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An Exposition Of The Acts Of The Apostles


Coming to Ephesus, the Apostle finding some converts imperfectly instructed in some points of faith, he more fully instructs them, baptizes them, and imposing hands on them, imparts the Holy Ghost (1–7). He continues instructing them for two years, working miracles, casting out devils, which some unauthorized men attempting were overpowered by the demon (8–17). The violent tumult caused by Demetrius the silversmith and his fellow craftsmen (23–34). The intervention of the City Magistrate, warning them of the possible consequences of their disorderly conduct, restored order (35–40).


1. “Upper coasts,” or regions of Asia. Phrygia and Galatia, situated in a high country, a distance from the Ægean sea.

“Came to Ephesus,” according to promise (18:21). It was situated in the lower maritime district.

“Certain disciples,” who were baptized into John’s Baptism, and received John’s teaching regarding the near Advent of the Messiah. They like Apollos, had not heard that the Messiah had come, nor anything regarding the Holy Ghost.

2. Assuming these disciples to be baptized members of the Church, but doubting if they were confirmed, he now asks them after having believed and consequently having received Baptism, if they had received the Sacrament of Confirmation which was veribly accompanied by the external gifts of the Holy Ghost, such as the gift of tongues, miracles, &c. These twelve men may have been natives of Palestine, at a time when the Faith of Christ was not preached, but only the teaching of John and his Baptism was known. “We have not so much as heard,” &c.

3. St. Paul then asks, as from their answer it would seem they could not have received the Baptism of Christ in the very form of which the Holy Ghost is expressly mentioned. (The word “then” or therefore implies that there was mention of the Holy Ghost in Christ’s Baptism), what other Baptism did they receive, “in what then,” &c. The Greek is, into what, into whose name, what Faith or doctrine. What Faith did you profess at Baptism?

“In John’s Baptism.” A necessary condition of which was faith in the Messiah now come, John’s preaching had reference, in a special way, to the Messiah and not to the Holy Ghost. Hence the disciples of John not having been instructed in Christian doctrine, knew nothing of the Holy Ghost.

4. “With the baptism of penance, which was a symbol of and an incentive to penance for their sins. The Greek construction is different. The word “people” is connected with “saying” thus; John baptized, saying to the people. However, there is but little difference of signification in both constructions.

“Saying they should believe in Him,” &c. From this St. Jerome, St. Thomas, Bonaventure and others infer, that the form used in John’s baptism—if form and not rather their protestation or profession of faith it could be called—was in the words “I baptize thee that thou mayest believe in Him who is to come, that is in Jesus Christ.” These words are hortatory and convey an exhortation and admonition to do penance and have faith in Christ.

The words “who was to come after him,” are a paraphrase for the Messiah or Christ.

5. Having heard Paul concerning John’s baptism and its effects to which he most likely, added instructions on the principal points of Christian doctrine, including the necessity of Christian baptism and its effects. “Baptized in the name,” &c. Received Christian baptism, as instituted by our Lord Jesus, incorporated with Him, members of His Mystical Body, bearing His Name, and embracing His religion. No doubt, St. Paul in conferring the baptism of Christ, employed the form with the distinct mention of the Trinity presented by our Lord. Indeed, this is implied in the words “in what then were you baptized?”

6. “Imposed his hands on them” By administering confirmation.

“The Holy Ghost came,” &c., in the visible appearance of fire and tongues. “And they spoke with tongues and prophesied,” either by foretelling future events, or sounding forth the praises of God with great fervour of spirit, making known the hidden things of God (8:15–17).

8. “Concerning the Kingdom of God.” Pointing out the economy of Redemption, the means and necessary course to be pursued in order to secure Eternal life.

9. “Speaking evil.” Reproachfully and insultingly of our Lord, of His Gospel and doctrines.

“He separated the disciples.” Such as believed or were well disposed to believe, these he removed from the wicked gainsayers, lest their contagious example might corrupt them.

“Disputing daily.” Reasoning, teaching of the Gospel truths “in the school,” the office or hall occupied by this Tyrannus in teaching his scholars. “Tyrannus,” likely a Jew, not hostile to the faithful.

10. “Who dwelt in Asia.” A great number of those who dwelt in Asia, Jews and Gentles, who had commercial relations with Ephesus, “heard the word of the Lord.” By Asia is meant the Proconsular province of Asia Minor, of which Ephesus was the capital, a sense in which the term “Asia” is sometimes used (2:9).

11. “More than common.” Unusual, remarkable, “miracles.”

12. “Brought from His body.” May mean, that he used them, or, that the faithful applied them to His person or brought them in contact with Him, with a view of applying them to the sick for miraculous cures.

“Diseases departed.” Of “wicked spirits” it is said, they went out of them. This passage furnishes a very strong argument in favour of the religious worship of relics, as approved of by the Church (C. Trent, ss. xxv.).

13. Certain Jews, “who went about” from place to place, having no fixed abode, practising exorcisms.

“Exorcists.” These probably refer to a class of men among the Jews, who by the invocation of the name of God, cast out devils (Matthew 12:27, Mark 9:27). We are informed by Josephus (Antiq. lib. viii. c. 2), that Solomon instructed this class of men, by Divine authority, in the art of expelling demons. These, probably, regarded Paul as belonging to some such class, seeing he expelled demons by invoking the name of Jesus, they fancied there was some latent spell or virtue in this name and so they invoked him.

14. “A chief priest.” Likely he was never high priest; but may be called such, because he was a distinguished priest, who held the office of ruler; or, he may have been the head of one of the twenty-four (24) sacredotal ranks or orders into which David divided the entire posterity of Aaron (1 Par. 24:1–19).

15. On hearing them utter the adjuration, then the wicked spirit said, I know the power of Jesus in expelling devils (Matthew 8:29), and of Paul (v. 12). “But who are ye,” what right or power have you in this matter, as you belong neither to Jesus nor to Paul?

16. “Leaping on them” (Luke 9:49; Mark 5:3, &c.) “Mastering them both.” It would seem, that only two of the sons of Sceva were engaged in the operation.

17. The failure of these pretenders showed the real power of Paul and the truth of his doctrines.

18. “Many of them that believed,” and were converted to the faith, on seeing what befel the exorcists, came to the assembly of the faithful, in the fulness of their fervour, publicly proclaiming and confessing their past misdeeds. This may refer to their sins committed in the exercise of the black acts of the exorcists or to their iniquities in general. This does not refer to sacramental confession; it was public, similar to that made by the Jews who came to John’s Baptism (Math. 3:6). It was an exterior profession of sincere repentance, of their real conversion to God and detestation of their sins. Among the penitents were those who followed “curious arts” (v. 19).

19. “Curious arts.” Magic and all sorts of incantations calculated to delude the people. Ephesus was specially addicted to the practice of magic, which originally had reference to the worship of Diana. Magical formulas, written on parchment, designated by the name of EPHESIAN LETTERS, carried about as amulets, were celebrated all over the East.

To prove the sincerity of their conversion and detestation of the black arts which they publicly practised, these men now make public reparation by publicly committing to the flames their magical books of great value.

“Counting the price of them.” Probably the multitude, who were astonished at this great act of sacrifice, computed their value at “fifty thousand pieces of silver.”

What the value of these “pieces of silver” was, is not mentioned in the Text. They were probably Attic Drachmœ, all amounting to about fifteen thousand pounds (£15,000) of our money. At all events, they amounted to a very large sum, which shows the sincerity of the possessors in sacrificing so much in attestation of their sincere conversion.

20. This great sacrifice of valuables and resolve in future to give up all such illicit gains would prove the strength of the faith of the believers at Ephesus.

21. “Things ended.” No further necessity for remaining, the faith being so firmly established. “Purposed in the spirit,” resolved in his mind, “passed through Macedonia and Achaia,” visiting the churches he already established there.

22. “Timothy” who had been with Paul (c. 16:3) in founding the church of Corinth, “and Erastus,” treasurer of the city of Corinth. He confined himself to Asia (Ephesus) for some time. How long is not known.

23. “Disturbance.” Popular excitement. “About.” On account of. “The way of the Lord,” or the doctrines which Paul enunciated. The Greek has only “the way,” but it clearly means “the way of the Lord,” or the doctrines of Christianity as the Vulgate supplements it.

24. “Silversmith.” Chiefly occupied in making small shrines modelled after the celebrated temple of Diana. Not unlikely in these shrines were contained or enclosed small silver statues of the Goddess so celebrated all over Asia. With the pagans it was customary to carry about their persons images of their Gods as amulets or charms. Some kept them in their houses. Hence, the Romans called them their penates or household gods.

“Craftsmen.” The tradesmen and labourers employed in the manufacture of these statues or shrines.

25. “Gain.” Property, means of livelihood.

26. “All Asia” Minor, of which Ephesus was the capital.

27. “This our craft.” In Greek, this our part, our business, our occupation. “To be set at nought.” To be undervalued, discredited. “Temple.” One of the wonders of the world.

“Of the Great Diana.” “Great” was one of her distinguishing epithets.

“Whom all Asia,” &c. She attracted the whole world to pay her divine honours in her favourite city of Ephesus. Demetrius and his followers, in order to gain public sympathy and support, like the artful, dishonest Philippians (16:20–22), affect great zeal for the public welfare.

29. “Having caught Gaius,” &c. They rushed impetuously into the theatre, bringing in with them “Gaius,” &c., to have them and any other Christians there present severely punished and maltreated. Likely the Apostle was not, at this moment, in his usual dwelling.

The “theatres” among the Greeks were used for all sorts of public meetings, elections, &c.

30. St. Chrysostom (Hom. 7, de laudibus Pauli) extols the magnanimity and apostolic courage displayed here by the Apostle in exposing his life in defence of the cause of Christ.

31. “Some also of the rulers,” &c. “Rulers,” called Asiarchs. These discharged certain functions in the Proconsular Province of Asia, the same as the Bithynarchs, Cappadociarchs, Phæniciarchs, &c., discharged in their several districts, viz., they had charge of or presided over the public rites of religion and the public games. These duties they discharged at their own expense. On this account men of wealth were elected. Ten were elected annually in the several cities of Proconsular Asia. Their presence in Ephesus now was probably owing to the great games celebrated in honour of Diana. At other times, they were present in other cities, such as Smyrna, Colophon, &c. Among them some were kindly disposed towards the Apostle. They, therefore, dissuaded him from exposing his life and increasing the tumult. It is observed by commentators, Beelin among the rest, that vv. 30, 31 are to be read parenthetically. At v. 32 the account of the tumult omitted in v. 29 is again resumed.

33. Who this “Alexander” was and why put forward by the Jews is not known for certain. Some say that having been converted from Judaism to Christianity, the Jews wished to draw the whole ire of the assembled crowd down on him. It would, however, seem more probable that he was urged on by the Jews to make a defence of the Jews, and to show that in their doctrines they held nothing in common with Paul or his teachings; that the Jews were altogether different from the Christians; that they had nothing to say to this tumult. This seems the natural inference from the words “would have given the people satisfaction,” and would have defended the Jews from any charge of sympathy with Paul or his.

34. From his whole appearance they saw he was a Jew. The Jews were universally disliked. The people also knew that the Jews were quite opposed to idol worship. Hence, they refused to give him a hearing, thinking he might speak against Diana, and continued crying out vociferously, for the space of about two hours, “Great is Diana,” &c.

35. “Town Clerk.” In Greek, “a Scribe,” who was after arriving. Here the word is used to signify, the keeper of the city archives, an officer of great authority among the Ephesian magistrates. He “appeased (quieted) the multitude,” so as to get a hearing.

“Worshipper,” in Greek, a temple keeper. A term of honour among the Pagans, who regarded it as a great and honourable distinction to take charge of the temples of their Gods, to sweep, clean, and keep them in order. It denotes a fervent, zealous worshipper of the God to whom the temple was dedicated. The speaker displays great tact in his address to the people, by first showing zeal for their worship and the Goddess they adored.

“Jupiter’s offspring.” The Greek means “fallen down from Jupiter,” the word “image” being understood. Hence, it means the image of Diana, which the Ephesians venerated so much, firmly maintaining that it fell down from heaven. (It may have been a meteoric stone).

This image, the manufacture of which traceable to the most remote antiquity, of which there is no record, was an object of the greatest veneration with the Ephesians. It may have been a meteoric stone. The Trojans too had their Palladium, which they fancied to be sent down from heaven. Among the Romans, Numa pretended that his ancilia or sacred shields were sent down from heaven.

36. These things being indisputable. This on his part was a sort of official lie. For Paul had confuted them.

They should not persist unceasably in their tumultuous conduct. No cause for it.

37. In this is implied that they acted rashly, by bringing forward men who gave no grounds for accusation, not “guilty of sacrilege” in rifling their shrines or temples, “nor of blasphemy” in speaking contemptuously “against your Goddess.”

“For you”—Demetrius and the craftsmen—who were the real cause of the tumult.

38. “Courts of justice.” The Greek might better be rendered, the days for holding the courts and trials.

“Are open.” “And Proconsuls.” Judges regularly appointed for the impartial administration of justice.

“Proconsuls.” There was only one, who occasionally employed deputies, who may have been popularly looked upon as Proconsuls, or the plural may have been used for the singular in a popular and generic sense.

“Accuse one another.” Plead their own cause and speak in self-defence, or accuse the opposite party. The laws will secure justice for both sides.

39. “Any other matter” of public interest, “in a lawful assembly,” convened by the public authorities, whom it concerns, at a proper time and place, according to law, but not in a tumultuous, excited gathering like this.

40. “Called in question” by the Roman authorities. The Roman law was very severe on the promoters of riot. It made it as a capital crime for any one to be engaged in a riotous assembly. Qui cœtum et concursum fecerit, capite prematur (Seneca. Controvs. iii. 8).

“Assembly.” The riotous gathering.

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