Ephesus was the chief city of the Roman province of Asia (part of present-day Turkey). The church in Ephesus probably began through the work of Priscilla and Aquila, whom Paul left in Ephesus after visiting the city briefly at the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:18-21). (For map of the region see ASIA.)

Early developments

An important visitor during the early days of the Ephesian church was Apollos, a Jewish teacher from Alexandria in Egypt. Though eloquent, Apollos was lacking in the knowledge of certain Christian teachings, till Priscilla and Aquila taught him more accurately (Acts 18:24-28). The time of the church’s greatest growth came when Paul returned at the beginning of his third missionary journey and spent three years in the city (Acts 20:31). During this time the zealous Ephesian converts evangelized most of the province of Asia (Acts 19:8-10). The people of Ephesus were well known for their superstition and magic, and some dramatic events accompanied the people’s response to Paul’s preaching (Acts 19:11-20). The city was considered to be the home of the goddess Artemis (or Diana) and contained a magnificent temple built in her honour (Acts 19:27-28,35). As the people of Ephesus turned in increasing numbers from the worship of Artemis to faith in Jesus, tensions arose in the city. The silversmiths who made small household shrines of the goddess found themselves going out of business and stirred up a riot. It took the city authorities several hours to restore order (Acts 19:23-41). Some time during his three years in Ephesus, Paul wrote the letter we know as First Corinthians (1 Cor 16:8-9,19). While in Ephesus Paul met violent opposition and suffered physical harm. On one occasion he almost lost his life (1 Cor 15:32; 16:8-9; cf. 2 Cor 1:8-9). Ephesus was no doubt the scene of some of the sufferings that Paul later records in 2 Cor 11:23-29, and possibly he suffered one of his imprisonments there.

Later difficulties

Before leaving Ephesus at the end of his third missionary journey, Paul warned that false teachers would trouble the church (Acts 20:17,28-31). This proved to be so, and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which he wrote during his first imprisonment in Rome, deals with some of the wrong ideas that had become widespread in and around Ephesus (see EPHESIANS, LETTER TO THE). After his release from Rome, Paul revisited the church in Ephesus to try to correct the wrong teaching. When he moved on, he left Timothy behind to continue corrective teaching. He also wrote Timothy two letters to help him in this task (1 Tim 1:3-7; 6:3-5; 2 Tim 1:18; 2:14-16). The false teaching that the apostle John condemned in his letters (written towards the end of the first century) was also centred in Ephesus (1 John 2:18-22; 4:1; 2 John 9-11). Later the Ephesian church was troubled by another group of false teachers, the Nicolaitans. These people encouraged Christians to demonstrate their freedom by eating food that had been offered to idols and by engaging in sexual immorality (Rev 2:2,6; cf. 2:14-15). Unfortunately, the Ephesian Christians had become so concerned with opposing false teaching year after year, that in the process their love for Christ had lost its original warmth. They had become harsh, critical and self-satisfied. God warned them that if they did not change and regain their original spirit of love, he would act against them in judgment and bring their church to an end. But those who triumphed over these attitudes would enjoy the fulness of eternal life (Rev 2:1-7).

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