William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Death-blow To Superstition (Acts 19:13-20)

19:13-20 Some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists tried naming the name of Jesus over those who had evil spirits. They said, "I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches." There were seven sons of a certain Scaeva, a Jewish chief priest. who did this. The evil spirit answered them. "Jesus I know and Paul I understand, but who are you?" And the man, in whom the evil spirit was, leaped on them and mastered them all and overpowered them so that they fled naked and battered from that house. This became known to all the Jews and Greeks who lived in Ephesus; and awe fell upon all of them; and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. Many of those who had believed came and confessed their faith and revealed the spells which they had used. Many of those who had practised magic brought then books and burned them in the presence of all. They calculated the value of them and found that it amounted to about L2,500. So the word of the Lord increased mightily and prevailed.

This is a vivid bit of local colour from the Ephesian scene. In those days everyone believed that illness and disease, and especially mental illness, were due to evil spirits who settled in a man. Exorcism was a regular trade. If the exorcist knew the name of a more powerful spirit than that which had taken up residence in the afflicted person, by speaking that name he could overpower the evil spirit and make him depart. There is no reason to disbelieve that these things happened. The human mind is a strange thing and even misguided and superstitious faith has its results in the mercy of God.

When some charlatans tried to use the name of Jesus the most alarming things happened. The result was that many of the quacks, and also many of those who were sincere, saw the error of their ways. Nothing can more definitely show the reality of the change than that in superstition-ridden Ephesus they were willing to burn the books and the charms which were so profitable to them. They are an example to us. They made the cleanest of clean cuts, even though it meant abandoning the things that were their livelihood. It is all too true that many of us hate our sins but either we cannot leave them at all or we do so with a lingering and backward look. There are times when only the clean and final break will suffice.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible