Who was Elymas? And what was he to Sergius Paulus?

Mathew Henry has the following to say about Elymas and his relationship to Sergius Paulus in his commentary on Acts 13:6: “He was hanging on at court, was with the deputy of the country. It does not appear that the deputy called for him, as he did for Barnabas and Saul; but he thrust himself upon him, aiming, no doubt, to make a hand of him, and get money by him.
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Historical Evidence suggests a different Elymas

Ancient Paphos

Actually, historical sources agree that it was quite common for Roman officials to retain the services of Jewish civic leaders as close personal counselors and advisers throughout the Empire. Elymas therefore, was almost without doubt an extremely highly placed individual within the local Jewish community.

And although Elymas is allocated just 162 words in Acts 13 from the time he is first mentioned to the moment Paul strikes him blind and he is led away, there is in fact a lot more which could be said about Barnabas and Paul’s clash with this ‘Jewish Sorcerer’.


Campanopetra Basilica at Salamis
Clonnade at the Proconsul's
Villa Publica in Paphos

There is an extremely strong and deep-rooted tradition in Cyprus, that Paul was taken to the entrance of the local synagogue and tied to a special pillar, where he received 39 lashes as atonement for the ‘intentional sin’ of preaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. This pillar at St Paul’s church in Paphos, once the site of an ancient synagogue, is still visited by countless pilgrims from around the globe to this day and holds a special place in early Christian history, due to its intimate connection with the first missionary journey and its proximity to the location of Paul’s first miracle.

The Pillar of St Paul with St PAul's Church in the BAckground

The fact that Paul being whipped for his faith is not at all an uncommon occurrence, for as he himself says "Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one." [Corinthians 2 11:24], and the exceedingly negative reactions of Jews along the route of his first missionary journey serve to lend more than a little credence to the pillar’s authenticity. Coupled with Cypriot traditions, and the historical view which makes Elymas not only a significant Jewish public figure, but also a close adviser of the Roman Proconsul, it is easy to build a fuller picture of the events which led up to Paul’s first miracle in the Proconsul’s audience chamber.

When Barnabas and Saul arrived in Paphos, they would have gone to the local synagogue, as was their way during the entire journey, and begun to preach the Good News. Their message, which was quite probably received favorably by more than a few members of the congregation, served to outrage the highly placed Elymas, who ordered Saul to be tied to the pillar and given the 39 lashes, perhaps the first of the five mentioned. News of this particular event, along with word about Paul’s message, would have spread through the local community like wildfire, reaching even the ears of Sergius Paulus, the Roman Proconsul.

More than a little intrigued, not only by these developments within his realm, but also by the revolutionary nature of the Christian message, the Proconsul sent for Barnabas and Saul, who arrived closely followed by the irate Elymas. As Saul began to relate the message of Christ to Sergius Paulus, Elymas renounced him, most likely once again accusing him of sinning against Jewish law, and maybe even accusing him of blasphemy in an attempt to draw a punitive response from the Proconsul. Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, turned on Elymas and exclaimed:

"You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery.
Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?
Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.

[Acts 13:10-11]

In an instant, Elymas lost his sight and fumbled around before being led from the chamber by another attendant.

The Proconsul's Audience Chamber at the World Heritage Site in Paphos
The Proconsul's Audience Chamber in the Villa Publica

It is needless to say that the pagan Sergius Paulus was more than a little taken aback by this miracle performed before his very eyes. In fact, so taken aback was he by the Lord’s power, that he converted to the Faith. Furthermore, this, Paul’s first miracle, officially marks the name change from Saul to Paul. Once again, Mathew Henry furbishes us with a major consideration into this particular occasion, when he says “Sergius Paulus himself gave him the name Paulus in token of his favour and respect to him, as Vespasian gave his name Flavius to Josephus the Jew.” On all previous occasions in the New Testament, he had been exclusively referred to as Saul or Saul of Tarsus, but from this miracle in Sergius Paulus’ audience chamber in Paphos onward he is exclusively referred to as Paul.

Acts 13 contains a mere nine verses (5-13) which tell us of the initial stage of Barnabas and Paul’s first missionary journey, yet, one may piece together not only a plausible, but actually a probable sequence of the events which gave the pair the opportunity not only to hone their missionary and preaching skills, but to engage in spiritual combat against the formidable adversary, Elymas the sorcerer.  That conflict spectacularly culminated in Paul’s first recorded miracle and the conversion to the Faith of a high Roman official. One can easily see that by the time they left Paphos for Perga, their journey across Cyprus, which incidentally was Barnabas’ original home, had readied them for the difficulties that lay ahead as they spread the Word across the lands that Christ is Messiah.

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"The proconsul,
an intelligent man,
sent for
Barnabas and Saul because he wanted
to hear
the word of God."

[Acts 13:7]


Entrance to the Ancient Paphos Synagogue
Pillars marking the entrance to the ancient synagogue in Paphos

"Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one."
[Corinthians 2 11:24]


Ceramic Communion Bread
'Jesus Christ Triumphs'
Ceramic Christian Bread
in our Gift Section


Mosaic in the Proconsul's Audience Chamber
Mosaic in the Proconsul's Audience Chamber


Amphitheater at the Paphos World Heritage Site
The Amphitheater at Paphos is still used today


Excavations at the Paphos World Heritage Site
Ongoing Excavations at the World Heritage Site
in Paphos

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