September 27, 2015

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV: The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts 13-28)   

                    

Subtopic D: The Third Missionary Journey (18:23-21:14) 

                

       Sub-subtopic 3: Paul in Ephesus (19:1-41) 

                                    

                          

Lesson: IV.D.3.h: Demetrius and the Riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41)                      

 

   

 

 

Acts 19:23-41 (KJV)

 

23 And the same time there arose no small stir about that way.

24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen;

25 Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth.

26 Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands:

27 So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.

28 And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.

29 And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.

30 And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not.

31 And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre.

32 Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused: and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.

33 And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defence unto the people.

34 But when they knew that he was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.

35 And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?

36 Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly.

37 For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess.

38 Wherefore if Demetrius, and the craftsmen which are with him, have a matter against any man, the law is open, and there are deputies: let them implead one another.

39 But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly.

40 For we are in danger to be called in question for this day's uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse.

41 And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Luke had one more story to tell of Paul’s time spent in Ephesus, before he could begin the narrative of Paul’s third missionary journey.  He could not leave Ephesus without relating the story of the silversmiths’ riot.  The fact that it was a good story would have been reason enough to include it.  But for Luke there was the added benefit of reinforcing his earlier point that the Christian faith and the Roman state were compatible, as borne out by the attitude of the Asiarchs[1] and the city clerk (see the discussion on 18:1-17).  Incidentally, this story reveals an accurate knowledge of the municipal institutions of Ephesus.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

23 And the same time there arose no small stir about that way.

24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen;

 

Diana of the Ephesians was not the virtuous huntress known to Greek mythology but a monstrous obscenity, an image gross and repelling, whose rites were extremely lustful and wicked.  She was really the goddess Artemis, the ancient mother goddess of Asia Minor.  Her temple at Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  The ugly image of Artemis enthroned in that temple was supposed to have come down from heaven and is believed to have been a meteorite rough-shaped to resemble a many-breasted woman. She was served by troops of priestesses whose function was to pander to the carnal lusts of the image’s worshippers. There is no doubt that the worship of Artemis, the universal mother of creation, was widespread and that her worship was accompanied by rites that were both immoral and wrong.

 

The temple of Artemis was a great pagan temple, and it was a hub of Ephesian economic life.  It was the bank of that day.  It was also the center of sin.  Gross immorality took place around it. It is true that religion can go to a lower level than anything else.  It was the largest Greek temple that was ever built.  It was beautiful and was adorned with works of art.  It was an impressive building, octagonal in shape, some 165 feet by 345 feet in dimension, and built on a platform 240 by 420 feet.  The entire structure was elaborately adorned in brilliant colors of gold leaf.  The altar area was 20 feet square and contained a massive image of the goddess with a veiled head, with animals and birds decorating her head and lower body and enormous breasts from her waist to her neck.  The animals and breasts were symbolic of her status as the ancient Asian Mother Goddess, the goddess of nature who was believed to protect and preserve the fertility of all living things.  Instead of mortar, gold is reputed to have been used between the joints of the marble blocks.

 

The last weeks of Paul’s stay in Ephesus were marked by one of those “dangers in the city” of which he writes about in 2 Corinthians 11:26 (NIV)—“I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; IN DANGER IN THE CITY, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.” A certain Demetrius instigated a riot because of the “Way.” Christianity had no name for the churches at that time—certainly no denominational name.  It was simply called “that way.” It was a new way, that is certain.  The way was the Lord Jesus whom Himself said “. . . I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me (John 14:6). Demetrius was a silversmith whose workshop produced silver shrines of Artemis (v. 24)—the manufacture of such shrines was common practice—competing in the very lucrative trade that Ephesus had in such things.  Pilgrims would purchase them for use in their own home altars or as a supplicatory offering to be presented to the temple.  There were also model temples in terra-cotta and marble, but it is not surprising that none have been found in silver, for the reason that their considerable metallic value would have made them a prime target for the melting pots looters through the centuries.  Demetrius was probably in this business in a big way, but his taking the lead now may not have been for that reason alone, but because he was master of the guild of silversmiths for that year.

 

The impact of Christianity at Ephesus was so great that sales of those useless images had fallen drastically, much to the alarm of the guild.  No greater comment could be made on the wholesome nature of Christianity than the way it cleaned up the moral and religious sewer of the ancient world.  No greater comment could be made on human greed and wickedness than that it was that very thing that infuriated the silversmiths and, through them, the populous of the city.  Entrenched wickedness is always militant against the Gospel, when once the Gospel begins to make an impact in cleaning up society.

 

Demetrius was one of the instigators of the riot which was about to occur.  This uproar was fueled by the fact that it was the month of May.  It was the time of the great gatherings throughout Proconsular Asia, of those who worshipped Diana (Artemis).  The month of May was called the Artemisian, because it was the month devoted to those great religious assemblies in honor of Artemis; and the gatherings were described as the Ephesia. 

 

The primary inspiration of the opposition of Demetrius was that vested interests were suffering.  No attack had been made upon the craft, but the receipts were less. The popularity of the goddess Artemis was on the decline and profits were down.  That is the whole story.  There was a secondary reason, which must be given for the sake of decency and appearance, that religion was being threatened.  Demetrius’ in that private meeting of the craftsmen said to them (vs. 25-27).

 

 

25 Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth.

26 Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands:

27 So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.

 

Demetrius decided to take action.  He summoned a meeting of the guild and put the problem to his colleagues.  “Either Christianity must be stopped or we’ll go bankrupt,” he said.  “It is this fellow Paul,” probably said with a sneer, “who is causing all the trouble.” Paul was said to be leading astray (literally, “seducing”) all the people in Ephesus and throughout Asia, denying that idols were real Gods. Demetrius, for all intents and purposes, confessed that the apostolic preaching was successful; that wonderful victories were being won in Ephesus itself, and through that whole region of Proconsular Asia, which Paul had so longed to evangelize.  This is the second time in Acts where persecution against the Gospel was instigated by Gentiles.  Both times, financial interests were involved.  Luke left no doubt that Demetrius’ real concern was the damage Paul’s preaching was doing to his economic interests.  In an effort to find some scapegoat to blame for the loss, Demetrius selected Paul and attributed the increasing unpopularity of the godless Artemis to the radical preaching the apostle.

 

In all fairness to Demetrius, his argument was not without merit.  Paul did preach forcefully against idolatry and was indeed a threat to anyone who made a living from idols.  He was likewise a genuine threat to the Artemis cult[2].  He considered not only her images but the goddess herself as “no god at all.” The continued preaching of Paul was bound to injure the reputation of Artemis and degrade her significance throughout the world.  But one should not miss the real point of Demetrius’s opposition.  It was not his piety that was offended but his pocketbook.

 

“He called together . . . the workmen of like occupation.” Why have a meeting? Demetrius’ purpose was to involve all the related trades in a protest demonstration against the Christians.  The time may have been the Artemisia, when the city was flooded with visitors and the religious and national feeling was running high.  A meeting was called, and it is clear from the outset that as far as Demetrius and his colleagues were concerned, economic considerations were uppermost. This incident gives us the Apostle’s second experience with purely Gentile opposition. The whole scene has a different nature than that of former hostilities, and reminds us that we have passed into Europe. The accusers and the grounds of accusation are new. Formerly Jews had led the attack; now Gentiles are the instigators. Crimes against religion were charged before; now crimes against law and order.

 

The silversmith put his finger on what was to them the main point of Paul’s preaching, namely, that man-made gods are no gods at all (17:29).  In a place like Ephesus, Paul must have often returned to this theme and with good effect, for he had succeeded in convincing large numbers of people, both in Ephesus and elsewhere in the province (v. 26).  In fact, he had probably made inroad on the worship of Artemis and, for that matter, on Demetrius’s trade.  The silversmiths were concerned only with the danger that he might pose and that their business would lose its good name (i.e., for promoting idolatry).  His appeal to the religious feelings of the Ephesians was ineffective, but he knew that though they may not have cared much about his business, they did care about Artemis. 

 

Jesus, by working through Paul had won many victories: “Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people.”  Now let us consider the means of these victories.  How did the Word of the Lord grow mightily and prevail?  First, by the presence in Ephesus of one man, wholly and absolutely at the disposal of his Lord and Master.  In Ephesus he bore testimony, he preached, he talked.  He was therefore at the disposal of his Lord and Master as an instrument for the working of remarkable signs.  He did not attempt to work miracles in Ephesus.  Christian Apostle’s never did; but they were at the disposal of God when He desired to work some sign through them.

 

The Word of God grew mightier, because God wrought special signs suited to special needs.  Do not let us imagine that these signs are needed today.  If they are not present, it is because they are not needed.  God never works signs in order to make His apostle’s notorious or popular; but only where peculiar circumstances demand such signs. And again, the Word of God grew and prevailed through a purified Church. The Church brought its secret books and burned them, and then the Word grew and prevailed.

 

Now let’s observe the nature of that growth.  The victories won were the victories of a positive, acting as a negative.  When the town clerk dealt with the matter, he said—and it was merely the statement of a common truth—these men are no “robbers of Temples, nor blasphemers of our goddess.” These men had not broken into the temples and robbed them of wealth. These men had held no meetings for the denunciation of the worship of Diana.  How, then, did the victories come about?  Why did Demetrius call together his craftsmen?  Because the sale of the silver shrines of Diana was falling off.  How was that to be accounted for?  Not by denouncing shrines, but by changing the souls of men and women so that they did not need shrines to Diana, thus the victory was won.  Men and women in Ephesus who were themselves shrines of Deity, did not need the shrines to Diana. Men and women in Ephesus who knew fellowship with God by the Holy Spirit, certainly would not spend their money on these silver shrines.

 

 

28 And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.

29 And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.

 

Demetrius was a demagogue[3] who knew how to work up an audience, but he did not act on his own, for he had a powerful helper. Satan incited the guild of silversmiths to stage a public protest against Paul and the Gospel.  Paul May have been referring to this riot when he wrote, “I have fought with beasts at Ephesus” (1 Corinthians 15:32).  The enemy had been repeatedly defeated throughout Paul’s three years of ministry in Ephesus.  It would have been a masters broke on Satan’s part to climax that ministry with a city-wide attack that could result in Paul’s arrest, or even his death.

 

Wherever the Gospel is preached with power, it will be opposed by people who make money from superstition and sin.  Paul did not arouse the opposition of the silversmiths by picketing the temple of Diana or staging anti-idolatry rallies; all he did was teach the truth daily and send out his converts to witness to the lost people in the city.  As more and more people got converted fewer and fewer customers were available.

 

Nothing will whip up passions more quickly than religion.  Just let people get the idea that their religion is threatened, and there is no limit to the lengths they will go.  The crowd, on hearing him were furious and began [or “kept on”] shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” The craftsmen themselves caught fire first, and their rage knew no bounds.  They may have been meeting in a hall belonging to one of the guilds, but now we must picture them spilling out into the street (as the Western text has it) and making their way through the city, still shouting and gathering more people as they went.  Reason was now dethroned; blind passion road high.  No one can argue with a mob.  The theater was their objective—the usual place for public meetings in most towns and in this instance well-placed to incite them still further, for the Temple of Artemis could be seen from the theater.  On their way, the people seized “Gaius and Aristarchus,” Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia (v. 29). The latter was from Thessalonica and was later to travel with Paul to Jerusalem (20:4).  Paul refers to him in his epistles (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 23) as a fellow prisoner, so he may have been imprisoned with Paul in Ephesus.  “Gaius” has sometimes been identified with the “Gaius” who was also a member of that party, but as the text of 20:4 stands, that man was a Galilean and, not a Macedonian.  We are not told whether the mob met these two by chance and seized them as well-known Christians, or whether they deliberately searched for the missionary team and took these two when they could not find Paul. At last, they reached their destination, and the mob rushed into the theatre—an open-air amphitheater, built on the western slope of Mount Pion—the largest public building in Ephesus. 

 

 

30 And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not.

31 And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre.

 

When Paul learned what had happened, he wanted to face “the demos” (demonstrators) himself, though they were less like a citizens’ assembly, and more like a wild mob (compare 1 Corinthians 15:32).  The apostle revealed his natural courage and sense of fair play.  Not for a moment would he allow his friends to bear the brunt of rage that, if at all, should be vented against him.  No matter how great the personal peril involved, he determined to face the mob himself.  But the disciples would not let him (v. 30), and some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul—described here as “certain of the chief of Asia—added their voice to the others, begging him not to venture into the theatre (v. 31).  These officials were the Asiarchs; people of wealth and position who presided over public festivals and games and who often personally defrayed the expenses of such functions; and each Asiarch strove to outdo his predecessor in the splendor of his games.  They were not strictly officials of the province, but in a broader sense were very much part of the establishment, and it is noteworthy that these men were to be found among Paul’s friends.  Probably like so many of that day and age, they knew only too well the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of pagan, idolatrous religion.  Paul’s gospel made a powerful appeal to them, particularly because it was surprisingly free from those aspects of Judaism so repugnant to Gentiles.  An Asiarch’s term of office was one year (reappointment was possible), but a retiring Asiarch was evidently permitted to retain the title.  Thus a city like Ephesus might have had a number of Asiarchs, but only one man at a time could serve in that office.

 

Between the pleas of his disciples and the persuading of the friendly Asiarchs, Paul was restrained from venturing into the theatre.  Here is a case where friendship took prior claim over religious differences, and that may have saved his life.  Paul would have been mobbed, of course.  He would absolutely have been killed.  He already had one experience like that over in the Galatian country when he was stoned in Lystra.  We also get an insight into an attitude of Paul’s which we could well afford to imitate in our own day.  His religious convictions did not blind him with prejudice to preclude friendly relations with pagans who practiced emperor worship.  That some of these Asiarchs were friends of Paul would signal politically that Paul’s teaching and Christianity as a whole were religiously legal and not a threat to Rome.

 

 

32 Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused: and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.

 

Luke uses here the technical term for a meeting of the demos (Gk. ekklesia[4]), but their behavior contradicted the name, and in the following verses he reverts to “the crowd.”  Most of them did not even know why they were there, but in any case “kept on shouting” one thing or another; there was confusion.  The universal chant soon degenerated into indiscriminate shouting.  Some would be shouting for Artemis.  Some would be shouting anti-Semitic slogans.  Some would have picked up the name of Paul and would be cursing him vehemently.  Some would be shouting down Christianity, which was by now a well-known and powerful force in the city.  Soon the arena was filled with a yelling, disorderly mob, each person picking up a line or two of the prevailing, deafening hullabaloo. It all goes to show that one lie, multiplied by ten thousand voices, never becomes a truth.

 

 

33 And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defence unto the people.

34 But when they knew that he was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.

 

Evidently the Jews feared that the sentiments of the mob would soon degenerate into the old Gentile sport of Jew-baiting.  And perhaps they feared that a riot might ensue, as it did so often, resulting in an attack upon themselves, because of their known hostility to idolatry.  Anti-Semitism was never far from the surface in the Gentile world, as the Jews knew only too well. But this was the one interested party that did try to make its view heard, though exactly how Alexander fits into the picture is not clear.  (Is he Alexander the metal worker of 2 Timothy 4:14, or the heretical teacher of 1 Timothy 1:19, or some other prominent Jew?) It is probably the case that this Alexander was a prominent member of the Jewish community and well-known in the city.  There are uncertainties as to both text and translation, but we should probably regard him as acting on instructions from the Jews and attempting to speak on their behalf to distance them from the Christians.  But he seemed to think that by a wave of his hand he could gain the attention of the mob.  He was mistaken, for when Alexander motioned with his hand, indicating that he wanted to speak—the crowd recognized him as a Jew (by his clothing?). 

 

The scene with Alexander the Jew only added to the confusion.  What was his role, and why did the Jews push him forward to address the crowd?  Very likely it was to disassociate the Jews from the Christians.  The Jews wanted the crowd to know that they had done nothing to impugn Artemis, that they were no threat to the Ephesian cult.  Whatever his purpose in getting before the crowd, Alexander had no opportunity to speak, for word flashed around the arena that a Jew was trying to make himself heard. The response was instant and sustained. No detested Jew was going to speak to them.  Again the original chant swelled until it could be heard all over the city: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” They shouted him down—bearing out the wisdom of Paul’s friends in keeping him from the theater. And for about 2 hours the crowd kept up the cry that someone had started in the earlier meeting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”  They may have regarded this chanting itself as an act of worship.  The noise must have been deafening.  The acoustics of the theater are excellent even today and at that time were even better because of bronze and clay sounding vessels placed throughout the auditorium (compare 1 Corinthians 13:1).

 

 

35 And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?

36 Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly.

37 For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess.

 

Alexander may not have been able to seize the crowd’s attention.  The town clerk, however, had no difficulty quieting the commotion and gaining control.  This translation of his title (which Luke has used correctly) is deceptive, since he was actually the highest civic official in Ephesus.  His standing is attested by coins and inscriptions.  He was the chief magistrate of the city, and his speech has just that hint of contempt for the crowd and consciousness of his own authority that one would expect in such a man.  Ephesus had its own city government which was the demos (an assembly of the voting citizens of Ephesus), the assembly (ecclesia) had three meetings a month.  The town clerk was the secretary for the meeting and the convener[5]. He presided over both the counsel of city magistrates and the public assembly and was the liaison officer between the city and the Roman provincial administration.  He probably wore some kind of official robe, which would catch the eye of the mob and let it know that it now had to deal not with a Jew or some other private orator, but with the powers that be.  Behind the city official, unseen perhaps but clearly implied by his very presence, was Roman power.  The velvet glove of the city official could easily be replaced by the mailed fist of imperial might.  His main concern was that the disturbance would make an adverse impression on the Roman officials, possibly leading to restrictions on their self-governing privileges.  For the moment the mob was sober and silenced, and the capable city recorder wasted no time in addressing it.

 

The speech of the town clerk reads like an apology for the Christian movement against the false charges of the populous.  He began by noting the close ties between the city and the temple—which he hoped may smooth their ruffled vanity.  Although 13 cities in Asia had an interest in the temple, yet that sacred building was the solemn responsibility of the Ephesians.  Ephesus, he declared, was universally acclaimed as the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven.  The latter reference is, perhaps, to a meteorite, which had been taken to be the image of the goddess (perhaps long before the Greeks had settled the city).  Similar cases can be found elsewhere, most notably in the temple of Cybele at Pessinus.  Admittedly, we have no evidence that a stone was preserved at Ephesus, but it is difficult to know what other meaning to give to, “fallen from heaven.” This may have been the city clerk’s answer to the Christian attack on “man-made gods” (v.26).  The image, he implied, was not made with hands; it fell from the sky.  But having uttered this gentle rebuke (if that is what it was), he saw that there was nothing more to be done with the Christians.  No specific charges had been made against Gaius and Aristarchus and, as far as the clerk knew there was no reason to think that there should be.  They had not robbed temples, which in the ancient world served as a safe place for deposits, nor had they blasphemed the goddess.  It is ironic that an inscription of this reveals how the vast wealth deposited in the temple of Artemis found its way by bribery and corruption into the hands of the city officials.  The town clerk might have feared that this disorderly meeting in the theater on the subject of the temple of Artemis might lead to a close scrutiny of temple affairs.

 

The town clerk as a politician was wholly and absolutely admirable.  I have no quarrel with him.  I’d like to listen to his speech, to his sarcastic rebuke of this shouting match. In effect he said?  What you say is quite true—Diana is great, and therefore there is no need to shout!  When men get together and shout the same thing, we may be perfectly sure that there is some doubt about the matter.

 

He quieted the crowd with three observations.  First, Ephesus’s reputation was secure; they had no need to worry.  Second, the Christians were innocent of any direct crime against Artemis or the temple.  Third, they should take their complaints to the regular courts, because the town’s illegal assembly could only lead to trouble. 

 

After the clerk had succeeded in quieting the crowd, he came down to earth.  He turned a cold eye on Demetrius, and reminded him and the now-sobered assembly that there was a rule of law in Ephesus.  It was not Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul, or anyone else who had broken the law, but Demetrius and the craftsmen.  It was a chilling reminder to the rabble-rouser that he stood on very thin ice indeed.  If he or anyone else felt they had a legitimate case against someone, the thing to do was to appeal to the courts, not stir up riotous passions.  Demetrius had nothing to say.  His brave words before his colleagues and cronies evaporate before the cold eye of Roman officialdom.

 

Throughout the book of Acts, Luke makes it clear that the persecution of the Christian church was incited by the unbelieving Jews and not by the Romans.  If anything, Paul used his Roman citizenship two protect himself, his friends, and the local assemblies. 

 

I wonder how much this man (town clerk) understood the force of what he said: “These men are neither robbers of temples, nor blasphemers of our goddess.” I do not know whether he saw further than that; but the deduction from it was that the spiritual forces were going to win (not these men), and all the shouting could not prevent it. He showed the mob the true method for dealing with the problem by reminding them of the two courses open to them.  Had it been a trade dispute, they could take their case to the courts (v. 38); if it was a town matter or a municipal matter, they could take it to the ecclesia, that assembly of free men which have to deal with all such matters.  He reminded them also that they were in danger.  Though Ephesus was free, it might lose its freedom unless they could give a satisfactory account of this riot.  He was a wholly admirable town clerk; but he had one really serious issue facing him—the city clerk knew that his job and possibly his life would be in danger if news of a riot got back to Rome. 

 

 

38 Wherefore if Demetrius, and the craftsmen which are with him, have a matter against any man, the law is open, and there are deputies: let them implead one another.

 

The proper course, he said, was for Demetrius and the others to take any complaint they had to the appropriate authorities on the days appointed for such things (literally, “market days”).  The clerk’s reference was to the courts presided over by the provincial governor or his deputies, who traveled around the principle cities of the province for that purpose.  Again Luke has used the correct title (in Greek) for the governor of the senatorial province, but he has used it in the plural.  This has excited a good deal of comment.  It may be nothing more than a general comment: “There are such people as proconsuls.” Or it may be a suggestion by the town clerk that if the people had any other complaint, it could be settled in the regular assembly. Yet it may describe what the case was actually.  In the bottom of a.d. 54, two emissaries of Nero, Celer and Aelius, poisoned the proconsul of Asia, M. Junius Silvanus, at the instigation of the empress, Agrippina, and governed the province together until their replacement arrived in the summer of a.d. 55. Celer and Aelius may have been the “proconsuls” of this verse, and their time in office at such a time of unrest as the silversmiths’ protest could have taken the form that it did.

 

 

39 But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly.

40 For we are in danger to be called in question for this day's uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse.

41 And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.

 

In the absence of the courts, Demetrius could bring his case, if he had one, to the public assembly.  But the clerk was careful to stress that it should be a “legal meeting of the citizens.” Under the best of circumstances, the Romans did not view these assemblies with any favour, and if they were found to be in blatant disregard of law and order, the Romans were just as likely to withdraw completely the right to hold them.  As it was, these meetings were strictly controlled as to when they could be held, so this present gathering was highly irregular.  The clerk then settled his argument.  The Ephesians were running the danger of being charged with insurrection, since they really had no legally valid basis for their unruly behavior.  If the Romans should inquire about it, the Ephesians themselves were in danger of prosecution.  These words had a sobering effect on the crowd and the clerk was able to disperse them without further ado.  No doubt, the people went home congratulating themselves that they had succeeded in defending their great city and their famous goddess.  It is doubtful that many of them questioned the truthfulness of their religion or determined to investigate what Paul had been preaching for three years.  It is much easier to believe a lie and follow the crowd. As far as we know Demetrius took the matter no further.  This was another triumph for Paul and another legal endorsement for the Gospel, duly recorded by the sacred historian.

 

One can see in this episode a theme that will continue to recur in the subsequent narratives of Acts—the innocence of the Christians with respect to the civil law.  Paul was never found guilty by any Roman official.  On the contrary, even if only indirectly, they pled his case, as with the friendly Asiarchs and the town clerk in this instance.

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Asiarch: From Asia and arche; one of a group of civil and priestly officials in the Roman province of Asia who presided over the public games and religious rites.  They were specially connected with the worship of the Roman emperor.

[2] That Ephesus did not take threats to the Artemis cult lightly is evidenced by an inscription found there, dating from several centuries b.c., which pronounces death on forty-five people from Sardis who maltreated an emissary from the temple of Artemis. 

[3] Demagogue is the name given a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.

[4] Ekklesia: The Greek word ekklesia speaks of a secular assembly of people, in this case a mob in action.

[5] Convener: a person who convenes or chairs a meeting, committee, etc., especially one who is specifically elected to do so: a convener of shop stewards.

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