Acts 8:14–24 (NA28)
14Ἀκούσαντες δὲ οἱ ἐν Ἱεροσολύμοις ἀπόστολοι ὅτι δέδεκται ἡ Σαμάρεια τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ, ἀπέστειλαν πρὸς αὐτοὺς Πέτρον καὶ Ἰωάννην,
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John
- That Samaria had received (ὁτι δεδεκται ἡ Σαμαρια [hoti dedektai hē Samaria]). The district here, not the city as in verse 5. Perfect middle indicative of δεχομαι [dechomai] retained in indirect discourse. It was a major event for the apostles for now the gospel was going into Samaria as Jesus had predicted (1:8). Though the Samaritans were nominally Jews, they were not held so by the people. The sending of Peter and John was no reflection on Philip, but was an appropriate mission since “many Christian Jews would be scandalized by the admission of Samaritans” (Furneaux). If Peter and John sanctioned it, the situation would be improved. John had once wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54).
- We are not directly told what motive led the apostles at Jerusalem to send two of their number to visit Samaria when they received news of the favorable reception of the Word there. But the spread of the gospel to the Samaritans must have been such a remarkable step that the apostles were bound to go and see what was happening, and to come to terms with this new event in the life of the church. Later, the successful evangelism of the Gentiles in Antioch was to lead to Barnabas being sent from Jerusalem to see what was happening (11:22), and when Peter assisted at the conversion of Cornelius, the matter was discussed at a church meeting. It does look as though new advances were examined with care in the church at Jerusalem, and we certainly get the impression of a conservative body which was never responsible for any new ventures itself.
- This action could be interpreted as somewhat presumptuous, the mother church checking out this upstart mission. The drift of the text, however, indicates quite the opposite. Peter and John came more as participants, offering the endorsement and support of the apostles in this new missionary enterprise. That the Samaritans had not yet received the Holy Spirit (v. 16) is certainly not the usual pattern of Acts. Normally the receipt of the Spirit was closely joined to baptism as part of the normative experience of conversion and commitment to Christ (cf. 2:38). This is certainly the case with Paul’s conversion, where healing, receipt of the Spirit, and baptism are closely joined together (9:17–18). This was the case also with Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles who received the Spirit first and then were immediately baptized (10:44–48).
- It is not without justification that many refer to this as the “Samaritan Pentecost.” It is a major stage of salvation history. The Spirit as it were indicated in a visible manifestation the divine approval of this new missionary step beyond Judaism.
15οἵτινες καταβάντες προσηύξαντο περὶ αὐτῶν ὅπως λάβωσιν πνεῦμα ἅγιον·
Who went down and prayed for them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit
- That they might receive (ὁπως λαβωσιν [hopōs labōsin]). Second aorist active subjunctive of λαμβανω [lambanō], final clause with ὁπως [hopōs]. Did they wish the Samaritan Pentecost to prove beyond a doubt that the Samaritans were really converted when they believed? They had been baptized on the assumption that the Holy Spirit had given them new hearts. The coming of the Holy Spirit with obvious signs (cf. 10:44–48) as in Jerusalem would make it plain.
- When the apostolic delegates, Peter and John, arrived, they prayed that the converts might receive the Spirit and laid their hands on them to this end; for, as Luke explains, the Spirit had fallen on none of them (for the expression see 10:44; 11:15). All that had had happened was that they had been baptized in the name of Jesus. This is perhaps the most extraordinary statement in Acts. Elsewhere it is made clear that baptism in the name of Jesus leads to the reception of the Spirit (2:38); the case is different in 19:1–7 where the twelve men at Ephesus had not been baptized in the name of Jesus. Laying on of hands is not mentioned in connection with receiving the Spirit except in 19:6, again in somewhat unusual circumstances. On the other hand, the Spirit can fall upon people before baptism with water (10:44–48). It is clear that reception of the Spirit is not tied to the moment of water-baptism.
16οὐδέπω γὰρ ἦν ἐπʼ οὐδενὶ αὐτῶν ἐπιπεπτωκός, μόνον δὲ βεβαπτισμένοι ὑπῆρχον εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ.
- There is further significance to the Samaritan experience occurring in two stages. Through Peter and John’s participation, the Samaritan mission was given the stamp of approval of the mother church in Jerusalem. It was not just the undertaking of a maverick Hellenist missionary. It was endorsed, received, and enthusiastically participated in by the whole church. But is there any significance in the fact that the Spirit was received through the apostles laying their hands on the Samaritans? Some would see this as an indication of a rite of “confirmation” separate from and subsequent to baptism. Again the evidence of Acts will not bear this reading of the practice of a later age back into the New Testament text.113 Peter and John’s laying on of their hands is best seen as a gesture of the apostolic solidarity and fellowship with the Samaritans. The receipt of the Spirit is above all God’s answer to their prayer (v. 15).
For He had not yet fallen on any of them, but they were only having been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus
17τότε ἐπετίθεσαν τὰς χεῖρας ἐπʼ αὐτοὺς καὶ ἐλάμβανον πνεῦμα ἅγιον.
Then they placed their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit
- Laid they their hands (ἐπετιθεσαν τας χειρας [epetithesan tas cheiras]). Imperfect active, repetition. The laying on of hands did not occur at the great Pentecost (2:4, 33) nor in 4:31; 10:44 nor is it mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. It is mentioned in Acts 6:7 about the deacons and in 13:3 when Barnabas and Saul left Antioch. And in Saul’s case it was Ananias who laid his hands on him (9:17). Hence it cannot be concluded that the Holy Spirit was received only by the laying on of the hands of the apostles or by the hands of anyone. The so-called practice of “confirmation” appeals to this passage, but inconclusively. They received (ἐλαμβανον [elambanon]). Imperfect active, repetition as before and παρι πασσυ [pari passu] with the laying on of the hands.
- When the apostolic delegates, Peter and John, arrived, they prayed that the converts might receive the Spirit and laid their hands on them to this end; for, as Luke explains, the Spirit had fallen on none of them (for the expression see 10:44; 11:15). All that had had happened was that they had been baptized in the name of Jesus. This is perhaps the most extraordinary statement in Acts. Elsewhere it is made clear that baptism in the name of Jesus leads to the reception of the Spirit (2:38); the case is different in 19:1–7 where the twelve men at Ephesus had not been baptized in the name of Jesus. Laying on of hands is not mentioned in connection with receiving the Spirit except in 19:6, again in somewhat unusual circumstances. On the other hand, the Spirit can fall upon people before baptism with water (10:44–48). It is clear that reception of the Spirit is not tied to the moment of water-baptism. Why, then, was the Spirit withheld on this particular occasion? It is wholly unlikely that a second reception of the Spirit was conveyed by laying on of hands, perhaps accompanied by unusual charismatic gifts; verse 16 completely rules out this possibility. Nor is it likely that the Spirit could be conveyed only by the laying on of apostolic hands, since elsewhere the Spirit is given without mention of laying on of hands (2:38) or without any of the twelve apostles being present (9:17). Moreover, it can be assumed that the Ethiopian official received the Spirit without any further ado when Philip baptized him. Only two types of explanation remain. The first is that God withheld the Spirit until the coming of Peter and John in order that the Samaritans might be seen to be fully incorporated into the community of Jerusalem Christians who had received the Spirit at Pentecost. This view is confirmed by the way in which, when Cornelius received the Spirit, Peter explicitly testifies that the Holy Spirit fell on him and his family just as he had fallen on the first Christians; it was the same experience (11:15–17). The second view is that the response and commitment of the Samaritans was defective, as is shown by the fact that they had not yet received the Spirit (Dunn, Baptism, pp. 55–68). Dunn suggests that, among other things, the Samaritans needed assurance that they really were accepted into the Christian community before they could come to full faith. But it must be emphasized that Luke nowhere says this. Furthermore, we are not told of any defect in the Samaritans’ faith which needed to be supplied before they could receive the Spirit; Peter and John didn’t preach to them, but rather prayed for the Spirit to be given to them. On the whole, therefore, the former view is preferable.
- It is to be noted that the story presupposes that it can be known whether or not a person has received the Spirit. This would be the case if charismatic gifts were involved; cf. how 10:46 gives the proof for 10:45. But there is no proof that charismatic gifts were manifest every time, and other less spectacular indications, such as a sense of joy, may have been regarded as adequate evidence of the presence of the Spirit (13:52; 16:34; 1 Thess. 1:6).
18Ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ Σίμων ὅτι διὰ τῆς ἐπιθέσεως τῶν χειρῶν τῶν ἀποστόλων δίδοται τὸ πνεῦμα, προσήνεγκεν αὐτοῖς χρήματα
Now when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles hands the Spirit was given he offered them money
- When Simon saw (Ἰδων δε ὁ Σιμων [Idōn de ho Simōn]). This participle (second aorist active of ὁραω [horaō]) shows plainly that those who received the gift of the Holy Spirit spoke with tongues. Simon now saw power transferred to others. Hence he was determined to get this new power. He offered them money (προσηνεγκεν χρηματα [prosēnegken chrēmata]). Second aorist active indicative of προσφερω [prospherō]. He took Peter to be like himself, a mountebank performer who would sell his tricks for enough money. Trafficking in things sacred like ecclesiastical preferments in England is called “Simony” because of this offer of Simon.
19λέγων· δότε κἀμοὶ τὴν ἐξουσίαν ταύτην ἵνα ᾧ ἐὰν ἐπιθῶ τὰς χεῖρας λαμβάνῃ πνεῦμα ἅγιον.
Saying, “give to me also this power so that whomever I place my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit
- Simon saw that the apostles had the ability to bestow the Spirit on other people. What he wanted was not simply that he might have the gift of the Spirit himself but rather that he might have the power to bestow it on other people. Whether the apostles had laid hands on Simon and given him the Spirit is not clearly stated, although it could well be implied by the general statement in verse 17. The passage is not concerned to speculate about whether Simon was, in later theological language, ‘regenerate’. What is emphasized is his sinful desire to have spiritual power for the wrong reasons and to gain that power by the wrong method.
- Just as Philip’s miracles caught Simon’s attention, so the visible outpouring of the Spirit was absolutely irresistible to the magician. Just what he “saw,” the text does not say (v. 18). Luke was not interested in the concrete mode of the Spirit’s appearance, only in the fact that the Spirit came to the Samaritans in an objective, verifiable fashion. Whether Simon himself received the Spirit is also not related. One would assume he did not from the drift of the text. He appears as more the onlooker than the participant, and his behavior scarcely betrays any spiritual enlightenment on his part. As a professional Simon was impressed with the commercial possibilities of the phenomenon he had just witnessed. He therefore offered Peter and John money for the trade secret of how to dispense the Spirit through the laying on of one’s hands. Though a complete misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit, Simon’s behavior was completely in character for a professional magician.116 Tricks of the trade were often exchanged among them in financial transactions. They were viewed almost as commercial commodities (cf. the enormous “market value” of the magical scrolls Paul persuaded the Ephesians to burn—Acts 19:19)
20Πέτρος δὲ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτόν· τὸ ἀργύριόν σου σὺν σοὶ εἴη εἰς ἀπώλειαν ὅτι τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐνόμισας διὰ χρημάτων κτᾶσθαι·
But Peter said to him, “may your silver with you be for destruction because you thought to acquire the gift of God by means of money.”
- In his characteristic role as spokesman, Peter responded for himself and John: “May your money perish with you” (v. 20). Peter’s words could be viewed as a prediction as much as a condemnation. Simon’s greed was leading him down the path toward eternal destruction. Throughout Acts human greed is always depicted as a most destructive force. It certainly was so for Judas (1:18) and for Ananias and Sapphira (5:1–11). It would continue to be so in many subsequent episodes in Acts. Simon was in severe danger that his avarice would destroy him as well. Simon was explicitly depicted as wanting the right to dispense the Spirit, but he probably desired the ability to manipulate the Spirit at his own will, to be able to work miracles and the like (cf. v. 13). But one can never manipulate the Spirit; he is always God’s “gift” (v. 20) and never subject to the human will. Even in this instance, the Spirit came as God’s response to the apostles’ prayer. Simon completely misunderstood when he saw the Spirit as coming through the human gesture of the apostles’ laying their hands on the Samaritans. He was viewing the whole matter through a magician’s eyes. But Christianity has nothing to do with magic, and God’s Spirit is not subject to a charlatan’s manipulation—not in Simon’s day or for any profit-making Christian charlatan of our own day. The term “simony” has come into our vocabulary from this incident; however, it is too restrictive, referring primarily to the attempt to secure ecclesiastical office or privilege through monetary means. Were the term fully based on Simon’s behavior, it would be extended to cover any attempt to manipulate God for personal gain.
21οὐκ ἔστιν σοι μερὶς οὐδὲ κλῆρος ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τούτῳ, ἡ γὰρ καρδία σου οὐκ ἔστιν εὐθεῖα ἔναντι τοῦ θεοῦ.
For you there is no part of share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God.”
- Lot (κληρος [klēros]). Same idea as “part” (μερις [meris]), only as a figure. Matter (λογοι [logoi]). Literally, word or subject (as in Luke 1:4; Acts 15:6), the power of communicating the Holy Spirit. This use of λογος [logos] is in the ancient Greek. Straight (εὐθεια [eutheia]). Quotation from Psa. 78:37. Originally a mathematically straight line as in Acts 9:11, then moral rectitude as here.
- Peter’s confrontation with Simon was particularly harsh (v. 21). In the Old Testament “part or share” refers to the privileges of belonging to God’s people and sharing the inheritance he has granted. To be denied this share is a virtual formula of excommunication, exclusion from God’s people. In Simon’s instance the words may imply more a statement of nonmembership. His behavior betrayed that he had no real portion in God’s people. Luke spoke of Simon’s not having a share “in this ministry.” The word translated “ministry” is logos, a word used throughout Acts for the gospel (cf. 8:4)
22μετανόησον οὖν ἀπὸ τῆς κακίας σου ταύτης καὶ δεήθητι τοῦ κυρίου, εἰ ἄρα ἀφεθήσεταί σοι ἡ ἐπίνοια τῆς καρδίας σου,
Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours and ask the Lord if perhaps you may be forgiven of the intent of your heart
- Wickedness (κακιας [kakias]). Only here in Luke’s writings, though old word and in LXX (cf. 1 Pet. 2:1, 16). If perhaps (εἰ ἀρα [ei ara]). Si forte. This idiom, though with the future indicative and so a condition of the first class (determined as fulfilled), yet minimizes the chance of forgiveness as in Mark 11:13. Peter may have thought that his sin was close to the unpardonable sin (Matt. 12:31), but he does not close the door of hope. The thought (ἡ ἐπινοια [hē epinoia]). Old Greek word from ἐπινοεω [epinoeō], to think upon, and so purpose. Only here in the N. T.
- The very thought of obtaining a divine gift by some kind of payment betrays a total misunderstanding of the nature of God and his gifts. We may be able to sympathize with Simon to some extent; coming straight out of paganism as he did, he could easily misunderstand the new religion which had attracted him. But the misunderstanding was serious and had to be nipped in the bud. To think in this way showed that Simon’s fundamental attitudes were out of harmony with those of God (cf. Ps. 78:37), and therefore, so long as this was the case, he had no share in this matter, i.e. in the blessings of the gospel (cf. Deut. 12:12; 14:27 for the language used). Let him therefore repent of his wicked attitude and pray that his evil design might be forgiven (cf. Ps. 78:38). Commentators have argued whether the if possible implies that God was likely or unlikely to forgive Simon; probably the point is simply that Simon cannot presume upon the mercy of God and take it for granted.
23εἰς γὰρ χολὴν πικρίας καὶ σύνδεσμον ἀδικίας ὁρῶ σε ὄντα.
For in the gall of bitterness and the fetter/bond of unrighteousness I see you are
- That thou art (σε ὀντα [se onta]). Participle in indirect discourse after ὁρω [horō] (I see). In the gall of bitterness (εἰς χολην πικριας [eis cholēn pikrias]). Old word from χολας [cholas] either from χεω [cheō], to pour, or χλοη [chloē], yellowish green, bile or gall. In the N. T. only in Matt. 27:34 and here. In LXX in sense of wormwood as well as bile. See Deut. 29:18; 32:32; Lam. 3:15; Job 16:14. “Gall and bitterness” in Deut. 29:18. Here the gall is described by the genitive πικριας [pikrias] as consisting in “bitterness.” In Heb. 12:15 “a root of bitterness,” a bitter root. This word πικρια [pikria] in the N. T. only here and Heb. 12:15; Rom. 3:14; Eph. 4:31. The “bond of iniquity” (συνδεσμον ἀδικιας [sundesmon adikias]) is from Isa. 58:6. Paul uses this word of peace (Eph. 4:3), of love (Col. 3:14), of the body (Col. 2:19). Peter describes Simon’s offer as poison and a chain.
- Simon had not responded to the gospel; he had responded to greed. He lacked the contrition and inner conviction that accompany a true response to the gospel. His heart was “not right before God.” Peter did not merely pronounce a curse on Simon. He offered him the chance to repent (v. 22). God can forgive even such a thought as Simon’s greedy desire to manipulate the divine Spirit
- He is in the gall of bitterness. This is a Hebrew way of saying ‘in bitter gall’, and reflects Deuteronomy 29:18 which speaks of the danger of ‘a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit’ springing up; here the phrase appears to be metaphorical of a person whose idolatry and godlessness lead to bitter results for himself and the people whom he deceives (cf. Lam. 3:15, 19). Peter would then be saying that Simon is causing bitter judgment for himself, as befits a person who is held fast by sin (for the phrase cf. Isa. 58:6).
24ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Σίμων εἶπεν δεήθητε ὑμεῖς ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ πρὸς τὸν κύριον ὅπως μηδὲν ἐπέλθῃ ἐπʼ ἐμὲ ὧν εἰρήκατε.
But Simon answered and said, “you pray for me to the Lord so that nothing will come upon me of whay you have said
- Pray ye for me (Δεηθητε ὑμεις ὑπερ ἐμου [Deēthēte humeis huper emou]). Emphasis on ὑμεις [humeis] (you). First aorist passive imperative. Simon is thoroughly frightened by Peter’s words, but shows no sign of personal repentance or change of heart. He wants to escape the penalty for his sin and hopes that Peter can avert it. Peter had clearly diagnosed his case. He was an unconverted man in spite of his profession of faith and baptism. There is no evidence that he ever changed his life at all. Which (ὡν [hōn]). Genitive by attraction of the accusative relative ἁ [ha] to case of the unexpressed antecedent τουτων [toutōn] (of those things), a common Greek idiom.
- The question is whether Simon did in fact repent. His response (v. 24) may express a degree of remorse but scarcely the sort of complete turnabout of will and mind that marks true repentance. In fact, Simon expressed no repentance. Instead, he asked the apostles to intercede for him. There was no prayer of contrition from Simon, just the fear that Peter’s predicted judgment might come down upon him.
- Luke gave no further information on Simon the magician. He remains a shadowy figure. Luke, however, made his point. Christianity has nothing to do with magic; magic is powerless before the genuine power of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit can neither be manipulated nor bought. Simon illustrated that. A proper response to God’s gift of salvation is much more than simply a “what-is-in-it-for-us?” approach. It involves genuine commitment in response to the work of God’s Spirit.
- Simon’s response was to ask the apostles to pray for him that none of the threatened judgments might come upon him. A variant reading in some mss adds the interesting comment that Simon wept continually as he made his request. There is no hint in the text that his request was anything but sincere, however much or little he may have understood all that was said. Later legend portrayed Simon as the persistent opponent of Christianity and an arch-heretic; there is nothing of that here, and this may well suggest that Luke’s story antedates the later picture of Simon. Unlike Ananias, Simon was given an opportunity of repentance by Peter; it is difficult to be sure what difference Luke may have seen between the two men, unless he thought that Ananias had had more opportunity than Simon to realize the sinfulness of his action and thus sinned knowingly (cf. Luke 12:47f.). Whatever be the case, the story indicates that there is a possibility of forgiveness even for serious sin committed by a baptized person.