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)? 69
period (18). Josephus, for example, reserved the word â€˜prophetâ€™ for the
biblical prophets, and had no hesitation in calling those who in his own
day claimed to be Godâ€™s messengers â€˜false prophetsâ€™ (for example, War
6.5.2). For all that, in Jewish tradition, a prophet claimed to have stood
in the council of the Lord; he is one who claims to reveal the will of
God. Both true and false prophet claimed this status and function. That
the word/will of God and its interpretation was at issue in this Bar Jesus
episode is implied by 13,7 as Sergius Paulus â€œsought to hear the word
of Godâ€. This little sentence is crucial in this episode. It indicates the
point of conflict between Paul and Bar Jesus â€” the understanding of
â€œthe word of Godâ€. Hearing the word of God is important for Luke
(Luke 5,1; Acts 13,44; 15,7) and has blessing attached to it (Luke 8,21;
11,28). It is also characteristic of the prophets of Israel to challenge
their audiences with, â€œHear the word of Godâ€¦â€ (for example, Isa 1,10;
Jer 19,3; Ezek 6,3; Hos 4,1).
Relevant in this context is Deut 18,20-22:
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I
have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other
gods, that same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, â€˜How
may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?â€™ â€” when a
prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to
pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken; the
prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him.
This is particularly relevant because of the link between prophet
and Name. All prophets speak in the name of the Lord, but the false
prophet speaks words that he has not been commanded to speak, and
his word does not come to pass. This is the case of with Bar Jesus. He
claims to speak with the authority of the name of Jesus (as his very
name indicates), but he does not speak what the Lord has commanded.
He perverts it. It is Barnabas and Saul who speak rightly the teaching
of the Lord, and that results in believing (13,12).
It is curious that the term yeudoprofhvth" is used in the Septuagint
almost exclusively in Jeremiah. There, the false prophets are those
who seize Jeremiah for saying that Yahweh will abandon the Temple
(Jer 33,7.8.11 [LXX]). In Jer 27,9 [LXX], the false prophets are linked
with the manteuovmenoi kai; oiJ enupniazomenoi kai; oiJ oiwnismatoi kai;
j v j v
oiJ farmakoiv, not unlike the way Bar Jesus is here linked with the
(18) See J. LEVISON, â€œDid the Spirit Withdraw from Israel? An evaluation of
the earliest Jewish dataâ€, NTS 43 (1997) 35-57.