Was the New Testament's Simon Magus a true believer or a fraud?

Was the New Testament's Simon Magus a true believer or a fraud?


In the New Testament, Acts chapter 8 says that Simon Magus “believed” and then was baptized. But he was not saved. Does this teach us there’s a gap between mental assent and change of heart? Or what?


The intriguing figure known in Acts 8 as just Simon was later designated “Simon Magus,” which helped distinguish him from the Bible’s other Simons. His name led to the sin called “simony,” the corrupt buying or selling of spiritual powers, benefits, or services.

In its earliest phase, the Christian movement was centered in Jerusalem and entirely Jewish in membership. Acts 8 depicts the new faith’s very first missionary venture, Philip’s visit to neighboring Samaria. The Samaritans were despised by Jews due to historical enmity and their quasi-Jewish religion. For instance, the Samaritans regarded only the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch or Torah) as divine Scripture, and did not believe in the future coming of the Messiah.

Philip’s preaching was accompanied by miraculous healings, which won the attention of Simon, who had “amazed the nation” with his magic performances. We’re told that Simon described himself as “somebody great” (thus that “Magus” moniker) and that people thought “the power of God” was at work through his magic.

As Samaritans began accepting Philip’s message to follow Jesus Christ, “Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip.” That must have caused quite a stir. But – believed what, exactly?

The apostles in Jerusalem then dispatched Peter and John to Samaria, where they laid hands on the new converts who “received the Holy Spirit.” This passage underlies the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican belief that ministers must be formally set apart by the laying on of hands, in a line of “apostolic succession” that traces back to Jesus’ original founding apostles.

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About that prayer circle featured on New York Times front page: great writing or overly dramatic?

About that prayer circle featured on New York Times front page: great writing or overly dramatic?

As a media critic, it's my job to have an opinion. I'm supposed to be able to read a story and then let readers know what I thought.

Is it good journalism? Did it get religion?  Those are questions that I'm expected to answer in this space. And most of the time, that's no problem. 

But what happens when I'm not 100 percent sure whether I liked — or disliked — a particular piece of reporting? When I find myself arguing with myself? Believe it or not, that happens every so often.

Such is the case with my attempt to analyze a New York Times narrative feature, which ran on Sunday's front page, on "17 people (who) joined in prayer before clearing out the flooded house of an aging widow. God, they insisted, was also there."

The Times sets the scene this way:

“In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
WHARTON COUNTY, Tex. — Jeff Klimple, head bowed and eyes clinched, had locked his meaty mechanic’s hand into the trembly, creased fingers of his 80-year-old mother, Angie. She, in turn, held the right hand of her 24-year-old granddaughter, Natalie. Natalie was clutching a box of Hefty Ultra Strong garbage bags with her left hand, so the Lutheran pastor standing next to her, Lee Kuhns, wrapped one arm around her and draped the other over the shoulder of the gray-haired woman on his left, Rosalie Beard.
In all, there were 17 Texans linked in a ring on Angie Klimple’s front yard last Saturday afternoon, a circle of prayer broken only by the hay wagon that would soon carry away the putrid, sodden remnants of 50 years of her life.
“Father, we come to you and thank you for all of these people you sent us,Mr. Klimple continued.
The group gathered in what had been a tidy yard on Blanche Street, one house away from a cotton field, an hour’s drive southwest of Houston. Wharton County, bounded on the northeast by the San Bernard River and bisected by the Colorado, has some of the state’s most productive farm and ranch land. But by Aug. 30, the deluge brought by Hurricane Harvey had lifted water levels by five to 10 times their norm and both rivers had breached their banks.

My uncertainty over that lede: I couldn't decide whether I thought it was great writing or overly dramatic. So I asked a few people whose opinions I respect.

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