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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, April 08 2021

The strange tale of Simon, the Magician

Simon the Magician came from the Middle East, but his religious cult expanded over a wide area perverting the teachings of Jesus Christ. He is mentioned in the book of Acts and founded a counterfeit Christianity promoting false ideas and doctrines.

by Gary Petty

After Jesus' crucifixion, death and resurrection His followers set about spreading the Gospel message. A disciple named Philip taught in Samaria, an area not far from Jerusalem, and many people began to respond to his message.

During his time in Samaria Philip came in contact with a pagan religious leader known as Simon the Magician. Many of Simon's followers believed Philip's message about Jesus as the prophesied Messiah, and were baptized. Even Simon himself professed to be a Christian and he too was baptized (Acts 8:12-13).

A short time later the apostles Peter and John travelled to Samaria to teach the new converts and lay hands upon them so they would receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17-19). When Simon saw the people were given God's Spirit, he offered the apostles money to give him this power. (This is the origins of the English word ‘simony’, which refers to the selling and buying of religious offices.)

The biblical account doesn't say Simon wanted to give up his false teachings or even change his way of life. What he wanted was power (Acts 8:19). The apostles knew this and called him a man of bitterness, rejecting his request (Acts 8:23). After this, Simon the "Magician" disappears from the biblical account, but he continued to lead his religious cult, adding elements of the teachings of Jesus to his pagan-Jewish mixture, and becoming part of a movement to create a paganized Christianity.

At the heart of Simon's heresy was the belief he could receive power from God without changing his ways to please God. The religious movement became known as gnosticism, and in the New Testament this false teaching is referred to as ‘lawlessness’. Even today many believe the law of God was done away by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul maintained this approach was already gathering momentum during his lifetime, "For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work..." (2 Thessalonians 2:7).

The Ten Commandments aren't anti-love or anti-grace, as some maintain. They actually define the most basic behaviours of love. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not murder. 1 John 5:3 very plainly tells us that love is keeping the commandments. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expanded the meaning of the word ‘love’ beyond the simple letter of the law. For example he explained obedience to the commandment "do not murder" entailed learning not to hate, because hatred is the root cause of murder.

Nearly 300 years after Peter confronted Simon, a bishop named Eusebius lamented the Simonian cult still existed: "It is an astonishing fact that this is still the practice of those who to the present day belong to his (this) disgusting sect. Following in…. [Simon's] footsteps they slip into the church like a pestilential and scabby disease, and do the utmost damage to all whom they succeed in smearing with the horrible, deadly poison concealed on them" (The History of the Church by Eusebius.)

It is clear that Simon's greatest heresies were infecting Christianity hundreds of years after he is mentioned in the book of Acts, and one of the reasons God inspired Luke to record these events is because Christians will be combating the "mystery of lawlessness" until the return of Jesus Christ.