The Dangers of Bitterness in the Lives of Christians: The Case of Simon the Sorcerer (a.k.a. Simon Magus)

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:31; NIV; emphasis mine)

The Apostle Paul instructed believers in the church of Ephesus to get rid of all bitterness, and based on the book of Acts, we have also on record one believer  (Simon Magus, who was also known as Simon the Sorcerer) who was in bondage to bitterness, as well as other sins (Acts 8:18-24; NIV; emphasis mine):

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

Unforunately, church tradition suggests that Simon the Sorcerer did not end well. According to The Search for the Twelve Apostles, this is how Simon met his eventual death:

The magician, vanquished by a superior power, flung his books into the Dead Sea, broke his wand, and fled to Rome, where he became a great favorite of the Emperor Claudius, and afterwards of Nero. Peter, bent on counteracting the wicked sorceries of Simon, followed him to Rome. About two years after his arrival he was joined there by the Apostle Paul. Simon Magus having asserted that he was himself a god, and could raise the dead, Peter and Paul rebuked his impiety, and challenged him to a trial of skill in the presence of the emperor. The arts of the magician failed; Peter and Paul restored the youth to life and on many other occasions Simon was vanquished and put to shame by the miraculous power of the Apostles. At length he undertook to fly up to heaven in sight of the emperor and the people; and, crowned with laurel, and supported by denons, he flung himself from a tower, and appeared for a while to float thus in the air, but St.Peter, falling on his knees commanded the denons to let go their hold, and Simon, precipitated to the ground, was dashed to pieces.” (“Sacred and Legendary Art,” Anna Jameson, p.209).

The church tradition of Simon Magus crashing to the ground at the feet of Emperor Nero when the Apostle Peter commanded the demons who suspended him in midair to let him go is depicted in an artwork commissioned in the 1460s by the Alessandri family in Florence, and which is now exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Saint Peter and Simon Magus Painting by Benozzo Gozzoli

Simon Magus is considered to be the first Christian heretic, the first Gnostic, and the founder of the sect of the Simonians. Had he been diligent in getting rid of his bitterness and other sins, it seems certain that history would have painted him in a different light.