Cyprus and the Proconsul: Part 5 of 5
by John Lowe
Several other reasons have been proposed for why the particular punishment of blindness was inflicted upon Elymas. It might have been used to put a forcible interruption upon those observations of the stars and clouds by which the magician pretended to foresee the future. Also, it would reveal to Sergius, Paulus the utter helplessness of the great sorcerer. In any case, there was a moral appropriateness in blindness being the penalty for sin, the idea being that the man was fighting against light.
“Not seeing the sun for a season”—it has been said that this limitation in time is an indication that there was still the possibility of repentance. It was a corrective chastisement. The punishment inflicted on Elymas is lighter than that of Ananias and Sapphira, because in their case the hypocrisy of their conduct would have brought ruin upon the Church—their sin was against greater light and gifts of grace than had been bestowed on the magician of Cyprus. Some say that Elymas repented, and had his sight restored; and after that, he returned to his sorcery, and again greatly opposed Barnabas on the island of Cyprus.
It is impossible to know now how long a time this blindness was to continue, since “for a season” is indeterminate. It was, however, mercifully ordained that the blindness would not be permanent and final; and though it was a punishment, it was at the same time compassionate, for nothing would be more likely to lead him to reflection and repentance than a state of blindness. It was an obvious proof that God was opposed to him, but there was a tradition in the early church that he became a Christian.
And immediately there fell on him a mist and darkness
Some say, as soon as the apostle had said the above words, a dark mist fell upon his eyes, which began the blindness. Others, that the mention of the successive stages, first dimness, then total “darkness,” implies that the withdrawal of his sight was somewhat gradual. At first, the eyes began to cloud over, and as the film increased upon them he became quite blind. “The former seems to be more logical; that the progression happened rapidly.” This was the first miracle which Paul performed, the infliction of a judgment; and that judgment was the same as happened to him when he was arrested by Jesus while on his way to Damascus.
The word “mist” is found only here in the New Testament; but it is a medical term, which is commonly used by eye-doctors to express a darkening and dimming of the eyes by a cataract or other disease.
“Darkness” means blindness, night; like the scales of Acts 9:18—“Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.”
And he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand
This is a striking account of the effect of the miracle. The change was so sudden that he did not know where to go. He tried to find someone to guide him, though he had been familiar with this place before. Elymas, who had selfishly used his knowledge to guide others to his own advantage, now had to seek for others to guide his own steps. The tense of the Greek verb (he was seeking) seems to imply that he sought and did not find. He had no friends to help him, and was left to his fate unpitied. It is likely that he would wish to show as little as possible how exactly the Apostle’s words had come to pass.
He groped about the room, for he was quickly made stone blind, so that he could not guide himself, as the men of Sodom were, when smitten with blindness by the angel; though they groped about for the door of the house till they were weary, they could not find it (Genesis 19:11), which the Jews say, as here, that it was, “a stroke from God.” Blind men need someone to hold them by the hand, and lead them, as did Samson (Judges 16:26), and Saul (Acts 9:8). Striking this man with blindness is a demonstration of the power the apostles were given, for the punishing of offenders: so Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for telling a lie: and the incestuous person was delivered to Satan to undergo a physical punishment for his incest; like Hymenaeus and Alexander were for their blasphemy (Acts 5:5).
How soon can God bring down the pride of man, and make him as helpless as an infant! How easily can He touch our senses, the organs of our most enjoyable pleasures, and wither away all our enjoyments! How dependent are we upon Him for the awesome blessing of sight! And how easily can He annihilate all the sinner's pleasures, break up all his plans, and humble him in the dust! Sight is His gift; and it is a great mercy that He does not overwhelm us in thick darkness, and destroy forever all the pleasure that this organ conveys to the soul.
12 Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.
Then the deputy, when he saw what was done
“Then the deputy,” or proconsul; “when he saw what was done”—a wonderful miracle was performed, generating convincing evidence of God’s power and His servant’s ability to fulfill His will. Elymas was struck with blindness immediately, and the hand of God was unmistakably in it; there was no misrepresenting or magic involved; it was a plain fact, which was certain and visible.
“He believed”in the Lord Jesus Christ, whom the apostle preached, and he was convinced by the miracle and by the words with which it was accompanied that Elymas was an impostor, and that the doctrine of Paul was true. And now he knew that the Apostles were teachers of the ways of the Lord, which he had been seeking in vain to learn from Elymas. There seems no reason to doubt that his faith connected him with eternal life; and if so, it is evidence that the gospel was not always confined to the poor, and to those of the humble ranks of life.
Sergius may have been astonished at the doctrine of the Lord; both at what was contained in it: for there are many astonishing things in the doctrine of faith; such as the birth of Christ to a virgin; the union of the two natures, divine and human, in His person; salvation through His crucifixion and death, and the resurrection of the dead, along with others: and also at the miracles which accompanied this doctrine, and confirmed it.
We cannot conclude positively from this that Sergius was baptized and became an avowed Christian, though the language of the Acts leads us to conclude that (see verse 48; Acts 2:44; Acts 4:4; Acts 8:12, 13; Acts 11:21; Acts 19:18). We are not told that Sergius was baptized, but we have other instances where the mention of baptism is omitted (see Acts 13:48), yet, the door into Christ’s Church was baptism, but omission of the mention of baptism should not be thought to merit believing that the sacrament was neglected on any occasion.
Being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord
“Being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord”—that is, at the validation given to it, and probably also at the internal evidence which he soon discovered in it, and which broke in with increasing luster on his mind. Many of those who came to see Jesus and hear his teaching were also astonished—“And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine” (Matthew 7:28).
The word “doctrine” doesn’t seem to stand for the “teaching” or “instruction” of it, but the wonderful effects which were connected with the doctrine. It was particularly the miracle with which he was “astonished;” but Sergius might also have been deeply impressed and amazed at the purity and sublimity of the truths which were now open and understandable to his mind. There is nothing further in the New Testament concerning this man.
The deputy may have been filled with admiration at the striking of Elymas with blindness, by which he was induced to believe the doctrine of Christ preached by Paul and Barnabas, and though we read of no one else converted at this time in Paphos, yet it is highly probable there were others, and that a foundation of a Gospel church was laid in this place, even though heathenism still continued. The temple of Venus remained here in the "second" century; and in the "fourth" century Venus was still being worshipped there; yet in the beginning of the "fourth" century, in the council of Nice, Cyril, bishop of Paphos, was present; and in the "fifth" century, a bishop of this place was at the synod of Chalcedon: and in the "eighth" century, Michael, bishop of Taphos was present at the Nicene synod. Jerome mentions Hilarion, a well-known servant of Christ, who was at Paphos for a long time in the fourth century, and of the many miraculous cures he produced there; but he does not mention the church, or any of believers in Christ, though it is certain there must be a church at this time.
We are not told what fruit, if any, followed this remarkable conversion, or how long after it the missionaries remained at Paphos.
i having the position of guardian or protector of a person, place, or thing
ii (of family names) derived from the name of a father or ancestor, especially by the addition of a suffix or prefix indicating descent.
iii Either an absolute or supreme ruler; or (in Imperial Rome) an emperor; or (in Republican Rome) a temporary title accorded a victorious general.