In Acts 19, there were a few traveling Jews that had heard Paul was removing demons by the name of Jesus, so they attempted to do the same:

"Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.

And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.

And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?

And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified." Acts 19:13-17

However, in Luke 9 (assuming this is the same author), we are told:

"And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.

And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us." Luke 9:49-50

The Jew in Luke 9:49 was casting out demons by the name of Yeshua with success, but the exorcism in Acts 19:13 went wrong. Does anything in these texts explain the difference?

I think the full story isn't told and some details are left out. This is my impression: These traveling exorcists were initially implementing their traditional practices when they realized they were in over their heads. In a desperate attempt they tried to emulate what the disciples have done but these Jewish exorcists had not received the spirit (they weren't born again), so they failed miserably. Even the following phrase they use is a little strange: "I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims". Also, Remember Matthew 7:22? Apparently some can cast out demons in Christ's name even though they don't have the spirit. But then look at Mark 9:29 - there are apparently different types of demons that require different levels of faith (I'm assuming)...apparently they picked the wrong demons to play around with without Christ living within them.

  • Hello Helzgate, thank you. I like this answer. You mentioned Mark 9:29, and I agree that it shows not all demons can easily be removed. But the Jews in Acts were attacked, and I don't understand what they did so bad that would cause these terrible things. The apostles couldn't remove the demons, but they were simply ineffective; and they also hadn't received the spirit at this point because it wasn't given until after Yeshua's resurrection. I'm wondering if John 9:3 might explain what I'm thinking. Anyways, great answer and you've got me thinking which always makes me happy. – anonymouswho Aug 20 '16 at 14:46

The answer, I believe, is contained in the latter passage: Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us. The Apostles complaint, according to one ancient interpretation, was based somewhat on envy:

What therefore is the meaning of his “not walking with us,” or what is the force of the expression? Look then; for I will tell you as well as I can.* The Saviour gave the holy Apostles authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all disease and all sickness among the people. And so they did; nor was the grace given them ineffectual. For they returned with joy, saying; Lord, even the devils are subject to us in Thy name [Luke 10:17]. They imagined, therefore, that leave was given not to any one else but to themselves alone to be invested with the authority which He had granted them. For this reason they draw near, and want to learn, whether others also might exercise it, even though they had not been appointed to the apostleship, nor even to the office of teacher.

Cyril of Alexandria, A Commentary upon the Gospel according to St. Luke, Sermon LV

The Lord, however, is able to see into the hearts of all and clearly understood that the one casting out demons in His name was, in fact, for Him and not against Him - even though he was not numbered as one of the Apostles.

"We must," however, "examine such things carefully," Cyril writes.

He says; for he who is not against you is on your part.” For on the part of us who love Christ, are all who wish to act to His glory, and are crowned by His grace. And this is a law to the churches continuing even to this day. For we honour only those who lift up holy hands, and purely and without fault or blame, in Christ’s name, rebuke unclean spirits, and deliver multitudes from various diseases: for we know that it is Christ Who worketh in them.

For there are verily men, who have not been counted worthy of Christ’s grace, but make the reputation of being saints and honourable an opportunity of gain. Of such one may say, that they are bold and shameless hypocrites, who seize honours for themselves, even though God has not called them thereto; they praise themselves, and imitate the bold doings of the false prophets of old, of whom God said: I have not sent the prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken unto them, yet they prophesied [Jeremiah 23:21]. And so too may He say of these, I have not sanctified them, but they falsely assume the gift for themselves: they have not been counted worthy of My grace, but wickedly seize those things which I bestow on such alone as are worthy to receive them.

Ibid.

The sons of Sceva belong to this latter class described by Cyril. Their motivation was entirely impure. John Chrysostom wrote (4th c.):

So entirely did they do all by way of trade! Observe: vagabond, or, itinerant, Jewish exorcists. And to believe indeed, they had no mind; but by that Name they wished to cast out the demons.

On the contrary, he writes, they had no faith whatsoever in Christ:

Then not the Name does anything, unless it be spoken with faith. (h) See how they used their weapons against themselves! (j) So far were they from thinking Jesus to be anything great: no, they must needs add Paul, as thinking him to be something great. Here one may marvel how it was that the demon did not coöperate with the imposture of the exorcists, but on the contrary exposed them, and laid open their stage-play.

Homily XLI on the Acts of the Apostles

  • 2
    The only exegetical bit of Cyril's theological musings concerns the word 'vagabond' from which he draws a huge, unsubstantiated conclusion. What can we conclude, if anything, from the actual texts? – Schuh Aug 19 '16 at 20:02
  • Thank you @Schuh, I was going to ask why being a traveler was such a terrible thing. And thank you for the edit, that is exactly what I wanted to ask. NonTheologian, thank you for the answer, but nothing about Acts 19 indicates that the Jews were any different than the Jew in Luke 9:49. The Jew in Luke 9:49 knew Yeshua was teaching, and the apostles don't say this man "wasn't numbered among us the apostles", but that he didn't even "follow with us". So what did the Jews in Acts 19 do that was so bad- not only were they unsuccessful- they were attacked? – anonymouswho Aug 20 '16 at 3:56

It is such a good question , and the answers I went through are profound.

I believe that it must also be noted that the authority to cast out devils was given them that believe in Jesus Christ of Nazareth (Mark 16:17). The Sons of Sceva had no relation with Jesus, but only heard what Paul had proclaimed about him. Had they followed Paul through Jesus' instructions, it could be argued that they would not have been saying, "We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth", but by the Christ personal to themselves, because they would have received Him -- Christ in them, and them in Christ.

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