A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 19:23-41. The riot in the city (continued).
Demetrius proved to be a skilled rabble-rouser, for the artisans’ response was immediate.
‘The most impressive ruins in Asia Minor…, Ephesus stands dignified and alone in its death’, wrote H.V.Morton. The excavated site is magnificent; it is easy to visualize the riot. According to the Bezan text of verse 28, the infuriated craftsmen went ‘running into the street’ before they started to shout for Diana. This was probably the Arcadian Way, the main thoroughfare of Ephesus, eleven metres wide, marble-paved and colonnaded, leading from the harbour to the theatre. The theatre itself, still in a fine state of preservation, nestling at the foot of Mount Pion and nearly 500 feet in diameter, could accommodate at least 25,000 people. Here the crowd dragged Gaius and Aristachus. And here Paul (over-confident perhaps in the immunity he believed his Roman citizenship would give him) was prevented from coming by the pleas of both the disciples and by some ‘officials of the province’ who were his friends (31). Luke rightly calls them ‘Asiarchs’. These were leading citizens, who were prominent members of the provincial council of Asia, especially its ‘annual presidents and perhaps ex-presidents’, and/or the city’s deputies who served on it, and/or ‘the administrators of the various temples of the imperial cult, who were under the charge of high priests appointed by the provincial council’. Paul was fortunate to have the friendship and advice of some of them. By now confusion reigned in the theatre. Some people were shouting this or that, but most of them had no idea why they were there. A division was caused when some Jews tried to put forward their spokesman, no doubt in order to disassociate Jews from Christians, but the crowd, who would not have comprehended the distinction, shouted him down and for two hours resumed their chanting of Diana’s name. Indeed, the section begins and ends with the hysterical screams ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ (28,34). Haenchen is right to comment that ‘in final analysis the only thing heathenism can do against Paul is to shout itself hoarse’.
Luke now describes how the crowd’s frenzy was calmed by ‘the city clerk’ (*grammateus*,35), who was ‘the elected head of the city executive’ or ‘the chief administrative assistant, annually elected, of the magistrates; he had a staff of permanent clerks, responsible for the paper work of the city’.
The city clerk was evidently a man of high intelligence and of great skill in crowd control. He made four points. First, the whole world knows that Ephesus is the guardian of Artemis’ temple and image. Since this is undeniable, no-one is going to deny it, and the cult of Artemis is in no danger (35-36).Secondly, ‘these men’ (Gaius and Aristarchus) are guilty of neither sacrilege (robbing the temple) nor blasphemy (reviling the goddess). They are innocent (37). Thirdly, Demetrius and his colleagues are familiar with statutory legal procedures. If they have a private grievance, they should bring their case to the proconsular assizes. If, on the other hand, their case is more serious and more public, they should refer it to ‘a legal assembly’, the correct technical term for the regular (three times a month) official meetings of the *demos* or city council (38-39). As Dr. Sherwin-White comments, Luke ‘is very well informed about the finer points of municipal institutions at Ephesus in the first and second centuries AD’. Fourthly, the citizens of Ephesus are themselves in danger of being charged with civil disorder. If this were to happen, they would not be able to justify themselves. Each of these arguments was cogent; the four together were decisive. When the town clerk ‘dismissed the assembly’, they went home in a very chastened mood.
Luke’s purpose in recounting this incident was clearly apologetic or political. He wanted to show that Rome had no case against Christianity in general or Paul in particular. In Corinth the proconsul Gallio had refused even to hear the Jew’s charge. In Ephesus the town clerk implied that the opposition was purely emotional and that the Christians, being innocent, had nothing to fear from duly constituted legal processes. Thus the impartiality of Gallio, and friendship of Asiarchs and the cool reasonableness of the city clerk combined to give the gospel freedom to continue on its victorious course.
Tomorrow: 4). Paul’s strategy for urban evangelism.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.