Ephesus was the most important city in Western Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in New Testament times. In fact, it was called ’the mother city’ of Asia. It had an estimated population of around 200,000 – 250,000, which was huge for those days, and it rivalled Antioch, Corinth, Alexandria and even Rome itself. Its wealth and importance came from its location. It was situated on an inland harbour linked by a canal to the River Cayster which flowed into the Aegean Sea; and it was at the crossroads of major trade routes. So it was an extremely important commercial centre-in fact, the largest trading centre in Asia Minor, attracting people from all over the world. Strabo, the Greek philosopher, historian and geographer, called it ‘the greatest emporium in the province of Asia Minor’. So when Paul chose to plant a church here, he was choosing the key city in the region, from which he planned for the new church to reach out.
As befitted a leading regional city, Ephesus had many fine buildings, as its ruins still testify to today. It had at least two public squares or ‘agoras’, linked by Curetes Street with its monuments to leading citizens. One agora, designated for civic use, had a stoa, basilica and town hall; the other was designated for commercial use. The city had gymnasiums, theatres (one of them seating 25,000), a triumphal arch and a fabulous library (though this was only built after New Testament times). It had won the right to house the Temple of the Divine Julius (Caesar) and the goddess Roma, and had a huge temple to the Emperor Domitian (AD81-96). It had public baths and latrines, and many upper-class homes with beautiful frescoes. But the city’s greatest claim to fame didn’t lie in the realm of business or economics, but religion.
The temple of Artemis
The most important structure in Ephesus was a major temple to the Greek goddess Artemis (known in Rome as Diana), which was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world and which people came from far and wide to see. It was 425 feet (130m) long and 220 feet (67m) wide, with white marble columns 62 feet (19m) high and just 4 feet (1.2m) apart. The temple was founded when her image-probably a meteorite-’fell from heaven’ (Acts 19:35). Initially this was marked with an idol carved from an oak tree, which a small village grew up around. But as Artemis became more and more popular, the site was marked with increasingly bigger temples dedicated to her, with her image standing in the inner sanctuary. Ephesus became known as ‘the guardian of the Temple of the great Artemis and her image which fell from heaven.’ It was a sacred site for over 1200 years.
The cult of Artemis
In Greek and Roman mythology Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the goddess of the hunt and wild animals, as well as the goddess of women. She protected women in childbirth, protected young girls, especially their virginity, and brought relief to women in need. The Greek travel writer Pausanias said that she was the most worshipped goddess in private devotions in the Mediterranean world. Statues of Artemis had a stiff, long body with her legs bound (rather like an Egyptian mummy), and with many breasts, reflecting the fact that Artemis worship was a fertility religion, particularly as it was practised at Ephesus. She wore a necklace of acorns and a high crown, often topped with the turrets of the city of Ephesus. Her skirt was decorated with rows of animals, symbolic of her fertility. A eunuch priest served Artemis, assisted by virgin priestesses. This heavily-women-dominated religion may be part of the reason why Paul insists so much on women keeping their proper place in the church, and on men rising up to play their proper role in worship (1 Timothy 2:8-15). (Remember that, by the time Paul write to Timothy, Timothy was leading the church in Ephesus.)
As a fertility goddess, ritual prostitution played an important part in the worship of Artemis. So, from a Christian point of view, the temple was an exceedingly immoral. Worship also included many secret rituals or ‘mysteries’, portraying birth and death-hence Paul’s repeated use of the word ‘mystery’ in his letter (Ephesians 1:9; 3:3, 4, 6, 9; 5:32; 6:19). The difference was that whereas their ‘mystery’ was hidden and secret, revealed only to the special few, Paul says that God’s ‘mystery’ has now been made fully known in Jesus-to everyone!
Religion and economics
But the temple wasn’t just about religion; it was also about business–big business! There was a guild of silversmiths who made little silver shrines and copies of the stone that fell from heaven. Clearly they made a good living out of it; because when Paul began to preach about Jesus and people started responding to the gospel, they were afraid that it might affect business and so stirred up a riot (Acts 19:23-41).
But Artemis affected more than the livelihood of a guild of silversmiths. She affected the whole of the city’s life. In fact, her temple served as the city’s main bank, and thousands of temple servants were entrusted with looking after the fortunes that people entrusted to them. Artemis’ image was also on their coins, and festivals and games held in her honour. So to challenge Artemis, like Paul did, was to challenge the whole social and economic order. But that is what the gospel is meant to do!
Ephesus and the church
Paul saw Ephesus as such a key city that he spent three years there, with the result that ‘all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord’ (Acts 19:10, 26). He established Ephesus as his regional apostolic base, and it became a major centre of the Christian faith. Sadly, it seemed to sit back on its laurels eventually, and the first love and passion of the church had waned by the late first century AD (Revelation 2:1-7).
Early church tradition links John the Apostle with Ephesus and it is said that he spent his final years here. When he wrote Revelation, he was in exile on Patmos (Revelation 1:9), which was a tiny island some 50 miles south-west of Ephesus, so it is entirely possible. According to other early church traditions, Jesus’ mother Mary also ended up here, having been entrusted to John’s care by Jesus (John 19:25-27).
Several church councils were held here in the first five centuries AD, including the important Council of Ephesus of AD 431. But as the River Cayster silted up, Ephesus ceased to be a port and its importance diminished. Several earthquakes led to the city being gradually abandoned, and its stones were gradually taken away for buildings elsewhere, leaving only the ruins that are there today. It seems Artemis wasn’t so great after all!
Schneider, Eugenia Equini (2010) Ephesus and Pergamon – Past and Present, Hollandaca, ISBN-13: 978-8881622436
a good book that includes artists’ impressions showing what the original structures may have looked like.
What picture comes into your mind when you think of slavery?
Pickin’ cotton in Georgia (c. 1860)
No doubt, many of you will think of slaves picking cotton in the American South over a hundred years ago. You may even have seen the TV series “Roots” and formed the impression that being a slave was worse than terrible. Working up to 18 hours a day, without weekend breaks, many died within a decade of arriving on the plantation[i]. Marriages and families were often split up when one partner was sold. Punishment for slaves who were re-captured after escaping was brutal.
How does this apply to the way we think about slavery in the New Testament? In the first place, it wasn’t restricted to black people; all races, including Europeans might be held as slaves! But the more important question is “was it the same, better or worse”? Well the short answer is “it depends”[ii]. If you were captured in battle and forced into slavery, life under Roman rule could be just as brutal as that of the American slave. A criminal punished with slavery in the mines fared in much the same way.
On the other hand,
“The lot of the urban slaves was generally easier than that of their rural counterparts. Their work was lighter, and the conditions under which they lived and worked were incomparably better. … Some controlled large sums of money … and apparently were able to call much of that money their own. Greek and Roman authors complained constantly about high-flying slaves who were richer than they were. … There are a number of other examples, … of slaves who made money. For them in particular, as for most urban slaves, freedom was always a possibility. In most cases this was not so for rural slaves.”[iii]
From all the evidence that can be gleaned from ancient documents, life as a 1st century slave –
1) didn’t happen to people from just one race or nation;
2) could be as harsh as that of a black African slave in 18th century America, if you were a convict or a prisoner of war;
3) could be relatively less harsh if
a) you lived in a city rather than in the countryside;
b) your master was kind and/or rich;
4) meant that you had no legal status – you were worse off than a prisoner who had served their time;
5) meant a lifetime of service, unless you could buy your freedom, or unless your master freed you;
6) meant that your master had total control over every aspect of your life – including the right to have sexual intercourse;
7) meant that you might be branded on the forehead with your master’s mark;
8) meant that you could be bought and sold at will;
9) meant crucifixion if you were caught running away, or if you committed all sorts of crimes, including ones that would today be considered minor.
When referring to slaves, the New Testament writers make no mention of whether they were urban or rural. However, the majority of New Testament churches were based in medium to large cities. Hence we might conclude that Paul and his fellow Apostles only knew Christian slaves whose lives were relatively stress-free. Unfortunately, this doesn’t tally with some of the things we find in Scripture.
The Apostle Paul used some of the brutal facts of slavery to illustrate some of the truths of our life as Christians. However, and most importantly, the New Testament does NOT condone slavery, even though some, mostly non-Christians, maintain that it does.
To “dig deeper”, CLICK HERE to download the full article.
[ii] “Slavery was diverse in practice and ideology from nation to nation. It was diverse even within the Roman Empire itself. Those who were enslaved in an urban setting experienced a better (or at least improved) quality of life than those who worked on large farms or in the mines. A slave’s quality of life depended upon their function, relation to the master and the degree of responsibility carried by the slave.” John Byron (2004) “Paul And The Background of Slavery: The Status Quaestionis in New Testament Scholarship,” Currents in Biblical Research, 3.1, p 133
[iii] Williams, David, J. (1999) Paul’s Metaphors: Their Context and Character, Hendrickson Publishers Inc, ISBN-13: 978-1565632875, p 112
Roman Soldiers of the 1st Century – Armour and Tactics
Photo 1 – A typical battle formation of the 1st century B.C.
When attempting to discover the background to Paul’s analogy of “The Armour of God” in Ephesians chapter 6, we encounter a number of challenges. In the first place, written records describing what soldiers wore are relatively rare. Historians often have to rely upon archaeological excavations, statues and inscriptions on Roman civic sculptures such as the one shown here.
Photo 2 – Section of Trajan’s Column, Rome, showing the spiral friezes that represent the best surviving evidence of the equipment of imperial Roman soldiers
The second challenge we face concerns the fact that the precise details of armour worn changed over time and from one province to another. Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians whilst imprisoned in Rome, around 62 A.D. Although he was continuously guarded by soldiers we have no idea if his armour analogy was based solely upon their equipment, entirely drawn from Old Testament imagery or (most likely) consisted of a mixture of both.
For example, consider the following passage from Isaiah:
Isa 59:17 NIV He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
Here, Isaiah describes the armour that God puts on when he can find no justice, righteousness or truth amongst his covenant people. Clearly, Paul has based at least some of his “Armour of God” imagery on the Old Testament (OT).
The armour worn by a Legionary of the 1st century
Most scholars believe that Paul would have been most familiar with the kind of armour shown in the following images.
Photo 3 – Historical re-enactor wearing replica equipment of a Roman legionary about AD 75, standing in front of his contubernia’s tent. Note the one-piece, short-sleeved tunic, Imperial Gallic G helmet, Corbridge A body armour, Pompeii-Type Gladius, pugio (dagger) on left hip and scutum or rectangular shield
Photo 4 – Historical re-enactor wearing replica equipment of a late 1st-century centurion.
However, some caution is required when transferring these shiny, re-enactment examples onto the Biblical text. Modern materials may not properly represent the condition of clothing and metalwork of the 1st century Roman army. Although polished, metalwork was more probably bronze or iron, though probably quite as shiny.
“Very shiny metalware was their [Legionaries] pride and joy, giving them status in front of their peers and even providing a sort of protection in battle: As you stood eye to eye with your enemy, a soldier with very expensive looking equipment would seem to have a lot of experience (to be able to pay for all his expensive kit – they owned it themselves). So the enemy would perhaps try to avoid this soldier and go for his neighbour.”
I strongly recommend the following video as an introduction to the armour of a Roman Legionary:
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2Ti 3:16 NIV All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
All of Scripture has the power to breathe God’s life into each and every one of us. However, there are some books, such as Ephesians, that seem to have greater relevance to our present situation than others. There is a strong sense in which it could have been written to a 21st century church rather than a 1st century one. Ephesians is about us! Paul seems to be speaking directly to me when he says that out of His love God chose us before time began (1:4). And even more to the point, God has lavished (yes – lavished!) His grace upon us and forgiven us through the blood Jesus the Christ (1:7-8).
It’s almost as if Paul knew everything about the current condition of our Church culture, and the problems we are facing today. When John Stott wrote his classic commentary on Ephesians in 1979, the title he gave it was “God’s New Society”. Not only does Ephesians address the individual Christian, but Paul is at pains to show how we must change our attitudes to one another and modify our behaviour as a body of believers. If ever there was a time when the church needed to give the lead in ushering in the kind of society that God envisions, surely now is that time. In just about every sphere, Western civilisation is in a total mess, and is in need of hearing the message that the Apostle Paul delivers in his letter to the Ephesians.
In 1 Cor. 16:9, Paul says that he will stay in Ephesus “because a great door for effective work has opened to me” (NIV). This tells us where first Corinthians was written, probably during his first year in Ephesus, but before the riot described in Acts 19:21-41. Paul spent three full years in Ephesus (Acts 20:31; probably c. 52 – 55 A.D.) and founded its thriving church.
After leaving Ephesus in 55 A.D., Paul went back to Corinth and wintered there. (There, he wrote the letter to the Romans, in which he stated that Priscilla and Aquila risked their own necks for his life. Apparently, this took place at Ephesus. There is a tradition, found in several traces, that Paul had an encounter with a lion at Ephesus. This tradition dates from the mid-second century A.D. Yet, Acts is silent about any of these things.) He then headed for Jerusalem by boat, where he was taken captive by the Romans because the Jews rioted when they saw him in the Temple. He then appealed to Caesar and was brought to Rome in around 59 or 60 A.D.
Some scholars have tried to cast doubt on the “to God’s holy people in Ephesus” found in verse 1. However, “the words ‘To Ephesus’ are clearly at the top on the oldest manuscript, p. 46, contained at the University of Michigan Library”[ii]. In addition, the majority of the early church affirmed that the letter was written to the church in Ephesus.
That said, there is also the strong possibility that this letter would have been circulated to the churches at Laodicea, Colossae and over the whole of modern-day Turkey. In turn, Paul’s letter to the Colossians and the letter to the Laodiceans (now lost but mentioned in Col. 4:16) would have been read in Ephesus. Hence we can state that this letter was read more widely than “to God’s holy people in Ephesus” might suggest.
To “dig deeper”, CLICK HERE to download the full article.