Two Temples in Ephesus

When Paul began his preaching in Ephesus (Acts 19), he found a beautiful temple there erected unto “Diana”, an idol the Ephesians worshipped. The Ephesians believed that their city was the “temple keeper”, for the idol goddess and an image of her had fallen down from Jupiter to them (Acts 19:35). The temple in Paul’s day was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. What Paul looked upon when he saw that structure was a building which had been twice rebuilt. The building before him was the third which had stood on that same site. It was claimed that the building was the first Greek temple which was built entirely of marble and as such was a very expensive edifice. The building was huge — a bit larger than a football field and while there were other temples to the goddess in the Grecian world, the Ephesians claimed that the temple was of their special oversight and keeping.

The goddess was identified as “a virgin goddess of the hunt, the wilderness and the moon, who, despite being a goddess of childbirth was nevertheless known for her chastity” (Temple of Artemis, Wikipedia). The goddess had “virgin priestesses” who were in essence “temple prostitutes” making fornication a part of most idol worship of the ancient world. When Israel in her wilderness wanderings had been attracted to the worship of the Moabites and 24,000 fell by a plague God sent upon them for their wickedness, it is clear that fornication was part of the rites (Numbers 25:2-8). Later, when John wrote to the seven churches of Asia, in his letter to Thyatira Jesus condemned the church for tolerating a woman named Jezebel who called herself a “prophetess that teacheth and seduceth my servants to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20). And, while “fornication” is sometimes used figuratively to describe worship of anything other than Jehovah, and “eating food sacrificed to idols” in the passage was literal, that leads us to conclude that “fornication” was literal as well. The worship of this idol goddess had a tremendous hold on the people of Ephesus. Demetrius, a silversmith there who made silver images of the idol, said, “All Asia and the world worshippeth” her (Acts 19:27). This was not literal of course, but worship of her included huge numbers.

Several years later when Paul was confined in Rome as a prisoner, he wrote to the Ephesian church: “So then ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone; in whom each several building, fitly framed together, growth into a holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are built together for a habitation of God in the spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22). Thus, while there was the elaborate, expensive temple of the goddess Diana in Ephesus, there was also another temple there. This was not a physical but spiritual structure. In worldly men’s eyes that “insignificant temple” could not compare with the magnificent marble structure erected and dedicated to Diana, which beauty was admired by men all over the world. It should not be forgotten, however, that the magnificent temple was the work of man. While it was an old religion in Paul’s day, likely already 1,000 years old, and lasted another 300 years after he was gone, it is gone now. In AD 268, Goths raided the city and set fire to the temple of Diana which severely damaged it. It continued to stand in that damaged state for another couple of centuries. Finally, in the early years of the fifth century, what remained of it was dismantled and most of its material from which it was made went to constructing other buildings. The images of the goddess in that temple before whom thousands bowed and adored can now be seen in a museum of the restored city of Ephesus and in the Museum of London. However, they are now not objects of worship, but objects of curiosity.

However, that insignificant temple in Ephesus to which Paul wrote still exists (although not in the site which was once Ephesus). It can be found in all corners of the world today, and while still not admired by undiscerning men as they admired Diana’s temple, to those who know its worth see it’s true value. That temple is His church. And while to some it is an inconspicuous, inconsequential object, to Christians it is a thing of beauty because it was designed and determined by God before our world began. It was purposed by Him to be His dwelling place on earth in time and His possession in heaven for eternity. It will continue to exist so long as God will be, for while heaven and earth shall pass away, God, His Word, and His temple will never pass away (Matthew 26:35; cp. Daniel 7:14). That temple stands and will continue to stand because it was built and designed by God.

Jim McDonald

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