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Early Church History: Part 14--Paul's Continuing Mission

Aug 11, 2007

In the days of the Apostle Paul, the Church in Ephesus was quite small. At first, Paul ministered in the synagogue for three months (Acts 19:8), until he had found all those who had ears to hear and the rest of them were "hardened" (19:9). Then he moved to "the School of Tyrannus," headed apparently by a philosopher-teacher named Tyrannus, who had become a convert to Christ. Paul continued his teaching at that location for another two years (19:10).

Thus, he spent about three years in Ephesus, teaching and establishing the Church there (Acts 20:31). This was longer than he spent in any other place. Ephesus served as his headquarters, for no doubt he often visited the other churches in Asia during that time. Ephesus was a provincial capital. After Paul's martyrdom, John moved there and continued to provide leadership not only for Ephesus but also for the whole region.

Though the School of Tyrannus was a safe place to teach about Christ, Paul was still in constant danger, mostly (it seems) from the Jews, who hated him primarily for opening up the Gospel to all men. They greatly opposed this "equality," as is natural with those who have been taught that they are more beloved of God than ordinary men.

Ephesus was a free city. That is, the Romans had granted it "free city" status, and the Roman authorities only intervened when the public peace was disturbed. Rome valued peace above all else, and they were quite paranoid about it.  Fifty years later, after a fire had broken out in Nicomedia, the proconsul Pliny asked permission from Emperor Hadrian to set up a fire brigade of 150 men. While that would seem like a reasonable request today, Hadrian would not hear of it. He wrote back a letter saying,

"Whatever name we may give them, and for whatever purposes they may be founded, they will not fail to form themselves into factious assemblies, however short their meetings will be." (The Expositor's Bible, V, by W. Robertson Nicoll, p. 492)

Rome held the local authorities responsible if riots broke out. For this reason, when Demetrius incited the people to a near riot in Acts 19, the town clerk immediately calmed the situation and dispersed the rioters. That was the top priority. He told them that if the accused were guilty of some crime, they should be taken to court--not brought to the town clerk. The town clerk was the chief executive officer of Ephesus, responsible to Rome for maintaining order.

Though Demetrius, the silversmith was the one who incited the men of the shrine-makers' trade union (guild), Paul had some powerful friends of his own. Acts 19:31 says,

"And also some of the Asiarchs who were friends of his [Paul's friends] sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater.

The Asiarchs were a class of rich men who were the official aristocracy of Asia. Years earlier, the Romans had united the worship of Diana (or Artemis) with the worship of the Roman Emperor, in order to unite patriotism with religion. The Romans then appointed certain rich men to preside over the celebrations. These Asiarchs, as they came to be called, funded the celebrations and in turn were given a title and a position almost equal to a proconsul.

Those people loved titles, but obviously, because of the great expenses involved, only rich men could become Asiarchs. An Asiarch's wife loved the position as well, for she was called an Asiarchess. There were many Asiarchs from year to year, and gradually, the title of Asiarch was given for life and became a aristocractic class in itself. All who had funded the celebrations of Diana in previous years became Asiarchs for life.

Paul apparently had made some converts among this class of people, and they sent word to Paul that he should stay out of sight and not try to reason with the mob or to intervene on behalf of his two friends, Gaius and Aristarchus. It may be also that they worked behind the scenes, sending a message to the town clerk.

This riot occurred about January of 57 A.D. Paul had already been contemplating his next trip to Jerusalem, and had written to the Corinthians, "I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost" (1 Cor. 16:8). This riot, however, appears to have brought about a slight change of plans. Paul departed for Macedonia (Acts 20:1), and from there to Greece, where he spent "three months" (20:3).

But then he discovered a Jewish plot to kill him when he was on his way to the ship that was to take him to Syria. So he changed his plans and decided to set sail from Philippi (20:6) instead. He did so immediately after the feast of Unleavened Bread (the week after Passover). In 57 A.D. the Passover fell on April 7, so Paul sailed from Philippi in the middle of that month.

It took five days to get to Troas on the coast of Asia, where he met a number of brethren. Timothy met him there, as well as Trophimus the Ephesian (20:4), who was destined to be the cause of Paul's arrest in Jerusalem (21:29).

After spending a week in Troas (20:6), Paul gathered with the believers on the first day of the week to "break bread," i.e., have communion, as was the common practice, intending to continue his journey the next day (Monday). Paul got long-winded and ended up preaching until midnight. His preaching was finally interrupted when a young man named Eutychus fell asleep and fell from the third-story window!

The fall killed him, of course, but Paul raised him from the dead. Then he continued preaching until daybreak (20:11). It is amazing that this unusual miracle is treated like any other "normal" miracle.

For some reason Paul separated himself from the rest of the brethren and walked to Assos, while the rest of them went by ship. We are not told the reason, but presumably it was because Jews from the synagogue were watching Paul's movements. At Assos, Paul joined them on the ship and came to Mitylene, then Chios, then to Samos, and finally to Miletus. They bypassed Ephesus deliberately, knowing that once they got to talking, it would be hard to get away. They needed to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost (20:16).

Even so, Paul sent word to Ephesus and had them meet him in Miletus, where he gave them a final message in Acts 20:17-35. Paul knew by revelation that this was the last time he would see them, as we read in verses 37 and 38,

" (37) And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, (38)grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they should see his face no more. And they were accompanying him to the ship."

From there, Paul and his friends set sail for Cos, Rhodes, Patara, and then to Tyre, where the ship had to unload cargo (21:3). They spent a week visiting the brethren in Tyre, who urged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. From there the ship sailed to Ptolemais and then to Caesarea, where they stayed at the house of Philip the Evangelist. It is doubtful if Cornelius was still there, since his conversion had taken place 24 years earlier.

To see a map showing the route of this trip to Jerusalem, see:


The prophet Agabus then came from Judea and confirmed to Paul that he would be arrested. They urged Paul to stay away from Jerusalem, but Paul knew that this revelation was not so that he could avoid arrest, but so that he would know ahead of time that his arrest was the will of God for him. Surely that knowledge would comfort him in the trying days ahead.

This is the fourteenth part of a series titled "Early Church History." To view all parts, click the link below.

Early Church History

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones