BY COLLEEN TINKER
The book of Acts contains an almost-forgotten story that occurred when Paul was preaching in Ephesus. When he first came to that city, he entered the synagogue and began preaching, as he did in every city he visited, keeping his commitment always to preach the gospel first to the Jews and then to the gentiles. After three months the Jews turned against him and began “speaking evil of the Way before the congregation,” and Paul withdrew. For the next two years, Paul preached “daily in the hall of Tyrannus.” He turned to the gentile population, and the gospel took hold and spread. Acts 19:10 says that “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”
The next verses describe how powerfully the Lord confirmed the gospel Paul was preaching in that city dominated by goddess worship and magic arts:
And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily (Acts 19:11–20).
It is astonishing to me that our sovereign God included in His eternal, living word the story of believers burning the books which had taught them the false religion of their past. In fact, this passage reveals several interesting details.
In a city dominated by magic arts and false gods, the True God confirmed Paul’s gospel message with signs and wonders that the demon-fearing, magic-seeking pagans could not ignore. Paul did not take money for his message, and he did not manipulate them, but those who encountered Paul or things that had been in his presence were healed.
Interestingly, it was, once again, Jews who tried to outshine Paul. Seven sons of a Jewish high priest were practicing exorcisms. They knew the Old Testament law but did not know the Messiah; nevertheless, they attempted to eclipse Paul by invoking Jesus’ name to cast demons out of people with evil spirits.
The evil spirits, significantly, knew those Jewish posers were frauds. “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” they sneered at the seven sons of Sceva. Then the man they had tried to exorcize leaped on them and “overpowered them so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”
Imagine their shame when their humiliation became known “to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks”!
This event, though, was God’s plan. Because of this incident, the citizens of Ephesus became aware that the true God whom Paul preached was more powerful than their spirits. In fact, the familiar spirits of their people knew who Jesus was, and those spirits would answer only to Him—never to an unbeliever who posed as a believer. Ephesus was stricken with fear, and even believers realized that they could no longer practice their magic arts and also worship the Lord God.
Luke, the gentile author of Acts, tells us that after the demon-possessed man overcame the seven sons of Sceva who blasphemed the name of Jesus, many of the Ephesian believers began to come forward, “confessing and divulging their practices.” Somehow this sentence confirms the experience so many of us had as new believers as we were leaving Adventism. The Lord saves us in our sin, but He never leaves us there. After we know Him, He reveals to us the practices we have to give up in order to embrace Him with our whole hearts. Many Ephesian believers realized, after the shocking episode of the Sons of Sceva, that they had to admit their own practice of magic arts was sin. They had to renounce the spiritual practices they had known all their lives. The doctrines of demons could not hold a place in their hearts that now were committed to the Lord Jesus and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
The next sentences are even more explicit: “And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.”
This detail from the lives of the earliest Ephesian believers sounds shocking and primitive to our modern ears. Significantly, though, God’s own eternal word tells us that this book-burning was no impulsive revelry.
Those Ephesians burned their treasures. Books in those days were scarce and hand-copied. A book was expensive, and those believers burned their wealth. They didn’t just decide they could no longer keep books teaching the doctrines of demons and sell them—rather, they destroyed those books so no one else would ever be able to learn magic arts from them. They taught heresy, and those believers knew that they could not profit from that heresy nor risk others learning heresy from them. They burned what may have been their most expensive possessions, and they did it willingly as an act of repentance from their dead works as they embraced the true gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
What about us?
Without doubt, access to books is one of God’s great gifts to humanity in these last six centuries. Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type in 1439 changed history and helped make both the Reformation and the Renaissance possible. In fact, in 1997 “Time-Life magazine picked Gutenberg’s invention as the most important of the second millennium,” and in 1999 A&E Network ranked Gutenberg as the “most influential person of the second millennium”. In the course of history, God raised up Gutenberg and his printing press at exactly the right time to bring learning to the general population and to make it possible for common citizens to be able to have copies of the Bible. Because of the printing press, Luther’s 95 Theses were able to be distributed throughout Germany, sparking a Reformation which he never anticipated—but which did not surprise God!
Today images of book-burning evoke echoes of witch hunts and repressive regimes silencing the educated and denying access to books. Importantly, though, God’s word lets us know that books are not intrinsically sacred. Printing presses can produce evil content as well as good.
We frequently hear the question from people leaving Adventism, “What should I do with my Ellen White books?”
The answer to this question is not necessarily simple. Many Adventists have a great deal of money invested in Adventist books, including libraries of Ellen White’s works as well as books by other Adventist authors. Disposing of these books represents the loss of great amounts of money and also is, quite simply, a huge job.
On the one hand, Christian apologists often collect cultic books for the purpose of research. Since the “new religions” often change the contents of their books with successive printings, it is useful for them to have copies of older, out-of-print versions so the evidence of changed wording is clear. We often recommend that former Adventists wanting to dispose of their books contact either Paul Carden at The Centers For Apologetics Research or Jim Valentine at Christian Apologetics and Research Services.
On the other hand, even apologists can only store a certain number of books. Many of us have had to think through the implications of getting rid of our Ellen White publications. The believers in Ephesus give us a clear example of an appropriate way to dispose of heresy.
Throwing the books away or even recycling them is one option, but even normal methods of disposal could result in people finding those books and reading them. Some people do glean in dumps and dumpsters. Giving them to second-hand bookstores or libraries is an even bigger problem; they become accessible to unsuspecting people at a much reduced price! Even giving Ellen White books back to Adventists or Adventist churches keeps them accessible.
Only destroying them ensures that no one else will ever be able to read them. Ellen White books teach doctrines of demons. She was a false prophet who misinterpreted Scripture and misrepresented our Lord Jesus. The theology derived from her visions and endorsements is not the life-giving gospel of the substitutionary atonement and the finished work of the Lord Jesus. Rather, it is a syncretistic mixture of grace, good works, a defiled heavenly sanctuary, a fallible Jesus, the law, and faith.
Books that teach heresy, according to the example in the book of Acts, should be destroyed. It is an act of faith in the gospel of Jesus and an act of repentance to burn the publications that confused the truth of the Bible. It is an act of protection and concern for one’s neighbors to protect them from access to published doctrines of demons. In fact, it’s a matter of life and death.