He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.
You may remember John Durell’s comments on Ephesus in the devotion for 20th Feb:
Ancient Ephesus is a favourite port of call today for pilgrims hoping to walk in the footsteps of St Paul. In his time Ephesus was the chief city of the region: three great trade routes converged on it, it was the venue for the ever-popular Pan-Ionian Games, and its greatest glory was the Temple of Diana. Paul had been lucky to escape with his life, when his preaching was interpreted as an attack on the cult of Diana, and seen as a threat to those who profited from it.
It’s a long time since I got as wet as I did in Ephesus. There is no shelter except at the top and bottom of the archaeological site where there are the usual little shops before the exits. As we waited for the rain to ease slightly to make a dash for the coach it was easy to imagine Paul caught in one of these torrential downpours, with added lightening, wondering if he should abandon the Synagogue and find a new place to use as his base. We read that he had travelled by the interior (19:1), possibly because he preferred overland travel, possibly because it was the winter when most sea travel was suspended in the face of these unpredictable storms. Fanciful, maybe, but certainly in two years he would have experienced the sudden, torrential winter storms. We know nothing of how or where he lived and can only speculate whether he lived with Priscilla and Aquila, if he was a rough sleeper for at least part of the time, maybe until he made a tent or something else.
Paul has previously visited the Synagogue in Ephesus so at first tries explaining a Trinitarian theology there. He preaches about “the Way”, with partially success as there is opposition which denounces it as evil. Three months is not long for a division to build to the point where people leave but this brief summary gives no hint of the context that Paul preached in. Perhaps he had anticipated a quiet year or so teaching, as elsewhere, building on the foundation already in place only to find division is also already in place.
For Paul and Luke the effect of a separate group of disciples, meeting in another place, is to give a united base from which the Way could spread all over the hinterland – along the trade routes from the then seaport. Nothing is said about the size of the group, who regularly went to hear Paul’s teaching, or how the group grew or shrank. This is not Luke’s point. His point is that The Way spread so that all residents, of whatever ethnicity, heard the word and could respond if they would.
Lord, we do not know the effect of our actions and words on those we meet, we can only pray that somehow, someone hears your Word and responds. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Browning is a retired minister and member of Thornbury URC in Gloucestershire.