Online Bible Commentary
The Birth of Simony
Acts 8:18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, "Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit." 20 But Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." 24 Then Simon answered and said, "Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me." 25 So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans. (NKJV)
The time is the early thirties. The New Testament church has begun to spread out from its beginnings in Jerusalem. Philip has travelled north to Samaria to spread the gospel. Samaritans are Jews that intermarried with Gentiles. They are looked down upon by the first century Jews, but not by the disciples.
Peter and some other apostles travelled to Samaria when they learned that the new Samaritan believers had not yet received the Holy Spirit. They prayed and laid hands on the new believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.
This method of receiving the Holy Spirit was unique to this situation. Perhaps the Lord wanted to assure Jewish believers that Samaritans were just as much Christians as they were.
This passage introduces us to the term “simony”. Merriam Webster defines simony as “the buying or selling of a church office or ecclesiastical preferment.” It is a term used when someone tries to make a business out of that which is sacred. It includes the sell of indulgences and other spiritual benefits, along with all forms of commercialism in religious matters.
Simon, the magician, had convinced the people of Samaria through his sorcery that he was a god. He charged a fee for his services. When Philip arrived the people saw real miracles from God. They stopped following Simon and started following Philip. This was bad for Simon’s business.
So Simon pretended to become a believer in order to learn from the apostles how to perform these great miracles. He offered the apostles money to teach him the power to lay on hands and indwell others with the Holy Spirit (vv. 18-19). This was the birth of the term “simony”.
Peter immediately reprimanded Simon, saying “Your money perish with you” (v. 20a). Peter was calling out Simon as a non believer since believers never perish (John 3:16).
Peter admonished Simon for thinking that “the gift of God could be purchased with money” (v. 20b). Peter told Simon that he did not have “part nor portion in this matter”, meaning that he was not in fellowship with believers, was not a believer (v. 21a).
Peter continued, telling Simon “your heart is not right”, a description of an unsaved person (v. 21b). He instructed Simon to repent of his sins and ask God for forgiveness (v. 22-23). Instead, Simon asked Peter to be a mediator for him with God (v. 24). Simon was not sorry for his sin, he only wanted Peter to fix things with God for him.
Peter, noting Simon’s lostness, left him to his own devices. He had told Simon what needed to be done. Only Simon could save himself, by repenting and asking God for forgiveness. After they completed their work in Samaria Peter and the other disciples departed back to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel all along the way (v. 25).
Simon the magician never became a believer. According to Early Church historians he became a foe of Peter. He followed Peter around, seeking out encounters. He even followed Peter to Rome, where he met his death. According to Hippolytus, the earliest authority on this subject, Simon was buried alive in Rome, at his own request, vowing to rise again on the third day. His legacy is the term “simony”.
There is only one way to God. And no one can do it for us. When Jesus died on the cross the great curtain in the temple that separated the people from God, the curtain to the room called the Holy of Holies, mysteriously was torn in two. Men could now go directly to God. They no longer needed a priest, a mediator, to do it for them.
Simon chose not to repent of his sins and ask God for forgiveness. It is something that we all must do for ourselves in order to become a Christian, and spend eternity in Heaven.
On the “About Us” page of this website there is a prayer you can pray to become a Christian. If you are not sure you are a Christian I encourage you to say that prayer.