Online Bible Commentary
Saul Becomes Paul
Acts 13:6 Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, "O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? 11 And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time." And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord. (NKJV)
The time is A. D. 45 and Saul’s First Missionary Journey has begun. Saul, Barnabas, and Mark are sent out by the church in Antioch to minister to Asia Minor, present day Turkey. Mark, who 22-23 years later would write the gospel that bears his name, was a cousin of Barnabas and was sent to assist Saul and Barnabas in their ministry.
Their first stop on their way to Asia Minor is the Island of Cyprus. They landed at the eastern port city of Salamis and now have ministered their way across the island to the western port, and capital city, Paphos (v. 6a).
In Paphos, they come across a magician, “a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus” (v. 6b). The name Bar-Jesus means son of Jesus or Joshua. However, this man was no child of God. He was spreading falsehoods about Christianity.
Bar-Jesus is counseling “the proconsul, Sergius Paulus” (v. 7a). The proconsel, referred to as “an intelligent man”, was the Roman government’s administrative officer of the island (v. 7b). The proconsul is a seeker of the truth and he seeks out Saul and Barnabas (v. 7c).
Luke now refers to Bar-Jesus as Elymas, which means “wise man”, the Arabic name for the Jewish name Bar-Jesus (v. 8a). Elymas, in front of Saul and Barnabas, is trying to turn the proconsul away from Christianity (v. 8b).
Luke now refers to Saul, for the first time, as Paul. Paul is the Gentile name for the Jewish name Saul (v. 9a). This name change is appropriate as Paul is about to carry the gospel into the Gentile lands of Asia Minor.
Hearing the words of Elymas, Paul is immediately filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 9b). Paul “looked intently” at Elymas and said "O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?” (vv. 9c-10) Thus Paul calls a spade a spade and labels the false prophet as being used by Satan. His directness is refreshing and is needed in our world today.
Paul continues his condemnation of the false prophet by saying: “the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time." (v. 11a) Immediately Elymas is blinded and he stumbles around asking for someone to help him (v. 11b). He who attempted to cause spiritual blindness in another is physically blinded by the Lord. Paul could relate to this as he, himself, was previously blinded by the Lord on the road to Damascus.
Witnessing this miracle, the proconsul becomes a believer (v. 12). His is the first account of a new convert from Paul’s three missionary journeys.
So Saul becomes Paul. This was another change in the evolution of Paul from Christian persecutor to Christian minister. The Lord was continuing to work in Paul to make him His instrument.
This name change could not have been easy for Paul. He had been the Jew of all Jews, the son of a Pharisee and was, likely, even named after King Saul, the first king of Israel. Now he was to be identified as a Gentile, one who is hated by the Jews. Paul’s whole identity has been turned upside down.
When we become Christians our whole identity is also turned upside down. Our want-tos are changed and, often, we no longer fit in with our friends and family. Like Paul, our world is turned upside down, for a time.
At least, unlike Paul, we can keep our name. And we also have a new set of friends, our church friends. The Lord always provides.