When it looked like Paul and his fellowworkers in the Lord’s work were about to be killed (Acts 19:23-40), a city official “appeased” the murderous mob (v.41). Since they wanted the apostles dead, he probably appeased them by just beating Gaius and Aristarchus to satisfy their bloodlust (cf.Gen. 32:20).
Since that angry mob was worried that people wouldn’t come visit the temple of Diana they had built in Ephesus, the townclerk reminded them that they also had “the image which fell down from Jupiter” that people came to worship (v.35). They claimed a meteorite that landed in Ephesus fell from Jupiter because it is the largest of the planets, and because Jupiter was the name of the king of all their gods.
They also named it Jupiter because Jupiter was the father of their goddess Diana! Once that rock landed, they claimed Jupiter thought enough of them to send them that image. This may have led to the justification of building her magni-ficent temple there, making Ephesus the headquarters of all worship of Diana. So as long as they had that rock, these things could not be “spoken against” (Acts 19:36). And since no one could speak against it, the townclerk encouraged the mob not to do anything rash by killing the apostles.
He went on to remind them of the only two legal reasons they could kill them under Roman law (v.37). The first reason was if Paul had robbed any churches of their most highly valued commodity—their idol. That was a crime that had historically been punishable by death (Gen.31:32). The second crime punishable by death in Rome was blaspheming another religion’s god. That’s why the Jews charged Stephen with blasphemy (Acts 6:11,13). They knew Rome wouldn’t censure them for killing him for that, and they were right. So when they wanted to kill Paul, that’s what they charged him with as well (25:7,8).
So how did the townclerk know Paul hadn’t robbed any churches of their gods? Well, he knew he hadn’t robbed their temple, for they still had that rock, and their statue of Diana. And he knew Paul hadn’t robbed other churches, for he’d been in Ephesus three years. Paul did say there was no such thing as idols (19:26), but that must not have met the stand-ard of blasphemy under Roman law, for he wasn’t executed for saying it in Athens (17:29). The townclerk probably meant Paul never singled out Diana, or any other god, to say he or she wasn’t a god. His point was: if they killed a man who hadn’t broken any laws, they’d be breaking the law.
And all the townclerk cared about was the law. He spoke of “your” goddess (v.37), not “ours.” He didn’t care about Diana. He just cared about keeping the peace. He then went on to remind the angry mob that there were legal ways to settle their differences with Paul (19:38-41). He pointed out that the courts were open to hear such cases, and there were “deputies” who judged court cases (cf.18:12-17).
But when it came to “other” matters that were outside the jurisdiction of Roman law, things that Roman judges would not judge (cf.18:14,15), they could settle those differences in a “lawful assembly,” i.e., in a venue similar to Mars Hill in Athens. This riot was an unlawful assembly. He then made it clear that there’d be an inquiry into this riot if they took things any further by killing Paul (v.40). And he didn’t say it’d be one in which “you” could give no legal account to justify. He said “we” couldn’t justify it. He knew that he’d be accountable if he let a mob murder someone on his watch.
Paul was putting idol makers out of business, just as God will one day put Babylon out of business, the church of the Antichrist (Rev.18:10-18). But in that dispensation of wrath, God will do it by burning Babylon. In the dispensation of grace, Paul did it by grace. That’s the way to put abortion clinics out of business. It’s also the way to deal with govern-ment corruption, instead of bombing federal buildings, etc.
A video of this message is available on YouTube: “The Townclerk Comes To The Rescue” Acts 19:35-41