Who Was Elymas—Bar Jesus? ~ Part 1

26 Oct

For quite some time I had been looking for a better explanation of what occurred on Cyprus when Barnabas and Saul came there to evangelize the island in the name of Jesus. After all, it is here where Saul changed his name to Paul, and it is here where Mark seems to get upset and leaves the group after they leave the island. Luke is conspicuously silent over the reasons for these seemingly important issues. He states what occurred without commentary and leaves the reader to figure things out through the wording he uses and his placement of the events.

I recently discovered a fascinating scholarly thesis written by Rick Strelan of Queensland University in Australia. Dr. Strelan’s thesis, Who Was Bar Jesus?, has helped me to clarify in my own mind, at least, why Paul changed his name and why Mark left the evangelistic team. It all has to do with how we understand the identity of Elymas, Bar Jesus.

Dr. Strelan argues, and I quite agree, that Bar Jesus saw himself as a disciple of Jesus, and this is how the term, Bar Jesus, should be understood. Jesus, himself, referred to his disciples as his own sons in Mark 9:15, and referred to the disciples of the Pharisees as their sons in Matthew 12:27. It, therefore, should not be a great leap to understand Bar Jesus to mean ‘a disciple of Jesus’. Certainly, it may refer to a son of a person called Jesus or Joshua (Jesus = Joshua; cp Hebrews 4:8 in the KJV), but the New Testament also shows that it is perfectly appropriate to use the term for a disciple of a rabbi or teacher of the scriptures.

Traditionally, it is presumed that Bar Jesus was attached to Sergius Paulus, the governor as an adviser or something similar, but all the text says is that he was **with** the governor. The Greek uses this word for the six men who ‘accompanied’ Peter to the home of Cornelius and again in Luke 24:21 where the two on the way to Emmaus recounted all that occurred concerning Jesus and concluded with ‘beside’ all that—this was the third day since the crucifixion. Therefore, since all Acts 13:7 says about their relationship is that Bar Jesus was **with** the governor, I believe it may mean merely that he was invited to the residence of Sergius Paulus with Barnabas and Saul. I don’t doubt that, as far as the governor was concerned, Bar Jesus was a celebrity figure of sorts. He may have been the ruler of the local synagogue. He may even have been an important visitor from Jerusalem and was invited to the governor’s residence after the synagogue worship service was complete. However, I don’t believe he was the ‘court adviser’ or ‘court astrologer” etc.

Luke refers to Bar Jesus as a ‘false prophet’ in Acts 13:6, and Jesus warned the disciples of the infiltration of false prophets among the disciples (Matthew 7:15; 24:11; 24:24; Mark 13:22). He also recalls how false prophets deceived and led the Jews astray (Luke 6:26), as does Peter in 2Peter 2:1, and Peter says likewise that false teachers would be among the believers and divide the flock into destructive sects (heresy). Finally, in 1John 4:1 we are warned that we must test what we are told, because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Moreover, speaking of these same individuals and referring to them as antichrists, we are told in 1John 2:19 that “they went out from us but were not of us…” Thus, we see that in all of these references the false prophet is someone who had been identified with or identifies himself with the believing community. Therefore, Bar Jesus either considers himself a believer, or is thought by many to be a believer, but he is really a charlatan, a false prophet.

Looking back in Luke’s records, he tells us in Acts 5 about how Ananias and Sapphira had lied about how much they contributed to the poor among the believing community. They were false brethren seeking to attach themselves to the Apostles and the leaders of the Messianic community, and this is known, because God’s judgment upon them curtailed the intentions of the **rest** who wished to join themselves with the Apostles (cp. Acts 5:13). Therefore, Luke shows when these false teachers like ‘Bar Jesus’ began to infiltrate the Messianic community and they were doing it in Jerusalem, probably according to the design of the Jewish authorities there. Notice of their presence comes between the failure of the Jerusalem authorities to keep the Apostles from preaching the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 4:1-6, 21), and the failure of the Annas family of priests to do the same in Acts 5:17 and following. Moreover, just as their first detection by Peter, the Lord’s ‘true teacher’, warranted an example being made of Ananias and Sapphira, so it is when Luke first records Paul’s meeting a false prophet (Acts 13:6); ‘Elymas-Bar Jesus’, must also  be discerned from the true prophet of the Lord.

Luke continues in Acts 13 to identify Bar Jesus as ‘Elymas’ and a magos (G3097), which is translated in most Bibles as a ‘sorcerer’. I have already addressed the term magos in a previous blog, but will address it again and why Luke calls him Elymas in another blog to complete this study of how I believe we should understand the identity of this man.


Related Posts:

Why Did the Outreach Begin in Cyprus?

Who Was Elymas-Bar Jesus – Part 2

How Did Saul Become Paul?


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2 responses to “Who Was Elymas—Bar Jesus? ~ Part 1

  1. Joe

    August 5, 2018 at 23:42

    I don’t think people look at the name bar Elymas right.

    The fact that Elim is a Hebrew word for “gods” going all but ignored, despite the fact that it is so obvious or perhaps because, nevertheless it is common to see non Greek names like Jeso appear in Greek as Jesous as they add an s at the end of names, with a us like Jesus or as like Elias (Eliyahu).

    So it seems obvious that a Jew named bar Elymas in Greek is bar Elim (son of gods) and perhaps even bar Elohim as Greek does not always transliterate H’s, like Ioannes for Yochanan or Ananias for Hananyahu.

    In which case it appears Luke has something to say that he knows he can’t just say, which is probably that Paul is the real false prophet, it is not like he left the most flattering depiction of the man who claimed to be an Apostle of Christ but was never acknowledged as such by an actual Apostle.

    Luke tells the fable of Paul’s conversion 3 times and contradicts his own writing each time by changing the details and attributing the claim to Paul himself.

    Luke records that God chose Peter to be the Apostle to the Gentiles (heathen nations) and places the statement in the mouth of Peter and according to God and Jesus.

    Luke never records the alleged giving of the right hand of friendship and confirmation that Paul was appointed as the sole Apostle to the Gentiles, this claim is not legitimate, as according to Luke, not as friendly with Paul as tradition feigns, records that Paul does not even qualify to be an Apostle because the was not around the Messiah when he taught them.

    Which explains why James cites Abraham to refute Paul’s faith alone not works theory by citing the same example used by Paul but to refute the notion itself.

    How do Christians go on in a religion that regards the teachings of the enemy of the real Apostles, Paul aka Simon Magus aka Aher aka ben Abuya.

    It’s laughable. I was a Christian until I realized that the religion itself is not the religion taught or practiced by the non Trinitarian Nazarenes and Ebionites, the original following of Jesus, James, Peter and the real Apostles but a religion that teaches that God was a man who ate, slept and used the toilet like us, is both begotten (which requires sex) and begets (again… sex, otherwise it’s figurative and not literal).

    Which is not at all what Jesus taught.

  2. Eddie

    August 6, 2018 at 08:42

    Greetings Joe, and thank you for reading my blog-studies and for your interesting comment. I apologize in advance for my lengthy reply, but it is necessary to address your own lengthy comment.

    You may not have realized it, but we had come to a very similar conclusion concerning the name, Elymas, but that is seen in my “part-two” of this study, found HERE. Of course, we didn’t arrive at that conclusion using the same method, but we got there just the same. However, while you are correct that Luke isn’t very forthcoming on certain details, you jumped to the wrong conclusion that Paul is a false prophet. The fact is, not only does Peter embrace Paul’s writings, but he refers to them as scripture in 2Peter 3:15-16.

    You are not alone in thinking Luke contradicts himself in recording Paul’s conversion. However, I believe that understanding is either biased or based upon a very cursory read. I address Luke’s three records in another study entitled: A Contrast of Paul’s Conversion Accounts. Usually, the differences can be accounted for in that in one or two records additional information is supplied. However, the third record **seems** to contradict the first two, in that it is the Lord, not Ananias, that gives Paul his commission, but that isn’t so. Ananias didn’t commission Paul; he healed him, and he proved by telling him of his vision that Paul wasn’t hallucinating. So, Ananias acted as a kind of second witness to the vision, showing it was true.

    Concerning Peter, he was never “the Apostle” to the gentiles. He was sent by Jesus to the Jews only, according to Matthew 10:5. Some may think this statement was made simply for their trial preaching commission just before the death of John the Baptist, but Matthew 10:23 puts this idea to rest, because Jesus mentions they would not have gone over all the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. So, the Twelve were sent to the Jews, period. Luke’s record of Peter going to Cornelius in Acts 10, was not for the sake of the gentiles, but for the sake of the Jews. Peter took a bunch of witnesses with him, because of the vision he had seen on the roof, while waiting for his meal to be ready. The Jews had to understand that the Lord accepted gentiles without their being physically circumcised. Circumcision was a sign to the Jews, only. Jews thought, in order for gentiles to be saved, they had to become Jews through circumcision. After all, the religion of the Jews was the only faith begun by God. Why wouldn’t they think that? Therefore, the Lord chose Peter among the Twelve to show the Jews how the gentiles would be saved.

    Concerning Luke’s opinion of Paul, it appears that your own opinion is a bit tilted in one direction. After all, Luke show’s Paul, at least on the surface, was very successful in his ministry to the gentiles, and he never contradicts that conclusion. He cannot record everything that is said about Paul. After all, his record of Acts is large as it is, and it is about as large as any other large book that was written about that time. It was written in scroll form, not like our hard covers and paper backs today. Not much more could have been added to what he recorded. So, if something isn’t said, that isn’t proof that what was left out isn’t true.

    Concerning James’ opinion of Paul, once again you jump to a conclusion you cannot prove. James never mentions Paul—you do. James is refuting an argument that **belief** in Jesus is all that is needed. Faith is trust. Faith is proved through activity. For example, I remember reading in the newspaper as a child that someone walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls. When he got to the other side, he asked the crowd, if they **believed** he could do it again. Everyone was nodding and agreeing he could, but when he asked for one of them to climb up on his shoulders while he did it, no one dared do it. That’s **belief** and not faith. If one has faith, the works are there, pure and simple.

    Concerning the fact you are no longer a Christian, sorry to hear that, but I think you fell for a bunch of hooey for proof that Christianity isn’t true. Judaism in Jesus’ day was a religion that had many groups of adherents. They all had different doctrines, but all were considered part of Judaism. People today often want to shoot their brother, because he isn’t enough like themselves. I am not a Trinitarian, but I do believe Jesus is God. He says he came out from God, and claimed he came from heaven. In order to do that he had to be either God or an angel, but Hebrews denies he is an angel. Therefore, if Jesus is God and the Father is God, our concept of God must change to agree with the Bible. Moses claimed that the Lord our God is one Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4). The word God is in the plural. However, while that isn’t proof that God is more than one, it does allow for such a concept. In Genesis 2:24 the man and the woman were to become **one** flesh. The same word for “one” is used in Deuteronomy 6:4. The point is, the Hebrew word doesn’t point to a singularity but to multiplicity, like **one** crowd, or **one** bunch of grapes. An in depth study of the issue reveals that the one referred to as the “Angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament is the one who became Jesus in the New Testament, and in most cases he is the God of the Old Testament.

    As far as **sex** is concerned, it isn’t a dirty subject. It was meant to image the creation of God. I brought my family into this world **through** my wife. The Father created the heavens and the earth **through** his Son (cf. Colossians 1:15-16). What God created isn’t dirty, nor is any of it evil.

    Hope this helps.

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