07 December 2021

To Samaria


Despite persecution, or perhaps because of it, the disciple began to preach the gospel outside Judea, beginning in SamariaActs 8:1-25

Worship - Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Acts presents us with how the gospel came to Samaria. After the martyrdom of Stephen, Saul of Tarsus began his effort to crush the fledgling church, which caused many “
brethren” to be scattered “throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria.” But God used it to advance the gospel as they began to preach wherever they found themselves - [Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash].

Having left Judea, Philip traveled to the city of Samaria and began to “proclaim the Messiah.” Under his preaching, demons were exorcised and many that were “lame were healed,” causing “much joy in the city.” As a result, many Samaritans responded positively to the gospel.

THE MAGICIAN


The text identifies one of the new converts as a man named Simon who was known for using “sorcery” to “astound” the residents of the city. Prior to Philip’s arrival, the “least to the greatest” men of the city paid heed to Simon, believing that he exercised the “great power of God.” Yet even Simon found the gospel irresistible, or at least, he was greatly impressed with the miracles that accompanied it.

As the result of the proclamation of the “kingdom of God,” a great many Samaritans were “baptized, both men and women…in the name of the Lord Jesus,” and this included Simon. However, it seems his fascination was with the “signs and great miracles wrought” by Philip (“and he was amazed”).

Upon hearing the news, the apostles sent Peter and John to confirm the reports from Samaria. But upon their arrival, apparently, they found something was missing from the faith of the Samaritans, and they “laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” For reasons not stated, none of the Samaritan converts had received the Spirit.

Simon was impressed, for he “saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given,” and he attempted to bribe them to grant him the same power.

In the passage, the stress is on the fact that Simon “saw” something when men and women received the Spirit. Precisely what he “saw” is not stated, and we can only speculate. Perhaps, as on the Day of Pentecost, he saw “tongues of fire” appear over the converts or they began to “speak in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” But that is conjecture based on what occurred previously.

BAPTISM


What the text does tell us is that the Samaritans received the Spirit AFTER they responded to the gospel and AFTER they were “baptized in the name of Jesus.” Moreover, in this case, the Spirit was dispensed through the “laying on of the apostle’s hands.” Why that was necessary is not explained in the passage.

Logically, it does not follow from the incident that the intervention of an apostle is always necessary to receive the Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit fell on all 120 disciples without anyone laying hands on them. And later, the Spirit fell on the Gentiles gathered at the house of Cornelius while Peter was still preaching to them, again, without anyone laying hands on them, apostle or not – (Acts 10:44-48).

It also does not follow from the passage that believers must be baptized “in the name of Jesus” before receiving the Spirit. Again, at the house of Cornelius, the Gentiles received the Spirit without the laying on of hands and they “spoke in tonguesBEFORE they were baptized in water.

As for the “sign” of the gift, the thing that Simon “saw” most plausibly was the Samaritans speaking in “other tongues” when they received the Spirit. However, the passage does not say that was the case, and no passage in the New Testament states explicitly that “speaking in tongues” is THE “sign” of the gift. While that may be the most plausible explanation in Acts chapter 8, to insist “tongues” is THE “sign” of the Holy Spirit goes beyond what the text says.

Having said that, we cannot ignore Simon’s reaction. He was a man who had practiced the magical arts for many years, and presumably, he was not someone who would have been easily impressed. Something out of the ordinary must have occurred, not only to get his attention but also to cause him to attempt to buy the same power.



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