23. And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way.
About this time things get stirred up in Ephesus. The Greek here says this was “no small commotion,” and indeed it was not small, as we can read from the following verses. This commotion is about the Way. This word “Way” was used as a description of the followers of Jesus Christ, Who called Himself “the Way” in John 14:6. Those who followed Him had a way of acting, living, and behaving defined for them by the Lord Jesus Christ. This way, however, was not to the liking of certain in Ephesus, as we will see in the following verses.
24. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen.
This commotion is stirred up by a man named Demetrius. This name means “Belonging to Demeter,” Demeter being a god. This man was a silversmith, a worker in this precious metal of silver. Some good portion of his work, if not all of it, was consumed with making silver shrines of a goddess, called here Diana. This is a Roman name, however, and comes from the Latin Vulgate. The Greek here actually says “Artemis.” Artemis was a goddess, but this is not the Greek Artemis, the sister of Apollo. This Artemis was a goddess of Asia, worshipped here at Ephesus, where her temple was. She was thought to be represented by some sort of meteor that fell to earth near Ephesus, and was kept in her temple. Whether or not Demetrius’ shrines were images of the goddess herself, or whether they were images of this meteor, it is hard to say. Whichever was the case, these silver shrines brought no small profit to Demetrius and his fellow 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.
Demetrius calls together the craftsmen, along with those of similar occupation. This could include those who traded in silver and other materials, who would also have an interest in these silver shrines. Then, he presents his concerns to them. He starts off reminding them that by this trade in shrines of Artemis they have gained prosperity. Indeed, there are few men who will be quite so belligerent about their religion as those who profit by it. They will be blind, stubborn, and unbending when it comes to anything which might jeopardize their further enrichment off the religion from which they are profiting. Those who make their living off of this or that branch of Christianity tend to be little different when it comes to this. Yet this is not the way of the true believer, and is not the kind of faith God is looking for. He wants us to believe things because He said it, not because it benefits us. There will always be men like Demetrius, however, for whom their own personal profit is their primary religious motivation.
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.
Demetrius then speaks of what these craftsmen were seeing happening in Ephesus, and also hearing of it happening throughout almost all Asia: that Paul had persuaded and turned away many people from the worshipping of idols. He taught that things made with hands are not gods, which of course we know is true.
The Jews made up a significant percentage of the population of these places, and a good number of them had given up on the God of their fathers and had taken up idolatry. Now, the vast majority of these had turned back to faith in the true God and away from idols. This is a big enough movement that it is affecting the sales of idolatrous shrines, like those Demetrius was making and selling. This, of course, was a concern to Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen.
Yet notice that Demetrius does not seem to think that Paul has won the day, that the vast majority of people have already turned away from idols, that he and his fellows are greatly in the minority, and the battle is already lost. That is what we might expect if “Greeks” are the same thing as “Gentiles,” and the word of God had “grown mightily and prevailed” among them, as we saw in verse 20. This only makes sense if the Greeks, like the Jews, were a minority population in Ephesus and Asia. If “Jews and Greeks” takes in all the inhabitants of these places, then Demetrius and his kind have already lost, and he might as well pack up and move his trade elsewhere. Yet he seems only concerned with a decline in sales. He does not seem to think that the worship of Jesus Christ has taken over in Asia and won the day.
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.”
Of course what Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen are most worried about is what this new movement Paul is proclaiming will do to their trade. Yet he does a good job of mixing religion in with it. What he says contains quite a bit of alarmism and hyperbole, but there is no doubt but that the number of worshippers of Artemis was decreasing. Yet there was little danger of her temple being despised by the majority in Ephesus. As for her magnificence, this was largely an imaginary thing on the part of her worshippers. Her temple was indeed a magnificent building, and its remains are still there to this day, yet the goddess supposedly behind it was an imaginary one. The majority of Asia probably did worship Artemis, though to spread this out to the whole world was probably quite an exaggeration. The word “world” here is the Greek word oikoumene, and means the inhabited world of men. Artemis may have had worshippers across the Roman Empire, but the world as a whole certainly did not care so much about this Asian goddess. Yet Demetrius is speaking quite emotionally here, and since his object is to stir up the emotions of these people, what he says works just as he wants it to.
The word “goddess” here is thea, the feminine form of Theos or “God,” and occurs only here in this chapter, where it is found three times. Of course, since there is no such thing as a goddess, the Bible does not speak of one except in the case of a false goddess like this.
28. Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”
Needless to say, these craftsmen who all made their living from the worship of idols were quite stirred up by Demetrius’ words. They are greatly angered, and start to chant their loyalty to Artemis over and over again. This is what we might expect of heathen idolaters like this. Yet how sad it is when those who claim to serve and worship Jesus Christ take up mindless chanting in the same way. Chanting may make a great show of piety, yet this is not what Jesus Christ desires.
Christians can often act the same way as these Ephesian craftsmen in many ways. How many are there who make their living off of being a Christian, and whose zeal for God is as much about the money they make as it is about any real love and care for Him? How many get fired up by emotional speeches, and yet have little real dedication to the Lord once their emotions have cooled? We may point fingers at these Ephesian craftsmen, but all too often the world of Christendom acts in much the same way.
29. So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions.
This uproar among the craftsmen spills out into the city at large. Yet all is confusion, for most do not know what is going on, or why this commotion has occurred. No doubt the incensed craftsmen are still chanting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians,” and probably many of her enthusiastic worshippers in the city, hearing this, join in with them, although they have no idea why they are chanting this or what the problem is. Yet they follow these craftsmen, who seem to take the lead, since they are the only ones who know this is all about Paul. They rush off and find two of Paul’s companions, Gaius and Aristarchus, whom they seize.
The men this mob catches are two of Paul’s traveling companions. The first is Gaius of Macedonia. “Gaius” means “Lord,” and “Aristarchus” means “The Best Ruler,” so these men both had rather royal names.
As for Gaius, can we match him up with any other passages in Scripture? A Gaius of Derbe accompanies Paul in Acts 20:4, yet Derbe was not in Macedonia, so this must be a different Gaius. There was a Gaius who was Paul’s host in Corinth in Romans 16:23, yet Corinth was in Achaia, not Macedonia, so this is probably a different Gaius as well. This Gaius of Corinth is probably the same Gaius that Paul baptized in Corinth according to I Corinthians 1:14. Another Gaius yet again is the one John wrote III John to. So there are many men named Gaius in the Bible, yet as far as we can tell, this is the only mention of this one.
Aristarchus does appear to be named elsewhere. In Acts 20:4, an Aristarchus is again mentioned as accompanying Paul into Asia. This Aristarchus is of Thessalonia, which is in Macedonia, so this is probably the same Aristarchus.
Acts 20:4. And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia—also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia.
In Acts 27:2, an Aristarchus is mentioned who is again a Thessalonian, so it appears he is the same man as here.
Acts 27:2. So, entering a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, meaning to sail along the coasts of Asia. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, was with us.
An Aristarchus is mentioned as Paul’s fellow prisoner in Colossians 4:10, and we have no reason to think it is not again this same Aristarchus.
Colossians 4:10. Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him),
In Philemon 24, Aristarchus is again mentioned as being a fellow laborer with Paul who greets Philemon. This verse closes out our knowledge of this man.
Philemon 23-24. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.
One this mob grabs these two men, they rush into the theater with them. The theater in Ephesus is a very famous structure, and it still stands today. It was an impressive place in that day, but what it seems this mob was interested in was the fact that the city’s leadership would usually meet there. Their thought seems to be to take Gaius and Aristarchus before the town leaders to be condemned.
30. And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him.
Paul, finding out that his friends are in trouble, wants to go into the theater to them. However, the disciples there do not allow him. They probably figure that it will only stir up the crowd more to see the one they considered to be the chief instigator, and the result could only make things worse, perhaps even inducing violence.
The Greek word for “wanted” here is boulomai, and indicates a deliberate determination more than a simple desire. Paul was dead set on this course of joining his friends in their trouble, and so the disciples had to put forth great effort to thwart him from his resolve.
31. Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater.
Some of the officials of Asia who had befriended Paul, upon learning of this uproar about him, send messages to Paul pleading with him to stay out of the theater. We can certainly understand Paul’s viewpoint. This uproar was about him and what he had been doing in Asia, and he does not want his friends to have to face it in his place. Paul was never anything but courageous, and it is what we would expect of him that he would have wanted to take on this mob head-on. Yet we can also see the wisdom of his friends and disciples. Paul’s presence in the theater at this point could only make things worse. Whether Paul likes it or not, he really needs to stay out of the theater at this time.
The officials here are the Asiarchs, and the Companion Bible suggests they were those who would oversee the public festivals and games. They were usually wealthy, and would help defray the costs of these festivals as well. Since most of these festivals were centered around false gods, it is interesting that some of these men have befriended Paul. Again, this is a sign of the great influence the Word of God has had in this city.
The word “sent” here is a form of the Greek word pempo, which means a simple sending, as opposed to apostello, which means to send with authority. In this case, these officials were not sending an official command to Paul, so they were not sending to him with authority. They were simply sending a message as a friend to Paul begging him not to put himself in harm’s way and stir up the situation even more.
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.
Meanwhile all is in an uproar in the theater. The crowd is trying to bring their accusations before the leaders assembled in the theater, yet they are unclear on what exactly is the problem. Some people from the crowd are crying one thing and others are crying another. There is no consensus between them, and so the leaders cannot make heads nor tails of what is going on. Most of them have no idea why this crowd has suddenly rushed into the theater to them, and the crowd itself seems not too clear on why they are there.
The word translated “assembly” here in the New King James Version is the word ekklesia in Greek. It is the word that is usually translated “church.” Yet here, when the context clearly shows that this cannot be some kind of Christian institution, our translators have made it “assembly.” How dishonest this is! If we wish to learn from the Bible what a church is, how can we ignore passages like this that inform us of the meaning of the word? The fact is that the translators wanted to maintain the illusion that the ekklesia was the same thing as the churches we are surrounded by on every hand today. Yet this passage shows us that this was not the case.
The fact is that ekklesia comes from two words, ek which means “out,” and kaleo which means “to call.” Yet if we ask what “call” means, we would discover that in about a third of its occurrences it means “to invite or bid,” but in two-thirds it means “to name, designate, or position.” So the ekklesia are the out-positioned ones. Israel of old had their ekklesia, which was the leadership among them. Among the believers, the ekklesia was the same, the leadership body among the believers. Here in Ephesus, the ekklesia are the leaders of the city. In all these cases, these people are ekklesia because they have a position different from those around them, a position that places them in a special, out-called group. So this use of ekklesia does not fit in at all with our English word “church,” but it fits right in with the Greek word ekklesia. For this reason, we should dispense with the word “church” altogether as a translation of any Biblical word. These religious organizations of men have no similarity to anything in the Word of God. They certainly do not have anything to do with the Greek word ekklesia.
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 defense to the people.
It seems that the Jews realize that the crowd is angry at them. The Jews were the ones who did not worship idols, whether or not they believed in Jesus Christ. The confused crowd may not know exactly that they are there because of Paul, but certainly the Jews sense that their ire is against them. Therefore, they draw Alexander out of the multitude.
Alexander’s name means “Defender of Men,” and he is indeed drawn out to defend the Jews at this time. We do not know for sure if this Alexander is the same as that mentioned anywhere else in Scripture, but when Paul wrote to Timothy when Timothy was in Ephesus, he warned him about an Alexander in I Timothy 1:20, telling Timothy that he had delivered him to Satan that he might learn not to blaspheme. In II Timothy 4:14, Paul tells Timothy, again at Ephesus, that a man named Alexander the coppersmith had done much harm to Paul. Since in both these passages this Alexander is connected with Ephesus, he might well be the same as the Alexander mentioned here. In the second passage, it seems even more likely, since he is called “the coppersmith.” What could be more likely than that the Jews would put forward a fellow craftsman to try to appease the crowd? If this is so, this confirms to us that it was the unbelieving Jews who put this man forward, since this Alexander was nothing but an enemy to Paul and the believers. Again, the Jews were on the hot seat as well here, since they did not worship idols any more than the believers did, though unlike the believers they refused to worship Jesus Christ.
So Alexander motions with his hand. This was a sign that he wanted to say something important, and that everyone should quiet down and give attention to him. He had determined to make a defense to the people, living up to his name.
The word for “wanted” here is the Greek word thelo, which has to do with a desire to do something. Alexander desired to speak, but did not perhaps have the determined resolve to speak that Paul had to enter the theater back in verse 30.
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!”
This turns out to be a bad move on the part of the Jews, for when the crowd recognizes that this Alexander is a Jew, they are stirred up into an even greater frenzy. They take up their chant once again, and for two hours nothing can be heard or done above the cry of “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Of course, there was nothing to this chant. Artemis was largely an imaginary thing, and her greatness was only in the minds of these people. No matter how many times they repeated this chant, it did not make her great, as they said she was. Yet religious men are ever likely to do things like this, thinking that repeating a thing enough times in a religious way will somehow make it true. Yet all this does is prolong the uproar, and certainly nothing is accomplished by it.
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?
All this has been happening in front of the ekklesia of Ephesus, which is still in utter confusion as to what is taking place. Finally, the scribe manages to quiet the crowd. (This “city clerk” is just “the scribe” in Greek, and he was probably the recorder for the ekklesia during their meetings. This word is translated “scribe” everywhere else, so there is no reason to make it anything else here.) Once they have finally stopped this chant, he is able to speak to them.
He speaks words of appeasement, trying to bring this mob back to their senses. He addresses them as men of Ephesus, which they are. Then, he points out that the city of Ephesus contains and guards the temple of Artemis, this goddess they consider so great. They also keep in that temple this rock which they think is an image fallen down from Zeus. This thing is well known, and so he asks what man does not know these things? Certainly they were known far and wide, so the scribe’s words are true as far as this goes.
36. Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly.
The scribe answers his question, confidently proclaiming that these things cannot be denied. Well, while one cannot deny that Ephesus had these things, one could deny that Artemis is a great goddess, or that the image the temple contained had fallen down from Zeus. In fact, Paul had denied these very things. Yet the scribe is trying to calm the people here, and it certainly was true that all except those who followed the God of Israel tended to believe these things. Therefore, the scribe advises them to calm down, and not to act in rashness. Certainly it is quite a trick to convince a mob of this, but the scribe is trying hard.
37. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess.
The scribe now speaks on behalf of Gaius and Aristarchus. He points out that these men are not robbers of temples, which of course they were not. He also suggests they are not blasphemers of their goddess Artemis. Well, this may not have been strictly true. It is doubtful that the believers went around mocking and ridiculing the gods and goddesses of the nations around them. They had no reason to be so childish. However, what they did do is to say that these gods and goddesses are not divine at all, but are merely the creations of men, and should not be worshipped. This may or may not be considered blasphemy. Yet the scribe is interested in quieting the crowd, and most of the crowd do not know what if anything Gaius and Aristarchus have supposedly done anyway, so the scribes words work on the people.
The King James Version has the word “churches” here instead of “temples.” However, this is not a good translation, and it is not a translation of the word ekklesia. The word is actually hierosulos, from hieron, which means a “temple,” and sulao, which means “to rob.” The New King James does a much better job by making it “temples” here.
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.
The scribe has recognized that it is Demetrius who is responsible for this whole uproar, along with his fellow craftsmen. So he suggests that if they have a case they wish to bring against anyone, the courts there are open, and there are proconsuls. This means any suit anyone wants to bring against another can be brought in an orderly and a legal way. If Demetrius wants to charge anyone with anything, that is what he should do, rather than stirring up a mob and an uproar.
39. But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly.
If there is anything else any of them want of the ekklesia, the scribe suggests, they should ask it in a lawful meeting of the ekklesia. That is not what is going on here, for any business the ekklesia might try to do at this point is overshadowed by the fact that they are facing an emotional mob. They cannot meet in a lawful manner under such circumstances.
Not every time members of a legislative body meet together is it a lawful meeting. We know that our own congress has certain times that they meet that are lawful meetings of congress, and others are just informal meetings of various members. It seems this is what had been going on here. This scribe could have called an official meeting, but he is not going to do so at the instigation of such an emotional mob. Therefore, they are not going to meet at all, the scribe announces.
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.”
The scribe warns the people that they, that is the leadership ekklesia of the city, are in danger of being called in question for this uproar. The ones who would do the calling, of course, would be the Roman overlords. Rome did not care for riots in any of their cities, and the leaders in such a city might well be made to answer for it. The scribe then points out that if questioned by the Roman officials, he will be able to give no good reason to account for this disorderly gathering that has taken place in the theater. This is how the scribe explains to the crowd his insistence on declaring this assembly unlawful and bringing an end to it. Of course, he wants to pacify the crowd, and he does not want them turning their anger on their leaders. Yet he also wants it clear to the Romans that the leaders of the town had nothing to do with this mob, fearing punishment by the Romans if they sanction it.
41. And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.
Having finished his speech and explained to the crowd his reason for dismissing the ekklesia, he does so, sending these men back to their homes. The Greek word for “dismissing” is apoluo, which means he unbinds them from their duties and sends them on their way. Finding themselves with no leaders there any more to try to manipulate, and with the scribe’s calming words of reason echoing in their ears, this crowd suddenly loses its heart for any further activity. Their emotions cooled, they begin to drift out of the theater, and Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen find their plan to force the city leaders to punish Paul and his companions thwarted.
Nathan C. Johnson