Carefully Studying The Baptism Texts Of The New Testament (Fifteen)
It is written:
Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city. 9 But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10 to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” 11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done. 14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:4-19)
Here the Bible teaches us about the conversion of the Samaritans. Let’s start our study by noticing some background on the Samaritans.
In the Old Testament, the twelve tribes of Israel had been united together under the rule of kings Saul, David, and Solomon. However, when Solomon died, his son Rehoboam foolishly brought the tribes into civil war, and two nations were formed (cf. 1 Kings 12). The ten northern tribes became known as the nation of Israel, and the two southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) were identified as the nation of Judah. Some from the nation of Israel migrated to Judah, however, strengthening the southern kingdom with greater numbers (2 Chronicles 11:16-17).
Sadly, the northern kingdom of Israel continued in its’ wickedness, with its’ capital city being Samaria (1 Kings 16:24). They continued in their wickedness until the year 722 B.C., when the nation of Assyria conquered them and took them away captive back to their land. The Assyrians sent back their own people to reoccupy the land, and the common belief is that the Assyrians intermarried with the few Jewish people who had been left in the land. As such, by the time of the events of Acts 8, the Samaritans were a nation of Jewish and Gentile breeding.
In the events of Acts 8, Stephen (the first Christian martyr) had been put to death by the Jews (Acts 7:54-60) because he preached the Word of God to them and they did not like what the Lord had to say (Acts 7:54). This sets the scene for the preaching of the Gospel to the Samaritans in Acts 8.
The Samaritans had been led astray by Simon the Sorcerer for quite some time. This man was well known, and is mentioned very often in the writings of the pagan nations and of the early church fathers. Bercot provides some great background information from the church fathers on this wicked man who became the founder of the Gnostic sects:
“There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic. . . . He was considered a god, and as a god was honored by you with a statue. This statue was erected on the Tiber River, between the two bridges. It bore the following inscription in the language of Rome: “To Simon, the holy God.” . . . And almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him. They acknowledge him as the first god. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.171. The Samaritans, Simon and Menander, did many mighty works by magic and deceived many. They remain deceived. Even among yourselves [i.e., the pagan Romans], as I said before, Simon was in the royal city of Rome in the reign of Claudius Caesar. He so greatly astonished the sacred Senate and the Roman people that he was considered a god. He was honored with a statue, just like the others whom you honor as gods. . . . I advise you to destroy that statue. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.182. When I communicated in writing with Caesar, I gave no thought to any of my people, that is, the Samaritans. Rather, I stated that they were in error to trust in the magician Simon of their own nation. They say that he is God above all power, authority, and might. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.260. Simon the Samaritan was the magician of whom Luke, the disciple and follower of the apostles, [writes]. . . . He set himself eagerly to contend against the apostles, in order that he himself might seem to have been a supernatural being. So he applied himself with still greater zeal to the study of the entirety of magic arts, so he could bewilder and overpower multitudes of men. This was his method during the reign of Claudius Caesar, who honored Simon with a statue because of his magical power, according to what is said. This man, then, was glorified by many persons as if he were a god. And he taught that it was himself who appeared among the Jews as the Son. . . . All sorts of heresies derive their origin from this Simon of Samaria. He formed his sect in the following manner: At Tyre, a city of Phoenicia, he redeemed from slavery a certain woman named Helena. He used to take her along with him. He declared that this woman was the first conception of his mind. Irenaeus (c. 180, E/ W), 1.347, 348. God will also judge the vain speeches of the perverse Gnostics, by showing that they are the disciples of Simon Magus. Irenaeus (c. 180, E/ W), 1.507. You install Simon Magus in your Pantheon, giving him a statue and the title of holy God. Tertullian (c. 197, W), 3.29. The doctrine of Simon’s sorcery taught the worship of angels. It was itself actually reckoned among idolatries and condemned by the apostle Peter in Simon’s own person. Tertullian (c. 197, W), 3.259. From that point forward, Simon Magus, who had just become a believer, was cursed by the apostles and ejected from the faith. For he was still thinking somewhat of his juggling sect. That is, he wanted to buy even the gift of the Holy Spirit through imposition of hands, so that he could include it among the miracles of his profession. Tertullian (c. 200, W), 3.66. There is the Simon of Samaria in the Acts of the Apostles, who bargained for the Holy Spirit. He had only a vain remorse that he and his money must perish together. After his condemnation, he applied his energies to the destruction of the truth, as if to console himself by revenge. In addition to the support with which his own magic arts furnished him, he had recourse to deception. He purchased a Tyrian woman of the name of Helen out of a brothel, with the same money that he had offered for the Holy Spirit—a transaction worthy of the wretched man. He actually pretended that he was the Supreme Father, and he further pretended that the woman was his own Primary Conception. Tertullian (c. 210, W), 3.215. At this very time, even the heretical dupes of this same Simon are so much elated by the extravagant pretension of their art, that they try to bring up from Hades the souls of the prophets themselves. Tertullian (c. 210, W), 3.234. The disciples, then, of this [Simon Magus] celebrate magical rites, and they resort to incantations. They transmit both love spells and charms. . . . This Simon, deceiving many in Samaria by his sorceries, was reproved by the apostles, and he was put under a curse. All of this has been written in the Acts. But Simon afterwards renounced the faith. . . . And journeying as far as Rome, he came in conflict with the apostles. Peter offered repeated opposition to him, for Simon was deceiving many by his sorceries. Hippolytus (c. 225, W), 5.80, 81. We know that Simon Magus gave himself the title of the “Power of God.” Origen (c. 228, E), 9.317. [Simon Magus] was successful on that one occasion. But today I think it would be impossible to find thirty of his followers in the entire world. In fact, I am probably overstating the number. There are exceedingly few in Palestine. And in the rest of the world (throughout which he desired to spread the glory of his name), you find him nowhere mentioned. Where his name is found, it is found quoted from the Acts of the Apostles. So he owes the preservation of his name to Christians. This clearly proves that Simon was in no respect divine. Origen (c. 248, E), 4.422. [Celsus] next pours down upon us a heap of names, saying that he knows of the existence of certain Simonians, who worship Helen . . . as their teacher. They are called Helenians. However, it has escaped the notice of Celsus that the Simonians do not at all acknowledge Jesus to be the Son of God. Rather, they consider Simon to be the Power of God. Origen (c. 248, E), 4.570. Simonians are now found [practically] nowhere throughout the world. Yet, in order to gain many followers to himself, Simon protected his disciples from the danger of death [through martyrdom] . . . by teaching them to regard idolatry as a matter of indifference. So even at the beginning of their existence, the followers of Simon were not exposed to persecution. After all, the wicked demon who was conspiring against the teachings of Jesus was well aware that none of his own teachings would be weakened by the teachings of Simon. Origen (c. 248, E), 4.578. [The people of Rome] had seen the chariot of Simon Magus, his fiery car, blown into pieces by the mouth of Peter and vanish when Christ was named. They had seen Simon, I say, trusting in false gods. Yet, being abandoned by them in their terror, borne down headlong by his own weight, Simon lay prostrate with his legs broken. Arnobius (c. 305, E), 6.438. Simon Magus believed and was baptized with many others. Pamphilus (c. 309, E), 6.167. Simon the magician, . . . as he flew in the air in an unnatural manner, was dashed against the earth. Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390, E), 7.401. The first of the new [i.e., Christian] heresies began in this manner: The devil entered into one Simon, a Samaritan of a village called Gitthae. He was a magician by profession. . . . Simon himself, when he saw the signs and wonders that were done without any magic ceremonies, fell into admiration, believed, was baptized, and continued in fasting and prayer. . . . But when Simon saw that the Spirit was given to believers by the laying on of hands, he took money and offered it. Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390, E), 7.452. When he was in Rome, he disturbed the church severely and subverted many, bringing them over to himself. He astonished the Gentiles with his skill in magic. Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390, E), 7.453; see also 5.143; extended discussion: 5.74–5.81, 7.452–7.453.”” (David Bercot, A Dictionary Of Early Christian Beleifs: A Reference Guide To More Than 700 Topics Discussed By The Early Church Fathers, 22873-22971 (Kindle Edition); Peabody, Massachusetts; Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC)
When the Samaritans saw the miracles advanced by Philip in defense of the Gospel of Christ, they quickly saw the difference with Simon’s sorcery! It is worth noting that there are some who teach that Christianity is simply another form of paganism, with Jesus Christ being a great sorcerer. However, the pagans who had lived with the greatest sorcerer of all time quickly saw the difference between Christianity and paganism!
“Suffice it to say, that this single incident should put to silence forever that species of skepticism which resolves all the miracles of Christ and the apostles into occult art and optical illusions; for here are these arts, in their most delusive form, brought into direct conflict with apostolic miracles; and so palpable is the distinction, that it is at once discovered and acknowledged by the whole multitude.” (J.W. McGarvey, A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, With a Revised Version of the Text, 7th Edition (With Active Table of Contents), 2383-2387 (Kindle Edition))
Notice several things this passage teaches us about baptism.
First, the focus of the text is on the Word of God-its content, its’ acceptance, and its’ power.
Throughout he Book of Acts, we are told numerous times that it is the Word of God which leads to the conversion of sinners.
“But that’s it. God’s method of church growth is preaching the Word, watered by believing prayer….Here is a principle to ponder: that which makes the Church a distinctive company in the world is the Word of God–or, putting it more concisely, the Word of God is the constitutive reality at the heart of the Church. It is what makes the Church what it is, and it has always been so….What we call ‘the Acts of the Apostles’ is a case in point. In its twenty-eight chapters there are about thirty-seven references to the growth of the Church. Indeed ‘The Growing Church’ would be a more suitable title than ‘the Acts of the Apostles’. Of the thirty-seven or so references, six associate growth with the quality of church life and of Christian character, seven link growth with the evidence of ‘signs and wonders’, and twenty-four link growth with the preaching of the Word of God–indeed in 12: 24 the growth of the Church is actually called the growth of the Word, as if they were so closely related that they could be identified one with the other.” (Alec Motyer, Preaching? Simple Teaching On Simple Preaching, 175-193 (Kindle Edition); Scotland, U.K.; Christian Focus Publications)
Emphasis in Acts is on the preaching and teaching of God’s Word to convert the soul.
It is also important to realize that the preaching of the Word of God involved the confirmation of God’s Word. Here, the preaching of the Word was accomplished by miracles and signs, as throughout the entire Book (Acts 3:6-7; 5:16; 9:33-34; 14:8-10; 15:12; 19:11). As we will notice, these gifts were designed to be temporary (1 Corinthians 13:8-10), yet there are many proofs available which continue to validate and confirm the Word of God today.
Second, the ones who received the Word were the ones who believed and who were baptized. This reminds us at once of Jesus’ words in the Great Commission:
Mark 16;16-He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
Again, this automatically excludes infants and small children since they are unable to meet the qualifications of Bible belief (cf. Hebrews 11:1-6; James 2:14-26).
Third, it is interesting that Philip’s message stressed the authority of Jesus and the “kingdom” of Christ. We are specifically told that his message consisted of emphasizing the identity and authority of Christ. Notice the phrase “the name of Jesus Christ.” This carries with it the idea of power; hence, Philip’s message to which the Samaritans responded was not only about creating faith in Christ, but also repentance.
Again, this reminds us of Peter’s message earlier:
Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism is for those who believe in Jesus Christ and who are willing to submit to His authority.
Fourth, the text also teaches us that Philip preached the “kingdom of God.” This phrase as used throughout the Bible may have reference to the general authority of God (Psalm 22:28), or it may have reference to the church (Matthew 16:18-19). Likely both are the emphasized here, teaching us again that the preaching of God’s Word involves some exposition of the church. This makes sense, since when we are saved, we are called out of the world and into God’s nation, the church (1 Peter 2:9-11). Clearly, only a general knowledge of the church was given to the people, since when we are first brought into Christ, we are as babes in our understanding (1 Peter 2:1-2) who must continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
Baptism, therefore, is for those who-having heard the Word of God- believe in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins, being willing to become members of His body, the church (Acts 2:47).
Fifth, we are also instructed here that baptism is for those of any nationality, regardless of their gender, sin, or religious practice.
The Samaritans were known in the ancient world as being as wicked as any people, with a large diversity of religious belief; and yet salvation is graciously extended to whosoever will turn to the Lord (Revelation 22:17).
Notice also the fact that Simon himself is the example of this forgiveness!
Many claim that Simon was not sincere in his belief when he believed and was baptized, and yet the Greek is clear that he was definitely converted, for his faith and baptism are linked with the faith and baptism of the Samaritans.
“As noted above, some scholars argue that Simon was not converted to begin with, since he continues in sin;[ 584] Luke says what the Samaritans believed (8: 12) but not what Simon believed.[ 585] But this is typical Lukan shorthand (cf. 16: 32 with 16: 31). Faith in response to signs may be only the most basic level of faith in Johannine soteriology, but it is never denigrated by Luke or in most ancient literature.[ 586] Like John, however, Luke expects persevering faith;[ 587] Simon’s faith is not faulted because of what provokes it but because he becomes distracted by other concerns (cf. Luke 8: 13–14). As Barrett puts it, “There is nothing in this verse to suggest that Simon, in his believing . . . and in his receiving baptism . . . , was less sincere or in any way a less satisfactory convert than the other Samaritans.”[ 588]”. (Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary : Volume 2: 3:1-14:28, 14323-24327 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Academic)
Therefore, baptism is for sinners from every ethnic group, from both genders, and from every sinful backdrop, who hearing the Word of God, repent of their sins with faith in Jesus Christ.
Finally, a final note needs to be made regarding the miraculous baptism of the Spirit in this passage. Luke tells us that the Samaritans were baptized, but the Holy Spirit had “fallen upon none of them” (Acts 8:16). This language is used throughout Luke to reference Holy Spirit baptism. We see this from the example of Cornelius household (Acts 10:44), which is linked to the events of Pentecost when those were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:14-17; 2:1-4). From this text in Acts 8, we learn some very important lessons.
First, Holy Spirit baptism was separate from water baptism. Spirit baptism did not occur at the time of water baptism. This is made clear in both Acts 8 and in Acts 10.
Second, Spirit baptism in Acts 8 was for those who had their hands laid on them by Apostles of Christ. Philip himself had power to work wonders, and yet he could not pass on these gifts. As Luke teaches us, it was only through the laying on of the Apostles’ hand that this ability was provided (Acts 8:18-19).
“The connection of the supernatural gifts with the Apostles is so obvious that one wonders that so many students have missed it, and have sought an account of them in some other quarter. The true account has always been recognized, however, by some of the more careful students of the subject. It has been clearly set forth, for example, by Bishop Kaye. “I may be allowed to state the conclusion,” he writes,^^ *’to which I have myself been led by a comparison of the statements in the Book of Acts with the writings of the Fathers of the second century. My conclusion then is, that the power of working miracles was not extended beyond the disciples upon whom the Apostles conferred it by the imposition of their hands. As the number of these disciples gradually diminished, the instances of the exercise of miraculous powers became continually less frequent, and ceased entirely at the death of the last individual on whom the hands of the Apostles had been laid. That event would, in the natural course of things, take place before the middle of the second century—at a time when Christianity, having obtained a footing in all the provinces of the Roman Empire, the miraculous gifts conferred upon the first teachers had performed their appropriate office— that of proving to the world that a new revelation had been given from heaven.’…Whatever we may think of the specific explanation which Bishop Kaye presents of the language of the second-century Fathers, we can scarcely fail to perceive that the confinement of the supernatural gifts by the Scriptures to those who had them conferred upon them by the Apostles, affords a ready explanation of all the historical facts. It explains the unobserved dying out of these gifts. It even explains —what might at first sight seem inconsistent with it—the failure of allusion to them in the first half of the second century.” (Benjamin Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles, 23-24 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY; Charles Scribner’s Sons)
The Bible is clear that the office of Apostle was temporary in nature, being part of the church’s foundation (Ephesians 2:20-22).
“It is true that God gave the church apostles and prophets, but these gifts were strictly foundational gifts, no longer existent today in the strict biblical sense. We must remember the important principle that Scripture interprets Scripture. When we turn to other passages of Scripture, we see that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2: 20). Once a foundation is built, it never needs to be built again. Once the foundation is laid, the foundation is built upon. In like fashion, the building of the church structurally rests on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, but we don’t need to build any new foundations.” (Ron Rhodes, Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses, 228-229 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Harvest House Publishers)
More to the point, none today meet the qualifications in the Bible of being an Apostle of Christ.
“First, it would be impossible for any contemporary Christian to meet the biblical qualifications required for someone to be considered an apostle. The New Testament articulates at least three necessary criteria: (1) an apostle had to be a physical eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1: 22; 10: 39–41; 1 Cor. 9: 1; 15: 7–8); (2) an apostle had to be personally appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 3: 14; Luke 6: 13; Acts 1: 2, 24; 10: 41; Gal. 1: 1); and (3) an apostle had to be able to authenticate his apostolic appointment with miraculous signs (Matt. 10: 1–2; Acts 1: 5–8; 2: 43; 4: 33; 5: 12; 8: 14; 2 Cor. 12: 12; Heb. 2: 3–4). Those qualifications alone conclusively demonstrate that there are no apostles in the church today.”(John F. MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship, 95 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN: Nelson Books)
Therefore, since one had to have an Apostle lay hands on a person to receive the baptism of the Spirit (Acts 8:18-19), and since there are no more Apostles today (1 Corinthians 15:7-8), then there is no more Holy Spirit baptism occurring today. Indeed, this reinforces the fact that the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:4-6 is the water baptism of the Great Commission, which was to last until the end of the world (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16).
So what does this passage teach us about baptism?
First, baptism is for those who hear the Word of God (including the identity of Jesus Christ and at least a basic familiarity with His church);
Second, baptism is for those who believe in Jesus Christ;
Third, baptism is for those who repent of their sins;
Fourth, baptism is for those of every nation;
Fifth, baptism is for both men and women;
Sixth, baptism is for people from all sinful backgrounds;
Seventh, baptism is for people from all religious backgrounds;
Eighth, baptism in water is again shown to be separate from Holy Spirit baptism, and not all Christians were to receive this second baptism. Instead, it was only for a select few in the first century church.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.