🔼The name Ephesus in the Bible
Ephesus was a splendid Greek city of Asia Minor, situated half-way up the western coast of modern-day Turkey, on the river Cayster. It was founded in the tenth century BC (probably on or near the ruins of an even older settlement) and prior to the Roman conquest was ruled alternately by Ionians, Cimmerians, Lydians, Persians and finally the Greeks under Alexander the Great. After Alexander, Ephesus became part of the Seleucid Empire, was lost to Egypt in the third century BC and to Rome in the second.
In 88 BC, decades before the collapse of the Roman Republic, Ephesus was liberated by king Mithridates of Pontus, which led to a systematic Haman-like holocaust of Latins during which an estimated 80,000 people were murdered. Two years later, Ephesus was re-conquered by Rome, and in 27 BC it became the capital of the province of Asia.
In Biblical times, the city was known for its theatre (which could seat 25,000 or half the population), its advanced aqueduct system and its temple of Artemis (or Diana), which was such an elaborate affair that it was counted as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was also a prime tourist attraction and when Paul and Barnabas began to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, a souvenir seller named Demetrius became understandably upset (Acts 19:24).
Paul first came to Ephesus together with Priscilla and Aquila of Corinth (Acts 18:19). For untold reasons, Paul left them there — apparently at the house of Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 4:19, 1:18) — and journeyed on. While he was gone, a Jew from Alexandria named Apollos arrived at Ephesus and began to share the gospel (Acts 18:24), but he had moved on to Corinth when Paul returned to Ephesus and this time to stay for two years (Acts 19:1, 19:10; an obviously challenging time, during which Paul wrote 1 Corinthians; see 1 Corinthians 16:8 and 15:32).
A few months after his departure from Ephesus, Paul called the elders of its congregation to him at Miletus and treated them to an emotional speech in which he stated that they wouldn't see him again (Acts 20:17-38). He also warned them for "savage wolves" and men who would speak "perverse things" (Acts 19:29-30), and later he urged Timothy to oppose these men (1 Timothy 1:3-11) and sent Tychicus probably to help him with that (2 Timothy 4:12). From his prison in Rome, Paul wrote the church in Ephesus his famous epistle.
Possibly as many as four decades after Paul was in Ephesus, John was there (according to non-Biblical traditions) and wrote his gospel. Residing on Patmos, the possibly same John wrote Revelation, in which Jesus addressed the church of Ephesus as one of the seven main churches of Asia Minor, and, as did Paul, spoke of evil men and false apostles (Revelation 1:11, 2:1-7).
The adjective Εφεσινος, Ephesinos occurs only in Revelation 2:1: "To the angel of the Ephesian church, write..". and the ethnonym Εφεσιος Ephesios, Ephesian, occurs in Acts 19:28-35 and 21:29. Altogether, the name Ephesus occurs 21 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
🔼Etymology of the name Ephesus
Some have suggested that the name Ephesus may have had something to do with the Latin word apis, meaning bee, but although the bee was a dominant symbol of Ephesus and appeared on many of its coins, this etymology is commonly rejected. More attractive, and now generally accepted among scholars, is the hypothesis that the name Ephesus formed from the Hittite name Apasa, which belonged to the capital of an ancient federation called Arzawa, located in western Anatolia.
In his Hittite Etymological Dictionary Jaan Puhvel explains the Hittite element appa to mean '"behind, back" in a spatial, but uniformly "after" in a temporal sense', and relates it to common words in Sanskrit (apatyam, meaning offspring; apara, meaning later) and the Greek (επι, epi, meaning on or upon; οπις, opis, meaning looking back).
The name Apasa and thus Ephesus would thus literally mean Later Place and perhaps correspond to names like Newton or Neapolis. Or perhaps since it was located on the coast, at the end of a river, it was called Place Very Much At The Back and named in the sense of Lands End or The Boondocks.