Ephesus was a Hellenistic city of paganism and mysticism. Here, the Apostle Paul encountered many who practiced magic and attempted to control demons. According to Acts, Chapter 19, one of these men was a Jew named Sceva, who called himself a high priest. He had 7 “sons” – or some sort of apprentices — who practiced magic and dabbled in the occult.
Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. (Acts 19:13-17)
After that event, confrontations with the demon-possessed may have become slightly less popular. But, in 1st century Ephesus, the practice of magic and astrology was still very commonplace. While the sick sought natural remedies, they also believed they could manipulate supernatural powers with sacrifices, incantations, and magical formulas. In contrast, Paul made it clear that God could not be manipulated. Instead, the practice of Christianity was to pray, humbling yourself before God and trusting him to provide for your needs.
Magic scrolls, rings, amulets, bracelets, and necklaces thought to have powers were all common in ancient Ephesus. The price of these magical documents and trinkets varied, but history tells us that there was a huge market for them in the commercial agora. As Christianity spread through Ephesus, new believers started to understand that the business of marketing the supernatural was wrong. On one occasion, Acts tells us that many of the owners of these magical scrolls came together publicly, probably right in the middle of the commercial agora.
Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. (Acts 19:18-20)
One drachma was a day’s wage for a normal worker. This group of new Christians stood by and watched 50,000 drachmae worth of merchandise go up in smoke. They put their money where their mouth was, counting all that represented their old life as worthless. As the Gospel continued to spread with amazing stories like this, tensions in Ephesus grew, especially among the longtime worshippers of a goddess named Artemis.