Acts 13 contains a mere nine verses (5-13) which shed light on the first stage of Barnabas and Paul’s first missionary journey across Cyprus. Yet, using Biblical text, ancient excavated locations, archaeological evidence, and local tradition a not only plausible, but a probable sequence of events can be imagined.
The first leg of the journey gave the pair the opportunity not only to hone their missionary and preaching skills, but a chance to engage in spiritual combat against their formidable adversary, Elymas, also known as Barjesus.
During this time, Salamis was the island’s primary port, as well as its main commercial center, certainly a city with a large enough Jewish population to support multiple synagogues.
The Temple of Zeus, the most important of Salamis, dominated the city. There was an amphitheater, a bath complex, gymnasium, agora and all the principal structures of a thriving city of the Roman Empire.
[Acts 13:13-16] “Here they went into the synagogues on the Sabbath and took their seats. After the passages from the law and the prophets had been read the presidents of the synagogue sent them a message….‘Brothers if you would like to address some words of encouragement to the congregation please do so.’ Paul stood up, raised his hand for silence and began to speak”:
“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.” [Acts 13:23]
Then they continued from city to city along the southern coastal Roman road of Cyprus, through Amathus and Kourion, major centers of population. They also passed two of the main pagan cult centers of the eastern Mediterranean, those of Apollo at Kouion and Aphrodite at Paleapaphos and the place where pagans believed Aphrodite was ‘born’ from the foam of Uranus.
When they finally reached Paphos, the seat of the Roman government in Cyprus, they encountered Elymas who actively tried to prevent the pair from meeting the Proconsul, the Roman governor. According to a strong local tradition on the island, Elymas had Saul dragged to the synagogue, tied to a pillar, and whipped.
“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.” [Corinthians 2 11:24]
It was quite common for Roman officials to retain the services of Jewish civic leaders as close personal counselors and advisers throughout the Empire. Elymas, therefore, was almost without doubt an extremely highly placed Jewish official within the local Jewish community.
Though he tried, Elymas (Barjesus) could not stop the Proconsul Sergius Paulus, appointed by the Senate of Rome, from meeting with Barnabas and Paul. The Proconsul, ‘a man of intelligence,’ granted an audience with the two to hear what they had to say. It was during this encounter in the Proconsul’s audience chambers that Saul struck Elymas blind, converted Sergius Paulus to the Faith, and received the name ‘Paul’ never to be called ‘Saul’ again.
From Paphos Paul and Barnabas sailed to Perga in Pamphylia to continue the second leg of their mission.