Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Simon Magus and the Samaritans

There is something interesting about the fact that the first missionary effort undertaken after Stephen’s Speech is the one recorded involving the preaching of Philip in Samaria. Stephen in his Speech had responded to allegations against him involving his ministry of meals on wheels. This ministry served two separate communities residing in Jerusalem, neither of which communities were accepted by Judaism. The seeds of these advances had been planted earlier by the Lucan Jesus and the ministry of the seventy. These two groups were the Samaritans and the Jews who had adopted Greeks ways.

The pericope is introduced in these words: “But there was a man named Simon who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the nation of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great.” Luke used the Greek word θνος which has been translated as nation. Luke thus distinguishes the Samaritans from the Judeans for whom he typically used the Greek word λας which has been translated as people.

Simon is contrasted with Philip. Simon claimed to be “somebody great” and a divine figure. It is this false claim to deity that let us know that the periscope is part of the anti-idol polemic introduced by the “host of heaven” remark in Stephen’s Sermon. Simon Magus is a temporary obstacle to the mission. No one can resist the power of the Word.

When Simon attempted to purchase divine power by offering money to the apostles, he is described as being in the “gall of bitterness and chains of wickedness.” The expression “gall of bitterness” alluding to Deuteronomy 29 contain a warning for those who practice idolatry. This same warning also applies to those who worship the “host of heaven.”

The Samaritans shared a common heritage with Judaism as descendants of Abraham and adherents of Torah. However, they were regarded as idolatrous by the Jews. The mission of evangelism to the Samaritans was successful.

Simon Magus was a person who astounded the people with his magic. Simon Magus the magician, the pretender to miraculous powers, bewitched the people of Samaria by his sorceries. Philip had an encounter with Simon Magnus in which he demonstrated the power of the Word and preached “the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.”

The mission of Philip is a vindication of Stephen and his ministry but it has not been recognized as such. The mission is not about an encounter with the people on the fringes of Judaism. It is about the anti-idol polemic. It is a demonstration that the followers of Jesus are even stricter adherents of Torah than the Judeans. This is the part of the message that Theophilus the High Priest wanted to hear. More importantly, the encounter with the Samaritans is the implementation of the words of Stephen announcing in effect that the Word knows no boundaries.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2007


Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...


8:04 AM

Blogger Richard H. Anderson said...


8:25 AM


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