Paul and Artemis of the Ephesians

The Artemis of Ephesus, 1st century AD (Ephesu...
The Artemis of Ephesus, 1st century AD (Ephesus Archaeological Museum) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Acts 19:23-41, we read of an incident that happened towards the tail end of the apostle Paul’s two-year stay in Ephesus. Interestingly, this account doesn’t contain direct speech from Paul; rather we are told what others reported him to have said.

Demetrius the silversmith quotes Paul as saying “gods made with hands are not gods” (Acts 19:26). If that is a correct quotation, then Paul was teaching clear and uncompromising truth as found in the Old Testament: that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), and Artemis (or Zeus, or Baal, or whoever) wasn’t it.

Demetrius succeeds in working up the crowd, and a two-hour chanting session ensues. The town clerk then comes out to calm the people down, giving a speech of his own. About Paul and his companions, he says that they were neither temple robbers nor blasphemers of Artemis/Diana (Acts 19:37).

That Paul wasn’t into theft isn’t surprising. But that he hadn’t said anything that could be interpreted as being insulting to the honour of a false god is. He had preached the gospel, he had preached the truth about the living God, but he had not—according to the city clerk—blasphemed the religion of the city.

In our increasingly multi-everything society, that’s something for Christ-followers to keep in mind as we engage with those whose beliefs differ from ours: an approach that’s full of both grace and truth, just like the Saviour we profess.

This blog post was drawn from a lecture given by Christopher Wright, based on a chapter in his book The Mission of God.

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