Diana of the Ephesians
A story of Paul
The Apostle Paul was about fifty-one years of age when he set out upon his third missionary journey, destined to lead him seven years later to his first trial and acquittal before the Emperor Nero at Rome. He could not have stayed at his home base of Antioch more than a few months following his second missionary journey, as a result of which he had been able to plant Christianity firmly in Greece. Now, as he set out along the high road leading northward from the city, he could hardly have known that he would never see Antioch again. The flourishing church which had taken the lead in missionary endeavour for so many years watched their most famous ambassador disappearing into the distance, little realising that they would sit under his ministry no more; never again see him in the flesh. From now onwards, the first Gentile church, the place where the name 'Christian' was coined and first used, the community which above all others had grasped the vital truth that Christianity is essentially a missionary religion continued its course bereft of its greatest son. It had grown in spiritual strength and understanding of the faith beyond its fellow-church at Jerusalem in direct consequence of the realisation and the zeal with which it had instigated and supported missionary work, Antioch was a famous name in Christian history for many centuries. The torch lit by Paul and Barnabas, Simeon and Lucius burned brightly for a long time, although at the last the false doctrines and the false brethren foreseen by the great Apostle gained the ascendancy and had their way. Little more than two centuries after those early Antiochean believers watched the figure of their beloved father in God disappear into the distance, another Paul, Paul of Samosata, lorded it as Bishop over the Church of Antioch. He lived in luxury and dissipation, introducing heresies of doctrine and conduct, and the bright light that had been the Church of Antioch burned low and went out.
How much of all this Paul's deep spiritual insight showed him must one day happen, no one knows. Perhaps in any case his active mind was already working on the details of another problem. He had planted Christianity in two notable centres, apart from the many towns in which he had left groups of believers, Antioch in Syria and Corinth in Greece. Now his eager steps were taking him in the direction of one more famous city of another great section of the ancient world, Ephesus in Asia. For the first few weeks he traversed the Asiatic hinterland in the provinces of Galatia and Phrygia, revisiting groups of disciples he had established during the course of his second missionary journey. But inevitably his steps were tending towards the cultural and commercial centre of Asia, where he had left Aquila and Priscilla at the time of his brief initial visit two years previously. Ephesus was the capital city of Roman Asia. Situated on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and possessed of a fine natural harbour, it had become the terminus of several main roads and trade routes stretching far into the interior of Asia. From its quays, merchant vessels carried the produce of Asia to Greece, to Egypt and to Rome. It was in consequence a city of trading and of markets, and the Jews were very much in evidence. Side by side with Greek paganism there flourished the worship of the One God, and the city's greatest architectural treasure, the Temple of Diana, looked down from the eminence on which it was built to the synagogues of the Jews. The cosmopolitan nature of the population gave opportunity for every kind of superstition and fanatical practice. Of all the cities that figure in the travels of Paul this one was noteworthy for the extent to which sorcery, astrology and all forms of magical practices had obtained a hold. Like Corinth, it seemed a most unlikely place in which to expect any response to the preaching of the Gospel.
Nevertheless Ephesus shared with Corinth the distinction of being one of the most successful of Paul's missions. In later years the flourishing church established in this place by the Apostle was further blessed by the residence and ministry of the Apostle John, who ended his days here. It became the leading community of the informal federation known as the Seven Churches in Asia, and was to Roman Asia what Antioch was to Syria, a centre of ministry from which dedicated men journeyed in various directions ministering to the needs of local town churches. Writing to the church at Corinth, at this time, the letter known to us as the First Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul said of his opportunities here "a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries" (1 Cor.16.9). It must have been with high hopes that he renewed his friendship with Aquila and Priscilla, and began to look out for opportunities to preach.
His first effective contact was a unique one. He came across a small company of believers in John the Baptist. They apparently knew of no developments beyond John's brief and tragic mission. The later Advent of Jesus of Nazareth was something with which they were quite unfamiliar. It is probable that this little group owed its origin to one or two disciples of John the Baptist who fled Judea after Herod's summary execution of their Master. They settled in Ephesus, holding and teaching the message of their deceased leader, so that a quarter of a century later there were these dozen men modelling their lives around the baptism of repentance which John had preached. It is strange that Aquila and Priscilla had not already met them, but there were many Jews and a number of synagogues in Ephesus and it seems to have been the enquiring and penetrating instinct of Paul which found them wherever they were. Having encountered them, he quickly showed how the work of John found its sequel and fulfilment in that of Christ, and so these twelve men became the nucleus of the afterwards celebrated church of Ephesus.
As usual, Paul was at first well received in the synagogues; his preaching and exposition found willing hearers. Inevitably the dissentients began to make their voices heard and within three months the Apostle found his work being hindered by objectors. The pattern of things was very familiar to him; he had seen it so many times before, and without hesitation he withdrew himself and his converts from the fellowship of the synagogues and established them in the lecture room of one Tyrannus. The word "school" in Acts 19.9 is hardly accurate even although the Greek word here is the one which gives us our English word 'school'. The Greeks were very partial to discussions and debates on philosophical subjects and the building belonging to Tyrannus was obviously an establishment where such functions took place. Paul probably hired it for the regular meetings of his group as an ordinary commercial transaction; whether Tyrannus was Roman, Greek or Jew is not stated but the name is not a Jewish one and in the circumstances it is most probable that he was a Greek. At any rate, this arrangement lasted for two years. The Christian community thus formed became a centre for missionary work; "all they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19.10). Roman Asia was more or less the western part of modern Turkey, not the whole of the present continental mass known as Asia.
More Christians meant less pagans; less pagans meant a decreasing demand for certain miniature silver models of the inner Temple enshrining the great goddess Diana. One Demetrius, a silversmith, finding sales dropping off, began to look with somewhat jaundiced eye on the crowds attending the meetings in the school of Tyrannus. He probably had no particular reverence for Diana himself, but business was business, and he could see his craft being seriously affected by the results of this Jewish preacher's eloquence. The outcome of his annoyance was a trade meeting of the master craftsmen and their employees addressed by Demetrius in terms which left no doubt of his concern. Not only was their craft in danger of extinction, he claimed, but additionally ‑ this must have been said unctuously ‑ the worship of Diana was threatened and the Temple, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, would lose its reputation and with that the city itself sink into oblivion. This happy combination of business and religion has in all ages formed ample justification for launching a crusade, and the present occasion was no exception. The meeting broke up to a tumultuous accompaniment of the city battle-cry "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" and the indignant metalworkers poured out of the building looking for trouble.
In a city like Ephesus there was never any lack of street loafers and others spoiling for a fight, and it was not long before the whole place was "filled with confusion" (Acts 19.29). Somehow or other two of Paul's travel companions, Gaius and Aristarchus, both Greeks of Macedonia, came face to face with the mob and before they could grasp what had happened found themselves being rushed off to the 'theatre'. This was the huge open-air stadium which served as the venue for plays, sporting events and every other kind of public function. Next to the Temple of Diana, the Stadium at Ephesus was the city's chief glory. When excavated in modem times it was discovered that it could accommodate twenty-five thousand spectators. It is possible that Gaius and Aristarchus found that most of the twenty-five thousand were present on this particular occasion.
News of the occurrence came quickly to Paul and he was for going into the stadium to the aid of his co-workers but was persuaded against doing so by "certain of the chiefs of Asia, which were his friends" (Acts 19.31). These "chiefs of Asia" were the Asiarchs, Greek officials of the Games, whose duty brought them into Ephesus at times when notable athletic events were due. They had considerable experience of mob rule in the stadium, and evidently felt the matter could be handled better with the unwitting cause of the trouble absent from the scene. It is worthy of note in passing that these very important Greek officials had formed an esteem for Paul and did not appear to view his threat to their religion and city in the same light as Demetrius and the populace.
Meanwhile the scene at the stadium remained one of unmitigated confusion. "Some therefore cried one thing, and some another; for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together" (Acts 19.32). In the general disorganisation, Gaius and Aristarchus seem to have disappeared, for they are mentioned no more. In their place there appears one Alexander, put forward by the Jews. These latter, of course, representing the orthodox synagogue, to make some kind of defence to the concourse.
It is not clear whether Alexander was a Christian or an orthodox Jew. The fact that Jews were present at the stadium appears to infer that some of the orthodox community had come along to see vengeance meted out upon the Christians. Their presence may have further inflamed the mob, who were not likely to make much distinction between Christian Jew and orthodox Jew. Perhaps Alexander was one of their number chosen to justify their own position. On the other hand he may have been a Christian who the Jews had picked up and brought into the stadium as their contribution to the proceedings. Years later, writing to Timothy, Paul refers to an "Alexander the coppersmith" who "did me much evil". This Alexander had once held, then made shipwreck of, the faith, and was apparently a resident in Ephesus during Timothy's time of service there. This may have been the same man: at the time of the riot; he may not yet have become a convert and being of the metal-working fraternity himself could well have been put forward as the best person available to appease Demetrius and his fellows.
There was, however, to be no appeasement. From his attire it was plain that Alexander was a Jew. For the next two hours the concourse, "with one voice" kept up a continuous shout "Great is Diana of the Ephesians". There does not appear to have been any question of physical violence; the impression gained is that the working population had decided to make this a kind of one-day holiday and having crowded into the stadium intended to stay there and enjoy themselves.
At last the town recorder (the English 'town-clerk' is a very exact equivalent of the Greek office here) managed to restore order. Two hours of continuous exercise of the vocal chords was probably enough for the mob anyway. The thunderous shouting died away and a blessed stillness reigned. Perhaps even Demetrius and his comrades were a little scared of the storm they had raised. They listened now, rather shamefacedly maybe, to the measured reproof of this worthy civic official, who seems to have handled the matter very expertly. In the first place, he reminded them, it was a well-accepted fact throughout the Greek world that Ephesus was the city of Diana and there was no dispute about it. Secondly, they had illegally apprehended two men who had transgressed no law and were entitled to the protection of the civic authorities. If Demetrius or anyone else had any kind of grievance against them there were the ordinary processes of law to which they had access; let them lay their accusation in the proper quarter and have the matter judicially determined. Thirdly, and most important, "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". That last remark must have brought Demetrius and his fellow business men up with a jerk. Ephesus was subject to Rome. Being the political capital of Roman Asia it was also the official residence of the Roman Governor, the "Pro-Consul" of Asia. Rome did not like disorderly conduct or the taking of the law by provincial citizens into their own hands. There might very well be an enquiry into this affair should the story reach the ears of the Governor and in that case the least the city could expect would be a heavy fine. When such a thing happened, since the authorities were not particularly concerned from which of the citizens the money came, and most of the working population had no money anyway, it was usually the business men and the traders who had to pay up. Possibly Demetrius, on reflection, felt that this thing had gone altogether too far. There was at any rate no further trouble. When the town-clerk "had thus spoken he dismissed the assembly". The enthusiasts for Diana who had raged into the stadium like lions went out like lambs. It is likely that the streets of Ephesus were models of order and rectitude for the next few days.
But the incident terminated Paul's work at Ephesus. He evidently felt, in the light of this personal hostility to him, that the interests of the growing church would be better served by his absence rather than his presence. During his two years' residence in the city, the Church had become well organised; there were several responsible men well able to fulfil every duty of the Christian ministry and the Apostle felt that he could now resume his travels. He took his leave of them and set sail for Macedonia.