Cultural conflict

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.

Cultural change

The Israelites’ exile into Babylon created a situation in which their lives were strongly influenced by the Babylonian culture. It is likely there was a deliberate attempt by the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, to wipe out any remembrance of their former way of life. The book of Daniel opens with a recount of the events that led up to their captivity. He said, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god” (Daniel 1:1-2).

The Hebrew word translated vessels in Daniel 1:2, keliy (kel – eeĀ“) refers to something prepared (3627). It is derived from the word kalah which means to cease, be finished or perish (3615). Although the instruments that were taken were not identified, it can be assumed that they were critical and were taken so that worship services would be interrupted, or perhaps even permanently terminated. According to Daniel’s record, certain young men from the king of Judah’s household were also brought into king Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in order to indoctrinate them into the Chaldean culture. Daniel said these young men were, “children in whom there was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4).

Four young men were singled out by the king’s servant and given new names, a sign of conversion or adoption of the Babylonian gods they were expected to worship. Daniel said, “Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego” (Daniel 1:6-7). In spite of the extreme pressure they must have felt to conform to king Nebuchadnezzar’s demands; Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah refused to cooperate with their captor’s subtle attempts to brainwash them. It says of Daniel that “he purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). The Hebrew term for defile has to do with reputation and is associated with the kinsman redeemer who was expected to “raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance. Thus the kinsman redeemer was responsible for preserving the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative” (1350).


What you see is what you get

Culture is an unseen force that causes us to become like the people we spend a lot of time with. Every family and organization has its own unique culture. The head of the family or leader of an organization plays an important role because members naturally follow his queue about what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. That is why Christians need to be careful about who they associate with and what organizations they belong to.

Solomon stated in Proverbs 27, “Iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” and “as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man” (Proverbs 27:17,19). In other words, we are a reflection of those around us. If you want to know what you are really like, take a close look at your friends.