William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Things Which Cannot Be Bought And Sold (Acts 8:14-25)

8:14-25 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they despatched Peter and John to them. They came down and prayed for them, so that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet the Holy Spirit had fallen on no one. It was in the name of the Lord Jesus that they had been baptized. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he brought money to them and said, "Give me too this power so that he on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you because you thought to obtain the gift of God for money; you have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness of yours and pray God if it may be that the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of wickedness." Simon answered, "Do you pray to the Lord for me, so that none of the things you spoke of may come upon me."

So after they had borne their witness and spoken the word of God, they returned to Jerusalem, telling the good news to many villages of the Samaritans on the way.

Simon was by no means an unusual type in the ancient world. There were many astrologers and soothsayers and magicians, and in a credulous age they had a great influence and made a comfortable living. There is little to be surprised at in that when even the twentieth century has not risen above fortune-telling and astrology, as almost any popular newspaper or magazine can witness. It is not to be thought that Simon and his fellow-practitioners were all conscious frauds. Many of them had deluded themselves before they deluded others and believed in their own powers.

To understand what Simon was getting at we have to understand something of the atmosphere and practice of the early Church. The coming of the Spirit upon a man was connected with certain visible phenomena, in particular with the gift of speaking with tongues (compare Acts 10:44-46 ). He experienced an ecstasy which manifested itself in this strange phenomenon of uttering meaningless sounds. In Jewish practice the laying on of hands was very common. With it there was held to be a transference of certain qualities from one person to another. It is not to be thought that this represents an entirely materialistic view of the transference of the Spirit, the dominating factor was the character of the man who laid on the hands. The apostles were men held in such respect and even veneration that simply to feel the touch of their hands was a deeply spiritual experience. If a personal reminiscence may be allowed, I myself remember being taken to see a man who had been one of the Church's great scholars and saints. I was very young and he was very old. I was left with him for a moment or two and in that time he laid his hands upon my head and blessed me. And to this day, more than fifty years afterwards, I can still feel the thrill of that moment. In the early Church the laying on of hands was like that.

Simon was impressed with the visible effects of the laying on of hands and he tried to buy the ability to do what the apostles could do. Simon has left his name on the language for simony still means the unworthy buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices. Simon had two faults.

(i) He was not interested in bringing the Holy Spirit to others so much as in the power and prestige it would bring to himself. This exaltation of self is ever the danger of the preacher and the teacher. It is true that they must kindle at the sight of men; but it is also true as Denney said--that we cannot at one and the same time show that we are clever and that Christ is wonderful.

(ii) Simon forgot that certain gifts are dependent on character; money cannot buy them. Again, the preacher and the teacher must take warning. "Preaching is truth through personality." To bring the Spirit to others a man must be not a man of wealth but one who himself possesses the Spirit.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible