Acts 19:11-20 English Standard Version (ESV)
11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
Short background today: The Apostle Paul had been in Asia (The Roman province in modern-day Turkey, not what we think of as Asia) for two years, preaching the Gospel. In Acts 19:10 it actually says that all the residents of that province heard the Word. What a ministry.
Verse eleven says God was doing extraordinary miracles through Paul’s hands. Now, I usually use the New King James Version of the Bible for our scriptures, but I decided to use the English Standard Version, today, because of this one verse. The KJV and the NKJVS are interesting translations, because they aren’t English translations of the Greek and Hebrew texts, but rather English translations of the Latin Translations. (And the NKJV translates the KJV to modern English) So they are a translation of a translation. (Of a translation, for NKJV). This doesn’t mean that they are not inspired by God, I still believe they are. You see, God promised to preserve His Word, not the languages. So things change. The King James Version of the Bible translates verse eleven to “And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul”, while the New King James Version translates it to “Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul.”
Why choose the ESV today? Because of the original Greek verses the translation from Latin. In the Greek, there are four words for what we say in one word, as extraordinary, or unusual, οὐ τὰς τυχούσας ὁ. The word τυχούσας (tychousas) means “being ordinary” when used with οὐ (ou) which means “not”. ( τὰς and ὁ are both articles in Greek which mean “the” but wouldn’t be needed in English or Latin translations)
In the Latin Vulgate (the Latin Bible, required to be used by the Catholic Church until 1963) the verse is virtutesque non quaslibet Deus faciebat per manus Pauli, which translates in English to And God wrought no ordinary miracles by the hands of Paul…
So the KJV translators chose to use the word special, and later, the NKJV translators chose unusual.
So, why the big deal about it? Because extraordinary, special, and unusual imply different things about these miracles. Miracles by themselves are extraordinary, but to say that God was working extraordinary miracles is a powerful statement. Special and unusual just don’t cut it. It literally says that a handkerchief of Paul’s was used to heal and exorcise remotely. That is insane. These miracles all led to the Glory of God.
Using His Name In Vain
The Bible calls these exorcists “itinerant”. This means that they were wanderers. Other translations use vagabond instead. They traveled around, exorcising demons. The fact that they so quickly chose to try out the Name of “Jesus whom Paul proclaims” probably means they would try any number of names. They were charlatans. They used the name of their father, Sceva, and that there were seven of them, (the holiest number, also considered the most magical number) to buy some influence.
So they decide to use the Name of Jesus, and the Demon answers them, “I know Jesus and I know Paul, but I don’t know you.” And then he kicks their tails. Beats them and rips their clothes off, so they ran out naked, wounded and embarrassed. They invoked the Name of Jesus without believing in the One who they invoked. This had dire consequences. His Name is powerful, and clearly not to be used lightly.
Exodus 20:7 says You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. That is the Fourth Commandment. Speaking the name of the LORD in vain means saying it without its due reverence. Remember, when you say His name, He answers.
Still, though, His name was magnified, because of this event. The people heard what happened when these charlatans used His name in vain and saw the power of God. They knew the commandments and then saw the power in Jesus’ name. This meant that Jesus told the truth, he truly was God in Flesh.
Take a moment and think about how you treat the name of the LORD. Remember that when you say His name in any context, He listens, and answers. (Parents don’t have to imagine what it’s like to have your children call you a million times for nothing) He deserves our reverence, so let’s show Him that reverence.