A Strange Man in Samaria

Acts 8:9-23

Luke tells us about a man named Simon who had gained quite a following because of his sorcery; it would seem that he was a master of the arts of magic. When Phillip and others came into the region, having been forced to flee the persecution in Jerusalem, and so many people accepted the Gospel, Simon came to believe in Jesus along with so many others. When the news reached the apostles, still in Jerusalem, Peter and John were dispatched to Samaria to investigate, and when they arrive, our story gets rolling in earnest.

Phillip had baptized those who came to accept the Gospel, but in spite of this, they hadn’t received the Holy Spirit even though Peter taught that if we hear the Gospel, believe in Jesus, acknowledge that Jesus is Lord repent and are baptized, we will then receive the Spirit (Acts 2:38). Why hadn’t this happened in Samaria; could it be that these unclean Samaritans can’t have the Spirit? The two apostles began laying hands upon the people, and then they received the Spirit, and of course this brings us to another question: Did the Spirit actually come through the laying on of the apostles’ hands? Did this only apply to Samaritans? Was there some other reason for this?

Then our friend Simon enters the narrative:

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” (8:18-19)

My, oh my, what an enterprising businessman this Simon was! Do you suppose he wanted to add the gift of the Spirit to his magical repertoire? I can’t say what he was really thinking for sure, but it seems interesting that he wanted to pay for the ability to dispense the Spirit rather than asking for the Spirit. Ever the diplomat, Peter replied to this offer:

Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.  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. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” (8:20-23)

It’s a little hard for us to grasp this story since we live in an age when people, at least in the West, usually don’t believe there is such a thing as sorcery or magic, other than in a Las Vegas lounge act. Apparently this Simon dude was the real deal as a sorcerer, and if that’s true, where did he get his magic? Clearly it wasn’t a gift from God, like the signs and wonders of Phillip and the apostles, so what was its source? I only know of one other place such things could have come from, and like Simon, Satan and the demons of hell believe in Jesus Christ, but they certainly do not follow Him, and it is fairly obvious from the text that Simon hadn’t even thought about repentance.

The text doesn’t say, in spite of the confidence of vast enlightenment on the part of some commentators, but I would have to suggest that the Holy Spirit had not come upon those people in Samaria yet because so many of them were actually followers of Simon, who, whether he knew it or not, was a follower of the Deceiver who directly or indirectly was the source of his power, and so naturally, they could not receive the Spirit until that situation had been rectified.

Of course, that’s only my theory; what’s yours?

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About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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4 Responses to A Strange Man in Samaria

  1. I cannot say whether your theory is right or wrong…However, it is an interesting thought on the subject.

  2. dwmartens says:

    From my studies through the years, I have come to the understanding that it was necessary for those whom Jesus specifically named “Apostles” to come to Samaria, because those with their new faith in the Lord Jesus needed the “special” gifts of the Holy Spirit to mature in their new life in Christ. In the absence of the written Gospel and other New Testament writings, there was the need for the ability to know the messages that came from the Holy Spirit about this new life (“prophecy” as Paul encourages in 1 Corinthians), the gifts of healing and driving out unclean spirits needed to verify that the message was truly from the Lord, and so on. Philip had received these gifts as the Apostles laid their hands on him in Acts 6, but more persons needed these gifts for the church in Samaria to grow. And, Philip would soon be called to another ministry, and not being an “Apostle” through whom these “special” gifts were imparted, would leave Samaria without anyone with the gifts. (The Holy Spirit still heals what no doctoring can heal, drives out unclean spirits that no exorcist can expel, and gives divine understanding of His Word to His people, but not in the same fashion as in the initial church; perhaps in a more situational than specific-group manner.)

    As for Simon the Sorcerer, he seems to me primarily to have a need to grow in his new-found faith. All of his “professional” life he had known only the ways of the World. He was perhaps, as you indicate, an extreme example of the all those who came to faith in Jesus at Philip’s ministry there. He needed to learn to listen to those who had received those special gifts imparted by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles regarding his new life in Christ. Peter’s command to him to repent of his error was far cry from the contrived error of Ananias and Sapphira, though it certainly emphasized the severity of trifling with the free gift of the Holy Spirit. It impresses me that Simon seemed willing to repent and learn since he asked Peter to pray for him that he be relieved of the consequence of his error.

    I’m sure most will say “Ya, but…” to these ideas, but this is how I see it presently.

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