After Church – Confusion and An Uneventful Event

Acts 19 has to have one of the oddest stories in the entire Bible. It’s not because of it being an instance where weird things happen, or that something amazing occurs or God intervenes. It’s just kind of..there, without any reason why it should be there.

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.

Ok, so this part looks like the standard “apostle performing miracles narrative” you see so often in Acts. When the Jewish authorities try to invoke the name of Jesus, they’re grossly ineffective at the exorcism and they fail. People continually come to the Church, convinced of the power of Christ and of his disciples and apostles to do great things. Now, here’e where things get odd. Luke decides we need a great deal of background information regarding the next events, and that’s exactly what Theophilus gets:

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.

23 About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; 25 these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. 26 You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all27 Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.”

You’ve got to wonder, is Demetrius motivated primarily by his own faith or by a desire for more money? I’m sure the narrative would have us think it’s the latter and perhaps the ignorant musings of the former. You know, a supercessionist narrative. Still, how could Luke know his thoughts on the matter? Did he go and interview the guy to see what he actually thought later? I always wonder about these things. Luke’s historical mindset has me thinking that he may have done it through secondhand sources; parts of the narrative he obviously was a participant, while others he was not. You’d need a good mixture of both to have such a definite guess as to Demetrius’ mindset going into this. Here’s the part that struck me, though:

28 When they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”29 The city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius andAristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia.

So some guys yell, and everyone gets confused, becomes a mob, and then drag along everybody in Ephesus into the theatre. Brilliant. Sounds a lot like Occupy Wall Street – political joke for the win!

30 And when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him. 31 Also some of the Asiarchs who were friends of his sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater. 32 So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together.

They still have no idea why they’re there. I still don’t get why this happened – either Demetrius riled everyone up with his speech about idols and Artemis, or there’s something we don’t know. Either way, I’m not quite sure I get it. The situation doesn’t exist solely for the sake of some lesson, as you find out later – so why is this in here.

33 Some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Apparently, they’re looking for a scapegoat – yet it was established earlier that they didn’t know why they were assembling at all. We already know that the Jewish people had little to no power over Greco-Roman affairs, so why should this little detail be told? Who is Alexander, anyway? Why should I care? And why does he defend this assembly? Because he hates Christians? After all, as was said earlier, nobody knew why they were gathering. Am I supposed to understand this as common knowledge among the readers of this particular work?

35 After quieting the crowd, the town clerk *said, “Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of the image which fell down from heaven? 36 So, since these are undeniable facts, you ought to keep calm and to do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 So then, if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a complaint against any man, the courts are in session and proconsuls are available; let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you want anything beyond this, it shall be settled in the lawful assembly.40 For indeed we are in danger of being accused of a riot in connection with today’s events, since there is no real cause for it, and in this connection we will be unable to account for this disorderly gathering.” 41 After saying this he dismissed the assembly.

The town clerk (who, again, hasn’t been mentioned before) clears up the controversy and tells everyone why they met. Once that’s clear, the assembly dismisses and everyone goes home.

Let’s imagine this for a second: Acts of the Apostles, from what I can tell, was intended to show the great works, events, and signs God did that show that Jesus was the Christ. As such, you’d imagine the author would want to jam pack their book/letter FULL of these stories – and not a gigantic story about how the Christians found themselves in a crowd and weren’t so much attacked, beaten, or anything (it usually describes as such if it did happen, that much is certain). Then they were let go and NOTHING happens. Talk about unexciting. It’s not like there was divine intervention happening here. Again and again, I say the crowd was confused because the author says it! It’s just plain odd why Luke chose to incorporate this unless it actually happened, and was really THAT uneventful.

But the quirky nature of said story works well in the narrative, I think. It could have been merely an aside, but we get a good look at the mob mentality. You get a little of the flavor of the times and how people could get roweled up, just as they do now, over money or religion or anything to that affect. But it’s just as easy to be swept up in a created narrative when the truth’s much more important in the end. And, apparently, that end was being in total confusion of what was actually going on except for vague chanting of injustice or religious intolerance.

Even the most rout of stories can have a message; so, too, does the Bible have its own version of said stories.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.