THE BIBLE AND PAGANISM (4)

Artemis of the Ephesians

From the time God delivered the Israelites from Egypt they had had a problem with idolatry. Even as he was giving the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the people were at the foot of the mountain making and worshiping a golden calf. They had, no doubt, brought this idea from Egypt where they had been for 400 years.

After they came into the promised land they were continually going after one or another of the gods of the surrounding people. It was only after a long and bitter history of on-again-off-again worshiping such idols and after the Babylonian captivity that they finally gave up idol worship. But even then they were not free from the influence of surrounding people.

Very soon after the gospel began to be preached in the first century it became evident that influences from outside the church were challenging the purity and simplicity of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith which the apostles preached.

First it was the Jewish converts who were not convinced of the sufficiency of the blood of Christ to redeem man from his sin. According to their judgment it was necessary for a Gentile, if he wished to be saved, to keep the law of Moses as well as believe in Jesus.

Then there were multiple threats from the many religions of the Greco-Roman world. We see echoes of these pressures in the writings of the apostles and other inspired writers of the first century. This indicates to us that there was to be a continuing battle against these foreign invaders, not only during that period, but for all time to come. The devil was not about to leave the Lord’s work unhindered.

The apostle Paul was keenly aware of the potential for conflict between the gospel he preached and the beliefs/teachings/philosophies of the world into which that gospel came. When he wrote to the Corinthian church he spoke of the emphases given to religion by the Jews, the Gentiles and the teaching he placed as uppermost.

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).

Certainly not everything we read about in the New Testament has to do with this conflict between these concepts of religion, but then a surprising amount of it does. People do not live in isolation from the larger world around them. As a whole, the human race in general and religious people in particular have always been influenced to varying degrees by the world and is still to this day. Inevitably Christianity is exposed to these influences and pressures.

With Christianity being evangelistic, that influence was bound to become a problem from time to time. As people from different backgrounds were converted they would, as most of us do, retained many of their old ideas, customs or habits. We read about the conversions of the Gentiles and we have hints here and there of the struggle it must have been for them to give up all their old ideas and ingrained habits of thought and practice.

The writers of the New Testament were constantly on guard against the encroachment of pagan ideas and influences in the first century. We have looked at some of the indications of such influence in previous posts. Today we are looking at another possible evidence of such influence and what the apostle Paul had to say about it.

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” (1 Tim. 1:3-5).

When Paul left Timothy at Ephesus there were already problems in that church. “Certain persons” were teaching “different doctrine” from that which had been preached. These were inclined to be “devoted” to “myths” and “endless genealogies.” From what is said here, and from what the apostle describes in v. 7 about them wanting to be “teachers of the law,” most commentators conclude that the problems were arising from Jewish brethren who were trying to bring their beliefs about the law of Moses and Jewish traditions into the church. But that is not by any means discernible from the text. This was Ephesus after all – a very rich, populous Roman city with a strong pagan religious element. The temple of Artemis had been one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, drawing people to the city to view it and participate in the immoral “worship” associated with this pagan religion. We are told that many of the Ephesians believed in Christ and many of them had practiced occult arts (magic).

Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver” (Acts 19:18-19).

In the 1 Tim. 2:8 Paul desires that “the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” Apparently there were conflicts in the church which were interfering with their prayers.

Some women were wearing clothes and jewelry that, instead of being conducive to praying in the same manner as the men, would have been disruptive, distracting and a hindrance to effective prayer. Some of these women were apparently causing other disruptions in the assemblies of the church as well. What was happening? Where was this disruptive influence coming from?

If we consider the fact that Ephesus was a major center of the worship of the goddess Artemis/Diana, it is very possible that the disruptive influence could have been from some converted priestesses of this pagan religion. Many scholars believe this was the source of the disruptions. The priestesses wielded tremendous influence within their religion. It is believed that the only men on the “inside” of their cult were eunuchs (castrated males)!

It was commonly believed at Ephesus that the original founders of the city were Amazons, and that the present residents were descended from these Amazons. The Amazons were…

“…a race of warlike women who made slaves of the men they captured. According to ancient Greek tradition … The largest city they built was Ephesus. There they built many magnificent temples for the worship of Ares and Artemis.” The World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, article by Padraic Colum, pg. 344.

“‘Artemis of the Ephesians’ was not a Greek divinity, but Asiatic. This is shown by the fact that eunuchs were employed in her worship– a practice quite foreign to Greek ideas. She was not regarded as a virgin but as mother and foster-mother, as is clearly shown by the multitude of breasts in the rude effigy. She was undoubtedly a representative of the same power presiding over conception and birth that was adored in Palestine under the name Ashtoreth. Her worship, frantic and fanatical after the manner of Asia, was traced back to the Amazons. Her temple at Ephesus was one of the wonders of the world, but its great glory was the ‘image which fell down from heaven’ (Acts 19:35).” New Unger’s Bible Dictionary published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois, 1988.

If this were the influence in the church in Ephesus, it is entirely conceivable that one or more of these women were attempting to dominate the gatherings of Christians, carrying over with them their old habits and attitudes in regard to dress and ornamentation as well as their belief in female superiority. Paul tells these women to adorn themselves properly as women who profess godliness – with good works. To see that the instructions fit a scenario where a woman or some women were acting in a disorderly manner, think about what Paul says in these verses. He instructed …

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Tim. 2:11-12).

The apostle does not forbid all women to speak. The women who were creating problems needed to be of such behavior as to not create a disturbance. The word rendered “silence” in some versions is not an accurate translation. The word does not mean to not make a sound, but to conduct ones self in such a way as to not cause a disturbance.

The word (authentein) rendered “usurp” or “exercise” authority is unique in that this is the only place in the Bible this word appears. Its meaning is well established in Greek literature, however. In classical Greek literature it meant “to murder someone.” A search of the word αὐθέντης shows it is properly one who acts on his own authority, hence in this context an autocrat” (Moulton and Milligan, Expositor, vii., vi. 374 via Expositors Greek NT; W. Robertson Nicoll). It is …

  1. a perpetrator of any act, especially that he commits a murder with his own hand
  2. a suicide, a person who has intentionally killed himself
  3. an absolute ruler, an autocrat (Wiktionary).

I. one who does anything with his own hand, an actual murderer, etc.:—more loosely, one of a murderer’s family,  (Greek Word Study Tool).

It would seem that the word carries the idea of such an autocratic attitude toward another that one considers the other to be without worth – as though they were dead – as though they were not worthy of consideration! That certainly fits the description of the attitude of the women of the religion of Artemis who considered themselves to be the superior descendants of the Amazons.

If this is the reason for the writing of these instructions, then Paul is addressing a local, temporary, special situation and is not laying down a universal rule of conduct for women for all time to come. The remainder of what he wrote in this context can be seen as further reason why these domineering women were wrong about their supposed superiority over men and their right to dominate over them.

There are numerous examples in both Old and New Testaments where women both taught and were in leadership roles. Paul’s teaching here does not cancel out their example. When understood from the standpoint of a special circumstance and not a universal assignment of a subordinate role to all women it should cause us to reconsider our traditional interpretations concerning what the Bible actually teaches regarding this often much discussed, much misunderstood subject.

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