John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: November 23

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: November 23

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Sergius Paulus


The dominion which Bar-Jesus had acquired over the mind of the Roman governor of Cyprus, was not so absolute as to shut out all desire for further knowledge. The labors of Saul and Barnabas at Paphos were so active, and produced so marked a sensation in that city, that the report of their proceedings, and of their extraordinary doctrine, soon reached him; and under the influence of that inquisitiveness, that craving for rest, which was last evening described, he sent for them to hear what they might say.

They declared to him the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ: they told him there was pardon for sin, rest for disquiet, certainty for doubt. Before his relaxed and languid state of mind, they set forth the invigorating realities of the spiritual life—of life with God in Christ.

These were indeed strange things. The governor was visibly impressed by them. Perceiving this, the magian put forth all his strength and subtilty in opposition to this teaching, by which he saw that his own influence with Sergius Paulus was sorely imperiled. He spared nothing; and the violence of his invectives, the atrocity of his imputations, and the unscrupulous tortuosity of his arguments, may be judged from the vehemence of indignation which it awakened in the minds of the apostles. It cannot be doubted that he “blasphemed” to the uttermost “that worthy name” through which they had proclaimed salvation; and we know very well that there was nothing which Saul, at least, could less endure than this. He felt that further argument was useless with such a man as this; and that it became him rather to vindicate the power of that Lord whom he had vilified, by invoking His judgment upon one who thus sought the murder of a soul. He felt the Divine Spirit move within him, and warrant the strong utterance to which it impelled him, as, fixing a look stern and terrible on the countenance of the impostor, he said, “O full of all subtilty and mischief, thou child of the Devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season.” And instantly the light wavered in his eyes, and a mist, deepening into thick darkness, shut it out altogether; and he became

Dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon.”

He had not a word more to say. Trembling and abashed, he who had the moment before held up so bold a front against Christ and his commissioned servants, now sought only to withdraw to hide in some obscure corner his burden and his shame; and to that end he blindly groped around in search of some pitying hand to lead him forth.

It is probable that Saul’s own blinding on the way to Damascus suggested to him this form of judgment; and, as in that case, he limited it to “a season,” a merciful restriction which has been too much overlooked, but which suggests the possibility that Bar-Jesus eventually recovered his sight; and we are not precluded from the hope that this correction may have been salutary to him. It is certain that it confirmed the mind of the Roman governor, who having witnessed this signal miracle, “believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.”

Of this personage it remains to notice one curious matter. The title applied to designate the office of Sergius Paulus, in the authorized version, is “deputy,” an indefinite term, probably chosen to avoid a difficulty of which the translators were conscious. In the original Greek, however, the term is the definite one of “proconsul” ( ἀíèύðáôïò ), and the accuracy of this designation, as applied to the Roman governor of Cyprus, has been very strongly called in question on historical grounds. But the result of more exact and searching inquiry has only been, as usual, to establish the minute accuracy of the sacred writer, on evidence not to be shaken.

Augustus, in pursuance of his deep policy of quietly concentrating all real power in his own hands, made a division of the provinces between himself and the senate; according to the latter the quiet and peaceful ones, and retaining for himself those that required the presence of troops. He thus remained entire master of the army; but although the object of this stroke of policy was transparent, it does not seem to have been in any way opposed or censured. The administration of the senatorial provinces was given every year, by the senate, to officers who bore the title of proconsuls; while Augustus placed the other governors, called propraetors, whom he appointed when he liked, and who remained as long as he pleased. Now, we are reminded on the authority of Strabo and Dio Cassius, that in this division of the provinces the island of Cyprus was allotted to the emperor; and it is hence urged that the proper title of Sergius Paulus must have been propraetor, not proconsul, which Luke gives to him, But those who argued this, forget that the division first made underwent many changes. Such a change happened with respect to Cyprus. One of the authorities for the former statement (Dio Cassius) reports that subsequently the emperor exchanged Cyprus, together with Gallia Narbonensis, with the senate for Dalmatia which had before been theirs. In this state the province continued, and the proper title of its governor was that of proconsul, as Dio Cassius himself, indeed, in a further allusion to the subject, affirms. But to this it may be objected, that Dion is speaking of several Roman provinces, one of which was certainly governed by a proconsul; and that, in the absence of other authority, it might be concluded that, for the sake of brevity, he used one term for all, whether properly applied or not. But that Cyprus is not to be excepted, and that the title which Dio Cassius, as well as Luke, employed, really did belong to the Roman Governor of Cyprus, is now most conclusively established by the inscription on a Greek coin belonging to Cyprus itself, and struck in the very age in which Sergius Paulus was governor of the island. It was struck in the reign of Claudius Caesar, whose head and name are on the face of it; and it was in the reign of Claudius Caesar that Saul and Barnabas visited Cyprus. On this coin the same title of proconsul ( ἀíèύðáôïò ) is given to Cominius Proclus which is given by Luke to Sergius Paulus; and the coincidence which it shows is of that description that it is sufficient of itself to establish the authenticity of the work in which the coincidence is found. Note: Our engraving is, with the author’s permission, copied from Numismatic Illustrations of the New Testament, by J.Y. Akerman, F.S.A.: Lond. 1846. Mr. Akerman states that it is “taken from an actual specimen, which, though not in the most perfect preservation, retains sufficient of its type and legend to answer our purpose.” The same writer points to other monumental evidence bearing on the subject, namely: 1. Coins of Augustus and Livia, in which Aulus Plautius is named as proconsul of Cyprus: 2. An inscription of the time of Caligula, which so designates Aquius Scaura; and 3. An inscription of the reign of Claudius or Nero, in which this title is given to Quadratus. It is not beyond hope that a coin giving this title to Sergius Paulus may yet come to light. Lardner (Works, i. 32-34., edit. 1838) seems to have first, in England, called attention to this matter. But he says: “If I have done St. Luke justice in this place, it is chiefly owing to assistance from Cardinal Noris; and I think myself obliged to make a particular acknowledgment of it.” Lardner gives the historical evidence, and he knew of the inscription respecting Aquius Scaura, which is given in Grüter. The subject was afterwards taken up by Bishop Marsh in his Lectures, Part v. Lect. 26, pp. 85, 86, where the numismatic evidence is indicated.

Coin of Cyprus, of the Age of Sergius Paulus