When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 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. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
– Acts 8:18-24, New International Version
The story now focuses on the interaction between Simon and Peter. When Simon saw that through the laying on of hands the Spirit was bestowed, old motivations stirred in his heart. He offered Peter money to obtain this give of bestowing the Spirit through the laying on of hands. This brought on a stern rebuke from Peter and then Simon’s response to that rebuke.
This part of the story gives rise to the subject of the evidence of the Spirit’s presence. What does this passage suggest with regard to evidence. What convinced Simon that the Samaritans were receiving the Spirit.
First, Luke says, “when Simon saw that the Spirit was given (didotai) through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money.” How did Simon know that the Samaritans had received the Spirit? Simon “saw” something happen. What he saw led to his wrong action.
Does Luke use the word “saw” here in the sense that he concluded this without any particular evidence? Or, did he actually see something that led him to this conclusion? Certainly, he saw Peter and John lay hands on the Samaritans. In the view of many commentators he also saw the Samaritans do something that demonstrated they received the Spirit. It is highly unlikely that Simon would have offered money without a visible response from the Samaritans. As Haenchen (p. 308) says, “Simon must ‘see’ it if he is to covet it.” I concur with this view.
Whatever happened must have met the following criteria: (1) it was observable, (2) it was something the Samaritans did, and (3) it happened immediately. The most likely candidate for what happened is some sort of vocal expression. A vocal expression would be observable, an action of the Samaritans, and it could happen right away.
Moreover, many commentators, whether Pentecostal or not, believe that the Samaritans spoke in tongues. For example, Robertson (p. 107) says that the word “saw” “shows plainly that those who received the gift of the Holy Spirit spoke with tongues.” Certainly, speaking in tongues would be a suitable and convincing evidence for this occasion as it was on other occasions. Compare “speak with other tongues” (Acts 2:4), “speaking with tongues and exalting God” (Acts 10:46), and “speaking with tongues and prophesying” (Acts 19:6). Although the text does not explicitly say that the Samaritans spoke in tongues, the inference is strong.
Second, the phrase “in this matter (logoi)” in v. 21 is relevant here. According to Rea (p. 176), “The word for ‘matter’ is Greek logos, ‘word,’ ‘speaking,’ or ‘kind of speaking’ as in I Corinthians 1:5 where Paul says the Corinthians were enriched ‘in all your speaking’ (NIV).” The thought favored by Rea is that Simon would have no part in this kind of speaking.
Another view favors the idea that Simon would have no part in the ministry of imparting the Spirit. The NIV, for example, translates “in this ministry.” Certainly, Simon was desirous of having a ministry of bestowing the Spirit. Haenchen (p. 304) states, “Simon did not wish to buy the gift of the Spirit, but the capacity to confer it through the laying-on of hands.”
Lenski (p. 330) is more comprehensive concerning this “matter.” He writes: “But we must not narrow its sense in this statement to the transmission of the Spirit by the bestowal of a spiritual gift. ‘This matter’ includes everything connected with the Spirit and his gifts.”
It is not unusual for some people to become wrongly motivated in times of spiritual awakening. Simon had been a big man in Samaria and had the attention of the people. Philip turned their attention to Christ. Even Simon believed, but when the apostles laid hands on the Samaritans to receive the Spirit, old motivations were stirred within him.
Simon asked for the “authority” to bestow the Spirit. He thought that he needed apostolic authority to bestow the Spirit and that the method would be through the laying on of hands. Actually neither apostolic authority nor laying on of hands are necessary. Although God uses instruments, the believers themselves must exercise faith. Ultimately, it is as a result of faith that they receive the Spirit.
Peter (vv. 20-23) sharply rebukes Simon. Peter tells him that his heart is not right with God and that he is in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity. Peter exhorts him to “repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.” His error was not beyond repair or else Peter would not have made this exhortation.
Luke concludes the story with this comment: “But Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” NASU Many commentators think that Simon was forever lost because of his sin. Against this, Lenski (p. 333) says, “Luke’s words permit only one interpretation, namely that Simon did repent, that Peter’s strong words were not in vain.” Although Lenski’s view is not certain, Simon’s request at least holds open the possibility that Simon repented.
The story of the spread of the gospel to Samaria is a powerful missionary story. It is filled with the drama of great revival and powerful results. Luke does not fail to tell of Simon’s failure. This, too, often happens in the expansion of the church. One of the main lessons, however, is that we must take “not yet” seriously. The Christian life is one of constant progress. No one has arrived at a fully mature position. Our progress should include praying for the Spirit to fall upon us in power.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Dunn, James D. G. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. London: SCM Press Ltd. 1970.
Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1981.
Horton, Stanley M. What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1976.
Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971.
Rea, John. Bible Handbook on the Holy Spirit. Orlando: Creation House, 1998.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
© Copyright 2002. GMF.