Today, we begin a new series which will look at Sandra Glahn’s exceptional book, Nobody’s Mother: Artemis of the Ephesians in Antiquity and the New Testament (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2023). When it comes to important background information of the New Testament, it seems to me that Artemis is near the top of the list, perhaps right behind the importance of the Old Testament. Now, I know what you are thinking: Isn’t this incredibly similar to our current sermon series? Isn’t this whole post repetitive, redundant and unwarranted? Let me answer that with several quotes from Winston Churchill. Churchill said: 

  • “Life is fraught with opportunities to keep your mouth shut.”
  • “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time—a tremendous whack.”
  • “Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.”
  • “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”

Let me explain. The first quote speaks, perhaps, to what I should have done. I could have moved on to another topic and no one would have been any the wiser, but instead, I missed the opportunity to keep my mouth shut and decided to talk about Artemis once more. The second quote encouraged me to come back to the point we’ve been trying to make on Sunday mornings (although, as it turns out, not as strongly as I had hoped)—that Artemis is the proper background to the book of Ephesians. I admit that time restraints have forced me to bypass how Artemis relates to whatever passage we are looking at, and as a result, I wanted another opportunity to come back at it and give it a tremendous whack. The third quote I just love. I’m not sure exactly what it means, but I love it. The last quote may be true, but I am hoping that this will be such a fun series and that our interaction with this important book will be so rewarding that everyone will get so caught up in this study that no one will accuse me of being a fanatic. At least, that is my goal.

Today, we want to wrestle with two very big questions about Ephesians. First, why should we even think that Artemis is the proper background to understanding the book?  And second, if she is so important to understanding Ephesians, why doesn’t Paul ever mention her? Let’s dig in.

When Paul comes to Ephesus in Acts 19, two things become very evident. First, when Paul first came to Ephesus, he had no idea of the fruitful ministry that he would soon have there. He had barely entered the city when he encountered twelve men who had only received John’s baptism, but were soon baptized in Jesus’ name and were empowered by the Holy Spirit. Now Paul and his missionary cohorts had a church-planting team with them. Paul then spent three months trying to reach his own people by speaking in the synagogue. That this went on for three months, speaks of its fruitfulness, but all good things come to an end. After three months, Paul was compelled to leave the synagogue; and so, he took up shop in the lecture hall of Tyrannus where he stayed 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). And God did all sorts of miracles through Paul. In short, things were going great for Paul. But then, we are introduced to a silversmith named Demetrius, and the story takes a very bad turn. Not only was Demetrius a silversmith, but he made silver shrines of Artemis. Underscore that. Here in Acts 19:24, we have the very first mention of Artemis in the Bible (save that tidbit in case the question ever comes up in a Bible trivia game). In any case, Demetrius is upset. Not only is he losing money since sales of silver Artemis statues were way down, but he fears that the honor of Artemis will be diminished. He says (Acts 19:27): “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.” These words ignite a small riot among the silversmiths who then go out into the streets, shouting at the top of their lungs (Acts 19:28): “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” These shouts drew in even more people, and suddenly the whole city was gathered in the town’s theater, all shouting over and over again “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” This went on for two hours straight. Finally, a town official quieted the crowd with these words (Acts 19:35-38): “Fellow Ephesians, 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 calm down 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.” And with that, the crowd dispersed.  

What do we glean from this story? These people loved their goddess. They were devoted to her, heart and soul. And since the whole city was up in arms over this Christian attack, that meant the whole city felt this way. Everyone loved Artemis. She was their crown and glory. And if you attacked her, in word or in deed, you would have the whole town against you. And if there is one thing I know, such devotion does not disappear overnight.  

A few dates may help us here. Paul was in Ephesus sometime between AD 53-55. Eight to ten years later (early 60’s), Paul picked up a pen and wrote Ephesians. He was concerned about his church, not because there were specific problems that had arisen (read Galatians and 1st and 2nd Corinthians to see churches that had specific problems and then read Ephesians—the difference is startling), but because he felt (my opinion) that the gravitational pull of Artemis was still strong and was having a negative influence on the growth of the church. And so, Paul wrote Ephesians to show that following Jesus is far better than following Artemis and that the way of Jesus is far different from the way of Artemis. Paul’s hope was that the Ephesians would once again regain their first love and come to know Jesus in a new and deeper way (note Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:17—“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”).  Around this same time (early 60’s), Luke was finishing his two-volume gospel of Luke-Acts (with its story of Paul in Ephesus). A few years later (now in the mid 60’s), Paul writes to his protégé, Timothy. He will do so again a year or two later (2 Timothy was written sometime around AD 66). Both of these books were written while Timothy was pastoring in Ephesus; and in both of them, we see traces of Artemis. 1 Timothy, in particular, is loaded with material that addresses problems in the church, problems that can be traced back to the influence of the worship of Artemis. That explains why 1 Timothy has such a strong emphasis on women. Unlike any other book in the New Testament, out of the 113 verses of 1 Timothy, 21 are specifically directed to women (the worship of Artemis was led by women and attended primarily by women). It was this carry-over from worshiping Artemis that led Paul to prohibit women from usurping authority in the church until they were trained (1 Tim. 2:11-12) and why he talks about women being saved through childbirth since Artemis was believed to be a midwife (1 Tim. 2:15).  All that to say, the Ephesians were devoted to Artemis in AD 53-55, and Artemis is clearly still a major influence in 65.  That’s only ten years later! To me, it makes good sense to see the emphasis on Artemis in 1 Timothy, not as something new, but as the same commitment to the goddess that we had seen ten years earlier in Acts 19. In other words, since we were introduced to Artemis in Acts 19 to the end of the New Testament, the influence of Artemis was pervasive in Ephesus. That’s why we should think that Artemis is the proper background to understanding Ephesians. And that contention is made even stronger if there are hints in the book of Ephesians of her presence (more on that later).  

Interestingly, Ephesus shows up elsewhere in the New Testament. According to 1 Corinthians 16:8, Paul wrote the letter to 1 Corinthians from Ephesus, and the Gospel of John was also likely written from Ephesus. And one of the seven letters in the book of Revelation was written to the church in Ephesus. In other words, Ephesus was one happening biblical town!

Now, I had hoped on Sunday mornings to provide evidence that Artemis was the proper background to the book of Ephesians, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, I have tried to make my point with good old horse sense (WC Fields defined horse sense as “the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people”). But horse sense is not enough for a scholar. They need real proof. They need Paul to mention Artemis’ name and see direct correlations, but that never happens (no not once). And it is true, the hints that I see can be interpreted in several different ways (but horse sense tells me that they fit the evidence of Artemis best). But the question remains: Why doesn’t Paul mention Artemis directly? Here’s my answer. He both didn’t need to and he couldn’t.    

He didn’t need to because, as German scholar Michael Immendorfer says: “Ephesians is a theological masterpiece, which criticizes the devotion of Artemis by the city of Ephesus without naming the goddess expressly, but which paraphrases her so clearly that the readers would know who and what the author alluded to.”

And he couldn’t because to do so endangered the church and all the Christ followers in Ephesus.  How so? Remember what the city official said to disperse the crowd that was rioting? He said (Acts 19:37):You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess.” I would contend that if Paul had mentioned Artemis by name and discredited her in any way in print, the city could charge the church with blasphemy against Artemis. Knowing this, Paul relied on subterfuge. He could write all sorts of positive things about Jesus and never once mention Artemis’s name and still achieve his purpose for his readers: to show that Jesus alone was worthy of their devotion because Jesus’ salvation is so much greater than the salvation Artemis offered.

In other words, we shouldn’t be surprised that there are no direct comments about Artemis in Ephesians. But that does not mean Artemis is not there, lurking in the shadows. In my opinion (and the opinion of others), you may not be able to see her, but she is definitely there. How do I know?  Horse sense. But is that enough evidence?  I think so, after all, Churchill said: No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle” which I interpret to mean horse sense is more often than not, good sense.  

Thanks for reading. More on Artemis and Ephesians next week.