Miracles vs Magic
And God did uncommon works of power through the hands of Paul, so as even handkerchiefs or aprons from his skin to be brought onto those sick, and the diseases to be released from them, and the evil spirits to go out from them. But certain from the strolling Jews, exorcists, undertook to name the name of the Lord Jesus over those having evil spirits, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.
And there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, doing this. But answering the evil spirit said, I know Jesus, and I comprehend Paul, but who are you? And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, and having overmastered them, he was strong against them, so that having been wounded and naked, they fled out of that house.
And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, those living in Ephesus. And fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many of those who had believed came confessing, and reporting their practices. And many of the ones practicing the curious arts, bringing together the books, burned them before all. And they counted the prices of them, and found it to be fifty thousands of silver. So with might, the Word of the Lord increased and was strong. [LITV]
Were “the group of Jews” the seven sons of Sceva or were they different? (It seems they were priests, but I don’t think they could have been Jewish priests – it doesn’t seem to fit.)
Yes I would have been inclined to agree with you before you brought it up. In my reading I have always assumed this man Sceva to be one of the many practitioners of magic and soothsayers that were prevalent in Ephesus. Ephesus was widely reputed for its trade in magic and the need for exorcisms and protection against evil spirits. They were itinerant magicians and practitioners of black magic who also attempted exorcism. But I have never associated them with the Jewish Priesthood. But because of your question it made me look carefully at the text Luke has written for us.
Lo (not lol) I find: But certain from the strolling Jews, exorcists, undertook to name the name of the Lord Jesus over those having evil spirits, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches. And there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, doing this.
I have never taken that on board and noted this text before.
Here are my findings:
There is division among the experts as to whether Sceva was truly one of the priesthood or not.
There is no record of there being a high priest in Jerusalem by this name, but some scholars note that it was not uncommon for some members of the Zadokite clan to take on an unofficial high-priestly role.
Greek. archiereus. “a chief priest” – This word was normally only used of the High Priest and priestly members of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. But every town with a synagogue had a Sanhedrin of twenty-three members, if there were 120 Jews in the place; of three members, if there were fewer. Sceva was therefore a member of the Sanhedrin at Ephesus.
Chief of the priests – This cannot mean that he was high priest among the Jews, as it is wholly improbable that his sons would be wandering exorcists. But it denotes that he was of the sacerdotal order. He was a Jewish chief priest; a priest of distinction, and had held the office of a ruler. The word “chief priest,” in the New Testament, usually refers to men of the sacerdotal order who were also rulers in the Sanhedrin. (Barnes)
The original Ιουδαιου αρχιερεως, dignifies a Jewish high priest; but it is not probable that any sons, much less seven sons of a Jewish high priest, should be strolling exorcists: it is therefore likely that υἱοι Σκευα τινος ἱερεως, the sons of Skeva, a certain priest, as it stands in Codex Bezae, is the true reading. The whole verse in that MS. reads thus: “Among them there also the sons of Skeva, a priest, who wished to do the same: for they were accustomed to exorcise such persons.” (Clarke)
It does not necessarily follow from the words, that Sceva himself was there, only his seven sons: however, no such name appears in the catalogue of the Jewish high priests, nor is it reasonable to think, that seven sons of an high priest should follow such a vagabond course of life: Beza’s ancient copy only calls him “a priest”; and the Alexandrian copy reads his name, Sceuta, and the Ethiopic version omits it; it is the same with סכואה, and signifies a spectator, or observer. (Gill)
Some Jews were apparently familiar with the magic formula “the Ephesian letters” (Testament of Solomon 7:1-8; 8:11). So it is not surprising to find seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, acting as exorcists. Since the high priest was the only one permitted to utter the “unpronounceable name of God” and enter his presence in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, it makes sense that these brothers would use that title as part of their “hype” (Mastin 1976)
The sons’ syncretistic use of the Name follows the time-honored practice of piling name upon powerful name so as to create incantations strong enough to require spirits to do one’s bidding.
What is clear is that Luke himself uses the term for high priest. The reference is clearly not to the High Priest of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. We are talking about the Jews who were in Ephesus. It is highly likely being in a city like Ephesus so steeped in magic that some of the Jewish priestly community became more syncretistic and learned to incorporate some of the practices of the pagan magical practitioners, much like the Kabbalistic Jews adopted later in looking at mystical ways of interpreting the Tanakh.
Does the name Sceva have a meaning?
Sceva, which means “a yelping little fox” [Jerome On Hebrew Names (CCL 72:149)
Sceva is listed in All the Names of the Bible published by Thomas Nelson 2014 a meaning “mind reader” with no reference to a specific language or the etymology of the term.
“Sceva” is a Latin name; as loosely as Jerusalem Jews used “high priest” for the highest members of the priestly aristocracy, it is likely that Sceva simply appropriated the title for himself, similar to someone else I was asked about. Most prominent Jewish teachers officially condemned magic. Inscriptions and texts testify to other irregularities in Jewish priestly claims outside Palestine. (IVP Background Commentary)
Other scholars recognize Sceva as a Greek name, but nothing more is known of him. There is debate as to whether this story is just a legend or whether it actual happened. Did Sceva really exist or is the name merely a mystical reference to something unknown. Well I think we should take into account that Luke uses the word “certain” normally indicates Luke is talking about a particular person. I would interpret what Luke has written as follows:
But certain from the strolling Jews, exorcists, undertook to name the name of the Lord Jesus over those having evil spirits, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.
And there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, doing this.
There were a certain number of strolling (itinerant) Jewish exorcists, seven of which were the sons of Sceva, a priest from among the 120 in the Sanhedrin at Ephesus. It does not necessarily mean that Sceva himself was a practicing exorcist, just his seven sons.
I think you will agree I have spent enough time on this now. I will stop here as this one question has taken my available time this morning.
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