In the last essay we studied Acts 18:1-22, which is a record of Paul’s mission to Corinth during his second missionary journey. In this essay we are studying Acts 18:23-19:22, which is part I of Paul’s third missionary journey. It is mainly an account of Paul’s mission to Ephesus. Near the end of his second journey, Paul promised the Ephesians that he would return to them, if God were willing. Well, God was willing. But Paul and the Holy Spirit had some other places to go first.
In verse 23 we learn that Paul stayed for an unspecified period of time at Antioch, and then he set out on his third journey. We are not told who accompanied him. At any rate, he followed the same route that he and Silas had followed at the beginning of the second journey. He went through Galatia and Phyrgia to encourage the churches he had founded on his first journey.
Next, we see that between the time that Paul left Ephesus for Antioch, and the time that Paul arrived back at Ephesus on the third journey, a new potential leader had arrived in Ephesus. His name was Apollos. His name suggests that he was from a proselyte family, because a Jewish family would not have named a son after a pagan god. His family apparently converted to Judaism after the birth of Apollos. Luke describes Apollos as a man from Alexandria, who was an eloquent and enthusiastic speaker, well versed in the Old Testament. He was acquainted with the story of Jesus and could speak about it accurately. Yet, interestingly, he knew only the baptism of John the Baptist.
Aquila and Priscilla heard him speak at the synagogue and recognized that he needed further instruction. So “they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.” Presumably, they w taught him about baptism in the name of Jesus, as opposed to the baptism of John the Baptist. And they would have taught him about Pentecost and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We properly could say that they mentored him.
Now I see three important principles here. First, when we see a need to confront a situation, like that of Apollos, we should do what Aquila and Pricilla did, namely, do it lovingly in private. We are not told where they took Apollos aside to, but I suspect it was to their home for a meal. Had they confronted him publicly in the synagogue, they might have failed to get him to listen, because he immediately would have been on the defensive.
Second, looking at the other side of the situation, had Apollos not been open to instruction, his ministry would have been crippled. It especially would have lacked the power of the Holy Spirit.
And third, Apollos also was open to receiving instruction from a woman, a very unusual thing in that day. In that culture, women were second-class citizens who had no rights. They were not sent to school, and they were permitted to teach only children and other women.
Some time later, Apollos decided to go to Achaia, th3e ancient name for Greece. And the Ephesian Christians gave him a letter of recommendation (v. 27). We know from Paul’s first letter to Corinth that Apollos went to Corinth in Achaia, and that Paul greatly appreciated Apollos’ ministry there. Paul considered Apollos a fellow worker in God’s field (1 Cor. 3:6). And he called him an apostle (4:1-9). Luke tells us that Apollos did indeed have a powerful ministry in Corinth, especially in debating Jews about Jesus. He was able to demonstrate from the Old Testament that Jesus was the Messiah.
Moving now to chapter 19, in verse one we see that Paul returned to Ephesus while on his third journey. We didn’t talk about the city when Paul made his brief visit there on the second journey. So a bit of information is appropriate now. At the time, Ephesus was one of the main cities in the Roman Empire. It was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and the greatest commercial center in the province. It also had the status of a free city with its own government. The city prided itself on being the main center for the worship of Artemis, the goddess of the moon, one of the most popular and widely worshipped goddesses. And the huge temple dedicated to her in the city was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Therefore Ephesus, like Antioch and Alexandria, was one of the great cities of the Empire. And like those cities, a large colony of Jews lived there.
By the time Paul arrived back in Ephesus, Apollos already had moved on to Corinth. But Paul found twelve disciples there. Scholars debate whether or not these twelve were disciples of Christ or of John the Baptist. If they were Christians, they obviously had not been introduced to Pentecost and the Holy Spirit. If they were disciples of John the Baptist, then they were not Christians at all. At any rate, during a conversation with them, Paul asked if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They replied that they had never even heard of the Holy Spirit. So Paul asked a follow up question. He asked, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Luke doesn’t mention it, but at this point Paul undoubtedly would have given them instruction regarding Christian baptism, including the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Then he baptized them in the name of Jesus and laid hands on them, at which time they were baptized by the Holy Spirit in Pentecost fashion. I personally believe that the twelve were not Christians until they were baptized in the name of Jesus, which symbolized their faith in Jesus.
We see in verses 8-10 that Paul followed the same pattern of evangelism in Ephesus that he had followed elsewhere. He preached and taught in the synagogue as long as he could; and then when strong opposition arose, he took his ministry to the Gentiles. In this case, it took the opposition much longer to arise than usual. Normally he had to abandon the synagogue ministry in a week or two, but this time he continued a successful ministry there for three months. But strong opposition finally did form, and some of the Jews began to say bad things to the congregation about “the Way.” When that happened Paul, along with those who had been converted, left the synagogue. They began meeting daily at the school, translated “lecture hall,” of Tyrannus. The NRSV says that Paul “argued” daily there. That is not a good translation. It suggests a very confrontational kind evangelization. But the Greek verb used here is the one from which we get our word dialogue. I believe the NIV’s translation, “had discussions,” is much better. Verse 10 tells us that this went on for more than two years, which means that Paul’s second stay in Ephesus was by far the longest during his three missionary journeys. The verse also tells us that the entire province of Asia heard the gospel during that two-year period. It is likely that most of that evangelization was done by Paul’s converts rather than by Paul himself.
Luke reports that miracles occurred during Paul’s Ephesian ministry. But in his opinion, they were not run-of-the-mill miracles. He declares them extraordinary even for miracles (v. 11). And he illustrates with extraordinary healings and exorcisms that took place simply by touching clothing that had touched Paul’s skin. Luke specifically mentions the handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul would have worn while working. Handkerchiefs were worn as sweatbands, and aprons were standard apparel for tentmakers (v. 12).
Next Luke tells us about seven sons of a man named Sceva who were trying to cast demons out of people by using the names of Jesus and Paul. But it didn’t work for them. When they tried to cast an evil spirit out of a man, he thoroughly thrashed all of them so that they had to flee naked and wounded (vv. 13-16). The news of this event spread quickly and filled the people who heard it with awe, and the name of Jesus was praised (v. 17).
These events caused what we might today call a revival. There were many in Ephesus who practiced magic and sorcery. And those who were converted not only confessed and repented of what they had been doing (v. 18), but they also brought their books and burned them in a large public bonfire (v. 19). Luke reports that the total value of the books was about 50,000 drachmas, which was a huge amount. You will remember that a drachma was about a day’s wage for a laborer. And Luke declares, “the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (v. 20).
Verses 21-22 tell us that Paul was thinking about his future travels. He projected that he would go to Macedonia and Achaia before returning to Jerusalem, which would complete his third journey. Later in the book, in Acts 24:17, we learn why he wanted to go to Jerusalem. It reads, “Now after some years I came [to Jerusalem] to bring alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices.” So Paul wanted to take an offering to the Christians in Jerusalem who needed financial help, and he wanted to worship at the temple. But in terms of travel, Paul was thinking far beyond Jerusalem. Paul wanted to go to Rome and even on to Spain, the far western limit of the Roman Empire. He explained all of this to the Romans in Rom. 15:25-29, where Paul tells them that he wanted to visit them on the way to Spain (vv. 22-24). Then he tells them that he is going to Jerusalem with the money collected from the churches of Macedonia and Achaia (vv. 25-29).