(Acts 8:20-24) Did Simon lose his salvation?

CLAIM: Luke records that Simon believed in Christ—along with the rest of the people in Samaria. But when he tried to gain the power of giving out the Holy Spirit, Peter tells him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (Acts 8:20-23). Did Simon lose his salvation?

RESPONSE: There are two ways of understanding this passage:

Option #1: Simon never received salvation

Luke records that Simon “believed” (v.13), and he was even baptized. Yet Luke might include this story as an example of a false conversion. Peter clearly discerns that something is wrong with Simon when he wants to pay for the ability to give out the Holy Spirit to others. Simon was filled with jealousy and bitterness that he didn’t have this ability (v.23). In other words, while Simon professed belief (and even believed on some level), this wasn’t true saving faith.

Critics of this view note that Simon’s faith is indistinguishable from the Samaritans who came to faith around him. The text doesn’t say that Simon professed belief in Christ, but simply that he believed. Some commentators note that there is a conspicuous lack of an object for Simon’s faith. It doesn’t say, “He believed in Christ,” but simply, “He believed.” Could Simon have believed in an abstract sense, without having true, saving faith?

Option #2: Peter’s threat was not actual—but uncertain

The mood of the verb is in the optative, which is a mood of possibility. In fact, this is the only use of the present optative in the NT.[1] Since Peter couldn’t see Simon’s heart, he wasn’t sure if he was going to face judgment, but he warned this as a distinct possibility. Note that Peter’s reaction here is far different from his reaction in Acts 5, where Ananias and Sapphira merely drop dead. With Simon, Peter gives a warning of judgment, and he calls him to repentance.

We read Peter’s response negatively. J.B. Phillips translates verse 20, “To hell with you and your money!”[2] Simon doesn’t listen to Peter’s advice to pray for himself. Instead, he asks Peter to intercede for him. This is the last we read about Simon. Did he ever repent? Luke seems to leave this open to the reader.

[1] Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts (p. 333). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[2] Marshall, I. H. (1980). Acts: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 5, p. 168). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.