The earliest account of Simon Magus (SI-muhn MAY-guhs) appears in the New Testament. According to Acts 8:4-24, Simon lived in Samaria and was well known for his practice of magic, which led to his being called “that power of God which is called great.” Although the meaning of this phrase is debated, it indicates that either Simon claimed to be an exalted representative of God or he actually claimed to be God.
Simon was converted to Christianity by Philip, an evangelist from Jerusalem whose miracles of healing and exorcism impressed even Simon. However, the sincerity of his conversion came into question when the apostles Peter and John arrived. Seeing their ability to bestow the Holy Spirit, Simon offered them money if they would confer upon him the power to do the same. Instead, they soundly rebuked him and told him to repent. It is never mentioned in Acts whether Simon followed their advice or what became of him.
Subsequent Christian writers, however, state that Simon Magus took up with a former prostitute named Helena and gathered many followers in Samaria. He was worshiped as “the first god” and Helena was considered “his first conception.” Such terms indicate that Simon was promulgating an early form of Gnostic teaching. Later he traveled to Rome, where also he won great popularity and, according to some accounts, came into further conflict with Peter.
To combat the influence of teachers such as Simon, the Christian Church was compelled to formulate clearly its beliefs which, in turn, led to the development of Christian orthodoxy in the creeds of the fourth and fifth centuries c.e.
Barrett, C. K. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. Edinburgh, Scotland: T & T Clark, 1994.
Bremmer, Jan N. The Apocryphal Acts of Peter. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 1998.