by Gordon Franz
Recently, a pastor in Florida burned a copy of the Koran (also spelled Quran). His stated reason was “to make an awareness of the radical element of Islam.” Unfortunately his actions led to tragic consequences. Riots ensued in Afghanistan because of what some termed “blasphemy against the Koran” and this violence led to deadly results.
There is a popular bumper sticker on cars driven by some Christians: “WWJD?” that stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” What the Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in human flesh, might have said was stated in His Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-44, all Scripture quotes from the New King James Bible). Did this pastor follow these instructions of the Lord Jesus?
If the Apostle Paul were alive today, would he have burned a copy of the Koran or would he encourage believers to do so? There were two events that took place during Paul’s third missionary journey that could be instructive in answering this question and setting an example for believers in the Lord Jesus to follow.
The Apostle Paul had a very dynamic and fruitful ministry in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor. This trade center was the location of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the temple of Artemis/Diana. Tourists and pilgrims would flock from all over the Greco-Roman world to visit this magnificent edifice to the goddess of the hunt. Merchants hawked their wares trying to make money off the pilgrims visiting the shrine.
The gospel, the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16), began to affect the economy of this tourist attraction. So much so, that the silversmiths who had a lucrative idol-manufacturing business making silver trinkets and shrines to sell to the pilgrims / tourists began to lose money because people were following the Lord Jesus and not worshipping Artemis. This defection occurred not only in Ephesus, but throughout the Province of Asia Minor because “all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10).
The shop foreman of the silversmith trade union, Demetrius by name, organized a mob action in conjunction with other craft unions. They met in the large theater of the city, with seating capacity for 25,000 spectators, in order to protest their economic downturn. Demetrius incited the mob by reminding them that they made their lucrative livelihood off the tourists that visit the temple of Artemis. He pointed a finger at the Apostle Paul for turning people away from the temple because he said that those things made with hands are not gods. Demetrius ratcheted up his rhetoric by defending the honor of the goddess and saying the temple of Artemis would be despised throughout the Greco-Roman world (Acts 19:24-27). The crowd in its frenzy shouted with one accord for two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”.¹
During the uproar in Ephesus, the union thugs manhandled Gaius and Aristarchus, co-workers of the Apostle Paul, and dragged them into the theater (Acts 19:29). Paul, in his holy boldness, wanted to confront the confused and unruly mob in the theater. His disciples, and friendly government officials (the Asiarchs), thought otherwise and strongly advised Paul not to venture forth into the theater for fear the mob might do him bodily harm.
The city clerk quieted the mob and said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess” (Acts 19:35-37). The Artemis temple was the central bank of Asia Minor. Gaius and Aristarchus, and by extension the Apostle Paul had never stolen any money from the temple, nor bad-mouthed the goddess. The charge of blasphemy could not be pinned on Paul and his co-workers. If they had blasphemed the goddess, the city clerk would have had nothing to say in their defense.
The Christians in Ephesus did not have to speak negatively of the goddess. They had a wonderful and positive message that was simple to proclaim. It was this: God loves the world! The Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Triune God, left the glories of heaven, lived a perfect, sinless life, and died on a cross outside the walls of the Holy City of Jerusalem in order to pay for all the sins of humanity. He bodily rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of God. The complete forgiveness of sins, a home in heaven, and the perfect righteousness of God is freely given to any and all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone, for their salvation. There is nothing an individual can do to merit or earn salvation. It is a free gift, simply by putting one’s faith in the Lord Jesus (John 3:16; Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9; Tit. 3:4-7; 1 John 5:13).
Before the uproar in the theater of Ephesus, the Lord had done some unusual miracles through Paul in the city and many people believed in the Lord Jesus (19:11-18). After their salvation, some who had practiced sorcery burned their book on the subject that was worth a lot of money (Acts 19:19). This event cannot be used as a precedent to justify the burning of copies of the Koran. In this account, it was magicians who burned their own books, of their own accord, after they came to faith in the Lord Jesus and became a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). The results of this action was the “word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (19:20).
If the apostle Paul were alive today, would he burn a copy of the Koran? The answer is “No, he would not.” He did not blaspheme the goddess Artemis. He and his co-workers, would not, and did not, take inflammatory steps that would be a stumbling block to the spread of the Gospel. Instead, he proclaimed that Gospel, the greatest news in the world, the love of the Lord Jesus for all humanity and His invitation to any and all to forsake their false gods and goddesses and trust Him alone for their salvation and the free gift of eternal life (1 Thess. 1:9). Have you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ alone?
¹ The Greek text of the Book of Acts records the Greek name for the goddess of the hunt, Artemis. Some English translations give the Latin name, Diana, for the same goddess.