WRESTLING AGAINST Paul at Paphos Acts 13:6-12


PAUL AT PAPHOS                                                        Acts 13:6-12

They travelled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.


  1. Paul’s team travelled from Salamis in the north to the south.
  2. They preached the gospel in the synagogues.
  3. John Mark was there as a helper.
  4. They finally came to Paphos
  5. At Paphos, they happened to meet with a Jewish sorcerer named Bar-Jesus
  6. Bar-Jesus was an attendant to the Roman Proconsul, Sergius Paulus.
  7. Bar-Jesus must have talked with Sergius Paulus about Paul and his message because the proconsul asked to hear Paul’s message.
  8. The proconsul began to respond to Paul as he shared the gospel.
  9. Bar-Jesus disapproved of this and tried to persuade the proconsul to reject what Paul was saying.
  10. Paul confronted Elymas (Bar-Jesus) by looking straight at him.
  11. Paul’s actions were enabled by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in him.
  12. He told Elymas that he was a child of the devil.
  13. He was an enemy of everything that was right.
  14. He was full of deceit and trickery.
  15. He was given over to perverting the right ways of God.
  16. The hand of the Lord was against him.
  17. The sign of this was that he was going to experience temporary blindness such that he would not be able to see the light of the sun.
  18. Immediately a mist of darkness came over him.
  19. He groped around and needed someone to take him by the hand.
  20. The proconsul saw what happened.
  21. He committed to putting his trust in Jesus.
  22. He was amazed at the teaching about Jesus.


The enemy of God’s purpose in the earth is continually ruling, influencing, multiplying darkness and evil. That’s why we need to be always at war – truceless warfare. But in a given situation, like a trip through Cyrus around the year 47-48 AD, there was always going to be a fight. They were invading the synagogues with a message about the Jesus, Israel’s promised Messiah. Their message focused on a different kind of “lord;” not a military/political leader seeking to unseat military power with greater military power but waging warfare against the spiritual powers by dying on a cross.

We know that there had been previous missionary work on Cyprus.[1]Even though the synagogues were a deliberate part of the strategy, something unusual happened in Paphos, where the Roman Governor had his headquarters. They happened to meet a Jewish sorcerer with the dual names of Bar-Jesus (Son of Jesus/Joshua) or Elymas (meaning ‘magician.’). It seems that the magician, like Simon Magus in Samaria,[2] was attracted to Paul’s message. It is probable that it was on the recommendation of Elymas that Paul and Barnabas were invited to share their message with the Roman proconsul for the region.

Paul and Elymas formed some connection before the confrontation described in the text. We might refer to this as a divine appointment. The significance of his relationship with the Roman governor would not have been lost on Paul. We must also assume that Paul was aware of his association with the ‘dark arts.’ Elymas must have told Sergius Paulus about Paul and his message. As a result, the Governor invited Paul to meet with him. There is a strange consistency between this experience and many of those recorded in the gospels. The brazen and almost playful tactics continue until something significant happens. In this case, it was the fact that the Roman official began to take Paul’s message to heart. Then it was ‘battle stations.’

Before we deal with the actual battle that took place, it is important to notice that Paul and Barnabas didn’t show any need to pre-empt what was going to happen. They weren’t afraid or intimidated by anything Elymas was or said up to that point. I can hear some Christian people I know thinking that they should have confronted him before. Didn’t they know he was working for the devil? These are the people who become so preoccupied with what Satan is doing that they lose sight of the what Jesus has done. As we go about our normal daily lives, we don’t go looking for demons or even care much whether they are under a bush or a bed.[3] We live in the covenant state of our salvation. We are sons and daughters of our heavenly Father and servants of Jesus, the king. When that is actively challenged, we need to act. Until it is actively challenged we need to live confidently in the authority, we have in Christ.

Whatever the association between Paul and Elymas, there was no direct opposition until Paul was asked to teach about Jesus in the presence of the Roman governor. If we think about the ‘power encounter’ here, it seems that Elymas’ territory was under threat. Even though he had taken a form of interest in Paul’s ministry, he was far from a genuine seeker. His work as a magician was powered by the dark side. He knew what was going to happen if the governor became a Jesus-follower. His power base and influence would be finished. Notice that it was the proclamation of the gospel that brought on this attack. At that point, he openly resisted Paul’s message by trying to persuade the Roman official not to accept Paul’s message.

When we decide to follow and serve Jesus Christ, there is a shift. We transfer our citizenship from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God. We transfer our loyalty from darkness to light – in Jesus. Right from the beginning of Paul’s new life, this power shift was unmistakable:

‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’[4] When the Roman governor began to listen favourably to Paul, territory that belonged to the enemy was under threat. Like the demons in the presence of Jesus, Elymas knew that the game was up. There was no obvious connection between Paul’s message and the sorcery Elymas had been using to serve the governor; it was self-evident in the heavenly realms. I am not suggesting that Paul or anyone on his team would have had any awareness of this before Elymas opposing the teaching he was giving. But that was the point at which the spiritual landscape became known in the sphere.

It is essential to consider the fact that the proclamation of the gospel turns Elymas from someone showing some form of interest into a direct opponent. If Paul hadn’t proclaimed there gospel to Sergius Paulus, Elymas would almost certainly remained in the neutral corner. Elymas himself wasn’t being drawn by the message. At a point where his influential Roman patron started to connect, Elymas stepped in and tried to thwart the process. Try this story out in your own circumstances, and it will become clear that we hardly ever preach the gospel to anyone. We can be kind, do good deeds, relate to people in a loving way but still not preach the gospel. As a result, all the domains held by the enemy remain operative and hidden. As Paul tells the Ephesians, the gospel is one of the weapons needed to stand against the enemy. If it is not the gospel, there will be no enemy-overcoming power. If it is the gospel, it will lay claim to the territory ruled by the forces of darkness.


Not much is left to the imagination on this occasion. This sort of thing happened on other occasions. During his ministry, Jesus spoke directly to the spiritual powers present in the actions and words of people and elements of nature. I have already mentioned Simon Magus.[5] The same response happened in Philippi when a demonised woman fortune teller followed Paul and called out to him. Without making too much of it, it seems that it isn’t easy for demons to stay quiet when the presence of Jesus is there. HIs presence seems to “flush them out into the open.”

The other thing to notice here is that Paul didn’t try to match Elymas’ objections with stronger counter-arguments. This wasn’t a debate. It was a power encounter. I don’t mean to imply that there will be situations where rational argument should not be offered. As servants of Jesus, we need to develop discernment. Unlike the instance where a demonised fortune teller followed Paul and called out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” [6] or Simon Magus who wanted to pay Peter to teach him how to operate in the power of the Spirit, Elymas was trying to persuade Sergius Paulus not to accept what Paul was saying. If I put myself in that situation, I would have been much more likely to match argument for argument than do what Paul did.

From the evidence in the text, there is little doubt as to where the idea came from for Paul to switch into direct confrontation mode. Luke tells us that this was Holy Spirit overflow. The phrase, “filled with the Spirit” has two applications in the New Testament. It refers to the empowering experience as described in Acts 2 when the disciples waited in obedience to Jesus instructions. Even though they had spent three years watching and learning, they needed empowering. Their commitment to Jesus was life-changing in so many ways, but the experience of the Holy Spirit was an even greater internal transformation. The other way the phrase is used, as here, is to describe something that came about as a result of that empowering. This was a Holy Spirit generated action. It required power from heaven, not just a human choice on the earth.

When Paul talks about the weapons of warfare in Ephesians 6 (and 2 Cor. 10) he identifies seven things that have divine power: truth, righteousness, gospel, faith, salvation, God’s word and prayer. Having searched these matters out from the Scriptures, I am convinced that ‘truth’ is not just having correct doctrine, but where things that are real but unseen are made known. In this instance, Paul lists five things about Elymas that are obvious in the spiritual realm but not easily identified in the earthly one:

  1. He told Elymas that he was a child of the devil.
  2. He was an enemy of everything that was right.
  3. He was full of deceit and trickery.
  4. He was perverting the right ways of God.
  5. The hand of the Lord was against him.

That’s a definite mouthful. If Paul were living in my society, Elymas would have hauled him into court for libel – and then some. As a case study of spiritual weapons, this is what I have come to see as the “belt of truth.” It is spoken directly to Elymas, and it is telling the truth about what is going on, but the target is not Elymas. The target is the rulers, authorities, dark powers and spiritual forces who have captured him. Paul wasn’t trying to win an argument against Elymas. He wasn’t trying to convince Sergius Paulus. He was attacking the real enemy. Truth like this, spoken boldly but without malice has divine power to demolish strongholds. As Paul goes on to say in 2 Corinthians 10, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”[7]  There is no doubt that this is a dramatic incident, but we still need to learn the principle.

If Paul’s pronouncement against Elymas was an example of the spiritual weapon of truth, the other weapons could be summarised as follows:

Righteousness: Paul’s motive was to take steps that would allow the Roman governor to hear the gospel and to show Elymas (and to the governor)what was happening; i.e. an encounter between the powers of darkness and the loving purpose of God, not just an academic debate between two opinions.

Gospel of peace: The full demonstration of God’s power and the teaching Paul gave proclaimed the gospel – and the governor became a believer.

Faith: Paul’s faith is evident when he confronted Elymas in the court of the Roman governor, not only did he expose what was hidden, but he enacted the intervention of God, making him temporarily blind.

Salvation: Paul had the assurance of his relationship with God and carried the authority of a son of God in keeping with his sense of belonging to God’s family by the gift of God in Jesus Christ, not by his achievements as a religious zealot.

Word of God: Paul knew the Scriptures of course. In fact, all of these ways of speaking originate in the Old Testament. My hypothesis concerning this weapon concludes that it is not only a knowledge of what the Bible says but also what God might have to say by the Holy Spirit in a given situation.

Prayer: Again, there is no evidence in the text that tells us that Paul fell on his knees at that precise moment. It would be reasonable to assume from all we know about Paul that he and his companions were constantly in prayer.


As Paul wielded these weapons, powered from heaven, against rulers, authorities, dark powers and spiritual forces two things happened. Elymas was given an opportunity to reflect on what Paul had said as he sat in a world of temporary darkness. His arguments lost credibility with the Roman governor. He was no longer useful and his attempt to dissuade the governor from believing failed. No matter how long he might have served Sergius Paulus and no matter how valuable he might have been his power source had been exposed and identified. The advance of the kingdom is definitely bad for some businesses – e.g. sorcery.

The second outcome was that Rome’s chief representative on the island became a believer. Lack of other information will preclude us from saying what influence this would have had on the cause of the gospel throughout the island of Crete. As I said, there is no way of measuring the impact.  Only a thorough sceptic would suggest otherwise.  All we know is that Paul was able to use weapons that have divine power to demolish strongholds and a few of them were destroyed that day. The New Testament tells us is that Barnabas and Mark went back there at the time of the start of the second missionary journey[8]. The only other reference to Cyprian believers is a man who lived in Caesarea called Mnason. During Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem, he stayed in Mnason’s home. He is described as “an early disciple.” But Christian history records the Christian church flourishing for more than a thousand years. Paul and Barnabas didn’t start that journey, but their ministry indeed laid the foundations.



I would like to be able to give you three examples of how this kind of thing has happened in my own life. I can’t think of a single direct parallel. There have been some occasions where I have confronted threatening circumstances by calling on the authority of Jesus. A man pulled a butcher’s knife out of his coat one night as I came upon him on my way home. I told him to put the knife away in Jesus name. I had to say it three or four times, slowly. I had to do the same thing one night when a gang of young boys from the neighbouring suburb of Sydney wanted to pick a fight with some boys from my suburb. Neither case happened as a result of preaching the gospel – just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Two things challenge me here. The first is the realisation that we need to find ways to proclaim the gospel to deal with what the enemy is doing undercover. It scares me to think how often this might happen. I live in a society where most Christian people hardly ever preach the gospel. We have been intimidated by secular pressure to be almost ashamed of it. I hear Paul telling the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of salvation for everyone who believes.”[9]. We need to re-discover what Paul was talking about. I can also hear Paul saying that the gospel smells like the fragrance of life to some people but to others, the stench of death.[10] We are often too fearful of the latter and therefore never get to experience the former. The bottom line is that I need to get more practice at preaching the gospel everywhere to everyone. That’s what Jesus told us to do, so we need to hear and obey with faith.

The second issue here is the redemptive nature of this. Like so many occasions in the gospels, everyone got the chance to see what was going on and to respond. Paul didn’t hate Elymas. He just helped him come to terms with the full reality of the situation. I am certain Elymas would have had lots of opportunities to consider the message during the temporary darkness. Nor should we miss the massive sense of authority here. In my understanding of the spiritual arsenal, it is the helmet of salvation that represents the authority we have in Christ. We are full grown sons and daughters of our Father’s household. Jesus showed us how to live as a mature Son of his Father. Here is another example. Both the sense of God’s authority and power, as well as the faith to take a stand as Paul did, are goals to pursue. In our intellectual and rational world, this is not an easy space to get to – but get to it we must.

[1]         See Acts 11:19,20. Barnabas was from Cyprus, so this missionary enterprise was to his home region. Ironically, the first Jewish followers of Jesus to consistently fulfil his Commission to preach the gospel to all nations (i.e. Gentiles as well as Jews) came from Cyprus and Cyrene, not Jerusalem and Judea. Clearly, there were followers of Jesus there, but there is no mention of Paul, Barnabas and Mark visiting churches.

[2]         See Acts 8:13-24

[3]         When the activity of demons and the subject of spiritual warfare was first raised in the early years of the Charismatic Renewal – the early 1970’s – some people got so wound up about it that they could hardly enter a room without feeling the need to ‘bind’ every ‘spirit’ that might happen to be there. The sad assumption was that the devil was given more authority and opportunity than he deserved. So we used to talk about these unwarranted extremes as people who “saw demons under every bush and bed.”

[4]         See Acts 26:16-18

[5]         See Acts 8

[6]         See Acts 16:17

[7]         See 2 Corinthians 10:5

[8]         See Acts 15:39

[9]         See Romans 1:16

[10]       See 2 Corinthians 2:16

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About Brian

Passionate follower of Jesus. Member of a family that keeps on growing because I keep on meeting up with more great people from every nation and background who I belong to because of Jesus. Husband of an amazing woman, father of four forgiving kids and eight almost perfect grandkids. And loving it.