Simon the Sorcerer
9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
Observations & Reflections
Acts 8 opens and closes with the Apostle Philip. Sandwiched between Philip’s ministry is an interesting story about Peter, John, and a sorcerer named Simon. A number of questions arise from this passage that need to be addressed. First, was Philip with Peter and John when they laid hands on the people and spoke with Simon? Second, what is the difference between baptizing in the name of Jesus and baptizing in the Spirit? Lastly, whatever became of Simon after his rebuke from Peter?
Regarding the matter of Philip’s location during Peter and John’s ministry in Samaria, one could easily assume that since Simon had started following Philip that Peter and John’s introduction to Simon would have due to Philip’s influence. One might also assume that it was Philip who sent word back to Jerusalem to let the apostles know that many Samaritans accepted the gospel. Thus, while Philip seems to be absent from Simon’s story, it would be logical to conclude that Philip was working with Peter and John to lay hands on the people and preach the good news.
Two different baptisms?
The question of two different baptisms is a bit more difficult to understand. Very few churches have a practice of two different baptisms, other than the Pentecostal denominations. However, it’s very difficult to find a pattern in the book of Acts for how people receive the Holy Spirit. In some cases people received the Spirit at baptism. At other times they have two baptisms. Yet another time the Spirit was received through laying on of hands after baptism. Acts even reports of instances where people received the Spirit before baptism.
In Acts 2, Peter indicates that believers will receive the Spirit at baptism.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Paul’s conversion experience in Damascus also appears to demonstrate a single baptism.
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (Acts 9:17-18)
However, in Acts 19 Luke shows Paul differentiating between baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was given by laying of hands, not baptism.
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
Additionally, in Acts 10 a whole group of people received the Spirit and they had not even been baptized yet.
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (Acts 10:44-48)
There are more examples in Acts that could be examined but clearly there is no one fixed pattern for receiving the Spirit. One of the only clear patterns is that while the Spirit does as it pleases, it is also freely given to those who repent and believe.
What became of Simon?
Simon’s influence on the biblical text is small. However, many other writings about him existed. He was mentioned in writings by the early church fathers, as well as later gnostic texts. His followers were also recorded in historical writings.
According to Irenaeus, after Simon was rebuked he began to fight against the apostles and build a following to contend with them.
He, then, not putting faith in God a whit the more, set himself eagerly to contend against the apostles, in order that he himself might seem to be a wonderful being, and applied himself with still greater zeal to the study of the whole magic art, that he might the better bewilder and overpower multitudes of men. Such was his procedure in the reign of Claudius Cæsar, by whom also he is said to have been honored with a statue, on account of his magical power. (Against Heresies: Book I, Chapter 23)
Irenaeus goes on to describe the heresies that were started and perpetuated by Simon.
Justin Martyr writes about Simon in his First Apology, describing Simon as a devilish deceiver of the people.
… after Christ’s ascension into heaven the devils put forward certain men who
said that they themselves were gods; and they were not only not persecuted by you, but even deemed worthy of honors. There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic, by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. He was considered a god, and as a god was honored by you with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription, in the language of Rome. (First Apology, Chapter 16)
The writings of the later church fathers and the gnostics start to add more sensationalized information to Simon’s story, building up a mythical version of him. The Acts of Peter details a whole narrative about a showdown between Simon and Peter. In the late 4th century Pseudo-Clementine writing, Recognitions and Homilies, Simon’s legend is expanded with more details about his followers and even his dealings with historical events and figures that lived in different time periods as Simon.
Thus, it is fair to say that Simon was not converted to Christianity. In fact, he was regarded as one of the fist great adversaries to the early church. He deceived many and led many to lose their faith. May we not be confused like those led astray by Simon. We must remind ourselves of the traditions handed down to use by the apostles, confirmed in our lives by the Spirit of God.