Seven Sons of Sceva part 2
by John Lowe
14 And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.
“A Jewish chief priest” is a better rendering than “CHIEF OF THE PRIESTS.” It seems that a man by the name of Sceva, who was a prominent member of the Jewish priesthood, had seven sons. The word “CHIEF” might mean that he was at the head of one of the twenty-four courses (see below) into which the priests of the Temple were divided. This cannot mean, however, that he was high priest among the Jews, since it is entirely improbable that his sons would be wandering exorcists. But it denotes that he was of the sacerdotal order. He was a Jewish chief priest; a priest of distinction, and had held the office of a ruler. The title "chief priest," in the New Testament, usually refers to men of the sacerdotal order who were also rulers in the Sanhedrin. It is highly improbable, however, that one in that position would have participated in this dishonorable calling, and it seems more likely that the title itself was part of the deception. He called himself a chief priest, and that is how Luke described him; but, it does not necessarily follow from the words, that Sceva himself was there, and that all seven were present in the case we are about to examine, but only that all those present were exorcists. The scene is brought vividly before our mind’s eye. The seven exorcists, relying partly, we may believe, upon the respect that their father’s name and title would garner, stand face to face with a demoniac—frenzied, hysterical, and strong like the Gadarene of Matthew 8:28—“When he Jesus arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way.”
The Twenty-Four Priestly Courses
There were twenty-four priestly courses that administered the services in the temple. These are enumerated in 1 Chronicles chapter 24. Each course had a title associated with it. These were the names of the leaders who headed each course in the time of David. Samuel and David were the persons responsible for establishing the twenty-four courses of priests (1 Chronicles 9:22). Originally in the time of Moses the priesthood was confined only to Aaron and his immediate sons. But by the time of Samuel and David, that family had grown to such proportions that they could not all officiate together at one time in the temple. That is why Samuel and David divided the priests into twenty-four separate groups, which were called “orders” or “courses.” The course in which Zechariah served was the eighth, that of Abijah (1 Chronicles 24:10). Josephus, the Jewish historian, was also a priest and he mentioned that he was a member of the first course called that of Jehoiarib.
The original twenty-four priestly families established by David performed their services in the temple until the Babylonians destroyed the sanctuary in the 6th century B.C.E. When the Jews returned to Palestine, they rebuilt the temple, but they discovered that representatives of only four courses of the original twenty-four were still accounted for (Ezra 2:36–39). Something had to be done to restore the twenty-four courses to their ordained service in the temple as commanded by David. Under the authority of Ezra, the remaining four were divided back into the former number. Thus, a new set of twenty-four courses commenced their administrations in the temple. And though these family courses were different from the ones established by David, it was decided that each course was to retain the name of the family which headed each course back in David’s time. The re-establishment of these twenty-four courses was accepted as proper by the New Testament authorities, because John the Baptist’s father was reckoned to be of this new arrangement. The twenty-four elders mentioned in the Book of Revelation also reflected this new arrangement.
15 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
“AND THE EVIL SPIRIT ANSWERED AND SAID”—evil spirits, unlike men, always recognized the power of Jesus and some even knew who He was: “What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matthew 8:29). The ‘seven’ had taken upon themselves to use the name of Jesus, but the result was far-removed from their wishes and intentions. “EVIL SPIRIT” is used for the man whom the spirit inhabited, abused, controlled, and spoke through.
“JESUS I KNOW” (better, “Jesus I acknowledge”)to be the Son of God and Messiah, and I admit that He has the power to dispossess spirits, which He did many times while in human form. The two verbs are different in the Greek, the one (KNOW) implying recognition of authority, the latter (acknowledge), as commonly used, denotes a more familiar acquaintance, though originally it had a stronger meaning. The possessed man, identifying himself with the demon, as the Gadarene did, stood in awe of the Name of Jesus, when uttered by a man like the Apostle Paul; but who were these seven pretenders, that they should usurp authority over him?
These pretend exorcists had no personal relationship with Jesus. To them He was only “Jesus whom Paul preached.” They spoke His name tentatively, as an experiment, and attempted to imitate the apostle. To command “in the name of Jesus” was an appeal to Jesus to glorify His name and exert His power, and so when the speaker had no real faith in the name or the power, there was no answer, because there was really no appeal.
Great Crowds Followed Jesus, “for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’ And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was” (Mark 3:10-12).
“AND PAUL I KNOW” to be a servant of the most high God, by whom miracles of this kind have been created. It seems like everyone knew who Paul was and of his miraculous power to heal the sick and to cast out demons—“so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:12).
“BUT WHO ARE YE?” What power have you over evil spirits? What gives you the right to expel them? The meaning is, "You belong neither to Jesus nor to Paul, and you have no right or authority to attempt to work miracles in the name of either one. You are not the disciples of Jesus, nor the servants of God, but the children of the devil, and have no power over us, but instead are subject to us.
16 And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
Take note of the clear line of demarcation here between “THE EVIL SPIRIT WHICH ANSWERED AND SAID” (19:15), and “THE MAN IN WHOM THE EVIL SPIRIT WAS” (19:16). The reality of such possessions could not be more clearly expressed.
“AND THE MAN IN WHOM THE EVIL SPIRIT WAS LEAPED ON THEM,” by the power of the evil spirit, which by the permission of God acted in him with great agility and force (Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:4; Luke 8:29). Satan still retains his natural power, though he has lost his moral or spiritual power to do any good. We should thank God that his violence can go no further than the bounds which God had set for him—it was not for his lack of trying or the absence of wickedness, but because he lacked the power to do so.
Several similar instances are recorded of the extraordinary power and rage of those who were possessed with evil spirits (Mark 5:3; Mark 9:29; Luke 9:42). Demonic possession brought with it, as in the case of the Gadarene, the unnatural strength of frenzy,
“NAKED AND WOUNDED”—the first word does not necessarily imply anything more than that the outer garment, or cloak, was torn off of them, and that they were left with nothing but the short tunic (Matthew 5:40; John 21:7). The cloak is a loose outer garment, extending from the neck downwards, and commonly without sleeves. It is longer than a cape, and is worn both by men and by women. Whether the sons of Sceva were entirely naked, or merely stripped of their upper clothing, remains an undecided point.
“AND OVERCAME THEM, AND PREVAILED AGAINST THEM,” though they struggled furiously against each other; but it ended when the “possessed man” laid hold on them, and beat and wounded them, and stripped them naked. He tore their clothes to shreds, and their bodies bore the marks of their vicious brawl. Thus we find that one man was more powerful than these seven brothers, which is a proof that he derived his strength from the evil spirit that dwelt in him?
The Alexandrian copy, Beza's most ancient one, and some others, and the Vulgate Latin version read, "and overcame both"; as if only two of these seven sons took part in this attempted exorcism; though the Ethiopic version reads, "and overcame them all"; all the seven sons. Here, then, we have an unusual deviation from the texts of the oldest manuscripts, which read, “both of them,” a reading which seems to preserve for us the information that only two of the seven sons were present on this occasion. There is no objection to the acceptance of this old reading, despite the fact that other words in the verse referring to these brethren are plural, and not dual. Plural verbs and adjectives are not unfrequently used for dual subjects.
Now the seven impostors were demoralized by the violent outbursts of the man’s passionate rage, and they only wanted to get as far away as they could—men of that class being commonly more or less cowards—“SO . . . THEY FLED OUT OF THAT HOUSE NAKED AND WOUNDED”