Depiction of Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. Paul’s healing ministry in the name of Jesus during the first century greatly disturbed its business. See Acts 19. Photo courtesy of psu.edu

by Brian Shilhavy

God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. (Acts 19:11-12)

The city of Ephesus in Asia Minor (present day Turkey) was the center of the Roman province of Asia during the first century A.D. It was at the base of a river that flowed into the sea, allowing ships to come right up to the city for international commerce. It also boasted a large temple to the goddess Artemis, which was one of the “7 wonders of the world” at the time.

The apostle Paul spent two years in this city preaching the gospel message of Jesus Christ. As the number of believers grew, it changed Ephesus, and the whole Roman world:

This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. (Acts 19:10)

As we see in the foundational article “The Authority to Heal,” Jesus and his disciples constantly came into conflict with the Jewish ruling authorities, particularly in matters related to healing. The Jewish priests, a highly educated and exclusive group, were the only ones authorized to proclaim someone as “healed.” So as people began to go to Jesus, and then later his disciples to receive healing, it caused quite a conflict.

The same thing happened when Paul started his ministry in Ephesus. As the verse above shows, illnesses were cured and evil spirits were cast out through his ministry. The Jewish priests apparently saw that they were losing control of their power over the Jewish population in the city of Ephesus, so they tried to duplicate what Paul was doing, but it didn’t work out so well:

Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.”

Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. (Acts 19:13-17)

The Jews would have been the minority group in this busy Roman province of Asia. As we have noted in other articles, the Greeks had their own system for healing that also revolved around priests and temple worship. This would have been especially true in Ephesus, where the great temple of Artemis attracted visitors from all over the world. Artemis is a Greek god in Greek mythology, the twin sister of Apollo and the daughter of Zeus and Leto. Zeus was particularly known for his healing powers, as we see from the story in Acts 14 where Paul and Barnabas heal a man who had been lame since birth, and the people thought the Greek gods had come to them, including Zeus.

The temple of Artemis was the center of commerce in the city of Ephesus, and not simply as a historical site or museum. It was a fully functioning temple and educational center, where professionals practiced their arts and trade, which would have included healing people.

So as the people began to see that the power to heal was greater through the disciples of Jesus, led by Paul, they began to abandon the practices centered around the temple:

Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing. (Acts 19:18-20)

The word translated “magic” here is from a Greek word that literally means “curious arts” and is translated “busybodies” in the only other place it is used in the New Testament writings. While the English word “magic” has a very limited meaning and understanding in our present day modern culture, it is used to translate various words and activities in the New Testament writings. For example, one of the Greek words that is usually translated as “magic” or”sorcery” is “pharmakeia,” the word we get our modern day “pharmacy” from. It would have been the word also used for “medicines” in the Greek language. (For further explanation on this see: Do Doctors Really Heal?)

When it comes to healing, most people tend to take a very practical approach, rather than an academic one. So when people began to experience healing through the authority of Jesus, they abandoned the less effective methods of healing in their culture. This had an enormous impact on the economy of Ephesus, as we see in the passage above where the price of the books burned (including “medical” books?) totaled a great sum of money.

It didn’t take long for others involved in the inferior healing arts and the temple worship of Artemis to start feeling the economic pinch:

About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said:

“Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”

When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was in an uproar.

The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. (Acts 19:23-32)

The end of this story turned out well for Paul and the disciples of Jesus, primarily because the healthcare services they were providing were free. They were not selling any competing products or services, and they were not slandering the current “healthcare” practitioners to cause them economic harm:

The city clerk quieted the crowd and said:

“Men of Ephesus, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash. You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today’s events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.”

After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly. (Acts 19:35-41)

So in the end, the citizens of the city came to their own conclusion that the healing provided by Jesus was more powerful and more effective than the current healthcare systems in place, both through the Jewish religion and through the Greek temple practices. The entire economic climate of the city and province was changed through the choices of the consumers.

What about today? Is the power and authority from Jesus more effective for healing than our current “healthcare” system? Sales of pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines are in the many billions of dollars and a significant portion of the U.S. economy, and yet these pharmaceutical products are one of the top causes of deaths in the U.S.

Can our culture find disciples of Jesus anywhere who can administer Jesus’ healthcare system, free of charge, so effectively that it becomes an economic threat to the current medical system in place? And if so, will they be able to stand against the powerful forces of the pharmaceutical industry as they strike back, trying to prevent the loss of their market and huge profits?

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:14-16)