The Seven Sons of Sceva – Part 2

26 Jul

In my previous post on this subject, I was writing about an underlying theme within Luke’s works, both his Gospel and Acts, having to do with confronting the priesthood in the Temple, and in particular the family of Annas (Luke 3:2) with that of Jesus and the New Testament writers. In Acts 19 Luke had been writing about Paul’s third missionary journey when without any introduction or warning of any kind he tells of the failed attempt of seven sons or relatives of a high priest he refers to as Sceva to exorcise a demon or demons from a certain man in a certain house. I have taken the position that the story is a kind of parable which Luke inserts here near the end of Paul’s recorded missionary efforts. This “parable” depicts the failed attempts of Annas (Sceva) and his seven high-priest descendents to:

  • address the evil within Jewry (the man)
  • and the Temple (the house)

Not only so, but they had been overcome by the evil they professed to have fought, depicted by the demon overcoming all or two of the seven descendents of Sceva (Acts 19:16). Whether or not Luke is writing a parable directed at the family of Annas, the context certainly fits the family of Annas and the evil works they had done in Palestine through taking advantage of the authority of their priesthood. Josephus tells us that that they literally stole the tithes which belonged to the other priests who served at the Temple, and some of them literally starved for want of food.[i] This they did using as their servants the sicarii, who were bands of Jewish robbers, to carry out their violent deeds, which were never avenged in the Sanhedrin that these same high priests governed,[ii] Moreover, Josephus, himself, claims this crime was the very reason God brought judgment down upon Jerusalem and the Temple.[iii] These robber/servants of the high priests were probably the very same type of people who colluded with the high priests at Jerusalem in an effort to kill Paul (Acts 23:12-15).

In Luke 16 Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. This is neither a parable nor can it be used as proof of the doctrine of hell. Rather it is a rabbinic story which Jesus changed to suit his purpose, and Luke uses it to lay bare the sins of the family of Annas. Usually, a rabbinic story will name the prominent man rather than the poor one. Jesus reversed it to refer to Lazarus whom he had just raised from the dead. The rabbinic “hope” was not heaven or the Kingdom  of God but the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16:23). The purpose of the rabbinic story was probably to show the illogical hope of a resurrection, which was the type of logic the Sadducees often used (cp. Luke 20:27-33).  Theophilus and  his family would have been Sadducees. Notice the story portrays the rich man as someone who was more righteous than God in that he was more concerned over his brethren than God was (Luke 16:27-30). It is at verse 30 that the rabbinic story is supposed to have ended, the logic being, since God has never sent anyone back from the dead to warn anyone, how can it be shown that there is a resurrection at all? This implied that God was either evil and is not concerned over correcting evil or there is no resurrection. However, Jesus added verse 31, saying if folks don’t hear Moses and the Prophets, neither would they listen to a man, though he returned from the dead, the proof being Lazarus was raised, but these same people wanted to kill both him and Jesus (John 12:10-11).

Returning now to Acts 19 and the seven sons of Sceva,[iv] it is said in the story of the exorcist/priests that they were overcome by the evil they claimed to have power to dispel, and this became known to both Jew and Greek throughout the province of Asia. How did it become known? Paul and company decided to take up an offering for those at Jerusalem, the very priestly believers (cp. Acts 6:7) whose tithes were withheld by the priesthood of Annas (Sceva). Paul wrote to the Corinthians to make ready on the first day of the Weeks (1Corinthians 16:1-8). This was the day in the spring when normal harvesting began in Palestine. It was also the anniversary of our Lord’s resurrection. In fact, knowledge that the priesthood of the seven sons of Annas (Sceva) was overcome by the evil they, in name, attempted to expel spread throughout the province of Asia, Galatia, Macedonia and Achaia, because Paul told them of the need of the priests, some of whom had starved to death, which is pictured above in Lazarus’ hope for the crumbs from the table of the rich man (Jonathan, high priest at the time of Paul’s 3rd missionary journey; or Matthias, high priest at Luke’s publishing of Acts and son of Theophilus–Luke’s addressee) whose table was full of the tithes belonging to the faithful priests who had little power to object for their mistreatment.

There are other comparisons that could be made from both Luke and Acts to show an underlying theme that confronts Theophilus and the priesthood of Annas with their sins, but this should suffice for my purpose at this point in the book of Acts. Let me remind anyone who reads this, that the idea of Luke’s theme and the identity of Theophilus I received through reading Lee Dahn’s blog which can be found HERE on blogspot and HERE on wordpress.

[i] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews; book 20, chapter 9, paragraph 2

[ii] Josephus Antiquities of the Jews, book 20, chapter 8, paragraph 8

[iii] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book 20, chapter 8, paragraph 5-6

[iv] Sceva is from the Latin, meaning left handed and by implication: sinister or evil, which is supposed to describe Annas, the high priest and head of the most renown family of priests in the 1st century CE.


Posted by on July 26, 2011 in Paul's 3rd Missionary Journey


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2 responses to “The Seven Sons of Sceva – Part 2

  1. Ed Bromfield

    July 28, 2011 at 18:01


    Thanks for your comment and explanation for your two blogs. I appreciate your work and agree with much of what I have read so far. I know it has given me a new perspective on the Jewish high priesthood of the 1st century. May the Lord continue to bless your efforts in search for the truth in these matters.


  2. Lee

    July 28, 2011 at 13:02


    I appreciate the attention given to my blog. Some IS reading.

    I noticed that you reference my commentary blog. But you might also find my “Most Excellent Theophilus” blog interesting, which works as a sounding board for my commentary blog:

    Since those blog entries on Sceva, I have written an article for submission to Evangelical Quarterly on Acts 19. The editors thought it far too risky for publication (and it probably needs more editing for coherence), so it will not be published there. But in that article I give heavy weight to the meaning of “Sceva”. I believe Luke is employing the Latin name as a reference to the “untrustworthiness” or “unfaithfulness” of this high/chief priest, as “Sceva” means either “left-handed” (a derogatory trait commonly applied to untrustworthy individuals) or “untrustworthy/unfaithful”. And, if I am right, that Luke is using 1Sam2 as a sub-narrative for his entire portrayal of Annas’ family’s priestly dynasty, then Acts 19.14 might read something like, “And there were of a certain unfaithful/untrustworthy Jewish high priest, seven sons…”, so that “Sceva” is not meant to be a name but a description implicating the priesthood.

    Lee Dahn


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