Tuesday, January 1, 2013

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


*(Edited from the original.)
If you have read the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible, commonly referred to “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 from demonic sources but which is ascribed by others in Samaria as powers from God.  The story informs us that Simon believed 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 indignant to say the least. But 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 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):
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 here. So this is not a record of Simon’s claim of himself but God’s claim of Simon and of course anyone else in the text who was part of the Samarian men and women who believed and was baptized.

When Theology Trumps Exegesis

There is an axiom, that our theology should substantially 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 weaknesses of their identified theology. And the Augustinian-Reformed-Calvinist (ARC) school(s) 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”. However, that does damage to the nature of the text which is not describing Simon’s declaration of faith as viewed before men, that is,  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 but at times may not either in one instance or for a prolonged period, they are confounded by what appears to be a Christian acting what some might even describe as  at least outrageously sinful in some manner if not possibly blasphemous. How can that be, some ask? 

I want to illustrate the typical (but not necessarily universal, I hold no such prejudice) mind-set of this sect of believers (The Augustinian-Reformed-Calvinist) with three illustrations. The first is a look at Neo-Calvinist John Piper’s view, and then a quote from an essay at a Reformed website Reformed Theology and the last is the musings of a group at what is 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) into the text concepts which are not present in order to make the Bible say what is needed in order to reflect errant theological conclusions which come from this system.

John Piper on Simon the Sorcerer. I will begin with one of the most exegetically and theologically challenged and sadly inept, Neo-Calvinist Bible Teachers 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, in his typically eisegetical fashion 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 it is quite possible that he or she 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 as 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 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, from 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.

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 sound great to them and 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, prey tell, do the author’s of the New Testament fail miserably at communicating to us that there are two kinds of faith, faith that does not saved and saving faith? 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 more precisely that 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 errant 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 he “steadfastly continued” with Phillip and 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 good intentions only in being amazed what it does do is act contradictorily 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. He is so consumed with his theological presuppositions and novel ideas that it blinds him to texts and results in him making assertions about a text that 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 ignorance in their better circles.

The Offer of Money and Spiritual Immaturity. The offer of money by Simon was frankly, quite normal, socially. 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.

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 their stage of being in spiritual diapers, 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 what Simon did was just that, 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 Simon has attempted to gain something for which God has not assigned him, as a believer in sin. 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 which Simon has no part of which is what? Clearly the text tells us, that 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 earlier 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 was still sinful and warranted the 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 beginning of his mind being transformed and 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. Secondly, notice the remedy Peter gives, not that Simon go believe and be saved but that he repent of this wickedness”. Peter’s instruction are not that to the unsaved or unbelieving who are unsaved because of unbelief, thus they 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, rather it was one of failing to understand the protocols of God and allowing human arrogance to lead him about in his immaturity.

Conclusion

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 as resulting in regeneration and having eternal life in the Bible, that is to say or describe one in the Bible as believing the gospel is never, ever anything but as being saved and nothing else. 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 with a person believing the gospel, exercising faith in the gospel or trusting the truth of the gospel is exclusively and absolute that 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 belief 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 yourself and the more you learn of yourself and the more honest you are with yourself the more you will understand just why you are 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 in the performance of Christ. 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 he 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, 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 a little more now than the Apostle Peter did at that moment when he was face to face with Simon.

20 comments:

Jon Gleason said...

Alex, I recently preached on this text. My conclusion was that we can't know whether or not Simon was saved, and that it isn't the purpose of the text to tell us.

(This post is in no way intended to be an endorsement of Piper or others and their treatment of the passage. :))

James tells us that the demons believe, so there is a non-saving faith, and there may be a hint of that here in the connection in the text between him seeing the miracles and believing. Was he believing in Christ for salvation, or believing in miracles? A cursory reading of verse 13 would tend to make us see Simon as saved, but the text isn't clear enough to be sure.

Peter's response is also interesting. He says Simon has "no part in this matter" because his heart is not right. The question is, what is "this matter"?

If it is the laying on of hands for the receiving of the Spirit, then if his heart were right, would he then have a part in it? That appears to be an apostolic matter that even Philip had no part in. Peter's reason that he had no part / lot in it (a heart that was not right) does not seem to fit with viewing "this matter" as the laying on of hands.

Peter's further response does sound more like instruction for a wayward believer than the Gospel for an unregenerate man, you are absolutely correct about that.

His initial statement ("thy money perish with thee") sounds like a statement to an unbeliever.

Simon's response is troubling to me, from a believer. He asks Peter to pray, he doesn't pray himself. And he seems concerned not with the sin, but with the consequences.

Thus, my conclusions that there are reasons to believe he might have been saved, and reasons to believe he might not have been. If we needed to know, the Scriptures would have told us of his repentance or his destruction.

In context, this passage really isn't about Simon's salvation or not. It is about the spread of the Gospel, following the outline of Acts 1:8 -- this is the "Samaria" part of the occasion.

There's also a money theme in Acts. We see it in 2:45, 3:3-6, 4:34-5:11, 6:1-7, here in chapter 8, and quite a few more. I'd suggest the references to Simon are intended as instructions for believers about money and its relation to ministry (somewhat on a parallel with the Ananias / Sapphira account) rather than about Simon's personal spiritual condition.

The message about money re: ministry is crystal clear. The question of Simon's spiritual condition isn't. For reasons you've cited, he probably was saved, but there's enough hints the other way to leave some doubt. God knows, and I'm not sure He intended us to know.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Good to hear from you Jon. Let me tackle a few things regarding your points.

1. I do agree that the intent does not center on whether Simon was saved but neither is it necessarily to tell us about Phillip performing miracles, though it does. That does not mean it cannot inform us about something, and with certainty, that is not necessarily core to the objective of the event.

In this case, though, I do consider whether Simon was saved or not to be not only germane but critical to understanding his sin and Peter’s response.

2. As to James 2:19, it says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” Hence, some points:

------ The text is talking about monotheism; it is not a gospel text.

------ Even if it were a gospel text demons cannot be saved believing the gospel since Christ did not die for them, thus it cannot example a faith in the gospel which does not save.

------ Its context is actually about demonstrating what faith should produce which is something other that dead actions. It is used as an extreme example, in other words as to say, “Look, even Demons believe that there is one God and shudder from that, your faith in Christ which saves you ought to be producing something”.

3. You state the following:
Peter's response is also interesting. He says Simon has "no part in this matter" because his heart is not right. The question is, what is "this matter"?

If it is the laying on of hands for the receiving of the Spirit, then if his heart were right, would he then have a part in it? That appears to be an apostolic matter that even Philip had no part in. Peter's reason that he had no part / lot in it (a heart that was not right) does not seem to fit with viewing "this matter" as the laying on of hands.


If his heart were right it does not follow that we have to understand then that he would have part in the ministry of the Apostles since many people had their heart right and did were not part of the ministry of the Apostles.

Remember the context, Simon tried to insert himself into something, namely a specific apostolic ministry which is precisely that to which Peter is referring. The context is quite strong here. Hence, he told Simon who was trying to insert himself, “you have no part in this”. The this is antecedent to what Simon was trying to insert himself into, namely the apostolic ministry of giving the HS.

4. Per Peter’s rebuke. There is an element which, to me, distinguishes Peter’s rebuke as that of an Apostle and Teacher of the Scripture speaking to a believer who is caught in a sin, Peter says:

“your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness”

If Peter understands that Simon is not saved it is contradictory that he would tell him that because of “this” sin his heart is not right with God and that he is to repent of “this” wickedness.

When men are given the gospel it is not some outstanding singular sin of which they must seek forgiveness for their sinful condition and this is not how Peter addressed the matter. Instead, it seems quite consistent of rebuking and correcting, as I said in the article, a fellow believer caught in a sin. And we instructed to do this, not only Teachers but fellow believers to one another at the appropriate time.

5. Finally I appeal again to the clear testimony of Scripture which to me, is a great mountain to be overcome seeing the superintendence of the Scriptures by God and the claim of God to us that Simon believed. It is not, “And Simon said he believed”, as if to clue us into the possibility that he might be lying. It is God, here, who is telling us that Simon believed.

Nevertheless, it is not a show stopper not to agree in full and I appreciate your comments here. I do also agree that there is an intended lesson about attempting to use wealth the wrong was in the

Jon Gleason said...

Alex, I'll push back slightly here.

Per your #2, your assessment of the James passage is correct, it is belief in monotheism. To me, it is not clear in Acts whether the belief of Simon is in the Gospel Philip preached or in the miracles God worked through him. One is saving faith, the other is not.

Re: #3, it depends on how we understand "for" in "for your heart is not right." The Greek is "gar" -- for, because, even, seeing, etc. If we understand it as signifying "because" (as I tend to think), then it is telling us the reason he has no part in the matter -- because of a heart problem. If the last part of the verse is the reason for the first part of it, then Simon probably isn't saved.

Re: #4, I agree. As I said, Peter's further response sounds more like instruction for a wayward believer than the Gospel for a lost man.

Here's a further thought for you. Peter wasn't omniscient. Perhaps Simon's action was such that Peter had doubts as to his salvation, and so there are elements in Peter's response which could apply either way.

And perhaps part of the lesson for us is that it really isn't our place, when dealing with someone who is sinning, to make judgments as to whether his salvation is real or not. We know there are false brothers who end up revealing themselves by their sin, and we know there are true brothers who sin. Perhaps Peter's response gives us a model for those cases, because it provides a warning of perishing, which would apply to a false brother, and a call to repent, which would apply to the erring brother.

It's an interesting passage.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Jon,

Thanks friend and brother, because the truth is at stake and not our precious inventions I need all the push-back you can offer. We must demand the most of one another with God's Word, thank you.

Jon Gleason said...

Thank you, Alex, and may the Lord continue to help us understand His Word.

Steve Scott said...

Alex,

I've been thinking along the same lines as you and have asked the question, "could Simon be saved?" My big turning point was in considering whether his offer of money was a sin a brand new believer could commit. Also interesting is Simon's reply asking to be prayed for of the Lord by intercession.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Steve

Thanks for the observation. I can say with respect to sins a believer, particularly a new believer, can commit seem to run the gamut the unbeliever can commit. I can say that in my own life there is plenty of evidence for that.

Mike Smith said...

My concern is that Peter said to Simon Act 9: 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and "captive to sin.”

But Paul says in Romans the sin no longer shall be our master

and in Romans 6: 18 Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.
And there are many more that speak of the same things. Mostly Paul's writings :)

I just am confused about the righteousness of Christ and the forgiveness of sin once and for all and then there being scriptures like this that say we can be captive to sin and ask God to MAYBE forgive us.

Just a wild ride looking at the whole consul of God

Alex Guggenheim said...

Mike

Welcome by and thanks for the question. You have a point that has to be resolved. Good response.

The approach, to me, to the apparent quandary is two-fold:

1. What was Paul, in Romans, referring to?

2. What was Luke, in Acts, referring to?

Let's start with the second question, first. Can a person be captive to sin or full if bitterness and be saved? If not then consider this. Paul in Colossians 1:13 says:

13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:

But then warns and commands us:

Colossians 3

3 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.

2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.

5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

6 For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:

7 In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.

8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.

9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;

10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:

So if it is not possible that we can go backward or be influenced by our sinful nature, why would be both be instructed not to do that and to do what is right, instead?

Why? The answer lies in the first question, what did Paul mean in Romans? He meant that we are no longer subject to sin in that all we could do before we believed and were regenerated was sin, but now we are free not to sin and not only that but to live godly.

But it does not mean we will make that choice. We can choose to sin. Hence the use of the description in Acts of Simon being captive to sin. He was choosing to do what Paul has instructed us not to do, yield to the old man.

We are told not to yield to the old man but to the new man quite frankly because we can yield to the old man and be his captive, needlessly, though we are quite free in Christ and have been freed from the chains and shackles. But being what we are, we do not always do right and in some cases go so far backwards, we face the sin unto death as God's children.

I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post~ I concur with your warnings about Piper:

"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. He is so consumed with his theological presuppositions and novel ideas that it blinds him to texts and results in him making assertions about a text that 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 ignorance in their better circles."

I do have a bit of experience around Piper and I would add one more thought to it. His need to exhibit and communicate "passion" makes him tend to be a shock jock. I have seen this so many times and sometimes it is downright disasterious and makes me fear for those who follow him. One of those times was his message at Resolve 2009 where he taught Jesus was "Damned" on the Cross. Mahaney preached the same with him.

I could only find one Reformed blogger who disagreed with this: Steve Camp. The rest were accolades.

I personally think that Piper is really going after shock value with redefining concepts, etc. (Christian Hedonism is one better known examples)

I fear for what his legacy will leave us with his influence on so many young men. I know his influence on our family with some family members who went to work for him and study under him wrecked on our long believing family.

They came back more arrogant and had lost their first love.

Lydia

Alex Guggenheim said...

Lydia,

It took me some time to figure out the Piper phenomenon. It is rather simple and follows a common formula.

He offers psuedo-spirituality in many ways. Hence, his exaggerated and posturing melodrama. And to the spiritually and theologically immature, this is attractive. It has the form of but not the substances to the immature believer of what spirituality should look like.

And over time, just as their Guru demonstrates, they become ego-invested in this narrative of God's Word. That is to say, Piper is very ego-invested and this is transferred to his students, thus he retains many of them and from this a movement of sort formed.

I can guarantee you that most of those who became believers and matures spiritually and theologically before being introduced to John Piper know very quickly what they see and it is a person who is without a clear hermeneutic or any discipline in his theology and logic. They spot the inconsistencies rather quickly and are just as amazed at his popularity as those like them.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

I was curious about the idea that belief always means regeneration in Scripture. I have a feeling you're more familiar with the Greek than myself and am hoping you can help bring some clarity for me.

It has been my understanding that the Parable of the Sower and the Seeds actually teaches that there is a belief not unto salvation. In other words, I've always understood it to mean that those who have "received the word with gladness" have exercised some form of belief - and yet they fall away from the faith and show themselves to be unregenerate. ("Receiving the word with gladness" is the same language, at least in the English, that is used of the crowd that was baptized in Acts chapter 2).

Additionally, teaching that references the wheat and tares, the goats and the sheep, those who cry "Lord, Lord", etc. seems to indicate that although you have "believed" you only reveal yourself to be regenerate by continuing on in the faith. This also is in line with exhortation to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith, and to be not deceived. (Would that not mean that it is possible to believe oneself to be saved while actually not being saved?)

Anyway, in regards to Simon, and to all "believers", I would say the same applies... we have no way of knowing who is regenerate and who is not until all is revealed at the end. That said, we ARE commanded to respond a particular way when we see a "believer" in sin, which is what I think happened here. What we don't find out, and won't until judgment day I believe, is whether or not Simon was in fact regenerate.

(It's interesting to note that even Paul, who I think we would all safely consider to be regenerate, makes a comment in 1 Corinthians that indicates even he would be disqualified if he did not continue on in the faith)

Anyway, was just curious about your thoughts. Is there a significant enough difference between "believing" and "receiving the word with gladness" to make the case that when Scripture describes someone as believing it is definitely referring to their regeneration? And that perhaps those who do fall away are revealing themselves to have never believed, not to have believed to some extent but not have been regenerated?

(Forgive me for not doing a better job with references, I am writing this in a few spare moments and just wanted to start a dialogue - I assume you're familiar with most of the things I brought up.)

Sincerely,
Amanda

Alex Guggenheim said...

Amanda

Thank you for taking the time to stop by with challenges and questions. And I do hope I can help. To your first inquiry and the Parable of the Sowers.

A. First I recommend you read Part 1 of my treatment of the parable

Part 1 - The Parable of the Sower : Three Hearts Believed Though All Did Not Reach Maturity, So Says our Lord

http://thepedestrianchristian.blogspot.com/2011/06/parable-of-sower-3-hearts-believed.html

If you read the parable carefully you will see that only the first one is described as not believing and coming to life. The other 3 are not differentiated by whether they believed and came to life but the quality of their spiritual growth.

All 3 are described as having sprung to life (phuo in the Greek). This is precisely what occurs when one believes, they are brought to life, namely spiritual life. This cannot happen to one who is not born again, one who has not believed.
The point of the parable is not about salvation but about maturity. Christ lets his audience and all of us know that it is not merely salvation but maturity into fruit bearers that is the objective of the Christian life.

I do understand that the expression “fall away” is construed by some to mean “not be saved”. But its use is not in reference to that but with respect to falling away from discipleship or steadfastness in the faith.

B. Those who cry to Christ “Lord, Lord” have a reply from Christ which is “I never knew you”. Hence, it is not a reference to anyone that fell away but one who never knew the Lord. And notice their appeal in Matthew 7:22 regarding why they should not be rejected by the Lord:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Their appeal will be not that they believed on or trusted in the work of Christ but that they performed works as described above. Yes, like the believer they say, “Lord, Lord”, but their confidence will be in their own design for salvation, namely their works for God and not God’s work in Christ for them.

So as to Simon, it is true “we” cannot say who is and is not saved but we can say that here, since God himself reveals this about Simon. Thus, we can know God intends for us to view him as saved, as a believer who has been born again. Now had this been a record of Simon’s own claim we would have cause to examine it differently but this is not a record of the observations and/or opinions of men but of God who says Simon believed.

But let’s say we cannot confidently resolve this here, whether Simon was saved or not. The same would still be true for those claiming to use this as a demonstration that he wasn’t saved. By claiming to know who is not saved, one is in fact claiming to know who is saved because the one cannot be known without the other. But still, I believe it is prima facie in it claim.

Yes, we do have wheat and tares and apart from God revealing who is and is not saved as he did here with Simon, it is true we cannot know and can only permit membership into a local body based on profession and members abiding by whatever requirements are placed upon them by the church, sect or denomination. And even church discipline is not enforced as a commentary or determination of one’s salvation but their fitness for membership into a local assembly.

I hope that helps and if you have more questions or challenges free invited to offer them.
Alex

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response. That is a very interesting perspective I haven't really encountered before.

What do you think about a verse like 1 Corinthians 15:2?

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.

Particularly the "if" and the idea of believing in vain.

-----

On another note, I really appreciate what you said about the tendency of people to try to cram the Scriptures into their theological framework instead of the other way around. My husband and I have been walking with Christ for nearly 8 years, and just over the last two have been convicted to actually ground our beliefs on our own study of the Scriptures, rather than just taking the word of men for it (novel idea I know) :)

It was amazing how many things we believed "beyond the shadow of a doubt" that God took us and placed on the exact opposing side of after studying what the Scriptures actually said. It's been quite a journey. Currently we're working through baptism (we have two young children so it's become pertinent to our lives) and whether or not children of believers should be baptized as infants. We've been examining teaching that pertains to the visible v invisible church as a result, and Simon has been a case we've been discussing recently.

Funnily enough that's not even how I got to your blog... haha, I'm not sure I want to admit that we are actually planning on going to Ellerslie at the end of the year. So I initially found your thread regarding that and then when I got to your blog happened to find this post which was something we'd been discussing quite recently.

(I appreciate your thoughts on Ellerslie, by the way - we're still planning on going, but it gave us some things to be aware of and keep an eye out for.)

Anyway... all that to say, it's nice to "meet" you. After spending the majority of my Christian walk focused on defending my theology (and trying to prove that I was right), I now appreciate being challenged and exhorted to search the Scriptures and see what they actually say. Thanks again.

(Apologies for the long, rambling comment.) :)

Anonymous said...

Oops, I'm sure you can tell, but that was "Amanda" again :)

Alex Guggenheim said...

Amanda

Thanks again for the comments and interaction. Tonight is busy but tomorrow night I will have time to devote to interacting with your observations and questions. It is a joy to hear you and your husband are serious disciples. And rest assured none of what you posted is rambling.

Alex

Alex Guggenheim said...

Amanda

Per 1 Corinthians 15:2. Here Paul uses an artful form of rhetoric with "if you believed in vain" which many translators also translated "unless you believed in vain". What he is referring to is the controversy in Corinth about the resurrection of Christ which some were denying in the church. Hence, if Christ did not resurrect, you will not and you will have believed in vain. The use of the "if" here is a bit of sarcasm making them aware of the ludicrousness of denying the resurrection which was a real problem developing at Corinth.

Which is why before saying this he refers to the "the gospel I preached to you" which they has received. He told them they and were to hold fast to it meaning not change its message from pressure by others such as those denying the resurrection because a false gospel does not save.


Alex Guggenheim said...

Amanda

As to your upcoming Ellerslie visit. You are taking with you an awareness of many concerns which I believe will.permit a more objective reflection of the experience over time after you have returned. Hence, you and your husband can benefit from it even in a worse case scenario.

Larry Kinsler said...

This article will help clear up any doubts as to whether or not Simon ( Magnus ) the Sorcerer was ever saved.
http://www.reformation.org/simon_peter_versus_simon_magus.html

Alex Guggenheim said...

Larry

Thank you for stopping by. I read the article previous to posting my treatment of the material. It appears the claim that Simon in Acts is the Simon Magus is quite dubious and stems from Justin Martyr's historical error regarding two different Simons which was evidence in the find of the 'large marble fragment in the island of the Tiber bearing the inscription "SEMONI SANCO DEO FIDIO'. I recommend you do not receive as settled the account which borrows from Martyr and do a bit more research on the matter.