by Guest Contributor Josh Ragan
The Spirit and the salvation of God were not a trade craft of the apostles, purposed to entertain, as they journeyed from town to town.
“9 But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles[a] performed, he was amazed.
14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now 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 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 neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall[b] of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.”
“But there was a certain man called Simon.”
Who was Simon the Magician?
The purpose of this study is to explore the life of Simon the magician. The book of Acts only gives account of his life in 15 verses.
Was there more to be accounted for after this biblical story concludes?
These questions will be the topic for research and conclusion on the life of Simon the Magician.
Was Simon the Magician just the local magician or did he have a higher status in the Samarian society?
“This “Simon” was a man who had once mystified the people of this Samaritan city. By his magic arts Simon had managed to “pull the wool over the eyes” of the Samaritans for years. He made claims of being someone great, but it seems that he allowed the people to come to their own conclusions, and their conclusion, skillfully suggested and orchestrated by Simon, was that he was “the Great Power of God.”2
The book of Acts gives credit to Simon as being considered a great man by the Samarian people. “And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.” 3 Simon fooled the people with magic to gain high stature within the Samarian society. This leadership gave him favorable control over the people and made him a man of great importance. “Such scholars have viewed magic ‘functionally’, as in some cases serving to relieve certain social stresses, but in other cases as being disruptive actions of deviant sorcerers.”4
He was able to mystify the masses with his powers, but they were man made and they had their limits. Simon would realize this later after a strong rebuke from Peter.
Philip was the first to come into contact with Simon the Magician.
As persecution in Jerusalem was rising, the followers of the “Way,” or Christians would begin to scatter throughout the world, taking the gospel with them. “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.”5
This would set Philip and Simon on a “world collision” as the multitudes hearing the truth in the sermons of Philip would also see real miracles performed (not simply magic). The local magician was being upstaged in his own territory – by an “out of towner”.
Simon, probably out of curiosity, would go to see this “out of towner” perform or speak. “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.”6 Simon was one of these people who believed and was baptized after hearing the truth Philip spoke in Samaria.
Was there a hidden agenda behind the “salvation and baptism” of Simon?
Simon as well as the multitudes where all amazed by the miracles that happened whenever and wherever Philip went. “Simon seems to have been more taken by the ministry and the power of Philip than with his message. Wherever Philip went, Simon tagged along, constantly amazed at the evidences of the hand of God in this man’s life and ministry. The power of Philip seems more fascinating to Simon than the person of Christ and the practical out workings of the gospel…” Though Simon claimed a new birth as evidenced by his being baptized, it would seem that… “the magician lived on, focusing on a bigger and better power, rather than on a whole new way of life.”7 This will become very obvious to all when Peter arrives from Jerusalem.
“Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.”8
The Holy Spirit was the one performing the miracles through Philip that the Samaritan people had seen. Was his power the reason Simon was always around Philip or was he truly committed to “the way (Jesus)?”
“Luke gave us more reason to question his commitment. There is no desired object given for his believing—no “kingdom of God,” no “name of Jesus Christ.” In fact, the only response connected with his baptism was his following Philip everywhere, totally entranced by his miraculous signs.
Could this have been Luke’s way of indicating that Simon’s commitment was lacking? That it may have been more based on Philip’s miracles than his preaching? More oriented toward the tricks of his own trade?”9
Peter being full of the Holy Spirit would see through Simon’s intentions especially as Simon asks to pay for the “power” that only comes by the Spirit of God. “Give me this power also,” said Simon, “that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”10 The power that is the Holy Spirit is what was promised to those who believe in Jesus. The Spirit and the salvation of God were not a trade craft of the apostles, purposed to entertain, as they journeyed from town to town. Peter sternly rebuked Simon saying, “your money perish with you because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!”11 Of this admonishing toward Simon, Peter would almost command him to repent, speaking to the heart condition that Simon was suffering from. “Simon Magus wanted a supernatural gift for his own personal glory not just for the glory of God.”12
This is where the biblical account of Simon the magician would end.
Is there a historical record of Simon the magician after the biblical account?
In fact, Historically, there may be.
Simon unfortunately is considered to be the founder of the Gnostic movement – That movement which elevates self by worshiping self-sanctification, our own performance, special knowledge, and removes God from his exalted throne, making him simply a faulty God, who himself is needing of improvement.
“The church fathers of the second and third centuries are practically unanimous in attributing the origin of Gnosticism to Simon Magus. No subsequent discovery of Gnostic materials offered any evidence to deny this allegation. From Simon Magus the line is traced to a Samaritan named Menander, then to two teachers at Antioch named Saturninus and Cerinthus.”13 The gnostic movement mixed pagan rituals with some of Christianity and is considered by many to be heretical in the sense that it is not the doctrine that Jesus taught while on the earth and passed along to the apostles. “The Gnostic may add that secret revelation gives them this” hidden “insight, but there must still be a standard. How does the Gnostic know his private revelation is correct if there is no absolute truth to which to compare it? Gnostic doctrine isolates humans from God and creates spiritual elites who alone have the answer to human needs. Gnosticism is an unusual aberration in Christian history, but the doctrines of this religion were rejected by the church fathers and should be rejected today as well.”14
After the rebuke from Peter, history sheds light on this Simon the Magician, going back to what made him a leader in Samaria. He adopted some of the views the apostles brought with them to the region, but then mixed it with his belief in magic – once again pulling the wool over the people’s eyes, placing himself back in the spot light. Peter told Simon to “repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.”15 But as the historical record shows, that unfortunately does not seem to occur in Simon’s life.
In Conclusion, the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary sums up the life of Simon the magician, saying, he was, “A man who practiced sorcery in Samaria, often referred to as Simon Magus. The deacon/evangelist Philip encountered him in a town, probably Sebaste, the capital of the province. The magician himself became a convert, was baptized with many others, and was amazed at the miracles of Philip, which apparently surpassed his own. The externality of Simon’s faith seems indicated by his bold attempt to bribe the apostles into imparting their “power.” The name of Simon Magus occurs frequently in the early history of “Christian” Gnosticism.”16
Simon the magician was given the truth and even a second chance to be forgiven by the apostles. Rather, it would seem that he chose the path of fame and fortune – even using a form of spirituality to deceive a multitude of people. Jesus would warn the disciples of false prophets and what would happen to those who try and enter His kingdom based upon a false doctrine or a twisting of the doctrine; “And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”17
The story of Simon the Magician is a story that comes with a warning to all who would seek to have their own glory and power, yet miss the opportunity to have a relationship with the person who gave His life for them.
Bible, New King James Version
1 Bible, New King James Version, Acts 8:9a
2 Deffinbaugh, Bob. “Simon and Simon (Acts 8:1–25).” http://bible.org/seriespage/simon-and-simon-acts-81- 25.
3 Bible, New King James Version , Acts 8:11
4 Yamauchi, Edwin M. “Magic in the Biblical World.” Tyndale Bulletin 34 (1983): 169–200.
5 Bible, New King James Version, Acts 8:4-5
6 Bible, new King James Version, Acts 8:12
7 Deffinbaugh, Bob. “Simon and Simon (Acts 8:1–25).” http://bible.org/seriespage/simon-and-simon-acts-8:1-25
8 Bible, New King James Version, Acts 8:14-15
9 Polhill, J. B. (1992). The New American Commentary: Acts Volume 26. B&H Publishing Group. 10 Bible, New King James Version Acts 8:19
11 Bible, New King James Version, Acts 8:20
12 Constable, Thomas L. “Notes on Acts.” Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes. (2014). http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/acts.pdf.
13 Caner, E. H. (2008). Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers.
14 Caner, E. H. (2008). Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers. 15 Bible, New King James Version, Acts 8:22
Caner, E. H. (2008). Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers.
16 Tenney, D. a. (1987, 2011). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 17 Bible, New King James Version, Matthew 7:20
Constable, Thomas L. “Notes on Acts.” Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes. (2014).
Deffinbaugh, Bob. “Simon and Simon (Acts 8:1–25).” http://bible.org/seriespage/simon-and- simon-acts-8:1-25
Polhill, J. B. (1992). The New American Commentary: Acts Volume 26. B&H Publishing Group.
Yamauchi, Edwin M. “Magic in the Biblical World.” Tyndale Bulletin 34 (1983): 169–200