Tongues in Samaria

In Samaria, something about the gift of the Spirit impressed Simon the Magician, but did the gift’s recipients speak in tongues? Saul of Tarsus began persecuting the church in Jerusalem. This caused many “brethren” to scatter throughout “Judaea and Samaria,” but God used the situation to advance the gospel as the scattered brethren preached wherever they went.

Thus, Philip found himself in Samaria where he began to “proclaim the Messiah.” Under his preaching, demons were exorcised and many who were lame were “healed.” Naturally, all this caused “much joy in the city,” and, as a result, many Samaritans responded positively to the gospel.


One prominent man was especially impressed by what he saw, Simon the Magician. After observing that the gift of the Spirit was given “through the laying on of the apostles' handshe offered them money.”

How Simon knew the Spirit had filled someone is not stated, though he must have seen something impressive. Otherwise, why did he attempt to buy the same power from the Apostles? - (Acts 8:13-18).

Simon was known for employing “sorcery” to “astound” the residents of the city. Prior to Philip’s arrival, the “least to the greatest” men of the city paid heed to him, believing he exercised the “great power of God.”

The Magician was not a man easily bamboozled by tricks. It must have taken supernatural displays of some significance to impress him enough to commit bribery. And Philip’s ministry produced many miraculous “signs,” including healings and exorcisms.

As a result of Philip’s ministry, a great many Samaritans were “baptized, both men and women…in the name of the Lord Jesus,” and even Simon found the message irresistible, though apparently, his fascination was with the “signs and great miracles wrought” by the evangelist (“and he was amazed”).


Upon hearing the news, Peter and John were dispatched to confirm the reports coming from Samaria. On their arrival, they found something missing from the Samaritans’ faith, so they “laid hands on them and the Samaritan converts received the Holy Spirit.” For reasons not stated, none of the recent converts had received the Spirit. And how the apostles perceived this deficiency is also not stated.

At this point, Simon was greatly impressed since he “saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given.” Unfortunately, exactly what Simon “saw” is not described, and we can only speculate.

At this juncture, one could argue plausibly that the recipients of the Spirit either spoke in tongues or were seen with “tongues of fire” hovering over their heads, or both. The same two signs accompanied the outpouring of the Spirit in Jerusalem and made significant impressions on the crowd of pilgrims gathered near the Temple for the Feast of Pentecost.

But speaking in “tongues” has only been mentioned once in Acts so far, and that occurred as part of an extraordinary event, the initial outpouring of the Spirit on the church.

But this does not constitute sufficient evidence to conclude that “speaking in tongues” is the only “sign” of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, or always occurs when someone receives the Spirit, especially since the gift was accompanied previously by two signs, one audible (“tongues”) and one visible (“tongues of fire”), in addition to the sound “like a mighty rushing wind” heard when the Spirit first arrived.

Perhaps, as on the Day of Pentecost, Simon saw “tongues of fire” appear over the converts or they began to “speak in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Or possibly, he heard a mighty wind-like sound.

As for the “sign” of the gift in Samaria, quite possibly what Simon did “see” was the Samaritans speaking in “other tongues” when they received the Spirit.

But the passage does not explicitly say this, and there is no passage in the New Testament that directly states “speaking in tongues” is THE expected “sign” when anyone receives the Spirit. While that may be probable in this case, to insist from the evidence provided that “speaking in tongues” is THE “sign” of being filled by the Holy Spirit goes beyond the text.

Having said that, we cannot ignore Simon’s reaction. Something extraordinary occurred that day in Samaria, something experiential and more than theological assent in response to Philip's preaching.



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