Chapter 29 - Sorcery And The Devil’s Child
The Sorceries Of Satan
9 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:
10 To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.
11 And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.
Said to be a sorcerer, it is believed by many that Simon is a man who is able to tap into the supernatural. With “satanic” power, he has an effect on people and nature. Our discussion on magic earlier in Volume 2 was extensive yet there remains much more to be said of the ancient practices of magic. No doubt this Simon did fascinating feats. To the simple and unscientific minds of the first century, it is little wonder he was considered to be “the Great power of God.” Yet for this to be truly supernatural power, then we must concede that there is not “One God” as we have been told by Yahweh, but then many Gods. This is so because a man who supersedes nature must be a God. Or at the very least, if his acts are imbued with supernatural power from Satan, then the power source he has tapped into must be that of a God.
Simon was no more than a superstitious man who was able to use clever chicanery and pharmakia, as a means to manipulate the minds of his subjects. The Greek word pharmakia is translated as witchcraft in places. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia provides assistance with understanding the concept of magic and witchcraft;
1. Magic as Impersonal:
There are two kinds of magic: (1) impersonal; (2) personal. In the first, magic is a species of crude science, for the underlying hypothesis is that there are forces in the world which can be utilized on certain conditions, incantations, magical acts, drugs, etc. The magician in this case connects what on a very slender induction he considers to be causes and effects, mainly on the principle of post hoc ergo propter hoc. He may not know much of the causal agency; it is enough for him to know that by performing some act or reciting some formula (see CHARM) or carrying some object (see AMULET) he can secure some desired end. Frazer (Golden Bough2, I, 61) says: “Magic is a kind of savage logic, an elementary species of reasoning based on similarity, contiguity and contrast.” But why does the savage draw conclusions from association of ideas? There must be an implied belief in the uniformly of Nature or in the controlling power of intelligent beings.
Paul in Gal_5:20 classes with uncleanness, idolatry, etc., what he calls pharmakeía (φαρμακεία), the King James Version “witchcraft” the Revised Version (British and American) “sorcery.” The word has reference first of all to drugs used in exercising the magical article Note the name Simon Magus, which = Simon the magician (Act_8:9 f), and Bar-Jesus, whom Luke calls a magician (μάγος, mágos, English Versions of the Bible, “sorcerer”) and to whom he gives also the proper name Elymas, which is really the Arabic ‛ālim = “learned,” and so one skillful in the magical article.
According to the ISBE, magic and witchcraft were practices that consisted of only physical feats. These two practices also employed the use of various mind and consciousness altering drugs at times. This man Simon held no sway over the natural world through supernatural means but he did perform in ways that left the subject to perceive the actions as supernatural. People were fooled by his trickery not because his acts drew on the power of a cosmic being called Satan but because the people lacked understanding. It is much like a child witnessing a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat today. In the child’s mind the rabbit appears out of thin air but the sleight of hand, distraction techniques, and crafty presentation are the tools of the trade here.
Simon the sorcerer’s subjects were incapable of explaining his acts due to the low level of understanding possessed by the uneducated first century witnesses. To add to the dilemma, onlookers were already bias because of the force of what you and I today call urban legends. Urban legends were as prolific in the days of Simon the Sorcerer as they are today. Most people had probably not experienced a true supernatural act at the hands of this man, but the legend and grand stories about him which must have circulated went far to elevate him in the minds of the people where he was said to be “the great power of God.” The proliferation of urban legends often has more clout than the truth of an event or situation. Sorcerers in the first century and surrounding periods were little more than Persian or Oriental scientists and were basically Magi. Elymas the sorcerer, spoken of in Acts 13, is no different. And to no ones’ surprise, the disciples who were displaying true power that was inexplicable to the likes of Elymas and Simon were destined to have an interaction with these “magician” types. After all, they were all tapping into the same market share in that same region.
The Greek word itself adds credit to the theory that these sorcerers were probably excellent scientists. These men had a flare for displaying their knowledge and practice of eclectic and esoteric arts in a way that caused the one seeing to presume supernatural abilities must underlie the seemingly incredulous acts.
The word mageiahere is a form of the word for sorcerer, magos. We can see where Simon Magus gets his title from when we look at the use of these words. Albert Barnes has broken it down for us that we might understand the operations of one Simon the sorcerer. Barnes assists our understanding that we might see how the text is not pointing to supernatural displays of power by this man. A deceptive charlatan who engaged in fooling as many people as possible to gain power and a following. We hear from Barnes just what is meant by the terms “used sorcery,” “bewitched,” and “giving out,” found in the recounting of Simon Magus. A magician who was equivalent to the Oriental Scientist from Persia called a Magi.
Magi Were The Three Kings Who Came To See “Baby Jesus”
In an added note about Magi, we are able to better understand what manner of men came to see Yeshua almost 2 years after His birth. The Magi who followed the star were Persian men interested in understanding and interpreting the movement of the celestial bodies. The star they were paying attention to was always the celestial body that represented a King. In those days, many astrologers knew that the Jewish King had a representative star. And, as men renowned for their understanding of celestial activities, they would pay attention if the King’s star began to move. The Magi were so connected with astrology that they saw a huge significance in the movement of this “star of Bethlehem.” They could not miss its path of travel that occurred at the point in history many believe Yeshua was born. For more on this topic see Earnest L. Martins’ book, A Witness in the Stars. For now, notice the explanations for a few key phrases regarding sorcery terms as given by Barnes.
Used sorcery - Greek: μαγεύων mageuōn. Exercising the arts of the “Magi,” or “magicians”; hence, the name Simon “Magus.” The ancient “Magi” had their rise in Persia, and were at first addicted to the study of philosophy, astronomy, medicine, etc. This name came afterward to signify those who made use of the knowledge of these arts for the purpose of imposing on mankind - astrologers, soothsayers, necromancers, fortune-tellers, etc. Such persons pretended to predict future events by the positions of the stars, and to cure diseases by incantations, etc. See Isa_2:6. See also Dan_1:20; Dan_2:2. It was expressly forbidden the Jews to consult such persons on pain of death, Lev_19:31; Lev_20:6. In these arts Simon had been eminently successful.
And bewitched - This is an unhappy translation. The Greek means merely that he “astonished” or amazed the people, or “confounded” their judgment. The idea of “bewitching” them is not in the original.
Giving out ... - “Saying”; that is, boasting. It was in this way, partly, that he so confounded them. Jugglers generally impose on people just in proportion to the “extravagance” and folly of their pretensions. The same remark may be made of “quack doctors,” and of all persons who attempt to delude and impose on people.
Simon and Elymas would have been of the same status as an Oriental Magi, one who was thought to have “magical” powers. James Strong indicates the sorcerer is an Oriental Scientist and only by implication is seen to be a magician. When one calls this man “Simon Magus,” as if “Magus” is his last name, they are simply saying “Simon Sorcerer” and using the Greek word for “sorcerer.”
Thayer Definition: G3097
1) a magus
1a) the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.
1b) the oriental wise men (astrologers) who, having discovered by the rising of a remarkable star that the Messiah had just been born, came to Jerusalem to worship him
1c) a false prophet and sorcerer
The “Old Testament” understanding of a sorcerer and a magician must play into the “New Testament” understanding. To put it succinctly, a sorcerer always was and always will be none other than a very astute individual with an exceptional slight-of-hand ability. There is no supernatural power at work here. This sorcerer’s skills are coupled with a potent aptitude to use the power of suggestion and in some cases employ known science as well as pharmacology to affect a situation or a person when a subject is willing or even unwitting. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states that;
“A sorcerer” (mekhashshēph) is one who mutters incantations or speaks in ventriloquial whispers, as if under the influence of the spirits of the dead.
This definition is referring to the Hebrew Scriptures where sorcerer is referenced. The Apostolic testimony would lean on this understanding. Simon and Elymas had a lot of people fooled to think they possessed some real power, but there was no chance either of them was accessing a supernatural source that led the innocent astray. Below is the passage in Acts that tells about Bar-Jesus, the one called Elymas the sorcerer. According to the wording used by the Greek language, one could call this man Elymas Magus as magos means sorcerer in Greek.
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.
Elymas The Fraud Was Trying To Stop A Man From Hearing The Truth
In the Elymas event, Paul takes up a great offense at this man who is trying to sway a prominent deputy away from coming to faith in Yeshua. Saul, called Paul in the Greek, is incensed at the perversion of the truth that Elymas is propagating. Paul hammers Elymas hard with a deriding judgment of his character. Paul calls him a man who is full of deceit and no good. The subtlety and mischief Paul is referring to, would be the manner and ways in which Elymas deceived the people to believe he was a man of authority who had power over natural elements. His charade suggested he could affect people with his supposed supernatural feats and abilities. Adam Clarke notes that the accusation made by Paul, is a reference to the fact that Elymas was a fraud who practiced deceit pretending to have supernatural powers but had none. Accusing this charlatan of subtilty and mischief is a sure indicator that Paul knew what kind of shenanigans were going on here. Using only cunning and deceit, Elymas was however able to convince many. Calling Elymas a “child of the devil” is an accusation that says Elymas is fully committed to doing what is against Yahweh’s truth and continually speaking and teaching false doctrine. “Devil” represents that which is false and deceitful; it does not represent a cosmic entity here. Elymas was motivated by falseness, hence a child of the devil. A seeming curse of having his sight dimmed significantly if not totally blinded for a time is placed upon Elymas. The man Elymas is shown to be not credible and of no power when placed amidst the only real power displayed by the apostles as servants of God.
The resulting curse that stems from Elymas’ actions seems to show there is a God who cares. If a sorcerer deceives the innocent and simple-minded then that sorcerer needs to be dealt with. When a man wants to hear the word of God and a self-appointed prophet, called here a false prophet, works to dissuade the reception of the truth, a curse from Yahweh is an appropriate measure. And this particular curse is a curse of blindness. After the curse of “blindness” had come upon Elymas the man who Elymas was trying to dissuade from believing the truth, came to the conclusion that it is good to believe the message the Apostles brought. The proof for him was because it was clearly a message of truth and power. We see in the following verse the impact the blinding of Elymas had on some of the observers who were present.
12 Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.
The writer I have quoted below makes some interesting points that add to the understanding of this story.
Thou child of the devil; perhaps alluding to his name, that instead of Bar-Jesus, the son of a saviour, he should have been called Bar-Satan, the son of Satan, or Ben-Belial, a son of Belial. The phrase בכור שטן , "the firstborn of Satan", is used by the Jews, sometimes in a good sense, for one that is acute, sharp, and subtle, and that abides by his doctrine, and does his work (s): but here a child of the devil is used in an ill sense, for being like him in wicked cunning and subtlety; in like sense as the other phrase was used by Polycarp, whom Marcion the heretic met, and said unto him, know us; to whom Polycarp replied, I know thee, the firstborn of Satan (t): thou enemy of all righteousness; a wicked man is an enemy to all righteousness in every branch of it, in whatsoever light it may be considered: he is an enemy, yea, enmity 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 wrought 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, which is the rule of righteousness; 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.
How To Be A Child Of The Devil
I have taken the liberty to highlight a few key points with bold print in the above statement. Notice the speaker here, Polycarp, understands it is a wicked man who is the enemy of all righteousness. Although the introduction to the article seems to deliver the thoughts as if there is actually a “Satan” and that the “child of the devil” is merely imitating a supposed “satan,” we are given a more clear understanding of what a “child of the devil” is by Polycarp. The “child of the devil” is one who opposes righteousness in a very intentional way as Elymas was doing. If we understand that a “child of God” who turns from righteousness, is then considered a “child of the devil,” we will better understand the term, “child of…”The term, “child of…,” identifies what kind of behavior and lifestyle can be seen in the subject. If you or I were called a child of the sea, the hearer would understand you or I were known to be avid boaters or perhaps deep-sea fishermen. None would presume we were born at sea or fathered by the sea. When you or I live righteously, we are children of God. If you or I live wickedly, we are “children of the devil.” A point to make here is that if there is a devil who can have spiritual offspring, literally producing children of the devil, then isn’t that devil like God? That would then make the devil to be a god and then the God who claims to be sovereign and solitary must be lying to say there are no other Gods. If that is the case then Christendom has two Gods…and is dualistic not monotheistic.
The reason why Elymas is a child of the devil is only because his choices stem from a heart that has been given over to wickedness by his own choosing. A devil or satanas is a metaphor for that which is evil and opposed to God. As I said above, one decidedly acting in false ways. If your ways are intentionally false or opposed to truth, you are a child of the devil.
Elymas held no supernatural power, was not in league with or spawned by the “devil”, and could do nothing supernatural. This became apparent when he was in front of the real power that was imbued upon the apostles. The effective mental suggestion from Elymas that seemed to elicit a response said to be magical or miraculous was nothing in comparison to the real curse that was undeniably from a real source of power. The “sorcery” of the bible is no more potent or real than is sorcery today. Sorcery is clever trickery, manipulation, suggestion, and pharmakia. We can no longer look at the references to sorcery in the Bible to prove to ourselves that Satan is real. The power underlying sorcery is wholly that of a man.
1 From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article under listing, Magic; Magician
2 From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article under listing, Magic; Magician
3 Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible, Albert Barnes (1798-1870)
4 John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, Dr. John Gill (1690-1771)
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