Friday, September 9, 2022

Who was Alexander the coppersmith?

While reading (and rereading) the Pauline Epistles, I remember coming across a verse that really stood out to me:

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. [2 Timothy 4:14-15, ESV]

Who is Alexander the coppersmith, and what could he have possibly done to get his name written in the Bible? What did Alexander do to upset Paul so much that Paul included Alexander’s name in the Bible? It was no secret that Paul’s letters were Scripture (2 Peter 3:16), so why would Paul rebuke Alexander the coppersmith in what would later become a part of the Bible?

Well, we do not know exactly what Alexander did, but he must have done something pretty bad, as his name is mentioned more than once. I must take a moment to explain something that I learned when I began to study the Bible more closely. In the United States, it is common for people to encounter others with the same name, but I have rarely encountered a group of people that had so many people named Daniel that there was the need to refer to each Daniel by his respective occupation or appearance. When the events of the Bible took place, and when they were being written about, there were far fewer names that one could have. This is why there are so many people named James, John, Simon, and so on. In order to clarify which person is being written about, the writers of the Bible would refer to people by their name, as well as their respective occupation. Another way to differentiate between people with the same name was to address them by their name, followed by “son of [the name of their father]”.

I mention the lack of variation in names because it is important to understand that, just because there is a person named Alexander being referenced, does not mean it is the same Alexander. I would like to believe that the Alexander mentioned in various parts of the Bible is the same guy, but it is possible that there are multiple people named Alexander. The choice one has to make is whether to believe that there were several different men, all named Alexander, who all happened to cause Paul issues when he was doing his ministry, or to believe that there was one Alexander who was such a pain that he was mentioned in several passages. I choose to believe the latter explanation, but I could understand why one would believe the former.

With that out of the way, let us read the next passage that makes a reference to “Alexander”:

…among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. [1 Timothy 1:20, ESV]

Wait, what? Apparently, Alexander needed to be “handed over to Satan” so that he could learn how not to blaspheme. Does Paul have the power to judge people for their sins? No, Paul does not have such power. In fact, only God has the power to judge us. If Paul did not have the power to condemn Alexander for his sins, then what did Paul mean when he talked about handing people over to Satan? I did some reading, and it seems like the most likely explanation for this passage is that Paul used the power given to him by God to remove Alexander from his position in ministry or the church, so that, upon being confronted by the power of the devil, Alexander would run back to God. In other words, Paul cut Alexander loose, so that Alexander could be taught to repent of his sins. Paul also did this for some other guy, but we are not interested in him right now.

The other reference to Alexander comes from the book of Acts:

Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” [Acts 19:33-34, ESV]

There is a long story behind this passage, so allow me to sum things up. As Paul continued his ministry in Asia, Paul began to disrupt the businesses of some Greek people. There were people who made idols, who began to lose business as the Gospel was being spread throughout Asia. One of the Greeks that Paul upset was a man named Demetrius, who was a silversmith that created idols to Artemis. Understandably, Paul’s statements about “gods made with hands are not gods” [Acts 19:26, ESV] really damaged Demetrius’ sales. The attack on the divinity of Artemis caused people to become very upset, take to the streets, and begin to shout, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

All the shouting about Artemis, coupled with Paul’s teaching about the One true God, led to a riot breaking out in Ephesus. Paul wanted to go and address the riot, but the Apostles begged Paul not to go out. Eventually, the Jewish people sent Alexander to try and calm everything down. In the context of this passage, it would make sense that Alexander was a coppersmith, given how he was chosen to address the crowd of people who were upset about the damage being done to the businesses of Ephesus. Upon being recognized as being Jewish, Alexander lost control of the situation, causing those on the side of Artemis to cry out “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

In fact, Alexander may have made the situation worse. Before Alexander tried to calm the crowd down, there was confusion. However, after Alexander was identified as being Jewish, “they all cried out with one voice, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” Alexander managed to unite the opposition to the Gospel in their opposition.

Finally, in the first example I cited, Paul describes how Alexander the coppersmith did Paul “great harm”, but that should not trouble Timothy, as “the Lord will repay him [Alexander] according to his deeds”.

In conclusion, we have no clear answer as to who Alexander the coppersmith was. However, when we examine the passages that make reference to a man named Alexander, we notice how they all were involved in Paul’s ministry in Asia, how they all caused problems for Paul’s ministry, and how they all would be punished for the trouble they caused.

I chose to write about Alexander the coppersmith, not because anybody asked me to, but because I was fascinated at the idea of somebody being such a problem that he ended up being mentioned by the man who wrote more books of the New Testament than anybody else. I may not gain many new readers because of the research that I have done so that I could write this essay, but at least I can rest now, knowing that I have figured out who Alexander was, and why he had to be handed over to Satan.


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