Cyprus and the Proconsul: Part 3 of 5
by John Lowe
Elymas did all he could to prevent their coming into the governor's house and preaching to him, and the governor from hearing them; and especially from giving heed to, and embracing the doctrines preached by them; which he opposed and argued against, with all the cunning and sophistication he was master of. Saul and Barnabas withstood (resisted) Elymas the sorcerer, just as Jannes and Jambres, the magicians of Egypt withstood Moses. Elymas was aware that if the influence of Saul and Barnabas extended over the proconsul, that he would be seen to be an impostor, and his power would come to an end. His self-interest, therefore, led him to oppose the Gospel. His own popularity was at stake; and since he was ruled by this, he opposed the Gospel of God. The love of popularity and power, and the desire to retain some political influence, is often a strong reason why people oppose the Gospel. Seeing how eagerly the proconsul was drinking in the word, he feared a dismissal. (Compare 2 Timothy 3:8). The position of a soothsayer to a Roman proconsul, even though it could only last a year, was too distinguished and too lucrative to abandon without a struggle.
Seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith
The reports received about their teaching since landing at Salamis had awakened the proconsul’s curiosity and the magician’s fear, and the wish of the latter was to divert the attention of Sergius, so that he would not send for the new teachers. Elymas believed he must turn away the deputy from the new faith, to prevent the influence of the truth from working on his mind; or to prevent his becoming the friend and patron of the Christians. Sergius had not yet accepted the doctrine of the Apostles, though we may presume that both he and Elymas had heard a lot about it.
9 Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him,
Then Saul (who also is called Paul)
“Then Saul, (who is also called Paul)”—this is the last time that this apostle is called “Saul.”Henceforth, he is called by the name by which he is usually known; “Paul.” When, or why, this change occurred in the name, has been a subject on which commentators cannot agree. From the fact that the change in the name is mentioned here first, it would seem probable that it was first used in relation to him at this time. By whom the name was given him, whether he assumed it himself, or whether it was given him by Christians or by Romans—is not indicated. The name is of Roman origin. In the Latin language, the name Paulus signifies little, dwarfish; and some have conjectured that it was given by his parents to denote that he was small when born; others, that it was assumed or conferred in later years because he was little in stature. The name does not have the same significance as the name Saul. Listed below are the reasons were given for changing his name, as well as some of the conjecture surrounding the change:
(1) That this name was first used here; for before this, even after his conversion, he is uniformly called Saul.
(2) That it was given by the Romans, as being a name with which they were more familiar, and one that was more consonant with their language and pronunciation. It was made by the change of a single letter; and probably because the name Paul was common among them, and perhaps, easier to pronounce.
(3) Paul allowed himself to be called by this name, since his commission was chiefly among the Gentiles. It was common for names to undergo changes just as great as this, without our being able to specify any particular cause, when passing from one language to another. Thus, the Hebrew name Jochanan among the Greeks and Latins was Johannes, with the French it is Jean, with the Dutch Hans, and with us John. Likewise, Onias becomes Menelaus; Hillel, Pollio; Jakim, Alcimus; Silas, Silvanus, etc.
(4) He was called by both these names; since he was a Jew by birth, his parents called him Saul, which made it his Jewish name, and by which he went when among the Jews; and since he was a citizen of a Roman city, Tarsus in Cilicia, he went among the Romans, or Gentiles, by the name of Paul, a Roman name; and it was usual with the Jews to be called after this manner, that is, to have one name among the Jews, and another among the Gentiles.
(5) Luke calls the apostle by his Jewish name Saul, while he was among the Jews, and only preached to them; but now that he is ministering the Gospel among the Gentiles, and was about to appear openly to be their apostle, he will be called by his Gentile name Paul from now on.
(6) Though some think his name was changed when he was converted, which was usually the case with Jewish penitents; when a man repented of his sin, he changed his name.
(7) He got his name Paul, or Paulus, from the smallness of his stature and voice, to which he seems to mention, in 2 Corinthians 10:10—“For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.
(8)Saul's future dealings with Gentiles made it desirable that, after the common custom of the Jews of his day, as seen in Peter, Stephen, Mark, Lucius, Jason, Crispus, Justus, Niger, Aquila, Priscilla, Drusilla etc.—he should have a Gentile name, and so, in honor of his illustrious convert, or in memory of his conversion, or at the special request of Sergius Paulus, he took the name of Paul, which in sound was not unlike his Hebrew name.
(9) Some think that Paul had been his Roman name, long before this, but that the conversion of Sergius Paulus, as it were, stereotyped the Roman name as that by which the apostle was to be known from now on.
(10)The idea of Augustine and others, was that he took the name of Paul (Paulus, small) from humility, to indicate that he was "the least" of the apostles.
(11) Chrysostom's asserted that he changed his name at his ordination or consecration.
(12) Paul was a softer word than Saul, and the change may have been made to accommodate Roman ears.
(13) It formed a link between him and the illustrious convert whom he had just made. He was, as it were, claiming a brotherhood with him.
(14) Paul a more pleasing name to the Gentiles, unto whom he was now sent, and with whom he would converse with the most, in the future.
(15) Some have thought that the name was adopted from the proconsul’s, his first convert of distinction, but this is utterly alien to all we know of the character of Paul, with his sole glory being in the cross of Christ
(16) But perhaps he only did what other Jews were in the habit of doing when they went into foreign lands, and chose him a name of some significance (for the Jews were fond of names with a meaning) among those with whom he was about to mix.
(17) St Luke, recognizing that the history of St Paul is now to be his chief theme and that the work for which he was separated was now begun, names the Apostle henceforth only by the name which became most current in the Churches.
Filled with the Holy Ghost
“Filled with the Holy Ghost” suggests that the punishment inflicted on Elymas was dictated to the Apostle by the Spirit, and he knew from the Spirit’s inward prompting that what he said would come to pass. This phrase does not apply to the gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost in general, with which he was always filled, and by which he was qualified for his work as an apostle; but the idea is that he had received from the Spirit, not only a discernment of the wickedness of this man, but of the will of God, to make him at this time a public example of divine wrath and vengeance, for his opposition to the Gospel. The tense of the Greek word rendered “filled” implies a sudden access to spiritual power, which gave him immediate insight into the character, righteous indignation, and foreknowledge of the divine chastisement.
Set his eyes on him
Elymas was standing nearby, almost certainly determined to hear something which he might be able to use to discredit the Apostle. But Paul was aware of his presence, as well as his motivation, because of the insight given him by the Spirit. Paul “Set his eyes on him,” or looked at him intently, from which we may suppose:
1. His look expressed an abhorrence of him, and indignation against him, and in a manner of speaking, threatening him with some stinging judgment to fall upon him.
2. As applied to St. Paul, the phrase may possibly be associated with the defect of vision which remained as the after-effect of the brightness seen on the way to Damascus.
3.The phrase may express the fixed gaze of men with strong powers of sight, just as well, as that of those who suffer from some infirmity.
After this Barnabas sinks into the background. The soul of his great colleague is visible as never before, as he by the lightning gaze of his eye, sees through the dark and tortuous spirit of the sorcerer. What a picture!
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?
And said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief
The sorcerer, who was stricken by Paul with a physical punishment (v. 11) is an example for lawful magistrates how they ought to punish those who wickedly and obstinately hinder the progress of the Gospel.
“O full of all subtlety” refers to his magic arts. The word "subtilty" stands for "deceit and fraud," and implies that he was a charlatan practicing deceit and he knew it: today we might call him a snake oil salesman.