Acts 13:6-17 – The Blinding of Bar-Jesus

Barnabas and Saul arrive at Paphos they are challenged by a “sorcerer and false prophet” named Bar-Jesus, or Bar-Joshua. Bar-Jesus was a counselor for Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul on Cyprus.  Thus Bar-Jesus was a very powerful man in the government His name means “son of the Savior,” but he is also known as Elymas, meaning “Wise” in Arabic.

Sergius Paulus wishes to meet with Saul, but Bar-Jesus opposes this meeting.  Paul is described as “full of the Spirit” as he condemns Bar-Jesus.  Paul accuses him of trickery and deceit, and perverting the ways of the Lord.  Paul then blinds the man, and he had to be led away. This is in itself a rather unique event in the New Testament, but the miracle is also a symbolic act.   There are a number of miracles in the New Testament which are more or less “prophetic acts.”  Jesus heals a blind man in Mark 8:22-26 who begins to see, then sees fully.  This is a picture of the understanding of the disciples at that point in the gospel of Mark.  The result is that the Gentile man who is not a God-Fearer believed and was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

Luke uses the Blinding of Bar-Jesus at this point in Acts to signal a major shift to Gentile mission.  Luke begins to refer to Saul and Paul.  The change occurs in the middle of the conflict with Bar-Jesus.   Likely Saul was always also known as Paul, but it is at this critical part of the story when Luke chooses to change names in the narrative.  This indicates a major shift in the progress of salvation history, from the Jews to the Gentiles.

Luke also switches the order of the names from this point on in the book; up until this event, Barnabas and Saul have traveled together, now Paul and Barnabas will travel on to Antioch.  The only exception is at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, likely because Barnabas took the lead in speaking with James.  On a literary level, Paul is the main human character for the rest of the book; the blinding of Bar-Jesus is the transitional point in the whole book.

Paul and Bar-Jesus are in many ways similar: both were blind and both encounter the truth of the Gospel of Jesus.  As Darrell Bock says, “Elymas is where Paul was years earlier” (Acts, 446).  But Bar-Jesus is radically off-base from the Law.  He is a sorcerer and working for a Roman official.  While Paul condemns this one man for his unfaithfulness, he is also pointing his finger at the whole of the Jewish nation; Paul too was in error concerning the nature of Jesus as the Messiah.

It is critical to note that Bar-Jesus is blind only for a time, not permanently.  So too, Israel is only set aside in the progress of salvation, they are not “cut off forever.”  If this is a symbolic miracle indicating that the Jews are “blinded” to the gospel, it also promises a restoration of the Jewish people in the future.

30 thoughts on “Acts 13:6-17 – The Blinding of Bar-Jesus

  1. 2 points:

    First, it seems like the mission to the Gentiles transitions in the next chapter (14) since it begins with them teaching in the Jewish synagogue “as usual,” and ends with them telling the disciples of the “door opened to the Gentiles.”

    Second, Paul used the Holy Spirit here as a weapon, which is pretty cool, but seems fairly unique to the New Testament. I’m surprised we don’t see charismatic believers using the Holy Spirit to blind abortion doctors or democrats. Jesus blinded Saul, but I can’t think of any other miracles where an ailment was brought upon someone rather than taken away. Help me out.

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    • Yow… the HS as a weapon? That might be a bit over the top. I do think that most (if not all?) the blind receiving site or a person being blinded are “symbolic miracles.”

      There are a few cases like this in the Hebrew Bible, Miriam was struck with leprosy, Jeroboam with a shriveled hand. In both cases they are healed almost immediately. Perhaps that is a better angle to look at this miracle -blinding, a temporary judicial action which will be accompanied by mercy in the future.

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      • I know it’s not really a weapon…My point was that it didn’t seem often miracles with negative results to the receiver were performed for any reason, especially in the N.T., which makes it interesting to me.

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  2. I find it very interesting that the idea of, and physically being blinded is used so many times in the Bible. Just like the examples that you mentioned P. Long, and that it always has a parallel that relates to the Gospel or learning of the news that has begun to be spread. It is the perfect analogy though, because in a sense that is exactly what has happened or how people feel when they do not see something the way others may see it. You feel like you are blind when you cannot see the answer even when it is right there in front of you. I think it is a good way of explaining how Israel has been set aside and that there will come a time when they are the focus again, like you said at the end of the post. “…for a time you will be unable to see…” (13:11). If you bring this back to anyone who does not understand, or is like Israel, it is not that they will never understand, but that for a time, until it is God’s will for them to see, they are going to be in the darkness. But eventually they will see the light and come to an understanding of Christ.

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    • its not just israel thats blinded read the scripture israel is scattered to the ends of the earth we all have abrahams blood but also the seraphim not serpent in the garden thats why we are sinful from birth

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  3. I think that the way Jesus uses the blinding of both Paul and Bar-Jesus is very odd, but effective at the same time. When I think of it; I think along the lines of the blinding being shown as Gods radience being so bright, God protects them from it by blinding them, I feel it shows how the Spirit is so perfect and un seeable that God shields them. Its a far fetched thought but it makes sense when I think about it. I also agree with P.Long and Jessica when its mentioned that God uses examples of blinding all throughout the NT, and also in a way with Moses on Mt. Siani, where he has to shield his eyes because Gods light is too bright. If it were me I would want to look upon God, even if he told me not too, just because I would want to fully be able to experience His presence. Which kind of ties in with what I was saying earlier about God protecting them by blinding them to his light before they became ingulfed with the Spirit.

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  4. Can we USE the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s will, or is it the Holy Spirit who guides us to do his will if we allow him? Or both somehow?
    Paul appears to be prophesying what was to happen to Bar-Jesus in the future, but is it a scenario ‘SOMEWHAT’ like what Jesus said in John 14:13,14,where he tells his disciples that they can ask anything in his name and for the glory of God it will be done(if it does glorify God and is his will)? Although that verse might be taken out of context, but its the sense that if we want God’s will to be done he will empower it/allow it? or is it that Paul was a vessel of the Lord, and like prophets in the past, and through the Holy Spirit in him, he prophesied what God wanted him to say and what was about to happento Bar-Jesus.

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    • “Or both somehow?” I usually hate that answer, but this is probably the same here. It seems to me that if someone tried to “use the power” they would be in for disappointment – perhaps yielding to the Spirit is a better way to put it.

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  5. I agree with your comment that this scene signifies a shift from Jewish ministry to Gentile ministry. Since you have been pointing out all semester how intricately Luke tells the story, down to very specific word choices, I see more of the same here.
    If, in a sense, Peter is the poster boy for God’s ministry to the Jews and likewise Paul to the Gentiles, Luke’s use of the word “motioning” in verse 16 to describe Paul is significant. “Kataseio” is the same word used to describe Peter just verses earlier in Acts 12.17.

    Also, I am curious how similar Paul’s and Bar-Jesus’ experiences were with blindness? Of Paul, the Bible says he could “see nothing,” he was “without sight,” then “there fell from his eyes something like scales.”
    Of Bar-J it says, “mist and darkness fell upon him.” I agree that these stories compare, I am just wondering how closely?

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    • I do not think there is any linguistic connection aside from blindness, the reason for the physical blindness is different in each case. This is a case where there is a thematic similarity, and a fairly consistent one if we include the pair of blind men in the Gospels who receive sight to indicate some sort of spiritual understanding.

      BTW, motioning with the hand is considered what a good orator does before delivering a speech. Luke describes both Peter and Paul as “striking a pose” before speaking since that is what a good speaker does.

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      • In short term

        God wanted to demonstrate to Sergius Paulus that the Kingdom of heaven that Paul came to teach him about was not a matter of talking, but of power that surpasses that of Bar Jesus the sorcery.

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  6. This is a bit off-topic, but the first thing that popped into my head while reading this was the common question to God, “Why do you let bad things happen?” I believe that God has a purpose in everything, and sometimes darkness needs to take place so that someone will see the light. In this case, proconsul believes after witnessing the power of the Spirit. Also, it doesn’t say it, but I wonder if Bar-Jesus had an experience similar to Paul’s. He had to have recognized the power of God with what had happened to him. The more I read Acts, the more I realize how well of a writer Luke is. He just seems to set things up so well specifically here with his ‘Saul’, ‘Paul’ reference and what is being symbolized in this chapter.
    I thought it was interesting that Paul that Bar-Jesus would be blind “for a time”. I wondered if this hinted at his coming to understand the truth. Was this a hint that Bar-Jesus would no longer be blind figuratively and literally?

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    • Do you suppose that Bar-Jesus eventually accepted Jesus as Messiah when the blindness wore off? I suppose that might be true, although I am aware of no Christian tradition this happened. Unlike Paul, he does not appear to be a “faithful” Jewish person in the first place.

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  7. Going off of what Andrew was saying about his question to God, I find myself asking that question as well sometimes “Why do you allow bad things to happen?” Like Andrew stated a lot of time we do need to get through the darkness in order to see the light. This also ties in with what Kimmy was saying about Paul and Bar Jesus and how God’s radiance is so bright that God is, what I guess you could say, shielding them from how radiant he truly is. I do think it is stange that he used blindness to make a point, I mean I would be kind of upset if God wanted to talk to me so he made me blind, but I see the point at the same time. I mean it obviously got his peoples attention, were talking about it now. Overall, God ALL things for a purpose although there are times we dont know why he does some things, he does and that’s all that is important.

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    • It isn’t God that allows bad things to happen it is our choices and sin! We use our power of choice and when the consequences come we then turn and blame God! Really????? Please read Jeremiah 29:11.

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      • What about the story of job, did not God allow Satan to tempt him after declaring that Job feared Him and that he was a righteous man who shunned evil?

        Sometimes God allows Satan to tempt us in order to test our faith 1Peter 1:6-7

        And sometimes God allows evil spirit to punish us if we disobeyi Him 1 Samuel 16:14

        And also if we we reject God and we do not want to listen to Him , He will send an evil spirit to lie to us , so that we believe what is not true and fall to our own destruction.

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  8. I generally think that the way Luke sets up this shift in writing styles to symbolize the change in the redemptive plan of God is brilliant and very poetic. We see in this drastic shift what I consider to be the start of the Church, an organization of believers that no longer put gentiles under Israelites, seeing them as equals in the ekklesia of God. This is a contrast to Jews being the chosen people.

    But I have never noticed the way Luke symbolizes the temporary casting aside of Israel to the temporary blinding of Bar-Jesus. I have never noticed that connection before. It seems as though Luke goes to great lengths to symbolize an important shift. It almost seems hard not to be a MAD theologian.

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  9. I am always amazed at the power of God. The Holy Spirit used Paul to make sure that the proconsul got the good news. Barjesus can be seen as a paralell to the Jews in general as they are as a whole trying to stop the gospel from being preached. Yet, just as BarJesus was blocked from interfering then Jews are still being blocked and set aside for the time being so that people can come to Christ. The Jews are still God’s chosen people and will continue to be so and someday thousands will finaly see the light.

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  10. Okay, well I already commented on this, but it did not post. I guess I will do my best to remember what I said before…
    I like how PLong and Jared both make the connection that the blinding of Bar-Jesus goes along with the setting aside of Israel. I had never seen that connection before and found that very profound. I think there might be a correlation as well when God opens Paul’s eyes physically as He opens his eyes to His new revelation. Luke seems to make a lot of these connections, which makes me think he was an educated writer (as of course he was).

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  11. Adding to what Katelynd and Andrew where talking about. I think that the blinding of Bar-Jesus was needed to show the significane of how we can not be narrow minded. Focusing on one thing can destroy us and have us become closed off to other things. When someone has been doing something for so long and then are asked to do something totally different, that they have already been called not to do, there has to be some hesitation there. The blinding not only opened the eyes to Bar-Jesus, but it alsio gave him the helped he needed to not be so close-minded. But how did they know that they were not doing something against God’s law? I know it was stated in the new testament, but with the risen Christ, how did they that, that law was changing?

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  12. Whenever god does something it’s not for “naught” meaning not for no apparent reason. There’s always a lesson in it. And the person that it happens to is the only one who knows the full truth of the matter. God knows how to knock all of us ” off a donkey” in life to get our attention , whether through (sickness, blindness, death of a near friend or loved one or even an enemy , financially , etc. gods not stupid , we are remember he created us, knows every count of hair on our heads , who are we to question him , we’re dirt! Literally! He said ” I choose who I will bless and curse” it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry god. He is definitely real indeed and deserves the “utmost” respect and reverence possibly given. !!!

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  13. With Paul “full of the Holy Spirit” I can tell you as a minister that when that happens it is the Holy Spirit leading and empowering you to do something he wants done. A sorcerer named Bar-Jesus (meaning son of Jesus) who is practicing witchcraft with miracles produced by demons and who is getting in the way of someone’s hearing and believing the gospel of Christ is getting in the Holy Spirit’s way. The Holy Spirit wants the pro-consul to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. Satan does not. So it looks like a new testament showdown like Elijah had with the false prophets of Baal but no one is killed here. The Holy Spirit does two things for both men to realize that their faith should rest in the power of God and not in the wisdom of men. On the one hand the pro-consul realizes the power of God over the power of Satan and that Paul preached the true gospel to him about Jesus so he could have the opportunity to receive eternal life through Christ. The other was a judgment of power on Bar Jesus or Elymas to put him in the dark for a time so that he can seriously consider the error of his ways and repent before it is too late for him. The Holy Spirit gets the job done through Paul for both men in two different ways through the same miracle as a demonstration of he gospel of Christ.

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  14. I RECEIVE THIS TEACHING AS TRUTH AND AN ENRICHENING MOMENT IN MY WALK RAHMA WORDLYISHLY FOR WHAT PHROPHETIC WIND HAS BEEN BLOWING MY WAY LATELY….thanks for the chance to share……. T.C

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  15. Wonderful blog! Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?

    I’m hping to start my owwn website soon but I’m a ljttle lost on everything.
    Would you advise starting with a free platform like WordPress or goo for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely confused ..
    Any ideas? Thanks a lot!

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    • I like WordPress better than Blogspot. The online tools are great and you get some decent (although basic) analytic info. You can convert your free wordpress site to a paid one pretty easy, that will get rid of the .wordpress. in the URL.

      Glad you enjoy this blog, hopefully you are not a spambot.

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  16. I have greatly enjoyed the teaching behind the story of bar Jesus and Paul and Barnabas. I really have learned a lot and the explanation and the meaning of some names and what they meant. Thank you very much. 2 Timothy 2:2

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