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QUESTION: What Was the Sin of Simon the Sorcerer?


In Acts 8:5-25 Peter rebuked Simon for trying to buy power.  What is discouraging about Simon’s response?

Simon is sometimes called “Simon Magnus” from the Latin for Great – because he boasted he was someone great prior to the time Philip came into Samaria preaching in the name of Jesus and working miracles. The people also had called his “power” the Great Power, before they responded to the gospel taught by Philip by believing and accepting baptism.

It is noteworthy that “Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw” (verse 13). Note in particular his fascination with the miracles he saw, miracles that had led the people of Samaria to quit following him and instead to follow Philip’s teaching about the Christ.

After the apostles heard of Philip’s work in Samaria, they sent Peter and John, who prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit. Up until then, the Spirit had not fallen on any of them. At first sight, this seems to disagree with Acts 2:38 and Acts 5:32 where those who obeyed the Lord were given the Holy Spirit. Yet, this giving of the Holy Spirit produced a visible sign, which the gift of the indwelling Spirit does not. Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given. Hence, there must have been a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit – probably one or more of the gifts mentioned 1 Corinthians 12:8-11.

When Simon saw this, he offered Peter money for the power to give the Holy Spirit in this way.

This has led to the sin of trafficking in sacred things and buying or selling ecclesiastical favors being called simony after Simon. (See Funk & Waggnals Dictionary.)

It was this sin that Peter rebuked. He also commanded Simon to repent and pray God and “perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.”

Your question has to do with Simon’s response: “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” You asked, “What is discouraging about Simon’s response?”

I see two things potentially wrong with his reaction.

First, he did not immediately fall to his knees and pray himself; he asked someone else to pray for him. In itself, this is not a bad thing – but wouldn’t it have been better if he had done what Peter told him to do and pray himself?

Second, he did not ask Peter to pray for his forgiveness, but that nothing bad would happen to him. Does this sound to you as if his “sorrow” was for his sin, or for being rebuked for his sin? In 2 Corinthians 7:10 we are told, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” It appears that Simon’s sorrow was of the latter variety.

Tradition and early church history tells us (how reliably, I do not know) that Simon went on to become the first heretic who drew away disciples after himself. These “Simonites” viewed Simon as the Messiah, following Simon rather than Jesus. If this tradition be true, we can see the roots of it in his response to Peter’s rebuke.

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