Friday, August 09, 2019

Holy hexing

We ordinarily associate hexing people with witchcraft. Ezk 13:17-23 is a classic example. However, here's a Christian example:

6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”

Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand (Acts 13:6-11).

i) Paul curses Elymas with blindness. There may be some caustic irony in that. Since Elymas is a sorcerer, Paul repays him in kind by hexing the hexer! Like Balaam, Elymas may have made his living in part by cursing people his clients paid him neutralize. But now he finds himself on the receiving end of poetic justice.  

ii) It's hard to find a direct parallel to this elsewhere in Scripture. Elijah summoning lightning to incinerate the soldiers (2 Kgs 1:10-12) is somewhat analogous. A closer parallel is the angels blinding the Sodomites (Gen 19:11). 

iii) This raises the question of whether God endowed Paul with the direct power to hex someone. Or is it a case where Paul expects God to back up the pronouncement of judgment? Is this a question of ability or authority? 

iv) This also raises the question of how Paul's action jives with the "love your enemy" ethic. Perhaps, though, that'a a question of whose enemy? Elymas wasn't Paul's enemy in the sense that he was in no position to harm Paul. Rather, by opposing Paul, he was an enemy of the lost. He hindered the Proconsul and his retinue from hearing the Gospel. By hexing Elymas, Paul created an opening for the Gospel.

This incident may also shed light on the interpretation of the judgment miracle that befell Ananaias and Sapphira:

5 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband (Acts 5:1-10).

i) Did Peter, like Paul, hex them? That's less clear. There's nothing in the scene with Ananias to indicate that. But the scene with Sapphira has a twist. Why did Peter predict that she'd suffer the same fate as her husband? Was he naturally assuming that since she was guilty of the same offense, God would strike her dead as well? Or did he have a revelation of God's punitive intentions? Or did Peter cause they to drop dead? 

ii) Suppose, for argument's sake, that a Christian has the ability to hex someone. Are there any circumstances in which he should exercise that ability? If it's wrong to do so, would God override the curse? Put another way, if it succeeds, does that imply divine endorsement–like Elijah and St. Paul? 

iii) Assuming that's ever justifiable, I think it ought to be reserved for cases of extreme provocation–like officious employees at the DMV!


  1. Intriguing observations!

  2. In reference to point iii. It could also be a case that God pronounced judgement, and acted. In that case, Paul, full of the Spirit, is just the messenger.

    We have to be very careful to not reverse cause and effect when God acts. Just because the blindness happened after the pronouncement does not mean the pronouncement caused the blindness. God's decision to act happened before both Paul's pronouncement and the the actual blindness taking effect.

    Because of God's foresight, I am not sure is even coherent to say God endowed Paul with power. That would imply that Paul possessed some portion of God's power, and could use God's power in whatever way he saw fit, but due to God's foresight, God already knew what Paul would do, and the moment he tried to use it for anything God did not will, the power would be gone. In that sense, Paul could never truly possess God's power apart from God's will to act.

    1. I agree that it's problematic to think God gives individuals autonomous supernatural power to use at will.