WHAT ARE “CURIOUS ARTS?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
In Acts 19:17-20, we read: “ And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.  And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.  Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.  So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.” Just what are “curious arts” anyway?
The Greek word our Authorized Version translators handled here is “perierga,” found only one other time in Scripture. It occurs in 1 Timothy 5:13: “And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies [periergoi], speaking things which they ought not.” A “busybody” is simply a meddling or prying person, one too involved in the affairs or lives of others. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines the word as: “busy about trifles and neglectful of important matters, especially busy about other folks’ affairs, a busybody.”
In the case of “curious arts,” it would be an investigation into things unnecessary, useless, profitless. The pagans in Ephesus believed Paul’s Gospel of Grace (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), and they had such a radical change in lifestyle they subsequently brought their “curious arts” books and burned them in front of everyone. We should view these books as nothing more than volumes of magical spells or incantations or prayers. In other words, they had intruded into the occult, witchcraft, or sorcery! Such needless and worthless information was the Devil’s realm, so they as Christians rightfully destroyed them.
By the way, the value of the witchcraft books they burned was estimated to be 50,000 pieces of silver. These were likely drachmas, each silver coin worth about a day’s wages. In total, the price of these works was as much as 137 years’ salary!! However (please note), instead of selling them and thereby harming others, these saints burned those books. As opposed to distributing the literature to people who wanted them—relatives, neighbors, and friends who were still pagan—they destroyed those books so no one else would be polluted with the Satan worship that had deceived them! (Perhaps we can learn something here as well.)