04 July 2022

Tongues in Samaria

In Samaria, something about the gift of the Spirit impressed the Magician, Simon, but did the gift’s recipients speak in tongues? 

Clouds over church - Photo by Jacob Mejicanos on Unsplash
After the martyrdom of Stephen, Saul of Tarsus began to persecute the church in Jerusalem, causing many “brethren” to scatter throughout “Judaea and Samaria,” but God used the situation to advance the gospel as the scattered brethren preached wherever they went - [Photo by Jacob Mejicanos on Unsplash]

Thus, Philip traveled to 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.


One prominent man was especially impressed by what he saw, Simon the Magician. After observing that the gift of the Spirit was given “through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money.”

How Simon knew that the Spirit had filled someone is not stated, though he must have seen something impressive, otherwise, why did he attempt to buy the same power from the Apostles? - (Acts 8:13-18).

Simon 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 him, believing he exercised the “great power of God.”

Simon was not a man easily bamboozled. It would have taken a supernatural display of some significance to impress him to the point of bribery. And Philip’s ministry had produced many miraculous “signs,” including healings and exorcisms.

As a result, a great many Samaritans were “baptized, both men and women…in the name of the Lord Jesus,” and even Simon found the message irresistible, though apparently his fascination was with the “signs and great miracles wrought” by Philip (“and he was amazed”).


Upon hearing the news, Peter and John were dispatched to confirm the reports from Samaria. On their arrival, they found something was missing from the Samaritans’ faith, and so they “laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” For reasons not stated, none of the recent converts had received the Spirit.

It was at this point that Simon was greatly impressed, for he “saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given.” Unfortunately, exactly what Simon “saw” is not stated in the passage, and we can only speculate.

At this juncture in the book, one can argue plausibly that the recipients of the Spirit either spoke in tongues, were seen with “tongues of fire” hovering over their heads, or both. The same two signs accompanied the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and made significant impressions on the crowd of pilgrims gathered near the Temple. This argument makes good sense.

But speaking in “tongues” has only been mentioned once in Acts so far, and that occurred as part of an extraordinary event, the initial outpouring of the Spirit on the church, which does not constitute sufficient evidence to conclude that “speaking in tongues” is the only “sign” of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, or always occurs when someone receives the Spirit, especially since the gift was accompanied previously by two signs, one audible (“tongues”) and one visible (“tongues of fire”), in addition to the sound “like a rushing mighty wind” heard when the Spirit first arrived.

Perhaps, as on the Day of Pentecost, Simon saw “tongues of fire” appear over the converts or they began to “speak in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Or possibly, he, also, heard a mighty wind-like sound.


As for the “sign” of the gift, most plausibly, the thing that Simon did “see” was the Samaritans speaking in “other tongues” when they received the Spirit.

But the passage does not state this was the case, and no passage in the New Testament claims explicitly that “speaking in tongues” is THE “sign” of the gift. While that may be probable in this passage, to insist from the evidence provided that “speaking in tongues” is THE “sign” of being filled by the Holy Spirit goes beyond the text.

Having said that, we cannot ignore Simon’s reaction. Something out of the ordinary had occurred, something experiential and more than theological assent to a new doctrine.

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