History comes alive with the startling story of how Simon Magus — branded a FALSE PROPHET by the book of Acts — established HIS OWN UNIVERSAL church!
SIMON MAGUS was a Babylonian priest. He was a part of the Babylonian community that had been living in the land of Northern Israel ever since the Northern Ten Tribes were carried away captive by the Assyrians. God tells us that these Samaritans, as they were called, were claiming to be the true people of God while at the same time practicing many heathen rites which came directly from Babylon (II Kings 17:41). This was the type of religious environment in which Simon Magus was born. This was the environment in which he commenced his own ministry and was finally proclaimed the "great one... the great power of God" — that is, God Himself (Acts 8:9-10). He so swayed the whole of the Samaritan nation that all gave heed to him — they did for a very long time (Verses 9-11). But when he saw the potential of Christianity, he endeavored to buy an apostleship in the Church. Peter rebuked him sternly.
Simon Magus and HIS Universal Church
Simon Magus, after his rejection by Peter, began to fashion his own "Christian" church — a church of which HE was head — a church designed to completely overthrow the True Church of God. His idea was to blend together Babylonian teaching with some of the teachings of Christ — especially to take the name of Christ — and thus create ONE UNIVERSAL CHURCH! But a church with Babylonianism as its basis. Harnack, a church historian, states that Simon Magus "proclaimed a doctrine in which the Jewish faith was strangely and grotesquely mixed with BABYLONIAN myths, together with some Greek additions. The mysterious worship... in consequence of the widened horizon and the deepening religious feeling, finally the wild SYNCRETISM [that is, blending together of religious beliefs], whose aim WAS A UNIVERSAL RELIGION, all contributed to gain adherents for Simon" (Vol. 1, p. 244). Simon can be classified among the major group of so-called Christians (and Simon called himself such), called by Harnack the: "decidedly anti-Jewish groups.... They advanced much further in the criticism of the Old Testament and perceived the impossibility of saving it [that is, the Old Testament] for the Christian UNIVERSAL RELIGION. They rather connected this [universal] religion with the cultus-wisdom of BABYLON and SYRIA" (VoI. 1, p. 246). With this background, we can understand why Peter so strongly rebuked Simon for his Babylonian ideas. Peter prophesied that this was the man who was to be the "gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity" to the True Church. Simon's attitude was corrupt in the extreme! The Bible shows he had been working through demons. And yet, he finally called himself a "Christian." Dr. McGiffert, speaking of Simon Magus, says: "His effort to rival and surpass Jesus very likely began after his contact with the Christians that Luke records. His religious system was apparently a SYNCRETISM of Jewish and Oriental elements" (Hasting's Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, Vol. 2, p. 497).
Simon's Later Activities
To read all the material that the writers of the second to the fourth centuries wrote about this man and his followers, would literally take days. He has been called by many of them "the father of HERESY," and, apart from the Bible, the amount of literature devoted to him and his activities, shows he lived up to that title. Some of the following authorities to be brought forth were eyewitnesses of many of the things mentioned, and they were writing to others who were likewise eyewitnesses. Much of the testimony to be mentioned is conclusive and cannot be set aside. With this evidence of Simon's activities after his rejection by Peter, we will clearly be able to see why Luke thought it most important to tell the real condition of this man, proving that he was in actuality NEVER an Apostle of Christ. In this regard, notice the comment of Hasting's Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, Vol. 2, p. 496: "But it need NOT be supposed that when Simon broke with the Christians HE RENOUNCED ALL HE HAD LEARNED. It is more probable that he carried some of the Christian ideas with him, and that he wove these into a system of his own. This system did contain some of the later germs of Gnosticism. Thus he became a leader of a retro-grade sect, perhaps nominally Christian, and certainly using some of the Christian terminology but in reality anti- Christian and exalting Simon himself to the central position which Christianity was giving to Jesus Christ" (Ibid).
Simon Magus Blends Paganism With Christianity!
What Simon did was to bring the Babylonian and Greek religious beliefs into a form of Christianity in order to bring about, as Harnack says, a UNIVERSAL [Catholic] religion. "The Amalgam of paganism and Christianity which was characteristic of Gnosticism, and which was especially obvious in the Simonian system, is readily explicable in the teaching of Simon Magus, who, according to the story in Acts, was brought into intimate contact with Christian teaching without becoming a genuine member" (Ibid., p. 496). We further find in Schaff's History of the Church a reference to this Simon Magus. He says: "The author, or first representative of this baptized HEATHENISM, according to the uniform testimony of Christian antiquity, is Simon Magus, who unquestionably adulterated Christianity with pagan ideas and practices, and gave himself out, in a pantheistic style for an emanation of God" (Apostolic Christianity), Vol. 2, p. 566). Simon only used the name of Christianity to bring about his own desired ends. The Dictionary of Religion and Ethics says that Simon was "a false Messiah, who practiced magical arts and subsequently attempted, by the aid and with the sanction of Christianity, to set up a rival UNIVERSAL [Catholic] RELIGION" (Vol. 11, p. 514). Again, what do the histories tell us Simon's doctrines consisted of primarily? "Two independent traditions profess to preserve the teaching of Simon, the one betraying the influence of Alexandrian allegory, the other of Syrian and Babylonian religion" (Dictionary of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 11, p. 516). It is no wonder that Luke hits hard at the infamy of Simon — for Simon claimed to be a Christian — even an Apostle — and yet was preaching Babylonian paganism. HE WAS CALLING PAGANISM BY THE NAME OF CHRISTIANITY! "Evidently the Simonian heresy always had a Christian tinge. This made it more dangerous to Christians than a gnostic which did not affect any Christian influence. Luke therefore would be anxious to disclose the true circumstances that accounted for the origin of the sect — circumstances highly discreditable to Simon" (Hasting's Bible Dictionary, p. 498). The reason Luke recorded this encounter with Simon was its far-reaching effects. As Hasting's explains, the important reason was that of "Luke's well-known plan of describing THE FIRST MEETING between Christianity and rival systems" (Ibid., p. 498). Luke gives in detail the principal character who established the so-called Christian counterpart of the Truth in the Apostles' days. This is the reason the Apostles in their Church letters many times mention the false system as ALREADY IN EXISTENCE, but fail to describe its origin. They didn't have to. That was already done RIGHT AT THE FIRST by Luke!
Who History Says This Simon Became!
"When Justin Martyr wrote [152 A.D.] his Apology, the sect of the Simonians appears to have been formidable, for he speaks four times of their founder, Simon; and we need not doubt that he identified him with the Simon of the Acts. He states that he was a Samaritan, adding that his birthplace was a village called Gitta; he describes him as a formidable magician, and tells that he came to ROME in the days of Claudius Caesar (45 A.D.), and made such an impression by his magical powers, THAT HE WAS HONORED AS A GOD, a statue being erected to him on the Tiber, between the two bridges, bearing the inscription 'Simoni deo Sancto' (i.e., the holy god Simon)" (Dictionary of Christian Biography, Vol. 4, p. 682). That these things actually happened CANNOT BE DOUBTED! Justin was writing to the Roman people at the time and they could certainly have exposed Justin's credulity if what he said was not so. And, that a statue of Simon was actually erected is definite, for Justin asks the authorities in Rome to destroy it! There are many writers, who lived in Rome itself, who afterwards repeated Justin's account. Those who want to reject these clear statements have nothing in their favor. Justin is clearly giving us fact! Hasting's Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, Vol 2, p. 496, states that there is "very slight evidence on which to reject so precise a statement as Justin makes; a statement he would scarcely have hazarded in an apology addressed to Rome, where every person had the means of ascertaining its accuracy. If he made a mistake, it must have been at once exposed, and other writers would not have frequently repeated the story as they have done." At the time of Claudius, it was illegal to erect a statue to any man as a god or greatly honored person unless the permission of the Emperor and the Senate had been secured. The statue was still standing in Justin's day (152 A.D.), people were still giving regard to it. There are many other accounts of Simon's traveling to Rome and becoming one of the great gods to the city and to the people of Rome. There are records which show that Simon "prophesies that Rome will be the scene of his crowning glory, when he will be adored as a god" (Dictionary of Religion & Ethics, Vol. 11, p. 522).
Simon Peter NOT With Simon Magus in Rome
Later, about the fourth century, a flood of works came out about Peter encountering Simon Magus in Rome and overthrowing him. But these works are clearly fiction. Almost all scholars realize the absurdity of maintaining such a thing. In the first place, it can be Biblically shown that Peter the Apostle was NEVER in Rome when these fictitious writings say he should be. It was NOT Simon Peter who went to Rome to become Apostle to the Gentiles, but the SIMON in Rome was SIMON MAGUS! That Peter the Apostle was not with Simon Magus in Rome is made plain by the Encyclopedia Biblica, col. 4554. "The attempt has been made to meet this by pointing out that church fathers mention the presence of SIMON in Rome while at the same time NOT speaking of controversies between him and PETER. This is indeed true of Justin [one of the earliest witnesses — 152 A.D.] who knows nothing of any presence of Peter in Rome at all, as also of Irenaeus." Not only did Justin feel that Peter was NOT in Rome at the time, but his deliberate silence shows he didn't want to perpetrate such fiction. After all, Justin lived very early in the history of the church, and the legend of the Apostle Peter's being in Rome HADN'T GOT STARTED YET! Continuing with the Encyclopedia Biblica about Justin's reference to SIMON MAGUS: "One part of this tradition — that about Simon's presence in Rome — he [Justin] found himself able to accept [in fact he held it to be confirmed by the statue, which he brought into connection with Simon]; the other — that about Peter' s presence in Rome — he was unable to accept" (col. 4555). Of course Justin was unable to accept the latter teaching. The fact is, Simon Peter was NOT in Rome. It was another Simon who went there — SIMON MAGUS, the one bringing "Christianity" to them in the guise of the old Babylonian mystery religions. Simon came to Rome with the grand idea of stablishing a UNIVERSAL RELIGION in the NAME of Christianity! And what is remarkable, he did just that! Next month we will see how Simon Magus became later confused with Simon Peter and how he cleverly brought into "Christianity" the mystery religions of Babylon.