Simon Magus was a popular and powerful sorcerer in Samaria. Although he became very eager about Christianity after hearing the preaching of Philip the evangelist, Simon's interest was not actually a matter of true repentance and conversion. Simon viewed Christianity as though it were a means for his own personal benefit and exaltation, for which the apostle Peter rebuked him. The term "Simony," the buying and selling of positions of authority in the church (one of the major protests of Martin Luther, see Luther's 95 Theses) is named from Simon Magus.
Simon The Sorcerer
"Philip went down to a city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city."
"But there was a man named Simon who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the nation of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all gave heed to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is that power of God which is called Great." And they gave heed to him, because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 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. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed."
"Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit."
"Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give me also this power, that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."
"But Peter said to him, "Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." (Acts 8:5-23 RSV)
Who Was Simon Magus?
The Bible record of Simon Magus ends after the verses quoted above, however there are other direct references to him in existence, including that by Justin Martyr, a prominent Christian writer and historian who lived in the early second century, just after the close of the New Testament period. In his Apology, chapter 26 (a brief except is shown below), Justin wrote that Simon Magus went to Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius where he, being the skilled deceiver that he was, corrupted and became the popular leader of a large portion of the Christians (many of whom had earlier been personally converted by the apostles, including Paul and Peter) in the city.
Among Simon Magus' teachings, which did not reject Christianity, but rather grossly perverted much of it to his own liking (despite what they were doing, those of Simon's church called themselves, and apparently sincerely believed themselves to be, Christians), was that their human leader was in place of God and promoted the use of statues for worship. According to Justin:
"There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic, by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. He was considered a god, and as a god was honoured by you with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription, in the language of Rome."
"He persuaded those who adhered to him that they should never die, and even now there are some living who hold this opinion of his ... All who take their opinions from these men, as we before said, call themselves Christians."
Fact Finder: Did many Samaritans become true followers of Jesus Christ?