When the Bible Comes to Life
By Rev Tan Eng Boo
I am always excited when it comes to visiting biblical sites in Israel, Jordan and Turkey because that’s when the Bible comes to life. Not that the Bible isn’t the living Word of God, but I can better identify with the reality of the biblical passages when I get to spend time being immersed in those very same places.
I have been to Turkey on two occasions, the second being October this year. One of the biblical sites that Christians should visit when they are in Turkey is the amphitheatre of Ephesus. When you are there, read the account of Acts 19 and let the word of God come to life.
In the days of the apostle Paul, the theatre could sit up to 24,000 people. It suffered immense damage from two major earthquakes over the years, but apart from that has been largely well preserved.
From a biblical perspective, we know that Paul never preached in this theatre although he was in Ephesus for two years. It was in Ephesus that Paul taught the word, and from which God’s Word spread to the residents of Asia.
“This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10).
While Paul preached the word and saw many converts in Ephesus, it was there that a man by the name of Demetrius, a silversmith arose and challenged the Way (a name for those who believed in Jesus Christ). See Acts 19:23-27.
Demetrius was a worshipper of the goddess Artemis (Photo by Pastor from the Vatican, Rome) and he was especially unhappy with Paul. He said:
“And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” (Acts 19:26, 27).
Ephesus was known throughout the ancient world as the temple keeper (neokoros; see Acts 19:35) of the goddess Artemis. The Temple of Diana (Artemis) is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and is also located in Ephesus. Today, only one reconstructed pillar of this magnificient temple is left standing.
The only biblical account that mentions the ampitheatre, or what is known today as The Grand Theatre of Ephesus, is Acts 19:29:
“So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theatre, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul's companions in travel.”
When Paul wanted to enter the theatre, the disciples stopped him from doing so (Acts 19:30, 31). It appears that a riot had broken out inside the theatre, started by Demetrius. If Paul had gone in, he would have been in great danger.
Importance of Bible geography and history
As I walked on the marble steps of the theatre I was amazed I could imagine what it was like to hear and see the great crowd, as though I was in a packed football stadium with all the shouting
going on around me. But the scene during Paul’s time must have been very chaotic (Acts 19:29). As Paul was trying to enter the theatre, the crowd would have been shouting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:28). What lesson is the Lord teaching us here? This account reminds me of the dangers and risks of sharing the gospel, though we may not experience it in Singapore. May the Lord guard over those who take God’s word to non-believers here and beyond our shores.
My encouragement to you is to take a little more effort to know your Bible history and geography, as they are important tools for Bible study and the preaching of God’s word. If we believe in the full inspiration of God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16), then every portion of God’s word should be received as truth. Without this basis, we will have very little understanding and appreciation for its implications and how we can apply it in our lives. I’ll like to conclude with a quote from my Bible teacher from Jerusalem University College, Dr. Jack Beck:
“Every culture has places that evoke strong memories and strong feelings. The same is true for those living in Bible times. For example the mention of Babylon or Sodom evoked strong negative emotions. By contrast Jerusalem is a place associated with feelings and hope. The risk for us is that we flatten these place names, treating them as neutral elements in the text rather than as expressions with connotations that provoke powerful memories and motions. We may not experience the same connections as the original readers of the Bible when places like these are mentioned. But our reading comes alive when we can at least know that the mention of a place would have raised strong emotions or mental images for the reader.” (“The Lands of the Bible: Places that Shape Scripture”)