The Expository Files


A Tough Act to Follow
Elymas the magician: "Now he sees you, now he doesn't!"

Acts 13:6-13

There follows a text of Scripture which records some events of the first missionary journey into Asia Minor undertaken by Paul and Barnabas with John Mark. There are several statements that sum up the event very well:

1. Elymas was "a magician, a Jewish false prophet."

2. The "procounsel, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence... summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God."

3. Elymas the magician sought "to turn the procounsel away from the faith."

4. Elymas was not successful, and the procounsel believed.

Consider now the passage:

"When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, and said, "You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? "Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time." And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord. Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:6-13).

Elymas-The Crooked Path

Paul rebuked Elymas for his sinfulness. By the power of God, Elymas was struck with temporary blindness. This is the only recorded miracle wrought by an apostle to the injury of a person. (and even this was not a permanent loss-and certainly did more good than harm).

Paul summed up the spiritual state of Elymas accurately. He said that the magician and false prophet was:

1. Full of "all deciet and fraud"

2. A "son of the devil"

3. An "enemy of righteousness"

4. He makes "crooked the straight path of the Lord"

Being Like Elymas

I would hope that few would want to be like Elymas. But to oppose the things taught by Paul and teach something different is to "make crooked the ways of the Lord." This is because Jesus chose Paul to teach the truth, and gave Paul the message of truth which he was to teach by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and Paul taught the message that Jesus gave Him by the Spirit, the "Spirit of truth." Paul wrote, "For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. " (Galatians 1:11,12; see also Luke 10:16; John 14:16-17; 26; 16:13-14; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 4:1-8; 2 Peter 3:2; 1 John 4:6). As you see by these references, this principle of apostolic authority is stressed repeatedly. Yet some today think Paul missed the boat on some of his teachings; that his teaching was influenced by culture. While his teaching reflected the culture in which he lived (i.e.. when with idolaters, he would teach about idolatry versus serving the living God), the teaching itself is from God and to reject it is to reject the Lord Himself! When today some change the teaching of Paul concerning the role of women in the church, or homosexuality. They are, in fact, doing what Elymas did. To do so is to "make crooked the straight path of the Lord."

Some seek to turn others from the faith, just like Elymas did. Perhaps not all are as dishonest as Elymas was, but such activity made Elymas "a child of the devil" and "an enemy of righteousness." Sometimes deceit is used. Sometimes persecution. Sometimes encouragement to do evil. Either way, the goal is to destroy the faith of those who have believed or to keep those who might believe from doing so. The Scriptures warn: "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority..." (Colossians 2:8-10; see also 1:21-23).

Sergius Paulus - "Amazed at the Teaching of the Lord"

Sergius Paulus, a Roman proconsul of Cyprus at Paphos, was a man of understanding. He wanted to examine the things taught by early Christians about Jesus, and so he summoned Barnabas and Saul (it is at this point that Saul began using his Roman name "Paul" since his ministry would primarily have to do with reaching out to the Gentiles, of which Sergius Paulus was one-note verses 2 and 9). Also, it is here that Paul is recognized as the leader of his company. When this event begins, it is "Barnabas and Saul" (vs. 7) but by the time they leave Paphos it is "Paul and his companions" (vs. 13).

The miracle assured the proconsul that the word Paul and Barnabas taught was being delivered to the world from God through them; " will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Hebrews 2:3,4; see also Jude 3). Sergius Paulus was "amazed at the teaching of the Lord." Grace is amazing.

By grace we are permitted to extend the same gospel to the world today that Barnabas and Saul taught, that Elymas opposed, and that Sergius Paulus believed. It is truly a great salvation which we have in Jesus!


By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 15.5; May 2008