Bible Review 21:4, Fall 2005

The Fall and Rise of Simon Magus

How the Worst Man in Christendom Saved the Church

By David R. Cartlidge

Simon Magus is arguably the worst of the bad guys in the history of the church.1 One of the major sins, simony, the act of buying an ecclesiastical office, is named for this magician who clashed with the apostle Peter. It gets worse. In the early Christian apocrypha, he is the common enemy who inspires the feuding factions within the earliest church to unite in opposition. According to the church fathers of the second, third and fourth centuries, Simon Magus is the founder of all Christian heresies, including Gnosticism, and the champion of all wrong thinking and blasphemous worship. In the 14th century, Dante deposited him head first, in a pit, in the eighth circle of Hell. Surely, a villain of this magnitude deserves our attention.

Simon Magus enters the drama of the early church’s mission in Acts 8. This is the only mention of him in the New Testament; here, his story takes part in the theological and historical program that Luke-Actsa presents for the foundation of the church through missions that spread out from Jerusalem.

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