Ephesus during the time Paul (2 Timothy 4)

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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, theatres 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 (Acts 19:23-27).

Ephesus became a major centre 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. 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 centre 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 Theatre. This theatre, which could seat 25,000 people, 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 (Acts 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 harbour 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 Gymnasium, 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 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 the tradition Jesus’ mother, Mary, may have died in Ephesus; therefore, there’s also a church of the Virgin Mary (the site the ecumenical council og 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 centre 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.


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