Summary: The first section of Acts 8 describes briefly the persecution against the Church after Stephen's death and the results of Philip's ministry to a city in Samaria. This outline covers some of what he did there.
Introduction: Acts 8 contains two events in the life of Philip, most likely another one of the original seven men called deacons. This first section relates how believers were “scattered abroad” after the death of Stephen (see Acts 7) and how Philip went to two very different places.
Prologue: The persecution intensified
Text, Acts 8:1-4, KJV: 1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. 4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.
--Apostles had been persecuted by religious leaders (chapters 3-5). Apparently there had been some freedom or liberty between then and the martyrdom of Stephen.
-- Second mention of Saul of Tarsus. He had stood by the clothing of the men who stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58). Now he seems to be taking the lead on the persecution of believers.
--Note how the believers are called “the church”, not yet Christians. This title wasn’t given or bestowed on them until later (Acts 11) in Antioch.
--The Resurrection was the key to salvation. Pentecost was the day when the Church began. Now the persecution drove the believers away from Jerusalem “everywhere”!
--A missionary organization translated Mark 16:15 for a previously unreached tribal group as “Upstream, downstream, go everywhere!”
1 Philip’s arrival:
Text, Acts 8:5-8, KJV: 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. 6 And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city.
--This Philip was probably not the Apostle with the same name. Like Stephen, he could and did perform miracles (see Acts 6:8). Note the various types of miracles Philip was able to do, from casting out demons to healing various diseases.
--Luke does not state which city in or of Samaria where Philip ministered. Jesus and the disciples had spent some time in Sychar (John 4) and later in another village where they were not at all welcomed (Luke 9:51-56) so the Samaritans may have already known something about Jesus. But now they not only heard but saw what the disciples could do in the power of the Holy Spirit.
2 Philip’s adversary
Text, Acts 8:9-13, KJV: 9 But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: 10 To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. 11 And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. 12 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
--Simon was a magician who used various means to basically control the people where he lived. The people were greatly deceived by the things Simon used, even saying he was “the great power of God” even though God never used anything “magical”.
--We are not told how many people in this city believed the Gospel. Those who did believe were baptized, following the pattern all the way to Acts 2: they believed first, and then were baptized.
--Luke mentions that women, too, were baptized. The reason is not given but proves the Gospel is for all people and any person who believes may be baptized.
--Simon himself believed but the sincerity of his “belief” has been debated for many years. To be fair, he did at
least follow Philip and did see the miracles Philip could perform by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Could Philip have done any of this by any other means?
--According to some of the interlinear translations, “sorcery” in verse 9 meant “to practice magic”. In verse 11, the word “sorceries” is based on this same word, meaning “magic arts”. I have heard there is another Greek word for “sorceries” which is the basis for our English word “pharmacy” but that isn’t used in this passage. The Samaritans, Simon, and Philip knew exactly what was going on but the Holy Spirit did not permit Luke to describe these things in detail.