August 20, 2014

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV. The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts 13-28)   

                    

Subtopic A: The First Missionary Journey (Acts 13, 14)                             

                                                                            

Lesson: IV.A.2: Cyprus and the Proconsul (13:4-12)                       

 

 

Scripture (Acts 13:4-12; KJV)

 

4 So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.

5 And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.

6 And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus:

7 Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.

8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.

9 Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him,

10 And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?

11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.

12 Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.

 

 

Introduction

 

Arriving in Cyprus They Preach in the Synagogues of Salamis—At Paphos, Elymas Is Struck Blind, and the Governor of the Island Is Converted.

 

Satan is busy with great men and men in power, in order to keep them from being religious, for their example will influence many. Saul is called Paul for the first time, and never again is he called Saul. Saul was his Hebrew name; Paul was his name as a citizen of Rome. Under the direct influence of the Holy Ghost, he reveals the true character of Elymas; that he is a child of the devil. The proconsul was astonished at the force of Paul’s doctrine upon his own heart and conscience, and at the power of God by which it was confirmed.

 

 

Commentary

 

4 So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.

 

So they being sent forth by the Holy Ghost

“So they being sent forth by the Holy Ghost;”by His express direction. This seems to be inserted to connote that though they were earnestly recommended to God by the prayers of their brethren, their authority was not derived from them, but from the Holy Spirit Himself. It was the Holy Ghost that induced Paul and Barnabas at Antioch to separate themselves from the other prophets and teachers, and to leave Antioch and go to Seleucia and then to Cyprus; and directed them as to the course to steer. 

 

This part of the verse may be only a summary of the previous facts (vs. 1-3), but looking to Acts 16:6-7,—“Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not”—it seems more probable that they refer to a fresh revelation, following what we should call the “ordination” or “consecration” of the Apostles.

 

Departed unto Seleucia

“Seleucia” was a city in Syria, also called Seleucia Pieria; it got its name from Seleucus Nicanor, king of Egypt, who was the founder and builder of it: it was not far from Antioch—it is said to be twenty four miles (41 by water) from it. Seleucia was the sea-port for Antioch. It was a free city by a grant from Pompey. It was one of the most important cities in Syria, and was situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea at the mouth of the Orontes River. Seleucia united the two characteristics of a fortress and a seaport. Saul and Barnabas did not stay there long; and it seems that their only reason for going there was to obtain passage on a ship bound for the island of Cyprus.

 

Here, in the midst of sympathizing sailors, the two missionary apostles, with their younger companion, stepped on board the vessel which was to convey them to Cyprus. As they cleared the port, the whole sweep of the bay of Antioch opened on their left—the low ground by the mouth of the Orontes; the wild and woody country beyond it; and then the peak of Mount Casius, rising symmetrically from the very edge of the sea to a height of 5000 feet. On the right, in the southwest horizon, if the day was clear, they saw the island of Cyprus for the first time. The current flows northerly and northeast between the island and the Syrian coast. But with a fair wind, a few hours would enable them to make the run from Seleucia to Salamis, on Cyprus.

 

And from thence they sailed to Cyprus

“Cyprus” is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, the native country of Barnabas—And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus” (Acts 4:36). No doubt, Paul and Barnabas were influenced to go there by the number of Jews living on the island, and the partial evangelization of it which had already taken place—“And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord” (Acts 11:19, 20),and they would be a needed source of assistance and support. John Mark went with them, as we learn from the fifth and thirteenth verses, and possibly other brethren such as deacons and ministers. They sailed straight to Salamis, which was the principal or one of the principal towns where there was “a convenient and spacious harbor,” in the center of the eastern end of the island. It had a large population of Jews. It was destroyed in the reign of Trajan. A terrible insurrection of the Jews occurred there, in which they massacred 240,000 Gentiles. Since then, no Jew has been allowed into the land of Cyprus.

 

The population of the island was largely Greek, but the Jews were numerous in Salamis. By sailing to that city, they were following the path of the synagogues; and though their mission was chiefly to the Gentiles, their surest way to reach them was through the proselytes and Hellenizing Jews. The island was infamous for the worship of Venus, or Aphrodite, who was supposed to have her residence there, and therefore was commonly called the Cyprian goddess. She was its tutelary[i] goddess, and Paphos was the chief center of her worship, which there, as elsewhere, was conspicuous for the depravity of the harlot-priestesses of her temple. Some of the Cypriotes were already Christians. Indeed, no one place outside of Palestine, except Antioch, had been so honorably associated with the work of successful evangelization.

 

5 And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.

 

And when they were at Salamis,

“Salamis,” as stated above, was situated at the east end of Cyprus, and was the principal city and seaport of that country. It was the nearest port of Cyprus for voyagers from Seleucia. Now it is called Famagousta.

 

They preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews:

They preached, here and elsewhere, in the synagogues, either because they found no other such convenient places to preach in; (these were large structures, and many worshipped there). The apostles preached first to the Jews though they were sent unto the Gentiles; and they continued to follow this practice until the Jews renounced and discarded the Gospel, which made their way more clear and open to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, which is apparent throughout the Bible, and at the conclusion of it—Be it known therefore to you, that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and that they will hear it” (Acts 28:28). 

 

The plural “synagogues” implies a considerable Jewish population, and henceforth the Apostles followed the general rule announced in Acts 13:46—“Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing you put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, see, we turn to the Gentiles. Jews were living in all the countries adjacent to Judea, and in those countries they had synagogues. Salamis had more than one synagogue, in which Barnabas and Saul preached, while other cities had only one.

 

And they had also John to their minister.

This was John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas, whom they brought with them from Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), who waited upon them and provided them with the necessities of life; but he was not active in the ministry of the word, which is particularly attributed to Paul and Barnabas. He did not function as an assistant to them in the Gospel ministry; nor was he the minister who direct public service in any of the synagogues, so it cannot be thought he held any such office and authority; but he provided personal service and ministered in civil and secular things to the apostles, or to the poor by their orders. It is probable that he was engaged in baptizing converts, and, where a church was founded, he made preparations for the Lord’s Supper. He was with them as their friend and traveling companion; and was also employed in making the necessary arrangements for their comfort, and in supplying their needs during their travels. Considering the total work of Mark, it would not be too much to say that he was, more than any other disciple, the courier of the Apostolic Church.

 

 The word rendered here as “minister denotes an inferior minister, as it does in Luke 4:20And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.” Here it is synonymous with a deacon. John was to Barnabas and Saul what Joshua was to Moses, Elisha to Elijah, etc. Peter, when he went to Caesarea, was accompanied by six brethren (Acts 11:12). 

 

 

6 And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus:

 

And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos

Some versions read, ‘the whole isle,’ for they must go through the interior of the island, to go from Salarnis to Paphos, since Salamis was on the east, and Paphos on the west of the island. They were probably teaching in the synagogues along their route in the same way they had done in Salamis. The length of the island, according to Strabo, was 1,400 stadia, or nearly 170 miles. At this time, the island is supposed to have had one million inhabitants.

 

Some say Cinyras, a king of the Assyrians, built Paphos; but others say that Agapenor, who came there after the Trojan war, was the builder of this city, and also of the temple of Venus, for which it was famous; and it seems at this time to have been the seat of the Roman governor Paulus Sergius, and the capital of Cyprus. Paphos boasted of a strong, and almost impregnable tower, situated upon a hill in the middle of the city, supposed to be the habitation of Sergius Paulus. There is also, under a certain church, a prison divided into seven rooms, where they say Paul and Barnabas were imprisoned, for preaching the Gospel. It was famous for the sacred rites of Venus and the many poets who lived there. It was destroyed by frequent earthquakes, and now its ruins only show what it formerly was.

 

They found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus:

“They found a certain sorcerer, or magician, one who practiced sorcery, and was dedicated to the magic arts, who falsely pretended to foretell future events. We are told in the following verses that the man was an impostor. We have already met Simon the sorcerer—“But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one” (Acts 8:9). There were many instances of real or pretended sorcery among the Jews in those days, which seems to have been devised by Satan and wicked men to bring the miracles of Christ and His apostles into disrepute. But by comparing the miracles, in several instances, the Christian cause was magnified even more than it would have been otherwise. Nevertheless, they succeeded many times, with those who were not wise and candid enough to closely examine them, to introduce a general contempt for all supernatural powers as false or inconclusive. It is reminiscent of the magicians and sorcerers of Egypt, who by their enchantments, for a while did seem to do similar wonders as Moses had produced by the finger of God—“Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments” (Exodus 7:11). 

 

“A false prophet”—this sorcerer is called “A false prophet;” one of those false prophets our Lord said would arise, and deceive many; he pretended to be endowed with the gift of prophecy; or a man, probably, who pretended to be inspired. 

 

“A Jew”his name shows him to be a Jew.

 

“Bar-jesus”—or the son of a man whose name is Jesus, or Joshua. In fact, he had two names, one, Bar-jesus, was his Jewish name and a patronymic[ii], and the other “Elymas,” was an assumed name or title meaning “wise,” (v. 8) (an Aramaic word, probably connected with the Arabic Ulema, or sage), a title describing his claims to have received wisdom and supernatural powers from God. The word "Bar" is Syriac, and means "son." Jesus (Joshua) was not an uncommon name among the Jews. The name was passed on from his father, so he was the son of Jesus, or Joshua; as Bar-Jonas was the son of Jonas.

 

 

7 Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.

 

Which was with the deputy of the country

The island of Cyprus was at this time in the hands of the Romans. Under Augustus the Roman provinces were divided into two classes, one class of which needed the presence of troops for their government, and since the Emperor was in control of the army, the province was under his jurisdiction, and was called imperatorial[iii], while the others were called senatorial provinces. The former were governed by an officer named a proprætor (or, deputy), the latter by a proconsul. The Roman governor of the island, very likely dwelt at Paphos, since it was the principal city on the island. This is an instance of Luke's great accuracy. Cyprus had become a senatorial province during the reign of Claudius, but previously it had been one of the emperor's provinces governed by a propraetor, or legatus.

 

Sergius Paulus

Paulus was a common name among the Romans; but we know nothing about Serguis Paulus.

 

A prudent man

The word rendered here as “prudent” means intelligent, wise, and learned. It also may have the sense of candid, and may have been given to this man because he held large and liberal views of a philosophic and inquiring mind; and was willing to obtain knowledge from any source. Hence, he had a lot to do with the Jews; and wasalso willing to listen to Barnabas and Saul. It is not often that men of high rank are willing to listen to the advice and teaching of the professed ministers of God. This adjective describes what we call general intelligence and discernment, as in Matthew 11:25Luke 10:211Corinthians 1:19. In this instance, it shows that he immediately recognized the higher type of character possessed by the Apostles, and that he desired to know more of the “word” which they preached. The presence of Elymas among his staff, and his desire to hear Barnabas and Saul indicates that the proconsul was a man with an enquiring mind. He was “a prudent man,” in the management of his affairs, as a governor; and might be very learned, ingenious, and an understanding man; a man of great wisdom and perception, who very likely saw through the vain pretensions, and deception of Bar-jesus, and desired to expose him publicly; or at least he would be exposed by those good apostles, who had come to his city.

 

Who called for Barnabas and Saul

Sergius Paulus, a man of knowledge, superior intelligence and understanding, who thirsted for truth, sent for Barnabas and Saul, “earnestly desiring” to hear the Word of God. He sent messengers to them, to request that they come to him; Barnabas is mentioned first, though he was the inferior person, because he was a native of that country and might be best known. It is probable that they had preached in Paphos, and Sergius desired to hear directly from them the essence of their new doctrine.

 

And desired to hear the word of God

“And desired to hear the word of God”—this desire was extraordinary, and was created in his mind by God, in order to prepare him for the further mercy of his conversion and salvation. Where such a desire exists, it shall be granted: “Ask, and it shall be given you” (Luke 11:9).There is no evidence that he then wished to listen to this as divine truth, or that he was anxious about his own salvation, but it may have begun as a mere inquiry to satisfy his curiosity, and evolved into a true desire to know the way of life and salvation, which was produced in his soul by the Spirit of God; though the latter seems most likely, since it resulted in his conversion. It was a professed characteristic of many ancient philosophers that they were willing to receive instruction from any quarter. “And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean” (Acts 17:19-20).

 

 

8 But (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.

 

But Elymas the sorcerer, for so is his name by interpretation

“Elymas the sorcerer” was his name by interpretation—Elymas the magician. Elymas is the interpretation of his name “Bar-jesus;” which signifies the son of salvation, or of healing, and comes from the Arabic word which signifies “to mutter,” as wizards and sorcerers and that sort of men used to do; and means the same as Magus—Magus the sorcerer. It is sometimes used in a good sense, for a wise man, by an Arabic word “Elim,” as in Matthew 2:1  which signifies knowing—“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem” (Matthew 2:1). It seems that he was better known by this foreign name than by his own.  Bar-jesus, was not as unusual as Simon Bar-jona—“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

 

The charlatan feared the loss of the influence which he exercised over the mind of the proconsul. His victim was emancipating himself from his bondage and was passing from gullibility to faith, andBar-jesus wanted to check that progress.

 

Withstood them

Elymas did all he could to prevent their coming into the governor's house and preaching to him, and the governor from hearing them; and especially from giving heed to, and embracing the doctrines preached by them; which he opposed and argued against, with all the cunning and sophistication he was master of. Saul and Barnabas withstood (resisted) Elymas the sorcerer, just as Jannes and Jambres, the magicians of Egypt withstood Moses. Elymas was aware that if the influence of Saul and Barnabas extended over the proconsul, that he would be seen to be an impostor, and his power would come to an end. His self-interest, therefore, led him to oppose the Gospel. His own popularity was at stake; and since he was ruled by this, he opposed the Gospel of God. The love of popularity and power, and the desire to retain some political influence, is often a strong reason why people oppose the Gospel. Seeing how eagerly the proconsul was drinking in the word, he feared a dismissal. (Compare 2 Timothy 3:8). The position of soothsayer to a Roman proconsul, even though it could only last a year, was too distinguished and too lucrative to abandon without a struggle.

 

Seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith

The reports received about their teaching since landing at Salamis had awakened the proconsul’s curiosity and the magician’s fear, and the wish of the latter was to divert the attention of Sergius, so that he would not send for the new teachers. Elymas believed he must turn away the deputy from the new faith, to prevent the influence of the truth from working on his mind; or to prevent his becoming the friend and patron of the Christians. Sergius had not yet accepted the doctrine of the Apostles, though we may presume that both he and Elymas had heard a lot about it.

 

 

9 Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him,

 

Then Saul (who also is called Paul)

“Then Saul, (who is also called Paul)”—this is the last time that this apostle is called “Saul.” Henceforth, he is called by the name by which he is usually known; “Paul.” When, or why, this change occurred in the name, has been a subject on which commentators cannot not agree. From the fact that the change in the name is mentioned here first, it would seem probable that it was first used in relation to him at this time. By whom the name was given him, whether he assumed it himself, or whether it was given him by Christians or by Romans—is not indicated. The name is of Roman origin. In the Latin language the name Paulus signifies little, dwarfish; and some have conjectured that it was given by his parents to denote that he was small when born; others, that it was assumed or conferred in later years because he was little in stature. The name does not have the same significance as the name Saul. Listed below are the reasons given for changing his name, as well as some of the conjecture surrounding the change:

(1)   That this name was first used here; for before this, even after his conversion, he is uniformly called Saul.

(2)  That it was given by the Romans, as being a name with which they were more familiar, and one that was more consonant with their language and pronunciation. It was made by the change of a single letter; and probably because the name Paul was common among them, and perhaps, easier to pronounce.

(3)  Paul allowed himself to be called by this name, since his commission was chiefly among the Gentiles. It was common for names to undergo changes just as great as this, without our being able to specify any particular cause, when passing from one language to another. Thus, the Hebrew name Jochanan among the Greeks and Latins was Johannes, with the French it is Jean, with the Dutch Hans, and with us John. Likewise, Onias becomes Menelaus; Hillel, Pollio; Jakim, Alcimus; Silas, Silvanus, etc.

(4)  He was called by both these names; since he was a Jew by birth, his parents called him Saul, which made it his Jewish name, and by which he went when among the Jews; and since he was a citizen of a Roman city, Tarsus in Cilicia, he went among the Romans, or Gentiles, by the name of Paul, a Roman name; and it was usual with the Jews to be called after this manner, that is, to have one name among the Jews, and another among the Gentiles.

(5)  Luke calls the apostle by his Jewish name Saul, while he was among the Jews, and only preached to them; but now that he is ministering the Gospel among the Gentiles, and was about to appear openly to be their apostle, he will be called by his Gentile name Paul from now on.

(6)  Though some think his name was changed when he was converted, which was usually the case with Jewish penitents; when a man repented of his sin, he changed his name.

(7)  He got his name Paul, or Paulus, from the smallness of his stature and voice, to which he seems to mention, in 2 Corinthians 10:10—“For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.

(8)Saul's future dealings with Gentiles made it desirable that, after the common custom of the Jews of his day, as seen in Peter, Stephen, Mark, Lucius, Jason, Crispus, Justus, Niger, Aquila, Priscilla, Drusilla etc.—he should have a Gentile name, and so, in honor of his illustrious convert, or in memory of his conversion, or at the special request of Sergius Paulus, he took the name of Paul, which in sound was not unlike his Hebrew name.

(9)  Some think that Paul had been his Roman name, long before this, but that the conversion of Sergius Paulus, as it were, stereotyped the Roman name as that by which the apostle was to be known from now on.

(10)            The idea of Augustine and others, was that he took the name of Paul (Paulus, small) from humility, to indicate that he was "the least" of the apostles.

(11)              Chrysostom's asserted that he changed his name at his ordination or consecration.

(12)             Paul was a softer word than Saul, and the change may have been made to accommodate Roman ears.

(13)             It formed a link between him and the illustrious convert whom he had just made. He was, as it were, claiming a brotherhood with him.

(14)             Paul a more pleasing name to the Gentiles, unto whom he was now sent, and with whom he would converse with the most, in the future.

(15)             Some have thought that the name was adopted from the proconsul’s, his first convert of distinction, but this is utterly alien to all we know of the character of  Paul, with his sole glory being in the cross of Christ

(16)             But perhaps he only did what other Jews were in the habit of doing when they went into foreign lands, and chose him a name of some significance (for the Jews were fond of names with a meaning) among those with whom he was about to mix.

(17)             St Luke, recognizing that the history of St Paul is now to be his chief theme and that the work for which he was separated was now begun, names the Apostle henceforth only by the name which became most current in the Churches.

 

Filled with the Holy Ghost

“Filled with the Holy Ghost” suggests that the punishment inflicted on Elymas was dictated to the Apostle by the Spirit, and he knew from the Spirit’s inward prompting that what he said would come to pass. This phrase does not apply to the gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost in general, with which he was always filled, and by which he was qualified for his work as an apostle; but the idea is that he had received from the Spirit, not only a discernment of the wickedness of this man, but of the will of God, to make him at this time a public example of divine wrath and vengeance, for his opposition to the Gospel. The tense of the Greek word rendered “filled” implies a sudden access to spiritual power, which gave him immediate insight into the character, righteous indignation, and foreknowledge of the divine chastisement.

 

Set his eyes on him

Elymas was standing nearby, almost certainly determined to hear something which he might be able to use to discredit the Apostle. But Paul was aware of his presence, as well as his motivation, because of the insight given him by the Spirit. Paul “Set his eyes on him,” or looked at him intently, from which we may suppose:

  1. His look expressed an abhorrence of him, and indignation against him, and in a manner of speaking, threatening him with some stinging judgment to fall upon him. 
  2. As applied to St. Paul, the phrase may possibly be associated with the defect of vision which remained as the after-effect of the brightness seen on the way to Damascus.

Or…

  1. The phrase may express the fixed gaze of men with strong powers of sight, just as well, as that of those who suffer from some infirmity.

 

After this Barnabas sinks into the background. The soul of his great colleague is visible as never before, as he by the lightning gaze of his eye, sees through the dark and tortuous spirit of the sorcerer. What a picture!


10 And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?

 

And said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief

The sorcerer, who was stricken by Paul with a physical punishment (v. 11) is an example for lawful magistrates how they ought to punish those who wickedly and obstinately hinder the progress of the Gospel.

 

“O full of all subtlety”refers to his magic arts. The word "subtilty" stands for "deceit and fraud," and implies that he was a charlatan practicing deceit and he knew it: today we might call him a snake oil salesman.

 

“And all mischief” signifies a talent or readiness to do mischief, and those who are committed to sorcery are easily drawn to commit any kind of sin whatsoever. It may have regard both to his general character as a sorcerer, and a false prophet, for he used much deceit and cunning among the people, and did a lot of harm to them in the process. The term mischief signifies there was a promptness and readiness in him to deceive and hurt; and also that he used mischief as he endeavored to turn the deputy from the faith. The minds of carnal men are vain and empty, and destitute of all that is good, and full of all that is evil. The talent of Elymas probably consisted of sleight of hand, trickery, and deception, aided by skill in the obscure sciences, by which the ignorant might be easily imposed on. (See Acts 8:9.)

 

Thou child of the devil

“Thou child of the devil” is perhaps alluding to his name, that instead of Bar-Jesus, the son of a Savior, he should have been called Bar-Satan, the son of Satan, or Ben-Belial, a son of Belial. “Thou son of the devil” (compare John 8:38, 441 John 3:10). The Child of the devil is under his influence; practicing his arts; promoting his plans and tactics by deceit and impersonation, so that he may be called your father—“You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and stayed not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (John 8:44). Satan is represented here as the author of deceit and the father of lies.

 

The phrase, “the firstborn of Satan” is used by the Jews to indicate one that is severe, sarcastic, and subtle, and that promotes his doctrine, and does his work. A wicked man is an enemy to all righteousness: he is an enemy, yes, hatred itself against God the righteous being, and who is the fountain of all righteousness; he is an enemy to Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the Lord our righteousness; he is an enemy to that righteousness which He has worked out; he is an enemy to all righteous persons, and hates their holy and righteous conversation; he is an enemy to the law, and cannot be subject to it; and he is an enemy to the Gospel, which reveals the righteousness of God from faith to faith, and teaches men to live soberly, righteously, and godly; in short he is an enemy to all righteousness, moral and evangelical. 

 

Elymas showed himself to be a child of the devil by his attempts to resist the truth of the Gospel, and substitute his own falsehoods and deception. Compare the severity of Peter's language in rebuking Simon Magas (Acts 8:20-23). He probably accused Paul and Barnabas, and vilified their motives before the proconsul, when he saw his own influence being undermined, and that his influence was likely to be stopped. Paul said to Elymus Thou child of the devil;” because he did the destroyer’s work by doing what he could to hinder the salvation of Sergius Paulus and his family. 

 

Filled with all unrighteousness

An “Enemy of all righteousness” practices deceit and iniquity, and opposes righteousness and honesty. We may deduce from this expression that Paul recognized an earnest zeal for truth in the enquiries of the proconsul, and that his wrath against Elymas was not only for what he was doing at the present time, but for his continual leading astray of those who desired to know the ways of the Lord. A man who lives by wickedness will, of course, be the foe of every form of integrity. A man who lives by fraud will be opposed to the truth; a panderer to the vices of people will hate the rules of chastity and purity.

 

Many of them have a great deal of intelligence, but it is wicked intelligence, and they employ it in an evil and mischievous way, both to hurt themselves and others; they are like the old serpent, whose seed they are, who was more subtle than any beast of the field. They are wiser in their generation than the children of light; they are wise in the ways of doing evil, though they have no knowledge of what is spiritually good; they are able to create very cunning and deceitful schemes, to commit sin, and do mischief; for they use all their craft and subtlety to commit sin; they can’t sleep, or rest easy in their minds, unless they are doing mischief—“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips” (Romans 1:29).

Wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord

“The right ways of the Lord” refers to the doctrines and ordinances of Christ, in which He has directed His people to walk; which this man, through his dishonesty and wickedness, in which he was industrious and untiring, did his best to make them seem intricate and obscure, when they were simple, and straightforward, and easy. “For the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them” (Hosea 14:9). They are right, and it is becoming of us to walk in them. They are simple to those that have a true knowledge of them, and even fools can understand and obey them. They are entirely consistent with the righteousness and holiness of God, and lead on to eternal glory and happiness. Christ himself is the true way to eternal life, which is pointed out, and clearly stated in the word of God, and by the ministers of the Gospel, who show men the way of salvation. The path of truth is fully described, and all are invited to walk in it. Good men cannot help but to choose and delight to walk in it, when led into it by the Spirit of truth. Wisdom's ways are always pleasant, and all her paths lead to peace, especially all the paths of duty and worship, the ways of righteousness and holiness; but wicked men seek to pervert these ways, to give a false account of them, to set them in a wrong light, and represent them not only as rough and troublesome, but as dangerous, and leading to ruin; and they do all they can to hinder persons from entering into them, and to cause those to stumble who are in them. They will never cease acting in this wicked manner; they are continually at work to make the ways of Christ loathsome, to turn people against them, to discourage them from walking in them by their opposition to them; they do it by the false impressions they give of them, and by their taunts and jeers directed at those that walk in them, and by their violent persecutions of them, when it is in their power to do so. 

In what way Elymas had opposed Paul and Barnabas is not known. It may have been either by misrepresenting their doctrines, or by representing them as apostate Jews thus retarding or hindering the progress of the Gospel.

 

11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.

 

And now, behold the hand of the Lord is upon thee

“The hand of the Lord” is used for any powerful action by God, whether in mercy or judgment: here it signifies the Divine power with which God strikes his enemies. God did in judgment exercise mercy, inflicting this blindness only for a season, so that it was more like a medicine than a punishment. The judgment was mercifully designed to lead him to repentance.

 

“The hand of the Lord is upon thee” means God shall punish thee. The phrase would convey to every Jew the thought of a chastisement which was the direct result of the will of God. (Compare: 1Kings 18:46Ezekiel 1:3Ezekiel 8:1.) By this sudden and miraculous punishment Elymas would be awed and humbled, and the proconsul and others would be convinced that he was an impostor, and that the Gospel was true. His wickedness deserved such punishment; and at the same time that the punishment was imposed, it was planned that the Gospel would be expanded by this method. In all this there was the loftiest evidence that Paul was under the inspiration of God. He was full of the Holy Spirit; he detected the secret feelings and desires of the heart of Elymas; and he inflicted on him a punishment that could have proceeded from no one but God. It is apparent from various places in the New Testament that the apostles had the power of inflicting punishment. Compare: 

  • 1 Corinthians 5:5: “To deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”The object of this punishment was the destruction of the flesh, and the salvation of the man.
  • 1 Timothy 1:20: “Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” This was an apostolic power Paul had to deliver the bodies of men into the hands of Satan, to be tortured and afflicted by him, in order to bring them to a sense of their sins, and as a chastisement and correction for them, and a token of God's displeasure with them 

 

And thou shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a season

“Thou shall be blind,”so blind that he would not be able to see the sun, even when it shined brightly. The form of the punishment may have been, in part, determined by the Apostle, which he made known to God in prayer. If so, it suggests that he had looked back at his own blindness; the exclusion of the outward light, he thought, had been the process by which he was led to the Sun of Righteousness and the Light that lighteth every man, and hoped that it might do that now for Elymas—“Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything” (Acts 9:8-9). Several other reasons have been proposed for why the particular punishment of blindness was inflicted upon Elymas. It might have been used to put a forcible interruption upon those observations of the stars and clouds by which the magician pretended to foresee the future. Also, it would reveal to Sergius, Paulus the utter helplessness of the great sorcerer. In any case, there was a moral appropriateness in blindness being the penalty for sin, the idea being that the man was fighting against light.

 

“Not seeing the sun for a season—it has been said that this limitation in time is an indication that there was still the possibility of repentance. It was a corrective chastisement. The punishment inflicted on Elymas is lighter than that of Ananias and Sapphira, because in their case the hypocrisy of their conduct would have brought ruin upon the Church—their sin was against greater light and gifts of grace than had been bestowed on the magician of Cyprus. Some say that Elymas repented, and had his sight restored; and after that he returned to his sorcery, and again greatly opposed Barnabas on the island of Cyprus. 

 

It is impossible to know now how long a time this blindness was to continue, since “for a season” is indeterminate. It was, however, mercifully ordained that the blindness would not be permanent and final; and though it was a punishment, it was at the same time compassionate, for nothing would be more likely to lead him to reflection and repentance than a state of blindness. It was an obvious proof that God was opposed to him, but there was a tradition in the early church that he became a Christian.

 

And immediately there fell on him a mist and darkness

Some say, as soon as the apostle had said the above words, a dark mist fell upon his eyes, which began the blindness. Others, that the mention of the successive stages, first dimness, then total “darkness,” implies that the withdrawal of his sight was somewhat gradual. At first the eyes began to cloud over, and as the film increased upon them he became quite blind. “The former seems to be more logical; that the progression happened rapidly.” This was the first miracle which Paul performed, the infliction of a judgment; and that judgment was the same as happened to him when he was arrested by Jesus while on his way to Damascus.

 

The word “mist” is found only here in the New Testament; but it is a medical term, which is commonly used by eye-doctors to express a darkening and dimming of the eyes by cataract or other disease.

 

“Darkness” means blindness, night; like the scales of Acts 9:18—“Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.”

 

And he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand

This is a striking account of the effect of the miracle. The change was so sudden that he did not know where to go. He tried to find someone to guide him, though he had been familiar with this place before. Elymas, who had selfishly used his knowledge to guide others to his own advantage, now had to seek for others to guide his own steps. The tense of the Greek verb (he was seeking) seems to imply that he sought and did not find. He had no friends to help him, and was left to his fate unpitied. It is likely that he would wish to show as little as possible how exactly the Apostle’s words had come to pass.

 

He groped about the room, for he was quickly made stone blind, so that he could not guide himself, as the men of Sodom were, when smitten with blindness by the angel; though they groped about for the door of the house till they were weary, they could not find it (Genesis 19:11), which the Jews say, as here, that it was, “a stroke from God.” Blind men need someone to hold them by the hand, and lead them, as did Samson (Judges 16:26), and Saul (Acts 9:8). Striking this man with blindness is a demonstration of the power the apostles were given, for the punishing of offenders: so Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for telling a lie: and the incestuous person was delivered to Satan to undergo a physical punishment for his incest; like Hymenaeus and Alexander were for their blasphemy (Acts 5:5). 

 

How soon can God bring down the pride of man, and make him as helpless as an infant! How easily can He touch our senses, the organs of our most enjoyable pleasures, and wither away all our enjoyments! How dependent are we upon Him for the awesome blessing of sight! And how easily can He annihilate all the sinner's pleasures, break up all his plans, and humble him in the dust! Sight is His gift; and it is a great mercy that He does not overwhelm us in thick darkness, and destroy forever all the pleasure that this organ conveys to the soul.

 

 

12 Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.

 

Then the deputy, when he saw what was done

“Then the deputy,” or proconsul; when he saw what was done”a wonderful miracle was performed, generating convincing evidence of God’s power and His servant’s ability to fulfill His will. Elymas was struck with blindness immediately, and the hand of God was unmistakably in it; there was no misrepresenting or magic involved; it was a plain fact, which was certain and visible.

 

He believed    

“He believed”in the Lord Jesus Christ, whom the apostle preached, and he was convinced by the miracle and by the words with which it was accompanied that Elymas was an impostor, and that the doctrine of Paul was true. And now he knew that the Apostles were teachers of the ways of the Lord, which he had been seeking in vain to learn from Elymas. There seems no reason to doubt that his faith connected him with eternal life; and if so, it is evidence that the gospel was not always confined to the poor, and to those of the humble ranks of life.

 

Sergius may have been astonished at the doctrine of the Lord; both at what was contained in it: for there are many astonishing things in the doctrine of faith; such as the birth of Christ to a virgin; the union of the two natures, divine and human, in His person; salvation through His crucifixion and death, and the resurrection of the dead, along with others: and also at the miracles which accompanied this doctrine, and confirmed it.

 

We cannot conclude positively from this that Sergius was baptized and became an avowed Christian, though the language of the Acts leads us to conclude that (see verse 48; Acts 2:44; Acts 4:4; Acts 8:12, 13; Acts 11:21; Acts 19:18). We are not told that Sergius was baptized, but we have other instances where the mention of baptism is omitted (see Acts 13:48), yet, the door into Christ’s Church was baptism, but omission of the mention of baptism should not be thought to merit believing that the sacrament was neglected on any occasion.

 

Being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord

“Being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord”—that is, at the validation given to it, and probably also at the internal evidence which he soon discovered in it, and which broke in with increasing luster on his mind. Many of those who came to see Jesus and hear his teaching were also astonished—“And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine” (Matthew 7:28).

 

The word “doctrine” doesn’t seem to stand for the “teaching” or “instruction” of it, but the wonderful effects which were connected with the doctrine. It was particularly the miracle with which he was “astonished;” but Sergius might also have been deeply impressed and amazed at the purity and sublimity of the truths which were now open and understandable to his mind. There is nothing further in the New Testament concerning this man.

 

The deputy may have been filled with admiration at the striking of Elymas with blindness, by which he was induced to believe the doctrine of Christ preached by Paul and Barnabas, and though we read of no one else converted at this time in Paphos, yet it is highly probable there were others, and that a foundation of a Gospel church was laid in this place, even though heathenism still continued. The temple of Venus remained here in the "second" century; and in the "fourth" century Venus was still being worshipped there; yet in the beginning of the "fourth" century, in the council of Nice, Cyril, bishop of Paphos, was present; and in the "fifth" century, a bishop of this place was at the synod of Chalcedon: and in the "eighth" century, Michael, bishop of Taphos was present at the Nycene synod. Jerom mentions Hilarion, a well-known servant of Christ, who was at Paphos for a long time in the fourth century, and of the many miraculous cures he produced there; but he does not mention the church, or any of believers in Christ, though it is certain there must be a church at this time. 

 

We are not told what fruit, if any, followed this remarkable conversion, or how long after it the missionaries remained at Paphos.

 


[i] having the position of guardian or protector of a person, place, or thing

[ii] (of family names) derived from the name of a father or ancestor, especially by the addition of a suffix or prefix indicating descent.

[iii] Either an absolute or supreme ruler; or (in Imperial Rome) an emperor; or (in Republican Rome) a temporary title accorded a victorious general.

 

 

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