The Origin of Simony
“Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!’” (v. 20).- Acts 8:1-25
After the stoning of Stephen, a great persecution broke out in Jerusalem, led by the inquisitor Saul of Tarsus. While the apostles remained in Jerusalem to strengthen the church, the other leaders were scattered abroad, and in the providence of God, the Gospel spread throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1–4).
Philip, one of the Hellenistic converts, went to a city in Samaria. He preached and performed miracles, and many of the Samaritans converted into the church. One of the leading men in the city, Simon, was a noted sorcerer. He had been like a “witch doctor” for the people, and had claimed to be operating in connection with a familiar spirit called “The Great Power.” Now the Samaritans were turning from his magic and were becoming baptized. Simon himself eventually believed and was baptized. He began to follow Philip around, being amazed by the signs and miracles.
When the Jerusalem apostles heard about Philip’s successes, they sent Peter and John to confirm his work. Peter and John prayed that the Holy Spirit might be given to the Samaritans, and the Spirit fell upon them as He had fallen on the disciples on Pentecost. This was the sign needed to show the apostles that these Samaritans were to be received on an equal footing in the new body of the church.
When Simon saw this, he offered money to the apostles so that he too might be able to bring down the Holy Spirit. Peter rebuked him strongly. But Peter went on to encourage Simon to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Simon’s only reply was to ask Peter to pray that nothing bad would happen to him (Acts 8:18– 24). Early church tradition knows Simon as Simon Magus, Simon the Magician, and tells us that he became a great enemy of the church and a fore runner of the archheresy of gnosticism.
One of the great problems in the Medieval church was simony, the sale of ecclesiastical offices for money. Church offices were given to those with money and power, not to those who were just and good. Several times in the Middle Ages, godly reformers tried to do away with simony, but it was not until the Reformation that this pitiful practice was finally stopped.
In a lesser way, simony is still a problem in the church. All too often those who are elected elders, deacons, or vestrymen in the church are voted in almost entirely because they are successful at business or have important connections. Think seriously about this matter the next time you vote for your church officers.
Passages for Further Study
2 Corinthians 8:16–24; 9:6–14