Was Simon Magus a Christian?

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I don't think we have enough to say Simon, or Ananias or Sapphira were not Christians. One thing is certain, though - we can strive to make sure we don't make their awful mistakes. Asd Don wrote:

The Bible doesn’t answer the questions we have about Simon. We need to be sure that we don’t approach the Scriptures simply to satisfy our intellectual curiousity about Simon. We need to take warning, to cling to our Saviour, and depend on Him alone for our spiritual life.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

In Acts 8:12 we are told that Simon preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many Samaritans believed in Christ. The Bible plainly says in Acts 8:13 that "even Simon himself believed" as well as being baptized in water!

Later, John and Peter came from Jerusalem after they heard of Philip's success there. The Samaritans, including Simon, received the Holy Spirit. The point here is that Samaritans received the Spirit a la Acts 1:8 just as the Jews did. We see later that Gentiles and John's disciples also receive the Holy Spirit.

Some claim that by asking to buy the power to lay on hands for people to receive the Holy Spirit implies he did not have the Holy Spirit. That implication is not in the text.

John and Peter then rebuke Simon for thinking he could buy something that is freely given to all disciples. Simon is saved, but not yet taught. That rebuke was so strong Simon asked the two to pray for him that he be spared from the consequences of his sin. You could see it as a bad request, but I don't see it. 

To me, this passage illustrates that even a man lost in sorcery and manipulation of people can be redeemed. But, the road from salvation to being completely renewed in his mind, and changing his old thought patterns takes time.

Lee's picture

I've heard this debate often.  I fail to see where it is little more than "....striv[ing]...about words to no profit...."  If the plain sense makes sense seek no other sense.  In the same context that Luke records under inspiration that the Samaritans "believed" and were baptized, and that the Ethiopian eunuch "believe[d]" and was baptized, he states that "Simon himself believed and...was baptized...". I'm not sure why there is even a debate. Do we really take inspiration so lightly as to presume that the Holy Spirit inspired the historian Luke to record as factual an, at best, very confusing false scenario that Simon "believed" when, in actuality, he didn't while at the same time and under the same inspiration recording that the Samaritans and Ethiopian actually did?  I'm going with a "NO" on that one!

Not to say there is not an important message here.  I see at least 2.

1) Like other places in Acts--the council of ch. 15; Apollos, etc.--this illustrates that it is not just possible, but probable, for a believer to drag part of their former understanding/practice into their new belief.  "Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe: and they are all zealous of the law (21:20)."  

2) Probably the most important: Simon is being presented here as the mirror image of Balaam.  Balaam was an articulate prophet with a magnificent spiritual gift.  He tried to market it for influence and profit.  Simon, on the other hand, had great influence but desired a magnificent spiritual gift.  He tried to purchase it for his own satisfaction and profit. Both were absolutely, and rightly, excoriated under divine authority.  Spiritual gifts are not for personal aggrandizement, to be bought or sold.  There really might be some lessons the church in our market driven society could learn from these accounts.  

Lee

G. N. Barkman's picture

"But Peter said to him, 'Your money perish with you..You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God.  Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you, For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.'" (Acts 8:20-23)   Simon was:

1) Perishing.

2) Had neither part nor portion in this matter.

3) Had a heart which was not right in the sight of God.

4) Needed to repent from great wickedness, but without assurance that God would forgive him.

5) Bound by iniquity.

It's hard to reconcile this description with a true child of God.

G. N. Barkman

Don Johnson's picture

First, thanks for the link. I am preaching through Acts and the study of this character interested me, I thought it would interest others. I tend to think Simon wasn't a Christian, but the text doesn't explicitly say, so I hedge the bet a bit.

Second, for some reason this discussion is not showing up on the New Posts page. Don't know why that is, I saw it through the Facebook notice.

UPDATE: It does show up in the right hand column "My Threads and Comments" now that I have posted here, but it doesn't show up in the main feed.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Don Johnson wrote:

First, thanks for the link. I am preaching through Acts and the study of this character interested me, I thought it would interest others. I tend to think Simon wasn't a Christian, but the text doesn't explicitly say, so I hedge the bet a bit.

Second, for some reason this discussion is not showing up on the New Posts page. Don't know why that is, I saw it through the Facebook notice.

UPDATE: It does show up in the right hand column "My Threads and Comments" now that I have posted here, but it doesn't show up in the main feed.

Thanks, Don. Looking into that.

Edit: Got it. Crack in one of the flux capacitors.

Don Johnson's picture

No doubt the work of evil Klingons.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

RajeshG's picture

The intensity of Peter's apostolic rebuke tells us that he was an unbeliever:

Acts 8:20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

An apostle with supernatural abilities to discern the true spiritual state of someone would not express the desire that that person would perish if he knew that person was just a badly mistaken believer. 

Lee's picture

RajeshG wrote:

The intensity of Peter's apostolic rebuke tells us that he was an unbeliever:

Acts 8:20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

An apostle with supernatural abilities to discern the true spiritual state of someone would not express the desire that that person would perish if he knew that person was just a badly mistaken believer. 

Seems a little strange to me to dig up an 8-months dead thread to express "I think..."

What does the narrative tell us? He believed, was baptized, and followed the apostles. That there is an intense rebuke means nothing about his actual salvation. 

Paul intensely rebuked Peter and, by extension, Barnabas (Gal. 2:12-14). Jesus intensely rebuked Peter.  Paul and Barnabas broke ranks with each other over John Mark.  The intensity of the disagreement and subsequent rebukes has little to do with the determining the matter of Simon Magus salvation status, or Peter, or Barnabas, or whoever.  It means they were wrong on the point that brought about the rebuke to begin with.  

Lee

RajeshG's picture

Lee wrote:

 

RajeshG wrote:

 

The intensity of Peter's apostolic rebuke tells us that he was an unbeliever:

Acts 8:20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

An apostle with supernatural abilities to discern the true spiritual state of someone would not express the desire that that person would perish if he knew that person was just a badly mistaken believer. 

 

 

Seems a little strange to me to dig up an 8-months dead thread to express "I think..."

What does the narrative tell us? He believed, was baptized, and followed the apostles. That there is an intense rebuke means nothing about his actual salvation. 

Paul intensely rebuked Peter and, by extension, Barnabas (Gal. 2:12-14). Jesus intensely rebuked Peter.  Paul and Barnabas broke ranks with each other over John Mark.  The intensity of the disagreement and subsequent rebukes has little to do with the determining the matter of Simon Magus salvation status, or Peter, or Barnabas, or whoever.  It means they were wrong on the point that brought about the rebuke to begin with.  

I have been active on SI for under two months and only recently saw that thread so I did not have an opportunity to comment on the thread back when it was originally active. "I think" is a legitimate way to express one's interpretation of the evidence provided by a text when there is disagreement about the interpretation.

No, to be precise, Simon did not follow the apostles. He continued on with Philip, who was not an apostle (8:13). God used the coming of the apostles to bestow the Spirit upon those who had been baptized earlier (8:17), but it does not say explicitly that the Spirit was given to Simon.

Furthermore, Paul did not rebuke Peter by expressing an apostolic prayer-wish (use of the optative εἴη in Acts 8:20) that Peter should perish, as Peter did with Simon. There is a big difference between what Paul said to Peter and what Peter said to Simon.

Paul and Barnabas did break ranks, but we are not told that either of them expressed an apostolic prayer-wish that the other would perish.

For an apostle to express a prayer-wish that someone would perish is an intensity of rebuke that we do not find ever expressed anywhere else in the NT (unless I have overlooked other such passages). Along with the other evidence that indicates that Simon was not a true believer, I think that the intensity and nature of the apostolic rebuke strongly points to Simon's not having been a true believer.

Many people say that they have believed, are baptized, and then at some later point totally turn away from the faith, which shows that they never were true believers at all. I believe that is the best interpretation of what happened with Simon.

 

RajeshG's picture

Even though the data in Acts 8 does not, in my opinion, show that Simon was a true believer at the time that Peter rebuked him intensely, it is certainly possible that Simon may have repented and truly become a believer later. We may very well see Simon the sorcerer in heaven one day, but Acts 8 does not provide any conclusive evidence to be sure that will be the case.

Jay's picture

Even though the data in Acts 8 does not, in my opinion, show that Simon was a true believer at the time that Peter rebuked him intensely, it is certainly possible that Simon may have repented and truly become a believer later.

Given the way that Simon is originally portrayed and then the way The Spirit speaks through Peter about him later, I would tend to believe that Simon, like so many others, started well but couldn't finish, or that he decided to be a disciple before counting the cost and then realized he didn't want to pay it. I doubt we will know for sure this side of glory.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Lee's picture

RajeshG wrote:

...Many people say that they have believed, are baptized, and then at some later point totally turn away from the faith, which shows that they never were true believers at all. ...

But "many people" don't have their conversion recorded under inspiration--God breathed and infallibly accurate.

And you're missing the point.  The passage/narrative is about the Holy Spirit, emphasizing that indwelling/empowerment is not a gimmick, nor to be irreverently treated.  This is consistent through the Book of Acts.  Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) had already had an intense rebuke along the same lines.  The confirmation of salvation being granted to the Gentiles was via the Holy Spirits' coming upon them in miraculous displays (Acts 10-11). The ignorant believers of Acts 19 had lessons to learn concerning the Holy Spirit.  The earliest record of the Holy Spirit coming--Acts 2--was accompanied by a strong rebuke when His work was regarded as drunkenness, and was the springboard for the sermon at Pentecost and initiation of the Jerusalem church.  It is quite inconceivable that this consistent presentation of the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the Book of Acts is interrupted with this narrative in Acts 8 that the conclusion has little to do with the Holy Spirit and the crux is "he wasn't a believer anyway so don't worry too much about what he was trying to do; unbelievers do unbelieving things after all."  

Lee

Ron Bean's picture

Thanks for pointing this out:

The passage/narrative is about the Holy Spirit, emphasizing that indwelling/empowerment is not a gimmick, nor to be irreverently treated.

A basic rule of Biblical exegesis is to answer the question, "What is the main point of the text?".

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Kevin Miller's picture

Lee wrote:
 Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) had already had an intense rebuke along the same lines.
That's a valid point. Sometimes God's judgment on believers is physical death, so a strong rebuke, or even the punishment of physical death, is not necessarily a sign that a person is unsaved.

TylerR's picture

Editor

When I preached through Acts a few years ago, I concluded Ananias, Sapphira and Simon were probably Christians who were punished by physical death. It ultimately doesn't matter, for people today. Lesson learned = don't lie to God!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

RajeshG's picture

Lee wrote:

 

RajeshG wrote:

 

...Many people say that they have believed, are baptized, and then at some later point totally turn away from the faith, which shows that they never were true believers at all. ...

 

But "many people" don't have their conversion recorded under inspiration--God breathed and infallibly accurate.

And you're missing the point.  The passage/narrative is about the Holy Spirit, emphasizing that indwelling/empowerment is not a gimmick, nor to be irreverently treated.  This is consistent through the Book of Acts.  Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) had already had an intense rebuke along the same lines.  The confirmation of salvation being granted to the Gentiles was via the Holy Spirits' coming upon them in miraculous displays (Acts 10-11). The ignorant believers of Acts 19 had lessons to learn concerning the Holy Spirit.  The earliest record of the Holy Spirit coming--Acts 2--was accompanied by a strong rebuke when His work was regarded as drunkenness, and was the springboard for the sermon at Pentecost and initiation of the Jerusalem church.  It is quite inconceivable that this consistent presentation of the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the Book of Acts is interrupted with this narrative in Acts 8 that the conclusion has little to do with the Holy Spirit and the crux is "he wasn't a believer anyway so don't worry too much about what he was trying to do; unbelievers do unbelieving things after all."  

You are attempting to make a theological argument that does not account for the exegetical details of the passage, as I have already explained above. I do not agree that the passage is about the Holy Spirit; His work is one key aspect of this account, but it is debatable that that is the main point. In the larger context of Acts 8, we have the conversion of the Ethiopian official, and there is no mention of the Spirit coming upon him, even after he believed and was baptized.

There was no strong rebuke in Acts 2; you are reading that into the passage. Peter did tell the people that the men were not drunk, as the people had supposed, but the language hardly matches the intensity of the rebuke in Acts 8. In Acts 19, Paul also does not use an apostolic prayer-wish that the believers in Ephesus would perish for their ignorance . . .

Scholarly commentators do not agree what the main theme(s) of the book of Acts is/are; yours is one understanding among many that various people have argued for.

We are not going to agree so we will just have to wait until we get to heaven to find out.

Kevin Miller's picture

RajeshG wrote:

There was no strong rebuke in Acts 2; you are reading that into the passage.

Isn't the punishment of death an even stronger rebuke than an apostolic prayer-wish?

RajeshG's picture

Kevin Miller wrote:

 

RajeshG wrote:

 

There was no strong rebuke in Acts 2; you are reading that into the passage.

 

Isn't the punishment of death an even stronger rebuke than an apostolic prayer-wish?

 

There is no exegetical basis for conflating what happened to Ananias and Sapphira with what Peter said to Simon. The word used for "perish" in Acts 8:20 is a noun that is never used in the NT to signify physical death; when referring to humans in the NT, it consistently refers to those who perish eternally.

RajeshG's picture

To understand properly what Peter said to Simon, here are the uses of ἀπώλεια in the NT when it refers to human beings:

Matt. 7:13  Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

Jn. 17:12  While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.

Acts 8:20  But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

Rom. 9:22  What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

Phil. 1:28  And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.

Phil. 3:19  Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

2 Thess. 2:3  Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

1 Tim. 6:9  But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.

Heb. 10:39  But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.

2 Pet. 2:1  But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

2 Pet. 2:3  And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

2 Pet. 3:7  But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

2 Pet. 3:16  As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

Rev. 17:8  The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

Rev. 17:11  And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.

The NT usage of this word shows clearly that Peter was not expressing an apostolic prayer-wish that Simon would die physically. His statement was much stronger.