J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on ActsActs 19
This passage is valuable chiefly because it shows how the apostles
dealt with parties who, at that time, were immersed with John's immersion.
This, no doubt, was Luke's object in introducing it. In
order to understand the case, it is necessary to keep distinctly in view
the facts stated of the parties previous to and subsequent to their immersion
by Paul. They are called disciples, and were known as such
when Paul found them; for it is said "he found certain disciples."
They were disciples, not of John, but of Jesus; for the uniform currency
of the term disciple, throughout Acts, requires us to so understand
it. This is further evident from Paul's question, "Have you
received the Holy Spirit since you believed?" The term believed
evidently refers to Jesus as its object. They were known, then, as
disciples of Jesus, and were so recognized by Paul.
Up to the moment of his conversation with them, Paul knew nothing
of any irregularity in their obedience; for this was made known,
to his surprise, during the conversation. When, therefore, he asked
the question, "Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?"
he could not have referred to that gift of the Spirit which all disciples
receive; for he would take this for granted, from the fact that they were
disciples. He must, then, have had reference to the miraculous gift,
which some disciples did not receive.
It is inconceivable that these disciples were ignorant of the existence
of the Holy Spirit, hence a literal rendering of their reply, "We have
not so much as heard that there is a Holy Spirit," would convey a
false idea. The supplement given is necessary to complete the sense,
as it is in
where it is said, "The Holy Spirit was not yet,
because Jesus was not yet risen." The term given must be supplied,
in the latter case, in order to avoid the denial of the existence of the
Spirit previous to the resurrection; and, in the former, to avoid the
declaration of an ignorance on the part of these men inconsistent with
the fact that they were disciples.
at once revealed to Paul that there was some irregularity
in their religious history; for no one could be properly discipled
without learning that the Holy Spirit was to be given. He at once
perceived, too, that the irregularity must have been connected with
their immersion; for he inquires, "Into what, then, were you immersed?"
If the gift of the Spirit had no connection with immersion,
this inquiry would have been inapposite, and Paul would not have
propounded it. But the apostles taught as Peter did on the day of
Pentecost, when he said, "Repent and be immersed, every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and you shall
receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
It is only on the supposition that
Paul knew this to be the universal teaching of rightly-informed brethren,
that he inferred something wrong about their immersion, from
their ignorance of the gift of the Holy Spirit. This supposition, however,
which is a necessary, not an optional one, makes the whole matter
very plain. Paul's first question had reference to the miraculous gift
of the Spirit; but when they said they knew not that the Holy
Spirit was given, he saw that they were ignorant of even the ordinary
gift, which is promised to all who repent and are immersed, and that
they were immersed without proper instruction.
Their reply, that they were immersed into John's immersion, relieved
the case of all obscurity, and Paul then understood it perfectly. He
explained, that John's immersion was one of repentance, to be followed
by faith in the Messiah when he should come. Those immersed by
him believed that the Messiah was coming; but they did not, until
after their immersion, believe that
Jesus was the Messiah, nor did they
have a promise of the Holy Spirit. They were not, therefore, immersed
into the name of Jesus or that of the Holy Spirit. This is
further evident from the fact that Paul commanded these twelve to be
"immersed into the name of the Lord Jesus," which the authority of
the commission requires us to understand as equivalent to the expression,
"into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
These points of defect, however, were not peculiar to the immersion
of the twelve, but attached also to that of the twelve apostles,
the hundred and twenty disciples, and the five hundred who
saw Jesus together in Galilee after the
resurrection, [1 Corinthians 15:6.]
none of whom
were reimmersed. What, then, led to the immersion of these parties?
If their immersion had taken place, like that of all the others
just named, while John's immersion was still an existing institution,
no reason could be given for their reimmersion. This, then, forces us
to the conclusion that they had been immersed with John's immersion
after it had ceased to be administered by divine authority. Apollos
had been recently preaching this obsolete immersion in Ephesus,
these persons may have been immersed by him. If so, they submitted
to an institution which had been abrogated more than twenty years,
and this was the defect that led to their reimmersion. The general
conclusion, from all the premises, is this: that persons who were immersed
with John's immersion, while it was in lawful existence, were
received into the Church of Christ without reimmersion. But persons
who were thus immersed, after the introduction of apostolic immersion,
were reimmersed. The reason why Apollos was not reimmersed
as well as the twelve, was, doubtless, because, like the apostles and
the other original disciples, he was immersed during the ministry of
Having sketched briefly the visit of Apollos to Ephesus,
and thus prepared the way for an account of Paul's labors in the same
city, the historian now reaches the point for which he had so hurriedly
passed over the apostle's journey from Antioch through Galatia and
Phrygia and around to
The appointment which he left in
Ephesus, as he passed through on his way to
is now to be fulfilled.
(1) "Now while Apollos was in Corinth, Paul, having
passed through the upper districts, came to Ephesus, and finding certain
(2) said to them, Have you received the Holy Spirit since you
believed? But they said to him, We have not so much as heard that the
Holy Spirit is given.
(3) He said to them, Into what, then, were you immersed?
They said, Into John's immersion.
(4) Then Paul said, John
indeed immersed with the immersion of repentance, saying to the people
that they should believe on him who would come after him, that is, on the
(5) And when they heard this they were immersed into
the name of the Lord Jesus.
(6) And when Paul laid hands on them,
the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
(7) All the men were about twelve."
It is worthy of note that Paul commenced his labors in Ephesus
by rectifying what he found wrong in the few disciples already
there, before he undertook to add to their number. It is an example
worthy of imitation to the full extent that may be found practicable.
When he had accomplished this, he was prepared to grapple with the
Jewish and pagan errors which pervaded the community.
he went into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for about
three months, discussing and persuading the things concerning the
kingdom of God.
But when some were hardened and unbelieving, and spoke evil of the way
before the multitude, he departed from them and separated the disciples,
discussing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.
(10) This continued for
two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus,
both Jews and Greeks.
(11) And God worked unusual miracles by the
hands of Paul,
(12) so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried from
his person to the sick, and the diseases departed from them, and the wicked
spirits went out of them."
This scene in the Jewish synagogue is quite
uniform in its details, with other which we have noticed. Here is the
same earnest argument and persuasion upon the one invariable theme;
the same increasing obstinacy and evil speaking on the part of the unbelieving
Jews, and the same final separation of Paul and the few who
believed, from the synagogue and the majority who controlled it. As
the private house of Justus had been his retreat in Corinth,
of Tyrannus was his resort in Ephesus. Such incidents have
their counterpart in the history of all men who have attempted, from
that day to this, to correct the religious teachings of their cotemporaries.
All such attempts are regarded by prevailing religious parties
as troublesome innovations, and the houses erected for public worship
are often closed against them. But such petty annoyances are not
sufficient now, as they were not then, to suppress the truth. Paul, in
the school-house of Tyrannus, had access to the ears of many who
would never have entered a synagogue, and who were conciliated by
the very fact that it was the Jews who persecuted him. The circumstances
gained him a favorable hearing from the Greeks, while the
unusual miracles wrought gave overwhelming attestation to the words
It is difficult to imagine how men could witness miracles so
astonishing and not acknowledge the presence of divine power. We
would suppose that even atheism would be confounded in the presence
of such manifestations, and that the most hardened sinner would
tremble. How deep the depravity, then, of men, even Jews by birth
and education, who would see in them nothing but the tricks of a
skillful and designing magician. Simon the sorcerer had offered to
purchase this power with money,
and Bar-jesus had sought to convince
Sergius Paulus that it was a cheat;
but the former was made
to tremble under the withering rebuke of Peter, and the latter had
been smitten with blindness by the power which he reviled. A similar
display of human depravity, followed by a castigation equally
severe, occurred in connection with the unusual miracles just mentioned.
(13) "Then certain of the wandering Jewish exorcists undertook
to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had wicked spirits,
saying, We adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.
they were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish high priest, who did this.
(15) But the wicked spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul
I am acquainted with; but who are you?
(16) And the man in whom
the wicked spirit was, leaped upon them, and overcame them, and prevailed
against them, so that they fled, naked, and wounded, out of the
(17) And this became known to all the Jews and Greeks dwelling
in Ephesus, and fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord
Jesus was magnified."
Nothing is more mortifying, or better calculated
to provoke the contempt of the community, than the unexpected
exposure of mysterious pretensions such as were assumed by
these exorcists. The spirit was enraged at their insulting pretensions,
and doubtless enjoyed the joke of exposing them. The seven resisted
until they were stripped and wounded, when they fled, presenting a
very ludicrous aspect as they passed along the streets. While all
Ephesus was laughing at them, it was remembered that the spirit acknowledged
the authority of Jesus, and of Paul, and that a licentious
use of the name of Jesus was the cause of all their trouble. The
mirth awakened by the event was soon changed to reverence for the
name of Jesus, which they now saw was not, as the exorcists had
pretended, a mere conjurer's talisman.
The exposure of the seven exorcists reflected discredit upon all
the pretenders to magic in Ephesus, while the name of Jesus was
magnified. The effects upon the public mind were immense and astonishing.
(18) "Then many of those who believed came and confessed
and declared their practices.
(19) And many of those who practiced
curious arts, brought together their books, and burned them before all.
And they counted the value of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of
(20) So mightily did the word of God grow and prevail."
The believers who "came and confessed and declared their practices,"
had not, till now, realized the impropriety of those arts, which
their heathen education had taught them to regard with reverence.
That others, who were not yet disciples, did the same thing, and even
burned up their books, is a striking proof of the fear that fell upon
them all. The pieces of silver in which the value of the books was
computed were doubtless the Attic didrachma; for it was a Greek
city, and this was the most common silver coin among the Greeks.
It was worth fifteen cents of Federal money, and the value of all the
books was seven thousand five hundred dollars; a sufficient indication
of the extent to which these arts prevailed, and of the number and
value of the books written in explanation of them. This whole account
is in full accordance with the profane history of Ephesus, which
represents it as the chief center of magic arts in the whole Roman
empire. [See Life and Ep., vol. 2, p. 21.]
Verses 21, 22
The conclusion of the preceding events brought Paul to a
period of comparative quiet, in which he began to think of leaving
(21) "When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in
spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia, and go to Jerusalem, saying,
After I have been there, I must also see Rome.
(22) So he sent
into Macedonia two of those who were ministering to him, Timothy and
Erastus; but he himself stayed in Asia for a season."
It is supposed by some that, previous to this period, Paul had made
a short visit to Corinth, and returned again to Ephesus. This supposition
is based upon expressions in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians,
which are understood to imply such a visit. I regard the evidence,
however, as insufficient for a safe conclusion, and will, therefore, treat
the narrative as though no such visit had taken place. The reader
who is curious to investigate the question should refer to Mr. Howson
on the affirmative, [Ib. p. 26.]
and Paley on the
negative. [Horæ Paulinæ on 2 Cor xiii: 1.]
The First Epistle to the Corinthians was written from Ephesus, as
we learn from the remark,
(1 Corinthians 16:8,9,)
"I will tarry in Ephesus
until Pentecost; for a great and effectual door is opened to me, and
there are many adversaries." It was also during the present visit that
it was written, for, during his first visit, he did not tarry at
all. [Acts 18:19,20.]
exact date of the epistle is best fixed within the period covered by the
words "he himself stayed in Asia for a season;" for it was then that
"a great and effectual door" was first opened to him. Other evidences
of the date concur with these, and are fully stated by Mr.
Howson. [Vol. 2, p. 33.]
This is not really the first epistle Paul wrote to the Corinthians;
for in it he speaks of another, which he had previously written, upon
the subject of fornication. He says: "I wrote to you in an epistle
not to keep company with
fornicators." [1 Corinthians 5:9-13.]
This is all we know of the
subject-matter of the epistle, which is lost; and perhaps it was for the
reason that it treated of this subject alone, and in a less detailed
method than does the epistle now called the first, that it was not preserved
with the other two.
Subsequent to the date of the lost epistle, some members of the
household of Chloe had brought him information of great disorders
and corruption in the Church in
He learned that the
congregation was distracted by party
that fornication, and
even incest were still tolerated by
that some of them were
engaged in litigation before the civil
that his own apostolic authority was called in
question; [4:1-21; 9:1-14.]
that their women, contrary to the
prevailing rules of modesty, took part in the worship with unvailed
that some confusion and strife had arisen in reference to the
spiritual gifts among
that some among them were even
and that the Lord's supper was profaned
by feasting and
Besides all this, he had received a
letter from them calling for information in reference to marriage and
divorce, and the eating of meats offered to
idols. [7:1; 8:1.]
To answer their
questions, and to correct and rebuke these disorders, was the object
of the epistle. The temper in which it is written appears calm and
stern; yet it is not conceivable that Paul could hear of corruptions so
gross in a Church which had cost him so much labor and anxiety,
without intense pain. Though no such feeling was allowed to manifest
itself in the epistle, he was constrained afterward, to confess it,
and say to them, "Out of much affliction and anguish of heart, I wrote
to you, with many
tears." [2 Corinthians 2:4.]
It was, therefore, with a heart full of anguish
in reference to some results of his past labors, but buoyed up
by the opening of a wide and effectual door in his present field, that
he sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia, but remained himself
in Asia for a season.
(23) "Now, about that period, there arose no small stir concerning
(24) For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith,
brought no little employment to the artisans by making silver shrines of
(25) Calling them together, and the workmen employed about such
things, he said, Men, you understand that by this employment we have our
(26) And you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but in
almost the whole of Asia, this Paul, by his persuasion, has turned away
a great multitude, saying that they are not gods which are made with
(27) and not only is this our business in danger of coming into
contempt, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana will be despised,
and the majesty of her whom all Asia and the world worships will be
This is the most truthful and candid of all the speeches
ever uttered against Paul. The charge that he had said these were
not gods which were made with hands, was literally true, and free
from exaggeration. The appeals, too, by which he sought to stir up
the passions of his hearers, were candid; for he appeals directly to
their pecuniary interest, which was suffering; to their veneration for
the temple, which was counted one of the seven wonders of the world
and to their reverence for the goddess who was the chief object of
their worship. The statement of the effects already produced by
Paul's preaching throughout the city and the province, endangering
their whole system of idolatry, was equally truthful. Whether he is
entitled to the same degree of credit in reference to the motive which
prompted him, is more doubtful; for the fact that the class of men in
Ephesus had the greatest pecuniary interest in the worship of
Diana were the first to defend her sinking cause, is a suspicious circumstance,
especially when we remember that these artisans had better
reason than any others to know that the pieces of silver which
they had molded and polished with their own hands were not gods.
It appears to have been a corrupt determination to save their traffic
at all hazards, which made them ignore the evidence of their own
senses, and rendered them impervious to the arguments and demonstrations
Verses 28, 29
The prospect of pecuniary ruin enraged the artisans, while
their veneration for the goddess suggested the best theme on which to
give vent to their wrath before the people.
(28) "And when they heard
this they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the
(29) And the whole city was filled with confusion; and having
caught Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul's companions in
travel, they rushed with one accord into the theater."
The outcry, "Great
is Diana of the Ephesians," awakened the old enthusiasm of all the
idolaters who heard it, and the tone of rage with which it was uttered,
suggesting some assault upon the honor of the goddess, threw the
gathering mob into a frenzy. It was a kind of providence in reference
to Paul, that he happened to be out of their reach. Not finding him,
they seize his companions, and rushing into the theater, where criminals
were sometimes exposed to wild beasts, they are about to take the
part of the wild beasts themselves. What was the fate of Gaius and
Aristarchus is not here stated, though both names occur afterward in
the history, and probably designate the same
individuals. [Acts 20:4; 27:2.]
Verses 30, 31
When Paul heard the tumult, and knew that his companions
had been dragged within the theater, he could but suppose that
they were torn to pieces. This thought alone was intensely harrowing
to his feelings; but it was still more so to know that they were
suffering in his stead. He could not endure to remain inactive at such
a crisis, but resolved to die with them.
(30) "But Paul, having determined
to go in to the people, the disciples would not permit him;
(31) and some of the
Asiarchs, [This was the title of officials chosen to preside over the annual games in ]
also, who were his friends, sent to him and entreated
him not to trust himself within the theater."
By such means he was
restrained from his desperate purpose, after having fully made up his
mind to die. The desperation to which he was driven he afterward
describes to the Corinthians in this touching language: "We would
not have you ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in
Asia, that we were exceedingly pressed down beyond our strength, so
that we despaired even of life: but we had within ourselves the sentence
of death, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who
raises the dead." [2 Corinthians 1:8,9.]
Giving up all hope of life, as he started toward the
theater, and trusting in Him who raises the dead, when the tumult
had subsided, and he was assured of safety, he felt much as if he had
been raised from the dead. He therefore says, in the same connection,
"Who delivered me from so grievous a death, and is delivering, in
whom I trust that he will even yet deliver us: you also helping by
prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed on us by means of many persons,
thanks may be given by man on our
Leaving the apostle, for a time, in the cloud of sorrow which
we will find still enveloping him when we meet him again, we turn to
witness the proceedings within the theater.
(32) "Now some were crying
one thing and some another; for the assembly was confused, and the
greater part knew not on what account they had come together.
they put forward Alexander out of the crowd, the Jews urging him forward.
And Alexander, waving his hand, wished to make a defense to
(34) But knowing that he was a Jew, all with one voice, for
about two hours, cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians."
were two reasons why the Jews should feel some anxiety to defend
themselves before this mob. First, It was well known in Ephesus that
they were as much opposed to idols and idol worship as were the disciples.
Second, The fact that the apostle and many of his brethren
were Jews, naturally attracted toward all the Jews the hatred which
had been aroused against them. A courageous and manly adherence
to their own principles would have prompted them to share with the
disciples the obloquy of their common position; but they were endeavoring
to persuade the multitude that Paul and his party should not be
identified with themselves. The cowardly trick was perceived by the
multitude, as soon as they perceived that it was a Jew who was trying
to address them, and they gave it the rebuke it deserved by refusing
to hear him.
The rage of an excited multitude, unless it find some new
fuel to keep up the flame, will naturally subside in a few hours. While
it is at its height, it becomes only the more furious the more it is opposed;
but when it begins to subside, frequently a few well-chosen
words are sufficient to restore quiet. Acting upon this principle, the
city authorities had not, thus far, interfered with the mob; but when
they were exhausted by long-continued vociferation, the following well-timed
and well-worded speech was addressed to them.
(35) "But the
public clerk, having quieted the people, said, Men of Ephesus, what man
is there who does not know that the city of Ephesus is a worshiper of the
great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?
(36) Seeing, then, that these things can not be spoken against, you ought
to be quieted, and do nothing rashly.
(37) For you have brought hither
these men, who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your
(38) If, then, Demetrius, and the artisans who are with him,
have a complaint against any one, the courts are open, and there are
proconsuls; let them accuse one another.
(39) But if you are making inquiry
concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly.
(40) For we are in danger of being called to account for this day's tumult,
there being no cause for which we will be able to give an account of this
(41) And having spoken thus, he dismissed the assembly."
This is evidently the speech of a man well skilled in the management
of popular assemblies, and, doubtless, its happy adaptation to the
circumstances is what suggested to Luke the propriety of preserving
it. It is probable that the speaker, like the Asiarchs who interfered to
keep Paul out of danger,
was a friend to the apostle, and a man of too
much intelligence to receive with blind credulity the popular delusion
in reference to the temple and image of Diana. The speech, indeed,
has a ring of insincerity about it, indicating that the speaker was
merely humoring the popular superstition for the special purpose before
him. Upon this hypothesis the speech appears the more ingenious.
The confident assumption that the divine honors bestowed on
their goddess, and the belief that her image fell from heaven, were so
well known that no man would call them in question, was soothing to
their excited feelings, and the remark that the unquestionable certainty
of these facts ought to make them feel entirely composed on
the subject, brought them, by a happy turn of thought, to the very
composure which he desired, and which they fancied was the result of
a triumphant vindication of their cause. Advancing, then, to the case
of the disciples, like a trained advocate, he ignores the real charge
against them, that of denying that they are gods which are made with
hands, and declares that they are neither temple robbers, nor
their goddess. Then, as for the men who had excited them to this
disturbance, the proconsular courts were the proper place for complaints
like theirs, and they had no right to disturb the people with
such matters. Finally, he gives them a gentle hint as to the unlawfulness
of their assemblage, and the probability that they would be
called to account for it by the Roman authorities. This last remark
had special force with the majority, who, according to Luke, "knew
not on what account they had come together;"
and the whole speech
was well aimed toward the result which followed, the dispersion of
the mob. The city authorities had reason to congratulate themselves
that so fierce a mob had been so successfully controlled, and the disciples
could but be thankful to God that they had escaped so well.