The Apple Of God's Eye

July 23, 2009

Simon Magus: The Real "Peter" Of False Christianity!

Simon was the Samaritan sorcerer who professed conversion to Christianity and sought to buy an apostleship. The Bible records this historic event in Acts 8:9-24.

In spite of Peter’s stinging rebuke (verses 20-23), Simon presented himself as an apostle. He invented a new religion by blending his own version of the doctrine of grace with elements of the old Babylonian mysteries and attaching Christ’s name to it. This false religion swept the world and became the visible “Christian” church — incredible as that may seem.

There are veiled references to Simon’s false Christianity in the New Testament. Jude 4, for example, is rather pointed against Simon’s principal doctrine — the heresy that one does not have to obey God’s laws after conversion. John, the apostle who completed the Bible, placed great emphasis on Christians keeping God’s commandments (I John 2:3-6).

Persecution against God’s Church

Much of the early persecution against God’s true Church came as a result of Simon Magus. Acts 8 is the earliest record of the true Church/false church conflict that was to rage through the centuries. Let’s first get an overview of this chapter.

“And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:1-4).

The chapter opens with the final comments related to the stoning of Stephen. Acts 8:1 shows that Saul (or Paul) consented to Stephen’s death. Verses 3 and 4 show that Paul led the Jewish persecution against the Church, personally imprisoning many men and women. Rather than stop the preaching of the Gospel, this action advanced it to other localities (verse 4).

Now verse 5 begins Simon Magus’ history. “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:5-8).

Luke gives us an incredible amount of detail concerning Philip’s activities in Samaria. He performed many miracles there, causing much joy among the people because they were heavily oppressed with demons (verse7).

“But there was a certain man, called Simon which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God” (Acts 8:9-10).

Verses 8 and 9 reflect an extraordinary encounter with a man professing conversion to Christianity. Luke gives more detail about this man than he does concerning some of the other ten apostles not mentioned in the book of Acts. Why?

That man was one of the greatest religious figures in Samaria at that time. He is know in secular history as Simon Magus. The surname “ magus” reveals that he was a member of the priestly caste of ancient Persia, or in other words, a pagan priest. (See any encyclopedia or dictionary ).

Simon Magus Exposed

So Simon was nothing more than a priest of the Babylonian mystery religion, who used used sorcery and magic to bewitch the people of Samaria. He actually believed he was “some great one,” because the whole population of Samaria believed him and worshipped him as the “great power of God.” He had been doing this for so long, they believed that he was God in the flesh. “And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries” (Acts 8:11).

But Philip’s preaching also had great impact on the people of Samaria. Many believed and were baptized by him. Even Simon was impressed: “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done” (Acts 8:12-13).

So great was Philip’s success in Samaria, that news soon reached Jerusalem. “Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy [Spirit]: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy [Spirit]” (Acts 8:14-17). The news from Samaria was so exciting that the chief apostle, Peter, went to observe the events. He also took the apostle John with him.

Peter’s Prophecy

When Peter and John arrived in Samaria, they had to complete the work that Philip started. Even though most of Samaria believed Philip and were baptized, the Holy Spirit had not been given to any of them (v. 16). Peter and John prayed for God to give the Samaritans the Holy Spirit.

Simon, ever watchful, noticed this powerful demonstration of the giving of the Holy Spirit. Although he had been a highly respected magus, Simon continued to be impressed by the remarkable powers of the apostles and their ability to heal and to manifest miracles. When he saw Peter and John baptizing people by the laying on of hands, he asked that he might be taught the power of transferring the Holy Spirit to others. Eagerly, Simon offered to pay the apostles a fee to teach him how to manifest the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:9–24).

However Peter severely rebuked him for trying to buy his way into God’s Church. “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:21-23).

Peter recognized that Simon’s heart was not right with God and that he had plainly revealed his true intentions. It is evident he was never converted because he tried to buy access to God’s Spirit and the office of an apostle because he was obsessed with the idea of power.

Looking at verse 23 a little closer, we see that Peter revealed what this man would do in the future to God’s Church.

“For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” Lange’s Commentary says of verse 23, “Peter’s words, literally mean: ‘I regard you as a man whose influence will be like that of bitter gall [poison] and a bond of unrighteousness [lawlessness], or as a man who has reached such a state’” (vol. 9, p. 148).

Peter not only understood the twisted thinking of this man’s mind, he knew that Simon was to become a great adversary of God’s true Church. Simon did not repent of his grave sin.

“Then answered Simon and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me” (Acts 8:24). He only asked Peter to intercede for him, for forgiveness. But he never actually repented and “after this incident, appears no more in the book of Acts. Later literature shows him reappearing in Rome in the time of Claudius in a new movement of his own, curiously combining Christian and pagan elements, and in which he figures as a god” (p. 927, New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language).

The book of Acts was written about around a.d. 62, and Luke took great pains to record much about Simon Magus for us, because of the man’s fame and danger and the damage he had done to the true Church of God. Even the letters of Paul reflected much of this trouble. Luke showed that Simon Magus was not part of the Christian Church, and recorded the prophecy that Simon Magus was to become the founder of Mystery, Babylon the Great—the great false church of Revelation 17. Simon formed a unique league with the government in Rome, which proved to be very deadly for many of God’s true people throughout history.

Interestingly, the term “simony” to describe the ecclesiastical crime of paying for offices or positions in the hierarchy of a church has come down through the ages.

“The intertwining of temporal with spiritual authority in the Middle Ages caused endless problems with accusations of simony. Secular rulers wanted to employ the educated and centrally organized clergy in their administrations and often treated their spiritual positions as adjuncts to the secular administrative roles. Canon Law also outlawed as simony some acts that did not involve the sale of offices, but the sale of spiritual authority: the sale of tithes, the taking of a fee for confession, absolution, marriage or burial, and the concealment of one in mortal sin or the reconcilement of an impenitent for the sake of gain. Just what was or was not simony was strenuously litigated: as one commentator notes, the widespread practice of simony is best evidenced by the number of reported ecclesiastical decisions as to what is or is not simony.” (Wikipedia)

Simony was a serious moral problem of the Roman Catholic Church, the very same church whose “Peter” is the Simon Magus of biblical history.

Additional information about Simon Magus can be found in these reference works:

  • The eleventh edition of the “Encyclopaedia Britannica”
  • Schaff’s “History of the Church”
  • Hastings’ “Dictionary of the Apostolic Church”
  • Hastings’ “Dictionary of the Bible”
  • “Dictionary of Christian Biography”
  • The “Encyclopaedia Biblica.”
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