CAN YOU EXPLAIN ACTS 19:13-16?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Dr. Luke penned the following in Acts chapter 19: “ 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.” To the say the least, like many accounts in the Book of Acts, this passage is quite unusual. What is its implication? Why did the Holy Spirit include it in Holy Writ? “For what saith the Scriptures?”
If we start back at verses 11-12, we will see the contrast: “ And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:  So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” During this time of the Acts transitional period, “special miracles” in the Apostle Paul’s ministry are being witnessed. The Holy Spirit is endorsing or authenticating Paul’s apostleship (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:12): what He did with Peter, He is now doing with Paul. Israel should take note of her God working amongst the Gentiles.
Remember the Apostle Peter’s miraculous demonstrations in chapter 5 of Acts: “ And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.  And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.  And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)  Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.  There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.”
In the case of Paul’s healing handkerchiefs or aprons, these were used to heal the sick and cast out devils. Israel’s God, once working with the Little Flock (Israel’s believing remnant), is now working with Paul and the Body of Christ. The Book of Acts is the record of God’s transition from Israel to the Body of Christ, moving from prophecy to mystery. (See our related “Acts” studies linked at the end of this article for more information.) In stark contrast to Paul casting out devils (Acts 19:11-12), the Holy Spirit speaks of vagabond Jews unsuccessfully exorcising unclean spirits (verses 13-16). This documentation further reinforces the concepts of Paul’s apostleship and Israel’s unbelief during the Acts period.
To grasp the thrust of the verses, we run through Acts 19:13-16 again, this time expounding line upon line. Verse 13 once more: “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.” These Jews are “vagabond,” wanderers or drifters. Here is national Israel depicted, apostate and unbelieving, not knowing where they are going doctrinally (or what they are doing spiritually)! Presumptuous, having been audacious in assuming upon themselves some supernatural power over Satan’s evil spirit minions, they attempt to use Paul’s apostolic authority (for they have none themselves). They therefore declare to the devils, “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.”
Move to verse 14: “And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.” These priestly men—plus Sceva (“left-handed,” or weak) their father and leader—should be down in Jerusalem serving at the Temple. Instead, as noted already, they are roaming about near Ephesus (western Turkey). Their failure to uphold sound Bible doctrine proves fatal to their mission, as shown in verse 15: “And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” This evil spirit recognizes Jesus’ authority and Paul’s authority, but rightly sees the sons of Sceva as defenseless. Unsurprisingly, charlatans do not intimidate a devil! Verse 16 informs us: “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.” To say the least, this failed exorcism was most embarrassing! Such a disaster proved these sons of Sceva were nothing but counterfeit miracle-workers (cf. Matthew 7:21-23).
The news of this spread to nearby Ephesus, as verse 17 relates: “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.” Finish the rest of the account: “ And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.  Many of them also which used curious arts [witchcraft/occult/idolatry/philosophy] brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.  So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.” This is actually the start of the church at Ephesus, to which Paul would write the Book of Ephesians many years later. Once these pagans heard how the evil spirit acknowledged Jesus’ power as well as Paul’s apostolic power, but refused to obey the sons of Sceva, these heathen converted to Paul’s ministry. Verse 15 again: “And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?”
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» Could you explain Acts 19:1-7?
» Why does the Book of Acts end so abruptly?
» Can you explain Paul’s ministry during Acts?
» Can you explain Peter and the 11’s ministry from Acts chapters 7 through 15?
» Is Israel “cast away,” or not? Has Israel “fallen,” or not?
» Should we use the word “demons?” Are they the same as devils?
» Why could the disciples not cast out the devil in Matthew 17:14-21?
» Does the Bible teach that mental illness is really devil possession?
» Is faith in Christ alone enough to go to Heaven? Do not the devils believe?