Always best to get an understanding of what is going on. The first few verses of Acts 8 explain this to us. A man named Saul just put someone to death for being a follower of Jesus. The church is being heavily persecuted, and everyone (except the apostles) scatters away from Jerusalem as the apostles stay behind to weather the storm (maybe even commanded to remain by the Holy Spirit) as Saul was ravaging (maltreating, defiling) the church. It wasn’t good.
Acts 8:1-8 (CSB)
8 Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. 3 Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison. 4 So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6 The crowds were all paying attention to what Philip said, as they listened and saw the signs he was performing. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
Something interesting to note here is that in verse 3, women are specifically included as an “object” of war, not a “trophy” of war. This leads the reader to wonder about the importance of women in the early church. Perhaps very important if they are treated equally in persecution.
The History of Samaria
Now Philip decided it was time to go. So he traveled to Samaria. The brief history of Samaria was this:
- When Assyrians came and took the ten northern tribes (Jewish Israelites), they left behind anyone they didn’t want in the cities they conquered.
- Part of this group they left behind were murderers, thieves, children, non-fighter types, etc., and they exported them to Samaria.
- Through the years, purebred Jewish people intermarried with these left behind Assyrians and other such folks and became known as half-breeds.
- Purebred Jews were very hard on Samaritans because of this and restricted them in many things (like they couldn’t give testimony in the Jewish courts).
Now that a crass history of Samaria, and a lot has been left out – but it gives you an idea. So now, let’s see what Philip does as he travels down into Samaria.
Meet Simon, The Magician
The Bible accounts that a man named Simon practiced sorcery. The Greek word here is mageuo, which means the practice of sorcery or magic. It’s been told that this word, in other cultures (Babylonian, Medes, Persians, etc.), could carry the meaning of astrologer or physician – but in this case, he was probably just a magician using some demonic powers (Acts 8:10) as he boasted he was someone great!
Acts 8:9-13 (CSB)
9 A man named Simon had previously practiced sorcery in that city and amazed the Samaritan people, while claiming to be somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least of them to the greatest, and they said, “This man is called the Great Power of God.” 11 They were attentive to him because he had amazed them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip, as he proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he followed Philip everywhere and was amazed as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.
We quickly see that Simon’s followers and even himself became impressed by Philip and the power of God, recognizing it was pretty different. And the Bible declares that Simon himself believed Jesus and was Baptized!
Let’s pause and recap. We just read that people heard about the Kingdom of God and were baptized. But this scripture passage doesn’t mention that Philip thought about baptism. Do you think he did? Of course! Why else would they jump to the conclusion of being baptized?
Philip preached about baptism when he spoke about the kingdom of God > as an example for us to follow. This is why groups of people, including the “powerful” magician, were converted from death to life.
Send In The Big Guns & The Holy Spirit
Now, something peculiar happens as we continue reading. The apostles who stayed in Jerusalem heard about Samaria they sent Peter and John. This is interesting because the last time John was near Samaria, he wanted to burn them alive (Luke 9:51-56).
Acts 9:14-16 (CSB)
14 When the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 After they went down there, they prayed for them so that the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit because he had not yet come down on any of them. 16 (They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
But the other peculiar thing in Acts 9:15 is that no one has yet received the Holy Spirit. What does that mean? I’ll present two different ideas to try to stay on the topic of baptism and not go down a rabbit trail here.
- The conversion took place in two stages: They were saved, but the Holy Spirit was going to come into their lives later)
- The conversion took place in one stage: (God withheld the holy spirit to force the Apostles to come to the church to unify them to bring supernatural gifts)
Either, I suppose, could be true. So let’s continue working towards unity.
The Sin Of Simony
Whatever happened, it was 100% clear that when Simon saw the gifts of the holy spirit (that he didn’t see previously), he wanted them and wanted to have the power the apostles had and offered to buy gifts from them.
Acts 9:16-25 (CSB)
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also so that anyone I lay hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your heart’s intent may be forgiven. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by wickedness.” 24 “Pray to the Lord for me,” Simon replied, “so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” 25 So, after they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
The word simony, “buying or selling ecclesiastical privileges,” comes from this scripture. It’s a pretty big deal. Others tried to lie to God about money, and they were killed (Acts 5:1-11). So, let’s be cautious about this one.
It appears here that Peter is a little stumped. Acts 9:20 reads more like if someone stole your candy bar and your response was, “may you get sick.” That is almost wishful thinking. Could Simon, after being converted, be unforgiven and “fall away”? He begs that this would not be the case (Acts 9:24), and Peter seems to be at a loss (Acts 9:22), suggesting that the Lord may not forgive Simon for this.
To continue further explaining all of this would take much much time. For now, we’ll end with this conversion experience and quickly summarize a few points:
- Simon was demonic and dead to Christ.
- Simon believed and was baptized and was raised in a new life.
- Simon, still sinning, wanted to purchase the gifts of the Spirit.
- His future is left unknown.