Jesus's Words

Chapter 13: Paul's Supposable Miracles Explained

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Section 2: Supposable Miracle I. Elymas the Sorcerer Blinded.—Acts 13.

1. Of these supposable miracles, the first that occurs is that which had for its subject Elymas the sorcerer.

At Paphos, in the island of Cyprus,77 Paul and his associate Barnabas are sent for, by "the deputy of the country," Sergius Paulus, who desires to hear the word of God. But at that same place is a certain Jew, of the name of Barjesus, alias Elymas,—a sorcerer by profession, who withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.Acts 13:8b To this man, it is not said, either where or when, Paul is thereupon represented as making a short speech, at the end of which, after calling him a child of the devil, and so forth; he says to him, 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. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the LordActs 13:11-12

Supposing this story to have had any foundation in fact,—of the appearance of blindness thus exhibited, where shall we look for the cause? In a suspension of the laws of nature, performed by the author of nature, to no other assignable end, than the conversion of this Roman governor? At no greater expense, than that of a speech from this same Paul, the conversion of a king,—King Agrippa—if the author of the Acts is to be believed, was nearly effected. "Almost," says Agrippa, "thou hast persuaded me to become a Christian." So often as God is represented, as operating in a direct—however secret and mysterious—manner, upon the heart, i.e., the mind, of this and that man,—while the accounts given of the suspension of the laws of nature are comparatively so few—to speak in that sort of human language, in which alone the nature of the case admits of our speaking, if the expense of a miracle were not grudged,—might not, in the way above mentioned, by a much less lavish use of supernatural power, the same effect have been produced? viz., by a slight influence, exercised on the heart of governor Paulus?

Whatsoever may have been the real state of the case,—thus much seems pretty clear, viz., that at this time of day, to a person whose judgment on the subject should have, for its ground, the nature of the human mind as manifested by experience,—another mode of accounting for the appearance in question will be apt to present itself as much more probable. That is—that, by an understanding between Paul and Elymas—between the ex-persecutor and the sorcerer—the sorcerer, in the view of all persons, in whose instance it was material that credence should be given to the supposed miracle,—for and during "the season" that was thought requisite, kept his eyes shut.

The sorcerer was a Jew:—Paul was also a Jew. Between them here was already one indissoluble bond of connection and channel of intercourse. Elymas, by trade a sorcerer, i.e., an impostor—a person of the same trade with Simon Magus, by whom so conspicuous a figure is cut in the chapter of this history—was a sort of person, who, on the supposition of an adequate motive, could not naturally feel any greater repugnance, at the idea of practicing imposition, at so easy a rate as that of keeping his eyes shut, than at the idea of practicing it, in any of the shapes to which he had been accustomed:—shapes, requiring more dexterity, and some, by which he would be more or less exposed, to that detection, from which, in the mode here in question, it would be altogether secure.

But Paul—was he in a condition to render it worth the sorcerer's while to give this shape to his imposture? Who can say that he was not? Yes: if to a certain degree he had it in his power, either to benefit him or to make him suffer? And who can say but that these two means of operating, were one or other, or both of them, in his power? As to the sorcerer's betraying him, this is what he could not have done, without betraying himself.

True it is, that, by acting this under part,—this self-humiliating part,—so long as Paul stayed, so long was the sorcerer, not the first, but only the second wonder-worker of the town. But no sooner did Paul's departure take place, than Elymas, from being the second, became again the first.


77 And they had also John to their minister.(See Acts 13:5.) What John was this? Answer: See Acts 15:37-40. This appears to have been that John, whose surname was Mark, who was the cause of the angry separation of Paul from Barnabas.

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