Miracles vs Magic
God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled. A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!”
Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.
The story of what happened spread quickly all through Ephesus, to Jews and Greeks alike. A solemn fear descended on the city, and the name of the Lord Jesus was greatly honoured. Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.Acts 19:11-20
- How is that one evil spirit can beat up on 7 men?
- If that really happened isn’t it dangerous to try to cast out evil spirits?
Spiritual power manifesting itself in great physical strength is not uncommon in the Bible. We only have to recall the accounts of Samson, David vs Goliath to know that spirituality can manifest great strength to accomplish amazing feats. But it is not only the result of God’s Spirit coming on a person. It is also true that the demon possessed can gain great strength through evil powers. In the example of the Gadarene demoniac is it clear that he was in chains for the protection of people around him. No one could keep him bound, not even with chains. He broke the chains into little pieces and terrorized the inhabitants of the region. (Mark 5) The same was said for the demoniac in Luke’s account in chapter 8. In each case great strength was manifest and the demon possessed person terrorized the neighbourhood.
I have been told of accounts in Indonesian villages of people who were demon possessed and who could throw off multiple people who tried to restrain them. Apparently, it took a large number of people to restrain one slightly built person. Yes demonic spirits appear to manifest great physical strength in this day and age. In my own encounters with the demonic I can’t say I physically encountered great strength opposing me but I was made aware of strange supernatural things happening which made the hairs on the back of my neck raise. There is undoubtedly power in the spiritual. So in answer to the question asked, yes one person manifesting an evil spirit could beat up on seven men.
Apparently it happened in Matamata long ago according to the story told. A large drugged, possessed man is said to have broken free from a bunch of people holding him and lunged at David Metcalfe, when he was the pastor of Matamata Baptist. Everybody present expected something bad to happen to the pastor but rather it happened to the man attacking him. The pastor put up hand and said, “In Jesus name I command you to stop!” The people who told me the story said it was the like the guy had hit a dome of protection or a force field and was slammed to the ground without the pastor physically laying a hand on him.
Yes I guess there is danger in power encounters but the issue is taking Jesus with you as I said in the last Gem. It’s the Presence of Christ that limits evil; don’t leave home without Him.
- How could “the name of the Lord Jesus be greatly honoured” as a result of this happening? It just doesn’t make sense to me.
I would say it is the outward manifestation of the encounter with supernatural forces, things unable to be explained by normal human experience, which adds to the sense that there is power in the Name of Jesus Christ. In this case it is not that we should look at Luke’s account of what happened to the seven sons of Sceva as a failure of ministering in Christ name. Rather we should look at it as the result of misappropriating the Name of Christ by those who don’t know Him. As I said in the previous Gem, it is not a case of treating Jesus’ name as a talisman or a magic incantation. There is no power in that. There is no magic formula in God. But there is reality and power when He is present in a believer. That is a huge difference. Don’t be caught on the wrong side of the divide – it is dangerous.
The people in Ephesus observed this difference between Paul ministering deliverance from evil spirits in the Spirit and the sons of Sceva trying to invoke the name of Jesus (whom Paul preached) but failed. These two events highlighted the difference between both approaches and brought them into stark contrast. I can understand why solemn fear would have descended on the city and the name of Jesus was greatly honoured. Those who had witnessed the event told others and the word spread about the power in Jesus name.
- Why would many people confess their sins and people who were practicing sorcery burn their books because of this? I don’t understand?
Despite the popularity of Jewish magicians, most prominent Jewish teachers officially condemned magic. When people recognized that Paul’s Jesus cannot be manipulated like lower spirits, they understood that he is a servant of God and not a mere magician. “Confessing their sinful practices” could also be translated “divulging spells,” an activity which was believed to deprive the spells of their power. This was indeed a power encounter between the things of God and practices of magicians and practices of black magic. Throughout the Bible there are examples of power encounters between satan’s realm of evil and God kingdom power. Moses and the magicians, Elijah challenging the prophets of Ba’al to name just two. Whenever it happens the evil world is defeated and God’s power is shown clearly. That is what happened that day in Ephesus. Magical papyri were rolled up in small cylinders or lockets used as amulets around the neck. Luke’s term “books” or “scrolls” (NIV) probably refers to these magical papyri. These magical incantations were so common in Ephesus that rolls of these formulas are called Ephesia grammata, or Ephesian writings, in other Greco-Roman literature. Books and magic papyri were commonly burned in those times to repudiate their contents (cf in the Old Testament, cf. 1 Chronicles 14:12).
Turning your back on your old life and practice after an encounter with God is often costly. Just ask me related to my experience of the music I used to listen to and God’s conviction on my heart to get rid of it. Following God whole heartedly comes with a cost. It always has and it always will. But you won’t be truly free from your old life until you have paid the cost. Now regarding the value of several million dollars, I have received a question from a reader subsequently asking if the value at that time could possibly have been several million dollars. My answer would be, no of course not; the value back then would not have been several million dollars. Rather the translators have calculated the cost of the books burned in today’s value as being several million dollars. That I can believe.
- Did this really happen Ian or was this just a legend?
Luke wrote this account. The same Luke who carefully checks out the facts and does his research. Yes I believe that the account of what happened to the seven sons of Seva really happened.
- Why does Luke tell us this story when I am sure he could have told us many more interesting stories?
Yes I too am sure that Luke could have told us many more interesting stories. No doubt he gathered many stories about the power of the Holy Spirit being present in signs and wonders whenever the name of Jesus was preached. I am sure there was much more he could have added. The Bible doesn’t tell us the full story. There are many aspects to the events that happened that are not told to us. I have drawn attention to those already as I have written Gems over the years. I started Gems on the 9th of September 2009 (09/09/09). There are many untold or unfinished stories in the Bible. Not only that, but John tells us:
This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate. Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.John 21:24-25
Yes he was writing about himself not Luke. But I suspect the same is true of Luke and don’t forget Luke would have interviewed the other disciples in the course of putting his books together. I for one would like to know the stories and detail which were not recorded. However, God inspired these writers of the books of the Bible to write what they wrote. We have these stories to read in order to teach us the principles by which God operates. Thus we have to learn to discern to put the stories together in order to compile the bigger picture of God.
In the next Gem we will turn our attention to the aftermath of the encounter with the sons Sceva.
Bridge: The Compulsion of the Spirit and Paul’s Response
Afterward Paul felt compelled by the Spirit to go over to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. “And after that,” he said, “I must go on to Rome!” He sent his two assistants, Timothy and Erastus, ahead to Macedonia while he stayed awhile longer in the province of Asia.Acts 19:21-22
Serious Trouble in Ephesus
About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis. He kept many craftsmen busy. He called them together, along with others employed in similar trades, and addressed them as follows: “Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!” At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the believers wouldn’t let him.
Some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, also sent a message to him, begging him not to risk his life by entering the amphitheater. Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there. The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander forward and told him to explain the situation. He motioned for silence and tried to speak. But when the crowd realized he was a Jew, they started shouting again and kept it up for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
At last the mayor was able to quiet them down enough to speak. “Citizens of Ephesus,” he said. “Everyone knows that Ephesus is the official guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, whose image fell down to us from heaven. Since this is an undeniable fact, you should stay calm and not do anything rash. You have brought these men here, but they have stolen nothing from the temple and have not spoken against our goddess. “If Demetrius and the craftsmen have a case against them, the courts are in session and the officials can hear the case at once. Let them make formal charges. And if there are complaints about other matters, they can be settled in a legal assembly. I am afraid we are in danger of being charged with rioting by the Roman government, since there is no cause for all this commotion. And if Rome demands an explanation, we won’t know what to say.” Then he dismissed them, and they dispersed.Acts 19:23-41
I’d rather have one GOD IDEA than a thousand GOOD IDEAS. Good ideas are good, but God ideas change the course of history!Rick Godwin
Many people not living their dreams because they focus on avoiding their fears.Ian Vail
If we have not given God full, unqualified access to our money, then our hearts are not fully His either.Bayless Conley
The theologian who does not eat with sinners is only a teacher of theology, not a theologian.Richard Pratt
When asked how they managed to stay together for 65 years a woman said, “We were born in a time when if something was broken, you fixed it not threw it away.”Anon