Category 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 You can follow Bryant on Twitter @jbevans.

True Miracles

To hear some people tell it, miracles are everywhere today. Any strange event, any unexpected healing and even an odd shaped cloud or spectacular sunset is called a miracle.

I beg to differ.

God works in our lives in amazing ways. But let us understand that any modern day miracle must be judged against the standard of the Bible. Does a supposed miracle today compare equally with a miracle in New Testament times? I doubt it. Let’s consider what the Bible reveals about miracles and then apply that knowledge to our present world.

True Miracles Require Pre-Miraculous Confirmation


Witnesses must confirm a need for a miracle. It seems obvious but often we simply accept the reality of some private miracle without question. Miracles are not secretive. They are obvious.

Jesus probably gives the best example of a pre-miracle confirmation when he travels to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. The report is in John 11:1-44. For our discussion, there are two important verses in the story.

So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (vs. 6)


Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (vs. 39).

Jesus confirms the death of Lazarus by delaying his departure for Bethany. Martha further confirms the death of Lazarus by telling us that he had been dead four days and warning that the stench of decay would already have been present. Together, these two passages, plus the public nature of his death and burial (vs. 19), confirms that Lazarus was, in fact dead.

Luke gives another example in Acts 3:1-10

And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. (vs.2)

Here, Luke tells us two important facts about the man before Peter heals him. He has been lame since birth and he was seen at the gate of the Temple daily. There was no question that this man was lame and in need of a miracle.

Anyone who claims a miracle today must provide unquestioned proof a miracle is needed. Making such a claim after the fact and without confirmation is not acceptable.

True Miracles Require Post-Miracle Confirmation


Witnesses must confirm that an actual miracle has occurred. The two cases above confirm that an actual miracle occurred.

Jesus raised Lazarus in public and people present witnessed the resurrected Lazarus.

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”  When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”  The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him” (John 11:41-45).

The claim is buttressed by the chief priests and Pharisees who said,

What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (vs. 47-48).

There was no question that Lazarus was raised from the dead.

Confirmation of Peter’s miracle is just as strong.

And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.  And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.  And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. (Acts 3:7-10)

Like Jesus before, the confirmation of the miracle is supported by the words of the Sanhedrin Council,

But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition (Acts 4:14),


What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. (vs. 16)

The great miracle of Jesus’ own resurrection is confirmed by Paul in a similar way in 1 Corinthians 15:

and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

One who claims a miracle must be able to confirm that miracle.

True Miracles Cannot Be Explained


Many astonishing things happen in our world every day. Cherubic little babies are born hourly. Lofty clouds form themselves into clearly defined shapes. People walk away from horrid automobile crashes with barely a scratch. Terribly ill patients recover from frightful illnesses. All of these things happen constantly. I and most Christians see God in these things. But it is also true that the secular man, the skeptic, the atheist, sees science at work and quickly explains the events as the normal, predictable outcome of biology, meteorology, physics and medicine.

What sets the true, Biblical miracle apart from these daily happenings is its unexplainable nature.

In John 11:44 there was no reasonable explanation for Lazarus resurrection. It could not be explained (John 11:47-48). Skeptics today cannot assault the miracle. They are only left with futile attacks on the text itself.

In Acts 3:7, that miracle was also unexplainable (Acts 4:16). Today, some medical doctors specialize in helping people walk again. But no surgeon, no therapist, has ever been able to suddenly heal a lifelong disabled man by words only. No one can explain the miracle.

Like so many words, “miracle” is thrown around so easily. When we use the word, let us speak like the Bible. To do otherwise cheapens the true miracles of the Bible.

God works in our world today. He is alive and cares for his people. But there is no evidence that he sets aside his natural laws. Instead he works through them to bring good to those who love him.

Bryant Evans may be reached at bryant at 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 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!

The End of the Patriarchal Age

A reader has asked the question: “When did the Patriarchal Age end for the Gentiles, Acts 2 or Acts 10?” It’s a good question and we will try to give an accurate answer. First some background.

God has always placed himself under certain agreements with man. These Biblical covenants or dispensations are summarized in another article on the Preacher’s Study Blog and we invite your consideration of that piece.

Jesus mission was to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). But in its early stages that mission was limited to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). There were Gentiles (non-Jews) who knew of Jesus and who received accolades from the Lord (Matthew 8:5-13) ((The text does not specifically say that he was a Gentile and we do know that centurions could be of nationalities different from Rome but the context of Jesus’ statement strongly suggests that the centurion is not Jewish.)) Continue reading The End of the Patriarchal Age