Chapter 4 – Money, myth and the mayor
23 And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. 24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. 25 He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: ‘Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. 26 Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. 27 So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.’
28 Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’ 29 So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theatre with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions. 30 And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. 31 Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theatre. 32 Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defence to the people. 34 But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’
35 And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: ‘Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? 36 Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly.
37 For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. 38 Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. 40 For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.’ 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.
When opposition carries a £, $, or € sign
Paul, for now, stays in Ephesus. He witnesses effectively to ‘many people’ there and in the surrounding region. He persuades them to forsake idolatry and trust and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.1 As God the Holy Spirit honours Christ’s gospel and Paul’s witness, a ‘great commotion about the Way’ arises. Elsewhere in Acts, the witnessing Christian church is known as ‘the Way.’2 That name suggests two main thoughts. First, it exists because sinful people turn for forgiveness and eternal life to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is ‘the way’ as well as being ‘the truth and the life.’3 Second, the lives of these newly born again people demonstrate an amazingly changed and blessed way of living.
Demetrius, a silversmith, gathers fellow craftsmen and workers from other similar trades. This causes a big ‘commotion’. Their work majors on making idolatrous shrines of the Ephesian love goddess, Diana (also known as Artemis). Demetrius is quite open that their profits come from working to promote such idolatrous worship. It is not hard to see how the conflict troubling the gathering crowd arises. Paul is sharing the gospel of Christ. That demands repentance from sin and obedient trust in Jesus as Lord. This message obviously causes people who respond to Christ to renounce sin. The second of God’s Ten Commandments is to have no idols.4 Idolatry always was, and still is a sin against God to be repented of. Demetrius no doubt quotes Paul correctly in saying that what the craftsmen make ‘are not gods which are made with hands’. Paul knows that God’s word is very outspoken indeed against both the sin and the stupidity of idolatry. Psalm 135 states clearly, ‘The idols of the nations are silver and gold, The work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; Eyes they have, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear; Nor is there any breath in their mouths.’ The Psalmist goes on to criticise those who worship idols: ‘Those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them.’5 God detests idols and will judge idol worshippers.
The real objection of Demetrius and company is not religious, but financial. Although their high-sounding praise for Diana will mask that real objection, the root cause for their anger against Paul and his gospel is lost profits for Demetrius, not lost praise for Diana. The craftsmen conclude that Paul’s evangelistic effectiveness, in turning many from Diana worship to the living God through faith in Christ crucified and risen again, might bring their ungodly trade into disrepute. They even fear that the gospel might destroy Diana worship in Ephesus, in Asia, and wider still. They know that its liberating effects in combating idolatry will hit their pockets, purses, pay packets, and prosperity.
Wrath, commotion and confusion
Realising that their real idol—money—would be hit by the gospel, these men are furious and now start a mass rally to shout Diana’s praises. They cry out ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians.’ They soon will repeat this mindlessly for two hours. The ensuing confusing commotion engulfs the whole city. The crowd seizes Paul’s Macedonian travelling companions, Gaius and Aristarchus, and rush into the theatre (probably an amphitheatre).6 Paul’s holy boldness motivates him to want to enter that hostile environment to witness. Happily for him, first the disciples prevent him, and then friends of his among the Asian officials send messages begging him to stay out of the theatre. Does not Paul’s brave dedication to preaching the gospel, even at the risk of personal physical harm and even death, challenge Christians today to serve God sacrificially and devotedly in gospel work?
As the chaos develops, the crowd’s existing confusion worsens. They do not even know why they are gathered! Loud shouting comes from different quarters, voicing different things. Mob rule can be very frightening. The Jews put forward a fellow Jew named Alexander, apparently as their spokesman to try to dissociate them from Paul and his fellow workers for Christ in the crowd’s eyes. Alexander is then drawn out of the crowd and motions to it, wanting to make some kind of defence speech for the Jews.7 However, most people seem to have no idea about who is being attacked or why! When the crowd learn that he is Jewish, their two-hour mantra rolls on: ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians’.
Happenings like this should remind us not to follow the crowd. Let others have their prejudices and preferences in order to be in with the crowd. Each person who knows Jesus as Lord and Saviour must walk with Him each day guided by the principles of God’s Word, the Bible. God, the Holy Spirit, will bring conviction based on His Word, which leads to an overriding desire to please God rather than men and women. The crowd is very often wrong. It was the crowd that had Christ crucified. Jesus said to those who would know and follow Him, ‘Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.’8 The broad way has ample room for the crowd and their many opinions, beliefs, practices and sins. The narrow way is for those who trust and follow only Jesus. But they are the ones with an eternal home in Heaven, not judgment to face in Hell forever.
The wide consequences of a myth
The ‘city clerk’ now steps into the picture. His role is rather like a mix of mayor, chief executive of the local council, and magistrate. I will refer to him as the ‘mayor’. He is a man of some importance in Ephesus. He represents the city to their Roman overlords. We will consider him more closely soon, but for now see him as he quietens the crowd. His appeal to them is based on the ‘fact’ that everyone is said to know the ‘truth’ about Diana, and so ‘ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly.’ He effectively assures the pagan crowd that no one can oppose or resist the established facts known to everyone about Diana. But what supposed facts does he quote?
The mayor claims that Diana is a ‘great goddess’ whose image fell down from heaven to earth, from the god, Zeus. That is why the Ephesians are the guardian of her temple. (This goddess needs to be guarded by her subjects!) He maintains, ‘these things cannot be denied.’ The gospel of Christ is set against such ridiculously mythical folklore, producing such unthinking mass idolatry. The message of Jesus’ sacrificial and substitutionary death and powerful resurrection from the dead must make inroads into such darkness by insisting on repentance from sins and the need for sinners to trust the risen Jesus. We are not the first Christians having to fight an orchestrated hostile mind-set against the gospel. That is why we must teach the Bible clearly, debate graciously but factually and with conviction, and trust God to bring people to Himself through the preaching of the gospel. That gospel is ‘the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.’ We therefore, like Paul, must never be the ‘ashamed of the gospel of Christ.’9 When facing myths and misconceptions about the Bible, including supposedly scientific views unsupported by true science and opposed by many scientists, believe your beliefs in the Bible, doubt your doubts, and rely totally on Scripture.
The wise conduct of a mayor
Whether the mayor actually believes the myth about Diana’s descent from heaven, or just goes along with it for a quiet life and personal career advancement, we do not know. It is amazing what unbelievable things outside the Bible are accepted by some educated, intellectual and well-qualified people. Yet bias or closed minds means the same people will not even investigate biblical facts, despite clear evidence of the historical accuracy and truth surrounding them. The Christian message is increasingly dismissed without any honest investigation. Nevertheless, we can learn in other matters from some who would not agree with us in the most important issues of life and death, and of time and eternity. May we always be ready to consider and learn from others! We can now learn much from the shrewd and professional conduct of the mayor in Ephesus as he sets out, and succeeds, to pacify the mob.
Having wrongly bolstered the crowd’s misplaced belief in Diana, the mayor now properly points out that Paul and his Christian colleagues have not robbed the temple or blasphemed Diana. Presumably some have done both of those things before. We assume that is why the mayor mentions them now. He then points out, in their civilised society, that courts are open for Demetrius and company to raise any appropriate charges through legal representation. Similarly, any other legal matters should be handled ‘in lawful assembly.’ He makes the implied but definite threat that they ‘are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar.’ He accepts no justification for what he accurately calls a ‘disorderly gathering.’ Demetrius and his colleagues must know that to continue the confused confrontation will lead to further public order offences and probable legal action against them. Having first got their sympathy, then their ear, and then having warned them about having broken the law the wise mayor then dismisses the unruly crowd. He does this in a masterly way. We can certainly learn valuable lessons from non-Christians like him!
The Bible says that we should pray ‘for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’10 Christians must fear God and keep the law.
Romans 13:1–7 tell us:
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour.
Christians must not break the law of the land unless to keep it would lead them to break the moral law of God, as stated in the Bible. Though rarely occurring in recent years in the west, as Christianity becomes marginalised, the Bible scorned, and immorality rationalised condoned and promoted, one fears that the time might come round again when we have to say with Peter and the apostles, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’ 11
Questions on Chapter 4
Money, myth and the mayor—Acts 19:23–41
A. How do idolatry and the love of money combine to cause opposition to the good effects of the gospel which Paul preaches in Ephesus?
Acts 19:23–34, Exodus 20:4–6, 1 Timothy 6:10
B. How does the view expressed by Demetrius and accepted by the crowd differ from what the Bible says about idols?
Acts 19:26–28, Acts 19:34–36, Psalm 115:1–11, Isaiah 44:9–17
C. How does the action of the non-Christian city clerk (‘the mayor’) of Ephesus illustrate why God says we should honour those in authority, even when they are not Christians?
Acts 19:35–41, Romans 13:1–7, 1 Timothy 2:1–4
- This is soon to be volunteered as a criticism of Paul by those against him in Ephesus. See Acts 19:26. ↩
- Acts 9:2, 19:9, 19:23, 24:4, 24:14, 24:22 ↩
- John 14:6 ↩
- Exodus 20:4–6, Deuteronomy 5:8–10 ↩
- Psalm 153:15–18, 115:1–11, Isaiah 44:9–17 ↩
- The New Amplified Bible suggests that the ‘theatre’ used is the Ephesian amphitheatre. ↩
- Alexander is a popular name at this time, and we know nothing about this Alexander except he is Jewish and prepared to speak before an angry crowd. ↩
- Matthew 7:13–14 ↩
- Romans 1:16 ↩
- 1 Timothy 2:1–4 ↩
- Acts 5:29. These occasions however should only be where God’s righteousness would be compromised, not where our own mere preferences or prejudices might suffer. Much prayer and grace, and fellowship with keen and wise senior Christians would be needed before taking such action. ↩