by Matt Slick
The seven sons of Sceva were the sons of a Jewish chief priest (Acts 19:14). When Paul was on his third missionary journey in Ephesus (Acts 19:1), he was performing many miracles (Acts 19:11). There was a chief priest there by the name of Sceva whose sons were apparently either exorcists by practice or were capitalizing on the work Paul was doing. While there handkerchiefs and aprons were carried from Paul to the sick and people were being healed, and evil spirits were being exercised (Acts 19:12). But there were Jewish exorcists who traveled the area, and they were casting out demons in the name of Jesus (Acts 19:13). The seven sons of the high priest Sceva were also doing this, but it didn't go well for them.
Acts 19:15–16, "And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” 16 And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded."
The reason there were assaulted by the evil spirit was because they were not believers in Christ and were not Christians. therefore they did not have the proper authority (John 1:12). They were merely using the name of Jesus as a formula, as a kind of magic spell by which they might cast out demons.
This idea that the "name of Jesus" could be used merely as a formula in which to accomplish certain spiritual gains was also reflected by Simon Magus in Acts 8:18-24.
Acts 8:18–24, "Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.” 24 But Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”"
The error of Simon has come to be known as simony.