse 27). Note that he took special pains to mention that the Artemis cult was worshipped not only in Asia Minor but everywhere else, too.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Demetrius was warning them that their persons could be in danger in addition to their livelihoods. There was an undercurrent in Demetrius’s thinking that Paul have must been wrong because everyone had worshipped Artemis for a very long time:

He reminds them of the danger which their trade was in of going to decay. Whatever touches this touches them in a sensible tender part: “If this doctrine gains credit, we are all undone, and may even shut up shop; this our craft will be set at nought, will be convicted, and put into an ill name as superstition, and a cheat upon the world, and every body will run it down. This our part” (so the word is), “our interest or share of trade and commerce,” kindyneuei hemin to meros, “will not only come into danger of being lost, but it will bring us into danger, and we shall become not only beggars, but malefactors.” [4.] He pretends a mighty zeal for Diana, and a jealousy for her honour: Not only this our craft is in danger; if that were all, he would not have you think that he would have spoken with so much warmth, but all his care is lest the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed; and he would not, for all the world, see the diminution of the honour of that goddess, whom all Asia and the world worship. See what the worship of Diana had to plead for itself, and what was the utmost which the most zealous bigots for it had to say in its behalf. First, That it had pomp on its side; the magnificence of the temple was the thing that charmed them, the thing that chained them; they could not bear the thoughts of any thing that tended to the diminution, much less to the destruction, of that. Secondly, That it had numbers on its side; All Asia and the world worship it; and therefore it must needs be the right way of worship, let Paul say what he will to the contrary.

And this is the lesson for us, that mankind inherently seeks sin and the world rather than the light of Christ:

Thus, because all the world wonders after the beast, therefore the dragon, the devil, the god of this world, gives him his power, and his seat, and great authority, Revelation 13:2,3.

Acts 19 moves from the Jews denouncing the Way to pagans denouncing it. MacArthur points out:

Why does God take up all this 20 verses to tell us about a riot? One of the reasons is because it’s exciting to see the successes of Christianity put in the mouths of the pagans, do you see? It isn’t just us that’s claiming God’s power. The pagans are admitting it. Do you see how important that kind of apologetic is? It’s one reason why it’s here. And another thing, the reason the spirit puts it here is because the rioters are so frustrated because there’s nothing they can really do because there’s no-one to blame and there’s nothing evil that Christians have done.

So again, God lets the pagans state the case that Christianity is successful, God is turning people from idols and secondly there’s nothing you can criticize him for. That’s why the whole account’s here. And as you’ll see in a minute, they all get together and riot like crazy, but they don’t know what to do.

And who is responsible for this incredible transformation, with God working through him? Paul. Paul — and the purified church in Ephesus. The Holy Spirit was also working through them:

What brought the success first of all was one man totally committed to Jesus Christ. Do you believe that one man totally committed to Jesus Christ can make a difference in a province? In a state, in a country?

This man did. Paul. One man committed to Jesus Christ came into one city and turned a province on its ear. One man. But you know what that one man spent his time doing? Night and day, praying and teaching with tears the Word of God. And what an effect he had. So it was first of all the success that came by the presence of one man dedicated. But secondly it was the success that came by the presence of a purified church. You know when those people who believe, Verses 17 to 19 of chapter 19. “When they believe, they who believe” verse 18 says, “confessed and showed their deed or revealed their secrets and burned their magic books.” And so forth and so on. And when the church got purified, man things began to happen

The account of the riot continues next week.

For now, the important message is that the Lord bestoed massive blessings on Paul from his many heartfelt prayers, enabling him to present the Gospel story in a true doctrinal way which, in turn, brought about a purified church in Ephesus as more people converted and those who had sinned in private voluntarily admitted it and repented. As such, the church increased dramatically afterwards to the extent that even unbelievers noticed it.

Next time — Acts 19:28-34

Bible GenevaThe 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 19:21-22

A Riot at Ephesus

21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

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Last week’s entry discussed the deep faith and further conversions that came about after two of the Sons of Sceva saw their fake exorcism foiled by the demon in the man they were hoping to notionally heal. The incident left the converts of Ephesus in awe. They extolled the name of the Lord Jesus, and those who were still practising the dark arts voluntarily came out in public to burn their rare and esoteric books, which were very expensive.

The principal verse in that reading is verse 20:

20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

I will come back to that at the end of the post.

For now, Luke — the author of Acts — took pains to tell us that Paul was planning another visit to places where he had established churches and then journey southward once more to the poor church in Jerusalem, after which he wanted to go to Rome (verse 21).

There are several points to make about verse 21.

First, Luke wrote: ‘Paul resolved in the Spirit’. Students of Acts will remember that the Holy Spirit did not allow him, Silas and Timothy to travel eastwards in Asia Minor (Luke 16:6-10). They went westward instead and ended up in Troas where they met Luke for the first time. Luke was with them for a short time, as they all went to establish the church in Philippi, where Lydia, the purple goods seller, was their initial point of contact and first convert on European soil (Luke 16:11-15).

Secondly, Achaia was the province where Corinth was located, so Paul would have wanted to visit the church he had established there. Corinth was where he met his friends and fellow tent makers, Priscilla and Aquila.

Thirdly, after visiting the Christians in Jerusalem, he wanted to go northwest to Rome. Recall that Priscilla and Aquila — along with other Jews and Jews who became Christian — had been exiled from the city by edict. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, by the time Paul was thinking of visiting:

it was upon the death of the emperor Claudius, who died the second year of Paul’s being at Ephesus … because while he lived the Jews were forbidden Rome, Acts 18:2.

Therefore, it was finally safe for Paul to visit the heart of the Roman Empire.

Verse 22 tells us that, for the meantime, Paul remained in Ephesus while he sent the aforementioned Timothy and Erastus, about whom we know little other than it was a common name in that era, to go to Macedonia. Our commentators say that he wanted them to go to Macedonia in order to collect money for the church in Jerusalem, which can be cross-referenced in his letters to the Corinthians. While the men were in Macedonia, Paul stayed in Ephesus to preach and teach not only there but in the area surrounding the city.

Henry’s commentary tells us:

He sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia, to give them notice of the visit he intended them, and to get their collection ready for the poor saints at Jerusalem. Soon after he wrote the first epistle to the Corinthians, designing to follow it himself, as appears 1 Corinthians 4:17,19, I have sent to you Timotheus; but I will myself come to you shortly, if the Lord will. For the present, he staid in Asia, in the country about Ephesus, founding churches.

MacArthur says:

The church of Jerusalem was very poor. And Paul wanted to take a love offering from his churches as a gift to the church at Jerusalem. The reason he wanted to go to Macedonia and Achaia was to collect his offering. And I think that’s kind of an exciting reason, really if you want to know. In several places in Corinthians he alludes to this offering just to maybe I can point out one or two of them. Chapter 9, verse 1 “is touching the administering to the saints that is superfluous for me to write you for I know the readiness of your mind for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia and Achaia.”

The riot in Ephesus to which the title of today’s passage refers starts in my next entry. For now, MacArthur has a great explanation of Acts 19:20, which I cited above and how important the church in Ephesus was to Asia Minor.

At this point, we are reading about Paul’s ministry in the port city after he had been there for around two-and-a-half years. MacArthur says (emphases mine):

He has been there for nearly three years teaching. He knows they know enough. There are elders there of quality enough to lead the church. The Christians are grown up, they’re mature. The work has matured.

There are churches elsewhere in Asia Minor. Also of note is this:

… we think that at least all seven churches [in] the book of Revelation possibly could have been founded during this three year period while Paul was in Ephesus.

MacArthur tells us that Paul had a grand plan, in accordance with the Lord:

Now just keep this in mind. Paul was a strategist and he wanted to reach as far as he could reach with the gospel. And Paul’s plan was this. To plant the gospel in key cities on a line from Antioch to Rome.

By the way, there already was a church in Rome, possibly started by Jews — later converts — who had been in Jerusalem to witness the first Pentecost, but it was not very well organised at the time.

MacArthur continues:

And if you follow the ministry of Paul, he just stops all the way along at key points on the great road from Antioch to Rome. And he’s planting the churches in the key centers. And from there they spread to the province. If Paul could knock off the capital of the province, he felt he had a running start on the province. And so he wants to go one step further to reach Rome. And incidentally that wasn’t the end of it either as you’ll see in a minute. Now after he had planted the church in Ephesus, he realized that the line of witness would then begin to spread from Ephesus. And so he would go to Rome, plant the witness there, there was already a church there, but perhaps he could enhance the witness. And then it would begin to spread.

And then as all these centers began to spread, they would sort of cross-pollinate and the whole area would be saturated with the Gospel. And he believed in the process of reproduction of evangelism by reproduction. Where you would win some people to Christ, establish a church, that church would grow, send out others to establish other churches and by multiplication you would conquer an area. Not by the superficial sweep and so this was his plan. Now when he got to Rome, that was only a step on the way to somewhere else.

Paul’s intention was to keep travelling west to what is now Spain. That would have been one amazing journey. MacArthur says:

So he could go all the way from Jerusalem, Antioch and straight out as far as he could go to reach Spain with the Gospel. This was in his mind to do. He was a strategist planning his conquests. He writes to the Romans in chapter 1 verse 13 of Romans. “I would not have you ignorant brother in the off times I purpose to come unto you but was prevented thus far that I might have some fruit among you even as among other Gentiles. I am better to the Greeks, to the Barbarians, to the wise, to the unwise so much as in me as I am ready to preach the Gospel to you that are at Rome also.”

From this point on, even though Paul doesn’t attain his objective until the end of Acts — chapters 27 and 28 — his goal is Rome:

But he doesn’t get there in the way that he thought he would get there. But he gets there. From here on out, his sights are set on Rome. And he’s going to make it. And man is it an exciting trip getting there.

Next week the story of the riot in Ephesus begins. The Artemis-worshipping craftsmen felt deeply threatened by Christianity, as it was diminishing their trade.

Next time — Acts 19:23-27

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe 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 19:17-20

17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

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Last week’s entry discussed the seven sons of Sceva, who travelled in and around Ephesus earning money by performing exorcisms. Sceva was a Jewish high priest, so it is bemusing to read that his sons engaged in such activity, as these were not true exorcisms. Two of the sons had the wits scared out of them when attempting to perform an exorcism on a man with a demon. The evil spirit — which said it knew Jesus and recognised Paul but not them — worked through the man to overpower the two sons, driving them out of the house naked and bloody.

The moral of that episode shows Satan is no friend of humankind. He has no use for man other than to sin, and, as that reading shows, he can turn on mankind immediately.

The Ephesians — Jews and Gentiles alike — were shocked by what happened (verse 17). ‘All’ were afraid. Luke, the author of Acts, says that they extolled the name of the Lord Jesus.

Interestingly, a number of new Christians publicly confessed their magic practices (verse 18). They were not forced to do so, but they were so overcome by what had happened that they wanted to make a clean break of their sin of casting magic spells.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that these new Christians were not as discerning as other converts (emphases mine):

Many that had believed and were baptized, but had not then been so particular as they might have been in the confession of their sins, were so terrified with these instances of the magnifying of the name of Jesus Christ that they came to Paul, or some of the other ministers that were with him, and confessed what evil lives they had led, and what a great deal of secret wickedness their own consciences charged them with, which the world knew not of–secret frauds and secret filthiness; they showed their deeds, took shame to themselves and gave glory to God and warning to others. These confessions were not extorted from them, but were voluntary, for the ease of their consciences, upon which the late miracles had struck a terror.

This is important:

Note, Where there is true contrition for sin there will be an ingenuous confession of sin to God in every prayer, and to man whom we have offended when the case requires it.

John MacArthur raises an important point about magic spells and divulging magic practices. This isn’t about card tricks or rabbits in hats, but more along the lines of ‘magick’. He thinks that among the converted Christians were people who converted after the sons of Sceva incident:

It’s a perfect participle, the word “believed,” and it could mean those who had already believed and had already been Christians but had never given up their magic, or it could mean those who were then saved and then came and confessed. Either possibility. But anyway, these people who believed came, confessed, and showed their deeds. A most interesting phrase. “Showed their deeds” means they came and revealed their spells. According to magic theory, the only good spell is the one that’s secret, and once you divulge the secret, the spell’s no good. So everybody came and told all the secrets. They were giving up all their magic. Giving it up. The whole satanic game was over. They saw the truth of the power of Jesus; and they saw that magic didn’t work, and in comparison to His name it was absolutely impotentThe Name of the Lord Jesus was magnified, and when the Name of the Lord Jesus is magnified, people will believe. You hear that? It’s right. His Name was magnified in verse 17, and people believed and confessed, and their lives were transformed.

Verse 19 relates their edifying method of repentance. They gathered together and burnt their magic books — scrolls. Although the books were worth 50,000 pieces of silver — tens of thousands of pounds/dollars/euros in today’s money — they didn’t sell the books and give the proceeds to the church or to the poor. No. They destroyed them so a) they would not be tempted to look at them again and b) to prevent others from delving inside.

Henry has a good analysis:

It is taken for granted that they were convinced of the evil of these curious arts, and resolved to deal in them no longer; but they did not think this enough unless they burnt their books. (1.) Thus they showed a holy indignation at the sins they had been guilty of; as the idolaters, when they were brought to repentance, said to their idols, Get you hence (Isaiah 30:22), and cast even those of silver and gold to the moles and to the bats, Isaiah 2:20. They thus took a pious revenge on those things that had been the instruments of sin to them, and proclaimed the force of their convictions of the evil of it, and that those very things were now detectable to them, as much as ever they had been delectable. (2.) Thus they showed their resolution never to return to the use of those arts, and the books which related to them, again. They were so fully convinced of the evil and danger of them that they would not throw the books by, within reach of a recall, upon supposition that it was possible they might change their mind; but, being stedfastly resolved never to make use of them, they burnt them. (3.) Thus they put away a temptation to return to them again. Had they kept the books by them, there was danger lest, when the heat of the present conviction was over, they should have the curiosity to look into them, and so be in danger of liking them and loving them again, and therefore they burnt them. Note, Those that truly repent of sin will keep themselves as far as possible from the occasions of it. (4.) Thus they prevented their doing mischief to others. If Judas had been by he would have said, “Sell them, and give the money to the poor;” or, “Buy Bibles and good books with it.” But then who could tell into whose hands these dangerous books might fall, and what mischief might be done by them? it was therefore the safest course to commit them all to the flames. Those that are recovered from sin themselves will do all they can to keep others from falling into it, and will be much more afraid of laying an occasion of sin in the way of others. (5.) Thus they showed a contempt of the wealth of this world; for the price of the books was cast up, probably by those that persuaded them not to burn them, and it was found to be fifty thousand pieces of silver, which some compute to be fifteen hundred pounds of our money. It is probable that the books were scarce, perhaps prohibited, and therefore dear. Probably they had cost them so much; yet, being the devil’s books, though they had been so foolish as to buy them, they did not think this would justify them in being so wicked as to sell them again. (6.) Thus they publicly testified their joy for their conversion from these wicked practices, as Matthew did by the great feast he made when Christ had called him from the receipt of custom. These converts joined together in making this bonfire, and made it before all men. They might have burnt the books privately, every one in his own house, but they chose to do it together, by consent, and to do it at the high cross (as we say), that Christ and his grace in them might be the more magnified, and all about them the more edified.

MacArthur says the bonfire lasted for a long time:

… the interesting thing, the word “burned” is imperfect. They kept on burning. I don’t know how long the bonfire lasted. But they kept burning.

The result was that the Gospel story not only circulated — but also prevailed — all the more, in fact, ‘mightily’ (verse 20).

There is a lesson here for today’s Christians — especially clergy. By erring in making the Gospel about social justice and identity politics whilst excusing every sin in the book, we are doing our fellow man a disservice in denying him the eternal truth of Jesus Christ.

Our two commentators were/are tied to the truth of the Gospel.

Do we see that today? Not often enough.

MacArthur is one of the rare exceptions. His church, Grace Church in southern California, is packed on Sundays. People hunger for the truth, not a sermon akin to a newspaper editorial! Of verse 20, he says:

In your life, where the Word of God dominates, there’s victory. You know that in this church, as long as the Word of God dominates, there’ll be victory. That’s the pattern. That’s the pattern. The church established with the Word, the individual established with the Word is clean and victorious over the enemy.

Henry tells us:

It is a blessed sight to see the word of God growing and prevailing mightily, as it did here. 1. To see it grow extensively, by the addition of many to the church. When still more and more are wrought upon by the gospel, and wrought up into a conformity to it, then it grows; when those that were least likely to yield to it, and that had been most stiff in their opposition to it, are captivated and brought into obedience to it, then it may be said to grow mightily. 2. To see it prevail extensively, by the advancement in knowledge and grace of those that are added to the church; when strong corruptions are mortified, vicious habits changed, evil customs of long standing broken off, and pleasant, gainful, fashionable sins are abandoned, then it prevails mightily; and Christ in it goes on conquering and to conquer.

I pray that our clergy turn from their theological error — likely learned at seminary — and preach the truth of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Redeemer. Only then will the Church prevail once more.

Next time — Acts 19:21-22

Bible treehuggercomThe 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 19:11-16

The Sons of Sceva

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all[a] of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

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Those who are familiar with the Book of Acts, which St Luke wrote, know that sorcery was not unknown as an attack on the earliest churches:

Acts 8:14-25 – Philip, Simon Magus, sorcery, money, divine gifts, God, Holy Spirit, Peter, John

Acts 13:4-7 – Barnabas, Saul of Tarsus, John Mark, Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, Bar-Jesus, Elymas

Acts 13:8-12 — Paul, Elymas, magician, sorcerer, Paulus Sergius, conversion, blindness, miracle, doctrine, Cyprus

Acts 16:16-18 — Paul and the fortune-telling slave girl in Philippi; he drove an evil spirit out of her

In last week’s entry about Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, the Apostle had to withdraw from the synagogue because of all the evil Jewish resistors spoke against the truth about Christ Jesus.

This week’s passage, which immediately follows in Acts 19, reveals that the spiritual situation grew worse in Ephesus. This is not the whole story, which will conclude in next week’s post.

We see here that a great spiritual tension was building between good and evil.

On the good side, God worked through Paul to work ‘extraordinary miracles’ (verse 11).

Was this the first time or were these particular healing miracles? Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis (emphases mine below):

I wonder we have not read of any miracle wrought by Paul since the casting of the evil spirit out of the damsel at Philippi; why did he not work miracles at Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens? Or, if he did, why are they not recorded? Was the success of the gospel, without miracles in the kingdom of nature, itself such a miracle in the kingdom of grace, and the divine power which went along with it such a proof of its divine original, that there needed no other? It is certain that at Corinth he wrought many miracles, though Luke has recorded none, for he tells them (2 Corinthians 12:12) that the signs of his apostleship were among them, in wonders and mighty deeds. But here at Ephesus we have a general account of the proofs of this kind which he gave his divine mission. 1. They were special miracles–Dynameis ou tychousas. God exerted powers that were not according to the common course of nature: Virtutes non vulgares. Things were done which could by no means be ascribed either to chance or second causes. Or, they were not only (as all miracles are) out of the common road, but they were even uncommon miracles, such miracles as had not been wrought by the hands of any other of the apostles. The opposers of the gospel were so prejudiced that any miracles would not serve their turn; therefore God wrought virtutes non quaslibet (so they render it), something above the common road of miracles. 2. It was not Paul that wrought them (What is Paul, and what is Apollos?) but it was God that wrought them by the hand of Paul. He was but the instrument, God was the principal agent.

These miracles were so extraordinary that when people touched Paul’s skin with garments and took them home to their loved ones afflicted by illness or demons, those ailing were also cured (verse 12). That was truly extraordinary.

Thinking back to Christ’s ministry, the lady with the 12-year haemorrhage was cured when she touched His garment. If there were other instances, the Gospel writers did not record them.

Returning to Paul as a conduit for God’s healing power, John MacArthur says that the people pressing garments against him did not understand that God was working through the Apostle. They thought he had some sort of personal power, similar to that of a magician or sorcerer:

The people in Ephesus were very, very superstitious. And when they saw these miracles going on, coming out of Paul, they assumed the power was Paul’s.

MacArthur says that people picked up handkerchiefs which Paul used to wipe his brow while making tents:

the word “handkerchief” means “sweat cloth.” Those people who work, artisans or anybody in the crafts or anybody who did manual labor in those days, carried about these cloths with which they would wipe their brow and sometimes tie around their head. Well, they got Paul’s old, dirty, crummy sweat cloths! And they attached so much healing power to Paul, they figured if they get ahold of those sweat cloths, that that could work the same thing for them. And you know what? In spite of their superstition, God went ahead and did His miracles! Because God was in the business of confirming the Word, and He never let their superstitions violate what He was gonna do.

Seeing this, some Jewish exorcists who travelled from town to town to perform notional exorcisms for money, thought they could replicate divine healing miracles by invoking Jesus’s name (verse 13). These were not converts. They were just going to use what they thought was a magic incantation. Henry describes their appeal in that era. They were around in Jesus’s time, too:

They strolled about to tell people their fortunes, and pretended by spells and charms to cure diseases, and bring people to themselves that were melancholy or distracted. They called themselves exorcists, because in doing their tricks they used forms of adjuration, by such and such commanding names. The superstitious Jews, to put a reputation upon these magic arts, wickedly attributed the invention of them to Solomon. So Josephus (Antiq. 8. 45-46) says that Solomon composed charms by which diseases were cured, and devils driven out so as never to return; and that these operations continued common among the Jews to his time. And Christ seems to refer to this (Matthew 12:27), By whom do your children cast them out?

MacArthur gives us the origin for the historian Josephus’s claim:

in the Book of Tobit, the heart and liver of a miraculously caught fish are burned in the ashes of incense, and the resulting smell and smoke are supposed to drive away the demons. Josephus, who was a very intelligent person, a noted Jewish historian, told of a cure in which a demon was drawn through the nostrils of a demoniac by the use of magic root supposedly prescribed by Solomon. And there are other rabbinical writers who reflect the same fanciful magic superstitions.

Now, it may have been true that in the Old Testament time, demons were expelled through prayer, fasting, if Matthew 17:21 is true and if it is belonging in the manuscript. It may be true, and I’m sure God did answer prayer and demons were cast out in the Old Testament.

The men trying this incantation in Ephesus were the seven sons of a Jewish high priest, Sceva (verse 14). It did not work for them, because a) they had no belief in Jesus and b) were preying on the vulnerable in their trade. Henry explains:

They said, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches; not, “whom we believe in, or depend upon, or have any authority from,” but whom Paul preaches; as if they had said, “We will try what that name will do.”

However, the evil spirit answered them, saying that it knew Jesus and recognised Paul, but asked who they were (verse 15).

Worse came when the man with the evil spirit leapt up and overpowered the phony exorcists. The evil spirit worked through the afflicted man to the extent that the charlatans were injured and left his house naked (verse 16).

MacArthur says that not all seven sons of Sceva were in the house when the incident happened:

the old manuscript also includes the word “both” here, which indicates there were probably only two of the seven there. “And overcame them both and prevailed against them.” The demon was powerful, strong. And they fled out of the house naked and bleeding. Wounded.

MacArthur says that Satan played a violent trick on them, even though they were his servants. That incident further demonstrates that Satan is no friend of humankind.

Matthew Henry concludes with this:

This is written for a warning to all those who name the name of Christ, but do not depart from iniquity. The same enemy that overcomes them with his temptations will overcome them with his terrors; and their adjuring him in Christ’s name to let them alone will be no security to them.

Both commentators say that there is only one way to overcome Satan — lively faith and true repentance.

Henry has the short version:

If we resist the devil by a true and lively faith in Christ, he will flee from us; but if we think to resist him by the bare using of Christ’s name, or any part of his word, as a spell or charm, he will prevail against us.

MacArthur’s version is longer, based on personal experience:

We had this illustrated to us when we were working with this one girl who had all these devils that were speaking, and all this thing was going on, and the phenomenon was very unusual; and I tried to cast those demons out. “Get out!” You know? “Name of the Word!” They didn’t go. Some of the other guys on the staff tried, and they couldn’t do it either, which made me feel better. But none of us could get ’em out.

Let me give you a simple statement. All of the efforts to cast out demons are useless if that person doesn’t confess and repent of sin. Okay? Listen to this, then. If the person confesses and repents of sin, all of the efforts to cast out demons are unnecessary. So if you want to be real clear about it, it’s never a question of casting out the demons. It’s a question of repenting of the sins. If the person involved repents of the sin that allowed Satan to get a grip on them, then you don’t need somebody there doing all this other stuff. If they won’t repent of the sin, then it doesn’t matter what you do! You stand there ’til you’re blue in the face trying to cast out demons; but if that person’s harboring prolonged sin in their life, those demons have a place. Well, that’s all we’re trying to say.

Today, many Christians have become so preoccupied with Satan and so preoccupied with demons, and now Christians are having these new deliverance ministries that are growing up where you can go and get delivered. One guy had to pay $3,500.00 to get delivered. Found out he didn’t get delivered at all; he got bilked

And you say, “Well, you mean that we should never have Christians come around and pray?” Yeah, well, maybe that’s all right, but maybe they ought to be really talking about sin, not demons. Maybe we need to rebuking sin; maybe we need to be getting people to deal with sin.

I think so many times this whole thing of demons is a big copout. “Well, the demon made me do it, the demon made me do it.” Satan. You’re not dealing with your own sin. You’re not dealing with the issue of your nature. Your old sin nature. Confession, repentance, submission to the Word, submission to the Spirit removes the power of Satan.

Just another thought on this. Of all of the ministries of the body, of all of the responsibilities that we have toward one another, there is no statement or command to go around and cast demons out of each other! It says love one another, teach one another, edify one another, admonish one another, nurture one another, comfort one another, build up one another, reprove one another, rebuke one another, and so forth and so forth and so forth; but it doesn’t say cast demons out of one another.

That’s – beloved, I can comfort you and so forth and so on, but you don’t need me to take care of Satan in your life. I can’t do that, ’cause I can’t be holy for you. You got it? That’s your problem! Now, I can rebuke your sin, and I can give you wise counsel about your sin, and I can admonish you about your sin, but I can’t be holy for you. And if you’re gonna deal with Satan, that’s yours to do! And if I do all the exorcism in the world in the Name of Jesus Christ and there’s still harbored in your life, it’s unnecessary – I mean, it’s ineffective – and if there’s no sin in your life, then it’s unnecessary. If you have confessed and repented and submitted to the Truth of God, you’re clean.

Oh, you don’t have anything to fear. No. You have all victory over Satan

I don’t need to worry – I can’t do much about demons in you, but every man can about himself. That’s the issue. The apostolic day was confirming the Word; that was different. Today, every Christian has the resources to take care of his own problem. But I don’t think we can walk up to unbelievers and cast demons out. If an unbeliever comes to Jesus Christ, He alone can cleanse. By faith.

I hope this gives people a nugget of truth about overcoming serious sin and Satan.

What happened afterwards in Ephesus will be the subject of next week’s post.

Next time — Acts 19:17-20

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.

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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

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe 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 19:1-7

Paul in Ephesus

19 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland[a] country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in[b] the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.

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Verse 1 mentions that Apollos was in Corinth. Luke wrote that because he related Apollos’s story at the end of Acts 18, which my previous entry discussed.

‘Inland country’ in that verse refers to Asia Minor, as Paul was revisiting churches he had founded.

Upon his return from his trip, he reached Ephesus, which he had previously left (see link in previous sentence) and said he would return to if it were God’s will. At that point, he met 12 disciples (verse 7) and asked if they had received the Holy Spirit when they were baptised. They replied that they had not heard of the Holy Spirit (verse 2).

Paul then asked into what they were baptised and they told him, ‘John’s baptism’ (verse 3).

They were talking about John the Baptist. There were many followers of John the Baptist at that time, e.g. Apollos.

Most probably these men had encountered a false teacher purporting to be one of John the Baptist’s followers. This is because John the Baptist had spoken of the Holy Spirit, therefore, the man who baptised these men would have known that if he had been a true follower. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

the point here is that John the Baptist did teach about the Holy Spirit … I love what he says to them. Verse 3. He says, “Unto what then were you baptized?” And we know what he didn’t say. He didn’t say what kind of faulty instruction have you had?

Paul explained to them that John’s baptism was one of repentence to prepare them for Jesus (verse 4). After the first Pentecost, converts began being baptised ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. That could not have been done until a) after Christ ascended to Heaven and sent b) the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

according to the tradition of their nation, after the death of Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the Holy Ghost departed from Israel, and went up …

The men were duly baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus (verse 5). Henry does not think that Paul baptised them himself:

but by some of those who attended him.

Therefore, while there was a relationship between John’s baptism and that in the name of Jesus, these men needed the latter baptism in order to receive the Holy Spirit. They were baptised in the appointed form that continues to this day: ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. John the Baptist could not have recited those words because he and Jesus were of the same age, he was beheaded while Jesus was still in active ministry and the arrival of the Holy Spirit was still to come.

As soon as Paul laid hands on the baptised men, the Holy Spirit descended upon them (verse 6). They immediately spoke in tongues and began prophesying.

MacArthur makes important points about that verse and the Pentecostal churches. He says this was not necessarily a blueprint for all future baptisms:

He had his hands on them and at that point the spirit came and they spoke with languages and prophecy. You say there it is, there’s the norm, there’s the norm. That’s how it happens. Now wait a minute. That’s the last time it ever happens in the New Testament. Did you get that? That’s it. Now where are we, what book? Acts, transition. You say well why does it happen? Does it say command that this is the way it will always be is nothing about that there. verse 7 simply says, “and all the men were about 12.” It doesn’t say and this is how it’ll always be.

It just wraps it up there.

As for the glossolalia:

You say, well why did they speak in tongues? Two reasons. One, what did I tell you earlier that God wanted to do? He wanted to tie everybody into one church, didn’t he? Because let me give you an even stronger reason. These people had never heard that the Holy Spirit had come. And God knew that they needed a strong convincing that the Spirit had come. And so God and His wonderful wisdom just extended Pentecost to them. So that they too would know the Spirit came.

Henry says that these 12 men were destined for the ministry:

This was intended to introduce the gospel at Ephesus, and to awaken in the minds of men an expectation of some great things from it; and some think that it was further designed to qualify these twelve men for the work of the ministry, and that these twelve were the elders of Ephesus, to whom Paul committed the care and government of that church. They had the Spirit of prophesy, that they might understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God themselves, and the gift of tongues, that they might preach them to every nation and language. Oh, what a wonderful change was here made on a sudden in these men! those that but just now had not so much as heard that there was any Holy Ghost are now themselves filled with the Holy Ghost; for the Spirit, like the wind, blows where and when he listeth.

Priscilla and Aquila were already evangelising in Ephesus, but these men had received special divine gifts of the Spirit enabling them to lead the church there.

Next time — Acts 19:8-10

Bible treehuggercomThe 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 18:24-28

Apollos Speaks Boldly in Ephesus

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit,[a] he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

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Last week’s passage was about Paul’s return to Caesarea, probably Jerusalem — although St Luke, the author of Acts, did not say — and then on to the churches in Syria and Asia Minor that he had founded.

Meanwhile, Paul’s friends from Corinth — Priscilla and Aquila — were ministering in Ephesus (Efes in Turkey).

During that time, Apollos, a learned Jew from Alexandria (Egypt) arrived in the port city. He was very well spoken and knew his Scripture equally well (verse 24).

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur state that Alexandria had a large Jewish population. MacArthur says that there were four different Jewish districts in the city.

Henry’s commentary tells us that Alexandria’s Jews numbered greatly because they had been sent into exile:

there were abundance of Jews in that city, since the dispersion of the people, as it was foretold (Deuteronomy 28:68): The Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again.

Henry also explains Apollos, the name (emphases mine):

His name was not Apollo, the name of one of the heathen gods, but Apollos, some think the same with Apelles, Romans 16:10.

As for Apollos the man, he tells us:

He was a man of excellent good parts, and well fitted for public service. He was an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures of the Old Testament, in the knowledge of which he was, as a Jew, brought up. (1.) He had a great command of language: he was an eloquent man; he was aner logios–a prudent man, so some; a learned man, so others; historiarum peritus–a good historian, which is an excellent qualification for the ministry: he was one that could speak well, so it properly signifies; he was an oracle of a man; he was famous for speaking pertinently and closely, fully and fluently, upon any subject. (2.) He had a great command of scripture-language, and this was the eloquence he was remarkable for. He came to Ephesus, being mighty in the scriptures, so the words are placed; having an excellent faculty of expounding scripture, he came to Ephesus, which was a public place, to trade with that talent, for the honour of God and the good of many. He was not only ready in the scriptures, able to quote texts off-hand, and repeat them, and tell you where to find themHe understood the sense and meaning of them, he knew how to make use of them and to apply them, how to reason out of the scriptures, and to reason strongly; a convincing, commanding, confirming power went along with all his expositions and applications of the scripture. It is probable he had given proof of his knowledge of the scriptures, and his abilities in them, in many synagogues of the Jews.

Apollos was a Messianic Jew, one who knew of the Messiah’s imminent coming as prophesied by John the Baptist (verse 25). There were many followers of John the Baptist who evangelised his prophecy throughout the ancient world. Whoever taught Apollos did so carefully and accurately. Many of John the Baptist’s followers who evangelised did not know that much about Jesus’s ministry or that He died on the Cross, rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. (Had John the Baptist lived, they would have.) Apollos was one of these people.

Note that verse 25’s words, ‘fervent in spirit’, carry an explanatory footnote: ‘Or “in the Spirit”‘. On this point, our two commentators disagree somewhat.

Henry says:

Though he had not the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, as the apostles had, he made use of the gifts he had; for the dispensation of the Spirit, whatever the measure of it is, is given to every man to profit withal. And our Savior, by a parable, designed to teach his ministers that though they had but one talent they must not bury that … He was a lively affectionate preacher; as he had a good head, so he had a good heart; he was fervent in Spirit. He had in him a great deal of divine fire as well as divine light, was burning as well as shining. He was full of zeal for the glory of God, and the salvation of precious souls. This appeared both in his forwardness to preach when he was called to it by the rulers of the synagogue, and in his fervency in his preaching. He preached as one in earnest, and that had his heart in his work. What a happy composition was here! Many are fervent in spirit, but are weak in knowledge, in scripture-knowledge–have far to seek for proper words and are full of improper ones; and, on the other hand, many are eloquent enough, and mighty in the scriptures, and learned, and judicious, but they have no life or fervency. Here was a complete man of God, thoroughly furnished for his work; both eloquent and fervent, full both of divine knowledge and of divine affections.

MacArthur is less generous:

He was a powerful man in terms of teaching. And let me just say at this point that his power at this point was the natural. He was not a Christian at this point, so consequently, did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. So the power in his life was expressed really through his natural abilities, not yet having the Gifts of the Spirit as we know them. Later on, when he comes to Christ and he receives the Holy Spirit and gets the Gift of the Spirit in those areas, I mean, he becomes so devastating … But in this point, in the natural–and by that, I don’t mean that the Spirit didn’t touch his life, because nobody can know anything apart from the Holy Spirit, right, in any dispensation. So, I’m not disqualifying the Spirit. He had the Spirit’s work in his life in a very general sense, not in the specific sense of the Gift and the indwelling that the New Testament Saint knows. But he could, in his own natural ability, speak and communicate and was learned in the Old Testament. And believe me, it didn’t take him long to make an impression.

Priscilla and Aquila heard him speak in the synagogue and understood that he did not have the story of Jesus Christ as Paul had related it to them. So, they took him to one side and explained it to him, as they had been taught (verse 26). MacArthur thinks they might have shared a meal with him followed by a long discussion about the life of Jesus and how He fulfilled Scripture.

The well educated Apollos learned from two tent makers. Henry tells us:

[2.] See an instance of truly Christian charity in Aquila and Priscilla; they did good according to their ability. Aquila, though a man of great knowledge, yet did no undertake to speak in the synagogue, because he had not such gifts for public work as Apollos had; but he furnished Apollos with matter, and then left him to clothe it with acceptable words. Instructing young Christians and young ministers privately in conversation, who mean well, and perform well, as far as they go, is a piece of very good service, both to them and to the church. [3.] See an instance of great humility in Apollos. He was a very bright young man, of great parts and learning, newly come from the university, a popular preacher, and one mightily cried up and followed; and yet, finding that Aquila and Priscilla were judicious serious Christians, that could speak intelligently and experimentally of the things of God, though they were but mechanics, poor tent-makers, he was glad to receive instructions from them, to be shown by them his defects and mistakes, and to have his mistakes rectified by them, and his deficiencies made up. Young scholars may gain a great deal by converse with old Christians, as young students in the law may by old practitioners. Apollos, though he was instructed in the way of the Lord, did not rest in the knowledge he had attained, nor thought he understood Christianity as well as any man (which proud conceited young men are apt to do), but was willing to have it expounded to him more perfectly. Those that know much should covet to know more, and what they know to know it better, pressing forward towards perfection.

MacArthur says that learning from Priscilla and Aquila was the moment of conversion for Apollos:

They told him the fullness of the facts regarding Christ. Oh, man, there’s the conversion of Apollos right there in those verses. And the Spirit doesn’t say much about it. Why? Because it wasn’t much of a change. He was already a saint.

Henry had good words for Priscilla:

Here is an instance of a good woman, though not permitted to speak in the church or in the synagogue, yet doing good with the knowledge God had given her in private converse. Paul will have the aged women to be teachers of good things Titus 2:3,4.

It is thought that Priscilla had more spiritual depth than her husband Aquila, which is probably why Luke put her name before his so often.

Apollos decided to go to Achaia, so the men from the church in Ephesus sent a letter of introduction (verse 27). Achaia was the province where Corinth was located. Corinth was the centre of government for Achaia. Paul appeared before Achaia’s proconsul, Gallio.

Luke did not state why Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, however, a few possibilities spring to mind. First, the Jews in Ephesus were largely receptive to Paul’s teaching, and Priscilla and Aquila were building a solid congregation there. Secondly, Corinth might have resembled Alexandria with regard to intellectual life. Thirdly, and most importantly, Apollos might have wanted to finish the job that Paul had started. Corinth still had Jews who were hostile to the Gospel message.

When Apollos arrived in Achaia, his eloquence and precision reassured the converts (verse 27). Furthermore, he was also able to powerfully refute the errors of the Jews in scripturally demonstrating that Jesus is the Messiah (verse 28).

Henry explains verse 28:

Unbelievers were greatly mortified. Their objections were fully answered, the folly and sophistry of their arguments were discovered, so that they had nothing to say in defence of the opposition they made to the gospel; their mouths were stopped, and their faces filled with shame (Acts 18:28): He mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, before the people; he did it, eutonos–earnestly, and with a great deal of vehemence; he took pains to do it; his heart was upon it, as one that was truly desirous both to serve the cause of Christ and to save the souls of men. He did it effectually and to universal satisfaction. He did it levi negotio–with facility. The case was so plain, and the arguments were so strong on Christ’s side, that it was an easy matter to baffle all that the Jews could say against it. Though they were so fierce, yet their cause was so weak that he made nothing of their opposition. Now that which he aimed to convince them of was that Jesus is the Christ, that he is the Messiah promised to the fathers, who should come, and they were to look for not other. If the Jews were but convinced of this–that Jesus is Christ, even their own law would teach them to hear him.

Apollos was a highly important church leader in Corinth, as Paul readily acknowledged in 1 Corinthians 3:6:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

MacArthur also says he was a better public speaker than Paul and had a better physical presence:

He was probably without equal as a speaker. You say, “Was he greater than Paul?” Well, very possibly. He was a greater preacher than Paul. Paul said to the Corinthians, in I Corinthians 2:1, “I, Brethren, when I came to you came not with excellency of speech.” Paul never did really value his preaching ability. Interesting. I don’t know if you ever read this verse. Interesting. II Corinthians 10:10, it says, “His letters say they are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible.” So he’s a lot better writer than he was a body, and he was an even better body than he was a speaker. Now, that’s a interesting little insight into the possibility that Paul perhaps was not as great an orator as was Apollos, and I’m only making the comparison because I want you to know the stature of this man. He was without peer, as far as we could see in the New Testament, as a preacher, as a speaker.

Shortly after Apollos arrived in Corinth, a church schism arose. Wikipedia has a simple explanation about the purpose of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

Paul’s Epistle refers to a schism between four parties in the Corinthian church, of which two attached themselves to Paul and Apollos respectively, using their names[9] (the third and fourth were Peter, identified as Cephas, and Jesus Christ himself).[10] It is possible, though, that, as Msgr. Ronald Knox suggests, the parties were actually two, one claiming to follow Paul, the other claiming to follow Apollos. “It is surely probable that the adherents of St. Paul […] alleged in defence of his orthodoxy the fact that he was in full agreement with, and in some sense commissioned by, the Apostolic College. Hence ‘I am for Cephas’. […] What reply was the faction of Apollos to make? It devised an expedient which has been imitated by sectaries more than once in later times; appealed behind the Apostolic College itself to him from whom the Apostolic College derived its dignity; ‘I am for Christ.'”[11] Paul states that the schism arose because of the Corinthians’ immaturity in faith.[12]

MacArthur says that Apollos left Corinth for a time because the schism distressed him:

And such a holy man was he that later on when he saw the factions in Corinth, it so grieved his heart that in I Corinthians 16:12, Paul had asked him to go back and he wouldn’t go back to Corinth. The factions that came in Corinth weren’t Apollos’ fault any more than they were Peter’s fault, Paul’s fault or Christ’s fault. But they grieved him.

Wikipedia has more interesting information about St Apollos, venerated by the Orthodox churches, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod:

Apollos’ origin in Alexandria has led to speculations that he would have preached in the allegorical style of Philo. Theologian Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, for example, commented: “It is difficult to imagine that an Alexandrian Jew … could have escaped the influence of Philo, the great intellectual leader … particularly since the latter seems to have been especially concerned with education and preaching.”[14] Pope Benedict suggest there were those in Corinth “…fascinated by his way of speaking….[13]

Apollos is mentioned one more time in the New Testament. In the Epistle to Titus, the recipient is exhorted to “speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way”.[16]

Jerome states that Apollos was so dissatisfied with the division at Corinth that he retired to Crete with Zenas; and that once the schism had been healed by Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, Apollos returned to the city and became one of its elders.[17] Less probable traditions assign to him the bishop of Duras, or of Iconium in Phrygia, or of Caesarea.[9]

Martin Luther and some modern scholars have proposed Apollos as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, rather than Paul or Barnabas.[9] Both Apollos and Barnabas were Jewish Christians with sufficient intellectual authority.[18] The Pulpit Commentary treats Apollos’ authorship of Hebrews as “generally believed”.[19] Other than this, there are no known surviving texts attributed to Apollos.

Hebrews is one of my favourite books in the New Testament. If Apollos wrote it, you will see — if you don’t already know — how persuasive and clear he was.

Next time — Acts 19:1-7

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