Jesus's Words

Chapter 13: Paul's Supposable Miracles Explained

back  |  next

Section 8: Supposable Miracle VII.—at Ephesus, Exorcist Scevas Bedeviled.—Acts 19:13-20

Thus it is that, as under the last head has been observed, of all these alleged successful exhibitions, not so much as a single one is particularized.

In lieu, however, of these successes of Paul's, something of a story to a certain degree particularized we have. But this is—what? a successful performance of Paul's? No: but an unsuccessful attempt of certain persons,—here termed exorcists,—who took upon themselves to act against him in the character of competitors.

Well, then: when the time came for demonstrating supernatural powers by experiment, these exorcists—these impostors, no doubt it was intended they should be deemed—made a very indifferent hand of it. Good: but the true man, Did he go beyond these same impostors? Not he, indeed: he did not so much as attempt it. But, let us hear his historiographer, who all this while was at his elbow. Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.Acts 19:13

And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.Acts 19:14Thus far the narrative.

The sons of the chief of the priests? Such men styled not only exorcists but vagabonds? If they are not here, in express terms, themselves styled vagabonds, at any rate, what is here imputed to them is the doing those same things, the doers of which have just been styled, not only exorcists, but at the same time vagabonds. But let us continue, And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.Acts 19:15-16 Thus far the narrative.

To whatsoever order of beings the hero of this tale may have belonged;—whatsoever may have been his proper appellative,—a man with two natures, one human, the other diabolical,—a man with a devil in him, a madman,—or a man in his sound senses counterfeiting a diabolized man or a madman,—the tale itself is surely an eminently curious one. Of these human or superhuman antagonists of his—of these pretended masters over evil spirits—the number is not less than seven: yet, in comparison of him, so feeble and helpless are they all together, that he not only masters them all seven, but gets them down, all seven together, and while they are lying on the ground in a state of disablement, pulls the clothes off their backs: but whether one after another, or all at the same time, is not mentioned. Be this as it may, hereupon comes a question or two. While he was stripping any one of them, what were the others about all that time? The beating they received, was it such as to render them senseless and motionless? No: this can scarcely have been the case; for, when the devil had done his worst, and their sufferings were at the height, out of the house did they flee, wounded as they were.

Jesus I know, and Paul I know,Acts 19:15 says the mysterious hero, in the fifteenth verse. Hereupon an observation or two calls for utterance. Supposing him a man, who, knowing what he was about, counterfeited the sort of being, who was half man, half devil,—one-half of this speech of his, namely, Paul I know, may without much difficulty be believed. But, upon this supposition, forasmuch as he acted with so much effect against these rivals of Paul's,—a supposition not less natural, to say the least of it, is—that to Paul he was not unknown, any more than Paul to him: in a word, that on this occasion, between the evil spirit and the self-constituted Apostle, a sort of understanding had place. Be this as it may, how extraordinary a person must he not have been, to undertake the complete mastery of seven men at once! Seven men, all of them young enough to have a father, not only living, but officiating as a priest: and at the same time, all of them old enough, if not to exercise, mastery over evil spirits, at any rate to undertake it!

In Paul's suite, all this time, as far as appears, was the author of this narrative. The scene thus exhibited—was he then, or was he not, himself an eyewitness of it? On a point so material and so natural, no light has he afforded us.

Another circumstance, not less curious, is—that it is immediately after the story of the unnamed multitudes, so wonderfully cured by foul clothes,—that this story of the devil-masters discomfited by a rebellious servant of theirs, makes its appearance. Turn now to the supposed true devil-master—on this score, what was it that he did? Just nothing. The devil,—and a most mischievous one he was,—he was doing all this mischief:—the man, who had all such devils so completely in his power, that they quit possession, and decamp at the mere sight or smell of a dirty handkerchief or apron of his;—he, though seeing all this mischief done,—done by this preeminently mischievous as well as powerful devil,—still suffers him to go on;—and not any the least restraint in any shape, does he impose upon him; but leaves him in complete possession of that receptacle, which, according to the narrative, he wanted neither the power nor the will to convert into an instrument of so much mischief. Was it from Paul himself, that, on this special occasion, for this special purpose, namely, the putting down these presumptuous competitors, this mysterious being received so extraordinary a gift? This is not said, but not improbably, as it should seem, this was the miracle, which it was intended by the historian should be believed.

Occasions there are—and this we are desired to believe was one of them—in which the impossibility of a thing is no bar to the knowledge of it.

Continuing the narrative, 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.Acts 19:17

Now, supposing this thing known, the fear stated as the result of it may without difficulty be believed:—fear of being treated as those sons of the chief of the Jewish priests had been: fear of the devil, by whom those, his unequal antagonists, had been thus dealt with: fear of the more skilful devil-master, under whose eye these bunglers had been thus dealt with.

But the name here said to be magnified—the name of the Lord Jesus—how that came to be magnified: in this lies all the while the difficulty, and it seems no small one.

The name, on this occasion, and thus said to be employed, whose was it? It was, indeed, the Lord Jesus's. But was it successful? Quite the contrary. It made bad worse. In the whole of this business, what was there from which the name of Jesus could in any shape receive magnification? Yes: if after the so eminently unsuccessful use, thus made of it by those exorcists, a successful use had, on the same occasion, been made of it by Paul. But, no: no such enterprise did he venture upon. Madman, devil, counterfeit madman, counterfeit devil,—by proxy, any of these he was ready to encounter, taking for his proxy one of his foul handkerchiefs or aprons: any of this sort of work, if his historiographer is to be believed, he was ready enough to do by proxy. But, in person? No; he knew better things.

The narrative concludes, And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.Acts 19:18 Yes; supposing there were any, by whom all this or any part of it was believed,—that they spoke and acted in consequence, may be believed without much difficulty: and, with this observation may the story, and the sort of elucidation endeavouring to be given of it, be left to close.

back  |  next