This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 19:1-20. These verses describe Paul’s experiences and work in Ephesus during his third missionary journey.
Paul’s experiences and work in Ephesus.
¶ "While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul had gone through the upper country. So he came to Ephesus, and found a group of disciples. Paul asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied, “No, we haven't even heard whether the Holy Spirit has been given.” Paul asked, “Into what were you baptized then?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John indeed baptized with the baptism of repentance, and he told the people that they should believe in the one who would come after him —who is Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Paul had laid his hands on them, and the Holy Spirit came upon them; they spoke with other languages and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all."(Acts 19:1-7).
Came to Ephesus. On his second missionary journey, Paul had visited Ephesus briefly as he was going from Corinth to Syrian Antioch. Members of the Jewish synagogue in Ephesus had wanted Paul to stay, but he said that he would return another time if God willed (Acts 18:18-21). Now the record of Paul’s third missionary journey, which starts at Acts 18:22-23, tells us that he came by land to Ephesus ready to stay and work there at length (Acts 19:1).
Found some disciples. Before going to the synagogue that he'd previously visited, Paul found a dozen or so disciples who were believers in Jesus. How he found them, we don't know, but by some means God led him to them. Priscilla and Aquila had come to Ephesus with Paul on his voyage from Corinth to Syria, and he'd left them in Ephesus (Acts 18:18-19). But they didn't find these disciples. Apollos was preaching in Ephesus, but he hadn't found them, otherwise, before he went to Achaia, he'd have gone to these disciples in Ephesus to tell them that he'd learned the way of the Lord more perfectly (Acts 18:24-28). So the origin of these disciples is unclear —although this incident shows that knowledge of Jesus was spreading apart from the work of the apostles and preachers associated with them.
Paul’s first question. Paul did not seem to know these disciples, and he enquired whether they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. Paul apparently had in mind miraculous powers received through the laying on of an apostles’ hands (cf Acts 8:17-18). Since Paul recognized these people as disciples and believers, he would not question whether they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit which all believers receive when their sins are forgiven at baptism (Acts 2:38). Rather, he would question whether any spiritual gifts had been imparted to them.
Paul’s second question. The reply to Paul’s first question was unexpected: "No, we have not heard that the Holy Spirit has been given*."(Acts 19:2). This immediately made Paul question their baptism because the gospel when preached correctly will include the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). So Paul asks, "Into what were you baptized then?"(Acts 19:3).
Note: Some translations render the reply to Paul’s first question as: “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit”. This is incorrect, just as in John 7:39 it would be incorrect to translate “The Spirit was not” without supplying the implied word “given”. The reply should be rendered, “No, we have not even heard whether the Holy Spirit has been given.” (Acts 19:2).
John’s baptism. The reply to Paul’s second question was, "Into John’s baptism"(Acts 19:3). This made Paul understand the problem. He explained that the baptism of John the Baptizer was preliminary, and should be followed by baptism in the name of Jesus (Acts 19:4-5). On the day of Pentecost, Peter said, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ..."(Acts 2:38). He made no exception of those who had been baptized with John’s baptism.
The Holy Spirit. John the Baptist was the herald of Jesus Christ. He preached and baptized, and his baptism was "a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins".(Mark 1:4). However his baptism lacked the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 7:39). The baptism of John was to give way to baptism in the name of Christ in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39).
¶ "Paul went into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for a period of three months. He reasoned with persuasion about the Kingdom of God. But some became hardened and rebellious. They spoke evil of the Way before the multitude. So Paul withdrew from them, and took the disciples to the school of Tyrannus where he reasoned daily. This continued for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks."(Acts 19:8-10).
Into the synagogue. Paul next goes to the synagogue. This time he teaches there for three months. This shows that he was still welcome there as he was previously when he'd been asked to stay longer (Acts 18:19-21).
Kingdom of God. One of the umbrella phrases for the Way of Christ is “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven”. Jesus himself used that phrase when he told parables, and his own preaching is said to be "preaching the kingdom of God"(Luke 8:1,Luke 16:16). A kingdom has a king; laws; subjects or citizens; a culture; an economy; an army; and territory. Of course these aspects of a kingdom will be of a different nature in kingdom of God compared to a kingdom of this world. We remember that Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world"(John 18:36).
Hardened and rebellious. It took longer in Ephesus, but eventually the Jews who were against the Way of Jesus Christ started to agitate as they had in most of Paul’s experiences preaching Christ. And, as happened in other places, he had to leave the synagogue and find somewhere else to encourage the new disciples and persuade others to become disciples of Jesus (Acts 19:9-10).
School of Tyrannus. Paul moved his work to the school of Tyrannus. If this was a school as we understand the word, then Tyrannus would possibly be the headmaster, but we hope he was not a tyrant as his name might suggest! Probably the word “school” here (Acts 19:9) means a place where people met for discussions and debates. This would suit Paul’s purpose very well and be more open for Gentiles to learn the gospel from him. He did not have the opposition here as he had in the synagogue where he lasted three months. In the school of Tyrannus, he carried on his ministry for two years with an excellent outreach into Asia Minor without having to travel around (Acts 19:10).
¶ "In Ephesus, God worked special miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them, and the evil spirits went out. But some Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, took it upon themselves to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had the evil spirits. They were saying, “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Among those who did this were seven sons of a man named Sceva, a Jewish chief priest. The evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?” The man who had the evil spirit in him leaped on them, and overpowered them. He attacked them such that they fled out of that house naked and wounded."(Acts 19:11-16).
Extraordinary miracles. A miracle by definition is extraordinary, but those which Paul did in Ephesus were especially so. These miracles drew attention to Paul and the Jesus he preached; these miracles gave proof that he was preaching truth and the kingdom of God was real and powerful; these miracles also blessed the city greatly and showed that Paul’s God was a God of grace, mercy, and love.
Evil spirit. The account of the seven sons of Sceva speaks for itself. You don't invoke the name of Jesus unless you are dedicated to him. Jesus doesn't jump just because you call his name. He didn't jump in this case. We are not told what happened to the demon possessed man, but no doubt Paul would not leave him in that condition.
¶ "This became known to all who lived at Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. Fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. Also, many of those who had believed came, confessing, and disclosing their practices. Many of those who practiced magical arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. They counted their price, and found it to be fifty thousand pieces of silver."(Acts 19:17-19).
Burning of the Books
The city of Ephesus was very religious, being devoted to magic and occult arts. As far as we know, these arts included divining the palm of the hand or reading signs in a great many other ways. They included talking to spirits of various kinds. They included drawing magical power from numbers, mixtures, amulets, and other objects.
Religions commonly employ similar arts today, and this is encouraged in our society. Isn't this religious genre as good as any other? Paul did not think so. When he showed Ephesus the superior power and the truth of his religion, numbers of people burned their religious books (Acts 19:11-20).
The value of the burned books was 50,000 pieces of silver. It is thought that the silver pieces were drachmas —each worth about a day's wages. When they burned these rare and hand-written books, a huge fortune went up in flames.
The people who burned those books made a very strong statement. They demonstrated how well Paul had convinced them that it matters what religion you practice, and only one religion will do.
¶ "So the word of the Lord was growing and gaining great power."(Acts 19:20).
END OF THE FIFTH SECTION OF ACTS
With this progress report (Acts 19:20). Luke concludes his description of the spread of Christianity into Asia, Macedonia, and Greece. Paul has completed his second missionary journey and has set out on his third. He has spent more than two years in Ephesus. In the sixth section of Acts, Paul revisits Macedonia and Greece and then goes to Jerusalem. He is imprisoned in Samaria, and then taken to Rome