SUMMARY.--Twelve of John's Disciples Rebaptized. Paul Teaches in the School of Tyrannus. God's Presence with Paul in Power. Sceva and His Sons. The Books of Magic Burned. Timothy and Erastus Sent into Macedonia. The Tumult Raised by Demetrius and the Craftsmen. The Wise Advice of the City Recorder.
1. Paul having passed through the upper coasts. The mountain highlands of the interior of Asia Minor (see 18:23). Ephesus, on the coast, was near sea level. Finding certain disciples. These disciples had only been baptized with John's baptism (verse 3), and had but an imperfect knowledge of Christ. Their case presents some difficulties hard to explain, unless we had more of the facts. They had evidently been baptized by some of John's disciples, possibly in Asia, after the Great Commission was given, and were no doubt Jews. Some think that they were baptized by Apollos before he was "instructed in the way of the Lord more perfectly" (18:25, 26).
2. Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? This question is asked in order to lead their way to a knowledge of their imperfect obedience. For their reply, see the Revision. They had heard of the Holy Spirit; John always spoke of Christ as one who should bestow it, but they had heard nothing of the scenes of Pentecost and the descent of the Spirit. It must not be forgotten that they lived nearly a thousand miles from Jerusalem, in an age when each part of the world knew little of what transpired elsewhere.
3. Unto what then were ye baptized? This question implies that the possession of the Holy Spirit is closely connected with a right baptism (compare 2:38). The only case in which the Spirit was received before baptism was that of Cornelius. For the reasons of this exception to the rule, see notes on 10:44-47. The fact that these disciples "know nothing of the Holy Spirit being given," showed that there was something wrong about their baptism. Unto John's baptism. While John's baptism differed from that commanded in Christ's commission, the apostles, the one hundred and twenty, and the "five hundred brethren" (1 Cor. 15:6), as far as we know, received no other. We are to infer, therefore, that it was valid until Christ's baptism took its place. Why, then, were these disciples re-baptized? The only explanation is that their baptism took place after John's baptism had been superseded by that of Christ, or after the Savior had been crucified.
4. John verily baptized. His baptism was (1) of Repentance; (2) of Faith in a coming Savior. Christian baptism is (1) of Repentance; (2) of Faith in a Savior that has come, died, risen, and been exalted to the heavens; (3) is into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; (4) enjoys not only the promise of remission of sins, but of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
5. When they heard this. Paul's explanation of the difference between Christ's and John's baptism, to which we have only an allusion. The example of these men shows that if a baptism is imperfect, from an ignorance of Christ's will, it is not wrong to correct the defect by a more perfect obedience.
6. When Paul had laid his hands on them. It seemed proper that these men should enjoy, not only the ordinary influence of the Spirit, but that some spiritual gifts should be imparted, such as were given by the laying on of apostolic hands. Compare 8:17; Rom. 1:11. Spake with tongues. Of this ancient gift we learn (1) it edified only the speaker (1 Cor. 14:4); (2) to benefit others an interpreter was needed (1 Cor. 14:5-27); (3) God could understand (1 Cor. 14:2). This gift disappeared at an early date from the church.
7. The men were about twelve. Thus these men appear in this episode and then disappear from our knowledge. They were now endowed for usefulness, and perhaps did great service in the religious revolution that soon transformed all that part of Asia.
8. He went into the synagogue. Once before he had spoken in it, on his former missionary journey (18:19, 20). Now for three months of the three years spent in Ephesus he occupies the same pulpit. These three years were comparatively quiet, but among the most successful of Paul's missionary career. About seventeen years of busy toil had now passed since his conversion.
9. When divers were hardened. As soon as they began to raise scenes of strife in the synagogue, he ceased to teach there. He removed the disciples from the synagogue, forming a separate body, and taught daily in the school of one Tyrannus. Either a place where lectures were given on Greek philosophy, or, as some have supposed, a rabbinical school. One Greek New Testament manuscript says he taught "from the sixth to the tenth hour," specifying the hours that he had the use of the building.
10. Continued for two years. That is, for two years he used this building. His whole stay in Ephesus was three years (20:31). So that all they which dwelt in Asia. The Roman province of Asia of which Ephesus was the capital. It embraced only a part of Asia Minor. We know that Paul's preaching had a powerful effect (1) from the results upon those who practiced magic; (2) from the alarm of Demetrius (verse 24); (3) from the statement of Pliny, about forty years later, in his celebrated letter to Trajan, that Christianity had caused the temples of the gods to be deserted.
11, 12. God wrought special miracles. If miracles are wrought, it is always God's work, and he can work them as he wills. In this case, in order to magnify the name of his preacher, he let his power go with articles that were carried from Paul to the sick. The Lord, in his wisdom, can make use of any instrument he chooses.
13-16. Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists. Our Lord refers to these Jewish exorcists in Matt. 12:27. Josephus (Antiq. 8:2, 5) declares that certain Jews claimed to expel demons. He says that their knowledge of the art was derived from Solomon. These, witnessing the wonderful power of the name of Christ, thinking it a sort of incantation, took it upon themselves to use it instead of their usual formula. Seven sons of one Sceva. He is said to be "chief of the priests." Some think he was a chief ruler of the synagogue, but it is far more probable that he was a head of one of the twenty-four courses of priests (these heads were called "chief priests") who had been deposed for some cause and had wandered away from Palestine. 15, 16. And the evil spirit answered. The evil spirit spoke and acted by means of the man possessed. It is possible that in this instance the spirit was overruled so as to magnify the gospel preached by Paul. On this question of demoniacal possession, See notes on Matt. 8:29.
17-20. This was known to all the Jews and Greeks. Ephesus was a great seat of magical arts. This event would have a powerful effect on those who dealt in charms, incantations, and magic, and of course would exalt the name of Christ. Many that believed came. They had not been freed before from their old superstitions. If we are disposed to wonder at this, let us remember that there are Christians still who wear charms, watch signs, or go to fortune tellers. Which used curious arts. Magical arts. Brought their books together, and burned them. There was real repentance, and they brought forth its fruits. These books, alluded to by ancient writers, were manuscript volumes of charms, incantations, recipes for love philtres, and other things of similar character. They counted the price of them. If the "piece of silver" is the Attic drachma or Roman denarius, as is probable (about sixteen cents), the whole value would be about $8,000. These "books" had considerable money value on account of their rarity. So mightily grew the word of God. About this time the apostle wrote from Ephesus in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: "For a great and effectual door is opened unto me" (1 Cor. 16:9).
21, 22. After these things were ended. What has just been recorded. Paul purposed in the spirit. Had determined, after a journey into Macedonia and Greece, to visit the churches planted in his former tour, to return to Jerusalem, and then to see Rome. This was all carried out, but in a way that at this time he did not foresee. Sent into Macedonia. A band of missionaries always attended him and were sent where there seemed to be need. See 1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10. Erastus. Not before named, but mentioned also in Rom. 16:23, as "the chamberlain of Corinth."
23-34. No small stir about that way. Thus far his labors at Ephesus had been without violent opposition. We now have given the account of the events that led to his departure. A certain man named Demetrius, . . . made silver shrines. The temple of Diana at Ephesus was counted one of the wonders of the world. It was at this time (this was the third temple which had been built in succession) of white marble, 425 feet long by 220 wide, with 127 columns, and of surpassing wealth and splendor. It contained an image said to have fallen from heaven (verse 35). It was visited by thousands of pilgrims, and a great industry grew up in making miniature representations of the temple, of wood, gold, or silver. This was the work of Demetrius and his fellow-workers. After paganism fell, much of the material of this temple was transported to Constantinople, and was used in the construction of the church of St. Sophia. Sirs. Observe the argument of Demetrius: (1) By this craft we have our wealth; (2) Paul teaches that these are not gods that are made with hands; (3) therefore our craft is in danger; (4) the great goddess Diana is despised; (5) great is Diana of the Ephesians! The prime incentive of his religious zeal is that his craft is in danger. Many are like him still. The whole city was filled with confusion. Nothing would more quickly arouse a mob than the belief that both their business and religion were assailed. Having caught Gaius. A Macedonian. Aristarchus. Of Thessalonica. They rushed with one accord into the theatre. The remains of the theatre are still to be seen. It was of vast extent, and would seat, as its remains show, from 20,000 to 30,000 persons. It was the custom to use the theatre, not only for amusements, but for public assemblies. The disciples suffered him not. Paul's intrepidity and zeal would have led him to appear in person to reply to the charges, but the Ephesian disciples thought that he would be sacrificed to the rage of the mob. The chief of Asia. The chief officials of the province. These men, called Asiarchs, were ten in number, and were chosen annually from the chief towns of the province called Asia to preside over games and festivals. The president of their body always lived in Ephesus. These men were his friends. Possibly in sympathy with the gospel. We have many instances in the life of Paul in which the great Roman officials treat him with not only respect, but sympathy. They drew Alexander out of the multitude. A Jew, evidently of great prominence, and put forward by the Jews, in order to disavow Paul, and to turn the tumult to their advantage. They wished to shift all blame on the Christians. The Gentile aversion to Jews was, however, too great to allow him a hearing.
35-40. And when the townclerk had appeased the people. Stopped their foolish outcry so that he could be heard. This town clerk, or recorder, was an officer of great influence in the Grecian cities of Asia. He stood next in rank to the officer that we now call the mayor, and in the absence of the latter acted for him. His address was a very judicious one. The image which fell down from Jupiter. It was a common superstition that some hideous image worshiped in a heathen temple had fallen from heaven. Some of them were meteoric stones, of others the origin was unknown, and the delusion was in part due to the deception of the priests. The Palladium of Troy, the Diana of Tauris, and the Pallas of Athena were all said to have fallen. 37. These men. Gaius and Aristarchus (see verse 29), men against whom there was no charge. They were neither robbers of temples (see the Revision) nor blasphemers of Diana. If Demetrius. If they have anything to charge there are courts of justice. Deputies. Proconsuls. We are in danger. The Roman law made it a capital offence to incite a riot, nor did the Roman officials wink at any disturbance in the provinces. Ephesus was what was called "a free city;" that is, it governed itself in local matters. It might have its liberties taken away for just such occurrences as those of this day.