Asiarchs

ASIARCHS ā zhĭ ärks (̓Ασιαρχοί). The word occurs in ASV and RSV in straight transliteration of Luke’s Gr. KJV renders “chiefs of Asia” (Acts 19:31), ERV “chief officers of Asia.” Similar officials are found in other provincial contexts. Mommsen lists Galatarchs, Syriarchs, and Bithyniarchs (Rom. Gesch. 5.318). Little is known about this office, whether, for example, it was annual or held for a term of years. It appears possible that the title was permanent, and that once a citizen had held the office, he continued to bear the honorary title. It is likely that a number of Asiarchs were in Ephesus at the time of Paul’s clash with the guild of the silversmiths. Perhaps they functioned collectively, with the year’s incumbent performing the duties of the office. Nor is it quite clear whether there was one Asiarch for each of the cities which formed the Koinon or community of Asia, the league of cities whose main function was the proper ordering and maintenance of the worship of Rome and the emperor. No part of the empire was as dedicated to this cult as Asia. No doubt a certain power and dignity was attached to the office of Asiarch to which inscrs. bear testimony. The puzzling feature of the story of the riot is the question of why the Asiarchs should seek to protect Paul from the devotees of Artemis. Could it be that there was a certain tension at the time between the custodians of the imperial cult and the followers of Artemis and the vested interests, religious and economic, which had grown up around the vast temple? W. M. Ramsay’s comment is perceptive...“their friendly attitude is a proof both that the spirit of the imperial policy was not as yet hostile to the new teaching, and that the educated classes did not share the hostility of the superstitious vulgarity towards Paul....The eclectic religion which was fashionable at the time regarded new forms of cult with equanimity...” (St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, 281).

In other words, Luke’s point in dwelling on the story is the same as that which he makes again and again in his book, that Christianity was not subversive. Like Gallio, Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, the Asiarchs add the weight of their testimony to Luke’s contention that Paul was no rebel, nor was his teaching a menace to the Rom. system.