Can Evil Be Made to Destroy Evil?

14 Apr

In Acts 19 Luke related a strange story about a Jewish high priest and his sons—seven in all (Acts 19:13-20). At first glance this strange story seems to place the power of God over against the power of magic, because the result of it all was many who became believers of the Gospel at Ephesus brought their own books of the curious arts, which they had used before they came to the faith, and burned everything as a testimony to their friends and family, who didn’t believe (Acts 19:18-19). However, is this really all about magic not being as powerful as the Gospel?

The short answer is “No! It is not.” Luke gives us a picture of what occurred, but disguises the names of the characters. If Luke addresses his second thesis to Theophilus (Acts 1:1), the son of the high priest, Annas, it would not have been proper for him to openly embarrass the ruler of his people before the world, and then give Theophilus, his son, a copy of Luke’s work. Luke never overtly places the Sadducees in a bad light in either his Gospel narrative or Acts. If Sceva is meant to be Annas, it would be enough that Theophilus would know this. It would not have been necessary for Luke to openly chastise and embarrass the ruling Jewish family before the world.

Luke wrote about an actual occurrence in Ephesus but in the form of a parable. Sceva is not a name of any high priest in Jerusalem. This has led some to conclude that this Jewish high priest and his family practiced paganism at Ephesus, but I don’t believe this is what Luke intends for us to believe. Sceva is probably a Hellenized version of the Latin scaevus meaning “on the left” or “perverse”[1] and by implication: sinister or untrustworthy.

The Annas family at Jerusalem had been trying to stop the spread of the Gospel from the very beginning (Acts 4). They had planted false brethren within the Church (cp. Acts 5) to spy out our liberty (cp. Galatians 2:4), organized a persecution against the Messianic community upon the death of Stephen (Acts 8-9), and was no doubt behind the efforts of a wary Herod Agrippa, when he lifted up his hand against the Apostles in slaying James the brother of John (Acts 12:1-2; cp v.3). None of Annas’ sons held the office of high priest during and after Jesus’ ministry without doing something sinister against the Church. Annas had seven descendents who held the office of the high priesthood at Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed. They are Eleazar [16 – 17 CE], Caiaphas, son-in-law to Annas [18-35 CE], Jonathan [35-36 CE], Theophilus [36-41 CE], Matthias [43-44 CE], Ananus [62 CE], and Matthias, grandson to Annas and son of Theophilus [65-67 CE]. Annas’ son Jonathan held the office of high priest a second time [cir. 52-58 CE]. He was murdered while performing duties of the high priest at the Temple by one of his friends, bribed by Felix the Roman procurator.[2] It seems that Jonathan continually meddled in Felix’s affairs. No doubt Jonathan was trying to get Felix to execute Paul, while he was held prisoner in Caesarea under Felix [57-59 CE], or permit him to be tried by the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem where he could be executed.

The point I believe Luke is making is this: news of Paul’s success in Asia probably reached Jerusalem. The high priest Annas/Jonathan sent two of Annas’ sons to Ephesus to upstage Paul, probably by insinuating all his work in Asia had been done through the power of evil. The ruling party had a doctrine concerning using the power of evil to destroy evil. This is what they had accused Jesus of doing (Matthew 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15). In other words, it was not by the power of God that Jesus and Paul worked their miracles, but through the power of evil. In an effort to expose Paul, these two sons of Annas (Sceva) were overcome by the evil spirits/diseases they intended to heal. By claiming the power of Jesus, as though it were the power of evil, they sought to heal the sick and thereby expose Paul as a minister of evil power.

Simply healing in Jesus name was not forbidden by Jesus, even though the minister of healing was not his follower (cp. Luke 9:49-50). However, what these two sons of Annas (Sceva) were doing was not for good but for sinister purposes. Nevertheless, Luke shows they were “exposed” i.e. fled naked (exposed) before all in that the sickness they sought to overcome actually overcame them. They had to leave Ephesus in shame.

Why should such a thing cause the people of Ephesus to turn from the curious arts (Acts 19:18-19)? The reason is that this strange Jewish doctrine was actually taken from paganism. According to the pantheistic thought, all things are one. Mankind is part of the gods in that we are their shadows. What occurs here is a reflection of what is done by the gods in the heavens whether good or evil. The theory is that if we act out in worship what we desire the gods to do for us, then what is done by the shadows of the gods must have been done first by them; so they are in some way forced to act out in reality what their shadows have already done. In other words, the power of the gods can be used by mankind to destroy the evil work done by these same gods.

This, of course, is a false doctrine, and Jesus said so, showing how it must be false in Matthew 12:26. If the enemy can be made to cast out the enemy then his kingdom cannot stand. The kingdom of evil would have perished long ago, if evil could be used to destroy evil, because honorable men of God would have used such power to destroy the evil they saw in the world, especially within the Kingdom of Israel. However, since evil exists everywhere, this proves the doctrine false.

[1] Collins Latin-English Dictionary; D.A. Kidd, M.A. Professor of Classics, University College of the Gold Coast; 1957; Collins, London and Glasgow.

[2] Josephus; Antiquities of the Jews; 20.7.5

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Posted by on April 14, 2013 in Gospel, Paul's 3rd Missionary Journey


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