Paul’s negative impact on idol worship in Asia resulted in a serious cultural conflict in Ephesus where the temple of Diana was located. Demetrius, a silver smith that made his living selling silver shines for Diana “called together workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth. Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone in Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands: so that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth” (Acts 19:25-27). Demetrius’ declaration that his means of getting rich was being ruined by Paul was the fuel that sparked the fire of a riot in Ephesus. It says in Acts 19:28-29, “when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.”
The theatre identifed in Acts 19:29 was located on the slope of Mt. Pion at the end of the Arcadian Way and could seat 25,000 people (Introduction to the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians, p. 1694). Paul’s friends in Ephesus encouraged him to stay away from the theatre (Acts 19:31), but apparently he didn’t head their warning (Acts 20:1). The climax of the event came when a man named Alexander was drawn out of the crowd and appointed a spokesman for the Jews. “And Alexander beckoned with his hand, and would have made his defense unto the people. But when they knew that he was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:33-34). The chanting of the crowd must have been something like what you would hear today in a football stadium when the fans are cheering for their team. The fact that their shouting went on for two hours demonstrates the extreme devotion of Diana’s worshippers.
Even though the crowd appeared to be out of control, an important local official was able to stop the riot and regain control of the Ephesians’ unlawful assembly. His logic was based on the fact that Ephesus was secure in its religious practices. He asked, “what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter? Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly” (Acts 19:35-36). In his final exhortation to the people, the town clerk stated, “For we are in danger to be called in question for this day’s uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse. And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly” (Acts 19:40-41). Apparently, the Ephesians were rational thinkers that were able to see the foolishness of their actions. Paul left Ephesus immediately after this riot, but later returned there (Acts 20:17), shortly before he was arrested in Jerusalem and was taken to Rome for his trial.