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- CHAPTER 8 COMMENTARY
v.4: “The fact that a program of religious repression fails to stop the word from spreading says something about both the character of those faithful witnesses who are scattered and the intention of a faithful God whose commitment to humanity’s salvation cannot be subverted.”
vv.4-5: “The content of the preaching is variously described in this passage. In v.4 it is ‘the word’; in v.5 ‘the Christ’; and in v.12, ‘the kingdom of God’ and ‘the name of Jesus Christ.’ All refer to the same reality, the salvation that is in no other name (4:12).”
v.5: “This is not the apostle Philip (see John 1:43, 44), but a Greek-speaking Jew, ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (6:3), who was one of the seven deacons chosen to help with the food distribution program in the church (6:5).”
“Israel had been divided into three main regions – Galilee in the north, Samaria in the middle, and Judea in the south. The city of Samaria (in the region of Samaria) had been the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel in the days of the divided kingdom, before it was conquered by Assyria in 722 B.C. During that war, the Assyrian king took many captives, leaving only the poorest people in the land and resettling it with foreigners. These foreigners intermarried with the Jews who were left, and the mixed race became known as Samaritans. The Samaritans were considered half-breeds by the ‘pure’ Jews in the southern kingdom of Judah and there was intense hatred between the two groups. But Jesus himself went into Samaria (John 4), and he commanded his followers to spread the gospel there (1:8).”
“In preaching to them [Samaritans], Philip was taking a major new step in the fulfillment of Christ’s commission. To this point the church’s witness had been exclusively to Jews (though Jesus himself had ministered in this area; cf. John 4).”
vv.9-11: “Did Simon possess actual power? Sorcerers in the first century included a wide array of spiritualists, con artists, magicians, astrologers and showmen who earned a living with their abilities. Whether Simon’s powers were occultic or natural illusions, they were clearly inferior to the power of the Holy Spirit. Simon, however, confused the power of the Spirit with a stronger version of his own kind of powers.”
v.14: “apostles in Jerusalem … sent Peter and John. The Jerusalem church assumed the responsibility of inspecting new evangelistic efforts and the communities of believers they produced (see 11:22).”
vv.15-17: “Many scholars believe that God chose to have a dramatic filling of his Spirit as a sign at this special moment in history – the spread of the gospel into Samaria through the powerful, effective preaching of believers. Normally, the Holy Spirit enters a person’s life at conversion. This was a special event. The pouring out of the Spirit would happen again with Cornelius and his family (10:44-47), a sign that the uncircumcised Gentiles could receive the gospel.”
“It is not too difficult to imagine what would have happened had the apostles at Jerusalem first been the missionaries to Samaria. Probably they would have been rebuffed, just as they were rebuffed earlier in their travels with Jesus when the Samaritans associated them with the city of Jerusalem (cf. Luke 9:51-56). But God in his providence used as their evangelist the Hellenist Philip, who shared their fate (though for different reasons) of being rejected at Jerusalem; and the Samaritans received him and accepted his message. But what if the Spirit had come upon them at their baptism when administrated by Philip? Undoubtedly what feelings there were against Philip and the Hellenists would have carried over to them, and they would have been doubly under suspicion. But God in his providence withheld the gift of the Holy Spirit till Peter and John laid their hands on the Samaritans–Peter and John, two leading apostles who were highly thought of in the mother church at Jerusalem and who would have been accepted at that time as brothers in Christ by the new converts in Samaria. In effect, therefore, in this first advance of the gospel outside the confines of Jerusalem, God worked in ways that were conducive not only to the reception of the Good News in Samaria but also to the acceptance of these new converts by believers at Jerusalem. […] What [Luke] does tell us, however, is that in such a manner as this vignette shows, God was working in ways that promoted both the outreach of the gospel and the unity of the church.”
vv.21-23: “Peter’s confrontation with Simon was particularly harsh (v.21). In the Old Testament ‘part or share’ refers to the privileges of belonging to God’s people and sharing the inheritance he has granted. To be denied this share is a virtual formula of excommunication, exclusion from God’s people. In Simon’s instance the words may imply more of a statement of nonmembership. His behavior betrayed that he had no real portion in God’s people. Luke spoke of Simon’s not having a share ‘in this ministry.’ The word translated ‘ministry’ is logos, a word used throughout Acts for the gospel (cf. 8:4). Simon had not responded to the gospel; he had responded to greed. He lacked the contrition and inner conviction that accompany a true response to the gospel. His heart was ‘not right before God.’ Peter did not merely pronounce a curse on Simon. He offered him the chance to repent (v.22). God can forgive even such a thought as Simon’s greedy desire to manipulate the divine Spirit. Apart from his repentance, Simon’s state would remain one filled with the ‘gall of bitterness’ and captivity to the ‘bonds of sin’ (v.23).”
“Having established the mission to the Samaritans, Philip then became involved in an even more far-reaching missionary breakthrough, as he was led to witness to an Ethiopian. Indeed, Philip’s witness to the eunuch may be considered the first conversion of a Gentile and in many ways parallels the story of Cornelius in chap. 10. Ethiopia was considered ‘the end of the earth’ by the Greeks and Romans, and Philip’s witness to the Samaritans and the Ethiopian comprises a ‘foretaste’ of the completion of Christ’s commission (1:8) by the whole church in the subsequent chapters of Acts.”
vv.30-31: “Philip’s question to the eunuch contains a play on words that is not reproducible in English: ‘Do you understand [ginoskeis] what you are reading [anaginoskeis]?’ ‘How can I… unless someone explains it to me?’ replied the eunuch (v.31). His response enunciates a basic principle that runs throughout Luke-Acts concerning the interpretation of the Old Testament prophetic texts – the need for a Christian interpreter. The disciples themselves had needed such guidance, and Christ had ‘opened… the Scriptures’ for them (Luke 24:45). They in turn sought to explain the Scripture in light of Christ to the Jews in Jerusalem. How indeed would this Gentile pilgrim from a distant land understand the real meaning of Isaiah’s psalms without a guide?”
vv.32-33: But whatever got him into Isaiah’s prophecy, the interpretation of the Servant passage of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 troubled him.”
 Robert W. Wall, New Interpreter’s Bible Vol. X: The Acts of the Apostles (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press 2002) 140.
 John B. Pohill, Acts (The New American Commentary, Vol. 26; Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992) 216-217.
 Life Application Study Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers and Zondervan, 1991) 1960.
 Life Application Study Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers and Zondervan, 1991) 1960.
 John B. Pohill, Acts (The New American Commentary, Vol. 26; Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992) 214.
 Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) 1517.
 NIV Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985) 1659.
 Life Application Study Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers and Zondervan, 1991) 1962.
 Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for vv.15-17.
 John B. Pohill, Acts (The New American Commentary, Vol. 26; Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992) 220.
 John B. Pohill, Acts (The New American Commentary, Vol. 26; Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992) 222.
 John B. Pohill, Acts (The New American Commentary, Vol. 26; Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992) 224-225.
 Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for vv.26-40.
Acts 8:1-25 (ESV)
1 And Saul approved of his execution.
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city.
9 But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
- Study Questions: Acts 8:1-4
- How do God’s people respond to the “great persecution against the church”? What lessons can I learn about how God works?
• What lessons can I draw from a character study of Simon the magician?