Acts 19:8-41

A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

October 1, 2009 


Paul’s Third Missionary Journey – Part 2

(Acts 19:11-41)


It is important to understand that the book of Acts does not record all of the travels of the Apostle Paul.   We have seen that the book of Acts records four major journeys of the Apostle Paul:

  • First Missionary Journey (Acts 13:4-14:28)
  • Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15:6-18:22)
  • Third Missionary Journey (Acts 18:23-21:3)
  • Journey to Rome (Acts 27:1-28:30)

Acts ends with Paul awaiting trial in Rome.  This period of time is often referred to as “Paul’s first Roman imprisonment.”  Many New Testament scholars believe that during this time of imprisonment, Paul wrote the New Testament letters known as “the prison epistles” – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.  The speculation is that after his first Roman imprisonment Paul was released and continued his travels.  He certainly had plans to visit Spain (see Romans 15:24, 28), and Christian tradition says he made that journey.  In his letter to Titus Paul mentioned his intention to meet Titus in Nicopolis which is on the western shore of Greece.  I mention all that just to remind you that Acts does not tell us of all the travels of Paul. 


At this point in our study of Acts, we are looking at the third of Paul’s missionary journeys recorded by Luke.  The bulk of time on Paul’s third missionary journey was spent in the great city of Ephesus.  The third journey lasted between four and five years, three of which were spent in Ephesus (Acts 20:31).  In Acts 19:1-41 Luke tells us the following about Paul’s ministry in Ephesus:

  • 19:1-7 – Meeting with some ill-informed disciples of John the Baptist
  • 19:8-9a – Ministry in the synagogue
  • 19:9b-10 – Teaching in the lecture hall of Tyrannus
  • 19:11-12 – Healings through handkerchiefs and aprons
  • 19:13-17 – Account concerning the sons of Sceva
  • 19:18-20 – Burning of books of magic
  • 19:21-22 – Paul’s desire to go to Rome
  • 19:23-41 – The conflict with the silversmiths


Ministry in the Synagogue (Acts 19:8-9a)

At the end of the second missionary journey Paul made a brief stop in Ephesus.  Acts 18:19-21 says he entered the synagogue of Ephesus and began to teach.  At that time the Jews in the synagogue asked him to stay longer, but Paul was intent on getting back to Antioch.  He promised to return to them at some point in the future, God willing.  These verses in Acts 19 are the fulfillment of that promise Paul made.  Notice the word “reasoning” in verse 8.  We saw this word four times in Acts 17 & 18 (see Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19).  The word is a compound word.  The first part is a preposition meaning through and the last part is a noun meaning speech.  So the word carries the idea of attempting to convince or persuade through speech. 


Paul taught in the synagogue of Ephesus for about three months, but eventually the same opposition he experienced in other synagogues surfaced in Ephesus as well.  Notice verse 8 says Paul was teaching them about “the kingdom of God.”  That phrase is used only six (6) times in the book of Acts.  The kingdom of which Paul was teaching was a kingdom where Jews and Gentiles have equal standing before God.  Many of the Jewish people in Ephesus could not imagine such a kingdom, and they began to speak “evil of the Way.”  Five times in the book of Acts Luke uses the phrase “the Way” to refer Christianity (see Acts 9:2: 19:9 & 23; 24:14 & 22).  The word (hodos) means road or path.  It calls to mind the statement of Jesus in John 14:6 where He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no-one comes to the Father, but through Me.”


Teaching in the Lecture Hall of Tyrannus  (Acts 19:9b-10)

As Paul did in Corinth, when the opposition in the synagogue became so intense as to take away from the message, Paul moved his ministry to a different location.  This time Paul and the disciples of Jesus began meeting in “the school of Tyrannus.”  Tyrannus was an Ephesian teacher who probably taught his classes in the morning.  Ephesians did heavy work in the morning hours and rested form 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Paul probably used the lecture hall during those afternoon hours.  Some have suggested that Tyrannus was a Jew who ran a private synagogue or private school for Jews.  It is more likely that he was a Greek philosopher.  During this period of time, word spread across Asia about Paul’s teaching ministry, and people apparently came from great distances to hear him.  The church as Colossae as well as the seven churches churches mentioned in Revelation – Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodocea – probably came into being during this period of teaching.  The other events detailed in Acts 19 that occurred in Ephesus probably took place during the time Paul was teaching in this lecture hall.


Healings Through Handkerchiefs and Aprons (Acts 19:11-12)

The “handkerchiefs or aprons” referred to in this passage may refer to articles Paul used in his trade as a leather worker or tentmaker (see Acts 18:3).  There is no evidence that Paul manufactured these objects for the purpose of healing.  The point of this statement is that the Holy Spirit was working in such a way through the Apostle Paul during these days in Ephesus that healings and exorcisms through these physical articles associated with Paul.  Several comments need to be made about this statement:

  • Nothing in this passage suggests that these items were sold or even voluntarily given by Paul.  They were “carried” from him or taken from him as an act of faith from the people doing the taking.  The healing came from faith not from the articles taken from Paul!  This is reminiscent of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus garment believing that would heal her (see Mark 5:25ff).  Jesus said to her, “…your faith (not his garment!) has made you well.”  Those who take this event in Acts and use it as a justification to market religious trinkets that prey on the needs of people are misusing Scripture.
  • Events such as this were the exception, not the norm.  Luke describes these events as “extraordinary” or out of the norm.
  • One writer says, “Healing, when it comes, is always the work of God, in keeping with his larger purposes for the kingdom of God and for the individual.  Not everyone who prays for physical healing receives physical healing.  The granting and withholding of such healing remains a mystery with God in heaven.  We must not build our personal faith in the Lord Jesus on the basis of physical healing or the lack of it.” [Layman’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 19, p.114]


Account Concerning the Sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-17)

This is a funny story!  Some fake Jewish exorcists who went from place to place playing on the superstitions of ancient people purporting to cast out demons made their way to Ephesus.  Seven sons of a man named Sceva who claimed to be a Jewish high priest (there is no record of such a high priest ever existing, so they were probably lying about that) saw the mighty works that Paul was doing in the name of Jesus.  They figured if that name worked for Paul, it would work for them as well.  They did not understand that Jesus is not a magical power to be used but a person to be known in personal relationship.  They attempted to cast an evil spirit out of a man but the results weren’t what they expected!  The demon said, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” (v.15)  And the man proceeded to beat on these charlatans until they fled “naked and wounded” (v.16).  The result of this episode is that the name of Jesus was magnified (v.17).


Burning of Books of Magic (Acts 19:18-20)

Magic was big business in the ancient world.  Magic, in the religious sense, is defined as “…an attempt by man, through ritual, incantation, and charms, to manipulate the forces of the universe, whether they be divine or natural.” (Ibid, p.114)  Christianity must never be identified with cheap magic.  We don’t manipulate God, He manipulates (changes) us!  Those coming to faith in Jesus in Ephesus recognized the evil of their dependence on magic brought their books of magic, put them in a big pile, and burned them.  The value of the books, fifty thousand pieces of silver or drachmas (about one day’s wage for the average worker) indicates the impact the gospel was having on Ephesus.  The fact that the people burned these books which had monetary value instead of selling them indicates the depth of change that had occurred in their lives.


Paul’s Desire to go to Rome (Acts 19:21-22)

 Paul was planning to go to Jerusalem to deliver the offering for the suffering Christians there that had been gathered in the churches of Macedonia and Achaia (see 2 Corinthians 8-9).  After that, he desired to go to Rome, not to establish Christian work there because it was already established.  He wanted to visit Rome to encourage the believers there and to receive encouragement from them (see Romans 1:11-12).


The Conflict with the Silversmiths (Acts 19:23-41)

This event emphasizes the impact that Christianity was having on the pagan culture of the 1st century.

“no small disturbance” (v.23) – This was a major event in Ephesus.  As the story unfolds we see how close this comes to becoming a full-fledged riot.

“Demetrius” (v.24) – A wealthy, influential business man.  Maybe head of the silversmith guild.  Much money was made by the craftsmen who made religious shrines and trinkets for the pagans of Ephesus.

“Artemis” (v.24) –  As we saw in a previous study, Ephesus was a key religious center being the location of the Temple of Artemis (Diana), the goddess of fertility.  The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

“our prosperity” (v.25) – This was the chief concern of the silversmiths.  Whenever genuine religion begins to impact power structures and economic structures, conflict and persecution is certain to follow.

“but also that the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless” – Notice the secondary position of this concern.  Their real concern was economic but they cloaked that concern in a veil of religion.

“Gaius” (v.29) – Acts 20:4 mentions that Gaius was from Derbe where Paul ministered on the 1st missionary journey.  1 Corinthians 1:14 mentions a Gaius who was baptized by Paul in Corinth.  Were they the same man?  No one knows for sure, but probably not.

“Aristarchus” (v.29) – He was from Thessalonica had was probably converted on Paul’s 2nd missionary journey.  He not only accompanied Paul on this 3rd journey, but traveled with him to Rome (Acts 27:2) and shared Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (Colossians 4:10).

“Asiarchs” (v.31) – The word means public officers and shows that Christianity was not confined to the lower social-economic groups of the 1st century.

“Alexander” (v.33) -  Some of the crowd, confused about what was happening, blamed the riot  on the Jews.  Alexander was pushed forward by some of the Jews to make a defense against such allegations but he was shouted down by the crowd.

“town clerk” (v.35) – This was the chief administrative official of Ephesus.  He kept the city’s archives, served as treasurer, and presided at town meetings.  In verses 35-41 he says three things:

·        The mob was shouting the obvious.  Everyone already knew that Artemis was great!

·        The courts were open to handle legitimate complaints.  They would not be dealt with by a mob.

·        They were in danger of losing the freedom granted to them by Rome to be a self-governing city.

At this the crowd disbursed.  In Ephesus the gospel confronted idolatry, superstition, and vested economic interests without backing down!


Practical Lesson from Acts 19:8-41:

  1. There is a time for confronting and a time for withdrawing.  Instead of wasting time and energy in conflict in the synagogue, Paul moved is ministry to another location. 
  2. It is dangerous to pretend to have more spiritual understanding or authority than you actually have, as the sons of Sceva discovered.
  3. Genuine conversion leads to radical change and new priorities, as evidenced by those who gave up their dependence on superstition and magic.
  4. Opposition to the gospel always intensifies when vested interests are challenged.