By Randy Limbird
One of the most enigmatic characters in the Book of Acts is a sorcerer named Simon, whose magic made him a local celebrity. We encounter Simon as the apostle Philip is preaching the gospel in Samaria.
“Simon himself believed and was baptized,” according to Acts 8:13, “And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”
Some time afterward, two other apostles, Peter and John, visit Samaria and lay hands on the new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. Simon is so impressed that he offers to pay the apostles so that he, too, can lay hands on people and give them the Holy Spirit.
Peter rebukes Simon and urges him to repent, which he apparently does. And that’s where the story ends, at least as far as the canonical account. Simon — often called Simon Magus — became a legend in non-biblical literature, and is sometimes referred to as the first Gnostic, a form of heretic. In these accounts, his repentance was a fraud and he pursued his own magical religion in opposition to orthodox Christianity.
Fundamentalists, who don’t put much stock in non-biblical writings, aren’t quite sure what to make of Simon. According to Acts 8, Simon confessed his faith in Jesus and was baptized, so his salvation should have been assured. It’s not clear how sincere his repentance was, but for those who believe “once saved, always saved,” that shouldn’t prevent Simon from eternal life. It’s an awkward story from that point of view.
Of course, none of us know what eternal fate awaited Simon. We never learn if he truly turned himself around.
For me, Simon seems like a classic case of worshipping fame and power. He achieved a level of fame in his community because of his magic, and then latched on to Philip when he realized that the apostle seemed to possess an even greater power. He was envious of anyone who had powers that he did not, which is why he tried to buy spiritual gifts from Peter and John.
Simon committed a sin that many religious people commit. They try to possess things that are not meant to be possessions. Spiritual gifts are gifts in the sense that they aren’t skills that can be developed solely by human effort. But even when given to a believer, they are not property to be manipulated or used for our own purposes.
The Acts story indicates that everything Simon did was aimed at getting something for himself, not submitting himself to God. Like the rich man who refused to give up his wealth, Simon could not let go of fame and glory.
Randy Limbird is editor of
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