9. But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great,
Now we are introduced to a certain man of Samaria called Simon. This one had previously practiced sorcery. The Greek word mageuo means that he had been practicing magic. It is difficult to say if he had any real power or Satanic influence. He may have been just one of those sleight-of-hand artists and con men who perform magic tricks to deceive people into thinking they have power. Yet if so, he must have been a very good one, for he was not one who just came in, rooked the people, and then left before anyone could think it over and realize he had been fooled. This would lead us to believe that he may have had some real supernatural ability given to him by forces of the devil. At any rate, whatever the source of the magic which he performed, he had succeeded in astonishing the people of the city. He had not been slow to take advantage of their gullibility, and had claimed to be someone great before them.
10. to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.”
These people had not formerly questioned the power of this man Simon. All had been taken in by his performances, from the least to the greatest of them, from the ruler to the lowest slave. They had concluded from all they had seen from him that he must be the great power of God. This would be similar to what John calls the “Word (or Logos) of God.” In other words, they assigned to him the place of Jesus Christ!
Men in our day still demonstrate the same tendencies as these men did. When faced with seemingly supernatural phenomena, they still tend to jump to the conclusion that this must be God at work. Even believers who should probably know better seem to forget when faced with what seems to be supernatural that there is an enemy, and that he is given great power to oppose the truth. Perhaps we tend to believe that Satan wouldn’t dare to mess with us. Yet this is not realistic, for God Himself warns us that our true struggle is against spiritual forces of wickedness among the heavenly ones (Ephesians 6:12.) Moreover, in our dispensation, God is silent, but Satan does not have to be. We should not be surprised if he tries to deceive us using supernatural things. We should not just gullibly assign all such things to God.
11. And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.
Simon’s magic did not seem to wear out or get old. He seemed to be able to bring forward enough fresh and new material to keep them in a state of astonishment. Through this, he came to be probably the most listened-to man in Samaria, since he had been performing his sorceries for a long time among them. Whatever he was, this man was no common trickster!
12. 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.
When these same men who had formerly been astonished by Simon heard Philip and saw the miracles he worked, they believed him and his proclamation. The truth quickly demonstrated itself to them as being superior to the error, and so they let go of the error and sided with the truth.
Here we learn a little more of what Philip must have been preaching when he proclaimed Christ to them up in verse 5. This is defined here as proclaiming the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. Just like Paul’s message in Acts 28:23 and 31, Philip’s message involves these two important elements. First listed is the kingdom of God. As I have set forth in my message on “The Kingdom of God Part 5: What Is a Kingdom?” I believe that a kingdom is nothing more nor less than a government. By proclaiming the kingdom of God, Philip was stating the truth that someday God is going to take the reigns of the government of this world in his hands, and that he is going to rule over this earth. When this time comes, He will conform all things in this world to His judgments and to His ways. In the book of Acts, this government was already there among them in its early stages, and so Philip declared that government to the Samaritans.
Secondly, Philip proclaimed to them the name of Jesus Christ. This involved much more than just telling them those two words that people used to designate this one by. Rather, this involved setting forth the character of this one. When one has a “name” for being a certain way, that indicates a certain reputation that he has. Reputations, whether true or false, are based on a perception of one’s character. Thus a name has to do with a reputation based on one’s character. The name of Jesus Christ here involves the record of Him as He is viewed in God’s sight. It includes setting forth His true character and explaining it. Philip was reporting to these people just Who and What Jesus Christ is. When they believed him, they believed God’s truth about Jesus Christ.
Now when these people believed, we read that they were baptized, both men and women. Most who read this immediately assume that this must have involved some water ritual. Yet this is a poor assumption. There is no word of water here. Make no mistake, there may have been water involved. Yet the truth is that water is not the really important part of baptism. As I set forth in my comments on Acts 1:5, the meaning of the Greek word baptismos is identification. These people, when they believed in the truth regarding Jesus Christ, were then identified with Jesus Christ.
This identification was performed by Philip, a man who had great power from the Spirit and thus who was able to identify things meaningfully in the sight of God. This is nothing that anyone has the authority to repeat today. Men cannot prove that they themselves are in any way identified with Jesus Christ, but only that they are identified with some church. Men can baptize others into a church, then, but no one can baptize anyone else into Jesus Christ, no matter what pompous and unsubstantiated words he might say over him while performing some ritual. Philip had the power to prove that he was identified with Christ, and therefore we can know he had the authority to baptize others with His name. Yet what power do the modern-day baptizers have to demonstrate to us their ability to do something that is significant in the sight of God? It is one thing to identify in the eyes and with the authority of men. It is quite another to do it in the eyes and with the authority of God. I would question the claim of any man who says he is able to do so.
13. Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.
Now we read the testimony of inspired Scripture that Simon himself also believed. Many who read this passage seem to make very little of this statement, and feel free to ignore it and to think something else entirely when they read what occurred afterwards. Yet for those of us who pride ourselves on believing, here is a statement of God’s Word to believe, and it would be good for us if we would believe it just as much as we do every other statement of Scripture. Simon believed, and though his belief may have been based a bit too much on the miraculous, we cannot deny that he believed nevertheless. His problem was that he carried too much of his old life and way of thinking into the new life he had now found in Christ. Yet to deny that he had found new life in Christ is to deny the plain statements of Scripture.
Now when Simon believed he was baptized. This identified Simon irrevocably with the name, the very character, of Jesus Christ. This baptism was done by Philip, one who had every divine right to do so, and so we cannot doubt but that it was genuine. Those who are used to baptisms today have no problem in making the fact that he was baptized out to be meaningless. The fact is that baptism in our day is largely meaningless. The majority of those who baptize will gladly do it for a person merely because he asks for it. Most such men are hirelings, gladly doing what it takes to please those who are paying their salaries. They would not imagine denying baptism to the rich and powerful, as John did to those among the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism. Thus many who do not even believe in Jesus Christ are supposedly baptized in His name. We must ask, is such baptism significant, or is it not? If baptism is significant, then it must be significant each time it is done. If it is not significant in some cases, then it is not significant at all. Either this means something in God’s sight, or it does not. We cannot have it both ways.
The truth is that baptism was significant every time it was done in Scripture. It was never done in error or without consequence. If one was identified as a believer in Jesus Christ by one like Philip who had the authority to do so, then he was a believer in Jesus Christ. There is just no question about it. The fact that Philip baptized Simon meant he was a believer. So we have the testimony of the Holy Spirit through Luke that he believed, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit through Philip in that he baptized him. We have to ignore both in order to believe anything but that Simon was a true believer.
Now Simon continues with Philip. This was good, and what he should have done, since he needed to learn the works and the ways of Christ. He was used to the tricks and the wonders that he had performed to dazzle the people. Yet these miracles and signs that he sees Philip doing outshine anything he ever did as the sun outshines the moon. The Greek word for “amazed” here is a form of the same word that was used in verse 9 for the people of the city being astonished by Simon’s works. Encountering the reality of God’s power, the wonder-worker is now made to wonder!
14. Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them,
Word of Samaria receiving the word of God now reaches the apostles in their position of leadership in Jerusalem. In spite of Saul’s persecution, they are all still there and are still acting on behalf of their Lord in the task He had given them to do. Probably they were so popular and respected in Jerusalem that even the zealous Saul did not dare to touch them.
Now the apostles know that, in spite of Philip’s power, there are things that only they have the authority to do, and so they need to dispatch some of their number to Samaria. This they do, and the matter is thought so important that they send two who are foremost among them, Peter and John. They send them with all their authority to act on behalf of the rest of the twelve, as the form of the word apostello used here makes clear. These apostles had now apostled two of their number to act on their behalf.
This gives us an idea of the types of things the twelve may have been doing as the Acts period wore on and the focus of Scripture turns away from them. There is no doubt but that their center and base of operations was Jerusalem, and yet they certainly were not afraid to leave there to go on missions to towns and cities that needed their leadership and guidance. We will see more examples of them doing this as we proceed through Acts, and we see other examples of this in the epistles as well. No doubt there are many other missions that these twelve men set about to do that are not recorded in Scripture. At any rate, we can be assured that they were not idle, but that in all things they worked at the direction of their Commander and Lord, Jesus Christ.
15. who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.
Now Peter and John arrive at Samaria, and start right in to do their work. They start to pray for the believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit. “Holy Spirit” here is pneuma hagion or “spirit holy” in Greek, without the definite article “the” in front. This is emphasizing then the power of the Holy Spirit, not His Person. This had nothing to do with what happens today when a person believes in Christ and is sealed by the Holy Spirit, as is set forth in Ephesians 1:13b, “in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Instead, this had to do with receiving His power. At this time, I believe that every believer was given a miraculous gift from the Holy Spirit, even as Christ promised they would be given in Mark 16:17, when He said, “And these signs will follow those who believe.” Yet these signs in Samaria, it seems, were not granted immediately upon believing, but only when the twelve came and laid their hands on each person and prayed for them to receive the holy power of God. In this way, each person was not only baptized as a believer by Philip or whoever preached to him, but was also confirmed by an apostle with the giving of a miraculous gift.
16. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
We see that the Spirit had not yet fallen upon any of the believers in Samaria, but had been held back from them. So far, they had only experienced being identified in the name of the Lord Jesus. They had not yet been identified with the sign gift that they were to receive.
The translators have called the Spirit “He” here. Yet we just had mention of the Spirit’s power, pneuma hagion, in verse 15, not the Person of the Spirit. The pronoun here does not exist in the Greek, but is merely implied in the verb. The translators have made it “he” here, but since the Spirit is spoken of in the neuter in Greek, it could just as well be “it” here as “He.” We have no difficulty either way, for the Spirit is certainly spoken of personally elsewhere, such as in Acts 13:2, so that the fact that He is not just a power is well established. The Spirit is always connected with the power He gives. Yet verse 15 was speaking of the power, not the Person, so in this case it might be better translated as “it” had fallen upon none of them.
17. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Peter and John carry out their task. They lay their hands on these believers, and they immediately receive power from the Holy Spirit. Again, the Greek is pneuma hagion, for it was power they received, not the Person, though the two are intimately connected. This was not the same power for every one. Some received one gift and some another, yet every one according to the choice of God. This was His gift, and He distributed it as He willed, as I Corinthians 12:11 states, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”
18. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money,
“The Holy Spirit” here in Greek is to pneuma to hagion, using both of the definite articles. Yet the Companion Bible suggests that this is because it is referring to the same holy power that had already been referred to in verse 15. If true, this is one of the few exceptions to the rule when the article “the” does not indicate that the Person rather than the power of the Spirit is meant.
This giving of the power of the Holy Spirit was a manifest and obvious thing. All, including Simon, could see it happening. This must have caused great excitement, as we imagine it would among any group of believers even today. For up until now, they had only been able to observe Philip performing miracles and signs. Now, they were to be given power to perform such things themselves.
More than likely some kind of line was formed here, as these believers eagerly awaited their turn to receive their gift from the Spirit. We can imagine Simon standing in this line awaiting his turn, and watching his fellow Samaritans receive their powerful gift. We can only speculate what went through Simon’s mind during this time. He must have remembered that he had once been the most respected and powerful man in the city. That had all changed when Philip came, for Philip had so outclassed Simon that he had no choice but to admit defeat. We cannot call Simon a sore loser, however, for when confronted by the power of God, he had responded as he should have and had submitted to it, and had become a believer in the Lord Jesus. He was willing to leave his old life behind to side with the truth. For this he deserves credit indeed.
Up until now Simon had been content to watch Philip doing his wonders and signs from God, and to be merely an observer of these things. Now, however, the power is spreading far beyond Philip. Now, each one of his fellow Samaritans is being given the power to work miracles through the Holy Spirit. Instead of there being one man in the city who can perform mighty works, now this is to be the privilege of all. Perhaps this very fact is what brought Simon’s heart into discontent. As long as Philip was the only one, he had not been troubled. But now that all are to be workers of miracles, the fact that he will just be a face in the crowd is brought home to him. Simon is waiting for his turn, and he will receive a powerful gift like all the rest. Yet this does not seem like enough to Simon. He does not turn from his faith in Christ, but still he has a desire to somehow regain some of his honor by receiving a gift that will outshine all others and again mark him out as superior to those around him. As he watched all the powerful gifts that were being handed out, it would have been difficult to pick out a superior one, for all were powerful and miraculous, and each new gift given must have brought new excitement and wonder to the people who were watching this great event unfold, and have seemed more wonderful and exciting than the last. Yet Simon’s mind is drawn from these wonders to the men who are giving out these gifts, the two apostles. If the gifts given are great, surely those who have the power to give such gifts must be even greater. Certainly miraculous gifts are wonderful, but to be identified as one who can give such gifts to others at his will…this must have seemed a greatly desirable thing to Simon. Surely if he could somehow gain this power, he would gain back some of the honor and prestige that he had once had as a sorcerer. Surely then men would again look at him with wonder and awe, even as they had before.
So Simon conceives a plan to try to buy this power for himself. He had probably paid great sums of money in the past to learn or be granted some of the arcane arts which he had formerly practiced upon the people. Now, he carries that experience with him into this new life in Christ, and supposes that the apostles will be open to him buying this gift from them for money. He would have figured that only a great sum could buy such a superlative gift, but with all the power and influence he had had, he must have acquired great wealth. Whatever price the apostles demanded, he was certain that he could pay it. So, when his turn at the front of the line came and it was his time to receive his miraculous gift, he offers Peter and John money.
19. saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
This is the request that Simon eagerly makes to the two apostles. He does not want to just wait on the Spirit to pick an appropriate gift for him. Nor does he wish to request any of the gifts he has so far observed being given. Instead, he wants to go right to the top. He wants the very authority of Peter and John, that he can lay his hands on anyone and that person will receive holy power. This was a significant request, but he thought that the money he had would be able to buy it for him. But he did not yet understand the ways and the works of God. This offer was in fact a great insult to the Holy Spirit, for He does not allow His precious gifts to be bought for money!
20. But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!
Peter, as he often did, becomes the spokesman now, and he pronounces God’s wrath upon Simon’s insulting suggestion. Simon deserves to perish for thinking and suggesting such a thing, that the gift of God could be purchased with money! God’s gifts are freely given to those upon whom He wishes to bestow them. To offer to pay for them is the gravest insult. We need to remember this, for there are certainly those today who think that somehow, through some great work or noble deed that they can commit, they can purchase the salvation and the favor and the grace of God. This is just as insulting to God now as it was then. The great gifts of God are given at His will. They cannot be bought with something as ignoble as money.
The words Peter spoke were grave words indeed. They were true words, for Simon deserved to be consumed on the spot along with the dirty money that he had so foolishly thought to approach God with to purchase His favor. I do not believe that Peter’s words were idle ones. Remember, this was the man who spoke, and both Ananias and Sapphira fell down dead. Yet even when he spoke and they died, he did not castigate them with as harsh words as these! Surely Simon’s life hangs by a very thread at this point, and except that Peter had kept on speaking, both Simon and his money would have consumed away to ashes on the spot. Yet God was gracious to Simon, and Peter continued to speak, giving Simon a way to submit and to save himself from death.
The error that Simon made is certainly not one that is unique to him, nor did it die out in his days. Martin Luther fought such an idea in the Catholic Church when he posted his 95 Theses condemning the idea that forgiveness of sins could be sold for money. There are still many men today who think they can buy the gifts of God for themselves with money. Their deep pockets seem able to buy them all other things, so why not this? Certainly money will buy men great favor in most of those religious organizations called churches today. Yet God holds little interest for money, and His great gifts can never be purchased with it. This is a lesson that all of us would do well to remember.
21. You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God.
As we discussed above, if Peter had remained silent at this point, his words would have been carried out, and both Simon and his money would have perished on the spot. Yet having expressed His utter disgust at the suggestion Simon had made, God now chooses to show grace towards him. I believe that God loved Simon, and did not wish to see him destroyed over this mistake. Simon honestly does not seem to have known the insulting nature of his request, nor can he be charged with the kind of willful transgression against God that characterized Ananias and Sapphira. Thus, God mercifully acts towards him as a Teacher to an ignorant student to point out to him his error.
Simon had thought that money would be acceptable to God to purchase this gift, yet he was wrong. Money makes no difference to God. What is acceptable in His sight is a heart that is right with Him. This is God’s criterion for making such a choice. If Simon wants to be honored by God, he must please Him, and this is what he must cultivate in his own life to do that. Yet he has no part nor portion in the matter of the laying on of hands to give gifts, for at this time his heart is not right in the sight of God.
22. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.
Now Peter, by God’s inspiration, gives Simon a way out of the severe sentence Peter has already pronounced him to be worthy of. First, Simon is to repent. Yet as we discussed regarding Acts 1:5, this is a very poor translation of the Greek word metanoeson, which could much better be translated “submit.” The Greek word indicates having the aftermind, and in this case carries with it the idea of easing oneself. Simon had taken upon himself a great burden of guilt by his suggestion, and now he was to ease himself of that guilt by his submission to God. Simon is certainly left with no question in his mind but that what he has done is great wickedness in the sight of God.
Peter also calls upon Simon to pray to God. He is first of all to have the heart attitude of after-mindedness to God’s condemnation of what he has done. Then, he is to pray to God and request that the thought of his heart may be forgiven him. When he does these two things, first in his heart, then in prayer to God, he may be forgiven by God of what he has done.
There is an interesting parallel in Greek here that we cannot see in English. As stated above, the verse starts out with the word “repent,” which has to do with having the after-mind. It is the verb form of the noun metanoia, coming from meta meaning “after” and noia meaning “mind.” Then, in the second half of this verse, the word “thought” is actually the Greek word epinoia, which occurs only here in the New Testament. Epi means “upon,” so what is epinoia is what is upon your mind. Peter is calling upon Simon to have the after-mind in acknowledging and submitting to God’s words so that what was on his mind would be forgiven him.
23. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
Though no man can truly see into another’s mind and heart, God is able to look upon what is going on inside any man. Thus, in this case He looks into Simon and sees what is truly going on inside him, things that perhaps even Simon was not fully aware of. Thus, He warns Simon that he is poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity. His bitterness was no doubt due to the power and prestige he has lost when Philip proved to be so much more powerful than he had ever been. The iniquity he was bound by was probably the desire he had to gain back somehow that honor and glory even while retaining his newfound faith in Christ. Simon needed to be purged of these attitudes in order to be a worthy citizen of the government of God.
24. Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”
Now at last we see Simon’s reaction to Peter’s words. Simon knows the power that Peter has, and he was probably terrified by his severe condemnation against him. Thus, he requests that Peter intercede to the Lord for him, in order that the punishment threatened against him may not come upon him. This was submission, and showed that Simon did have a true after-mind to Peter’s words. Simon was like a drowning man grabbing at anything thrown to him. If this is what it took to save himself, then he would do it. He shows every sign of obeying what Peter said and submitting himself under his harsh words. We have no reason to think but that his request was accepted and his insult to God forgiven.
Tradition has turned Simon into the author of many heretical teachings. Thus men in seeking to justify such a view of Simon have read much that is wrong into the answer of Simon here. Yet such arguments are based upon preconceptions, and not upon the truth. There was nothing even subtly wrong with Simon’s answer here, for this was a time when those who sinned and were in danger of suffering the penalty for that sin from the hand of God could go to men like Peter and ask them to intercede on their behalf. In fact, that is exactly what James commands men to do in James 5:14-16.
14. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
Is not what James commands here exactly what Simon did in this case? Did he not call upon Peter, an elder of the ekklesia if ever there was one? Did he not request that he pray for him, that he be “healed” from the terrible penalty which the Lord was about to bring upon him and his money? How, then, can he be faulted for doing what he ought to have done? Today, when there is but one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (I Timothy 2:5,) such a request would be out of line. Yet in the Acts period, it was exactly what he should have done. There is no real fault to be found in the words of Simon here. The fault is in those who seek to justify their traditions by reading ideas into the Scriptures that simply are not contained there.
25. So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
Now having considered the interesting story of Simon and the truth it conveys, Luke returns us to the consideration of this mission of Peter and John to Samaria. We learn that they add their testimony and preaching of the word of the Lord to that which Philip had already done. Then, they begin their return journey to Jerusalem, their base of operations. Yet they do not hurry there directly, but rather take a leisurely journey, and on the way they perform a most important work. For as they go, they proclaim the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans along the way. Remember, Samaria was but the capital city in a very large district also called Samaria populated by those half-Jews which those in Galilee and Judea tended to despise so much. The capital has now been reached with the true message of Christ and His kingdom, but many of these little villages have not, and so Peter and John perform this important work of proclaiming it to them as they make their way back toward Jerusalem.
This was a real turn around for John. In Luke 9:54, John and his brother James had asked the Lord for permission to call down fire on a Samaritan village for refusing to allow them to enter. Now, John is one who is preaching in the villages of Samaria. He has learned much since Luke 9, and is now a much more mature follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are not told how successful this proclaiming of Peter and John might have been. Yet judging from the sensational response to the gospel in the capital city of Samaria, we have no reason to think but that the reaction in the little villages around would have been very good as well. Thus, even this return trip by these two apostles is made to serve the Lord’s purpose, and to further the spread of the gospel that He had sent out to the world.
Nathan C. Johnson