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)? 73
rJa/diourgiva, used by Luke in Acts 13,10, refers to deceit and chicanery,
and unscrupulous fraud (23), and is indicative of an insider rather than
of an outsider. It is his teaching about the way of the Lord that is
delusional, not his magical powers or pagan syncretism.
Some of the Septuagintal terms used in this condemnation of Bar
Jesus are worth further comment. To pervert (diastrevfein) the right
ways is a feature of false prophets and of false behavior in general
(compare Mic 3,9; Ezek 13,18; Prov 10,9; Ps. Sol. 10,3; Philo, Sob.
10), and this is what Bar Jesus is charged with doing. Scholars often
point to Hos 14,9 (LXX 14,10) and see it as paralleling Paulâ€™s
charge (24). Barrett also notes the parallel but thinks â€œit is unlikely that
the passage is specifically referred to, since Hosea says that the
transgressors shall stumble â€¦ in them (sc. the paths), not that they will
pervert themâ€ (25). But that is an unnecessary distinction. From Lukeâ€™s
perspective, Bar Jesus perverts the straight paths of Yahweh; he does
not walk in Yahwehâ€™s straight paths. This causes him to stumble and so
to grope for someone to lead him by the hand (13,11).
The Hosea 14 passage is worth citing in full,
Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is
discerning (sunetov"), let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are
right (eujqei'ai aiJ oJdoi; tou' kuriou), and the upright (divkaioi) walk in
them, but transgressors stumble in them.
According to Hosea, the righteous (divkaioi) walk the straight
paths. Bar Jesus, however, is an â€˜enemy of all righteousnessâ€™ (ecqro;"
pash" dikaiosunh") because he has made those straight paths crooked
(diastrevfwn ta;" oJdou;" tou' kurivou ta;" eujqeiva"). He belongs to the
sinners and so stumbles. On the other hand, Luke says that the
proconsul Sergius was sunetov", precisely the adjective used by Hosea
of the wise man who follows the straight paths of the Lord. Sergius
Paulus recognised the straight path of the word of God brought by Paul
and Barnabas, and believed (13,12) (26). One might also note the
(23) See BDAG, 902.
(24) For example, G. SCHNEIDER, Die Apostelgeschichte (Freiburg et al 1982)
123, n. 48.
(25) BARRETT, Acts, I, 617.
(26) It is possible to read Sergius Paulus as similar to Cornelius, that is, as a
god-fearer who already belonged to the faith (compare 13,8). In any case, Luke
seems to be following the usual pattern: Paul goes first to the synagogues (13,5),
he meets opposition from Jews, but some god-fearers believe. Jervell thinks the
proconsul belongs to the god fearers (Apostelgeschichte, 346).