What is your interpretation of Acts 8:12-17 in regards to the people receiving the Holy Spirit and Simon the Sorcerer?
Acts 8:12-17 might seem confusing, or it might even appear to be a contradiction of salvation doctrine about when the Holy Spirit was given. If the people believed and were baptized (verses 12-13) why didn’t they receive the Holy Spirit? In order to understand this, we must begin by reading the larger passage. Beginning in Acts 8:4 and reading through verse 25, let’s try to understand the historical account of these three things: 1) Philip’s instruction, 2) Simon the Sorcerer’s profession and 3) Peter’s correction. The account takes place after the martyrdom of Stephen, when disciples of Jesus scattered beyond Jerusalem because of persecution.
Acts 8:4-8 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city.
Simon the Sorcerer’s Profession
Acts 8:8-13 But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10 to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” 11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.
Acts 8:14-25 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” 24 Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.” 25 So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
Let’s look at what the Bible clearly tells us. Philip went down to the city of Samaria to preach to the people about Jesus and the people there believed what he told them about “the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus.” This does not tell exactly what they believed, but we do know that they were baptized. We also know that the gospel message that the disciples were preaching at this time was, “repent and be baptized….”
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Something to be noted in Acts 8:12 about what Philip preached (“ the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ”) is the omission of the purpose “for the remission of sins” and the promise of receiving the Holy Ghost. The understanding of one’s sin is important to the understanding of the gospel of saving grace. Did Philip omit the purpose of repentance and the promise of the Spirit, or was it just not recorded? The answer is, we simply don’t know. But we do know that the people responded by being baptized.
We can safely assume this was water baptism for we are clearly told in verse 17 that the people received the Holy Spirit later, when Peter and John came to them. We are also told why Peter and John came: Because the people “had received the word” (vs 14), but not the Holy Spirit (vs 15).
God Alone Gives the Spirit
These verses support the understanding that salvation (regeneration from death to newness of life in Christ) is a work of God and that water baptism does not impart the Holy Spirit. However, we must be careful to remember that neither does the laying on of hands (as spoken of in verse 17) impart the Holy Spirit. It is God who gives the Spirit in His time and not by anything man does (e.g. water baptism or laying on of hands).
We know this for certain from more explicit Bible passages. It is God who forgives man’s sins when man repents and trusts in Christ’s finished work for the payment of his sins. Then God saves the sinner, washes him clean in the blood of Christ (Rev 1:5), imputes (credits) to him the righteousness of Jesus (the Glorious Exchange — 2 Corinthians 5:21) and gives to him the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19, 2:16).
So while these people in Samaria believed and were water baptized (vs 12) they were not saved (regenerated) until later (vs 17). The evidence of salvation taking place at that time is that they received the Holy Spirit and were sealed by Him.
Now, what about Simon who “believed also?” It’s clear he didn’t have salvation in verse 13, and it is doubtful that he received it later (vs 17), because what he asked for was to be able to purchase the power to give the Holy Spirit to others. This request does not reflect one who has been saved by Christ. It is evidence of desiring worldly gain for personal power.
Psalm 49:6-7 They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him.
Peter rebuked Simon and told him… “for your heart is not right in the sight of God” (vs 21). Simon responded with, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me” (vs 24).
Was Simon simply asking that his money be kept from perishing with him (vs 20) and that he not be bound by bitterness and iniquity (vs 23)? It doesn’t appear that this was repentance for Peter then commanded Simon to repent of his wickedness and pray to God for forgiveness (vs 22).
Simon seems to have been more concerned about his comfort than God’s glory. Sadly, we do not read anything about Simon repenting and asking for forgiveness as Peter commanded him to do. Instead, Simon asked Peter to pray for him. We know that no one is saved by another’s prayer on their behalf. So did Simon pray to God?Was he saved? We don’t know for certain. Only God knows. The Bible tells us nothing more about Simon the Sorcerer, so we simply do not know what became of him.
Profession v. Possession
Remember, there is a difference between a profession of faith and a possession of relationship with Jesus Christ. When sharing the gospel of saving grace with those who do not belong to Jesus, be certain to make it clear that salvation is received by turning to Jesus in trusting faith for what He did to pay for one’s sins. A true confession of sin reveals a heart desirous of forgiveness and that is evidence of true faith. Jesus promises to save those who come to Him in faith, to give them eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Find a “Simon” today. There might not be a sorcerer who crosses your path, but there will be someone who needs to hear about God’s grace. Tell them about the love of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins and the redemption of their souls that Jesus offers to them TODAY!
…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2)
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