This June 26, 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 (18:23-19:19) 


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



         Lesson: IV.D.3.b: In the Synagogue & School of Tyrannus (Acts 13:8-10)




Acts 19:8-10 (KJV)


8 And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.

9 But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.

10 And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.





Paul, during his long and varied ministry, remained longer at Ephesus than at any other city.  This short passage gives the account of his time spent there, and refers to two periods; first, a period of three months, during which he reasoned in the synagogue; and secondly, two years during which he reasoned in the school of Tyrannus.  Writing to the Corinthian Christians from this city, Paul said that he planned to tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost; and he gave his reason for this tarrying: “for a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9).


To this city of Ephesus, wealthy, profoundly religious, with a religion that was in itself worse than an absolute absence of it, the apostle came.  There were many adversaries; adversaries among his own brethren in the synagogue, as he revealed in his subsequent appeal to the elders at Miletus; adversaries not so much among the ruling classes, as among those whose trades were interfered with; adversaries principally in that worship which had so remarkable a manifestation in the evil courses and habits of the eunuch-priests and virgin-priestesses.  It was to the Church at Ephesus Paul wrote: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).


At Ephesus, the apostle was occupied with making tents.  That fact does not appear in this passage, but when the elders of Ephesus came to meet him at Miletus, he said, “I coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel.  Ye yourselves know that these hands ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me” (Acts 20:33-34).  He was not only the tent-maker, not only the logical and brilliant evangelist, but the pastor of the flock teaching with tears, admonishing; watching, with jealous and zealous love, the growth of those who bore the name of Christ.





8 And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.


Paul began in Ephesus where he always began, in the synagogue.  Jesus began there.  It was the natural place to begin.  One would naturally assume that a religious message would have the best chance among religious people.  The synagogues were filled with the most religious people of their day and it was natural that both Jesus and Paul should begin there.  However, both Jesus and Paul were disappointed.  Jesus was driven out of the synagogue and preached out of doors.  In town after town Paul left the synagogue in desperation and went to more responsive groups.  What is it about religious people, church people that makes them so blind to new truth, and so unresponsive to new truth, and so unresponsive to new life?


Paul had already met the people in the Ephesian SYNAGOGUE and had been asked to stay—“When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined” (Acts 18:20).  Paul sowed the seed; Aquila and Priscilla had been there cultivating the ground, and Apollos had ministered effectively among the Jews, watering the seed.  The time was ripe for apostolic reaping.


For THREE MONTHS Paul had an open door in the Ephesian SYNAGOGUE—the same SYNAGOGUE he had preached in during his brief visit of Acts 18:19-20—much longer than usual.  It was after that that opposition became tenacious and threatening.  He used his customary approach of reasoning (he spoke to the intellects of the people) and PERSUADING (the word used means to speak with winning words).  His great theme was “THE KINGDOM OF GOD,” that is, that God’s rule could now be experienced in the Messiah, on the basis of the Messiah’s death for our sins and through faith in Him, with the idea also of future judgment by the Messiah. This was no different from his preaching elsewhere (see 17:31; 18:5), for his message was concerned with both Jesus and the kingdom (28:31[1]) and could be referred to in terms of either; but for some reason THE KINGDOM OF GOD may have especially characterized Paul’s preaching and teaching in Ephesus.  THE KINGDOM OF GOD was envisioned at the creation of man when GOD crowned Adam and said, “Let them have dominion” (Genesis 1:26).  The KINGDOM was ruined by the Fall when Adam surrendered his sovereignty to Satan.  All Adams posterity has been born as a consequence in the KINGDOM of darkness.  


The KINGDOM was long promised in Old Testament revelation.  It was presented to Israel when the King was born at Bethlehem, grew up, and was announced by His herald (John the Baptist).  He showed Himself in HIS wisdom, love, and power to Israel.  The KINGDOM was rejected by the Jews, and has gone underground, so to speak, being in “mystery” form today.  That is the KINGDOM for which we are to pray that it might come; the kingdom that will one day be manifested in glory and splendor, that will be set up on earth for a thousand years, and that will then endure forever.


The KINGDOM is centered in the King—the One who was crucified at Calvary and over whose head Pilate wrote the mocking title: “Jesus of Nazareth the king of the Jews” (John 19:19).  It is the KINGDOM which the Lord spoke about to Nicodemus when He said: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). It is the KINGDOM that today is inward rather than outward—“the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).


The Jews rejected both King and KINGDOM.  It is the KINGDOM Paul preached with persuasive power—THE KINGDOM OF GOD.  And we can be sure that he presented that KINGDOM in all the scope of both Old and New Testament revelation.


Some hold the false notion that what is meant by “THE KINGDOM GOD” is the establishment of the kingdom at the second coming of Christ.  This can hardly be true, because the Christian Gospel announces that the blessings of THE KINGDOM OF GOD have come to men in advance in the person of Jesus the Messiah: “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians1:13, KJV).



9 But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.


BUT WHEN DIVERS (“some”) WERE HARDENED, AND BELIEVED NOT (implying that others, probably a large number, believed.), BUT SPAKE EVIL OF THAT WAY BEFORE THE MULTITUDE.  The word used for “HARDENED” is the same word used for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (Romans 9:18) and for the way the nation of Israel HARDENED[2] its heart in unbelief in the wilderness and so missed out on the Promised Land, a whole generation perishing in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:8).  It was deliberate hardening in the face of convincing and irrefutable evidence of the power and purposes of God; they simply refused to believe.  In the Ephesian synagogue, the small group that refused to believe was probably able to influence the majority, so that in the end Paul had no option but to pull out, taking his converts with him.  The Christians were probably already holding separate meetings (18:19; 14:27). 


The expression “THE WAY” is peculiar to Acts (19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22) and may have originated with the Jews who saw the Christians as those who had adopted a distinctive way of life.  But it must have soon come into use among the Christians as a fitting way of describing themselves as the followers of Him who is the way: “Jesus saith unto him, I am THE WAY, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6). 


In the face of such evidence, presented by Paul in Holy Spirit power, the hard core of Ephesian synagogue Jews refused to believe.  They “BELIEVED NOT,” says the Holy Spirit, using an expression that first occurs in the New Testament in John 3:36, “He that BELIEVETH NOT the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” They expressed their unbelief by speaking EVIL of God’s revealed WAY of salvation through Christ, and by agitating the multitudes against the WAY.  Again the Holy Spirit uses a significant word, one used in Matthew 15:4[3], which warns that cursing one’s father or mother puts a person in danger of death. The rejection of Christ by the unbelieving Jews, then, followed a pattern of unbelief manifested elsewhere in Acts (14:2; 17:5), which was unjust and total.


HE DEPARTED FROM THEM, AND SEPARATED THE DISCIPLES, DISPUTING DAILY IN THE SCHOOL OF ONE TYRANNUS[4].  As soon as Jewish unbelief reached the stage of cursing Christ, Paul SEPARATED himself and his converts from the synagogue altogether.  He chose as his new meeting place the lecture hall of the well-known teacher in town, “ONE TYRANNUS.” What a name for a teacher; Tyrant!  Was that his real name or the nickname given to him by his students? According to some authorities, where a town had a large number of Jews, they organized a divinity school as well as a synagogue.  Possibly TYRANNUS was one of Paul’s Jewish converts who, when matters came to a head in the synagogue, put the facilities of his divinity school at Paul’s disposal.


It has been suggested by some that Paul used the building from 11 o’clock in the morning until 4 o’clock in the afternoon, during the heat of the day (no air conditioning in those days) when TYRANNUS would not be using the building himself.  That would normally be the time of the midday and afternoon siesta.  Thus Paul would labor at his tent-making in the early hours of the day (20:34) and would devote the siesta hours to teaching the Word to those who would come.  And come they did.  In addition to his public teaching in the hall of TYRANNUS (probably a large room/lecture hall or gymnasium), the apostle went from house to house instructing and admonishing the disciples in Ephesus—“You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house . . . So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears” (20:20, 31).



10 And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.


If at Ephesus Paul followed his usual policy of devoting his mission time to establishing a thriving evangelistic church in the city and encouraging his converts to get busy evangelizing the surrounding area.  We learn from Revelation 2 and 3 and elsewhere that churches were planted in Colossae and Hierapolis as well as in Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, though Paul himself does not seem to have visited them.  This gives us some concept of how the Word of God was growing in that day.  Apparently, from this vantage point, the church in Colossae came into existence before Paul wrote to the Colossians as he did to the Romans before he had visited them.  Yet he was the founder of those churches.  How could this be?  By the simple fact that from the school of TYRANNUS the gospel sounded fourth—it went out everywhere.  When the Corinthians wanted Paul to come over to them, he wrote to them, “For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:7-9).  For two to three years the Gospel sounded out so that everyone had heard it in the province of Asia.  Probably the seven churches of Asia came into existence through the preaching of Paul the apostle here at Ephesus.  This may have been where he had his greatest ministry.

Luke said that the witness in the hall of Tyrannous continued for a period of two years.  When this is added to the initial three months in the synagogue plus the “little longer” of verse 22, one arrives at the three years or so Paul later gave as the length of his Ephesian Ministry (20:31).  Truly the three years he spent at Ephesus were fruitful years.  An avid soul-winner and church planter himself, Paul infused his converts with the same missionary zeal. The result was THAT ALL (many; the sense in which ALL is used) . . . WHICH DWELT IN ASIA[5] HEARD THE WORD OF THE LORD JESUS, BOTH JEWS AND GREEKS.  Thus a great door and effectual was opened to Paul, even though there were many adversaries (1 Corinthians 16:9).  That Paul had many Jewish converts in Ephesus is confirmed by the large number of Jewish names in Romans 16, if that chapter is considered to be addressed to Ephesus.  Paul won friends even among the officials of the province (the principle citizens of Asia, v. 31).  Despite the many plots of the Jews, and the severe sufferings of that period, Paul was enabled to continue in Ephesus for a period covering from 2 to 3 years (19:20, 31; 20:19; 1 Corinthians 15:32).

It’s worth mentioning that Paul made no definitive statement to the Ephesian synagogue about turning exclusively to the Gentiles.  A number of the Ephesian Jews did become disciples, and Paul seems to have continue his witness to the Jews there after moving from the synagogue.  The Jews of Ephesus were evidently seriously divided over Christ.  On the one hand, there were those who became believers.  On the other, there were those who strongly opposed Paul.  It would indeed be some of these “Asian Jews” who would provoke mob action against Paul in Jerusalem (21:27). 





End Notes:


[1] (Acts 28:31, NIV) “He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!”

[2] The Greek word which has been translatedHARDENED always refers to defiance against God (Romans 9:18; Hebrews 3:8, 13, 15; 4:7).  Truth rejected leads to a hardened heart, causing the life-giving message of salvation to become “the aroma of death leading to death” (2 Corinthians 2:16).

[3] (Matthew 15:4, NIV) “‘For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’”

[4] We know nothing about TYRANNUS, but it is generally thought that he was a Greek who made his living by conducting classes in philosophy or rhetoric.  His appearance here unannounced is one of those pieces of otherwise pointless information that inspire confidence in Luke’s sources.

[5] Asia here is the western Roman province of Asia Minor.  Ephesus was the capital, where the Roman proconsul resided.  It was the chief Asian City in the promotion of emperor worship.