Aristarchus—A Loyal Companion
AMONG the many trusted fellow workers of the apostle Paul was Aristarchus. What comes to your mind when you hear his name? Anything? Would you be able to say what part he played in the outworking of early Christian history? Though Aristarchus may not be one of the Bible characters we are most familiar with, he was nevertheless involved in a number of episodes narrated in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
So, then, who was Aristarchus? What relationship did he have with Paul? Why can it be said that Aristarchus was a loyal companion? And what lessons can we learn from examining his example?
Aristarchus’ dramatic entrance into the account in the book of Acts comes amid the shouting and confusion of a hysterical mob in the city of Ephesus. (Acts 19:23-41) The making of silver shrines of the false deity Artemis was a profitable enterprise for Demetrius and other Ephesian silversmiths. Thus, when Paul’s preaching campaign in the city caused a considerable number to forsake the unclean worship of this goddess, Demetrius stirred up other craftsmen. He told them that Paul’s preaching not only posed a threat to their financial security but also raised the possibility that the worship of Artemis would come to nothing.
Unable to find Paul, the angry mob forcibly dragged his companions Aristarchus and Gaius into the theater. Since the two of them were in considerable danger, Paul’s friends pleaded with him “not to risk himself in the theater.”
Picture yourself in that situation. For about two hours, the hysterical mob kept shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Finding themselves at the mercy of that fanatic throng without even being able to speak in their own defense must have been a truly frightening ordeal for Aristarchus and Gaius. They must have wondered if they were going to come out of it alive. Happily, they did. Indeed, the vividness of Luke’s account has led some scholars to suggest that he drew on eyewitness testimonies, perhaps those of Aristarchus and Gaius themselves.
The city recorder finally quieted the uproar. It must have been a tremendous relief for Aristarchus and Gaius to hear him objectively acknowledge their innocence and then see the tumult around them dissolve.
How would you have felt after an experience like that? Would you have concluded that being a missionary companion of Paul was not for you, that it was too dangerous, and that you would be better off seeking a quieter life? Not Aristarchus! Being from Thessalonica, likely he was already well aware of the dangers of declaring the good news. When Paul preached in his city just a couple of years earlier, a riot broke out there too. (Acts 17:1-9; 20:4) Aristarchus loyally stuck by Paul.
From Greece to Jerusalem
Some months after the silversmiths’ riot, Paul was in Greece and was about to set sail for Syria en route to Jerusalem when “a plot was hatched against him by the Jews.” (Acts 20:2, 3) Who do we find with Paul in these perilous circumstances? Aristarchus!
This new threat caused Paul, Aristarchus, and their companions to change plans, first traveling through Macedonia, then in stages along the coast of Asia Minor before finally embarking for Phoenicia at Patara. (Acts 20:4, 5, 13-15; 21:1-3) The purpose of this journey was evidently to deliver the contributions of the Christians in Macedonia and Achaia to their needy brothers in Jerusalem. (Acts 24:17; Romans 15:25, 26) A large number traveled together, perhaps because they had been entrusted with this responsibility by various congregations. No doubt, such a large party would also ensure greater safety.
Aristarchus had a great privilege in accompanying Paul from Greece to Jerusalem. However, their next journey was to take them from Judea all the way to Rome.
The Journey to Rome
This time the circumstances were quite different. Paul had been in detention in Caesarea for two years, had appealed to Caesar, and was to be sent to Rome in chains. (Acts 24:27; 25:11, 12) Try to imagine how Paul’s companions felt. The journey from Caesarea to Rome would be long and emotionally trying, with an unpredictable outcome. Who could go with him to offer support and assistance? Two men were chosen or made themselves available as volunteers. They were Aristarchus and Luke, the writer of Acts.—Acts 27:1, 2.
How were Luke and Aristarchus able to board the same ship on the first leg of the journey to Rome? Historian Giuseppe Ricciotti suggests: “These two embarked as private passengers . . . or, more likely, were admitted by the kindness of the centurion who pretended to consider them to be Paul’s slaves, since the law permitted a Roman citizen to be assisted by a couple of slaves.” How heartened Paul must have been by their presence and encouragement!
Luke and Aristarchus demonstrated their love for Paul at cost and risk to themselves. In fact, they experienced a life-threatening situation when, along with their captive companion, they were shipwrecked on the island of Malta.—Acts 27:13–28:1.
Paul’s “Fellow Captive”
When Paul wrote his letters to the Colossians and to Philemon in 60-61 C.E., Aristarchus and Luke were still by his side in Rome. Aristarchus and Epaphras are referred to as Paul’s ‘fellow captives.’ (Colossians 4:10, 14; Philemon 23, 24) For a time, therefore, Aristarchus apparently shared Paul’s prison bonds.
Though Paul was a prisoner in Rome for at least two years, he was allowed to live under guard in his own hired house, where he could declare the good news to visitors. (Acts 28:16, 30) Aristarchus, Epaphras, Luke, and others then ministered to Paul, helping and sustaining him.
“A Strengthening Aid”
After considering the different episodes in which Aristarchus appears in the inspired Bible record, what picture emerges? According to writer W. D. Thomas, Aristarchus “stands out as a man who could face opposition and come through it with faith intact and his resolve to serve undiminished. He stands out as a man who loved God not only in the good days, when the sun shone from a blue sky, but also through taunt and tempest.”
Paul says that Aristarchus and others were “a strengthening aid” (Greek, pa·re·go·riʹa) to him, that is, a source of solace. (Colossians 4:10, 11) So by comforting and heartening Paul, Aristarchus was a real companion in times of need. Having the apostle’s company and friendship for a period of several years must have been a very satisfying and spiritually enriching experience.
We may not find ourselves in circumstances quite as dramatic as those experienced by Aristarchus. Nevertheless, similar loyalty to Christ’s spiritual brothers and to Jehovah’s organization is necessary for all those in the Christian congregation today. (Compare Matthew 25:34-40.) It is likely that fellow worshipers we know will sooner or later suffer adversity or distress, perhaps because of bereavement, illness, or other trials. By cleaving to them and providing help, consolation, and encouragement, we can find joy and can prove ourselves to be loyal companions.—Compare Proverbs 17:17; Acts 20:35.