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The School of Tyrannus

07 Apr

After Paul returned to Ephesus he spent the next three months in the local synagogue, discussing the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God, and reasoning with and persuading those who listened (Acts 19:8). I find it astonishing that he was able to preach Christ so long in the synagogue before a movement began among the Jews to speak against the Gospel (Acts 19:9).[1] But, once this occurred, Paul separated himself from the synagogue, rather than continue there in debate. It was Paul’s way not to resist evil when it presented itself (cp. Matthew 5:39), but rather to leave and dig in elsewhere (cp. Genesis 26:16-33).

It so happened that Paul was able to practice his ministry out of a school at Ephesus operated by a man named Tyrannus.[2] It has been suggested that he was a wealthy Jewish believer who permitted Paul to use his establishment during the hours it was not in use (5th to 10th hours or 11AM to 4 PM).[3] This, of course, may be so, but since the word Luke uses for school is schole (G4981, used only here) meaning ‘loitering’ or ‘leisure’, which echo the Greek notion of learning or lecturing, and the Jewish notion of learning corresponds to ‘yoke’ (cp. Matthew 11:29-30), it may just as well have been a wealthy gentile believer who offered Paul the use of his school.

Normal business hours in the Roman-Greco world were from dawn (6 AM) to the fifth hour (11 AM), when they had a meal and then slept. The School of Tyrannus may have been more like guild or lecture hall used by popular orators or philosophers whose clientele were high-status people having the leisure to attend morning lectures. Since Paul seems to indicate this very place as his ‘huge door of opportunity’ for the Gospel in his letter to the Corinthians (1Corinthians 16:9), it was probably either donated to him by its believing owner, or he was probably able to acquire it for a good price. Speaking from this hall would give Paul’s unfamiliar listeners the impression that he was himself a popular orator or philosopher, and this would only be reinforced with Paul’s message in that it would not have been implicitly religious, i.e. it didn’t concern “temples, priests and sacrifices.”[4]

Paul used the hall during its off-peak hours, but his Gospel reached out to a broader clientele than those who were able to afford the luxury of leisure morning hours. Paul preached to men and women during the afternoons (outside the normal workday hours) and probably into the evenings when invited into his listeners’ homes. This would be Paul’s normal ministry for the next two years, and if the hall was not donated by a believer, it could have become an expensive project even though it was employed at off-peak hours. If this were the case, I wonder if Paul didn’t received much of his support from Priscilla and Aquila, since he counts them as his co-workers in Romans 16:3. Of course this doesn’t negate the possibility of another wealthy donor. In any event, this is where Paul’s headquarters were for the next two years, and it is from this place that the Gospel went out to all of Asia (Acts 19:9-10).


[1] This was not simple disagreement in which debate is welcomed, but a firm stand against the Gospel, seeking to expunge its presence.

[2] The name Tyrannus means Tyrant and is “presumably a nickname, perhaps of students for their teacher?” See Ben Witherington; The Acts of the Apostles; page 575.

[3] The Western Text (Codex Bezae) adds from the fifth hour to the tenth, which fits what we might expect Paul to do seeing that the normal work day was complete at or shortly before noon.

[4] See Ben Witherington; The Acts of the Apostles; page 575.

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