by Greg Williamson © revised 2022
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB © The Lockman Foundation*

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Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-22) | The Riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41)

Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-22)

From John's disciples to Paul's decision (Acts 19:1-22)

(1) It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. (2) He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." (3) And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." (4) Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." (5) When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (6) And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. (7) There were in all about twelve men.

(8) And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. (9) But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. (10) This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

(11) God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, (12) so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out. (13) But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, "I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches." (14) Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. (15) And the evil spirit answered and said to them, "I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" (16) And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. (17) This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. (18) Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. (19) And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. (20) So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.

(21) Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." (22) And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

I. THE DISCIPLES OF JOHN (Acts 19:1–7): Paul meets twelve former disciples of John the Baptist.
  A. What he asks them (Acts 19:1–2a): "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
  B. How they answer him (Acts 19:2b–7)
    1. The confusion (Acts 19:2b): They have never heard of the Holy Spirit.
2. The clarification (Acts 19:3–4): Paul brings them up to date concerning Jesus' ministry.
3. The conversions (Acts 19:5–7): When they are baptized in the name of Jesus, they receive the Holy Spirit.
  A. The first three months (Acts 19:8): Paul preaches the Good News boldly each Sabbath in the synagogue.
B. The final two years (Acts 19:9–10): Due to open hostility, he moves to the public hall of Tyrannus and preaches daily.
III. THE DISTRIBUTION OF PRAYER CLOTHS (Acts 19:11–12): God so anoints Paul that even a handkerchief of cloth that has touched Paul's skin brings about healing when placed on the sick.
  A. The presumption (Acts 19:13–14): Seven brothers attempt to cast out a demon, using the name of Jesus as a magical incantation.
B. The penalty (Acts 19:15–17): The demon comes out but then jumps on them, beating them severely.
  A. Who they are (Acts 19:18): These new believers have been brought out of the occult through Paul's preaching.
B. What they do (Acts 19:19–20): They burn their books on black magic.
VI. THE DECISION OF PAUL (Acts 19:21–22): The apostle vows to visit Rome in the near future. [ref]

No Two-Stage Initiation
John Stott:
This incident has become a proof text in some pentecostal and charismatic circles, especially when the inaccurate and unwarranted AV translation of [Acts 19:2] is followed, namely 'Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?' From this it is sometimes argued that Christian initiation is in two stages, beginning with faith and conversion, and followed later by receiving the Holy Spirit. But those twelve 'disciples' cannot possibly be regarded as providing a norm for a two-stage initiation. On the contrary, as Michael Green has written, it is 'crystal clear that these disciples were in no sense Christians' (Green, I believe in the Holy Spirit, p. 135), having not yet believed in Jesus, whereas through the ministry of Paul they came to believe and were then baptized with water and the Spirit more or less simultaneously.

The norm of Christian experience ... is a cluster of four things: repentance, faith in Jesus, water baptism and the gift of the Spirit. Though the perceived order may vary a little, the four belong together and are universal in Christian initiation. The laying-on of apostolic hands, however, together with tongue-speaking and prophesying, were special to Ephesus, as to Samaria, in order to demonstrate visibly and publicly that particular groups were incorporated into Christ by the Spirit; the New Testament does not universalize them. [ref]
  • (Acts 19:1) The apostle Paul arrives at Ephesus. Toussaint: "Ephesus became Paul’s base of operation during his third missionary journey. Ephesus was the home of the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple, according to its ruins, was 239’ wide and 418’ long, four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens! As a commercial center, Ephesus was the leading city of the province of Asia. Its present-day extensive ruins reveal the glory of its past. However, the Caÿster River silted its harbor full and the site was later abandoned. During Paul’s time the city was approaching its zenith." [ref]
  • (Acts 19:1-7) In Ephesus Paul finds a group of twelve supposed disciples who are ignorant regarding the Holy Spirit and know only of John's baptism. Paul baptizes them in the name of the Lord Jesus and lays his hands on them. Then the Holy Spirit comes on them, and they begin speaking with tongues and prophesying. Stott explains:
    When Paul first met them, he assumed that they were believers, but noticed that they gave no evidence in their bearing or behaviour of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So he asked them his two leading questions, whether they had received the Spirit when they believed, and into what they had been baptized. His first question linked the Spirit with faith, and his second with baptism. That is, his questions expressed his assumptions that those who have believed have received the Spirit, and that those who have been baptized have received the Spirit, for he cannot separate the sign (water) from the thing signified (the Spirit). He took it for granted that baptized believers receive the Spirit, as Peter also taught (Acts 2:38-39). Both his questions imply that to have believed and been baptized and not to have received the Spirit constitutes an extraordinary anomaly.

    Consider now the answers which Paul received to his questions. In answer to his first, they said that they had 'not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit'. This cannot mean that they had never heard of the Spirit at all, for he is referred to many times in the Old Testament, and John the Baptist spoke of the Messiah as baptizing people with the Spirit. It must rather mean that, although they had heard John's prophecy, they had not heard whether it had been fulfilled. They were ignorant of Pentecost. In answer to Paul's second question, they explained that they had received John's baptism, not Christian baptism. In a word, they were still living in the Old Testament which culminated with John the Baptist. They understood neither that the new age had been ushered in by Jesus, nor that those who believe in him and are baptized into him receive the distinctive blessing of the new age, the indwelling Spirit.

    Once they came to understand this through Paul's instruction, they put their trust in Jesus of whose coming their teacher John the Baptist had spoken. They were then baptized into Christ, Paul laid his hands on them (giving his apostolic imprimatur to what was happening, as Peter and John had done in Samaria), the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. In other words, they experienced a mini-Pentecost. Better, Pentecost caught up on them. Better still, they were caught up into it, as its promised blessings became theirs. [ref]
  • (Acts 19:4) Paul says that John baptized with the baptism of repentance. Dunn:
    The Baptist's baptism was essentially preparatory: the point had already been made twice in Acts (Acts 1:5; 11:16). John himself had made that clear by telling people (that is, particularly those baptized by him) to believe in the one coming after him, now identified as Jesus. Implicit here is the association: those who believe in Jesus will receive the Spirit (Luke 3:16; Acts 11:17). The lack of the Spirit therefore indicated an incomplete initiation process, a faith not yet directed to Jesus, the bestower of the Spirit (Luke 3:16; Acts 2:33). Once again, as in [Acts 1:22, 10:37; 13:24], the Baptist stands at the beginning of the gospel, his significance neither independent of Jesus nor lost sight of behind Jesus. [ref]
  • (Acts 19:6) Toussaint: "[T]he reception of the Holy Spirit in Acts does not follow any set pattern. He came into believers before baptism (Acts 10:44), at the time of or after baptism (Acts 8:12–16; 19:6), and by the laying on of apostolic hands (Acts 8:17; 19:6). Yet Paul declared (Rom. 8:9) that anyone without the Holy Spirit is not a Christian. Quite obviously the transitional Book of Acts is not to be used as a doctrinal source on how to receive the Holy Spirit." [ref]
  • (Acts 19:8-10) Paul utilizes the synagogue to preach and teach for three months, reasoning and persuading his audience regarding the kingdom of God. When opposition arises, he takes the disciples and relocates to a lecture hall, where he continues preaching and teaching for two more years.
    ■ Marshall:
    Luke piles up the verbs which express the forceful and convincing character of Paul's approach, and gives the impression that his preaching was effective in converting his audience. His theme is described as the kingdom of God (cf. Acts 8:12; 20:25). It is unlikely that this means that Paul was preaching a different message from that in [Acts 17:31; 18:5] and other places which was concerned with Jesus as the Messiah. The message was about Jesus and the kingdom (Acts 28:31), and Luke employs the different terms simply for literary variation. [ref]
    ■ Bruce:
    For two full years this work went on. While Paul stayed in Ephesus, a number of his colleagues carried out missionary activity in neighboring cities. During those years his colleague Epaphras appears to have evangelized the cities of the Lycus valley, Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis -- cities which Paul evidently did not visit in person (Col 1:7-8; 2:1; 4:12-13). Perhaps all seven of the churches of Asia addressed in the Revelation of John were also founded about this time. The province was intensively evangelized, and remained one of the leading centers of Christianity for many centuries. [ref]
  • (Acts 19:9) Paul withdraws from the synagogue with its troublemakers and, with the disciples in tow, relocates to the school of Tyrannus where he lectures on a daily basis.
    ■ Witherington: "Part of the importance of the reference to the hall of Tyrannus for our purposes is that it reflects Luke's attempt to portray Paul as being like a popular rhetor or philosopher seeking to persuade an audience on some subject. This is how he would have been perceived by much of his audience if he lectured in such a hall, rather than just in a synagogue." [ref]
    ■ Toussaint: "Apparently Tyrannus made his lecture hall available to traveling teachers. One Greek manuscript adds that the school was available from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M., when most people would have their noon meal and an afternoon 'siesta.' This tradition is probably correct. The rest of each day Paul worked with his own hands (Acts 20:34)." [ref]
In-Depth Evangelism (Acts 19:8-10)
In developing a church-planting strategy, we should help people understand the redemptive message as it unfolds in the total biblical story. (Video link) [ref]
  • (Acts 19:11-20) God performs extraordinary miracles through Paul by using his sweat-rags and aprons to heal the sick and cast out demons. On the other hand, a group of Jewish exorcists are beaten and stripped naked when they attempt to cast out a demon in the name of "Jesus whom Paul preaches." This incident becomes widely known, the end result of which is widespread repentance and conversion, including the burning of very expensive magic books. All of which is to say -- as in fact Luke does say -- that the word of the Lord is growing mightily and prevailing.
    ■ Toussaint: "These feats of Paul [in Acts 19:11-12] parallel the miracles of Peter in [Acts 5:15–16]. Quite clearly God’s hand of blessing and endorsement was on Paul. Apparently the handkerchiefs and aprons were tangible symbols of God’s power through His apostle; these objects had no magical powers in themselves. Certainly this is no basis for people trying to repeat such miracles today. As seen many times in Acts, miracles confirmed the work of the apostles (Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 8:6, 13; 14:3; 15:12; cf. 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3–4)." [ref]
    ■ Witherington:
    We have just seen Paul the man of powerful words, but now Luke wishes to portray Paul, like Peter and Jesus before him, as also man of mighty deeds, and thus offer a full-orbed picture as he brings to an end his portrait of Paul's missionary work as a free man. ... The narrative we find in these verses is full of local color and reflects clear knowledge that Ephesus was indeed the magic capital of Asia Minor. If Christianity could triumph there, its God would clearly be seen to be great. ... [Acts 19:20] must be seen as in effect an attempt to indicate that Paul's ministry of the word had come to a climax in this place. Henceforth it would be troubles, travels, and trials for Paul. [ref]
  • (Acts 19:13-20)
    ■ Toussaint: "One of the themes of Acts is the victory of Christ over occultism (cf. Acts 8:9–24; 13:6–12; 16:16–18). This incident is another example of His power over demons." [ref]
    ■ Bruce: "Sceva's sons employed [the name of Jesus] in their attempt to imitate Paul's exorcizing ministry. But when they tried to use it, like an unfamiliar weapon wrongly handled it exploded in their hands. ... [T]his name, invoked by Paul and his colleagues with such beneficial effects, was plainly no name to be trifled with." [ref]
    ■ Dunn: "The seven sons of Sceva ... were trying simply to manipulate formulae, depending on technique (and their impressive title). The lesson would be clear: spiritual power can be self-destructive in the wrong hands or where attempts are made to use it illegitimately. Only the one who follows in close discipleship upon Jesus and is led by his Spirit can act thus in his name." [ref]
    ■ Toussaint:
    The result was fear (or awe, phobos) on the part of both Jews and Gentiles (cf. 5:5), and high esteem for Jesus’ name (in contrast with the attempted use of His name for exorcism; cf. 19:13). Many Christians had also been involved in sorcery and spiritism and they openly confessed their evil deeds. The noun translated “deeds” is praxeis, which probably describes magical spells and formulas. Giving out these secrets would cause them to lose their power.

    Furthermore, many publicly burned their manuals of sorcery. In sorcery, people by the assistance of demons sought to gain power over others. The word translated drachmas is actually argyriou and simply means “silver”; consequently the value of the coins is unknown. But 50,000 silver coins was a large sum.

    The cleansed church became a powerful and growing church. (The spreading of God’s Word is also mentioned in Acts 6:7; 12:24; 13:49.) With this sixth “progress report” Luke brought another section of his book to a conclusion (cf. Acts 2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 28:30–31). [ref]
Confronting & Replacing
Arnold: "Our families, friends, community, culture, and pre-Christian religious beliefs have an amazing staying power over our lives. An important part of the discipleship process is confronting and replacing the ungodly aspects of what we believe and how we live. Whether it is trafficking in magic or the idolatry of greed, it is essential that we repudiate the evil and replace it with a pure commitment to Christ and his ways." [ref]
  • (Acts 19:21-22)
    ■ Larkin: "To set in bold relief the final episode at Ephesus, Luke, as he has done before (Acts 18:21; compare Acts 15:36), breaks in with an overview of Paul's future movements expressed though his desires. Though there is a description of the intervening stops on the itinerary -- Macedonia, Achaia, Jerusalem -- the emphasis is on the final destination, Rome (Acts 23:11; Rom 1:13-15; 15:30-32). ... Luke seems to be declaring Paul's conviction by the power of the Spirit that it is God's will for him to continue pursuing his calling by preaching the gospel in Rome." [ref]
    ■ Toussaint: "[Acts 19:21] sets the tone for the remainder of the book. Paul’s sights were now set on Rome (via Jerusalem) with the ultimate goal of reaching Spain (Rom. 1:15; 15:22–24). Luke made no reference to Spain because one of his purposes in writing Acts was to trace the spread of the gospel up to Paul’s being in Rome, center of the Roman world. Several have observed how Luke’s Gospel focuses in on Jerusalem, whereas Acts emphasizes the message going out from Jerusalem to Rome. These two cities seem to be the focal points of Luke-Acts." [ref]
The Visionary Missionary
Charles Swindoll:
Great leaders never stop planning for the future. They dream on a grand scale, look further into the future than their peers, and imagine possibilities no one else thinks reasonable. They never let others sully their plans with too much realism, and they never scale back their goals because of difficult circumstances. After all, conditions change from day to day, but a great dream can sustain a leader for decades. Even so, visionaries learn to keep much of their long-range thinking to themselves because they grow weary of explaining what cannot be seen. Consequently, they share only what can be justified to those outside their inner circle but never enough to give naysayers fodder for dissent.

Paul had a dream. It was a vision so grand it would have overwhelmed most of his companions. After planting churches around the eastern half of the Roman Empire and ensuring their long-term sustainability, Paul imagined himself carrying the gospel to the vast stretches of frontier west of Rome, even as far as Spain (Rom. 15:24). It was an outrageous ambition. He had endured hunger, thirst, exposure, slander, rejection, beatings, imprisonment, and stonings in his effort to evangelize present-day Turkey and Greece, but the landmass he envisioned in the west more than tripled the area he had covered thus far. So he wisely kept this to himself, revealing only what he planned to do in the coming months.

While great leaders chart their courses far in advance, they also keep a close eye on the ground in front of them. Paul saw the work coming to a close in Ephesus; he would soon turn the ministry over to someone capable and trustworthy. Before setting out on his next journey, Paul sent assistants ahead of him. Luke doesn't specify why Paul stayed, but I suspect the Holy Spirit guided his choice to remain a little longer in Asia. As it turned out, he would need to see the fledgling church through a crisis that had been building for months. [ref]


*Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.