Bible References: Acts 8:4-25
Heart of the Story: Simon the sorcerer wanted to increase his magic abilities and power by laying hands in people and having them filled with the Holy Spirit.
Back Story: When the first major persecution of the new Christian church occurred in Jerusalem, many Christians left Jerusalem and the province of Judea. The scattered believers preached the gospel wherever they went. Philip, the evangelist, went to Samaria where he expelled evil spirits from individuals and healed paralytics and cripples. The crowds saw Philips miraculous signs and believed in Christ.
Story Line: Simon practiced sorcery in Samaria; he boasted that he was someone great. People, great and small, gave Simon their attention followed him amazed at his magic. Some Samaritans said that Simon was the Great Power, referring to Simon as God himself.
When Philip proclaimed the good news of Christ, many Samaritans believed in Christ. These believers were baptized into the name of Jesus; however, the Holy Spirit did not manifest in the Samaritans when they were baptized. Simon believed and was baptized (Acts 8:13). Afterward Simon followed Philip everywhere Philip went. He was amazed by the great signs and miracles Philip was able to perform.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that many in Samaria accepted Christ and were baptized, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. Peter and John laid their hands on the new believers and they received the Holy Spirit. Luke did not record how the Holy Spirit was manifest in these Samaritans; however, it was most likely the same way Jerusalem believers received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost: through a flame of fire over their head and the ability to speak in foreign languages.
When Simon Magus saw Peter and John give baptized believers the Holy Spirit by laying hands on them, he offered Peter and John money. He wanted the same ability to lay hands on believers and transfer the Holy Spirit to them.
Offended by Simon’s belief that he could buy the gift of God, Peter said to Simon, “May your money perish with you” (Acts 8: 30 NIV). Peter went on to tell Simon that because his heart wasn’t right with God, Simon could have no part or share in the ministry of Christ. Peter urged Simon to repent so God would forgive him for thinking he could buy the ability to give the Holy Spirit to people. Insightfully Peter told Simon Magus that he was full of bitterness and captive to sin.
Hearing Peter’s words Simon pleaded with Peter to pray that nothing Peter said would happen to him. Notice that Simon Magus did not himself pray that God would forgive his sin. Acts and other books of the New Testament give no clue to Simon Magus’ actions or outcome following this dialogue between him and Peter.
Pondering Relationships: Simon Magus had a high level of self-esteem and confidence in his own abilities. He called himself and allowed others in Samaria to call him the Great Power. In reality, he as a charlatan, a fake, who knew how to perform magic actions. Probably, he worked through illusions or was in league with a dark power, e.g., Satan or a demon, who gave him power.
When Simon saw Philip healing and casting out devils, he followed Philip. To get into Philip’s good side and possibly inner circle, Simon declared himself a convert to Christianity. Simon watched Philip closely to see if he could learn Philip’s secrets of healing. Were the cripples really healed by Philip or did Philip plant them in the crowds to demonstrate miraculous healing? Did Philip give these crippled individuals a secret drink, e.g., some type of adrenaline compound, so that they could walk at least temporarily?
Of all people, Simon knew that magic wasn’t real. Just like he used illusion and ploys to cause miraculous actions, Philip had to use magic or secret art. And, who in the world was this Christ that Philip kept referring to? Not for a minute did Simon think that a man the Roman’s crucified came back to life. Say what you will about the Romans, they knew how to kill a man.
The problem was that Simon could not figure out how Philip performed the miracles. To make matters worse, two other men from Philip’s magic guild came to town: Peter and John. Supposedly these two were part of the inner circle of Christ, the guy who the Roman’s crucified and came back to life.
When Simon asked Peter and John if he could buy the spell of lying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit, he acted consistent with the culture of magicians and sorcerers. Magicians, sorcerers and witches guarded their spells jealously. If they shared them with another practitioner, the practitioner bought pay for the spell. The more power a spell contained, the higher its cost. For example, the spell for raising someone from the dead was more costly than a love potion.
After Peter’s denunciation of Simon, Simon asked Peter to pray for him.For all the times Simon heard Philip teach, he didn’t comprehend that Christ, the redeemer of the world, delights to forgive sins. He didn’t comprehend that as a baptized believer he had a personal relationship with Christ. He no longer needed anyone else to pray for him. Because the Holy Spirit lived in him, he could pray for himself and have God hear him immediately.
Reflection: Whether Simon was truly repentant of not is unclear; however, unlike Ananias and Sapphira, the Holy Spirit did not immediately kill him for his sin. Church tradition teaches that that Simon was the first heretic in the Bible. From him we get the modern word “simony” which means making a business out of that which is sacred (MacDonald, William, 1995).
In Lesser Known Bible Characters I have an entire chapter on magicians, witches, and sorcerers. Check http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com.
Copyright July 29, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth