Simon Magus was a magician working among the people of Samaria. We meet Simon in Acts 8 as one of the converts to Jesus through the preaching of Stephan. We usually speak of Simon the sorcerer or Simon the magician. “Magus” means magician and is commonly added to his name to differentiate him from others named Simon.In any case, there are some important lessons from Simon’s brief New Testament appearance.
Simon Magus Background
We know nothing Biblically about his background except that he lived in Samaria. He was obviously an accomplished trickster who profited from his works of magic or sorcery. He claimed notoriety because of his power and was thought to draw his power from God. Simon made no attempt to prevent their accolades and enjoyed his position of prestige among the people (Acts 8:9-11).
Simon was in Samaria when Philip began preaching Jesus there. Samaria was one of the places the new Christians fled after the persecution began in Jerusalem. The crowds in Samaria listened carefully to the preaching of Philip, took note of the confirming miracles and responded in great numbers.
Philip was one of the deacons appointed in Acts 6 and was full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3, 5). As part of his commission the apostles in Jerusalem “laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6) and empowered him with the ability to work miracles. This ability confirmed to the people, including Simon, that Philip’s words were true and from God. The people responded to the “great miracles” (Acts 8:13) and many became believers in Jesus Christ including Simon.
Simon Magus Rebuked
There is nothing in the Bible to question Simon’s initial conversion. Nor is there any indication as to how long it took before the apostles came from Jerusalem. But once the apostles arrived, Simon’s heart fell back into his old ways.
The apostles came from Jerusalem in order to impart the miraculous gifts of the Spirit to the people in Samaria. The reader will observe that Philip, already in Samaria and preaching, could himself perform miracles (Acts 8:5-8, 13). Recall that the apostles had already laid hands on Philip (Acts 6:6). The presence of the apostles in Samaria was to lay hands on the people there who were Christians but did not have the ability to perform miracles.
Simon’s old ways returned. He calculated that if he could buy the ability to lay hands on people and give them the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit he could profit greatly. Notice what the inspired text says,
“Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:18-19, emphasis mine).
Simon was sternly rebuked by Peter, confessed his weakness and asked Peter and John to pray for him and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. Simon then fades into the crowds of believers and we never hear from him again.((There are non-Biblical legends that persist about Simon and charge him with being the leader of a pagan syncretic group known as the Simonians. However the Bible make no such mention.))
Simon Magus and Miracles
The story of Simon teaches an important lesson regarding miracles. The only people who could perform miracles were the apostles and those to whom the apostles gave that power. No one else could pass along that power. The implications are important.
John was the final apostle to die, likely near the end of the 1st century or around 100 AD. When he died, the ability to pass along miracle-working abilities died with him. Therefore, there was no source left for the power. Those who claim the ability today to perform miracles find themselves in Simon’s camp and not that of the apostles.
We understand, and the apostles and inspired writers confirm, miracles were never intended to be a permanent party of the Christian life (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). Miracles confirmed the new word and new teachings being proclaimed of the risen savior. Once confirmed, the miracles were no longer needed.
Simon certainly teaches us of the need to completely change our lives and root out any vestige of sin. But it also teaches plainly that the ability to perform miracles was linked to living apostles. Let us not be fooled by supposed healers and miracle workers today.