This July 8, 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.c: God Confirming Paul's Message by Miracles (Acts 19:11-12)




Acts 11-12 (KJV)


11 And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:

12 So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.





What a victorious ministry! It appears that everyone knew what Paul was saying and doing. For example, the news of Paul’s encounter with the seven sons of Sceva quickly spread and became common knowledge: “And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified . . . So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed” (19:17, 20). Even Paul’s enemies had to admit that the Word was spreading and people were being saved: “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” (Acts 19:26). Two factors made this possible; the witness of the believers as they went from place to place, and the “special miracles” God enabled Paul to perform in Ephesus.


In Bible history you will find three special periods of miracles: (1) the time of Moses; (2) the time of Elijah and Elisha; and (3) the time of Jesus and His Apostles. Each period lasted less than 100 years. Depending on how some of these events are classified, the total number of miracles for all three periods is less than 100. Of course, not all the miracles were recorded: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20: 30-31).


When our Lord performed miracles He usually had at least three purposes in mind: (1) to show His compassion and meet human needs; (2) to teach a spiritual truth; and (3) to present His credentials as the Messiah. The Apostles followed this same pattern in their miracles. In fact, the ability to do miracles was one of the truths of apostolic authority (Mark 16:20; Romans 15:18-19; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:1-4). Miracles of themselves do not save lost sinners (Luke 16:27-31; John 2:23-25). Miracles must be tied to the message of the Word of God.





11 And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:

12 So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.


Luke tells us very little about Paul’s years at Ephesus, but the little he does tell shows how great an impact Paul had on the city; at the same time, it portrays accurately the religious and moral atmosphere of the place.  At Ephesus, Hellenistic culture and philosophies had made a disastrous union with oriental superstition. The result was a city preoccupied with magic.  Paul must have deplored their superstitions, and yet the very interest of the Ephesians in magic gave the gospel an entry point. As elsewhere, Paul’s preaching in Ephesus was accompanied by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit (Romans 15:19; Acts 13:11; 14:3, 10; 16:18; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4), only here the miracles may have been unusually frequent and appear to have been extraordinary in character.  It was God, of course, who was doing them; Paul was simply the agent (literally, “BY THE HANDS OF PAUL,”). But the ordinary people were not concerned with these theological details.  As far as they were concerned, it was Paul who worked the miracles, and so he became a center of attention. 


AND GOD WROUGHT SPECIAL MIRACLES BY THE HANDS OF PAUL.  God enabled Paul to perform “SPECIAL MIRACLES” for two reasons: (1) because Ephesus was a center for the occult (Acts 19:18-19), and Paul was demonstrating God’s power right in Satan’s territory; and (2) to show that Paul was God’s messenger, since there was no completed New Testament in use to determine the truth of his message—“Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (2 Corinthians 12:12; also read Hebrews 2:3-4).  But keep in mind that wherever God’s people minister the truth, Satan sends a counterfeit to oppose the work.  Jesus taught this truth in His Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43); Peter experience it in Samaria (Acts 8:9); and Paul experienced it at Paphos (Acts 13:4-12).  Satan imitates whatever God’s people are doing, because he knows that the unsaved world cannot tell the difference—“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11: 13-15).


The “SPECIAL MIRACLES” that Paul performed were unique.  In other words, these “SPECIAL” MIRACLES were no ordinary or chance happenings.  The word the Holy Spirit uses for “MIRACLES” is “dunamis,”—meaning “mighty works,” mighty manifestations of power—it is the word from which we get our word dynamite.   God wrought SPECIAL MIRACLES by the hands of Paul.  He was exercising the gifts of an apostle.  Calling these particular miracles “SPECIAL” implies that Paul was not accustomed to such work.


There was evidently something unusual and extraordinary about these miracles.  They were intended, no doubt, to emulate the healing power of the Lords own garments (Mark 5:27; 6:56) and to parallel the influence of Peter’s shadow, as well as to enhance the authority of Paul’s evangelistic efforts at Ephesus.  Modern “healers” who offer to send healing “prayer clothes” through the mail to those who support their “ministry” should be treated with the skepticism they deserve.  This was a special miracle, special in every sense of the word, and not a miracle to be duplicated by others. 


SO THAT FROM HIS BODY WERE BROUGHT UNTO THE SICK HANDKERCHIEFS OR APRONS.  The word for “BODY” here is one of Luke’s medical words.  It is the usual word for skin, and it occurs only here in the New Testament.


The word for “HANDKERCHIEFS” is translated “napkin” in John 11:44, 20:7, and Luke 19:20, where it is used for the napkin bound around the face of Lazarus in the tomb and for the napkin placed on the face of the Lord Jesus in the tomb.  Literally it means “sweat cloth.” The word for “APRONS” refers to the linen aprons used by Paul in his tent-making.  The napkin would be the sweat rag he wore on his head and the apron would be the cloth he tied around his waist.  You could scarcely imagine two more commonplace articles to be used in conveying miraculous power.  It is the Holy Spirit’s way, perhaps, of acknowledging, blessing, and sanctifying those physical labors of Paul by which he supported himself in the ministry.


Remember that he was a tentmaker and this was a warm climate.  While he was working, he would be perspiring.  He would use these cloths, these handkerchiefs and aprons, to wipe his brow.  They were dirty.  They had his perspiration from his body on them.  People would come and pick up these dirty cloths and would be healed of their diseases!  In that area there were the mystery religions which used white garments and emphasized that everything must be very clean and white.  Everything had to be just so.  It seems that God Was rebuking all of that sort of thing.  He used these dirty, sweaty cloths to heal people. 


This reveals the special power that was granted to the apostle Paul.  As far as I know, this is the only incident like this that ever took place—including the day in which we live. Paul’s dirty, sweaty cloths had no magical powers in themselves.  Certainly this is no basis for people trying to repeat such miracles today.   It is almost blasphemous for anyone to send out a little handkerchief and claim there is a power in it.  Paul’s handkerchief was an old sweat cloth.  God used that to rebuke the heathen, pagan religions of that day.  Diseases were healed and evil spirits went out of them when they picked up these dirty, sweaty cloths.  The mention of evil spirits links this portion with the next incident we shall study (Acts 19:13-20). 


It would be easy to dismiss this practice as simply reflecting the Ephesians’ superstitious outlook and to explain the healing as due to some other, more proper means (not mentioned) of appropriating God’s grace.  But in fairness to Luke’s text, the implication is that it was by contact with the cloths that THE DISEASES DEPARTED FROM THEM.  No need to go to a doctor, no need to enter the hospital.  Sicknesses of all kinds were simply healed.  Coughs and cancer, angina, arthritis, and appendicitis, tooth aches and tummy aches, lupus and leprosy, mumps and measles, dropsy, diphtheria, or deliriums—it made no difference.  The fact that the medical science of the day could neither diagnose nor name most of the sicknesses that assail the human race did not matter at all.  Luke the physician says: “THE DISEASES DEPARTED,” and that was that. 


The word Luke used for “DEPARTED” literally means to be delivered or set free.  It occurs on only two other occasions in the New Testament.  When Jesus told of a man being brought before the magistrate, He said, “Give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him” (Luke 12:58).  And the writer of Hebrews tells us that the Lord died that “through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15 ).  People touched by Paul’s sweat cloths were supernaturally set free from their sicknesses.  They were delivered.  The sickness just departed from them.  One moment they were in bondage to it; the next moment it was gone, they were free.  This amazing miracle is parallel to Acts 5:12-16 where Peter’s shadow possesses the same power, and is reminiscent of the healing hem of Jesus’ garment (Mark 5:27-34; 6:56).  In any event, the miracles wrought by the apostles are never presented as ends in themselves but always as opportunities, assistance to faith and commitment.  That is true in the present instance.  The power of God manifest in Paul’s miracles ultimately led to the Ephesians overcoming their magic and superstitions—“And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed. (19:17-20).

The Ephesians set great store by amulets and charms (19:18), and now, by these “SPECIAL MIRACLES,” they were being taught that in Paul’s God there was a greater power than they had ever known before.  In itself this was not enough.  But it was a first step toward “believing without seeing”—“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).  The belief that mystical power could be transmitted through “things” was widespread in the ancient world; however, there is no suggestion that Paul ever encouraged or condoned what they were doing. 

Modern “faith healers” would have much more credibility if they would heal people so completely and convincingly and indiscriminately as Paul did. 

AND THE EVIL SPIRITS WENT OUT OF THEM. The same thing happened to those who were in bondage to evil spirits.  Why sweat cloths from Paul’s body should drive out demons no one knows.  They did.  Paul was probably at his zenith at this time.  The church he founded at Ephesus was, in many ways, the greatest of them all.  As we read his epistle to the Ephesians we can see what a high spiritual tone characterized that church —Ephesians is perhaps the grandest of all Paul’s letters.  Also, his talk to the Ephesian elders reflects the high tone of Paul’s spiritual life (Acts 20:17-38).  Certainly it was not the sweat cloths that had any sanctity; the sanctity was in the life of the Spirit-filled apostle. 


Certainly, the miracles were wonderful manifestations of the power of GOD, and of His love for His greatest creation; and yet, the supreme triumphs were not the healings, but the spiritual wonders wrought in those who were made children of God, and brought to a high morality of life.  Yet for the capture of these people, and their convincing, it was shown them that the wonders that they associated with an evil form of religion could be wrought, and were wrought, in the Name, the holy Name, which this man taught and preached.