Uniform 10.04.2015: The Spirit Is Not for Sale

Acts 8:9-24


“Simony” isn’t a word that we hear every day. As a matter of fact, I might never have heard it had I not taken Church History in seminary—or if I didn’t watch “Jeopardy.” Simony is the buying and selling of church offices, a practice that became prevalent in the Middle Ages. People participated in such transactions because church property and power had become valuable enough that folks wanted them.

The practice is called “simony” in honor (or perhaps in dishonor) of the fellow in this week’s lesson text named Simon Magus (or Simon the Magician). Simon was, so far as we know, the first baptized person ever to try to acquire spiritual power with money. He wasn’t the last.

An important theme of Acts is the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ beyond Jerusalem and Judea and on into Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world. The setting for Simon Magus’s story is Samaria, a territory located between Judea and Galilee where people who were descended from the residents of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel lived. The Samaritans had their own holy mountain, Mt. Gerizim, on which their own temple once stood. They also had their own version of the Pentateuch that was their sole scriptural authority. Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along very well, as is too often the case with people of differing religious traditions, even when those traditions spring from the same roots.

We are familiar with the coming of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). We may not be quite as familiar with the subsequent bestowals of the Spirit in the Acts narrative. The pattern of those bestowals indicates that they constituted God’s validation of the inclusion in the Christian community of people whose acceptance might be unexpected or controversial. It’s as if God says, “I’ll make it obvious that they are as welcomed and included as others are.” In Acts 8, some Samaritans had believed in Jesus and been baptized as the result of the preaching of Philip. When Peter and John, who had been sent by the Jerusalem church to check out the Samaritan phenomenon, pray for the Samaritans and lay hands on them, the Holy Spirit falls on them. (Other examples of such validation by the Spirit can be seen in Acts 10, where the Spirit falls on the first Gentile believers, and in Acts 19:1-7, where it happens to some people who had experienced only the baptism of John the Baptist.)

Simon Magus, impressed that the Holy Spirit came when the apostles laid their hands on the Samaritans, offers to pay for that ability. As improper as his offer is, his motives compound the impropriety (vv. 22-23). My guess is that Simon saw that ability as a way to amaze people as he once had with his magic, back when people said that he was “the power of God that is called Great” (v. 10). In other words, while thinking he could purchase the ability to confer the Spirit was bad, wanting to use God’s power to increase his profile and reputation was worse. He was motivated not by a desire to serve God and help others but rather by a craving for power and prestige.

What motivates us to seek a greater presence of God in our lives?


1. How does the fact that Simon Magus was a baptized person affect the ways in which you interpret his request? Do your motivations for seeking what you seek from God ever not live up to your Christian ideals?
2. Why was Peter so harsh in his response to Simon Magus’s request to purchase the ability to confer the Holy Spirit?
3. Why do you suppose Simon “stayed constantly with Philip” after Simon was baptized?
4. Can you think of any ways in which people these days try to use money inappropriately to attempt to secure spiritual influence?

Reference Shelf

God’s Blessing

The story shows that in those who follow the apostles, as opposed to the Sanhedrin, one finds the true remnant of God’s people. Philip’s Samaritan mission is the first step beyond the initial Jerusalem phase of witness. The story makes clear that both God and the apostolic leadership sanction this phase of witness. Readers have grown accustomed to seeing Peter and John play the role of “apostolic representatives” (3:1, 3, 4, 11; 4:1, 13, 19). Where they act and speak, the apostles act and speak. In this crucial opening scene as the witness about Christ moves into its next phase, the duo will make their last appearance together as apostolic representatives. As they lay their hands on the Samaritans, they communicate all the apostles’ support for and approval of Philip’s work. The Samaritans’ reception of the Holy Spirit communicates God’s blessing both upon the witness presented beyond Jerusalem’s boundaries and the people who stand outside the fold of “the Jewish people.”

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 134.

Was Simon Magus a True Believer?

One of the most debated questions about Simon Magus was whether he was a genuine convert or whether he falsely claimed to believe in Christ. It is interesting that the word that denotes Simon’s being amazed at the signs performed by Philip is the same word used to denote the amazement of people of Samaria at Simon’s signs. The word probably indicates the character of the faith he had in the gospel–wondering amazement at a new phenomenon he did not understand rather than true repentance and trust in Christ. Most Christians in the generations immediately after Simon believed that he was an imposter who acted as he did for self-serving purposes.

Robert Rainwater, “Simon Magus,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (Macon GA: Mercer University, 1990), 827.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Uniform Series Curriculum Editor.


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