4. Gospel expansion into Greece, 15:36-20:38

viii] The mission to Ephesus


Paul arrives in Ephesus as part of his third missionary journey, although, rather than breaking new ground, he is primarily consolidating his earlier missionary efforts. Having recounted Paul's meeting with the disciples of John the Baptist, Luke goes on to detail Paul's two-year long ministry in Ephesus and his encounter with Roman spirituality. As usual, Paul initially focuses on his fellow Jews, spending some three months "persuasively debating the interests of the kingdom of God" in the local synagogue. As opposition mounts, Paul leaves with the believing Jews and sets up in the hall of Tyrannus, and from this base, extends his gospel ministry to the wider community. Not only does the gospel move into the wider society, but the message is accompanied by miracles and exorcisms, and this with popular acclaim. Some Jewish exorcists try to get in on the act, using the name of Jesus in their incantations. Their public mauling by the powers of darkness is more than comic. Fear spreads throughout the wider community accompanied by the public burning of spiritualist literature, and out of it all, the gospel powers on.


Even the driving power of secular religiosity cannot resist the power of the gospel.


i] Context: See 15:36-41.


ii] Background:

iSigns and Wonders in Acts, 4:23-31;

iPaul's letter writing; When Paul left Thessalonica during his second missionary journey, around the year 51, he travelled to Athens and was soon joined by Timothy. He then travelled to Corinth and was again joined by Timothy soon after arriving, Acts 18:5. Paul stays in Corinth some eighteen months and it was during this stay that he wrote his first and second letters to the Thessalonian believers, 51-53. It is likely that Paul's letters to the Thessalonians are the earliest epistles we possess.

It is unclear when his second letter was written, but there is every indication that it follows closely after his first letter, possibly only a matter of weeks. Some of the problems he sought to address in the first letter remained and so he took a second shot at them after hearing that all was not well in Thessalonica.

It is quite possible that it was during his stay at Corinth that Paul penned his letter to the Galatians, although there are no internal clues as to its date. It was obviously sent after Paul's first missionary journey and most likely soon after the Jerusalem Council, early 50, cf., Acts 15. The letter may have been written from Syrian Antioch, a town that tended to be Paul's base-camp during his early years of ministry. If this is the case, it was written before his second missionary journey and is therefore his earliest letter. Yet, it seems more likely that it was written around the same time as his letters to the Thessalonians.

During his third missionary journey, Paul makes Ephesus his centre of operations, staying there for nearly two years, 53-55. During his stay at Ephesus, Paul writes to the Corinthian believers. This is known as the former letter, a letter which denounces fornication in the church, 1Cor.5:9ff. This letter is now lost, although some argue that some of it is incorporated in 1 Corinthians.

There is some resentment in the Corinthian church due to Paul's former letter, and so, while at Ephesus, Paul undertakes a quick visit to the Corinthian believers. Paul calls this the painful visit, 2Cor.13:2. Paul is disturbed at the behaviour of the new Christians, their fornication etc., and so he warns them of possible disciplinary action. Corinth was renowned for its immoral behaviour and so the new Christians must have found it difficult to adapt to Biblical morality. Luke does not record this visit in Acts.

We really have no idea which was first, the former letter, or the painful visit, but together they stir up a hornet's nest and prompt Paul to change his plans to make Corinth his next port of call. It was probably Paul's intention to make Corinth his next base of operations after Ephesus.

On visiting Paul in Ephesus, Stephanus, Furtunatus etc., report on the continued trouble in the church, and also deliver a letter from the church asking certain questions. In response to the situation, Paul sends Timothy, his right-hand man, to visit the church. He then writes another letter - the harsh / severe letter, probably 1 Corinthians. The letter is most likely carried to the church by Titus.

Within weeks of sending Titus, Timothy returns with a bad report as to the conditions in Corinth, so much so that Paul is not sure if he should have written 1 Corinthians to them.

It was about this time when troubles develop in Ephesus and so Paul is forced to leave, Acts 19:21-41. After traveling to Troas and then to Macedonia, he meets Titus who gives his report on how the church is fairing. Paul then pens his third letter to the church (2 Corinthians), which is carried to Corinth by Titus with instructions to sort out the problems in the church and facilitate the collection for the poor in Palestine.

Paul's ministry in Macedonia probably runs from the summer of 56 to the end of 57, although Luke tells us little of Paul's itinerary. Having evangelised Macedonia and Illyricum, Paul moves back through Macedonia to Greece, Acts 20:2-3. On reaching Corinth, he sets up base camp for at least three months, probably during the winter of 57-58. It is then Paul deals with the theological challenge of the circumcision party, and their promotion of the nomist heresy of sanctification by obedience to the law. Paul addresses this challenge in his general letter to the Romans. Although the epistle to the Romans concludes with personal notes, it is very likely that copies were distributed to many, if not all, of Paul's mission churches, given the importance of grounding the Gentile church on the principle of full justification.

In the spring of 58, Paul's plans are again disrupted due to a plot by some twn Ioudaiwn, "some Jews", so he is forced to travel again through Macedonia, finally heading off to Jerusalem where he is arrested and sent for trial in Rome. Although a matter of some debate, it is likely that all of Paul's other epistles are written during his house-arrest in Rome.


iii] Structure: The mission to Ephesus:

Paul's synagogue ministry v8-10;

A gospel with "uncommon miracles", v11-12;

Jewish exorcists find themselves in trouble, v13-17;

A public revolt against spiritism, v18-20.


iv] Interpretation:

Again, Luke describes Paul's synagogue ministry as that of dialegomai, "to dispute, argue, reason", and peiqw, "to persuade", and that the manner of his address was "bold, fearless" - the Western text adds "with great power." The subject matter being the gospel, peri thV basileiaV tou qeou, "the message concerning the kingdom of God" - the realisation of the reign of God in the risen Christ.

In the face of opposition, Paul moves his centre of ministry; he hires out an auditorium known as the Hall of Tyrannus. The Western text tell us that he used it between the fifth hour and the tenth hour of the day. If this is correct, then he rented the hall out at the hottest time of the day, which would have possibly been the cheapest.

Ephesus was the most important city of the Roman province of Asia. It was a major port, both for exports and imports for Asia and beyond - it was situation at the end of the Asiatic caravan route. With the constant flow of people coming and going, Luke is able to say that people throughout Asia heard the gospel.

Luke makes a point of recording the gospel's confrontation with secular spirituality. The gospel proclaimed by Paul came with works of power / miracles, and says Luke, they were "extraordinary" - people were healed and evil spirits exorcised just by touching something belonging to Paul. Spiritism was probably very common in Ephesus and so Luke gives us the example of some Jewish exorcists, the sons of Sceva, who thought they would get in on the act by using the name of Jesus in their incantations. The person they were working with (probably for a fee), rose up, jumped them, stripping them naked. Their public flight from the home made a deep impression on the whole town, causing a widespread rejection of magical arts. Some believed the gospel, repented of their association with the dark arts, even to the extent of burning very valuable scrolls on the subject.

Luke concludes with a characteristic summary, outlining the progress of the gospel. The wording is somewhat strange, but Barrett suggests that the sense is "by the power of the Lord the word grew", ie., the Christian mission is a great success.


v] Homiletics: Meditation leads to damnation

[Map] As I pondered Luke's record of the gospel confronting secular spirituality in Ephesus, exposing its destructive darkness and defeating it, I was reminded of a strange conversation I had many years ago. It was with the father of a young believer. He had a story to tell, and as he told it, the blood drained from his face, and his voice quivered.

The family was not a religious family, although he was into eastern meditation, and followed a particular Indian guru. His daughter, from an early age, wanted to know about God. Dad pointed to his guru, but she was never satisfied, so mum took the girl to church. Once she heard about Jesus, that was it; she found God. Mum ended up becoming a believer as well, and this just left dad with his guru.

One Sunday night, with mum and daughter at church, dad was in his meditation room, a candle flickering in-front of an Indian deity, incense filling the room. All of a sudden, a voice boomed out, "MEDITATION LEADS TO DAMNATION." Shock, doesn't quite describe his response. After recovering, he began searching for a planted tape recorder, or someone hiding in the bushes outside, given that mum and daughter kept telling him that they were praying for him. But no, no tape recorder, no intruder.

He looked me in the eye and asked, "So, what do you think about that?" I can't remember exactly what I said; I was somewhat affected myself. I do know though, that he decided not to go into that room again! Mum and daughter brought God's Word into the home, they intruded the power of the gospel into their living space, and it scattered the powers of darkness.


Image: Pixabay

Text - 19:8

The mission to Ephesus: i] Paul's synagogue ministry, v8-10. As usual, Paul initially focuses his gospel ministry on his fellow Jews. Luke uses the verb parrhsazomai, "to speak with boldness, confidently, without fear", to describe his preaching ministry in prophetic terms, and again, as usual, his subject is the gospel, the announcement of the realisation of the kingdom of God, a divine message conveyed by Jesus himself.

eiselqwn (eisercomai) aor. part. "Paul entered" - [but/and] having entered into [into the synagogue he was speaking boldly]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to speak boldly." Sometimes treated temporally, "Afterwards he went into the synagogue. There for three months he continued to preach", Weymouth. As is often the case, the prepositional prefix is repeated, in this case eiV.

epi + gen. "for [three months]" - upon = over [thee months]. Temporal use of the preposition.

dialegomenoV (dialegomai) pres. part. "arguing [persuasively]" - debating, disputing, discussing [and persuading]. The participle, as with "persuading", is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of Paul's "speaking boldly." The NIV treats the two participles as a hendiadys.

ta art. "-" - the things [about the kingdom of god]. The article serves as a nominalizer turning the prepositional phrase "about the kingdom of God" into a substantive, accusative of respect; "arguing persuasively concerning the kingdom of God." For the term "the kingdom of God", and the sense of the genitive qeou, "of God" see 1:3.


With the verbs, skhrunw, "to harden, blaspheme" ("passive in form but probably intransitive in meaning. Luke is not thinking of an extraneous hardening agent", Barrett - "they hardened in their attitude toward the message", Phillips), and apeiqew, "to disobey, disbelieve" ("they continued in unbelief", ESV), Luke describes the response of some of the Jews toward Paul's preaching. Given the hostile environment, Paul withdraws to a venue suitable for public meetings, owned by, or named after, Tyrannus. Nothing is known of the venue, or Tyrannus. It is interesting to note that the Cooneyites, the two-by-two preachers (see Excursus II), as with many sectarian groups, used this Pauline strategy; they would run a so-called non-denominational evangelistic meeting in a local church hall and then direct those who respond to the gospel into their own house-church Bible study group.

wJV "-" - [but/and] when [certain were being hardened and were disobeying]. Temporal use of the conjunction, serving to introduce a temporal clause, "when some became stubborn", ESV.

kakologounteV (katologew) pres. part. "publicly maligned" - speaking evil of [the way before the multitude]. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of the hardening and disobeying.

apostaV (afisthmi) aor. part. "so Paul left [them]" - having withdrawn, departed [from them, he withdrew from, separated the disciples]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to separate"; "he left them and withdrew the disciples", Moffatt. The prepositional prefix is repeated / reinforced, here with apo, expressing separation, "away from."

dialegomenoV (dialegomai) aor. part. "had discussions" - debating. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to withdraw from", as NIV: "withdrew the disciples with him and carried on debating", Barclay. Purpose may be implied, "it unpacks the purpose of gathering the disciples elsewhere", Kellum.

kaq hJmeran "daily" - according to the day [in the school of tyrannus]. Idiomatic, meaning "daily".


The use of the adjective pantaV, "all", is a rhetorical flare, although given the strategic position of Ephesus in the Roman province of Asia, the mission is well placed to make the gospel widely known - "many travelling to the capital from all over the province would no doubt take the opportunity to hear lectures like those of Paul", Dunn.

touto pro. "this" - [but/and] this [became = happened]. Close demonstrative pronoun backward referencing to Paul's lecturing in the hall of Tyrannus.

epi + acc. "for [two years]" - upon = over [two years]. Temporal use of the preposition.

wJste + inf. "so that" - that. This construction, wJste + the infinitive "to hear", introduces a consecutive clause expressing result, "with the result that ....... heard ....."

te kai "[Jews] and [Greeks]" - both [jews] and [greeks]. Coordinative construction.

touV katoikountaV (katoikew) pres. part. "who lived in [the province of Asia]" - [all] the ones dwelling in, inhabiting [asia]. The participle serves as a substantive, accusative subject of the infinitive "to hear"; "all the inhabitants of Asia heard the word of the Lord", ESV.

tou kuriou (oV) gen. "of the Lord" - [to hear = heard the word] of the lord. The genitive is adjectival, probably descriptive, idiomatic / source, "from the Lord", but it can be handled as verbal, subjective, "the message sent forth by the Lord", Cassirer. The phrase is a common descriptor in Acts for the euaggelion thV basileiaV, the important news from God to mankind regarding the fulfilment of his covenant promises concerning the coming kingdom of God.


ii] A gospel with "uncommon" miracles, v11-12. For Jesus and his apostles, the kingdom is announced in both word and sign, but Luke makes the point that in Ephesus, the Gentile mission doesn't just get the usual dunameiV, "exhibitions of powerful force ", ie., miracles, but ou taV tucousaV, "the ones not having commonly occurred", "extraordinary"; "miracles of a most remarkable nature", Cassirer.

ou taV tucousaV (tugcanw) aor. part. "extraordinary [miracles]" - [and god did powers = miracles] not the ones having commonly occurred, happened. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "miracles", as NIV. The phrase is a litotes, a negated understatement stating the opposite.

dia + gen. "through [Paul]" - by means of [the hands of paul]. Instrumental, expressing agency.


A similar example of folk medicine is found in Acts 5:15-16, although in that case it was Peter's shadow. Luke is wise enough to make the point that such miracles are "extraordinary". In this case, it is bits of material from Paul's hand-kerchiefs and scarves placed with the sick and possessed.

wJste + inf. "so that" - that. This conjunction is linked to three infinitives, "to be carried off", "to be taken away, set free", and "to go out", forming three consecutive clauses expressing result: the first, the result of God performing miracles by the hand of Paul, and the second and third, the result of the first consecutive clause, ie., as a consequence of God's healing power operative through Paul, pieces of cloth owned by him were placed with the sick and possessed, and as a consequence, their diseases were taken away from them, and the evil spirits went out from them.

kai "even" - and. Adverbial, probably ascensive, "even", but possibly adjunctive, "also".

touV asqenountaV (asqenew) pres. part. "the sick" - [handkerchiefs and aprons to be carried off = were carried off from the body of him upon = to] the ones being sick. The participle serves as a substantive. The infinitive "to be carried off" takes as its accusative subject "handkerchiefs and aprons", and is modified by the prepositional phrase "from the skin of him", the preposition apo expressing separation, "away from."

ap (apo) + gen. "-" - [and as a consequence, the diseases to be taken away = were taken away] from [them]. Expressing separation. The infinitive "to be taken away" takes as its accusative subject "the diseases", and is modified by the prepositional phrase "from them."

ta ponhra adj. "[the] evil [spirits]" - [and as a consequence, the] evil [spirits to go out from them]. Attributive adjective limiting "spirits". The infinitive "to go out from" takes as its accusative subject "the evil spirits."


iii] Some Jewish exorcists get themselves into trouble, v13-17. As Peterson Gk. notes, "Ephesus was hospitable to magicians, sorcerers, and many forms of religious syncretism", and it seems that Paul's success made an impression on their world of secular spirituality. Josephus (1st. century Jewish historian) tells us that Jews were well versed in the dark arts, God having provided Solomon with the knowledge about "the art used against demons for the benefit and cure of human beings." Luke tells us of seven exorkistai, "exorcists", who, having heard the formula words, "in the name of Jesus," used by Paul, applied it in their own incantations.

exorkistwn (hV ou) gen. "[some Jews]" - [and = also certain jewish] exorcists. Hapax legomenon, once only use in the NT. The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

twn periercomenwn (periercomai) gen. pres. part. "who went around" - of the ones travelling around. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "Jewish exorcists"; "itinerant Jewish exorcists", ESV.

onomazein (onomazw) pres. inf. "[tried] to invoke the name" - [undertook = attempted] to name [the name of the lord jesus upon = over the evil spirits]. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "to attempt."

legonteV (legw) pres. part. "they would say" - saying [i command you by the name of the lord jesus whom paul proclaims]. Attendant circumstance participle, semi-redundant, primarily serving to introduce direct speech. As usual, Culy opts for an adverbial classification, here instrumental, means. See legonteV 1:6 for a note on this classification.


There is no record of a High Priest named Sceva, so the term is probably being used of a person within the Jewish priestly aristocracy.

Skeua (aV a) gen. "of Sceva" - [but/and, certain seven sons] of sceva [a jewish high priest]. The genitive is adjectival, partitive, with the genitive "Jewish high priest" standing in apposition to Sceva. With respect to the pronoun tineV, "certain", the variant genitive tinoV is often read, giving the sense "the seven sons of a certain Sceva."

poiounteV (poiew) pres. part. "[were] doing" - [were] doing [this]. The participle, with the imperfect verb to-be h\san, forms an imperfect periphrastic construction, possibly used to indicate durative aspect.


The dark powers pervading secular spirituality succumb to the authority of "the name" when that authority is exercised by those who have faith in "the name." The power resides in the person, not the words, as the exorcists are about to find out. As Johnson notes, Luke's crafting of this vignette is not his finest work. This has prompted the NIV to introduce this verse with "One day"; we could add, "One day, while two of the sons of Sceva were in the home of a man possessed and using the formula invocation 'In the name of Jesus', the evil spirit said in reply ...."

apokriqen (apokrinomai) aor. part. "answered" - [but/and the evil spirit] having answered [said]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to say." This semi-redundant Semitic construction is often used to introduce direct, and sometimes indirect, speech.

autoiV dat. pro. "them" - to them. Dative of indirect object.

men .... de "and" - on the one hand [i know jesus] and on the other hand [i know paul]. Coordinating construction. Two verbs are used for "know", but it is likely that their use is stylistic with the same sense indented.

tivneV pro. "who" - [but/and] who [are you]? Interrogative use of the pronoun.


Luke uses the verb afallomai, "to leap upon", to describe the evil spirit leaping onto the exorcists. The verb is used of the Spirit coming upon, leaping upon Saul, so, although the subject is "the man", it is the evil spirit doing the katakurieusaV, "subduing, overpowering", cf., 1Sam.10:6.

efalomenoV (afallomai) aor. part. "jumped on [them]" - [and the man in whom was the evil spirit] having leaped upon [upon them, having subdued]. Both "having leaped upon" and "having subdued" are attendant circumstance participles expressing action accompanying the verb "to overpower." Note again the idiomatic repetition of the epi prefix.

amfaterwn gen. adj. "them all" - both = all. Genitive of direct object after the kata prefix verb "to have power over." The adjective usually means "both", but as Bruce Gk. notes, it is sometimes used with the sense "all". None-the-less, maybe only two of the brothers are present for this exorcism. As already noted, Luke's account is short on details.

kat (kata) + gen. "[he gave them] such [a beating]" - [he was strong] according to = against [them]. Probably here expressing opposition, "against", but an adverbial use may be intended, "he completely overpowered them."

wJste + inf. "that [they ran]" - that [to flee]. This construction serves to introduce a consecutive clause expressing result, "so that, with the result that"

ek + gen. "out of [the house]" - from [that house]. Expressing separation, "away from."

tetraumatismenouV (traumatizw) perf. mid. part. "bleeding" - [naked = half naked and] having been wounded. The participle, although anarthrous, may be treated as adjectival (so Culy), attributive, serving with the adjective "naked" to limit the assumed accusative subject of the infinitive "to run"; "so that the (two) exorcists, who were half-naked and wounded, ran from the house." It could also be treated as adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of their running (so Kellum), in which case the adjective "naked" would serve as an adverb (both words are coordinated by kai, "and"); "so that the (two) exorcists ran half-naked and wounded from the house."


Again, Luke outlines the way the gospel, when actively promoted, impacts on human society: its inherent truth spreads; people respond in awe; and Jesus is glorified.

gnwston adj. "known" - [but/and, this became] known. The predicate adjective of the verb "to become."

pasin dat. adj. "-" - to all = to everyone. The adjective serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object of the verb "to become, happen." "Everyone" is hyperbolic.

te kai "[to the Jews and Greeks]" - both [to jews] and [to greeks]. This coordinating construction stands in apposition to "everyone", dative in agreement.

toiV katoikousin (katoikew) dat. pres. part. "living [in Ephesus]" - to the ones dwelling, inhabiting [in ephesus]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting the coordinate construction, "both Jews and Greeks", dative in agreement; "both Jews and Greeks who reside in Ephesus." The verb katoikew, "to dwell", is usually followed by a dative of place, but here it is followed by an accusative of place.

Ihsou (ouV ou) gen. "Jesus" - [and fear fell upon them all and they were magnifying, extolling the name of the lord] jesus. Standing in apposition to the possessive noun "Lord", genitive in agreement.


iv] A public revolt against spiritism, v18-20. It seems likely that the praxeiV, "actions, deeds", being confessed and divulged are related to those specified in v19, namely, cultic spirituality commonly practiced in Ephesus. As Luke outlines in v19, even the leading practitioners spurn their cultic craft, burning their magic manuals. Of course, it is possible that Luke is describing something akin to revival where an abnormal awareness of God's presence brings about a communal sense of guilt and the need for some form of cleansing.

twn pepisteukotwn (pisteuw) perf. part. "those who believed" - [and many] of the ones having believed. The participle serves as a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, partitive.

exomologoumenoi (exologomew) pres. mid. part. "[openly] confessed" - [were coming] confessing [and announcing, recounting the actions of them]. This participle, as with "announcing", is adverbial, modal, expressing manner, modifying the imperfect verb "to come." The NIV treats the two participles connected by kai as a hendiadys, so rather than "confessing and divulging", ESV, they are "openly confessing." "Many of them accepted the Christian faith and came and confessed the error of their ways", Barclay.


The burning of books, as an outward rejection of a particular belief system, was practised in Ancient society, as it is today. These books, in the form of scrolls, would contain magic spells and formulas for potions used in the craft. The silver coin would be either a Roman Denarion, or a Greek Drachma, both of similar weight and representing a day's wage for a labourer. Given the weight of silver, Luke is obviously emphasising the social impact of the gospel upon Ephesian society.

twn ... praxantwn (prassw) gen. aor. part. "who had practiced" - [but/and a sufficient = number] of the ones having practiced [meddling, curious things, magic]. The participle serves as a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, partitive. The practice of magical arts is probably intended.

sunenegkanteV (sumferw) aor. part. "brought [their scrolls] together" - having brought together [the books were burning them before everyone].

arguriou (on) gen. "drachmas" - [and they counted the honour = value of them and found fifty thousand coins] of silver. The genitive is adjectival, descriptive, idiomatic / price.


Paul's mission to spread God's message of salvation was often one of struggle in the face of constant opposition, but as Luke looks back at this particular period in the Ephesian mission, he is able to summarise it in positive terms (the fifth such summary statement in Acts); "that the message sent forth by the Lord increased mightily in scope and strength", Cassirer.

ouJtwV "in this way" - so, thus, in this way. Adverb of manner, introducing a modification of the previous action; "It was in ways such as these that."

tou kuriou (oV) gen. "of the Lord" - [the word] of the lord. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, or subjective, "the word made known by the Lord", or idiomatic / source, "from".

kata + acc. "in [power]" - according to [power was growing and was becoming strong]. Adverbial use of the preposition, giving the sense "powerfully." Normally taken as modifying the two verbs "to cause to grow" and "to be strong"; "the word of the Lord mightily kept on growing and gaining strength" (a slight Zeugma, given that mightily growing doesn't quite work). This may account for the positioning of the phrase, "mightily the word of the Lord kept on growing and gaining strength" Given its place in the text next to tou kuriou, "of the Lord", some commentators take the prepositional phrase with "Lord", "by the might of the Lord the word kept on growing and gaining strength", so Barrett.


Acts Introduction

Exegetical Commentaries


[Pumpkin Cottage]