On the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 8:5-13.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 308 - January 1882


Chapter 8:5-13.


Among the great host of those that were scattered publishing the word of the Lord one is singled out by the Spirit of God, who achieved a signal victory for grace where law had utterly failed as always. Samaria was won by the gospel to the name of Jesus; and the good soldier who fought was Philip. He was one of the seven chosen by the saints and appointed by the apostles to do diaconal work in Jerusalem. But the ascended Lord had given him as an evangelist, we may learn expressly from Acts xxi. 8; and here we find him in Samaria engaged in this work for which he had the gift, not in that office to which he had been ordained, now that the dispersion of the saints from Jerusalem no longer admitted of its functions. But as gift is in the unity of Christ's body (Eph. iv.), so its exercise is above passing circumstances and has ample scope, where a local charge were out of place, as our chapter abundantly testifies. It is the free action of the Holy Spirit exemplified in the details of an individual, as we have already seen it generally in the dispersed.

"And Philip went down to a city of Samaria and preached to them the Christ. And the crowd with one accord gave heed to the things spoken by Philip, when they heard, and saw the signs which he did. For [as to] many1 that had unclean spirits, they went out crying with a loud voice, and many palsied and lame were healed. And there was great joy2 in that city" (ver. 5-8).

The worthlessness of tradition is made manifest, though unintentionally, by Eusebius (Η. Ε. iii. 31; ed. Heinichen, i. 261-3), who cites a letter of Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, to Victor, bishop of Rome, before the end of the second century, speaking of Philip as "one of the twelve apostles," "and his daughter." But what could be expected of a man who could in the same letter interlard the scriptural description of John with "who became priest bearing as he did the mitre" or high-priest's plate? See also Eus. Η. E. v. 24. So rapid was the loss of Christ's truth, so inexcusable in presence of plain scriptural facts before all readers. They may ridicule Papias, but what of one bishop who reports the fable, and of another (among the most learned in his day) who uses it more than once in his History of the Church? Such are very early Christian fathers, ignorant of scripture to the last degree, yet idolised by superstitious men who profess to receive the Scriptures as inspired of God.

It is interesting to note that the city in question was the same where the Son of God had made Himself known to not a few Samaritans who confessed Him to be the Saviour of the world.

Now the Christ is preached there by one of whom it could be said in all truth—that after serving well as a deacon, he was gaining to himself a good standing, or step in advance, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. It was meet that both should be rather. in Sychar (afterwards Neapolis and Nablous), ancient Shechem and Sichem at the foot of Gerizim, the mountain that vainly sought to rival Jerusalem, rather than in the city of Samaria, lately rebuilt or enlarged by Herod the Great, and named Sebaste in honour of Augustus.3 There the Lord deigned to abide two days, deepening the impression produced by the sinful woman saved from death, and giving them to hear Him themselves and to know the truth in Himself.

The enemy seemed now in possession like a Hood; but the Spirit of the Lord lifts up a standard against him in the preaching of Philip, confirmed by the signs which he wrought before their eyes. No miracle was needed there when the Lord visited the place and wrought as the great and acknowledged Prophet, though in truth the central object and glorious sum of all prophecy. It was the Father seeking true worshippers through the Son, who declared Him in a fulness of grace and troth which surmounted the trammels of Judaism; and the word went home in power though not without the Holy Ghost which the Son gives as a divine spring of unfailing enjoyment. But now Satan had sought to efface the truth and set up a rival in sorcery, ever apt to seduce, interest, and alarm those who know not the true God. And the time was also come for God to bear witness in men, the servants of Christ on earth, to His victory over Satan and glorification on high, as we have seen in previous chapters of this book. Here the energy of the Spirit was at work in Samaria in a free herald of the gospel, after the testimony had been refused with an enmity up to death in Jerusalem. On the one hand, the crowds gave heed with one accord to the things spoken by Philip; on the other, from many that were possessed nncican spirits came out with loud outcries, and many palsied and lame were healed. Can we wonder that "there was much joy in that city"? But with Luke viii. 13 before me I could not affirm so absolutely as J. Calvin that the joy must be the fruit of faith. (Opera vi. 71.) At least the "faith" may not be of God, as we see in the flagrant case which the Holy Spirit brings here before us. Indeed not a few remarks in his Comment seem rash.

Yea, such was the power at work that even the main instrument of Satan fell under the general influence, of the multitudes he had so long seduced to his lies. "But a certain man, Simon by name, was before in the city preaching magic and amazing the nation of Samaria, saying that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed from small to great, saying, He is the power of God that is called4 Great. And they gave heed to him, because a long time he had amazed them with his magic arts. But when they believed Philip evangelizing5about the kingdom of God and the name of6 Jesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women. And Simon also himself believed; and being baptized he continued with Philip, and, beholding signs7 and great works of power as they were done, was amazed" (ver. 9-13).

This is the only reliable account of one who prominently figures in the early ecclesiastical writers as a heresiarch most hostile to the truth, but with so much fable surrounding him as to prove how little we can trust their statements. Some object to his being classed with the leaders of heresy, on the ground that he was not a Christian. He certainly was "baptized," as he is said to have "believed," and thus had a better title (as far as profession goes) than his Samaritan master Dositheus, who is said to have been a disciple of John the Baptist but eclipsed in his leadership subsequently by Simon. Even Justin Martyr who had the double advantage of being a native of Flavia Neapolis which arose out of the ruins of Sychar, and of being born not a century after, seems to have fallen into the blunder of confounding the Sabine deity, Semo Sancus, who had a statue erected to his honour, with Simon M. Dr. Ε. Burton in a note to his Bampton Lectures (Oxford, 1829) endeavours to shew the impossibility of such a mistake on the part of Justin, and has put together from various learned men what can be said in favour of Simon's deification at Rome. If it were so, it is of small consequence. The alleged contests between him and the apostle Peter, whether at Caesarea or at Rome, are too absurd to notice, being evidently legends grafted on the inspired history by the unhallowed hands of men whose mind and conscience were alike defiled. Destitute of the truth they betook themselves to marvels of the imagination, which after all rather detract from the solemn effect of sacred history, and add nothing to the dignity of the apostle's exposure or to the blind self-condemnatory turpitude of the unhappy man himself.

Whatever the mischievous result of Simon's sorcery and falsehoods leading to his own blasphemous pretensions, and we are here told of his misleading all around small and great, (for what avail rank or education to guard from error?) all vanished like smoke before the light of the gospel. "The kingdom of God" and "the name of Jesus" annihilated the vain jugglery and impious frauds of the Samaritan. But it is instructive to notice that there is a difference in the language of ver. 12 as compared with 13, and a difference in favour of the men and women in the former as against the latter. They are said simply to have believed the testimony and to have been baptized; the same is said of Simon with the important addition that he attended closely to Philip, and, while beholding the signs and great works of power as they were done, was amazed. This was what transported him, not the love of God, not the •truth of Christ, nor the grace of the gospel even to such a guilty deceitful wretch as himself, but the wondrous power which wrought before his eyes. Its overwhelming reality struck none so deeply as Simon. Others had their eyes drawn to the kingdom, and its holy glories; others in spirit fell down and clasped the feet of their unseen Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ, lost in wonder, love,, and praise. Simon was in ecstasies, beholding the signs and great deeds of power, the character of which was discerned by none more clearly than himself. He yielded to evidence and believed what approved itself to his mind irrefragably. Not a word implies self-judgment before God; not a word of any gracious action on his heart. Conscience was not ploughed up; nor did the affections flowunder the sense of God's immeasurable grace in Christ to save him from his sins. On the other hand it is not said of the men and women in the verses before that they were "amazed," as Simon was in his close attendance on Philip, not to hear the truth more fully and grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, but. "beholding the signs and great deeds of power as they came to pass."

The Spirit of God thus lays bare to us in this description, it seems to me, the merely natural source of Simon's faith as distinguished from others. And such is all faith which is founded on "evidences," which the mind judges and accepts accordingly. It may not be in the least insincere, and those who so believe may be the readiest to do battle if it seem necessary for their creed. But there is no life, as there is no repentance; no link with Christ formed by the Holy Spirit through the reception of the word, because it is God's word, discovering God to the guilty conscience and delivering withal through Christ dead and risen.

Still Simon may have fully credited himself with honest conviction of the truth; and, in the warmth and haste of so mighty a work in so short a time, not even Philip saw reason to question his confession. In fact, where it is the mind without conscience, progress is much more rapid" and all outwardly looks promising for a little where a soul thus easily passes into the ranks of Christ. We have not long to wait for the circumstances which betrayed unmistakably the unrenewed condition of Simon's soul, delivered the saints from what had else been a constant incubus, and gave himself the most solemn warning that his heart was not right with God.



1) The true text here is a good instance of the tendency in later copyists to soften down a rugged or peculiar construction and so get rid of difficulty. The older Dias., א A Β C E. some cursives, and among the ancient versions the vulg. Sah. Syrr. &c. support πολλοί, which gives grammatically an anacoluthon or irregularity of construction by no means uncommon, so vii. 40. We can easily understand the change to πολλῶν in order to make all smooth, supported by but one later uncial with the mass of cursives, &c.

2) The critical reading πολλὴχ. (not μεγ.) seems to refer to the extent rather than the quality of the joy.

3) In no part of this chapter or of the New Testament is the city meant, but the country, containing cities and many villages. Sychar was the religious centre, Sebaste the capital politically.

4) A B C D E, many cursives, and ancient Vv. &c. supply καλουμένῃ "celled," omitted in the Received Text on inferior authority, and probably because the copyists, not perceiving its importance, imagined it was a mere gloss. It is expressive of the egregious assumption of the impostor.

5) On the other head τά "the things" is en insertion contrary to the oldest witnesses, which enfeebles the sense here, and xxviii. 27, though in general a favourite expression of Luke if not peculiarly his.

6) The article, read by a few cursives but adopted in the Text. Rec., has no place here in the best authorities.

7) The best copies and Vv. have the order of words here followed as he margin of the Authorised version. R. Stephens, Elz., Bees even from his first edition (Tiguri, 1559) are right; not so Erasmus & Colinĉus who read δ. κ. σ. nor the Complut. add, who have δ. κ. σ. μ. It may be added that the MSS. א C end D from the primary band join in the great blunder of "they were" amazed at the end of the verse.