Philip, the magician, the Spirit, and the Sacraments

I admit it. I read between the lines in the Missal! Yesterday’s missal reading was Acts 8:1-8. Today’s was Acts 8:26-40. Here’s a few questions, mainly about Acts 8:9-25 that I’ve been considering since reading it yesterday.

  1. Is the Philip here the deacon named second after Stephen in chapter six? I assume so since 8:1 says that the apostles were not scattered (and a few other reasons) and Philip is counted as one of those scattered. But some fathers apparently say this Philip is the apostle. I can’t tell you which ones as the commentary didn’t say.

  2. In v16 we read that “they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus”. Was Philip not using the trinitarian formula (as some churches say) or is this just a shorthand by which the trinitarian formula is understood?

  3. We read that after Simon was baptized he became devoted to Philip. What is the meaning of “devoted” here, and can I use the verse to help explain why Catholics say they are devoted to Mary or a particular Saint?

  4. Why, after being baptised by a deacon, had the holy spirit not “fallen upon any of them”? Baptism is the gateway to life in the spirit, and the washing of regeneration and renewal by the holy spirit. (CCC1213 & 1215)

Had the holy spirit not fallen upon them due to an invalid baptism? (not likely I suppose)? I can’t see one of the first deacons, commissioned by the apostles, getting baptism so wrong.

  1. Or is this connected to the sacramental difference (which back then they probably wouldn’t have understood) between baptism and confirmation?

Can I see in this passage baptisms, and then subsequent confirmations by Peter with the Spirit “conferred by the laying on of hands”. Can I see this as an early confirmation rite leading to “the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit…”? (CCC1302)

Is it also possible to relate the passage, via a consideration of confirmation, to the Catholic understanding of validly ordained ministerial priesthood? Peter was a ministerial priest, Philip was not though he was many other things.

  1. Am I thinking on the right lines here (I’m really still not used to thinking sacramentally anyway) or am I completely going the wrong direction?

This is a very rich passage. I’ve read it many times over the years but not studied it ever or thought about it much. Looking at how Satan can lead people astray with magic. Seeing how the power of God is so much greater. Seeing how even after baptism it’s possible to fall in big ways. Seeing how God can set people free and bring great joy.

Perhaps Simon was a little bit like a man I knew years ago. He had been an active Satanist, very knowledgable on the blackest of magic. He loved the power Satan gave him. He converted because of the greater power of God and went on about how the power he himself had was far greater as Christian than Satanist. He fell away again, basically because he realized that the power Satan gives when leading you from truth you can use for your own gain. The power Christ gives is for holy living and the service of others. So as a Christian you have great power but it can only be used for Christ and His Kingdom. Hopefully that man will ultimately find the Way and the Truth. Simon too craved the power (v19) and doesn’t seem to have repented (v24) just worried about the consequences.

End sermon. End questions.



Dear Friend,

Is the Philip here the deacon named second after Stephen in chapter six? I assume so since 8:1 says that the apostles were not scattered.

Philip was an apostle, one of the twelve - Mt. 10:2. Is it possible you misread the first verse, which in my bible reads:

"The members of the church who had been dispersed went about preaching the word. Philip, for example, went down to the town of Samaria … "

Regarding your second question, it may help to remember that St. John the Baptist was baptizing many in the name of the Lord Jesus, but it was a conversion experience of repentence, and not one that conferred the Holy Spirit. It is possible that these people were the ones scripture refers to in that verse.

Q.3: As often happens with any baptized Christian, we are capable of committing sin. Although Simon was initially devoted to Philip, in the sense that he believed his words and followed his teachings, the power of the Holy Spirit that Simon witnessed in the hands of the apostles, tempted him to desire it for all the wrong reasons. He did not have enough maturity yet in the Lord, to discern the wrong motive in his heart until Peter rebuked him, “Your heart is not steadfastly set on God. Pray the Lord may pardon you for thinking the way you have.” Simon responded, “I need the prayers of all of you to the Lord.” (Acts 8:24)


Many thanks for your interesting response. Much food for thought.

Who was Philip in Acts 8?

I didn’t misread and so conclude that the apostles were not among those scattered. Here’s Acts 8:1 from three versions:

New Jerusalem Bible
That day a bitter persecution started against the church in Jerusalem, and everyone *except the apostles *scattered to the country districts of Judaea and Samaria. (italics mine)

And at that time, there was raised a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem. And they were all dispersed through the countries of Judea, and Samaria, except the apostles.

New American:
On that day, there broke out a severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

Each of these Catholic translations clearly states that the apostles were NOT scattered. So the person in Acts 8, who was among those scattered, cannot have been an apostle. Hence he was probably the deacon Philip, named after Stephen in Acts 6. It is probable, given the evens of chapter 7 (and the martyrdom of Stephen) that the persecutions would have been great against his fellow deacons.Hence my reasoning that that Philip here is the named deacon not the named apostle. (yes, I did know that there was an apostle named Philip) In addition, Acts 8:14 refers to the fact that the apostles were still in Jerusalem.

Quite how the apostles were able to remain in Jerusalem through the persecution and continue to establish the church there we don’t know. Only by the power and protection of God I suppose.

The verses you’ve quoted are Acts 8:4-5. Reading them out of context, and ignoring what verse 1 says may naturally lead one to assume that this Philip is the apostle. But verse 1 clearly states that Philip the apostle was not one of the “members of the church who had been dispersed”. Therefore he cannot be named as such.

What was the baptism in Acts 8:16?

Regarding John the Baptist I must ask in which verse and chapter do we learn that he was baptising in the name of Jesus? Yes, it was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, but I don’t recall reading that John baptised “in the name of Jesus”. I cannot find any mention of this in my Bible but may have missed a verse somewhere.

In any case the baptism “in the name of the Lord Jesus” spoken of in Acts 8:16 cannot refer to the baptism of John. Firstly we don’t read of Samaritans being baptised by John, or have any suggestion that this took place. Secondly it clearly refers to the baptisms referred to in Acts 8:12, here quoted from Douay:
[size=3]“But when they had believed Philip preaching of the kingdom of God, in the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”[/size]

Why relate v16 to John, who probably baptised only people from “Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district”, when four verses earlier we read that these people were baptised by Philip (or other christians with Philip)?
[size=3]I am further decided that the statement is a shorthand for the trinitarian formula. After all, in Acts 2:38 (in today’s Missal) Peter exhorts people to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgivenss of their sins, and “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” Isn’t this baptism also a baptism of repentance? That passage answers my question 2 very well.[/size]

Spiritual devotion to a person
[size=3]Your answer to Qu3 is interesting, but can one man being devoted to another here be used to help justify a catholic’s devotion to Mary or a particular saint? I think it can, but probably need to study more and find more scriptures than the example of Simon the Magician.[/size]


Since the person here IS Philip the deacon not the apostle, and since the baptism spoken of in v16 IS the one carried out in v12, questions 4, 5, and 6 still remain to be answered. (Actually if it was Philip the apostle baptising in v12 that would uncover a whole new set of questions!)

Has anyone got any ideas about questions 4-6?

Dear Asteroid,

My goodness, how well you decipher scripture. I’m wondering now why you asked us for help??? I suppose one can strain the gnat but swallow the camel.

Sorry if I came over as arrogant. Lack of sleep may have something to do with it but lack of humility fills the greater part of the cause.

You ask me why I asked the questions. That’s a fair thing to ask me, all things considered.

Qu 1: To be honest I was just checking the conclusion I’d come to. It’s also the view of all the protestant commentaries I have. I only have one Catholic commentary and for devotional use I find it pretty much useless. Since the conclusion was deemed wrong, I saw fit to explain my reasoning fully. Of course, my reasoning may be wrong.

I had read in one commentary that some EC Fathers saw Philip here as the apostle and wanted to check which fathers, and whether they had good reasons for it beyond making an assumption. I still don’t know which fathers came to that conclusion and can’t look it up as I don’t have a scripture searchable copy of the Early Church Fathers volumes on this machine. If anyone could tell me I would be grateful - and if anyone could tell me why they might have concluded this way I would also be grateful.

Qu 2 - I only found an answer to that this morning at Mass. When I posted the question I did not know the answer. Perhaps I should have studied a little more, with help of handy concordance and thematic index before posting.

Qu 3 - that was a serious question and remains so. I feel the answer is yes but I’ve not been catholic long so need clarification and/or further study. I still don’t know if my answer is right.

Qu 4 to 6 - I don’t know the answers at all and need help. Is this all related to the difference between baptism and confirmation? The churches I’ve been in would have taught baptism was just for repentant believers and that confirmation was a nonsensical concept. Catholic sacramental theology is still very new to me and understanding will take time.

Any help in answering questions four to six would be gratefully received. Any clarification on qu3, concerning Biblical devotion to a person compared with Catholic devotions to a person would also be gratefully received.

So, that’s why I asked all those questions. Gnats and camels have nothing to do with it, just a search for answers. I haven’t got the answers as I haven’t got a highly developed catholic sacramental theology yet.

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