The Book of ACTS
James J. Barker

Lesson 23

Text: ACTS 13:1-13


  1. Acts 13 begins with the church at Antioch sending out missionaries. It was an auspicious occasion, because their first two missionaries were their two leaders -- Paul and Barnabas (13:2, 3).
  2. This was the apostle Paul's first missionary journey. It was during this very important trip that "Barnabas and Saul" (11:30; 12:25; 13:2, 7) soon became "Paul and Barnabas" (13:43, 46, 50; etc.).
  3. Paul and Barnabas had gone to Salamis, on the east coast of the island of Cyprus. After preaching there, they went across the island to Paphos (13:4-6).
  4. It was there in Paphos that they came into conflict with the devil and his messenger, a man by the name of Barjesus, also known as Elymas the sorcerer (13:6-8).
  5. Elymas the sorcerer was a Jew. "Barjesus" means "son of Jesus." But Paul called him a "child of the devil" (13:10).
  6. It is impossible to be both a child of God and a child of the devil, though many people try.



  1. In verse 6, we are introduced to this child of the devil, Elymas the sorcerer (13:6).
  2. The Bible strongly condemns sorcery, witchcraft, astrology, séances, divination, fortune telling, spiritualism, and all occultism. The Bible says these things are an abomination (Deut. 18:10-12).
  3. Sorcery is the work of the devil. Books and movies such as those produced by Walt Disney, and the Harry Potter series, and others, say there are two kinds of witches and wizards: evil ones and good ones.
  4. But the Bible says all witchcraft and sorcery is from the devil.
  5. Revelation 21:8 says, "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."
  6. Revelation 9:20 and 21 says, "And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts."
  7. According to Revelation 9:20 and 21, these terrible sins will characterize the last days: idolatry, devil-worship, murder, sorcery, fornication, and theft.
  8. This wickedness is all over the television now: occultism, devils, witches, vampires, zombies, etc. Hollywood is run by wicked men who are demon-possessed. Many of them have sold their souls to Satan.
  9. In Ephesians 6:11, the apostle Paul says, "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil."
  10. Paul was well aware of the devil and his cunning tricks.
  11. Paul says in II Corinthians 2:11, "Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices."
  12. "Devices" means the devil's evil purposes or designs.
  13. The apostle Paul, "filled with the Holy Ghost" (13:9), recognized that Elymas was a false prophet and a sorcerer, and was aware of his evil purposes. Paul rebuked him, "thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness" (13:10).
  14. Today many people, even some who profess to be Christian, deny the existence of a personal devil. They regard the devil as merely the personification of evil.
  15. But this clearly contradicts the Bible. For example, in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, our Lord did not carry on an extended conversation with a "personification of evil." Luke 4:2 says Jesus was "forty days tempted of the devil." That's a long time to be tempted by a "personification of evil."
  16. Our Lord was talking to the devil himself (cf. Matthew 4:1-11).
  17. The devil is seen all throughout Scripture, from his entrance into the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3, to the end of the book of Revelation, where we are told he will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10).
  18. It has been pointed out that a man who doesn’t believe in a personal devil is being used by the devil, though he may not realize it.
  19. Whatever previous knowledge of the truth Sergius Paulus may have received, it is certain that he had received a great deal of false teaching from this false prophet, Elymas the sorcerer.
  20. The book of Acts is a book of fierce spiritual battles -- conflicts between Spirit-filled men preaching the true Gospel and Satan-inspired men teaching error.
  • In Samaria, the apostles contended with Simon, who had bewitched the people there with his sorceries (Acts 8:9-11).
  • In Philippi, Paul and Silas were grieved by the damsel possessed with a spirit of divination (Acts 16:16-19).
  • And here at Paphos it was Elymas the sorcerer.
  1. Notice the devil did not wait for Paul and Barnabas's missionary movements to gain momentum. He started his attack right at the very beginning of their trip.
  2. Acts 13:8 says, "But Elymas the sorcerer...withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith."
  3. The devil sees to it that his messengers are busy opposing the Gospel wherever and whenever God's messengers are at work. Three words from Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians says it all: “Satan hindered us” (I Thessalonians 2:18).
  4. A preacher once said to Evangelist John R. Rice, "I heard you say the devil was always trying to hinder you. He never bothers me."
  5. John R. Rice said, "If you go out and start winning souls, he will start bothering you!"
  6. Our Lord said in Matthew 13:19, "When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart."
  7. Satan has his "ministers" and they hinder the preaching of the true Gospel (cf. II Cor. 11:13-15).
  8. It is a fact that Satan's ministers are often more zealous than God's ministers!
  9. Satan's ministers are very busy hindering the preaching of the Gospel. Many examples of this can be given, both from Scripture and from the history of Christianity.
  10. Throughout the early years of the United States, God sent great revivals under the fervent Gospel preaching of men like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Charles Finney.
  11. But the devil fought back and raised up false cults and religions like Unitarianism, Spiritualism, Christian Science, Seventh-Day Adventism, the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, and others.
  12. Furthermore, the devil infiltrated most of the churches, seminaries, and Bible schools. The devil slipped in unsaved preachers and professors who did not believe the Bible was the Word of God.
  13. The apostle Paul did not mince words when he rebuked Elymas the sorcerer (13:10). The word “subtilty” denotes “deceit and fraud.”
  14. We need plain preaching like that today. Some Bible critics have complained that the apostle Paul was unduly harsh. They say he should have been a little more charitable to this child of the devil!
  15. People who say that the apostle Paul was unduly harsh should consider our Lord's uncompromising denunciation of the false teachers of His day.
  16. He said to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:33, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?"
  17. Furthermore, let us remember that Paul was "filled with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 13:9). He was not giving his own personal opinion.
  18. Elymas' judicial blindness is a picture of his spiritual blindness (13:11). He was already in spiritual darkness, and now he was forced to stumble along physical darkness. Mercifully, only "for a season."



  1. Our Lord said, "The harvest truly is plenteous" (Matt. 9:37); and, "the fields...are white already to harvest" (John 4:35).
  2. We can be certain that if we go out in the power of the Holy Spirit, like Paul and Barnabas went out in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will find men like Sergius Paulus.
  3. Sergius Paulus "called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God" (13:7).
  4. We have here a vivid picture of spiritual warfare. There are sincere men like Sergius Paulus, who desire to hear the Word of God. And there are wicked men like Elymas the sorcerer, who seek to turn them away from God (13:7, 8).
  5. Sergius Paulus was "the deputy (proconsul, governor) of the country," that is, a high-ranking official of the Roman government (13:7).
  6. Whether Sergius Paulus had any knowledge of the Gospel previous to the coming of Paul and Barnabas we do not know, but verse 7 says he "called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God."
  7. Sergius Paulus was a sincere man inquiring after the truth. Verse 7 says he was "a prudent man." Strong's Concordance says the word translated "prudent" means, "intelligent, having understanding, wise, learned."
  8. Webster's 1828 Dictionary says the word means, "cautious; circumspect; wise."
  9. Like the Ethiopian eunuch, and the apostle Paul, and Cornelius, and Lydia, and the Philippian jailer, and all the other converts we read about in the book of Acts, undoubtedly the Holy Spirit had done a preparatory work in this man’s heart (cf. Acts 16:14).



  1. We have hear a fascinating contrast: light for Paulus, and darkness for Elymas (13:9-13).
  2. Some people think Sergius Paulus was astonished at the judgment upon Elymas the sorcerer, and that is how he was converted to Christ. But that is not what the Bible says.
  3. "Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord" (13:12). It is Bible doctrine (teaching) that God uses.
  4. "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).
  5. When we read about these wonderful conversions in the book of Acts, we often overlook some of the historical details. When we consider the dark background, the conversions seem even more remarkable.
  6. Paul and Barnabas and John Mark were bringing the Gospel to heathen towns and cities, where the people were blinded by idolatry.
  7. Paphos (13:6) was a wicked pagan city. It was called the City of Aphrodite (aka Venus). There was in Paphos an ancient temple erected to the worship of Venus, the goddess of love and sensuality.
  8. John Phillips wrote this about Paphos: "The worship of Venus was carried on with total depravity and dissolution...The foul religion of Aphrodite dominated life at Paphos. Every woman of Cyprus was expected to submit herself, at least once in her life, to the filthy service of the temple. She had to take her place on the temple steps and offer herself in prostitution to any passing sailor or merchant" (Exploring Acts).
  9. Sensuality is one of the most deadening of sins, and the devil had the people in Paphos in bondage to gross sensuality.
  10. May I add that the USA is rapidly heading in that direction!
  11. William Ward Ayer said, "Gross participation in the lusts of the flesh soon deadens every finer sensibility; not only is the body steeped in degeneracy, but the soul itself is drugged and stupefied to the finer things of life, and therefore comparatively senseless to the Gospel" (Seven Saved Sinners, Or How God Saves Men).



Pastor Ayer wrote that back in 1937, when he was the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan. He went on to say, "The Bible reveals that where sensuality has prevailed for a long while, the only thing that can cure it is a severe judgment from God. Witness Babylon—witness Nineveh—witness Sodom and Gomorrah. How long God will withhold His judging hand on our own civilization, especially our own country with its nudity, its lewdness, its licentiousness and sin, no one can prophesy; but we can declare that God will not withhold His judging hand forever. Our theatres, our motion pictures, our magazines, our books, and pictures, are all catering to this sensuousness. It disgusts me when I hear New Yorkers boast about the glory of Times Square and the lights of Broadway. Don’t boast; hang your head in shame, for the world has probably not produced, anywhere, another such cesspool of sensuousness and sin as that which can be found on Broadway at Forty Second Street and its environment. A sensitive, spiritual soul can almost smell the devil as he walks through that territory. Yes, a sensuous age is an age in which the devil thrives, because he finds men and women mentally and morally depleted and spiritually deadened, and they become an easy prey of his wiles."

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