Early History of Ephesus
2 TIMOTHY 1 Ephesus was at the center of Paul's missionary work. He visited there while on his second and third missionary journeys and maintained exceptionally close ties to the Christians at this location (Ac 20:17 —38).1 Toward the end of his ministry, the apostle left Timothy in Ephesus to care for the Ephesian Christians (1Ti 1:3), and at the very end of his life he continued to show concern for the church there (2Ti 1:18; 4:12).
Ephesus was situated on the Aegean coast by the Cayster River (in the southwestern corner of modern Turkey), but its specific location shifted slightly through the centuries.The city was originally founded by Greeks in approximately 1000 B.C.
Ephesus was captured by Cyrus the Great of Persia in 546 e.c.3 After Persia's disastrously failed invasion of Greece, however, Ephesus came in 454 B.C.' under the control of Athens, against which it rebelled during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 s joining instead the Spartan alliance. After the fall of Athens, Ephesus again came under Persian control, but this ended with the conquest of the region in 333 B.C. by Alexander the Great.
After Alexander's death his general Lysimachus emerged victorious in a struggle for power in Asia Minor, Lysimachus moved the city a short distance from its original site and constructed a 6-mile-long (10 km) wall around its new boundaries (c.286-281 B.c.). Ephesus then came under Seleucid rule, which lasted until Rome defeated Antiochus Ill in 189 B.C.' Rome placed Ephesus under the control of the Anal: ids, the rulers of nearby Pergamum, but took direct control of the city in 133 B.c. Emperor Augustus honored Ephesus as the first city of Roman Asia.
The Old Testament of the Early Church
2 TIMOTHY 3 The first Christians referred to the Old Testament as "the Holy Scriptures" (Lk 24:44; Jn 1:45; Ac 28:23; Ro 1:2; 2Ti 3:15) and, despite the fact that it was not explicitly"Christian,"as their fundamental source of doctrinal and moral teaching (Ro 3:21; 2Ti 3:1-17).
The Old Testament of the first century was divided into two or three sections in early Jewish and Christian thought.The two-part division of the Old Testament into "the Law and the Prophets" was the most common (Mt 22:40; Ac 13:15; Ro 3:21; see also 2Mc 15:9).' Already in the second century B.C. some authors began to refer to a three-fold division of the Old Testament similar to that used by Jews to this day: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. The prologue to Ecclesiasticus in the Apocrypha refers to the "Law, the Prophets and the other books," while a Dead Sea Scrolls text (4QMMT) speaks of"the Book of Moses and the words of the Prophets and of David." Here "David" serves as a title for the third division, since it began with his Psalms. Similarly, in Luke 24:44 Jesus stated that "everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." This way of referring to Scripture combines with other evidence to strongly suggest that the Old Testament canon had been firmly established before the middle of the second century A.D.
It is important to note that the books of the "Law and the Prophets" were the same as the 39 books of the Christian Old Testament. Rabbis had developed different ways of counting the number of books (for example, the 12 "Minor Prophets" are often simply called "The Twelve" and counted as a single book in Jewish sources), but the con-tent was the same. There is no evidence that either first-century Jews or Christians regarded any other religious books of the Jews, including the so-called Apocryphal books and the numerous pseudepigraphal books,as canonical.3 Over against such groups as the Sadducees and the Samaritans, by contrast, mainstream Jews and Christians did not restrict the canon to the Law (Pentateuch) only.' Finally, the outright rejection of the Old Testament in some Christian circles, such as by the followers of Marcion and the early Gnostics, was plainly a heterodox aberration.
Ephesus during the time of Paul
2 TIMOTHY 4 By the time of Paul, Ephesus had become enormously wealthy due to its status and position as a major port city of Asia Minor. It boasted a number of major public buildings, including gymnasiums, theaters and a triumphal arch constructed in 3 B.C. In addition, the Ephesian temple of Artemis was lauded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and was already then a significant source of income (Ac 19:23 —27).
Ephesus became a major center of the Christian faith. Although Paul probably wrote his epistle to the Ephesians as a circular letter, the church of Ephesus was a major focus of his ministry.2 The apostle John also wrote to this church in Revelation 2:1-7, and during the first five centuries A.D. several church councils were convened there. By the medieval period, however, silt from the Cayster River had extended the coastline so far to the west that Ephesus had ceased to be a port city and was abandoned.
The desertion of Ephesus was a boon for modern archaeology, since it meant that the unoccupied city was open for excavation. Today Ephesus exists as one of the most magnificent ruins of the ancient world. Under the direction of Austrian and Turkish archaeologists, the city has reappeared. Important finds include the following:
The Temple of Artemis. Little remains of the temple today (it was sacked by Goths in A.D. 262), but it was a sacred site for over 1,200 years and was at the center of the controversy between pagans and early Christians.
Other Temples. Several other Roman-era temples and shrines have been discovered there. Evidence indicates that Ephesus was home to a wide variety of pagan cults, including a temple to the Egyptian god Serapis.
The Great Theater. This theater, which could seat 25,000 persons, was the location of the tumultuous protest against Paul's preaching related in Acts 19. Although Paul wanted to address the crowd gathered there, the disciples restrained him (Ac 19:30).
The Agoras.Two agoras, or public squares, have been located in Ephesus. One was the Civic Agora (perhaps the location of the temple to Augustus) and the other was the Square or Commercial Agora (near the harbor and the site of numerous shops).
The Celsus Library. One of the great libraries of the ancient world, it was built in A.D. 115-125 and so was not yet in existence in New Testament times.
The Gymnasiums, Baths and Public Latrines. Several gymnasium and bath complexes have been identified in Ephesus, although a few date to later than the New Testament period. Archaeologists are often able to identify a gymnasium's changing room, exercise room, swimming pool, frigidarium (cold-water bath), caldarium (hot-water bath) and unctorium (oil-massage room). The public latrines also give modern visitors an obvious connection to ordinary life in an ancient city.
Private Homes. Residential areas of Ephesus have been excavated, and several upper-class homes have been unearthed. Frescoes (paintings done on freshly spread, moist lime plaster) have been recovered and kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms identified.
The Basilica of Saint John. This structure obviously postdates the New Testament, but, according to second-century tradition, the apostle John spent his last years in Ephesus there and was buried under what is now the apse of this church, which also features a fine example of an early Christian baptistery., According to tradition Jesus' mother, Mary, may have died in Ephesus; therefore, there is also a church of the Virgin Mary (the site of the ecumenical council of Ephesus in A.D.431).
The population of New Testament Ephesus is unknown, but it is clear that the city at that time was a thriving, cosmopolitan center of trade, religion and recreation. Its remains provide a rare look at an ancient city that was also important as a setting for the apostolic mission and the rise of Christianity. Perhaps more than any other archaeological site, Ephesus affords the reader of Acts a sense of context. Since there is no modern city there, the remains of Ephesus distinctively allow visitors to enter vicariously into the ancient world.