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An Exegetical Analysis of Acts 8:4-25

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A Paper

Presented to Dr. Croteau of

Liberty University
Lynchburg, Virginia

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In Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for
Hermeneutics
Bible 380-001

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by

John Michael Cheshire


December 16, 2007
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Outline

I. Intro to Acts 8:4-25


II. The Ministry of Philip to the Samaritans
A. Background Information
1. Philip
2. Samaria
3. Samaritans
4. Simon Magus
B. Contextual Study
III. The Affirmation of Peter and John
A. Background on Peter and John
B. Contextual Study
C. Word Study on Believe
D. Continued Contextual Study
IV. Application of this Scripture
A. The People of God are One
B. False Belief
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Introduction

This analysis will focus on the witness to the Samaritans. This is the beginning of Jesus’

prophecy in Acts 1:8 which states, “you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all of

Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”1 The expanding of the gospel to

Samaritans was a tremendously important and difficult step for the early church. The Holy Spirit

was involved in giving affirmation about the expansion, along with the apostles overseeing the

whole ordeal.

There are two divisions in which this passage falls into. The first being the initial witness

of the evangelist, Philip, to the Samaritans, and the second being the interceding of the two

apostles, Peter and John. Then there is a magician named Simon Magus who has an encounter

with both Philip and the apostles.2 The purpose of this paper will be to break apart this Scripture

to understand what the passage is stating and see what is in the passage that can be learned by

someone today.

The Ministry of Philip to the Samaritans

Philip’s Ministry consumes verses four through thirteen in chapter eight of the book of

Acts. Philip was the first to take the gospel out of Jerusalem. He took it into the land of Samaria

where it was well received. He also had an encounter with a man named Simon who was a

magician. This section of the paper will attempt to break this section of Scripture down and try to

interpret what there is to know in it.

1
Arnold, Clinton E. “Acts,” in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary. (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 2002), 282.
2
Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. (Nashville. Broadman, 1992), 213.
4

The first thing to do is to find out some of the background information on the places and

people in this passage. The first person to look at would be Philip. Philip was one of the seven

Hellenistic Jews in chapter six of Acts who were appointed table servants to oversee the food

distribution to the Greek speaking widows.3 Philip is mentioned later in verses eight and nine of

chapter twenty two of Acts as being married and having four daughters who have some kind of

gift of prophecy.4 Philip was one of the first evangelists of the early church. He was one of the

Christian Jews that were scattered after the martyrdom of Stephen. He took the gospel to

Samaria, and then later in the same chapter he witnessed to an Ethiopian eunuch. Philip was no

small character in the sight of the early church expansion.

Philip went to Samaria to expand the gospel after the scattering out of Jerusalem.

The city of Samaria that the author of Acts, Luke, is referring to could be the Old Testament city

which King Omri built, which remained the capital city of Jerusalem until the fall of the nation in

722 B.C. This is highly unlikely though, since the majority of the population at the time of Philip

was Gentiles and according to the author Philip was mainly speaking to Samaritans in the city he

was in. It is good to also note that the city of Samaria had been rebuilt and renamed, Sebaste, by

Herod the Great.5 When Luke was referring to Samaria, he most likely was referring to

someplace in the region of Samaria. The region lay northern of Jerusalem. Some speculate that

Luke was referring to the Samaritans holy city, ancient Scechem, but there is no hard evidence to

back this up.6

3
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. NICNT. Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 164.
4
Arnold, 279.
5

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. (Illinois: InterVarsity Press,
1993), 344.
6
Polhill, 214.
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No matter which city Luke was referring to the important thing to notice here is that

Philip was speaking to a crowd of Samaritan descent and religious understanding. Luke confirms

this by his use of “Samaritans” in proper form in the Greek text.7 Samaritans were half breeds,

half Jew and half Gentile. They intermarried with Canaanites and resettled in the land of

Samaria. The Jews had much hatred for the Samaritans because they were contaminated by false

religions and foreign blood. Jews didn’t associate or intermarry with Samaritans. The Samaritans

even built a temple of their own on Mount Gerizim, which was the final breaking point that

separated Jews and Samaritans.8 So for a Jew, as Philip was, to go and to witness to the

Samaritans was a tremendous step of faith and love for the early church, for up until this point

the gospel of Christ had only spread through Jerusalem to pure bred Jews. This hatred for the

Samaritans was being overlooked for the unity and love of Christ.

There is one more character that must be looked at, and his name is Simon Magus. There

is very little known about Simon for certain, although he held a unique role in the early church.

The word “magus,” Simon’s last name, used to indicate a member of the Median priestly tribe,

but the word came to recognize a person who practices various kinds of sorcery or quackery.

Simon is placed as the father of all Gnostic heresies by the early church fathers. His followers

were called Simonians. The earliest account of this placement is by Justin Martyr in the middle

of the second century.9 Luke represented Simon as a worker of magic, called a charlatan, who

made money for his tricks. He apparently attracted the Samaritans with his magic; he was well

7
Ibid.,214
8

Youngblood, Ronald F., Bruce F. F., and Harrison, R. K. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
(Nelson, 1995), 1119.

9
Bruce, 166.
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known and even called a great power of God, which was equivalent to a great angel.10 This is

Simons only account in the Bible.

Now to go back and look at the passage, there is much we can analyze and learn. In verse

four of chapter eight there was a scattering of people that went about proclaiming the gospel.

From previous passages it is understood that the people scattering were Christian Jews because

of the persecution of Christians and martyrdom of Stephen in Jerusalem. The Christians that fled

Jerusalem didn’t go and hide out of fear. They were bold and went about proclaiming the

message of Christ in the surrounding areas as missionaries.11

Philip was one of the ones who went around proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. The

passage says that Philip went down to Samaria, which was really northern; since Jerusalem was

the center place in Acts, Luke says down for any direction leaving from Jerusalem. As an

evangelist Philip did well witnessing to the crowd, for they listened attentively with one mind.

The Holy Spirit also assisted Philip in his ministry by preparing the people’s hearts for the

message Philip was giving and by working through Philip to perform exorcism and healings to

the Samaritan people.12 The Samaritans ultimately responded to the message of Jesus Christ and

not the miraculous signs, but the signs helped in assisting the acceptance of the gospel. The

screams of the demons that came out of the people and the people that were crippled for many

years that were now walking was sure to get some attention from the Samaritans. They probably

were eager to hear what Philip was to say. The Samaritans were joyful in learning the truth; they

were glad to find out that the Messiah accepts them as well as any other person, whether pure

10
Arnold, 282.
11

MacArthur, Jr. John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Acts 1-12. (Chicago: Moody Press,
1994), 232.
12
Ibid., 233.
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Jew or not. They now realized that their sins were forgiven by Christ’s death. This was a great

step considering that many of the Jews told them that their sins couldn’t be forgiven.13

Now the character of Simon introduces the picture in verse nine. Luke starts off

describing him as a person who used to practice sorcery in Samaria. He for a long time

astonished the people and had their attention. He claimed for himself to be somebody great and

had the Samaritans in his hand. Luke describes the crowd having an understanding that Simon

was some kind of supernatural being as a divine man.14 Simon had an enormous popularity and

had the devotion of the Samaritans until the interceding of Philip and the Holy Spirit. It seems

that Philip’s capture of the Samaritans hearts was swift and without really any challenge, which

is a good example of God’s supreme power over evil.15 Simon couldn’t contest with the Holy

Spirit.

The crowd turned loyalty over to God as Philip proclaimed the gospel about Christ Jesus

and his kingdom and reign over everything. They believed and were devoted to the good news;

they even were baptized to proclaim their belief. Then even Simon who led the crowd before

believed in what Philip was saying and gave himself over. He too was baptized for his belief.

Simon was astonished by the miracles and signs that Philip was performing. As the story

proceeds there is ample evidence that the faith of Philip was misguided and wasn’t true saving

faith in Christ Jesus. There is a belief that comes short of salvation (James 2:19-20).16 This topic

will be further discussed in the next section of the paper.

13
Arnold, 280.
14

Conzelmann, Hans. Acts of the Apostles. Translated by James Limburg, A. Thomas Kraabel, and Donald
H. Juel. Hermeneia. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 63.

15
Spencer, F. Scott. The Portrait of Philip in Acts: A Study of Roles and Relations. (JSOT Press: Sheffield,
1992), 94.
16
Fernando, Ajith. Acts. The NIV Application Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 272.
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The Affirmation of Peter and John

There are two men introduced named Peter and John. These two men are two of the

original disciples of Jesus. They were eyewitnesses of the death and resurrection of Jesus. They

were also two of the main leaders in the early Christian expansion. Peter and John were in

Jerusalem with the other ten apostles who stayed after Stephen’s martyrdom. When the twelve

apostles heard about the witness in Samaria and how the Samaritans accepted the message of

God with gladness, they sent Peter and John to them.

At first glace it seems as though Jerusalem, the base church, is sending Peter and John to

help jump start the new converts in Samaria, but from the text it seems better to perceive that

Peter and John went to Samaria to help as participants and show their approval of the expansion

of Christ’s church.17 Peter and John prayed for and laid their hands on the Samaritans that they

might receive the Holy Spirit. Why the Holy Spirit did not yet come upon the Samaritans at their

belief and baptism is a common question in text. The best way to answer this question will be to

look at the options and see what kind of conclusion there is if any.

It is indicated that receiving the Holy Spirit so late was not the norm by Luke’s use of the

word “simply,” when he said the Samaritans had simply been baptized.18 There are two main

answers for this rare situation. The first suggestion being that this was an outward demonstration

of some visible form of work of the Holy Spirit that Simon could see. This would not reject the

inward work of the Holy Spirit at the initial conviction and baptism of the individual. The other

suggestion would incline that this was more of a community experience then individual

experience. This would say that it is still an outward demonstration, like that at Pentecost in the
17

Polhill, 217.
18

Ibad., 218.
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second chapter of Acts. Therefore it is not totally without cause that many scholars call this the

“Samaritan Pentecost.”19 In either one of these suggestions it is safe to add that the apostle’s

prayer and laying on of hands helped to affirm that this was good and also to encourage the unity

of the Christian family, especially with the rough background between the Jews and Samaritans.

It showed clear evidence that God was in the salvation of the Samaritans.20

Both of the suggestions to the answer of why the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit so

late seem to be reasonable. To conclude one or the other might seem to take something away

from the passage. To say that both are correct could be the best answer. Since they don’t

contradict and both seem to be supportive in the passage, there is no reason why they couldn’t

be. The best thing to conclude is that the Gospel was expanding to the Samaritans and God was

in the middle of the ordeal, approving what was going on.

Simon now comes back into the picture. Simon was intrigued in the power that he saw

coming out of Peter and John from the Holy Spirit. He offered Peter and John money for them to

give him the power so that when he laid his hands on someone they may receive the Holy Spirit.

This leads to the suggestion that Simon didn’t fully understand the gospel, or have a right view

of Christianity. Many scholars believe that Simon just believed in the power and magic of the

Holy Spirit and didn’t have faith in the saving power of Christ.21 22 There are also some who say

that Simon believed, and was baptized and there is no reason to question his faith.23 Taking a

closer look at the word “believe” will give a better understanding of what was meant.

19
Ibad., 218.
20

Fernando, 273.
21

Ibid., 273.
22

MacArthur, 245.
23
Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts: The Radiant Commentary on the New Testament. (Springfield,
Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1981), 104.
10

The Greek text uses the verb “pistewo” in verse thirteen where it states that Simon

believed. This word in Greek has two basic meanings. The first being an act of believing in God

or/and Christ. The second meaning is the act of having a belief in or confidence in someone or

something.24 The one Luke is talking about here can only be determined by the context in which

the use of the word in used.

Verse thirteen gives no hard evidence that this was a belief in Jesus. It does go on to state

how amazed Simon was about the miracles being performed which makes a suggestion that his

belief could be in the signs and wonders instead of Jesus’ death for his sins. In verses twenty

through twenty three Peter comforts Simon and tells him that his heart is in the wrong place. In

verse nine in chapter ten of the book of Romans, Paul states that a man must believe in his heart

to be saved. The question comes up as of how could Simon be saved if his heart was in the

wrong place? The definition of a believer in the Scriptures is not merely one who holds a set of

beliefs as if God is whatever you make Him. The true believer puts his hope and trust in the

message of God by trusting in Christ.25

From this information it is understood that Simon had a misplaced faith. Peter’s first

response, “may your silver be destroyed with you,” is somewhat aggressive, especially if not

meant to an unbeliever. The accurate translation in Greek actually states, “may you and your

money go to hell.”26 This wouldn’t seem like a correct way to treat a new believer in Christ. It

seems as though Simon was just worried about the consequences of not having a saving faith

when he asked Peter to pray for him so none of the awful things Peter was talking about would
24
Aland, Kurt, et al., eds. The Greek New Testament: Fourth Revised Edition. (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft,
D-Stuttgart, 2001), 143.

25
Richards, Lawrence O. New International Encyclopedia of Bible Words. (Zondervan, 1991), 117.

26
Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Translator’s Handbook on The Acts of The Apostles.
(London: United Bible Societies, 1972), 178.
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happen to him. It also shows that Simon either didn’t have direct communication with God

which is a characteristic of believers, or that Simon didn’t want a relationship with God which

shows his ignorance. This puts more evidence in the fact that Simon had a misguided belief, a

belief that doesn’t save.

After Peter and John had done the work of God set out before them in Samaria, they

traveled back to Jerusalem. They began speaking and evangelizing to many of the Samaritan

villages in Jerusalem. They had seen God working in the Samaritans lives and knew that it was

right that Samaritans to be saved as well as any other people group. This was the start to the

many missionary journeys of the early church.

Application of this Scripture

There are two main principles in which one can learn from the verves four through

twenty five in chapter eight of Acts. The first principle to realize is that all the people of God are

one. There is no separation in gender or race. God treats all His people equally. The family of

God must get over their differences and love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. The

Jews and the Samaritans had to get over their differences and past arguments to be united in

Christ. There should be no difference for the church today.

The second principle that can be learned is that there is a misplaced faith. The Bible

warns of this in verses nineteen and twenty of the second chapter in the book of James. Simon

believed, but he did not put his trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just because

one says he or she believes and gets baptized does not necessarily mean that he or she is saved.

This should be a warning for everyone to understand what the saving faith of Christ is and make

sure that this is the faith each one of them posses.


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Bibliography

Arnold, Clinton E. “Acts,” in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary. Grand


Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
13

Aland, Kurt, et al., eds. The Greek New Testament: Fourth Revised Edition. Deutsche
Bibelgesellschaft, D-Stuttgart, 2001.

Bruce, F.F. The Book of Acts. NICNT. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.

Conzelmann, Hans. Acts of the Apostles. Translated by James Limburg, A. Thomas Kraabel, and
Donald H. Juel. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987.

Fernando, Ajith. Acts. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.

Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts: The Radiant Commentary on the New Testament.
Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1981.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Illinois: InterVarsity
Press, 1993.

MacArthur, Jr. John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Acts 1-12. Chicago: Moody
Press, 1994.

Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Translator’s Handbook on The Acts of The
Apostles. London: United Bible Societies, 1972.

Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. Nashville. Broadman, 1992.

Richards, Lawrence O. New International Encyclopedia of Bible Words. Zondervan, 1991.

Spencer, F. Scott. The Portrait of Philip in Acts: A Study of Roles and Relations. JSOT Press:
Sheffield, 1992.

Youngblood, Ronald F., Bruce F. F., and Harrison, R. K. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible
Dictionary. Nelson, 1995.