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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, February 18 2021

The Book of Acts and Paul's later travels

After visiting Corinth Paul stopped at Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem. The Bible then describes his final journey to Rome where he was martyred. Details of these journeys support the archaeological discoveries revealing travelling conditions during the first century AD.

The Book of Acts and Paul's later travels
Depiction of Paul preaching in Ephesus. Credit: Eustache Le Sueur, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
by Mario Seiglie

Paul's preaching in Ephesus caused many to turn away from their idols and pagan practices: "... many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totalled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed" (Acts 19:1, 18-20).

Since the 1870s archaeologists have found many scrolls, connected with the temple of Diana in Ephesus, dating back to New Testament times. Considerable income was generated by the sale of such scrolls, with some containing the wording for magical spells, which were used as amulets or charms (The New International Commentary of the New Testament: The Book of Acts, 1974, pp. 390-391).

“The Temple of Artemis [Diana] was also a major treasury and bank of the ancient world, where merchants, kings, and even cities made deposits, and where their money could be kept safe under the protection of deity" (Richard Longenecker, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, 1981, p. 503).

The Apostle Paul was accused of proclaiming "man-made gods are no gods at all" (Acts 19:26, New International Version) and fearlessly keeping the Second Commandment. This led to an uprising among the craftsmen in Ephesus who made their living making statuettes of the goddess Diana and her temple: "So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed… when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians’” (Acts 19:27-28).

Although the cult of the goddess Diana gradually disappeared, "Christianity," says historian Marina Warner, "fastened on her [Diana] and added such typical feminine Christian virtues as modesty and shame to her personality ..." (Alone of All Her Sex, 1976, p. 47). Diana, continues Warner, "was associated with the moon ... as the Virgin Mary is identified with the moon and the stars' influence as well as with the forces of fertility and generation" (p. 224).

At the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 the veneration of Mary became an official element of the Roman church. Warner says about Diana: "Memories of her...survived in the city [Ephesus] where the Virgin Mary was proclaimed Theotokos [Mother of God], three hundred and fifty years after the silversmiths, who lived by making statuettes of Diana, rebelled against the preaching of Paul and shouted, 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians' (Acts 19:23-40). There could be, therefore, a chain of descent from ... Diana to the Virgin, for one tradition also holds that Mary was assumed into heaven from Ephesus ..." (ibid., p. 280).

From Ephesus Paul hurried to Jerusalem where he was arrested on a false charge of having taken a gentile (a non-Israelite) inside the temple.(Acts 21:27-29), resulting in him exercising his right as a Roman to appeal to the emperor in Rome.

Luke accompanied Paul to Rome and his narrative of the harrowing journey on a cargo ship of that time is a masterpiece of accuracy down to tiniest details. The Expositor's Bible Commentary maintains, " Its details regarding first-century seamanship are so precise and its portrayal of conditions on the eastern Mediterranean so accurate ... that even the most sceptical have conceded that it probably rests on a journal of some such voyage as Luke describes" (Longenecker, p. 556).

Also, according to archaeological and literary evidence, Luke accurately recounts the way stations to enter Rome from the west, the shortest route from the nearest seaport. (ibid., comment on Acts 28:15). Luke thus provides us with a detailed and accurate account of Paul's apostolic missions during the first decades of the Church.

The book of Acts ends with Paul waiting for his case to be heard by the emperor. From later historians we learn he was set free and continued his apostolic journeys for several years until he was again arrested, imprisoned and ultimately beheaded in Rome.

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