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.
72 Rick Strelan
crooked the straight paths of the Lordâ€™, and so was â€˜an enemy of all
righteousnessâ€™ (13,10). These two expressions are virtually
synonymous. The straight paths of the Lord lead to righteousness
(compare Ps 23,3); crooked paths, conversely, pervert righteousness. It
is very common for scholars to think that Paul refers in this charge to
Bar Jesusâ€™ magical practices and his financial profit from such
practices. So, on these charges, Barrett says, â€œLuke has no love for
those who have illicit, and probably profitable, dealings with the
supernatural. The magus is roundly cursedâ€ (21). But I suggest his
opposition to the faith (13,8) was more sophisticated and potentially
more dangerous than that. Bar Jesus claims to be teaching the straight
paths of the Lord, but Luke thinks he has made them crooked by his
false understanding of righteousness. The strong language used by
Paul, filled with biblical terms (22), suggests this man is a real threat,
and that is possibly because he is was having influence inside the fold.
By calling Bar Jesus a â€˜son of the devilâ€™ (uiJo;" diabovlou), Luke has
Paul expose the prophet for what he really is. He is the adversary
(diavbolo") who â€˜comes and takes away the word from their hearts,
that they might not believe and be savedâ€™ (Luke 8,12).
The links between false claimants, Satan, deceit, and unright-
eousness, interestingly enough, are also found in Paulâ€™s writings. In
2 Cor 11,13-15, he writes,
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising
themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan
disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants
also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will
correspond to their deeds.
And similar links are found in 2 Thess 2,11-12,
Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them
believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not
believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Bar Jesus in Acts fits the same bill. He is not a â€˜son of Jesusâ€™, as he
is named, but rather is on the side of the opposition. But the adversary
comes to those within like a wolf in sheepâ€™s clothing.. That is why
Luke calls him â€˜falseâ€™ and a magos. Even the non-Septuagintal term,
(21) BARRETT, Acts, I, 617.
(22) For the Septuagintal language used here, see JERVELL, Apostelgeschichte,