In the First Century, Ephesus was the second largest city in the Roman Empire, and by many estimations, the second most important and influential as well. In addition to being the world center for the worship of Artemis, it was also a great commercial and governmental center, a great educational center, and a melting pot of many cultures, languages, races, religions and philosophies. If the Gospel of Christ was going to truly reach the world, it had to be effective in large cities like Ephesus! Today’s lesson introduces us to a city not very different than many great cities in our world today.
It is a great benefit to check some good Bible dictionary articles on Ephesus to learn more about the city. For example, we can read this in the Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary:
“Ephesus — a large and important city on the west coast of Asia Minor where the apostle Paul founded a church. A number of factors contributed to the prominence that Ephesus enjoyed.
The first factor was economics. Situated at the mouth of the river Cayster, Ephesus was the most favorable seaport in the province of Asia and the most important trade center west of Tarsus. Today, because of silting from the river, the ruins of the city lie in a swamp 8 to 11 kilometers (5 to 7 miles) inland.
Another factor was size. Although Pergamum was the capital of the province of Asia in Roman times, Ephesus was the largest city in the province, having a population of perhaps 300,000 people.
A third factor was culture. Ephesus contained a theater that seated an estimated 25,000 people. A main thoroughfare, some 35 meters (105 feet) wide, ran from the theater to the harbor, at each end of which stood an impressive gate. The thoroughfare was flanked on each side by rows of columns 15 meters (50 feet) deep. Behind these columns were baths, gymnasiums, and impressive buildings.
The fourth, and perhaps most significant, reason for the prominence of Ephesus was religion. The Temple of Artemis (or Diana, according to her Roman name) at Ephesus ranked as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. As the twin sister of Apollo and the daughter of Zeus, Artemis was known variously as the moon goddess, the goddess of hunting, and the patroness of young girls. The temple at Ephesus housed the image of Artemis that was reputed to have come directly from Zeus (Acts 19:35).
The temple of Artemis in Paul’s day was supported by 127 columns, each of them 60 meters (197 feet) high. The Ephesians took great pride in this grand edifice. During the Roman period, they promoted the worship of Artemis by minting coins with the inscription, ’Diana of Ephesus.‘”
- A significant part of understanding and appreciating the Epistle to the Ephesians is knowing something about the city and people of Ephesus. There are numerous references within the epistle connected to the city and its circumstances.
- But the New Testament gives us very little information about the city, though some references in Acts 18-20 give us hints. So we will turn to other sources for much of our information.
EPHESUS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT:
- Three recorded visits by Paul
- Briefly on 2nd missionary journey – Acts 18:18-21
- For 3 years during his 3rd missionary journey – Acts 19
- At end of 3rd journey as he was traveling to Jerusalem, he stopped at Miletus and met with the Ephesian elders one last time – Acts 20:16-38
- Epistle written following his arrest in Jerusalem, either from Caesarea or Rome
- He urges Timothy to stay in Ephesus – 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy written during Paul’s final imprisonment in Rome, and he mentions Onesiphorus, Tychicus and Trophimus – all from Ephesus – 2 Timothy 1:15-18; 4:12
- At the end of New Testament it is one of the seven churches in Asia Jesus dictates letters to – Revelation 2:1
EPHESUS AS DESCRIBED IN BIBLE DICTIONARIES:
- On western coast of Asia Minor (Turkey today) with a great harbor, great trade routes and secure location.
- The capital of Proconsular Asia since 27 BC
- Estimated population of 250,000-300,000 during Paul’s work there. The second largest city in the Empire.
- A “modern city” with 4 aqueducts, running water and sewers, water driven mills, large theater seating up to 25,000, a large stadium, two public agoras (markets), etc.
- The Temple of Artemis dominated the landscape as well as the religious and economic life of the city.
- The temple proper covered an area larger than a modern football field; the surrounding grounds and outbuildings made it a massive complex.
- The legend of a meteor striking the earth where the temple now stood caused people to believe a goddess had come to them… Artemis, goddess of the hunt, women and childbearing, and associated with “Venus” (goddess of light).
- An urban, multicultural, multilingual, multi-religious culture.
- Belief in miracle healings at Temple of Artemis and through magic spells, incantations and potions. A medical school of Hippocrates was also located in the city.
Our image is from the Wikipedia article on Ephesus, and shows the ruins of the great theater in Ephesus with the causeway to the ancient harbor stretching away in the distance.