Acts 19 Study Notes


19:1-6 The disciples whom Paul encountered in Ephesus had never heard of the Holy Spirit or baptism into Christ (cp. 18:25). This is one of the most difficult NT passages to interpret. The basic question is whether these disciples were genuine Christians when Paul first met them. Some argue that they were not since they had neither received the Holy Spirit nor been baptized into Christ. Others insist that they were genuine Christians who had not yet received full knowledge of the faith. Numerous incomplete forms of Christianity were being spread in the early years of the church. The apostles obviously felt that it was important to check the progress of such strains and correct them, bringing the full and complete gospel message to would-be disciples.


Greek pronunciation [eh PIH stah migh]
CSB translation know
Uses in Acts 9
Uses in the NT 14
Focus passage Acts 18:25

The Greek verb epistamai means to know in a different sense than the more common words ginosko and oida, which emphasize intellectual knowledge and/or knowledge gained through experience. Both ginosko and oida are commonly used for knowing persons, including God, with varying degrees of intimacy. The word epistamai, on the other hand, is rarely used for knowing people and never for knowing God. The main idea behind epistamai is a thorough knowledge of facts, and often understanding the significance of such information is implied.

The difference between ginosko and epistamai is best demonstrated in the only verse where both verbs occur. In Ac 19:13-17, would-be exorcists attempted to cast out an evil spirit but were rebuked, “I know [ginosko] Jesus, and I recognize [epistamai] Paul—but who are you?” (v. 15).

19:4 By John’s own confession his baptism was incomplete. He urged those whom he baptized to believe in the one who would come after him (see Mt 3:11 and note).

19:5-7 The order of conversion here follows the typical pattern in Acts except for the laying on of hands, the mention of other tongues, and the ability to prophesy as immediate results of the Spirit’s coming.

19:8 Paul apparently encountered the Ephesian disciples (vv. 1-7) before he had a chance to visit the synagogue. His discussion there marks only the second time that Paul mentioned the kingdom of God in his preaching as recorded in Acts (14:22).

19:9 Paul withdrew from the synagogue when the Way was slandered and it became obvious that the crowd would not believe. His choice seems in keeping with Jesus’s teachings (see Mt 7:6; Lk 9:3-5). Tyrannus either owned the lecture hall or taught there regularly. Inscriptions bearing his name have been found in Ephesus, dating to this time. The actual lecture hall has not been discovered.

19:10 After three months of speaking in the synagogue (v. 8), Paul spent another two years teaching in Ephesus, making a significant impact on the province of Asia. A number of other events recorded elsewhere about Paul’s life may have occurred during this time. These included imprisonments and beatings (2Co 1:8-10; 11:23-25).

19:11-12 God’s power through faith was at work in these healings (see note at 5:15-16; see also Lk 8:44). That Paul’s personal items (facecloths or aprons) were involved demonstrates his identity as an apostle.

19:13 Itinerant Jewish exorcists attempted to use Jesus’s name to command evil spirits. Ancient magic traditions often involved the invocation of divine names.

19:14 Numerous ancient Jewish nonbiblical texts attest to the interplay of magic and Judaism.

19:15 It takes more than the invocation of powerful names to gain the upper hand over demonic forces. The evil spirit knew that the exorcists did not share in Christ’s authority through faith.

19:16 The consequences of frivolously invoking Jesus’s name were severe. That the men fled naked was especially humiliating since Jews shunned nudity.

19:17-18 The name of the Lord Jesus, rather than being abused, was held in high esteem when people realized the power of the Lord was not available for just anyone to control and manipulate.

19:19-20 Books were expensive in ancient times. The fifty thousand pieces of silver could be the Greek drachma or the Roman denarius. Either way it would have been a large sum of money.

19:21 Paul intended to return to the places he had evangelized earlier on his second missionary trip and then go to Jerusalem before traveling further west. As he stated in his letter to the Romans (Rm 15:23-29), he believed his missionary work in the east was finished. After taking the collection to Jerusalem, he planned to proceed to Rome and then farther west to Spain.

19:22 Some believe the Erastus mentioned here is the same as in Rm 16:23, while others dispute this. It is also possible that the Erastus of Rm 16:23 is mentioned in a Corinthian inscription. The name was popular during this time.

19:23-25 The cult of Artemis at Ephesus was part of a larger Greek cult of Artemis, the “Great Mother.” As with many ancient cults, artisans like Demetrius made their living by fashioning cultic items such as idols. Paul’s preaching jeopardized this vocation (vv. 25-26).

19:26-27 Paul’s reputation had spread throughout Asia, making him a threat to the beliefs and lifestyle for a considerable number of people. The Ephesian temple of Artemis, whose foundations went back to the eighth century BC, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Demetrius foresaw that it would fall into disrepute and ruin if Paul persuaded enough people that gods made by hand are not gods. In fact, this is exactly what happened. The ruins of the temple were discovered in the nineteenth century, and the altar was uncovered in 1965.

19:28 Demetrius played to the crowd’s worst fears effectively. Fear of loss is often a choice weapon against God’s truth and the life of discipleship.

19:29-31 The Ephesian amphitheater seated twenty-four thousand people and was thoroughly remodeled in the first century. The disciples wisely kept Paul from joining his traveling companions. It would have been a senseless self-sacrifice to enter into the clutches of such a hostile mob. That some of the provincial officials also pleaded with Paul to stay away shows that he had come to be well regarded by some leaders in the province.

19:32 True to mob mentality, most of them had no idea why they had gathered in the amphitheater.

19:33-34 The Jews of the city understandably wanted to distance themselves from the controversy caused by Paul and his followers. They shoved forward one of their own, Alexander, a Hellenistic Jew (as indicated by his name), to offer an apology on their behalf. Ironically, the Jews would have had the same view of the Artemis cult as Paul and his followers, but in this case they did not want to be lumped in with them. As for the Ephesian mob, they disallowed such a distinction. They knew that anyone whose religious roots were Jewish represented opposition to Artemis.

19:35 The image that fell from heaven may indicate that the Artemis cult was inspired by a meteorite that fell to earth. Alternatively, this could be a way of saying that the cult was thought to originate with the gods.

19:36-39 In their rush to condemn Jesus and the Christian movement, Jews and Gentiles alike often violated civil and judicial procedures (18:14-15; Mt 26:60). In this case, the city clerk made it clear that the actions of Demetrius were against the law and did not follow due process.

19:40-41 Fear of Roman reprisal was a common motivator for clearing up civil unrest. There is no mention of further legal action taken. This shows that Paul and his followers had broken no laws. They were simply upsetting those who profited from the Artemis cult.