February 11, 2014

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe                                       


Lesson III.A.1: Philip in Samaria (8:4-25)




The refugees who were driven from Jerusalem by the persecution of Saul found numerous opportunities to preach Christ in areas where He was not known. Jerusalem may have rejected the truth, but that was not the only place to serve Christ and proclaim His gospel. After the death of Stephen, Philip, another one of the seven men chosen to assist the apostles “by waiting tables” emerges as a prominent leader of a more liberal leaning group of Christians that had fled into Samaria.

The Samaritans were of Israelite origin, but with a considerable mixture of Gentile blood. When the Northern Kingdom was invaded by the Assyrians and conquered in 722 b.c., the Hebrew people who were not deported remained in the land and married with foreigners who moved in to the land from the East. The same sort of thing happened when the Southern Kingdom fell in 587 b.c.  The people of Judah who were not forced to go to Babylonia stayed and mingled with the neighboring tribes. When the exiles returned from Babylonia, they were racial purest and refused to permit their kinsmen the privilege of worshipping with them or sharing in the building of the temple. Nehemiah and Ezra faced problems in rebuilding the remnant nation and they perpetuated the tension between the two groups by their separatist policy.

The real separation between the Jews and Samaritans came when the son of Jehoida, the high priest, was expelled from the temple (Neh. 13:28). The Samaritans erected a rival temple on Mount Gerizim, and the hostility between the Jews and Samaritans became more intense with the passing years. The Samaritans only accepted the Pentateuch as being God’s Word. They rejected the Jewish teaching of the Messiah, because it was associated with David. David was responsible for making Jerusalem the religious center for the Hebrew people, and the Samaritans said that Mount Gerizim was the place where God would place His name. While they did not believe in a Messiah, they looked for a Taheb (Restorer).

The Taheb was not a Messiah in the Jewish meaning of an anointed descendent of David, but the prophet foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-18 (Actually, this is a prophesy regarding Jesus Christ.). They believed this prophetic figure would restore the temple on Mount Gerizim, reestablish the sacrificial cult, and gain recognition from the pagans.

John is the only Gospel writer who mentions a ministry of Jesus among the people of Samaria. In Mathew’s Gospel, when Jesus instructed His disciples for their trial mission, He forbid them to preach in a Samaritan town—These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not” (Matt. 10:5). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples were forbidden by the people of Samaria to pass through their land. John, who went with Peter later to inspect the results of Philip’s work in Samaria, joined with his brother James in begging Jesus to consume the Samaritans with fire—“And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?” (Luke 9:54). It is also Luke who records the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).




Part 1: Preaching Accompanied By Signs (vv. 4-8)


4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.

5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

6 And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.

7 For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.

8 And there was great joy in that city.

 The Lord Jesus had said they should be witnesses to Him in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. Now the Word is going to Samaria. Samaria is north of Jerusalem, but Luke said Philip “went down” because Samaria is lower in elevation than Jerusalem. “Samaria” is used for the territory, and for the city, the ancient capital of the northern kingdom of Israel; also known as “Sebaste.” It is not clear what is meant here, city or territory.

Philip is introduced in Chapter six—“Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:3-6). In the twenty-first chapter, beginning in verse 7, we find these words—“And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day. And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (Acts 21:7-9). Philip the deacon, one of the seven, became Philip the evangelist. He was among those who were driven from Jerusalem by Paul’s persecution. In the twenty-first chapter he is seen entertaining Paul on his missionary journey. Don’t you think they must have talked about those early days and of the martyred Stephen?

The Jews have no dealings with Samaritans, but Christians have, and Philip came to Samaria, full of the Spirit, and driven by the indwelling life of Christ. Without the least bit of concern for what the complications of his actions would initiate in the Jerusalem church, Philip went to a city in Samaria and proclaimed Christ. Within this passage there are two great words for preaching, which are used to describe the work of Philip. He proclaimed Christ—and that is the Greek word kerusso, which means to proclaim as a herald. We find later that Philip preached the gospel, and that is the Greek word euaggelizo, which indicates the proclamation of good news. The message concerning Christ, delivered through the deacon-evangelist Philip seized the attention of Samaria. In Samaria, the Christian preacher found a new atmosphere and a new outlook. Though we learn in the following paragraphs that none of these converts received the Holy Spirit at this time, we should not assume there was anything lacking in Philip’s preaching—we will comment on this in the third part of this study.

Just to mention to the Samaritans that he left Jerusalem because of a persecution was reason enough for them to give Philip a very favorable reception. However, when the people heard Philip preach and saw his cures of sickness and manifestation of divine power, they gave him an enthusiastic welcome. His preaching was accompanied by physical and mental signs—unclean spirits were cast out, and men were healed. The city was full of joy, resulting from these things; and in that attitude of amazement, surprise, and of joy, they listened.

Philip’s mission to Samaria is important chiefly because it marked the first definite initiative into non-Jewish territory.

Part 2: Simon Magus (vv. 9-13)


9 But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:

10 To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.

11 And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.

12 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

In the city where Philip preached there was a man by the name of Simon, who like many of the astrologers and magicians of that day, amazed people with his powers and gained for himself a comfortable living with his fabulous reputation. On the strength of his alleged powers, Simon had established himself as a sort of local diviner and his followers revered him. They considered him “the great power of God.” “Power” is a Jewish reverential substitute for God (Mark 14:62—“setting at the right hand of power,” where Luke in his parallel [Luke 22:69] adds, as here, the explanatory words, “of God”). He had flung the spell of his personality over the city by his self-advertisement: “Giving out that himself was some great one.”  The Samaritans worshipped Jehovah, but probably thought of Simon as a special agent of Deity. Simon’s sorcery* was energized by Satan and was used to magnify himself, while Philips miracles were empowered by God, and were used to glorify Christ. Simon started to lose his following as the Samaritans listened to Philip’s messages, believed on Jesus Christ, were born again, and were baptized. Observe the difference: Philip proclaimed another; the Messiah; Simon proclaimed himself. Many traditions revolve around Simon the sorcerer. It is alleged: (a) that he was the founder of the Gnostic heresies, (b) that he went to Rome and perverted Christian doctrine there, and (c) that he became involved in a miracle contest with Peter and lost.

*Sorcery refers to magic which originally referred to the practices of the Medo-Persians: a mixture of science and superstition, including astrology, divination, and the occult.

The people who had been under the spell of the sorcerer listened. Something very much unexpected happened. When the Magician heard Philip preach about the sovereignty of God and the name of Jesus Christ, he along with the people of the city believed and received baptism. The phrase “the kingdom of God” (v. 12) refers to the coming kingdom (Acts 1:3, 6). “The name of Jesus Christ” looks to His position as Messiah. In other words, the message meant that some Samaritans would become heirs of the Millennium by faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Simon recognized Philip was a competitor and possessed a power greater than his own. From what happened later, we wonder whether Simon’s motive was sincere in joining the Christian fellowship. Yet he attached himself to Philip and continued to be amazed by the great miracles performed. Simon’s faith is proof of the truth that faith based on signs is not a trustworthy faith—“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).

We have no right to say that Simon was insincere. The same words used to describe the multitude are used of Simon, and I believe his belief was as sincere as that of the multitude and his baptism was as valid as theirs. Dear reader, I believe when a person says they have accepted Christ, that we must accept them at their word, since only the Lord can know their heart.

Part 3: Peter and John Visit Samaria (vv. 14-25)


14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:

15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:

16 (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,

19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.

20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.

22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.

23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

24 Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.

25 And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

With the abatement of the persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem, news reached the apostles and others of the success of the ministry of Philip in Samaria. This departure of preaching to those who are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel was not viewed by the Jewish Christians with enthusiasm, since it is evident that Hebrew believers did carry over with them into their new relationship with Christ the old prejudices against all things outside the Hebrew experience. Yet, since the Samaritans worshipped the same God and were stricter in the observance of the Law than the Jews, perhaps the disciples in Jerusalem considered them religiously far superior to the Gentiles. Peter and John seem to have been officially appointed by the church in Jerusalem to look into the matter. For some time the Jerusalem apostles exercised general supervision over the widespread work of evangelization.

Samaria as a center of operation was not chosen by the council of apostles in Jerusalem. It was undoubtedly in the original intention of Jesus Christ.

We are not told whether Philip was still in the city when Peter and John arrived. Upon their arrival, they observed a deficiency in the experience of the believers. The believers had been properly baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, but as yet they had not received the Holy Spirit. Great multitudes intellectually accepting the truth of what Philip had declared, submitting themselves to the right of water baptism as an indication of their acceptance. It was remarkable. Why? Their belief was intellectual consent, and their baptism was intellectual consent. This first victory broke the spell of the sorcerer. He himself was captured. And the city passed under the spell of the evangelist.

Normally, the Holy Spirit baptizes, indwells, and seals at the moment of faith. Aside from the possibility that these people may not have been saved the delay served several purposes: (1) Peter and John’s prayer (for bestowing of the Holy Spirit and their laying on of hands (resulting in the coming of the Spirit) confirmed Philip’s ministry among the Samaritans. This authenticated this new work to the Jerusalem apostles. (2) Also this confirmed Philip’s ministry to the Samaritans. This message Philip had preached was validated by the coming of the Spirit, a mark of the coming kingdom. (3) Perhaps the most important aspect of God withholding the Holy Spirit until apostolic representatives came from the Jerusalem church was to prevent a split. Because of the natural propensity of division between Jews and Samaritans it was essential for Peter and John to welcome the Samaritan believers into the church.

Peter and John prayed that the people might receive the Holy Spirit, seemingly a prayer for divine approval for evangelizing the Samaritans. After Peter and John put their hands upon the people, they received the Holy Spirit. Let’s look somewhat carefully at this story to see what Peter and John actually did. They prayed for them; they laid their hands upon them; and then they received the Holy Spirit. Peter knew full well that the Spirit had not fallen upon these men by the laying on of his hands. That is what Simon thought he saw, as we will see as the story develops; but Peter knew and declared that it was the gift of God.

We can hardly conclude from the incident that the apostles were able to do something by the imposition of hands which Philip with all his preaching and miracles could not perform. Later we notice that Paul was able to lay his hands upon the disciples of John at Ephesus, and they received the Holy Spirit—“And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied”  (Acts 19:6). In this same chapter (Acts 8) the apostles did not lay their hands upon the Ethiopian Eunuch. We are safe in assuming that the reception of the Holy Spirit by the Samaritan converts was equally beneficial for the apostles. It proved to them that God was involved in the ministry among the Samaritans, and the church in Jerusalem must accept what God authenticated.

The question arises at this point, as to why these people did not immediately receive the Holy Spirit upon their intellectual consent. I have no hard and fast answer. Whether the reason was spiritual or psychological is debatable. The story as it stands reminds us that we have no right to base a system or procedure on one picture given us in the Acts of the Apostles. Here were people believing on Jesus and subsequently receiving the Holy Spirit. There are other pictures where people believing receive the Spirit immediately. We cannot, I repeat, base a system or procedure on any one instance. Our system must be based rather on the whole revelation of the Acts of the Apostles. As in the Gospel stories, we see that Jesus did not fulfill His ministry in the souls of two men in the same way; that there was infinite variety in His method; so in the Acts of the Apostles we see that Christian experience cannot be tabulated and systemized in the case of any one, for all are different. God fulfills Himself in many ways. The moment in which any theologian, or school of theology attempts to systemize the method of the coming of the Spirit into human lives, in that moment they are excluding a score of His operations and including only one.

Remember too that the first ten chapters of Acts are dealing with a period of transition, from the Jew, to the Samaritan, to the Gentile. God’s pattern for today is given in Acts 10; the sinner hears the gospel, believes, receives the gift of the Spirit, and then is baptized. It is dangerous to base any doctrine or practice only on what is recorded in Acts 1-10. Once you accept Acts 1-10 as a transitional period in God’s plan, with Acts 10 being the climax, the problems are solved.

Now let’s look closely at what happened when the Spirit came to these men in Samaria. Exactly the same thing that happened when the Spirit came to the men in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost. Exactly the same thing that happened when the Spirit came to Cornelius, falling upon him as it did upon those first disciples. Exactly what happened when the Spirit came to Saul of Tarsus? Exactly what happened when the Spirit came to that small group of disciples at Ephesus. Exactly the same thing when the Spirit came into our lives. They were baptized into the one Body of Christ; and that meant membership in the Church; all their resources at the disposal of the Church, all their gifts in the Church were gifts bestowed for their sake, whether they were gifts of the apostles, evangelists, prophets, teachers, or helpers. These people came into the mystic mystery of the one lonely, and indivisible Church of Jesus Christ.

Simon the magician comes before us again after the outpouring of the Spirit. “And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money.” The clause “Simon saw that the Spirit was given” implies there was some external manifestation to signal the coming of the Holy Spirit. Possibly, it was speaking in tongues, though the Scripture does not say so. Seeing what the apostles were capable of accomplishing by the imposition of hands, his professional interest revived. Simon wanted to purchase this power so that he could make money through its use. His attitude was strictly materialistic. The evil request of Simon originated a new word in religious circles—“simony,” which means the attainment of ecclesiastical positions by means of money.

What was the basis of Simon’s ‘faith’? His faith was not in the Word of God, but in the miracles he saw Philip perform; and there is no indication Simon repented of his sins. He certainly did not believe with all his heart—“And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37). His faith was like that of the people of Jerusalem who witnessed our Lord’s miracles (John 2:23-25), or even like that of the demons—“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19).

Peter reprimanded Simon for daring to make such a request—“Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost”—and called on him to repent so that he could be forgiven. Apparently, Peter had described some terrible things which would happen to him as a judgment from God, because Simon asked him to pray for him, that nothing of what you have said will come upon me. A sinner who wants the prayers of others, but will not pray for himself is not going to enter God’s kingdom. Simon heard the gospel, saw the miracles, gave a profession of faith in Christ, and was baptized; and yet he was never born again. He was one of Satan’s clever counterfeits; and, had Peter never exposed the wickedness of his heart, Simon would have been accepted as a member of the Samaritan congregation. It is evident that more clemency was shown for Simon than for Ananias and Sapphira.

What did Simon ask for and what did Simon want? It is constantly imagined that he asked for the Holy Spirit, and wanted to buy the Holy Spirit, but the story does not say so. He said to Peter: “Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.” He did not ask for the Holy Spirit, he asked for the power to bestow Him. The whole city had been under the spell of this man’s sorceries, and here was something he lacked. What he craved was not the power of the Spirit, but the power to bestow the Spirit. The sin was the desire to possess spiritual power for personal gain. Peter’s words to Simon—“Thy money perish with thee”—give every indication that the sorcerer was not a converted man. These were strong words, but Peter wasn’t finished, because he said to Simon, Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.” While it is not out of place for believers to repent (see Rev. 2-3), the command to repent is usually given to unbelievers. The fact that Simon was “in the gall of bitterness” and “the bond of iniquity” would indicate that he had never been truly born again. Dear reader, being baptized with water, or going through some other ceremony will not make you a Christian. Simon continued with Philip, not to hear the Word and learn more about Jesus Christ, but to witness the miracles and perhaps to learn how they were done.

Peter and John remained in this city of Samaria preaching the word of the Lord. On their way back to Jerusalem to report their findings, they proclaimed the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. They had fully accepted the mission to the Samaritans as the intention of God and became evangelist for Christ. The departure to the people of Samaria was a good beginning for the more radical movement to the Gentile world.

I don’t believe we are to judge others, because Christ will judge all men, and He will reveal the true condition of every man’s soul. The fact is, however, if men have not received the Holy Spirit they are not Christ’s own—“If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9).

Judaism never conquered Samaritanism, but the Word of God won in Samaria. So the triumph of the Church must be that of the Word proclaimed in the power of the Spirit.