Sergius Paulus was the governor of Cyprus during the time of Barnabas and Saul’s evangelistic efforts there cir. 44 CE. Archeologists have discovered a stone in Rome commemorating his being appointed as one of the keepers of the banks and channel of the river Tiber. He was appointed to this office in what would have been 47 CE, sometime after he fulfilled his time as governor of Cyprus. According to Luke, he appears to be a God-fearer who worshiped in the local synagogue in New Paphos on the northwestern coast of Cyprus. When he heard Barnabas and Saul preach in the synagogue, he asked the team to meet with him at his residence and tell him more about the word of God.
Many translations have Luke describing the Roman proconsul as an ‘intelligent’ man; others say he is a man of ‘understanding’ and still others, a ‘prudent’ man. So, how should we see Sergius Paulus? Is Luke telling us he had a brilliant mind and thereby could understand the Gospel? Is he a man who ‘understands’ riddles and such and was there by more able to receive the Gospel? I don’t believe this is what Luke intends for us to believe. Saul’s argument with Bar Jesus has to do with the false prophet making the straight paths of God crooked, which is contrary to what the ministry of John the Baptist was intended to do in the land of the Jews on the continent. The Jewish teachings had become bent toward error, and John came to straighten out men’s ideas that they held about God, so that they might believe Jesus. Notice Saul’s argument in the Amplified version:
(Acts 13:10 AMP) And said, You master in every form of deception and recklessness, unscrupulousness, and wickedness, you son of the devil, you enemy of everything that is upright and good, will you never stop perverting and making crooked the straight paths of the Lord and plotting against His saving purposes? [ Hosea 14:9] – emphasis mine
The tone of Saul’s argument implies he is debating with a ready and well versed opponent in the Scriptures. Why would anyone suppose this was a magician or a sorcerer? What have they to do with the early Messianic movement? Saul’s argument, as shown by the Amplified Bible translators, points to Hosea 14:9, and we are expected to believe that everyone present knows where Saul is going. Notice what the prophet says:
(Hosea 14:9 AMP) Who is wise, that he may understand these things? Prudent, that he may know them? For the ways of the Lord are right and the [uncompromisingly] just shall walk in them, but transgressors shall stumble and fall in them. [Psalms 107:43; Isaiah 26:7; Jeremiah 9:12; Daniel 12:10] – emphasis mine
The point in drawing attention to Saul’s argument is not only to show that Saul expected Bar Jesus to know the scriptures, but also to show that the Greek word Luke used to describe Sergius Paulus as intelligent-understanding-prudent (G4908), depending on the translation one reads, is also used in Hosea 14:9 in the Septuagint (Old Testament version in Greek) to describe the man who would understand and know the way or path of the Lord. Luke is saying that Sergius Paulus could see the difference between what he had been told by the Jew, Elymas-Bar Jesus, and what was preached by Barnabas and Saul in the synagogue in New Paphos. The governor wanted to know more, but when Barnabas and Saul spoke with him at his residence, they were opposed by the false prophet and self-proclaimed disciple of Jesus. Something in what this man preached about Jesus didn’t ring true, and Sergius Paulus was prudent enough to realize the real truth when he heard it from Barnabas and Saul.
So, Luke has the ministry of Saul/Paul among the gentiles begin with the welcoming of a Roman official into the Kingdom of God, just as he leaves off recording Peter’s ministry in Acts with the Roman centurion, Cornelius receiving the Gospel. Moreover, just as there arose a controversy over what Peter had done in Caesarea (cp. Acts 11:1-18), so too a controversy develops over Saul/Paul’s Gospel that he preached before the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus; but more about this in the next few blogs.