Scripture

Acts 19:23-41

About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”

28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.

32 The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. 33 The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander to the front, and they shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. 34 But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

35 The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? 36 Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. 38 If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. 39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. 40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” 41 After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.

Reflection

As Paul was preparing for his trip, “there arose a great disturbance about the way.” A man named Demetrius, probably the leader of a regional group of silversmiths, called together the local craftsmen. The silversmiths made a good profit from selling silver shrines of the goddess Artemis. This mother-goddess of fertility had a temple erected in her name that was once one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. It supposedly held up to 50,000 people and covered an area four times as large as the Parthenon in Athens.

Tradesmen made their living supplying visitors with trinkets and tributes to Artemis and other religious figures. Ephesus had declined since its heyday as a center of shipping, and the economy of the city had become increasingly dependent on the tourist trade associated with the cult of Artemis. Now, because of Paul’s preaching, people were turning away from the worship of Artemis. The business of selling these trinkets and shrines began to decline, and the silversmiths were worried about their source of income. Paul was a threat to them.

In his speech, Demetrius united the workmen’s economic concerns with their superstitious fears. He appealed to their loss in trade and the potential decline of the “majesty” of Artemis. He tried to start a riot against Paul. The crowd restrained two of Paul’s associates and shouted for hours as more people joined them. Paul had to be restrained himself from going in to help his friends.

City officials quieted the crowd by reassuring them that the worship of Artemis wasn’t being threatened. Luke took this opportunity to point out that Rome and its officials were not necessarily antagonistic to Paul and the gospel message. The city clerk served as the liaison between the town council and the Roman administration with its headquarters in Ephesus. Realizing the potential penalties the city might receive from Rome if there was a riot, the city clerk implored the mob to take their grievances to the proper authority. He urged the crowd to disband and go home, and fortunately, they listened.

Paul wanted to take matters into his own hands. Fortunately for him, a few wise people restrained him. Unexpected help came from the city officials. What could have turned really ugly, became simply a shouting match for a few hours. God worked in and through ordinary people and situations to provide a continued path forward for Paul and the followers of Jesus. Never give up hope in God, even when the outcome looks grim.  

Prayer

Dear God, Please give me ears to hear you, eyes to see you, and courage to follow you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.