After all this had happened, Paul decided[ to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.
About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 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. 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. 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.”
When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s travelling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theatre together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theatre.
The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. 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 defence before the people. But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
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? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. 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.”
This passage is one that I think shows that whatever changes in the world, people don’t. Paul’s mission is spreading and so is his fame and some people don’t like it, particularly the silversmiths of Ephesus. Demetrius has had enough. Paul is spreading the word about Jesus and he is a threat to the goddess Artemis whose famous Temple is famed far and wide.
He’s worried on three counts: Paul says that gods cannot be made by human hands- this threatens trade as Demetrius and his co-workers make a good living from statues of Artemis; the temple of Artemis may become disregarded and this will hit the tourist trade. This temple was one of the ancient wonders of the world and four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. Lastly, Artemis might lose her majesty if people worship this new deity. Interesting to see the order of his worries!
A mob is raised and Paul’s companions are dragged to the theatre to face the mob. Paul wants to go too but is persuaded that it’s not a good idea. It isn’t. Most of the rabble haven’t a clue what’s going on but the chant “Great is Artemis of Ephesus” goes on for two hours. This was a pagan way of raising a frenzy; it still works today.
I have been to Ephesus; what remains is impressive enough but standing on the stage at the theatre and looking up at seats which held 25,000 is an amazing experience. I realized how brave Paul was to even contemplate facing the mob.
The town clerk appeals to reason- and the fear that they will be in trouble themselves. As town clerks go, he must have been a good speaker. Paul hasn’t committed a crime, but they are about to. If Demetrius has a grievance- go to court.
Ephesus has become an even greater city under the Romans and a centre of the new cult of the Emperor. Something changes the mob’s reaction. Perhaps it was the fear of what the Romans would do with an uprising or perhaps they began to ask themselves what they were shouting about; whatever it was, the mob became a crowd again.
We have to remember that Paul was the basis of the complaint and when we consider what he had already achieved, he was obviously seen as a threat to the status quo. Paul’s preaching was so powerful, his efforts so relentless and his courage so strong that the entire basis of pagan goddess worship in first century Ephesus was being threatened. Paul may have seen this as a chance to convert thousands, but he was persuaded that this was not the time.
The time did come. Artemis is remembered in Ephesus as a story, her statues are still made for tourists, her temple was lost, only re-discovered in the 19thcentury but Jesus is the one in majesty.
The streets of Ephesus are still thronged with visitors. Mobs still chant, whether for teams or politics, but, thank God, people still are prepared to carry the message of Jesus wherever they go.
We live in a world that is still like the one where Paul travelled and preached; People are concerned about themselves and not the way of truth. Crowds still gather, emotions whipped up. We thank you, O God, for people of passion like Paul, Who still spread your word in times of danger. We thank you for people of reason who defuse situations. Help us follow in their way rather than that of the mob So that your words of peace and love prevail. Amen
Chris Eddowes is a lay preacher and elder at St George’s Hartlepool