Acts 19:21—20:6 (ESV)✞: A Riot at Ephesus, Paul in Macedonia and Greece
In the last passage we talked about about the people in Ephesus who made their living performing magic arts and in this passage we encounter another group of Ephesians: those who make their living making idols or shrines to the goddess Artemis.
The passage opens with Paul preparing to travel to Jerusalem and sending ahead some of his companions. But while he’s still in Ephesus, not yet having joined them, trouble starts to brew:
23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”
28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel.
Paul wishes to go into the crowd but his fellow disciples prevent him (which is probably wise). In fact, even some of the local leaders in the area send messages to him, urging him not to venture into the theatre where the crowd is!
As it turns out, however, the crowd isn’t exactly of one mind:
32 Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
Eventually the town clerk is able to calm things down:
35 And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.
Given the fact that his argument boils down to, “everyone knows Artemis is great, nobody’s doubting that, so stop making such a commotion,” I’m guessing Paul isn’t really happy with that outcome, he definitely was “blaspheming” Artemis and saying she wasn’t a god at all – but I don’t think he’d have been able to preach the risen Christ to this crowd anyway, so I don’t view it as a lost opportunity.
After this, in 20:1-6 (ESV)✞, we simply get some details about Paul’s next travels.
I’m not sure how hard I want to hit this point, but it does occur to me that Demetrius is at least as concerned with making his living as he is with the honour due to Artemis.
“… Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”
verses 26-27 (ESV)✞, emphasis added
Paul saying that gods made with hands are not gods—which I’d guess is probably a pretty accurate quote!—would, in Demetrius’ mind, have three consequences:
|1||Their trade would come into disrepute||Their business would be impacted|
|2||The temple would be devalued||Their business would be impacted and Artemis’ reputation would suffer|
|3||Artemis would be “deposed from her magnificence”||Artemis’ reputation would suffer|
We would like to think that we, as Christians, wouldn’t have such mixed thinking when it comes to God’s reputation; we’d like to think that we’d only have His Glory in mind, not our own worldly business dealings, when we are making our decisions. And it’s easy for us to think that because most of us don’t make our living from being a Christian or worshipping God, so it’s not even something that comes up.
But what about those who are in the Christian music industry? Or other facets of the Christian entertainment industry? If a government were to start thinking about laws that would impact those professions, would the people involved be thinking first about God, or about providing for their families?
Ah, but it’s painful to word it that way, isn’t it? Framing things such that Demetrius is “greedy” but I’m “providing for my family” makes it a lot harder to see my own priorities clearly!
And to be clear, it’s very possible that any laws that were passed that would impact the Christian music/entertainment industries would be something that a Christian should be worried about, and I’m not saying a person’s motives in fighting such regulation would be completely selfish. And I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be worried about providing for your family. But I am saying that it would be worth examining our own motives.
I also wish I could think of a realistic example in which this could happen, to make this analogy more impactful, but none comes to mind.