Question: "Who was Simon the Sorcerer?"
Answer: Simon the Sorcerer, sometimes referred to as Simon Magus or Simon of Gitta, is mentioned by Luke in Acts 8:9–24. He appeared in the wake of the newly established church in Samaria. A minor figure in New Testament history, Simon also appears in Gnostic texts in which his character and biography are expanded upon, but these accounts are unlikely to be historically reliable due to the nature of these writings and their anonymous authors.
It is not clear where Simon was born. In the book of Acts it is stated that he “amazed all the people of Samaria” (Acts 8:9), but the account does not identify him as a Samaritan himself. Christian apologist Justin Martyr is believed to have propagated the idea that Simon was a Samaritan from the city of Gitta, and this has been accepted in early church tradition and today by some church historians. The Jew called Simon who “pretended to be a magician” is referred to by the historian Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, book 20, chapter 7), but this appears to be a different historical figure, as he was born in Cyprus.
Sorcery, which is strongly condemned by God (Deuteronomy 18:9–13), was common in the ancient world, and, while some acts and demonstrations were no more than illusions of the mind, others were empowered by Satan in an attempt to discredit the power of God (Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9). It appears Simon was the latter, as Luke states that he had amazed the Samaritans “for a long time with his sorcery” (Acts 8:11), some even declaring that he was “the great Power of God” (Acts 8:10), a messianic title. Interestingly, however, Simon’s empowerment by Satan did not include loyalty to the demonic. In the wake of hearing and seeing the disciple Philip “as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12), Simon was baptized into the early church and “followed Philip everywhere” (Acts 8:13).
The Bible says that “the Holy Spirit had not yet come” upon the Samaritans (Acts 8:16). Later, the apostles Peter and John arrived, at which time the Spirit came upon the believers. Simon witnessed this event and “offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 8:19–20). At this point, Peter strongly reprimands Simon for his greed and states that he needs to “repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart” (Acts 8:22). Fearful of the apostle’s words, Simon pleads with Peter to pray to the Lord on his behalf.
After this event, the Bible never again refers to Simon the Sorcerer. It would appear, contrary to apocryphal and Gnostic texts that seek to glorify his role as sorcerer and his previous satanic abilities, that Simon was repentant and may have continued to be a member of the local church in Samaria. However, Justin Martyr and other Christian apologists like Irenaeus insist he was an antichrist and continued his sorcery, even founding Gnosticism itself. The greed of Simon is recalled in the modern word simony, “using religion as a means of profit.”
Contemporary Christians should take from the account of Simon that the church, even today, must be careful of those claiming to possess supernatural abilities, and those claiming to be Christians who desire to “buy the gift of God with money,” for their "heart is not right before God” (Acts 8:20–21).
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