Acts 13:5-12

When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

They traveled 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.

– Acts 13:5-12, New International Version

The Journey Begins

Barnabas and Saul were released and sent out from Antioch to the island of Cyprus. This was the beginning of Paul’s first missionary journey. John Mark, a cousin (Col. 4:10) of Barnabas, was with them. They set sail from the port city of Seleucia. We are not told why they went to Cyprus. We do know that this was the island where Barnabas grew up (Acts 4:36). He knew the people and the customs. Perhaps this was a factor.

The travelers reached the Greek town of Salamis on the east coast of Cyprus and proclaimed the Word of God. According to Bruce (p. 263), Salamis was the seat of government for Eastern Cyprus. The Jewish community in Salamis was large enough to have several synagogues. It was Paul’s practice to go to the Jews first, so they preached in the synagogues. No doubt there were God-fearers in attendance as well.

From Salamis Barnabas and Saul made their way westward through the whole island. Then they went to the city of Paphos on the westward end of Cyprus. In Paul’s day Paphos was the capital of Cyprus. The city was well known for its worship of Venus. New Paphos was 8 miles northwest of Old Paphos. New Paphos was the port of the old city, but it became the larger and more important center.

Bar-Jesus and Sergius Paulus

While in Paphos, Barnabas and Saul encountered a Jewish false prophet and magician by the name of Bar-Jesus. The magician was known also as Elymas. Elymas was with Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus. As proconsul, he ruled the entire island. He summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the Word of God. The proconsul was an intelligent man of understanding who listened with great interest. Elymas tried to turn him away from the faith.

Paul and Barnabas

Now, Luke says that Saul “was also known as Paul.” This is the first time that Luke uses the name Paul with reference to Saul. From this point on, except when Paul gives his own testimony (Acts 22:132614), Luke uses the name Paul. Bruce (p. 264) writes:

The apostle, as a Roman citizen, must have had three names–praenomennomen gentile and cognomen–of which Paullus was his cognomen. It is probably a mere coincidence that Luke should first designate him by his Roman cognomen in a context where another bearer of the same cognomen appears. The apostle’s praenomen and nomen gentile, unfortunately have not been preserved. Had Luke been a Roman, he would no doubt have mentioned them; for him as a Greek, however it sufficed to mention the cognomen.

Filled with the Spirit

Now, Luke says that Paul “filled (plestheis) with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, and said (eipen). The word plestheis is a passive aorist participle. It can be translated “having been filled.” The verb eipen is the main verb, and it is an aorist. This is the same grammatical construction that Luke used in Acts 4:8 concerning Peter.

Sometimes the question is asked, “When was Paul filled with the Spirit?” Ervin (Conversion, p. 35) holds that Paul was filled with the Spirit right after his conversion (Acts 9:17). Therefore, he did not need to be filled again. For him the passive aorist participle refers back to Acts 9:17. However, most scholars hold that Paul, although previously filled with the Spirit, was filled again for this special event. Robertson (p. 181) says that this was “A special influx of power to meet this emergency.” Similarly, Horton (p. 150), states:

A marked evidence of the Holy Spirit’s superintendence of the work of the Church was the way He continued to give fresh fillings to meet new needs and new challenges. The Book of Acts gives [Acts 4:84:3113:9] two examples of such fillings of individuals and one of the whole group at once.

The aorist participle translated “filled” in verse 9 does not fix the exact time when Paul was filled. It could have been just as he spoke, just before he spoke, or sometime earlier. Nevertheless, the context suggests that when Paul saw what Elymas was doing, he was filled with the Spirit for the purpose of dealing with the situation. As a result, he spoke strongly and exposed the wickedness of Elymas. The important point is that Paul was inspired by the Spirit for this purpose.

The Result

Paul condemned Elymas and appealed to him to change his ways. He went on to say that the “hand of the Lord” was upon Elymas and that he would be blind and not see the sun for a time. A mist and a darkness fell upon Elymas, and he was afflicted with this blindness. Luke does not say whether or not Elymas later repented.

There was a different result with Sergius Paulus. When he saw what happened, the proconsul believed. In this case God’s intervention brought him to a place of faith. He was amazed at the teaching of the Lord. The Spirit worked powerfully through Paul to bring the proconsul to Christ. Once again, Luke emphasizes the role of the Sprit in confronting people with the claims of Christ. We can rely on the Spirit to help us as we proclaim the gospel.


Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Ervin, Howard M. Conversion-Initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984.
Ervin, Howard M. These Are Not Drunken As Ye Suppose. Plainfield: Logos International, 1968.
Horton, Stanley M. What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1976.
Rea, John. Bible Handbook on the Holy Spirit. Orlando: Creation House, 1998.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.

© Copyright 2003. GMF.

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