Tag Archives: Acts

Who is Simon Magus?

Simon Magus was a magician working among the people of Samaria. We meet Simon in Acts 8 as one of the converts to Jesus through the preaching of Stephan. We usually speak of Simon the sorcerer or Simon the magician. “Magus” means magician and is commonly added to his name to differentiate him from others named Simon.In any case, there are some important lessons from Simon’s brief New Testament appearance.

Simon Magus Background

We know nothing Biblically about his background except that he lived in Samaria. He was obviously an accomplished trickster who profited from his works of magic or sorcery. He claimed notoriety because of his power and was thought to draw his power from God. Simon made no attempt to prevent their accolades and enjoyed his position of prestige among the people (Acts 8:9-11).

Simon was in Samaria when Philip began preaching Jesus there. Samaria was one of the places the new Christians fled after the persecution began in Jerusalem. The crowds in Samaria listened carefully to the preaching of Philip, took note of the confirming miracles and responded in great numbers.

Philip was one of the deacons appointed in Acts 6 and was full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3, 5). As part of his commission the apostles in Jerusalem “laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6) and empowered him with the ability to work miracles. This ability confirmed to the people, including Simon, that Philip’s words were true and from God. The people responded to the “great miracles” (Acts 8:13) and many became believers in Jesus Christ including Simon.

Simon Magus Rebuked

There is nothing in the Bible to question Simon’s initial conversion. Nor is there any indication as to how long it took before the apostles came from Jerusalem. But once the apostles arrived, Simon’s heart fell back into his old ways.

The apostles came from Jerusalem in order to impart the miraculous gifts of the Spirit to the people in Samaria. The reader will observe that Philip, already in Samaria and preaching, could himself perform miracles (Acts 8:5-8, 13). Recall that the apostles had already laid hands on Philip (Acts 6:6). The presence of the apostles in Samaria was to lay hands on the people there who were Christians but did not have the ability to perform miracles.

Simon’s old ways returned. He calculated that if he could buy the ability to lay hands on people and give them the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit he could profit greatly. Notice what the inspired text says,

“Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:18-19, emphasis mine).

Simon was sternly rebuked by Peter, confessed his weakness and asked Peter and John to pray for him and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. Simon then fades into the crowds of believers and we never hear from him again.((There are non-Biblical legends that persist about Simon and charge him with being the leader of a pagan syncretic group known as the Simonians. However the Bible make no such mention.))

Simon Magus and Miracles

The story of Simon teaches an important lesson regarding miracles. The only people who could perform miracles were the apostles and those to whom the apostles gave that power. No one else could pass along that power. The implications are important.

John was the final apostle to die, likely near the end of the 1st century or around 100 AD. When he died, the ability to pass along miracle-working abilities died with him. Therefore, there was no source left for the power. Those who claim the ability today to perform miracles find themselves in Simon’s camp and not that of the apostles.

We understand, and the apostles and inspired writers confirm, miracles were never intended to be a permanent party of the Christian life (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). Miracles confirmed the new word and new teachings being proclaimed of the risen savior. Once confirmed, the miracles were no longer needed.

Simon certainly teaches us of the need to completely change our lives and root out any vestige of sin. But it also teaches plainly that the ability to perform miracles was linked to living apostles. Let us not be fooled by supposed healers and miracle workers today.


Bryant Evans may be reached at bryant at bryantevans.com. You can follow Bryant on Twitter @jbevans.

Including Others

Evangelism is spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. It is introducing people to Jesus and telling them of his salvation. Evangelism is also reaching out to the struggling who are in Christ but slipping away. In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) Jesus commanded that we make disciples, teach and baptize and teach them again. Work remains after baptism to fully include the new Christian in the body of Christ. To be clear, that new Christian is every bit the elect as the one baptized years before, but it still remains for the local congregation to insure their inclusion into the work of the church.

Original Christianity took to heart the need for a new community of believers in which all were equal. Acts 2:42-47 demonstrates the inclusionary work of the Christians.

Devoted to One Another

The first Christians are devoted to spiritual things. This is the first item listed for without the foundation of faith, no community exists. These believers put their spiritual efforts first and sought to learn and to practice their faith together.

All Were Together

These brethren are family. Like any family, they are together with one another. Churches today try to encourage this sense of belonging through fellowships and get-togethers. However togetherness does not need to always be a planned event. Just as a family today may come together for a reunion or some special birthday, families also assemble piecemeal sometimes. It is not necessary that the full group always come together.

Sharing With All

This may be the most challenging part of the original Christian example. The Bible tells us these people “had all things in common,” and “they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45). The ideal here lacks any suggestion of materialism or covetousness on the part of any. Brothers and sisters in the family did what was necessary in order to care for one another. Both spiritual and physical needs were addressed. It would seem that this was done without any organized effort but through the response of each new Christian.

The result of this kind of work is obvious. The church enjoyed favor with all people (vs. 47). Be assured that when similar efforts occur today, there are similar results. Dying congregations today will be resuscitated              when they return to these simple steps of caring and providing for all.

Cliques kill communities. Notice that the original pattern seen here appears to be free of segregated social circles or cliques. Later, cliques would appear in the congregation at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). These brethren had reached the point of quarreling among themselves. They circled around noted figures in the church and excluded others. This division was wrong. The same is true today.

We must learn from the successes of the apostle led churches of the First Century. Let us do our utmost to include all brethren.

Bryant Evans may be reached at bryant at bryantevans.com. You can follow Bryant on Twitter @jbevans.


Who Is Theophilus?

So who is Theophilus in the book of Acts? The identity of Theophilus is a mystery to Bible students. The name appears only two times in Scripture and both times in the writings of Luke (Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1). It is uncertain what role in the early church he played but he is noteworthy in the thinking of Luke for he directs both the Gospel account and the Acts account to Theophilus.

Various suggestions have been offered as to the identity of Theophilus. It is suggested that he is an actual person, perhaps a patron, of Luke and his work. Some have wondered if Luke was commissioned by Theophilus to prepare a record of both Jesus and the beginnings of the church that bears Christ’s name (Romans 16:16). Cadbury notes that Theophilus was a common name for Jews and dates to at least the third century BC. ((via Pöllmann in Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990-). Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.)) So it is unlikely we can determine much from the name itself.

There was a Jewish High Priest named Theophilus who served from 37-41 AD. He was the son of Annas and the brother-in-law of Caiaphas before whom Jesus was tried.  The date of service was likely completed before Luke’s writings and therefore he probably should be discounted as the intended recipient.

Another High Priest named Mattathias ben Theophilus served from 65-66 AD and was overthrown in the time immediately before the destruction of Jerusalem. In his case, Theophilus is actually the name of his father, the aforementioned priest. His service also appears to come too late to have been the recipient.

Theophilus may have been a name given to the earliest believers in Jesus. The name is actually a joining of two Greek words, theos and phileo, which mean God and love respectively. Thus the combination would be Theophilus or “lover of God.” If this is true it could refer to either an individual or a group of people who loved God.

This seems an unsatisfactory conclusion for such naming conventions are generally foreign to the New Testament. But perhaps even more difficult is the context of Luke 1:3 where the reference is to “most excellent Theophilus.”  In every other New Testament usage, the phrase, excellent or most excellent, is used toward an individual. ((Claudius Lysias to Felix (Acts 23:26, Tertullius to Felix (Acts 24:2) and Paul to Festus (Acts 26:5) )).

Bock ((Darrell L. Bock, Luke, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, vol. 1 (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI), pg. 64)) suggests that Theophilus was actually a Gentile. He reasons that his apparent high station in life and the degree to which Luke defends the Gentile mentioned in Acts suggest that he was not Jewish. As with other suggestions, it is little more than speculation.

In the end, almost all we can say about Theophilus is skillful speculation. But we do know  that Theophilus was at least curious about Jesus and his followers. It would seem unlikely that Luke would address two manuscripts to Theophilus if there were not some interest. We may perhaps add that Theophilus was probably not hostile to the gospel message. At least for that, Theophilus could be commended.

Who is Theophilus? He was an individual interested in the gospel. His importance lies in the fact that he was the original recipient of two magnificent pieces of inspired literature. How poor would we be without Luke and Acts!