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Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the Proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, "O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time." And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord. - Acts 13:6-12
Notice the following evidence that demonstrates the historical accuracy of this account:
(This is summarized from Bible and Spade, fall, 2016, "Cypriots, Sorcerers, and Sergius," Rob Sullivan, www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2016/05/31/Cypriots-Sorcerers-and-Sergius.aspx; see also The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible by Holden and Geisler, pp 351-353.)
"One of the most remarkable tokens of (Luke's) accuracy is his sure familiarity with the proper titles of all the notable persons who are mentioned ... Cyprus, for example, which was an imperial province until 22 BC, became a senatorial province in that year, and was therefore governed no longer by an imperial legate (a Propraetor) but by a Proconsul. And so, when Paul and Barnabas arrived in Cyprus about AD 47, it was the Proconsul Sergius Paulus whom they met..." (F.F. Bruce)
Luigi Palma di Cesnola, who later became the first curator of New York's Metropolitan Museum, led an archaeological dig near ancient Paphos on Cyprus in 1877. He located the following inscription from the first century:
"Apollonius...consecrated this enclosure and monument ... on the 25th of the month Demarchexusius in the 13th year [of the reign of Claudius]. He also altered the senate by means of assessors during the time of the Proconsul Paulus."
The 13th year of the reign of Claudius would be 54 AD. So this confirms that a man named Paulus served as proconsul in Paphos around the time that Paul and Barnabas visited there.
Pliny the Elder lived from 23-79 AD. His work Natural History served like a Roman encyclopedia. He discusses Cyprus at length and twice cites among his sources "Sergius Paulus."
Pliny also describes the prominence of magicians in Cyprus: "There existed different groups of magicians ... And in fact many thousands yearly follow after Zoroastrian ways especially during recent times on the Island of Cyprus."
An inscription displayed in the Yalvac Museum in Turkey was
found near Pisidian Antioch. It contains the word "Paulii" and portions of "Sergii."
Though this was not found on Cyprus, it is probable that the family of Sergius
Paulus had an estate in this area. The inscription may be seen here:
Although the Bible was written primarily to reveal spiritual teaching, it is written in a historical background. When it discusses past events, it is intended to be an accurate historical record. It describes real events involving real people in real places. When people dismiss Bible accounts as myth or legend, they demonstrate that they do not really believe the Bible to be inspired by God.
Sullivan summarizes: "Luke pays remarkable attention to detail and has yet to be proven incorrect in any facet of his work ... Luke references 32 countries, 54 cities, and 9 islands. Every one of these has now been located archaeologically with certainty, with the possible exception of [one]."
Sir William Ramsay placed "the author of Acts among the historians of the first rank ... a great historian" (St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, pp. 11,17).
When people criticize the Bible as being historically inaccurate and unreliable, they demonstrate, not just a lack of faith in the Bible, but also a lack of knowledge of the facts.
A book may be historically accurate and yet not be from God. It may not even claim to be inspired. But if a book claims to be inspired by an infallible God, then we would expect it to be accurate when it touches on historical events.
The evidence on which we base our faith that the Bible is true is the eyewitness testimony that it contains regarding the prophecies, miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This evidence is the basis of our confidence the Bible is from God.
What historical accuracy does accomplish is that it confirms and reassures our faith, and it demonstrates the error of those who claim the Bible is simply myth or legend but not history.
Sergius Paulus believed on the basis of the miracle that Paul did. We too can believe and receive eternal life.
John 20:30,31 - And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
Do you believe? Have you dedicated your life to Christ and received forgiveness through His blood?
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2017
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.