Baptism of Simon the magician (Acts 8)

INTRODUCTION. A study of the fascinating character of Simon the magician from Acts 8:9-24. Simon is a false convert who “believes” and is baptized during the ministry of Philip in Samaria but is later revealed to be still in his sins. What can we learn from him and his false profession that will help us in our own ministry?

In this study in Acts 8:5-24, we read about the fruitful ministry in Samaria of Philip the evangelist as men and women hear Philip’s gospel message, believe the message, and are baptized, a pattern that is typical of the apostolic ministry of the book of Acts. We also meet Simon the magician, who is anything but typical. Simon clams to believe and, as a result, is baptized, but his claim of believing is proven false by his actions and his words.

The key verses are Acts 8:18-19:

18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

What we see here is that our magical friend had a very distorted view of the Holy Spirit and of the gospel of salvation. In fact, I suggest that Simon the magician is seeing this entire gospel event through a dark, occult lens. Remember, Simon is a magician, a wizard who was called “the Great Power of God” for astonishing the people of Samaria with his magic arts. But when Philip comes into Samaria performing signs and great miracles (8:13; see also 8:6-7), Simon is forgotten, and his fame and income vanish. The Samaritans “believe Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12) and, when they believe the gospel, they forsake all their interest in the magic arts and thus give evidence of their true conversion.

By contrast, Simon claims to believe and yet he continues to pursue his magic arts. This is a first hint that his professed belief is suspect. Despite “believing” and falsely being baptized it seems Simon is still a magician. As a magician, Simon does not see Philip as an evangelist who is preaching the gospel of salvation, but he is a powerful fellow magician who can do amazing magic arts through the name of this Jesus Christ. And so Simon “continued on with Philip” (2:13) not so that he could hear more about Jesus, but so that he might learn how Philip was performing all these signs and miracles. Simon wanted to learn Philip’s magic, no to know Philip’s Christ.

In the same way Simon does not see Peter as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ but as another powerful spiritist who is able to bestow occult powers on people simply by laying his hands on them. Not believing that the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity, but is instead some spiritual force, Simon appeals to Peter as his fellow magician and offers him money so that he too may bestow this “Holy Spirit” on others by laying hands on them.

Taking a closer look at 8:18-19, we see Simon’s errors.

  • Simon believed that the Holy Spirit was bestowed mechanically when anyone with power laid hands on anyone else. But the Holy Spirit is the gift of God that is given to the believer when they place their faith in the Lord Jesus. Thus, it is bestowed spiritually as a result of faith.
  • The magician thought that he could buy the Holy Spirit with money. It is typical of unbelievers to believe that money can buy anything, but the Holy Spirit is God and cannot be purchased at any price.
  • Simon assumed that he could buy the Holy Spirit and then dispense it to whoever would pay him money to get it. (“So that everyone (or anyone) on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”) He treated the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, as a commodity that could be sold.

These were the thoughts of Simon the pretender. He pretended to be a genuine believer, but, as Peter pointed out, he was “in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (8:23). Simon the magician is thus guilty of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:24-32), for he views the divine Spirit as a demonic force to be dispensed to anyone willing to pay money. Simon treats the Holy Spirit of the living God as an occult spirit, a commodity sold by the magician as part of his dark trade.

Finally, Simon betrays his unregenerate state by refusing to obey the instructions of the Apostle Peter. In Acts 8:22, Peter commands Simon to repent of his wickedness and to pray to the Lord for forgiveness (both “repent” and “pray” are in the imperative in the Greek), but Simon ignores the call to repent and tells Peter to pray, instead (8:24). Simon is either unwilling or unable to pray, and so he asks Peter to pray for him. But a man must repent for himself, and a man must ask for forgiveness himself. No one can repent for someone else, and no one can ask the Lord for forgiveness for someone else. Simon hears the gospel but does not believe. Simon is commanded to repent but ignores the command. He is commanded to beg the Lord for forgiveness, but he refuses to act. Thus, in the end Simon perishes.

SDG                 rmb                 3/9/2022                     #501

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