🔼The name Elymas: Summary
- Unclear, but possibly Wise
- Unclear, but possibly from a word that means "wise", or else some term containing the word אל ('el), which either means God or is a particle of negation or motion.
🔼The name Elymas in the Bible
Elymas is one of two names belonging to a magician and "false Hebrew prophet" also known as Bar-Jesus (Acts 13:8). While at Paphos on Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas get summoned by the local Roman proconsul, whose guest Elymas is giving our heroes a hard time. Paul rebukes him and leaves him temporarily blind for his trouble.
See our article on the name Sergius for a closer look at this story, and its possible meanings.
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Elymas
The author of Acts (probably Luke) states, "But Elymas the magician (for thus his name is translated)...," making it seem that everybody is to understand right off the bat what that means. This particular verb that means to translate is used only one other time in the combined book of Acts and the Lucan Gospel. In Acts 4:36 the author speaks of Barnabas, which, says Luke, translated means Son Of Encouragement. But the name Elymas is a complete mystery and Luke doesn't give a Greek translation. First of all, it's not certain whether Elymas is supposed to translate the word "magician" or else the name Bar-Jesus, or even none of the above. Elymas might be a summary of the man's fame (his figurative name) in the area.
Then, ancient sources insist that the original story never told about a Bar-Jesus but about a Bar-jeus, meaning Son Of Counseling.
And from what language does the name Elymas come? Nobody knows. Most modern commentators will say that Elymas is an Arabic word, meaning Wise, or Sage. But the obvious objection is that, although there are Arabic speakers in the Bible (Acts 2:11), Arabic was not a commonly utilized language in the Acts days. Wouldn't Luke have said something like, "Whose Arabic name was Elymas, meaning so-and-so..".? And why would Elymas have an Arabic name when he was a Hebrew prophet, and why would Luke take the trouble of mentioning this second, Arabic name? The book of Acts was most likely targeted at a Roman congregation, who would have had no special interest in anything Arabic.
Perhaps, as many old-school scholars have proposed, Elymas is a Hebrew name. Perhaps it's a Hellenized form of something like Elimah, or perhaps it's a clean transliteration of a Hebrew name Elimas. In either case, the first part would probably be related to אל (El), the common abbreviation of Elohim:
In names אל ('el) usually refers to אלהים ('elohim), that is Elohim, or God, also known as אלה ('eloah). In English, the words 'God' and 'god' exclusively refer to the deity but in Hebrew the words אל ('l) and אלה ('lh) are far more common and may express approach and negation, acts of wailing and pointing, and may even mean oak or terebinth.
And candidates for the second part would be:
* The verb מעץ (maaz), meaning to be enraged (as proposed by several old-school scholars and as used in the names Ahimaaz and Maaz). Hence Elymas would mean God Of Rage, or possibly God Is Enraged. The trouble with this interpretation is that it doesn't really seem to fit the story, and the letter tsadeh would probably not be transliterated with a Greek sigma.
* The verb מאס (ma'as), meaning to reject or despise. That would give the name Elymas the meaning of God Despises or God Rejects, which would fit the story very well.
* The verb מוש (mush), meaning to depart or remove (see the name Mesha). Thus the name Elymas would mean God Removes. Also not bad.
*And speaking of the name Mesha; in English, this name Mesha covers two versions, or rather two completely different Hebrew names that sound vaguely the same. The name מישע (Mesha) may come from the verb ישע (yasha'), meaning to save, and this is significant because that's also the root of the names Jesus and Joshua (and Elymas' other name is supposed to be Bar-Jesus). The letter mem with which this version of the name Mesha starts may be due to a grammatical form that indicates that the action is ongoing. All this would render the name Elymas the meaning of God Is Saving.
There's a problem, however. The many Eli-names in the New Testament are all (except for Elijah) transliterated with the Greek letter iota and not an epsilon. Elymas has an epsilon. This means that Elymas may have nothing to do with אל, meaning God.
Perhaps the name Elymas is formed from the relatively late Hebrew word אלו, which indicates a kind of conditional Boolean statement: even though, even if. It's used only twice in the Old Testament, in Ecclesiastes 6:6 and Esther 7:4.
Perhaps the author of Acts added his remark on the name Elymas with the purpose of satire. Even though he's called a Son Of Jesus, If Only He [Could] Save.
Other possibilities are that Elymas is a Hellenized version of the Hebrew name Elam (see that name for etymology) and may mean Hidden, Eternity or Young Man. Then it is possible that Elymas came from the place called Elim, which means Big Trees.
But on the other hand, perhaps Bar-Jesus' other name was indeed the Arabic word for sage, and Luke inserted it simply for reference purposes. The reader might want to check the story, and then it's always handy to have all aliases.
In our article on the name Sergius we propose that the duo Sergius and Elymas may have morphed into the paired saints Sergius and Bacchus of Christian folklore.