In a recent post, Justification by Faith Alone, I had compared these men, the seven sons of “Sceva” in Acts 19, to the priesthood of Annas who served as high priest during the time when Jesus would have been 12 years old (Luke 2:40-52). Annas would probably have been one who had been astonished at Jesus’ understanding as a boy. He had five sons who served as high priests, one son-in-law (Caiaphas) and one grandson who also served as high priest, the final high priest, in fact, before the Jewish war broke out. Josephus said that no other family had so great an honor to have had so many of its own reign from this office.
I have taken the main theme of the identity of these seven sons from Lee T. Dahn’s blog, which can be found HERE on blogspot and HERE at wordpress. This theme probably depends upon the identity of Theophilus, to whom Luke addresses both his Gospel and Acts, being the son of Annas who reigned as high priest during the reign of Caligula the Roman Emperor (37 CE to 41 CE).
Luke seems to present a priestly theme in both his works that would have been directed at and understood by Theophilus, if, indeed, it is the high priest to whom Luke addressed his works. For example, Luke begins with Zachariah, a righteous priest serving in the Temple to whom an angel appeared with a message from God. Theophilus, as a Sadducee, did not believe in angels and his family was far from what could be considered righteous. In fact, the Jewish Talmud condemns the family:
What a plague is thefamily of Simon Boethus; cursed be their lances! What a plague is the family of Ananus; cursed be their hissing of vipers! What a plague is the family of Cantharus; cursed be their pens! What a plague is thefamily of Ismael ben Phabi; cursed be their fists! They are high priests themselves, their sons are treasurers, their sons-in-law are commanders [captains], and their servants strike people with staves [thus verifying the words of Josephus about the servants of Annas] [Talmud, Pesahim 57a].
Theophilus would have been confronted with another angelic visit to Mary and then with a possible memory of his father, Annas, speaking of the twelve year old, Jesus, who had astonished him and other priests with his wisdom about the time of the Passover when Theophilus would have been nearly 20 years old.[i] In fact, Theophilus may have witnessed the event himself. All this would have been in Luke’s first two chapters, before Jesus began his public ministry. Later, Luke told of Jesus healing Jarius’ daughter who was 12 years old, and the woman who had an issue of blood for 12 years, both of which would have pointed to this memory. Add to this the fact that the Baptist, a priest in his own right, did not serve in the Temple where priests are intended to serve, but John served God and preached to the people in the desert regions around Judea, implying the priesthood in the Temple was not fit for their holy office. Again, although Luke didn’t overtly say so, Theophilus would have recognized this underlying point of John’s ministry.
Luke 10 has Jesus sending 70 disciples out into the cities he would visit while on his way to Jerusalem. This would have reminded Theophilus of the Sanhedrin (also having 70 members plus the high priest) of which he was the head at one time. In this chapter Jesus judged those cities (a responsibility of the high priest and the Sanhedrin) in which he spent so much of his ministry, yet they did not repent. It was in Luke’s Gospel, as well, that Jesus told of the parable of the Samaritan (Jesus was accused of being a Samaritan). The Jewish priesthood and the Samaritans had a rivalry stretching back to the times of Nehemiah and Ezra, where Nehemiah cast out one of the sons of the high priest, and he became the high priest of those in Samaria. In the parable both the priest and Levite were ineffective as it pertains to offering aid to the wounded man, which the Law demanded they do. However, the ceremonial Law prohibited contact with the dead or anyone who had an issue from a wound. Therefore, they couldn’t aid him and still perform their Temple duties. Their journey was taking them from Jerusalem, the city of promise and peace to Jericho, the city of the curse. The Samaritan, Jesus by implication, was able to save the man without destroying his ability to complete his life’s calling. This, too, would have been understood by Theophilus.
What does all this have to do with the seven sons of “Sceva” in Acts 19? Well, as I noted above and in my previous blog on this subject, Annas had seven descendents who reigned as high priests at Jerusalem.[ii] They were ineffective in their ministry and were actually overcome by the evil they, in name, endeavored to expel from the Jew and the House (the Temple). Jesus pronounced it a den of robbers during his ministry, and prophesied he would return in judgment against it and destroy both it and the city. There is more to say here and I hope to continue in this idea for one or two more posts. May God help us all to understand his word and how this should impact us today.
[i] The age of Theophilus is based on a source that he was born in 8-9 BCE, but I have not been able to verify the authenticity of this date. If true, this would have made Theophilus 5-6 years older than Jesus.
[ii] This would have been so at the time of the writing of Acts, i.e. Annas’ seven descendents would have reigned as high priests, but not at the time of Paul’s third missionary journey. At this time only 6 had reigned and one reigned in Jerusalem for the second time. That would have been Jonathan. who had originally sent Saul (Paul) to Damascus to arrest believers.