Rick Strelan, «Who Was Bar Jesus (Acts 13,6-12)?», Vol. 85 (2004) 65-81
In Acts 13, Bar Jesus is confronted by Paul and cursed by him. This false prophet is generally thought to have been syncretistic and virtually pagan in his magical practices. This article argues that he was in fact very much within the synagogue and that he had been teaching the ways of the Lord. He was also a threat to the Christian community of Paphos and may even have belonged inside of it. Luke regards him as a serious threat to the faith because of his false teaching about righteousness and the ways of the Lord.
Who Was Bar Jesus (Acts 13,6-12)? 67
foreign, and therefore invalid, source of authority. The term is used in
13,6 is to characterise Bar Jesus as a serious opponent of Paul.
2. A Jew
Bar Jesus is also said to be a Jew (âˆ†Ioudai'o"). Scholars tend to
understand this negatively â€” even as an example of a Lukan anti-
Jewish polemic. So J.T. Sanders claims Luke thinks of Bar Jesus as an
â€œevil Jewâ€ who opposes the mission to the gentiles (8). Barrett includes
the term in â€œeverything that Luke did not likeâ€ (9). Bruce calls him â€œa
renegade Jewâ€ (10) because he is a magos; and Garrett says he is
someone â€œwho by practicing magic commits what Luke regarded as the
worst sort of idolatryâ€ (11). In other words, the man is consistently
portrayed as being completely outside the pale. That, as will be shown,
is questionable, but for now it is sufficient to say that an individual
being â€˜a Jewâ€™ is not always, if ever, viewed negatively by Luke. It is
true that Luke uses the plural â€˜Jewsâ€™ to refer to those who are not
Christian, and he uses it precisely in that way in 13,5 where Paul is said
to be proclaiming the word of God â€˜in the synagogues of the Jewsâ€™.
However, the fact is that on the great majority of occasions in Acts
when Luke identifies an individual as â€˜a Jewâ€™, he does so of a Christian.
Such is the case with Peter (10,28), Timothyâ€™s mother (16,1), Aquila
(18,2), Apollos (18,24), of course with Paul himself (21,39; 22,3), and
possibly also with Alexander (19,34). The only exceptions are Scaeva
(19,14; but even his sons operate with the name of Jesus) and Drusilla,
the wife of Felix, who is quite keen to hear Paul â€˜speak about the faith
in Jesus Christâ€™ (24,24). So I doubt that identifying Bar Jesus as a Jew
is meant at all to be an anti-Jewish depiction. Nor is it meant to cast him
in the outsider category; to the contrary, since Luke commonly uses the
category â€˜a Jewâ€™ of a Christian individual, one could theoretically
understand that Bar Jesus was a Christian. It is possible to think of him
as an â€˜incompleteâ€™ Christian, as indeed was Apollos, a Jew who needed
to be instructed more accurately in the way of God (18,26), and were
the disciples of Acts 19,1-7. In any case, Bar Jesus was a serious threat,
partly because he was so very close to the Jesus movement, and
possibly even had an impact on it.
(8) J.T. SANDERS, The Jews in Luke-Acts (London 1987) 259.
(9) C.K BARRETT, The Acts of the Apostles (Edinburgh 1994) I, 613.
(10) F.F. BRUCE, The Book of the Acts (Grand Rapids, MI 1988) 249.
(11) GARRETT, Demise, 81.