Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Acts 8: 9-24: Was Simon the Sorcerer Really Saved?

If you have read the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible, commonly referred to as the book of Acts or just Acts, you will have encountered the recollection of an event involving a man named Simon (not the Apostle Peter) who is described as being a sorcerer; that is, he involved himself in divination or soliciting magical powers, presumably from demonic sources but which is ascribed by others in Samaria as powers from God. The story informs us that this sorcerer, Simon, came to believe on Christ, in other words he was saved. But not long after this Simon, in observing the phenomenon of Peter being able to lay hands on believers and give them the Holy Spirit, offered to pay Peter for this ability so that he, too, may give the Holy Spirit to others.
In the text below you will learn of Peter’s response which was one of indignation, to say the least. Mainly, I want you to consider whether Simon the sorcerer had really been saved. Some, many maybe, have asserted that Simon the sorcerer not only was not saved but could not have been saved. This conclusion is greatly based on his behavior in this singular event, though, again, he is recorded as having believed and been baptized. Here is the story and afterward I will provide an examination of the matter. It comes from Acts 8:9-24 (ESV): 
9 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 performed, he was amazed.
14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
The Very First Thing You Must Accept from the Text
The text itself, under the inspiration of God, makes a claim that is not one which is qualified either directly or indirectly by contextual suggestion (by contextual suggestion I am referring to the fact that this the context does not suggest the declaration of Simon's faith is merely describing what other men believed to be true though it may not be.) Rather, it is revealing what God knew to be true, that Simon believed and not only believed but was baptized and then continued steadfastly with Phillip, which is to say he became a disciple. It is of grave importance that regardless of what you see transpire before you eyes you do not take your focus off of or attempt to disqualify the claim of the text, that Simon believed. You might be startled by what occurred but your being startled does not afford you the opportunity to contradict God’s revelation.
A second note from the text which is also important is how Simon is attached to others who believed. Look at verses 12 -13 again: 
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 performed, he was amazed
Notice something? Right, Simon’s belief is held as being synonymous with the other Samarian men and women who “believed” and “were baptized”. He is included among this group. It is not merely the personal claim of Simon but the claim of God via the inspired gospel writer, Luke the physician. So this is not a record of Simon’s claim of himself but a Scriptural claim of Simon's faith and of course anyone else in the text who was part of the Samarian men and women who believed and were baptized.
 When Theology Trumps Exegesis

There is an axiom, that our theology should be a derivative of our exegesis and not our exegesis from our theology. Unfortunately, for some, a school of theology will be preserved regardless of how clear a text may be which confronts the weaknesses of their identified theology. And the Augustinian-Reformed-Calvinist (ARC) school of theology will normally fall into this category on this occasion, most notably when the Scriptures conflict with their proprietary TULIP doctrines.
Most of their teachers will claim that Simon was not saved; that he could not have really believed or that he made false profession. That, however, does damage to the nature of the text which is not describing Simon’s declaration of faith as viewed before men or how men would judge him. On the contrary, the context is that of the divine record of his salvation. In other words we are being told what God knew and knows and it is being recorded for us; that Simon not only believed but was baptized and proskarterōn (προσκαρτερῶν) continued steadfastly with Simon. So Simon not only believed and was baptized but became a disciple.
However, for many people, because they hold to certain expectation regarding how a Christian must act instead of how they should act as a believer, they are confounded by what appears to be a Christian acting outrageously sinful, if not possibly blasphemous. How can that be, some ponder? 
I want to illustrate the typical mind-set (but not necessarily universal, I hold no such prejudice) of this sect of believers with three illustrations. The first is a look at Neo-Calvinist John Piper’s view. Then we'll examine a quote from an essay at a Reformed website Reformed Theology and the last are the musings of a group at a discussion forum named, The Puritan Board
You will be rather amazed at the double-speak and willingness to redefine words in the text or insert (eisegete - read into a text) concepts into the text which are not present in order to make the Bible say what is needed to be said in order to reflect theological conclusions (errant, in my view) which come from this system.
John Piper on Simon the Sorcerer. I will begin with a rather exegetically and theologically challenged, Neo-Calvinist Bible Teacher in the world of Calvinist, Neo-Calvinist, Evangelical and some allegedly Fundamentalist circles, namely JohnPiper. He states about Simon’s faith:
First, there is a "faith," there is a "believing," that does not save, even though it rises in the presence of true preaching and true miracles.
And ends this small section with this conclusion which is basically a repeat of what he said to begin with:

And yet Luke says in verse 13a, "Even Simon himself believed." The point I draw out of this is that there is a "faith" or a "believing" that does not save, even though it rises in the presence of true preaching and true miracles.

Response to Piper’s Assertion. John Piper does two things here:
1. He invents an imaginary Biblical double-meaning or double-level to the words faith or believe as if there are two meanings to the words. In the first magic trick (pun intended) Piper asserts that we can simply accept that the Bible means for us to understand, when we encounter the claim that someone believed the gospel, that it is quite possible that he or she did not actually believe and was not really saved even though you will never, ever at any time or at any place ever find the Word of God referring to someone believing the gospel but not really believing or believing but not being saved. As Piper describes it, he wants you to accept idea that believing the gospel can refer to it as rising “in the presence of true preaching and true miracles” but not having a resulting salvation.
However, this exists no where in the Bible as can be properly interpreted. Piper simply makes this up on the spot. Why? As stated earlier, for some, theology comes before exegesis and here the text defies John Piper’s Calvinism which cannot tolerate believers acting in such a manner and still being referred to as believers.
2. Piper ignores the context which treats Simon’s faith as identical to the faith of the Samarian men and women who believed and were baptized. It is rather prima facie here; Simon is grouped with and treated equally, not separately, to other believers whose faith is affirmed, not questioned.
Reformation Theology’s Article on Simon the Sorcerer. Now onto a second ARC comment. This comes from Reformationtheology.com and the authors cited in this work are:
· Rev. John Samson

· Rev. David Thommen (URC)

· John Hendryx

· Nathan Pitchford
But consider how evilly we blaspheme Christ when we reject his works in our behalf and cling instead to our own. This wickedness comes from failing to see the purity of the love of Christ, and thinking that his work of redemption was done because he needed something from us, and that it was therefore not purest love alone that motivated him.
How then is it that some will try to satisfy God by their own works, and some (more unthinkable yet!) will think that they may buy his favor with money? This spirit of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9-23) is still alive today. There are still many who pay their filthy money to the devil-hordes swarming in the monastic orders of Rome, and in exchange receive a certificate assuring them that they or their departed loved ones will receive a share in the merits of all the monks' supererogatory works, blasphemous masses, fruitless and babbling prayers, and so on.
Response to Reformation Theology’s Assertion. It is of amazement to me that the text is simply misconstrued on the whole as if all it exists for is as a springboard to produce a commentary which is not based on the genuine order of the elements of the text. The text appears to be a medium, not for interpreting Scripture and determining what God is revealing to us but a medium for the expressing of ARC theology which is going to be forced upon the text thus, its treatment and ultimate interpretations.
Look at their claim. They interpret the attempt of Simon to purchase the Holy Spirit as Simon trying to buy off God to be saved! An elementary school student can understand that though Simon erred it was not in the context of trying to purchase salvation, rather it was a post-salvational offense of arrogance in trying to pay the Apostle Peter for the ability to lay hands on others and give them the Holy Spirit.
Remember, when someone is devoted to their theology before they are to exegesis they will encounter the Bible with expectations which have to be met. And sometimes they will engage in rather obvious mistakes that, while they are waxing eloquently and piously to the approbation of their peer-approving mutual admiration society because it validates their theology, to others it comes across as a foolish and often sanctimonious mess and this is precisely what we have here with regard to the treatment of the text. Frankly, it is an embarrassing read and claim of the text by allegedly insightful Reformed Teachers.
The Puritan Board’s Thread on Simon the Sorcerer. Now to something more immediate, the refinement of the above error in a contemporary conversation found at The Puritan Board. Here is an excerpt from a few board participants at a thread created to discuss the matter of Simon and sorcerer and whether or not he was saved or really believed (there was one poster who affirmed Simon’s conversion, satisfyingly so, but you will notice few ARC believers enjoy discussing this topic because they are unable to reconcile it with their flawed theology). A poster named Contra_Mundum, who says in his bio he is Rev. Bruce G. Buchanan, ChainOLakes Presbyterian Church, CentralLake, MI, states: 
He had "faith," just not "saving faith."
Peter's witness is an infallible interpreter of the earlier testimony, clarifying the sort of faith he had.

John 2:23-25
23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
Response to this Post and Similar Ones at the Puritan Board. There are two things this commentator does, one of which was done by John Piper earlier but then apples don’t fall far from their trees so this is not surprising (this is not to say he got it directly from Piper, but Piper, is a son of the ARC views as this student is).
1. He claims that there is such thing as faith that does not save. Notice what he asserts, that Simon has faith, just not saving faith. Have you read the Bible much, particularly the New Testament? Do you see what is missing? What is absent is the qualifier that this Pastor now wishes to insert into God’s Word which is not only to refer to faith in Christ as just that, faith, but it has to be “saving faith”.
Why, pray tell, do the author’s of the New Testament fail miserably at communicating to us that there are two kinds of faith; a faith that does not save and one which does? Why? Because there is no such dichotomy, that is why.
Faith in the promise of the gospel - that is, to believe or trust the gospel to be true - is faith. To not do this is not called faith; it is called no faith or not having faith. Faith in the gospel always assumes its salvific property. The Bible always presents faith as one thing, that which saves. Again, there is no place at any time in the Bible when someone is stated to have placed faith in the Word of God or said to have believed in which it was anything less than saving faith because that is precisely what faith does, it saves, otherwise whatever you are doing in your mind is not faith if it does not result in your salvation with respect to the gospel.
And that is the nature of faith; it either is or is not. Faith that does not save is called unbelief or no faith. There are not three levels such as: 
  • no faith
  • faith that does not save
  • faith that saves
This is no where in the Bible. This has been invented to accommodate Augustine’s and even more so Calvin’s errant doctrine of perseverance.
2. He attempts to use another, unrelated and misinterpreted, passage to explain the Acts passage. It is true there can be a theological use of other passages in our hermeneutic but our interpretation of the passage in question must be accurately exegeted before we even consider other passages and the commenter has failed this threshold. And so, as to the use of other passages, they too must be accurately exegeted and be applicable if used and here he fails as well since he misinterprets the passage and it has no bearing in the first place.
In the portion of Scripture from John which the poster cites, we easily find that it speaks about new converts that Christ did not trust. It says nothing about them not being saved or where it says they “believed” they were not really saved or born again and that this is why Christ did not trust himself to them. On the contrary, it claims that they believed and we are not given license to reject this testimony of Scripture. What it does say further, however, is that Christ also knew what was in man and that he took the time to apply some wisdom and not trust himself to this group.
The passage does not explain the reasoning of Christ as to why he did not trust the collective but to assert it is because the text deceives us and that the no one in the group described as having believed really did not believe, thus were not really converts, is simply to ignore its claims. Rather, it is more likely that Christ, knowing new converts are normally unstable and these ones would probably face the onslaught of their Jewish friends and religious leaders and be subject to the high pressured context of Christ’s ministry at that time and its heavy-handed opposition, may have resulted in these spiritual infants capitulating to the intimidation of the unbelieving Jews to either be afraid to properly attend to the protection of Christ or even worse, give in to some kind of participation in his assault.
Look at the Apostle Peter, an Apostle and believer who had some growth. He, himself, denied Christ under pressure and so it stands to reason these new converts probably could not be trusted with Christ’s immediate well being seeing the Pharisees hated him so and would probably seek to socially or financially injure these new Jewish converts to Christ.
*(As a side note, brothers in the Lord or not, sanctimony can be nauseating and should be identified as it not only infects but creates strains of diseases in the body of Christ which injure entire lives of believers. And at The Puritan Board, if you have never read it you ought to. While no doubt it is a bed of sanctimony and self-righteousness, I will concede among the mess one will find right thoughts on some matters but it never justifies or somehow balances the sickness of self-righteousness as an element of grace and if you need to understand what it is, go here and read a while and you will see a group of people very willing, consistently, to judge the salvation of others as if God has permitted us to do this and it will be based, quite systematically, on a comparison to themselves and their faithfulness with a sprinkle of out of context Bible passages. Once you build up an immunity to the sanctimony, at times it can be a bit entertaining, i.e. amusing, but I wouldn’t park there too long lest you forget its true offense to the truth and practical damage to Christians as they are modeled and taught this mistaken way of Christian thinking and living).
 What about the Offer to Buy the Holy Spirit?
The first thing you should notice was that if Simon was as deceitful as claimed, that he only wished to return to his former social status enhanced by what Christianity could offer, you have a problem with the fact that while Simon steadfastly continued with Phillip and while Phillip was constantly exercising signs and miracles, it says only of Simon that he was “amazed”. While one cannot argue from silence that this proves Simon had pure intentions only in being amazed, what it does do is act contradictory toward the claim that Simon was just a carnal man professing faith so he could obtain the virtues of Christianity for his magic business because in all of this he does not solicit to buy or gain such abilities from Phillip.
Now, Peter and John come along and Simon witnesses them giving the Holy Spirit via their apostolic gifting and Simon wishes to do this as well. The text does not reveal why this laying on of hands and giving the Holy Spirit was of more interest than the signs and wonders by Phillip, but it does speak to something else, that Simon did not seek this for any magical powers per se, that is, to promote himself as a magician and further his former career. Instead, it only shows him interested in becoming a vehicle of the giving of the Holy Spirit. It is rather removed from assertions and charges by John Piper who completely ignores the text’s properties when he says:
 “So when Philip came to town and not only preached but performed signs by healing people and casting out demons (Acts 8:7), Simon knew the power was real, and that it was stronger than his power. So he was ready to switch sides. He even tried to buy the power with money because he wanted it so badly (v. 18).” 
No John. No where in the text does it claim Simon wanted the power to perform signs, it says he wanted the ability to lay hands on people and give them the Holy Spirit! I often have warned people about John Piper, not because he is not sincere but because he simply is an awful reader and interpreter of Bible texts on too many occasions. He appears preoccupied with his theological presuppositions and novel ideas which blind him to texts and results in him making assertions about Biblical texts which a novice would recognize are not present. It is rather amazing, the level of acceptance and tolerance he gets from so many Evangelicals but worse, some alleged Fundamentalists who, while having their shortcomings over the years, have been noted for refusing such exegetical flamboyancy in their better circles.
The Offer of Money and Spiritual Immaturity. The offer of money by Simon was frankly, quite normal, with regard to the historical/social context of the event. He understood the giving of the Holy Spirit as a commodity. What he did not understand was that it was a free commodity and that it was only given by God, at that time, through assigned persons. It was a divine commodity with a divine protocol. And this it is very typical of a new, adult believer, to erroneously import into their new faith the baggage of errant human viewpoint and attempt to superimpose it onto the Christian way of life. Simon had quite a bit yet to learn.
What clearly took control of Simon was not a lack of conversion but spiritual immaturity and ignorance which ignited human arrogance. He, in fact, is an outstanding example many of the kinds of things that immature or new believers do in the spiritual diapers stage; they mix their former thinking with their new thinking because they have not had time to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. You have seen it and I have seen it and likely we have all done it and what Simon did was just that, act in immature spiritual ignorance resulting in arrogance toward the protocols of God.
 Peter’s Rebuke to Simon
If nothing so far is of help to you in understanding that Simon is a believer, this final portion of the event ought to aid your comprehension of one thing, that if he is not genuinely a believer but somehow magically “believed but was not saved” as it may happen in World Bizarro of Theological Claims it ought to be of some additional weight that such a foolish charge is unsupported by Peter’s rebuke.
Peter’s Rebuke. Peter does not rebuke Simon as an unbeliever rather, with the view that as a believer, Simon has sinfully attempted to gain something and and for which God has not assigned him. In verse 21 Peter emphatically states, “You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God”.
What lot? The word lot refers to a part of something which is, in fact, confirmed by the antecedent use of the words lot and part to describe that of which Simon has no part. And what is this lot of which Simon has no part? Clearly the text tells us, that the part or lot is the apostolic work of the laying on of hands and the giving of the Holy Spirit and not salvation.
The Arrogance of Spiritual Childhood. Remember, Simon was not trying to buy salvation as the Reformation Theology article asserted in rather amazingly bad fashion. He was trying to purchase an ability, an apostolic ability. Was it sinful? Yes. Was it the sin of a spiritual child? Yes. But it still warranted Peter's rebuke. Why? Because arrogance, whether the arrogance of a spiritual child or adult, is just that, arrogance and is not an acceptable way of thinking for the Christian way of life. Simon was at the initial stages of discipleship and of his mind being transformed when he ran into a major misconception and Peter did just what the Bible instructs spiritual leaders and Teachers to do, rebuke and correct.
The Remedy of Christian Arrogance. Notice the remedy Peter gives, not that Simon is to go believe and be saved rather, that he repent of “this wickedness”. Peter’s instruction is not that to the unbelieving/unregenerate who must be directed to the gospel rather, it was to a believer in the midst of sin, which is the call to repent of that sin. It is highly consistent with 1 John 1:9 in which we confess our sins as we continue in our walk with the Lord. Peter did not call on Simon to believe the gospel because it is understood his problem was not one of failing to have been converted, instead, it was one of failing to understand the protocols of God for apostolic spiritual gifting (and all spiritual gifting) and allowing human arrogance to lead him about in his immaturity.
The overwhelming demand of the text is that we accept it as it is stated, that God is declaring by record, through Luke, that Simon believed which is always treated in Scripture as resulting in regeneration and having eternal life. The Word of God never refers to someone believing the gospel and not being saved, ever. It is of supreme arrogant to impose upon “believe” the idea that one can believe the gospel but not be saved.
Academic Knowledge is not Equated with Belief. Remember this, knowing what others believe is not belief. While it might be true that someone can recite, academically, what the gospel says the Bible never considers this context as any form of belief, ever. The words believe, trust or faith when used in context of a person believing the gospel, exercising faith in the gospel or trusting the truth of the gospel is exclusively and absolute one which results in regeneration, eternal life and all of the assets of our union with Christ which are perfectly and endlessly sustained by the Godhead. In other words, belief in the gospel always performs its saving objective and there is no such thing as another kind of faith in the gospel for humanity which is taught in God's Word.
 But that aside, as painful as it is to lay it aside since it is the demand we must meet, I will entertain the Reformed assertion of Augustine’s rather self-righteous children that Simon could not be saved because of the nature of his sin. To that I would and do say, learn more of yourselves. The more you learn of yourselves and the more honest you are with yourselves the more you will understand just why you and Simon are no different and why your salvation is not based on looking at your performance as the certainty that you are saved rather, that it is based on and in the integrity of God. This is because we will and do fail on tremendous scales whether we know it or not. Save the sanctimony for books and plays, it has no place in the Christian life.
 But more so, look at the text. It says Simon believed, he sinned, and was rebuked and corrected by the Apostle Peter whose correction was not to assert Simon was not saved but that he needed to repent of that sin. In fact, Peter tells Simon what he sees, not an unsaved man but someone caught up in a sin and describes that sin. The remedy is not to go get saved because he already is saved but to repent of this sin. One does not repent of one sin to be saved but they do repent of a sin if they are a believer in order to return to fellowship and have their heart “right with God”. But maybe you know something the Apostle Peter did not at that moment when he was face to face with Simon. You can take that up with him when you see him in eternity.
(Edited 2017)