|Topical Bible Study||May 1958|
The People of the Bible
Article XXXIII—Acts 18:23 – 21:17
Paul’s Third Missionary Journey—Part 1
PAUL’S third missionary journey, like the first two, began at Antioch, in Syria. However, unlike the other two, it did not end at Antioch, but in Jerusalem, where he was received by the brethren of the Jerusalem church. How long Paul remained in Antioch before embarking on his third tour we do not know. The record simply states that “after he had spent. some time there, he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.”—Acts 18:23
From this we gather that during the first part of this journey Paul concerned himself more with ministering to the brethren than with evangelistic work; although, knowing Paul as he is revealed to us in the Book of Acts and through his epistles, we are confident that even while primarily ministering to the brethren, he did not overlook any opportunities to proclaim the glad tidings to those who had never heard the kingdom message.
Verses 24 to 28 are in the nature of an introduction to Paul’s experiences when, after passing “through the upper coasts, [he] came to Ephesus.” (ch. 19:1) These verses tell of a brilliant convert to Christianity named Apollos. Verse 24 informs us that Apollos was “an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures,” and that he visited Ephesus. This was before Paul had arrived.
Apollos preached the Gospel to the Jews in the synagogue at Ephesus. He was “fervent in the spirit,” and “taught diligently.” And although the record states that he “was instructed in the way of the Lord,” it is apparent that he was not fully instructed. Aquila and Priscilla had accompanied Paul from Corinth to Ephesus on his previous tour, and he had left them there. They were well instructed in the truths of the Gospel, and when they heard Apollos preach to the Jews in the synagogue, and comparing his knowledge with what they had learned from Paul, they recognized that he had much to learn.
So when a favorable opportunity presented itself Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos aside, perhaps into their home, “and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” (vs. 26) Soon after this, seemingly, Apollos decided to “pass into Achaia.” Learning this, the brethren in Ephesus wrote letters exhorting those whom Apollos would visit “to receive him.” And we are told that “he helped them much which had believed through grace: for he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ.”—vss. 27,28
Here we have a revealing incident of the generosity of spirit usually manifested by the Lord’s people toward their brethren. They recognized in Apollos an able exponent of some of the simple truths concerning Jesus’ being the promised Messiah, and that he was able to more than “hold his own” with the unbelieving Jews. On the strength of this they did not hesitate to recommend him to other brethren. While he had been immature in knowledge and experience, Aquila and Priscilla, rather than condemn this ardent servant, helped him to a better understanding. Certainly when he left Ephesus he understood the truth much more clearly because of the interest taken in him by these two friends of Paul.
Paul at Ephesus
After Apollos left Ephesus, Paul arrived, “and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed?” Their reply was, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Spirit.” (ch. 19:1,2) Without doubt these “certain disciples” had received the Gospel and believed as a result of the ministry of Apollos, and in their own lack of understanding we see evidence of their teacher’s immaturity in the truth.
As Aquila and Priscilla had endeavored to help Apollos, so Paul directed his attention to those whom Apollos had converted. He learned that they had been baptized with “John’s baptism,” which was a baptism of repentance, symbolizing the washing away of sin. Paul explained to them that while John’s baptism was proper for the time, and was in harmony with John’s work of preparing the way for Christ, there was now a higher baptism, a baptism into Christ, of which immersion in water was a symbol.
There were twelve of these “certain disciples,” and apparently they were glad to receive the better understanding of the truth which Paul was able to give to them, so they were baptized again. They then received the Holy Spirit, Paul laying his hands upon them, thus transmitting the power of the Spirit to speak “with tongues,” and to prophesy.
Meanwhile, Apollos was mingling with the brethren in Corinth of Achaia. While Paul was still in Ephesus, possibly three years later than this, he wrote his first epistle to the Corinthian brethren. In this epistle it is revealed that in the Corinthian church there was spiritual immaturity. While Paul had been used by the Lord to establish the church at Corinth, now the brethren were divided, some standing with Apollos, some with Paul, and others with Cephas. Other influences had also entered the congregation, leading to additional sectarian “cliques.”—I Cor. 1:12
In passing, it may be well to observe that much of the unchristian conditions which have existed among the Lord’s people throughout the age have been due either to lack of understanding or instability. It is a trait of fallen human nature to lean too heavily, and too trustingly, upon human leaders. How noble is the example set by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian brethren in explaining that it was wrong for any of them to be saying, “I am of Paul.”
We have a similar example in Paul’s letter to the brethren at Philippi. He also had been used by God to establish the church at Philippi; but in his epistle to these brethren he reminds them that it was God who had begun the good work in them, and that God would be able to complete this work, even though they did not see him again in the flesh. (Phil. 1:3-6) May we realize ever more clearly that our loyalty should be first to the Lord, and to brethren only to the extent that, in their teachings and spirit, they reflect the will of the Lord.
In the Ephesus Synagogue
After helping the twelve brethren who had begun the Christian way under the tutelage of Apollos to a clearer understanding of the truth, Paul then, as his custom was, sought opportunity to Witness to the Jews in the synagogue. He concluded, apparently, that Apollos, even with his eloquence, had not exhausted the possibilities among his own people, the Jews. For three months he continued this effort, “disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.”—vs. 8
Finally the usual happened. The Jews of the synagogue who did not accept the message became “hardened,” and “spake evil of that way before the multitude.” (vs. 9) Then Paul “departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.” For two years Paul continued his work in this school. It is not clear just what connection he had with the school or whether or not Tyrannus was a believer. It is likely, however, that Paul merely used the schoolroom at times when it was not used by Tyrannus to conduct his own classes.—vs. 10
Paul’s work in the school of Tyrannus was by no means limited to the brethren, for we read that in the two years he labored there “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” (vs. 10) It is not necessary to conclude from this that every individual in Asia Minor personally visited the school of Tyrannus and heard Paul preach. The thought is, evidently, that all heard about Paul and his message that Jesus was the foretold Messiah of the Jews. Of course many did visit the school to learn more about the Gospel of Christ.
Certainly Paul’s reputation spread throughout the country during those years, for through him “God wrought special miracles, … so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” (vss. 11,12) With miracles like this supporting his spoken word, it is no wonder that, the people of the whole country knew about Paul and the message he was declaring. Without doubt, in connection with these miracles of healing, Paul took occasion to emphasize that with the return of the Messiah and the establishment of his kingdom there would be a world-wide healing of the sick, when all blind eyes would be opened, and all deaf ears unstopped.
Among all races there are the unprincipled, so at Ephesus, there were “vagabond Jews.” The Revised Version reads, “wandering Jews.” The thought is evidently of a class of Jews who were unsettled in their convictions, going from place to place, perhaps, and as opportunists, seizing upon anything that would be of profit to them along material lines. These particular ones were exorcists, and recognizing the success of Paul in casting out evil spirits in the name of the Lord Jesus, undertook to use this name themselves. “Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew,” are particularly charged with this wrongdoing.—vss. 13,14
When, in the name of the Lord Jesus, these “vagabond Jews” commanded an evil spirit to leave one who was afflicted, the spirit answered, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” The evil spirits had come in contact with Jesus, and had been forced to obey his command. The same was true with respect to Paul. They could truly say that they knew these two. They knew them to their own sorrow, but they challenged the right of these “vagabond Jews” to order them around.
Not only did this spirit refuse to obey, but he caused the person he was controlling to attack the would-be exorcists, and he “overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” (vss. 15,16) Naturally the news of this incident spread and was soon known “to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.”—vs. 17
“Fear” fell on “all,” but not all believed. Although “many” did, and these “came, and confessed and showed their deeds.” (vs. 18) “Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.” (vs. 19) This was, perhaps, the original “book burning.”
But how different were these circumstances from those associated with the book burnings of more recent times! With those at Ephesus it was a case of having learned the truth, and discovering that their books contained satanic error, they voluntarily burned them. In many later instances it has been the case of religious bigots burning books which in reality contained the truth, particularly the Bible, in order to prevent others from reading what they knew they could not logically refute.
Diana of the Ephesians
While Paul, on this third missionary tour, remained in Ephesus for upwards of three years, and must have had many outstanding experiences,—some happy and some trying, but all blessed—only a few are recorded.
One was his witnessing the uproar precipitated by Demetrius when he charged that Paul’s preaching was ruining the business of those who manufactured idols. (Acts 19:21-41) In this episode we again see the baneful influence of human selfishness. Demetrius, the silversmith, who earned his living by manufacturing “shrines for Diana,” had no valid objection to Paul’s preaching. He did not attempt to show that it was wrong. His only objection to it was that it threatened to ruin his business and the business of others who were making their living in the same manner.
Nor was it difficult for him to stir up a mob of opposition against Paul and his companions. The majority of those in the mob were not silversmiths, but zealous, though bigoted worshipers of the goddess Diana. It was religious fear and prejudice that moved them to action, as has been the case over and over again throughout the ages.
We are prone to look back upon the Ephesians and thank God that we have progressed beyond fear and prejudice in our religious concepts. But let us not be too sure! Let our cherished beliefs and self-created idols be challenged or threatened, and we may find that we become as deeply stirred as did those ancient worshipers of the goddess Diana. This should not be! If our faith is firmly established in the Word of God rather than in the opinions of men, we will reason that if our creed “idols” cannot be supported by the Word of God they should he destroyed.
Paul was not personally endangered by the demonstration of the heathen worshipers stirred up by Demetrius, but his companions were seized and taken into the theatre, apparently with the thought of inflicting injury of some sort upon them. Paul, who was never fearful of danger, endeavored to join them, but the disciples restrained him. Other friends of Paul also advised him not to become involved in the riot.
And a riot it was! The record indicates that while there was a lot of shouting and excitement, most of the participants seemed to have no idea of what it was all about. The disciple Alexander, called for the attention of the crowd, and was ready to explain the situation as he saw it, but the crowd learned that he was a Jew, and became more riotous than ever. For two hours they continued to repeat the shout, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.”
Finally the town clerk, displaying a great deal of wisdom, was able to restore order. He explained that if anyone had a real complaint against Paul and his companions it could be heard in an orderly manner, and through the channels provided for the purpose. He also reminded Demetrius and his friends that if Diana were the true goddess which they and the Ephesians in general believed her to be, they had nothing to fear, that she was fully capable of taking care of herself and of her temple, or words to this effect.
This sort of philosophy, which is true, was used by different ones as recorded in the Scriptures. Gideon’s father employed it when the idols he had erected were destroyed by Gideon. (Judges 6:28-31) The Pharisee, Gamaliel, resorted to the same argument—in principle—when asking the religious rulers of Israel not to interfere with Peter and John. He explained that if their work was of God they could not overthrow it, and that by trying to do so they might be fighting against God.—Acts 5:33-39
True followers of the Master will never maliciously attack those with whom they do not agree, either by word or deed. If they are convinced, as they should be, of the rightness of the cause which they represent, they will gladly lay down their lives promoting it, but will not endeavor to restrain the liberties of those who may not agree with them. Any inclination, or urge, to do so, is an evidence of weakness, and an admission of one’s own insecurity. The town clerk of Ephesus and his compatriots were deluded and terribly wrong in supposing that their “Diana” was a true goddess, but he at least had the courage of his conviction concerning her power, and did not see the necessity of persecuting men who had done no wrong, in order to save Diana’s standing in the community. He was a wise man.
On this third journey, Paul had in mind that it was the Lord’s will for him to again visit Jerusalem, and then go to Rome. So, even before the demonstration stirred up by Demetrius, he was making his plans to leave Ephesus, visit the brethren in Macedonia and Achaia, and then go on to Jerusalem and Rome. Now that the “uproar was ceased” he called unto him his disciples, and embraced them, and departed for to go to Macedonia.”—Acts 19:21; 20:1