The Cult of Artemis

cult of Artemis

7) False Teaching in Ephesus: After considering spousal relationships as Christians should engage in them, we will now examine how New Testament writers sought to resolve difficult relational situations.

Since the Bible is a historically-oriented revelation, we must consider the socio-cultural context of each passage to avoid misinterpretation.[1]

For example, the Cult of Artemis had a huge impact upon Ephesus, resulting in great tensions for the church in that city (Acts 19:17–34).[2]

The shrine dedicated to the goddess Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.[3]

According to Pliny the Elder, “The entire length of the temple is four hundred and twenty-five feet, and the breadth two hundred and twenty-five. The columns are one hundred and twenty-seven in number, and sixty feet in height.”[4]

Four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens,[5] it covered twenty-one times the area of Solomon’s temple.

Early in the history of the cult of Artemis, religious prostitution with a priestess comprised an important feature of worship.[6]

However, the Roman government abolished those practices throughout their empire by the time of Paul.[7]

Once an Anatolian fertility goddess,[8] Artemis of Ephesus morphed into a tomboy virgin,[9] pure and inviolable with a retinue of dancing nymphs.

Depicted in Ephesus as a “multi-mammary grotesque,”[10] people considered Artemis the protector of human children. Nevertheless, the goddess Hera lambasted her as a “lion among women” with the right to kill them at will,[11] presumably while giving birth.[12]

Ancient inscriptions indicate that young virgins from elite families served as priestesses for one-year terms.[13]

According to an account of one of these women:

When we came to the age of fourteen years, by the law—which calls such as us to the office of priesthood—I was maid priest to Artemis…

But, as this honor lasts but for a year and our time was expired, we prepared to go to Delos with our sacred attire, and there to make certain games of music and gymnastic, and give over our priesthood.[14]

Some proponents of this cult spoke of the first woman as the conduit of light and life who brought divine enlightenment to humanity. They asserted that Eve existed before creation, consorting with celestial beings.[15]

Consequently, these priestesses wielded tremendous power, were considered superior to men, and dominated over them.

Plutarch (46–122 AD) affirmed Cato the Elder’s (234–149 BC) severe criticism of the prevalent domination by women by quoting him as saying, “All mankind rules its women, and we rule all mankind, but our women rule us.”[16]

For example, Plancia Magna, a priestess of Artemis in Perge during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (117–138 AD), also held the highest civic office in that city.[17]

In his last meeting with the Ephesian elders, Paul warned them that “savage wolves” would emerge, even from among them (Acts 20:28–30).

Sure enough, within a few years false teachers gained significant influence upon the congregation, particularly among widows and wealthy women (1 Tim 5:14–15; 2 Tim 3:6).[18]

Therefore, Paul sent Timothy there to restore health to this church, serving as his delegate.[19]

Paul never specifically described the nature of the false teaching. However, it appears to have involved a form of strict Jewish asceticism designed to promote ecstatic visions, much as in nearby Colossae (Col 2:16–23).[20]

Internal evidence suggests these dissident leaders promoted abstention from marriage (1 Tim 4:3; 1 Tim 5:14) as well as a misreading of Old Testament texts regarding creation and the fall (1 Tim 2:13–14).[21]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


a) How did the Cult of Artemis change by the time Paul arrived in Ephesus? What role did women play in that religion? How did false teachers affect the Ephesian church?





Go to Prayer without Anger


[Related posts include Prayer without Anger (1 Tim 2:8); Adorned with Good Works (1 Tim 2:9–10); She Must Learn (1 Tim 2:11); Domineering Women (1 Tim 2:12–14); Saved through Childbearing (1 Tim 2:15); God Hates Violence (Mal 2:13–16); Effects of the Fall Reversed (Rom 5:12–21 and Rom 16:1–12); Unity in the Spirit (Eph 5:18–21); Submissive to One Another (Eph 5:21–24); Sacrificial Love (Eph 5:25–30); and Exegesis and Hermeneutics]

[Click here to go to Women and Marriage Throughout Redemptive History; or to Chapter 8: Pain and Desire (Genesis 3:16, 20)]


[1]Douglas K. Stuart, Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, 4th Ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 52.

[2]Wikimedia Commons, “Ephesos,” This site has some good photos. All that remains of the temple of Artemis is one marble column.

[3] Clinton E. Arnold, “Ephesus,” DPL 249–52, 250.

[4]Pliny the Elder, Natural History (trans. John Bostock and H. T. Riley; London: Taylor & Francis, 1855), 36.21, Http://

[5] Arnold, Ephesians, 31.

[6] Chris Church, “Fertility Cult,” HolBD, 566.

[7]S. M. Baugh, “Cultic Prostitution in New Testament Ephesus: A Reappraisal,” JETS 42, no. 3, September 1999: 443–60, 446,

[8] Baugh, “Cultic Prostitution in New Testament Ephesus: A Reappraisal,”  452,

[9]Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae (vol. 2 of The Complete Greek Drama; trans. Jr. Eugene O’Neill; New York: Random House, 1938), 115–9, Http://

[10]Hubert M. Martin Jr., “Artemis (Deity),” ABD 1:464–5, 464.

[11]Homer, The Iliad (trans. Samuel Butler; London: Longmans Green, 1898), 21.475–84,

[12] Martin Jr., “Artemis (Deity),” ABD 1:465.

[13] Baugh, “Cult Prostitution in New Testament Ephesus: A Reappraisal,” 456,

[14]Heliodorus, An Aethiopian Romance (trans. Thomas Underdowne, revised by F. Wright and S. Rhoads; London: New York: Routledge; Dutton, 2006), 1.34–5, Http://

[15]H. M. Conn, “The Effect of Sin upon Covenant Mutuality,” NDT,  258.

[16]Plutarch, Regum et Imperatorum Apophthegmata (trans. Frank Cole Babbitt; LCL; Cambridge: London: Harvard University Press; Heinemann, 1931), 81.3,

[17] W. Ward Gasque, “Perga (Place),” ABD 5:228.

[18] Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 44.

[19] Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 220.

[20]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, lxix-lxx.

[21] Towner, Timothy and Titus, 198.