A Commentary by John Stott

c). The extended periods he stayed.

Luke is careful to give us the details. In Corinth Paul began by preaching in the synagogue every sabbath, presumably for several weeks or months, and then moved to the house of Titius Justus and ‘stayed for a year and a half, teaching… the word of God’ (18:11). Next, he ‘stayed on in Corinth for some time’ (18:18), so that probably he was in the city for about two years altogether. In Ephesus he began with three months in the synagogue and then lectured for two years in Tyrannus’ lecture hall (19:8, 10). Since later he also ‘stayed in the province of Asia a little longer’ (19:22), it is understandable that he could later refer to his ministry in Ephesus as having lasted ‘for three years’ (20:31). Thus he spent two years in Corinth and three years in Ephesus, and in both cases his teaching was comprehensive and thorough.

His use of the lecture Hall of Tyrannus was specially remarkable. The accepted text says that he lectured there daily for two years, but the Bezan text adds that he did it ‘from the fifth hour to the tenth’ (19:9, RSV margin), that is, from 11 o’clock in the morning to 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Dr. Bruce Metzger thinks that this addition ‘may represent an accurate piece of information, preserved in oral tradition before being incorporated into the text of certain manuscripts’. According to Ramsay, ‘public life in the Ionian cities ended regularly at the fifth hour’, that is, at 11 a.m., having begun at sunrise and continued during the cool of the early morning. But at 11 the city stopped work, not for ‘elevenses’, but for an elongated siesta! According to Lake and Cadbury, ‘at 1 p.m. there were probably more people sound asleep than at 1 a.m.’ But Paul did not sleep in the daytime. Until 11 a.m. he would work at his tentmaking and Tyrannus would give his lectures. At 11, however, Tyrannus would go to rest, ‘the lecture room would be disengaged’, and Paul would exchange leather-work for lecture-work, continuing for five hours, and stopping only at 4 p.m. when work was resumed in the city. Assuming that the apostle kept one day in seven for worship and rest, he will have given a daily five-hour lecture six days a week for two years, which makes 3,120 hours of gospel argument! It is not surprising that Luke continues: ‘all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord’ (19:10). For all the roads in Asia converged on Ephesus, and all the inhabitants of Asia visited Ephesus from time to time, to buy or sell, visit a relative, frequent the baths, attend the games in the stadium, watch a drama in the theatre, or worship the goddess. And while they were in Ephesus, they heard of this Christian lecturer named Paul, who was both speaking and answering questions for five hours in the middle of the day. Evidently many dropped in, listened and were converted, They then returned to their towns and villages as born-again believers. Thus the gospel must have spread to the Lycus valley and to its chief towns Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis, which Epaphras had visited but Paul had not (Col.1:7; 2:1; 4:12-13), and perhaps to the remaining five of the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3, namely, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia. This is a fine strategy for the great university and capital cities of the world. If the gospel is reasonably, systematically and thoroughly unfolded in the city centre, visitors will hear it, embrace it and take it back with them to their homes.

When we contrast much contemporary evangelism with Paul’s, its shallowness is immediately shown up. Our evangelism tends to be too ecclesiastical (inviting people to church), whereas Paul also took the gospel out into the secular world; too emotional (appeals for decisions without an adequate basis of understanding), whereas Paul taught, reasoned and tried to persuade; and too superficial (making brief encounters and expecting quick results), whereas Paul stayed in Corinth and Ephesus for five years, faithfully sowing gospel seed and in due time reaping a harvest.

Tomorrow: More about Ephesus.

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.