August 21, 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.e: Mass Repentance (Acts 19:18-19)



Acts 19:18-19 (KJV)


18 And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.

19 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.






18 And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.

19 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.


Ephesus was reputed to be the center for magic.  The famous statue of Artemis, the centerpiece of her temple, was noted for the mysterious terms engraved on the crown, sash, and feet of the image.  Referred to as the “Ephesian scripts,” this magical gibberish was considered to have great power.  It was not by accident that Paul’s encounter with magic took place in Ephesus, nor is it a surprise that his converts there had been involved in such practices.  Magicwas part of the Ephesian culture, and it gave Satan a hold on the city.


The Greek word used for “CURIOUS ARTS” is interesting.  The only other place it occurs in the New Testament is in 1 Timothy 5:13, where it is translated “busybodies.” It means going beyond that which is legitimate.  It means doing with care and pains that which is not worth the trouble and effort.  It means to meddle.  This is the word the Holy Spirit uses to describe the involvement of the Ephesian people in the world of magic and sorcery (In sorcery, people by the assistance of demons sought to gain power over others.).  It was not only going beyond limits set by God, it was not worth it.  It promised more than it could deliver. That is Satan’s way, especially in the world of the occult.  We need to remember that, especially today when there is a resurgence of interest in witchcraft, spiritism (Spiritism assumes that humans are essentially immortal spirits that temporarily inhabit physical bodies.), astrology, Satanism, and demonology.  God has expressly forbidden any tampering with these things.  He knows not only their deceitful, deceptive, and disappointing nature but their danger as well.


Some of the believers had come into the church at Ephesus and had continued to practice magic secretly.  When they got the word about the misfortune and suffering of the sons of Sceva, they determined to sever their connections with the “CURIOUS ARTS.”  The tense of the verbs in Acts 19:18 indicates that the people “kept coming . . .  kept confessing . . .  kept showing.”  They “BROUGHT THEIR BOOKS” and “BURNED THEM” before the members of the congregation.  Many confessed their involvement in the black arts and showed their repentance by publicly burning “THEIR BOOKS” on magic and their curios covered with charms and spells.  The books were probably sheets of papyrus on which were written secret formulas for demon exorcism, healing, fortunetelling, magic spells, and charms.  Such scrolls were so closely associated with Ephesus in Greco-Roman antiquity that they were commonly called Ephesia grammata (Ephesian letters). They were world famous and were supposed to have the power to ward off bad luck.  Apparently, the members of the church were well stocked with the scrolls because the monetary value of the collection amounted to 50,000 pieces of silver—an astonishing sum of money, perhaps cited to indicate how widespread the practice of magic was in Ephesus.  If Luke meant a silver drachma, the equivalent of a day’s pay, then the cost of the bonfire represented an enormous amount to the Ephesian Christians.  Judas sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, the price of a slave; these books thrown into the bonfire were priced at 50,000 pieces of silver—enough money to buy an army of slaves—enough to pay the salaries of 150 men working for a whole year!  These people did not count the cost but repented and turned from their sins.  The power of the gospel at Ephesus broke the shackles Satan had fastened on the people.


We should not question the integrity of these Ephesian Christians who only now openly forsook magic.  They were still “infants in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1) learning to live their new life—profession was only slowly followed by practice: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV; also see Ephesians 5:11). Salvation involves a process of growth, of increasing sanctification.  And after all, the Ephesian spells were not that far removed from the horoscopes and board games that supposedly communicate telepathic messages with which many Christians dabble, in our own day. 


Thus, through the victories won over these forces of evil by the Holy Spirit through His servant, Paul, the name of Jesus was magnified, and the Church was purified.  The “BOOKS” of magic that were burnt, did not belong to the Ephesians still remaining in idolatry.  They were “BOOKS” belonging to people in the church.  They came, confessing that they still practiced the black arts, and still experimented with these unholy things; and so the fire was lit.  Burning is the best thing to do with such “books.”  Many a new believer would be well advised to go through his “BOOKS” and CDs and burn a large percentage of them.  It is a good way of breaking the demonic, enslaving power some of them have.