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Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 8:9-13

Simon the Magician Believes

But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles[a] performed, he was amazed.

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Last week’s entry discussed the first few verses of Acts 8, which is about Philip the Evangelist, not to be confused with Philip the Apostle.

Philip the Evangelist was one of the first deacons, instituted by the Apostles in Jerusalem. He was a Hellenic (Greek) Jew who converted and, like Stephen (the first martyr), God gave him the ability to work healing miracles.

Today’s verses describe how Philip was able to convert the Samaritan magician Simon — Simon Magus. Much has been written over the centuries about this man whose life story I will discuss more next week.

John MacArthur says that sorcery was well known during this era (emphases mine):

The word for sorcery is a word is maguon and it really is a word that means magic, simply maguon even sounds the same but its original meaning is to be skilled in magian lore. Do you remember that the men who came to the birth of Jesus Christ were called the Magi, that’s the same word. The magian lore is the priests religion of Medo-Persia connected with Zoroastrianism, it was kind of a combination of astronomy, astrology, horoscope, it was a science – superstition kind of duo. So these people who were astrologers and soothsayers, sorcerers dealt in incantations, charms, divinations, spells, astrology, horoscopes and so forth. This kind of thing really goes way back to the time of Zoroastrianism, it even goes back to the tower of Babel which was apparently related to the zodiac and all of this was basic to Simon’s operation.

MacArthur explains more about Simon’s power over the people in Samaria who knew of or had seen his works (verses 9, 11). Falling for his hype, they really believed Simon had God-given gifts (verse 10):

He was one who called demonic supernatural powers into action to perform wonders. Simon had used his sorcery to capture the minds of these people. The word bewitched means astonish them or dupe them or brought them under his control. He had actually captured these people. Now mark this down, these sorceries actually happened. He actually did supernatural things and it’s still being done today. These things were really being pulled off and because of them people’s minds were being captured to the control of Simon. And he announced to everybody that he was some great one, some great power of God.

Matthew Henry tells us that Simon might have gone to Samaria soon after Jesus visited the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), whose witness resulted in many converts. Henry says that Satan worked through Simon to disrupt this:

perhaps he came there by the instigation of the devil, soon after our Saviour had been there, to undo what he had been doing there; for it was always Satan’s way to crush a good work in its bud and infancy, 2 Corinthians 11:3,1Th+3:5.

Henry points out that, unlike Philip, Simon had no interest in improving people’s lives by bringing them to God:

He had no design to reform their lives, nor improve their worship and devotion, only to make them believe that he was, tis megas–some divine person. Justin Martyr says that he would be worshipped as proton theon–the chief god. He gave out himself to be the Son of God, the Messiah, so some think; or to be an angel, or a prophet. Perhaps he was uncertain within himself what title of honour to pretend to; but he would be thought some great one. Pride, ambition, and an affectation of grandeur, have always been the cause of abundance of mischief both to the world and to the church.

However, when Philip arrived, the people paid attention to him rather than to Simon. Philip’s preaching in the name of Jesus Christ and his miracles were so powerful that many men and women were baptised (verse 12).

Henry tells us that this shows the power of God will displace that of Satan any day:

Thus, notwithstanding the influence Simon Magus had had upon them, and the unwillingness there generally is in people to own themselves in an error, and to retract it, yet, when they saw the difference between Simon and Philip, they quitted Simon, gave heed no longer to him, but to Philip: and thus you see,

[2.] How strong the power of Divine grace is, by which they were brought to Christ, who is truth itself, and was, as I may say, the great undeceiver. By that grace working with the word those that had been led captive by Satan were brought into obedience to Christ.

In fact, Philip’s preaching was so powerful that Simon himself asked to be baptised and duly was (verse 13).

Simon then followed Philip.

Henry analyses this for us, saying that Simon, of all people, would have seen the greater power in Philip’s healing miracles than his own sorcery:

Yes (Acts 8:13), Simon himself believed also. He was convinced that Philip preached a true doctrine, because he saw it confirmed by real miracles, of which he was the better able to judge because he was conscious to himself of the trick of his own pretended ones. [1.] The present conviction went so far that he was baptized, was admitted, as other believers were, into the church by baptism;

He goes on to say that Philip was right to baptise Simon:

and we have no reason to think that Philip did amiss in baptizing him, no, nor in baptizing him quickly. Though he had been a very wicked man, a sorcerer, a pretender to divine honours, yet, upon his solemn profession of repentance for his sin and faith in Jesus Christ, he was baptized. For, as great wickedness before conversion keeps not true penitents from the benefits of God’s grace, so neither should it keep professing ones from church-fellowship. Prodigals, when they return, must be joyfully welcomed home, though we cannot be sure but that they will play the prodigal again. Nay, though he was now but a hypocrite, and really in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity all this while, and would soon have been found to be so if he had been tried awhile, yet Philip baptized him; for it is God’s prerogative to know the heart. The church and its ministers must go by a judgment of charity, as far as there is room for it. It is a maxim in the law, Donec contrarium patet, semper præsumitur meliori parti–We must hope the best as long as we can. And it is a maxim in the discipline of the church, De secretis non judicat ecclesia–The secrets of the heart God only judges.

However, Simon was intrigued by Philip’s miracles. His amazement is the subject of next week’s verses.

Next time — Acts 8:14-25

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