In Samaria, there was a sorcerer named Simon. Justin Martyr was a church father, and Samaritan. He said most Samaritans considered Simon the highest god.
Simon Magus the sorcerer is often mentioned in ancient writings outside the Bible. He was an archenemy of the church. He was one of the leaders of the Gnostic heresy. It is possible he is a different Simon than the one mentioned here. But the early church fathers equated the two.
Gnosticism comes for the Greek word “gnosis.” It means “knowledge”. Gnosticism taught a person gained salvation through special knowledge. It was not by grace alone through faith alone.
The Gnostic heresy is alive and well today. Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses are two examples. But the heresy is within the church too. Gnosticism is at the core of New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). the later reign, and many Pentecostal movements. Claiming to have received special revelation from God is Gnosticism. There is special know only the select have. The church no longer condemns this heresy. We are more concerned with getting along than we are with men’s souls. We want to include anyone who utters the word “christ” But they have a different Christ. We ignore the scriptures for the sake of peace with men.
The magic that Simon practiced was not the same as magicians today. Magicians today are not claiming supernatural power. They consider themselves artists and entertainers. They request you suspend disbelief in the same way you would in watching a movie. They are not trying to convince you they hold supernatural powers. Most recoil at the suggestion. The magic Simon practiced was not entertainment. It was a display of power. Simon was manipulating people.
Simon’s magic got him what he desired. The people believed his deceit. Men often allow others to deceive them. They prefer an illusion to a Holy God.
It is sad to read what Luke says about what the Samaritans said about Simon. “This man is the power of God that is called ‘Great.’” We see Simons everywhere today. Faith healers and other miracle workers use magic tricks. They make people believe they have special powers from God. What value did the Samaritans receive from Simon? None. What value do people today receive from these faith healers and miracle workers? None. What did Simon and today’s miracle workers receive? Money. Admiration. Power.
How different is that from the message of the Gospel. What does the preacher of the Gospel receive? Gospel preachers are some of the lowest paid professionals. Gospel preachers receive ridicule. Gospel preachers are often persecuted. Yet Gospel preachers give people the words of life. They do not present deceit but truth.
The Samaritans believed the Gospel i.e. the good news about the Kingdom of God. Then Philip baptized them. Philip baptized both women and men.
There is a debate within the church about when and who to baptized. It is not a solific debate. By that I mean it is not a debate where your soul is at risk. This debate is rather we should baptize infants or not. I do not intend to address the entirety of the debate. I intend to address it so you may pursue further study.
My view on this has changed. Infant baptism is the correct view. But I hold that view very loosely.
Those who claimed only believers baptism would point to verses like verse 12. First came belief then came baptism.
Baptism follows faith. No one would disagree with that. Both Calvin and Luther would agree with that statement. Men and women are not baptized without making a confession of faith. Baptism is an engrafting into the Church body. The church baptizes them based on their confession. We consecrate them and their families to God. The covenant is: “I will be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7.) This is hard for westerners, particularly Americans to believe. We are so individualistic. Baked into the core of our belief is the autonomy of the individual. The problem is while it is American it is not scriptural.
This passage does not address this baptism debate.So I will leave it hanging there for future study.
What are we to make of Simon’s conversion? There are several answers to this question. The most common understanding is Simon’s conversion was a false conversion.
This view would state Simon was a hypocrite. Philip’s accepting him into his circle shows how hard it is to discern hypocrites. There are many who are not regenerated yet are overcome with the power of the Word. They confess what is true. The fear of God touches them. They receive the doctrine that God is both the author and judge of the world. But their heart is not changed
Simon may have believed God but he did not trust in Christ. So, his conversion was not real.
Another view is the armein view. This view is that Simon’s conversion was real. Then Simon backslid into sin. This view by necessity denies the preserving grace of God.
The last view is Simon’s conversion was real. The fact that he tried to buy the gifts of the spirit speaks to how hard it is to overcome past erroneous beliefs. God’s sanctifying work is continual. Simon saw the power of Peter and John. He desired the fullness of God in his life. Remember his background. Who was he before? He was a magician. Magicians do not share their secrets. The only way to learn was to pay for them. So, it was reasonable for Simon to assume the same would apply here.
He was wrong. Peter told him so. Peter was forceful in his rebuke. It appears he repented of his sin. Sinning does not prevent God’s preserving grace. Remember Jesus called Peter Satan.
This is the view I hold. And I do not want to lead anyone astray. So, I need to point out some weaknesses with this argument. First, it is not the historical view. We need to treat all “new” views with skepticism. Second, the church fathers equated Simon in this passage with Simon Magus. If this Simon is Simon Magus the sorcerer then the view is incorrect.
If we assume Simon was a hypocrite He could have done great harm to the church. How is the church to handle hypocrisy? The easy answer is to say we are to condemn it. The early Puritans in America tried to prevent it. As a result, church membership was difficult to get. The ideal was this. It was better to refuse membership to a thousand saints than to allow one sinner into the church. Calvin appears to hold a similar view. “We must be so much the more vigilant, that we admit none without great choice, forasmuch as we hear that great men have been deceived.” (The Complete Biblical Commentary of John Calvin – Act 8:13 )
I would hold a less harsh view. Both Calvin and the Puritan’s recognized the harm done by hypocrites. The church today seems to have erred in the opposite direction. Today the church has only two criteria for membership. These are: 1) Can you fog a mirror? 2) Can we talk you into joining?
While I am of the opposite opinion of the Puritans. It is better to allow a thousand sinner into the church than exclude one saint. This may be because I am a product of my culture. The weakness is by allowing in hypocrites, we allow them to cause great harm to the church.
God used Philip as an instrument to bring the Samaritans to faith. Then He called Peter and John to give them the Holy Spirit. God uses different men at different times in different ways. But it is always God who changes men’s hearts.
This is like Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)
Peter and John were not sent to correct Philip’s teaching. Rather they came to help and extend what Philip taught. They came to unite the Samaritan church with the church in Jerusalem.
Here we see how God accomplishes what He commands “… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.” (Act 1:8b)
We should note the Apostles sent Peter and John (v14) Peter did not go as the chief apostle. He went as an ambassador. The apostles sent Peter to represent the church in Jerusalem.
Starting in verse 16 we see a problem that was first raised in the Roman church and then many Pentecostals. The Samaritan had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Their baptism was in the name of Jesus. They were not half Christians. That is, they did not need a second work of grace.
Baptism, washes our sins. But Paul teaches that our washing is the work of the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5.) Peter teaches the same thing. It is the Spirit by whom we are washed with the blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:2) What is the value of baptism? Our old man is crucified in baptism, so we may be raised up unto newness of life. (Romans 6:4-6) This comes only from the sanctification of the Spirit. We cannot separate baptism from the Spirit? (Galatians 3:27)
So, we must admit the Samaritans had the Holy Spirit. So what does Luke mean He (the Holy Spirit) had not yet fallen on any of them? Luke refers to the fact they had not received evidence of the Spirit.
Simon watched Peter and John lay hands on the people. Then the power of the Holy Spirit came upon people. Simon tried to buy that ability. There is a sin called simony. The buy or selling of church offices or positions. We call it simony because of this passage. While this is heinous, it is not what Simon was doing. Simon was trying to buy the Holy Spirit. This amounts to the same thing as trying to earn God’s favor. Once we realize that then we realize many churches today teach Simon’s sin. You have to give enough. You have to believe enough. You have to pray enough. You have to have enough faith.
No! God gives His grace. Do not turn faith into a work. God’s grace is not given to you based on anything in you. It is not because you have enough faith. It is for His glory. Where do you think your faith comes from anyway? Faith itself is a gift from God. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Peter told Simon to repent. In doing so Peter gave Simon hope of forgiveness. Let us remember that no matter the graveness of the sin. There is hope of forgiveness. We much always give men the hope of salvation. If we do not we place them in despair. Despair carries men into rashness.
Peter condemned Simon and called him to repentance. Forgiveness was sure if Simon repented. What then did Peter mean when he said: “pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” Peter was not condemning a sin. Peter was pointing out that Simon’s heart was not pure. He needed a complete change of heart. He needed a complete change of intent. He needed to change his whole way of thinking. Simon needed to become a new person.
Here we can learn when we pray for forgiveness. We need more than the forgiveness for what we have done or what we have left undone. God needs to make us anew.
It is clear Simon repented. He yielded to Peter’s rebuke. Yet the ancient writers state he an enemy of Peter’s. They say he disputed with Peter for three days in Rome. But Augustine said there vicious and false rumors spread about the matter.
The reason I would place my flag on the repentance of Simon is simple. Nothing is safer than to embrace that which is set down in the Scriptures. What we read elsewhere of Simon is suspect.