Ephesus is Alive

July 15, 2014

Ephesus ruins
(photo credit: Brian Kaylor)
"Ephesus is alive. It's a dead city, but it's alive."

With these words, our tour guide at the ruins of the biblical city of Ephesus explained how the city was slowly emerging from hundreds of years of neglect and mostly disappearing under mudslides. Only about 15 percent of the massive city has been excavated, and new work is happening each year as they uncover new buildings and work to restore ones already unearthed. Thus, our tour guide added that with the large amount of excavation work being done, we would no longer be able to say in a couple of years that we had been to Ephesus.

"If people ask you in a couple of years if you've been to Turkey," he explained, "you can say, 'I've been to Izmir' or 'I've been to Istanbul,' but you will no longer be able to say 'I've been Ephesus' for it will have changed too much."

Ruins of Ephesus library
(photo credit: Brian Kaylor)
I visited Ephesus on Saturday during my trip to nearby  Izmir, Turkey for the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance. Earlier in the week I visited a small area of ruins of biblical Smyrna (now known as Izmir) but most of that city from the book of Revelation remains lost under modern buildings. Ephesus, a much more important site in the time of the early church, was abandoned centuries ago and mostly covered up by dirt, which helped preserve it for us to experience and learn from today. The second largest city in the Roman Empire - only after Rome itself - Ephesus was the capital of the Asian world in the time of the early church. It had the 3rd largest library in the ancient world and attracted lots of wealthy and influential leaders to live in the city.

At ruins of amphitheater
(photo credit: some random tourist)
Given its importance, it should be no surprise that Ephesus attracted such attention by early church leaders. Paul spent three years there, wrote a biblical book to those in the city, and wrote other books while in the city. We know from Acts that Paul stood in the large 25,0000-seat amphitheater and preached. That amphitheater is unearthed and dominates the landscape of the ruins; even with the damage of time, the acoustics in it are still impressive. John also lived there (including his last years after exile on the island of Patmos), and other early church leaders visited and preached there. It was an amazing experience to visit on such holy ground, to walk the streets that John strolled, and to stand where Paul preached.  My understanding of Ephesus and the role it played in the early church's work is much better now. As I reread those old stories in Acts and other parts of the New Testament, I suspect I will now understand subtle nuances I completely missed before. To walk though the ruins of Ephesus is to step back into time and watch as the biblical stories come alive in a fresh way. You can view more photos from my visit to Ephesus here.

Murals in ruins of Ephesus
(photo credit: Brian Kaylor)